Illustration by Cliff Spohn
While I was a college student in New Delhi, India, I met Meena and Sonam,
fellow students. They taught me much about the falsehoods of Hinduism and
Buddhism and how to share Christ with the people of those faiths.
At daybreak after a cold shower Meena sits cross-legged in a yogic position,
facing a small wooden cross with an open Bible on her lap. For five minutes she
sits and prays, as if in a trance, solemnly and meditatively.
As the daughter of an Indian diplomat, Meena once lived in Zimbabwe. While
there, Baptist missionaries from America told her about Christ.
I was so excited to be here. Amahl remembers the enormous sense of relief
from the unrest in his native Iran. Everything was so amazing and large.
But he was homesick, an emotion he didnt even recognize. He thought he was
experiencing an actual physical illness. And soon he discovered other
I was finding out that freedom is a tough thing when youve never had it.
Within just a few years he was broke and alone. I had a lot of friends who
really werent my friends. I came basically to the end of myself.
He began searching, reading self-help books by the dozens to find some
answers. Someone whos never had the truth and been brought up on the other side
of the worldI think we have to go through a dramatic ending to our faith.
By then, Amahls older brother had arrived in the United States and had
married. I did not care for the wedding, Amahl admits. My brother was Muslim,
and she was Christian.
One day while driving with the couple to his brothers home, Amahl noticed a
billboard depicting a huge open book with the words, You must be born
He asked his sister-in-law, Becky, what it meant.
She responded by giving him a Bible and showing him the passage from John 3.
I was 22 years old, recalls Amahl, now 33. Id never seen a Bible.
With Amahl still not finding understanding, Becky suggested that he read the
book of John. I never knew the story of Jesus. How much of it I comprehended
during that first reading I couldnt say. I know I was so excited I couldnt put
it down. He also realized that the Bible was more enlightening than the stack
of self-help books beside his bed. He finished John and started on Romans. You
see, God was working on me at this point, and I wasnt even aware of it.
But he still resisted. When his brother and sister-in-law invited him to
church, he agreed to go mostly to be polite. Within a few weeks, he reached a
A self-described risk taker, he decided to try Jesus. I thought, Ive tried
everything else. I can always go back to the lifestyle I had before. Amahl
likens it to expecting a contractor to come in to do some minor remodeling in
the kitchen and then the homeowner being surprised by the radical changes that
took place instead. When I invited Jesus into my heart, He began changing the
foundation of my house. Amahl was transformed.
Today Amahl is an active member of a Southern Baptist church and an
on mission Christian, who
regularly crosses cultural barriers by sharing his faith, not only with his
Iranian friends, but with others outside his own people group.
Meena believed that Christianity was the right way. She continued wearing
the salwaar kameez and the sari, but her forehead was now devoid of the tikka
Meenas parents were deeply disturbed by their daughters behavior. They were
most concerned that Meena might not find a good Brahmin husband (from the
priestly class) if she persisted in this Christian worship.
But Meena seemed unperturbed. Coming from a Hindu background, she displayed
the diligence of an ardent Hindu disciple in her early morning devotions until
the time came for our final exams. Then, her devotions intensified and her
prayers would stretch at times to a full hour, mainly because Meena was
enrolled in economics and she was finding it a tough subject. If God answers my
prayers by helping me pass the examination, I will believe Jesus to be true,
The exam scores were announced, but Meena had failed. Distressed, she
shifted her energies to Shiva, the three-eyed, all-seeing god of destruction.
Meena feared that Shiva had punished her for disobeying her parents.
It was easy for Meena to give pujas (alms or offerings), mantras (chanted
prayers), to perform rituals and to worship another being. If one god failed,
Meena had more than 330 million gods and goddesses to choose from. She
continued to hang the picture of Jesus on her wall, along with the other
imagesjust in case.
Meena also became a vegetarian. The thought of killing a life andas a result
through bad karmato reincarnate downward to an animal or insect was horrifying.
The law of karma says we reap what we sow, and our actions in this lifetime
affect another lifetime. They do not allow for the possibility of forgiveness.
The consequences are inevitable and inescapable.
I do not understand why things worked out the way they did for Meena, but my
encounter with her helped me to see Hinduism in a different light. Meena was
trying to appease the gods, so that they might answer her prayers. If one did
not work, she would worship and pacify another.
Hindus believe that above the many gods is Brahman who is an impersonal
monistic (all is one) force. This one spiritual power flows through all things
providing divinity and unity of the animate and the inanimate. As such,
Hinduism is tolerant of everything and anything, allowing a Hindu to choose his
or her own set of beliefs.
This pervasive permissiveness seems puzzling to a Christian. It has
contradictions too. If all life is sacred, then bacteria, a leaf, a cow, a
person, are all to be revered. So, Hindus worship everything around them. It
becomes a way of life. But if everything is to be worshiped and all is of god,
what happens when they eat a vegetable? Why is there a caste system among the
Hindus? Why can only the Brahmins become priests?
The fiercely proud Hindu calls his religion and philosophies mystical,
gathering its spirituality from astrology, science, sex, law, medicine,
humanities, architecture, mathematics and so on. These mysteries are to be
understood by the gurus and sages, through meditations and spiritual
cultivation, through the practices of the sutras (teachings). Hence, millions
of Hindus mindlessly and passionately pursue their religion.
For a Hindu, it is an insult to be called a sinner. Whatever they accomplish
is a result of the deities doing it through them. As such, they are not
responsible, yet at the same time they go to temples and make sacrifices for
sin offering. Every year millions in India go to the Ganges River for a holy
bath. Hinduism is a religion of confusion and there is no answer to lifes
problems. All is dependent upon a persons karma (destiny). If a lower caste
Hindu gives enough offerings and is kind to animals and people, he may
reincarnate to a cow or a person of a higher caste.
It is with this background that they often reject Christ. If they are not
responsible for their actions, why should they need a Savior?
Consequently, presenting the gospel to the millions
of Hindus around the world is challenging. Today, hundreds of Hindus are coming
to know the Lord through the efforts of foreign-born and native missionaries in
India. Yet, the government continues to proclaim Hinduism as the national
religion, and persecution of Christians is rampant.
Hinduism teaches that mans fate has been decided, yet many Hindus are aware
of mans sinful nature and long to escape from the penalty of wrong. They
persist to renounce Christ, but He died for their sakes as well. Likewise, we
can be confident that He can change their hearts.
Some pointers on talking to Hindus about Christ:
Pray and invite the Holy Spirit to intercede on your behalf.
Understand the caste distinctions and adapt to the differences. For
The Brahmins (priestly class), who are the highest in
hierarchy, represent the educated people, teachers, philosophers and
intellectuals. Talk to them about God being a personal God as opposed to the
Be patient and give them time to reason things out. Share the stories of
Nicodemus and the rich ruler.
Verses like John 3:16 and Romans 8:1-3 on freedom from the law of sin and death
as opposed to karmic consequences will appeal. Point out that salvation is not
through priestly duties or works, but by grace.
The Kshatrias (warrior class) represents the rulers,
aristocrats, doctors and lawyers. Like the Brahmins they try to accumulate good
deeds for good karma. They will be able to relate to parables like the faith of
the centurion, the talents and the tax collector.
Suggested verses include Matthew 11:28-30, Romans 3:19-24 and Romans 9:12,
The Vaisias (merchant class) represents the landlords,
businessmen and craftsmen. Their faith is based on output and input, what they
will get in return. This is also work based.
They will connect with parables of the wise and foolish builders, and the word
of Jesus on storing treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
The Sudras (lowest class) represents that working class in
The parables of the mustard seed and the leaven or the sower will appeal to
The Untouchables, otherwise known as other backward classes
includes the Harijans, Dalits and gypsies. Usually they are placed outside of
the caste system but at times are regarded to be in the same category as the
The Untouchables are seen as polluted and degraded. They work as shoemakers,
dhobis (clothes washers), sweepers, etc. For an orthodox Hindu, anyone who does
not belong to the four castes is a part of the untouchable casteincluding
people of other tribes, races and Christians.
Like the Sudras, share with the Untouchables about man being made in the image
of God (Genesis 1:27); the all inclusiveness of Christ, the Good Samaritan,
Suggested verses are John 3:16, 17, Revelation 7:9, and Luke 10:29-37.
Note that today, due to improved education, the caste barriers are more
difficult to define.
Be ready to explain the two distinctions that separate Christianity from
other religions: Christs deity and Gods grace versus alms and works.
Focus on the Word of God, remembering its transforming power.
Remain humble and loving in the face of resistance, remembering that karma
does not offer forgiveness.
All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself
In closely observing the lifestyle of my friend Sonam from Bhutan and her
family, the above saying seems to me as the essence of their Buddhist
Huang called me lucky because of my children. A huge smile brightened her face
when she showed me pictures of her family. Like mothers the world over, we
talked about our children. Her oldest still lived in Vietnam. Her youngest was
the same age as my daughter.
I heard more Vietnamese than English at our bus stop, sandwiched as it was
between Old Saigon Restaurant and the Mekong Market. Since Huang and I caught
the same bus to downtown Denver every day, we often shared a seat.
Before moving to the area, I had no experience with Asian-Americans. Over
time I became comfortable with our differences. I learned to distinguish
between my Vietnamese neighbors and the Japanese students who attended a nearby
The strange (to my ears) language revealed its rhythms and tonal patterns.
Peeking into a Vietnamese/English primer, I noticed that their alphabet equated
sounds similar to English.
I didnt speak any Vietnamese. Huang spoke little English and understood even
less. In spite of the language barrier, she told me about her children, an
upcoming trip to Vietnam, her search for a better paying job. Her frank
questions about money made me uncomfortable, offending my American
sensibilities. She lacked the English vocabulary to understand much of what I
That difficulty hindered talk about spiritual things. Huang used sign
language to tell me she was a Buddhist. I wanted to share the gospel with her,
but how could I explain concepts like sin and judgment and Gods grace? The
bottom line was that I couldnt. I didnt even try. She needed to hear the good
news in her own language.
My quandary reached a crucial point when Jehovahs Witnesses frequented our
bus stop. Huang accepted a copy of the magazine in Vietnamese and read it cover
to cover. I prayed for a way to share the truth with her before a cult led her
The success of the magazine gave me the cluegive her the Bible in her own
language. Where could I find one? I considered seeking out a Vietnamese church
or checking with a bookstore, but God intervened before I made the effort.
When my daughter and I walked to the park one afternoon, she spotted papers
lying on the ground. Always on the lookout for valuable castoffs, she picked
them up. One was a tract and the other, a copy of the gospel of Johnboth in
Vietnamese! A local church had stamped its name and address on the back. In
spite of having been on the ground, the material wasnt soiled. Two days later I
gave the pamphlets to Huang.
Shortly after that, Huang traveled to Vietnam and I moved out of the area. I
havent seen her again. But wherever she is, she has the word of Godin
Sonams father died when she was only 13. Her mother then decided to hand
over Sonam and her siblings into the care of their uncle so she could join the
Like Buddha himself, wrapped in a saffron shroud, Sonams mother insisted on
leading the life of a nun. The grief and despair over her husbands death and
the suffering of her children seemed like a karmic consequence to a prior
Buddhists and Hindus believe that widowhood is a result of disrespecting
your husband in a previous life.
Similarly, Sonam resolved to pursue her mothers austere lifestyle. She
became a vegetarian, fasted weekly and displayed a calm demeanor.
She was a firm believer in Ahimsa (Buddhas doctrine of non-violence toward
all life), and she would not harm even a flea. In fact, when mosquitoes in the
sweltering heat of India bit her, Sonam would shoo them gently away!
She adhered to the Hindu and Buddhist belief that insects and animals,
through good karma, evolve upward to become humans, and that humans through bad
karma may become animals or insects again. To kill a fly or to kill an animal
for meat would be tantamount to murder, so Sonam chose to be a vegetarian.
Buddhists believe good works to be the key to eternal lifethat good works
help to accumulate merits, or positive karma in the next life. Consequently,
they strive to live by the Karma Sutra (golden precepts), make fire offerings
as protective rites against adversities, chant the Buddha sutra and pray to
their ancient rishis (seers). They believe that the practice of Buddha dharmas
(the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path) will provide spiritual
growth and psychic instructions from the deity of their origin, protection of
the dharma guardians and blessings from the master, Buddha.
According to Buddha, desire is the root that drives man to an undesirable
path. Therefore, it is essential to deny the self and to purify the mind of
physical and material urges in order to withstand worldly problems.
Buddhism derived from Hinduism in India in the 6th century BC during the
Brahminism period (when the priestly class was in power). It was Buddhas reform
doctrine evolving as a belief system to remedy the rampant idol worship that
caused huge financial strain for the poor who had to appease 330 million gods
and goddesses. Buddhism aimed to destroy Hindu malpractice and caste
Buddha was silent on the existence of God. He preached the knowledge of
life. He neither denied the existence of God, nor admitted Gods presence.
Buddha concerned himself with the suffering of humanity and how to relieve
After his death, the man who did not admit or deny the presence of God was
to virtually become the god of a new religion.
As we entered a new millennium the foreign-born population was 26.4 million,
representing some 9.7 percent of the total United States population. In 1970
the foreign-born population was only 4.7 percent of Americas total.
Americas newest residents emigrate from these areas of the world: Latin
America, 50.7 percent; Asia, 27.1 percent; Europe, 16.1 percent; other, 6.2
The top 10 countries of birth for immigrants as of 1998 included Mexico,
China, India, Philippines, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Cuba, Jamaica, El
Salvador and Korea.
While Americas ethnic mix is usually defined as five major people groups,
including white non-Hispanic, African Americans, Native American, Asians and
Hispanics, a rapidly growing Middle Eastern population is now taking shape.
Asians and Pacific Islanders are the most diverse United States minority
group, including Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese. Europeans
make up one of Canadas largest people groups.
Immigrants to the United States are most likely to take up residence in
these 10 states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois,
Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland and Washington.
The Hispanic population in California was estimated to be 31 percent in
1998. Minorities are expected to make up more than one-half of the populations
in California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas within 25 years.
In New York, where many immigrants cluster, there is only one Southern
Baptist Church for every 89,000 people.
The foreign-born in North America are more likely than natives to be
unemployed, earn less and live in poverty. One in three has not graduated from
More than one of every three foreign-born residents is a naturalized
Current U.S. population figures show that women outnumber men by 6.1
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Immigration and Naturalization Service,
Population Reference Bureau, Statistics Canada and NAMB Strategic Planning
However, this silence on God or one supreme being, or creator of the
universe, may well be the reason that Buddhism remained unpopular in India. The
concept of one creator God offered by Christianity and no God offered by Buddha
was difficult to accept by the Hindus.
Nirvana, which literally means blowing out, is heaven to both Hindus and
Buddhists, although they both have different ideas on where heaven is, what it
is and how to reach it. Nirvana refers to an experience of being united with
the dust of the universe.
Buddhism includes many seemingly contradictory beliefs. For example, tantric
sutras (sexual practices) pursued by some for the development of spiritual
power and self denial can supposedly lead to Nirvana, the state of ultimate
With these philosophies, Buddhists labor toward attaining inner stillness
and stability, displaying on the exterior self-control, a sense of inner
calmness, tranquility and serenity.
Buddhism offers a mindfulness of ones consciousness, inner awareness,
self-discipline and healing. It promises harmony with the environment,
compassion, benevolence and peace among people.
Hence, Buddhism is attractive to the nominal Christian, the environmental-
and ecology-minded, the nature and animal lover, the vegetarian, the atheist
and the agnostic.
But like all eastern mysticism, religion and philosophy, Buddhism does not
offer forgiveness or hope. Everything that happens today is a result of a
previous life. Pursuing good conduct might change a persons karma. As Buddha
himself said, I have shown you the methods that lead to liberation. But you
should know that liberation depends upon yourself.
Instead of man groping toward God, Christ came to all humanity to bring
deliverance. Even if some Buddhists continue to renounce Christ, surely Christ
will open their eyes.
Some pointers on talking to Buddhists about Christ:
Since Buddhism is an impersonal religion, tell them about God seeking a
personal relationship with mankind and the sacrifice of Jesus.
Buddhism focuses on self-perfection and self-reliance, based on denial of
all desires. Share with them Gods word on having the right desires as in verses
such as Proverbs 10:24, 22:1, Isaiah 26:8, 1 Corinthians 14:1.
The end of Buddhism is extinction as opposed to eternal life in Christ.
Buddha pointed toward the way, but the Bible tells us that Jesus is the way
to eternal life (John 14:6).
Remain humble and loving in the face of resistance since karma does not
Remember that both Hinduism and Buddhism are embracing and tolerant of other
religions. Also, there are variations in the faiths from region to region.
Therefore, focus on the Word of God, remembering that it can cross all
An Indian belonging to the northeastern region of India and
descended from the Hmar tribe, Evelyn Pudaite is a Christian journalist. She
lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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