Hinduism and Christianity are two religions that have been around for thousands of years. These religions have developed philosophies on certain subjects that can be compared in order to show their similarities and differences.
Some of the main subjects that can be reflected upon after learning of the history and fundamentals of these religions are the paths to enlightenment/salvation, the religions’ treatment of women, and the afterlife. This paper will give an analytic comparison of these religions through the discussion of these topics.
One of the most important elements of these religions is their history. The Hindu religion disputably began around 2500 years before the Common Era (B.C.E.) in India. It was geographically based along the Indus River, which was called “Hindu” by the Persians who had migrated there.
They also called the land Hindustan and it’s inhabitants, Hindus. After that, the religion that followed was called Hinduism. Today, almost 800 million people practice the Hindu religion (Worlds, 261) More than a religion, Hinduism is a way of life and a philosophy that is most concerned with spirituality and enlightenment.
The idealism of the Hindu religion comes from the Vedas, which are the Hindu religion’s oldest scriptures and are considered to be a direct revelation of God. The Upanishads are writings that take their themes from the Vedas. The Upanishads, however, seem to be more along the lines of allegories that give a fleshy quality to the religion rather than a very dry and out of touch feel that can be found in other religious texts.
Lastly, the Bhagavad-Gita is a collection of teachings that are based on the conversation between Arjuna, a soldier for one of two warring families, and Lord Krishna, who appears as Arjuna’s charioteer. In these conversations the two discuss everything from the purpose of life to the basis of reality. Much like Christian proverbs, the teachings of Lord Krishna give advice and general good sense and insight on many subjects (Ways, 14) The main deities of the Hindu religion are Brahma and his two lieutenants named Shiva and Vishnu.
The god Vishnu is the creator, and Shiva is the destroyer. One is not looked upon as better than the other. This shows the ultimate realism that the Hindu culture possesses. These are not the only gods in Hindu culture. There are many others and all have special skills and talents. The gods themselves also give birth to the idea of avatars, or the form of god when he or she comes to earth. Perhaps the most important part of the philosophy of a religion lay in its path to enlightenment. The main ideas of enlightenment come through the Four Ends of Life.
The first of these ends is Moksa. Moksa could be considered the realization of separation between the spiritual self and the physical self. It is only through this realization that one can be released from the mortal coil and allowed to spiritual liberty.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan says it is “To inquire into his true self, to live in and from it, to determine by its own energy what it shall be inwardly and what it shall make of the outward circumstances, to (find) the whole life on the power and truth of the spirit ” It is through Moska that the Hindu follower becomes familiar with the existence of the spiritual world. The second of the Four Ends of life is Kama.
This end says that we must pass through life in an ethical manner that brings about the most from life. This includes learning its great values as well as experiencing its enjoyments. This protects the Hindu follower from shutting out the physical world entirely. This comes from the premise that there is indeed knowledge that is to be gained from this world and that only participating in the world of spirits cannot complete ones life.
Artha is the third end and it deals with wealth and material well-being. It explains that material wealth is important but only under the premise that it should satisfy the needs of the spirit. Radhakrishnan explains, “Lives that are strained and starved cannot be religious except in a rudimentary way. Economic insecurity and individual freedom do not go together.”
This is an important point because while Hinduism does not encourage the accruement of material wealth, it understands that it is still important to sustain the vessel of the soul. The forth and final end is that of Dharma, which is essentially the virtue of restraint. Hinduism explains that even though the fulfillment of physical desires is an important part spiritual life, they cannot be acted upon in an unrestrained manner.
Only through discipline and the application of moral principle can a person appreciate physical pleasure for what it is (Ways, 20) Although they are great rules to live by, the Four Ends can only be taken as a guideline of life. It is indeed the individual’s own path that determines his own ascension to enlightenment. Every person is solely responsible for his own life. This idea is spelled out in the doctrine of Karma.
This doctrine can be considered a two-way street in that the quality or ethicality of every deed, good or bad, has some rating of Karma. As Kipling said to Beelzebub, “The sins ye do by two and two, ye shall pay for one by one.” The main idea is that good deeds or favors will eventually be repaid at some point in eternity. However, bad deeds or favors will eventually be repaid as well. Therefore, one could say that the accruement of Karma is the basis of enlightenment. Under this foundation, the current life could actually be a product of the Karma of the previous one (Ways, 22)
The Hindu religion has been criticized of having an inequality between the sexes that gives women the short end of the stick. However, Hinduism has a long-standing and respected tradition with women. The best example of this that the first president of India after it gained independence from Britain was Indira Gandhi. In fact, it is a culture whose only word for strength and power, Shakti, is feminine.
In Vedic times women and men were equal as far as education and religion was concerned. Women participated in the public sacrifices alongside men. Another interesting fact is that the sun is female and the moon is male. Therefore, he is born of her, dies into her, and is born of her again every month. Also, In Hinduism the deities for knowledge, learning and material wealth are female and not male. With all this it is clear that the Hindu religion embraces women and hold them of high esteem and honor (Women, 1)
The idea of reincarnation is one of the most fundamental aspects of the Hindu religion. In the religion, a soul reincarnates again and again on Earth until it becomes perfect and reunites with the Self. During this process the soul enters into many bodies and assumes many forms and passes through many births and deaths. In this cycle, a being has to live many lives and under go many experiences before it attains perfection and becomes one with the Divine.
Lord Krishna explains this lesson to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita when he says, “It is not born, it does not die; having been, it will never not be; unborn, enduring, constant, and primordial, it is not killed when the body is killed” (Ways, 42). It is through this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that the individual is able to achieve immortality. Just as important as reincarnation is to the Hindu religion, so is the life of Jesus Christ in the foundation of the Christian Church.
The history of the Christian faith begins with the birth of Jesus Christ to his unmarried Jewish mother in a manger in Bethlehem. Jesus grew into a powerful preacher who gave the promise of eternal life and happiness to the poor and crippled if they would keep their faith in God. As Jesus’ fame spread the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman colonial administrators feared that he would lead an attack on their enterprises. To prevent any rebellion, the Roman government crucified him at the age of 33. (World, 308)
After his death, Jesus’ disciples continued to preach about the eternal soul. Later, although Jesus had avoided the question, his followers claimed that he was the Son of God, and that he had been born to his mother Mary through a virgin birth. Christianity spread quickly through the Roman Empire and became one of the great organizing forces in post-Roman Europe. Today, almost 2 billion people, one-third of the world’s population, consider themselves to be followers of the Son of God (World, 309)
For Christians, the belief in salvation is a driving force for the religion. During the course of a lifetime, people accrue sins that give the possibility of going to hell. In order to prevent this great fall of damnation, one must conform to the process of salvation. Through a combination of faith, prayer, asking for forgiveness for one’s sins, and accepting Jesus Christ as one’s savior and as the Son of God, a person can be saved from their sins. This is an ongoing cycle of sinning and forgiving that can go on for a lifetime.
The relationship between Christianity and women has been one with many battles throughout its history. After the death of Jesus, Paul said that in Jesus there was no longer any male or female. Like Jesus, Paul was unmarried. He recommended celibacy and monogamous marriage as a means of sexual restraint. From the story of Adam and Eve, it is said that Eve was made from one of Adam’s rib bones.
In the Bible it says that “Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of the wife he is the image and reflection of God; but women is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from women, but women from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but women for the sake of man” (1 Corinthians 11:3-9). The presence of women in the clergy is still a topic of debate. Thankfully, women are not excluded from the afterlife (as far as we know).
The ideas and imagery of the Christian afterlife is probably the best known in the world. These are the great extremes of Heaven and Hell. To most people, heaven is the place for the good, hell for the bad. There is also the idea of the ever-loving soul. This is the idea that every person has an individual soul that remains intact forever. From the time of it creation, the soul is unique. Hence, the Christian version of the afterlife is a very individual and personal one.
One of the many interesting issues that comes up in the analysis of these two religions is that of their textual origins and concepts. In Hinduism, the majority of the textual works are by unknown authors that merely wanted to expand the basis of the religion. Because Hinduism was considered a way of life before it was a religion, it is acceptable that many different people contributed to the theology.
However, in Christianity, the works were all submitted by different people from different times. Many had no direct contact with Jesus or his disciples but yet their work is still considered to be significant. What I find to be the most perplexing thing about the Bible is that not a single word came from the hand of Jesus himself. The problem is that Jesus can essentially be made to do whatever people want him to do through the manipulation of history.
The paths to enlightenment/salvation are very different in their approach because of the application of responsibility in on and the complete lack of it in the other. The doctrine of Karma is one that makes the religious responsibility of the individual very real. The person who commits the acts is solely responsible for the stigma that is placed on their Karma; not one can answer for him.
This is in stark contrast to Christianity where a single man takes on the sin for everybody. Perhaps this is what makes Jesus so noble, but it does not make sense that people should be allowed to do as they please and then simply fall to their knee and beg for forgiveness when the time comes. It is pretty easy to take Jesus into your heart when you are about to receive the death penalty. It just does not seem fair that people can walk about with a clear conscience after talking to Jesus.
There is a large chasm in the treatment of women in the Hindu and Christian faith. The entire Hindu religion is based on a culture that cherishes and honors women for being the givers of life. They seem to have important spiritual and political appointments and they carry the trust of the people.
And while Indira Gandhi was the widow of a great leader, one could ask if Jackie Kennedy would have won the presidency based on her former husband’s role. The answer is probably no. And the reason could very possibly be because the United States is a very Christian dominated society the embraces it attitudes towards women.
With the exception of both believing in the afterlife, Hinduism and Christianity have very different opinions on the matter. Hinduism believes that the afterlife is simply another life after another life. One simply changes bodily form and returns to the physical realm. The Christian version only allows for one life to determine the fate of one’s eternity. It seems that the only way to miss the trip to heaven would be to denounce Jesus and not give for forgiveness, but who is going to do that if given the option in eternity.
The comparison of these two religions is one that is full of differences with the occasional similarity. Mainly, I find Hinduism to be a religion full of positive aspects that give meaning and importance to any of its follower’s lives. Conversely, Christianity is a religion that is steeped in contradiction and confusion. It uses guilt and dire consequences to push people into it arms. Where Hinduism allows for personal choice at a personal price, Christianity allows for personal freedom with almost no responsibility for personal action.
New Mexico Tech
1. Spodek, Howard. The World’s History. Second Edition. Calmann & King Ltd. London. 2001.
2. Eastman, Roger. The Ways of Religion. Third Edition. Oxford University Press. N.Y. 1999
3. Mani. S.G.V. “Women in Hindu Tradition.” http://www.sulekha.com/articledesc.asp?cid=111278. Dec 12, 2001