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.”

Routine is the Enemy of the Present Moment
The World Has Changed
The Nature of Ambaa
Krishna Janmashtami 2015!
About Ambaa Choate

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.


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