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Hinduism

When the U.S. Senate invited a Hindu leader (Rajan Zed) to open a 2007 session with a prayer, David Barton objected, saying: “In Hindu [sic], you have not one God, but many, many, many, many, many gods. And certainly that was never in the minds of those who did the Constitution, did the Declaration when they talked about Creator.”

Hinduism and Buddhism are closely related: like Judaism and Christianity. Hinduism predates Buddhism by at least 2,500 years, and has no known historical founder.

Animal rights advocate Lewis Regenstein describes Hinduism as:

"...more than just a creed: it is a total culture, a way of life based on the belief in the unity of all creation. Hindus, like Buddhists, see humankind not as an entity separate from animals, but rather as an integral part of the universe that includes all living creatures. Although Hinduism is well known for considering cows to be holy, in Hindu doctrine, all living creatures, including insects, plants and trees, are thought to enjoy a kinship with one another and to be worthy of respect and life."

According to Nine Beliefs of Hinduism, a tract published by the Himalayan Academy of San Francisco: "Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa or nonviolence."

Contemporary Hindu spiritual masters have taught us that if one wishes to eat cow’s flesh (or the flesh of any other animal for that matter), one should wait until the animal dies of natural causes, rather than take the life of a fellow creature. This indicates that we are vegetarian first and foremost out of nonviolence toward and compassion for animals, rather than because we follow “dietary laws.”

The Hindu practice of nonviolence is connected to a belief in reincarnation: the repeated re-embodiment of souls in different species of life. The karma generated in one's present life determines whether one enjoys a higher or suffers a lower existence in the next life. Karma is the moral and physical law of cause and effect by which each individual creates one's own future destiny.

Hinduism teaches that there are 8,400,000 species of life, beginning with the microbes, rising through the fish, plants, insects, reptiles, birds, and animals to the humans and gods. According to their desires, living entities perpetually take birth in these species. These transmigrations are directed by the mind propelling the soul to newer and newer bodies. All souls are evolving and progressing towards reunion with God. Human life affords one the opportunity to escape the cycle of repeated birth and death and return to the spiritual world from where we fell.

According to the Hindu scriptures, ours is one of many innumerable universes, and all are being repeatedly created and destroyed over vast periods of time lasting billions of years. Carl Sagan noted that while the Christians were thinking of the world being merely thousands of years old, the Mayans were thinking in terms of millions, and the Hindus in terms of billions.

John Plott has done elaborate studies comparing Christianity and Vaishnavaism (the worship of Lord Vishnu), particularly the teachings and theology of Ramanuja to St. Bonaventura. Geoffrey Parrinder wrote The Significance of the Bhagavad-gita for Christian Theology and William Blanchard entitled his Ph.D dissertation: "An Examination of the Relation of the New Testament to the Bhagavad-gita."

Dr. Klaus Klostermaier says, "if you look long and hard enough, you can find points of similarity all the way through; and you can even reconcile many of the obvious differences that the two religions have come to engender."

Dr. Klaus Klostermaier has published numerous academic articles and books, including his own personal story, Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban. He points out "that Vaishnavaism, like Christianity, is a living religion with millions of adherents. It is numerically the largest segment of modern Hinduism, with a history going back thousands of years. So we are not talking about some small sect (or cult) but, rather, mainstream Hinduism.

"The first point to understand," says Dr. Klostermaier, "is that Vaishnavaism is as pervasive in India as Christianity is in the Western countries. It represents traditional Hinduism and claims to contain all that is genuinely Hindu. So Vishnu worship, or later, the worship of Krishna, is something very much akin to the worship of God or, later, Jesus, in the Judeo-Christian tradition."

The Vedic scriptures teach that one is saved and freed from all sins when he or she becomes the disciple of a divine master. The guru, or spiritual master, is worshiped as an intermediary between God and man, and willingly suffers for the sins of his or her disciples. In his commentary on the Srimad Bhagavatam (9.9.5), our spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains: "...the spiritual master, after accepting a disciple, must take charge of that disciple's past sinful activities and...suffer--if not fully, then partially--for the sinful acts of the disciple."

In a letter to his disciples Satsvarupa and Uddhava dated July 27, 1970, Srila Prabhupada wrote, "the spiritual master...has got the responsibility of absorbing the sinful reaction of his disciple's life. This is a great responsibility of the spiritual master...To accept disciples means to take up the responsibility of absorbing the sinful reaction of life of the disciple."

Srila Prabhupada similarly wrote to another disciple,"Regarding your question about sufferings of master, you can simply ponder over Lord Christ's crucification." (Letter to Rebatinandan dasa, 12/31/72)

Similarly, in his 1983 essay "A Jewish Encounter with the Bhagavad-gita," Harold Kasimow discusses ideas "which seem totally incompatible with the Jewish tradition. The most striking example is the doctrine of incarnation, a concept which is as central to the Gita as it is to Christianity. According to the Gita, Krishna is an incarnation (avatar), or appearance of God in human form.

"A study of the Jewish response to the Christian doctrine of incarnation shows that Jews, and I may add, Muslims have not been able to reconcile this idea with their own scriptural notion of God."

We believe God is one, but that He expands Himself into other Supreme Beings, yet still remains one. This is similar to the Trinitarian conception of God in Christianity--a plural Godhead. On our altars, we worship not just the images of the different incarnations and expansions of God, but also saints in our lineage, sacred rivers, mountains and plants. We chant mantras (divine sounds) like the names of God, on beads of prayer, similar to a rosary.

Dr. Guy Beck's Ph.D. thesis, Sonic Theology: Hinduism and the Soteriological Function of Sacred Sound examines the doctrine that the Word or divine sounds can have a "salvific" effect. Examining the Vaishnava practice of chanting God's names upon beads of prayer, he observes:

"...a work from the sixth century A.D., entitled the Jayakhya-Samhita, contains...many early references to the practice of japa.

"It says that there are three considerations in doing japa repetitions--employing the rosary (the akshamala), saying the words aloud (vachika) or repeating them in a low voice (upamshu). There are quite a few details in this text, garnered from early sources, and so a case can be made for a pre-Islamic, and even pre-Christian, use of beads or rosary in the Vaishnava tradition."

Because the Roman Catholics did not begin using rosary or japa beads until the era of St. Dominic, or the 12th century, Dr. Beck concludes, "the Vaishnavas were chanting japa from very early on."

Jesus began his ministry by teaching the multitudes not to "give what is sacred to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine." (Matthew 7:6) Dogs, like swine, were considered foul and unclean by the Hebrew people. (Deuteronomy 23:18; I Samuel 24:14; II Kings 8:13; Psalm 22:16,20; Matthew 7:6; Luke 16:21; Revelations 22:15) These words were used by the children of Israel to describe the neighboring heathen populations.

When sending his disciples out to preach, Jesus instructed them not to go to the gentiles, but to "go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 10:5-6) When a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter, he replied, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel...It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Matthew 15:22-28)

Jesus regarded the gentiles as "dogs." His gospel was intended for the Jewish people. Even the apostle Paul admits that the gospel was first intended for the Jews, and that the Jews have every advantage over the gentiles in this regard. (Romans 1:16, 3:1-2)

Unlike Jesus, we use half a dozen different animal words to describe sinners--dogs, hogs, crows, camels, asses, etc.--and with reincarnation in mind. This is quite different from the Judaic use of the word, although St. Peter compares sinners to irrational brute beasts. (II Peter 2:12)

"What extracts from the Vedas I have read fall on me like the light of a higher and purer stratum," wrote Henry David Thoreau in his Journal. "The religion and philosophy of the Hebrews are those of a wilder and ruder tribe, wanting the civility and intellectual refinements and civility of Vedic culture."

Thoreau also compared Bhagavad-gita, or "The Lord's Song," with the New Testament. He concluded: "The New Testament is remarkable for its pure morality, the best of the Vedic Scripture for its pure intellectuality. The reader is nowhere raised into and sustained in a bigger, purer or rarer region of thought than in the Bhagavad-gita. The Gita's 'sanity and sublimity' have impressed the minds even of soldiers and merchants."

In chapter 16 of Walden, Thoreau exclaimed: "In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seems puny and trivial."

"I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson on Hinduism's most sacred text. "It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spake to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions that exercise us."

This is India's gift to the world.

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