Paul spent time in the market place, observing and interacting with the Athenians. When he was asked to address their questions about the message he was sharing, he first began by praising their religiosity. He acknowledged the gods they worshipped and used an idol they had built to the unknown god as a connecting point to present Jesus, “the unknown god.” He then quoted one of their poets, not Scripture, to make another connection to the Gospel. He started with them, where they were at in their relationship and knowledge of God, addressed their questions and concerns, and built a bridge to the Gospel.
About 500 BC, there was a big shift in Hinduism. It was during this time that the Upanishads were written, as a collection of meditations and teachings based on the Vedic texts. Upanishads means “sitting near.” This gives the image of a pupil sitting near a teacher learning. I relate the Upanishads to the Jewish Talmud. The Talmud consists of a massive quantity of writings from Jewish priests and teachers on traditions, history, and interpretation of the Scriptures. I also liken the Upanishads to the footnotes in many Study Bibles – an explanation of the text and a backdrop to the history and traditions of the time the texts were written. However, the Upanishads take more liberties for personal interpretation than the Talmud and Study Bible notes.
It’s from the Upanishads that some key teachings of Hinduism arise and take root.
Brahman – Brahman is the divine essence that is at the heart of all things in the universe. This teaching ultimately says that there is only one divine reality and that we are all united in it, in fact we consist of it. This one divine reality also means that there are not many gods, just Brahman. I like to think of this as the Force in Star Wars – it’s all things. Hindus compare Brahman to salt in water. It’s there, but you don’t see it, and it’s in all parts of the water and can’t be separated from the water (but it can be, right?).
Atman – At the same time that all things are one, we still maintain our individuality. Brahman at the individual level in humanity is called Atman. Atman can be compared to our soul – that which makes us unique.
Maya – This word means illusion. The reason we don’t see and grasp the divine oneness of all things is because of Maya. It’s just an illusion that we see ourselves as separate from one another. This illusion is what brings rise to selfishness, pain, and suffering.
Samsara – Samsara is the cycle of death and rebirth. When our bodies die, the divine within us does not. Our soul is reborn into a new body.
Karma – This is the moral law of cause and effect. Karma determines the direction of our rebirth according to Hinduism.
Moksha – This is liberation from Samsara and the yoke of Karma. When a person reaches Moksha, they are no longer reborn but are completely united with Brahman, once and for all. Little is said about how to obtain Moksha in the Upanishads. It’s essentially up to the individual to discover self-realization of their oneness with Brahman, thus escaping bondage to worldly existence.
Making the Connection between Hindu Beliefs and the Gospel of Jesus Christ
At first glance, it might be difficult to envision how a connection from these Hindu concepts can be made, but it can be done. I’d like to be adamant that these connections, in no way mean that Christianity and Hinduism have the same teachings! That is far from the truth. All I am doing is pointing out similarities, which can then open the door for presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
For example, it’s very easy to say, “Oh, Christians hold a similar belief. We believe the same thing concerning ___________, but we don’t believe ___________. Instead, the Bible teaches _________.”
Brahman – Brahman is the divine essence that is at the heart of all things in the universe. This teaching ultimately says that there is only one divine reality and that we are all united in it, in fact we consist of it.
Acts 17:28 In this verse, Paul is recorded as having said, “For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.”
Connecting to the Gospel of Jesus
Christians hold a similar view as Brahman in that we believe that it is from God that we live and move and have are being. Colossians 1:17 even teaches that Jesus holds all things together. However at the heart of each and every one of us, Christians disagree with the Hindu understanding that all is divine. Christians however recognize that all things in the universe have come from God, but that all things do not consist of God, because God created the universe out of nothing by speaking it into existence. This however does not mean that we believe God is far off from us. Paraphrasing what Paul shared in Acts 17, God is still at the heart of all our lives; we have our being because of him, and he determined the times set for us and the exact places that we should live. In this way, Christians agree with Hindus that God is at the heart of all things, but we certainly would not say that all things are God.
This still has not made a connection to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The connection to the Gospel will come in the next blog post by connecting Karma, the cosmic law of the universe in Hinduism, with the Law of God, and Moksha, the liberation from Samsara, with the pardon from the penalty of breaking God’s Law found in the Gospel of Christ.