Category Archives: Dialogues with Christians

New Wine in Old Bottles

According to some, the ‘new’ wine is the gospel and the old bottles is our Indian (Hindu) tradition. But this is what God is expects us to do in our endeavour to drink and serve the Living Water in an Indian bowl.  Nobody can set aside all the man-made traditions and man-made philosophies, because God himself has used them to convey his will for all of humanity. He never made any fresh start but has to come and work in the man-made traditions and philosophies, which are part of God’s image in us. According to my understanding God created the material world (subjective needs) and gave wisdom and inspiration to create our own traditions and philosophies (objective needs).

Even what the apostles shared is nothing but an old man-made tradition which is preserved in so many other old bottles (Roman Administration, Greek philosophy, German theology, European culture, American Enterprise, British imperialism etc.) to present that new wine for others. Now I and others don’t want run our own marathon with those chains tied on our legs.

For an outsider, every attempt by an insider to drink and serve the Living Water is nothing but preserving their ‘old’ wine (traditions) in ‘our old’ bottle or serving the new wine (gospel) in our old bowls. And for this they will use Muktiveda out of context and give their own ‘new’ interpretation (old wine in their new bottle or new wine in the old bottles) which will serve their orthodoxy, which neither helped them nor will serve others.

I need not point out the context of this saying of preserving old wine in a new bottle. But when it comes to our OLD TRADITION here in India, we are not ‘PRESERVING’ the new wine in any old bottle, but serve it through our own old traditions which is not acceptable to an outsider.

According my limited understanding, God only created the material creation and left the creation of objective needs like tradition to humans. God never created any tradition but only accepted and worked through them. Serving of new wine in an old bowl was started by our Lord as he liberated the narrow understanding of covenant promise from the Israel captivity.  Then Gospel was liberated from its Jewish captivity by Sevanand (Paul), then from Latin captivity by the Reformers, now from its Western captivity by every insider in the non-Western worlds.

As human creation, change and continuity is part of every tradition.  And the purpose of tradition is not to preserve any (old) forms but to reinterpret the old values to the need of contemporaries, thereby creating new views to the old tradition. But when the orthodoxy finds a threat in such attempt, it will say that new wine is preserved in a different old bottle.  For them preservation of their old traditions, view and values are important for their identity and survival—not thinking about the needs of others. But every tradition, thankfully breaking such stereotypes helps contemporaries to serve the views and values in their own bowl.

Preserving the old bottle (form) is not important but serving the new wine in the native bowl is.  Any outsider who misses this point will misinterpret any verse from the Muktiveda that will serve her orthodoxy and form.

Nobody can make new philosophies and traditions. We can only add and remove certain things from them and give new interpretation. Even what the apostle’s share is another such tradition which needs to be interpreted according to our needs. If this new interpretation looks like old bottles to preserve new wine, maybe that is what God wants us to do to serve this new wine in our Old Indian bowls. We are called not to preserve any old bottles but to use them to serve the new wine.

Every other tradition is an old bottle in which alone the new wine can be received and served to their need of the locals (insiders) which will make sense to them.  According to my understanding, not keeping the new wine in the old bottle about which the Lord has said was a theological issue. But serving the new wine in the old bottle or serving in the native bowl is a missiological issue. And we cannot take a theological issue as normative for every approach in presenting the gospel. That is why the separate discipline of missiology was developed.  Forgetting this, if we insist upon applying a theological view uniformly, we will miss the point.  We must reread all the missiological approach of Sevanand (Paul) in presenting the gospel to the non-Jews.

The Gospel cannot be communicated in a vacuum.  The very incarnation is the best example for this about which I need not elaborate. The Gospel has the capacity to incarnate in every other tradition without compromising its core message.  If it cannot then it cannot have a universal appeal or message and even cannot remain a ‘GOOD NEWS’.  But thankfully this is what the gospel has done, beginning with the apostles themselves.

Of course it has the capacity to transform those aspects of a tradition that are not compatible with the gospel message. Then the natives should allow it to transform it or even to abandon it.  But in the name of not serving the new wine in an old bottle we cannot throw out the baby along with the bath water.

But unfortunately this is what the outsiders have done so far applying theology where they need to apply missiology. The outsiders in the past brought their new wine in their old bottle and tried to serve it in their own bowl.  When they saw that it was not working, then by brainwashing the new converts they created a new hybrid Christian tradition which neither remained local nor was western. And following this new hybrid tradition, at least in India these Christian converts neither remained Indian nor could they become western Christian and they become what we call ‘washerman’s dog’ which neither belongs to his house or to the river side in which he washes his cloths (dhobi ka kutta naraha garka yaa ghatka).

Here I would like to show what this hybrid tradition is created by the outsiders brainwashing the new converts.

As I am not comfortable with the word “Jesus” or its anglicized words in every Indian language (yesu, Ishu, Isamashi, Jisu, etc.) I introduced ‘Muktinath’ for the Lord and ‘Muktiveda’ for the Bible. But most of the hybrids Indian Christians are not comfortable with it.  And many new converts are doing the same.  But I am happy with these words in my tradition.  But one should understand all the controversies that arose while translating Muktiveda in Native languages.  For example take the word ‘God’. Which word should be used for it created a big controversy.  Ishwar, Parameshwar, Nath, Bhavagavn, dev, Devata, etc. have strong religious traditions and Hindu theologies behind them.  But the natives have no other alternative but to choose one word from them.  Others terms like ‘communion, baptism, sacraments, gospel, etc. have similar problems. It will take so many pages for me to mention all the controversies and finally the way natives settle with some hybrid technical terms as their outside bosses never allowed them to use their own traditional terms with which they (the outsiders) are not comfortable. The way they created certain new terms and words which become ‘Christian terms or words’ won’t communicate the message to the locals.

In Tamil, for ‘communion’ they use ‘Narkarunai’ [nar=good, karunai=compassion], raabhojanam [raa=night, bhojanam =meal], Thiruvirundu [Thiru =honoric , Virundu =feast].  But in their personal talk they use the English word itself not using any of these terms. Of course inside the church during the service they will use it, but outside the church only the English word ‘communion’ is used.

But I prefer ‘Mahaprasad’ [maha =great; Prasad=grace] as we Hindus are already familiar with the word ‘prasad’ in our worldview. For the bible they use ‘Parisutha Vedaagaman’ [Holy veda and agama]. But Muktiveda cannot be both Veda and Agama, as in our Hindu tradition Veda belongs to Sruti (authoritative) whereas ‘agama’ belongs to Smriti (non-authoritative). But I don’t know who introduced this hybrid Protestant Tamil.  he word ‘Viviliam’ is the worst one as this word is a new hybrid Tamil word. In Hindi though some use the word ‘dharmagranth’ on the cover, yet most of the Muktiveda comes with the word Bible itself in devanagari script and the same word is used in common use. Whereas dharma + granth, according to my understanding cannot be the proper word for Muktiveda.

When Vedanayagam Sastri try to use the local Tamil words for so many Muktivedic concepts [even Sivam, Om etc.], he was opposed and finally thrown away from the mission. Then he was patronized by his Hindu friend and prince of Tanjore for so many years. Not allowing the natives to think independently, the outsiders always impose their own views, values and traditions in the name of God and Gospel or new wine and old bottle. But I am not going to allow them to do the same to me.  I think God allowed us to use our mind to create our own tradition and he is willing to incarnate the gospel in our tradition using our own man-made traditions and philosophies.  And I won’t create another hybrid tradition because outsiders are not comfort with it. Better you do the theology and missiology properly and try to understand Muktivedic teaching in their given historical, textual and theological and missiological contexts. The best example that comes in my mind is the very ‘baptism’ (of repentance) which is borrowed by the Jews from other tradition.  But Muktinath did not rejected it but even went through it as he has to do considering his local tradition of his time.

In My Humble Opinion

Sri A. Abraham Joshi asked a good question about my philosophy of mandali, so I chose this forum to articulate it, since this question about our bhakti confronts us again and again.

I have nothing to say about the Christian Church. They need it for their identity and to meet all their social, spiritual, and religious needs.

As an outsider I have no right to question or criticise the way they conduct their affairs to meet all their needs. And I completely endorse their right to conduct their church in the way they think is correct according to their doctrine and their bible or their understanding of their (respective) bible.

If a Hindu wants to become a ‘Christian’ as a convert and join a Christian (denominational) church, I still have no problem as it is her fundamental right.

But my one request to such converts is: try to mingle with your church and understand them and try to become one among them. Try to use every opportunity to serve your new community. But don’t play a ‘victim card’ by using the so-called ‘persecution’ by your family and community in order to earn some sympathy. In reality your family is actually persecuted by your community and society because of your conversion to Christianity. Not minding about their humiliation and suffering and all the consequences which you left behind for your parents and siblings (whose marriage will become a crucial issue now for your parents) to face, don’t use that ‘victim’ card.

Similarly don’t expect some extra privilege in the church as a ‘new convert’ or ‘first-generation Christian’. Once you become a convert, you are part of them. There never comes any question of new convert or first-generation Christian getting special privileges or rights.

Similarly don’t expect any extra concessions from your church to accommodate your sentiments and needs to understand their life (cultural, social, religious, ritual, etc.). If you want to survive among them as a Christian, you have to work hard and go the extra mile to know and learn to become a Christian among Christians. Be a Roman in Rome.

Don’t expect your church to understand your problems and worries and try to help you. Of course they will do it if they have time and resources. But they run their church to meet the needs of their members and not to pay exclusive attention to a convert. In other words, don’t expect the majority to adjust to accommodate your private needs. It is like giving up one’s citizenship of her birth country and becoming the citizen of another country. Then there she should try to integrate and accept all their terms and conditions and shouldn’t expect them to show some special privileges, unless you are a refugee.

As a digression I have to say some more important points here:

Your marriage and all your social needs are not your church’s responsibility. If you want to marry, then choose a partner among them, provided they are ready to do it for you. Some churches, having concern for their converts, try to help. But in the majority of cases, they have no time or energy to meet all your social needs.

I am not sure whether any church will openly encourage you to leave your Hindu parents by saying that you cannot and should not live with those ‘pagans’. But even if they do that, they won’t accept their social responsibility for you.

Two case studies are worth sharing here. First is a young man from North India. He accepted his North Indian Christian friend’s advice that once he made up his mind to follow the Lord he should leave his home with two sets of clothes and no money. He reached his friend’s house to inform him about his decision and wanted to stay with that Christian friend. In spite of his counsel, that Christian said, “How can you stay with me? I have two daughters. Above all, your father is an influential political person. And if he comes with some people to give trouble to me, what can I do?’ There he realized who is right and who is wrong (Muktiveda or the Christian). But the new convert also realized that he cannot blame that person as he himself allowed him to do that and accepted the bad advice.

Another case was here in South India. At Erode when a particular boy converted to an independent church, he came out from his home in Salem (another town) and began to live in that city, earning his livelihood as encouraged by his church. When the time for his marriage came, he requested his pastor to search for a spouse. Then, another Christian who knew that pastor and also had a lot of sympathy towards the new convert said to the pastor, “This new convert is also from your caste and is earning a proper income. You have a daughter. He is a good boy. Why don’t you give your own daughter to him in marriage?” To that the pastor responded, “Why should my daughter suffer by marrying him? Now he came out from his home. If my daughter marries him, she will miss her in-laws and the right to have her share in their property. It is our duty only to convert and not arrange the marriage for all converts. For all their practical needs he will depend upon me alone as he cannot expect any more support from his own family after his marriage.”

[What he meant was that if his daughter marries that boy, then the whole responsibility for them falls upon him, for which he is not ready. This means that like all other Indian parents, he naturally expected his daughter to become the daughter-in-law of another family and does not want her to continue to bother him, except in rare occasions to trouble him to take care of her husband’s family, which won’t be possible if he gives his daughter to that convert.]

Both these stories are real and not cooked up. The second one was told to me by my close Christian friend, who after hearing this became upset and told that pastor, “Then stop converting others!” And the first is a person known to me in Delhi who can confirm the story.

However sympathetic the church or individual members of a church are, they cannot replace the original home of the convert. Suppose if a new convert has some accident, who will take care of him/her till the end? In most cases, forgiving their children, most Hindu parents rescued their children from several sufferings in their life, even after their conversion, that too even after marrying a Christian boy or girl against their wishes. They do it because they still believe that their converted child belongs to them, though s/he is estranged.

Here I have another question that I would like to ask to such Christians who encourage new converts to come out from their home. Suppose if that convert is an only son and his parents have some property and good fixed deposits in the bank. What if the parents are unfortunately killed in an accident? How would the church advise that new convert? Will they tell him not to claim the inheritance of his ‘pagan parents’ and allow his other relatives to take everything? Suppose if he has other siblings; once his parents have died will he allow his ‘pagan’ siblings to take his share in the property of his parents while he continues to live as a pure Christian not contaminated by the wealth of his ‘pagan parents’?

Some might have done it, but I’ve never heard of such a thing. In most of the cases, almost all the converts want the fame, name, and property of their parents, yet do not want to live in their ‘pagan’ parent’s home.

When that North Indian convert, after realizing his mistake, returned to his home, not only did his parents received him as a Christian but also found a Christian girl for him as his wife. The Hindu parents were ready to go even an extra fourth and fifth mile because of their love for their child. But in the name of conversion what these Christians do is an obvious shame to the very gospel which never promotes such ideas. Misinterpreting verses like Mathew 19:29, converts are misled and the church is doing a great harm to many in the name of God and gospel.

 

On Spiritual Growth

Now, coming to the spiritual growth of such new converts. Joshiji rightly asked the question:

Now this whole new thing that you all follow – not going to church. Who shares the word of God? What exactly are the principles you follow? Please elaborate.

Though I am repeating what I have already articulated in Living Water and Indian Bowl, I won’t mind such repetition, if it will help me to articulate my view more clearly than what I have shared there.

As I said already, I won’t question how the church shares the words of God for the need of their congregation or to the new converts. It is their problem and I have no right to criticise or give any suggestions.

But what I have observed in a limited way is that a three-hour service in which a 20 to 30 minute message is preached is not enough for a new convert to grow in her faith/bhakti in the Lord (see II Chron 17:9). I may be wrong, but with much humility (?!?!) I can say that I have never seen or heard about any Indian church where the Word of God is ‘taught’ to members or to new converts. This is their problem and I have nothing to say more. And if there are churches which are doing that teaching, God bless them.

For a Hindu, worshiping God is not a Sunday three-hour church service. According to my limited understanding of the Muktiveda, it is the responsibility of parents to teach their children; but this was long ago outsourced to the pastors and Sunday School teachers. In the case of new converts who do not have Christian parents to teach them, it is the responsibility of the elders and other members of the church to give extra time to teach. But if they strongly believe that by attending once in a week a Sunday Service to listen to a 20-30 minute message they get enough help to grow in their faith/bhakti, I have nothing more to say.

 

The Bible on Conversion

Now let me turn to the major question. Does the Muktiveda promote such conversion for anyone to become a follower of the Lord?

Before that it would be good if you can understand where this un-Muktivedic teaching began in the early centuries when Christianity gradually became an organized religion in order to survive.

In the Roman world, following one’s own tradition, that too religious tradition, even without having any personal faith, was considered important for the smooth functioning of the society. And they accused Christians of not having such an ancient tradition, therefore not having a ‘religion’, which meant following an ancestral tradition like theirs, thus creating problems in society by introducing this new cult of worshipping a person. And the Jews also joined in that chorus. So in order to prove that they too have an old tradition, the Church naturally claimed the Jewish tradition as their own, as the apostles also endorsed the continuity of the covenant promises by God.

But in order to make a difference, the Christians also claimed that following that tradition, unlike others, they appropriated it within themselves as a spiritual reality by having personal faith and commitment. Then in order to objectify it, the written Scriptures were promoted as the foundation.

So they did three things. They claimed to have a long tradition, therefore a religion like others. But unlike others, they appropriated it within as a spiritual reality. Then, to sustain it, they based everything on Scripture as the foundation.

 

On conversion:  

What does the Muktiveda say about conversion?

How could it promote conversion, when it does not even exist there?1 If anyone wants to use it personally for her own ‘conversion’, she has every right to do so. But for most Indians the word ‘convert’ is not a good word. And I personally hate it if someone calls me a ‘convert’.

Let me not spend too much time on the technicalities of this word and how it is appropriated both by Hindus and Christians. For me, the major issue is: does Muktiveda promote this kind of conversion from one ‘community’ to another ‘community’ viz., from Hindu community to Christian community? “No” is the clear answer.

This was one of the fundamental crucial issues on which Sevanand (Paul) stood and fought till the end. Muktiveda clearly teaches that a Jew can remain as a Jew and follow the Lord and non-Jews can remain non-Jews and still follow the Lord. In order to become a follower of the Lord a non-Jew need not become a Jew first (particular being circumcised). As you all know well about how Sevanand talks elaborately about this in Galatians, I need not repeat it.

Now from the Hindu point of view, as Hinduism is a parliament of religions (or sampradayas) [this is one among the several definitions of Hinduism], it allows any one group to have its own sampradaya side by side with other sampradaya. In this it never expects any sampradaya to compromise in its core issues related to faith/doctrine/theology. While it promotes pluralism and relativism, it also upholds ‘exclusivism’ when it comes to faith.

So if Muktiveda never expects me to change from one community to another in order to follow the Lord, and my own tradition gives space for me to remain as a follower of the Lord without compromising my bhakti in Him, then why should I leave my Hindu community and join another Christian community? At the same time let me reiterate, if any person wants to do so, she has every right to do so. But I see no need to do so in my own life.

Now the crucial question comes: what about doing all the other religious, cultural and social practices by a new follower of the Lord if she chooses to remain as a Hindu?

To be honest, I don’t have any ready-made solution to this. Each bhakta has to work it out based on her understanding and the freedom that she enjoys within her family and community which will allow her to do so.

But one thing is clear: the challenges are more severe for a convert to Christianity than for a Hindu who wants to remain a Hindu and follow the Lord. The Home is my home and I have every right to stay back and fight for my rights rather than going out and joining another community where my struggles are in no way less than what I have to face as a Hindu bhakta of the Lord. At least in my home I have to face known people, whereas among Christians I have to deal with unknown people. At home I have my birth right whereas among Christians I have to work hard to earn some space among them. At home I know the details to work out, but among Christians I have to learn everything new. At home I have to face only one kind of people or group, but by moving among Christians I have to fight on both sides. Above all: A HOSTILE HOME IS BETTER THAN A SUSPECTING BUT FRIENDLY NEIGHBOUR. And for every convert, Christianity is that friendly neighbour.

 

On Fellowship

One crucial thing that is so important for every convert or Hindu bhakta of the Lord is the avenue and opportunity to learn to grow in her faith/bhakti in the Lord.

As I often say, we don’t have a private bhakti or a private God, though we do have a personal relationship with Him. Our faith/bhakti is not a one-man operation. Either we sail together or sink together. For this, fellowship, learning, and teaching are important apart from worshipping together and also individually.

But the question comes: does the church really provide this kind of ‘fellowship’ which will help a new convert learn to grow in the Lord? As I already said, as an outsider I have no right to question it. But if a convert feels that she gets all the fellowship that she requires to grow in the Lord and proper teaching, God bless her and her fellowship. As I already said, once she made up her mind to become a convert, she has to adjust with that church.

But for me, as a Hindu bhakta of the Lord, I too have to work hard to create such a fellowship among other like-minded Hindu bhaktas to grow in my bhakti in the Lord. As I like that challenge and there are other such people to join to help me, we try to do our best. Of course we too face several challenges and problems and by making mistakes we too learn. But as we don’t have a prior model for us to learn through their experience and mistakes, we need to go an extra mile more than a convert where she is served a wonderful cake on a beautiful plate week after week. God bless her.

As I mentioned in Living Water and Indian Bowl, fellowship is not the ‘watery togetherness’ [Christopher JH Wright, Living as the People of God: The Relevance of O.T. Ethics, IVP, 1983, p. 98] that happens just for three hours in a week. Above all, since my position as a Hindu and bhakta of the Lord provides so many challenges in my life within my family and community which provide natural fellowship for me as a human being, I prefer this fellowship to grow more deeply in the Lord than to enjoy some ready-made instant food served once a week.

As the Muktiveda clearly teaches, teaching and learning about bhakti/faith is a family event and cannot be outsourced, so we encourage parents to take up this responsibility seriously and teach their children to grow in bhakti in the Lord as Hindus.

Finally, I think we have a wrong concept about so-called ‘fellowship’. Though I don’t want to criticise the church, yet according to my understanding, no convert can get the real fellowship that she needs to survive as a human being within the four walls of a church that gathers once in a week plus a cottage prayer meeting. In such a scenario, she has to spend six days and 20 hours in the outside world. That fellowship alone helps her grow in her faith/bhakti properly rather than having a wrong notion about fellowship gatherings once a week inside any building.

Here my Hindu worldview becomes very helpful to me. As we have ‘samajic dharma’ to live with others in our family and community and ‘sadhana dharma’ for me to grow in my spiritual life, I find it easy to handle this very naturally as a Hindu rather than adapting myself to an artificial entity that is new to my culture and tradition, all in the name of fellowship. Samajic dharma we cannot change as we are born in it, but we can adopt a sadhana dharma that best suits my individual aptitude. And here both the Muktiveda and Hindu world give lots of space and scope.

It may be helpful if I share how some Hindu converts request me to come and share the gospel to their parents who do not want to listen from them or are not ready to become Christians. One time at Kodaikanal I met young Brahmin Christian converts. One day they came and requested me to come to their home at Chennai to share the gospel to their parents. Then the man said, “They need not even come to the church. If they simply believe in the Lord, accept Him as the Lord and Saviour that is enough for us.”

Then I asked, “If you say this and if I come and share the gospel, suppose if your parents ask me, “Then why don’t you tell this to our children? We allow them to follow the Lord but why should they go to the church?” What kind of answer I can give to them? If they need not come to the church and if their confession of the Lord is enough for them to get saved and go to heaven, why that won’t work for you too?”

In response they said, “No. We cannot leave the church. We need the fellowship to grow in the Lord and also to witness for Him.”

“If you want fellowship and going to the church is the only way to witness for the Lord, then why do you deny the same for your parents and expect that if they just confess the Lord is enough for them so that they can go to heaven?” For that, they had no answer.

But I don’t blame them. This is what they were taught and how they were programmed. Many converts, particularly those who become ‘full-time workers’, always live with a guilty conscience that if their parents don’t accept the Lord, it is a shame to their faith and a failure to their ministry. That is why many of them arrange a ‘deathbed mukti’. I personally heard many of them saying that at the end, on their deathbed, their parents confessed the Lord and were saved. I never question or doubt their claim. Let it be and God bless their parents’ souls. But I never live with such a guilty conscience. Of course I too want to see that my parents and other relatives also become bhaktas of the Lord. But if they don’t I will never arrange a ‘deathbed mukti’ for them. When one such full-time worker shared this, I asked him, “Now you are happy that your parents finally went to heaven? What about your chacha and mama, mousi and aunties and other relatives, particularly your grandparents? Do you think that your parents will be happy in heaven not having their parents and other relatives also with them?”

I never live with any agenda or carry such a burden unnecessarily within me. I will live naturally and spontaneously as a Hindu bhakta of the Lord, leaving the rest in His hands. I will do what I have to do and will never try to do what God alone can do.

 

My Obligation to the Church

I confess that as a bhakta of the Lord, I have an obligation to other followers of the Lord, even in the church. Pointing this out, another follower of the Lord among the Christians confronted me by saying, “Do you really not love us who are part of a particular church? Then why don’t you come and teach us, which you have done a bit in the past, but now have completely stopped?” In response, not as a joke, but will all seriousness, I said, “I too love them and I strongly believe that all the followers of the Lord belong to the body of the Lord of which I am also a part. But every church has its own (original) problems to handle and burdens to carry. And I know that every convert only adds to the burden. In other words, every convert is a ‘problem’ to the church and not a blessing. If I love someone truly I will see that I don’t trouble them anymore. As I truly love the church, I don’t want to add more problems and burdens to them. That is why I keep away from them. My simple principle is this: let James live peacefully at Jerusalem. But if some Christians, like Judaizers, come and give us trouble, then like Sevanand (as he has done in Galatians), I too will stand and fight against them. But I won’t come and give trouble to them and won’t allow them to come and trouble me/us.

Regarding going and teaching or telling Christians about alternative models for Hindu converts all I can say is this: in the past, several converts tried and miserably failed. They thought that if they could change the mindset of the church, they could do more effective service to the Kingdom of God, but they failed till the end of their life. Just few examples like Brahmabandab Upadhyay and Narayan Vaman Tilak are enough to quote. While they lived and tried to change the(ir) church through their teaching and persuasion, they were rejected and literally thrown away. To use the words of another right-wing critic, “While they were alive they were crucified on the Roman Cross. But after a century they are now resurrected and glorified as the pioneers of Indigenization (or contextualization).” Though I cannot compare myself with those giants, learning from their mistakes, I don’t want to repeat the same adventure to be crucified again, though I won’t be glorified in future like them by the church.

 

On Marriage

Whichever might be our personal spiritual journey, as human beings we all have several social needs that religion alone cannot meet. And one of the crucial issues of such social needs is the marriage of the new convert. Already I have given two case studies, but here comes the theological aspect.

Let me spell out what I believe on this crucial issue:

  1. The Muktiveda never promotes that a believer should marry another believer. This is a misinterpretation of 2 Cor. 6:14-15 where the word ‘yoking’ has nothing to do with marriage. It could mean any kind of partner—even in business.
  2. Every marriage is a blessing, as God constituted family as the foundation of society.
  3. Faith is not going to help much when it comes to family life after marriage. Initially it may enhance mutual understanding, but family life is based on humanitarian considerations and a give-and-take policy.
  4. If possible a new bhakta can negotiate with her/his parents to permit her/him to marry another bhakta. But if the parents insist to marry within the community (caste) then it is better to obey their wishes.
  5. In Hindu homes they never bring a wife to their son, but rather a daughter-in-law to the family.
  6. In Hindu marriage (in fact in every other marriage) it is not just two individuals that are joining together, but two families are joining and extending their relationship with several other families. So don’t break that social cord and harmony in the name of faith.
  7. No parent is going to find the worst possible girl/boy for their son/daughter. Trust them and also trust God.
  8. Concerning the rituals in marriage, 90% of them are more cultural and socially oriented and about 10% of the marriage is involved with religious rituals. Even in that minimum ritual mostly priests and parents are involved and not the boy or girl directly, except bowing before the family deities and touching the feet of elders (which, again, is more cultural than religious).
  9. In those areas where a boy or girl has to participate in some minimum ritual, they are in a situation like Naaman (read 2 King 5). Participating in those rituals does not mean permission but rather a concession because of the parents’ position and honor in the extended family and community.
  10. As parents are ready to accommodate a new bhakta’s wishes, there is no harm in accommodating their sentiments related to religious/cultural and social issues.
  11. Regarding having a life partner not having the same faith, Sevanand (Paul) clearly gives the guidelines in I Cor. 7:12-14. For example, in a family where they are totally Hindus, suppose the husband becomes a bhakta, should the wife leave him or should he divorce her? Definitely NOT. They should continue to live together as husband and wife with mutual love and respect for their faiths.But the question will come, how do we accommodate the rituals and puja of the life partner now? Our position in this is that like all other social obligations, the life partner should do everything s/he needs to do without compromising his/her personal bhakti in the Lord. We cannot give any uniform solution to such issues and each mixed family needs to work things out based on mutual understanding and respect. But don’t hurt someone else’s faith, and if a situation compels the bhakta, she should without any hesitation arrange, pay for, and take part in such religious events as part of her/his social obligation.This is not syncretism or compromising with one’s bhakti in the Lord. Christians may object to this, but we cannot be bothered about them. They compromise in so many other areas in their life but when it comes to the Hindu bhakta or convert suddenly they impose several rules and regulations which they are not following in their own lives (see Mt. 13:4 and 15). If a Hindu ‘convert’ in order to please their Christian friends and mentors marries a Christian and deserts their parents and family, we have nothing to say about it.But they should remember one thing that neither their Christian friends nor their mentor will become part of their family. If they migrate to another church soon they all will disappear from their life. But their parents and siblings will still remain part of their family. Once hurt them in the name of faith, and then reconciliation will be painful and costly. One quick step in the wrong direction, then we need to invest the whole life to correct it.
  12. Most converts live in an imaginary world that once they marry another believer, then every part of their life is going to fall in line based on their faith. But I have seen many Christian families where normal life is not lived based on their faith but rather on family values—as partners in life. As a Hindu I can say that faith never remains the criteria for any Hindu when it comes to everyday life. It is both ‘karma’ and ‘dharma’ which remain the guiding principle or the two tracks on which their life moves. It is true that a bhakta’s life is centered and guided by her ‘faith’ and Muktiveda. However what the actual Muktivedic principle is, again comes from our interpretation rather than the plain reading of the text or taking every verse literally. And, as I have (closely) observed, it is not ‘faith’ or Muktiveda that decides the everyday life of any kind of believers (both Hindu bhaktas or traditional Christians) but the same ‘karma’ and ‘dharma’ (without mentioning those terms). Like the Hindu Veda, Muktiveda remains ‘normative’ to refer or quote—particularly to guide and control others, rather than being taken seriously. Exceptions are there always.
  13. Even when converts try to keep ‘faith’ as the deciding fact for their normal married life, there is no guarantee that no problems or issues will ever arise. Or that all their problems and issues can be resolved based on Muktivedic principle. Even two converts with the same faith in the Lord will have different understandings and approaches about Muktinath and Muktiveda. Their tastes in life, hobbies, entertainment, social life, etc. are not going to be the same or be guided or decided by Muktivedic principles. Since they have to adjust and live based on a ‘give-and-take’ policy, they can do the same if a convert is compelled to marry according to the wishes of her/his parents.As some entertainment, including reading fiction or weekly magazines (even newspapers in a few cases) is considered ‘unspiritual’ in some churches, if one partner is from that background, and if she or he is not going to allow or participate with her/his life partner, then how are they going to adjust? The same is the case in keeping relationships with friends and other relative. When important family functions (like marriage) are arranged, and if the converts are invited or have to participate, their participation not only depends on whose side those relatives are (husband’s side or wife’s side) but what kind of function it is, how close they are to those relatives and what their part in it is.Suppose a convert’s husband’s sister is to get married, where he needs to be present and also take part in some events, which might include going to the temple or honoring the elders, etc. Can he do it naturally and joyfully—that too with the cooperation of his wife, or not? I know several converts who became an alien to their own family and community by preferring to avoid all such events in order to guard their faith and doctrine as well as to take a stand for the Lord. But they forget that if they participate, they will become one among the crowd which others may not even notice. But their absence or non-cooperation will highlight their alienness which will embarrass their parents and even hurt them. There the decision they took won’t be considered taking a ‘stand for the Lord’ but deserting their own family (parents) or even betraying them.

Marriage is a very complex issue and there are many other matters to consider, but I will just say one more thing with much pain. I know several converts, particularly from the so-called high castes, and particularly girls who remain single as they could never find a life partner arranged by their church. Some of them regretted their decisions, but very late. Their churches never recognized or understood their suffering. It is one thing to remain single by choice (as I have done), but it is really a curse to live as a single when it is forced on the convert because of their wrong perception about marriage and wrong teaching by the church/Christians.

 

On Other Life Events

Like marriage, there are other crucial issues, like what to do when one’s parents die or for other life cycle events (called samskars like birth, naming, etc.) For a convert these are not issues as she has to follow what her church says. As usual, we cannot prescribe a uniform solution for every Hindu bhakta as there are different traditions and customs according to our own respective backgrounds. The common minimum principle that we worked out is to try to negotiate with your parents and others if you have good rapport with them. More than that, try to understand what is cultural, social and what is exclusively related to religious ritual. If possible, try to get some concessions related with religious rituals. But where that is not possible, like Naaman in 2 Kings, go ahead and do what that particular situation demands.

But remember one thing, by participating even in certain religious ritual, you are not compromising with your bhakti in the Lord. And by refusing to participate in them you are not taking a stand for the Lord. Your absence and refusal will get more attention and be highlighted than your silent participation. Refusal to participate will draw more attention and it will bring humiliation to your parents more than help you to take a stand for the Lord. There are so many other crucial ethical and moral areas where you can take a strong stand for the Lord rather than these little religious events which most Hindus themselves never take seriously. For a Hindu, life is not divided in watertight compartments as cultural, religious, social, ritual, spiritual and religious. They overlap with each other and we cannot draw any straight line to divide them neatly.

As we never question the right of a Christian convert to do what she wants to do, here too we expect others to give the same space and benefit of doubt for us.

This is a long subject and if I began to narrate all the areas related to our life with our bhakti and the challenges that we face, it will again be a repetition of Living Water and Indian Bowl. However, one final crucial point is worth discussing here, as this topic is again and again asked to me.

 

On Idol Worship and Prasad

Already I have dealt about it in Living Water and Indian Bowl, so I will not repeat it again here. But Sevanand’s writings in the Corinthian context and also Kenneth Bailey’s exposition on it will help me to articulate my stand here. First I would like to share in length what Bailey has to say on this subject. Though long, it is worth reading as this issue is considered the basic principle for a Hindu bhakta’s relationship with his family and community. Also read the comments which I give in the text itself on that particular point. Instead of taking it out, I am leaving it so that those who read my response to Bailey’s views will understand the context:

Food Offered to Idols: Freedom and Responsibility. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, in Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.

The overall essay focuses on the question of how Christians are to live out their lives in a pagan world. Are they to accommodate to that world, and if so—to what extent? Are they to blend in or stand apart? The question of food offered to idols offered Paul a concrete case study for a discussion of this critical concern.—p.229

…The sacrifices were the property of the priests of the various temples and what the priests could not eat, they sold. During the numerous feasts there was an inevitable glut in the meat market, and the price would drop accordingly. For many of the poor of the city (which certainly included at least some of the Christians) that was probably the only time they could afford to eat meat. Furthermore, if a person didn’t ask the butcher, he or she would not know whether a particular piece of meat had been offered to an idol or not. None of the idols existed anyway, so why not enjoy some rarely affordable beef or lamb?

In the context of a city like Corinth all of this made perfect sense. But if reported in Jerusalem, such a practice would sound like a trashing of the Jerusalem agreement. Paul could have simply issued a ruling such as, “Barnabas and I agreed with the apostles in Jerusalem on this matter and I insist that our agreement be honored. No Christian is allowed to eat meat offered to idols, and that’s final!”

Instead of issuing a new law, Paul asks his reader to reflect on “knowledge” and “love.” In the six lines of cameos 1-2 {8:1-3}, the words knowledge and knowing appear seven times with at least one occurrence in each line. The words know and love occur together twice. The last line in cameo 1 reads, “knowledge puffs up but love builds up” and cameo 2c affirms, “But if one loves God, one is known by him.”

The two key words knowledge and love reappear in the hymn to love in 13:4. Once again, Paul is quietly building up a list of negatives that appear when love is absent. In the process, he describes the inner working of “knowledge” on the one hand and “love” on the other. Knowledge, by its very nature, can easily create pride and arrogance. The one who has large amounts of knowledge can easily look down on those less informed.—p. 233

…The Corinthians who knew that idols did not exist were in grave danger of using that knowledge in a way that would tear down what Paul, with great effort, had built up. The issue of food offered to idols could easily split the church in Corinth and elsewhere into Jewish-background believers and Gentile-background believers….—p.234

Paul’s context is easy to reconstruct. Temples served meals where the meat on offer had been sacrificed to one of the gods. Even in private homes, extended family social occasions would involve meals where the “main course” was meat offered to idols. Such meat was perhaps the only meat the family could afford. Paul presents the problem in Cameo 5{vs. 8:7}. What about the people who were still frightened by the ever-present temples with their statues of “the gods”? If they ate meat offered to them, were they not ingesting the god into their very lives? “Isn’t that what happens at the celebration of the Holy Supper?” they could have asked. Or perhaps the “god” they no longer worshiped would make them sick if they ate “his meat” while refusing to worship him? The “strong” in the community were likely insisting “these gods do not exist. This meat is ‘food for the stomach,’ and nothing more needs to be said.” But, what about the “weak”?

In cameo 3 {vs. 8:4} Paul grants the validity of this argument as it was made by these “strong” believers. Idols do not exist. But here in cameo 5{vs. 8:7}, as an act of love, Paul urges his readers to refrain from opening the way back to idol worship for those who do not yet emotionally feel what their heads are telling them. As G. G. Findlay has written, “Knowledge operating alone makes it an engine of destruction.” {“St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.” The Expositor’s Greek Testament. Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll. Vol. 2. New York: George H. Doran, 1900., p. 839} –p.239

[Is this emotional blackmail? How long will the weak remain weak and blackmail the mature ones based on emotional feeling. Where is the guarantee that they will limit only do this with food offered to idols and not try to blackmail on other areas to create problems for the mature ones? And what about the ‘gospel obligation’ on the part of the mature who try to reach out to their own people? Above all, it is not because of some ‘gospel obligation’ on our part, but as our birth right that we won’t allow others to blackmail us regarding our rights as Hindus, as God caused us to born in this community.

Any knowledge that creates pride and condescending acts towards others is a crime, but insisting on remaining in ignorance is also not correct. While the non-Jewish new believer with clear understanding (knowledge) tries to build up his community with social interaction—thereby accepting meals in which food offered to idols is served, the weak Jewish or non-Jewish new believer insists on remaining in ignorance and blackmailing the strong ones based on sentiment. This I call prejudice.

Particularly the Jews, whatever concessions shown to them, are not going to accommodate the social obligations of the non-Jews because of their religious prejudice towards the non-Jew’s religious/cultural/social views. This is proved by the very life of Sevanand (see Acts 14:44-52). In spite of his constant effort to reach out to them by going a third mile at the cost of the non-Jew’s sentiments towards their culture and social view, he never succeeded. Here I don’t want to compare the same with the traditional Indian Christians and the adjustments that the new converts are forced to make to survive among them—though I am tempted to do so. My understanding is that ignorance can be corrected through proper teaching, but prejudice can never be removed as it often stems from racial pride.

Here I feel that Sevanand also failed. However he tried to become all things to all men, he remained a Jew at his core and this is also acknowledged by Bailey: see. p. 256-57, 261. Of course he never had Jewish prejudice against the non-Jews, but he allowed it among his own people by giving too many concessions for them, either to get recognition for his seva among the non-Jews or try to win them for his mission. But in the end he failed as he failed to address their prejudice and only tried to accommodate their sentiment. Those who always use their sentiment will use the victim card to blackmail others.–db ]

…It is a case of a person with a strong conscience who wants to force his ethical choices on others. On the other hand there are those who walk their own path ignoring the havoc their choice will wreak in the body of Christ.—p.240

Paul continues, “We are no worse off if we do not eat.” {8:8} That is, it would have been easy for those who ate idol meat to boldly affirm, “There are no idols, so there is no problem! We the strong can eat this meat. Doing so proves the strength of our faith.” Those same people would naturally have looked down on the “weak” who were not strong enough to eat this good, cheap food. No, replies Paul, the one who chooses to refrain is not worse off (i.e., weak in faith) and you who eat this meat are not better off (i.e., strong in faith). The issue has to do with love. You the “strong” can become a stumbling block for the “weak.” Love must influence how you use your knowledge.—p.240

…The failure to love others in the debate over “food offered to idols” is not a little disagreement on a minor point of ethics. It is a sin against Christ, whose love was so great that he died to save.—p. 241.

[If the strong force their ethical choices on others, particularly on the weak, the weak through their ‘emotional feelings’ try to blackmail the strong. In that scenario what should be done? Educate the weak and make them strong. And if they continue to want to remain in their weakness, then leave it to their choice and allow the strong to move forward.—db]

3.6 Food Offered to Idols. Freedom and Responsibility (A Final Word). 1 Cor. 10:23-11:1.

The second semantic envelope in this homily (cameos 2, 6) is also remarkable. The two matching cameos are seen together in figure 3.3(3).

2.        25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market

Without raising any question on the ground of conscience.

26 For “the earth is the Lord’s,                                   EAT

and everything in it.”                                      ALL Is the Lord’s

6          31 So, whether you eat or drink,

or whatever you do,                                        EAT

do all to the glory of God.                              In All—Glorify God

Figure 3.6(3). Cameos 2 and 6 (I Cor 10: 25-26, 31)

These two cameos unite around the topic of “eating and the divine.” Cameo 2 tells the reader: All meat sold in the marketplace belongs to God, not to the idols, because the entire earth is the Lord’s. This affirmation must have been hugely liberating for Paul’s readers. Imagine a new Greek Christian entering the meat market in Corinth with great inner turmoil and wondering, “If this meat was offered to Asclepius the god of health, it must belong to him. And if I buy it and eat it, will Asclepius make me sick because I no longer worship him?” “No,” answers Paul—“it all belongs to the one Lord who created all things” (cameo 2). Such fears are groundless. So if you eat it or do not eat it—give all glory to God alone (cameo 6) and do not be afraid. (p.289)—pp.287-89

As is common the climax of the homily appears in the center (cameo 40), where love is prominent. Paul indirectly tells his readers, “Your rights and your freedom are not the only components in this discussion. What about love?” We do not know if the informant whispering in the ear of the Christian guest is the unbelieving host showing consideration to his guest, or a fellow Christian who happens to be present at the banquet. In either case, what should the Christian guest do when he or she is specifically informed at the banquet about the pagan origins of the meat? {emphasis added by DB}

To paraphrase Paul’s directive he seems to be telling his readers, “If you are invited to a meal in an unbeliever’s home and someone quietly informs you that the meat is “idol food,” out of your love for the informant, who is trying to be sensitive to what he thinks are your feelings, don’t eat the meat. Your freedom should be tempered by love.—p. 290{emphasis added by DB}

In the opening homily (8:1-13) of essay three, Paul asked that knowledge and love be kept together. At the close of the essay he urges the uniting of (p.290) freedom and love. Paul is again subtly preparing the reader for the hymn to love that will appear in chapter 13.

The uniting of freedom and sensitivity/love here in cameo 4 {10:28} is connected to cameo 1 {10:23} at the beginning and cameo 7 {10:32-33} at the end. Summarizing Paul’s opening cameo he insists that “all things are lawful, but all are not helpful or “upbuilding”. Why is this/ Because freedom must be marinated with love (came 4 {10:28}). At the end of the homily in cameo 7 {10:32-33}Paul teaches: Give offense to no one, seek their advantage, not your own—that they may be saved. This reflects the love admonished in the center cameo.

The larger question is not, what does freedom assure me (cameos 3,5 {10:27, 29b, 30}? But rather, what does love require of me (cameo 4 {10:28, 29a}? For Paul’s readers who were accustomed to ring composition, this climatic call for sensitivity/love was unambiguous and compelling.

As noted earlier, for many contemporary readers the order is confusing. We are conditioned to listening to a presentation that offers:

On the one hand:

At home (2) and at private banquets (3) give thanks, eat what you like (5) and give glory to God (6).

But, (alla) on the other hand::

If someone tells you, “This is idol meat,” for his sake do not eat the meat (4).

[..]

This is how a Christian can live in a non-Christian society. As noted, Paul’s theme song throughout the essay is “Freedom and Responsibility”. That responsibility (cameo 4) takes on the color of love and sensitivity.

In summary, Paul has earlier discussed

1. What about idol meat served in temple-operated restaurants? Paul’s answer is, It is acceptable if you really understand that the idols do not exist and as long as there is no one present who is still deeply unsettled about these so-called gods.

2. What about eating and drinking in an idol worship service? Paul’s answer was, “Never! Such eating is participation in the worship of demons.” (p.291)

In this text Paul considers two further questions. These are:

3. Can I buy this idol meat in the market and eat it at home? Paul replies by saying, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market” (cameo 2). The idols do not exist and the meat itself belongs to God—not to the idols. The whole earth is his.

4. What about a dinner party in the home of one of my unbelieving friends? Paul responds using language that is almost a direct quote from what Jesus told the seventy disciples when sent them out two by two. Both Jesus (Lk 10:8) and Paul say, “Eat whatever is set before you” (cameo 3). But if someone tells you, “This is idol meat’, out of love for the informant—don’t eat. (pp.291-92) [see note 2 for a few other points from this section—db]

Now let me tell one imagined story about this, as I found that verse 8:12 is the crucial one. For the sake of the conscience of the one who served the food offered to an idol a bhakta should refrain from taking it.

Basant is a Newari bhakta of the Lord from Nepal. Whenever he visits his home one of his school time friends always invites him for a meal. And not to miss a good feast and also to celebrate his friendship Basant never says no to it. But there is another reason for Basant’s friend Prem to invite his friend. His wife cooks good food when he invites any guests. Other times he will get only ordinary food. So in order to enjoy that good food he never miss any opportunity to invite guests to his house, and knowing that Basant is his school time friend his wife will take extra care and serve the best food.

Both Basant and Prem know from where the meat comes, as they were part of that society. But Prem’s wife made extraordinary food and Basant could not wait, so he urged his friend that it was time to go to visit another person. But having some concern for his friend, Basant would always say “no” when Prem’s wife insisted for him to take third a course of that special dish, as he wanted to leave some for his friend also.

But one particular day that special dish was prepared in a very limited quantity. Then Prem thought that if he played some politics he could make Basant ignore that particular dish and taste the rest, so that he could have all of that special dish for himself. So he came and secretly whispered in Basant’s ear, “You know from where the meat for that particular dish comes from. This I say so that I should not cause any trouble to you as you worship Jesus and as per your faith you should not consume food offered to idols.”

Then, understanding the trick, Basant also played the same politics and said, “Oh, yeah. We both know that. But my conscience is clear and I consider all the best things are a blessing from my God. I have no problem. But do you have any issue?” And as Prem said ‘no’, knowing full well that even before he whispered Basant knew the origin of the meat, Basant to take revenge on his friend for playing such a food politics without showing any mercy appreciated Prem’s wife saying that he had never tasted a dish like that before, and when she compelled him to eat more, he finished all of it.

The moral of this story is, when a Hindu invites any guest he always wants to see that his guest eats well. That alone will give him satisfaction. Above all, if he says anything which would make his host not eat he will bring demerit (sin) to himself. So no host will say anything to any guest to stop him from eating food properly. This is true not only in Hindu contexts but in any other culture no host will say anything to his guest which will prevent him from enjoying his hospitality. According our Indian tradition, a guest is treated as god as the saying goes ‘atiti devo bhavba’, let the guest be your god. From this we can understand the treatment that ought to be given to a guest.

Sixteen kinds of service need to be offered to him, known a ‘sodacha upacharam’.3 This can be understoond from another point of view. Gods should be treated like a king in the temple and like a guest at home. This shows the importance of the guest. Even Yama the god of death was disturbed when a guest was ill-treated at his door in his absence.4 Now don’t jump and ask how can you worship a guest as a god; this does not mean we literally worship a guest, but it shows how a guest is treated like a god with respect and reverence.

And in Indian contexts, when a Hindu comes and offers any prasad, he never thinks that by receiving it, that particular person is giving up his faith in his own personal God. He never even enquires about it. Above all, when your neighbour brings any prasad, he brings it because of his love for you. And he will never give it to his other neighbours with whom he does not have good relationships. And if you with all humility explain that by receiving it you are dishonouring your deity and breaking a vow not to eat the prasad offered to other deities, as every Hindu respects other’s religious sentiments, he will never insist further for you to accept it.

In other words, the conscience of a Hindu is very clear: he never expects you to give up your faith in the Lord or thinks that by accepting that particular prasad you are giving up your faith in the Lord. If he thought so, he wouldn’t do it as it would bring demerit to him. So now it is left for you to accept or reject it. And if you still fear that by accepting that prasad you will be hounded by demonic forces, then don’t accept it. This will also show that your God has no power to protect you from such demonic forces. And when you invite your Hindu friend on your religious festival, then he too has every right to say ‘no’ to your invitation as you said ‘no’ to him.

My point is this: not understanding the Indian context and superimposing the Corinthian context which we do not know well (whispering, etc.), if we make any decisions on such issues, there is no solid basis for it and we all have to live in an imaginary world in which we have every right to read whatever we want to read into any given situation.

In the Corinthian context (about which we know little, but based on the imagination of Bailey), the host might whisper in the ear of a guest about the origin of the food, but in India no Hindu needs to whisper about the origin of prasad. S/he will come out with a clear mind and conscience by saying, ‘this is the prasad of God’. Now it is left to the follower of the Lord to take a decision about receiving it or rejecting it. So what is inferred and interpreted based on the Corinthian context we need not apply here in India. Of course, Christians always hide behind the conscience of their weak brother/sister in the church. As I said earlier, either make them strong or if they continue to remain weak even after several generations of Christianity, let them continue to remain in their weakness and let the Church continue to pamper them. That is not our issue, problem or burden.5

When Hindu converts and some evangelicals take such a wrong and strong view about idol worship among Hindus and instruct converts to keep away from it, I cannot understand about other kinds of ‘idols’ they keep and continue to worship in their life which go against Muktivedic demands, like love for money, name, fame, etc. While keeping so many subtle idols and worshiping them every day, what they say and comment about so-called ‘idol’ worship among us Hindus looks very inconsistent.

 

On Naming

Before closing this discussion I would like to point out one minor issue which highlights the lack of proper understanding about the Muktiveda and the lack of teaching which causes the Christian to unintentionally create lots of problems for Hindu converts. And these Hindu converts too, not thinking on their own but aping the Christians, repeat the same mistakes. This I say not to hurt either the Christians or the converts but only to highlight the problem that we face. I learnt most of these things after making mistakes. But it saddens me to see that the same mistake is repeated again and again, whether it is pointed out with humility or with much accusation.

Instead of sharing my own views or understanding I am going to share what an American Evangelical wrote with much pain and concern for what is done in India in the name of evangelism and conversion. And what an American scholar says will always have more weight than what I would articulate, as no local prophet is accepted or respected in his own place by his own people. This is regarding the changing of names. Though this is not a big issue, I deliberately choose it because if we begin to discuss all the major issues which we confront in our bhakti in the Lord because of past mistakes made unintentionally by missionaries, then several volumes could be written. Here comes the example of name changing:

Biblical Justifications for Renaming

Christians typically assert, “The Bible says, . . .” to justify this practice. Usually one of two reasons is given. As a new person in Christ, you should take a new name like Abraham, Peter, or Paul. The other common reason is anti-Hindu. If your name is a Hindu god-name or sometimes any Hindu name, they assert, you must change it so that you don’t have a god-name, or a “Hindu” name (said with the wrinkled nose and tone of disdain).

What the Bible Says about Renaming

Do people change their names in the Bible? Yes. Do they change to a culturally foreign name that separates them from the society around them? Never. Of thirteen key name changes in the Bible none of them changed away from their cultural name to a foreign, separatist name. In fact, in the cases of Joseph (Gen 41), Gideon (Judg 6), Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah (Daniel 1), Hadassah (Esther), Simon (Peter), and Saul (Paul) their new names connected them to the broader culture around them. They did not separate them from culture.

More telling, Joseph, Gideon, Daniel, Azariah, and likely Esther all took foreign god-names by which they were known in their host cultures. In addition, a number of New Testament believers had names that originated with Greco-Roman religion or mythology: Apollos, Phoebe, Aquila, Narcissus, Hermes, Hermas, Olympas, Jason, and Nympha.

Not one of these believers changed their god-name to a “Christian” name. The Bible did not teach this and the early believers did not practice or require this.

Since Peter and Paul are most commonly used to enforce this teaching, let me briefly address their situations. Both of them contradict common Christian practice and teaching about renaming, when we actually read what the Scripture says.

Simon was Greek for the Old Testament Simeon (indicated in Acts 15:14). So he had a Bible name already. When Jesus changed his name to Stone (Cephas in Hebrew, Petros in Greek), He gave him a name no one else had ever had in Scripture. So Peter’s name change is not from a cultural name to a Bible name. It’s the other way around.

What about Paul then? His original name, Saul was again a Bible name, that of the first king of Israel. Robert Priest, in his discussion of Christian renaming in other contexts, addresses this misapplication of scripture:

When asked to justify the requirement of a name change at conversion, nineteenth-century missionaries pointed to the switch from Saul to Paul in the New Testament. But while missionaries sometimes claimed that this name change marked Saul’s conversion, the narrative of Acts continues to refer to ‘Saul’ for years after his conversion and only switches from Saul to Paul in the middle of Paul’s first missionary journey. (Priest 2012, 179)

The change to Paul, in other words, was a change from his Bible name, his Jewish name, which was a foreign name to the Gentile world in which he now served. Paul, on the other hand was a cultural name that identified him with the Gentile world, rather than separating him from it.

When all of the Scripture evidence is examined, then, we have no evidence for a name change that separated a believer from their culture, not even when the name had a god component. Not a single example!

Is it wrong to take a different name? Maybe not. But if you want to follow the Bible, choose a name that builds a bridge to the culture, not a barrier from it. Every Bible renaming instance indicates engagement with culture, not extraction from it. Make sure that you are actually following the Bible, not Christian tradition. They teach exactly the opposite and only one practice is the Lord’s will.

—Dr. J. Paul Pennington, Christian Barriers to Jesus, Conversations and Questions from the Indian Context, pp. 120-121, from the original manuscript. With the kind permission from the author.

 

In all these discussions we need to understand that God expects us to use all his best gifts in our culture and tradition which are not against Muktivedic principles. At the same time, what is ‘un-Muktivedic’ depends on our interpretation of the Word of God as well our proper understanding about our own culture and traditions. We do have examples that guide us in the Muktiveda itself. Covenant, circumcision, baptism and so many other things which we find in the Muktiveda, which the Jews and later followers of the Lord followed, were not exclusively invented by the Jews or given specially and specifically for the Jews by God. All these were once ‘pagan’ practices which the Jews borrowed, giving new meaning to them. I need not give details for this. If you have time and interest you can search the internet on this subject and find lots of materials about this.

Notes

1. No “Convert”

Some English translators insert “convert” in Romans 16:5 and 1 Timothy 3:6, but the original Greek has no word for convert in either place. If your version has “convert” there, the translators added it. This means that the noun “convert” (a person who has converted to Christianity) does not exist anywhere in the New Testament for the followers of Jesus. In addition, the verb “to convert” in the sense of evangelists converting people to Jesus never occurs in the New Testament.

The word “conversion” only occurs in some versions in Acts 15:3, where Paul and Barnabas described the “conversion of the Gentiles” (NASB, ESV). The original epistrophe only occurs here in the entire New Testament (Moulton, Geden and Moulton 1978, 372). This is rather strange, because it was commonly used in secular Greek with a wide range of meanings related to its root idea from epistrepho (see below) of “turning” or “turning around” (op. cit., Liddell, Scott and Jones 1940). In other words, Paul and Barnabas reported the “turning” of the Gentiles. This is the only time, though, that “conversion” occurs in the New Testament. —Dr. J. Paul Pennington, Christian Barriers to Jesus, Conversations and Questions from the Indian Context, pp. 120-121, from the original manuscript. With the kind permission from the author. P. 122

2. Food Offered to Idols: Freedom and Responsibility. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, in Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural studies in ! Corinthians, Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP Academic

…three patterns of life for Christians living in a non-Christian world. Sometimes they can identify fully with the world (chap. 3:3). At other times they can identify partially (chap. 3:4), and finally there are times when they must stand totally apart (chap. 3:5)….—p. 230

A clear and powerful progression of thought moves through the homily {I Cor. 8:1-13}. Love builds, while knowledge creates pride. It is not what we know that matters, but who knows us! If we love God, God “knows” us.

  1. Knowledge, love and God. Love is more important than knowledge. Love builds, while knowledge creates pride. It is not what we know that matters, but who knows us! If we love God, God “knows” us.
  2. Knowledge, idols and God. We know that idols have no existence. There is only one God who has created all things through one Lord.
  3. Knowledge, your brother/sister and God. The weak person may think that idols are real, and such a person’s conscience is defiled if he or she sees you eating meat offered to idols.
  4. Knowledge, your brother/sister and Christ. This weak person is your sister or brother, and causing him or her to stumble is a failure to love and thereby a sin against Christ.—p. 232

…The term to know is biblical language for the marital relationship and the linking of “to love” and “to know” reaches into the heart language of intimacy….—p. 235

3.6 Food Offered to Idols. Freedom and Responsibility (A Final Word). 1 Cor. 10:23-11:1.

…Paul created a multicultural church, and he urges his readers to care for the interests of “the other” (believer or nonbeliever), setting aside their own interests.

The opening lines of each of these two cameos are related in a special way. Cameo 1 sets out general principles while cameo 7 offers applications of those principles. We can almost hear the conversation between Paul and his readers. It is as if they are engaged in the following dialogue:

Paul     As a general principle (cameo 1 {10:23}) I can say, “All things are lawful to me but they are not all helpful. Nor do all things build up.”

Paul’s readers            Can you give us a general sense as to how to apply these two principles?

Paul     Yes, I can (cameo 7 {10:32-33}). Let us look at the two parts of what I have just said.

  • Regarding being helpful, don’t offend Jews, Greeks or the church of God. You gain nothing by offending people. It makes them angry, and they become entrenched in their opposing views. Giving offense is simply not helpful.
  1. As for building up, when you do not offend you have the opportunity to commend your message of salvation, and in the process build up the community at large. You need to also build up the believing community internally. Work to build up, not tear down. (p. 287) […]

In cameo 7 Paul sets a high standard. He is engaged in evangelism and his theological goal is clear. But his method is also clear. The standard is: Give no offense to Jews, Greeks or to the church. For him there will be no public attacks on the faith of others. Critical analysis, yes, attacks—no! While writing to Christians he does not hide the fact that the gods of the “the Gentiles” do not exist and that their worship brings them into fellowship with demons. As noted, archaeology has identified Greek shrines in Corinth dedicated to the worship of twelve different gods. But there is no attack on any of these idols, their sacred books, their temples or their priests. When lecturing on Mars Hill (Acts 17: 22-31) Paul found common ground between his message and respected Greek authors. In Paul’s ministry, tolerance, open-mindedness and respect flowed together with critical analysis and non-apologetic evangelism. To update Paul’s directive into the twenty-first century we could say, “Give no offense to Jews or to Muslims or to the church of God. Do not seek your own advantage, but theirs—and at the appropriate time, in a respectful and culturally sensitive way, bear witness to the Christian story without apology.” This directive is clear, yet Paul leaves the reader with a further question.

In the second essay Paul boldly instructed the Corinthians to dismiss the incestuous man. In this third essay he directs them to give “no offense to the church of God.” How can these two texts be reconciled? Was he not potentially offending at least a part of the church by urging the dismissal of the (p.288) offender…. It may be possible to combine these two texts by suggesting that what Paul means is, “Strive to avoid offending the conscience of anyone, and at the same time, maintain ethical standards within the body of Christ, even if that effort may require discipline in order to protect the spiritual health of the community and save the offender.”

 

3. In the following points I want to share from different scholarly sources on the way guests are treated in Indian contexts. From Keener I give Muktivedic information. Though a bit excess, this will help us to understand how various scholars endorse this view:

If a guest turns back from a house disappointed he takes away all the merits of the householder and leaves his own sins behind.— ANCIENT INDIAN TRADITION & MYTHOLOGY; translated by a board of scholars, Edited by Prof. J .L. Shastri, Delhi; Motilal Banarsidass Pub. Pvt. Ltd. (1970), 2002, The Siva Purana Four Volumes, SATARUDRASAMHITA, 28:11, 10:48, p. 1494.

…It is also said that a guest who is disappointed in his host takes with him as he goes his host’s merit, and leaves behind his own evil, even as a king who fails to do justice takes upon himself the criminal’s sin. If you have nothing else to give your guest, give him at least ‘water and a welcome’. —Mbh., 12.191.12 etc.— Benjamin Khan, The Concept of Dharma in Valmiki Ramayana, Delhi, Munshi Ram Manoharlal, 1965, p. 202.

…The basic pattern of worship follows the pattern of personal attention devoted to an honored guest or a king…..— Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism, Albany: SUNY Press, 3rd edition, pg. 134.

Puujaa is, however, a clear continuation (Witzel 1980) of the Rgvedic guest worship offered to the gods….— ‘Vedas and Upanisads’, Michael Witzel, in The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Gavin Flood (ed.), UK, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Indian Reprint 2003, p. 90.

The object of performing the puja in this manner is to treat the deity as one would a guest, with honour and respect. In temples, the deities are treated as kings.—India Mystica, p. 4, ibid.

…the argument in favour of temple puja was carried forward by analogy and appropriation: just as important guests were traditionally welcomed in well-to-do homes and offered things that pleased them, so too were the gods welcomed in temple-homes and offered things that pleased them. This, if nothing else, settles the origin of puja.— Michael Willis, The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual: Temples and the establishment of the Gods, Cambridge, 2009, p. 6.

…The working model for puja, as we have seen, was the domestic sacrifice and the reception of guests. These rites, also as we have seen, were moved from the domestic environment to the temple to develop a ritual repertoire for the image-cult. Just as guests received offerings in the home, so the gods received offerings in the temple. This is clearly laid out in the Vaikhaanasasmaartasuutra….—ibid. p. 123.

…The sixteen types of service are:–invocation (Aavaahana); offering the seat (Aasana); water offering (Arghya); washing of the feet (Paadya); water for rinsing the mouth as a mystical rite (Aacamana); oil bath (Abhyanga snaana); (p. 69) offering of cloth (Vastra); scents (Gandha); flowers (Puspa); incense (Dhuupa) lamps (Dipa); food offering (Nivedana); waving of lights (Niiraajana); betel leaves (Tambuula); obeisance (Namaskaara); and mystical discharge and conclusion (Visarjana). —op. Cit. ANCIENT INDIAN TRADITION & MYTHOLOGY; Vidyesvarasamhitaa, 11:25-29, pp. 69-70.

10:11-13. Showing hospitality by taking in travellers was one of the most important virtues in Mediterranean antiquity, especially in Judaism….— Craig S. Keener , BBC NEW TESTMENT, Illinois, IVP, 1993, MATTHEW p. 73.

24:29. … insistence was part of hospitality (e.g., Judg. 19:5-9; 1 Sam 28:23).—ibid. LUKE, p. 257.

 

4. This is from Katha Upanishad:

As a very fire a Brahmana guest enters into houses and (the people) do him this peace-offering; bring water, O Son of the Sun! –I.1.17

Hope and expectation, friendship and joy, sacrifices and good works, sons, cattle and all are taken away from a person of little understanding in whose house a Brahmana remains unfed.—I.1.8

‘Since thou, a venerable guest, hast stayed in my house without food for three nights, I make obeisance to thee, O Brahmana. May it be well with me. Therefore, in return, choose thou three gifts. I. 1. 9.—S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanisads, Centenary Edition, Delhi, Oxford University Press, (1953) Fifth impression 1992, pp. 597-598.

 

5.It is interesting to note what Frederick Smith says in the context of ‘ritual transactions that centrally invoked coded substances’, making a comparison between Christian Eucharist and Hindu Prasad (Frederick M. Smith, Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asia, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2009, 212). His note spells out these details:

At the risk of opening up a new topic relevant in this context, one of comparative nature that cannot be dealt with beyond this note, we must recall that Christianity was in many ways founded on the exchange of essence between the living and the dead, namely, the eucharist. The essences involved, bread and wine, qualify as coded substances and are marked by a kind of ritual transfer that is reserved for this instance alone in Christianity (though analogous but lesser instances are common Christian practices such as pilgrimage). If such a weighty transfer of essence occurred in Indian religion, it might be theorized as approaching legitimate notions of possession, outstripping its role as prasada or the remains of offerings to a deity that are then “consumed” by the deity before being returned to the supplicant for consumption.  In the latter case the substance consumed is not considered to be body of the deity, as the eucharist is considered to be of Christ. (Ibid., p. 239)

The following is the text to understand this points from his foot notes:

Two general differences between transfer of essence and possession may be noted. First, in “transfer of essence,” the substances transferred are elemental and constitutive, such as sexuality, life-force (prana), disease, sacrificial essence (medhas), Brahman-splendor (brahmavarcasa), and the taint of transgression (enas).  Except for prana in certain texts, these substances do not themselves indicate or include within them whole and integrated personalities. Second, transfer of essence is not driven by independent intentionality, but is guided externally. Intent, the psychomental vehicle accommodating the essence to be transferred flows from a conscious bearer to an (often unsuspecting) individual or locus in or on which it eventually subsists. Most often in the vedic theological texts transfer of essence is explained as either an artefact of an original and paradigmatic act of creation—it was obvious, after all, that offspring were somehow defined by the essences (semen and blood) transferred from their progenitors—or, doubtless based on this and other observable patterns in nature, part of a chain of ritual transactions that centrally invoked coded substances87….—Frederick M. Smith, Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asia,Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2009, 212

 

The Authority of Scripture

One student asked me personally, “How can I tell interested Hindus that the Bible as the Word of God holds the final authority?”

In response I asked, “Tell me where the Muktiveda says that the Muktiveda holds the final authority?” At this, that student was shocked and said, “In Revelation it says nothing can be added or removed from the word of God.” I said, “But this does not say anything about the authority of the Muktiveda.”

The Muktiveda never claims to have such authority. Our Lord holds the final authority. The Muktiveda is the best way to know the mind, will, and purpose of God for us. However we cannot limit God within the frame of the Muktiveda alone. God chooses any means and methods to reveal Herself to us. Particularly, there are three ways this happens. Continue reading

Reconversion and Rice Christians

The reality of mass-movement conversions and the challenges it now faces in the form of re-conversion are used by opposite political parties to stall Parliament and corner the ruling party and the Sangh Parivar to challenge for a debate on conversion, pushing for a bill on it. However the church might respond to this challenge, it cannot hide certain hard historical facts on this subject.

The historical reality is that most of the mass-conversions took place not maintaining the spiritual need of the people alone. I am not trying to blame or find fault with ‘rice Christians’, even if they become a convert only for the sake of material gain. But many Christian missions handle this issue the same way today.

Defending any conversion in which both ‘material’ and ‘spiritual’ interests are addressed, Gunnel Cederlof questions any ‘ideological (or theological) position in which the human being is divided into body and soul’. Writing from her field research she says:

…Mass-movement converts have sometimes been accused of being ‘rice Christians’, which meant that they had converted (p. 183) for material and not spiritual reasons. They were, so to speak, not true Christians. This is a normative position, sometimes slightly moralizing. The question ‘Did they come for material or spiritual reasons?’ presupposes an ideological (or theological) position in which the human being is divided into body and soul. The underlying assumption may go even further and indicate that the mission’s responsibility covered the saving of souls, while caring for the body should be a matter for local society or the state; anything else would constitute the buying of souls. On the other hand, if the question is turned into a research question, it disregards the possibility that people may have come for both material and spiritual reasons and that they may not have divided life into two sections, one physical and the other spiritual, at all. However, let us leave he moral aspect of this question aside and concentrate purely on the research question.—Bonds Lost, Subordination, Conflict and Mobilisation in Rural South India c. 1900-1970, New Delhi, Manohar, 1997, pp.183-84 Continue reading

Honoring Parents

I often say that the Muktiveda doesn’t give patterns for us to imitate, but rather principles for us to interpret and apply to our context. Honoring parents is one such principle.

In order to know some of the contexts in which the word ‘honor’ occurs in the Muktiveda, I checked a few instances at random. In almost all the contexts, this word means showing respect, concern, love, compassion, relationship, etc. Interestingly, in the same way it is also used in showing honor to God.

Keeping this in mind, we need to consider not only the context of the Muktiveda but also our particular social/cultural and even religious context when we interpret this principle in honoring our parents. We know well that however we belong to the universal body of the Lord, we cannot uniformly apply this principle.  Continue reading

Our View On Other’s Faith

“Let the dead bury the dead”

Raguram: Will the sins that one incurs be reduced by giving offerings to the temples, donations and doing several social services?

Suki Sivam: According to Hinduism, the accounts of sin and merit are separate. One cannot increase or decrease the other. In Christianity there is a principle that by doing more meritorious act the burden of sin can be reduced. But it is not like this in Hinduism. There is separate punishment for sin and separate fruits for the merits. One won’t talk with the other.—V. V. P. Meet, 28, Suki. Sivam, Religious teacher, Thugluk, (Tamil), 3-6-15, pp. 20-25, p. 25

Continue reading

Syncretic or Heretic

During my talk with one Hindu ‘covert’ to Christianity, he lamented the lack of understanding in contextualization and to the need of ‘converts’ by the Christians.  He thought that I too will agree with him and say something in support of his view. But my support to the Christians came as surprise to him.  I said:

Why the church and Christians should adjust and accommodate to the need of the converts?  They have every right to have their tradition in which they feel comfort and have conviction in their church orthodoxy.  If a Hindu wants to become a ‘Christian’, then she should adopt and adapt to the church life and Christian community’s demands than expecting the church and Christians to show some concession to her out of sympathy.

For me Hinduism gives immense freedom to worship the Lord by remaining as a Hindu.  There is strong support for this in Muktiveda and Hindu tradition.  And if any Hindu wants to give up this freedom as a birth right and opted to sell it for whatever reasons to become a Christian, then she should not expect the church and Christians to change in order to accommodate her among them.  (Though I never told this illustration, it will help to emphasis my point.)  If any Indian wants to become the American citizen, (here I don’t talk about others who stay there temporarily) then she should accept the Law of that country.  She cannot expect the American govt., because of her Indian origin to give some concession in civil and criminal laws.  She has to officially give up her Indian citizenship and become an American.  Of course in India, she might have the status as an NRI, yet in America, at least legally she should become an American, however she might struggle to integrate with their life and values.  Likewise a Hindu can remain a Hindu and become a bhakta of the Lord or should become a ‘convert’ to Christianity.  Of course she will have this new tag as ‘Hindu convert’ (which they take as a credit) or First Generation Christian.  And imitating other caste group among Christians like ‘Nadar Christian’, ‘Dalit Christian’, these converts could have their own caste identity as ‘Brahmin Christian’, ‘Mudaliyar Christian’, ‘Reddy Christian’ etc.  But she cannot expect some kind of an NRI status back in her family and community.  Of course some ‘converts’ manage to handle both the group by remaining ‘Hindu back in their home’ and ‘Christian in their Church’ and there by enjoying the best of the both worlds but not identifying with the struggle of any one.  May be they are the one who strictly follow the Sevanand’s (Paul) principle of ‘becoming all things to all men’.

I also said that from the beginning I understood the gospel as a Hindu.  So there is no need for me to contextualize the gospel.  Once I allowed the gospel to incarnate within my Hindu worldview, then my understanding of bhakti in the Lord became natural and spontaneous one.  Of course I struggled a lot to articulate it openly though I had some understanding about it from the early time.  That is why even from 1982 I began to record my thoughts in my diary under the heading: Where we failed; why we failed and how we failed in communicating the gospel.  But I never shared with anyone because of the fear of being misunderstood.  Though I began to write Tamil Bhajans from 1980, I never used or shared even one of them with any Christians, except sharing my thoughts with few individuals (like Kannan, Sudharsan etc.)  Later it was Rajesh who encouraged me to share my writing with others (that too only after 1992), which resulted, with his help in publishing few articles and (two) books.

After he left, I further reflected on these points, which is the title of this article.  A Hindu has two choices before her: either to remain as a Hindu and worship/follow the Lord.  Or become a Christian.  And she cannot run away from all kinds of struggle in both these steps.  But a hostile home is better than a suspecting but friendly neighbor.  Church and Christian communities are that suspecting friendly neighbor.  Irrespective of all hostility and struggle in her home situation, keeping Hindu identity is her god given birth right.

But every Hindu bhakta of the Lord will be branded as a ‘syncretistic’ by the Church and Christians.  And any Hindu ‘converts’ who fight to contextualize her bhakti in the Lord within the church tradition and orthodoxy will be branded as a ‘heretic’.  Those who want to avoid these two labels should give up their birth right and settled as a ‘compromiser’ within the church.  Many converts do it for their own reasons.  Others—both the Hindu bhaktas of the Lord and ‘contextualizing’ converts, will be branded by these names.

About the danger of ‘contextualization’ within the frame of a church (by any Hindu convert) I would like to give one illustration—but not with any intension to hurt anyone, particularly Seventh Day Adventists.

How the name Seventh Day Adventist (SA) can be contextualized in Tamil?  As they ‘WORSHIP’ the Saturday more than ‘worshiping’ the Lord in Saturday, if a new convert to SA, wants to give a Tamil name to her denomination what she could do.  ‘Yezhaam naal varuhai kararhal’ (saatvaan din aanewala in Hindi) in Tamil won’t communicate anything to anyone outside Christianity.  As Hindus too have this concept of giving importance to ‘days’, like Friday and Tuesday to go to temple, and doing puja to certain deities on certain days etc., then can a SA convert call her denomination as ‘Sani Sabai(mandali)’ (Saturn Church)?  But this will look worst in the eyes of the Hindus (and also to the Christians in general and SA in particular) as the word ‘Sani (Saturn)’ is connected with the planet Saturn, which is considered as inauspicious one.  So the SA convert has to settle with the title of her denomination as ‘Yezhaam naal varuhai kararhal’ or ‘Yezhaam naal sabai’ than dare to contextualize the name of her denomination.

Whereas I as a Hindu bhakta I don’t feel any compulsion to contextualize the gospel or my bhakti.  As I understood the gospel as a Hindu, I can freely use the words and symbols of my own Hindu tradition, which are not distorting my understanding of the gospel.  Of course this is not acceptable to other Hindu converts to Christianity or to the Christians.  But it is not my problem.  Even as I am branded as a syncretistic, ignoring them I continue my pilgrimage in the Lord as a Hindu.  So I would better remain a ‘SYNCRETISTIC’1 (according to the Christians only) than selling my birth right to become a ‘heretic’ within a church try to contextualize the gospel and by bhakti within the frame of Church tradition.

Db.

Gurukulam.

November 5, 2012
The following two points will help us to understand the word Syncretism.  First from Nicholson:

1.. …Although “syncretism” in modern English usage refers to the merging of religions or philosophies that are properly separate, the original Greek term synkretismos used by Plutarch meant something different. It referred to a custom of people on the isle of Crete to overcome local feuds and to form a sacred alliance in order to withstand foreign aggression {Jan Assmann, “Translating Gods.”  In The Translatability of Cultures, edited by Sanford Budick and Wolfgang Iser, 25-36. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. 1996. 34}….— Andrew J. Nicholson. Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History, Ranikhet, Permanent Black, (2010), 2011. p. 190

The next one by N. T. Wright will help us to understand from the seva of Sevanand:

…in 2 Corinthians 10:5, that of ‘taking every thought captive to obey Christ’.  This line of thought has been explored often enough in terms of Paul picking up his opponents’ slogans in order to do something new with them.  What is not so often noted is precisely what it is that he does with them.  He seems to have believed what he (or someone else) wrote in Colossians 1:17—all things were created through Christ and for Christ.  He need not be afraid, then, in taking over, and using, key concepts from opposing systems of thought.

This does not lessen his opposition to the system in question.  It does not mean that he has compromised, that he has taken a step down the slippery slope towards syncretism…. whatever faults Paul may have had, syncretism was not one of them.  But Paul’s theology of creation was sufficiently robust for this not to be a problem.  He took the high ground: all truth was, for him, God’s truth, and when he took on an idea from pagan culture he made sure it was well and truly baptized before it could join the family.  He claimed the high ground of the creational monotheist, not the split-level world of the worried dualist.  Confrontation does not simply mean head-to-head total disagreement.— N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said,: Was Paul of Tarsus the real founder of Christianity, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997, p.81

Krishna and Christ

Dear Sir,

I am quite astonished to see my brothers and sisters are able to accept Yesu Krist in this country. I would be happy if you could send all the possible materials regarding Yesu krist in and of Bagavad Gita; the sacred song of Hindus. I would like to explore more on the active spirit in the religious scripture of the Hindus especially the Bagavad Gita and also kindly enlighten me with its relevance for today’s India which is characterized by extreme poverty and religious pluralism.

Thank you,

Prem Rag

Dear Sri Prem Rag,

Shanti!

Your email was sent to me seeking my response to your enquiries on Yesu Krist and Bhagavad Gita etc.

Before I share further, I would like to say few words about me.  I am D. Bharati and a bhakta of Bhagavan Muktinath (whom Christians and others call as Jesus Christ and Yesu Krist).  But I remain as a Hindu and become a bhakta of the Lord Muktinath (Yesu).  There are two reasons for me to remain as a Hindu and follow the Lord: first is that Hinduism, which has pluralistic view regarding spirituality, bhakti and Mukti also can accommodate a bhakti in Bhagavan Muktinath without compromising with our socio/cultural identity as a Hindu (samajic dharma) and with our faith/bhakti in the Lord (sadhana dharma) as we get immense freedom to choose the best sadhana that suits to our pravarti (nature).

Next is Muktiveda (Bible) itself.  Though Muktiveda, like any other religious scriptures demand ‘exclusive’ devotion to its doctrines (siddhanta) yet it never expects or encourages anyone to give up their birth identity related to social and cultural aspects. (1 Cor. 7:17).  Of course this is not that much easy as said than in practice as several aspects of life is overlapping with socio-cultural and religious views.  As every scripture is a victim of ‘text torture’, anybody could give any kind of interpretation on Muktiveda and say opposite to what I said.  The same is true with our Hindu scriptures also.

Regarding to your request to send materials about Muktinath, though you can easily get a copy of Muktiveda or second part of it ‘Uttara Veda’ known as ‘New Testament’, I am not sure whether you can understand its central teaching without get lost on the names, terms, places and other worldviews in which it was written.  But still you can begin from it.  Or I can arrange to send one ‘Krist Gita’ written in the style of ‘Gita’ in which several themes like ‘bhakti, mukti, karma and jnan etc.’ is expounded based on the teaching of Bhagavan Muktinath.  And if you are interested, pl. send your address to … website.

Regarding the relevance of the teaching of Bhagavad Gita, leaving its sectarian interpretation and exclusive claims of Vaishnavas, most of its message has a universal appeal. (See my paper on Bhagavad Gita in my website: dayanandbharati.com) But as I said above, all the scriptures of the world are the victims of ‘text torture’ in one form or other and Bhagavad Gita is no exception to this rule.

Considering the fact that there are more than 300 orthodox commentaries and more were written in the last (20th) century and continue in this (21st) century on Gita, it is difficult to ascertain any one central theme or the teaching of Gita.  Leaving ancient acharyas like Sri Sankara, Sri Ramanuja and others’ commentaries, even in modern times, Sri B. G. Tilak insisted on the Karma yoga of Gita (writing in the context of the freedom struggle in his famous ‘Gita Rahasya’) and Mahatma Gandhi found encouragement for his ahmisa in it (Gita my Mother).  Now days we often see Gita’s sloka quoted in obituary message in Newspapers and the so called ‘nishkamya karma’ of Gita is often quoted by politicians when they lost elections but claim to serve the people without ‘seeking any fruit’ (2:47) based on the teaching of Gita.  So any one can find any kind of teaching in Gita by twisting the text and imposing their interpretation on it.  This being the reality the extreme poverty and religious pluralism or any kind of problem can easily find a ‘theoretical’ solution not only in Gita@ but in any scripture of the world.

See the recent book by Satya P. Agrwal: The Social Role of the Gita: How and Why, Delhi, Mothilal Banarsidas, 1993.  About the book the Publisher in their newsletter MLBD, November 2012, p.6 says:

Although the Bhagavad-gita has traditionally been regarded as a poem of primarily religious significance, Dr. Agarwal shows that with the proper interpretation its message may be transformed into a set of practical ethical guidelines.   This practical aspect of the Gita’s teaching, its insistence that involvement with the world is an ethically correct function of human behaviou, is the focus of this book.  That term ‘Lokasamgrah’.  The term covers a multitude of social and political forms of behavior and attitudes of mind and is perhaps more central to the meaning the Gita should have for modern man than its traditional other-worldly interpretation. (Italics added).

Here I stop and would like to give my response after hearing from you.  Take care.  God bless you.  Shanti!

Yours sincerely

D. Bharati.  September 27, 2010.

Dear and Respected D. Bharati,

First and foremost, I would like to thank you for the reply. I am happy that you enlightened me with your views and experiences. It is something superb in theory and practice. Actually, it is my search that how can I, as an Indian could make Lord Muktinath understand, infuse, contrast and compare with Lord Krishna of Bhagavad Gita and make it meaningful in my life.  Do Lord Muktinath have a unique place in our Bhagavad Gita? or is he superior to Lord Krishna in terms of his mukti karya (act of liberation) by his death and resurrection? How does Lord Muktinath become universal in the act of mukti (salvation) given the context ofIndiatoday. Your view seems to me that Christian Syncretism is applied to your idea of belief. How do you justify this?

These are my genuine questions. I do not pretend to know anything. Therefore, I would be happy if you could enlighten me in this area of search. Personally I am happy that Lord Muktinath has pervaded Indian culture and society in the esteemed and noble person like you. You must have had a personal experience of Lord Muktinath and I suppose your reply proves the same.

If possible, Kindly send me all the websites that deal with Lord Muktinath and Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita and a comparative view in Muktiveda.

Yours sincerely

Dear Prem Rag

Shanti!

I not academically trained person and even I don’t know proper English.  So you have to keep this in mind in all our future dialogue on this subject.

From the language and some technical terms that I found in your response, my good guess is that you are a Christian.  Anyhow that is not a big issue for me.

I don’t know how to do any search or research in Website.  So you have to do that and find out all the website of your interest.  But I can give the name of few books, particularly on Gita and Muktiveda which I have read so for except one by Gandhiji.  I am giving the bibliography below for you to get these books to read.

Finally, to your question: ‘Your view seems to me that Christian Syncretism is applied to your idea of belief. How do you justify this?’ let me ask, ‘what do you mean by “syncretism” and what is your understanding of this word’?  Because syncretism is more related with ‘faith’ and not with cultural and social issues.  Hinduism itself allows for ‘extreme’ and ‘exclusive’ devotion to one’s own religious ‘faith’ and accommodating cultural and social issues.  Having exclusive or single minded devotion to any particular faith/theology/doctrine and accommodating various cultural and social aspects is not strange to Hinduism.  To say in other words, pluralistic inclusivism is the bench mark of Hinduism.  Though I don’t know much about Christianity, yet according to my limited understanding ‘pluralistic exclusivism’ is the trade mark of Christianity.  While we Hindus call it as ‘Unity in diversity’ (or as many souls so many views) Christians call it ‘Unity not uniformity’.

Regarding to your others question, if I began to respond then I have to write even a book but I am not competent enough for that now.  But many books that I listed in the bibliography could help you to get some answers to these questions.

That’s all for the time being.

Db

October 6, 2010.

1. Stephen Neill, BHAKTI HINDU AND CHRISTIAN, CLS, 1974.

2. Franklin Edgerton, The Bhagavad Gita  Translated and Interpreted

Mothilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd. Delhi, First Published Cambridege, 1944, Reprint:Delhi, 1996.

3. Francis X. Clooney, Hindu God, Christian God: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries between Religions, S.J.,New York,OxfordUniversityPress, 2001. [This book is not exclusively on Gita, but an interesting dialogue book]

4. Eric J. Sharpe, THE UNIVERSAL GITA: Western Images of the Bhagavadgita a bicentenary survey. London, Duckworth, 1985.

5. Cyril Veliath S.J., The Mysticism of Ramanuja, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1993.

6. Yardi, M.R, Bhagavad Gita As A Synthesis, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute,Poona, 1991

7. Ishanand Vempeny, S.J, Krishna And Christ,Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand,1988.

8. B.G, Tilak, Tr. by A.S.Sukthankar, Srimad BhagavadGita-Rahasya, Seventh Edition, Tilak Brothers,Poona, 1986

9. P.M, Thomas, 20th Century Indian Interpretaions of BhagavadGita: Tilak, Gandhi & Aurobindo, ISPCK,Delhi, 1987

10. Shankuntala Rao Sastri, The BhagavadGita, Fourth edition Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 1993 (1959)

11. T.G, Mainkar, A Comparative Study of The Commentaries On The BhagavadGita, 2nd ed., Motilal Banarsidass,Delhi, 1969

12. Gandhi Mahatma, The Message of the Gita, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1977 [1959] [not yet read by me]

13. Jayadayal Goyandka, SrimadbhagavadGita Tattvavivecani, Eighth Edition, Gita press,Gorakhpur, 1992

14. R.C. Zaehner, The Bhagavad Gita, Oxford, 1966.

15. Hans Staffner, S.J., Jesus Christ and the Hindu

 Community, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand, 1988, p.146.

Dear and Respected D.Bharati,

Greetings of Shanti and Prem!  At the outset, I would like to extremely thank you for the speedy reply in terms of bibliography to address my concerns. You are somebody, I guess, a person of convinced, knowledgeable  and religious. It is proved by your reply to my questions. I give you all the respect that is due. Human language at any level matters little when we convey our ideas and share our faith experiences.

With regard to the practice of faith and culture, I am a full-fledged Christian and an Indian respectively. I am proud of both, even one can argue saying thatIndiadoes not have any ‘particular’ culture but a ‘composite’ one. Do not mistake me for some religious fundamentalist group as it is found in most of the religions these days. I would like to let you know that I am quite interested to know from you this question: On the basis of ‘pluralistic inclusivism’ in Hinduism, is Lord Muktinath superior to Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita? This is the core issue. Your answer may be negative. But on the basis of ‘pluralistic exclusivism’ of Christianity, I would uphold Lord Muktinath not as ‘one of degree’ but ‘one of kind’. In this way, though we christians (I do not know how you call us christians in Indian terms like Yesu Christ as Lord Muktinath and Bible as Mukti veda? ) believe that Lord Muktinath is the final fulfillment of God’s final revelation,You also could argue in this way with regard to Lord Krishna. Still, I have not found a systematic conclusion for the unique place you hold as a hindu and that too in Bhagavad Gita.

Another question: When we believe in (the) Lord Muktinath, it is not only an identity one puts on to himself or herself, but also a task (mission) that awaits us, namely, to preach Lord Muktinath to others. How do you view this in your understanding and faith-culture life?.

Thank you very much for enlightening me to go deeper in my search for such identity.

Yours Sincerely,

Prem Rag (D A)

Dear Prem Rag,

This might be the last mail from my end, as generally I never try to ‘convince’ Christians about my views and ideals.  It has its own long story and there is no point of repeating it here.  Anyhow I would like to give answer to your questions:

‘…even one can argue saying that India does not have any “particular” culture but a “composite” one.’—Preme.

My short response to this view is this: not having any ‘particular’ culture but a ‘composite’ one is the ‘One particular’ culture of India.  However diverse is our civilization, yet there is some basic unity that connects the entire country for more than several centuries covering social, cultural and religious life of people’.  Though we were not politically one country in the past (political nationalism), yet civilizationally we are one country for more than 2500 years and still continue to remain a unique civilization, which I hope will continue in future too.

On the basis of ‘pluralistic inclusivism’ in Hinduism, is Lord Muktinath superior to Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita? This is the core issue.—Prem.

In Hinduism, each sampradaya holds it’s particularly deity as the supreme and other deities are always considered its subordinates to do the errands that are entrusted by that deity.  This you can see in all sectarian Puranas.  In all the Puranas in which Siva is glorified as the Supreme deity, other deities, particularly his rival Vishnu is his subordinate to do his errands.  The same is with the Puranas glorifying Vishnu and also Puranas glorifying Sakti.  And claiming salvation only through a particular deity is also not strange in Hinduism (see: MYTHOLOGIES AND PHILOSOPHIES OF SALVATION IN THE THEISTIC TRADITIONS OF INDIA- Klaus K. Klostermaier, Published for the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion/Corporation Canadienne des Sciences Religieuses by Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1984.).

Leaving the Puranas, even other major scriptures of each sampradaya also hold the same view.  For example in Gita Krishna says: Whoever worships whichever god with faith, they are only worshiping me through that deity (7:21).  Even Saiva scriptures claim the same.  In Siva Jana Siddhiyar Arul Nandi says: ‘whichever god you follow Siva (Ardhanaarisvara) will come in the form of the same deity’.  In Tirumandiram, Periyapuram, Tiruvasagam and Nalayira Divyaprabandam we find similar views.  The famous Vaishnavite claim is:

Aakaasaat patitam toyam yathaa gacchati saagaram,

Sarva-deva-namaskaarah Kesavam pratigacchati.

Just as the water which falls from the sky goes to the sea,

So the salutations offered to the various gods reach Kesava alone.1.

So keeping a particular deity as the Supreme and others as subordinate is quite a common feature in Hindu sampradayas.  But this view should be understood not merely as sectarian rivalry but also as a way of accommodating all other deities of Hindu Pantheon with some hierarchy.  But when it comes to Muktiveda, Muktinath is never put in competition with other gods.  Though in the Purva Veda (Old Testament) one can see this kind of claiming supremacy of YHWH with other deities of non-Jews nations, yet it should be understood in the context of their war and survival in the Promised Land and not as competing with other gods within the same religious tradition.  From the beginning Jews believed in One God, though often they compromised this claim and faith because of their sin and weakness, but not with any theological reason.

The same is the case in Uttara Veda (New Testament).  As Muktinath is considered as the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise, both the early Jewish followers of Him and later others non-Jews need not compare Him with other deities within their new found faith. Though all the theological understanding and doctrinal formation of Trinity around various heresies, yet all through the ages, based on the Creeds of various Councils (about which you are well aware, as week after week they are confessed in the church) faith and belief in One God is the mark of Christianity and also of the Muktiveda.

Even though the early bhaktas of the Lord from non-Jewish background had to understand this ‘unique’ claim of Muktinath as the Only God and Savior, that too comparing with the various deities of their former faiths, yet once they become the bhaktas of the Lord, they were clear in their conviction that Muktinath is their Lord and Savior.  Though I never did any in depth study on this subject, yet based on my limited understanding and studies, it was not natural for them to have such conviction considering the worldview of the Romans and Greeks of their time, which was completely different from Muktiveda. God’s love for humanity, the condition of loving each other to receive forgiveness and love of God, morality associated with salvation, no appeasement but sincerely following the teaching of God, etc., made Muktivedic faith entirely different from the other faiths.2

At the same time we should not get confused with all the exclusive claims of Muktinath as the only ‘Way, Truth and Life’ etc. in Muktiveda in any context of comparative theology.  For example, Acts 4:12 is quoted as proof of the unique claim about salvation only through Muktinath.  Now the question that comes to my mind is this, “Is the verse addressed to the Gentiles in particular, or both to the Gentiles and the believers, or only the believers, or–as per the context–is it addressed to those who are opposing the preaching about the Lord?” As I strongly believe in scriptural exegesis, this verse, if interpreted correctly according to the context should never be used for our exclusive claims. About this, A.T. Robinson says, ‘The word for “saved” here (and hence “salvation”) is exactly the same as that rendered three verses earlier in Acts 4:9 by “cured”. The context is not one of comparative religion but of faith-healing.  The issue is “by which power” the cripple is made “completely well” (3.16).  Is it by some innate power or godliness of the apostles (3.12), or is it by “the name of Jesus, awakening faith”’ (3.16)?3  The same is the case with John 10:8, which again, according to Robinson, ‘ has nothing to do with comparative religion’.4   The following explanation offered by Robinson on John 14:6 will further highlight this point:

Much the same must be said of another Johannine text, which is frequently put to exclusivist use: ‘Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father but by me”’ (14.6).  The context here is Thomas’s question about how the disciples can know where Jesus is going, and therefore, how they can know the way.  The answer is that he is going to the Father, and since they know him, they have no need to ask further.  With Philip, ‘Show us the Father’: to have seen Jesus is to have seen the Father (14.1-11).  The point the evangelist is making, to use an earlier distinction, is that Jesus as the Christ is totus Deus: the Father is perfectly reflected in him, he is God ‘all through’.  There is no suggestion in the context that he is claiming to be totum Dei, that outside him there is no truth or life to be found.  The assurance is that in him truth and life are to be found; therefore, there is no cause for anxious fears.5

So we should keep all these important facts when we try to make any comparative theology with Hindu deities and scriptures.  Unlike the Greco-Roman World, the religious context of India(Hinduism) is different one (though one could find several similarities).  We find so many features of God that we found in Muktiveda in many Hindu scriptures like—God as a person, love of God, assurance of salvation, forgiveness of sin etc. At the same time one advantage in Hinduism is the pluralistic inclusivism giving space for ‘exclusive’ faith in one particular deity. This doesn’t mean that we need to revile other deities or condemn their faiths.  Sectarian rivalry and condemnation of faiths among Hindu sects is known to exist.  But this happens not only in the context of theology but also claiming supremacy based on hierarchy of one deity over the other.  Whereas we never found such competition or hierarchy in Muktiveda.  One God, one Faith, one form of Salvation is the uniqueness of Muktiveda.

So there is no point of comparing Muktinath with any other Hindu Gods to give supremacy one over the other.  Each has the unique place in respective faith.  Those who accept the uniqueness of Muktinath based on the revelation of Muktiveda should accept it on that basis and not comparing with other deities of any faith.  And as a Hindu, my understanding of Krishna, Rama and all other deities of Hindu Pantheon is part of our common heritage.  All need not give only ‘religious’ significance to such figures in our common heritage.  Rama is the ‘maryada Purushotama’,Krishnaas a statesman, warrior and leader.  At the same time both Rama andKrishnacould be also an inspiration for bhakti to millions of Hindus.  In the same way Muktinath could be the inspiration of ‘love’ to many Hindus. Mahatma Gandhi found true ‘satyagrahi’ (holder of truth) in Muktinath; Swami Vivekananda called Him as the Prince of Incarnation but they refuse to give a ‘solitary throne’ to the Lord.  As M. M. Thomas wrote, Muktinath remained as the ‘Acknowledge Christ of Indian Renaissance’ (CLS,Madras, 1970, repr. 1991.)but they never accepted His final authority as God and Guru in their personal life.

This freedom in ‘sadhana dharma’ of Hinduism could accommodate all kinds of faith that suit to every individual.  At the same time the demand of Muktiveda is not some appreciation of the Lord based on some idealistic interpretation of few selected texts of the Muktiveda (that too out of context) but complete surrender to the authority of the Lord.  But my view is this: let a Hindu/Muslim/Christian (or anyone) accept or reject the Lordship of Muktinath with this understanding rather than twisting and bending the text to serve her own purpose.  But the pluralistic exclusivism of Christianity demanding obedience to a particular doctrine of a denomination rejects others faiths (both of Christianity and Hinduism etc.) as false whereas the pluralistic inclusivism of Hinduism acknowledging the claim of uniqueness of each sect, faith, god and doctrines accommodates all kinds of faith within its fold for the smooth function of samagic dharma.  Of course ‘co-existence’ is not possible without ‘co-essence’ (Raimundo Panikkar, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism, Revised and enlarged edition, London 1981, p. 33.).  But Hindu civilization giving room for ‘co-essence’ within a sampradaya allowed ‘co-existence’ side by side upholding the pluralistic nature of life of every individual.

While giving an exclusive place to Muktinath as Guru and God in my life, I can also accommodate other aspects of the heritage of India(Hinduism) that could enrich my bhakti to Bhagavan Muktinath.  Rama, Krishna, Siva and even Allah can complement my bhakti in the Lord without compromising my faith theologically, at the same time not being condescending or condemning them.  This does not mean that God the Father of the Lord Muktinath is ‘Allah the kind one; Siva the auspicious one and Buddha the Compassionate one’ as one time they prayed in CSI Church Synod held at Palayamkottai (in Tamilnadu) by Christians.  This is syncretism.  In the name of providing ‘co-existence’ the Christians of this group lost the ‘co-essence’ of not only Muktinath and Muktiveda but also superimposed their own theology on Allah, Siva and Buddha.  For me Veda, Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata and various other Hindu scriptures are part of my common heritage.  While I read them to understand them, I try to accept them in their own terms.  The same way I read Muktiveda and accept it in its own terms.  However I found the teaching of Muktiveda unique in several ways and it best suits to my spiritual needs and hence I have exclusive devotion to it.  At the same time my reading of all other scriptures only helps me to understand Muktiveda more deeply and adds richness to my bhakti in the Lord.  This is synthesis and not syncretism.6 More I read in depth Hindu scriptures my understanding and commitment to Muktiveda grows deeper and my reverence to Bhagavan Muktinath increases.  They not only prepared me to become a bhakta of Muktinath but continue to contribute to enrich my bhakti in Him.

Though I understand your claim that ‘Lord Muktinath is the final fulfillment of God’s final revelation’ (is there any specific reference in this sense in Muktiveda?), yet these are technical terms that most of the evangelical Christians (including you) often use in their anxiety to protect their exclusivism.  However, for me, no one can put any limitation to God’s revelation within any boundary.  All our understanding and interpretation on Muktiveda is also an ongoing revelation of God.  As some evangelical well said that until Indian Christian Theology (or Indian Muktivedic Theology) is written the Christian theology will remain incomplete.  And for this we need God’s continuous revelation even on our understanding and interpretation of Muktiveda.

In general, most of the Hindus worship the gods or a particular deity either because of family tradition or ishtadevata (god of personal choice) and they never try to find any other kind of ‘idealism’ from their deity.  Bhakti and ethics rarely clash with each other and Hindus can even assign different functions to different gods like: Family god (kula daivam), gods of boundaries (ellai daivam); gods to protect (kaval daivam); god of personal choice (ishta daivam); gods of forest/desolate places (vana daivam).  For example Lakshmi should be worshipped for wealth and Saraswati for vidya etc.  At the same time one can ask everything from only one god of their choice or family deity.   Only when our bhakti or deity is condemned and criticised then we try to present all kinds of idealism from our gods and bhakti.

Coming from such a tradition, as my expectation of a Guru ended up in Muktinath, He became my Guru and God.  And in this respect He stands unique for me.  And based on my understanding of both Muktiveda and Hindu scriptures/religious tradition I need not put Muktinath and Hindu Gods in competition claiming supremacy of one over the other, but can be respected and accepted as difference in ‘kind’ and not in ‘degree’.

We should keep the uniqueness of the ‘gospel’.  In the name of comparing it with other faiths, we need not dilute it to accommodate within Hindu frame by reducing Muktinath as the ‘Crown of Hinduism’ (Farquar) of the ‘Fulfillment of Vedic quest’ (The Vedic Quest Fulfilled in Lord Jesus Christ, published privately Rev. D. P. Titus) etc.  The gospel is fulfillment of God’s Covenant Promise.  It has the capacity to ‘incarnate’ in any cultural and social setup and even can be expressed through the native religious terms with proper explanation.  But because we use native religious/theological terms, symbols and cultural forms to understand and communicate the uniqueness of Muktinath, should we also compare Him with other native deities and put in competition to claim His supremacy?  But such questions will come like whether Rama/Krishna is Supreme or Muktinath?  And the answer is: ‘Who holds the final authority in your life’?  But even this answer won’t be that much easy, because in theory sectarian loyalty give supremacy only to a particular deity whereas common people give equal respect to all.  However when it comes to Muktiveda and its claim, when we accept the supremacy of Muktinath, we neither condemn the gods of other faiths as devils nor keep them all at the same level like common people, but understanding His authority in a bhaktas of life, we celebrate the beauty and richness of other gods and scriptures as part of our national heritage.

Let me give an example from Vaishnavism.  Sant Thyagaraja of 19th century is a complete Rama bhakta and he wrote and composed hundreds of Telugu Kirtanas in Carnatic music and they are sung by almost all the Carnatic musicians even today.  Though Thyagaraja wrote and composed so many kirtans on Rama, being a Smarta Brahmin he also wrote and composed a few kirtans on other deities like Ganesha, Siva and Devis.  So a stanch Vaishnavite, though she may not condemn or criticize Thyagara’s Kirtans or bhakti to Rama, yet will never use or quote his other hymns on other deities in her worship and sharing.  This I witnessed several times.  Even in special programs on Thyagaraja (which DD Bharati Television broadcast often), while other speakers will praise and quote from Thyagaraja’s  Kirtan, yet the Vaishnava Acharyas will be careful only to emphasize on his bhakti to Rama but will never mention even the name of Thyagara and to emphasize their bhakti on Rama they will quote only from Vaishnavite scriptures like Srimad Bhagavatam or Divyaprabandam.  Interestingly they won’t even quote from Tulsiramayana as Tulsi also wrote several songs on other deities.  For a stanch Vaishnavite not only Narayana/Vishnu alone is the Supreme God but strict Vaishnvites scriptures and followers alone are true Vaishnavite scriptures and Vishnu bhaktas.  But unlike the past Vaishnavite authors though the modern acharyas and preachers of Vishnu won’t condemn or criticize other deities, particularly Siva, yet they will be careful enough to emphasize on the Supremacy of Vishnu.7

To your question on preaching the Lord to others, it is a known fact in our civilization.  All the sampradayas preached their gods and doctrines and try to bring others to their fold (see the notes 6 below).  Though a few Hindu fundamentalists and liberals were in a denial mode about the ‘missionary’ nature of Hinduism in the past, now they too accept that it existed and still exists.  We Hindus never deny others’ rights to share their views, but only oppose the methods used by church and mission to divide and rule.  Of course the gospel brings sword and division in a home and family, but this should be more in values and not in external forms, dividing homes and families threatening the fundamental fabric of every society.  Each community and society evolved its own form to live together.  They never remain static but always remain dynamic adjusting to the demands of time.  But from time immemorial the basic structure of a home which is the shock absorber of every society is not much affected.  But in the name of ‘conversion’ when Christians try to destabilize and destroy the basic structure of community and society, it should be opposed in every way. There is no sanction for this in Muktiveda.

One can remain a Hindu and be a bhakta of Bhagavan Muktinath.  Both Muktiveda and Hinduism give ample scope for this.  Gospel has the inherit capacity to incarnate in every community and society without disturbing the basic structure which it evolved.  Of course it will challenge certain values which are opposed to Muktiveda, but it will try to regenerate from within rather than reforming from outside.  In the same way Hinduism gives ample scope for one to choose her own sadhana dharma that best suits to her, at the same time expecting her to abide by the samajic dharma.  Both sadhana and samajic dharma are flexible and not rigid rules of law.  While they accommodate new demands, they never allow any change that will disturb the basic structure of family and society.   Of course we now face new challenges that are coming from outside that threaten this uniqueness of our Indian civilization.  But such threats are not new and we always faced them in the past and emerged successfully after paying an initial cost for all the concessions and accommodations.  And I hope and pray that this inherent feature of our civilization will carry forward successfully into the future too, always remaining as ‘Jagad guru’ for other nations to learn the art of Live and Let Live.

Db. Gurukulam.  October 17th 2010.

1. See Kambaramayana Arayna Kanda, song 52 & 54 and the Comments by Sri V.M. Gopalakrishnamacharyar, Chennai, Umap Padippagam, 2006, vol.3. (Arayna Kandam,) pp. 42-43

2.…The Christian teaching that God loves those who love him was alien to pagan beliefs.  MacMullen has noted that from the pagan perspective “what mattered was … the service that the deity could provide, since a god (as Aristotle had long taught) could feel no love in response to that offered” (MacMullen, Ramsay.  Paganism in the Roman Empire. New Haven: Yale UniversityPress.1981:53).  Equally alien to paganism was the notion that because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please God unless they love one another.  Indeed, as God demonstrates his love through sacrifice, humans must demonstrate their love through sacrifice on behalf of one another.  Moreover, such responsibilities were to be extended beyond the bonds of family and tribe, indeed to “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor.1:2).  These were revolutionary ideas.— Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Harper San Francisco An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1977, p.86 […]

And as we have seen [in page 84], that is precisely what most concerned Julian as he worked to reverse the rise of Christianity and restore paganism.  But for all that he urged pagan priests to match these Christian practices, there was little or no response because there were no doctrinal bases or traditional practices for them to build upon.  It was not that Romans knew nothing of charity, but that it was not based on service to the gods.  Pagan gods did not punish ethical violations because they imposed no ethical demands—humans offended the gods only through neglect or by violation of ritual standards (MacMullen, Ramsay.  Paganism in theRoman Empire.New Haven: Yale UniversityPress.1981:58).  Since pagan gods required only propitiation and beyond that left human affairs in human hands, a pagan priest could not preach that those lacking in the spirit of charity risked their salvation.  Indeed, the pagan gods offered no salvation.  They might be bribed to perform various services, but the gods did not provide an escape from mortality….—ibid. p.88

… E.R. Dodds pointed out that in “popular Greek tradition a god differed from a man chiefly in being exempt from death and in the supernatural power which this exemption conferred on him” (1970. Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety. New York: Norton.  [1965] 1970:74).  Moreover, while people often appealed to various gods for help, it was not assumed that the gods truly cared about humans—Aristotle taught that gods could feel no love for mere humans.  Classical mythology abounds in stories in which the gods do wicked things to humans—often for the (p.200) sport of it.  Arthur Darby Nock noted that worship of such gods need not have inspired sincere belief (Early Gentile Christianity and Its Hellenistic Background, New York: Harper and Row. 1964:4)….—ibid. pp.200-01

E.R. Dodds has put this as well as anyone:

A Christian congregation was from the first a community in a much fuller sense than any corresponding group of Isiac or Mithraist devotees.  Its members were bound together not only by common rites but by a common way of life…. Love of one’s neighbour is not an exclusively Christian virtue, but in [this] period Christians appear to have practiced it much more effectively than any other group.  The Church provided the essentials of social security…. But even more important, I suspect, than these material benefits was the sense of belonging which the Christian community could give. ( Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety. New York: Norton. [1965] 1970:136-137)—ibid. p. 207

The simple phrase “For God so loved the world…” would have puzzled an educated pagan.  And the notion that the gods care how we treat one another would have been dismissed as patently absurd.

From the pagan viewpoint, there was nothing new in the Jewish or Christian teachings that God makes behavioral demands upon humans—the gods have always demanded sacrifice and worship.  Nor was there anything new in the idea that God will respond to human desires—that the gods can be induced to exchange services for sacrifices.  But …the idea that God loves those who love him was entirely new.—ibid. p.211

3. John A.T. Robinson, TRUTH IS TWO EYED , SCM Press Ltd., p. 105

4. (ibid. p.106).

5. ibid. p. 107

6. ‘…Although “syncretism” in modern English usage refers to the merging of religions or philosophies that are properly separate, the original Greek term synkretismos used by Plutarch meant something different. It referred to a custom of people on the isle of Crete to overcome local feuds and to form a sacred alliance in order to withstand foreign aggression {Jan Assmann, “Translating Gods.”  In The Translatability of Cultures, edited by Sanford Budick and Wolfgang Iser, 25-36. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. 1996. 34}….’— Andrew J. Nicholson. Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History, Ranikhet, Permanent Black, (2010), 2011. p. 190

7. Ten Vaishnavite Oaths.

In this morning (April 8, 2007) in the National Tamil T.V. channel, one famous religious speaker (Sri Velukkudi Krishnan, from Vaishnavaite sampradaya) read out ten oaths to his audience to repeat after him. A few are along sectarian lines as expected-Ramanuja is the only acharya to be followed, and Narayana as the only god to be worshipped. But what is interesting to me is two oaths. In the first he said, ‘neither by birth, or wealth or education we won’t consider ourselves as great’. But he never said ‘by birth, or wealth or education we won’t consider ourselves as great but will treat all are equal’. The eleventh one is, ‘I will share these oaths with at least ten persons.’

I wish I could have recorded them and shared all those ten oaths. I don’t want add any of my comments but anyone can read their own as per her/his perception.

Dayanand Bharati.

Posted By Swami Dayanand Bharati to SAMVAD &nbsp ::   Dialogue of Life at 6/29/2008 09:46:00 PM

Dear and Respected D.Bharati,

Greetings of Shanti and Prem!

I am in receipt of your last mail. As you are aware, there is no end to the ongoing search for truth in one’s religion especially given the context in India. I am greatly indebted to your views and convictions and religious faith experiences that put me in a different platform to look at the same reality in a different lens. Lord Muktinath has saturated himself in the Indian composite culture in such a way that many translations of the Bible is availed to us. At the same time we do not deny the Christian authors who took pain and spent their lives in reading, translating and assimilating the Indian literatures and their contribution to various Hindu sacred texts. It all began because of the universal and incarnating characteristics of Lord Muktinath and his values in the society.

If you do not mind, could you let me know what category of the Hindu (sect) you belong to? I am aware of the Bhakti Vedanta and the neo Hindu reformists and revivalists, Indian secularists etc.

As I have gained from your indepth knowledge, only thing I would like to emphasize is by quoting from New Testament where St. Paul writing to Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” This is the crux of the matter of Christianity which is also found in  1 Corinthians 13:13. Ultimately it is love in action (Prem Marg) is the yardstick with which we all would be judged here and after. 

Thank you very much for all the support and for your service (love) in action.

Yours Sincerely,

Prem Rag (DA)

 

Thank you for sharing this, Swami ji. I especially liked the bits where you explained about the lack of necessity for comparing Muktinath with other deities, and reading each scripture for itself and not trying to muddle things up.

It seems as if people like to play advocates for God even in areas where God Himself doesn’t seem to mind. Indeed, God is bigger than all scriptures and theologies and explanations put together. But we keep trying to put God in a box so we can comprehend Him.

While i do believe that Muktiveda is the revealed Scripture of the God i worship, i should also remember that He is bigger even than that.

I have been following some of the Lausanne 3 articles (http://coversation.lausanne.org), particularly those on contextualization, world faiths, etc. In the midst of all the debates and questions that seem to be arising on truth, and objective truth, and proclaiming of that, all i could think of was how large truth and how small we are. Like someone i knew said, we need to learn to hold with humility that truth that’s been revealed to us.

Bungi, Oct. 21. 2010

 

 

Teaching versus Preaching

Christianity (along with Islam and Jews) is (rightly) criticized by many as the religion of ‘book’ than ‘intuition’.  However, like we Hindus, most of them, particularly among the Christians don’t have personal and deep knowledge about their scripture.  Well, I don’t have any experience with Muslims and Jews, so I have to limit my comments only with Christians based on my personal experience with many of them.

When Arun, a Christian young man came to see me yesterday (November 21st, 2009) along with Vishal and Ebi, after some common talk, when our topic turned about doing seva, he asked, ‘what do you think when Jesus asked us to turn another cheek when we were hit on one side, give the inner garment when outer coat was asked’?  In response I said:

Every scripture have their idealism.  So here too what the bible says is one such idealism.  In fact most of the commands in Sermon on the Mount are given to keep them as our ideal.  However, there is practical side of it.  Because, often we reject such Great commands (like the maha-vakyas in Hinduism) by saying that they are idealism and all cannot live up to it.  But if we see the life of the Lord, several times we get clear answer even for that idealism.  When it comes to our personal loss and sacrifice, then we have to implement them as they assure our progress in our spiritual life. Whereas when it affects others, particularly to whom we are committed with responsibility, then we cannot strictly implement those Commands.

For example, if Pakistan demands Kashmir, then we cannot say ‘why Kashmir alone, take even Punjab.’  If some one seeks our help in their need, we cannot give them more at the cost of the need of our own family people.  But we can learn to keep a balance from the life of the Lord Himself.  Though the context of these incidents is completely difference yet they show us some guidance in such crucial issues.  When the Lord was falsely accused and charged and punished, he refused to fight back and went to that extra mile. But when He was forced to give justice to the woman caught in adultery, he turned the table against his opponents.  In this story their aim is not to punish that woman but trap the Lord.  In the same way, Jesus chased the money changers and animal sellers from the outer courtyard of the temple by whipping them away.  Though they in fact are helping people coming from far off place to the give temple tax and buy animal for sacrifice, yet as they occupied the place which was assigned for the non-Jews, Jesus has to chase them from that place.  But when he was whipped, he never resisted.

So in all such demands to ‘turn the other cheek’ we should go to the extra mile if it incurs only our personal loss and sacrifice.  Whereas if it will affect others interest then we should keep a balance.  But even here the answer is not that much simple and in such a short article we cannot discuss more.

Finally, not to criticize but to point out the fact I have to share one more thing.  We Hindus have many scriptures and we can be excused for not knowing so many details about them.  But Christians have only one Scripture, but it really surprises me to know that most of them even do not know certain basic teaching in proper context of the texts.  For example, when I asked Arun and Ebi, why Jesus chased the money changers while they were actually helping the pilgrims coming from far off places, they said that they don’t know.

One reason for this could be that in the churches they preach some sermons but never think about giving proper ‘teaching’ about their scriptures.  Then lay people also, listen to them as part of their religious ritual not showing personal interest to learn about their scripture.

 

I think this is a common problem in every religion.  Of course exceptions are always there in every issue.  But in most cases people are often hear lot of preaching and less teaching about their scriptures.  But we common people to understand and implement the demands of our respective scripture should try to learn them with properly considering all the context and backgrounds.

 

Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam, November 22, 2009.

 

Where to draw the line

Men are conservatives.  And they don’t want to be disturbed in their settled way of life.  So  any kind of new ideology, view, principle, practice etc. is introduced in their (collective) life, they not only feel disturbed but also feel threatened.  So, all these new things and people who want to introduce have to struggle a lot.

 

This is true even in our bhakti.  When I say that one can remain a Hindu and still be a bhakta of Bhagavan Muktinath, I know it is not that much easy.  And we have to struggle a lot on both front—Hindus and Christians.  But several times I felt that struggling in our home situation looks more easy than with the Christians.  Well, as I am not concerned about all the comments, misunderstanding and questions raised by the Christians for my view, yet there are few genuinely concerned individuals among them who are our well-wishers.  They say, ‘thou we completely agree with you on most of your points, yet we are not sure WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE for a Hindu to live as a bhakta of the Lord in her birth family and community.  As we are outsiders (I mean outside Hindu community not necessarily non-Indians), we don’t understand several things in Hinduism.  So we are not sure to know ‘where to draw the line and how far one could go?’  Few Hindu bhaktas, not knowing the background of several practices and principles of Hinduism and also not knowing Muktiveda in its textual, historical and theological contexts, raise the same question for them to take a stand for the Lord and bhakti.  In giving some kind of response to these two important questions I presented the following paper (actually I shared without having any written material on my hand but after the conference I wrote this paper) for one Conference.  And here I would like to share.

But before reading this one has to understand the ‘exclusivism’ is not necessarily a ‘dogmatic’ view when it comes to bhakti/faith only in Christianity or Islam (or any other non-Hindu faiths).  Even within Hinduism, in most of the sampradayas (sects), exclusive bhakti/faith in their deity and scripture is part of Hindu pluralism.  This is the context we have to understand the question about taking a ‘stand for the Lord’ by Hindu bhaktas of the Lord.  Though they use (without knowing) some Christian technical terms, yet what they mean is how to uphold ‘exclusivism’ when it comes to the question of having bhakti only in the Lord Muktinath.   Though this is viewed by liberal Hindus as strange, yet this is not some kind of evangelical fanaticism but have scope within our Hindu religious tradition.

db. December 9, 2011.

Where to draw the Line.

One of the crucial questions that asked in contextualization is: Where to draw the line?  This question is not only asked by those who are doing the ministry but also by the new believers.  But, as usual no easy, clear and general answer could be given to such question.  But my answer to this question is another question: WHO TO DRAW THE LINE?

It is interesting to note that the question ‘where to draw the line’ is always asked by those who are involved in the ministry as if they have the spiritual and moral authority to draw the line for other new believers.  Though this is not said explicitly but this one can easily infer in such question.

Before seeing these groups to understand where to draw and who draw we need to keep one thing in mind that some time we do not allow the right person to draw the line for us, but allow a wrong person to draw it.  Then she will draw not understanding the struggle and need of the other but according to her expectation and interpretation of the other’s life.  For example if we allow the Missiologiest, Theologian, Missionary or the Church leaders to draw the line for a new ‘convert’ or ‘bhakta’ then what will happen.  I need not explain it as we know what happened so far.  The same is the truth with a new convert or bhakta.  She too cannot draw the line for her Church members or leaders.  This is what several new converts do in the name of First Generation Christians expecting sympathy or concession from their Churches not understanding both their limitation and struggles.  The moment they call themselves ‘First Generation Christian’ they began to draw the line.  So there is no one general answer to the question: ‘Where to draw and who to draw’ the line and it depends upon who is asking the question to whom?  And to answer this question we need to keep four kinds of groups:

The first group is A.  These are the ‘converts’ who THINK that they have left Hinduism and Hindu community and joined Christianity and become Christians.  Though there are genuine exceptions, yet most of such converts, at least in the early days of their new found faith remain three hours in a week as Christian when then go to their respective church to worship the Lord and rest of the six days and 21 hours remain as Hindus in many ways. (In this respect the traditional Christians too in no way better or different from any ‘convert’.)

And for them the line is drawn by the Church and their Christian leaders in the church.  They are like a new daughter-in-law whose marriage is arranged.  And ‘contextualization’ is her husband.  And the Church is the mother-in-law.  Though as a new daughter-in-law she would like to bring some new insights to make at least her life meaningful and rich, is not allowed and accepted that much easily. And several times she won’t even get an opportunity to express such desire.  And a typical mother-in-law who will say, ‘this is not the way we cook, eat, live etc’ always expects the daughter-in-law to learn the way they cook, eat and live in her new home.  However she claims that the new things that she will bring will only add richens to their life in the home, she has to struggle a lot to get her legitimate right to bring her views to their life in her new home.  Though she can persuade her husband in private, but he too cannot do much as his dominating mother alone can decide most of the thing in the home.  Though he can personally plead to accommodate minimum expectation of his wife, yet he cannot force or fight for his wife’s legitimate rights because both as a son and husband he has no personal right and place to run the home. (Contextualization as a son can persuade the conscious of the church to accommodate the need of the new converts and also as a husband plead with his wife to keep patience till her time comes, but both ways he cannot do more than that.  Finally when the daughter-in-law becomes the in-charge of the home, she will be immune with the custom and tradition of the home and happily settle with it.)

But a new ‘convert’ who thinks that she become a ‘Christian and joined Christian community’ too should not except the church to change or accommodate her needs.  As it is her conscious choice, she alone has to change and learn to live adjusting with the church.  For example if a person chose to become a citizen of USA by forsaking her Indian citizenship, she has to live as per the law of UAS and never can refer back rights to live as an Indian.   So for this group A, it is the church which draws the line.  That is why, in few churches though the Pastor and leaders are willing to allow a new ‘convert’ to keep her cultural identity like ‘pottu’ (bindi) etc., in order not to offend rest of the congregation won’t permit them to do so.  The common excuse often given is ‘not to offend the weak one in the church’.  But the question here is ‘who is supposed to be weak and who is supposed to be strong’.  A new convert is expected to be strong to accommodate the weak traditional Christians in the church, who are hearing the Word of God from the womb of their mother.  And to keep them in their weakness the church is expecting the new converts to pay the cost!

[If a Hindu feels comfort to become a ‘Christian’ and join a church, s/he is free to do so.  But already there are plenty of problems in the church and why you add more by joining a church through your ‘conversion’ to Christian community.  We know well that Christian have no answers to our questions and need.  And they cannot help and give answers to our need and question, because of their various limitation.  So why should we add more problem to them?  A hostile home is better than a friendly but suspecting neighbor.  Every church is only a friendly but suspecting neighbor to all the converts.  Better stay back in your home and fight for your birth right to worship any God of your choice than selling it for some temporary comfort and refuge which a church could give for some time. Added on October 20, 2010.]

Group B is those whom we call as ‘Churchless Christians’ or ‘secret Christians’ etc.  But ‘converts’ in this group are those who are very biblical in their life.  Yes they strictly and easily follow the principle: Becoming all things to all men.  They will become ‘Christian’ to the Christians and remain ‘Hindu’ to the Hindus.  They want to enjoy the best of the both worlds but don’t want to identify with any one group permanently and struggle with them for their principles and ideology.  We cannot blame them alone for this, because they learnt this also from their church.  As the church/mission wants to use such ‘converts’ as trophies to parade the success of their ministry whenever they need and later dump them, such ‘converts’ also began to imitate them.  Higher in the hierarchy they will receive the treatment accordingly.  For example a Brahmin or a Muslim convert will be often paraded to demonstrate their success than a dalit or tribe converts.  And these so called high caste converts also love to go week after week and church after church to give their ‘testimony’ and witness for the Lord forgetting the fact that they need to witness more to their own family community first and in fact that is called real witnessing.  This they often do to please other Christians or to earn some sympathy from them.

As a digression I have to say one bitter truth.  More budgets will be easily allowed to convert the so called high caste people than the tribes and so called low caste people groups.  And if they are ‘Brahmins’ then ‘money’ won’t be a problem and it will flow like water to the ministry.  In the recently held RF meeting at Chennai on Feb. 27th I saw this.  The song book which CBSS printed with costly cover and appealing pictures at the back cover will easily prove this point. I wish I could ‘bought’ one to show the cost of the cover alone, though all the songs (totally 18 and around ten pages) are taken from old Tamil Lyrics and not even one new bhajan is added to it.

Coming back to our point of drawing the line, in this group both the church/mission and the converts will draw the line according to their ‘mood’ and ‘need’.  In South India a niece can marry her maternal uncle. Then her own grand mother will be her mother-in-aw.  So when she wants to get some favor from her mother-in-law she will approach her as her grand mother and when she become upset when her expectations are not met then her grand mother will become her mother-in-law to fight.  The same is the case with the role of the mother-in-law.  When they want to use the converts then she will be treated as the grand daughter but when she is not accepting their terms and conditions then she will become daughter-in-law.  And poor husband (contextualization) will be caught between the rock and hard place.  So the line will be draw according to the mood and need of both group.  And most of the time they will try to survive for their convenience and not with a clear conviction.  And they will show head to the snake and tail to the fish and learn to escape from both, like the snake fish.  [Whether true or imaginary, this is a Tamil proverb].

And in this group they insist to identify themselves mostly with their caste like ‘Brahmin Christian’ ‘Reddy Christian’ ‘Mudaliyar Christian’ etc.  It is interesting to note that A Hindu will never say that I am a Reddy Hindu, Mudaliyar Hindu or a Brahmin Hindu.  Of course the Hindu Nadars were forced to call themselves as ‘Hindu Nadars’ because of Christian Nadars.  When many Nadars become Christian they called themselves ‘Nadar Christians’ (to separate themselves from the Dalit Christians).  And in order to ‘defend’ their position, right and identity, then Hindu Nadars were forced to call themselves as ‘Hindu Nadars’.  When the Law came sin awakened.   In the same way by converting themselves as Christians, Nadars created problem both for the Church and their Hindu relatives, as a Tamil proverb says: Irundum keduttan, settum keduttan’ (created problem when he was live and also in death).

The third group is the Hindu bhaktas of the Lord.  Here analogy is a love marriage and that too the girl from a different (and a low caste).  The Hindu bhakta’s new found faith in the Lord is that girl and she will never be accepted easily as part of her husband’s home.  Some time the family members will tolerate their marriage because of their son, but to find her legitimate place as part of the home won’t be that much easy and in some cases it will never happen.  Though the Hindu bhakta too has to struggle like all other new believers (converts), yet he can struggle with his birth right as that is his home.  Though the struggle in both group A and C look one and the same, yet in C a bhakta can struggle with clear understanding whereas in group A the new ‘convert’ has to struggle without any understanding.  She will neither understand her church not even her faith.  But the struggles of a Hindu bhakta of the Lord with clear understanding about faith, his birth community and church is better than that of the ‘converts’ without any understanding of anyone.  And a hostile home is better than a friendly but suspecting neighbor.  For every Hindu bhakta of the Lord the church always remains a suspecting but friendly neighbor. Here we never allow any outsiders to draw the line for us.  Though we need not draw any line for us, yet some times we are forced to draw the line and telling Christians not to cross to come and disturb us. And if they dare to cross, then they will hurt themselves. Leave us alone is our request to them.  And I always promise that we (I) will never come and disturb your church and will never allow you to come and disturb us.

The fourth group belongs to all the evangelicals from traditional Christians who are interested in contextualization.  And their struggle is completely different.  In their attempt to do contextualization ministry, they will try to understand the struggle of all the three groups and try to unite them for the common cause of ministry by minimizing their differences.  But in this process they won’t understand their own struggle not knowing where to draw the line (both for themselves and others).  Most of the time, because of their position in their church and mission they cannot come out openly to support contextualization (and draw any line). They are like Nicodamus who came secretly in the night to see Jesus.  Many times they too cannot openly support the contextualization and particularly those who are in group C.  I can illustrate this from my personal experience.

When I wrote my first book: Living Water and Indian Bowl, I approached one top evangelical leader in Chennai and requested him to write a forward to that book.  With much sympathy he listened and then said, ‘though I agree with you on most of your approaches in your life and ministry, yet because of my position in the church and mission I cannot come out openly to support you’.  Then I approached late Dr. Devadasan who was the Field Director in FMBP.  As he was my mentor and the only Christian whom I accepted as my Guruji, I told how that the first evangelical leader refused to write the forward.  After listening me he too said, ‘I too in the same position like him.  If I write a forward to such book it will raise problem to FMPB within the church.’  Then I approached one leader in Church Growth Research Centre and received the same answer.  Finally I requested late Dr. B.V. Subamma and she wrote back, ‘Sorry.  Not acceptable’.  Finally Dr. Rokaya of Khatmandu wrote the Forward.  But I need to acknowledge that Dr. Hoeffer wrote the Forward to the American edition of Living Water and Indian Bowl, irrespective of his position in his church and mission for which I remain thankful to him.

In one Rethinking Conference held at Bangalore (1995?) one Navigator Missionary from outside India told how in his ministry in India they don’t give ‘baptism’ and never celebrate ‘communion’ to their Hindu believers.  He also defend his teaching by saying that both ‘baptism and communion’ were mere symbols and was relevant to the first century followers and now we need not strictly implement them.  So simply having faith in the Lord and living as his follower is more than enough in their home and community not becoming Christians?  Then in the question and answer time then I asked, ‘if baptism and communion are mere symbol, then the death of Christ on the Cross also could be a symbol and we need not take it literarily.  And this is what many elitist Hindus and liberal Christians also promoting.  In that case the forgiveness of sin and our salvation also could become symbol’.  Before he could answer to my question power went off and the time for dinner also came.  So he cannot answer my questions and God saved both of us from each other.  And next day when I raised these questions to Rajesh Hemchand he said, ‘last night I spoke about it to him and confronted him whether he will say the same thing back in his church and mission in home?  And he said that he cannot say there’.  So what they secretly or indirectly do, they cannot do openly.  Similarly another Missionary who agrees with me that ‘faith’ is not a criteria for marriage and the so called ‘believer should marry a believer’ is not in the bible cannot openly support it because of his position in his church and Mission.

I can give several examples to show how such evangelicals cannot openly support contextualization because of their position in their church and mission.  So they cannot sure where to draw and also to whom to draw the line.  Though they secretly support people like us, yet when we were crucified and put to death by the church and mission, they will come openly to burry us and their successors in future will come to resurrect us to glorify as the pioneers in contextualization.  This is what happened with Brahmabandab Upadhyay and R.C. Das.

Upadhyaya was thrown away from his Catholic church and he ended up even becoming a Hindu by doing prayaschitta and after his death his Hindu friends cremated his body (though some Christians tried but failed to get his body to ‘bury’.).  While he was struggling to contextualize the gospel and his Catholic faith (calling himself as Hindu Christian) his church crucified him.  But several decades later Fr. Gisbert Souch S.J. (of Vidya Jothi of Delhi) and Prof. Julius Lippner brought out all Upadhyaya’s writings and resurrected to glorify him as the FATHER of Indian Christian Theology.  While he lived he became an orphan and treated as a ‘Pariah’ in his church but after his death, now he is resurrected and become the FATEHR of Indian Christian Theology?!?

The same is the case with R.C. Das. When I was in Bible institute and few months in UBS I never heard the name of R.C. Das.  Most of the Indian Missionaries and also theological seminary students never knew about him.  He tried to contextualize the gospel living at Varanasi. But he too was deserted by his Mission and finally Catholics at Varanasi took care of him.  He died without any money and the Catholics were kind enough to burry him and they alone even preserved most of his writings and magazines.  Then H. L. Richard came and done all the research and published the book ‘R.C. Das the Pioneer of Contextualization.

And if the question is asked ‘how far we have to go’ for this group, my answer is: ‘you need to go to the extent of loosing your faith.  Then alone you will understand the problem of the converts’.  Because when the gospel is shared the minimum thing required is that a Hindu should not only confess his faith in Muktinath but also to give up his faith in his other gods.  However they are ready to go any extent to reach him, yet they expect him to come where they are. And to come to their place he needs to give up so many things.  And in order to understand all his struggles, those in group D should go to the extent of loosing their faith (as they expect a Hindu convert to do) to understand all his struggles. [Or to understand this the counter question should be ‘how far they (converts/bhaktas) should come out’ from their community, culture, tradition etc. to follow the Lord?]

So to the question: ‘Where to draw the line and how far one should go’ we need to ask the counter question “Who will draw the line’ both for themselves and others.  All these days in the name of protecting the purity of doctrine it is the church and mission draw the line to every convert.  Here the purity of the doctrine is not exclusively (minimum) biblical doctrines but their own respective denominational doctrines, their own traditions, views, administration etc.

And when we insist that no outsider can draw the line for any Insider movement.  This I strictly implement even to my shishyas in North India.  I told them clearly several time that as a South Indian I cannot understand all their social and traditional customs and will encourage them to take decision for every crucial issue. But anything related to immoral activities which are common to all, and then I will take a firm stand and tell them to be biblical.  But when we allow the Insiders to draw their own line, we are often accused that we are ‘compromising’ with the gospel and encourage Syncretism.

But what they mean by compromise and syncretism?  We too believe that Muktinath is the only Lord and Savior; Mukti is possible only through Him and Muktiveda is the Word of God.  Now tell me where we are compromising and promoting syncretism?  If we don’t accept their particular interpretation of the Muktiveda and their denominational doctrine, then if we are accused as ‘compromisers’ then I am willing to happily remain a compromiser and promoter of syncretism.

I am also several times accused by the Christians that I am a heretic and producing new cult.  First of all they should understand what is mean by cult and heresy.  When a group, not agreeing with the doctrine and tradition of a sampradaya (sect) and breaks away from them and create their own sect almost based on the same doctrines and tradition giving new interpretation and explanation, then they are called heretic and their new sect as a cult within the sampradaya.  But we are not part of any Denominational Christianity; we are not even part of their particular denomination church and Christian Community. Though we are part of the UNIVERSAL CHURCH, we are not members of any Christian group as we are the members of Hindu community.  If at all any one has any right to call as heretics and promoters of new cult, only Hindus have that. But they have no problem with our freedom to worship any God of our own choice (Ishta devata) remaining part of their community and society.  So for them we are not promoting any cult group with their sampradaya but we remain part of their community and society making our own choice of sadhana and faith.

Tell me, if Christians can have: Baptist; Free Will Baptist, Anna Baptist and Full Baptist within one denomination, then who is a heretic to whom and promoter of new cult?  Those who claim Saivm and Vaishnavism as the off shoot of Thomas Christianity alone can be called the promoters of new cult and heretic within Christianity.  As we are not part of any Ecclesiastically Organized and Institutionally Christianized Churchianity and sociologically separated Christian communities they have no right to call me as a heretic and promoter of new cult within their denominations.

Finally, some evangelicals are worried that in the long run Hindu Muktinath Bhaktas also will end up another organized religious institution and also to prevent false teaching some kind of monitoring is needed.  I appreciate their concern. But where there is money, power and authority, in order to control them, organization is inevitable.  But I strongly promote ‘de-centralizing’ and never believe in remote controlling.  Each bhaktas movement within a particular cultural and social group needs to grow independently.  They are answerable to the Lord and to the Word of God and we should trust Holy Spirit and them to grow more than controlled remotely by me or anyone.  Appointing any person by us even one among them will never help them.  They should recognize their own natural leader who can lead them and they should accept his leadership than imposed from outside.  Of course our Lord selected twelve disciples and the early church seven catechists and Paul two of his disciples as church leaders.  But we need not imitate their pattern but follow the principle, which is: some one to lead.  For example imitating the Lord the Apostles never appointed 12 catechist or Paul seven church leaders. Whatever might be the reason for them to select and appoint the leaders; we need not imitate the same patters.  Apostles never appointed their own choice but asked the Greek speaking Jews to select seven among them and only recognized them as their servants to take care of their food and rations.

Once we decentralize and refuse to do any remote control, we need not worry about any split.  In fact I always encourage multiplication through split.  For example if more than 10 bhaktas join a Mandali, better split them in two group and ask them to worship and grow independent of each group with in their locality than gather them under one roof.  If the Christians still not convinced by this and argue for Organizational unity then my answer is that already there are more than 48.000 and more denominations in Christianity few more won’t make much difference.

Now I would like to give my response to few issues raised in the meeting:

On the whole, some of the issues/questions that came up were:

  1. as I had mentioned before) Where to draw the line?—see my paper above—db
  2. While the method of reaching is required, people need to be conscientious of not disturbing people in churches.—I clearly told that I am not stealing any sheep from any church.  I also clearly told that I won’t come and disturb the church.  When one Canadian Missionary, after quoting the example of Messianic Jews and the problem that it is causing some churches back in Canada, I told that lack of teaching is one of the main reason for the church members get disturbed, which though one retired Pastor opposed, yet few agreed with me.
  3. What growth strategy and (in essence) monitoring strategy are in place to check false teachings? –see my paper above.—db
  4. That Swamiji should give interviews to students and people should make themselves available and open for scholars to study and document. To this … responded that ‘insider movements’ need to be protected and not exposed like Paul had to protect the Gentile believers from the Jewish believers; and that the past few bad experiences with ‘scholars’ in effect have shut the doors.—I clearly told that such interviews are not helping the lay people in the church or our movement.  Those entire Ph.D. theses remain buried in the Seminary Library for some future student to do some reach and again to write finally buried in the Library. Above considering my age, limitation and priority, I don’t have the luxury of time to give interview to any Theological students.–db
    March 4, 2010