The aim of this paper is to compare two religions – Hinduism and Christianity. While Christianity is a young religion compared with Hinduism (about 2000 years vs. 4000 years) they have a lot of common features. At the same time, some elements of these two religions are completely different. First of all, the most important difference between all Eastern and Western religions is that Eastern religions are monistic and introspective, and Western ones are dualistic and extroverted. The Eastern tradition has a tendency to see God everywhere and in everything, and, therefore, consider all things as sacred. For Western tradition the belief that God pervades all things is heresy. Such tradition makes a firm distinction between the sacred and the profane. Eastern philosophy is based on the concepts of karma, reincarnation and liberation, and Western postulates a single life of the soul, followed by the reward or punishment in the afterlife. Thus, despite some similarities in the rites and rituals, these major distinctions in ideology define the overall incompatibility of these two beliefs. To illustrate it, this paper analyzes the peculiarities of religious rites and the ideological foundations of these two religions.
The Concept of Man in Hinduism and Christianity
In Christianity there is only one God. He is the creator of the world and all things. All others are the prophets and saints. In Hinduism, we can see the multiplicity of gods, and each has its own function. This difference influences further understanding of man’s place in the world. In Christianity, human soul after death enters either heaven or hell, depending on the earthly deeds. Hinduism is based on the doctrine of “Samsara” – “the chain of rebirth,” or reincarnation. The soul can be reborn again: those who have the right knowledge and do their duty are reborn again and again. Those who behave virtuously, quickly reach a good birth as, for example, Brahman, Kshatriya or Vaishya. But those who behaved badly are reborn in the form of pigs or dogs. The concepts of heaven and hell can be found in the Puranic literature of Hinduism. It describes the countless heavenly and hellish locations (planets or places of existence), where the dead are rewarded or punished according to the good or bad deeds. The soul, caught in the hell realm of existence can be rescued by the sacrifices of food and water, made by children and grandchildren in the last incarnation. After the soul passes through various material elements in the heavenly or hellish planet (earth, water, air, fire, ether and other more subtle elements) and, finally, is re-born in one of the 8.4 million types of bodies that fill the universe, thus providing a new opportunity to achieve self-realization. Thus, in Christianity, the outcome – hell or heaven – is eternal and can’t be changed. In Hinduism, everyone gets another chance. On the other hand, Christian God can forgive every sin (except, apparently, suicide). These features of both religions allow the man to sin – in the first case he will be forgiven, in the second – get another chance. The only difference is the concept of sin itself.
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Christianity is permeated with the ideology of sin and repentance, which has taken the form of moral and ethical foundations of society. The most grievous sins are murder and suicide. Life was given not by people, therefore people can’t take it. In Hinduism, there is another opinion on this matter. The very concept of sin is missing. For example, Bhagavad Gita describes a dialogue of Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna. Arjuna does not want to take part in the upcoming battle, because he does not want to kill his fellow human beings, who did not do anything wrong to him personally (and, moreover, they are his relatives). In response, Krishna explains that all who fall in tomorrow’s battle are doomed to it by the law of karma for misconduct and wrong behavior in this and previous lives, and he, Arjuna, is not the cause but only the tool – the tool of death they have been prepared for: “For death of anyone born is certain, and of the dead (re-) birth is a certainly. Therefore you ought not to grieve over an inevitable fact” (Bhagavad Gita 2:27). Thus, if every act is predetermined by God, he cannot be held responsible for it. Consequently, the murder by the order of God is not a sin, even fratricide. The opposite concept can be found in Christianity – Cain murdering Abel is called the greatest sinner. There is also a difference in the concept of suicide. Suicide has never been considered a bad deed in Indian society. It is often regarded as an act of religious dignity, the final act of asceticism: “when a person is sufficiently evolved spiritually, that person can make the final choice to no longer create more karma” (Molloy, 197). But it is not approved if it is a way to avoid suffering. The murder of pity is also unacceptable. In Christianity suicide is a mortal sin. But, in fact, the Bible does not disapprove it. Suicide is mentioned in the Bible, but either as a heroic deed (e.g. Samson), an act of honor (Saul), or a neutral (i.e. without any estimation) act (Judas).
In Christianity it is sufficient to comply with the covenants of God, and have firm faith in him to get to heaven. In Hinduism achieving “moksha,” the “liberation” from the chain of rebirths (which is similar to the Christian heaven) necessarily requires a “guru” – a teacher. God created man in his image – as it is said in one of the tenets of Christian doctrine. Therefore, people are the copies and are equal to each other. Hinduism is a different concept. People were created from different parts of Purusha – the first man, and therefore they are different already by their origin. This central concept leads to the division of society into castes and inequality between men and before God.
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The ultimate goals of man’s existence are also different. In Hinduism, as it was stated above, the ultimate goal of existence is release from samsara, which stops the cycle of reincarnation. The precise definition of “moksha” is in many ways different in different philosophical schools of Hinduism. For example, according to Advaita Vedanta, after attaining moksha, atman (the self) ceases to exist as a person and merges with the impersonal Brahman. The followers of dualist Dvaita schools identify themselves as pieces of Brahman, who have an eternal personality. After attaining moksha they expect to get to one of the planets of the spiritual world and stay there forever, enjoying eternal relationship with God (Ishvara) in one of his incarnations. The spiritual world, in the tradition of Vaishnavism is called Vaikuntha and is the closest analogue of the kingdom of God in Christianity, where righteous believers are blessed to stay forever.
Hinduism can be considered as the religion of humility and indifference to one’s current lot. Do not change anything, do not strive for a better position, perform the duties prescribed by your caste. In Christianity – “keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Mathew 7:7) – one can change his life for the better. On the other hand, the Christian concept of “rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mathew 22:21) also suggests certain portion of humility, which makes both religions closer. According to the Bible, one must not make an idol, which means that God is the one and man must worship him. In India, every citizen can declare himself a god, or demi-god and he will be worshipped by the entire population of India. For example, Sathya Sai Baba, Osho (Rajneesh), Sri Chaitanya, etc. are considered as gods.
In Christianity (Catholicism) celibacy is strictly enforced. God is alone, Jesus Christ is alone. In Hinduism all deities exist in pairs; they have children, relatives, and they lead a life comparable to people. In this they resemble the Greek or some pagans’ pantheon of gods. Gods have human features, even most negative. In Christianity God is impeccable. This is one of the reasons of the above stated difference: in Christianity man can never become equal to God, while in Hinduism one can actually become god.
Both in Hinduism and Christianity the religious service is conducted in a dead language, which is not used in modern communication. In Hinduism it is Sanskrit, and in Christianity – in Orthodox and Catholic traditions – in Latin and Old Church Slavonic respectively. Although, after 1600 years of the reign of Latin, it was decided to minister in local languages (Protestant tradition). During ceremonies both religions widely use aromatic oils and resins. In Hinduism this is a variety of flavors – lotus (Hindu sacred flower), rose, musk, amber, etc., pressed into incense sticks. They drive away evil spirits. In Christianity the same function is performed by the smell of incense, smoking in the chandelier. Both in Christianity and Hinduism they use oil lamps that are lit before the icons. In Christianity the believers leave burning candles before the icons or statues. In Hinduism this function is performed by oil lamps, which are carried by the believers around with them to cleanse them and then are put before the deity. In both religions water is actively used. In Hinduism it concerns the repeated ritual ablutions and the washing of the deities. In Christianity water is used in the sacrament of baptism.
In any Christian church there are statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. In the Hindu Mandir there are deities – statues of gods and goddesses – Durga and Lord Shiva, Krishna and Radha, Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi, etc. The icons and pictures of saints adorn every Christian church. In Hindu temples this tradition is also identical.
Usually at the end of the service the congregation can get a sanctified ritual meal: the altar bread in the Orthodox Church and communion wafers in Catholicism. In Hinduism, this role is carried out by “Prasad”. Prasad is a ritual meal. Before one can start his meal, it must be offered to Krishna. There is also a “Mahaprasad” – after the consecration by a goddess the Prasad (temple food) becomes Mahaprasad (great Prasad) – a sacred food. In addition to the consecration of food there is also a kind of sacred food. In Christian practice, there is the Apple Feast Day (Orthodox) or Easter cake and painted eggs, etc. In Hinduism, as it was already mentioned, any food can become “Prasad” after it has been proposed to the deity.
Both in Hinduism and Christianity believers practice singing hymns. In Christianity the chorus sings hymns and in Hinduism there are “kirtans” – the chanting of mantras.
Both religions have a developed system of fasting. In Christianity, there are four multi-day fasting, three one-day, and fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. In Hinduism there is no multi-day fasting, but there is one-day abstinence. Christians wear a cross as a symbol of belonging to Christianity. Hindus “Kanthi Mala” have for this purpose – the beads made of sacred Tulsi wood and sandalwood. Both the Hindus and Christians (Orthodox) wear the sacred amulet with soil inside. For Hindus it is the soil of Varanasi (Benares) and for Christians the soil from Jerusalem. Another common feature of both religions is the consecrated water. In Christianity water is blessed after immersion of silver cross and reading of prayers. In Hinduism the water becomes blessed after washing the statue of the deity during the service. Sometimes, on special occasions, the statue is washed with a mixture of milk, honey and yogurt. The believers of both religions use the rosary for prayers. The difference is only the number of beads. Religious services of Christians and Hindus are held three times a day.
Considering the above stated information, it is possible to conclude that, despite the similarities between the religious rites of the two religions, in ideological way they are almost incompatible. As to the rites, they are quite similar, but this is the feature of all religions – the attitude towards fire and water, sacred food, the need to see an image of God, etc. But the concepts of man are incomparable.
Despite the fact that many Hindus are willing to accept the ethical teachings of the Gospel, especially the Sermon on the Mount (which had a great influence on Gandhi), they reject the theological structure of Christianity. They see the Christian concept of love and its influence in society as akin to the concept of “bhakti” (religious path), and usually worship Jesus Christ as a saint, not accepting, however, the organizational structure and the exclusiveness of Christianity, considering it an obstacle to cooperation and interchange. Christianity as a doctrine is absolutely intolerable, even to its own different schools.