Place Christianity and Hinduism side-by-side, and you might think that the adherents of these two faiths don’t have a thing in common.
For example, Christianity is strictly monotheistic, while Hinduism embraces a number of possibilities regarding divinity. Christianity also teaches that all humans who have been delivered from sin experience one death and one resurrection in a glorified and immortal body, whereas in the Hindu tradition, people are reincarnated in various forms until they reach enlightenment. For the Christian, his or her theology is objective truth. For the Hindu, truth is relative to experience.
And these are just the beginning of the major theological differences.
But today, we live in a world that is simultaneously more closely-knit and more sharply divided than ever. We’re brought together through social media and international news coverage, and yet this spotlight seems only to highlight our differences, sparking conflict, anguish, and misunderstanding.
The key to solving religious culture clash lies in actively searching for commonalities rather than focusing on our differences, and so instead of focusing on what divides Hinduism from Christianity, we’re going to look at a few important things these two belief systems—and their adherents—have in common.
Love and Kindness First
To be kind is to act for the good of others, regardless of how useful, or not useful, they are to you. This doesn’t mean that you’re a pushover, but rather that you act for the welfare of those around you.
Both Christianity and Hinduism are ethical systems—they purport to teach human beings how to live well. And one of the most important parts of living well is learning to love others, and to show that love through acts of kindness.
The ministry of Jesus was marked by these acts of kindness. He spent His ministry healing the sick, teaching charity, and saving people from the bonds of legalistic dogma. When asked what the two most important commands of God are in Mark 12:31, He says that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Christ places our love for one another in the same category as our love for God, making a powerful case for love and kindness.
Hinduism places a similar emphasis on love and kindness. The Hindu concept of Ahimsa, which means “not to injure” or “compassion,” refers to one of the key virtues for Hindus. It is a form of loving kindness quite similar to that of Christianity.
The idea of Ahimsa includes refraining from causing injury through action, words, or even thoughts, and is an important ethical concept in the Vedic texts—the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Ahimsa, along with truthfulness, sincerity, charity, and meditation are some of the essential virtues of the Hindu faith.
Kindness is a value that is strongly shared by Christianity and Hinduism, and we would be well served to remember this as we strive to work together for the betterment of humanity.
Humility in All Things
Humility, in the ethical sense, is freedom from pride or arrogance. To be humble isn’t to debase yourself—it is, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
It is also a value shared by both Christianity and Hinduism.
In the Christian tradition, Christ gives the ultimate example of humility. Scripture portrays Jesus as divine, and yet He chose to serve humanity rather than revel in glory. It is from this example that Christians derive their sense of moral humility, interacting with others without any sense of superiority or loftily condemning nature.
Hindus are similarly taught to be morally humble. Hinduism, as a belief system, is quite humble, and doesn’t claim to be the one and only holder of universal truth—this is why there are so many varying beliefs within Hinduism, ranging from a pantheistic belief in many gods to a wholly secular worldview.
Within many Hindu traditions, though, the ultimate goal is to renounce all selfish desires and become free from the idea of “I” and “me”—it is only in this that a Hindu practitioner will achieve enlightenment and rise to the highest level of existence.
Both faiths place great emphasis on being humble—remembering this can be a great starting point for interfaith discussion that builds bridges across these two vastly different religious cultures.
The Power of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a powerful tool—so powerful, in fact, that it can stop age-old cycles of violence that have been raging since humankind could hold aloft a sharpened stick and direct it at his neighbor. To forgive isn’t to simply forget a wrong, or to naively allow others to hurt you repeatedly. Rather, forgiveness is the act of letting go of the possibility of revenge.
Forgiveness is one of the central concepts of Christianity. In this religious tradition, God forgives Christians when they act in ways which are outside of His Will. This is called sin, and while scripture holds that people can’t live totally sin-free lives, God is completely willing to forgive these sins, allowing Christians the opportunity to live with Him after death.
Similarly, Christians are to forgive others, just as they are forgiven—in Matthew 6:15, Jesus teaches that “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Hindu scriptures also embrace a life of forgiveness. Ksama is the word which describes the Hindu concept of forgiveness, and is considered one of the faith’s cardinal virtues. Theologically, a Hindu who does not forgive carries with them feelings of anger and unresolved emotions which will affect their future incarnations.
And so, for Hindus, it is important to both forgive, and to seek forgiveness for wrongs—it is considered a virtuous sacrifice in many Hindu texts.
Both Christianity and Hinduism promote forgiveness, recognizing that the ability to release the desire for vengeance makes for a much better world.
There is Unity in Difference
Despite the many ways Christianity and Hinduism differ, these two faiths agree on some fundamental ethical ideas—ideas which can better the world if acted upon.
Imagine the potential of these two faiths if their adherents were to combine their efforts to show love and kindness to the poor, to forgive those who have historically wronged them, and to be humble in their interactions with the world. Crossing the boundaries between these two religious cultures—and others—is just what the unity we need in this challenging era of difference.