Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Real Great Commission

Concepts in one (religious) tradition don’t fit neatly in others. For example, take the Christian concept called the ‘Great Commission’ where Muktinath says “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Every faith has some concept similar to this. Otherwise everyone would have following the same faith/theology/philosophy/doctrine from time immemorial. This is very true in Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya, as I pointed out in my critique on Balagangadhara

Though every bhakta should do her part in fulfilling the Great Commission of Muktinath, all are not called to do it in the same format. Each bhakta is called to do her part faithfully, leaving the rest with God. 

But the tragedy is that the Great Commission is interpreted as ‘converting’ people from one religious community to another. Even in this the conversion is not limited to personal faith but includes the sociological dimension. And Christianity, at least in India, promotes ‘conversion’ from one sociological community to another. In this they are not making any improvement or progress in those issues which they claim to be bad in Hindu society, such as caste.

In other words, people are called to change their camp without giving up what they find wrong in our society. And the converts too, thinking that they are escaping from the ‘devil’, jump in the deep sea, without anyone there to rescue them.

The Hindu approach is this: give personal freedom to choose any sadhana (spiritual discipline) that will help one to make progress in her spiritual aspiration according to her aptitude. It demands that each carries out one’s personal dharma inspired by the result of that personal sadhana. 

Let me explain this in my own way. Having become a bhakta of Bhagavan Muktinath, I need to do my dharma (social duty) as per the teaching of my Guru and Acharya Muktinath. For this I have to stay back where I was born rather than shifting camps and blaming others about all the shortcoming and failures. Through my personal life, seva, and sadhana I have to do my part in fulfilling the Great Commission. And in that, God will use me as per the gifts I received from Him as well which I received as my inheritance.

A plain reading of the (religious) text without thinking what are the intentions behind its teaching leads to blind faith. In the Great Commission when Muktinath says “Go and preach the gospel and make disciples”, Christians take the two words ‘preach’ and ‘make’ seriously, while forgetting the crucial aspect of ‘disciples’. When the Muktiveda allows a Hindu to become a bhakta or disciple to the Lord and also remain in her birth
family and community (I Cor. 7:17ff.), what the Christian does in the name of Great Commission is what the Lord says in Mt. 23:15:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one convert; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

Though I have my reservations about the ‘illegitimate interference‘, I agree with Gangadhara about ‘proselytization’. For me ‘witnessing’ about the transformation that I received by the Lord is not an ‘illegitimate interference’1 since I never persuade anyone through coercion to change their religious tradition.

Although it is annoying to Christians, I say that even keeping my Hindu religious tradition as the frame, I can live as a bhakta of the Lord. Since pluralism is the Hindu reality, our Hindu religious tradition is broad enough to accommodate any kind of faith expression. At the same time, this pluralism never demands or expects any sampradaya to compromise or become syncretistic in doctrinal issues. Allowing for doctrinal/theological exclusivism, it provides inclusivism within its religious tradition. 

To my dismay what I see in Christianity is pluralistic exclusivism. Dismissing every other ‘denomination’ as heretical, it accommodates all kinds of denominations within one tradition in the name of Christianity. So in pluralistic inclusivism (Hinduism), one can openly and proudly remain a ‘witness’ for her faith and bhakti. Whereas in pluralistic exclusivism (Christianity), ‘proselytization’ is promoted in the name of Great Commission.

According to my understanding the Gospel introduces new values and respects old truths that help me do my dharma as a Hindu. The Great Commission should be centered on the noun ‘disciple’ rather than the verb ‘preach and make’.

 

22-4-15

 

Notes


1. “The Semitic self-description contains a universal truth claim, which gives rise to a dynamic of proselytization. When the biblical God reveals His plan, it covers the whole of humankind. Those who receive this revelation should try to convert the others into accepting the message in this divine self-disclosure. That is, proselytizing is an intrinsic drive of Islam and Christianity. The pagan view, on the contrary, implies that every ‘religion’ is a tradition–that is, a specific set of ancestral practices–characterizing a human community. The traditions are upheld not because they contain some exclusive truth binding the believer to God, but because they make some community into a community. Any attempt at interfering with the tradition of a community from the outside will be seen as illegitimate, since all traditions are part of the human quest for truth….– S.N. Balagangadhara, Reconceptualizing India Studies, New Delhi, Oxford, 2012, p. 209.

Idol Worship

I received this message recently:

Why do Hindus worship idols when God told us he is everywhere?

Once Swami Vivekananda visited King of Alwar in present day Rajasthan. The king in an attempt to mock idol worship told Swamiji, “I’ve no faith in idol worship. How can one worship stone, wood and metal? I believe people are in illusion and just wasting time!”

Swamiji smiled. He asked the king’s assistant to take down the picture of the king that was hanging on the wall. Although confused, the assistant did so. Then Swamiji ordered him, “Spit on the picture!”. The assistant was shocked and looked at both of them. Swami repeated again and again, becoming more stern each time. The king was growing angry and the assistant started trembling. Finally, he cried out, “How can I spit on this? This picture is of our beloved and respected king!”

Swamiji then told him, “The king is sitting in front of you in person. This picture is merely a paper – it does not speak, hear, think or move. But still you did not spit because you see a shadow of your king in it, Spitting on it was like spitting on the king itself.” The king looked at Swamiji and bowed down, clearly understanding what he was referring to.

This is the essence of idol worshiping. God is everywhere, but people want to pray to Him, ask favors, offer food, tell stories, bathe Him, play with Him and do what they do in their lives. Creating a human-like idol creates an image of God as a companion, a guide, a friend, a protector, a giver, a fellow being and so on. An idol is just a concrete representation where they find Him. When I look into the eyes of an idol, I do not see stone or metal, but another pair of eyes looking affectionately at me, smiling.

In response, I wrote this:

For a full look at my understanding of idols, you should read Understanding Hinduism. But the problem with idols is that they never remain a means to an end but become an end.  As Muktinath said, if someone gives to the temple instead of doing seva to parents, then that is wrong. (read Mark. 7:6-12) But your seva to the parents cannot be ignored by offering something instead of it to the temple.

The servant hesitated to spit at the portrait of the king, and he is correct that he cannot do it before him. But his loyalty is not in not spitting on the portrait but he shows real loyalty in his service to the king and never betrays him in his absence too. But out of our experience we know that our respect to others are often only on the lips and not in our heart. The same is true when one substitutes following the moral and spiritual teaching and expectation of any god rather than showing mere reverence to any portrait of an idol.

Regarding the development of idol worship, it is not as simple as we try to understand and explain. Behind it there are economic and political reasons, about which I have slightly pointed in Understanding Hinduism.  After sharing several scholarly views on idol worship at the end this is what I wrote about it in Understanding Hinduism:

So then what is an idol? In my opinion an idol expresses our limitation of understanding God, who is beyond our human comprehension. The idol as a symbol neither expresses nor interprets God. It is in fact a symbol of our limitations. And those who try to worship God through an idol only manage to communicate their limitations. Though it is a good way to express and accept our limitations, it is not necessary either to understand or express that limitation, because it may directly or indirectly restrict our efforts to understand God in our spirit beyond all human limitations.

History shows that several kings were defeated by un-loyal servants who betrayed them accepting some small bribe. At the same time several loyal servants gave their life to protect the king.  But this is not a good illustration to explain a greater truth which goes beyond human action to compare and comprehend.

Every religion created some kind of structure to control people. But any spirituality which keeps ethical and moral issues at the core will guide people to go beyond the symbol to understand and apply those ethics in personal life and also in social life.  People, due to their inherent weakness, also resort to easy methods to get rid of their guilty conscience when they fail in their spiritual life which is mainly oriented on moral issues.  Then it become convenient for religious Leaders and lay people to be happy and not disturbed when they fail in ethics.

Millions and millions of rupees are dumped in temples which could be used for the need of deserving people. This happens in every religion.  A diamond crown worth 45 crore was presented to one famous deity by mine mafias in our land.  Several crore rupees were thrown in a temple when Modi demoted the currency.  But I say this not comparing with any other religion.  But this is a common phenomenon in every country and in every religion.

Remember the temple prostitutes who were abused in the name of religion in India. Children were abused by priests in several religious institutions all over the world.  Women were denied their basic rights in several countries in the name of religion.  So anything which religion upholds and promotes at the cost of ethics will be idol worship and not these simple status made out of wood or stone or metal or any portraits.

Rationalization

Although in our bhakti we need to know and understand the various aspects (theological, historical, textual, etc.) and need to implement it in various areas of our life (spiritual, ritual, social, etc.) it is not easy or necessary to understand them all (together) and implement them simultaneously. Of course a holistic approach is essential as we cannot divide life in watertight compartments, but when we live we need to live one area in a given time and context.

For this, as Hindu bhaktas of the Lord, we need to understand one fundamental thing which Muktiveda clearly teaches: OUR BHAKTI IS GOD-CENTRED AND ETHICS-ORIENTED.  Whereas in Hinduism, since it does not have any single scripture as central or authoritative (passing over the orthodoxy it assigns to Veda), the fundamental Hindu worldview (in a simplistic and superficial generalisation) is DHARMIC-CENTERED AND KARMA-ORIENTED.

This does not mean that ethics has no place in Hinduism. Ethics is very crucial and emphasized in every area of life.  At the same time, ethics is also relativistic and decided and controlled by one’s own karma, which in turn evolves according to the level of ethics that is upheld. Though it is wrong to call this as ‘situational ethics’, the situation decides the role of ethics.

So naturally the role of idols and any worship of them should be understood based on this fundamental worldview.  That is why any Hindu apologetic (like Swami Vivekananda and many others) will always ‘rationalize’ it in a way without relating it to ethics.  And they need not do so, as ethics is not the centre but part of dharma.

However, according to Muktiveda as our bhakti is ethics-oriented we cannot rationalize it at the cost of ethics. But before we condemn or criticize idol worship, we need to remember that God is more concerned about so many ‘IDOLS’ that we have created and worship in every area of life.  So we need to understand idol worship in its various contexts but not to condemn or rationalize it. In fact our understanding of idolatry should warn us about our own idol worship in many forms without rationalizing it.

So whenever we read any Hindu apologetic about idol worship we need to keep this in mind.  While idolatry is upheld and rationalized by many Hindu apologetics, it was also questioned and criticised by a few though this minority voice and is never listened by all.  The beauty with Hinduism is that for every view or philosophy/theology there will be a ‘purvapaksha’ (former side/view) which needs to be refuted before establishing one’s own philosophy/theology which is known as ‘uttarapaksha’ (later side/view).  So, while upholding contradictory views side by side and upholding and questioning equally, all these contradictions will always be rationalized. This is true not only in Hinduism but in every other faith, including our understanding and interpretation of Muktiveda.

Db.

7-8-2017

Song 723

மனித்தப் பிறவியும் வேண்டுவதே

என்மீது நீகொண்ட இரக்கத்தை நினைக்க
எனக்கது மிகமிக வியப்பாக இருக்குது
எனக்குமே நீசெய்யும் நன்மையை நினைக்க
என்னுள்ளம் நன்றியால் உன்னையே துதிக்குது
பலமுறை இதையே நான்சொன்ன போதும்
பலமுறை அதையேநீ செய்கின்ற போதும்
கணம்தோறும் என்மீது நீகொண்ட இரக்கம்
கற்பனை மீறிய உண்மையாய் இருக்கும்
விளங்கிட முடியாத பேரருள் கொண்டாய்
விளக்கிட இயலாது திகைத்திடச் செய்தாய்
நானதை நினைக்க மனதையும் தந்தாய்
நாள்தோறும் பாடிப் பணிந்திடச் செய்தாய்
உனக்கிது இயல்பான குணமாக இருக்குது
உனக்கிது அனுதினப் பணியாக இருக்குது
ஆயினும் அலசடிப் படுகின்ற எனக்கு
கணந்தோறும் இதுமட்டும் புதிதாய் இருக்கு
நானிதைச் சொன்னாலும் உனக்கிதுப் புரியாது
நானென்ன செய்யட்டும் உனக்குள்ள உயர்விது
மனித-தெய்வமாய் நீவந்த போதும்
மனிதனின் மனநிலை கிடையாது உனக்கு
பாவியாய் இருந்து மீண்டால்தான் புரியும்
பலவித பாரங்கள் சுமந்தால்தான் தெரியும்
பாவ பாரம் சுமந்திட்ட போதும்
பாவம் உனக்கிது எப்படி புரியும்
ஒருவிதம் மனிதப் பிறவியும் நல்லது
உன்னருள் துய்க்கும் வாய்ப்பும் கிடைத்தது
அதையே எனக்கும் நீயும் தந்தது
அடடா என்ன சொல்லித் துதிப்பது
திருப்பூந்துருத்தி, கருணையானந்தர் ஆஸ்ரமம்,

7-9-2017, மாலை 7.00

Song 723

மனித்தப் பிறவியும் வேண்டுவதே

என்மீது நீகொண்ட இரக்கத்தை நினைக்க
எனக்கது மிகமிக வியப்பாக இருக்குது
எனக்குமே நீசெய்யும் நன்மையை நினைக்க
என்னுள்ளம் நன்றியால் உன்னையே துதிக்குது
பலமுறை இதையே நான்சொன்ன போதும்
பலமுறை அதையேநீ செய்கின்ற போதும்
கணம்தோறும் என்மீது நீகொண்ட இரக்கம்
கற்பனை மீறிய உண்மையாய் இருக்கும்
விளங்கிட முடியாத பேரருள் கொண்டாய்
விளக்கிட இயலாது திகைத்திடச் செய்தாய்
நானதை நினைக்க மனதையும் தந்தாய்
நாள்தோறும் பாடிப் பணிந்திடச் செய்தாய்
உனக்கிது இயல்பான குணமாக இருக்குது
உனக்கிது அனுதினப் பணியாக இருக்குது
ஆயினும் அலசடிப் படுகின்ற எனக்கு
கணந்தோறும் இதுமட்டும் புதிதாய் இருக்கு
நானிதைச் சொன்னாலும் உனக்கிதுப் புரியாது
நானென்ன செய்யட்டும் உனக்குள்ள உயர்விது
மனித-தெய்வமாய் நீவந்த போதும்
மனிதனின் மனநிலை கிடையாது உனக்கு
பாவியாய் இருந்து மீண்டால்தான் புரியும்
பலவித பாரங்கள் சுமந்தால்தான் தெரியும்
பாவ பாரம் சுமந்திட்ட போதும்
பாவம் உனக்கிது எப்படி புரியும்
ஒருவிதம் மனிதப் பிறவியும் நல்லது
உன்னருள் துய்க்கும் வாய்ப்பும் கிடைத்தது
அதையே எனக்கும் நீயும் தந்தது
அடடா என்ன சொல்லித் துதிப்பது
திருப்பூந்துருத்தி, கருணையானந்தர் ஆஸ்ரமம்,

7-9-2017, மாலை 7.00