Have you got Hindu neighbours or workmates? Would you like to share your faith with them but wonder where to start? Read on. You might be the only follower of Jesus your friend has ever met. If you don’t give it a try, maybe they won’t have another opportunity.
What is a Hindu?
Hinduism, simply put, is the traditional civilisation of India. When someone says they are a Hindu, it means they have grown up in that tradition. They may or may not believe in the gods or read the Hindu sacred books. They will probably follow traditional customs that have been handed down to them over the centuries. Hindus recognise a large number of books as sacred scripture. Most are familiar with very few of these. The most popular is the Bhagavadgita, which is a song expressing the hopes and advice which many Hindus aspire to.
These days most people think of Hinduism as a ‘world religion’ like Christianity or Islam, but that has not always been the case. It was only in the nineteenth century that Hinduism came to be understood in this way, when Western scholars sought to compare the traditional way of life and beliefs of the majority of Indian people with the rest of the world. Hindu reformers also had a hand in defining Hinduism as a religion, as they too interacted with colonial masters and missionaries. Today, scholars sometimes talk about Hindu religions, rather than a single religion, and some have abandoned the term Hinduism altogether. There is a great diversity in beliefs and practices among Hindus.
The Hindu way of life
Hindu life is marked by attention to dharma, which, although sometimes translated as religion, can also be translated as law, custom, duty, or way of life. Here are a few of the most important aspects of the Hindu way of life:
Hindus tend not to be as individualistic as westerners; it is central to a Hindu’s life to belong to an extended family, and through that, to a caste. There are thousands of castes in the Hindu world. A caste is a grouping of families who, theoretically at least, intermarry with each other. Traditionally, one’s caste was linked to one’s occupation but in the modern world that is less important. The most significant thing about caste is that it gives you membership in a group.
The stages of life
Ideally, a man’s life should go through four stages, from that of a student, to that of a householder (after marriage), to retreat from social life for meditation, to the life of a homeless wanderer (sannyasi). Very few live this out fully. The role of the woman has not been defined in the same way but, traditionally, it is very important for a woman to marry and bear children.
Festivals are occasions for worship but also for feasting and fun in the family home and with friends. A few festivals are observed across the Hindu world, such as the spring festival of Holi in which everybody goes out and throws coloured powder and water at each other.
Devout Hindus usually begin and end the day with short rituals of worship (puja) in which they offer flower petals, sacred water or milk, bright red powder and fruit to idols in the home or temple. Some of the red powder is then received back and rubbed on the forehead as a blessing from the god. Often the women in the house are more active in these rituals than men.
Many Hindus are vegetarian, though by no means all. Many are strict about the things they can or cannot eat, depending on their circumstances such as if a family member has recently died. Fasting is a common practice by devout Hindus. There is a common conception that the eating of rich food is a hindrance to true spirituality, and the appearance of gluttony or laziness would disqualify you from being a religious teacher.
As Hinduism is a family of religions or a confluence of many streams, beliefs, as well as practices, vary widely. In general, beliefs are much less important than your behaviour.
In Hindu traditions, a great emphasis is placed on living a spiritual life. Hindus want to achieve salvation, which is usually understood as release from the endless cycle of reincarnation. But while they agree on what they want to be saved from, there is no agreement on what you are saved to, or how you can be saved. There are generally understood to be three ways to achieve salvation: the way of knowledge that can be achieved through rigorous teaching by a qualified teacher (guru) and meditation on ancient texts and sacred symbols; the way of works by doing one’s duty and serving the poor and downtrodden; and the way of devotion to a god.
Hindus can believe in many gods or one god, or that all of reality is one. For many Hindus what you believe about god is not very important. Some Hindus are even atheistic. It is very common for Hindus to believe that there is one god who takes many forms and is worshipped in many different ways.
Some tips for sharing Christ with Hindus
- contrast their beliefs with yours. That will come across as arrogant. We do not have all the answers, but we have found peace and joy in Christ. And that will be attractive.
- tell your friend you want them to ‘convert to Christianity’. That will put them off because they will misunderstand what you are saying. Why, they might think, would I want to give up my own culture and adopt yours? For many Hindus, comparing other religions with Hindu traditions is unattractive and makes little sense. The idea of ‘changing religion’ is likewise unappealing and even offensive.
- ask questions. Take an interest and don’t worry about coming across as ignorant – you probably are!
- tell your friend you are devoted to Jesus. You can tell them you would love for them to become devotees or followers of Jesus too.
- read the Bible with them and give them the opportunity to see the beauty of Jesus for themselves. You can start with one of the Gospels.
- share your testimony. The story of your own spiritual journey will be very appealing.
- feel free to pray with your friend.
- talk about God. Your friend will no doubt not be thinking about God in biblical ways but as you point them to stories in the Bible their understanding will slowly grow.
- visit them in their home, if you are invited. Invite them to eat with you too but be sure to check if they have any dietary requirements.
A consistent Christ-like life is vital. If you are committed to knowing God and honouring him in your life that will be a great witness. Then you can pray and look for opportunities to share your heart’s desire with your neighbour.
Next in this series: Top tips for sharing Jesus with Muslims »