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

Meenakshi: Tell us about the thoughts or incidents that attracted you in the Bible and Quran.

Suki Sivam: The words of Jesus, ‘Leave the dead with the dead’ is a bit difficult to understand. But it has profound meaning. On listening to the teachings of Jesus on a sea-shore, one fisherman, after repentance, began to follow Him. At that time, some people came rushing to tell him that his father is dead. Then he asks Jesus, “Can I go and finish the final rite to my father and then come?” That is when Jesus said ‘leave the dead with the dead’. He tells this with the meaning that the un-awakened people there, though are alive, are actually dead. When Vallalar (Ramalinga Swami of Vadalur) said ‘be awakened’, he meant the same thing. The one who is not awakened is equal to the dead. This is taught by Hindu saints too. (p. 25) [I tried my best to give the literal translation of Sivam’s Tamil. See the original at the end1.—db]

 

I am not surprised when I read Sri Suki Sivam’s exegesis on ‘Let the dead bury the dead’ in the Muktiveda. He is one of my favourite speakers and writers. It is rare to find such a speaker who calls a spade a spade, not sparing anyone just to please them. Although he speaks what he thinks as correct, sometimes his interpretation on scripture and philosophy doesn’t ‘tally’ with the original scripture and philosophy/theology. This just shows how many like him (including me) cannot understand the scripture and philosophy/theology of other faiths unless it is learnt from the adherents of that faith.

I need not point out to those who know the Muktiveda that in this story2, it was not a fisherman who asked the permission of the Lord to bury his father. Nor did anyone come and tell him that his father was dead. The entire context is not about being ‘awakened’ but the cost of discipleship. Above all, the historical context of this statement ‘let the dead bury the dead’ is related more with the ritual related with the final rite among the Jews at that time and nothing to do with being awakened.

In Jewish tradition, the body is embalmed and rolled in a cloth. After a year or two when the body is completely rotten, the bones are collected and put in a small stone box specially made for this purpose then buried or kept in a small chamber specially cut out for this purpose.

Therefore, the person who sought the Lord’s permission to ‘bury’ his father could also mean that his father was already dead and the body was embalmed and put in the cave. Though he brags to the Lord and others that he will follow Him, he is not ready to pay the cost for the discipleship. So he avoids it by hiding behind in the excuse of burying his father’s bones, which is the responsibility of the eldest son. In that context the Lord points out his bogus claim to follow Him, tells him ‘let the dead bury the dead and you follow me’.

Without knowing this cultural/social background of the Jews Sivam gave his own interpretation on this incident. Sivam is not the first to read such a (Hindu) message in other’s scripture and he won’t be the last.

 

To the another question on the separate of accounts of ‘punya’ (merit) and ‘sin’, technically Sivam is correct, even though the common view among the ordinary Hindus is that merits (punya) are earned to get rid of bad karmas and sins. In order to avoid future punishment in hell or bad karma in the form of a lower birth, punya is sought (or earned) by every common Hindu. After death, a person goes to heaven according to the merits he earned and enjoys all the pleasures of heaven. Once his merits are exhausted he has to come back to the earth to take another birth as per the karma he has done. Similarly he has to go to hell and suffer for his sin. After his sin account is tallied, he has to come back to take another birth.3 Of course eternal hell and eternal heaven is also there. Being a pluralistic inclusivism, Hinduism gives scope to accommodate all kinds of thoughts—particularly in religious matters.

However Sivam’s view that in Christianity there is a principle that by doing more merit the burden of sin will decrease is incorrect. He might be sharing from his reading about the medieval Catholic Church’s practice of the sale of indulgences to get rid of one’s sin.4 But such a concept is completely absent in Muktiveda.

 

This shows that however great one’s knowledge of her own faith and scripture(s), when it comes to others’ faith and scripture(s), without knowing the textual, historical and theological contexts, giving one’s own interpretation will misrepresent the tenants of that faith.5 And when such statements come from a famous speaker like Sivam, it becomes ‘gospel’ truth which most people accept as it is based on the authority that Sivam is an orator and scholar in his own right (he earned the title ‘Solin Selvar’ = Rich in oratory).

There is no point of sending this response to Sivam. People like him won’t accept such corrections easily and they will have their own defense for it. For example, he might say, “The followers of a particular faith can have their own interpretation, but the Bible does not belong only to Christians. We also have a right to read our own message into it. People like Dayanand are more concerned about technicality than ‘spirituality’.” But my intention is not to point out mistakes in his views but to highlight the limit in understanding others’ faith — particularly the scriptures.

 

As a digression I have to mention here that once a person has established his reputation as a scholar or renowned speaker, he ignores any rebut written by a lay person like me. For example, in the past I wrote a rebuttal to one such speaker’s view which appeared in Junior Vikadan. I never expected the magazine to publish my rebuttal, but they could have at least acknowledged receiving it and forwarded it to that speaker. But in this competitive world with so many magazines, they have to fight for their survival and have neither time nor space for a lay person like me. But if it is related to a famous person, then such a rebuttal will be published.

For example, when K. Venkatesan gave a false account about Periyar Ramaswami about his cancer in mouth (see Junior Vikadan, ‘Tamizh Manne Vannakkam, 31-5-15, p. 24-25), in the next issue itself the rebuttal by Vidudalai Rajendiran was published (Junior Vikadan, 3-6-15, p. 20). Even though I also sent my rebuttal to K. Venkatesan’s speech, it was ignored both by Junior Vikadan and K. Venkatesan. (See for this ‘Removing the past and introducing new in my blog).

By writing this I am not expressing my frustration, but there is no point of challenging those who have established themselves in the media. Unless it is related to politics, no such rebuttal will be acknowledged by any media at present.

Of course I too have conveniently ‘ignored’ several challenges and questions thrown to me by Christians. But what I tried to do is not to avoid correction but unnecessary controversies.

 

End Notes

1. எஸ். ரகுராம்: செய்கின்ற பாவங்களை எல்லாம் செய்துவிட்டு, கோவிலுக்குக் காணிக்கை, நன்கொடை, சில சமூக சேவைகள் என்று செய்வதால் பாவத்தின் பாரம் குறையுமா?

சுகி. சிவம்: ஹிந்து மதத்தைப் பொறுத்தவரை, பாவத்தின் கணக்கு தனி; புண்ணியத்தின் கணக்கு தனி. ஒன்றினால் ஒன்று ஏறாது; இறங்காது. கிறிஸ்தவ மதத்தில் புண்ணியம் செய்யச் செய்யப் பாவத்தின் பாரம் குறைவதான தத்துவம் உள்ளது.ஆனால் ஹிந்து மதத்தில் அப்படியில்லை. பாவத்திற்கான தண்டனை தனியே உண்டு. புண்ணியத்திற்கான பலன் தனியே உண்டு. இதுவும் அதுவும் டாலி ஆகாது.–வி. வி. ஐ. பி. மீட்-28 ஆன்மிகச் சொற்பழிவாளர் சுசி. சிவம், துக்ளக், 3-6-15, ப. 20-25, ப. 25

ஆர். மீனாட்சி: பைபிள், குரானில் உங்களைக் கவர்ந்த வரிகள் அல்லது சம்பவத்தைச் சொல்லுங்களேன்

சுகி. சிவம்: இயேசுநாதரின் ’இறந்தவனை இறந்தவரிடமே விட்டு விடுங்கள்’ என்ற வாசகம் புரிந்து கொள்ளக் கொஞ்சம் கஷ்டமானது; ஆனால், பொருள் பொதிந்தது. இயேசு கடலோரத்தில் போதித்தைக் கேட்டு, ஒரு மீனவன் மனம் மாறி அவர் பின்னே செல்லத் துவங்குவான். அப்போது சிலர் ஓடி வந்து, ’உன் தந்தை இறந்து போய் விட்டார்’ என்பார்கள். உடனே அவன் ’நான் சென்று என் தந்தைக்கு இறுதிக் காரியம் செய்து விட்டு வந்து விடவா?’ என்று கேட்பான். அப்போது இயேசு சொன்ன பதில்தான் ’இறந்தவனை இறந்தவரிடமே விட்டு விடுங்கள்’ என்பது. அங்கிருக்கும் விழிப்படையாத ஜனங்கள் எல்லாம் உயிரோடு இருந்தும், இறந்தவர்கள் என்ற பொருளில் அவர் கூறுகிறார். இங்கு வள்ளலார் கூட ’விழித்திரு’ என்று சொன்னதின் பொருள் அதுதான். விழிப்படையாதவன் இறந்தவனுக்கு ஒப்பாவான் என்பதுதான் ஹிந்து மதப் புனிதர்களின் கூற்றும் கூட. ப. 2

 

2. Matthew 8

18When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 21Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Luke 9

57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” 62Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

 

3. Yama tells them—“You are noble souls duly blessed, since you have performed what is ordained in the Vedas. Good deeds that are conducive to divine happiness have been performed by you. (45) Ascend the celestial aerial chariot and go to heaven to enjoy the pleasures in the company of celestial damsels and fulfil your cherished desires. (46) After enjoying pleasures there, in the end when the merit is exhausted return to this place for reaping the fruit of what little evil you may have committed.”(47)— ANCIENT INDIAN TRADITION & MYTHOLOGY; Translated by A board of Scholars, Edited by Prof. J.L.Shastri, Delhi; Mothilal Banarsidass Pub. Pvt. Ltd. (1970), 2002, The Siva Purana Four Volumes. Vol. 3, Part 3. UMAASAMHITAA 7:45-47, p.1483

 

4. 1190 The sale of indulgences —relief from punishment of sins in exchange for the payment of money—instituted; — Wolfgang Simson, Houses That Change the Word: The Return of the House Churches. London, OM Publishing (2001) 2003, p. 61

 

5. See my response to the questioned asked by one ‘Hindu convert’, which without proper understanding of others’ cultural and religious practices in their context will mislead another. However the interesting point here is that this question was asked by a ‘Hindu convert’:

“A Hindu tradition does not permit sadhana without taking bath – I would be much freer talking to Mukthinath from my bed and doing meditation. I am a Hindu and if I do that, will I be wrong just because I am not following the tradition of my ancestors?”

This shows how poor your understanding is about both ‘Hindus’ and ‘Hinduism’. Most Hindus when they get up from the bed, first look at their palm because all the presiding deities are dwelling on each finger. Several people take the name of their God—both when they get up from the bed and when the go to bed. Is this not a sadhana?

A ritual purity like taking a bath is prescribed for hygiene and the common good of all. Only when ritual activities are involved are these things more strictly followed (and even then there are many exceptions). But when it comes to sadhana, no one needs to observe such outward activities of purity and pollution.

It is interesting to note that such bodily purity is also recommended in the Muktiveda in Hebrew 10:22 (Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water). We can find several reference about washing the hands and feet of the priest and others before entering the tabernacle and temple.

Above all Parasara dharma sastra says, “in emergency one need not follow all the rules and regulations regarding achara (tradition). When everything is normal, then one should follow them.” So when a rule is given, there will be always exception and exemption.

Let me finally say one thing about Christian sadhna. According to the Christian tradition (not muktivedic) before taking communion one should confess her sins. Though one would do it before receiving the communion, you know that several people in the church are unworthy to receive it considering their life—which is known to everyone in the church. But they will go and receive communion as part of ritual. Even a Pastor or others cannot stop it. So critiquing a particular aspect of a religion, without having proper understanding about it won’t help anyone.