7.1 The Question Of Authority In Hinduism
Here, I submit, lies the fundamental problem for Hinduism. It has been written of the Vedas, the most authoritative Hindu Scriptures: “No historical records can give us the certainty to know the ancient authors and the dates of their works…Veda means wit or wisdom. It was a “Book of knowledge” or the divine unwritten wisdom, because it was transmitted, not by writing, but by oral repetition through a succession of teachers who claimed to have received the divine wisdom and were thence called Brahmans” (Lit-Sen Chang, Asia’s Religions , Vancouver: Horizon, 1999 p. 181). It would seem that these ‘Scriptures’ are merely the traditions of men. By contrast, the Bible was written down and carefully transmitted by copying. Amazingly, the manuscripts recently discovered (especially the Dead Sea scrolls) reveal that there has been no essential change to them over millennia of copying. This is to me nothing short of a miracle, and a proof that God has preserved His word- the Bible. There are at least 24,000 ancient New Testament manuscripts available for analysis - far more than for the Hindu scriptures. The next most well supported book, Homer’s Iliad, has only 643. And there are original fragments of John dating back to 120 AD, and of Matthew to 65 AD- i.e., almost at the time they were originally written . The few variant readings do not affect in any way the sense of the text; and none of the variant readings contradicts anything written elsewhere in the New Testament.
The Brahmans wrote their own Brahmanas some centuries after the Vedas were written. These changed the Vedas’ demand for blood sacrifice by teaching that horses, cows and other gifts could compensate for actual animal sacrifice; and they clearly used their writings to get power over the people, and to their own economic benefit. The corruption of the Brahmans, whom Hinduism accepts as inspired messengers from God, lead to the production of the Upanishads- which criticize the Brahmans for being corrupt and claiming things as Scripture which were merely written for their own personal benefit. Thus within the documents accepted as ‘Hindu scriptures’ there are amazing inconsistencies, with some Scriptures claiming that others are not valid. Personal prejudices of the writers continually come out in the writings. Thus the Bhagavad-Gita, written after the time of Jesus, claims that Krishna was the incarnation of Vishnu in the East whilst Jesus was the incarnation of Vishnu in the West, but the “Eastern Christ is superior to the Western Christ”. This text has often been used by Hindus to criticize Western colonialization of India and its effects. But Christianity is of Asian / Middle Eastern origin, in that Jesus was Jewish as were the founders of Christianity. It wasn’t ‘Western’ in that sense. Hindu Prime Minister Nehru even claimed that Christianity would impede India’s progress. Hindu nationalists have often claimed that Indians are all born Hindus- using their theology of karma and inevitable predestination to bully and shame their countrymen into accepting their religion.
If a Hindu asks why he or she believes as they do, the answer can only really be ‘Because I accepted the traditions of my fathers’. The issue of truth doesn’t come into it- for there is nowhere to appeal to for ultimate Truth. Jesus said that His word was Truth (Jn. 17:17), that “the truth” makes us free (Jn. 8:32), that we will be guided into all truth (Jn. 16:13); because “I am the truth” (Jn. 14:6). And the Bible itself boldly claims on every page to be the words of the one true God. By contrast, the Hindu writings appear nothing more than the recollections of various philosophers, passed on with varying degrees of accuracy, and added to over time according to the whim and local needs of the various priests who produced them. Because it has no real concept of truth, Hinduism is very syncretistic, allowing for truth in every religion. It includes even Buddha among the true manifestations of God [i.e. the avatars], despite the fact that Buddha rejected the basic tenets of Hinduism. On the other hand, Christianity is very exclusive, insisting as Jesus did that He was the way to God- not just “a” way. You can surely appreciate why this was, and why it is- for the Bible, epitomized as it was and is in the person of Jesus, claims to be the ultimate Truth.
The Scriptures are not given any real weight in defining a person’s knowledge and relationship with God:
“The knowledge which is gained from inference and the study of scriptures is knowledge of one kind. But the knowledge which is gained from samadhi is of a much higher order. It goes beyond inferences and scriptures”
Meditation and looking inwards for enlightenment supposes that we humans do in fact have light within. But there is no actual evidence for this. Biblical Christianity achieves a remarkable thing: Whilst explaining our own need to look outside of ourselves to God and His word the Bible and His Son Jesus for true light, we are also taught not to despise ourselves. For the Bible repeatedly teaches the value of the human conscience within our relationship with God.
People who attempt meditation and other spiritual disciplines experience varying degrees of progress and success, and all seem to come to slightly different conclusions. This is surely because whatever ‘light within’ which they access is in fact the subconscious reflection of what they have already heard or been taught by others. And if it is different for each person, then there is no such thing as truth. We end up saying that our feelings are the ultimate truth, that we are in fact God. And this is where Hinduism leads people, through its idea that we seek for God within ourselves. Yet the awesome reality is that out there, above the steely brightness of the night sky, there is ultimately Heaven itself, and God Himself located there. And He is reaching out to each of us, earnestly wishing us to consider and believe His self-revelation as it is contained in His word the Bible, and seen lived out in flesh in the person of His dear Son, the Lord Jesus.
The huge numbers of Hindu scriptures means that Hinduism is very hard to define- and it is therefore hard to believe, if not impossible. This contrasts with the way the New Testament speaks of a definite “form of teaching” which was to be believed before baptism, and how those who were converted gave a brief confession of their faith in Jesus before their baptisms. The way the records speak of “the faith” and “the one faith” enables us to infer that there was a body of Christian doctrine that made up “the faith”. This simply cannot exist in Hinduism- which means that people are Hindus because that is how they were born, but for no other reason. Because there is no real authority and no sense of Truth, there is therefore tremendous contradiction within the Hindu Scriptures and their interpreters. I want to give the well known examples:
Teachings about caste
Teaching about widows
Teaching about the personality of God