Worldviews-Hinduism

by Matt Lefebvre

If you are wondering what a worldview is, you might want to read the introduction to this series before reading this article.

What do Hindus believe?

In considering the beliefs of Hinduism, an observation by Winfried Corduan is very appropriate.  “Knowing that someone is a Hindu tells you little about that person’s beliefs and practices.” (Neighboring Faiths, p.215).  Of course, Corduan also points out that with any religion, people do not like being told what they believe, so the best thing to do with any person is to ask what they believe, whether it be Islam, Buddhism, or even Christianity, for Christians do not always have a biblical worldview.  However, this is especially the case with Hinduism, because it is not a religion of creed and doctrine.  So why should we even bother talking about it?  Well, even if a Hindu does not accept certain beliefs, it is good to have a basic framework for the general way of thinking.  Hinduism began around 1500BC as a polytheistic and ritualistic religion.  Over time, as rituals became more complex, priests were needed to perform the rituals, creating a priestly class.  As this class acted as the mediators between the people and the gods, they gained increasing control over people’s lives, resulting in eventual revolt around 600BC.  The subsequent Hinduism emphasized internal meditation rather than external rituals.  However, Hinduism did not totally reject polytheistic roots, and beliefs could be put on a spectrum, as pointed out by L. T. Jeyachandran.  On one side, there is polytheism, and Hinduism can involve devotion to one or more of the estimated 330 million personal gods and goddesses.  On the other side, is pantheism, believing in one infinite impersonal reality, which takes diversity to be either illusory or lower-level manifestations of the one reality (Beyond Opinion, p.81-82, Who Made God?, p.158).  The more popular Hinduism is more polytheistic, while the philosophical Hinduism would be more pantheistic.  Though there is much diversity, most Hindus do share some basic beliefs.  The impersonal nature of Brahman (ultimate reality), the unity between Atman (true self) and Brahman, the law of Karma (cause and effect), reincarnation (life, death, and rebirth related to karma), and liberation (realizing the concept of individual self is an illusion and attaining enlightenment, undifferentiated from the oneness) (based on Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.87-90).

  1. Origin-As L.T. Jeyachandran put it, “The Hindu believes in the eternality of the soul.” (Beyond Opinion, p.84).  There was no beginning to the universe; ultimate reality has always been, and what we see is a sort of unconscious extension of the divine.  As pointed out above, this is illusory, because the only true reality is Brahman (Ankerberg and Burroughs, How is Christianity Different From Other Religions?, p.33).  However, and this is hard to understand, there are also those who see Brahman as the Creator, with some saying that the universe and Brahman are realities, even to those who would say that they are two distinct realities (Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.88).  Because there has been so much development in the concept of God, it is hard to put a definite answer on this question, and maybe it is best not to box in the ideas.
  2. Meaning-Humanity is, in some way or another, part of the ultimate reality, either without distinction or with limited distinction, but in any case, there is no sense of individuality.  In reference to karma and reincarnation, a soul, as such, comes and goes in various forms, so while a person would try to gain positive karma, the individual is again not the focus.  The problem is forgetting our oneness, so the solution is returning to that divine oneness.  However, on the more polytheistic side of Hinduism, humans may be at the mercy of the gods comparable to Greek or Roman gods, making attempts through rituals to be accepted by the deity (L.T. Jeyachandran, Who Made God?, p.159).
  3. Morality-A distinctive of Hinduism, related to karma and reincarnation, is the caste system.  As mentioned briefly above, karma is the cause and effect system of reality and reincarnation is the cycle of life, death, and rebirth related to this cause and effect relationship.  There is thus retribution for deeds done in previous lives, whether good or bad.  The caste system involves different classes of people, which is interpreted to be because of actions of past lives.  The priests, Brahmins, were those considered closest to the Divine and are thus the highest class.  The lower castes are the outcasts of society, the “untouchables” who must have deserved their lot in life from past karma.  Karma and reincarnation do not involve divine judgement, but natural law, so sin is not an offense against some deity.  The problem is not inherent sinfulness then, but that some people act better than others to deserve their higher position.  Castes are inflexible and have become increasingly rigid in its development over time.  Though discrimination based on caste is technically illegal in modern India, ingrained attitudes are hard to abolish (Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, p.195-197).  In addition to humanity, the gods can also be good or evil (Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, p.191)
  4. Destiny-Connected with karma and reincarnation is the goal of liberation.  The fundamental problem is ignorance in humans, making distinctions where there need not be any.  Enlightenment can be attained through different paths, leading to undifferentiated oneness.  At least three are the way of knowledge and meditation, the way of action and ritual, and the way of devotion (Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.91).  The way of knowledge emphasizes realization of oneness with the divine (L.T. Jeyachandran, Beyond Opinion, p.84).  In the way of devotion, salvation is gained by devotion to some deity, with Krishna being one example (Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, p.200), even suggesting some concepts like grace (L.T. Jeyachandran, Beyond Opinion, p.85).  The way of action gains salvation through good works, which either brings about a better rebirth in the next cycle of reincarnation or eternal communion with god (“not very different from what Christians aspire for.”) (L.T. Jeyachandran, Beyond Opinion, p.85).  Though these are three examples, as James Sire points out, there is the belief that many, if not all, paths lead to the One (The Universe Next Door, p.142).

How coherent is the Hindu worldview?

  1. Logical consistency-Because of the plurality of views, it is difficult to have enough unified belief to say whether it is logically consistent or not.  Paradoxically, however, the fact that there has been so much dispute over which school or which form of Hinduism to follow testifies to the underlying belief that one belief can be superior to another.  Winfried Corduan makes a relevant observation in stating, “The fact of the matter is that Hindu inclusivism is more apparent than real.” (Neighboring Faiths, p.217).  Of course, when a Christian comes with the exclusive claims of biblical salvation, this view must be received with intolerance.  I think a story from Ravi Zacharias will illustrate the principle of non-contradiction that even Eastern thinkers need to deal with.  Once, after giving a talk in California, he was challenged by an American professor that Ravi (raised in India) was not being true to his Indian thinking or Eastern roots.  This professor said, “So, Dr. Zacharias, when you see one Hindu affirming that God is personal and another insisting that God is not personal, just because it is contradictory you should not see it as a problem.  The real problem is that you are seeing that contradiction as a Westerner when you should be approaching it as an Easterner.  The both/and is the Eastern way of viewing reality.”  This was suggesting that Ravi could not use the Western “either/or” way of thinking when studying the Eastern point of view.  After a long tirade, Ravi interrupted to ask one question. “Sir, are you telling me that when I am studying Hinduism I either use the both/and system of logic or nothing else?” (Can Man Live Without God. P.126-129).  After Ravi repeated the question, the man conceded that the “either/or” does seem to emerge.
  2. Factuality-Again we run into the problem of whether the Hindu believes in the personal Creator god or in the eternal existence of the cosmos, but concerning the latter view, which is more prominent, the same arguments for the beginning of the universe noted in favour of Christianity apply to those who say that the universe is eternal, as described in the article on Christianity.  With regard to the universe actually being an illusion without ultimate distinction, it is theoretically possible, but it does not make the most sense.  Dean Halverson rightly observes, “Monism, again, says that ultimate reality is without differentiation or separation.  It is thus not a form of intelligence, because intelligence makes distinctions between things.” (The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.31).  A Hindu can deny distinctions all they want, but it makes next to no sense of the caste system, which is all about making distinctions between the higher and the lower classes.  I do not believe that reincarnation actually happens, but if it did, that would be a definite way to see that the universe was not an illusion, but reality with distinctive consequences.
  3. Viability-The paradoxical beliefs of Hinduism are in some sense understandable, since it is not that reassuring to think that someday, if you choose one of the right paths, you lose your self in the ultimate reality.  There is inclination toward personal gods because we as humans have personality and are not inclined to the impersonal.  This can be seen in the importance of family in the Hindu culture.  On the other hand, there is also warrant for marginalizing other individuals based on the caste system and the law of karma.  To help someone who is suffering or an outcast in terms of reincarnation is only to lengthen the time of their suffering, for they must work off the effects they have caused in previous existences.  While some forms of Hinduism emphasize the unity and thereby reject the diversity, other forms emphasize the diversity at the cost of the unity.  However, the conclusion that Joe Boot has come to provides what I feel to be an adequate explanation of reality that would be satisfying to Hindus if they gave it a chance.  “Only in the triune God of Christianity is there unity in diversity (three united in one) that can account for the unity in diversity that we see in the universe and natural order.” (Why I Still Believe, p.104).

Though some Hindus may find it easy to simply add belief in Jesus to their already existing beliefs, I would hope that the sense of the one and the many within Hinduism would lead to not simply multiplying beliefs to cover all the bases, but to narrow the belief in the One Triune Personal God who is both transcendent (above and beyond) and immanent (very near) in respect to the creation He has created to be in relationship with Him.

For more on Christianity, click here.

Based on this Christian perspective I have also evaluated three other worldviews:

Islam, Buddhism, Atheism

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