Hinduism

This is not a religion, if by that we mean a single closed system of beliefs and practices observed by all Hindus. It is rather an infinitely complex aggregate of beliefs and practices bound together by their common location on the Indian subcontinent, and by their links with the social system of caste. The word “Hindu” is derived, through the Persian, from the name of the River Indus; “Hinduism” is the European blanket term which covers all forms of Indian ethnic religion that acknowledge, directly or indirectly, the authority of those scriptures called Veda (dating from c.1200 to c.600 b.c.), and that acknowledge the dharma (law) of caste. The sacred language of Hinduism is Sanskrit.

Most Hindus would accept (1) the belief in transmigration, i.e., that every person lives many times on earth, in human or other form; (2) the belief that one's status, or caste, in any given existence, depends upon one's conduct in a previous life; (3) that man's ultimate goal is release (moksha) from rebirth, and from the phenomenal world; (4) that the priestly (Brahmin) class is worthy of special reverence; (5) that the cow should be cared for and revered as a symbol of the earth's bounty. Beyond this point it is difficult to generalize. Very many Hindus are theists, and believe in a personal God under such names as Vishnu or Shiva, who should be worshiped with love and devotion (bhakti). Others, following the philosopher Shamkara, hold the Supreme Reality to be impersonal. A few are theoretically atheists. Most would believe God to be immanent in all creation and would now consider all religions to be equally valid as means of access to God. This particular view has been expressed strongly by such prominent leaders of Hindu thought as Ramakrishna, Gandhi, and Radhakrishnan.

The Hindu scriptures fall into two broad classes: shruti (revelation) and smriti (tradition). The former comprises the Vedic hymns, commentaries (Brahmanas) and speculative writings (Upanishads); the latter includes the two great epics (Mahabharata and Ramayana), the Bhagavad Gita (part of the Mbh.), the law books, the later mythological writings, and the documents of the sects. All in all, the Hindu scriptures are of immense size and staggering diversity. Hindu worship takes place in the home and the temple, the latter being thought of as a dwellingplace of a god or goddess, and not as a place of assembly. Daily and seasonal patterns of worship are followed.

The main point at issue between Hindus and Christians is the uniqueness of Christ. Many Hindus can accept Jesus as a divine teacher (Yesuswami), but not as sole Savior. Christians for their part are not able to accept the basic Hindu belief in transmigration and rebirth, and insist that God is one and personal (a view held by some, but not all, Hindus).

Books on Christianity and Hinduism include A.G. Hogg, The Christian Message to the Hindu (1947); E.J. Sharpe, Not to Destroy but to Fulfil (1965); K. Klostermaier, Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban (1970).