About the Book
Hindu-Christian represent a stat-of-the-art review of the interaction of these two particular faith communities and, by extension, of the interaction between India and the West. From an examination of the encounter between Hindus and the St. Thomas Christians (about C. E. 52) to treatments of the contemporary scene and visions of the future, editor coward has brought together select writings of eminent Christian and Hindu participants in and scholars of this dialogue.
Part in includes discussions of the early contacts between Christians and Hindus in India Through the Period of the Hindu Renaissance, the living dialogue represented by Gandhi and his followers, and the last 100 years of Hindu-Christian dialogue in Western Europe. Part II contains essays on current research and dialogue in India, Canada, and the U. S. Part III look to the future, including the role of dialogue in the academic study of religion, the experience of scripture and two views of the Hindu-Christian dialogue and where it may be headed.
About the Author
Harold Coward is Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Humanities Institute at the University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta. In addition to numerous articles and edited books, he has published Bhartrhari (1976), the Sphota Theory of Language (1980), Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions (1985), sacred Word and Sacred Text: Scripture in World Religions (1988) and The Philosophy of the Grammarians (1990).
This book does not engage in dialogue. It is about dialogue. It describes "the state of the art," and provides knowledge and insights that are indispensable for proceeding further and deeper in the encounter between these two major traditions of the world.
Dialogue is more than a casual or merely well-intentioned conversation. The Hindu-Christian dialogue, in its present state, demands both a deep experience of one's own tradition and a sufficient knowledge of the other one. We do not begin anew. This dialogue is not of yesterday. It requires a certain knowledge of what has already happened. The history of this encounter has a loaded karma.
Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Perspectives and Encounters provides a useful service by giving us a fair
picture of the situation. Harold Coward is to be congratulated on putting together this kind of sociological introduction that is far from being of merely theoretical interest. Many of those writing here are renowned scholars who have already contributed to this field, as has Coward himself in his excellent book, Pluralism:• Challenge to World Religions (which represents lectures he gave at the University of Madras). The present volume offers a brilliant confirmation of that earlier effort. "For in such dialogue lies the future of religions."
In the present book a group of experts presents us with enough information to allow me to speak of a fourth phase in the dialogue; and in order to do so, I would like to present the Sitz im Leben of this important contribution.
The context of the Hindu-Christian dialogue, as well as of any interreligious dialogue, is not the narrowly specific "religious" field, but the arena of life, the daily struggle for justice, peace, happiness. We meet the true 'other' not in an artificial milieu, but as fellow-traveler in the concerns of real life. But today people meet in the streets of cities, in their places of work and entertainment, and normally exchange only information of superficial feelings, having put a mask on their true personalities. A book of this kind may help readers not only by furnishing them with information, but also by providing them an occasion for deepening human communication, enhancing their own lives. True dialogue takes place not only in life; it is an exchange of life, a dialogue of life.
Some twelve million Hindus live today in the West and their number is multiplying. Not all of them are 'orthodox' Hindus. Yet the archetypes still come from the Indic traditions. An increasing number of Westerners also have close ties with the Indic subcontinent. Not all of them are 'orthodox'
Christians. Yet the archetypes still come from the Christian tradition. Mutual interactions are inevitable. Understanding between people belonging to those two religions is imperative for peace in the world. The way to peace is neither isolation nor competition, but through dialogue. It should be clear here that Hinduism is not reducible to orthodox Vedanta, and Christianity not identical with the orthodox versions of it. Religions today, as in times gone by, are living entities. They are moving and changing realities -labels notwithstanding. Only from the outside do we have a static view of a religion. If we live a religious faith consciously and sincerely, we experience at the same time the freedom to transform it precisely by living it. The Hindu-Christian dialogue of the present cannot be limited to discussing frozen doctrines of the past. And yet the past is still effective in the present. We cannot neglect it.
The pages of this book resonate in me, not as mere ideas, but as bits and pieces of my own life and experience. Perhaps my best qualification for introducing these enriching and illuminating essays is that I have played practically all the roles described in them. I have gone in pilgrimage to
distant places in the north and south of India; I have been lost among the crowds and in danger often in my life. I have lived the simple life of the masses and have also been an academic, taking part in the more intellectual aspects of the dialogue. I have found myself sincerely carrying on the dialogue from both ends of the spectrum. I have played the role of the Hindu, feeling obliged to respond out of a sense of justice and self-respect when Christians misunderstood the Hindu tradition or made a caricature of it. I have also felt called upon to play the role of the Christian, when Hindus
also misunderstood the Christian tradition or made a caricature of it. And each time, I emphasize, without being insincere, syncretistic, or condescending. My reactions were not those of the merely informed expert; they were rather those of the enlightened believer. I have been shunning labels
all my life. No one label can define who a person is, for one's 'circumstance,' one's environment (Umwelt, circumstancia) is as much a part of oneself as is one's individualized substance. In saying this, am I already too Hindu? Or too Indian? Actually, I am describing a universal existential reality.
I have spontaneously identified myself with both sides - Hindu and Christian-without preconceived strategies. Over thirty years ago I discovered myself timidly saying that I was both a Hindu and a Christian without being an eclectic. Trying to justify this original insight, this spontaneous feeling and unreflected experience, I subsequently discovered that I was not the first, and that the dialectics of either/or do not apply so easily to an Asian mentality. Do I belong to my father or to my mother? Is my Hindu karma not a Christian one? Does not the Gospel tell me to respect my
There is another less existential and more academic aspect of this situation. I am assuming that we are all searchers after truth and not mercenaries at the service of some ideology or institution. We are all convinced of our own beliefs, have thought about them, studied and analyzed them.
Psychologically one could say that we are full of our own convictions. In a sincere dialogue situation we show more interest in the unknown - intriguing and even somewhat unconvincing as it is-than in what we believe we already know. The exotic, in its etymological sense, triggers our curiosity and even perhaps the desire intelligently to rebuke it. But this is true also for the other side. The result is that we become more interested in the arguments and ideas of the purvapaksin (the opponent), to use Sanskrit scholastic terminology, than in our own, already held convictions. Instinctively, when the dialogue is genuine, we cease to perform mere monologues. Each one of us struggles to understand the partner. In this exchange we discover points or perspectives lacking in our own beliefs, and something similar happens to the other partner. Then we discover that we have per-haps gone too far and try to retreat to our previous positions, but it is too late for both sides. Something has changed in each, although it sometimes goes unconfessed to the other party. We do not want to lose face. But we both have lost ground.
Hindu-Christian dialogue has had a long and checkered history. Up until the beginning of this century most Hindu-Christian interaction took place in India. The first half of this century saw the expansion of Hindu-Christian discussion to Europe and North America. Worldwide pluralism in the dec- ades since the fifties has resulted in a gradual intensification of this interaction at both the lay and scholarly levels. But there has been no broad and sustained Hindu-Christian dialogue.
Recent scholarship has shown that there was considerable trade and intellectual contact between India and the Graeco-Roman world during the first few centuries after Christ.' .Hindu thought seems to have influenced the Neo-Platonists and is specifically commented upon by Clement of Alexandria (200 C.E.). During the Medieval period, however, this early interaction deteriorated into a Christianized myth based on biblical allegories that painted India as a land of griffons, monsters and demons lying somewhere east of the terrestrial paradise," There is much speculation regarding early Christian activity in India. According to the fourth-century Christian historian Eusebius, St. Thomas was allotted a mission territory reaching across northwest India as far as the Indus, although no definite trace of Christianity can be found in that region. Tradition, however, continues to connect Thomas with India. Gregory, Bishop of Tours (ea. 580 C.E.), mentions that Thomas's relics rest in an elaborate church in South India, and Marco Polo (ea, 1290) locates this church in Mylapore, just south of Madras. There is definite evidence of a Persian, perhaps Nestorian, Christian community in southern India in the seventh or eighth century, but there seems to have been little Christian impact upon Hinduism.'
It was with the arrival of the British and Portuguese traders in India in the seventeenth century that the way was paved for Christian missionaries from Europe. As early as 1573 the Emperor Akbar summoned Jesuit Christians from Goa to appear before him and take part in theological debate, but it was not until the Moghul empire collapsed and the British took control to protect their trading interests that the Christian missionaries arrived in force. British rulers wanted to govern the Hindus according to Hindu law and religion, so they established the Asiatic Society of Bengal for the study of Indian philosophy and literature. Christian missionaries also began taking an interest in Hindu thought-mainly to be able to criticize it and gain converts.' Some, however, learned Sanskrit and became serious scholars of the Hindu texts. The cumulative effort of these and other activities produced the Hindu Renaissance, which aimed at rationalizing and reforming Hinduism.
Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) set out to recover from obscurity the ideas of Vedic Hinduism, which had become neglected in favor of shallow idol worship. Roy was deeply interested in the new religious teachings of the Christian missionaries. He read the New Testament and extracted those
ethical teachings that he felt were universally consistent with the laws of nature. These he translated into Sanskrit as The Precepts of Jesus so as to improve the hearts and minds of his fellow Hindus.' Because he had rejected the divinity of Christ, Roy caused an uproar among the Calcutta Christian missionaries. After more than three years of debate with the Christians, Roy began to write "Vindication of the Hindu Religion Against the Attacks of Christian Missionaries.?" In public letters he effectively argued that Hinduism is not inferior to Christianity (as the missionaries were suggesting), but that the mysteries of each religion equally transcend human understanding so that one cannot be preferred to the other.' In order to defend Hinduism against the Christian charges that it was a pagan and idolatrous religion, Roy and his colleagues set out to reform it. For this purpose the Brahrno Samaj was formed. Its goal was to "purify Hinduism and immunize it against the Christian ideas and practices."? This strategy initiated by Rammohun Roy was passed to Keshub Chunder Sen, and then to Dayananda Sarasvati. But before moving on it is worth noting the role played by Roy in the introduction of English into Hindu education, an action that has certainly encouraged Hindu-Christian dialogue.
Roy believed that the only way to modernize Hindus was through the introduction of English language education. He opposed British attempts to introduce traditional Sanskrit education, and instead argued effectively for modem Western learning through the medium of English." The sub-
sequent emphasis on English and lack of stress on Sanskrit has had an impact on Hinduism that has yet to be evaluated. Certainly it turned the minds of young Indians to the West and Christianity, and away from the traditional wisdom of Hindu Sanskrit texts.
Kcshub Chunder Sen was willing to go much further than Rammohun Roy in appropriating Christianity. Indeed, in the last years of his life he did something reminiscent of Akbar-he experimented in synthesizing elements from the major world religions. "Although he borrowed devotional and yogic practices from Hinduism, he drew even more heavily on Christian teaching and practices. Sen went so far that he was virtually excommunicated from Hinduism, and his conversion to Christianity was constantly expected. Whereas Roy had accepted only the ethical teachings of Jesus, Sen embraced Christ as the fulfilment of Hinduism's devotional strivings. He argued for the Asiatic nature of Christ, the apostles and the gospel and concluded "in Christ, Europe and Asia, the East and the West, may learn to find harmony and unity."!' Keshub thought that not only Christianity and Hinduism could coalesce, but also Islam. He thought that the resulting new religion would both sustain India and lead the world into a worldwide spiritual brotherhood. The Hindu religious genius in continuity with the Old and New Testament revelations would, he felt, be able to reconcile all
religions by absorbing "all that is good and noble in each other."
While Sen was preaching the one extreme of a Christian-Hindu universal religion in Bengal, an opposing viewpoint was put forth by a stem, ascetic Hindu in Northern India. Dayananda Sarasvatl (1824-1883) was also an ardent reformer, but he wanted to go in the opposite direction from sympathetic dialogue. "Standing foursquare on the authority of the Vedas, he fearlessly denounced the evils of post-Vedic Hinduism." He was taught complete reverence for the Vedas and a disdain for all later texts. He devoted his life to lecturing on the exclusive authority of the Vedas. Because of the fervor of his reforms and-preaching, he was called "the Luther of India." His followers are grouped together in the Arya Samaj, which became especially strong in Punjab, and that now, with the emigrations from India to many countries, has spread around the world. Dayananda's approach to other religions and other groups within Hinduism was aggressive and militant. This marks a considerable change from the traditional Hindu attitudes of passive tolerance for all other beliefs. Dayananda's approach to Christianity was to engage a minister in debate and to demonstrate the
logical inconsistencies of Christian bellef,> A very "Christian-looking" system of religiously-sponsored schools was established (from preschool to university), along with the creation of a class of specially educated paid preachers (updeshaks) for proselytization purposes." The introduction of these new modes of communication served to heighten the communal tensions, which had traditionally existed in the Punjab among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. This unfortunate result of Hindu-Christian interaction has left a legacy that still haunts us today.
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