He spent time in the market place, observing and interacting with the Athenians. When he was asked to address their questions about the message he was sharing, he first began by praising their religiosity. He acknowledged the gods they worshipped and used an idol they had built to the unknown god as a connecting point to present Jesus, “the unknown god.” He then quoted one of their poets, not Scripture, to make another connection to the Gospel. He started with them, where they were at in their relationship and knowledge of God, addressed their questions and concerns, and built a bridge to the Gospel.
About 500 BC, there was a big shift in Hinduism. It was during this time that the Upanishads were written, a collection of meditations and teachings based on the Vedic texts. Upanishads means “sitting near.” This gives the image of a pupil sitting near a teacher learning. I relate the Upanishads to the Jewish Talmud. The Talmud consists of a massive quantity of writings from Jewish priests and teachers on traditions, history, and interpretation of the Scriptures. I also liken the Upanishads to the footnotes in many Study Bibles – an explanation of the text and a backdrop to the history and traditions of the time the texts were written. However, the Upanishads take more liberties for personal interpretation than the Talmud and Study Bible notes.
It’s from the Upanishads that some key Hinduism teaches arise and take root.
Brahman – Brahman is the divine essence that is at the heart of all things in the universe. This teaching ultimately says that there is only one divine reality and that we are all united in it, in fact we consist of it. This one divine reality also means that there are not many gods, just Brahman. I like to think of this as the Force in Star Wars – it’s all things. Hindus compare Brahman to salt in water. It’s there, but you don’t see it, and it’s in all parts of the water and can't be separated from the water (but it can be, right?).
Atman – At the same time that all things are one, we still maintain our individuality. Brahman at the individual level in humanity is called Atman. Atman can be compared to our soul – what makes us unique.
Maya – This word means illusion. The reason we don’t see and grasp the divine oneness of all things is because of Maya. It’s just an illusion that we see ourselves as separate from one another. This illusion is what brings rise to selfishness, pain, and suffering.
Samsara – Samsara is the cycle of death and rebirth. When our bodies die, the divine within us does not. Our soul, or Atman, is then reborn into a new body.
Karma – This is the moral law of cause and effect. Karma determines the direction of our rebirth according to Hinduism.
Moksha – This is liberation from Samsara and the yoke of Karma. When a person reaches Moksha, they are no longer reborn but are completely united with Brahman, once and for all. Little is said about how to obtain Moksha in the Upanishads. It’s essentially up to the individual to discover self-realization of their oneness with Brahman, thus escaping bondage to worldly existence.
The connection to the Gospel of Christ will come in the next blog post.