There is no possible way to exhaustively cover any particular religion in one post. That isn’t my purpose. I’m not seeking to give you information about each religions history, core beliefs, practices or spiritual leaders. It’s already been done, and it’s not likely that you’ve gone into any depth about them thus far. Most people who subscribe to a religion, barely get into their own, yet alone another one. Like all religions, there are countless variations, and my goal is to help us see the thing beyond the thing. And in a sense, that is precisely the big story of Hinduism.
Hinduism is often called the oldest religion. Historians tell us that there are Vedic texts called the Upanishads that gave rise to the central themes in Hinduism which date back to 1500 BC. Judaism dates Abraham around 1800 BC and the Torah around 1300 BC so you be the judge. Most people don’t realize that Hinduism is actually monotheistic, although there are more than 33 million forms which allow diverse people to relate to a form most fitting for themselves. Most Jewish and Christian people are comfortable with the idea of differing names for God which illuminate attributes for consideration.
In Hinduism, it is Brahman that is part of a triune deity (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) which represents Ultimate Reality and the joining of the physical and non-physical (un-manifested), the immanent and transcendent, seen and unseen, the material and the spiritual. Brahman is the Ultimate Source of all consciousness, true identity, and the soul or true self, and eternal Truth.
Non-physical reality is not a problem for Hindus as it is for scientific empiricists. In fact, all spiritual traditions understand that all of reality is not composed of only those things that can be empirically measured. Mathematics, Reason, Meaning, Love and Consciousness are all very REAL, yet cannot be empirically proven. Hinduism’s gift to the world is the ease at which it can navigate between the tangible and intangible worlds. Proving spiritual reality exists might be a challenge to an atheist from the West, but a Hindu would laugh at how absurd the notion is because their grasp of reality is so much bigger. Reality is Meta (along side, beyond) physical. Reality consists of all that is manifested and all that is yet to be manifested.
For my audience whose worldview comes predominantly from the Judeo-Christian West, put your seatbelt on. Keep in mind that it was religious kings from the East who came and brought gifts at the birth of Jesus. Gold (symbol of Kingship or preserving power), Frankincense (symbol of deity) and Myrrh (symbol of death) all align with Hinduism’s triune Godhead: Brahma (creates the universe), Vishnu (preserves the universe), and Shiva (destroys the universe). These Eastern influences and their juxtaposition at Christ’s birth are not inconsequential. The fact that these kings recognize the cosmic nature of the “Anointed One” points us to the single place where the faith of the East and the West converge.
Another consideration is that the Bible has no record of Jesus’ life between the ages of 13 and 30. While I’m not dogmatic about this, there is much historical evidence to suggest that Jesus returned to the East via a direct trade route and spend much of his formative years teaching and being taught by Eastern spiritual teachers just as he did in the synagog as a child and then did again as an adult. There are Hindu historical documentation in their archives that reference Jesus as a teacher and practitioner. As a child and upon his return to Israel, he brought new meaning and fresh life to the Jewish faith and deconstructed religious tradition. Is it so unreasonable he did the same in the East?
There are many sacred texts in Hinduism but the Bhagavad Gita is by far the most known and regarded. It’s a collection of 18 chapters which cover a number of extremely important topics which relate to every day life. If it were a library of podcasts, it would likely have a large and curious audience. It offers a way of seeing reality from both the material and spiritual worlds. If you think this sacred text to be unlike the teaching of Jesus consider this:
“I am the Supersoul, O Arjuna, seated in the hearts of all living entities. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings.” (10 Shloka 20)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)
“The true yogi observes Me in all beings and also sees every being in Me. Indeed, the self-realized person sees Me, the same Supreme Lord, everywhere.” (Shloka 29)
“one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)
“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together form the duration of Brahma’s one day. And such also is the duration of the night.” (Chapter 8 Shloka 17)
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8)
There are literally thousands of overlapping themes, ideas, and teachings. When this kind of relationship happens throughout biblical scholarship, it is attributed to the work of God. I invite you to read the Gita and experience it for yourself. While I’m not dogmatic about the similarities of Lord Krishna to Christ, I think it’s time we got out of our tribalism and actually had the discussion, not a debate or competition. The name Krishna (Sanskrit Krsna) means darkness or “The attractive One”
“Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.” (1 Kings 8:12)
The design of the Hebrew tabernacle and temple was that the place where God would dwell would be in complete darkness or blackness, no light was to penetrate the holy of holies. While I’m not concluding that Hinduism’s Lord Krishna is coextensive with Christ, I think the West needs to look closer at these two figures. If we can get out of our own way and stop trying to prove or disprove one thing or the other, perhaps we can see how these two, similarly aged systems of faith from opposite sides of the world both reflect (in their own cultural way) a single beam of light. It’s like the same beam of light refracting off of two prisms, the rainbow which is cast has different shape, but the same colors.
Both systems of faith create the backdrop for the entire worlds diverse beliefs, and both of them point to a central attractive person who embodies the Truth and how humanity and our maker is to relate. If we can see it without our religious frames obscuring the view and the experience, then perhaps the larger, bigger thing will finally emerge in our world as it dawns on our conscious minds and open hearts. If the East brought gifts to the manger, what is it saying? If Jesus visited the East for over a decade, how could this have impacted the faith? Look what he did to Judaism in three short years. Can we find the purity of this faith and practice now despite thousands of years of traditions and power plays piled on top of it?
These questions, and many more, need to be explored, but in order to do so, we must be set free from our tribal, fundamentalist fear of idolatry. We must also be free from our closed minded rejection of reality that is not empirically based. Despite the advances of science, it has not brought us together and healed the wounds in our souls. We must get along side the material world (meta-physical). Or as the West has been taught, put on the mind of Christ.
For the Hindi, salvation comes in the divine presence through the practice of meditation and freeing oneself from their corporeal dependencies and senses. Unity of consciousness and being through mindfulness of the supreme person. For the West, salvation comes when the presence of God via the Spirit joins us in prayer and we are restored, despite our corporeal weaknesses and failings, into a right relationship with our Maker through belief in Christ.
Do we want to argue about the details, or uncover the bigger story and what is possible for our world should we dare to believe it.