The Other and Going Overboard

Certain ideologies in the world need to create ‘the other’ to survive. This ‘other’ need not be a challenger or a counter-movement but should be an opponent. This enemy not only presents the positive value of their own ideology but also creates fear and insecurity in the mind of the people among whom they want to promote that ideology. They accuse ‘the other’ in order to keep their own survival. In most cases, this fear and ‘the other’ are created for political reasons or for their own survival rather than the interest of the common good of all mankind.

This practice goes by many names: religious fundamentalism, fanaticism, fascism, etc. But the promoters of such ideologies forgot that in the long run, any ideology created with a sense of hate for ‘the other’ will eventually divide itself, creating many ‘others’ amongst itself.

For me, religious fundamentalism in whatever forms it takes (‘cultural nationalism’, ‘way of life’, etc.) does the same. This not only creates a division among people, but also creates a negative perspective on everything outside of that ideology.

Sometime this spirit is also found among us who want to follow the Lord as Hindu bhaktas. Consciously or unconsciously we create ‘the other’ who follows the Lord in a traditional way or other ways they found appropriate for their need. But the unique teaching of the Muktiveda in the words of Dr. Paul Brand is:

But I believe these cells in my body can also teach me about larger organisms; families, groups, communities, villages nations—and especially about one specific community of people that is likened to a body more than thirty times in the New Testament. I speak of the Body of Christ, that network of people scattered across the planet who have little in common other than their membership in the group that follows Jesus Christ.

My body employs a bewildering zoo of cells, none of which individually resembles the larger body. Just, so Christ’s Body comprises an unlikely assortment of humans. Unlikely is precisely the right word, for we are decidedly unlike one another and the One who follow. From whose design come these comical human shapes which so faintly reflect the ideals of the Body as a whole? (p. 46) {Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, In the Likeness of God, The Dr. Paul Brand Tribute Edition of Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and In His Image, Zondervan, 2004}

And continuing further on this topic Dr. Brand shares:

…For if anything is to be believed about the collection of people who follow Jesus, it is that we were called by him. The word church, ekklesia, means “the called-out ones.” Our crew of comedians from central casting is the group God wants….I must admit that most of my worship in the last thirty years has not taken place among people who have shared my tastes in music, speech, or even thought. But over those years I have been profoundly—and humbly – impressed that I find God in the faces of my fellow worshipers by sharing with people who are shockingly different from each other and from me. (p. 48)

A Color on a canvas can be beautiful in itself. However, the artist excels not by slathering one color across the canvas but by positioning it between contrasting or complementary hues. The original color then derives richness and depth from its milieu of unlike colors. The basis for our unity within Christ’s Body begins not with our similarity but with our diversity. (p.49)

The Body of Christ, like our own bodies, is composed of individuals, unlike cells that are knit together to form one Body. He is the whole thing, and the joy of the Body increases as individual cells realize they can be diverse without becoming isolate outposts. (p.51) [bold italics are added]

When I typed this I was tempted to change Jesus to Muktinath, church to Mandali, etc. But then, grasping what Dr. Brand wanted to communicate, I retained them as my bhakti in the Lord helps me celebrate this unity in diversity as the Muktiveda never promotes any uniformity in the name of unity in the Body of the Lord. Whereas every ideology which tries to create ‘the Other’ does the opposite.

 

In our identity Hindu bhaktas of the Lord, it is our birthright to keep our cultural, social and even some of our religious events as a part of our identity. For example, doing life-cycle events (samskars) as per our tradition is part of that identity. But sometimes, in order to parade our Hindu identity, I feel that we should not go overboard to do certain religious rituals which our own family members and community never expect us to do, as long as they know about our bhakti in the Lord.

According to my understanding, although the Hindu worldview is multicentred, pluralistic inclusivism, it equally upholds ‘exclusivism’ when it comes to bhakti to a chosen deity or sadhana. For example, a staunch Vaishnavite is never expected to venerate Siva and the same is the case with a staunch Saivite. Of course the smarta tradition promotes the worship of all kinds of God, yet no Hindu will have any aversion for any other votary of a particular deity or sampradaya to have her own exclusivism.

If our family/community members know about our bhakti in the Lord, though they will expect us to take part in all our family events (including religious ones), they won’t mind if we uphold our exclusive bhakti to the Lord. And they may even wonder about our bhakti if we go overboard in accommodating other religious rituals. At least for me it seems very artificial and I feel that we need not go overboard to prove our Hindu identity.

For example, a Hindu bhakta of the Lord, who lives away from his parents and other relatives as a nuclear family need not organize main Hindu festivals and do all the rituals to prove his Hindu identity. There are so many ways and means for us to show that we are just as much Hindus as other members of our family and community. At the same time I agree that those bhaktas who live in a joint family where such events take place, they need make it clear that their bhakti is in the Lord. How they do that is left to each individual and the level of rapport she might have it with her family members.

 

A digression: A Hindu bhakta of the Lord needs a strong foundation for her bhakti, and the Word of God alone can provide it and there is no substitute for it. If she thinks that she can survive in her bhakti by keeping her Hindu identity and going overboard to prove it, she will lose her bhakti eventually. Though the mandali can and should do its part to provide fellowship, encouragement and teaching, without having any personal commitment to learn from Muktiveda and also have personal time with the Lord (whatever sadhana it might be) she cannot keep her bhakti in the Lord alive by reinforcing her identity.

Muktinath introduces new values in every area of our life. If a bhakta does not recognize this, there is no point in claiming to be a bhakta. Some ‘converts’ who have returned back as Hindus need not go overboard in reasserting their identity, unless they need to by their own conviction. The new values which the Lord introduces in our lives will help us to keep a balance as we are focused on Him.

As a case study from my own life, from the beginning the Christians failed to make a good Christian out of me. Not understanding several issues related to my bhakti and Muktiveda, I outwardly accepted some cosmetic changes, yet in my core I remained as a Hindu bhakta of the Lord, though I openly hesitated to articulate among my sojourn among the Christians. So in a true sense there is no ‘homecoming’ for me, as I never went away.

At the same time Muktinath through Muktiveda introduced several new values which re-oriented my view on various areas of life—including spirituality. Now my focus is Him alone, who accepted me as I am as a Hindu to be His bhakta. In this respect He also helps me to keep a balance in my understanding and approach to several worldviews within Hinduism itself. In fact, this balance helps me to critique my own traditions in several areas. If it won’t, then I cannot claim to have a ‘transformation by the renewal of my mind in Him’. (Romans 12: 1-2).

Here is another case study. There is another member in our group. He has never made a personal commitment to the Lord as most of us have done. Since he likes our fellowship and is involved in all our (ashram) activities, we never hesitate to include him in our discussions and forums. Till the end, he might remain the same, only appreciating the Lord and never making any personal commitment to be His bhakta.

In his case, I don’t expect any kind of transformation based on Muktivedic teachings — althought he might benefit a lot from our discussions. Mere appreciation from a distance doesn’t bring any transformation unless one makes a personal commitment. One may even have correct knowledge about it, but unlike other sampradayas, according to my understanding, Muktiveda never promotes mere ‘knowledge’ as a means for mukti/bhakti/faith, but only a trusting, personal relationship with the Lord—even without complete understanding about Him or His teachings in Muktiveda. This differentiates a bhakta from the rest.

If we miss this then there is no point of claiming to be a bhakta of the Lord. Those who never had that trusted personal relationship will often change their goalpost, carried by every wind of opinion. I am not judging such people, as God alone knows her relationship with Him. Yet by going overboard to prove a Hindu identity, some might misunderstand.

We need bhakti – a trusted, personal relationship with the Lord; we need Muktiveda for faith (intellectual understanding of that bhakti); we need fellowship for mutual correction/learning and personal sadhana for a study and gradual growth in our spiritual life. All these are connected with each other. A break in one area might cause us to go overboard in another.

Dr. Brand’s use of his medical knowledge in connecting the idea of the Body of the Lord is worth reading. I think it highlights the need for mutual teaching and correction united together with the Head of the Body of the Lord.

However, if a spinal injury has destroyed the connection between a person’s brain and leg, a tap with a hammer will produce a radically different reflex, and the doctor who taps the hammer will need fast reflexes of his own. The patient’s muscles will jerk violently, his leg shooting forward with enormous force. It may then flail back and forth, the muscles in spasm.

Such leg muscles and tendons are healthy – they are exhibiting their power spectacularly – but have lost contact with higher orders from the head. The brain normally constrains involuntary (372) reflexes (in Sherington’s words it “has civilizing influence on primitive parts”). When this vital pathway is severed, the body part can still act, but autonomously, disconnectedly, irrationally, over-reacting to local parts of the body.

Analogies to the spiritual Body apply only partially, for dysfunction there never results from brain damage. But many nervous disorders – cerebral palsy, for example – occur when synaptic channels below the level of the brain somehow clog up. Poisons, such as cocaine, botulinus, and atropine, can also jam the chemical transmission across synapses.

We have a theological word for such poisons in the Body: sin. Sin steals into the intimate channel between Head and member, interrupting communication and separating the cell from the higher authority that directs and coordinates its actions. The usefulness of a single cell requires unimpeded communication from above and an obedient response from below.

The apostle Paul, master of metaphor, gives a precise description of a person suffering from a sort of disconnection, in his letter to the Colossians. The person he describes had erred by legalistically judging other members of the Body; he had focused on his neighboring cells rather than on receiving individual orders from the Head. “Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (2:18-19). Once severed, new pathways linking the mind and body do not re-establish themselves easily. (p.373)

…With my reason, even as I contemplate what the Bible says, I can easily rationalize my way to other conclusions. The commands are hard; they require love and sacrifice and compassion and purity whereas I have excuses that make those seem unattainable for me at any moment.

At such times, as my own selfishness and pride surge up, I need a force more dependable than reason. Just such a force comes built into each of us: the conscience or subconscious, a law written in our hearts (see Romans 2:15). This instinctive sense of our responsibility to God can be encouraged and nurtured by the disciplines of faith. Hiding God’s Word in my heart and meditating on it help to strengthen this force and thus to renew my mind. (p.378)

When the moment of critical choice arrives, there is often little chance for conscious reflection, and all that has gone before enters into the result….(p.379)

Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, In His Image, The Dr. Paul Brand Tribute Edition of Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and In His Image, Zondervan, 2004, pp. 235-529.
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