Thursday, June 28, 2012

Catholicism and Hinduism are similar, but not in the ways that one author thinks

I've always felt that Hinduism is very similar to my birth religion Catholicism. In fact, that's one of the reasons I was drawn to Hinduism and feel so at home with it.

Today I found a blog article where the author compared the two religions. And from a brief look, it looks like that to him/her, this is a negative. Also, they got most of the aspects of both Catholicism and Hinduism wrong. 

One commenter corrected the author's knowledge of Catholicism. So I left a comment regarding Hinduism.

Here is what they wrote with each point followed by my corrections. I'm sure I got some things wrong. But I'm comfortable that most of it is right.

1. Repeated sacrifice - At every Catholic Mass, Jesus is again "sacrificed." This is why the elements of the Mass are literally thought to be Christ's body and blood. When Hindus go to temple, they perform some sort of sacrifice, usually presenting an offering to the gods.

To modern hindus, these offerings are essentially gifts. During worship, God visits. And since he/she is an honored guest, they are offered refreshments. A very beautiful practice, actually.

2. Rituals - The Mass itself is a type of ritual. Also, the Rosary is one of the most well-known rituals of the Catholic faith. At a Hindu temple, various rituals are performed such as ringing a bell to wake the gods, bowing before the gods, and chanting different mantras.

You got this one right. And the Hindu practice of repeating a mantra using a circular string of 108 beads is really no different than the rosary. And an example of a mantra is "Om Shanti" which means "Peace." (In truth, just "Shanti" means peace while "Om" is a word or symbol that represents God, just as YHWH  symbolized God in Judaism.)

3. Prayer to multiple saints/gods - Many Catholics (not all) pray to various saints within the Catholic church. Most Hindus (not all) pray to various gods within the Hindu pantheon. Some of the most popular are Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi, and Ganesh.

Most Hindus consider all their gods as forms of the one true, formless God, which they call Brahman.

4. Priests - both Catholics and Hindus must go through a priest to get to god. There is no direct access to any god.

In Hinduism, there are four paths to God. One of them is Bhakti Yoga, which can be translated as the path of love, devotion, or worship. Hindu priests perform rituals within that Bhakti path. However, they are not mandatory. There are a lot of rituals that any hindu can perform, and usually at home. But rituals are not the only way to show devotion to God. You can also repeat his/her name. Or, just sit and think about him/her.

5. Cathedral/Temple - In both religions, all important practices occur at some type of building. There is little encouragement for meeting in homes because priests cannot be at multiple homes at the same time.

Many Hindus perform daily worship in a home shrine. And some go to the temple on weekends. Some maybe a few times a year.

6. Images and Icons - In Catholic churches, pictures and statues of saints are common-place. These typically receive veneration. At any Hindu temple, there will be multiple statues of the various gods. These will include Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Hanuman, Lakshmi, Durga, and others.

No modern Hindu really thinks the statue is God. They just believe that during worship, the spirit of God enters that statue. The same way that the spirit of God would hover above the Ark of The Covenant when God visited Moses. And I guess how some Protestants believe that the spirit of God changes bread into Jesus' body during the mass. And how Catholics believe such a transformation is permanent. 

NOTE: Some hindus do not bother with the idols. They prefer the other paths, or they just pray to formless and transcendent God with bowed head and folded hands with no idol in sight. Or just sitting with crossed legs and closed eyes and meditate on God, either as Father, Mother, Lord etc.

7. Works-based salvation - In both Catholicism and Hinduism, salvation is based, at least in part, upon the works of the individual. This is far different from the cry of the Protestant Reformation: "Justification by faith alone."

Another path to God (like Bhakti/devotion) is Karma Yoga. This is done through unselfish actions as service to God or toward another fellow human being. However, Hindus do not believe in "salvation." They do not believe we are born sinners. And they do not believe in hell. They just believe that wrong actions result in bad karma. And this bad karma must be cleaned away before one can escape reincarnation and be united with God. And this is done by a number of ways including suffering, following one of the four paths, through God's grace, or removed by an especially holy person.

8. Lack of knowledge of sacred writings - Within both religions, the typical follower of the faith has limited knowledge of the sacred writings of his religion. The same is true within Protestantism, but to a much lesser degree. Within Catholicism and Hinduism, the priest is heavily relied upon for scriptural knowledge and understanding.

This varies per person. Some are VERY knowledgeable in the Hindu scriptures. And most are very knowledgeable in the Bhagavad Gita, considered to be the most important. Just as most Catholics are at least very knowledgeable in the Gospel.

9. Centered on Rome/Ganges River - Both religions are very centralized. Rome is the epicenter of Catholicism, is the home of the Pope, and is a destination for thousands of Catholics each year. For Hindus, the Ganges River is the site of pilgrimage. Many Hindus travel hundreds of miles to take a dip in the "holy river," in the hope that it will wash away their sins.

Kinda true. Don't know if the Ganges is the number one location for everyone. India is FULL of sacred places. And in each sect, there are many locations that are especially dear to them. Just like in Catholicism, devotees of Mary are very fond of places like Lourdes and Fatima. If anything, I would equate the Ganges to the Holy Land, or maybe the river Jordan.

10. Death: purgatory/reincarnation - Both faiths teach that upon death, people do not go directly to heaven or hell. For Catholics, purgatory awaits. For Hindus, death leads to another cycle of reincarnation.

For Hindus, death only leads to another cycle if one didn't achieve enlightenment. And one can find that enlightenment via one of the four paths. Two were mentioned (Bhakti and Karma). The third is Jnana Yoga, which is the path of knowledge. The devotee searches in their mind what is real and what is unreal. At the end of that path, they realize God is real and everything else is illusory. The fourth path is Raja Yoga, which is realizing God through meditation.

NOTE: Many or most Hindus do not follow just one path. Throughout the day they may follow a number of paths, or all four. Or switch between the four throughout their lives.