01/03/2013 11:59 am ET Updated Mar 05, 2013

Bridging the Gap Between Hinduism and Christianity

Growing up in a Hindu family in Los Angeles while attending a Christian high school for four years, I was never able to make any connection between the two traditions. In fact, they seemed worlds apart. My Christian friends were monotheists, worshippers of one God, with no images other than the cross, while on my home altar, there sat pictures and images of about 20 goddesses and gods, some of whom were human like while others were half human and half animal, carrying items such as weapons, lotus flowers and conch shells. I actually never let any of my friends see our home altar for two reasons: fear of ridicule and because I knew I wouldn't be able to explain what it was all about.

It wasn't until about 16 years later, when I decided to pursue the path of becoming a Hindu monk that I decided to see if a bridge existed between the two traditions. Living in New York City as a monk and conducting lectures and discussions at many of the local universities, to an audience of primarily Christians, I realized it would be important for me to explore the teachings of Jesus Christ, so I could become more familiar with the teachings and so that my explanations of Hindu wisdom could address some of their hang-ups about Hinduism. A fellow Hindu monk, who had been raised Catholic, suggested I look at the Gospels. I was very surprised to see the Gospels suggesting the same approach toward God and humanity as my Hindu faith.

The first general similarity I discovered was that both traditions were monotheistic. The Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana clearly suggest the idea of one supreme, divine, creator for all people. Even many Hindus accept that Hinduism is monotheistic. According to the two texts listed above, Krishna is proclaimed as the supreme deity and described as the source of all spiritual and material worlds, the life of all that lives, and the origin of all other gods. The understanding in the Bhakti yoga tradition I practice is that Krishna is the same God who others address as Jehovah, Allah and Yahweh.

Other similarities exist in the specific teachings relating to humility, tolerance and forgiveness. Two examples from the book of Matthew that are very consistent with Hindu teachings can be found in the following verses:

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." -- Matthew 18:21-35

"For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." -- Matthew 23:12

A prominent Hindu teacher, Shri Chaitanya, in his prayers known as the Siksastakam (eight instructions) informs us as follows:

"One should be more humble than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, offer all respects to others and expect none in return."

This verse is suggesting that an individual learn to become humble like a blade of grass. The grass doesn't complain even when it is stepped on and it continues to provide comfort to the individual under whose feet it is. One is also expected to rise to the platform of being more tolerant than the tree. A tree tolerates the harshness of the summer and winter seasons while providing shade to others. We are also encouraged to only offer respect and see the good others and doing and not bring attention to our own deeds and actions. All of these teachings are suggesting the same thing. As humanity, we need to practice these extremely difficult items of humility, tolerance, and not wanting to be recognized and exalted.

After reading the Gospels, my appreciation for the teachings of Jesus skyrocketed because I saw he was saying the exact same thing as the teachers of my traditions. There is even an example where a great Hindu prophet, Haridas Thakur, forgave and prayed for his persecutors after nearly being killed by them. When I learned how Jesus had acted in the same manner toward his persecutors while on the cross, I realized that the mood of the teachers and messages of God are similar in both traditions and anyone aspiring to live by these tenets can be elevated to the platform of loving God will ones heart, might, soul and mind.

Although there exist several differences between the two traditions, if we hope to love our neighbors as ourselves, then collectively we need to make an attempt to cross these bridges instead of just standing on one side looking across.