Hinduism is not only one of the oldest of all religious systems,
it is also one of the most complex. During its history Hinduism
has spawned a variety of sects holding diverse beliefs;
therefore, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of Hinduism
without considering a vast array of history and commentary. John
B. Noss states:
It is not one religion, but rather a family of religions ...
Hinduism is fluid and changing.. . . Hinduism is the whole
complex of beliefs and institutions that have appeared from the
time when their ancient (and most sacred) scriptures, the vedas,
were composed until now.. . . Hindus have an extraordinarily wide
selection of beliefs and practices to choose from: they can (to
use Western terms) be pantheists, polytheists, monotheists,
agnostics, or even atheists (John B. Noss, Man's Religions, New
York: MacMillan Company, 1969, p. 88).
Joseph Gaer lists some of the complexities of Hinduism:
Just as the attributes of the Hindu Triad multiplied until there
were millions of them, and the castes divided and subdivided from
the original four to a very large number, so also has this
extremely old religion given rise to many sects.
There are sects who worship Vishnu as the god of space and time.
There are sects who worship Shiva (or Lord Siva) as a god of song
There are sects who worship Durga, the Divine Mother (goddess of
And there are many others. But all the various sects believe in:
Brahman, the eternal Trimutri, or Three-in-One God: Brahma, the
Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Shiva, the Destroyer;
Submission to Fate, since man is not outside, but part of
Brahman; The Caste System, determined by the Laws of Manu;
The Law of Karma, that from good must come good, and from evil
must come evil;
Reincarnation, as a chain of rebirths in which each soul, through
virtuous living, can rise to a higher state;
Nirvana, the final stage reached upon the emancipation of the
soul from the chain of rebirths;
Yogas, the disciplines which enable the individual to control the
body and the emotions; and Dharma, the Law of Moral Order, which
each individual must find and follow to reach nirvana (Joseph
Gaer, What the Great Religions Believe, New York: Dodd, Mead, and
Company, 1963, p. 35).
Because of its many complexities, Hinduism seemingly is
impossible to summarize, as John Bowker observes:
To summarize the thought of any religion is difficult, but in the
case of Hinduism it is impossible. It is the essence of Hinduism
that there are many different ways of looking at a single object,
none of which will give the whole view, but each of which is
entirely valid in its own right. A statue may be viewed from many
angles. Each aspect helps to convey what the statue is like, but
no single aspect is able to comprehend the statue as a whole,
still less does the act of viewing it from one particular angle
or another constitute "the statue itself" (John Bowker,
Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World, London:
Cambridge University Press, 1970, p. 193).
Hinduism as a Universal Religion
Hinduism is tolerant of other religions because Hindus see a
sameness in all of them:
The truth, which is the kernel of every religion, is one and the
same; doctrines, however, differ considerably since they are the
applications of the truth to the human situation ... Rites,
ceremonies, systems and dogmas lead beyond themselves to a region
of utter clarity and so have only relative truth ... Every work,
every concept is a pointer which points beyond itself. The sign
should not be mistaken for the thing signified. The sign-post is
not the destination (S. Radhakrishnan, East and West, The End of
Their Separation, New York: Alen & Uniwin, Humanities Press,
1954, p. 164).
Different religious leaders have belonged to different schools,
and most Hindus are rather proud of the fact that there have not
been any violent conflicts or persecution, thanks to mutual
tolerance. This is a field where no one theory can claim to
explain all the mysteries, and tolerance may well be the path to
wisdom rather than that to confusion (K. M. Sen, Hinduism,
London: Gannon Publ., 1963, pp. 84 ff).
The Hindu scriptures, written over a period of 2,000 years (1400
B.C-.500 A.D.) are voluminous. They reflect the practices and
beliefs which arose during the different long periods of Hindu
history. Bruce Nichols explains:
The Hindu scriptures are divided into two classes -sruti and
smriti. Sruti, or "what is heard," refers to the
eternal truths of religion which the rishis or seers saw or
heard. They are independent of any god or man to whom they are
communicated. They are the primary and final authority of
religious truth. Using the analogy of the reflection of an image
in a mirror or on the surface of a lake, the intellect of the
ancient rishis was so pure and calm that it perfectly reflected
the entirety of eternal truth. Their disciples recorded this
truth and the record of it is known as the vedas. Smriti, or
"what is remembered," possess a secondary authority,
deriving their authority from the sruti whose principles they
seek to expand. As recollections they contain all the sacred
texts other than the vedas. These are generally understood to
include the law books, the two great epics, the Ramayana and the
Mahabharata, and the Puranas, which are largely collections of
myths, stories, legends and chronicles of great events.
Also included are the aqamas, which are theological treatises and
manuals of worship, and the sultras, or aphorisms, of the six
systems of philosophy. There is also a vast treasury of
vernacular literature largely of a bhakti or devotional type,
which continues to inspire the masses of religious Hindus and
which different sects accept as smriti (Bruce Nichols in The
World's Religions, Sir Norman Anderson, ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B.
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976, pp. 137, 138).
The word veda literally means wisdom or knowledge. It is the term
applied to the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, originally
transmitted orally and then subsequently preserved in written
form. The vedas contain hymns, prayers and ritual texts composed
over a period of one thousand years, beginning about 1400 B.C.
The term vedas (plural)
refers to the entire collection of these wisdom books, also known
as the samhitas, which include the rig-veda, the samaveda, the
yajur-veda and the athara-veda. Each of these texts consists of
three parts: (1) the mantras, hymns of praise to the gods; (2)
the brahmanas, a guide for practicing ritual rights, and (3) the
upanishads, the most important part of which deals with teachings
on religious truth or doctrine.
The samhitas are the
basis of vedic Hinduism, the most significant of the group being
the rig-veda. This collection of hymns, originally composed in
Sanskrit, praises the various Hindu deities, including Indra,
Soma, Varuna and Mitra.
The yajur-veda consists of a collection of mantras borrowed from
the rig-veda and applied to specific ritual situations carried
out by the executive priest and his assistants.
The sama-veda in the
same manner borrows mantras from the rig-veda. These hymns are
The athara-veda consists of magical spells and incantations
carried out by the priests.
The upanishads are a collection of speculative treatises. They
were composed during the period 800 to 600 B.C., and 108 of them
are still in existence. The word upanishad conveys the idea of
secret teaching. Its treatises mark a definite change in emphasis
from the sacrificial hymns and magic formulas in the vedas to the
mystical ideas about man and the universe, specifically the
eternal Brahman, which is the basis of all reality, and the
atman, which is the self or the soul. The upanishads reportedly
had an influence upon Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, as
can be observed in some basic similarities between the upanishads
and the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism.
The Ramayana is one of the two major epic tales of India, the
other being the Mahabharata. Authorship is ascribed to the
sage-poet Valmiki. The work consists of 24,000 couplets based
upon the life of Rama, a righteous king who was supposedly an
incarnation of the god Vishnu. Although the story has some basis
in fact, much of it is layered folklore added throughout the
centuries. Besides Valmiki, other poets and writers have
contributed to the complexities of the story. Edward Rice gives a
brief synopsis of the account:
Rama, a warrior and wanderer in the great tradition (one might
equate him to Gilgamesh and Odysseus), is faced with a series of
challenges and tests, some of which involve battles with other
kings, or with demons; his wife Sita is kidnapped by a demon king
and carried off in an air chariot to Ceylon; his chastity and
faithfulness are tested; great battles ensue; the ending is a
happy one, with Rama restored to the throne of Ayodha, and
eventually he and Sita, after more trials, are united, not on
earth but in the celestial abodes.
By the time the
innovators have finished the story, Rama and Sita are not only
avatars of Vishnu but also exemplars of all the mundane and
spiritual qualities with which the cosmos is endowed. The work
has special interest to historians and ethnologists, for many
elements depict the social conditions of the peninsula during
that period. It is involved in the conflict of the Aryans with
the aborigines and the Aryanization of the latter; the monkeys
and bears who were allies of Rama were actually aborigines who
bore animal names as totems, as they still do today (Edward Rice,
Eastern Definitions, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1980, p. 296).
The Mahabharata is the second epic, an immense story of the deeds
of Aryan clans. It consists of some 100,000 verses and was
composed over an 800-year period beginning about 400 years B.C.
Contained within this work is a great classic, the Bhagavad Gita,
or the "Song of the Blessed Lord."
This work is not only the most sacred book of the Hindus, it is
also the best known and most read of all Indian works in the
entire world, despite the fact it was added late to the
Mahabbarata, sometime in the first century A.D. The story, in
short, consists of a dialogue between Krishna, the eighth Avatar
of Vishnu, and the warrior Arjuna, who is about to fight his
cousins. The question Arjuna asks Krishna is: How can he kill his
Krishna! as I behold, come here to shed Their common blood, yon
concourse of our kin, My members fail, my tongue dries in my
mouth, A shudder thrills my body, and my hair Bristles with
horror; hardly may I stand.
... What rich spoils
Could profit; what rule recompense; what span
Of life seem sweet, bought with such blood?
Seeing that these stand here, ready to die,
For whose sake life was fair, and pleasure pleased,
And power grew precious: -grandsires, sires, and sons,
Brothers, and fathers-in-law, and sons-in-law,
Elders and friends!
So speaking, in the face of those two hosts,
Arjuna sank upon his chariot-seat,
And let fall bow and arrows, sick at heart (The Bhagavad Gita,
The story revolves around mans duty, which if carried out
will bring nothing but sorrow. The significance this story has on
Hindu belief is its endorsement of bhakti, or devotion to a
particular god, as a means of salvation, since Arjuna decides to
put his devotion to Vishnu above his own personal desires. The
Gita ends with Arjuna devoted to Vishnu and ready to kill his
relatives in battle.
This poem has inspired
millions of Hindus who have identified Arjuna's dilemma with
their own situation. The poem offers hope, through the way of
devotion, to all people no matter what their caste or sex. The
poor and downtrodden, who could not achieve salvation through the
way of works or the way of knowledge, can now achieve it through
the way of devotion.
These two epic stories,
the Ramayana and the Mahabbarata, depict characters who have
become ideals for the people of India in terms of moral and
The Puranas are a very important source for the understanding of
Hinduism. They include legends of gods, goddesses, demons and
ancestors. They describe pilgrimages and rituals to demonstrate
the importance of bhakti, caste and dharma. This collection of
myths and legends, in which the heroes display all the desirable
virtues, has made a significant contribution to the formation of
Hindu moral codes.
Hindu Teachings (Doctrine)
To achieve a proper understanding of the world view held by the
Hindus, it is necessary to present some of the basic concepts
they hold to be true.
Brahman, the ultimate reality for the Hindu, is a term difficult
if not impossible to define completely, for its meaning has
changed over a period of time. Edward Rice explains it in the
The Supreme Reality conceived of as one and undifferentiated,
static and dynamic, yet above all definitions; the ultimate
principle underlying the world, ultimate reality: "Without
cause and without effect, without anything inside or
outside," according to the sage Yajnavalkya. "Brahman
is he whom speech cannot express, and from whom the mind, unable
to reach him, comes away baffled," states the Taittiriya
Upanishad. Brahman is now of interest more as a philosophic
concept of past ages than as an active principle - to be
meditated upon, but not adored or worshiped (Ibid, p. 71).
The enigmatic concept of Brahman is illustrated in this famous
passage from the Bhagavad-Gita:
"Place this salt in water and come to me tomorrow
Svetaketu did as he was commanded, and in the morning his father
said to him: "Bring me the salt you put into the water last
Svetaketu looked into the water, but could not find it, for it
had dissolved. His father then said: "Taste the water from
this side. How is it?"
"It is salt' "
"Taste it from the middle. How is it?" "It is
"Taste it from that side. How is it?" "It is
"Look for the salt again, and come again to me."
The son did so, saying: "I cannot see the salt. I only see
His father then said: "In the same way, O my son, you cannot
see the spirit. But in truth he is there. An invisible and subtle
essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is Reality.
That is Truth. THOU ARE THAT!"
Moksha, also known as mukti, is the Hindu term used for the
liberation of the soul from the wheel of karma. For the Hindu,
the chief aim of his existence is to be freed from sarnsara (the
binding life cycle) and the wheel of karma with its endless cycle
of births, deaths and rebirths. When one achieves this
liberation, he enters into a state of fullness or completion.
This state can be attained through death or preferably while one
is still living.
Moksha can be achieved through three paths: (1) knowledge, or
inana; (2) devotion, or bhakti, or (3) ritual works, or karma.
One who achieves moksha before death is known as jivanmukta.
Atman is another Hindu term which is difficult to define. it
refers to the soul or true self, the part of each living thing
that is eternal. The Taittiriya Upanishad says atman is
"that from which speech, along with the mind, turns away-not
able to comprehend." Oftentimes, it is used synonymously
with Brahman, the universal soul, seeking mystical union
together, or moksha.
A central concept in Hindu thought is that of maya. Huston Smith
expands upon the meaning of this key concept as follows:
This word is often translated "illusion," but this is
misleading. For one thing it suggests that the world need not be
taken seriously. This the Hindu would deny, pointing out that as
long as it appears real and demanding to us we must accept it as
such. Moreover, it does have a kind of qualified reality; reality
on a provisional level.
Were we to be asked if
dreams are real, our answer would have to be qualified. They are
real in the sense that we have them, but they are not real in the
sense that the things they depict necessarily exist in their own
right. Strictly speaking, a dream is a psychological construct,
something created by the mind out of its particular state. When
the Hindus say the world is maya, this too, is what they mean.
Given the human mind in its normal condition, the world appears
as we see it. But we have no right to infer from this that
reality is in itself the way it so appears.
A child seeing a motion
picture for the first time will assume that the objects he sees -
lions, kings, canyons - are objectively before him; he does not
suspect that they are being projected from a booth in the rear of
the theater. It is the same with us; we assume the world we see
to be in itself as we see it whereas in actuality it is a
correlate of the particular psycho-physical condition our minds
are currently in. (Huston Smith, The Religions of Man, New York:
Harper and Row, 1958, pp. 82, 83.)
The word karma literally means action and has reference to a
person's actions and the consequences thereof. In Hinduism, one's
present state of existence is determined by his performance in
previous lifetimes. The law of karma is the law of moral
consequence, or the effect of any action upon the performer in a
past, a present or even a future existence. As one performs
righteous acts, he moves towards liberation from the cycle of
successive births and deaths.
Contrariwise, if one's deeds are evil, he will move further from
liberation. The determining factor is one's karma. The cycle of
births, deaths and rebirths could be endless. The goal of the
Hindu is to achieve enough good karma to remove himself from the
cycle of rebirths and achieve eternal bliss.
Samsara refers to transmigration or rebirth. It is the passing
through a succession of lives based upon the direct reward or
penalty of one's karma. This continuous chain consists of
suffering from the results of acts of ignorance or sin in past
lives. During each successive rebirth, the soul, which the Hindus
consider to be eternal, moves from one body to another and
carries with it the karma from its previous existence.
The rebirth may be to a higher form; i.e., a member of a higher
caste or god, or down the social ladder to a lower caste or as an
animal, since the wheel of karma applies to both man and animals.
Accordingly, all creatures, both man and beast, are in their
current situations because of the actions (karma) of previous
The Caste System
The caste system is a unique feature of the Hindu religion. The
account of its origin is an interesting story Brahma created
Manu, the first man. From Manu came the four different types of
people, as the creator Brahma determined. From Manu's head came
the Brahmins, the best and most holy people. Out of Manu's hands
came the Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors. The craftsmen came
from his thighs and are called Vaisyas. The remainder of the
people came from Manu's feet and are known as Sudras. Therefore,
the structure of the caste system is divinely inspired. The
Brahmins are honored by all the people, including the royal
family. Their jobs as priests and philosophers are subsidized by
the state and involve the study of their sacred books.
The Kshatriyas are the
upper middle class involved in the government and professional
life, but they are lower in status than the Brahmins. The Vaisyas
are the merchants and farmers below the Brahmins and Kshatriyas
but above the rest of the population in their status and
The Sudras are the
lowest caste whose duty is to serve the upper castes as laborers
and servants. They are excluded from many of the religious
rituals and are not allowed to study the vedas.
The caste system became
more complicated as time went on, with literally thousands of
subcastes coming into existence. Today the caste system is still
an integral part of the social order of India, even though it has
been outlawed by the Indian government.
Swami Vivekananda gives the rationale for the caste system:
Caste is a natural order. I can perform one duty in social life,
and you another; you can govern a country, and I can mend a pair
of old shoes, but there is no reason why you are greater than I,
for can you mend my shoes? Can I govern the country? I am clever
in mending shoes, you are clever in reading, vedas, but there is
no reason why you should trample on my head ... Caste is good.
That is the only natural way of solving life. Men must form
themselves into groups, and you cannot get rid of that. Wherever
you go there will be caste. But that does not mean that there
should be these privileges. They should be knocked on the head.
If you teach vedanta to the fisherman, he will say, I am as good
a man as you, I am a fisherman, you are a philosopher, but I have
the same God in me as you have in you. And that is what we want,
no privileges for any one, equal chances for all; let every one
be taught that the Divine is within, and every one will work out
his own salvation... (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
Almora, Hollywood, CA: Vedanta Press, 1924-32, 111: 245 f., 460).
Salvation, for the Hindu, can be achieved in one of three ways:
the way of works, the way of knowledge, or the way of devotion.
1. The Way of Works. The way of works, karma marga, is the path
to salvation through religious duty. It consists of carrying out
the prescribed ceremonies, duties and religious rites. The Hindu
believes that by doing these things he can add favorable karma to
his merit. Moreover, if he does them religiously, he believes it
is possible to be reborn as a Brahmin on his way toward
liberation from the wheel of karma.
The performance of these practices is something non-intellectual
and emotionally detached, since it is the mechanical carrying out
of prescribed laws and rituals. A basic concept in Hinduism is
that one's actions, done in sincerity, must not be done for gain
but must be done unselfishly.
2. The Way of Knowledge. Another way of achieving salvation- in
the Hindu sense -is the way of knowledge. The basic premise
behind the way of knowledge is the cause of human suffering based
upon ignorance. This mental error concerning our own nature is at
the root of mankind's problems. The error in man's thinking is
this: man sees himself as a separate and real entity. The truth
of the matter, Hindus say, is this: the only reality is Brahman,
there is no other. Therefore, man, rather than being a separate
entity, is part of the whole, Brahman.
Selfhood is an illusion.
As long as man continues seeing himself as a separate reality he
will be chained to the wheel of birth, death and rebirth. He must
be saved from this wrong belief by the proper understanding that
he has no independent self. This knowledge is not merely
intellectual but experiential, for the individual reaches a state
of consciousness where the law of karma is of no effect. This
experience comes after much self-discipline and meditation. The
way of knowledge does not appeal to the masses but rather to an
intellectual few who are willing to go through the prescribed
The Way of Devotion. The
way of devotion, bhakti, is chronologically the last of the three
ways of salvation. It is that devotion to a deity which may be
reflected in acts of worship, both public and private. This
devotion, based upon love for the deity, will also be carried out
in human relationships; i.e., love of family, love of master,
etc. This devotion can lead one to ultimate salvation. The
Bhagavad Gita is the work which has devoted special attention to
this way of salvation. This path to salvation is characterized by
commitment and action.*
The Sacred Cow
From early times the Hindus revered the cow and considered it a
possessor of great power. The following verses from the atharva
veda praise the cow, identifying it with the entire visible
Worship to thee, springing to life, and worship to thee when
Worship, O Cow, to thy tail-hair, and to thy hooves, and to thy
form! Hitherward we invite with prayer the Cow who pours a
By whom the heaven, by whom the earth, by whom these waters are
Forth from thy mouth the songs came, from thy neck's nape sprang
strength, O Cow.
Sacrifice from thy flanks was born, and rays of sunlight from thy
teats. From thy fore-quarters and thy thighs motion was
generated, Cow! Food from thine entrails was produced, and from
thy belly came the plants....
They call the Cow immortal life, pay homage to the Cow as Death.
She hath become this universe, Fathers, and Rishis, hath become
the Gods, and men, and Spirits.
The man who hath this knowledge may receive the Cow with
So for the giver willingly doth perfect sacrifice pour milk....
The Cow is Heaven, the Cow is Earth, the Cow is Vishnu, Lord of
Life. The heavenly beings have drunk the out-pourings of the Cow,
When these heavenly beings have drunk the out-pourings of the
Cow, They in the Bright One's dwelling-place pay adoration to her
milk. For Soma some have milked her; some worship the fatness she
[We have combined bhakti yoga (devotion) and raja yoga
(meditation). Some treat the two aspects as separate ways of
They who have given a Cow to him who hath this knowledge have
gone up to the third region of the sky.
He who hath given a Cow unto the Brahmans winneth all the worlds.
For Right is firmly set in her, devotion, and religious zeal.
Both Gods and mortal men depend for life and being on the Cow.
She hath become this universe: all that the Sun surveys is she
(Athar va Veda X:10).
Hinduism and Christianity
A comparison between Hinduism and Christianity shows the wide
divergence of belief between the two faiths.
On the subject of God, Hinduism's supreme being is the
undefinable, impersonal Brahman, a philosophical absolute.
Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that there is a Supreme
Being Who is the infinite-personal Creator. The God of
Christianity, moreover, is loving and keenly interested in the
affairs of mankind, quite in contrast to the aloof deity of
The Bible makes it clear
that God cares about what happens to each one of us. "And
call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you
will honor Me" (Psalm 50:15 NASB). "Come to Me, all who
are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest"
(Matthew 11:28 NASB).
The Hindu views man as a
manifestation of the impersonal Brahman, without individual self
or self-worth. Christianity teaches that man was made in the
image of God with a personality and the ability to receive and
give love. Although the image of God in man has been tarnished by
the fall, man is still of infinite value to God. This was
demonstrated by the fact that God sent His only-begotten Son,
Jesus Christ, to die to redeem sinful man, even while man was
still in rebellion against God.
The Bible says,
"For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ
died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous
man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to
die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while
we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8
NASB). "Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world
to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He
has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are
ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us;
we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him
who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the
righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:19-21 NASB).
In Hinduism there is no sin against a Holy God. Acts of
wrongdoing are not done against any God but are mainly a result
of ignorance. These evils can be overcome by following the
guidelines of one's caste and way of salvation. To the contrary,
Christianity sees sin as a real act of rebellion against a
perfect and Holy God. All acts of transgression are ultimately
acts of rebellion against the laws of God.
The Scripture states,
"Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is
evil in Thy sight, so that Thou art justified when Thou dost
speak, and blameless when Thou dost judge" (Psalm 51:4
NASB). "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of
God" (Romans 3:23 NASB).
Salvation in Hinduism
can be attained in one of three general ways: the way of
knowledge, knowing one is actually a part of the ultimate Brahman
and not a separate entity; the way of devotion, which is love and
obedience to a particular deity; or the way of works, or
following ceremonial ritual. This salvation is from the seemingly
endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. By contrast, in
Christianity salvation is from a potentially eternal separation
from God and cannot be obtained by any number of good deeds, but
rather is given freely by God to all who will receive it.
The Bible says,
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that
not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of
works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9 NASB).
"He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done
in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of
regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5
NASB). "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he
who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of
God abides on him" (John 3:36 NASB).
Hinduism views the
material world as transitory and of secondary importance to the
realization of Brahman, while Christianity sees the world as
having objective reality and its source in the creative will of
God. Hindus see the world as an extension of Brahman, part of the
absolute, while Christianity views the world as an entity
eternally different in nature from God: not part of some
universal or monistic One.
The Bible says that in the beginning God created the heavens and
the earth (Genesis 1:1). Since the earth, therefore, was created
by God, it is not to be identified with Him or His eternal
represent major diversities between the two religions. Many other
differences remain which we cannot discuss in this small space.
However, even with this limited spectrum of differences, one
readily can see that the two faiths of Hinduism and Christianity
never can be reconciled. The basic foundations on which both are
built are mutually exclusive.
Agni -The Vedic god of the altar fire who mediates between the
gods and men. Mentioned in the Rig Veda.
Atman -The real self, the eternal and sometimes universal life
Bhagavad-Gita -The "Song of the Lord," the most
well-known of all Hindu scriptures. Contains a philosophical
dialogue between the warrior Arjuna and the Lord God Krishna.
Brahma -The creator god, the first member of the Hindu triad,
consisting of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishna.
Brahman -Ultimate Reality, the supreme essence of the universe,
the all-prevading deity.
Brahmin - (or Brahman) A member of the priestly caste, the
highest and most noble class.
Darhma -The teachings of virtue and principle. A term by which
Hindus refer to their own religion.
Ganesa -The god of prudence and wisdom represented as being a
short red or yellow man with an elephant's head.
Hanuman -The monkey god, lord of the winds. He helped Rama in
battle. Indra -The Vedic god of rain and thunder, originally the
god of light and once considered (during the Vaidic period) as a
member of the Hindu triad. Not as important today as in the past.
Karma -The culminating value of all of one's life actions, good
and bad, which together determine one's next rebirth after death.
Kzishna-The eighth or ninth incarnation of Vishnu, one of the
most widely worshipped deities. Krishnaites believe Krishna is
the supreme deity, incarnating as Vishnu.
Lakshma -Goddess of beauty and wealth, concubine of Krishna
(and/or Vishnu). (Also Laksmi.)
Mahabhamta-One of the national epics of India. Contained in the
Mahabharata is the famous Bhagavad Gita.
Maya-The power that produces the transient phenomena of physical
Moksha-The term for liberation from the bondage of finite
existence. Parvati -The goddess who is believed to be the
daughter of the Himalayas. A consort of Shiva.
Puranas-Part of the Hindu scriptures consisting of myths and
legends mixed with historical events.
Ramayana-0ne of the national epics of India based upon the story
of the good king Rama, who was purported to be an incarnation of
the god Vishnu.
Rishi- First, an inspired poet or holy sage; later, any wise man.
Samsara -The cyclical transmigration or rebirth of souls passing
on from one existence to another until release can be achieved.
Sarasvati-The goddess of learning, music and speech; the consort
Soma -The soma plant is a leafless vine from Western India that
yields an intoxicating juice. The personification of soma was
once worshipped as a god.
Upanishads -Part of the Hindu sacred scriptures containing
speculative treatises on the nature of ultimate reality and the
way to achieve union with the absolute.
Varuna -Hindu god, considered as ruler and guardian of the cosmic
order. Veda -The oldest of the Hindu scriptures, consisting of
four collections of sacred writings.
Vishnu -The preserver, second god of the Hindu triad.
Yoga -The Hindu path of union with the divine. Any sort of
exercise (physical, mental, or spiritual) which promotes one's
journey to union with Brahma.
Yogi-A devotee of yoga.
Almore, Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami
Vivekananda Almore, Hollywood, CA: Vedanta Press, 1924, 1932,
Bowker, John, Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World,
London: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Gaer, Joseph, What the Great Religions Believe, New York: Dodd,
Mead, and Company, 1963.
Nichols, Bruce in The World's Religions, Sir Norman Anderson,
ed., Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,
Noss, John B., Man's Religions, New York: MacMillan Company,
1969. Radhakrishnan, S., East and West, the End of Their
Separation, New York: Allen & Unwin, Humanities Press, 1954.
Rice, Edward, Eastern Definitions, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday,
1980. Sen, K. M., Hinduism, London: Gannon Publ., 1963.
Smith, Huston, The Religions of Man, New York: Harper and Row, 1958