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George Gispert-Sauch, S.J. {*}

Spirituality of Hinduism and Christianity

 

From: Geist und Leben, 5/2010, P. 361-377

 

The relations between the followers of the many world religions and even of smaller religious traditions and Christian believers have now entered a stage beyond 'confrontation', 'encounter' and comparative 'dialogue', to a search for sharing spirituality. Actually this may be the entry to an authentic "dialogue." For what often passes for dialogue is nothing but a 'duo-logue', or a 'poly-logue', where two or more 'words' are exchanged between different traditions, with the hope that each 'logos' is understood and perhaps captured by the other(s), regardless of whether it has an influence on them or not. Etymologically 'dia-logue' implies not many words but one word that goes across (dia-) to the other(s) and nestles in their hearts, so to say, where it induces a spiritual transformation and leads to a sense of 'belonging' together. There is an implicit demand of reciprocity in the idea of dialogue. Of course many 'words' and other signs are involved in this exercise, but in essence they are all meant to establish "a common word" that unites and ennobles the participants in the dialogue.

 

1 Beyond Dialogue?

The hope involved in sharing spiritual experiences at this level is that this dialogue will lead to growth or personal enrichment in assimilating the Word of God to humanity in a more comprehensive form. It may also lower the walls of alienation between various denominations, and consequently create greater peace and harmony among the many religious traditions. At this stage, 'other' religions are no longer [regarded as] adversaries, or fortresses to be conquered, or even simply the 'other', but as places where the Divine Power has manifested itself for the sake of strengthening the bonds of the human family. That dialogue belongs to the very structure of the Church is clear from the contemporary magisterium ever since the first encyclical letter of Paul VI, Ecclesiam suam of 6th August 1964 and the International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay which he attended four months later.

 


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Further theological trends in the community as well as statements from various episcopal bodies have spelt out different levels of dialogue, like the dialogue of life where members of many religious traditions cooperate in activities aimed at advancing the common good, the dialogue of theological sharing where the themes of the religious traditions are explored and their values brought up for mutual edification. This may take place at the popular level or at more sophisticated levels of scholarship where concepts are explored among duly trained participants. Beyond that, there is the dialogue of sharing in prayer and religious experience.

There are surely problems involved any claim to praying in common with members of other religions: can we "pray together" when a Buddhist partner has no faith in a God to pray to? However, experience and reflection says that there is a form of contemplative 'prayer' based on being consciously together in the Presence of the Absolute Goal of our existence that can be shared by most religiously minded people.

The Guidelines for Interreligious Dialogue issued in 1989 by the Dialogue Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India spoke of this as "sharing in prayer and contemplation. The purpose of such common prayer is primarily the corporate worship of the God of all, Who created us to be one large family. We are called to worship God not only individually but also in community." This is how the Christian would interpret the value of such prayers. Other religious people may have a different articulation. The text appeals to the practice and testimony of Mahatma Gandhi for whom "congregational prayer is a means for establishing the essential unity through common worship." (Guidelines, no. 82, p. 68)

The search for deeper bonds of fellowship with religiously minded brothers and sisters has led some Christians to open themselves to a kind of 'mystical dialogue', if the expression is not self- contradictory, to a sharing of spiritual lights, which may often include a large measure of shared silence! They revive the oft-forgotten appeal of Vatican II to members of religious institutes to "attentively consider how the ascetic and contemplative traditions, whose seeds have at times already been planted by God in ancient cultures, even prior to the preaching of the gospel, may be incorporated into Christian religious life." (AG 18. See also 11).

 


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Even the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples has spoken of four types of dialogue, the last of which wants "to share the spiritual experiences in order to participate in the spiritual treasures of each other's religions."

 

2 Can There Be a Eschatological Faith?

The acceptance of forms of spirituality coming from different traditions within our commitment of faith appears to many Christians as a necessary antidote to the unease not seldom felt in professing the Christian faith proclaimed as the eschatological Word of God in a world where eschatology is not yet a visible reality and where many religious people, and others too, evidently are unable to accept that there can be a "final" word before the end of history. In this post-modern world that has rejected any all-encompassing epic visions, Christians may ask themselves whether they are victims of a hubris when they profess the Christian creed as the expression of God's definitive Word to the human family with the total certainty implied in the act of faith. Would the expressions of the 'absoluteness' of Christianity, its 'transcendence', its 'eschatological' character, be perhaps the fruit of the post-Enlightenment culture rather than of the gospel of Jesus?

This unease and the doubts it raises even in believing hearts lead us to a reflection about the meaning of our profession of faith. They may lead us to accept a distinction between what we believe 'on principle' and what we have made our own, or assimilated; between our creed and our spirituality. The distinction does not seem to lack natural validity. We all hear declarations of love in weddings: "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life." The promise is not false. The love on which it is based is authentic. But we also know that the fulfilment will take many years of living together and will pass through many ups and downs.

 


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The love lived day after day does not often measure up to the quality of love professed at the time of marriage. In our faith life too, much as we may profess a total commitment to the Lord revealed to us as the 'eschaton' of history, and however much as we mean it sincerely, we never succeed in fully living up to it.

This is the reason for Christian humility. However ultimate be the revelation to which we surrender, we are never sure that our lived faith corresponds to the quality of the Word given to us. Experience also teaches us that at least some believers who profess different creeds live up to their own commitments to an extraordinary degree. One may think of Mahatma Gandhi, or many similar models. Only God who scrutinizes the hearts can measure our commitments, however true in intention the commitment itself may be. Perhaps this is the lesson we must draw from the scene of the last judgement described for us in Mt 25: we are ultimately judged by our concrete lives, not by our creeds.

 

3 Creed and Faith

This however does not mean that our creed is either invalid or futile. If nothing else, it reminds us that the value of the Christian faith is not measured by the quality of our response to God but by the reality of the Divine Love communicated to us through it. There are also other presuppositions in the 'dialogue' of spirituality. The first is that God has spoken to our ancestors and speaks to us in many partial and different ways. The opening sentence of the letter to the Hebrews says this clearly. There are many translations of the first word, but it surely states the fact of a long history of the divine address to the human family. The etymology of the word (poly-meros) seems to suggest plurality of 'partial' words, or words partially revelatory, more than plurality of times. This 'plural' word is contrasted with the fullness of the word spoken "in a son" who is the 'heir' of all.

 


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This text is a basic source for all theologians who have in recent times reflected on theology of religions. Few however seem to pay attention to the contrast and the finality that the letter gives to the word spoken through 'a son': Jesus. The important thing for them, which we should not forget, is that God has spoken often in the past. It is true that in the immediate context of the letter these revelations of God may refer to those recorded in the Bible itself. But chapter 11 will recall the saving 'faith' professed by personages who did not belong to the Jewish ancestry as such: Abel, Enoch, Noah. And in chs. 6 and 7 Melchizedek, a 'pagan' priest, is presented as a type of priesthood foreshadowing the meaning of Jesus Christ, who is surely the eschatological Word. Today many theologians see without hesitation in this affirmation of Heb 1:1 a larger truth than the revelatory nature of the whole Jewish tradition. Luke's Peter says it in Acts: God never left himself without witness (a-martyron) in the long history of humanity (Acts 14:17). God has spoken and continues to communicate both with individuals and with communities in many ways. It is obvious that each one of us must respond to the Divine Voice in the way It calls us.

A second presupposition of interfaith dialogue which many Christians today take for granted is that God calls us now to listen to his voice as it is echoed in the beliefs and practices of his faithful from other than our own religion. This may sound strange, but is implied in the universal character our faith gives to the revelation in Christ. If universal, it must be open to all. Many Christians feel called to try religious paths that have been trod for centuries and millennia, many of which to all evidence have produced magnificent fruits of kindness and holiness. If really God has been calling people in various ways, why should God's voice to them not be relevant and valuable for us too? The present stage of human evolution, where people of many families sit together at the table where the common political and social issues are discussed, creates a desire for harmony and cooperation in order to overcome the fissiparous trends that result from human pride and sin. There is an urgent need of an effort towards spiritual openness and convergence. This need not deny the plurality of paths, but may make us aware that somehow they are related to one another.

 


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4 Is Double Religious Identity Possible?

In a recent article in the Vidyajyoti Journal (July 2009) Indian theologian Michael Amaladoss studies the question of the double religious identity. He makes a distinction between double belonging and double identity. Belonging is essentially a social category, and therefore must respect the social laws involved. Based on ultimate socio-religious commitment, membership to one religion seems to exclude the membership to another religion the object of whose ultimate commitment is seen to all appearances as divergent and not seldom incompatible. This is true also in the political world. Yet, even there where patriotic commitments seem to exclude plurality, there is now a growing number of cases where by mutual agreement people are entitled to a double nationality. Should we to speak of a primary political commitment and secondary ones? The question is not so clear and needs further experience and study.

At the level of spiritual commitment, however, there seems to be in theory less objection to multiple identity. In fact in some way this is everybody's experience. We all know of multiple schools of spirituality within the Christian tradition. Apart from the fact that the four gospels represent different perceptions of Jesus Christ, we have in the New Testament itself different stresses in the response to God in authors like Paul, Matthew, Luke, Mark, the author of Hebrews, John.... Later, in some form the various 'particular churches' within the 'Roman" Church represent specific forms not only of church organization but also of spirituality. There is surely an oriental spirituality, an orthodox spirituality, and patristic, franciscan, dominican, jesuit forms of spirituality.

We may identify with the spirituality of several traditions: as Christians we are all shaped by the spirituality of our Jewish ancestry, although reinterpreted in the light of our faith in the Lord Jesus. And we cannot ignore in our faith any form of spirituality suggested by the various biblical writings. Marcion was rejected for doing that. Among all the the biblical authors, no spirituality is totally different from others.

 


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There is a centre in all Christian spirituality, and it is the person of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, revealing us the mystery of the God who is love in Trinitarian self-communication.

Some in the Church insist that because Jesus is the perfect and final expression of the Father in our history all forms of spirituality must be included in the New Testament and therefore the Christian needs not to appeal to any other tradition. This may be true if we speak in the eschatological perspective: the end sums up whatever was experienced in the means. But our immediate experience is historical, the eschaton remaining in the horizon of our faith in the resurrection. Although in our faith we hold on to this eschaton, we however live it through historical consciousness. And historical consciousness is always limited and provisional, always open to growth, to more. From this perspective we cannot but be limited, and we can surely learn from the ways in which God has spoken throughout history and other believers have responded to the Divine Word. And this is what the Indian Church is ready to explore.

 

Some Models

One of the early models for living such dialogal spirituality based on a double identity is Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, a Bengali convert to Catholicism in the late nineteenth century. Called at his birth in 1861 Bhavanicaran Bandyopadhyay, this son of a police officer of the British Raj passed in his youth through many stages of interaction with the western culture, by then in the process of getting rooted in renascent India. He ended as a marginal member of the Catholic Church and an extremist revolutionary against the British rule. In the peak years of his theological and spiritual output, in the nineties, he repeatedly professed himself a "Hindu-Christian": Hindu by birth and culture, Christian by faith and baptism. See references in J. Lipner, Brahmabandhab Upadhyay. The Life and Thought of a Revolutionary. Delhi: OUP 1999, p. 161 and passim.

From the time of his conversion in 1891 he never hesitated about this double affiliation. He somehow found a way of explaining it intellectually by making a clear theological distinction between nature and grace or, in a sociological perspective, between culture and choice.

 


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He did pass through various stages of criticism and rejection of part of the Hindu heritage: Vedanta, the bhakti popular traditions, the contemporary revivalist movements.... Eventually he recovered most of the traditions he had criticized (he never lost his basic grounding in the Hindu cultural world) and seemed happy to walk alone in the uncomfortable tightrope he had stretched for himself between the Hindu tradition he loved viscerally and the Jesus he had discovered and to whom he had surrendered sincerely. He left many expressions of his double spiritual identity in many writings, the best undoubtedly being his hymn to the Blessed Trinity under the Indian invocation of Saccidananda, where his Christian faith appears enriched by many references and allusions to the Hindu tradition at various levels of its history.

Upadhyay's was a lonely journey, but not ultimately futile in his scope. His political commitment to India's independence would find fruition beyond his dreams forty years after his death when, thanks to the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, India affirmed its total independence and in 1950 declared itself to be a "sovereign democratic republic." Upadhyay's spiritual endeavour and theological reflection produced soon after his death a movement of sympathetic study of the Hindu theological world and eventually of all Indian religions, that resulted in numerous philosophical and theological studies, often on the pattern of comparative studies. The so-called Calcutta school of Indian theology, led by P. Johanns, G. Dandoy and others who edited The Light of the East (1922-1946) was much indebted to Upadhyay. These trends led to a search in the spirituality that had produced such rich theological expressions as we find in Hinduism.

The movement led to an integration of Indian spiritual traditions into the Christian search. Many tried to assimilate the Indian traditions of renunciation or sannyasa within a Christian frame of reference. This was the original intention of Swami Abhishiktananda (the Benedictine Dom Henri Le Saux) who however wrestled valiantly with the perceived incompatibility between Vedanta and the Christian faith.

 


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He is the best known case because he wrote much about an integration of "sagesse hindou, mystique chrétienne" (the title of one of his books, English translation under the title Saccidananda).

In its original French version this book ends with a commentary on Upadhyay's hymn to the Trinity. Abhishiktananda himself followed the sannyasa way of life and his diary reveals both the insights he obtained from his adoption of this form of Indian spirituality, and the tension he felt in not being capable of explaining to himself and to others how the truth of the Upanishads as he understood them could coexist with the truth of Jesus Christ as his Christian faith taught him. A disciple of his, Sister Sara Grant, would also testify that her way was to hold in tension within her heart and mind the truth of both traditions, Advaita and Jesus Christ Son of God and saviour, letting the conceptual tension between these two world views to remain taut in her soul and allowing this tension to produce a (subconscious?) spiritual wisdom.

Not all those inspired by Upadhyay followed the path of renunciation. Others took rather his path of involvement in the political world that was developing in the long gestation of Indian political freedom in the first half of the twentieth century. Some associated themselves with the Gandhian movement: the best known figure in this was the Anglican missionary C. F. Andrews, a great friend and supporter of the Mahatma in his satyagraha campaign and his negotiations with the British Raj. Even today the thought of the Mahatma who himself felt the attraction of Jesus Christ, inspires many activists in their political commitments. Other activists have followed a path more to the left, although generally keeping the non-violent style, working for social justice and equality of both classes and castes. Many of their names have been more or less directly associated with Bangalore-based CISRS (the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society), the best known thinker and activist of whom was perhaps the protestant M. M. Thomas, Moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, 1968-1975. This trend has also produced a movement particularly concerned with restoring dignity to the out-castes of India which receives the general title of "Dalit Theology." This is both a social and spiritual movement, and like other Christian movements in India is deeply ecumenical.

 


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6 Paths Leading into Indian Spirituality

There are many paths through which Indian spiritual traditions are sought to be integrated into the Christian practice. Let me outline a few: the path of meditation, the path of political activism in the form of ahimsa and satyagraha, the path of intertextual scriptural reading.

 

Meditation

The Indian forms of meditation have been in the market place for many decades already. In 1956 a "Yogin of the Christ" (J. M. Déchanet, OSB) could claim in the booklet La voie du silence that the exercises of Yoga were well known in the West. In effect, orientalists and Indian swamis had already publicised this tradition of spirituality. Numerous Christians began to adopt what came to be called "Christian Yoga," though yoga can hardly bear any qualifier. Some people did find help in the various exercises of yoga, not only for mental relaxation but also for spiritual preparation for prayer and as a spiritual path by itself. Its Japanese counterpart may be even better known in Germany thanks to the work of Fr Enomiya Lassale. The basic idea is well known: to seek interior silence, to empty the mind of its constant flow of images and emotions, even 'religious' ones, so as to lead it to rest and to let the deeper level of the psyche surface and produce its fruit of quiet, peace, supra-conceptual vision.

How far this Indian trend has had direct influence on the spiritual traditions of meditation in the modern West (John Main, Thomas Merton, ...) is a matter for investigation. Whether the association of breathing with the exercise of concentration was already present in the ancient traditions of the Fathers of the Desert and whether it had an influence from the Yogic pranayama, is again a historical question that need not concern us here. Even St Ignatius does recommend in the first form of prayer at the end of The Spiritual Exercises that one associates mental prayer with the rhythm of one's natural breathing.

 


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Recent studies on the Ignatian contemplative tradition also stress the importance of "stopping where one finds satisfaction" in what one is meditating thus preparing "the way of silence" and letting grace work directly on the soul, beyond the mediation of concepts. Is this trend due to any Indian spiritual influence?

Without going specifically into the ways of Yoga or Zen, Fr Tony de Mello's books have been immensely popular in the Spanish and English speaking world in spreading various themes of the Indian spiritual traditions in the West. His first book, Sadhana, in 1978, dealt specifically in ways to prayer. Its popularity may be compared to that of another booklet, Prayer, by Swami Abhishiktananda, first published in 1967. Both authors have written abundantly in areas of Eastern spirituality. In general, Ignatian retreat directors propose today exercises of inner quieting through body awareness, and specifically related to the exercise of breathing. Many find in this a way to deeper levels of contemplation. Another useful author well known in the German and Spanish speaking worlds is the Hungarian Jesuit Franz Jalicsz.

Obviously this spiritual path suggests also a certain adaptation of the metaphysical frame of reference. We are accustomed in the Christian traditions, at least in the West, to operate on a dualistic understanding rooted in a metaphysics of the person as a relational being. God is the Other, 'totaliter alius', necessarily beyond any form as we experience them in the created universe. Yet the creature relates to this 'Other' and, like in Indian bhakti, the relation may be conceived as that of the creature to the Creator, of the servant to the Lord and Master, or of the son/daughter to Parent (actually to Father), of a lover and the Beloved, perhaps even of a friend to the Friend, especially when mediated by the incarnate figure of Jesus Christ.

 


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But in all cases it is an I-Thou relation, not always avoiding a certain implication of quasi familiar camaraderie with the Divine and a danger of placing the Creator and the creature at the same level. Is a different 'ontology', a sense of identity or 'reflection', possible in the Christian perspective? The advaita tradition seeks a subjective knowledge of the Absolute Brahman, as "self" (atmatvena), as 'subject', rather than an 'objective' knowledge. Can this find a place in the Christian search traditionally patterned after the symbol of the 'Son' of God? Where do we place the 'Word' and where the oneness between Father and Son of which John's gospel speaks?

In a series of lectures he gave in Delhi and other cities of India (later published as Truth Is Two-Eyed, London SCM 1979) the Anglican bishop John Robinson suggested that we would be spiritually enriched if we take into consideration the 'eastern' presupposition of a certain identity between the individual self and the absolute Self, and hold this view together with the personalist or 'dualistic' way of the West, without trying to find a metaphysical synthesis of the two. Any healthy bodily vision, he explained, requires two eyes: each perceives a different angle of reality. In a process beyond the conscious activity, the brain somehow fuses the two pictures into one where there is a sense of depth and proportion richer than in either eye's picture. Everybody has a primary 'eye-sight', the other acting as complementary. Such, he suggested, should be the meeting of East and West: a search for a richer vision in which the traditional Christian western eye is enriched by a 'different picture', letting the subconscious spiritual life fuse the two into one vision. And vice versa.

Of course the two-eye metaphor will need to be expanded: there is not only a so called 'oriental' and a 'western' pattern of spirituality: there may be, there are other patterns, e.g., those of the indigenous peoples who live closer to mother earth. At any rate 'advaita' has often been valued by Indian Christian theologians and spiritual masters. Upadhyay did it between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. In 1925 a priest in the Nilgiris, Rev. J. F. Pessein, published a book, Vedanta Vindicated or Harmony of Vedanta and Christian Philosophy, printed in the Jesuit Press of Trichinopoly. In 1950 an Indian priest from Bombay, Fr H. O. Mascarenhas, suggested the spiritual significance of advaita in a booklet, The Quintessence of Hinduism, which was then heavily criticized and ignored.

 


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Today many Christian theologians and committed Christians are in search of a kind of "Christian advaita." After Abhishiktananda, M. Amaladoss has often touched on this theme. The question remains as to what is the relation of the contemplation of the life of Jesus and the saints in the Christian tradition and the search for a supra-conceptual experience of the "Self" (in the Indian tradition) or the divine Spirit in us.

 

Political Activism

The first book Gandhi actually wrote as a text and which he also translated from his mother tongue Gujarati into English, is known as Hind Swaraj, and this year 2009-2010 India celebrates the centenary of its first edition. Here as well as in other writings and in his whole political life, Mahatma Gandhi raised political involvement to the level of spirituality. He followed the Indian tradition that the four human goals (purushartha) of life should be sought conjointly in a balanced manner: artha or wealth-cum-power (politics), kama or pleasure of the senses and the spirit, dharma or duty performance in social and religious relations, and moksa or the search for inner and ultimate liberation. The last represents the highest purushartha, but does not eliminate the validity of the other goals.

Following his interpretation of the Gita, quite different from that of his illustrious predecessor Sankaracharya, Mahatma Gandhi heard the call of the divine to join the struggle, to "fight" for the well-being of humanity, but without violence and without seeking personal rewards. In many ways the Gita is a search for a spirituality of detachment within a commitment to the moral and political struggles for the good. However, if we accept that chapter 11 as important, the experience of the Divine involved in the evolution of the universe may be considered the prophetic core, in the words of R. C. Zaehner, of the moral teaching of this text.

In the Gandhian tradition this teaching finds expression in two important and interlinked themes: ahimsa and satyagraha. Satyagraha is the goal: "an earnest holding on to 'Truth'," which may be considered as close to what the New Testament means by "faith,"

 


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with the obvious difference that while for the Christian writers the "Truth" is somehow expressed in Jesus Christ, for Gandhiji it was 'social' justice, in concrete the struggle for independence and economic reform for India. Life has no meaning unless it is imbued with satyagraha.

Ahimsa on the other hand refers to the purity of means to be maintained in every endeavour of life. Basically it means absence of aggressiveness or the desire to hurt or kill. Gandhiji elevated this primary theme of ancient Indian ethics (with roots in Buddhism and Jainism) to a complete spirituality for political action. Often translated as equivalent to the British "Non-violence," there is a danger in the translation that we turn the adjective into a noun. Actually Gandhian "Non-violence" is a short form for "non-violent action," with stress on the noun.

The political career of the Mahatma shows him in constant activity to checkmate the British Raj by all religious, social and political resources available to him, excluding 'violence' which was the path that some of his younger contemporaries were advocating to obtain freedom for India. Gandhi saw the futility of violence. The post-Gandhian history has vindicated his stand, and the various movements for non-violent political action, whether in South Africa, among the blacks of North America or the 'Indians' of South America, or in Europe itself, this form of Indian spirituality has left a valuable legacy: Lanza del Vasto, Martin Luther King Jr, Octavio Paz, Perez Esquivel, Bishop Helder Camara and Nelson Mandela....

 

Reading the Scriptures Intertextually

I come now to a third way by which Christians are attempting to open themselves more to the Indian spiritual traditions, related in some form to the meditative way mentioned above, but taking as its basis not the Yoga tradition but the sacred scriptures. I refer to the intertextual reading of sacred texts as sacred texts. Already in 1974 a group of theologians in India came together under the auspices of the Bangalore-based National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre to study whether at least an occasional use of readings of Scriptures of other religions within the Christian liturgy or paraliturgies was meaningful,

 


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and whether we can theologically say that such Scriptures are in some way "inspired," taking into account the analogical way in which the adjective 'inspired' is used in respect to the biblical books themselves.

The general agreement, with many qualifications, was clearly in favour of an analogical affirmation of such "inspiration" with all that it implies, and also the prudent use of such readings with communities that are prepared for it. Later on the theological Faculty of St Peter's Institute in Bangalore initiated a special course/seminar in the Master's degree programme on the "inspiration" of the non-biblical Scriptures. The Third World theological trend has gone in this direction in the last thirty-five years. Today most theologians of Asia seem to think that in some way God has spoken to their communities especially through the texts that have been received and preserved as sacred and foundational. Retreats based on the Gita and similar texts are offered to Christian groups interested in closer relationships with other religions. Connected with this, there is also the growing trend of celebrating in some form the more important religious festivals of our neighbours. Even the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue sends each year greetings to the faithful of other religions on the occasion of their principal feasts like Ramadan, Diwali, Vaishakh, etc. Christians in India go further and celebrate by themselves or in union with members of other religions these festivals at the social and even at religious levels.

There is a special liturgy approved by the Holy See for the celebration of Diwali as a feast of "Christ the Light of the World." This is clearly a case of appropriation. Others prefer to preserve the original meaning and significance of these feasts, though always celebrated in the context of the Christian faith. Not only the feasts of the Great Tradition are thus celebrated but also the specific feasts of Tribal and Dalit communities.

Recently two significant books by a North American Jesuit indologist, Francis X. Clooney, have spelt out further implications of this way. He had earlier written abundantly on doing theology in India, but his last two books published in 2008 focus on the means and importance of intertextual reading of the Scriptures. The books are The Truth, the Way, the Life (Peeters & Eerdmans) and Beyond Compare (Georgetown University Press). The first offers a very detailed Christian reading of a basic mantra of South Indian Vaishnavism:

 


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"Om, Obeisance to Narayana! Having completely given up all dharmas, to Me alone come for refuge, from all sins I will make you free. Do not grieve. I approach for refuge the feet of Narayana with Shri!" In his explanation rich for its constant reference to the ancient Indian commentatorial literature, Clooney studies the possibility for a Christian of praying this mantra as it is, and the limitations he or she may find in repeating it, with sincerity and honesty to her or his Christian roots. He suggests that Hindus may equally want to use at times Christian prayers for their own meditation and repetition, reinterpreting them from their spiritual perspectives. This would open the door to a shared spiritual experience.

In Beyond Compare it is not a prayer that is shared between the two traditions, but two books that are read one in the light of the other so that there is, so to say, a mutual fecundation. The books are "The Essence of the Auspicious Three Mysteries" (Srimadrahasyatrayasara), a Sanskrit text by Venkatanatha, better known as Vedanta Desika (1268-1369) and the Treatise on the Love of God of St Francis de Sales (1567-1622). The common theme found in these two spiritual books is 'loving surrender to God'. Clooney makes a very detailed analysis of both texts and shows their stresses in the means they suggest to reach the peak spiritual experience. This Christian integration of the Indian spiritual tradition (and vice versa) as explained by Clooney can only be open to the few scholars that feel comfortable in the two worlds of the Hindu and Christian traditions, while other forms suggested above are open to a larger public. Even Mahatma Gandhi introduced the reading of scriptures of various traditions in his popular prayer meetings.

 

Conclusion

Few people will deny the need for the various religions of the world to come closer together, and the possibility that Christians may be enriched by sharing the spiritual traditions of other religions. This is not syncretism where there is little concern for consistency of thought and action. It is rather what Sri Lankan Jesuit theologian Aloysius Pieris has called symbiosis, leading to a synergy, a 'living together' with another and accordingly acting together. Such a process is not new:

 


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it has been operative from the beginning of history and the beginning of the Church. It requires the action of the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of discernment that enables us to conjugate different and apparently irreconcilable traditions into one vision. Christians have from the second century at least made a symbiosis of the four gospels into an integrated figure of Jesus Christ. It is not the primary concern of the spiritual person to propose a logical synthesis of the various traditions that one operates with simultaneously. The symbiosis works at the subconscious level, the work of the Spirit of Love. In the measure in which we grow in the love of all our brothers and sisters, even the most distant, in that measure there is bound to be a fusion of spiritualities which should result in a source of energy for the world at large.

 

 

Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'