Salvation According to Hinduism
by Vijay Chandra
Hinduism is one of the living religions that originated in Southern Asia along with other Hindu sects such as Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Hinduism, one of the oldest religions in the world today, dates from 3500 B.C. It is the largest religion in India which has a population of 1.5 billion, of which about 90 percent are Hindus. Hinduism is a very powerful religion and has become very fanatical in certain parts of India, calling India for Hindus.
Hinduism is unique among the religions of the world, for it has a system of castes: Brahman [the priestly class]; Kshatriya [the rulers and warriors]; Vaisay [the common agriculturists and artisans]; and the Sudra [the low caste].
Over the centuries the salvation options in Hinduism have varied widely:
Hinduism is a religion without a founder, without a central authority, and without a fixed creed. It is filled with contradictions. Some adherents worship a personified Power of Nature while others worship idols of their local village. It has no uniform moral standard. It changes, yet continues. Hence it is called ‘Sanathan Dharma’ [Eternal Religion].
The concept of salvation in Hinduism also changes and varies in different periods of time. In this article, I will try to survey the teaching of salvation theme from three ways.
The early period of Hinduism:
SALVATION IN THE EARLY PERIODS OF HINDUISM [3500 B.C – 250 A.D].
The ways salvation or the pathway of salvation in Hinduism is unique in each of the early periods of Hinduism which have been classified into:
- The Pre-Vedic Period, 3500 B.C.;
- The Vedic Period, 2000-1000 B.C.;
- The Brahmanic Period 600-250 B.C.;
- Devotional Period [250 B.C -250 AD].
The religion of the Pre-Vedic period was polytheistic. There was worship of things such as:
- Trees, animals, goddesses, and Shiva. The way of salvation was not very clear. Actual Hinduism began with Vedic Period. The Hindu Scriptures of these periods are called Vedas of which there are four classifications. The important Veda is the Rig-Veda. The religion in the Vedic- Period was mostly nature worship. Hindus prayed to the personalized powers of nature, such as sun, moon, sky, wind, rain, dawn, earth, air and fire.
- But the idea of sin is present in Vedic religion. Prayers were offered for the forgiveness of sin. To obtain salvation according to the Vedic teaching one had to offer prayers, offerings, and repeat magic formulas to avert the wrath of the offended gods. The chief method of salvation in the Rig Vedic was prayer.
During the Brahamanic Period, the priests became more important than the gods. The chief literature of this period is Brahmanas. The priest introduced sacrifices. Salvation was mostly obtained mainly through sacrifices performed by the Brahman Priests. Among the sacrifices, the chief and elaborate sacrifice was Asva-Medha [horse sacrifice]. The sacrifice required a whole year for its completion. It involved the slaying of 609 animals in a certain prescribed succession.
In the Upanishadic period, the writers of Upanishads left the deities of the Vedas and the sacrificial rituals of the Brahmanas in order to discover the inner force, the origin of phenomena of nature and self. The four-fold caste system was believed to have been created by Bahama [God]. Maya became the doctrine of the ‘not real’. The Upanishads emphasized the knowledge of the supreme way of salvation. But knowledge of what? The knowledge of Ultimate Reality. For them, Brahma is Ultimate Reality. Brahma is not a person but a Cosmic Power, that is “Sarvam Brahma” [everything is Brahama]. Those who understand this truth will experience salvation.
Regarding Salvation or Liberation, a totally new dimension took shape during this period. The Upanishads discarded the Vedic gods as necessary for man’s salvation. They also discarded the efficacy of the sacrifice for one’s salvation.
During this period Hinduism became legalistic. The Code of Manu taught the sacredness and saving efficacy of the Vedas, the performance of Hindu sacrifices, the sanctioning of war, Upanishadic knowledge of Braham-Atman, and the final release from transmigration. Temples and temples priests became important. Idols are first mentioned in these documents.
The four-fold caste system was greatly elaborated in this period. The Brahman by birth was considered the incarnation of deity and the Sudra was placed in low status. Salvation, according to this period, was obtained by showing obedience to the law of Manu; particularly to the law of caste.
During the period of Devotional Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita became the most important. The Bhagavad Gita is highly esteemed scripture of Hinduism. The Gia or ‘The Song of the Adorable” is written in a form of dialogues between Krishna the Charioteer of Arjuna and the leader of the Pandavas. The Bhagavad Gita reaffirms the caste system. The main message of the Bhagavad Gita is ‘Do your caste duty and trust your God for the rest of your salvation’ [Hinduism practices discrimination amongst their own people].
The nature of salvation in Bhagavad Gita is very remarkable. The Bhagavad Gita offers universal salvation to all sinners even to women of low-caste Sudra. Salvation as per the Bhagavad Gita is obtained chiefly through devotion to a personal deity.
SALVATION ACCORDING TO POPULAR HINDUISM [250 A.D—1700 A.D].
During the period of popular Hinduism, the concept of salvation derived from the teaching of literature, namely, the Epics, Puranas, Philosophical Schools and the Religious Sects of Hinduism. The content of The Epics and Puranas has two great stories ‘The Mahabharata’ and ‘The Ramayana’. During this period a great change took place about the way of salvation [one must remember the concept of salvation constantly changes in Hinduism with new formula].
Till this period the teaching of the salvation through the way of knowledge was relevant to the intellectuals, Brahamas, and the sages. In this period a new concept was developed to make the way of salvation understandable to common people. The new way of salvation in this period was through the way of devotion to any god, idols, river or mountain. To obtain the salvation then people worshipped idols, visited sacred places and observed several ceremonies. The idols were in the form of all kinds of human and animal representations and even male and female organs [like man’s private parts, male organs which are worshipped by females].
Various philosophical schools originated at this time as the result of attacks made by the Jaime and Buddhists against the traditions and doctrines of the Vedas and Upanishads. There are six such schools. All these schools have some common factors to contribute to the way of salvation. The Nyaya school tells the meaning of the knowledge which is the way of salvation. The Vaisheshika school mainly deals with the atomic constitution of things.
The Samkhya schools explain systematically the origin of the world. The Yoga school provides means of attaining ultimate perfection by controlling physical and psychical elements of human nature. This system is very popular in India and wherever the Hindus live.
The Mimamsa school teaches that salvation will be obtained through Dharma of ritualistic observance prescribed in the Vedas. The Deanna school tells of the philosophy of the Upanishads.
Saivism is a very important sect in which Siva is worshipped. Remission of sins through repentance is not mandatory; a mere performance of religious ceremonies, such as bathing in sacred rivers and uttering of a few mantras or prayers, all ineffective in acquiring salvation. According to this sect, the Power of Siva is defined in various names such as Kali [the goodness of destruction desiring blood sacrifice], Durga and Parvathi the wife of Siva. The way of salvation according to this sect is by the way of Sadhanas, that is through different efforts to become good. The god of Vaishnavism is Visna is the best means of emancipation. Devotees of another sect, Ramaism, seek salvation through loving devotion of Rama [a mere human being] who is worshipped today by millions of Hindus everywhere, an incarnation of Vishnu.
SALVATION ACCORDING TO MODERN HINDUISM [1700 A.D. TO PRESENT]:
Hindu reformers were influenced by Christianity, though their reformation was based on their original religious materials. Several leaders are significant.
- Ram Mohan Roy [1777-1833] was born in a Bengal family. He was well versed in Bengali, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, English and the Hebrew language. He did not accept idol worship. He wrote a book on Jesus, ‘The principles of Jesus: The Guide to Happiness’. He accepted some truths from all other religions [syncretism]. In order to get salvation one has to worship only in a spiritual way instead of resorting to Hindu asceticism, temples and fixed forms of worship.
- Keshab-Chandra- Chandra Sen [1838-1884] became the greatest reformer of Hinduism. He started his own Samji [Society] called the Church of New Dispensation. He tried to organize the conflicting creeds of all religions. The church harmonized reason, faith, Yoga, and bhakti [holiness and social duties] in their highest forms to attain spiritual growth.
- Ramakrishna Paramahamsa [1834-1886] was born in a pious Brahman family. He had no education but became a devotee of Kali. His movement became the most influential of modern movements of Hinduism. His main teaching about religion was that all religions are equally good. His main method of meditation was Samadhi [concentration on God]. According to his teaching, salvation can be obtained through any religion.
- Another important figure in Hindu religion was Swamy Vivekananda [1862-1902]. He was born in a middle call [Kshatriya] warrior family. He became the disciple of Ramakrishna. His main teaching was that no conversion should be attempted because nobody is a sinner [he denied original sin]. To call a man a sinner is a sin. He came to the USA and preached in Chicago. He based his gospel on the doctrine of the identity of the individual soul with Brahma, and so espoused the divinity of man [like Bennie Hinn who says there is a spark of divinity in man so that you are little gods]. Today some preachers are propagating this kind of teaching. And much of ‘New Age’ thinking is drawn from Indian philosophy.
SALVATION IS THE PLAN OF GOD: Genesis 3:15
Christianity is a remarkable contrast to all the salvation options in Hinduism. The author of salvation is the Triune God. The reality of sin and the consequences of sin in Christianity are not ignored but in Hinduism, it is ignored. Hindus need help and there is no perfect Hindu and their religion has a multiplicity of gods, etc. Man, in spite of his wisdom, intelligence and enlightenment cannot produce his own salvation—a great contrast to Hinduism. But God has planned for the salvation of humankind in spite of its unworthiness.
Man has sinned according to the word of God (Rom 1:18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30). Man cannot save himself because all his good works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Man is condemned and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But God gave His Jesus Christ (John 3:16) to save his people from sin (Matthew 1:21), as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God (John 1:11, 12). Hindu religion has occultism, magic and communicates with the devil.
Acts 4:12 “And in none other than Jesus Christ is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved”. Through the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ salvation is provided. But in Hinduism, there is no mention of such honest sacrifice by any god incarnate person who is righteous and pure and who came to the world as an historical person to save sinners. The gods and goddesses, the gurus, Hindu prophets are false, they have misled and continue to mislead millions of Hindus to a lost eternity. The gods of Hinduism are the figment of the mind of a demon-possessed man. They have created gods in their minds and loaded it upon Hindu people.
Faith in Jesus Christ is essential for salvation (Acts 16:31). When a sinner accepts Jesus Christ as his or her Savior then Jesus comes into the heart to dwell (Eph 3:17). Prior to that man is dead in trespasses (Eph 2:1, 2). Those who are saved by the grace of Christ are protected by the Holy Spirit. In Hinduism, there is no Holy Spirit but only evil spirit. There is no caste system in Christianity (John 3:16). Believers live as brothers and sisters in the church. Instead of the way of Knowledge [Janna- Marga], the way of Devotion [Bhakti-Marga] and the way of Actions [Karma- Marga], salvation is obtained only through faith in Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).