Observations on life; particularly spiritual

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Same-sex marriage

same-sex marriage 3 400pxThis month Australia faces a postal survey on marriage law. The survey form asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” If the law was changed in this way, it would change the current meaning of the word “marriage”. In this context, a recent article in the local media claims that the Bible “never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly”. So what does the Bible say about same-sex marriage?

The term “same-sex marriage” or “marriage equality” is a modern term for “homosexual marriage” (a long-term homosexual relationship). What does the Bible say about homosexual relationships? We will look at the portion of the New Testament written to the church (Acts to Revelation) in the first century AD because the principles given in this part of the Bible are directly relevant to today. Homosexuality is mentioned specifically in three such passages and we will now look these in turn.

Romans 1

The book of Romans was written by Paul to the church in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire (v,7). After the introduction (v.1-15), the theme is given as God’s plan of salvation for humanity (v.16-17). This is the gospel (good news) about Jesus Christ and His resurrection “that brings salvation to everyone who believes”. Then Paul shows that everyone is a sinner in need of this salvation. He considers Gentiles who haven’t heard the gospel (1:18-32), self-righteous moralists (2:1-16), Jews (2:17 – 3:8) and then all humanity (3:9-20). He then shows how this salvation must be received by faith in what Christ has done (3:21 – 5:21).

The passage we are looking at describes Gentiles who reject God’s revelation:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
(Romans 1:18-32NIV)

The steps involved in understanding a passage in the Bible begin with finding the original meaning and then considering what has changed since that time before applying it to our situation today.

What did it mean in the 1st century AD?

Those who reject God’s revelation (which is available to everyone), are said to be ungodly and wicked, and they “suppress the truth” (v.18). As God reveals Himself in His creation these “people are without excuse” (v.20). The consequences of their choice to reject God’s revelation in creation are that they foolishly worship idols (instead of God) and behave wickedly (Rom. 1:18-23). Then Paul describes some of this behavior, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another (sexual immorality) … Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations (heterosexual marriage) for unnatural ones (homosexual sexual activity). In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women (heterosexual marriage) and were inflamed with lust for one another (homosexual sexual activity). Men committed shameful acts with other men (homosexual sexual activity), and received in themselves the due penalty for their error…. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Rom. 1:24-27, 32).

Losing a proper view of God (v. 23) leads to sexual immorality (v.24), including homosexuality (v.26-27). In particular, homosexual sexual activity is described as “shameful lusts”, “unnatural” and “shameful acts”. It’s an unnatural sexual activity because it’s an abnormal sexual activity. Natural (normal) sexual activity is in heterosexual marriage, which is fruitful (can produce new life). This was God’s order in creation (Adam and Eve were the first husband and wife). If Adam was homosexual, there would be no humanity!

This passage says that homosexual sexual activity (which was prevalent in the Roman Empire) was one of the characteristics of an ungodly lifestyle. The other characteristics of an ungodly lifestyle were idol worship (v.23, 25), other sexual immorality (v.24) and “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (v. 29-31). This list of sins identifies those who were not Christians.

God’s judgement for these people who reject His revelation is given in v.32 as eternal separation from God (spiritual “death”). What a sad outcome of going one’s own way. So rejecting God’s truth has eternal consequences. The only way for such people to avoid God’s judgment is to repent (stop this behavior) and turn to God.

So what did this passage mean in the 1st century AD? The characteristics of ungodly behavior are given and idolatry and homosexual sexual activity are condemned in particular. It meant that anyone who practiced idolatry was under God’s judgment. And anyone who practiced homosexual sexual activity was under God’s judgment. And the same applied to the behaviors listed in v.29-31. Everyone was condemned! All were sinners who deserved eternal punishment in hell. The only way to avoid this punishment was to accept the good news about Jesus.

So homosexual sexual activity was one of the characteristics of the flesh (sinful nature; Gal. 5:19-21). This means that the Bible condemned homosexual sexual activity in the 1st century AD. As there are no qualifications given, any and all homosexual sexual activity was condemned. They were all sinful.

How does it apply in the 21st century AD?

What has changed since the 1st century AD? The biblical principles for the church to follow (including those in Romans) haven’t changed. And people still reject God’s revelation in creation. So human rebellion against God hasn’t changed. And idolatry, sexual immorality, homosexual sexual activity, wickedness, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice and gossip, slander still occur. And people are still God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, promise-breakers, cruel, and ruthless. So human nature hasn’t changed. But history, society and technology have changed. Given these similarities, the application of this passage is like what it was in the first century. Any and all homosexual sexual activity is unnatural and against God’s order of creation.

What about same-sex attraction? This passage is addressing homosexual sexual behavior and not just homosexual attraction. There is a difference between being a practicing homosexual and having a homosexual tendency. It is the sexual practice that the Bible condemns, not the orientation. There are many who have an attraction to their own gender but refuse to give in to it. By the power of the Spirit, they have disciplined themselves to resist the temptation and to live in purity.

What about loving homosexual relationships? These are what’s being addressed in the marriage survey. If they include homosexual sexual activity (such as same-sex marriage), then they come under God’s condemnation.

Isn’t it outdated to say that gays are “shameful”? In some societies homosexuality is promoted as an “alternative lifestyle” that should be accepted in a spirit of tolerance. And there is “gay pride” and rainbow festivals celebrating cultural diversity. This is not in God’s order of things but is an indication of humanity’s rebellion against God and against His order in creation. In God’s sight such behavior is shameful, and not something to be proud of. The difference is that the Bible presents God’s viewpoint and the alternative views are those of sinful humanity. On the other hand, the Bible says that heterosexual marriage is honorable (Heb. 13:4).

What did the media article claim about this passage?

In Romans 1:26-27, Paul condemns people swapping out their usual partner for one of the same gender. He claims this is a result of idolatry and uses it as part of his argument for why one should only follow (his) God.
This is a wrong assumption and an attempt to narrow the application of this passage. The passage was written to all at the church at Rome and not just to those who were married heterosexually. It isn’t restricted to any one part of society and not another. Instead, according to this passage any and all homosexual sexual activity was unnatural and against God’s order of creation. This includes so called “same-sex marriage” and “marriage equality” if it includes homosexual sexual activity.
Where is the evidence that the passage is about “swapping out their usual partner for one of the same gender”? There is none! This is pure speculation. It comes from the writer’s alleged context of “Even if married (to a woman) and often prior to marriage, a wealthy man might have a young male lover or male partner”.

It is typical of the strong “them and us” rhetoric of the ancient world, serving a larger argument and is not a statement on sexuality per se.
Who are the “them and us”? The passage isn’t comparing Gentiles against Jews or Christians, because this section of Romans is showing that all are sinners. It’s showing similarities, not differences. The larger argument is that all the Gentiles were sinners. This means that all the items listed (including homosexual sexual activity) were sinful.

If it’s not a statement on sexuality, and homosexual sexual activity (in a loving relationship) is deemed to be acceptable to God, then can aspects of the other items listed (such as: idolatry, sexual immorality, wickedness, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice) be acceptable lifestyles in God’s eyes as well? According to this line of argument, murder is acceptable sometimes!

As New Testament scholar Sean Winter summarizes: “Paul shares a stereotypical Jewish distrust of Graeco-Roman same sex activity, but is simply not talking about loving partnerships between people with same sex orientation.”

If “loving partnerships between people with same sex orientation” include homosexual sexual activity, then they are included in the scope of this passage because that is the topic being addressed. According to this passage any and all homosexual sexual activity is unnatural and against God’s order of creation.

The statement that “Paul shares a stereotypical Jewish distrust of Graeco-Roman same sex activity” is a very low view of scripture. This is God’s view, not just Paul’s! It’s not just his cultural bias.

It is unlikely Paul had any concept of sexual orientation and he was certainly not describing a committed adult relationship.
As shown above, Paul was addressing homosexual sexual activity. If “sexual orientation” implies homosexual sexual activity, then what Paul says applies to such sexual orientation. And if “a committed adult relationship” implies homosexual sexual activity, then what Paul says applies to such relationships.

same-sex marriage 4 376 px1 Corinthians 6

This letter was written by Paul to the church at Corinth. It deals with problems in the church about Christian conduct. One of the problems was that they were cheating and wronging other Christians when they were trying to resolve disputes in court. Paul says that they were behaving like unbelievers and he lists some other behaviors that are under God’s judgment. The only way for such people to avoid God’s judgment is to repent (stop this behavior) and turn to God (v.11).

“Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:8-10).

What did it mean in the 1st century AD?

This list of sins identifies those who were not Christians. People who practice any of these (and similar) sins are not true Christians. Paul says, “do not be deceived” because the sexually immoral love to deceive others about their sexual immorality, idolaters about their idolatry, adulterers about their adultery, homosexuals about their homosexuality, thieves about their theft, the greedy about their greed, drunkards about their drunkenness, slanderers about their slander, and swindlers about their swindling.

In this passage, “men who have sex with men” is a translation of two Greek words “malkos” (Strongs #3120) and “arsenokoites” (Strongs #733). The NET translation notes for these words are given in the Appendix.

The Greek word “malkos” (Strongs #3120) means “soft or effeminate” (Strongs concordance). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it means “soft, soft to touch or metaphorically, and in a bad sense: effeminate, of a catamite (a boy kept for homosexual practices) or a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness”. This word occurs four times in the New Testament (Mt. 11:8 (twice); Lk. 7:25; 1 Cor. 6:9).

The Greek word “arsenokoites” (Strongs #733) means “a male engaging in same-gender sexual activity” (Strongs concordance). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it means “a male who lies with a male as with a female, a sodomite”. This word occurs twice in the New Testament (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10).

These words are translated in 1 Cor. 6:9 as follows:
NIV: “men who have sex with men” (Comment: the translation of two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts).
ESV: “men who practice homosexuality” (Comment: The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts).
HCSB: “anyone practicing homosexuality” (Comment: literally “passive homosexual partners, active homosexual partners”).
NET: “passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals” (Comment: see translation notes in the Appendix).

This means any and all male homosexual sexual activity is sinful and bars one from the kingdom of God. There are no qualifications.

How does it apply in the 21st century AD?

The other behaviors listed in this passage can still occur today; wrongdoing, sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. So human nature hasn’t changed. But history, society and technology have changed. Given these similarities, the application of this passage is like what it was in the first century. Any and all male homosexual sexual activity is sinful and its practice bars one from the kingdom of God. Ongoing male homosexual sexual activity is one of the characteristics of unbelievers.

What did the media article claim about this passage?

Paul is using a standard list of vices here to make a wider rhetorical point.

The main point of this passage is that the Corinthians should stop behaving like unbelievers. This list of sins (wrongdoing, sexually immorality, idolatry, adultery, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling) identifies those who were not Christians. As each of these is a sin in God’s eyes, then homosexual sexual activity is also a sin in God’s eyes.

Where some English translations might include “homosexuality” on this list, the translation is not that simple, which is why various English words are used (adulterer, immoral persons, prostitutes).

The ESV, HCSB and NET translations use the words “homosexuality” and “homosexual” and the NIV says “men who have sex with men”, which is equivalent. See the Appendix for detailed translation notes. In this context, the two Greek word seem to mean “the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts”.

The Greek word malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 means “soft” or “effeminate” and captures the Graeco-Roman distaste at a man taking a “female” role. In the Bible it is commonly used to describe fancy clothing, and outside the Bible was a term for cult prostitutes.

See the Appendix for detailed translation notes. In this context, the Greek word seems to mean “the passive partner in consensual homosexual acts”.

The word arsenokoites is rarer. Scholars have debated whether it refers to male prostitution or pederasty or something else. To translate it as “homosexual” is problematic for two reasons: it is unlikely Paul had any concept of sexual orientation and he was certainly not describing a committed adult relationship.

See the Appendix for detailed translation notes. In this context, the Greek word seems to mean “the active partner in consensual homosexual acts”. Paul’s treatment is so general that it includes “sexual orientation” and “a committed adult relationship”.

1 Timothy 1

This letter was written by Paul to Timothy to instruct him about the care of the church at Ephesus, including to oppose false teachers of legalism and Gnosticism. Some of the false teachers were teaching about the law, but they didn’t know what they were talking about (v.7). Paul then explains that the purpose of the law is to reveal people’s sin and to produce conviction of sin. The passage we are looking at has a list of sins that keep people from God.

“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which He entrusted to me” (1 Tim. 1:8-11).

What did it mean in the 1st century AD?

This list of sins identifies ungodly behavior. It includes: those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the sexually immoral, those practicing homosexuality, slave traders, liars, and perjurers (lying under oath).

The Greek word translated “those practicing homosexuality” is “arsenokoites” (Strongs #733), which means “a male engaging in same-gender sexual activity” (Strongs concordance). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it means “a male who lies with a male as with a female, a sodomite”. So it means homosexual sexual activity. This word occurs twice in the New Testament (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10).

The fact that “arsenokoites” is included in the same list as murder means that in God’s sight homosexual sexual activity is a serious sin. This was how it was to be viewed by the early church.

How does it apply in the 21st century AD?

The other behaviors listed in this passage can still occur today; murderer, sexual immorality, slave trading, and lying. So human nature hasn’t changed. But history, society and technology have changed.

Given these similarities, the application of this passage is like what it was in the first century. Any and all male homosexual sexual activity is sinful.

same-sex marriage 5 400pxDiscussion

We may think that we are going well because we aren’t involved in homosexual sexual activity. And we may condemn the sinful behavior of others. But often we can’t see our own sin. We neglect what is sinful in our lives. Paul told the self-righteous, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same (kind of) things” (Rom. 2:1). It’s easy to be a hypocrite.

Paul also challenged the Jews about hypocrisy, “you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law (Rom. 2:21-23)?

Likewise, do we lapse into idolatry (anything that replaces God), greed, deceit, gossiping, and lying? These are all listed alongside homosexuality in the passages we have looked at (Rom. 1:22-31; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). The Bible says that people who practice any of these (and similar) sins are not true Christians. The solution is to confess our failures and repent (change behavior) and turn to follow God once again (1 Jn. 1:9). So let’s always try to honor God and follow His will, be content and generous, and be honest,

How should we deal with instances of homosexual sexual activity? We can look at how Jesus responded to adultery and how Paul responded to incest (Jn. 8:1-11; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). Jesus didn’t condemn or pardon the adulteress, but He told her to “leave your life of sin” (Jn.8:11). And Paul said that ongoing sexual immorality amongst church members, including homosexual sexual activity, is to be judged by excommunication (1 Cor. 5:9-11). If the offender is sorry and repentant of such a serious sin, they should be lovingly restored to church fellowship (2 Cor. 2:5-11). This means that Christians should not tolerate homosexual sexual activity or same-sex marriage amongst church members.

Also, Paul says that Christians are not to judge the sins of unbelievers because God will judge them at the great white throne (1 Cor. 5:12-13; Rev. 21:11-15). This means that Christians should tolerate homosexual sexual activity and same-sex marriage (if it is legalized) amongst people who aren’t church members.

Note that although textural scholars believe that John 8:1-11 wasn’t included in the original biblical text (autograph), it’s probably an accurate saying of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

We have seen that the statement that the Bible “never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly” is untrue and deceptive. It is true that the Bible doesn’t specifically address “same-sex marriage”. But it does condemn homosexual sexual activity, which is a broader subject than same-sex marriage.  Therefore, by simple logic, same-sex marriage is condemned as a lifestyle for the New Testament church. Likewise, same-sex marriage is condemned as a lifestyle for the church today.

Appendix: Translation notes, NET Bible

  1. “malkos” (Strongs #3120)

This term is sometimes rendered “effeminate,” although in contemporary English usage such a translation could be taken to refer to demeanor rather than behavior. BDAG 613 s.v. μαλακός 2 has “pert. to being passive in a same-sex relationship, effeminate esp. of catamites, of men and boys who are sodomized by other males in such a relationship.” L&N 88.281 states, “the passive male partner in homosexual intercourse – ‘homosexual.’ …As in Greek, a number of other languages also have entirely distinct terms for the active and passive roles in homosexual intercourse.” See also the discussion in G. D. Fee, First Corinthians (NICNT), 243-44. Many modern translations have adopted the phrase “male prostitutes” for μαλακοί in 1 Cor. 6:9 (NRSV, NLT) but this could be misunderstood by the modern reader to mean “males who sell their services to women,” while the term in question appears, at least in context, to relate to homosexual activity between males. Furthermore, it is far from certain that prostitution as commonly understood (the selling of sexual favors) is specified here, as opposed to a consensual relationship. Thus the translation “passive homosexual partners” has been used here.

  1. “arsenokoites” (Strongs #733)

On this term BDAG 135 s.v. ἀρσενοκοίτης states, “a male who engages in sexual activity w. a pers. of his own sex, pederast 1 Cor. 6:9…of one who assumes the dominant role in same-sex activity, opp. μαλακός…1 Tim, 1:10; Pol 5:3. Cp. Rom. 1:27.” L&N 88.280 states, “a male partner in homosexual intercourse – ‘homosexual.’…It is possible that ἀρσενοκοίτης in certain contexts refers to the active male partner in homosexual intercourse in contrast with μαλακός, the passive male partner.” Since there is a distinction in contemporary usage between sexual orientation and actual behavior, the qualification “practicing” was supplied in the translation, following the emphasis in BDAG.

Written, September 2017

Also see: Jesus and marriage
Gender and marriage
Marriage equality

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Stream some reality

September-17_StreamReality 400pxWe’re the ‘still generation’. Heart rates barely crest the flat line as we flab and sprawl motionless for hours, bingeing on episode after episode… after episode… Most of all we’re bingeing on Netflix – consuming huge amounts of data watching ‘House of cards’ and ‘Suits’ and ‘Stranger Things’. Anything that will take us to ‘fiction world’ where our pulse can race with fear and love and excitement – somewhere better than our own dreary reality.

Some shows are like the mute button on our lives. They grab us so completely that we’re drawn into the very skin of the main character. When our hero sees a threat, we feel their fear. When they see the beautiful girl, we fall in love. When they conquer the world, we feel proud. In ‘fiction world’ there are always people better than we are… stronger, braver, smarter… good looking. A place with heroes we can pretend to be.

But meanwhile, God is keeping the services running – like sunshine, oxygen, gravity, temperature control and so on – things that sparkle and matter if you take the time to notice. And in God’s real world there are urgent responsibilities – to love and care for those around us. Mom, Dad, Gran, the kids, the neighbors… even the dog. The really urgent responsibility though is to spend time with God – someone you can easily forget if you spend all your time online. You see, inside ‘fiction world’ God barely gets a mention or else He’s mocked or taken for granted. But when you turn reality back on – you remember that God is the one in control. It’s His reality. He made it and He promises in the Bible that if we draw near to Him He’ll draw near to us.

Oh, and if you’re looking for an exciting superhero – you know, someone who saves the day, then don’t look to fiction. In reality, Jesus sets the standard in action heroes. When He arrived amongst us humans He came with a terrifying challenge – to give His life selflessly so that we might live. By dying on the cross, Jesus defeated death making it possible for all people to come close to God. Which means your own reality – dreary or not – can feature the most exciting true story of all.

Bible Verse: James 4:8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you”.

Prayer: Dear God, in a world full of stories – help me to remember who you are and why your Son’s story is first in importance.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, September 2017

Testing Buddhism

It’s the best way to: transform yourself; find lasting happiness; clear your mind; find inner peace and relaxation; reduce stress and normalize blood pressure; develop awareness, ethics, mindfulness, insight and wisdom; find meaning to what would otherwise be a senseless life; understand the true nature of reality; be more understanding of others; improve relationships; be calmer when strong emotions arise; be kinder to ourselves and others; be more caring, and skillful; be freed from difficulties and problems; attain a state of purity and perfection; end one’s suffering; and gain insight into the true nature of life. These benefits have been attributed to Buddhist practices such as meditation.

It’s estimated that about 10% of the world’s population is Buddhist. This increases to at least 50% in Mongolia and Laos, at least 70% in Sri Lanka and Bhutan, at least 80% in Myanmar, and at least 90% in Thailand and Cambodia. However, the Buddhist population of China has been estimated at 20-80%, which is a huge uncertainty. The Buddhist faith is atheistic, although polytheism is also evident in many countries. In this way Buddhism is different to Christianity. But is Buddhism consistent with the message of the Bible? Is it one of the ways to salvation and spiritual liberation?

True or false?

The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests.

The Jesus test

This test states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-3, 6 NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, divine and human nature, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming (1 Jn. 4:1-3)?

The gospel test

The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by repentance of sin and faith in the work of Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).

The fruit test

Jesus Christ warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident (Gal. 5:19-23)?

I have previously summarized Buddhism. These tests will now be used to assess the Buddhist faith.

buddhism 8 400pxTesting the Buddhist faith

The Jesus test

Buddhism is a religion of the mind, which advocates present moment awareness, inner purity, ethical conduct, freedom from the problem of change, impermanence and suffering, and reliance upon one’s own experience and discernment on the Eightfold path as the teacher and guide, rather than an external authority (such as God) other than the dharma (teachings of Buddha).

Buddha found enlightenment in mediation. This is achieved by human effort, not through belief in any god. Buddha didn’t claim deity and didn’t attribute his teachings to any deity. So his teachings are not theistic. Instead they are a human system of self-discipline. Buddhism does not involve the worship of gods nor require a belief in gods. Buddha believed that if the world was created by a God, there would be no suffering. One doctrine agreed upon by all branches of modern Buddhism is that “this world is not created and ruled by a god”. In this sense, Buddhism is atheistic.

Buddhism applies the law of cause and effect to people’s lives (karma). But the Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies (heavens) proclaim the work of His (God’s) hands” (Ps. 19:1). The heavens that David saw were the sun, moon and stars. He realized that they were made (created) by God. So the Bible applies the law of cause and effect to all creation, not just to people’s lives. According to the law of cause and effect, creation (including the sun, moon and stars) demands a creator and the design (of the universe) demands a designer. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a Creator God. Creation shows that God is intelligent and powerful. The Bible’s message to those who reject this knowledge is: “They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky (including the sun, moon and stars). Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20 NLT).

More evidence of the Creator God is the fact that each person has a knowledge of right and wrong through their conscience. For those who are ignorant of God’s moral laws the Bible says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15NLT).

The two main ways that God reveals himself to people who haven’t heard about Jesus are creation and conscience (Rom. 1:19-20; 2:15). The conscience proves that they are all sinners because they don’t always follow their conscience. The Bible says they will be judged according to their response to the revelation of God in creation and to their guilty conscience. However, as mentioned above, Buddhists generally believe that “this world is not created and ruled by a god”.

The Bible also says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good” (Ps. 14:1NIV; 53:1). Also, “In his pride the wicked man does not seek Him (God); in all his thoughts there is no room for God” (Ps. 10:4). And “fools mock You (God) all day long” (Ps. 74:22). So it’s foolish to deny the existence of God. And it’s foolish to feel no need for God and live as if He never existed. This means that the Buddhist belief that the world is not created and ruled by a god is foolish!

Jesus isn’t mentioned in any of the numerous Buddhist scriptures and none of their gods is like Jesus. So, Buddhism says nothing directly about Jesus Christ. But Buddhists may think that Jesus was a holy man, or a guru (teacher). However, they wouldn’t see Jesus as the only way to God. At best, He would be one guru amongst the many gurus that they follow.

Except in matters of ethics and moral conduct, there is very little in common between the teachings of Jesus and the main teachings of Buddhism. So, Buddhism clearly fails the Jesus test. Buddhists don’t believe that Jesus is the unique Son of God whose sacrificial death (crucifixion) and resurrection solved the problem of humanity’s sinfulness. They don’t believe that Jesus came to the earth as a substitute to take the punishment that we all deserve.

But what about the supernatural beings believed by Buddha and in Mahayana Buddhism? These are gods with a small “g”. Although they are like superhumans their power is limited. They are not all powerful. Although Buddha was a polytheist, he focused on suffering rather than on a god. See the Appendix for the what the Bible says about polytheism. As these gods aren’t relevant to Buddhist practice, they are generally discarded by Buddhists in western countries. Some Buddhists also believe in a non-personal god who is evident in acts of love, compassion, and kindness.

The gospel test

The ultimate goal of Buddhist religious life is liberation from the cycle of birth and death (endless rebirth) and to escape from suffering. We will look at each of these in turn. One goal is liberation from suffering, fear and danger. The means of achieving this is to exert great effort to follow Buddhist teachings. If our sufferings are like a disease, then the teachings are like medicine, Buddha is like a doctor and Buddhist monks and nuns are like nurses. For example, Buddha taught that desire is the root of suffering and ignorance is the root of all evil. So he taught his followers to be detached and not to desire anything.

The Bible describes where the world came from, what has gone wrong in it, and what God is doing to set it right. It has four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Suffering begins with the entrance of evil in part two and suffering ends with the judgement of evil in part four. So suffering is not permanent. The Bible says that sin (rebellion against God) is the source of our suffering and pain (Gen. 3:16-19; Rom. 6:23). This is the opposite of Buddhism which says that both we and our world are basically good (this claim is debatable or unreliable, see comments below).

Our body responds with pain when it is subject to injury or illness. This is a normal reaction. It’s an indicator that lets us know something is wrong. Painlessness is the root cause of the damage leprosy (Hansen’s disease) patients incur. Although pain is something that none of us want; none of us can live a normal life without it.

From the beginning of time God has warned humanity about the relationship between sin (disobeying God’s will / word / laws) and the pain and death that are a result of it. Whether innocent or guilty, the reason for pain and death is sin. Sometimes it is the direct result of our own sin; sometimes it’s the indirect result of the cumulative sinfulness of the world. So Buddha made a poor diagnosis; He tried to fix a symptom (suffering) while he was ignorant of the root cause (sin)!

When God called Moses, He said: “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt … I have heard them crying out … and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them … So now go. I am sending you … I will be with you” (Ex. 3:7-12). After this, Moses rescued the Israelites from their suffering in Egypt. Likewise, God has seen humanity’s suffering and sent Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sin and suffering. The Bible says “Surely He (Jesus) took up our pain and bore our suffering … He was crushed for our iniquities (sins) (Isa. 53:4-5; Mt. 8:17). And God also sees our suffering today and is concerned for us!

The Christian gospel may be summarized as: “Because of His infinite mercy, God sent His Son (Jesus) to earth to save people so they could live right. He was the sacrifice which would permit God to blot out all our sins, and enable us to be clean so that we could dwell eternally with our holy God. Jesus died for the sins of humanity”. But Buddhism is based on salvation by works.

The other Buddhist goal is liberation from the seemingly endless cycle of birth and death (rebirth). There are two problems with this goal: the problem being addressed and the solution that is offered.

The Bible shows that humanity is the special creation of God, created in God’s image with both a material body and an immaterial soul and spirit. People are distinct and unique from all other creatures—angels and the animal kingdom. The Bible teaches that at death, while a person’s body is mortal (it decays and returns to dust) their soul and spirit continue to either a place of torment for those who reject Christ or paradise (heaven) in God’s presence for those who have trusted in the Savior. Both categories of people will be resurrected, one to eternal judgment and the other to eternal life with a glorified body (Jn. 5:25-29). The Bible says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This makes it clear that humanity only dies once and is then judged on the life they have lived. One is not born again in an endless cycle of death and rebirth, and its opportunities to improve one’s karma. The Bible never mentions people having a second chance at life or coming back as different people or animals. As Larry Norman sang, “you live once and you die once, with no re-incarnate (rebirth) episodes”.

We have seen that the idea of rebirth is a false teaching. On the other hand, the Christian faith addresses the problem of sin (rejection of God’s revelation in creation and in Jesus Christ) and its consequences. We will now look at the solution being offered.

Because a Buddhist’s place of birth and their status in the next life is believed to be based on rebirth and karma, good works and striving to keep the rules of Buddhism play an important role in a Buddhist’s way of life. A Buddhist tries to follow many rules to live a moral life. Yes, good works do please God, but only the good works and the good and sinless life of Jesus. The Bible says that it was Jesus’ good work (sacrifice) on the cross that will get us salvation and liberation!

Our good works are not good enough. Larry Norman also sang, “you can’t hitchhike to heaven or get there by just being good”. The Bible says that most of the work of salvation is done by God and not by us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

Paul told Christians, “why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires” (Col. 1:20-23NLT). Paul is saying that Christianity is not a religion of rules. Taboos fail in their purpose. They are futile. They do not restrain evil. God wants us to avoid such human religious systems. We cannot control the sinful nature by rules. Following strict rules, like in Buddhism, is worthless because it fails to control sinful desires.

A Buddhist’s salvation is never guaranteed; they don’t know how much meditation they need to do or how many lives they will live before reaching nirvana (Buddhist heaven). By contrast, the Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on scripture when it declares that faith in Jesus saves (Acts 16:31) and we can rest confidently in this assurance (1 Jn. 5:13). Our forgiveness and salvation are completely based on the work of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and not on any of our deeds because we have a sinful nature (Rom. 7:18).

Some Buddhists are zealous and devout, but salvation is dependent on the object of one’s zeal and devotion and not on the zeal itself. Their focus/object is Buddhist teachings, which we have shown to be false. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, Buddhists are “trusting in deceptive words that are worthless” (Jer. 7:8). In Judah’s case, the deceptive words spoken by the false prophets were that God wouldn’t destroy Jerusalem because He wouldn’t allow the Jewish temple to be destroyed. This superstitious belief was stated repetitively, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4), which reminds me of the repetitive nature of Buddhist mantras. But repetition doesn’t increase the truthfulness of a statement! In Buddhism’s case, the deceptive words come from Buddhist teachings which are false. Because of false prophets, Judah followed “other gods” (Jer. 7:9) apart from the real God, while because of Buddhist teachings, Buddhists follow many “other gods”.

So, Buddhism fails the gospel test.

shrine 2 400pxThe fruit test

Buddhism is often said to be a tolerant religion. But Laos is included in the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. It was ranked 24, between Palestinian Territories and Brunei. Christians make up about 2% of the population in Laos. There is some freedom for Christians to meet in more developed areas, but in the rural regions many find themselves harassed, isolated and even imprisoned. Buddhism plays a big part in society and is central to Lao culture. Christianity is seen as something foreign and a threat to their way of life. Believers must be very careful when living out their faith. Building new churches is almost impossible as you need government approval and extensive amounts of paperwork must be submitted. Worshipping or reading the Bible in illegal places can result in jail time, fines or violent punishment. Since their homes are so small, trying to worship in secret is impossible. If someone converts to Christianity their spouse can threaten divorce, and their families can cut them off from their inheritance. Because of the negative views of Christianity, believers are often limited when accessing resources. They can be denied employment and acceptance into schools.

Myanmar was ranked 28 in the World Watch List, between Jordan and Tunisia. Christians and other minorities have been under attack from government forces for many years. Pressure comes from both radical Buddhist groups and the government. Buddhism is the majority religion, and could be used to instigate nationalism and further marginalize every other religion. The Buddhist majority have put in place attempts to try and curb the spread of Islam. Christians are also viewed with suspicion. The government promotes Buddhism over Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Minority populations that adhere to these and other faiths are denied building permits, banned from proselytizing and pressured to convert to the majority faith. Religious groups must register with the government, and Myanmar’s citizens must list their faith on official documents. Myanmar’s constitution provides for limited religious freedom, but individual laws and government officials actively restrict it. Also, in 2014 the U.S. State Department named Myanmar amongst eight “Countries of Particular Concern” that severely violate religious freedom rights within their borders. For example, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights has called the current Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” of Muslims and Hindus.

Bhutan was ranked 30 in the World Watch List, between Tunisia and Malaysia. Christianity is seen as a foreign and dangerous religion. No congregation has ever been allowed to build a church. All Christian fellowship remains underground. Christians are monitored and their meetings can be threatened and closed. Many Christians have not been issued with an electronic identity card. They therefore cannot access government services like healthcare. They cannot travel, enrol at a school or apply for jobs. This puts immense pressure on the struggling underground church.

Sri Lanka was ranked 45 in the World Watch List, between United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. In Sri Lanka the idea of Buddhist supremacy is on the rise. Dangerous attitudes continue to grow, especially in rural areas. Buddhist monks regularly attack believers. Pastors feel unequipped to face persecution and are left traumatized and unsure. Christians are exposed to acts of extreme violence and discrimination. If believers want to worship, they can only do so in registered houses. They are regularly visited by angry mobs and Buddhist monks. There was even discussion of a new law to make converting people illegal. School is difficult for Christian children. Religious education is compulsory, but due to the lack of Christian teachers, most kids are left attending Buddhist classes. If they do not want to, they are punished and even fined. They are subject to harassment, bullying and bad grades. Some children are even denied entry to a school because of their faith. Christians are often prevented from accessing wells or electricity. They’re treated like second class citizens. The pressure to deny Jesus is relentless. Christian businesses are often boycotted and families’ livelihoods suffer.

Although it’s difficult to assess attitudes and behavior objectively, these reports mention persecution of religious minorities and a lack of religious freedom in some Buddhist countries.

Buddha taught that there would be no social classes (like castes) in the Buddhist monastic order. They would be like a humanistic society. However, when Buddha created the monastic order he divided society into two social classes, a practice that Buddhism intended to do away with!

What type of attitudes and behavior do you think Buddhism encourages?

Summary

We have tested Buddhism against three tests from the Bible. It clearly failed two tests (about Jesus and the gospel) and the results of the third test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which is the product of human imagination, and which isn’t consistent with the message of the Bible. So, Buddhists don’t worship the same God as Christians.

Appendix: What the Bible says about polytheism

Buddhism arose in northeastern India in about the 5th century BC when their religion was polytheistic. During this period, the deities of Babylon, and Greece were also polytheistic. In fact, this was probably a characteristic of all the Gentile nations at that time. It was also characteristic of previous nations (such as Egypt and Phoenicia) and following nations (such as the Roman Empire).

What does the Bible say about such polytheistic religions?
– About 2000BC Abraham left the polytheistic religion in Ur of the Chaldeans (in Mesopotamia) to live in the land of Canaan and to follow the monotheistic God who created the universe.
– About 1750BC when Jacob left Paddan Aram (in upper Mesopotamia), his wife Rachael stole her father’s polytheistic household gods (Gen. 31:19, 30, 32, 35). When he arrived back in Canaan, Jacob buried all their foreign polytheistic gods (Gen. 35:2-4).
– About 1450BC when the Israelites left Egypt in the exodus, God told them to stop practicing the polytheistic religion of the Egyptians and gave them commands on how to follow the true monotheistic God.
– About 1500BC when the Israelites conquered and settled in Canaan, God warned them not to follow the polytheistic religion of the Canaanites and the surrounding nations.
– Between 1380BC and 1050BC the Israelites forsook the God that brought them out of Egypt and followed the polytheistic religion of the peoples around them (Jud. 2:10-13). They intermarried with these peoples and served their polytheistic gods (Jud. 3:5-6). Consequently, the Israelites were punished by God and brought back to serving the true monotheistic God by a series of judges.
– Between 930BC and 722BC Israel was divided into two kingdoms and the northern kingdom followed the polytheistic religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Elijah and Elisha warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire.
– Between 700BC and 586BC, the southern kingdom of Israel (Judah) often followed the polytheistic religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Babylonian Empire.
– the 70-year exile in Babylon decimated the nation of Israel and seemed to cure those who returned to Judah from following polytheistic religions. But it took over 900 years for them to learn this lesson!
– In the 1st century AD, the New Testament apostles, such as Peter and Paul, preached against the polytheistic religion of the Roman Empire.

Since 2000BC God has distinguished Himself from polytheistic religions. By reading the Bible we can see repeated warnings against polytheistic religions. These warnings were given over a period of more than 1,500 years. Why not check this for yourself by reading the Bible?

Paul said that polytheistic gods are not real gods (Acts 19:26). He knew that they “cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Dt. 4:28; Dan. 5:23; Rev. 9:20). And that they are the work of Satan and his demons (2 Cor. 6:15-16; Rev. 9:20).

The clearest biblical arguments against polytheism are the numerous commands against idolatry. When the Thessalonians became followers of Christ, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us (believers) from the coming wrath” (1 Th. 1:9-10). The God who was living and true is contrasted against idols that were dead and false gods. They had learnt that God “doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve His needs—for He has no needs” (Acts 17:24-25NLT). The Corinthians were told to separate from idol worship (2 Cor. 6:16-17). John repeats this message that Christians should “keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). The true God is said to be God the Father or God the Son (Jesus), while idols are false gods.

Paul described the state of the Corinthians before they became Christians as “you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols” (1 Cor. 12:2NLT). Their idols were lifeless! But how were they being “led astray and swept along”? The Bible says that idolatry is associated with demon worship (Rev. 9:20). And it’s the work of Satan (2 Cor. 6:15-16). So they were being led astray and swept along by Satan and his demons! That’s why Paul “was greatly distressed to see that the city (of Athens) was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

So, the Bible forbids the worship of idols, angels, celestial objects, and items in nature. The Bible’s clear and consistent denunciation of idolatry is a conclusive argument against polytheism.

Written, August 2017

Also see: Basic Buddhism
Testing Hinduism
Testing Islam
Recognizing false teachers

Basic Buddhism

When Emma Slade visited Bhutan in 2011, the seeds of her meditation and yoga came to fruition. The Buddhist mantra of compassion and interaction with a lama (guru) touched her deeply. Consequently, she left her accountancy career to become a Buddhist nun. She says, “Your life is in your hands. But you should ask what matters to you? What do you know that is of any use?”

Buddhism is the major religion in the Asian countries of Cambodia, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, Tibet, China and Mongolia. It is comprised of the teachings of the Buddha, which includes concepts such as karma, rebirth and nirvana (enlightenment). This post is one in a series on major religions. To minimize bias, the following content has been mainly drawn from Buddhist websites.

Buddhism 1 400pxDefinitions

The word “Buddha” is derived from “budhi”, which means ‘to awaken”. So the Buddha is the awakened (or enlightened) one. The term applies to both the founder of Buddhism and to those who attain enlightenment and nirvana.

“Dharma” refers to the teachings of the Buddha, and to the later traditions of interpretation and addition that the various schools of Buddhism have developed to help explain and to expand upon the Buddha’s teachings.

A Lama is a Buddhist spiritual teacher (or guru). For example, the Dalai Lama (from Tibet) is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. He lives in exile in Nepal after fleeing Chinse rule of Tibet in 1959. As the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibetans believe he is the reincarnation of his 13 predecessors.

Buddhism has a wide range of sacred texts and scriptures. There are three primary canons of Buddhist scripture, called after the languages in which they were preserved — the Pali Canon (The Tripitaka, complied in the 1st century BC), the Chinese Canon, and the Tibetan Canon, and many of the same texts are preserved in more than one canon. The Tripitaka has three sections: disciple for monks and nuns; the teaching of Buddha; and Buddhist theology. And the Sutras were written by the 2nd century AD.

There are two main movements in Buddhism: Southern Buddhism, which maintains the importance of the community of monks and uses the Pali canon; and Eastern Buddhism, which is more liberal and open to a wider range of authoritative texts and ideas.

History

Buddhism arose in northeastern India in about the 5th century BC. It’s founder, Siddharha Gautama (Buddha), was a charismatic teacher. He was brought up in the ancient Hindu (Vedic) faith. Buddha found enlightenment in mediation. This is achieved by human effort, not through belief in any god. Buddha didn’t claim deity and didn’t attribute his teachings to any deity. So his teachings are not theistic. Instead they are a human system of self-discipline. Buddha spent much of his life teaching the dharma (the path to liberation from suffering) and establishing the sangha (a community of monks).

However, early Buddhist theology shows that the Vedic gods were highly respected and enthusiastically worshipped by the earliest Buddhists. Buddha was a polytheist, but he rejected the idea of a creator. He often spoke with various gods and one his names was “teacher of gods and humans”.

There are many varieties (schools) of Buddhism. About the 3rd century BC, the Sthaviravada and the Mahasanghika schools formed. Over the following centuries the Mahasanghika school eventually disappeared and the Theravad (“Doctrine of the Elders”) school, emerged from the Sthaviravada school. The latter is the dominant form of Buddhism today in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

During the 1st century CE, a new Buddhist school named Mahayana (“Great Vehicle”) developed. This school had a more adaptable approach and was open to doctrinal innovations. It is the dominant form of Buddhism today in China, Japan, and Korea.

Buddhism spread through much of Asia, but it declined in India during the Middle Ages when Hinduism incorporated the Buddha as part of its pantheon of gods.

Several centuries later a third Buddhist denomination emerged in North India. Called Vajrayana (the “Diamond Vehicle” or “Tibetan Buddhism), it spread throughout the Himalayan kingdoms of Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan, and northwards into Mongolia. In more recent times, immigration lead to Buddhism impact elsewhere via Meditation, Zen Buddhism, Yoga and New Age beliefs.

Over its long history, Buddhism has taken a wide variety of forms. Some emphasize rituals and the worship of deities, while others completely reject rituals and gods in favor of pure meditation. Yet all forms of Buddhism share respect for the teachings of the Buddha and the goal of ending suffering and the cycle of rebirth.

Although there are a wide range of Buddhist beliefs, here are some of their major beliefs. Please note that different Buddhist schools can follow different beliefs and practices.

buddhism 7 400pxNine major beliefs

Some of the basic beliefs of Buddhism are summarized below. These are believed to be universal truths. The core beliefs are called jewels, truths and precepts.

The three jewels (three refuges)

– I take refuge in my Buddha (as our teacher, so we can be enlightened).
– I take refuge in my dharma (in the Buddha’s teachings and methods).
– I take refuge in my religious community (monks and nuns).

The four noble truths (of suffering)

– All of life is marked by suffering. It’s the central reality of life. People get sick and die. Sometimes we can’t have what we want. Or, if we can have it we can’t keep it because nothing is permanent.
– Suffering is caused by desires and attachments. It originates in our mind. When we want something, that creates karma. And the karma keeps us trapped in a re-birth cycle. Desire means clinging to an impermanent world. Craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.
– Suffering can be stopped by eliminating desire and attachment. If we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time (not dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and free.
– The way to end desire and suffering is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path (by becoming a monk).

In Buddhism, the primary purpose of life is to end suffering. How can we be happy when there is so much misery and suffering? What can we do to find enlightenment (nirvana)? By following these beliefs, we can be freed from suffering and become enlightened. We can overcome the suffering that is an inevitable part of life by attaining a state called nirvana, in which we are no longer attached to our life. People who have attained detachment are enlightened and will attain nirvana.

The noble eight-fold path (of compassionate living)

These are eight rules of behavior that involve right (or compassionate):
– Wisdom (view, and intention),
– Moral values (speech, action or values, and livelihood),
– Meditation (mental effort, mindfulness, and concentration).

This path is an intense program of self-perfection and self-discipline in how to live with compassionate non-attachment in each moment. It leads to a form of meditation (like Raja Yoga in Hinduism) which enables a person to reach enlightenment. It encourages the Buddhist to live a virtuous life by following the ‘right’ (or compassionate) course of action in eight contexts. Many of these are moral evils to be avoided. But the eighth step, ‘Right Concentration’, goes to the heart of the Buddhist ideal. Right Concentration is described in Buddhist scripture as concentrating on a single object to induce a special state of consciousness through deep meditation. In this way, the Buddhist hopes to achieve complete purity of thought, leading ideally to nirvana, which is blissful acceptance of the world as it is.

The 5, 8 and 10 precepts

These are the moral code for Buddhists:
– Do no harm to any living being
– Always tell the truth
– Do not steal
– Refrain from illicit sex
– Do not consume alcohol
– Wear no decorations or jewelry
– Do not attend amusements (such as dancing, singing, and music)
– Eat moderately and not after noon
– Do not sleep on high or wide beds
– Touch no gold or silver

The first five precepts are for all Buddhists. The first eight precepts are for lay people on special days and the whole ten precepts are for monks and nuns.

The five clinging aggregates (Skandhas)

The components that make up an individual are:
– Physical body
– Emotions and feelings
– Perceptions
– Mental activity
– Consciousness

It is believed that these five factors constitute and completely explain a person’s mental and physical existence. But each of these is claimed to be empty and without substance. They are illusionary. This means that a person’s “self” is also illusionary. It has no real existence. This is a way to remove suffering because a belief in self is said to be a source of suffering They are suffering because they are impermanent. They change from moment to moment. By getting rid of the idea of self, we can look at happiness and suffering, praise and blame, and all the rest with equanimity. In this way, we will be no longer subject to the imbalance of alternating hope and fear.

The Buddha taught that the skandhas are not “you.” They are temporary, conditioned phenomena. They are empty of a soul or permanent essence of self. And clinging to these aggregates as “me” is an illusion.

The skandhas refute the idea of a “being or individual”, and complement the anatta doctrine of Buddhism which asserts that all things and beings are without self. The anatta and “five aggregates” doctrines are part of the liberating knowledge in Buddhism, wherein one realizes that the “being” is merely made up of a temporary grouping of five aggregates, each of which are “not I, and not myself”, and each of the skandha is empty, without substance. This means that there is no such thing as individual identity. Instead, we are all part of the oneness of the universe.

Rebirth

Reincarnation refers to the idea that there is an eternal soul that gets reborn into body after body. As Buddhists don’t believe in an eternal soul, strictly speaking they don’t believe in reincarnation. Instead, they use the term rebirth to convey continuity across different lifetimes. This lifetime is the effect of previous lifetimes, and the actions and intents of this lifetime will affect future lifetimes. So many Buddhists believe in a cycle of birth and death, which differs from the Hindu sense of reincarnation in which the soul is transferred. But Secular Buddhists, and probably lots of Zen Buddhists, don’t believe in the sort of continuity that results in remembering past lives.

In the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth, karma determines where a person will be born and their status in the next life; good karma leads to a heavenly realm, while bad karma can lead to rebirth as an animal or torment in hell. In Buddhism, there are six realms into which a person can be reborn; these realms are depicted in the Bhavachakra (Wheel of Life). There are numerous heavens and hells into which one may be reborn; one also may be reborn here on earth, either as a human being or as an animal. The form into which one is reborn is dependent upon the way that one lives in this life.

Only with enlightenment can a person be freed from the cycle of rebirth. The rebirth depends on the merit or demerit gained by one’s karma, as well as that accrued on one’s behalf by a family member. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain nirvana. This is a state of liberation and freedom from suffering. So, after death one is either reborn into another body (rebirth) or enters nirvana. Only Buddhas (those who have attained enlightenment) will achieve nirvana.

Buddhists believe that each rebirth we go through offers a chance to learn how to behave, how not to hurt someone, how not to be evil, and how not to be selfish. Nirvana is the Buddhist belief of lasting peace, which releases us from the cycle of rebirth. But we will not reach nirvana until we learn these things.

Karma

As in Hinduism, this is the moral law of cause and effect. Everything we do has consequences. This simple law explains things such as: inequality in the world, why some are born handicapped and some gifted, and why some live only a short life. People build up karma (both good and bad) as a result of their actions. This then determines the state of existence to which one is reborn after death. In Buddhism, the different levels can include hells, humans or animals in this world, or one of several heavens.

A notable aspect of the karma theory in Buddhism is merit transfer. A person accumulates merit not only through intentions and ethical living, but also is able to gain merit from others by exchanging goods and services, such as through dāna (charity to monks or nuns). Further, a person can transfer one’s own good karma to living family members and ancestors.

We are responsible for our past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions? We can look at (1) the intention behind the action, (2) the effects of the action on ourselves, and (3) the effects on others. This inspires us to take responsibility for our own lives. Just like gravity, the law of karma functions everywhere and all the time. We shape our future through our thoughts, words and actions. What we do now accumulates good or bad impressions in our mind. Knowing this gives us great freedom and puts us back in control of our lives. Karma is not fate. We can choose not to do harmful actions, and thus avoid creating the causes of future suffering. To sow the seeds for good results, we engage in positive actions.

Nirvana (Enlightenment)

The goal of Buddhism is a state of lasting, unconditional happiness known as nirvana (enlightenment). It is also described as liberation, highest happiness, bliss, fearlessness, and freedom. Nirvana means ‘blowing out’, as of a flame. It is the end of the cycle of rebirth. It is a blissful transcendent state which can be achieved either in life or after death – and which is achieved by anyone who becomes Buddha. Anyone can be a buddha. That’s when they reach enlightenment.

To bring us to this state, Buddhism points us to lasting values in this impermanent world, and gives us valuable information about how things really are. Through understanding the law of cause and effect, using practical tools like meditation to gain insight and develop compassion and wisdom, we can tap into our potential to realize the ultimate goal of enlightenment.

Buddhism teaches that the solutions to our problems are within ourselves not outside. The Buddha asked all his followers not to take his word as true, but rather to test the teachings for themselves. ln this way, each person decides for themselves and takes responsibility for their own actions and understanding.

Atheism

The Buddha’s teachings and Theravada Buddhism are essentially atheistic, although neither deny the existence of beings that might be called “gods”. Buddhism does not involve the worship of gods nor require a belief in gods. One doctrine agreed upon by all branches of modern Buddhism is that “this world is not created and ruled by a god”.

But in the earlier scriptures, the deities of Brahmanism are taken for granted, and later on Buddhists adopted the gods of their local district. So, most Asian Buddhists seem to accept the existence of supernatural entities which we would term “gods”. Also, in Mahayana Buddhism, the universe is populated with celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas (a person who can reach nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings) who are worshipped as gods and goddesses. Among the most popular Buddhist deities are Kuan Yin, the Medicine Buddha, the Laughing Buddha and the Green and White Taras.

Buddhist Temple 400pxSix major practices

Buddhism embraces many practices and traditions. Some Buddhist practices are summarized below.

Meditation

Meditation is at the heart of the Buddhist way of life. It is a method for understanding and working on the mind by learning to identify different negative mental states known as ‘delusions’, and learning how to develop peaceful and positive mental states or ‘virtuous minds’.

Anyone can learn basic meditation techniques and experience great benefits, but to progress beyond basic meditation requires faith in the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha (monks).

Mantras

A mantra is a sequence of words or syllables that are chanted, usually repetitively, as part of Buddhist practice. The chanting of a mantra is thought to evoke enlightenment. Sometimes mantras are used as a form of meditation to induce an altered state of consciousness. Often it is combined with breathing meditation so that one recites a mantra simultaneously with in-breath and out-breath to help develop tranquility and concentration.

Mantras are a linguistic device for deepening one’s thought or developing the enlightened mind. They have also been used as magic spells for purposes such as attaining wealth and long life and eliminating enemies. Other mantras are directed toward developing loving kindness.

Simple mantras use repetition of the Buddha’s name, “Buddho,” or use the “Dharma,” or the “Sangha,” (the community of monks), as mantra words. Some mantras direct attention to the process of change by repeating “everything changes,” or “let go”. Because the sound of the mantra is as important, sometimes more important, than the meanings, they are usually chanted in Asian languages. Sanskrit was usually the original language, but they have been translated into other languages as well.

The mantra of the Buddha of Compassion, known by the Chinese as goddess Kuan Yin, is “Om Mani Padme Hum” which translates to “Hail to the jewel in the lotus.”. The mantra calms fears, soothes concerns and heals broken hearts. And this mantra is on the lips of many Tibetans all their waking hours. By chanting this mantra, they can invoke the divine protection and immense blessings from Chenrezig, the manifestation of divine compassion from Bodhisattva (a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings) Avalokitesvara.

According to Tibetan Buddhism, the mantra “Om tare tutare ture soha” can not only eliminate disease, troubles, disasters, and bad karma, but will also bring believers blessings, longer life, and even the wisdom to transcend one’s cycle of rebirth.

Yoga

Yoga is a Hindu practice which some have integrated into Buddhist practice. Yoga predates Buddhism. Statues of Buddhas often sit in a lotus pose, which is a yoga posture. Although Buddhism rejects the Hindu concepts of god, soul and self; yoga and Buddhism are both meditative systems that share ethical values such as non-attachment, non-stealing, and non-violence. Both generally aim to facilitate transcendence of karma and rebirth (or reincarnation), foster liberation through higher awareness, and reunite with the “true” reality obscured by the illusion of a separate self, or ego. Both also seek to reduce suffering intrinsic to all beings through realization of a higher consciousness. And both encourage their followers to be still, explore their inner being and to be in the present moment. So yoga and Buddhism are complementary. After all, yoga is essentially meditation in motion.

Veneration of Buddha

Buddhists pay respect, reverence and honor to statues of the Buddha and are encouraged to have household shrines with images of the Buddha. Offerings such as lights, incense, flowers, water, fruits, sweets, and prepared food are placed near the shrine. The offerings acknowledge Buddha as the ultimate teacher and the embodiment of enlightenment. Bowing to the image is an expression of gratitude for the teachings.

To express veneration, a Buddhist may bow before the image of the Buddha, or members of the Sangha. When a Buddhist prostrates before an image, they acknowledge that the Buddha has attained perfect and supreme enlightenment. Such an act helps the Buddhist to overcome egoistic feelings and prepares them to listen to the teaching of the Buddha.

Buddhists revere the image of the Buddha as a gesture to the greatest, wisest, most benevolent, compassionate and holy man who has ever lived in this world. The worship of the Buddha means paying homage, veneration and devotion to Him and what He represents, and not to the stone or metal figure.

Buddha images are symbolic representations of his great qualities. The image is a visual aid that helps one to recall the Buddha in the mind and to remember His great qualities.

Monastic order (Sangha)

Monks and nuns are responsible for the preservation and dissemination of the Buddha’s teaching and the guidance of Buddhist lay people. They embody or represent higher levels of spiritual achievement. They live an austere life focused on the study of Buddhist doctrine, the practice of meditation, and the observance of good moral character.

Monks and nuns refrain from sexual conduct; taking life; taking what is not given; telling untruths; taking intoxicants; attending entertainment; using ornaments, cosmetics, and perfumes; sitting on luxurious seats and beds; taking food at unregulated times, and handling silver and gold. Marriage, family life, career, and personal concerns are rejected as distractions to their religious concerns. Other rules help them remain mindful of every action in daily life. Traditionally, Buddhist monks and nuns wear robes and have shaved heads.

As Buddhist monks generally do not engage in commerce or agriculture, the monastic order is dependent on the lay community for economic support in the form of finance and property. Buddhists give the monks material gifts that function as sacrificial offerings. Buddhist monks and monasteries accept donations of cash, land, and material of all kinds, and they sometimes become rich and powerful.

Festivals and pilgrimages

Buddhist festivals are joyful occasions. Typically, Buddists will go to the local temple or monastery and offer food to the monks and take the Five Precepts and listen to a Dharma talk. In the afternoon, they distribute food to the poor to make merit, and in the evening perhaps join in a ceremony and walk around the temple three times in honor of the Three Jewels (the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha). The day will conclude with evening chanting of the Buddha’s teachings and meditation.

The most significant celebration happens every May on the night of the full moon, when Buddhists all over the world celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. It has become to be known as Buddha Day. Buddhists also attend festivals involving the dead, or to arrange or participate in funerary rites on behalf of the dead. They also visit a temple to pray to a deity through the medium of a statue of that deity and leave a gift (incense, fruit, or flowers).

The earliest centers of Buddhist pilgrimages were the places associated with the life and teachings of the Buddha in Nepal and India. After the death of the Buddha, the relics of his body were collected from the funeral pyre and divided into eight parts. These were distributed and burial mounds were erected on the relics. The practice of pilgrimage in Buddhism probably started with visits to these places, the purpose of which was to achieve personal advantage such as rebirth in a good location, as well as to honor the great master. It is stated that the Buddha encouraged all devotees to make pilgrimages to four holy sites to ensure that they would be reborn in a heavenly world. Also, many Buddhist countries have shrines and places which can be visited as a pilgrimage. For example, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Bamiyan Buddhas of Afganistan (that were destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban).

Culture

At the time of the Buddha, the caste system was firmly established in India. The Buddha condemned the caste system, which he considered unjust. India’s caste system splits up people into different societal groups according to their work and birth. It’s a discriminatory hierarchical social system.

Despite the Buddha’s repudiation of caste, variations of the system still exist in many Buddhist countries (such as Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, Myanmar, India and Japan). The caste system represents a basic social form that has survived throughout centuries. Wherever it had become established, it was not overcome by any religion. It asserted itself against every religion, no matter whether a religious system acknowledged or ignored the caste system, approved it or discarded it. Cast discrimination also exists in Indian Muslim societies and in Indian Roman Catholic societies and in Indian Sikh societies.

Indian Buddhists, like other religions, have attempted to reform and create a society without classes. But this is easier said than done!

Comparison with Hinduism

Buddhism rejected the Hindu scriptures (the Vedas and Upanishads), the concept of the Atman (soul, self), Brahman (god), and the nature of the afterlife. In traditional Indian thought, the soul (atman) is an eternally existing spiritual substance or being and the abiding self that moves from one body to the next at rebirth. The Buddha rejected this concept. He taught that everything is impermanent (anicca), and this includes everything that we associate with being human: sensations, feelings, thoughts and consciousness. This is the doctrine of anatta (“no-soul” or “no-self”), which is a central concept of Buddhism.

The Buddhist belief of rebirth is a concept of “renewal” and not exactly reincarnation of a spirit (or soul) or body. Under Hinduism the soul is reborn (reincarnated) in a new body. Under Buddhism, the consciousness of a person can become part of the consciousness of another person, as a flame moves from one candle to another. The second flame is not identical to the first, nor is it totally different. Thus, Buddhists believe life is a continual journey of experience and discovery and not divided between life and the afterlife.

Conclusion

This post has summarized aspects of the history, major beliefs, major practices and culture of the Buddhist faith. These beliefs, practices and culture impact everyday life for about 1 billion people across the world.

Written, August 2017

Also see: Testing Buddhism
Basic Hinduism
Basic Islam

Testing Hinduism

Hinduism 2 400px“My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of their choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly.” These remarks on religious tolerance were made by the Indian Prime Minister in February 2015. Hinduism is said to be tolerant to other religions because it holds that there are many ways which lead towards salvation (or spiritual liberation) and Hindus can select their deity from the wide pantheon of gods and goddesses conceived since time immemorial.

It is estimated that about 16% of the world’s population is Hindu. This increases to about 80% in India, Nepal and Bali (in Indonesia) and about 50% in Mauritius. The Hindu faith is polytheistic, although it is claimed that one supreme reality (Brahman) is manifested in many gods and goddesses. In this way Hinduism is different to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. But is Hinduism consistent with the message of the Bible? Is it one of the ways to salvation and spiritual liberation?

True or false?

The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests.

The Jesus test

This test states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-3, 6 NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, divine and human nature, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming (1 Jn. 4:1-3)?

The gospel test

The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by repentance of sin and faith in the work of Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).

The fruit test

Jesus Christ warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident (Gal. 5:19-23)?

I have previously summarized Hinduism. These tests will now be used to assess the Hindu faith.

Brahma1 400pxTesting the Hindu faith

The Jesus test

Hindus believe in one supreme god (Brahman) who created the universe. He is impersonal and all-pervasive. And he created many gods to be his helpers. There are thousands (and maybe millions) of Hindu gods that are considered to be different manifestations of Brahman. These gods and goddesses of Hinduism represent the many aspects of Brahman. So, Hinduism is neither only monotheistic nor only polytheistic, but has elements of both.

Brahman is not the same as the monotheistic personal God of Christianity, who is personal and is separate from His creation (Rom. 1:25). In Hinduism, God, the universe, human beings and all else is essentially one thing and everything is connected as part of the divine being. This means that Hindus worship literally everything and god is thought to be in every human being as Atman, the eternal Self. This is pantheism.

Because Hinduism involves image (idol) worship, it is included in those described by Paul as: “Yes, they knew God (through creation; v.19-20), but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give Him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. … They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created (idols) instead of the Creator Himself” (Rom. 1:21-25NLT).

Hinduism is also unlike the Christian trinity of one God in three persons. God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit have similar attributes whereas there is greater distinction among the Hindu deities, which have different mythologies and personalities.

Jesus isn’t mentioned in any of the numerous Hindu scriptures (as most were written before His time) and none of the legion of Hindu gods is like Jesus. So, the Hindu religion says nothing directly about Jesus Christ. But Hindus may think that Jesus was a holy man, a guru (teacher) or a god. However, they wouldn’t see Jesus as the only way to God. At best, He would be one god amongst the many gods that they worship.

Hindus believe that Krishna was the eighth “avatar” (incarnation) of the god Vishnu. Could Jesus also be an avatar? In Hinduism, an avatar is the bodily incarnation of a deity on earth. But Jesus was not an avatar because He is fully human and fully God. Hindus could also consider Jesus to be a great teacher like Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. But Jesus wasn’t the reincarnation of Krishna because after His death, He was resurrected, not reincarnated.

What does the Hindu religion imply about Jesus Christ? By worshipping many other gods instead of Christ, the implication is that these gods are greater than Christ. Like Hinduism, people in the Greek and Roman empires worshipped many Gods. What does the New Testament say about this? When the Thessalonians became followers of Christ, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us (believers) from the coming wrath” (1 Th. 1:9-10). The God who was living and true is contrasted against idols that were dead and false gods. They had learnt that God “doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve His needs—for He has no needs” (Acts 17:24-25NLT). The Corinthians were told to separate from idol worship (2 Cor. 6:16-17). John repeats this message that Christians should “keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). The true God is said to be God the Father or God the Son (Jesus), while idols are false gods.

Paul described the state of the Corinthians before they became Christians as “you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols” (1 Cor. 12:2NLT). Their idols were lifeless! But how were they being “led astray and swept along”? The Bible says that idolatry is associated with demon worship (Rev. 9:20). And it’s the work of Satan (2 Cor. 6:15-16). So they were being led astray and swept along by Satan and his demons! That’s why Paul was “was greatly distressed to see that the city (of Athens) was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

Because the Hindu faith is polytheistic it can be associated with the idea that all paths lead to God and that there are many paths which lead towards salvation or spiritual liberation. Hinduism emphasizes that everyone actually worships the same God, whether one knows it or not. This is pluralism (all worldviews are equally valid and there are many paths to salvation), which can help tolerance of other beliefs. But the Bible teaches that we can only know God through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12). This means that the idea that multiple religions are true or equally valid (religious pluralism) is false.

Except in matters of ethics and moral conduct, there is very little in common between the teachings of Jesus and the main teachings of Hinduism. So, Hinduism clearly fails the Jesus test. Hindus don’t believe that Jesus is the unique Son of God whose sacrificial death (crucifixion) and resurrection solved the problem of humanity’s sinfulness. They don’t believe that Jesus came to the earth as a substitute to take the punishment that we all deserve.

Vishnu 400pxThe gospel test

The ultimate goal of Hindu religious life is liberation from the cycle of birth and death (reincarnation) and to escape from the recurring pattern of existence. This is the Hindu core belief or hope. There are two problems with this goal: the problem being addressed and the solution that is offered.

The problem being addressed in Hinduism is the seemingly endless cycle of birth and death (reincarnation). The Bible shows that humanity is the special creation of God, created in God’s image with both a material body and an immaterial soul and spirit. People are distinct and unique from all other creatures—angels and the animal kingdom. The Bible teaches that at death, while a person’s body is mortal (it decays and returns to dust) their soul and spirit continue to either a place of torment for those who reject Christ or paradise (heaven) in God’s presence for those who have trusted in the Savior. Both categories of people will be resurrected, one to eternal judgment and the other to eternal life with a glorified body (Jn. 5:25-29). The Bible says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This makes it clear that humanity only dies once and is then judged on the life they have lived. One is not born again in an endless cycle of death and rebirth, and its opportunities to improve one’s karma. The Bible never mentions people having a second chance at life or coming back as different people or animals. As Larry Norman sang, “you live once and you die once, with no re-incarnate episodes”.

We have seen that the idea of reincarnation is a false teaching. But this is the main problem addressed by the Hindu faith! Their core belief or hope is the product of human imagination! On the other hand, the Christian faith addresses the problem of sin (rejection of God’s revelation in creation and in Jesus Christ) and its consequences. We will now look at the solution being offered.

Because the Hindu social division and hierarchy is believed to be based on rebirth and karma, good works and striving to please God play an important role in a Hindu’s way of life. A Hindu may seek to earn salvation and liberation through good works and a good life. Other ways that Hindus seek salvation are True Knowledge (scholarly study), devotion to a god, or meditation. These are also things that people can do to attain union with the Brahman (god). Yes, good works do please God, but only the good works and the good and sinless life of Jesus. The Bible says that it was Jesus’ good work (sacrifice) on the cross that will get us salvation and liberation!

Ways that Hindus can overcome sin and impurity include: fines and punishments, confession (but this is not mandatory), penances, fasting, virtuous conduct, self-control, celibacy, nonviolence, truthfulness, austere living, practice of silence, concentration, rituals, sacrifices, prayers, mantras, recitation of sacred texts, rituals, pilgrimages to holy places, bathing in sacred rivers, yoga, meditation, meeting Hindu saints and gurus, virtuous conduct, and charity. Once again, these are all good works.

Our good works are not good enough. Larry Norman also sang, “you can’t hitchhike to heaven or get there by just being good”. The Bible says that most of the work of salvation is done by God and not by us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

Because one’s past karma determines our current life, the idea of incarnation and karma leads to fatalism. This means that the accumulated good or bad in our past lives defines the conditions of our current life. The only hope is that one’s good works will lead to salvation in the next life. This is different to Christianity where through God’s grace we can have our sins forgiven and the hope of heaven.

The Christian gospel may be summarized as: “Because of His infinite mercy, God sent His Son (Jesus) to earth to save people so they could live right. He was the sacrifice which would permit God to blot out all our sins, and enable us to be clean so that we could dwell eternally with our holy God. Jesus died for the sins of humanity”. But Hinduism is a religion of salvation by works.

A Hindu’s salvation is never guaranteed; they don’t know how much meditation or yoga they need to do or how many lives they will live before reaching moksha (Hindu heaven). By contrast, the Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on scripture when it declares that faith in Jesus saves (Acts 16:31) and we can rest confidently in this assurance (1 Jn. 5:13). Our forgiveness and salvation are completely based on the work of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and not on any of our deeds because we have a sinful nature (Rom. 7:18).

So, Hinduism fails the gospel test.

Shiva1 400pxThe fruit test

Hinduism is often said to be a tolerant religion. But India is included in the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Following an increase in religiously motivated (Hindu) nationalism, India has climbed to its highest ever ranking of 15. It was ranked between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. This is equivalent to a “very high” level of persecution. Most of the countries where it is more difficult to live as a Christian than in India (except North Korea) are Islamic.

Open Doors reports that since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in 2014, radical Hinduism has increased steadily. Some of those who have left Hinduism to follow Jesus have been attacked and even killed by their own parents. On average, more than 15 Christians were physically attacked every week in India in 2016. Some of these attacks have come from Hindu extremists. They particularly target believers who have converted from Hinduism; these believers face daily harassment and have been beaten, hospitalized and even killed. Protestant Christian communities are the second main target because of their involvement in outreach activities and conversions.

Christians are also facing increasing pressure on a national level. Several states have implemented anti-conversion laws to prevent people from leaving Hinduism and the ruling BJP desire to make these laws nation-wide. Such laws are often used as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians. With the Indian government refusing to speak out against the atrocities being carried out against Christians and other minorities, the situation is expected to get worse. Hindus that convert to Christianity are rejected by their family. Their family is affected as well by suffering shame in their Hindu society.

In February 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report on “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India”. They note:
– “Anti-conversion laws” in seven Indian states, and discrimination based upon caste and religion.
– Since 2014, when the BJP took power, hate crimes, social boycotts, assaults, and forced conversion (to Hinduism) have escalated dramatically.
– Although discrimination due to caste is prohibited in the constitution, the caste system, which is discriminatory at its root, remains a fundamental part of Hinduism. Under this system, the “untouchables”, or Dalits, have faced unique discrimination, the only parallel of which was apartheid in South Africa. Many Dalits are Christians. In fact, Dalits account for two-thirds of India’s Christian population, who number more than 80 million, or 7% of India’s total population.
– Religious minorities and Dalits face discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of judicial consistency.
– Religious freedom in India will never be achieved unless the country is willing to make substantial amendments to its constitution and legal framework.
The findings of this report were rejected by the Indian external affairs ministry.

In April 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its annual report which noted:
– Hindu nationalist groups and their sympathizers perpetrated numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minority communities and Hindu Dalits. These violations were most “frequent and severe” in 10 of India’s 29 States. National and State laws that restrict religious conversion, cow slaughter, and the foreign funding of non-governmental organizations helped create the conditions enabling these violations.
– While the Prime Minister spoke publicly about the importance of communal tolerance and religious freedom, members of the ruling party have ties to Hindu nationalist groups implicated in religious freedom violations, and used religiously divisive language to inflame tensions.
– Police and judicial bias and inadequacies have created a pervasive climate of impunity in which religious minorities feel increasingly insecure and have no recourse when religiously motivated crimes occur.

Although it’s difficult to assess attitudes and behavior objectively, these three separate reports mention persecution of religious minorities and a lack of religious freedom in India. And there is even discrimination against low-caste Hindus.

What type of attitudes and behavior do you think the Hindu faith encourages?

Results of the tests

We have seen that the Hindu faith fails the Jesus Test and the Gospel Test and the results of the Fruit Test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the overall message of the Bible.

Ganesha 400pxDiscussion

In a previous post it was noted that Hinduism is both polytheistic and pantheistic (P&P). This is not surprising because most of the Hindu scriptures were written between 1500BC and 500BC. During this period, the deities of the following nations were also polytheistic and pantheistic (P&P): Egypt, Phoenicia (Canaan), Babylon, and Greece. In fact, this was probably a characteristic of all the Gentile nations at that time. It was also characteristic of previous nations (such as Mesopotamia) and following nations (such as the Roman Empire). By the way, pantheistic religions are probably polytheistic, but are polytheistic religions pantheistic?

What does the Bible say about such P&P religions?
– About 2000BC Abraham left the P&P religion in Ur of the Chaldeans (in Mesopotamia) to live in the land of Canaan and to follow the monotheistic God who created the universe.
– About 1750BC when Jacob left Paddan Aram (in upper Mesopotamia), his wife Rachael stole her father’s P&P household gods (Gen. 31:19, 30, 32, 35). When he arrived back in Canaan, Jacob buried all their foreign P&P gods (Gen. 35:2-4).
– About 1450BC when the Israelites left Egypt in the exodus, God told them to stop practicing the P&P religion of the Egyptians and gave them commands on how to follow the true monotheistic God.
– About 1500BC when the Israelites conquered and settled in Canaan, God warned them not to follow the P&P religion of the Canaanites and the surrounding nations.
– Between 1380BC and 1050BC the Israelites forsook the God that brought them out of Egypt and followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them (Jud. 2:10-13). They intermarried with these peoples and served their P&P gods (Jud. 3:5-6). Consequently, the Israelites were punished by God and brought back to serving the true monotheistic God by a series of judges.
– Between 930BC and 722BC Israel was divided into two kingdoms and the northern kingdom followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Elijah and Elisha warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire.
– Between 700BC and 586BC, the southern kingdom of Israel (Judah) often followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Babylonian Empire.
– the 70-year exile in Babylon decimated the nation of Israel and seemed to cure those who returned to Judah from following P&P religions. But it took over 900 years for them to learn this lesson!
– In the 1st century AD, the New Testament apostles, such as Peter and Paul, preached against the P&P religion of the Roman Empire.

Note the similarities between Hinduism and the P&P religions mentioned in the Bible. Hindus have household P&P gods like Laban. Since 2000BC God has distinguished Himself from P&P religions. By reading the Bible we can see repeated warnings against P&P religions. These warnings were given over a period of more than 1,500 years. Why not check this for yourself by reading the Bible?

Paul said that P&P gods are not real gods (Acts 19:26). He knew that they “cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Dt. 4:28; Dan. 5:23; Rev. 9:20). And that they are the work of Satan and his demons (2 Cor. 6:15-16; Rev. 9:20).

The clearest biblical arguments against pantheism are the numerous commands against idolatry. The Bible forbids the worship of idols, angels, celestial objects, and items in nature. If pantheism were true, it would not be wrong to worship such an object, because that object would, in fact, be divine. If pantheism were true, worshipping a rock or an animal would have just as much validity as worshipping God as an invisible and spiritual being. The Bible’s clear and consistent denunciation of idolatry is a conclusive argument against pantheism. So, Hinduism, which is based on pantheism, is a false religion.

Hinduism regards itself as an ancient religion. However, this is not a good attribute because such ancient P&P religions were soundly denounced many years ago by the Bible. In this sense, Hinduism is a retrograde religion. It’s like the religions that were denounced by the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament.

Some Hindus are zealous and devout, but salvation is dependent on the object of one’s zeal and devotion and not on the zeal itself. Their focus/object is Hindu teachings, which we have shown to be false. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, Hindus are “trusting in deceptive words that are worthless” (Jer. 7:8). In Judah’s case, the deceptive words spoken by the false prophets were that God wouldn’t destroy Jerusalem because He wouldn’t allow the Jewish temple to be destroyed. This superstitious belief was stated repetitively, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4), which reminds me of the repetitive nature of Hindu meditation. But repetition doesn’t increase the truthfulness of a statement! In Hinduisms case, the deceptive words come from Hindu teachings which are false. Because of false prophets, Judah followed “other gods” (Jer. 7:9) apart from the real God, while because of Hindu teachings, Hindus follow many “other gods”.

Summary

We have tested Hinduism against three tests from the Bible. It clearly failed two tests (about Jesus and the gospel) and the results of the third test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which is the product of human imagination, and which isn’t consistent with the message of the Bible. So Hindus don’t worship the same God as Christians.

Written, August 2017

Also see: Basic Hinduism
Testing Islam
Recognizing false teachers

Basic Hinduism

OM 2 400px“We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of the heaven”. This was the beginning of the US Senate’s morning prayer, on 12 July 2007. It was the first time the prayer had been made by a Hindu.

The main Indian religion is Hinduism, which includes concepts such as karma, reincarnation and nirvana. Hinduism is also the major religion in Nepal, Mauritius and Bali (in Indonesia). This post is one in a series on major religions. To minimize bias, the following content has been mainly drawn from Hindu websites.

Definitions

The word “Hindu” is derived from the name of the Sindhu (Indus) River. Apparently, those who lived south of the river were known as Hindus. The Persians used the term Hindu in this way in the 6th century BC. Over time the term changed from denoting the people of a geographic area to a religious group. However, this explanation is debated by some scholars.

Hinduism has a broad range of beliefs, philosophies and traditions that are linked by shared concepts, rituals, cosmology, religious texts, a caste system and pilgrimage to sacred sites. And it is usually polytheistic. Everyone who is born in a Hindu family is considered a Hindu.

The most ancient Hindu scriptures are the four Vedas. These spiritual laws were compiled before ~800BC and are considered by Hindus to have divine origin. The word Veda means knowledge. The Vedas are books of mantras that have hidden meanings and symbolic significance. The philosophical conclusions of the Vedas are called the Upanishads. Most of these were written between 800BC and 400BC, with additions up to AD1400. And there are many other Hindu scriptural texts including the Ramayana, the Mahabharata (including the Bhagavad Gita), and the Puranas.

History

Hinduism developed gradually over about four thousand years. The origins and authors of its sacred texts are largely unknown.

About 2000BC there is evidence of ritual bathing, sacrifice, and goddess worship. It is thought that the Vedas were composed between 1500BC and 500BC. During this period, food was offered to various gods in a sacrificial fire. These gods occupied the earth, or the atmosphere. The ritual sacrifice was offered to receive the favor of the gods such as wealth, sons, protection, and abundant crops. Later Hindus renounced the material and social world, and focused instead on asceticism and meditation. They believed that the material world is not “real,” but only an illusion (not what it appears to be) that is created by ignorance (lack of knowledge). What is real is an abstract divine principle, Brahman. So they focused on how to free oneself from the bonds of material attachments, and attain a state of oneness with Brahman. Later the concepts of karma, reincarnation and moksha (release from reincarnation) arose.

Temple worship developed between 500BC and 500AD. During this period, the Vedic fire sacrifice tended to be replaced by the worship of images of deities in temples. Between 500AD and 1500AD, large temples were constructed to deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi (goddesses). And key thinkers and teachers (gurus) formulated new theologies. Between 1500AD and 1757AD Islam affected northern India and devotion to a personal god (bhakti), meditation and yoga were prevalent.

From 1575AD to 1947AD India was part of the British Empire. During this period, India came under Western influence and nationalism arose. In 1947 India gained independence from Great Britain and was separated from the newly-created Muslim state of Pakistan. After this, immigration lead to Hindu impact elsewhere including Transcendental Meditation, the Hare Krishna movement, Yoga and New Age beliefs.

What are the basic beliefs that one must have to be considered a true Hindu? Although there is a wide range of beliefs, there are six major beliefs.

Hinduism 5 400pxSix major beliefs

Some of the basic beliefs of Hinduism are summarized below.

Polytheism. Hindus have the freedom to choose their own personal god or goddess. They often believe that one supreme reality (Brahman) is manifested in many gods and goddesses. These can be spirits, trees, animals, rivers, mountains, natural things that are useful for a human being, and even planets. They have the largest pantheon of gods and goddesses who are believed to actively influence the world and to interact with humans. Most Hindus worship god in the form of an image (idol). The most fundamental of Hindu deities are the trinity of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). But many other gods such as Ganesha, Krishna, Rama, Hanuman, and goddesses like Lakshmi, Durga, Kali and Saraswati are worshipped.

Pantheism. The Upanishads describe a single, eternal, impersonal divine force that animates and permeates the entire cosmos—Brahman. “Everything is Brahman”. Brahman is the universe and everything in it. They claim that one’s relationships, or appearance, or even thoughts, are not real but illusions. They advocate an ascetic path. If one wishes to realize the ultimate (moksha), then one must detach oneself from these unreal things. One must go off and meditate on the reality of Brahman, which begins with meditation on the self (the atman), which is in essence the same as Brahman. So the Hindu divine being is throughout all existence.

Reincarnation (samsara). Another basic tenet of Hinduism is the belief in reincarnation. This is a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. It’s a cycle of perpetual rebirth and suffering from one lifetime to the next. Reincarnation is based on karma. In the short-term a good karma will lead to reincarnation in more fortunate circumstances, or in a higher caste. The soul reincarnates until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth) is attained. According to Hinduism, this current life is merely one link in a chain of lives that extends far into the past and projects far into the future. Hindus also believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.

Dharma. This is a set of rules for the “right way of living” (ethics). It is the duty of a Hindu to follow the path of righteousness. But acting virtuously does not mean precisely the same for everyone; different people have different obligations and duties according to their age, gender, and social position. Dharma is universal but it is also particular. Each person has their own dharma known as sva-dharma. What is correct for a woman might not be for a man or what is correct for an adult might not be for a child. Correct action in accordance with dharma is also understood as service to humanity and to God. To achieve good ​karma it is important to live life according to dharma, what is right. This involves doing what is right for the individual, the family, the class or caste and for the universe. Dharma is like a cosmic norm and if one goes against the norm it can result in bad karma. So, dharma affects the future according to the karma accumulated. Therefore, one’s dharmic path in the next life is the one necessary to bring to fruition all the results of past karma.​ Hinduism has sought to recognize principles and practices that would lead any individual to become a better human being and understand and live in harmony with dharma.

Kama. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each person creates their own destiny by their thoughts, words and deeds. This is the belief that one’s current situation has been brought about by previous actions and decisions, and that future circumstances will be the natural outcome of the decisions and actions you make in this moment. What you have done determines what you are, and what you do now determines what you will be. One’s current situation and future outcome is the result of action and consequence. Our present condition in life is the consequence of the actions of our previous lives. The tally of a person’s life is their karma (action). This is the total of the good works or sacred practices which have been carried out. The merit gained through good works can reduce sufferings in the next life. In the short-term a good karma will lead to reincarnation in more fortunate circumstances, or in a higher caste. Eventually it may make possible the ideal, which is moksha (release from this earth and from the cycle of rebirth).

Moksha (freedom, liberation, salvation, nirvana). Liberation from the cycle of birth and death (reincarnation) is the ultimate goal of Hindu religious life. The ultimate purpose of any devout Hindu is to escape from the recurring pattern of existence. This involves the realization of one’s relationship with God (union with the Brahman), the achievement of mental peace and detachment from worldly concerns. This union can be achieved through True Knowledge (scholarly study), devotion to a god, meditation, or karma (right work).

Nine major practices

Hinduism embraces many practices and traditions. Some Hindu religious practices are summarized below.

Durga - goddess of war 400pxWorship of images. This devotion consists of a range of ritual offerings and prayers before an image of a deity in temples and home shrines. Reverence toward sacred images is very important; they are treated as kings in their temples and honored guests in people’s homes. Worship of images, icons, and statues of the gods is a feature of both home and temple devotions. The deity is considered present in the image and is an honored guest. Worship has traditionally been done individually rather than in groups. The worshipper acknowledges that they are inferior to and dependent upon the divine. They offer what they think the god (or goddess) likes (such as flowers, water, fruit, special foods, grains, coconuts, oils or incense) and receive blessings and protection in return. If the offering is made in a temple, a portion of it is kept for use by the temple, and the rest is returned, now blessed by the deity. Offerings made in the household shrine are later divided among family members.

Hindus are theoretically obliged to perform five daily sacrifices. These are offerings to the gods, ancestors, animals, humans (by offering hospitality to members of one’s caste) and reciting the Vedic verses as worship to Brahman.

In Hinduism, there are many rituals that may be practiced at each stage of life, and in a variety of circumstances, both in routine practice at home and in formal celebrations. Devout Hindus perform daily rituals, such as worshiping at dawn after bathing. Vedic rituals and chanting of Vedic hymns are observed on special occasions, such as a Hindu wedding. Other major life-stage events, such as rituals after death, include the yajña (sacrifice) and chanting of Vedic mantras.

Ritual purification. Purity and its opposite, pollution, are vitally important for Hindus. Ritual purification, usually with water, is a typical feature of most religious observance. The bathing of the body in rivers considered holy such as the Ganges is valued highly. For example, during the Pitcher Festival, millions of Hindus plunge into the Ganges river to wash away their sins. Bathing in the Ganges even once is supposed to ensure salvation. Avoidance of the impure (such as taking animal life, eating flesh, associating with dead things, or body fluids) is another feature of Hindu ritual and is important for repressing pollution.

Ceremonies Hindus have many of ceremonies. There are family ceremonies, caste ceremonies. and village ceremonies. Many ceremonies incorporate fire. Hindus believe that fires are sacred.

Gurus. Guru is a Sanskrit term for someone who is a “teacher, guide, expert, or master” of certain knowledge or field. In Hinduism, a guru is a spiritual guide on the Hindu religion. Gurus are ancient and central figures in the traditions of Hinduism. They are an essential part of knowing god.

Yoga. Yoga is a system of physical and spiritual techniques for achieving balance and harmony within yourself, the environment, and with others. It is one of the paths to achieve union with Brahman. In the Vedic scriptures there are five major yogas:
– Bhakti yoga or yoga of love to God.
– Raja yoga or contemplation about God.
– Jñana yoga or yoga of wisdom and knowledge about God.
– Karma yoga or selfless service to God and humanity.
– Hatha yoga or prostrations and other postures to God.

Hatha yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical postures and exercises (asanas), controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance and strength and are practiced to improve the body’s physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation in the pursuit of enlightenment. The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to locate and activate the chakras (centers of energy), thereby raising the kundalini (dominant spiritual power). This in turn is believed to help remove blockages (disease) in the mind and body.

Meditation More philosophically-minded Hindus seek realization of the self through intense meditation. Types of meditation include:
– Mantra meditation, where a syllable or word, usually without any particular meaning, is repeated to focus the mind.
– Transcendental meditation is a mantra meditation that repeats Tantric names of Hindu deities.
– Yoga meditation, such as focusing the attention on the “spot between the eyebrows”, or focusing on particular sounds.

Mantras A mantra is sacred sound in the form of a syllable, word, prayer, phrase or hymn, (usually in Sanskrit) that is chanted, usually repetitively, as part of Hindu practice. It’s believed to have a special spiritual power. And it’s a kind of meditation. The earliest Hindu mantras are at least 3000 years old.

Mantras are sound symbols. What they symbolize and how they function depends on the context, and the mind of the person repeating them. The earliest mantras were used to cope with the uncertainties and dilemmas of daily life. Later they were used to cope with the human condition as a whole, such as to escape from the cycle of reincarnation, forgiveness for bad karma, and experiencing a spiritual connection with a god.

The simplest mantra is the word “Om”. While some mantras may invoke individual gods or principles, fundamental mantras, like the ‘Shanti Mantra’ (Om! Let the studies that we together undertake be effulgent; Let there be no animosity amongst us; Om! Peace, Peace, Peace), the ‘Gayatri Mantra’ (Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the divine Light. May he stimulate our understandings) and others all ultimately focus on the One reality (Brahman). Also, a very common mantra is formed by taking a deity’s name. For example, “Om I bow to Lord Shiva”.

The Hare Krishna mantra is well-known:
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare”.
It means, “Glory to Krishna, Glory to Rama”. It’s dedicated to the glory of Krishna and Rama, who both are considered avatars (embodiments) of great god Vishnu in a human form. One of the best ways to perform bhakti-yoga is to chant this mantra. The benefits of chanting this mantra are said to include:
– Peace of mind
– Knowledge of the self
– Real happiness
– Liberation from karma
– Freedom from the cycle of reincarnation
– Love of God

Initiation into many Hindu sects involves the whispering of a secret mantra into the ear of the initiate by the guru (spiritual teacher). Transcendental meditation is a specific form of silent mantra meditation which involves the use of a mantra for 15–20 minutes twice per day while sitting with eyes closed.

Vegetarianism Hinduism does not require a vegetarian diet, but many Hindus avoid eating meat because of their belief that it minimizes hurting other life forms. Because Hinduism teaches that all of nature is divine (pantheism), Hindus believe that god manifests in the various forms that are found in nature, including animals, rivers, mountains and earth. Hindus are called to respect and honor the divine in all forms (so all life is considered to be sacred), and to follow the principle of ahimsa (to do no harm). Vegetarianism is a simple way to practice ahimsa through what they eat. The cow is the animal that is most revered (considered sacred) by Hindus. It’s a source of food, a symbol of life and may never be killed.

Reincarnation is one of the basic beliefs in Hinduism. Souls can move not only among different levels of human society, but also into other animals – hence the vegetarianism of many Hindus.

Bindi A bindi is an ornamental mark (often a red dot) between the eyebrows of Hindu women. It’s a religious symbol that identifies a person’s “third eye”, or what Hindus believe is the center of a person’s nervous system, the area in which a person can see spiritual truths. In meditation, this spot between the eyebrows is where one focuses their sight. The third-eye chakra is a center of energy, believed to be located between the eyebrows. A bindi placed at this position is said to retain and enhance this energy, strengthening one’s concentration.

Culture

India’s caste system splits up Hindus into different societal groups according to their work and birth. It’s a hierarchical social system. In this system, Hindus are divided up into four classes: the Brahmins (the priestly class – teachers and intellectuals); the Kshatriyas (the ruling, administrative and warrior class); the Vaishyas (the class of artisans, tradesmen, farmers and merchants); and the Shudras (manual workers). Some people fall outside this system, including tribal people and the Dalits (previously known as “untouchables”).

For centuries, caste dictated almost every aspect of Hindu religious and social life, with each group occupying a specific place in this complex hierarchy. It determined the type of occupations a person could pursue and the social interactions that they could have. The higher the person’s caste, the more the person was blessed with the benefits and luxuries of life. Although originally caste depended upon a person’s work, it soon became hereditary. Each person was born into an unalterable social status. The three key areas of life dominated by caste were marriage, meals and religious worship.

People who violated social norms could be punished by being made “untouchables.” This was not the lowest caste – they and their descendants were completely outside of the caste system. Untouchables were considered so impure that any contact with them would cause contamination and the person would have to bathe and wash their clothing immediately. Untouchables could not even eat in the same room as caste members. The untouchables did work that no-one else would do, like scavenging animal carcasses, leather-work, or killing rats and other pests. And they could not be cremated when they died.

Reincarnation is one of the basic beliefs in Hinduism. After each life, a soul is reborn into a new material form which depends upon the virtuousness of its previous behavior. Thus, a truly virtuous person from the Shudra caste could be rewarded with rebirth as a Brahmin in their next life. Within a life cycle, people had little social mobility. They had to strive for virtue during their present lives to attain a higher status the next time around.

After India attained independence in 1947, the country introduced laws to make discrimination against lower castes illegal and to improve their socioeconomic positions. In recent decades, with the spread of secular education and growing urbanization, the influence of caste has declined, especially in cities where different castes live side-by-side and inter-caste marriages are becoming more common. For example, in June 2017, Ram Nath Kovind (from the marginalized Dalit community) was elected India’s new president. However, despite laws that aim to create equality, the caste system in India continues to have a strong impact on society

Conclusion

This post has summarized aspects of the history, major beliefs, major practices and culture of the Hindu faith. These practices and culture impact everyday life in India, which is predicted to become the world’s most populous country in 2022.

Written, August 2017

Also see: Testing Hinduism
Basic Buddhism
Basic Islam

Complex creation

William Shakespeare is the best-selling fiction author of all time. But his plays and poetry were written over 400 years ago. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has decided that Shakespeare’s language is too difficult for today’s audiences to understand. So it has commissioned 36 playwrights in a 3-year project to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.

CERN 1 400pxIs the universe more complex than we realize? Many people think that scientists understand how it was formed and how it works. But even the most brilliant scholars don’t understand this. For example, here’s summary of what they know (and don’t know) about the forces and particles that make up the universe. This shows that the intelligence behind the universe is greater than the intelligence of the human mind.

Fundamental forces

The four fundamental forces of nature are gravity (which holds planets, stars and galaxies together), electromagnetism (which holds atoms together so that electrons are attracted to the nucleus), the strong nuclear force (which holds the atomic nucleus together) and the weak nuclear force (which is involved in radioactive decay). These forces hold together atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies. Gravity is described by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, while the other three forces are part of the Standard Model of particle physics.

How well do we understand these forces? Let’s look at the force of gravity.

Gravity

In the late 16th century Isaac Newton developed three laws of motion, which included a description of gravity. Newton’s laws of motion described the movement of objects. In 1915 Einstein’s theory of general relativity replaced Newtonian mechanics. This theory describes the force of gravity and describes the motions of bodies in our solar system. The general theory of relativity describes an expanding universe, which has been detected by scientists (although some dispute whether the universe is expanding). But observations of distant spiral galaxies defy the predictions of general relativity. To explain this behavior, scientists postulate the existence of dark matter and dark energy. They are named “dark” because they can’t be detected. So they are “fudge factors” to make the mathematical model work. Dark matter and dark energy are theoretical inventions that explain observations we cannot otherwise understand.

On the scale of galaxies, gravity appears to be stronger than can be accounted for using only particles that are able to emit light. So scientists added dark matter as 27% of the mass-energy of the universe. But these particles have never been directly detected! The Hubble Space Telescope found that the expansion of the universe is increasing with time, instead of decreasing as was expected from the force of gravity due to the matter in the universe (whether ordinary or dark matter). So scientists added “dark energy” (a weak anti-gravity force that acts independently of matter) as 68% of the mass-energy of the Universe. Dark matter is an invisible substance that can only be seen through the effects of its gravity, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. The nature of both remains mysterious.

However, the amount of dark matter and dark energy postulated in the universe is huge. The mass-energy of the universe is assumed to be 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter and 5% observable matter! This means that without the fudge factor, the general theory of relativity only explains 5% of what is observed to exist! So, the universe is so complex that the best mathematical description of gravity needs to be adjusted by a factor of 95%! General relativity is also part of the framework of the standard Big Bang model of cosmology.

So the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scholars to understand all aspects of the forces that control it. For example, we don’t really know:
– if dark matter exists
– if dark energy exists
– if the universe is really expanding (because it can’t be explained by general relativity without using these fudge factors)
–  if Einstein’s theory of gravity is correct (because it can’t explain the universe without using these fudge factors).

This situation is influenced by the fact that astronomy uses remote sensing (measurements made from a distance) to gather its data. Many assumptions are made when interpreting these data and the assumptions have a large influence on the findings. If any of the assumptions are wrong, then the findings are probably also wrong.

These fundamental forces act on atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies. How well do we understand the matter that makes up atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies? Let’s look at the particles that combine to form atoms.

Fundamental particles

CERN 5 400pxIn late 1800s scientists thought that the atom was the smallest building block of nature. But then the electron was discovered in 1897, the proton in 1919 and the neutron in 1932. By the mid-1960’s, it was realized that the understanding that atoms were composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, was insufficient to explain the many subatomic particles being discovered. Via quantum theory, protons and neutrons were found to contain quarks—now considered elementary particles. Then the Standard Model of particle physics (of fundamental particles and their interactions) was developed to explain the behavior of these subatomic particles. The Standard Model is a mathematical equation that describes the particles and forces that govern quantum physics.

In the Standard Model there are 61 elementary particles (18 quarks, 18 antiquarks, 6 leptons, 6 antileptons, 8 gluons, 4 electroweak bosons, and one higgs boson). This number varies according to what is assumed to be an elementary particle. So in a century the number of fundamental particles has risen from one to 61! That’s a huge increase! The particulate structure of creation was more complex that was imagined. I wonder how many more fundamental particles will be discovered in the next 100 years?

But the Standard Model that describes these particles can’t explain gravity, dark matter or dark energy! The quantum theory used to describe the micro world, and the general theory of relativity used to describe the macro world, are difficult to fit into a single framework. No one has managed to make the two mathematically compatible in the context of the Standard Model.

So the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scholars to understand all aspects of the fundamental particles that are the building-blocks of the atoms and molecules of matter.

The implications of this complexity

Clearly the forces and particles of the universe are complex. The pattern (design) of the universe is too complex for the human mind to understand. This shows that the intelligence behind the universe is greater than the intelligence of the human mind. Is this evidence of design by a being that is more intelligent than humanity? This is consistent with what the Bible says.

What the Bible says

According to the Bible, Jesus Christ created and sustains the universe.

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together” (Col. 1:15-17NLT).

Jesus “existed before anything was created”, including time. As He existed before time was created, Jesus is eternal. In this way, He is different to His creation (the universe). He is “supreme over all creation” because He “created everything”. He created the stars and galaxies (“the heavenly realms”). He not only made the “things we can see” (the visible universe), but He also made “the things we can’t see” (so there is a spiritual unseen dimension to God’s creation which is inhabited by angels). And Jesus “holds all creation together”. This means He controls all the forces of nature including gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. Hebrews also says that Jesus “sustains everything by the mighty power of His command” (Heb. 1:3).

Solomon said, “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). God works in nature, in the spiritual world, in society and in our own lives. This means that no-one can discover the full extent of what God does. Our understanding is limited. Our knowledge is finite, and thus infinitely less than God’s. Some of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God is evident in His creation. But it is so vast and our capacity is so limited and our life is so short that we only understand a miniscule part of what God does. Consequently, there are many mysteries that we don’t understand. For example, when science answers one question usually several replace it. There’s always more to discover.

If complexity requires a creator, who created God?

A common objection to the idea of an intelligent creator is “if all complex things require an intelligent creator, then why is that creator himself not bound to the same rule? Would that complex deity not require an even more complex creator, and so on, for infinity?”.

What this fails to acknowledge is that there are two categories of complex things – those that have a beginning (and so were created) and those that don’t have a beginning (and so were not created). Those that have a beginning (such as the universe and people) do require an even more complex creator. The reason for this is that everything which has a beginning has a cause. This is the law of cause and effect. But as mentioned above God is in a different category. He has no beginning; He is eternal. God, as creator of time, is outside of time. This means He has no beginning in time. As He has always existed, He doesn’t need a cause. So the seemingly endless sequence proposed by the questioner stops at God – He doesn’t have a more complex creator.

Summary

We have seen that the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scientists to understand all aspects of the forces that control it and all aspects of the fundamental particles that are the building-blocks of the atoms and molecules of matter. This complexity should cause us to be humble before our God who created and sustains the universe. And to praise Him as Paul did when he wrote:
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).

Written, August 2017

Also see: How the universe is held together

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