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The Hindu Approach to Christ

by A.J. Siqueira, S.J., M.A.

Description

An essay about the obstacles inherent in the Eastern religions which make it very difficult to convert to Christianity.

Larger Work

Thought

Pages

587-596

Publisher & Date

The America Press, March 1934

Vision Book Cover Prints

From Tiger Hill, Darjeeling, on the Himalayas, five countries are visible, of which four—Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan—are closed to Christianity. India alone is open. Between 50 and 100 million souls are thus cut off from the Gospel. In India, as we know from the recent census, some 7 out of 350 millions are Christians, that is, two per cent. In spite of the apostolate of St. Thomas, the success of St. Francis Xavier, and the labors of countless missionaries, Christ has not touched the heart of India.

Why is not India Christian after all our efforts? Six times have we tramped about this Jericho with our preaching, our schools, our hospitals, our literature, our philanthropy and our social reform. Have we not sacrificed and spent and toiled? No generation has ever given itself as our generation. There are no finer missionaries than those in India. And yet they say, "Christ" —but not "Christianity." They give us credit for our vast and manifold efforts, but they come no further. Instead they attempt to match our preaching with their preaching (using texts out of their own sacred books), our schools with their schools, our medical and philanthropic institutions with theirs, our literature with their literature, our propaganda for social reform with theirs. On the surface it seems an impasse. Jericho does not tumble, waiting for some seventh circuit with its conquering shout.[1]

Apart from the difficulties arising from missionary methods, there seems to be an obstacle to Christianity in the religion of the people, a barrier as insuperable as the Himalaya Mountains. We do not deny that there is a growing interest in Christ. Dr. E. Stanley Jones cites a Hindu principal of a college who said at the close of one of his addresses:[2]

Jesus is lighting up the soul of India as the sunrise first strikes the high peaks of the mountains and then gradually the light sifts down into the valleys. He is lighting the finest among us, and the light is gradually permeating down through to the masses. And we are glad to be conquered by that light.

But Professor D. R. Bhandarkar of the Calcutta University is not quite so glad when he writes:[3] "What is worse, the ranks of Hindu society are being thinned away by the fervid missionary fervour of the rival religions, Christianity and Muhammadanism." Dayanand Sarasvati, Keshub Chunder Sen, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, were lovers of Christ. Thus:

Keshub, though a Hindu, caught sight of Jesus as the Incarnation of what India craved and needed. He shook the soul of Bengal with his throbbing clarion call to follow Jesus out of darkness to light and out of chaos to freedom. Dr. Stanley Jones says: He became a prophet—almost. He almost says the word, but he inwardly hesitated. Who is Jesus? He calls Him "the God-consciousness" instead of God, calls Him "subjective Divinity" and not "objective Divinity," but the word never came out. . . . Keshub was the prophet of the Almost Divine Saviour—but only almost.

These lovers of Christ remained Hindus because they loved Christ in their own way which is a Hindu way; and the Hindu way is ringed round with a fourfold hedge.

I

First comes the outer insulating fringe: the indifferentism which argues: "God is so good and merciful; He could not have appointed one only path of salvation. All religions lead to God and are equally good. Why change?" This attitude is considered to be "a breadth of outlook." Mahatma Gandhi has said: "My religion has no geographical limits." As far back as 1908 he wrote in Hind Swaraj: "Religion is dear to me and my first complaint is that India is becoming irreligious. Here I am not thinking of the Hindu and Mohammedan or the Zoroastrian religion, but of that religion which underlies all religions." Indifferentism is strengthened by the nationalism, wrongly applied to religion, which bans Christianity as a foreign import to be boycoted. Dr. Buck records a Hindu lawyer's words at one of his meetings :[4] "We cannot possibly make any objection to such a Person [Christ] or such teaching. But it is not thus that India has learned Christ. He has been brought to us dressed in the clothes of Western imperialism."

The Sanatana Dharma constitutes the real bulwark. It is the eternal, orthodox Hinduism, according to which, "the entire world belongs to one order, and is sustained and governed by one set of laws, which are both physical and spiritual."[5] It has a vague idea of faith—not the firm intellectual assent to a Divinely revealed truth on the authority of God the Revealer, but just an attitude of mind relying on the evidence of the senses and on the experience and inner consciousness with which Modernism has familiarized us. Dr. S. K. Das said:[6]

Likewise one can subscribe to dogmas without being a dogmatist. A dogma works not by mechanical dictation but by illuminating inspiration— not by annexing or annulling the rights of private judgment or mysticism but by giving ungrudging recognition to these. Dogma is thus experience in the making, and faith or belief which has an air of dogmatism, to begin with, is but reason cultivating itself. . . . This is typically illustrative of the spirit of Hindu orthodoxy which, though depending in the end upon a provisional faith, employs a faith that enquires.

This explains why Hinduism is the most difficult thing to define; some say: "It is enough if you are born of Hindu parents and have not been converted to another faith." For Gandhi, Hinduism is just "a search after truth through nonviolent means." So defined, Hinduism ceases to be a religion or a philosophy. Consequently, instead of a deposit that is fixed and sealed, to be firmly guarded—depositum custodi— though its rich content be more fully appreciated in the course of centuries, the Hindu "revelation" progresses and evolves, each one contributing his mite. Thus the Sanatana Dharma finds room in its ample, absorbent bosom for all doctrines. Many religious movements have risen up to oppose it; Buddhism and Jainism, for instance; it has absorbed and outlived them.

This broad-bottomed, eclectic comprehensiveness is most noticeable in the reform movements of recent times, such as the Brahmo and the Arya Samaj, the Ramakrishna Misssion, which have not hesitated to borrow from Christianity and Islam.[7] In their treasury of old and new doctrines and practices they try to find a parallel or a substitute for whatever Christianity offers them. Dr. Stanley Jones asked a Hindu judge, an authority on Hinduism, "Who is a Hindu?" "You can believe anything and be a Hindu," he replied, "anything from pantheism to atheism." "Yes, I know; but where does the Hindu end and the non-Hindu begin?" "Well, you can believe in anything, provided you do not reject the rest," was his final statement. He put his finger on the genius of Hinduism, for it absorbs everything, good, bad, and indifferent, and rejects nothing. Even concerning those religions outside itself, it says that they) too, are ways to God.

But there are Hindu doctrines that run directly counter to Christianity. According to the doctrine of Karma and transmigration, man has no need of a saviour because each one must atone for his own sins in successive re-births, until he attain mukti. release or salvation. By the law of Karma, an endless series of reincarnations, the soul reaps what it has sown in one life in the form either of misery or of blessing in a future rebirth.[8] Transmigration is deduced from the law of Karma, though it is partly a hypothesis made to explain instinct or Samskara. As it lies within the power of every man to transcend the sphere of Karma and obtain liberation, Redemption ceases to have any meaning. Prafullapran Changkakti writes:[9]

The Christian doctrine of Atonement in the person of Jesus who sacrificed his life for the sake of fallen humanity is opposed to the law of Karma. The Hindu finds it difficult to subscribe to the proposition of one man suffering for another man's sins, as it makes the moral order of the Universe unreal by keeping men under the happy illusion that however much they may go on sinning, they would be ultimately saved by the saving grace of God.

Sir S. Radhakrishnan lends this statement the weight of his philosophical authority:

That one should suffer for. another's sins is intelligible, whatever be its validity. But does not the situation become paradoxical, if not grotesque, when the sinner complacently accepts that another should suffer for his sin? The view deludes the unthinking into the false notion that they might continue their careers of crime, for God would some day send some angel or Son of His to bear the sin of the world. The way in which orthodox Christian doctrine regards the suffering and death of Jesus, the guiltless victim, is conceivable, only if God were a well-made weighing machine.

Again, Hinduism acknowledges many messiahs—messengers sent from God — Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, even Mrs. Annie Besant, and falls down in guru-worship before them. An eyewitness relates an incident which happened in Madras. Mrs. Besant had been interned for some time by the Madras Government on account of some local political disturbance. One morning news spread over the town that the Grand Old Lady had been released and was returning to her theosophical headquarters at Adyar. A procession was organized: "Vandemataram" and "Besant Devi ki jai" filled the air. At a certain place in Mylapore the procession halted; priests from an adjoining temple were seen to approach the triumphal car. Lo and behold, the temple priests started burning camphor and incense as they do before their gods in the temple. The explanation of this act of divine worship bestowed on Mrs. Besant was: she is an avatara come to save India from the sway of the British Raj!

Christ is one of many; He is made to mingle with the other messiahs in the Hindu pantheon. A Sanatanist writes:

We believe Christ to be one of the greatest teachers of the world, but not the only teacher. God in His infinite power and mercy sends down such Teachers in all ages and in all great nations who are prepared to receive them. The teachings of Christ and Krishna in the Gita are very much alike. If this view of the Hindus is accepted by our Christian friends, we will embrace them and their religion in all sincerity. This is the only hindrance—"

No little one, indeed! "Is it necessary for the sake of accepting Christ to abjure or renounce all the other prophets of India?" asks P. K. Sen:[10]

No. No. For then would Christ come to destroy. Gautama Buddha and his message, Yogacharya Krishna and his message, Sree Chaitanya and his message of Bhakti—all came from God and came to stay. So did all the other prophets of the world. And Jesus came not to destroy but to fulfil. It is in the harmony of these that the salvation of India consists and not in the destruction of any.

No wonder that Keshub Chunder Sen could say: "My Christ, my sweet Christ, the brightest jewel of my heart, the necklace of my soul—for twenty years have I cherished him in this my miserable heart"; and still continue to be a Hindu. Christ was one of many jewels.

In the same way the Sacred Scripture is set alongside the Sruti, the Vedas, the Koran, and the rest—all equally revealed and true. Gandhi writes: "I shall even go to the length of rejecting the divinity of the most ancient Shastras, if they do not appeal to my reason." And Professor A. R. Wadia's comment on this was:[11] "And yet this is done not with the arrogance of a mere rationalist, but in the spirit of a humble devotee, who does not believe in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas, but recognizes the Bible and the Koran and the Zend Avesta to be 'as much divinely inspired as the Vedas.' "

Moreover, God is in every man, therefore also in Christ, though (the Hindu allows) in a greater degree. Christ is man, not God. In the article already mentioned, Prafullapran Changkakti explains it thus:[12]

The Hindu says: God is everywhere. He is present in all things though according to degrees. As Sir S. Radhakrishnan puts it: Hindu thought is not afraid of asserting the presence of God in all things. It has no faith in a transcendent God distinct from the world, living in a monotonous solitude of His own. The Vedantic formula Tat tvam asi (that art thou) is not to be interpreted as gross pantheism. It only points to the essential unity of the self with Brahman, to the divine origin of man in whom the divine spark shines at all times and under all circumstances.

This is easily understood if we remember that most systems of Hindu philosophy hold immanent evolution and not transcendent causality and creation ex nihilo. The union of the divine and the mortal in the persons of Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed and many other saints clearly shows that there is a community of nature between man and God. The man who lives in God is not afraid of identifying his personality with that of God and saying: "I am Brahman" and "Brahman is I." Hindu Pantheism leaves no room for Christ. Yet the Gita says: "For whenever there is a decay of the law, and an ascendancy of lawlessness, then I create myself. For the protection of the good and the destruction of evildoers, and for the establishment of the law, am I born age after age." Mr. George Howells of the Serampore Theological College comments on this text:

The fundamental thought of this passage clearly is that God imparts Himself to men from time to time, becomes incarnate as man, so that men may be saved from sin, and find their eternal refuge in the Divine. . . . Both the Gita and the New Testament seem to entertain no doubt as to the possibility of incarnation. If there be an impassable gulf of difference in nature between God and man, then indeed incarnation is inconceivable; but if there be kinship between God and man in the sense that God is the all-perfect personal spirit, a living conscious personality, as the Gita and the New Testament represent Him to be, then the idea of incarnation is by no means in itself incredible. . . . The Gita speaks of successive incarnations, but the New Testament speaks of one. Yet the Christian Scriptures by no means think of Jesus as the only human representative of God upon earth. He is rather the culmination of the self-revelation of God in human life. . . . The Incarnation of Christ as set forth in the New Testament is not the absolutely isolated event it is sometimes represented to be in certain phases of a superficial Western theology.

Ramakrishna has expressed this same thought in characteristic Oriental fashion:

The diver-bird swims on the surface of the water; then it dives down and comes up again at a different place: so God comes in the world and then disappears again to reappear in a different age at a different place. Whenever He appears, He comes as an Avatara, a Saviour of Man. All these Avataras are different manifestations of the One Spirit. We do not believe that God incarnated on earth only through Jesus; but we heartily accept Christ as one of the Sons of

God.

The impregnable wall made up of these materials is further reinforced by rationalist bricks. The Christ presented to the Hindu is often the "dissolved" Christ of rationalism, and the caricatures of Harnack, Renan, Loisy, Sabatier and Emil Ludwig are better known than the Gospel portrait. We know their arguments: Christ did not claim to be God; the Gospel texts are either unhistorical or unauthentic; the supernatural does not exist and miracles cannot be; St. Paul deified Christ, and so there has been an evolution of Christ.

III

Our purpose has been to analyze the philosophical and theological complex of the Hindu mind in its attitude to Christ. Hinduism has no infallible exponent, no official interpreter, no authentic "catechism" of doctrine: quot capita tot sententiae. So we have drawn largely on Hindu sources, avoiding the intricacies of Hindu philosophy that would lead the uninitiated reader a merry dance. Indeed, the missionary who would preach Christ to the Hindu should understand the Hindu mentality, lest he beat the air in vain or betray his Master by a timid compromise.

How, then, shall we present Christ "that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent"? Anyone who chooses to take up the challenge of Jesus Christ will find that indeed He is true, indeed He is sinless, indeed it is He that the Scriptures have foretold from the beginning, indeed His whole life is convincing confirmation of His claim, indeed God has witnessed to Him, if God has ever witnessed to anything upon this earth. "Indeed this was the Son of God." Such is the fact of Jesus Christ. He has stated His claim and He has produced His credentials; no other claim of man has been so well-founded. But after all the evidence has been given, truth itself can do no more. The Christian accepts in all its bearings the dogma of the Incarnation, the union of the natures of God and man in one single Person, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ seen in Matthew, Mark and Luke, as much as in John and in St. Paul, too— for the distinction between the teaching of St. Paul and the teaching of the Gospels is a distinction of circumstance, never a difference of fact, a distinction made necessary because of those to whom the Apostle spoke and with whom he thought, never a tittle being changed in the message—claimed to be the Prophet that was to come, claimed to be the Messenger from on high, claimed to be the very Son of God. The Christian sees in the Gospels, taken only as history, the indubitable proof of that Person. The mystery of Jesus Christ has been solved by Himself, by His words, by His deeds, by His whole existence among men: He is, indeed, the Way, the Troth and the Life.

Christ is God. God is incomprehensible. Christ is the revelation of God. The mystery of God's creative will is God's purpose to make all one in Christ. Incarnation, Redemption, Atonement fulfil this Divine Purpose. They are the "work of Christ"—enfleshed to unite all flesh to Himself in His infinite life and love. So may we swing from the mystery of creation to that of the Blessed Vision of God, and still find, know, see, nothing but Christ in all things, and all things and ourselves "gathered-up-in-one in Christ."

Endnotes

1 Our Asiatic Christ, by Oscar MacMillan Buck, p. 138.

2 Christ at the Round Table, p. 178.

3 Calcutta Review, October, 1933.

4 Our Asiatic Christ, p. 6.

5 Prof. N. Venkataranam in his Presidential Address at the Seventh Indian Philosophical Congress.

6 In his address, The Spirit of Indian Philosophy, at the same Congress.

7 Cf. J. N. Farquhar's Modern Religious Movements in India.

8 The Buddha and the Christ, by Canon B. H, Streeter, p. 45.

9 Calcutta Review, April, 1933, p. 58.

10 India's Response to Christ.

11 Presidential Address, Sixth Ind. Phil. Congress.

12 Calcutta Review, April, 1933.

Bibliography

Proceedings of the Indian Phil. Congress, I, IV, VI, VII. J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. VIII, Bhagavadgita, and Vol. XV, The Upanishads.

Urquhart, Pantheism and the Value of Life. E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road (New York: The Abingdon Press); and Christ at the Round Table (Hodder and Stoughton). Rethinking Missions (Harpers).

Oscar MacMillan Buck, Our Asiatic Christ (Harper and Brothers). Canon Streeter, The Buddha and the Christ (Macmillan). Felder, Christ and the Critics (Burns, Oates and Washbourne). De Grandmaison, Jesus Christ (Sheed and Ward). Goodier, Jesus Christ, The Public Life, etc. Calcutta Review, 1932-1933.


© THOUGHT, The America Press, 1933

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