Rev. Johnson Thomaskutty graduated with a BA from Kerala University; BD and MTh from Serampore University; ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a former Faculty of New Testament and College Chaplain, Serampore College, Hooghly, West Bengal. Rev. Johnson Thomaskutty has worked as an Apologetic Minister in the US context and is currently Assistant Professor of New Testament at Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, and Editor of Union Biblical Seminary Journal. Rev. Johnson Thomaskutty is interested in Bible, Theology, Apologetics and Missions.
Hinduism is believed to be the oldest living religious traditions in the world. There are approximately one billion Hindus, making Hinduism the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam, of whom approximately 890 million live in India (around 82% of India's population). It is estimated that adherents to Hinduism make up around 15% of the world's population.
Other countries with large Hindu populations include: Bangladesh (11%), Bhutan (25%), Fiji (41%), Mauritius (50%), Nepal (89%), Sri Lanka (15%), Surinam (27%), and Trinidad (25%). Countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Tobago, and Guyana also have large number of Hindus. Nepal is the only nation where Hinduism is the state religion. There are more than two million Hindus in North America. Christian must consider Hindus as one of the largest people groups in their mission agenda. In the following paragraphs, we will learn about Hinduism in nutshell for the missional purposes.
I. Indus Valley Civilization (3300-1700 BC)
It was an ancient riverine civilization that flourished in the Indus and Ghaggar river valleys in what is now Pakistan and northwestern India. Another name for this civilization is the Harappen Civilization, after the first escavated city of Harappa. It was found only as a result of archaeological excavations. This civilization is a likely candidate for a Proto-Dravidian culture. The ancient traces of civilization in the Indian subcontinent are to be found in places along, or close, to the Indus river. Excavations first conducted in 1921-22, in the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, both now in Pakistan, pointed to a highly complex civilization that first developed some 4500-5000 years ago.
The Indus Valley people were most likely Dravidians, who may have been pushed down into South India when the Aryans, with their more advanced military technology, commenced their migration to India around 2000 BC. This civilization belongs to the Bronze Age. What were the origins of the Indus Valley people? Some 5000 years ago, a nomadic people group made their way into northwest Iran from Sumeria (i.e., modern day Iran) by means of the Mula Pass across the Himalayas, near modern Karachi, and there found a fabulously rich land, fertilized by the great river systems of the Indus, Ravi, Beas, Chenab, and Sutlej. This same area forms modern day Punjab.
Compared to the deserts of Iran, this was considered God's blessed land, with ample water, fodder, and fuel supply. Clay for making bricks was plentiful in the riverbeds and so was wood to burn the bricks. Over a period of thousand years, these immigrants spread over an area of half million square miles. Excavations show a degree of urban planning which the Romans achieved only later, after a gap of 2500 years.
II Origin of the Word Hindu
'Hindu' is derived from the Persian pronunciation of the Sanskrit word Sindhu (in Sanskrit, the name for the Indus River). The Persians, using the word 'Hindu' for 'Sindhu', referred to the people who lived near or across the Sindhu river as 'Hindus', and their religion later became known as "Hinduism". Eventually, the word 'Hindu' came into common use among Hindus themselves, and was adopted into Greek as Indos and Indikos (i.e., Indian), into Latin as Indianus, and into Sanskrit as Hindu, appearing in some early medieval texts.
III An Attempt to Define 'Hinduism'
In 1995, Chief Justice P. B. Gajendragadkar was quoted in the Indian Supreme Court ruling: "When we think of the Hindu religion, we find it difficult, if not possible, to define Hindu religion or even adequately describe it. Unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet, it does not worship any one God, it does not subscribe to any one dogma, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances, in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more".
Another way of describing Hinduism is that, "Hinduism is an amalgam of various kinds of beliefs and practices". In Hinduism, you are a free-bird. You can fly to the direction you wish to move. In another sense, "you are moving the religion", while in Christianity "you are moved by the religion". In Hinduism, a person has her/his own personal choices. You may be a staunch devotee of Vishnu, at the same time you will remain in Hinduism. You may be a faithful follower of Siva, at the same time you are in Hinduism. You may worship both Vishnu and Siva, so also you are a Hindu. You may be a Krishna devotee or a Kali devotee, you will still remain in Hinduism. Without believing in any of these gods, and without going to a temple, you can remain in Hinduism.
A Hindu, as per definition, is an adherent of the philosophies and scriptures of Hinduism, the religious, philosophical, and cultural systems that originated in the Indian subcontinent. The term 'Hinduism' refers to the religious and social institutions of India. We are concerned mainly with the religious aspects, but both are tied together and are referred to by the term.
IV Hindu Scriptures
Hindu Scriptures, which is known as 'Shastra' is predominantly written in Sanskrit. Hindu scriptures are divided into two categories: Sruti (that which is heard, i.e., revelation) and Smriti (that which is remembered, i.e., tradition, not revelation). The Vedas constituting the former category are considered scriptures by all Hindus. The Vedas are referred to as the Sruti. They are the oldest extent Hindu texts. The ideas expressed in the Vedas, means 'knowledge', were traditionally handed down orally from father to son and from teacher to disciple. These ideas had been in circulation for a long time before their codification and compilation, which are attributed to a Rishi named Veda Vyasa (literally called 'the splitter of Vedas').
Scholars today agree the Vedas were composed around 1500-600 BC. The Vedas are four in number: (1) Rig Veda (i.e., hymns which are chanted to invoke the gods through fire-sacrifice rituals); (2) Sama Veda (i.e., consists mostly of mantras from the Rig Veda, but arranged in an order specifically suited to the soma ritual); (3) Yajur Veda (contains detailed prose instructions for the sacrifice) and (4) Atharva Veda (comprises semi-magical spells against enemies, sourcerers, diseases and mistakes made during the sacrificial ritual, as well as kingly duties and some deeper spiritual truths. Each Veda, moreover, is divided into four parts: the Mantras (the basic verses or hymns sung during the rituals, also called Samhitas), the Brahmanas (explanations of the verses), the Aranyakas (reflections on their meaning), and the Upanishads (mystical interpretations of the verses).
The post-Vedic Hindu scriptures form the Smriti, which is divided mainly into four categories: (1) Itihasas (epics like Ramayana, i.e., Rama's Way, and Mahabharata, i.e., The Great Story); (2) Puranas (mythological texts); (3) Agamas (theological texts); and (4) Darsanas (philosophical texts). Other Smriti scriptures include: (1) Vedangas (codes of Law, such as the Laws of Manu); (2) Sutras (rules of ritual and social conduct), and the (3) Tantras (writings on attaining occultic power).
A sort of crossover between the religious epics and Upanishads of the Vedas is the Bhagavad Gita, considered to be revealed scripture by almost all Hindus today. Many Hindus think that the most succinct and powerful abbreviation of the overwhelming diverse realm of Hindu thought is to be found in the Bhagavat Gita. Essentially, it is a microcosm of Vedic, Yogic, Vedantic, and even Tantric thought of the Hindu fold.
V The Concept of God in Hinduism
The Upanishads expound the idea that behind the many gods stands one Reality, which is called Brahman. Brahman is an impersonal, monistic ("all is one") force. The highest form of Brahman is called nirguna, which means 'without attributes or qualities'. Even after the Upanishads were written, the Hindu concept of God continued to develop. It developed in the direction of God being personal. Nirguna Brahman became Saguna Brahman, which is Brahman 'with attributes'. This personified form of Brahman is also called Ishvara.
According to Hindu tradition, Ishvara became known to humanity through the Trimurti (literally, "three manifestations") of Brahman. Those manifestations include Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Siva (the Destroyer). Each of the three deities has at least one devi, or divine spouse. Ishvara became personified even further through the ten mythical incarnations of Vishnu, called Avatars. The forms of these incarnations include that of animals (for example, a fish, tortoise, and boar) and persons (for example, Rama, Krishna, Buddha). Epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which includes the popular Bhagavat Gita, tell the stories of these myths. Beyond the principal deities of the Trimurti and the Avatars, it is estimated that there are 330 million other gods in Hinduism.
Besides the religion's various concepts of God, Hinduism can also be divided along the lines of whether the physical universe is considered to be real or illusory (maya). The nondualists (advaita) see Brahman alone as being real and the world as illusory.
The qualified nondualists (vishishtadvaita) affirm the reality of both Brahman and the universe in that the universe is extended from the Being of Brahman. And the dualists (dvaita) see Brahman and the universe as being two distinct realities.
There are many lesser deities. Some rule over certain areas of the earth or certain aspects of nature, such as fire, sun, wealth, water etc. Dead ancestors and religious teachers are also worshipped. Hinduism has no concept of creation as in the case of the Bible. To Hindus, god forms physical beings from things already existing or from himself, but he did not create 'out of nothing'.
God (Brahman) is present everywhere in everything in nature, especially in all living things: every plant, every animal, and especially every human. This impersonal essence, pervading all things, is also found within us. Most adherents of Hinduism believe that they are in their true selves (atman) extended from and one with Brahman. Just as the air inside an open jar is identical to the air surrounding that jar, so our essence is identical to that of the essence of Brahman. This is expressed through the phrase Tat Tvam Asi, "That Thou Art". Hence, the "Spirit" within us is divine. It is part of God. The real inner you is God. Your inner essence is the essence of God. Our eternal souls are "part and parcel of God", means "the soul is a small god".
VI Doctrine of Human Destiny
Hindus believe that, when a person dies, his spirit is given another earthly body, that of an animal, a person, of another caste (social level), or a god, depending on how he lived his current life. This cycle of life, death and rebirth continues on and on until one is finally released. Bhagavat Gita 2:13 says: "As the embodied soul continually passes, in the body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death". This continuous process is called Samsara (reincarnation). We are reaping in this lifetime the consequences of the deeds we committed in previous lifetimes. A person's karma determines the kind of body-whether human, animal, or insect-into which he or she will be reincarnated in the next lifetime.
Hindus believe that one's circumstances in life are completely determined by his previous conduct, either in this life or in previous lives. This is called "Karma" (action). Humanity's primary problem, according to Hinduism, is that they are ignorant of their divine nature. They have forgotten that they are extended from Brahman and that they have mistakenly attached themselves to the desires of their separate selves, or egos, and thereby to the consequences of its actions. Everything good and everything bad that happens to us in this life comes as a payment for our own past conduct. Nothing is ever the fruit of what others did, but always the consequences of our own conduct. By doing good deeds in this life, therefore, one can improve his/her circumstances in the future, especially in the future incarnations.
The final goal is to escape or be released from the cycle of reincarnation. We should seek to be set free from birth, death, and rebirth, so that we exist in a state of pure impersonal being without a physical body. Such liberation is attained through realizing that the concept of the individual self is an illusion and that only the undifferentiated oneness of Brahman is real. With such a realization in mind, one must strive to detach oneself from the desires of the ego and thereby attain enlightenment. The exact nature of this final state is not clearly defined. We are somehow absorbed into the eternal Being (Brahman). Some view it as a ceasing of consciousness, others as a sense of bliss. To the Hindu, therefore, punishment consists of continuing to exist on earth. "Eternal Life" consists of ceasing to exist in a bodily form. There is no concept of bodily resurrection.
VII Doctrine of Salvation
Hindus generally do not refer to their goal as 'salvation'. The hope is to escape the reincarnation cycle and material existence. Anything that pertains to leaving this material life or moving beyond it is commonly said to be 'transcendental'. This term is used repeatedly in the introduction to the Bhagavat Gita. There are different ways to achieve it:
(1) Good Deeds (Karma Marga): It is believed that, if people do enough good works, especially works that are unselfish and de-emphasize material interests, they will achieve a better reincarnation. This process continues till finally one esapes reincarnation and material existence completely.
(2) Austerity and Self-Denial: One must withdraw from the pleasure and personal interests of life, live as a recluse, putting no emphasis on possessions, etc. So physical life looses its hold on the person's inner being. When he dies, he is released forever.
(3) Knowledge (Gnana Marga): As one learns more and more, especially by studying the Vedas, she/he comes to understand that her/his true nature is part of the Divine Being. As she/he fills her/his mind with such ideas, her/his thoughts and deeds are less concerned with material interests. When she/he dies, physical life has no power over her/him, so she/he is released.
(4) Devotion (Worship or Bhakti): If one continually expresses love and dedication to God, s/he will become so concerned for God that this life looses its attraction. When s/he dies, s/he is released from the reincarnation cycle. This is especially emphasized in the Hare Krishna Movement. Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra is a recommended means for achieving the mature stage of love of God.
(5) Meditation (Yoga): Life (physical circumstances) is thought to be a temporary illusion (Maya). It is not the ultimate reality. We think it is reality only because we do not understand that our inner self is part of God, which is the ultimate reality. By deep inner meditation, one can experience and discover her/his real self. This is called self-realization. This is the method used in Transcendental Meditation (TM). It is also described in Bhagavat Gita.
VIII Sharing the Gospel to a Hindu!
Are you going to share the Gospel to a Hindu? Kindly wait for a while!!! If you have a deep passion to reach out the Hindus anywhere in the world, wait for a while and be trained to share the Christian Gospel. Before going to share the Gospel to a Hindu, be aware of the following practical aspects:
Please be aware about the multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, political, and pluralistic context of India (i.e., at least from the period of Indus Valley Civilization)
Learn the fundamental aspects of Hinduism: its scriptures, pantheon, society, people, beliefs and practices
In the American context, be aware about the differences between Eastern and Western approaches, lifestyle, concepts, ideas, hospitality, and outlook concerning God, World and Humanity
How Christianity is viewed by Indian political and religious leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, S. Radhakrishnan, Keshub Chandra Sen, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others?
How Indian Christian Theologians like Raimundo Panikkar, Stanley J. Samartha, Brahmopandhav Upadhyaya, Sadhu Sundar Singh, Appasamy, Chakkarai, Chenchiah, K. P. Aleaz, and others interpret Christ and Christianity in relation to Hinduism?
How westerners like Francis Xavier, Robert De Nobily, Tranquebar Missionaries, and Serampore Mission approached Indians with the Gospel?
Find out how Hinduism is related to Christianity to share the Gospel effectively
Learn clearly about why Gandhiji’s “Non-violent Movement” or “Satyagraha movement” was an effective tool in the Indian soil. Where from he got that ideology to be practiced in India?
Why Mother Theresa’s Movement was successful on the streets and corners of Calcutta?
Why the arrival of St. Thomas in India at the inicipient stages of Christianity (i.e., in A. D. 52), and the long-rule and stay of Portuguese, French, Danish, and English colonialists couldn’t catch the attention of Indian masses toward the Gospel?
Why Indian movements like Sri Ramakrishna Movement, Hare Krishna Movement, Satya Sai Movement, Amrutanandamayi Movement and the like are establishing strong roots in the American soil
How Hinduism is related to Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism?
How a Delhi Hindu is different from a Calcutta Hindu? How a Mumbai Hindu is different from a Chennai Hindu? How a Kashmir Hindu is different from a Kerala Hindu? How all these together are different from the ‘Diaspora American Hindus’?
Why India is called a nation of “Unity in the Midst of Diversities”?
How the four boundaries (i.e., Indian ocean in the South, Bay of Bengal in the East, Arabian Sea in the West, and The Himalayas in the North) molded an exclusive culture of the Hindus?
Learning these fundamental aspects will result in understanding the mind of a Hindu. Please understand the real fact that Hinduism is a deep-rooted religion. So, convincing a Hindu with the Christian Gospel is the most difficult task. The Hindus those who have immigrated to USA are well-educated and professionally trained ones. Approach them with shrewdness and preparation. Beyond all, let the Holy Spirit guide you to reach out the Hindus for Christ.
If your church or community is really looking for a training to reach out the Hindus in your locality/area/city, kindly let we, MAP INTERNATIONAL, INC., know. We assure you that we are willing to help your community as our God direct us.
(Researched from Various Sources)