WORLD RELIGIONS 101
When Krishna Meets Jesus
May 25, 2003
Imagine you are a sincere believer. Many of you don’t have to imagine that, because you are. You’re a follower of Christ, you read your Bible, you pray, you attend church, you tithe, and you seek to follow after Jesus with all of your heart. Now, you know people who are also very devout and religious. You may have a friend who follows Mohammed with all their heart, soul and might. And they read the Koran as their guide. You may have a friend who is a Buddhist. And he is following the teachings of Buddha with all of his heart, soul and mind.
So someone from the outside may look at you and say, “What’s the difference? You follow Jesus, he follows Buddha, she follows Mohammed. How can you know which religion is true? How can I know which God is the right God?” That is what a skeptic may say to you. That is what we’ve been doing in this series. The first week we looked at Buddhism and how Buddhism related to the claims of Jesus Christ. Last week we talked to Afshin Ziafat, and we looked at Islam and some of the central doctrines of that particular religion.
Tonight we are going to look at Hinduism, a religion that began centuries ago in the country known today as India. It is important before we talk about Hinduism to realize that if you look at Christianity’s religious competition, they basically fall into three categories.
The first group of religions that compete with Christianity is what I call mystical religions. Some may call this, religions of transcendent mysticism. Hinduism is a religion like that. It is not based primarily on a book or books. But it is based on a mystical experience with a power force or what someone calls the divine or gods. In the second group are moralistic religions. Buddhism is basically a moralistic religion, Confucianism is also a moralistic religion— you follow a certain moral path or code. They are much more concerned about the here and now than they are about the life after. The third group is what I call counterfeit religions, these are Christian knockoffs. Let’s say if you want a bling bling but you don’t have the money, you can go to Harwin and buy a Gucci purse— but it is really not a Gucci, it just looks like a Gucci. You can get knock off name brands right down the street from our church. Well, these particular religions are what I call Christian knock offs, they are borrowing a lot of capital, a lot of concepts, a lot of their doctrines from the Christian faith. There are three different types of counterfeits out there. You can group them under these three rubrics. Number one, you have polytheistic counterfeits. Next week we will talk about one of those, Mormonism. It is a polytheistic counterfeit of Christianity. Also, you have Unitarian counterfeits. Islam is a Unitarian counterfeit of Christianity. Also, you have Neo Messianic Counterfeits; these are the groups like the Moonies, the Unification church, someone who claims to be the Messiah in the flesh. Someone like David Koresh and the Branch Dravidians could be a type of the Neo Messianic counterfeits to the Christian faith. So as you are looking and studying different world religions and dialoguing with people from different faiths you will see that they will more than likely fall under one of those three categories of mystical religions, moral religions or counterfeit religions.
So, this series is all about one primary thing, we talked about it the first Sunday night. Remember the big four questions. That is what we are looking at, remember these big four questions will help you and me determine the religious or philosophic perspective of any person you meet. They may be atheist or agnostic, Buddhist, a Sikh, a Muslim. Whatever they are, if you understand and ask these four questions, you will get insight into their lives, their hearts and find out what makes that person tick. Some people are conscious that they have answers to these big four questions, other people don’t have answers to them, they just subconsciously live them out. They don’t know that they have a worldview or a particular religious perspective. But make no bones about it, everyone has one.
Let’s review the big four questions. The first question- What is ultimate reality? Another way to ask this is – what is the stuff behind the stuff? You know all the things we see in the material world and the cosmos. Is there anything beyond the natural material world? The correct answer is- yes there is. The Triune God of Scripture. He was in the beginning. He has always existed as one in essence and three in persons; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That is the ultimate starting point. He is ultimate reality.
The second question is – How do you know? How do you have knowledge? Our primary source of knowledge is revelational in character. God has revealed Himself. He has spoken to us in His Word, the Bible. Yes we do know through reason, we do know through our senses, we do know pragmatically- how things work out. But primarily, when it gets down to it, we know through revelation. That God has spoken to us in the Bible.
Third big question: What happens at death? And we ask this question for several reasons, first of all, death is a very real experience and death is a great clarifier. Death will clarify what a person believes to be the problem and the solution with mankind. God tells us our problem is that we are separated from Him. We need to be reconciled, brought back together with Him. So what happens at death? God’s Word tells us, which is our standard that we will have to give an account for our lives, every person who has ever lived will have to stand before God in judgment. And you will either spend an eternity with God in heaven or eternity in hell separated from Him. There is no middle ground. There is no “do over.” How we decide on God and Christ in this world will determine where we are going in the after world. Everyone is going to live forever. Everyone has a soul that is eternal.
Fourth big question: How should you live? How should you live your life? We should live our lives, primarily by keeping in step with what God’s Spirit is doing in our life. Another way of saying this is that we should live our lives utterly dependent upon God and Jesus for our acceptance now and forever and utterly dependent upon the Spirit to work His life through us. Now this doesn’t mean we’ve entered into this kind of Christian passivism – “I’m just going to let go and let God.” I hear that a lot with dating – “I’m not going to go out and date, ask someone out, be a part of a singles group. I am going to let go and let God and if God wants to bring someone into my life, He’s going to have to bring him/her to my doorstep.” Now if you are waiting on that, then you are going to marry the mailman or a Jehovah’s Witness because those are the only people coming to your doorstep. A more appropriate motto than let go and let God, should be – trust God and get going. Trust that God is working in your life. Step out in faith and believe that God’s Spirit is going to empower you to accomplish His will in this world. That is how we should live our lives. These are the four big questions.
Now, let’s ask these four questions to the religion known as Hinduism. The first big question is, What is ultimate reality? Hindus say Brahman is ultimate reality. Brahman is the unknowable, impersonal, neutral absolute—the basis and cause of all existence.
Now if you are wondering, what is that? Most of you saw a great example of Brahman when you were growing up as a kid. My little brother saw this great example, I don’t’ know, probably 15 or 20 times in the movie Star Wars. Star Wars presents a Hinduistic concept of God. Remember… “Luke, use the Force.” Remember, you have Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader- remember how Vader would breathe and talk at the same time? That was amazing! Unreal. Forget the fact that George Lucas totally plagiarizes a Christian, JRR Tolkien, to get his whole concept of Star Wars- forget that fact for a moment. And think about the force in Star Wars. The force in Star Wars is like Brahman, a neutral, it is impersonal. If you are evil or good – you can tap into this impersonal force. It really helps when you have one of those very cool light sabers. Anyway, that may help you understand what the Hindu concept of God is all about. Brahman, ultimate reality.
Now, the hard thing about Hinduism is that it is very malleable. It is like water, you put it into a container and it changes into different forms. Hinduism embraces both pantheism, (“pan” meaning everything and “theism” meaning God) which is the belief that all is God; and polytheism – the belief in multiple gods. So really to understand Hinduism, you have to understand this basic phrase. All is one. That describes a Hindu’s concept of ultimate reality and where everything is going. There are really no personal distinctions between matter and people and animals – all is one. So, you may have many gods. Hinduism has millions of gods, but basically the gods are all representative of the one impersonal force, Brahman.
Years ago I was at the LA House of Blues. The House of Blues is a really cool music venue. Interesting note, on the wall above the stage they have the symbols of the seven great religions of the world. Then in the middle of the wall, the words All Are One and a picture of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The slogan “All is one” is a very Hinduistic concept of ultimate reality. That is how they answer the first question.
Now the second big question, answered from a Hindu perspective is … How do you know? Again, Hinduism is one of those religions of transcendent mysticism. So the primary way you KNOW in this particular faith is through meditation. What is real in this world or outside of this world cannot be determined by sensory experience. Hinduism provides no basis for the scientific endeavor because they aren’t testing things that are real, they are simply an illusion.
Now, they call this Maya. Maya is the idea that things are an illusion, there is no distinction between anything that we can see touch or feel. That is the second big question.
Now if you just tuned into the series, the reason we are asking these big questions is to get inside the heart or the perspective of people we are trying to talk with. So we can know where they are coming from and they can know where we are coming from. The way you answer these four big questions, reveals your worldview, serving as lenses, if you would. Now imagine that I have on sunglasses, (my lenses) and these sunglasses are cemented to my face.
So what I believe, whether I know it or not, about ultimate reality, about how I know what I know, about what happens at death, how I should live my life – these beliefs are the lenses that I see and interpret the world through. So I have these glasses, these lenses that are cemented to my face and I can’t even see them, but they affect how I see life. Everyone has these sunglasses, these worldviews cemented to their face. When we are sharing Jesus Christ with people, we are entering into a clash of worldviews. It would be as if my lenses are blue and yours are red, we will see and interpret things differently. More on that later. Let’s look at the third question.
The third question is, What happens at death? This tells us what they believe to be the problem and the solution with mankind. Here’s what they say happens at death. Hindus believe first of all that your body is left behind but your soul is reincarnated. Remember, Buddhism taught reincarnation but Buddhism denied the existence of the soul. The soul in Hinduism is known as atman. Atman is ultimately Brahman. They are ultimately one. So the soul is reincarnated. Now, reincarnation is described in their religion as samsara. Samsara is that cycle of reincarnation, of rebirths. This samsara occurs because we have bad karma.
Now, many of you are old enough to remember when the Beatles were hot back in the 60’s- they broke up in the 70’s – I think their last album was Let it Be. Now during the 60’s they brought this whole type of eastern philosophy into the pop culture into the mainstream. And after they split off, John Lennon, one of the Beatles, I think he wrote a song called “Instant Karma.” And George Harrison, I think was the only Beatle to continue to follow Hinduism until he was stricken by cancer and died a few years ago. Anyway, The Beatles brought these teachings into vogue. Bad karma is simply deeds that you do. It is kind of like in Galatians 6 when Paul says you will reap what you sow. If you sow bad karma, then you will be reincarnated into a lower life form. For the Hindu, the problem is the need for higher knowledge. We need a higher knowledge to realize that everything we see is Maya, it is an illusion. We need a higher knowledge to realize that there is really no distinction between you and me and anything we see. All is one. As they said in the song, “I am the Walrus, I am he as you are he and you are me and we are all together– koo koo ka cho – there you go.”
I had that record, by the way. I think “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” was on one side and “I am the Walrus” – a little Capital Record – a little yellow vinyl. Can you imagine what that would be worth today? Anyway … that is just a thought. Personal thought, a personal confession.
So that is what happens at death. At death you are either reincarnated or if you experience enlightenment and you can break free of samsara, that is known as moksha. Moksha is release from the cycle or the wheel of samsara. That is when you realize that all is one – and you are transported into Nirvana and Nirvana is to be absorbed into Brahman, which is the universal oneness. It is like a drop of water- when you die and you really get it- your enlightened through this higher knowledge, it is like a drop of water that falls into this endless sea of non-being.
Muslims believe that when you die, if you get it right, by following the five pillars of Islam that somehow your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds and all the men get to go to heaven and have all the women serve them and have sex with them. That is their concept of paradise. Hindu’s turn away from the sensory experience and believe you become a drop of water into the ocean of non-being. Think about that for a while.
Fourth big question is this: How should you live? They would say you should live by striving to build good karma. Good karma is deeds. There are three ways to build good karma. One is the way of knowledge- that is the path that Siddhartha Gautama took- remember he is The Buddha. He took the path of an ascetic Hindu monk. And very few people take the way of knowledge, you have to go through 4 different stages and that last stage, you become an ascetic monk and through that you experience hopefully, moksha (release) and you experience Nirvana, at-one-ment with Brahman.
Two, the second way to build good karma is the way of activity. That is when you offer sacrifices and offerings to gods and goddesses or spirits. You can do that in the temple or you can do that in your home.
Third way to build good karma is the way of devotion. And that is devotion to a particular god like Vishnu or Sheva (the destroyer god) or perhaps an incarnation of Vishnu or Shiva, like Krishna.
That is the title of this particular message, When Krishna Meets Jesus. Now Krishna is believed to be an incarnation of one of the Hindu gods, Vishnu. Years ago you may have seen Krishna’s at airports. And one of the things they would do is chant, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.” They believed by chanting Hare Krishna, that Krishna gives them help to overcome bad karma and to be free from the cycle of rebirths. Again, Hinduism made its first in road into popular culture with the Beatles; you can also see Shirley McClain and her teachings on New Age- her teachings on New Age combines a lot of Hinduistic thought.
Right down the street from this church, there is a church called the Unity Church of Christianity. Trust me, that church has very little of anything to do with Christianity. They will take Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism and merge them into some type of New Age – East meets West philosophy. We see the in roads of Hinduism all throughout our culture today. Whether it is directly with temples being built through the Krishna movement or through the New Age movement – which we do not have time to get into tonight.
Let’s look at some of the differences in Christianity and Hinduism. When Jesus meets Krishna. Again, a skeptic is going to say, “Who can know? Who can be sure? You have your God and the Hindu’s have their god or many gods. You have your book the Bible, they have their book the Bhagavad Gītā. They are all the same thing, right?”
Wrong. That is simply not true. Christianity says— there is a personal God. This God created everything we see, there is a distinction between the Creator and the creation. This God sovereignly governs and controls what is happening in this earth through providence, through His Spirit. This God has revealed Himself in a book, the Word of God and we can know in language. This God has also revealed Himself in a person, Jesus Christ. And God sent His Son Jesus Christ to bring us back to Him, to reconcile us to Him. Now, the Christian story it may be true or it may be false, but at least the story holds together. It supports itself. When you look at any other religion of the world or philosophy, you will see contradictions, you will see arbitrariness. This is true in Hinduism. You may say, well… they are the same. No, they are not.
Hindu’s do not believe that god is personal. Therefore their book Bhagavad Gītā is not a personal revelation, it cannot be a personal revelation from god. Suppose you enter into a dialogue with someone from this particular faith and you are talking to them and you say, “What’s the goal of your particular religion?”
I had someone of a particular religion come to my door a while back and I asked him, “What do I need to do to become part of your particular religion?” So, ask a Hindu, “What do I need to do to become a Hindu?” And they will basically say you need to experience enlightenment, you need to experience moksha which is release from the cycle of reincarnation, to realize the great truth that all is one, and we will all be dissolved into Brahman. So you say, “What you are saying is that I just don’t have the knowledge that all is one.” That’s right. “And everything is the same, the trees, the ocean, the sea, the sky, the sun, me, this candle, you and me…we are all basically one – part of this same one, impersonal, universal force.” They would say, well, yeah… that’s right. And then you could say, “Well, that’s great, I’m in man. I’m already experiencing Nirvana right now, I already believe that all is one. All is one!”
They would say, “No no no, you can’t experience Nirvana because you’re in Maya, you’re an illusion, you’re alive, you can’t experience that until a different time.” Then you can say, “Wait a minute, time out. Time out. You just made a distinction between Maya, this world, and Nirvana, a different world and there shouldn’t be any distinction because the core of your religious faith is the belief that all is one. So you are guilty of a contradiction.” Let me give you a common question that you want to keep asking people when you are discussing worldviews. This may be the guy with the Budweiser hat and a big dip, a Redman chew in his mouth. It may be a lady with 10 PhD’s after her name, it doesn’t matter. When you are talking to someone about ultimate issues and you really want to get down to the bottom line and cut through the crud. Keep asking this one question over and over again, “How do you know that?” Just keep asking that question.
I was flying to Chicago recently to speak at a conference. On the plane there was a girl sitting over by the window, a college student. And there was a seat in between us and we just started talking. She was about to graduate from college. We started talking about religious things. And I just kept asking her that question and she was telling me what she believed about God, and life. I just kept saying, well… how do you know that? Now, how do you know that? How do you know that? Basically, it just got down to intuition. She knew everything about her life, about her worldview through intuition. This is a very flimsy way of knowing which I very gently picked apart.
But in Hinduism, if you ask, how do you know that? How do you know that all is one? He will say, “Well, it is in the book.” Who said it? “Well… Brahman.” Well, Brahman said it? How can Brahman say anything, you’ve made a personal statement about someone who has revealed himself as impersonal? So… How can that happen? Again, that doesn’t comport. And this person will say, “Well, that is the reason why you can’t understand Hinduism because you are using western logic. We’re not into logic.” Then all you have to say to them is, “I believe your religion does use logic.” If they say that’s stupid. They can’t contradict you. Then go ahead and say, “Your religion is logical.” Again, their starting point is arbitrary, it is relativism. They basically have no place to stand. Now, I’m not saying that Hindu’s are not ethical people. There are many Hindu’s that are very moral. I had a friend of mine who was Hindu in college. They are very bright and very moral people for the most part, but again, when you look at their worldview and ask a few questions, they can’t account for their ethics or for their morality. Given their perspective that all is one, that all is an illusion, how can you account for good and for evil?
Again, you don’t have the starting point or the basis to account for that so it ends up destroying itself. Now, perhaps you are a Christian pragmatist. You may be saying, “Why are we studying all this stuff? Why is this stuff important? Why do we need to study other religions of the world, other perspectives?”
Three reasons. First reason is, religious pluralism is a reality in our culture today. That means that you may work by someone in one cubicle who is a Buddhist and someone in another cubicle who is a Muslim and your boss is agnostic. We don’t speak the same language anymore- so it is imperative that we understand where people are coming from. We need to learn to ask these four questions and understand how the Christian faith answers them. It prepares you to enter into a much more intelligent and compassionate dialogue with people from different religious perspectives.
Second of all, the Bible says we must be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks. 1 Peter 3:15 says “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.” Did you catch that? Always, Boy scouts motto, always be prepared to give a reason to everyone who asks you, the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with- what’s our manner? With gentleness and respect.
Now, to do this it doesn’t mean we have to go out and earn a PhD in philosophy or theology. Again, if we could understand how Christians answer these four basic questions, then this will help us to dialogue, to have a clash of worldviews with anybody from any different religious perspective. And that is ultimately what you are doing when you are talking to someone about ultimate issues. You are entering into a clash of worldviews. As I have studied the various religions of the world and philosophic perspectives, I see that the Christian faith holds together and provides the basis for understanding what is real in this world and beyond. The Christian foundation and worldview provides a basis for things like science and logic and mathematics to exist and operate. The Christian worldview is consistent because God has revealed Himself to us in this way. So when someone says, “What makes Christianity right and others wrong?” Just listen to the different religions on their own terms. The staggering claim of the Christian faith is that ultimate reality, the Creator, Sovereign God of the Universe has become a man in Jesus Christ. If that is true and it is true, then Christ is the starting point of all knowledge and all wisdom. Because He is God in the flesh. Amazing claim.
Third reason is, one of the biggest lies in our society is summed up in this statement, “All religions are the same.” We hear it all the time. And most of the people who make this claim, write this down in your notes, don’t know “jack taco” about world religions. They may know a little about Christianity, but I guarantee they don’t know anything about Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam or other religious perspectives in our society today. That is just a convenient way to avoid God in their life. People who say, “All religions are the same,” and “God is on top of a mountain and there are many paths to get to God,” simply have not studied the religions of the world. If you’ve been here since the first Sunday we started this series, you see that Buddhism and Christianity are radically different. You see that Islam is radically different. Hinduism and Christianity are radically different. If you are here next week, you will see that Mormonism and Christianity are radically different. Now in saying that, are we saying – there is no truth in Hinduism, no truth in Buddhism? NO! There is some truth in those religions. There are different areas I can find common ground with a Buddhist, with a Hindu, with a Muslim. We agree on certain moral principles, but the essence, the key doctrines of our faith are radically different.
The main reason we are studying these perspectives is so that when someone opens his pie hole at lunch or over coffee and says, “All religions are the same.” You can simply say, “Well that is not true. Hindu’s believe this, Muslims believe this, Buddhists believe this, and Christians believe that. So, it is not true that all religions are the same. You can talk to them, answer their questions and clear that confusion up in their mind.
So, if you are here tonight and you are someone who is asking questions – you’re a skeptic. I want to challenge you to consider the claims of Christ on His own terms. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one goes to the Father, to Heaven except through Me.” Jesus said in Matthew 7 if you don’t follow my words then you will experience judgment at the end of eternity. Jesus also said in John 10:10 that I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly. I want to challenge you here if you are a tire kicker, a skeptic, a doubter to really look at, examine the claims of Jesus Christ. He is either God in the Flesh or He is not. Look at the alternative. Jesus Christ is either a super nut or supernatural. Put Him in the ha ha house with a straight jacket on Him – let Him burn with David Koresh and Charles Manson – do something with Him. He is either a kook, a nut case or He is God revealed in human flesh. There is no middle ground. But if you are considering the Christian faith, if you are looking at it, consider it on its own terms.
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]