Appendix 4: Hindus vis-a-vis Jesus
Appendix 4: Hindus vis-a-vis Jesus
I am reproducing letters exchanged recently between a lady in England and myself. They are relevant to the subject of this book.
Tel: 0409 281403
Mrs Sandy Martin
2 College Road
Devon EX21 5HH
28 March, 1994
Dear Mr. Goel,
As part of my PhD thesis at Exeter University researching Hindu understandings of Jesus, I would very much appreciate it if you could take the time to answer the questions enclosed to ensure that the study is completely up-to-date. I am eager to present the findings entirely from a Hindu perspective (which is also my own) and contemporary information from Hindu sources, rather than Christian reflections on Hindu insights, is somewhat scarce. I would appreciate the permission to quote any response you might make which would be included in a penultimate chapter on contemporary Hindu interpretations of Jesus and the Hindu-Christian dialogue.
I would very much appreciate your co-operation for this work and hope to hear from you. Please do move beyond the scope of the framed questions if there is somethings further you wish to add. Thank you.
With best wishes
Sd. Sandy Martin
Contemporary Hindu Responses to Jesus: A Questionnaire
What significance, if any, do you think Jesus has for Hindus around the world today?
If there is significance, how is Jesus primarily understood — as Jesus or as a Christ, and if the latter, is this the equivalent of avatar? If not, how is avatar best understood today?
With what strand of Hinduism is Jesus most closely associated today? Is such association primarily linked to Hinduism in the West or does it also apply to the Indian situation?
Have Hindu understandings of Jesus changed since Hinduism's expansion into the West and the movement towards it of many western devotees?
Many liberal Christian theologians criticise Hindu interpretations of Jesus as being out of touch with recent Christian 'discoveries' of the Jewishness of Jesus and his historical context. What would be your response to this critique, arising as it does from a very different world view?
Study so far suggests to me that Hindu interest in Jesus arose initially as a reaction against western Christian imperialism in India; this later changed to an incorporation of Jesus within a Hindu framework divorced from received western Christianity. Since the threat of Christianity subsided, there appears to have been no real development of Hindu responses to Jesus. How would you assess this critique?
Would there have been a natural interest in Jesus without the encounter in India during British rule there? If so, how might this have differed from current interpretations? If it had arisen from within a friendly interfaith exchange, would the Hindu response have been different?
Could you please summarise your personal perspective as a Hindu to the Hindu-Christian dialogue and the relevance of Jesus to that?
Sita Ram Goel 2/18, Ansari Road,
New Delhi - 110 002 7th April, 1994
Dear Mrs. Martin,
By a strange coincidence your letter dated 28 March and the Questionnaire reached me on the day and at the hour when I had just finished the final draft of my small monograph, Jesus Christ: An Artifice for Aggression. It is meant to be a companion volume to the second and enlarged edition of Catholic Ashrams, a book I wrote in 1988. It is quite some time since I have been trying to have a close look at Jesus Christ, the stock-in-trade of Christian missions, and in the process have become conversant with the Christological research undertaken in the modern West over the last more than two hundred years. I had never imagined that Jesus was such a flimsy figure, historically as well as doctrinally.
Your letter has come as a surprise. I wonder why you have addressed your Questionnaire to me. It is true that I have written quite a bit on Christianity, and published some more. But I am hardly a representative Hindu at present, though I may become one in the not-too-distant future. Hindus by and large continue to subscribe to sarva-dharma samabhava (equal respect of all religions), as I also did before I studied Christianity and Islam with the help of their orthodox sources. I hope you have written to some other Hindus also so that you have a fair sample of the current Hindu opinion on the subject.
I have not been able to understand quite clearly what you mean when you say that you are “eager to present the findings entirely from a Hindu perspective (which is also my own)”. I trust that you are not a Hindu like the late Father Bede Dayananda Griffiths, or my friend Raimundo Panikkar. You may clarify the point if you care. I am certainly curious.
You are welcome to incorporate in your thesis whatever I say on the points raised by you. My only request is that you will not quote me at random, or selectively, or out of context. I have noticed again and again that the average scholar from the West is very scrupulous when it comes to presenting other people's point of view. But I cannot say the same about Western scholars with a conscious Christian bias. Very recently I had a shocking experience from the Southeast Asia correspondent of the Time magazine. I found him absolutely dishonest.
I am enclosing a list of Voice of India publications. Some of the titles may interest you. Arun Shourie, the well-known scholar-journalist, is also releasing shortly his latest book, Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas. He was invited to speak from the Hindu point of view in a meeting of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India held recently at Nagpur. You will find it very informative vis-a-vis your subject. Regards,
(Sita Ram Goel)
Encl.: List of publications
Before I take up your questions one by one, I prefer to give a little background about the intellectual atmosphere in post-independence India. This may help you in sizing up your subject.
The scene in post-independence India has been dominated more or less completely by Communists and Socialists and Leftists of all sorts. They have shown no interest in religious subjects, least of all in Jesus Christ. It is only recently that the Ayodhya Movement has drawn the attention of our educated elite towards what they call religion. But in this context too they have proved that they are either equally ignorant about all religions or equally indifferent to them.
Of course, there have been Hindu parties and platforms present on the scene all along. But they have hardly mattered till recently. The Arya Samaj seems to have lost its fire and has become more or less moribund. The Hindu Mahasabha, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) have never been interested in doctrinal Christianity or Jesus Christ as such. Their headache has been the conversions by Christian missions. If you ask them about Jesus, they are most likely to say that he was a good man. Some of them may also call him a mahatma or rishi or even an avatar. But that means nothing. They will say the same about Muhammad or about any other prominent figure for that matter.
Thus there is no truth whatsoever in the Christian missionary propaganda abroad that a Hindu-Christian dialogue is on in India at present. I am totally unaware of any such dialogue being in the forefront. Of course, there are some Christian groups across the country who are holding “dialogues” with “Hindus” and reporting them in the Christian press, here and abroad. But the whole thing is a farce, in any case a far cry from the Hindu-Christian dialogues during the long period from Raja Rammohan Roy to Mahatma Gandhi. First of all, there are now very few Hindu thinkers who are interested in Jesus Christ, one way or the other. Secondly, Hindu thinkers who have studied Jesus Christ in depth and who thus qualify for the dialogue, are fewer still. Thirdly, knowledgeable Hindus are hardly the Hindus whom Christian groups are likely to invite for dialogue. They pick up Hindus who suit their purpose, with the result that Hindu participants are no more than mere presence reported in the Christian press. For all practical purposes, the current Hindu-Christian dialogue is a Christian monologue. It seems that Christian theologians in India have lost completely their self-confidence of earlier days.
Nor is there any truth in the missionary propaganda abroad, namely, that Hindus are hungering for Jesus or that, in the words of Mother Teresa, Hindus need Christ. This may help the missionaries to raise funds and gain other types of support from their Western patrons. But the fact remains that this is as big a lie in the present as it was in the past. Hindus have never been hungry for Jesus nor have they ever been in need of Christ, notwithstanding the “harvest” which missionaries have reaped from time to time. The force and fraud and material allurements involved in the missionary methods tell the true story.
Now I will take up your questions.
Jesus as such has never had any significance for Hindus at large. At best he means to them one religious teacher among many others. The educated Hindus have been fed for a long time and by some of the best Hindu leaders on the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, the Jesus who saved the adulteress from being stoned, and the Jesus who cried from the cross that those who had wronged him may be forgiven. But for Hindus like me who have studied him first-hand and in the context of the history he has created all through these two thousand years, he means death to Hinduism and all that it stands for, the same as in the ase of many Pagan religions and cultures around the world.
To the best of my knowledge, no Hindu thinker has ever accepted Jesus as the Christ. Some Hindu thinkers may have called him an avatar, but no Hindu thinker has ever equated him with Rama, or Krishna, or the Buddha. Hindus who know the shastric meaning of avatara as also the theological meaning of Christ, will never equate the two terms. In any case, I have not come across any Hindu literature on the subject. Christian theologians have tried to put their own words in Hindu mouths, or their own meanings in Hindu terms. But that is another story. Hindu scholars are not at all eager to get credit for such exercises.
Christian theologians have tried for many years to relate Jesus to practically every strand of Hinduism — from Advaita to Bhakti. But I wonder why they have not been able to make up their mind and say for sure that this is the strand of Hinduism which needs Jesus as it crown. So far it has been a free for all, which shows what they are about. They are out to try different Hindu versions of Jesus on different sections of Hindu society. There have also been a few Hindus who have tried to see this or that strand of Hinduism in Jesus. But they have done so in order to prove that Jesus was some sort of a Hindu, or that Christianity has borrowed from Hinduism. I have yet to know of a Hindu who has asked Hindus to rally round Jesus because he is close to some strand of Hinduism. For Hindus like me who have studied Hinduism as well as Jesus, he can be related to no strand in Hinduism. We see in him a dark force arising from the lower levels of human nature. Hinduism in its essence can have nothing to do with the likes of him except as villains a la Vritra or Ravana of Kamsa.
I am not competent to answer this question because I really do not know anything about Hinduism's expansion into the West. All I know is that some Hindu swamis are getting audiences, even followers, in the West. I know the Hare Krishna movement also to a certain extent. I was told by friends in the USA that some Hindu swamis start with fulsome hymns to Jesus before they come to their subject proper, or tell their audience that they are not saying anything which was not said by Jesus long ago but which the Christian West has missed. I can understand the strategy, witting or unwitting. But I cannot approve of it.
I want Hindu swamis to be more self-confident, and not lean on Jesus.
I met some converts to Hinduism in the USA. They came under the influence of another convert turned guru. They did not tell me that they were dissatisfied with Jesus, only that the new guru was more satisfying. The other type of Western converts to Hinduism I have met in India. In their case the rejection of Jesus and the whole Judeo- Christian tradition is total. But all this is not sufficient for me to draw any firm conclusions. In any case, I am not aware of any new understanding of Jesus dawning in this country simply because some people in the West feel drawn towards Hinduism.
I am afraid I have not understood your question. Which are the Hindu interpretations of Jesus that liberal Christian theologians are criticising? So far I have known only one Hindus interpretation of Jesus, namely, that he was a good man, preach- ing humility, compassion, and forgiveness. Thus Hindus have remained out of touch not only with recent Christian “discoveries” but with all Christian “discoveries” at all times. Jesus has never meant so much to them as to make them go into Christological researches. I have not come across a single book on Christology written by a Hindu. Even educated and modern Hindus are not aware of the subject. But I am sure that once they get informed they will feel more at home with Jesus the Jewish preacher in a historical context than they have done with Jesus the Christ. For instance, I am conversant with the latest researches. I find Jesus the Jew more acceptable than the Jesus of Christian theology.
You are quite correct that Hindus were forced to take interest in Jesus only because he came with Western imperialism, and threatened Hinduism in all sorts of ways. But you are not correct when you say that they incorporated Jesus in a Hindu framework. Before Western imperialism came to this country Hindus had lived with Islamic imperialism for several centuries, and learnt the art of flattering the bully out of his crude hectoring and cruel deeds. They appealed to the mullah and the sufi in the name of “true” Islam and the “real” Muhammad. The art also became a belief in some sections of Hindu society with the passing of time. But it will be untrue to say that Muhammad was ever incorporated into the Hindu framework. The same applies to the Jesus of Western imperialism. Hindus have only tried to beat the missionaries with their own stick, that is, by inventing a “true” Jesus and praising him to the skies while denouncing proselytisation in his name. That is all. And that also has come to an end with the coming of independence. Christian missionaries can no more afford to be bullies. Hindus are no more in need of the “true” Jesus. Now they are bothered only about the hristian missions as a political problem. No new response to Jesus is called for. Christian theologians are deluding themselves if they think that Jesus has ever meant anything much to the Hindus.
Hindus had heard of Jesus even before the British advent. Jesus was very much present in Islamic theology. But I am not aware of any Hindu taking notice of him in the medieval times. They would have shown the same indifference to him, had he come with preachers without any backing of bayonets. Hindus have never denied to anyone the freedom to preach what one likes. They have their own way of smiling at only sons and sole saviours. They remained indifferent to Muhammad so long it was only some sufis settling down among them and presenting him as the last prophet. But they had to take notice of Muhammad when the sufis invited the swordsmen of Islam. So also in the case of Jesus. Even today, take away the financial and political backing which the powerful West provides to Jesus and see the result. Hindus will have no objection to Christian preachers trying to make converts. But I am very doubtful about the Hindu response to Jesus being more positive or substantial than it has been so far. Hindus have thousands of saints, and Jesus comes nowhere near even the most minor of their spiritual teachers. If all the military might, financial largesses, and media power of the West has failed to impress Jesus on the Hindu mind all these years, there is no reason to believe that he will fare better without this equipment.
The most worthwhile Hindu-Christian dialogue took place when Raja Rammohun Roy, Swami Dayananda, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi spoke from the Hindu side. John Mott and the Tambaram conference of the International Missionary Council (1938) found the Christian missionaries at the end of their wits in the face of Mahatma Gandhi. They would have been nowhere if Nehruvian secularism, a continuation of Western imperialism, had not rescued them out of the tight corner into which they had been driven. They resurged forward, and devised new mission strategies of Indigenization and Liberation, etc. They also achieved some notable success, particularly in the North-East. But they never felt the need of a Hindu- Christian dialogue any more. Why are they in need of it now? The Second Vatican is invoked as the new inspiration. But the Second Vatican itself has to be explained. We have not been taken in by the airs of condescension in the papal declaration of 1965 about Hinduism. We know that Christianity has never made concessions out of an inner seeking. In fact, the word “inner” is not applicable in the case of Christianity. It has always used or bowed down to outer circumstances. The Second Vatican saw that Christianity was in a bad shape in the West, and had to find a new home in the East. Dialogue with Hinduism and Buddhism became the new mission strategy. But unfortunately for the Christian mission, Hindus have shown no interest in the dialogue. Nor are they likely to show any interest so long as the missionary apparatus is maintained intact and the right to convert is insisted upon. It amounts to picking my pocket after making me look the other way. I have told my friends such as Raimundo Panikkar that if they are sincere about a dialogue with Hindus, they should denounce the missionary apparatus. They smile and dismiss me as a Hindu chauvinist. Even so, we are prepared for a dialogue provided the Christian side does not lay down the ground rules. That is not acceptable to them. What they want us to accept in the first instance is that Christianity has a lot in common with Hinduism, that Christianity is a great and unique religion, that Jesus is a spiritual power, and that Hindus should have no objection to Christian missions. We will not walk into the trap. In any case, we are in a dialogue with them through Voice of India publications. They have refused to respond so far. We do not know whether the silence is prompted by the fear of losing the argument, or by the self-satisfied smugness of those who wield big money, big organization, and big influence. Jesus has a relevance to the dialogue if the Christian side allows us to present him as we and not they see him. Why should we not have our say?