How to I discuss the Bhagavad Gita with my Hindu friend, and explain how it does not solve the problem of sin?
Thank you sir for answering my many questions. My Hindu friend insists that the Bhagavad Gita is the best book ever, and gives so many answers to the questions of life. Can you give me an answer as to why this book doesn’t solve the problem of the sin of mankind? Also, are there any similarities between this book and the Bible?
This is a classic example of a question which involves conflicting world views. As a general rule, when dealing with competing world views (such as that of Christianity and of Hinduism), I suggest you use the methodology used by Paul in Acts 17 when speaking to the Stoics and Epicureans of his day at the Areopagus in Athens. He used the following technique:
1. Know the world view of the person you are talking to.
2. Find common ground as a means for beginning the discussion.
3. While being respectful of the other person’s world view, show why the Christian worldview is superior.
Here is my suggestion for the specific question about the Bhagavad Gita. First of all, I suggest you read this very important religious work. It is only 700 poetical verses long, in 18 chapters. It will not take all that long for you to read it. You should familiarize yourself with the content but also the underlying philosophy of this book. You may want to read some sources which are not critical of the Hindu scripture so that you can get an somewhat unbiased view of the book. It is the story of a young prince named Arjun who is ordered into battle to retake the family territory. He wants to avoid the task, but is advised by Krishna (a fictional god in Hinduism) to take on the battle. The reason is that in doing so, he will be providing selfless service, partially overcoming his karma, and therefore approach an escape from the cosmic wheel of time so that he can achieve nirvana. The basic ethical teaching of the book is the need to give oneself in selfless service to something bigger than oneself. In doing so, we can escape the karmic cycle and get closer to Brahman (the pantheistic concept of God in Hinduism).
At this point, what I would do is ask my Hindu friend to please consider reading the Book of John. Fair is fair and you will want a basis for comparison and for discussion of the greatness of the Bhagavad Gita. In the interest of finding common ground, you could acknowledge that both books stress the qualities of selfless service and of having spiritual priorities greater than selfish, physical matters. You could acknowledge that great world leaders and thinkers such as Ghandi, Einstein and Ralph Waldo Emerson have found inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita and that you can see why they found this poetry inspiring. There is a lot in this document that you can find admirable and, in a sense, “true.”
From there, having found some common ground, you could begin your worldview discussion. Despite the similarities of the two books from an ethical perspective, the basic claims of the two works are lightyears apart in their theology and worldview. For example, according to the Bible, we cannot do enough good to undo the evil we have done. Either the Bhagavad Gita is correct (that good deeds cancel out bad ones, which none of our legal systems recognize as just) or we need God to intervene in order for our sins to be compensated for. Both viewpoints simply cannot be true simultaneously. According to the Bible, our only way to goodness is through salvation in Jesus. Your Hindu friend may not accept this idea immediately, but this is something to start with.
You could also point out that the writer of the Bhagavad Gita believed in reincarnation. You could point out the obvious problem, which is that there are nearly as many people alive today as there have been in the entire past history of humanity. How could we all have dozens and hundreds of lives if nearly half of all people who have ever lived are now alive? On the face of it, this basic claim of the book seems insupportable. Also, the Bhagavad Gita presupposes that the universe is eternal. It was not created by a personal Creator, whereas the Bible tells us that the universe was created out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3, Genesis 1:1). The fact is that the Bible is correct on this and the Bhagavad Gita is wrong on this, at least as far as the evidence from science tells us. This a reason to doubt the “truth” of the Bhagavad Gita, even if we like its ethical teaching.
Then you could continue to note that Jesus was a real person. We know where he was born, where he died, how he died, the name of his mother and father, of two of his brothers and many of his friends. Arjun and Krishna are mythical figures. We do not even know when they supposedly lived. I once asked a Hindu friend and he said that Krishna lived somewhere between 200 AD and 2000 BC. That does not narrow it down very much. The Bhagavad Gita is a beautiful story with a deep meaning which even a Christian can find some wisdom to glean from it, but the bottom line is that the idea of karma, the idea of an eternal universe and the idea of hundreds of reincarnations are simply NOT TRUE. I would then suggest that you ask your friend to spend some more time looking at Jesus, at his real life (not a mythical one) and at his sacrifice, as well as his miracles, his claims and his fulfillment of biblical prophecy in the Old Testament. Hopefully, by this time, your friend will begin to see that, although the Bhagavad Gita is truly a beautiful book, with a great teaching, it is nevertheless the product of limited human wisdom and it does not even approach the Book of John or the Bible as a source or real wisdom and real truth.
One last comment. Even as you are discussing the Hindu worldview, you should be respectful and gentle. You should not attack your friend. You should apply the Golden Rule and assume that he or she is seeking after truth and following it wherever it leads. Hopefully, the truth will make itself obvious to your friend.