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Nov 05

New Birth or Rebirth? Jesus Talks With Krishna

Krishna is revered by millions of people worldwide, and writing on any figure honored that greatly is difficult.

But I am doing so because the one notion that all religions subscribe to (either explicitly or implicitly) is the notion of exclusive truth. Populists like to deny that premise, but all religions either make this claim or try to covertly smuggle it in.

The question, therefore, is not whether one enjoys a discussion like the one that follows in this book but whether the arguments are fairly presented. That is much harder to do, especially where length is limited. I have, therefore, selected to write about what I consider to be the greatest differences between Jesus and Krishna.

As always, putting words into the mouths of historic figures is a challenge. I have done my best to take ideas straight from what has already been quoted in each faith’s sacred texts and put them into context here.

Hinduism is a complex belief system. At times the following conversation will become quite philosophical and intricate. Please be patient as we work through these areas of belief so that the truth and beauty of Christ’s gospel is fairly presented against the backdrop of Hinduism’s complexity. To present either of these beliefs as simple is to not understand them fully.

As with the other books in this series, I have introduced a third personality who can raise questions legitimately, since any known conversations between Jesus and Krishna do not exist. Subramaniam was a real person. Born a Hindu in the early part of the twentieth century, his is one of the most remarkable stories I have ever read. He challenged the religion of his birth and faced immense persecution for his actions, being ostracized and finally fleeing from his hometown to avoid death.

Incidentally, I have always marveled that so many religions exact this kind of revenge against dissenters. It only weakens the appeal of their own faith and contradicts any claims they might have made that “all religions are basically the same.” If all religions are indeed the same, why not let someone be “converted” to another religion?

I also marvel at the fury sometimes evident in those who attack others for examining and questioning their own worldview. If the repercussions of converting weren’t so serious, it would almost be comical to see the animosity of the responses. But what this revenge demonstrates so strongly is an inbuilt belief that conversion is wrong. And why is conversion so forbidden?

It circles back again to the one notion that all religions subscribe to—the notion of exclusive truth. I have also introduced a fourth character, Richard, a fictional traveler to India who converses with Subramaniam on the road to Mathura and later eavesdrops on the conversation between Jesus, Krishna, and Subramaniam. Richard does not lean heavily behind the curtain, as Subramaniam does, but it is my hope that he will someday—as it is my hope that all people who seek spiritual truth will.

Another factor is at stake in the following discussion: it is easy to take the weakest aspect of a worldview and exploit it. But that is not what I wish to do. When one encounters expressions of belief that are openly affirmed and followed, even when they seem bizarre, one must ask the hardest questions. One must examine the stronger
aspects of any worldview as well.

At base, one of my consistent premises throughout this series is that the popular aphorism “All religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different” simply is not true. It is more correct to say that all religions are, at best, superficially similar but fundamentally different.

In the pages to come, I hope that the vast differences between Christianity and Hinduism will become very evident in this imaginary dialogue. Yet it is important to remember that, as different as these faiths are, we must learn to accept those differences peaceably. Still, let us not be so mindless as to think that Christianity and Hinduism are saying the same thing and that, in the end, the differences do not really matter. Both claim to be true and legitimate. This rationally implies, then, that it does matter what you believe. That is what this imaginary dialogue is about.
—Ravi Zacharias


Krishna: … The essence of ultimate reality is the Brahman—the impersonal absolute. Let me illustrate. If you take a fruit from a tree and split it, you will find a seed. But if you split the seed, what do you see? Nothing! Now, just as the essence of that big tree is reduced to the impersonal nothing, so is the self reduced to nothing. The goal in life, according to the Upanishads, is to unify the self with the Brahman, the impersonal absolute. There! Do you see it? This is to have reached the stage of denial to self, or freeing the mind from matter.

Jesus: This is very different from my teaching, Krishna. Radically different. The Supreme Being is not an impersonal absolute, but an infinite, personal Creator. God is lovingly and keenly interested in the affairs of humankind.

Krishna: Yes, you have stated that difference well. Hinduism’s supreme being is impersonal, a philosophical absolute, not a personal one. That is why when people ask us who god is, we cannot give a simple answer—god is one, god is all, god is everything. Again, words fail us. For this reason I revealed myself in the Gita in a very unique way. After the teaching of Gautama, the Buddha, the revelation of the divine came in a different way and showed three different ways to attain god.

Subra: To attain god?

Krishna: Yes. I am talking about more than just reaching out to god. I am talking about the possibility of attaining god, of actually becoming one with the divine. The paths to moksha, or freedom from reincarnation, are said to be many. Let me explain it a bit more. Salvation in Hinduism is attained in one of three general ways with slight variations. The first is the way of knowledge. It is called jnana, which as I’m sure you both know, is the word for wisdom or knowledge. The second is the way of karma, the path of works. And the third is the way of bhakti, the way of devotion and love.

Subra: Defining God and salvation may be complex, but I must challenge the simple way in which you are explaining it. You are saying that while God is not personal, you can claim to be God. And you are certainly personal—you are supposed to be an avatar, one of the incarnations of God. Buddha was also supposed to be an incarnation of God. Yet Buddha denied a supreme being. There is not one mention of God in Buddhism.

Krishna: Have I even used the word avatar in my Gita?

Subra: No, you haven’t. But you have already acknowledged that you are an incarnation of god. And you mention the preexistence of every soul and the reincarnation of every life.

Krishna: Yes, but perhaps I could finish what I was saying. It is very important that you hear what I said in the Gita. We both know that the Vedas teach that god is an ultimate impersonal absolute.

Subra: So do you dispute that?

Krishna: I find no need to dispute it. I just transcend it. I represent god as a very personal being.

Subra: What about the others—Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma?

Krishna: I am them. I am Vishnu. I am Shiva. I am the heavenly father. I have spun this universe. I am the ruler. I am the supreme god.

Subra: You are God incarnate and have come before?

Krishna: All that was seen in Vishnu and Shiva and Brahma is in me. All the devotion of the human heart must be directed to me. I am all the heart yearns for.

Jesus: I wonder, Krishna, if you are the divine one, are the sacrifices demanded in the Vedas offered to you?

Krishna: Yes, of course. Various canons of our scripture have given specifics for sacrifices. But these sacrifices are only shadows. I told Arjuna that such sacrifices only led to more sorrow and rebirths. The true sacrifice is god himself.  So I am both the one to whom the sacrifice was made and the sacrifice itself…


Jesus: You heard Krishna say something fascinating a little while ago. He said that he was the sacrifice.

Subra: Yes, I did hear him say that.

Jesus: In what way were you the sacrifice, Krishna?

Krishna: I am the sum total of religion and devotion to which the human heart aspires.

Jesus: But what do you mean when you say that you were the sacrifice?

Krishna: From the beginning of Vedic ritual, sacrifices were offered as a means to come into the presence of the divine. Vedic teaching is rich in this, and the priests were given all the instructions on how to conduct the sacrifices. I was pointing out to you that I was the ultimate expression of it all.

Jesus: That is what I meant when I said that you came the closest to the truth but stopped short. How are you the sacrifice? Yes, there is a path. Yes, there are means. Yes, there is a barrier between God and humanity. But the heart is not separated from God because it is unethical or immoral. No amount of moral rectitude can bridge the separation between God and humanity, between God and each human heart. I paid the price to reconcile God to man and change the human heart by the power of God.

Subra: This is the hardest thing to explain, Jesus, and in fact, the hardest thing to understand.

Jesus: I know it is. But implicit in this is the greatest truth of all—that no one becomes closer to God by doing good works. In fact, because of the pride of the human heart and pride in one’s culture, depending upon one’s good works to bring one to God often becomes the biggest snare of all. The “good” person assumes they have a hold on truth. Cultures assume they are superior to others. The pride within the human heart is the cancer of the soul. No one, no culture, has a hold on truth. No heart escapes the stranglehold of pride. It is what brought Lucifer to his fall. The person who in his own eyes thinks he has kept the law to the fullest and by his own strength is actually furthest from God. You see, no one can truly come to God without a sense of spiritual poverty within himself. Only when a person recognizes that all his goodness and accomplishments amount to nothing before God will he then seek God. Only in this humility can a person accept the new birth I give. The new birth gives new hunger—hunger for righteousness. As the man is now born of God by the power of God, he begins a new life for the glory of God.

Subra: Is this the heart of the difference?

Jesus: This is the beginning of the difference. You see, a man can recognize his spiritual poverty, renounce the world, don sacred attire, punish himself with deprivation, walk miles, relinquish all material belongings or ties to this world, and feel he has established his own means to attain perfection or to find God. This is where the sacrifice comes in. Krishna said that he was the sacrifice but couldn’t describe how that description fits him. Do you remember what the Scriptures say about this, Subra?

Subra: About the way you provided for us?

Jesus: Yes. I came into the world not to live—because I have always existed. I came into the world to die, not as an example to others and not to pay a penalty for myself. I came into the world to die—to show the horror of sin that separates the human heart from God’s heart.

Subra: Yes, for many years I meditated on the great distance, the absolute distance, between where my heart was and where it needed to be. I often wondered how I could ever reach the heart of God.

Jesus: This is so foreign to cultures that have bought into the lie of materialism—that matter is all that matters. These cultures simply can’t understand the nature of spiritual reality and of being separated from God. Professing themselves to be wise, they have become fools. No one today can talk of sin and be taken seriously by the cultural elites. They will call sin anything but what it is and will not accept the truth because even in their wretchedness they wish to be autonomous.

Subra: That is why I had to reject the notion that there is no absolute way. Some ways simply must be wrong. Which means that there must be a way that is right!

Krishna: To be sure, there are wrong ways, but the serious seeker finds that out by intuition.

Jesus: If one could discover the truth by intuition, why was there a need for revelation? If one could find the truth by intuition, why was there need for a sacrifice? If one could find the truth by intuition, why was there a need for instruction?

Krishna: Because it is all part of the drama. True religion in anyone comes from sincerely following the path, and at the end, ultimate reality is made known to him or to her.

Jesus: Here again, Subra, we come to another core difference. I did not come to offer a religion. I did not come to offer a system of rules by which a person reaches the right destination. I am not so much interested in pointing you to a place as I am in pointing you to a Person and a relationship. That is the key. You have heard Krishna talk about the paths, the disciplines, the stages, the levels of attainment. But I tell you that anyone can come into my presence because I am the way. I have come so that you can have the indwelling presence of my Holy Spirit…

Subra: I had another question too, Jesus. It’s really an observation. Krishna sounds so much like the consonants of Christ. Brahma sounds much like Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, Muslims, and Christians…

Jesus: Yes, some similarities exist. Jupiter was worshiped by the Romans, Zeus Pater by the Greeks, Dyaus Pitar by the Babylonians. All those names are transliterations of the same word.

Subra: Come to think of it, Jesus, daya and pita in the Hindi language actually mean “mercy” or “pity” and “father.” Is it possible that the Merciful Father is implicit in some form in all of this?

Jesus: I have not left myself without witness before any people group, Subra. I have spoken in different manners and at different times. In the past I spoke through prophets until it was time for me to come myself to this earth. Still, it is important to think not only of the similarities but also of the differences.

Krishna: But that is where you end up dividing everyone.

Jesus: Truth will always divide, Krishna. In making the very statement you just did, you are dividing truth from falsehood. A single, minute difference in the ecology of the world and you will end up with death. Miscalculation is the reason for death. Those who change my laws miscalculate the nature of the human heart. If you believe one lie, you are often led down the path of many lies…

Krishna: Why do you always focus on the differences?

Jesus: I think you’re missing the point, Krishna. You have a caste system and reincarnation, which focuses on the differences between people. I came to show that there is no difference in the human condition. Every one—East, West, North, or South; rich or poor; educated or not—falls short of the glory of God. In every person’s own efforts to reach God, he falls short. The difference I am talking about is how each of us responds to the shadow reality or the concrete reality. You say there is no difference between an animal and a human being, but at the same time you say that an animal is in that form because he is a human being who’s being punished for a previous life. While the difference between the DNA of the two may be minute, the implications for language, reason, and worship are defining. I commanded my people to treat the animal with respect because it too is my creation. But humans alone were given the supreme privilege of worship and of a relationship with the God who made them. A human’s decision to reject me or trust in me is an eternal difference.

Krishna: I can certainly see that the differences are critical.

Jesus: They are, Krishna. So I ask you again not just why you spoke of sacrifice yet never offered it but, I ask you, did you ever really live?

Krishna: To me it does not matter.

Subra: You know, Jesus, some of the greatest scholars say that Krishna was an imaginary figure, or else they downplay the historicity of his person because of the many Krishnas in Hindu writings…scholars like Radhakrishnan, Vinoba Bhave, Aurobindo Ghosh, Vivekananda, and Mahatma Gandhi.

Jesus: That is the hatpin to the heart of reality. To many the shadow, or the idea, is good enough. But for me and for those who follow the truth, the facts and acts of history are critical. It’s not land or power or cities or control over governments that matters. That I was born, lived, died, and rose again from the grave are real acts of history. My Scriptures are historical documents in which geography and history can be the testing points of my claims. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Calvary, and the empty tomb are actual places. And just as concrete and real is the new birth and the communion with me that I offer to all who ask.

Subra: That is the difference between you and Jesus, Krishna. It is why I have become a follower of Jesus. At best, you were a shadow. But in Jesus I found the real thing.


Excerpted from New Birth or Rebirth? by Ravi Zacharias Copyright © 2008 by Ravi Zacharias. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Ravi Zacharias

For 36 years Ravi Zacharias has spoken all over the world and in numerous universities, notably Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford University. He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa, the president's cabinet and parliament in Peru, and military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow. At the invitation of the President of Nigeria, he addressed delegates at the First Annual Prayer Breakfast for African Leaders held in Mozambique. Dr. Zacharias has direct contact with key leaders, senators, congressmen, and governors who consult him on an ongoing basis. He has addressed the Florida Legislature and the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Texas, and has twice spoken at the Annual Prayer Breakfast at the United Nations in New York, which marks the beginning of the UN General Assembly each year. As the 2008 Honorary Chairman of the National Day of Prayer, he gave addresses at the White House, the Pentagon, and The Cannon House. In 2009 he had the privilege of addressing the National Prayer Breakfasts in the seats of government in Ottawa, Canada, and in London, England. Dr. Zacharias was born in India in 1946 and immigrated to Canada with his family twenty years later. While pursuing a career in business management, his interest in theology grew; subsequently, he pursued this study during his undergraduate education. He received his Masters of Divinity from Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois. Well-versed in the disciplines of comparative religions, cults, and philosophy, he held the chair of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought at Alliance Theological Seminary for three and a half years. Mr. Zacharias has been honored by the conferring of a Doctor of Divinity degree both from Houghton College, NY, and from Tyndale College and Seminary, Toronto, and a Doctor of Laws degree from Asbury College in Kentucky. He is presently Visiting Lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University in Oxford, England. Dr. Zacharias has been a visiting scholar at Cambridge University, where he studied moralist philosophers and literature of the Romantic era. While at Cambridge he also authored his first book, A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism, updated and republished in 2004 by Baker as The Real Face of Atheism. His second book, Can Man Live without God (Word, 1994), was awarded the Gold Medallion for best book in the category of doctrine and theology, and Jesus Among Other Gods (Word, 2000) was nominated for a Gold Medallion. In all, Mr. Zacharias has authored or edited over twenty books, including Walking from East to West: (Zondervan, 2006), The Grand Weaver (Zondervan, 2007), and Beyond Opinion (Thomas Nelson, 2008), which includes contributions from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries’ global team. His latest books are The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists (Zondervan, 2008) and Has Christianity Failed You (Zondervan, 2010). Several of his books have been translated into Russian, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Spanish, and other languages. At the invitation of Billy Graham, Mr. Zacharias was a plenary speaker at the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam in 1983, 1986, and 2000. He is listed as a distinguished lecturer with the Staley Foundation and has appeared on CNN and other international broadcasts. His weekly radio program, “Let My People Think,” is aired on more than 1700 outlets worldwide, and his weekday program, “Just Thinking,” on over 400. He is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, with additional offices in Canada, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates, and Hong Kong. Mr. Zacharias and his wife, Margie, have three grown children. They reside in Atlanta.

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