What Do Hindus Believe about Salvation? - Radical

What Do Hindus Believe about Salvation?

The Hindu conception of salvation is different from the Christian conception of salvation. There is no penalty for sin to be saved from in Hinduism. Rather for the Hindu, one is saved from samsara or the eternal cycle of reincarnation.

Understanding Samsara and Moksha

Samsara is the eternal cycle of existence—birth, death, and rebirth or reincarnation—which the atman (soul) undergoes. This cycle is governed by the law of karma (work) whereby good and bad deeds are duly rewarded. Thus, according to a creature’s good or bad karma, the soul is reincarnated in the next life.

Samsara is regarded as a cursed wandering where the jiva (spirit) experiences avidya (ignorance) and duḥkha (suffering). Thus, the goal is to be emancipated from this cycle of death and rebirth. This is attaining moksha (liberation). This state of moksha is one where the atman is free from contaminations of attachments and affections of this world, finding its true identity as Brahman —god or ultimate reality. 

In Hinduism, all is Brahman, and it is ignorance that veils this truth. It is this truth that is to be realized to attain moksha. Thus, the self-actualized state of consciousness being free from ignorance and suffering to experience a transcendent oneness with Brahman is salvation. Thus, moksha is the ultimate aim of life.

Many Paths to Moksha

Hinduism claims many margas (paths) for salvation. The three classical paths are jnana-yoga (way of knowledge), karma-yoga (way of action), and bhakti-yoga (way of devotion).

Jnana-yoga is the path to achieve moksha using speculative meditation and mystical experiences to attain true consciousness. This is considered the most difficult path for it requires renunciation of this world and is attempted by seers and mystics. This path has similarities to the gnostic conception of salvation by special spiritual knowledge.

Karma-yoga is the path to achieve moksha through selfless actions according to dharma (righteous way of action or duty). The way to liberation is through work that is done selflessly without any emotional attachment or aspirations of reward. Work is considered worship when it is done in a detached disinterested manner for duty’s sake.

Bhakti-yoga is the path to achieve moksha utilizing the offering of devotion to gods through praise, prayers, pilgrimages, and personal piety. This loving devotion to the gods gives itself to partake in the divine life through acts of worship. This is the most popular path that is available for all people. Therefore, most Hindus you might encounter would stress the ritual worship at temples, the offerings of food and money, and the pilgrimages to holy sites.

Apart from these three classical paths, there is also Rāja yoga (a way of meditation to control the senses), which was made popular in the 20th century. Hatha yoga (way of physical technique or force) is perhaps most prevalent today as it has evolved to the modern conception of yoga wherein energy is channeled by breathing and body postures. 

There are also heterodox paths, such as tantric traditions, which seek release by sexual and psychic activities. It is these paths that gained popularity in the West in various forms during the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s. Today, many modern Hindu gurus and spiritual leaders promote their various paths too.

Salvation by Works

While there may be numerous paths to achieve liberation, the common thread among them all is that salvation is self-attained by works. It is the individual who must transcend the mundane reality of this world through his efforts. 

As Hindu scholar Gavin Flood rightly notes, “One striking feature of Hinduism is that practice takes precedence over belief. What a Hindu does is more important than what a Hindu believes.”1 Thus, Hinduism is an entirely work-based religion where the individual acts as one’s savior.

Contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Hinduism is a religion without a savior. Gurus (teachers) and rishis (enlightened sages) are guides who lead a person to the path of moksha. However, it is the individual who then must do the work to attain it. Thus, salvation in Hinduism is contrary to the biblical notion that humans are entirely unable to save themselves and require Jesus Christ to be the mediator of God’s elect (1 Timothy 2:5). 

Salvation in Hinduism is devoid of grace, and it offers no solution to man’s greatest problem: – sin. Thus, the Hindu conception of salvation stands in stark contrast to the biblical notion. There is only one way to be saved, and it is through Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). This salvation is wholly the work of God, given freely to be received by faith alone (John 3:16; Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8–9). 

  1. Gavin Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism (Cambridge: CUP, 1996), 12.
Christopher Poshin David

Christopher Poshin David serves as the Minister of Word and Sacrament at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Chennai. He is also the author of the book, Engaging Hinduism: Rethinking Christian Apologetics in India.


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