Christians, typically, have pre-conditioned ideas about the rudimentary pagan-ness of Hinduism with its thirty million gods. But we understand so little.
Driving to and fro in Kolkata, I observed how each cabbie had his pictures of gods or goddesses, sort of like the picture of the mother Mary hanging from mirrors in Mexico. I noticed how some were human-depictions. Inquisitive, I asked, “Whose picture is this?” My Indian guide said, “Kali,” (the Hindu god of empowerment). At our hotel, a metallic art piece proudly displayed Ganesh, the god of elephant likeness, who is only 150 years old. The sudden popularity links to his assumed part in securing independence, India’s own rejection of British rule.
Being in India for the first time alongside a seasoned missionary was a golden opportunity to glean cultural insights. Unquestionably seasoned, his multiplication-minded mission was now going on twenty-six years! So during a private breakfast, I fired off a series of pinpointed questions. Initially, he thought that his answers frustrated me; but that was not the case. I was getting the answers I sought. I wanted to know what their starting point was and did not expect it to be typical, or easily definable. In the course of the conversation, a picture did emerge.
Two key revelations surfaced from my sit-down with this savvy veteran. First, most Hindu’s do not have pure pantheistic theology. Clarifying, they do not look at things through a purist lens, that God is everything, existing in all nature. Enlightening! So, in most cases, we can drop that presumption and any kind of simplified categorization. The more I dug and probed, the more reticent he became to qualify distinct categories, saying, “Hinduism is the world’s most individualistic religion.” In his book, God is Not One, Stephen Prothero describes Hinduism in the same way, articulating, “It is difficult to say what, if anything, all these Hindus have in common because, of all the great religions, Hinduism is the least dogmatic and the most diverse.”
What is clear, however, is that Hindu’s perceive the world very differently than we do. Listening to his explanations, my mind suddenly illumined to the subplot of The Matrix. It was not a direct correlation, but rather, a tributary idea that began to shed light-beams on what is a very difficult-to-wrap-your-mind-around concept. I had come to the other side of the world as a student seeking this type of insight! Hang with me here, as I try to illustrate something of great import to reaching this expanding segment of the world. By the way, you might not have observed, but Hindu’s live, school and work all around us—like the postal storeowner, a stone’s throw from my house!
According to the movie’s scripted plot, one perceptively quizzical man named Neo (actor Keanu Reeves) is drawn to the place of discovering—that the world, which he has known, shrouds a greater reality. In fact, if you have watched this popular flick, you know that the real world is not the visual one. Everything in it is merely a computerized façade that they describe as “The matrix.”
The opening scenes set the stage for an intervention. Aware of Neo’s search and believing in his future messianic-like role, Morpheus’s crew reaches down into the matrix to extract him. Incrementally, at first, so as not to overwhelm, they offer glimpses for the alternative reality. But this is not enough. The only real way for Neo to come to grips with the shocking alternative is to see it for himself. Thus, Morpheus presents the choice of the red or blue pill—down the rabbit hole he goes! After losing his lunch—welcome to Wonderland—and needing some reassuring words, he begins to piece together the stark, stripped-back, true version of reality.
Now, I am going to do something that is going to feel weird for you as a reader. We, too, must go down the rabbit hole! Think of The Matrix storyline and then invert it. Flip it upside down. Let me explain why we must do this. What I am suggesting is this—Hindus, from their cultural ancestral worldview, accept an otherworldly reality already. Unlike materialistic westerners, they look at the invisible world as the real one. This truth is what the Vedas, Upanishads, and their Sanskrit scriptures have pointed them towards. Other than their love for the game of Cricket, and hating neighboring Pakistan, this is one other thing they agree on.
It explains why, for us to argue vehemently about what has occurred in our physical historical world (Jesus’s life, death and resurrection), and its verifiable proofs, is a moot point to Hindus. All our convincing dissipates without any sticking resonance. As upside down as it feels to us, this makes perfect sense. According to their worldview wiring, the finite can never adequately explain what is infinite. Keeping with The Matrix illustration, it would be like someone trying to convince Morpheus to change his whole view of reality based upon what they observe in the computerized matrix. That could never happen. In classic Western thinking, evidentiary proof is everything; but to the Hindu’s mental orientation, it means little or nothing. They do not reason classically like the Greeks of old, or today’s Westerners. A bigger concept absorbs reality; its what exists outside the present world that drives their thought processing. The practical implication, of course, is huge!
The starting point in reaching Hindu’s derives counter-intuitively, along an inverted axis. Granted, this type of apologetic is not something Westerners are accustomed to; thus it takes some reorienting. We too must face a paradigm shift of the oddest dimension—down the rabbit hole we go. Before going further, settle yourself for a moment. Allow the ground to reform under your feet. The biblical worldview that you and I hold dearly—has not changed. Nor have the absolute truths of God regarding the significance of his intervention in our world. But what we are learning of their starting point is essential. If we stand a chance to reach Hindus, the path to truth begins from an unconventional angle.
Being previously unaware of this dynamic, it now describes lucidly what occurred with my Indian International student friend, Raj. After building a friendship over months of time, we began to have deeper conversations about religions: Christianity and Hinduism. I continued to pursue my Western rationalistic thinking, pointing him to Christ, in classical terminology. Yet all of my honed apologetics training, frustratingly, went nowhere. I had no comprehension of his true starting point. What was the result? We spun wheels. There was no place for traction.
Though, the path to reach a Muslim, with its sheer theistic tethers, has more easily accessible hooks, the path to reach a Hindu person exists as well. It just cannot begin with the same presuppositions. As soon as we are able to drop the classical thinking, then we can get onto what speaks to and appeals to minds painted through pantheistic strokes.
Metaphorically, we take the role of Morpheus and his team who enter another world, seeking to bring Neo into the true reality. Diving in, personally and commutatively, we intercede to bring Hindus into the awareness of Christ—the real reality. And there are foundations to build from. They already orient themselves godward. Interestingly, much more so than most Westerners! In this, as a culture they are farther along than Europe or the secular sectors of North America. They are immersed in religious thinking, have millions of gods who, for some, represent One God, or are attributing manifestations of Brahma, the Supreme god. Other Hindus are truly polytheistic, and yet all hold to a Karma conscience ideology. They are all striving to rid themselves of their bad, which results in samsara (wandering on), the vicious cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Wisely then, avoiding counterproductive disputation, we do not fight them rationally. Instead, we invite them into hearing about and seeing for themselves the experience that we have with our God, the One who is “fully integrated” to meet their every need, and to guide them into all truth. This discovering process of learning, seeking and experiencing becomes the bridge to a greater reality. As we teach and live out the fullness of Christ—we are praying for them to come into a new realm of knowledge!
On my way back to Dubai, I had the opportunity to have an intimate conversation with Mari, a Hindu mom, with her two daughters seated in the row before us. As she explained, Brahma, the Creator Supreme God, has no form. (Can you see the eventual angle on that one with Jesus!) Thus, the gods served to help humans (who live outside the infinite) to understand and relate to him.” She mentioned their belief in Karma. Also, that Hinduism for many was not a religion, but rather, a way of life.
I didn’t try to contradict her. Instead, I focused on what Christ has done for me. With enthusiasm, I talked about my spiritual experience, and shared with her that following Christ could be such a blessing for her and her family! She smiled and listened intently. Later, I pulled out a Bible and showed her the way it breaks down into Old and New Testaments. I read a bit about Jesus and his words. Then I apologized that it was a bit ruffled, but wondered if she would want to have my Bible. She looked at me pleasantly surprised, “Are you giving this to me?” With joy she thanked me, tucking it away in her purse, and informed that she would like to read it all—from the beginning. Please pray for Mari, her husband, and her two beautiful girls! And pray for the billion plus who are just like her, who desperately need the gospel, before it’s too late!
NOTE: The concept of “Going Experiential,” developed in my book, Soul Whisperer, will be a monumental traction-gaining tool in reaching Hindus. Here are a number of experiential planks that can bridge to Christ:
• Their own discovery of meaningful truth (discovery groups)
• Answered prayers
• The meeting of spiritual/emotional/physical needs
• Victory over the demonic