Hinduism—Can It Meet Your Spiritual Needs?
NEVER before has man been in greater need of spiritual guidance, but where can such guidance be found? In recent years many have abandoned the religions of Christendom and Judaism to seek this guidance in philosophies and practices that have their roots in Hinduism. What about you? If you were to adopt Hindu viewpoints, would they satisfy your spiritual needs?
Hinduism possesses a vast body of sacred literature, including the Vedas and the Upanishads. Can one learn from these writings factual information about the Creator and how to serve him? What does Hinduism have to say about the origin of the earth and the earliest history of mankind?
You will find its writings disappointing in this respect. With regard to the origin of the world, for example, the Rig-Veda, among the most ancient and authoritative of Hindu religious texts, says:
“Who knows, then, whence it first came into being? He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, . . . he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.”
There are, of course, some tales in Hindu writings that depict the world’s creation, such as the one that tells of a golden egg splitting into two halves to form the heavens and the earth. But few would be inclined to take such accounts seriously.
Under its heading “Hinduism,” the Encyclopædia Britannica (1974 edition) observes: “The core of [Hindu] religion does not even depend on the existence or nonexistence of God or on whether there is one god or many.” Could a religious system that is so vague about the supreme Creator satisfy your spiritual needs to know and serve God?
Transmigration and “Karma”
What about the purpose of life and a hope for the future? A belief widespread in Hinduism involves transmigration and “karma.” “Transmigration” means that humans have within themselves an invisible, spiritual soul, which is their real self. At death the soul is said to “transmigrate” or pass over into another body. Persons who believe this feel that they have lived innumerable lives before and will continue to pass from one life to another in a virtually endless cycle of rebirths.
“Karma” (deeds) means that acts done in one life determine what type the next one will be. Your present status in life, therefore, is viewed as the direct result of whether you conducted yourself properly or poorly in the life that preceded the present one. One of the Hindu scriptures, the Chandogya Upanishad, explains the law of karma in this way:
“Those who are of pleasant conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a Brahmin [priest], or the womb of a Kshatriya [the military], or the womb of a Vaisya [farmer or merchant]. But those who are of stinking conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter either the womb of a dog, or the womb of a swine, or the womb of an outcast.”
Could these views satisfy your need for spiritual guidance? Have they truly benefited residents of India, where Hinduism is practiced in its many forms?
Some Effects of Hindu Teaching
Because there is little specific information in Hindu scriptures about the supreme Creator and how to approach him in worship, many Hindus resort to primitive religious practices. In its article “Hinduism,” the Encyclopædia Britannica (1974) says concerning India’s “lower castes”:
“These castes are content to escape the powers of the evil eye; to manipulate those spirits dwelling in wells, trees, stones, water, and ground; to counteract curses, witchcraft, plague, and cholera; and to worship village godlings who may give rain or a bountiful harvest. They believe in astrology, horoscopy, divination, and the reading of omens and auspicious moments.”
And what has been the effect of the teaching of transmigration and karma? Professor John Noss writes in Man’s Religions: “Hindus have come to speak of the process of rebirth as ‘The Wheel.’ They look upon it with despair. . . . their hearts have failed them at the prospect of a possible thousand million rebirths stretching out their length before them.”
A further bad fruitage of this doctrine is the belief that one’s “caste,” or social level, is determined by deeds done in one’s previous life. This gives little incentive or opportunity for persons in the lower social strata, especially the “outcasts,” or “untouchables,” to improve their lot in this life. Concerning this, the New York Times of September 22, 1974, reported the comments of Satyavani Mathu, a former welfare minister in charge of “Harijans” (untouchables) in a state of India:
“No one cares. All these years of independence, all these constitutional guarantees, and Harijans are still outcasts, the lowest of the low. In practically every village, Harijans can’t take tea in the same hotel as caste Hindus, can’t take water from the same well.
“It’s a disgrace. Hinduism says that Harijans were born to be slaves. And caste Hindus accept this and don’t implement policies in favor of Harijans. They say, ‘How could you be our equals?’”
Interesting, too, are the following excerpts from the Hindu code of Manu concerning women:
“Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, yet a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife. . . . At her pleasure let her emaciate her body by living on pure flowers, roots, and fruit; but she must never mention the name of another man after her husband has died. . . . By violating her duty towards her husband, a wife is disgraced in this world; after death she enters the womb of a jackal, and is tormented by diseases, the punishment of her sin.”
As to the effect of Hindu principles on millions of the inhabitants of India, writer Mulk Raj Anand commented: “Unfortunately, the reassertion of Hindu Dharma [custom] in the code of Manu, with a more rigid caste system, with its degradation of women, and its insistence on ritual, preserved the discriminations which were to divide Indian society for all time.”—The Illustrated Weekly of India, November 17, 1974, p. 13.
In view of this, what has attracted so many in Western lands to Hindu beliefs and practices in recent years?
A Way of “Escape”
The book Man’s Religions points out: “The motive of much Hindu . . . and Buddhist thought in India has been escape.” In what sense?
A popular form of Hindu philosophy holds that the invisible “soul” within each person, his real self, is actually separate from his mind and body. The soul is considered to be part of an all-encompassing primary cause (sometimes called “God”) in the same way that rays that emanate from the sun can be viewed as part of the sun. According to this teaching, when a person realizes that his real self is a part of God and that fleshly existence is the result of imprisonment of the soul in a physical body, he can lose desire for further physical life. He leaves off performing deeds to assure an improved life in his next incarnation. Since there is no longer any karma in the ordinary sense for such a person, he escapes from the rebirth cycle. Some say that a person who achieves such a state has attained “Nirvana,” though this word has become more popular in Buddhism.
Knowledge of this strange “oneness” with God, however, is not attainable by normal intellectual processes. Instead, it comes “by an ecstatic flash of certitude in the midst of deep meditation,” according to Professor Noss. A classic Hindu text, the Bhagavad-Gita (the Lord’s Song), describes such a meditation procedure in these words attributed to the god Krishna:
“A devotee should constantly devote himself to abstraction, remaining in a secret place, alone, . . . remaining steady, looking at the tip of his own nose, . . . he should restrain his mind and concentrate it on Me . . . a devotee whose mind is restrained attains that tranquillity which culminates in final emancipation and assimilation with Me.”
This procedure is related to “the Yoga system” of Hinduism. According to another Hindu writing, Yoga can bring about “a trance in which the mind, now emptied of all content and no longer aware of either object or subject, is absorbed into the Ultimate, and is one with the One.” A person who gets to this point may experience feelings of tranquillity or even ecstasy. Superhuman mental and physical powers, such as clairvoyance and levitation, have been known to result from this special type of meditation.
A school of Chinese Buddhists that stressed such a practice pronounced the Sanskrit word for meditation (dhyana) as “ch’an,” and in Japan it became “zen.” Have you heard of the popular practice of “transcendental meditation” (TM) today? This, too, is related to the aforementioned Hindu views.
Another method of gaining freedom from the cycle of rebirths and an ‘awareness of union’ with God is called bhakti. This is a way of special devotion to a Hindu divinity, sometimes accompanied by ecstatic dancing and chanting of a phrase or prayer known as a “mantra.” A magazine article published by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness declares:
“Bhakti-yoga is the process of elevating oneself to the platform of [Krishna] consciousness. . . . This chanting of Hare [Krishna] . . . is the simplest and most expedient means for developing [Krishna] consciousness. . . . When you have mastered the chanting and are fixed in continuously resounding the name, [Krishna] will then appear in the soul’s eye, and He will dance upon your tongue. You will then taste the Supreme; your thoughts will be absorbed in [Krishna], and your consciousness will be perfect.”
Do you feel that these Hindu viewpoints about “escape” could satisfy your spiritual needs? Would it benefit you to take up this type of meditation or the devotional dancing and chanting that have induced ecstasy in some persons?
Can It Meet Your Needs?
It will be instructive to consider the Bible’s view of these matters. Scholars throughout the world have been impressed by the Bible’s historical accuracy, its freedom from myths and its peerless principles for human relations. The Scriptures, at Acts 17:26, 27, set forth the most basic of human needs, saying: “And [God] made out of one man every nation of men . . . for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him.”
Is that not what you wish to do? But could you successfully “grope for” and “find” the true God in writings that speak of a vague “ultimate” reality or that urge worship of numerous mythological gods and goddesses?
As to the practices of Yoga-type meditation, and bhakti-style dancing and chanting, keep in mind that they are based on the fundamental Hindu belief that man has within him an invisible “soul” that can both transmigrate and be “absorbed into the Ultimate.” But does that teaching represent the truth?
Considerable scientific investigation has been made to prove whether humans have a spiritual soul that departs from the body at death or not. But in spite of diligent efforts and much expenditure of money, no scientific evidence of the departure of such a soul has yet come forth. When a person dies, it still appears that he dies completely, with nothing automatically surviving.
Interestingly, the Bible agrees with this. Did you realize that the Scriptures never speak of man as having an immortal soul that separates from the body at death? On the contrary, the Bible declares that the human soul is the whole person. (Gen. 2:7; Ex. 1:5; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:14) When a person dies, therefore, the soul dies. (Ezek. 18:4, 20) And, according to the Scriptures, “the dead . . . are conscious of nothing at all.”—Eccl. 9:5.
The idea of gaining “oneness” of the soul with a transcendental reality through meditation or any other mystic practice, therefore, is simply not true. There is no separate soul in humans to achieve such oneness. Could you benefit lastingly from a procedure that is based on a religious lie?
The Scriptures warn of the existence of “wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places,” and urge people to resist them by putting on “the complete suit of armor from God.” (Eph. 6:11, 12) To succeed in that type of warfare requires that one serve God with one’s “whole mind” and with one’s “power of reason.” (Matt. 22:37; Rom. 12:1) Could you heed that counsel by engaging in a practice that represses normal consciousness? Might not that open you up to possible influence by demonic forces? Under hypnosis, for example, an individual becomes subject to the control of another intelligent person, the hypnotist. And, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica (1974 edition), the initial step toward being hypnotized is for a person “to relax in comfort and to fix his gaze on some object.” Is that not the same as the initial stages of Hindu meditation?
The Bible definitely associates clairvoyant powers, such as are possessed by advanced practitioners of Yoga, with demons. (Acts 16:16-18; Deut. 18:10-12) Would it be wise to devote even brief periods of time each day to procedures that in more developed stages lead to demonic influence? Surely these are not ways truly to satisfy your spiritual needs.
Persons who desire a fine relationship with the Creator must seek this according to God’s own requirements, which are found in the Holy Bible. Why not investigate and see for yourself if the Bible’s logical, factual presentation of divine truth does not convince you that it is truly the word of God? (2 Tim. 3:16) If you would like assistance in learning basic Bible truths, Jehovah’s witnesses will be glad to aid you.