The Hindu worldview is spiritualistic but not especially relativistic. Before entering the realm of the Hindu concept of the universe, there are two important beliefs to be considered: the law of Karma and reincarnation.
Karma is an ultimate, absolute law that everything and everyone in the universe follows. Not to be confused with the good works of karma yoga, as a law Karma means that good deeds lead to good consequences and bad deeds to bad ones. In being an absolute, Karma implies that everything that happens to a person happens for a reason; at some point in a person’s history, or perhaps the history of that person’s soul, he or she did something to deserve what is happening now. Note that although one’s circumstances are fatalistic or predetermined in nature, actions themselves are not (in other words, Hindus do believe in free will).
This leads to the second belief mentioned, reincarnation. Every soul weaves its way through many lives, pausing in between bodies in special resting zones beyond life or the next; if a person dies before Karma is fulfilled, it will be taken into account in a later life (or, perhaps, passed on to one’s children). In this way, the Hindu believes we can, very literally, ‘create our own reality.’ By doing good deeds, a kinder future is created for that individual.
The universe is similar in that it goes through infinite cycles. As a product of God’s mind, it has no beginning, no end, and no future Utopia to look forward to. Earth itself is but a place where we learn how to act. Good and evil balance each other out. The world is also ruled by Karma, and like a kind of wishing well or genie-in-a-bottle, it “decrees that sometime or another, [every wish] will be granted – together, of course, with consequences” (Smith, 67). The universe, then, fulfills our souls’ Karma and passes through cycles like our own reincarnation.
Hindu cosmology is particularly interesting.
“There would be innumerable galaxies to our own, each centering in an earth from which people wend their ways to God. Ringing each earth would be a number of finer worlds above and courser ones below, to which souls repair between incarnations according to their just desserts.” (68)
Before judging this too harshly, the Hindu views of reality must be considered. As has already been mentioned, jnana and bhakti are the major opposing lines in Hinduism. There is more to that divide, however, than styles of yoga. Jnana teaches an impersonal deity, and that all is one. Bhakti believes in a personal God and that people, creation, and God are separate things. Jnana reality is more commonly associated with Hinduism, however.
In this reality, since all is really one, the reality of normal perception is illusion, or maya. There is also a sub-reality or hallucination and the appearances of tricks at a magic show, and a super-reality perceived by the “Superconscious,” or yogis who have become one and joined with the Atman. It is in this super-reality only that all really does appear to be one.
“There is but one reality, like a brimming ocean, boundless as the sky, indivisible, absolute. It is like a vast sheet of water, shoreless and calm.” (69-70)
This is not to say that those who have not achieved Superconsciousness need take the illusory, maya reality with a grain of salt. It seems real, so we must treat it this way. The Hindu fable “Tripura Rahasya” portrays a prince who has accepted the maya around him. Instead of falling into a state of utter carelessness for what and who was around him, he, like a true jnana yogi, performed duties responsibly but as an indifferent “actor on a stage.”
But why we must emulate this prince and why we must play this game as though our maya reality is actually important, escapes mention. Although he believes the world around him isn’t real, but instead “one, infinite, unalloyed” (70), the Hindu finds it inexplicably important to fulfill duties and uphold moral law as though it were more than a game.
This contradictory thinking in Hinduism is now becoming very apparent. It is totally arbitrary to believe we must act a certain way in a fantasy world. But this is only the beginning. Further complications and logic and especially morality exist in abundance.
And yet Smith is still intent to show his readers the obvious similarities between Hinduism and Christianity, or at least to put them on a level playing field:
“If we ask why Reality, which is in fact one and perfect, is seen by us as many and marred… we are up against the question that has no answer, any more than the comparable Christian question of why God created the world has an answer. The best we can say is that the world is lila, God’s play.” (71)
In other words, everything you’ve ever experience – everything bad you’ve ever experienced – is, while having strict connections to your Karma, nothing more than the result of God playing around. This seriously calls his character into question, and is a rather weak for being the “best.”
But to compare this with the Christian question of “Why did God create?” is, I submit, a logical fallacy. For Christians are given a pretty good idea of why this is so in the Bible. God is love, and while He doesn’t need us, He loves to love us. Furthermore, Colossians 1:16 tells us, about Christ: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” In short, the world was made for the glory of God.
Such an answer is not our mere presumption, but is directly from God-breathed Scripture. Furthermore, it does not call our God’s character into question but acknowledges Him as pure. Comparing these two questions, then, is the fallacy of false analogy.
In summary, a Hindu universe is but maya, governed by Karma, and passing through infinite cycles without start or finish. While the Bible teaches a very different origin of sin - in which God is not the author ("When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed." - James 1:13-14) - Hindus teach this world is the way it is, right and wrong, because of God. It is not perfect, and never will be; good and evil, wisdom and foolishness will always balance each other. But it is a place for a soul, reincarnated over the ages, to reach its greatest goal in discovering the Atman, and is, as lila, “ultimately beneficent.”
Further exploration into Hindu morality will further show the folly of such teachings.