700 million people, mostly in India, are Hindus. One of the world’s oldest religions, Hinduism is a collection of mostly pantheistic ideas. Its complexity and fluid belief system have generated three other religions: Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.
It started almost 2000 years before Christ, among the tribal peoples of northern India.
The oldest Hindu scriptures are the Vedas. This collection of hymns and prayers was first transmitted orally. The Vedas were preserved in writing over a thousand year period beginning about 1400BC. The Upanishads, the last part of the Vedas, were written between 800BC and 300BC to record secret teachings, including the idea that behind the many gods is one ultimate reality, Brahman.
Due to Hinduism’s complex belief system, many sects and subgroups evolved, including some that are more theistic than pantheistic, like Hare Krishna.
Apparent contradictions among Hindu sects or other religions don’t bother the person enlightened by Hindu wisdom because she believes that a greater unity lies behind these discrepancies.
Several core beliefs are common. First, God and the universe are one – the ultimate, impersonal reality, Brahman, is everything. All distinctions in what we think we see or claim to know are maya, illusion. Even our true, inner self, atman, is one with Brahman. We are bound to the law of karma which says we receive the results of our actions in the next life.
Salvation is earned in one of three ways:
Hindus tolerate other religions because they see them as one. So they may be happy to add Jesus to their list of gods.
The Christian’s challenge is to convey Jesus’ uniqueness and His message of forgiveness. Living under the law of karma, Hindu’s struggle to understand forgiveness by the impersonal Brahman.
Like everyone else, Hindus understand forgiveness in human relationships, and a personal God gets closer to that reality in their lives. Only Jesus can free them from the cycle of rebirths striving to work off their karmic debt.