How to Explain Hinduism

It’s sometimes hard for me to remember that Hinduism can seem extremely strange, foreign, or confusing to people who aren’t familiar with it. Maybe they’ve heard the word, they know it’s associated with India, but that’s it.

In America there are a lot of times when you find yourself in an interfaith dialog. People ask you what Hinduism is and you’re at a loss to sum it up or people want to open a pathway to encouraging you to convert to their religion.

What is Hinduism?

It’s a good idea to have a one or two sentence explanation ready for when someone is curious but doesn’t want an hours-long theological discussion! I would say something like this:

As a Hindu, I believe that we are all part of one Divinity and it is expressed in thousands of different ways.  God is present within our own hearts and so any way that we listen and connect with God is good and helps us progress towards Moksha, which is the realization that we are God. In Moksha we will merge with that divinity and no longer need a body or to live out various lives to learn lessons and grow as a soul.

You should take some time and think about what Hinduism is to you, which beliefs are most central to how you live your life, and formulate a quick summary that you can give to those who are curious.

Be cautious of people who are not actually curious at all, but want to hear exactly what you believe so that they can look for holes to poke at or problems to bring up as a way to convince you to convert to their religion. If I suspect someone has this motive in mind, I do not engage in any discussion of what Hinduism is. I know what I believe and I know that if I try to explain it, they will not truly listen and hear what I’m saying. All religions have potentially problematic things which depend a lot on how you see the world and the filter that you apply to what you see and experience. What looks like a hole to one person is not a problem at all to someone else.

If you do meet people who attempt to engage you in a conversation for the purpose of converting you to Christianity or Islam, here are suggested responses to some of the statements or questions you might hear (And apologies in advance to my great Christian and Muslim friends; this is not directed at you!)

Christians

Jesus Christ died for your sins and the only salvation is through him. John 3:16 says so.

The Bible is your book, but it isn’t mine. There might be nice things to learn from stories of Jesus, but the Bible is not the word of God, it’s just a book where people wrote down stories about someone they admired. I believe we are all equally children of God.

*Bible Quotes*

Respond with quotes from the Gita. To them the Bible is the word of God and to us the Gita is the word of God. Neither of us can be proved to be correct. The Bible saying something doesn’t make that something true. See the end of this post for some suggested Bhagavad Gita quotes.

Krishna is a substitute for Jesus, a myth that drew on stories of Jesus

Krishna is a great deal older than Jesus and stories of Krishna are older than even the supposed prophecies about Jesus. If anything, it would be more likely for Jesus to have been an imaginary figure based on stories of Krishna.

Some will say that Krishna is a prophesy of Jesus. That’s just a way to try to justify why our stories are older. That’s a big hoop to jump through to justify to yourself that you’re right.

Aren’t you afraid of Hell? What if you’re wrong that there is no Hell?

Why would I want to believe in a God who would punish people for eternity? A system like that is far from fair and seems petty and sad. We could all be wrong and the true God could be the flying spaghetti monster. Am I going to bow down to a bowl of pasta just in case? Nope.

If you become a Christian, you are promised heaven and everything.

I’ve already been promised everything from Lord Brahma (or substitute Sri Krishna, Lord Shiva, etc.) The reward of Hinduism is unity with God for eternity, not just heaven.

Jesus’s love allows me to love others.

I’m capable of loving all of humanity without needing Jesus to prop me up.

You are sinful and unhappy now, only God brings peace.

I am already at peace. My God answers my prayers and brings me joy and peace, so I have a hard time believing that He doesn’t exist and your God is better.

The caste system is terrible.

You don’t have to believe in the caste system to be Hindu. I believe that its original intent has been corrupted and caste should no longer exist. Krishna said that it is our actions that show who we are, not our birth.

*Presenting “testimonials” is a common practice. The Christian will tell you his or her story of how they came to be Christian and how awesome it was in their life*

Tell your own stories about all the wonderful things you’ve experienced through Hinduism. Be prepared with some stories of ways Hinduism has benefited your life.

Warning: Be cautious and vigilant if befriended by a vocal Christian, particularly if the first thing you know about them is their religion. Evangelical-style Christians are encouraged to befriend Hindus for the sole purpose of getting the chance to try to convert you once your guard is down. Personally I find it disgusting to pretend to initiate a friendship when you have such an ulterior motive. (Muslims do this as well. See this quote from a message board advising a Muslim girl on how to convert people: “If you’re attending University/School/or are working then get to know your colleagues/classmates. Ask them their interests, hobbies, and ask about their background, etc. Talk about the job/class your both in and the positives you enjoy out of the class/job. Discuss what you would like to achieve in life. Remember to appear interested when you’re listening to them, and try to smile and look happy.” (Emphasis mine).

Potentially Interesting Reading:

Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects
Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith

Muslims

There is NO GOD but only ALLAH and MUHAMMAD is the Last and Final Messenger.CONVERT to ISLAM otherwise BURN in HELL FIRE. -A comment on this blog that I deleted

Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture  and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings. [Quran Surah Bayyinah 98:6]

Another religion that uses scare tactics. You’ll burn in hell if you don’t believe what I believe. Funny, the Christians just told me the same thing! I have no reason to believe this since the only evidence is a book that only you believe in. Observing how the world operates, reincarnation and forgiveness make a lot more sense to me than some eternal hell realm.

I don’t know how anyone thinks that leaving random drive-by comments like this one will convince anyone. Why should I believe that sentence? You’ve given me no reason at all to believe you.

The reason why you should be a Muslim is simply because the Creator commanded you and us to do so, as is revealed in the Quraan

I’m “commanded”? Really? By someone that I don’t know.  I’m someone who asks why. I don’t take orders. I follow the Gods that I do because of the good and the peace that they’ve brought to my life, not because they commanded me to respect them. I love them because they earned that love. My Gods never had to resort to “Because I said so.”

Islam is the only religion whose sources have remained free of human alteration and interference.

This is not true. Hindu scriptures are ancient and have been carefully passed on with no alteration. Generation after generation are taught to chant the holy scriptures with absolute adherence to the exact sounds of every letter in Sanskrit, one of the most ancient languages in the world. Those scriptures are not always easy to understand and gurus provide commentary and interpretations, but the original text is still available for anyone to see, learn, and understand.

Islam is the only religion which insists upon worship of the Creator alone and completely rejects the worship of any aspect of creation.

How is that a good thing? Your religion divides the world up and encourages you to make judgment calls about what is divine and what is base. I don’t believe in division, I believe in unity.

Islam has no intermediaries between man and God and allows every individual to contact God, thus eliminating religious hierarchies and other sources of exploitation which have characterized the history of religions throughout the ages.  In Islam no cleric or establishment can come between a person and his Creator. 

There is no one between me and God, who lives within my own heart and is my True Self. A guru can help to guide me as he has seen further ahead of the path than I, just as a therapist might help me see things in my life more clearly. Imams do not always uphold this vision of Islam and there can be false gurus as well.

Hindu scriptures predicted and speak of Mohammad

So?

This argument is just taking advantage of Hinduism’s open-mindedness and ability to see the good in many different paths to God. Even if there is mention of Mohammad in Hindu stories, that doesn’t make him the right or only path.

Mohammad and Jesus can be figures worth listening to. They have some interesting ideas, some things worth pondering. That does not make either one of them the one and only path to God.

The Puranas are stories, they are not prophesies.

Coincidences in names and language indicate to me that things were borrowed and/or stolen from Hinduism. It seems that sometimes these “translations” are going so far as to translate regular words as names or leaving them untranslated because they happen to sound similar to Arabic words with different meanings.

*Someone might point out a bad thing that a Hindu has done*

People make mistakes and learn from them. Thanks to karma and reincarnation, we will always be able to correct for our mistakes. Few of us are already perfected and enlightened. There are people in all religions and cultures who do bad things.

Warning: Remember that people may make claims that sound good but are not actually true. They may tell you that the Quran has no contradictions and is always clear. Keep your wits sharp and remember that such big claims are rarely true.

Some Potentially Interesting Reading:

Why I Am Not a Muslim
What the Koran Really Says

***

I have no issue with anyone choosing whatever religion he wants and even changing his mind later. I think there are many religions that touch Truth (although, I of course think that Hinduism reveals that Truth most clearly). I think atheism can also lead one closer to Truth (if you believe in your true inner Self, that’s the same as what I do).

This post is not to criticize or condemn Christianity or Islam. Rather, it explains how I respond to those who start trying to convert me entirely uninvited. It’s a shame that I am now suspicious of friendship from people of other religions. I have some great friends who are Christian and Muslim. I have friends I can honestly talk about religion with and not have that fear that they are just looking for an opportunity to tell me that I am wrong and they are right. But when I meet someone new, I start out suspicious.

If you are someone who is one of these religions or would like to become one of these religions, don’t let me stop you! You are completely free to convert if you would like.

I believe in conversion by choice. You became curious, learned, studied, grew, and decided to become ____ religion. I cannot abide people who go out into the world with the purpose of talking others into becoming their religion.

I am not available for conversion. I have my religion, I am happy with it, and I’m not interested in hearing all the reasons you think yours is better. For others in the same position as me, I hope this post will help you to explain to those who want to convert you why your choice is Hinduism.

Remember that you are not going to convince the person you’re talking to that Hinduism is awesome. It would be extremely rare for you to find a person who is actually listening and willing to let go of their own agenda long enough to actually hear you.

From http://loveartandfear.com/2011/08/26/the-ismist/

Gita Quotes

“Out of compassion for them, I, lodged in their self, lift the blazing lamp of knowledge and destroy the darkness which is born of the ignorance.”

“Take it thus, that I am here in this world and everywhere. I support this entire universe with an infinitesimal portion of Myself.”

“I am the mastery and power of all who rule and tame and vanquish and the policy of all who succeed and conquer; I am the silence of things secret and the knowledge of the knower.”

“There is no rebirth imposed on the soul that comes to Me.”

“If thy mind and thy understanding are always fixed on and given up to Me, to Me thou shalt surely come.”

“The power of God is with you at all times; through the activities of mind, senses, breathing, and emotions; and is constantly doing all the work using you as a mere instrument.”

“In battle, in the forest, at the precipice in the mountains, On the dark great sea, in the midst of javelins and arrows, In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame, The good deeds a man has done before defend him”

“There has never been a time when you and I have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist. As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth, and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body. The wise are not deluded by these changes.”

“Fear not what is not real, never was and never will be. What is real, always was and cannot be destroyed.”

“Setting aside all noble deeds, just surrender completely to the will of God. I shall liberate you from all sins. Do not grieve.”

“All sorrows are destroyed upon attainment of tranquility. The intellect of such a tranquil person soon becomes completely steady.”

“Knowledge is better than mere ritualistic practice.”

“I am seated in the hearts of all beings.”

“I am the goal, the supporter, the Lord, the witness, the abode, the refuge, the friend, the origin, the dissolution, the foundation, the substratum, and the imperishable seed.”

“One is considered the best yogi who regards every being like oneself, and who can feel the pain and pleasures of others as one’s own.”

“With their minds absorbed in Me, with their lives surrendered unto Me, always enlightening each other by talking about Me; they remain ever content and delighted.”

“There is nothing higher than Brahman. Everything in the universe is strung on Brahman like jewels on the thread of a necklace.”

“I am the origin of all. Everything emanates from Me. Understanding this, the wise ones worship Me with love and devotion.”

“Practice to look upon all creatures as Myself in thought, word, and deed; and mentally bow down to them.”

“As the blazing fire reduces wood to ashes, similarly, the fire of Self-knowledge reduces all Karma to ashes.”

“Undivided, yet appears as if divided in beings; He, the object of knowledge, is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of (all) beings.”

“Still your mind in me, still yourself in me, and without a doubt you shall be united with me, Lord of Love, dwelling in your heart.”

“Delusion arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. Reasoning is destroyed when the mind is bewildered. One falls down when reasoning is destroyed.”

“If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive.”

“Not by refraining from action does man attain freedom from action. Not by mere renunciation does he attain supreme perfection.”

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • JustaGuy

    Amba, another excellent article!

    • Ambaa

      Thank you!

  • Amit

    Excellent! This article should be the “Gita” of how to deal with conversion trickery.

  • HARRY

    Wow! One of your best article. Slow clapping. :)

    Other religions has to use fear tactic in order to keep followers in line and maintain the income for the institution. This doesn’t apply to us is because we apply philosophy formula to our understanding, which requires independent thinking and that’s what is different when it comes to our faith. I think if they don’t apply the fear tactics then they would loose about 90% of their followers and that would spell the end of the religion, where as we have chosen it out of our free will by understanding the dynamic of the world and that’s what is different about our religion.

    • TruthSeeker

      Totally agree with you.

  • ThinkBig

    Christian&Muslim perspective a question(1God-1Path):
    * Why so many Gods?
    * Who is your prophet?
    * Which is “The One Book” like Bible/Qur’an?

    Ans: Hmm.. we sympathies check it out here: Here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg8L4-wv4Vg&feature=player_detailpage#t=16

  • Jeramy Hansen

    I hope you are one day touched by the noodle appendage of my lord and master. He boiled for your sins :-P

    • HARRY

      :)

  • TruthSeeker

    Another great article from you. I am sure you must have done a lot of homework to write this.

    In Hinduism we do focus on Actions (Karma) and there is no concept of Satan (Evil) which make it different from Islam and Christianity.

    • HARRY

      I think the only evil is within our self which is hindering us from seeking truth.

      • TruthSeeker

        I think only evil thing in Hinduism is ignorance.

        • HARRY

          Very true. :)

          I love the picture that Ambaa has chosen for this post especially the caption within it, all that is missing is the sound.

  • Dharam

    Excellent ……………. straight to the point answer to “Convert” ideology cult……
    Congrats…

  • kdjji

    Amba why do people convert just because they like 1 story to be better than the other or becoz its more appealing to to them(even when there’s no scienthific evidence to support the most claims of religions ), whats the sense here, why cant people just follow their ancestral customs y waste so much of time in converting others is it just to have more influence / or more weight for their religious views in society & some people could control the public discourse

    • Ambaa

      I don’t understand the need to convert either. I don’t think people should be stuck practicing their ancestral religion if it isn’t meaningful to them, but I think everyone should be free to practice the religion that brings them the most peace and joy.

      • Ambaa

        Very true! :D

  • Ajatshatru

    Dear Amba,
    Nice article. Regarding Hinduism – It is basically a collection of various philosophies regarding existence of soul. It consists of monism (non-duality, Soul is God), qualified monism (which you have described), dualism (God and soul are eternal and different), pantheism (sarvam khalvidam brahm -all that is is God) and some agnostic schools too. One is basically free to chose the philosphy which appeals to him/her and practice as per his/her desired path. There are various ways to realise Godhood in your self- through Yoga, through vedic rituals, through devotion to God and yet other ways (tantra, kundalini etc). The thing that is best is that you are free to chose your path. Absence of central authority is also a positive point but sometimes can be negative. Nice to find your perspective.

  • J N

    In the past, there was only one religion in the world, slowly new dogmas, falsehood evolved for political conquests.

    Christianity:
    The religion that the churches uphold and preach today, that has been built around the personality of Jesus the Christ, and which is popularly known as Christianity, should be called ‘Churchianity’, in contradistinction to that pure religion of the heart that was taught by Jesus the Christ and practiced by his disciples. The religion of Christ or true Christianity had no dogma, no creed, no system, and no theology. It was a religion of the heart, a religion without any ceremonial, without ritual, without priest-craft. It was not based upon any book, but upon the feelings of the heart, upon direct communion of the individual soul with the heavenly Father. On the contrary, the religion of the church is based upon a book, believes in dogmas, professes a creed, has an organized system for preaching it, is backed up by theologies, performs rituals, practices ceremonials, and obeys the commands of a host of priests.

    The popular history of churchianity begins from 325 years after Christ, the 20thyear of the reign of Constantine the Great, when the famous Council was convened at the City of Nocea. Those who have read the life of this august Roman Emperor will remember how remarkable was the character of this so called pious supporter of the church dogmas. He put to death his own son and his wife Fausta on groundless suspicion, cut off his brother-in-law Licinius and the unoffending son of Licinius and massacred everyone of his rivals. Nevertheless the Greek Church has canonized him, and adores the memory of St. Constantine.

    Again, Paul never saw Jesus the Christ except once in a vision, and only once did he quote the language of Jesus – a single phrase in connection with a reference to the commemoration of the last supper: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” It is admitted by many of the orthodox ministers of churches that Paul introduced many of the doctrines and dogmas that were afterwards accepted by Churchianity. It is a well-known fact that Paul did not preach the religion of Christ; if he did, he could not have boasted that he withstood Peter at Antioch to his very face.

    We do not hear about the four canonical Gospels until the time of Irenius, Bishop of Lyons in Gaul, who lived in 178-200 A.D. He was the real founder of the Church Canon. It was Irenius who first mentioned four Gospels. His arguments for accepting four Gospels were very remarkable, though not convincing. He says: “It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than four. For, since there are four quarters of the earth, four elements, four seasons and four cardinal winds, the church ought to have four pillars; for this reason there should be four Gospels”. How clever was the argument of this noted bishop!

    Islam:
    Muhammad belonged to the Qurayshi Tribe of Mecca. The Qurayshi were particularly devoted to Goddess Alla (Durga) and the famous Shivling of the Kaaba Temple. The fact that the Shivling remains to this day in the Kaaba is solely due to the fact that it happened to be the Qurayshi tribe’s faceless Family Deity. Muhammad’s name itself came from Mahadeva, which is another cognate for Lord Shiva. Muhammad’s own uncle, Umar-Bin-E-Hassham was a staunch Hindu and fervent devotee of Lord Shiva. He was a renowned poet and wrote many verses in praise of Shiva. One of these has survived on page 235 of Sair-Ul-Okul and reads as follows:

    Kafavomal fikra min ulumin Tab asayru
    Kaluwan amataul Hawa was Tajakhru
    We Tajakhayroba udan Kalalwade-E Liboawa
    Walukayanay jatally, hay Yauma Tab asayru
    Wa Abalolha ajabu armeeman MAHADEVA
    Manojail ilamuddin minhum WA sayattaru
    Wa Sahabi Kay-yam feema-Kamil MINDAY Yauman
    Wa Yakulum no latabahan foeennak Tawjjaru
    Massayaray akhalakan hasanan Kullahum
    Najumum aja- at Summa gabul HINDU

    which translates as:

    The man who may spend his life in sin
    and irreligion or waste it in lechery and wrath
    If at least he relent and return to
    righteousness can he be saved?
    If but once he worship Mahadeva with a pure
    heart, he will attain the ultimate in spirituality.
    Oh Lord Shiva exchange my entire life for but
    a day’s sojourn in India where one attains salvation.

    Muhammad’s uncle was one of the resident priests of the Shiv temple known as “Kaaba”. This sacred sanctum was decorated in an extremely rich and beautiful fashion. The Kaaba was astronomically oriented to face the winds. The minor axis of the rectangular base of the Kaaba was solistically aligned towards summer sunrise and winter sunset. It contained 360 statues of Vedic deities and was a shrine primarily associated with sun worship. The temple was an architectural representation of an interlocking set of theories covering virtually all creation and comprehending chemistry, physics, cosmology, meteorology and medicine. Each wall or corner of the Kaaba was associated with a specific region of the world. Thus this glorious Hindu temple was made to symbolically represent a microcosm of the universe. The Arabs would face east when praying. This representation of a microcosm demonstrated by the eight directional structure was derived from the Tantric pattern of Hinduism. Right at the centre of the Kaaba was the octogonal pedestal of Bramha the creator.

    Today this very pedestal is called Maqam-E-Ibrahim by the Muslims.

    Judaism:
    “Jews are derived from the Vedic philosophers. they are named by the Indians Calami, and by the Syrians Judaei, and took their name from the country they inhabit, which is called Judea.’” (emphasis mine)” Roman historian Josephus in Apion, Book 1, verse 22:

    In the book Pracya Mattu Paschatya Sanskriti, “that the Greeks asserted that the Jews were Indians whom the Syrians called Judea, the Sanskrit synonym of which is Yadava or yaudheya, and the Indians called them Kalanis, [sic] meaning orthodox followers of scripture.” The characteristic of strictly following scriptural injunctions is a noted similarity, and would seem to be a requirement of anybody to be identified as a Jew. There are other connections between the Jews and Vedic culture given by Stephen Knapp in his Proof of Vedic Culture’s Global Existence.

  • Jagganath Vishwamitra

    I like your blog…But I guess as Hindus we are not required to believe in a creator God in the Christian,Muslim,Judaic sense who can answer our prayers and change the course of our lives…..I would like to introduce the Upanishadic term of Nirgun Brahman a state of Non-Being,Sunyata,Undefinable that is immanent and extends beyond Reality——-You cannot define it, you can only define what it is not and you can Only realize it by becoming it—as said in one of the earlier Upanishads–I guess Chandogya———————–As a follower of Samkya-Yoga, I feel it would be great to sometimes highlight the non-devotional, non-theistic schools of Hinduism…otherwise excellent article

    • Ambaa

      That’s a great idea!

  • Jagganath Vishwamitra

    Sorry on second thought your one line definition is as close as one can be outside of Mahavakyas of the Upanishads–Cheers

    and wishing you Happy and Fruitful Sadhana

  • 5w_haul

    just fabulous

  • 5w_haul

    one more thing you described we are part of one divinity but how do you know divinity is one it can be two,four,ten, infinite or even sunya. we can’t measure a unmeasurable can’t describe indescribable.

  • giddaluru veerendra

    Hinduism believes that universe is the manifestation of god rather than God created universe as per Christianity/Islam. That’s why we believe everything is manifestation of god. To realize god, you have to follow the path of ‘Dharma, Karma & Rebirth”. If every deed of yours is on the right side of Dharma, you will escape rebirth and achieve Moksha, which is “Desire to be free from desire”. Some may achieve it in one birth, for others it may take many births to achieve Moksha.

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