What is Hinduism Like? - Radical

What is Hinduism Like?

Many westerners have not yet had the opportunity to befriend someone who practices Hinduism. As a result, many are unfamiliar with what many Hindus actually believe. This post takes elements from Western culture and provides helpful analogies to help readers connect with new information about Hinduism.

How are Hindu deities like your favorite side dish?

Potatoes may be baked, fried, julienned, mashed, smashed, scalloped, served as skins, and prepared in a great number of ways. What do all these different preparations have in common? They all come from the same source–a raw potato. In the same way, many Hindus believe everything, even the human soul, to be an emanation of their creator-god, Brahman.[1]

According to the Hindu philosopher, Śaṅkara (eighth century B.C.E.), two different levels for Brahman exist.  Ninguna-Brahman is his highest form and is described as wholly transcendent and impersonal.[3] Saguna-Brahman is a lower form of Brahman, accessible to humans and possessing describable characteristics. Timothy Tennent, in Christianity at the Religious Roundtable, explains, “For Śaṅkara, one encounters a personal God only at the level of saguṇa.”[4] All Hindu gods and goddesses belong to this lower form, saguna-Brahman.  A later Hindu teacher, Rāmānuja (eleventh century B.C.E.), rejected the existence of a formless ninguna-Brahman altogether. Rāmānuja instead described Brahman as being a personal god, but one whose identity contains all of the Hindu deities.[5] Despite their differences, both of these teachers believed the god Brahman to be the truest reality from which Hindu deities arise.

How is Hindu worship like cloud computing?

Many modern computers lack a hard drive. These simple and convenient net-books need an internet connection to connect to browser-based documents and storage. This type of computer is analogous to the ways many Hindus worship their physical idols.

When visiting a Hindu temple, you may observe worshippers approach a physical idol to worship. Oftentimes, a bell with a long rope will hang in front of the idol. The worshipper may approach the idol, and use the bell to “wake up” their god or to get their attention. Then, the worshipper can make his offering to the idol and receive a blessing by being looked upon by the idol. This act of receiving a blessing from a deity is called darsan. Robert McDermott explains that darsan is a “Sanskrit word that means seeing, especially seeing the divine in an image, in a person or in a set of ideas.”[6]

Two questions remain: Is the idol their god, or is the idol only a physical statue?  Do they believe their deity to be somewhere else? Conversations with temple priests reveal that the idol is not actually alive. But that the act of calling their god brings him or her near to fill it with his or her presence.

How does Hinduism frame other religions like a stained-glass window?

Many Christians are familiar with the way a stained glass window filters light from the sun, producing a myriad of artful colors. Though the colored light is beautiful, the pigment in the glass filters out some of the wavelengths of light. Only the white sunlight contains the entire spectrum of colors. In the same way, Hinduism claims to be universalist.

Hinduism claims that many paths to the one true God exist. It must be mentioned that this claim drastically reframes all other faiths under the umbrella of Hinduism. In the case of Christianity, it distorts Jesus to be a demigod and avatar of Vishnu, representing Brahman.[7]  This arrangement allows Hindus to affirm the spiritual importance of other religions while explaining away the existence of these religions as merely an expression of Hinduism. To a Hindu, other religions contain truth but are not as true as Hinduism proper. It is important for Christians to understand this Hindu belief in order to avoid misunderstanding concerning what might sound like quite accommodating comments from Hindu friends.


Hinduism is one of the religions that will be covered in Secret Church 16 titled “A Global Gospel in a World of Religions.” 

Sources

[1] Rāmānuja claimed that the soul and Brahman are not identical. (Irving Hexham, Understanding World Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 137.)

[2] Charles E. Farhadian, Introducing World Religions: A Christian Engagement (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 78.

[3] Gary R. Corwin, Gary B. McGee, and A. Scott Moreau, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, ed. A. Scott Moreau, Encountering Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 38.

[4] Timothy C. Tennent, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 42.

[5] Timothy C. Tennent, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable, 43–44.

[6] Robert A. McDermott  “Foreward,” Darśan, Seeing the Divine Image in India, Diana L. Eck ed. (Chambersburg, PA: Anima Books, 1981), forward.

[7] R. C. Zaehner (Robert Charles), Hinduism. (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 216.

Dylan Blaine received a Ph.D in World Religions from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his family now live and serve cross-culturally in the Americas.

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