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Articles > Comparison of Hindu and Christian concepts of self


Telugu Translation
Hindi Translation

The concept of “losing one’s self” is present in both Christ’s teaching and the Hindu scriptures.  The nature of these concepts, however, are quite different.  The purpose of this article is to explain the differences between these two concepts and to show how the same words actually mean very different things. 

In Hinduism, the Self is the unified being in which all creation takes a part.  This Self (Atman) knew his own nature and knew he was Brahman, and Self became All.  The goal in Hinduism is to bring the individual person to the realization that indeed he is not a separate being, but rather a partaker of the great Self.  So the saying is “Atman (self, soul) is Brahman.”  The goal of the individual through yoga and spiritual exercise is to realize and know that he is Brahman.[1]  In this context the idea of losing oneself is to come to a knowledge of the belief that the individual human being should not speak or think of being an individual self and should not act upon the desires and wants of the individual self.  The goal in Hinduism is to attain detachment from self desires and wants, and to become one with the universal Self.

In the teaching of Jesus Christ, the concept of “losing self” is very different.  Jesus affirms the individual self as a real and true creature.  This individual self is never lost or dissipated into some greater Self, but is a created being with definite personal existence.  Jesus teaches that the person will exist as an individual for all eternity in either a state of relationship with God (Heaven) or separation from God (Hell).[2]  The problem with man is not one of mistaken knowledge.  The problem with man according to Jesus is sin, rebellion against God. This happens when a separate and individual creature (man) chooses to live in a manner that does not honor and recognize God (a transcendent and independent being—separate from man).  Jesus warned in very strong language against sin and the danger of the individual being consigned to hell for this rebellion.[3]  The concept that Jesus taught of selflessness was to forsake the desires of a real, independent self that are in rebellion to God’s ways.  Jesus taught that man has lived in sin and separation from God ever since the fall or rebellion of Adam and Eve (the first man and woman God created). This sin is a part of the very nature of each individual man.  To live for the self, according to Jesus, is to live in sin.[4]  Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23).  This means to abandon the sinful self desires that are a part of human nature.[5]  This means to choose as an individual to live for others and for God.  In this sense, the selflessness of Jesus’ teaching is the virtue of abandoning the sinful and destructive desires of the sinful self and pursue instead God and the good of your neighbor. 

The virtue of self-denial according to Jesus then is not merely something of knowledge.  It is not an enlightenment or realization of being universal Self.  It is the individual choosing to deny his real personal desires and to live instead for what God has said is good.

This chart should help show the differences more clearly:

 

Jesus

Hinduism

the nature of selflessness

Jesus’ selflessness = actual selfless living by individuals

Hindu selflessness = realization that we are all Self

why self desires are evil

Self desires are evil because they are sinful—rebellious to God’s ways

Self desires (individual) are evil because they are not Self-universal (Brahman) desires

the solution

repentance, denial of selfish desires and living for God’s ways

Realization and enlightenment that you are Self

the role of self in selflessness

to deny the self and to live for God

to turn in to the self to find the Self

Hindu selflessness is actually an affirmation and strengthening of self in the greater Self.  Jesus’s teaching is the self has become corrupt and is living based upon that orientation to corrupted (sinful) self; selflessness is to turn from that self life and to live for God. There is a sense of opposite in this comparison.  Hinduism seeks for selflessness through a turning in to the self[6] to find the Self.  Christianity teach selflessness through denying the self.

Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.””

by Wyatt Robertson

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[1] Cf. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad I, iv, 10 as one of many examples of this teaching.

[2] John 5:25-29,  Mt 25:34, 41, 46.

[3] Matthew 18:8  “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.”

[4] Matthew 23:25  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

[5] Ga 5:17  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other…

[6] Katha Upanishad IV,1

Editor's Comment: Karma to Grace presents this article as one major viewpoint of the Hindu school of thought often represented. We understand there are other dualistic and modified dualistic viewpoints.


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