Reflections After Visiting a Hindu Temple: “It is not that God is ‘one’. It is that there is only God.” (Part 1)

By | March 22, 2011

“We will have dinner there, but the food has not been sacrificed to idols.” My professor was serious. No, we weren’t entering a time warp to visit 1st century Corinth. We were traveling as a group to visit one of largest Hindu temples in the nation for another immersion experience in my World Religions class.

Before we went to visit the temple, there were three weeks of eye-opening lectures in which we learned five very important things:

1. Hindus do not view their tradition as a “religion.” Hinduism is a way of viewing the world– a lens through which people experience the connectedness of all things. There is no separation between the natural and spiritual, so there is no need for a “religion” as we understand it.

2. For Hindus, there is only one God– and all things are a part of God’s oneness. This includes the animals, trees, and even inanimate objects like bricks and rocks. Everything is running over with the energy of the Creator; God does not create without leaving his calling card. However, Hindus do not worship trees, or buildings, or rocks. To quote the gracious guru who provided our tour of the temple, “God is in the rock, but the rock is not God.” It is also an understatement to simply say that God is one… For them, there is ONLY God– all are partakers of God’s oneness. Oneness means a lack of dualism in all things– including the spiritual world. God is neither he nor she, but both he and she. (For the record, many Jews would agree with this perspective on God’s gender/genderlessness.)  There is no devil or evil. There is only God and the universe which is a part of God. Good and evil, love and hatred, creation and destruction all emanate from humanity which is a part of God. All are one, and all are responsible.

The many “gods” that are worshiped by Hindus are merely manifestations of the One Presence. In Christianity, it is not blasphemous to say: “I worship you, Jesus” or “I worship you, Holy Spirit” or “Please come to my physical aid Jehovah Rapha (God who heals)”. Likewise,  Hindus see no differentiation between God and his many manifestations. Worshiping an image of those manifestations is not problematic for Hindus because these images only serve as bridges to help the finite human mind comprehend the infinite. Hindus understand that the image is not God– just as we understand that the cross is not Jesus.

4. To offer eternal life to a Hindu is to offer a grave punishment. Hindus are trying to escape the cycle of being “born again”. They don’t want to be trapped in an eternal life that cannot be escaped. Hindus believe that humans are endlessly reincarnated until they live well enough to escape the cycle. These reincarnations occur because humans fail to learn what it means to be human and to truly embody God.

5. The goal for those who practice Hinduism is to become one with God again. Humans are understood to be individuated from God by self ignorance– however in order to escape self-ignorance, one must transcend the basic knowledge of “self.” Coming to a truer or better knowledge of “self” involves developing a knowledge of one’s interconnectedness with the world around him/her, one’s connectedness to the friend as well as the stranger, and one’s connectedness to God.

With these things in mind, my classmates and I went to tour a temple belonging to one of the oldest religions in the world. During our commute, some of us were brimming with excitement, and many others were nervous about the coming immersion experience. What would we see there? What kind of worship experience should we expect? The answers were just a few miles ahead on the freeway to Maryland.

Click here to read Part 2 of this reflection.

13 thoughts on “Reflections After Visiting a Hindu Temple: “It is not that God is ‘one’. It is that there is only God.” (Part 1)

  1. Lydia

    ” To offer eternal life to a Hindu is to offer a grave punishment. “

    This was by far the most interesting part of your post. I didn't know that!

  2. Crystal Lewis

    It's pretty fascinating isn't it?! The Christian is interested in being “reborn,” but the Hindu is trying his or her hardest to never be “reborn” again. I'm sure the evangelism strategies used by missionaries in Hindu areas are probably very sensitive to this nuance in the language.

  3. tmamone

    #4 Reminds me why I don't believe in reincarnation. However, if I'm wrong and reincarnation does exist, I'm gonna beg God not to send me back!

    I used to have a copy of the Gita, but it was a crappy translation. It made the whole renunciation thing sound cold.

  4. Crystal Lewis

    @tmamone Travis you are so silly. I think reincarnation would be great if I could remember my past life, which is apparently not really the way it works. (lol)… Honestly, my problem with the “reincarnation” thing is that it's impossible to know who got out of the cycle and who didn't. Or why you're here again for that matter.

  5. John Mulholland

    Me again.

    I would say that the reason the Christian is interested in being reborn is because Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3 that “no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

  6. David Bleja

    “We will have dinner there, but the food has not been sacrificed to idols.”

    This kind of attitude, whether in the Bible or elsewhere, has always seemed sociopathic and sick to me. Being so concerned with gods and idols that may or may not exist (and may or may not give a hoot about the sacrifices even if they do) while seemingly having no concern for the pain, violence and death inflicted on the animals themselves…that kind of encapsulates everything that is wrong in religion to me. Putting all the focus on law, ritual and belief, while compassion and love take a back seat: fix the eye on the heavens while the hand commits atrocities down below…

  7. GingerSnappsXo

    I love reading your posts, i know this one is old but i still wanted to comment. I just wanted to say the thing i love about how i think is its spiritual freedom. and where i grew up, that is not allowed. i have been informed i CAN NOT believe in God if i dont choose a religion. But I find it un-necissary to choose. And how can you, a spiritual journey in my mind can never end. So how can i stop and focus on one thing and say without a doubt this is what is right? And yes, maybe for someone that is what is right. But everyones spiritual make-up and journey is different.
    Anyway, thank you for your insight, i hope my comment made sense. 🙂

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