India, about 1500 B.C. to 2500 B.C.
No single person
1998 worldwide: 825–850 million; India 780 million;
Bangladesh 20 million; Nepal 20 million; Indonesia 7
million; Sri Lanka 3 million; Pakistan 2 million. In
Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, Surinam, and Trinidad and Tobago,
over 20 percent of their people practice Hinduism. A
considerable number of Hindus live in Africa, Myanmar,
and the United Kingdom.
U.S.: Estimated 1.5 to 2 million.
Vedas, Upanishads, epics, Puran-as, and the Bhagavad
Gita explain the essence of Hinduism. Hinduism is the
world’s oldest surviving organized religion. It
is a complex family of sects whose copious scriptures,
written over a period of almost 2,000 years (1500 B.C.–A.D.
250), allow a diverse belief system. Hinduism has no
single creed and recognizes no final truth. At its core,
Hinduism has a pagan background in which the forces
of nature and human heroes are personified as gods and
goddesses. They are worshiped with prayers and offerings.
Hinduism can be divided into Popular Hinduism, characterized
by the worship of gods through offerings, rituals, and
prayers; and Philosophical Hinduism, the complex belief
system understood by those who can study ancient texts,
meditate, and practice yoga.
God (Brahman) is the one impersonal, ultimate, but unknowable,
spiritual Reality. Sectarian Hinduism personalizes Brahman
as Brahma (Creator, with four heads symbolizing creative
energy), Vishnu (Preserver, the god of stability and
control), and Shiva (Destroyer, god of endings). Most
Hindus worship two of Vishnu’s 10 mythical incarnations:
Krishna and Rama. On special occasions, Hindus may worship
other gods, as well as family and individual deities.
Hindus claim that there are 330 million gods. In Hinduism,
belief in astrology, evil spirits, and curses also prevails.
Christian Response: If God (Ultimate
Reality) is impersonal, then the impersonal must be
greater than the personal. Our life experiences reveal
that the personal is of more value than the impersonal.
Even Hindus treat their children as having more value
than a rock in a field. The Bible teaches that God is
personal and describes Him as having personal attributes.
The Bible regularly describes God in ways used to describe
human personality. God talks, rebukes, feels, becomes
angry, is jealous, laughs, loves, and even has a personal
name (Gen. 1:3; 6:6, 12; Ex. 3:15; 16:12; 20:5; Lev.
20:23; Deut. 5:9; 1 Sam. 26:19; Ps. 2:4; 59:9; Hos.
1:8–9; Amos 9:4; Zeph. 3:17). The Bible also warns
Christians to avoid all forms of idolatry (Gen. 35:2;
Ex. 23:13; Josh. 23:7; Ezek. 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:20). No
idol or pagan deity is a representation of the true
God. They are all false deities and must be rejected.
Hindus accept various forms of pantheism and
reject the Christian doctrine of creation. According
to Hinduism, Brahman alone exists; everything is ultimately
an illusion (maya). God emanated itself to cause the
illusion of creation. There is no beginning or conclusion
to creation, only endless repetitions or cycles of creation
and destruction. History has little value since it is
based on an illusion.
Christian Response: Christianity affirms
the reality of the material world and the genuineness
of God’s creation. The Bible declares that all
is not God. God is present in His creation but He is
not to be confused with it. The Bible teaches that in
the beginning God created that which was not God (Gen.
1:1ff; Heb 11:3). The Bible contradicts pantheism by
teaching creation rather than pantheistic emanation.
The Bible issues strong warnings to those who confuse
God with His creation (Rom. 1:22–23). God created
the world at a definite time and will consummate His
creation (2 Pet. 2:12–13). Christianity is founded
upon the historical event of God’s incarnation
in Jesus Christ (John 1:1–14).
The eternal soul (atman) of man is a manifestation or
“spark” of Brahman mysteriously trapped
in the physical body. Samsara, repeated lives or reincarnations,
are required before the soul can be liberated (moksha)
from the body. An individual’s present life is
deter-mined by the law of karma (actions, words, and
thoughts in previous lifetimes). The physical body is
ultimately an illusion (maya) with little inherent or
permanent worth. Bodies generally are cremated, and
the eternal soul goes to an intermediate state of punishment
or reward be-fore rebirth in another body. Rebirths
are experienced until karma has been removed to allow
the soul’s re-absorption into Brahman.
Christian Response: People are created
in God’s image (Gen. 12:7). The body’s physical
resurrection and eternal worth are emphasized in John
2:18–22 and 1 Corinthians 15. The Bible declares,
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die,
but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered
to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:27–28,
KJV). Since we die only once, reincarnation cannot be
true. Instead of reincarnation, the Bible teaches resurrection
(John 5:25). At death, Christians enjoy a state of conscious
fellowship with Christ (Matt. 22:32; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil.
1:23) to await the resurrection and heavenly reward.
A person’s eternal destiny is determined by his
or her acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as Savior
and Lord (John 3:36; Rom. 10:9–10).
Hindus have no concept of rebellion against a holy God.
Ignorance of unity with Brahman, desire, and violation
of dharma (one’s social duty) are humanity’s
Christian Response: Sin is not ignorance
of unity with Brahman, but is rather a willful act of
rebellion against God and His commandments (Eccl. 7:20;
Rom. 1:28–32; 2:1–16; 3:9,19; 11:32; Gal.
3:22; 1 John 1:8–10). The Bible declares, “All
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
(Rom. 3:23, NIV).
There is no clear concept of salvation in Hinduism.
Moksha (freedom from infinite being and self-hood and
final self-realization of the truth) is the goal of
existence. Yoga and meditation (especially raja-yoga)
taught by a guru (religious teacher) is one way to attain
moksha. The other valid paths for moksha are: the way
of works (karma marga), the way of knowledge (jnana
marga), and the way of love and devotion (bhakti marga).
Hindus hope to eventually get off the cycle of reincarnation.
They believe the illusion of personal existence will
end and they will become one with the impersonal God.
Christian Response: Salvation is a
gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8–10).
Belief in reincarnation opposes the teaching of the
Bible (Heb. 9:27). The Christian hope of eternal life
means that all true believers in Christ will not only
have personal existence but personal fellowship with
God. It is impossible to earn one’s salvation
by good works (Titus 3:1–7). Religious deeds and
exercises cannot save (Matt. 7:22–23; Rom 9:32;
Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8–9).
Hindu worship has an almost endless variety with color
symbolism, offerings, fasting, and dance as integral
parts. Most Hindus daily worship an image of their chosen
deity, with chants (mantras), flowers, and incense.
Worship, whether in a home or temple, is primarily individualistic
rather than congregational.
HINDUS IN THE UNITED STATES
• Traditional movements include the Ramakrishna
Mission and Vedanta Societies, Sri Aurobindo Society,
Satya Sai Baba Movement, Self-Realization Fellowship,
and International Sivananda Yoga Society.
• Hindu-based sects include the International
Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna), Transcendental
Meditation, Vedanta Society, Self-Realization Fellowship,
Theosophy, and Eckankar.
• Sects that have “Americanized” Hindu
concepts include Church of Christ, Scientists (Christian
Science); Unity School of Christianity; and several
groups within the New Age Movement.
WITNESSING TO HINDUS
• Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to use the gospel
message to reach the heart and mind of your Hindu friend.
• Share your personal faith in Jesus Christ as
your Lord and Savior. Keep your testimony short.
• Stress the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as God’s
revelation of Himself.
• Stress the necessity of following Jesus to the
exclusion of all other deities.
• Keep the gospel presentation Christ-centered.
• Share the assurance of salvation that God’s
grace gives you and about your hope in the resurrection.
Make sure you communicate that your assurance is derived
from God’s grace and not from your good works
or your ability to be spiritual (1 John 5:13). •
Give a copy of the New Testament. If a Hindu desires
to study the Bible, begin with the Gospel of John. Point
out passages that explain salvation.
N.S.R.K. Ravi, Interfaith Evangelism
Team. Copyright 1999 North American Mission Board of
the Southern Baptist Convention, Alpharetta, Georgia.
All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.