Understanding Hinduism, Part Two
- Friday, January 14, 2005
“Those hardest hit by the Dec. 26 tsunami were poor fishing communities whose inhabitants—mostly Hindus—are untutored in refined theological speculation on life and death. For them, all of life is controlled by the play of capricious deities,” wrote Newsweek’s Kenneth Woodward. So what do Hindu people believe? And what do Christians need to understand about this ancient faith? In his book, The Religions Next Door, Marvin Olasky sets out to explain the basic tenets of Hinduism, along with Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. Following is part two of Chapter 3, "Hinduism's Flow."
Pinning down what is Hindu belief, rather than respect for tradition, is difficult. Many Hindus express ease about doctrine, along with a willingness to believe in astounding spiritual activities; for example, many Hindus do not oppose the idea of resurrection because Hindus say a truly advanced Yogi could do that.
Hindus quote liberally from Jesus’ comments about love and peace; some say that “Christianity is modified Hinduism,” and state that between the ages of thirteen and thirty-one Jesus went to India. Hindus who write about Jesus, though, commonly leave out his tough-minded expressions of God’s holiness and are hostile to his claims that there is one way to God.
Hinduism, in short, says that there are many ways to God, and many people find them attractive. Furthermore, Hinduism is a visual faith, with many idols; temples in India do not shy away from calling their statues “idols,” giving devotees a tangible object for worship. Swami Vivekananda’s explanation is classic: “If a person wants to drink milk, he uses a cup as he cannot drink it directly.
For the quivering and unsteady mind, there should be a visible form or a symbol, the idol, so that it becomes a foundation for his adoration. The idol form of God is akin to a vessel which enables a man to drink the milk.” To use an American metaphor, we commonly expect small children to need training wheels as they learn to ride a bicycle. It does seem strange that for many Hindus who line up to feed idols, the training wheels stay on for life.
Christians and Jews tend to ask lots of questions about how life began; most Hindus do not. Hinduism proclaims no creation as such because the universe goes through endless cycles of creation and destruction. The base unit to compute the length of a cycle is the Mahayuga, which is 4.3 million earthly years. One day of Brahma (a cosmic day) consists of 1000 Mahayugas, as does a cosmic night, so each is 4.3 billion earthly years long. Some scientists who like long time spans in which evolution could work have harkened to Hindu chronology.
But there’s more: the standard Hindu explanation is that at the beginning of each cosmic day all embodied beings come into existence from undifferentiated god stuff; a soul is reborn many times during a cosmic day. At cosmic nightfall souls merge back into the cosmos. A cosmic year includes 12 cosmic months of 30 cosmic days, and the cosmos lasts for 100 of them; multiply out those figures and the life of the cosmos equals 311 trillion and 40 billion earth years. At the end of the cosmos, a new one emerges and lasts for another 100 cosmic years. This process goes on without end.
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