One of the things I have had to grapple with in my ministry is the difference between folk Hinduism and philosophical Hinduism.
In trans-local situations the sort of Hinduism I come across is invariably the more philosophical and pantheistic sort (in this I am including the various streams of Yoda, Vedanta, and derivative stuff like chakra energy healing). In local situations however the sort of Hinduism I come across is more frequently the folk and polytheistic sort. The distinction was brought home to me a few years ago, hosting a home group for a diverse bunch of people who did not fit the normal ‘bible study’ model.
One of the core members was, like me, from a more occult background. Another member was a young migrant with Hindu parents. Well, one day the Bhagavad Gita came up in conversation and, what do you know, we had read it and she hadn’t. The most popular Hindu text there is! So here we were informing a folk Hindu girl about what it said. She knew all about the festivals and doing puja but none of the philosophy. None. For us it was visa versa.
At that point I realized that everything I knew about Hinduism from my New Age days was useless here. Given that more non-Christians in my area are Hindus than Atheists, the ramifications of that for local witness and inter-religious communication is still sinking home. And do you know what? Having many Indian and Sri Lankan Christians in our church helps not one bit with the inter-religious communication, for they generally don’t know any more about folk Hinduism than I do. Sometimes they know even less. All of which goes to show that grass roots realities are sometimes very different from what one encounters on the world wide web, in bookstores and amongst the university educated.