Evasive Response

In certain situations it is very difficult to give a specific answer or solution to a question. The person who seeks the answer may ask for it out of a survival situation with an immediate need. However, the person who gives the answer has to address the immediate need must also keep in mind the future consequences and developments which may demand a more sober response.

For example, if a person is sinking, she has to take help from the one who jumps in the water to rescue her rather than listening to the one who stands on the shore, guiding her how to swim properly. The human tendency is that the one who jumped in risking her own life to save the drowning person will be more appreciated by the rescued than the adviser who stood on the shore to guide. The guide may give good advice, but is a bad swimmer who will drown if he attempts to rescue her.

We shouldn’t stretch this illustration too far, but whom will the rescued person heed after this incident? The rescuer fulfilled her immediate need, and may walk out of the drowning person’s life forever. On the other hand, the saved person, out of emotion or sentiment, may cling to her rescuer for further guidance. This may not only mess up her own life, but she may also become a burden to the one who saved her.

 

The Role of the Church

As a Hindu bhakta of the Lord, I think it is important to discuss the role of the church, mission, or Christian when a Hindu becomes a bhakta of the Lord. God has used them in His own way, and will continue to use them to bring many Hindus to the saving knowledge of Bhagavan Muktinath. But the new bhakta has to make a conscious choice where she wants to end up in the end. Many such believers happily become a ‘convert’ to the Christian community and join a church. This is their right and I have no issue with them. But there are others who continue to oscillate between their church affiliation and their sociological needs.

After an initial honeymoon period with the church, many converts realize that all their needs (particularly social ones) cannot be met by the church. No matter how they welcome and own the convert, the church cannot provide a home for them. Those who marry a Christian, start their own home, and sever their biological and sociological ties with their birth family/community can somehow survive and slowly settle down in their generation and provide a secured home for their children.

However, those who try to remain a Hindu around Hindus and a Christian around Christians struggle on every end. These kinds of people want to enjoy the best of both worlds and do not want to identify with one group permanently. It is difficult to seek concessions as a new convert in the church, but at least in the Hindu family, they can fight for their birthright to remain a Hindu.They have their own motives and we are not here to judge them.

We could discuss endless examples of how this plays out in real life, but let me limit the discussion to those who act in this duality and want to see their family members follow the Lord. Some think that by remaining a Hindu bhakta of the Lord they can easily influence or win their own birth family members for the Lord. There is nothing wrong in such a longing or expectation. But my humble request to them is to consider their identity as a Hindu bhakta a birthright based on Muktivedic principles and not a reason to drive an evangelical agenda. Otherwise they will soon become disappointed and feel frustrated.

A few think the only way they can grow in the Lord and show fruit is by having regular fellowship with other believers, specifically weekly worship, and listening to a message in a church. It is valid that in our bhakti we cannot grow in isolation without fellowship and teaching. But attending one Sunday service and listening to one message from a pulpit does not automatically create this growth. I am not against those who find their needs met in such Sunday worship or pulpit messages. But their understanding about spirituality is then measured by the Christian parameter of keeping some religious rituals.

 

Mandali and the Church

The danger in the Hindu bhakta movement is that there is neither organizational unity nor organic unity. This happens because we insist that our organic unity is possible only with our birth family and not outside. What we have as Hindu bhakts is UNITY in SPIRIT, keeping a common interest to learn and grow together to enjoy our birth right as Hindus. Some converts who stepped out from a church affiliation and began to have contact with us soon became disillusioned as regular physical fellowship is very much lacking here. Even if we gather as small group, familiarity with people and rituals (that have their foundation in our childhood) soon dry them up and they feel suffocated.

Another danger with such a small group is that without a singular leader to objectively guide, some will soon find fault with each other. In a church, there is a leader who guides the members, striking a balance between not getting involved too much and not keeping too much distance with individual members. This leader is typically brought in as an outsider to the church community and appointed by the church authority based on education qualifications. Both he and the congregation know that he is a temporary leader who will soon be transferred to another church.

Since I don’t participate in this system, I don’t claim a right to judge it, but a new bhakta who fellowships with our mandali will soon find that this kind of leadership is missing here completely. We expect each bhakta to be involved with others holistically, even extending their seva to the needs of each other’s birth families. In a large church, a leader must ask his subordinate to step in where he cannot be personally involved with each family of his congregation.

We also don’t believe in the concept of “full-time workers”. Each member must exist and evolve as a natural leader in the secular world and also give time to the needs of the family. A Hindu convert who was pampered by the support of objective outside leaders who are paid to do their job1 will not find that kind of treatment here.

In a small mandali that has neither organizational nor organic unity, but only tries to serve each other based on common principles and unity of (Holy) Spirit (also spirit), the needs of every bhakta cannot be fulfilled, particularly emotional ones. Naturally, someone who joins such a mandali will find that all of their expectations are not met totally. This also doesn’t happen in a church, but the leader can organize the needed support as required. In our mandali, each one has to pull her own sacks to serve and to be served.

 

An Evasive Response

What is the best solution for this? Should we have our feet in both worlds? My response is an evasive response. Each individual has to make their own decision. We would never say that a Hindu bhakta should not have friendship with other Christians, Muslims, atheists, etc. Neither a church nor a mandali can meet the all the need of an individual. Without our relationship with the outside world, we cannot even exist as human beings. So a bhakta has the freedom to have friendship and fellowship with other believers from a church. But whether this should be inside or outside a church, I cannot give a clear-cut answer.

My only concern is that we should not allow anyone to impose their ideals and agenda on us, particularly in our relationship with our natural family. As long as no one ever forces you (directly or indirectly) to “take a stand for the Lord” by alienating our birth family, one has every right to seek friendship and fellowship with anyone — whether a bhakta or not.

I insist on these two points:

Becoming a member of a church will deprive us our birth identity as Hindus. Those who wish to become ‘Christian’ have every right to do so, but those who prefer to keep their Hindu identity in every sense (culturally, socially, religiously, etc.) should be careful to get involved within the organized church. A church may not accept the membership of someone who wants to remain a ‘Hindu’ both in certificate and in society. Individual Christians outside the church can help any Hindu bhakta of the Lord. But they also have a tendency to promote the erosion of our relationship with our birth family in the name of ‘safeguarding our faith’ or ‘growing spiritually’. But those who think they can balance both these well should do what they think is best for them. But in most cases, the Christian culture, tradition, ritual, views, values will sooner or later drift away a Hindu bhakta from the birth family.

Regarding the evangelical agenda, one should only leave the church to enjoy a birthright as a Hindu and grow as a bhakta, accepting and understanding all the challenges. I know of no single incident where other family members of the Lord have become bhaktas of the Lord because of our identity as Hindu bhaktas of the Lord. That can be our longing and prayer, but not an agenda for us.

 

A Case Study

About 20 years ago, I met one Brahmin convert couple at Kodaikkanal Ashram. They requested me to share the gospel with their parents. They said, “They don’t need to go to the church. They can stay in the home and keep all their cultural and social identity. But if they can only accept the Lord and worship Him, that is enough for us.”

I asked, “Suppose you parents, after listening to all these things from me ask, ‘Why not tell this first to our ‘converted’ children?’ What should be my answer?” They have no answer. They said that they cannot come out from the church, as they need the fellowship to grow in the Lord and bear spiritual fruit. Then I said, “Don’t expect me to come and share the gospel to your parents. Ask your church members to share the gospel to them.”

“I don’t agree with you that your parents can come to know the Lord even without becoming a Christian or coming to the church. You cannot outsource your responsibility to others. You want to remain a ‘Christian’ but expect your parents to follow the Lord outside the church as Hindus. If it is not possible for you, how will it be possible for them? If the only way you can grow is by going to the church and having fellowship, why isn’t it the same for them? You know that you have already irritated your parents through your conversion. Now they won’t listen to the gospel from any other Christian — including you. With all respect for your personal right to become Christian, I cannot carry your burden.”

 

Several Hindu converts live with a guilty conscience that their relatives (particularly parents) haven’t accepted the Lord. A few claim that their parents accepted the Lord on their deathbed. One Hindu convert told me that he gave his father a sprinkle baptism as he was about to die at his request. I don’t doubt these stories. These kinds of ‘death bed mukti’ are between individuals and the Lord.

Though I can give only an evasive2 answer to such a question, here is my final statement:

We can never say “no” to anyone seeking help and seva in any form. But we can only do our best as much as other bhaktas allow us to do it.

There is an Upanishadic saying, ‘ayam atma balahine na labyese’ (the atman cannot be reached/understood/realised by those who are weak). The same is true in this Hindu bhakta movement also. Sometimes it is a lonely walk. The strength and support we need when we become weak can be provided by others only as much we allow others to serve us. Soon this movement may die and disappear without leaving any physical trace except some basic writings. But this has never deterred me to march forward. Human are naturally conservative and launching into unknown territory is a risky adventure that very few are prepared for. We feel comfortable where we don’t feel threatened, but others cannot provide security for a long time. That leaves us with two options: retreat back to the comfort zone or march forward.
31-7-15

 

Endnotes

  1. I don’t mean to undermine full-time workers, though I am against this concept. However there is no point in comparing the level of attention they give to the new converts with that of a natural leader who serves other Hindu bhaktas in our movement. He/She has to work in secular situation to earn bread and then has to give extra time for such a seva, whereas a Full Time worker is paid to provide this care and concern.
  2. I am not the only one who give an ‘evasive response’. Anyone who ‘seeks to strike a mean between two extremes’ cannot avoid this. For example, “According to SukraNiti, {a smrti work like Dharmasastras} though Fate (daiva) is a factor in determining the destiny of man, his own karmas themselves have a tremendous influence over his fate. SukraNiti is not altogether free from ambiguity in this connection. It may be that it seeks to strike a mean between two extremes; or it may be said to be stating the case of both the sides, leaving the reader to judge and decide between the two. Anyway, we see that, on the one hand it praises the philosophy of action (paurusha) which is born of active efforts (daiva) {i.96} and, on the other hand, it opines that everything is founded on both fate (daiva) as well as karma. {1.97}….”—Pandharinath H. Prabhu, Hindu Social Organization—A Study in Socio-Phychological and Indeological Foundations, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, [1940], reprinted, 2004, p.37. Italics in bold are mine, others are in the original – DB.

“…the view of high and low is also founded in Tirukkural. Is this means to caste gradation, social gradation, or an adjective should be decided by each person’s personal view.”—Dr. S. Ilango, Thamizha Katthil Vedha Kalvi Varalaaru (The History of the Study of Veda in Tamilnadu), Chennai, Alaigal Veliyeetagam, (in Tamil), 2015, p. 34

“…கீழோர், மேலோர் என்ற கருத்தும் திருக்குறளில் இடம்பெற்றுள்ளது. இது சாதியப் படிநிலையைக் குறிக்கின்றதா?, வர்க்கப் படிநிலையைக் குறிக்கின்றதா? பண்புப் பெயராக அமைகின்றதா? என்பதை அறிவது அவரவர் கண்ணோட்டத்திற்கு ஏற்றாற் போல் அமைகின்றது.”–முனைவர், சி. இளங்கோ, தமிழகத்தில் வேதக் கல்வி வரலாறு, சென்னை, அலைகள் வெளியீடகம், 2015, ப. 34