Theology of a convert
1. Introductory Remarks
I have been planning, since 1990, to write a systematic theology in the Indian context, using structures available in the Indian philosophical and theological reflections. It was for this reason that I took interest in the epistemological ontology of Paul Tillich and Samkara and pursued them for my research work1. The administrative responsibilities, thereafter, kept me out of serious thinking for over a decade, and then, there was a marked paradigm shift, that began in mid 1980’s, in Indian theological thinking, reflection and research. Last two decades have witnessed more than one paradigm shifts- Dalit, Tribal, Women, Eco, ‘marginalized’, ‘sub-altern’, and ‘people-oriented’, to mention a few. There has been an aversion, almost rejection, to so-called ‘Brahmanic’ and ‘Manuvadi’ interpretation of Indian Christian Theology, even in the academic circles, and an interest in Ambedkarism and Marxism for the interpretation of Christian theology. This did not motivate me to attempt at writing any treatise in that direction. Things now have begun to settle, and a situation of peaceful coexistence is emerging in Indian Christian Theological front for all to develop different, and praxis-oriented, theologies relevant to our context.
Converts are special to me, and I am always attracted towards them. It occurred to me very late in life that my father too was a convert, and when it did, I thought to make a special study of their lives, works and thinking. One of the reasons for my taking up theological studies was the unanswered question, in my early twenties, about the fact of my father’s leaving his family and relatives and accepting a community where he had none, except a few friends, to call his own. But this is what every convert, in the past, had been through. I, then, began to look into their lives and witness to their new faith, experiences and expressions. It was in this context that I took up a subject for my preliminary research2, at B.D level, into the terms and concepts Chenchiah, Goreh and Apasami used in their understanding of person and work of Christ.
Theological orientation and training in India is not yet free from the Western theological and philosophical influences. We have taken it so much for granted that neither Western nor Indian Philosophy is taught in our theological colleges as a pre-requisite for graduate and post-graduate theological studies. We are producing scholars who are heavily dependent upon these borrowed structures to construct contextual theologies without having any grounding in their philosophical and theological presuppositions. In the process, we have moved away from our own resources and structures. We have not yet been able to grasp our own philosophical and theological structures of knowledge and understanding, which are as many as regions, religions and systems we have in this sub- continent. There is an urgent need to look into these areas of methodological and epistemological concerns in developing theological structures, in Indian context, that can sustain a ‘summa’ the way Aristotelian system could provide for St. Thomas Aquinas.
2. The terms
A word, or two, may be required here to define, by way of explanation, the terms ‘theology’ and ‘convert’. Theology, in Indian context, should be understood as ‘the study of the Vision/Revelation of the Ultimate’. This vision is inclusive of philosophy and theology; it is Darshana, revelatory knowledge in experiential sense. It may come closer to concept of vision Prophet Joel had3, and Isaiah really had seen4. In the context of converts and saints, the classical example is that of Saint Paul.5 Commenting on Jn.
14:3, my father uses this word Darshana for the experience of Paul on the way to Damascus, whereas he uses the word appeared for other disciples, though, in his translation, he used the word uniformly for all cases.6 In doing so, he is indicating the part of grace and mercy of Christ in such cases of revelation, at the same time, validating ‘Darshanas’ of others through Christ-experience. Some people may be averse to theology, and others, to philosophy. They, however, will have no objection to a study that deals with the Vision of the Ultimate, the Ground of the existence as such. We are, therefore, dealing in theology with the Vision of a convert. This Darshana, in the context of a convert, can be descriptive, reflective, meditative and philosophic, yet expository in nature.
The word ‘convert’ also needs to be placed in a proper perspective. Convert is generally understood as a person who changes his views, religion, allegiance and opinion. In the context of religious understanding, he is a person who has turned his face away from the world; he is the person who has ‘Sakshatkara‘, personal encounter, with the Ultimate Reality, that has resulted into this ‘meta-noia’, complete change, an about-turn from the world to God; a change of centre, from world to God. Meta-noia, the complete change, is the dynamic force that provides meaning to this word, conversion. The words, conversion and convert, therefore, should be seen from their primary import than the secondary; from the perspective of ‘meta-noia‘, detaching them from the so-called affiliation with any particular religion or ‘Dharma’.
The secondary meaning of convert and conversion is associated with the change of personal religion/Dharma, with the one who has gone out of his ‘theological circle’, from his ‘ideological circle’; as such he has to be cast-off and eliminated from the community and family life. This secondary understanding is more commonly held than the primary
one, and is the cause of sporadic intolerance of the society and individual towards conversion and converts. In the recent past, the term has been attacked from within religious tradition itself as well as from without, secularists and religious activists of other religious traditions. In the Indian sub-continent, it is generally understood, and often interpreted, within the context of traditional religious affiliations, making it a communal, social, political and emotive issue. The sociologists of religion, and also the supporters of institutionalized religions, may not agree, but the issues related to conversion is very much personal whose primarily consequences the convert and his family alone has been bearing, even at a great personal cost, not once for all but throughout his life.
The Indian socio-economic realities beckon us to consider another aspect of convert and conversion. Hindu religious tradition has perpetuated distinct socio-economic structures known as caste-system. No religious tradition, Indic or non-Indic, could escape its influences in its process of Indigenisation and inculturation. Conversion, therefore, is associated with the secondary meaning of the change or ‘meta-noia’ as well. The word ‘Dharma-Parivartana’7 is often applied for conversion. Etymologically, the word Dharma means ‘that which upholds or supports’, the way earth supports all that exist over and under it. Though generally, it denotes religion, it also refers to duties- social and moral- that regulate one’s life. In its latter aspect, it is one of the ‘Purshartha’8, the noble pursuits for human life. In its secondary understanding, ‘Dharma–Parivartana’, change of
‘Dharma‘ as such, is not merely a change of religion and religious affiliations; it is not just a change in personal preference brought about by a direct encounter with the Ultimate reality, but also a change in ‘Purushartha’. The change in one of the components of ‘Purushartha’, in fact, brings about a radical change in others, disturbing equilibrium, and, hence, has detrimental consequences for the person, his family, community and society. It is, therefore, considered to be a very serious matter as it disturbs the very fabric of the community life9 and has to be dealt with to save the society from utter destruction. Unfortunately, not much attention has been paid to this aspect of the change in understanding the life of a convert.
Shri Krishna in Gita is very clear, for he gave an unambiguous understanding of conversion to Arjuna: ‘Renouncing all Dharmas, come under my refuge’10. Conversion here is change of all duties- religious, social, familial and community, it does not refer to any particular religion as such. The same demand is bestowed upon a follower of Jesus Christ.11 And a convert is not unaware of it.
3. Theological circle
My father belonged to a family, which was not only Brahmanic, but also the one that had a long tradition of learning and teaching, and preserving, Vedic revelation. It was, therefore, natural for him to delve deeper into the matters that are, to borrow Tillichean phrase, of ‘Ultimate Concern’. He had a mystical religious experience of Christ, which became his ultimate point of reference in life12. This fact was not recognized, first by his own family, and then by the new community he joined. On his part, he took it as life- long Tapas13, without showing external signs of internal resolve. He became a life-long student of Hindi, Sanskrit, Greek and New Testament; Scripture of other religions as well as his own, and aspired to have a deeper knowledge of Indian Bhakti and Christian mystic traditions. Translation of the New Testament gave him an opportunity to enter into the minds of the New Testament writers and convey the same in the language and thought concepts that he knew the best.
He had taken sustained interest in Panini’s grammar, religious literatures in Hindi and Sanskrit, and in-depth study of the Upanishads. No wonder, he used, in the writings that are included in present volume, the terms that are frequently used in these literatures to express his faith-experiences and theological understanding. He had clarified as early as 1963 his principles of borrowings from these sources, saying: “The question is often asked, ‘should we use Hindu philosophical terms to express Christian thought? I am afraid I am conservative here. I shall use the literary vocabulary of Sanskrit language, its idioms, figures of speech, its literary allusions, so far as they harmonize with our present- day usages and needs, but, as far as possible, not the Hindu philosophical terms. Words like Avatar, Jagadguru, Rishi, Diksha are better avoided. Some words we should adopt (viz. Mukti) but in general it is good not to borrow technical terms from other faiths. A wide use of Hindu terms will weaken the Christian message. The Hindu will say, ‘Well, you are saying the same thing which our philosophers and sages have said. Only, you say haltingly and in bad idiom what we have said in a charming and effective manner.’ Any indiscriminate use of such language will produce vagueness. We cannot be theologically accurate if we use these terms. I have followed the principle propounded here in the revision of the Hindi New Testament – Sanskritized vocabulary but not Sanskrit philosophical terms“14. We may, therefore, have to de-philosophize the terms, if he used them, and, if necessary, have to discern the new meanings he wished to impart through these terms.
He, by his own confession, was averse to theology and philosophy15, yet he delved deeper into them to understand the thoughts and concepts that were used in the books he studied. He would not rest till he was Satisfied with an answer. He refused to teach me Samkara in detail as he thought the studies of Upanishads were far more rewarding than Samkara. His later writings, however, are full of terms and concepts taken from the Eastern and Western – theological, philosophical and mystical, sources. He did not write, till he reached the age of seventy-five plus, anything substantial on spiritual matters, with the only exception of Revised Hindi New Testament. The articles included in this volume, therefore, are of prime importance in discerning his ways of reflection and expression. He was passing on what he had received as a bhakta16 of Christ in the language and thought concepts that he intimately knew -Indian/Hindu religious thought pattern and tradition.
I am aware that his work on Farewell Discourses is not yet edited or completed. My attempt here is only to present a sketchy and tentative theological reflections, in the manner I tried to do in providing footnotes in his text. I am subject to revision and correction at a later stage.
4. Methodology of a convert
My father’s methodology was simple; he communicated his faith through his life, and less with words. Most of his life was spent in teaching. It was natural for him to use the forum, thus provided, to communicate the truth, as he perceived. Naturally, generations of students were deeply enriched by his teaching and the way of life.
His sermons and meditations were reflections of his mind on the text he took for exposition; but he never wrote them out. Much has been lost which could have helped us in constructing a structure of his thought pattern. However this has been the way earlier witnesses of the Gospel of Christ followed through their lives; there were not many, like Nehemiah Gore17, or Brahmabandhava Upadhyaya18, who tried to work out an ‘apologia’ in Indian context. My father, not being aggressive in nature, as he was as a young Brahmin youth, did not prefer that route. Moreover, it was not expected from him; his experiential and experimental period was over long ago.
He, therefore, took the next best possible way: shravana, manana and nididhyasana; study, reflection and contemplation. It was for this reason that he came to Serampore twice to study Christian faith, Christian religious tradition and Christianity. It was for this reason that he took up the challenge to study New Testament Greek, revise Hindi New Testament and become a life long student of New Testament. He was thankful to his Arya Samaj friend who challenged him to study Vedas and Vedic religion. He accepted the challenge, and studied not only Vedas, but also the Scriptures of the Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Islamic religious traditions along with the Bible. He was willing to study, reflect and meditate with anyone who cared to do the same with him. His whole life was spent in the pursuit of these religious disciplines through which one qualifies himself to the knowledge of the Ultimate.
His Sadhana19, religious quest, was very much personal; he was working out his own salvation.20 His Purushartha21, final goal in life, was to have Brahma–Sakshatkara22 and Brahmanubhava23, the realization of Christ-tattva24. He found support for this in his studies of the Gospel of Saint John.25 And once he had it, he wished to share that experience with others26. How to communicate the Scriptural and religious Truth that he experienced, discovered and received, might have been the question he had to grapple with. And he got the answer from his studies of Upanishads and ancient Indian philosophical texts. He took the path that was showed by the great commentators of the religious and spiritual Truth; writing commentaries upon the sources of religious Truth. He chose the farewell discourses of Jesus Christ, recorded in the Gospel of Saint John, as he considered them to be an Upanishad and Yisu-Gita.27 In doing so, he reminded Indian Christian theologians their theological task: to communicate the message of Christ through writing commentaries upon the sources of Christian theology.
5. Constructing a Theology of a Convert
Construction of theology is an intellectual exercise towards systematizing spiritual thoughts. One can take upon himself the onus of the task; others may have to come forward to take it up on behalf of a person who did not take the task upon himself. As my father did not attempt to do so, each one of us is free to make an attempt in that direction. One is also free to take any one of the well-established theological structures in this process of systematizing. My own preference, at this juncture, is for the structure that is provided by Badrayana, the Systematizer of the Upanishadic thought, in his famous treatise, Brahmasutra. My reasons for such a choice are many; a few, however, can be cited as its Indian-ness, its suitability to Indian mind, acceptance of its theological method, its openness to interpretations, its universal appeal, its systematic approach, its theological contents. Upanishads are the interpretations and expositions of the Vision of the Ultimate. Badrayana, in his Brahmasutra had systematized and aphorized those expositions and interpretations. My father, as noted above, considered the Farewell Discourses of Jesus Christ in St. John as Upanishad and Yesu-Gita. He, therefore, almost in the manner in which Krishna is presented as the philosopher-teacher of the Vedic and Upanishadic thought, making it simple for a novice like Arjun, presents Christ as a nurturing, loving and caring mother who is feeding disciples, and to his bhaktas now irrespective of their caste, colour or nationality, with Life-giving nectar of his teachings.28
It is natural, for this reason, that we expose and interpret his thoughts in the structures of theological interpretation that is provided by the respected commentators of the Brahmasutra.
I am inclined, in my philosophical and theological thinking, towards the tradition of Advaitic thought in India. I am conscious, at the same time, of the fact that my father was not very enthusiastic about the thought of the great philosopher of the past, Shri Samkaracharya; he was more inclined towards the pure and simple Upanishads. A rigid and orthodox adherence to Samkara’s position, therefore, may miss the clear insight, which he proposed to offer. I would not like to impose Advaita Vedanta of Shri Samkaracharya upon his thought. His temperament was more of a mystic in Upanishadic tradition than a philosophical theologian; he was a bhakta with a strong and deep longing to be in the constant communion with his ishta, his God and Master.29
6. Theology of a convert
In his utter humility, so characteristic of my father, he acknowledges that he had no pretence to be a theologian: ‘I have a little ‘theology of my own’. I am entirely ignorant of this theological discipline.’30 I am proposing here a tentative theology of a convert, on his behalf, through commenting on the first three or four aphorism of Brahmasutra, in the light of what he has written. I intend to enlarge its scope later. It is, therefore, tentative theology of a convert as I have taken only one convert, that is my father, and a few of his works, to begin with an effort to work out a systematic theology in Indian context. I need not be apologetic, but le me be so, in stating here that this effort is not in a direction to impose a ‘Manu-vadi’ or ‘Brahmanic’ structure for theologizing, it is open to critical appraisal and correction. Recognizing the inherent limitation of every structure in bringing the Ultimate closer in knowledge and understanding, let us begin our theological task
I. Our Theological task: Athato Brahma-Jijnasa (BS 1.1.1)
The existence of the Ultimate Reality is not a matter of deliberation; his knowledge is. His existence is self-proved. One can only see and realize, and celebrates with the Psalmist: ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork’31. Yet we do not care to see, we do not care to know. We do so because we do not have any desire to know him: there is no effort on our part to know Him, to realize His presence. ‘Seek the Lord while He may be found’, so exhorts Isaiah the Prophet32; ‘thus therefore enquiry in to the nature of Brahman33’ echoes the Sutrakara34. It is only a strong desire to enquire into the nature of the Ultimate that drives a person to plunge into this enquiry.
a. The sequence: Atha
Where, and when, does theologizing commence? The answer to the question, pertaining to the beginning of, or initiating, the process for the knowledge of the Ultimate, is left to the initiator to decide or work out. ‘Atha‘ (then) indicates the possibility of initiating the knowledge of the Ultimate Reality. In this sense, most scholars begin their work with salutation and invocation to the deity of their choice. In the introductory note to the Chapter 5, it is noted that my father always commenced his work with a prayer and salutation to his ishta, Christ. But mere salutation does not mean that the work has begun; it does not provide any impetus to the work as such.
‘Atha‘ (then), also refers to a series of sequences that leads a seeker into a serous enquiry into the nature of the Ultimate. There is something that has happened which gives rise to a desire to know or deliberate into an enquiry upon the knowledge of the Ultimate. This needs further exploration.
The experience of existential threat is common human experience. It is when this existential threat becomes ontological as well that a genuine meta-noia takes place. Every seeker of the Truth has felt an abyss, at one or the other point of time, in his life that has threatened his existence as such.35 It is in such a situation in life that threatens our life that Jijnasa, an intense desire to know the ground of our being, arises.36 The autobiographical section, in the present volume, gives enough indication for such an enquiry undertaken by my father. He felt the threat to his religion, so to his own self, from the criticism of his Christian teachers; he felt the devouring threat of youthful desires; he experienced the presence of, what Rudolf Otto will say, ‘the Holy’. It is out of such experiences that a convert begins a life-long journey in working out a theology that reflects in his life and thought.
For converts, like my father, the knowledge of Christ-tattva begins with the Sakshatkara of Jesus Christ, an encounter with the Reality of Christ; and that experience becomes the point of reference to them in each and every aspect of their lives. Theologizing for them, therefore, begins with the Brahmanubhava, personal perception of the reality of the Divine, in their lives, a kind of Divine intervention in their lives that they clearly perceive and experience, and wish to share with all37. As we tread upon the visions, life and thoughts of a convert and the visionary of the Divine, we cannot but be aware of the
hallowed ground upon which we find ourselves. We are not dealing with the philosophy or theology of the person, but looking into the living experiences, Anubhava, of an individual, and through him the Person who has revealed Himself to the convert. It is through the transparency in the lives and thoughts of these knower of the Divine38 that we
move closer to the Divine and the Ultimate. One needs to recognize the fact that for a convert, Anubhava, the perceptual and ontological experience, precedes all theological formulations; his experience of the Divine is the ground, and foundation, upon which he builds his theological reflections, forms his relations and views the Church-in-existence and Christian community. One should be able to see him distinct from the professional theologians whose grounds and foundations are different from his, though not necessarily conflicting, but complementary. One needs to liberate himself from narrow theological fundamentalism in order to understand, and appreciate, the theological input a new convert to the faith provides to the Church universal.
‘Atha‘ (then) also refers to the continuation of existential situation, and context, of the convert. Hendricks Kraemer39 may be right in his analysis of situation of his time and place, but universal application of the same to the people of other faiths and regions gave rise to un-necessary religious and cultural superiorism (superioritism??) of one religion
and one culture over and above others. It created lots of difficulties in the life of a convert and the society in which he lived. The development of religious and social culturalism, from Middle Ages to the present, is a case to ponder upon. A convert, more often, genuinely desires to live and witness in his own context of family and social life, but the propounders of theory of ‘radical discontinuity’ would not allow him to do so. They are found in every religious community who would never let it happen, and the convert finds himself excommunicated from his socio-cultural and familial circle. There have been cases, such as mass conversions, in-culturation and Indigenisation, where this theory of ‘radical discontinuity’ have been nullified; some individual converts also rejected the theory, if so applied to them, and they became the pioneers of indigenous form of Christian life and witness.
My father rejected the principle of ‘radical discontinuity’ of his father and his society from the very beginning of his commitment to his ishta, Jesus Christ.40 Fellowship and discipleship to Christ, for him, never meant to be an isolating factor from his own people and community. He kept on wondering on the question ever since his father disinherited him from his personal possessions: how could he be disinherited from the rich religious and literary traditions of his ancestors and composite culture41 of his country! He was as much correlated to Veda- Upanishadic tradition as any of his fellow citizen; so also to the great religious traditions of this land – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Zoroasterism, together with numerous indigenous religious forms and practices. Vyasa, Valmiki, Kalidas, Banabhatta, Bhavabhuti, Mahavira Swami, Gautama Buddha, Tulsi Das, Sura Das, Mirabai, Nanak, Kabir, Jayasi, they all were part and parcel of his religious and intellectual heritage. Christ, in fact, brought him closer to each one of them. His life, work and witness were a natural rejection of the theory of ‘radical discontinuity’.
The word Atha (then), however, does signify a discontinuity, not as negative or radical as some may suggest, but positive in the sense of meta-noia. In his spiritual journey, as Christ prayed for his followers, he has to be in the world, but not of the world.42 To take an about turn from the things of the world, to be in the world yet not of the world, requires a great resolve and discipline. It is a personal choice; one has to take the responsibility entirely upon himself for the choice he makes. This personal choice and decision is arrived at, as one can easily discern from the life of a convert, once the following conditions, as suggested by Shri Samkaracharya43, are met:
i. Nityanityavastuviveka44: In the context of our discussion, it refers to one’s ability to recognize the things that are eternal and those that are non-eternal. He should have the ability to arrive at right decision after careful consideration and should have a strong sense of certitude in his decision. There was eagerness among those who approached Jesus Christ to know the way to Eternal Life, but they themselves could not decide45. Riches of the world seemed to be eternal than the things of ‘other’ world; hence they failed
to respond to his call. Yet, there are few who discern the things and events, use their power of discrimination and choose the right, even at the cost of seemingly great lost. It is to these, Jesus Christ was referring to in his parable of the Kingdom46 – the man who found hidden treasure in the field, or the merchant finding a pearl of great value, goes and sells all that he has and buys it. Paul exhorted his hosts in Rome to move in this direction: ‘Do not be confirmed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’47. It is interesting to note that the writer of Genesis 3 associates the desire of knowledge of good and evil to the fall of humankind. The mute point here is not mere knowledge of eternal and non-eternal, good and evil, but a conscious decision to move towards the things eternal and good.
ii. Viraga: The cultivation of first leads to a state of mind that develops an attitude of detachment to the thing non-eternal. The word Viraga is used by Samkara to bring out the negativity involved. One is naturally attached (Raga) to the things of the world that is given to him in experience through the mediation of the senses. One needs to make conscious decision to shut the windows of such experiences and sincerely make efforts in that direction. It involves an effort to say a resolute ‘no’ to all kinds of hedonistic tendencies, ‘a dying of the flesh’, as Saint Paul may say48.
iii. Sadhana: To achieve the second requires ‘sadhana’ (training of mind and spirit), ‘yoga’ (disciplining for union). In the classical understanding, it involves, control of mind and external senses, giving up obligatory responsibilities, endurance, concentration and faith.49 One should have to be equipped with mental, physical and spiritual resources so that he can achieve the final goal. Conflicts between eternal and non-eternal, good and evil often viewed as a war that needs to be fought in true earnest and preparation. None is so graphic in exhortation and urgency as Saint Paul in his letter to the fellow-believers in the city of Ephesus.50
iv. Mumukshutva: One should have a strong desire for liberation and salvation.51
The Psalmist describes that longing so picturesquely: ‘as a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the living God’.52 Saint Augustine too has expressed it so forcefully:
‘…our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee.53 This is the directive principle for ‘meta–noia’; it is the initiator and catalyst of each and every change that takes place then, and thereafter, in the life of a seeker-convert.
Theology and ethics are never separated, or deviated, from the life and witness of a convert; it may be a case with some of the professional theologians.54 Theology of a convert emerges out of his life-experiences and is genuinely a praxis-oriented theology. Having known the truth, my father had no hesitation in taking the expectation and injunction of Mahatma Gandhi seriously: ‘if you have become a Christian, be a good Christian’55. The autobiographical part of the present volume contains many of those sequences in the life of my father that led him to Christ and Christian way of living.
b. The consequence: Atah
Sequences leads to consequences; this is what the world “atah’ (therefore) in the theological aphorism points out. It sets forth the logical necessity and reason for ‘Atha‘ (then). Existential situations raise ontological quests, awakening, in a seeker, a strong desire to search the Ultimate for an answer.56 One has taken all the courses to Satisfy his hunger for knowledge and truth, but still feels unsatisfied and restless.57 He now qualifies himself for higher knowledge as he is on the way to fulfilling the four conditions that Samkara mentioned. He is led to the next logical step: a desire to know the Ultimate. The Advaita system does provide a structure that takes into serious consideration, contrary to general criticism, human existential situations that raise ontological questions and seek for an answer. It is in the dialectical tensions that are created through interaction between existential questions and ontological answers58 that ‘God-talk’ takes place.
c. The enquiry: Brahma-Jijnasa
‘Brahma-Jijnasa’ is desire to know Brahman, the Ultimate reality, as Samkara explains the sutra.59 The word, Brahman, has nothing to do with a class or caste of people, nor it can be qualified by any other word. It is the Ultimate Reality that is termed as Brahman in the Upanishads. A convert, coming from the Brahmanic tradition, does not need to discard the term, though he may use other term(s) to denote the Ultimate. It is, however, a highly conceptualized philosophical term, which, as suggested by my father60, should be discretely used. The understanding and the knowledge of his own ancient religious tradition provide, to a convert, a point of reference to, and hermeneutical tools to express, his encounter with the Reality. We shall take up the term and the concept in the section while dealing with the second aphorism of Brahms-sutra.
Samkara defines Jijnasa as ‘the desire to know’61. The word, Jijnasa alone is incomplete, as it does not provide a clear indication about the object of the desire of enquiry. The use of the world Jijnasa without qualification presupposes an object; a subject matter of desire of knowledge. That subject matter of desire is here identified and stated in the compound word, Brahma-Jijnasa, to clear off any doubt. The combined word, Brahma- Jijnasa signifies a relationship between Brahman (Ultimate Reality) and Jijnasa (desire to know); Brahman alone is the object of the desire to know. One should be clear in his mind that only the essential nature (swarupa-lakshana) of Brahman is the object of the desire to know and nothing else; all speculations about Brahman and means of knowing Brahman are irrelevant and counter-productive. Once a person knows the essential nature of Brahman, he achieves the highest – the realization of Brahman.62
II Definition of Brahman: Janmadyasya yatah (BS 1.1.2)
Purpose of theological quest is to know the Ultimate reality. But the Ultimate Reality needs to be identified, denoted and defined. The second sutra of Brahmasutra63, ‘That from which the origin etc. of this’, does the same. Sri Samkaracharya, commenting on the sutra, drew our attention to different understanding of definition: definition by accidental characteristics (Kutastha lakshana) and definition through essential characteristics (Swarupa lakshana). He assigns secondary importance to the first and gives primary importance to the second. It is the first that prompts people to give different names and forms to the Ultimate Reality, and, in the process, reduce the Ultimate to the relative.
Accidental definitions are indicative definitions. We often use them in sending our letters to particular persons at a particular address that is valid as long as he stays there. It defines an object with names and adjectives by which it is known though they are distinct from its nature. I may, for instance, describe the planet Venus by pointing out a star in the western sky at the right of crescent Moon. One may able to see it at that particular day and time, but not the next day or the day after, yet it served the purpose of identifying Venus. We may not find any difficulty in accepting the accidental definition that is brought forth by the second aphorism of the Ultimate Reality. The Bible begins with the simple assertion, ‘In the beginning God Created…(Gen. 1:1) which is repeated and finds different expressions through out the Scripture.64 Prologue of St. John also asserts the same. It is an article of faith of every Christian, so often repeated in the creedal formulae of Nicene and Apostle Creeds: ‘…Maker of heaven and earth’. This assertion of Creator-hood of God brings forth omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence aspect of His person-hood. The term ‘Pita’, Father, which is so frequently used in Johannine literature and the Bible, as also in Hinduism, affirms the same. The term is an accidental definition of the Ultimate. The same is indicated in the Vedic vision: ‘That whence these being originate’65.
Another accidental definition, we come across in the Scripture, is the identification of the Ultimate with the phrase, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’66. It was an easy way, for later generations of Jews, to define and relate themselves with the God of their ancestors at the expense of others. This also provided some to claim the racial and religious superiority and exclusive right of God’s revelation. Other can also derive their own conclusion from their Scripture and religious traditions. It is for this reason, the early Christian theologians, like Paul67, were struggling with this kind of exclusivism by extending that privilege to the gentile Christians by emphasizing the faith aspect, and not the racial.
One should recognize the limitation in such a definition. It may lead the system to isolate, compartmentalize and limit God and His revelation and, in the process, become static and monolithic dead structure. The prophets and prophetic traditions have always been fighting against such tendencies in their religious traditions. They, therefore, present other aspect of the Ultimate Reality through essential definition.
Essential definition describes the Ultimate, and its nature, through the name and adjectives that constitutes its very nature. In the Biblical revelation, the Ultimate always tried to discourage humans to ask questions in that direction. The first Commandment is very straightforward and clearly forbids any name, idol or form to the Ultimate68. The closest rendering of the definition we find in the name that was revealed to Moses, ‘I am who I am’ (also rendered as ‘I am what I am, or, I will be what I will be’), and emphasizing the ‘eternal now’ aspect of the Ultimate, as Jesus Christ so perceptively pointed out to the theologians of his time.69 One can easily note the reflection of Upanishadic ‘Sat‘, Being (ontos) here. Johannine expansion is that he presents another aspect of nature of the Ultimate through ‘I am’ sayings, which my father considers as Upanishadic ‘Maha-vakyas‘ and ‘Amrita Vachana, Great Sayings and life-giving words70.
The relevant ‘Mahavakya is, ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life’ (Jn.14: 6). Here, three words, the way, the truth and the life, are simultaneously used for ‘I am’, making it majestic and grandeur, yet difficult in meaning and import.71 Satya, truth, and ‘Jeevana’ life, present essential definitions, whereas Marga, way, accidental. The principle, Sat, Being, is identified by John as ‘Satya’, Truth, an essential nature of God the Father, and personified in Shabdeshwara, God-Word, Jesus Christ.72 His argument is simple: ‘If God is truth in his own being, Christ being the revealer of God is also truth’73He has also drawn our attention that ‘Sat‘ also means ‘to be good’ and ‘moral’ which is close to Hebrew idea of truth as righteousness74. This brings in a new element in the personality of the Ultimate. ‘Jeevana’, life too is the essential nature of God, as John points out in the beginning of his Gospel: ‘In him was ‘Jeevana’ life’ (Jn. 1: 4). This ‘Jeevana’ is associated with ‘Shakti’ for ‘Rachana’ and ‘Kriya’, dynamic power of consciousness and creation. This too is identified and personified in Word-God. In the context of Johannine studies, one can hardly miss the point that the beloved disciple has no other essential definition of God, but the simple yet profound phrase, God is Love75 which is so classically described in John 3:16; ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but should have eternal life’.
The distinctive contribution of Saint John is in providing a definition of the Ultimate that bridges the gap between the essential and accidental definitions. In the prologue of his book, he expresses the Mystery of the Divine Word, in historical and trans-historical context, through a language of a poet with mathematician’s precision:
In the beginning was the Word, And the Word was with God And Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; All things were made through him, And without him was not anything made that was made. And the Word became flesh And dwelt among us, Full of grace and truth; We have beheld his glory, Glory as of the only son from the Father.76
The first theological equation, to which a convert arrives at, does not find difference, and contradiction, between the essence of God and the essence of Christ. The formulation seemed to be difficult to express, as he uses different ways to express the idea: ‘there is no difference between the essence of God and essence of Christ’; ‘there is no contradiction in the essence of God and Christ’; ‘there is no difference in them as far as essence is concerned’77. The word ‘Tattva’ is used for essence, which should be differentiated from Aristotelian ‘substance’. It refers to ontological one-ness of the two as well as the essential nature of the Ultimate Reality. Terms are different, words used are different, but they denote the same Reality. God and Christ are the two sides of the same coin: ‘The one who has seen me, has seen the Father’ (Jn.14: 9) reveals that truth. The Father is un-manifested, and one needs the light and help of the Manifested. The apparent differences are resolved if it is recognized that ‘ one is revealed, the other is revealer; one is Un-manifested God, the other is Manifested Word’78.
Essential definition may not pose a problem for a convert. It is the secondary definition, which often confuses a seeker who has a strong Brahmanic, philosophical and religious tradition. It was in this context that my father was horrified to pray in the name of Christ, in spite of his intense desire to get over his existential situation through divine intervention.79 Once he got over the initial hesitation and submitted his Brahmanic80 egoism, Mystery began to reveal Himself, healing and restoring him to life.81 This experience of the Reality remains an integral part of the person who finds it difficult to describe in the terms and concepts that we understand. My father was certain that he felt the presence of Christ, in whose name he prayed, yet, even after thirty years of that experience, he found it indescribable.82 He had the same answer, sixty-five years after the event, at the end of his life.83
Indescribability, anirvachaniyata, is a very important category in Advaita philosophy and theology. It makes us aware of the incapability, and limit, of human languages, and concepts, to describe and define the Ultimate; so also the experience of Him. This indescribability applies to all kinds of dogmatic and absolutistic assertions- positive or negative, which we tend to make; but it does not nullify the statement of facts that a knower of truth puts forth. Whenever an attempt is made to define the Ultimate Reality in terms of absolutistic term, the seer can only say, not so-not exactly so (Neti neti). It is for this reason assigned to indescribability, one can deny or assert the validity of mystic experience, and one can prefer to be an agnostic or atheist, as the case may be. Whichever position one may take, it, in no way, affects the essential nature of the Ultimate. It can be a very frustrating experience for a person who seeks the truth in the words and experiences of others; it is not so for the knower of the Ultimate, for he knows the Truth. In the religious thought, philosophy and theology, it is the essential definition that deludes the experts. It is so for the simple fact that the Ultimate is indescribable, He remains ‘Mysterium’ and yet, the theologians go on producing definitions of their own.
The words and terms used, to denote, or connote, the Ultimate and concepts so formulated, too are definitions – accidental or essential. We may, at this juncture, have a look at few of them; a detailed discussion may be left for some other place. My father did not use the term ‘Brahman’ for the Ultimate reality, though he did use some other synonyms, such as, Avyakta, Prakashya and Ishwara. Here, and in context of Johannine studies, it can be pointed out, that he used Parmeshwara for the Greek ‘Theos’ in his translation of the New Testament84. In fact, Ishwara and Parameshwara are synonymous terms, frequently used for God. Parmeshwara is more a religious term, taken from the polytheistic religious tradition in India where the existence and worship of one or many Gods are recognized without any disputes (this recognition could only be settled by violent methods). The dispute for the highest among them is settled with this term, which a devotee often uses for his ‘ishta’, God of personal choice. He coined a compound term, ‘Shabda-Parmeshwara85, for Jesus Christ to bring out his ontological one-ness with God, and to convey the Johannine truth, ‘the word was God’. The same idea is found in the pluralistic use of terms for God in Hebraic tradition. Ishwara, on the other hand, has both religious and philosophical connotations and my father would have not used it for God, in accordance with the principles he initiated and followed.86 ‘Ishwara, in its philosophical usage in advaitic tradition, conveys phantom-ness and non-real, an illusory, characteristics to God. As such, it should not be an unqualified Christian term for God. It, however, is used for the personal aspect of God the Ultimate in the theistic tradition of Advaita (Vishishtadvaita of Sri Ramanuja), and therefore, could be used for Jesus Christ, of course with some reservations. He, therefore, used the term, Putreshwara (Son-God) for Jesus Christ as the second Person in Trinity.87 Avyakta, the Un-manifested in word and form, refers to the primordial state of the Ultimate that is yet to be revealed. Therefore, the desire for a revealer: ‘The path that leads to Avyakta is not easy; one therefore need the light of Vyakta Prabhu’88. Hence the term ‘Prakashya’, that to be revealed, is used for the un-manifested Ultimate Reality. Only the Vyakta, the Manifested, who is Prakasha, the revealing Light, can reveal Avyakta, the Un-manifested, since the Vyakta, the Revealed is also Avyakta, the Un-revealed: ‘No one come to the Father, but by me…He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (Jn.14: 6, 9). These terms refer to a state of the Ultimate from the epistemological point of view. Ontological one-ness of the manifested and the revealer is also clearly asserted in these terms. It is not difficult to discern that his entire focus is on Jesus Christ, the Revealer of the Ultimate.
It is in the spirit of Johannine equation that my father, perhaps for the first time, used and introduced the term, Shabdeshwara89 (Word-God) and ‘Shabda–Brahman’90 for Christ in his commentary. Both the terms affirm the ontological and essential one-ness of the Ultimate Reality, call it Brahman or Ishwara. He holds that ‘it was the firm view of John that the form of God cannot be seen through human eyes…Only the Word-God (Shabdeshwara) who became flesh revealed the essential form of God through his words and deeds’91. He also applied the term ‘Sat‘ in translating the Greek term ‘agathos’ which is used for God and Jesus Christ in Like 18:1 though Jesus Christ refuses it to be used for him. He has his article on ‘aletheia’ (Truth)92, as well as commentary on Jn. 14: 6, where he uses the term ‘Sat/Satya’ for Christ. This term is considered to be Christological in significance as interpreted by Brahmabandhava Upadhyaya. He also uses the term ‘Prabhu’ for both God and Christ, in his translation and the commentary, which has a strong absolutistic and ontological connotation. The term is quite frequently used for earthlings with temporal power and authority. ‘Guru’ is another term that is used in the absolutistic term for Jesus Christ, the teacher who has the absolute authority to say and act as, and on behalf of, the Ultimate. One may note that Divinity and Divine authority of ‘Guru’ is not a subject of dispute in Indian religious traditions, especially in Sikh tradition; the nature and degree of divinity and authority though may differ in individual cases.
III. Source of the Scripture: Shashtra-yonitvat (BS 1.1.3)
The Ultimate Reality is not the invention of the visionary or a saint or a convert; it is only his discovery. Earlier he was not aware of Him, now he is; earlier he did not know Him, now he knows Him.93 The existence of the Ultimate Reality is not a matter of doubt to a religious person; so also to a convert. Yet, he is conscious of the fact, as Paul was, that even ‘now we see in the mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood’.94 ‘There is someone with unseen power, or someone powerful’ and ‘this all-powerful is present near us, listen to us and is able to protect us’, as my father had glimpses of Him and wrote in his commentary95. The ‘someone-ness’ and the ‘unseen-ness’ make the ‘Ultimate Reality’ as incomprehensive to the convert as it is in his own religious tradition. Indefiniteness in philosophical concepts, and the mythical and mystical concreteness of religious literature, leaves a true seeker groping in dark, insatiate and restless. To him, the reality of Christ is more comprehensive and direct than the other as he had the direct and immediate perception of the indescribable Reality in Jesus Christ: ‘At once I realized that there is a gracious Personality by my side on whom I may repose my feverish head, one who is closer than the closest friend, one who understands, one who is indescribable (anivarchaniya)’96. The definiteness and concreteness of Christ opens the path to know and realize the definiteness and concreteness of ‘Someone’ and ‘Unseen’. He himself has realized and confirmed it through Anubhava, perceptual experience, yet he is hesitant, as we have earlier noted, to use known terms from his religious tradition. He merely points out that Jesus has given a name to this ‘someone’ and ‘unseen Power’; it is the term ‘Father’97. This Knowledge of identity of, and relationship with, God comes from the Scriptures, as the Sutra points out: ‘From its being the source of the Scripture’98.
The sutra reconfirms the experience and knowledge of a seeker and provides him the epistemological ground for his personal experience and knowledge. One can only turn to the Scriptures for knowledge and understanding of the God the Ultimate, for they are the only source of knowledge of the Ultimate. The second aphorism pointed out that the Ultimate reality is the cause of the universe; the third reconfirms the same conclusion by saying that the Ultimate Reality is the source of the Scripture as well. In doing so, the aphorism reveals the inherent authority and authenticity of the Scripture. There are enough internal evidences in the Scripture where the name of the Divine is invoked for the authenticity of the spoken word, such as the prophets; others may just be quotes, as Jesus Christ and New Testament writers so often did. The words ‘Scripture’ and ‘Scripture’ are used here as synonymous terms and to express the internal unity in multiplicity.
The Divine inspiration of the Scripture is one of the articles of faith in all religions of world, and Christianity is not an exception. Saint Paul has so perceptively spoken of it that no believer of a religion will find himself in disagreement with him: ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’99. It is for this reason, Scripture are considered to be ‘ apaurusheya’, not created by any human; they are ‘swatah-prakasha, light that enlightens everything but does not need anything to enlightens it, almost in the sense Saint John perceived Jesus Christ as the Word and the Light in his prologue100. As such, it is ‘swatah pramana’; it does not need any other instruments of reason and logic to prove it validity and authenticity. A convert with such a frame of mind gets confused with the critical, sometimes destructive, scholarship of the Scripture. He may, therefore, insist upon the exclusive, inclusive or combination of both, privilege to his own Scripture, and may supplement it with innumerable religious literatures and disciplines.
IV The harmony: Tattu samanvayat (BS 1.1.4)
‘Samanvaya’ refers to right relationship, internal harmony; thereby the sutra asserts that there is harmony in the purport of all scriptural texts, even through the apparent contradictory and contrary texts. This principle can be applied to resolve many theological issues that one encounters in the Scriptural theology. In the context of our discussions on a theology of a convert through Johannine studies, we, for the moment, limit ourselves to that area of concern, which are high lighted by my father in his studies.
In the context of our discussion on the construction of theology of a convert upon the structures provided by the learned Badrayana, we can now take note of two apparently divergent views; that the knowledge of the Ultimate Reality is direct from the Ultimate to the seeker/visionary, and, that His knowledge comes from the Scripture. The issue can be resolved with the recognition that Darshana, the revelatory vision, is never closed and God-Christ, in His grace and mercy, reveals Himself to His bhakta, devotees with strong desire to know and see Him. His revelation is not restricted by the Scripture, but is made available to a true seeker, nay, even to an un-willing and lost wanderer: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’101.
In a religious system, there are other ways of knowing, understanding and experiencing God; such as social and religious work, liturgical and ritualistic traditions. Jnana, Karma and Bhakti Marga, the paths of salvation through knowledge, devotion and service can be contradictory to each other. The priestly and the prophetic elements are at odd with each other more often than as an exception. These all are part of Scripture and they derive their strength from it. They, however, are not absolute and any temptation to make them so should be avoided and rejected. God alone is Absolute, worthy of praise and adoration. Rituals and liturgies etc. are only vehicles to approach God. Good and meritorious works alone cannot lead any one to God-realization. Knowledge alone is not enough.
Then, there are so many seemingly contradictions one may find in the Scripture; God of one race as well as the universal God, loving and merciful God as well as punishing God, salvation through ritualistic obedience or grace through faith, exclusive or inclusive Gospel of salvation and liberation, predestination as well as working out ones own salvation etc. How to reconcile such seemingly internal contradictions and confusions in the Scriptures? To resolve such difficulties, the fourth sutra, asserts: ‘But that, because of harmony’.
Jesus Christ is the centre of discussion in these Johannine passages; his pre-existence, relationship with the Ultimate, his work, his revelation of Divine Truth, his relationship with the Bhakta-devotees etc. are discussed by none other than Jesus Christ himself. These discussions opened a new way of life and knowledge for the troubled and confused disciples, and through them for any one who is earnestly seeking for eternal life. His person-hood, authority, his way of revealing new life needs to be harmonized within the context of the knowledge that a religious tradition provides. My father, as a convert was trying to do so in his own way.
The world is seen and is given to our senses, so we know it, hear it and touch it. The ‘other world’, the world of God, Holy Spirit, heaven and spiritual beings, is not available to the senses, it lies beyond their realm. So, the doubt can, therefore, be raised about their existence. This valid doubt has to be dealt with sympathy and sincere consideration. My father takes it up and points out that ‘these are not subject matters or objects of one of the valid source of knowledge, perception, and hence, by corollary, of other valid sources too’102. He falls on the expediency and authority of ‘Shabda Pramana’, authority of the Scripture, to clear off the doubt. He has the logical system of Nyaya philosophy for the support that holds that ‘the injunction of the knowledgeable and experienced humans is the authoritative Word’103. That authoritative person, the ‘Apta-purusha’, to him, is Jesus Christ: ‘He is the rightful and authoritative instructor on the matters discussed above’104. Not only he is an Apta-purusha, he is God Himself: ‘This Logos-Word (Shabda– Parmeshwara) is telling about his Father and His World’105. What he says, therefore, is not false. My father considers the words of Jesus Christ as ‘Shruti’, Scripture, hence, authoritative as ‘Apta-vakya’, spoken by the Authority, and ‘Svatah Pramana’, self- validated, worthy of acceptance.106
In the development of ‘Church Dogmatic’, to borrow Barthian terminology, creeds and doctrines have played an important role in expressing the faith of the Church in the midst of conflicting faith-assertions and wrong teachings. A convert, with the personal experience of decisive intervention of Christ in life, finds himself in a state of confusion similar to that with denominations; he needs humility to accept his immaturity and desirability for nurture in Christian faith expression. One can note such a development in my father, as he declares: ‘Today, I hold that creeds embody great and vital Christian truths. They safeguard the unchanging gospel from subjectivism and from passing fashions of thought. Moreover, they are helpful for clear theological thinking. They provide a useful measure to find out where my personal faith falls short of the faith held by saints both past and present’107.
Some people may still have doubt about Jesus Christ and his words; ‘Philip, perhaps, understood Prabhu just an ordinary Guru (teacher), a prophet or a religious leader like Isaiah, or Buddha. He might have understood him Messiah, the liberator, who would establish the kingdom of God by force of sword’; some are willing to accept him only a guru, a spiritual leader who was born in the distant past, but are not willing to accept him the Creator of the world and ever-present Saviour’108. To them, my father has this to say; ‘they should take him as a realized person, and his words as the words of a realized saint, behind which lies his religious experience’109. One cannot just brush aside the ‘Anubhava‘ of a saint. Thus ‘Anubhava‘, perceptual and ontological experience of Ultimate reality, is one of the valid sources of knowledge of the Ultimate.
Seeing Christ is seeing God; knowing Christ is knowing God: ‘If you had known me, you would have known my Father’ (Jn.14: 7); ‘He who has seen me has seen the father’ (Jn.14: 9). But this seeing, as pointed out by my father, is not through the aid of sense organs, ‘it refers to knowing, recognizing and touching the bottom of Knowledge’110. It is, for him, ‘tala-sparshi-Jnana’, knowledge at the inner depth of being, and as such, considers it personal in experience, amounting to ‘Atma–Sakshatkara, self-realization. It, however, is not seeing and knowing one-self as the Ultimate, but seeing face-to-face the Source of one’s self. This knowledge is not an ordinary knowledge, yet he explains it in as simple words as these: ‘the knowledge it refers to is neither the knowledge of the external objects, such as a picture on the wall, or a book on the table, or a pen in the hand; nor the knowledge of the philosophers that is produced by the mental action. It is the inner vision, achieved through love; it is the knowledge of spiritual experience. It is that kind of knowledge which the sheep has it about the shepherd, or the child about her mother, or beloved about her lover, or the friend about his friend.’111 This knowledge he termed as ‘Atma-drshti’, inner eyes to perceive things that are not given to ordinary senses, and qualifies it as ‘Atmika–Anubhava‘, the experiential perception of things that belong to spiritual dimension. The realization of the Christ-tattva is not achieved from human efforts- through listening to sermons and lectures, or applying logic and reason; it is, as he points out, ‘received only through reverence and faith’112
The dynamics of Vishwasa and Shraddha‘, unflinching belief and unconditional faith, comes into play when we accept the words of a realized saint. My father prefers to use a single word ‘Nirbharta’, total surrender and complete dependence, upon the person and words of that person, to convey the meaning of the term faith and belief. He points out that belief, for John, is a dynamic activity; we may outwardly appear inactive, even then, this dynamic process of power supplying and remover of fear and danger remains active.113 Commenting on the subject, Believe in God, he says: ‘there is someone with Unseen Power, or someone powerful. Jesus has given a name to this someone, ‘Father’.
This all-powerful is present near us, listens to us and is able to protect us. When all our means were exhausted, all out energies were lost; when there was nothing but darkness around us; it was incomprehensible how He sent help, and shall send again. This feeling is named as Vishwasa, termed as believing’114. He defines Vishwasi, the believer as ‘the one who has learnt to depend upon Jesus for his welfare and security in life’115. He, who considers God as safe vault, he can deposit his precious trust and faith in Him without any fear.116
But, believe in whom? Obviously, the answer given by the very first verse of the fourteenth chapter of St. John is belief in God. For John, as well as with my father, God and Jesus Christ are synonymous terms; hence belief in God is nothing but belief in Jesus Christ.117 He is also conscious that many will not like to accept Jesus Christ as God; for them the question of believing in Christ does not arise. Even they can benefit from Jesus and his teachings, only if they are willing to accept his words as that of an ‘Apta- Purusha’, a realized saint. And, there is hardly any religious person in India who will reject the words of a realized saint with contempt and disdain.
The contents of belief in Christ are also highlighted in the words of Christ himself: ‘Believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me’118, and my father quotes the
Upanishadic truth in explanation, Ekamevadvitiyam, one only without second.119 In a poetic expression, he says: Is moon separate from its rays; or waves of water from the
Ocean? The Father, similarly, is not separate from the Son and Son from the Father are not separate. They seem to be different, but, in reality, are not different; they indeed are one’120. He also drew our attention that the faith is to believe that ‘Jesus has come from God (Jn. 17: 8 and 25), that God speaks and works through him’121.
Phala Shruti: Fruits of faith
The result of Jijnasa, Vishwasa and Shraddha– the intense desire to know God, having faith and belief in Him, which he as a convert pursued through out his life, is also placed before us for our own spiritual encouragement, as he shares: ‘This leads, by the grace of God, to a glimpse of Jesus and the Supreme Father, the glimpse that transcends the description of the Scriptures. This reverence and faith opens up the doors of our heart and we have the glimpses of the nature of God in Prabhu Jesus. Word-God (Shabdeshwara) and God are not two different entities; to see Jesus, to meet him face to face is to meet God’122. Sakshatkara, to see and meet Christ-God face to face is the summum bonum in the life of a Bhakta, a devotee of Christ. My father had no word to describe the unveiling Mystery, as it is indescribable; it is a ‘Rahasya’123, part and parcel of the very being of the bhakta, the devotee, a part that will not be taken away from him.
He is now free and liberated; free from troubles and anxiety as they are deposited in the heart of God, they are no more his problem, as they become God’s problem.124 He is now free ‘to devote each moment of his life in reflecting upon spiritual matters and in the service of others’125. Liberation in Christ does not mean liberation from social responsibility; it means involvement in humanitarian and welfare work. He becomes medium through which Christ himself becomes active for the welfare of the people.
The Bhakta, devotee, can perform miracles, if this is what God wishes. My father notes that there is a long list of miracles, at the end of Gospel of Mark, that believers can perform, and it confirms that miraculous events were taking place at the beginning of primitive Christianity. The development in medical sciences and psychology might have taken the miracle of healing, but devotees continue to serve the society with medical mission and social service agencies. The works and services of Florence Nightingale, Albert Schweitzer, William Carey and Mother Teresa of Calcutta had performed similar acts as that of Christ. The spread of the Gospel of Christ far beyond Galilee and Judea, among the so-called ‘uncivilized’ and ‘heathens’ is itself a miracle.126
Vishwasa, faith, establishes a relationship of love between the bhakta, devotee, and Christ. My father brings out the fact that Bhakti-yoga, attaining the highest through complete devotion and surrender to God, and Karma-yoga, attaining salvation through active life of service to human society, are beautifully combined in the Gospel of Saint John: ‘John, in his Gospel combines love and obedience, devotion and service. One can mark them in many places in his writings: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me (Jn.14: 21); “If a man loves me, he will keep my word’ (Jn 14:23); “for this is love of God, that we keep his commandments’ (I Jn. 5: 3)’127. In the mutuality of loving relationship the first response comes from the disciple: ‘We begin to follow his commandments’128. One should note that the following the commandments is a ‘parinama’, consequential result, of loving the Lord. The causal relationship is between love and following commandments and not vice versa. This is the cause of total and complete change in the life of a devotee: ‘true love makes active and thoroughly changes our life style’129. The first response leads to second, and it is from Kaunakakai Prabhu, the Compassionate God who comes forward to petition on behalf of the devotee to the Father. Such prayers are immediately heard and petition granted by the Father. The idea that God himself petitions along with, and on behalf of, the devotee is something new that is contributed to the Bhakti-yoga by Saint John. This assures the effectiveness and importance of a prayer.
Promises and fulfillment of promises are integral part of faith relationship. We may highlight a few of them.
One of the most assuring consequent of loving relationship between the Lord and the devotee that is brought forth by St. John is the sending of the ‘Parakletos’. My father’s explanation of the term may be helpful: ‘This is a multi-meaning word that has different meaning in accordance with the context, such as, guardian, counselor, provider of peace, advocate etc. Are you taking parts in the movements against injustices? Parakletos is your advocate. Are you in need of advice and guidance in your personal life? Parakletos is your counselor. Are you troubled in heart? Parakletos is the source of power and peace. Are you in search of truth? Parakletos is the spirit of truth’130. He uses the terms ‘Abhibhavaka, the one looks after the interest of others, ‘Shantidata, bestower of eternal peace and ‘Paramarshadata’, the one who provides right counsel and guidance, for the word ‘Parakletos’. In his translation of Johannine text, he has used the word, ‘Sahayaka’, ever-present helper to protect and help, for Parakletos.
Parakletos, the helper, according to John, is the second helper, first being Jesus Christ himself. This helper will be present with the bhakta forever.131 My father gives precedence and priority to Jesus Christ as he uses the word ‘Eka anya’, other-than-the- first, for the helper. It may be his way, or the way of some converts, for expressing his preference for Christ, even when the second helper is at hand. His New translation has Dusara, the second rather than ‘anya’ another. Converts may be closer to Christ than to the Father or Holy Spirit.
Satya-Atma: The Spirit of truth
We cannot avoid, at this juncture, a discussion on Holy Spirit. Parakletos is identified, and designated, as Holy Spirit132, whose most widespread name in the Johannine community was ‘Spirit of truth133. We have made a passing reference while discussing the essential definition134 and pointed out the ‘Satya’, truth, for John, is the essential nature of God; we can now have a closer look at what my father has to say about it.
First of all, he has recognized the fact that ‘search for truth was a matter of concern from ancient India’; ‘our Upanishads is full of discourses on the truth’; ‘from the Vedic age to the present, one may find them among the Hindus, among the Muslims and among all religions of the world, in every country and in every age’; ‘there are some…who searched the truth in science; some…searched the truth in popular art and poetry; some…experimented with truth in service and politics’. Theses observations have theological implication, since the ‘Sprit of Truth’ is shown active in these situations; one only has to discern and recognize its activity in and through them. He, therefore, pays his respectful homage to all the explorers of the truth of the whole world, before he presented
his own findings.135 He also pointed out the fact that, in Hinduism ‘Sat‘ can also mean good, moral; Gandhi held that truth is realized by moral living and moral living qualifies
to have the vision of truth, yet he left the question of truth found in other religions for further exploration.136
From his discussion on the subject137, we, however, can note what he has to share with us. First of all, truth is related to God, therefore, this truth is ‘Parmarthika’ and ‘para- laukika‘, transcendental and extra-ordinary. Secondly, this truth purifies the heart of man. It is such a thing for which human life can be consecrated and committed. Thirdly, the means to understand truth is to listen and reflect devotedly; ‘Chintana- Manana-Dhyana’, thinking-reflection- contemplation, is the only means to understand the truth. Fourthly, truth is liberative; it liberates us from the shackles of our desires and sins. Finally, God the father is truth, but He is ‘Nirakara’ and ‘Avyakta’– without body and un-manifested. ‘I am’ God is the ‘Sakara’ and Vyakta– with body and manifested, form of the ‘Adrshya Satya’, unseen Truth. This truth is identified with Christ the Shabdeshwara, Word-God.
My father prefers to use the term, ‘Satya-atma’, Spirit of truth, in place of generally accepted term, ‘Pavitra-atma’, Holy Spirit. It is his way of emphasizing the essential nature of the Spirit, which is nothing but the nature of God the Ultimate. This term not only has ontological significance, but ethical implications as well. Indian theology and philosophy is often charged for neglecting ethical dimension; this is an attempt to refute that charge. He would even prefer to use simple ‘Atma’ for Holy Spirit.
It is this aspect of Holy Spirit as expressed in the phrase, ‘the Spirit of truth’, that interests my father most. He notes that the expression, ‘Spirit of truth’ occurs three out of five time in five Paracletos sayings; that it implies that the truth is ever to be explored and applied to new situations as they arise, and that it is a dynamic idea (not simply ‘existence only).138 In his discussion, he draws attention to, and explains, two aspects of the relative case that is used in the phrase, ‘Spirit of truth’. In the first aspect, ‘The relative case is used here to emphasize the deep relationship between revealed and revealer. It indicates the Spirit that enters into the heart of truth; that makes the experience of truth possible; that discloses the truth’139. The words and term that are used here, ‘prakasha-prakashaka’, revealed and revealer; ‘Hridayangam’, entering into the heart; ‘Sakshatkara, seeing face to face; and ‘udaghatana’, disclosure, are very significant as they clearly bring forth the ontological and epistemological characteristic of Holy Spirit almost in the same manner as was proposed for Sabdeshwara, the Word-God.140 The ontological oneness of the God-Father, God-Word and God-Holy Spirit is just naturally ascertained through these words. In its epistemological aspect, the immanence of Holy Spirit makes the realization, and revelation, of truth possible for a bhakta. The other aspect of relative case indicates relationship between encourager and encouraged. The words, ‘Preraka and ‘Prerit’ is used which also suggests prompting, instigating and persuading. ‘Holy Spirit, from this point of views is the Prompter.’141 There is an element of force in this role of the Spirit. It is interesting to note that he considers truth residing in the inert form within the hearts of men; Spirit enters at that depth and arouses it, strengthens good resolves and noble feelings. The dual role of the Holy Spirit helps a community of believers to grow in faith and maturity.
But this is not the case; people of the world do not recognize and receive the Spirit of truth. It is so, because meta-noia has not taken place; their faces are turned against God. He uses the words, ‘Sansari loga’, people engaged in worldly affairs, and ‘Ishwara– vimukha’, people in opposition to God, to convey the situation of the people of the world. It is in this context that he brings out the ethical implications of the ontological concept, ‘Sat‘. It is just opposite of ‘Asat’, falsehood, with which ‘Sat‘ truth cannot coexist: ‘They are ever in conflict with the Sprit: there is no possibility of co-existence of worldliness and Spirit of truth142. The worldliness and ‘Asat’, falsehood, is associated with a state of affairs where self interest, greed, arrogance, envy, anger and violence rule. No one, in such state of mind and being, can know God-Spirit. Moreover, Satya-atma, Truth-Spirit, being essential nature of the Ultimate, cannot be grasped and comprehended by the instrumentality of senses. He further points out that ‘The world cannot know it because “knowing” is the activity of mind and reason. The Spirit is not subject matter of perception, hence it is beyond the realm of mind and reason’143. The Bhakta, believer, on the other hand knows the Spirit because he had he Anubhava, perceptual experience, of God-Father and God-Jesus Christ and He dwells with him.144 He is there to protect and assist him, and he knows the Spirit as the defender and helper. It is there as a source of power and encouragement. It is there to awaken, enlighten and develop him. My father considers the help and inspiration from Spirit necessary for the progress in Christiya Adhyatmika Jeevana, spiritual life as made available in Christ. And he has nothing but personal experience in support of the suggestion: ‘It is the Spirit of truth, the encourager, which the old listless and sluggish heart of Yisudas needs, in order to complete this commentary and guide others to the truth’145
A devotee is promised for a constant companionship of his Prabhu and Guru. In the Indian context, a guru is like parent to his disciples, his kindness is immeasurable; his departure leaves them orphan and desolate. Who else than a convert needs such a promise of support form his Guru. And he says so out of his experience: ‘However dreadful circumstances we may have; however dark the clouds of pain and suffering may have been; however dark the night of death seems to be; partners may desert us for the troubles we face, Prabhu does not leave us’146
Life after life
Human life comes to an end; for the one who is born, death is certain.147 Death and life after death, therefore, needs to be looked into. We have two perspectives from which to look at this certainty of human existence; one from the perspective of Prabhu Jesus Christ, another from the perspective of a bhakta, believer. From the perspective of Jesus, death has no meaning. It is only another state of being where people of world cannot see him whereas believer can see: ‘the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live’ (14:19). Reason for the world not to see Jesus Christ after his death is the same as that of knowing and seeing the things belonging to spiritual dimension: ‘the world comprehends the external things through the senses and the judgment of reason. It can, therefore apprehend only gross things, and not the spiritual things for which it does not have any capacity’148. But the disciples, through his Kripa, a gracious favour, see him. They see him because hope and expectation has focused their attention upon the spiritual things; love and prayer has removed Avarana, the veil, from their heart. It is, therefore, the bhakta, believer who knows that his Prabhu is alive. ‘It is to establish this principle, John has written this book’149. The principle is what Jesus has indicated in this short phrase, ‘I am alive’. He is indicating that ‘the life is present in me from eternity, always; I am not the person who lived in Galilee in the first century; I am even present today- in India and in other countries too’150. And my father adds his personal witness: ‘The presence of Christ is evident in the Christian experience of conversion’151. The continuity of life, after death, is a fact that Jesus revealed to his bhakta, devotee, in the context of his impending death. The experience of the living presence of Christ, which the devotees have, too can be accepted, but what about their perspective about their impending death? Bhakta has an answer: ‘Death is not the last word: death is not the ultimate truth, life is…. Death is merely a temporary stoppage in the journey of life’152. This he derives with certainty from the life of Jesus, as the matter did not end there with his death on the cross. Death was not the last consequence of the life of Jesus; it was merely referred to his going to the Father. It is in the context of this, in the perception of death by the bhakta that the believer gains a new insight: “Death and going beyond is not something that one should be frightened of; we reach at father’s home through it… The disciples should not be frightened and troubled, for this world, its successes and failures are not everything. The life of humans does not cease with the death of this body; the life continues beyond this world. The world beyond is not something that frightens a believer, a bhakta. It is the home of the Father – the Supreme Merciful and loving father of Jesus, and, thus, is the home of Prabhu Jesus Christ’153. It is with this faith, a believer faces any death-like situation in life, and ultimately death itself. He knows the truth: ‘death is drawing near and is inevitable, yet the matter does not end here. The long and well-established tradition of eternal life is there to perceive. One needs to slowly prepare himself within the limit of his resources’154. The bhakta, devotee, therefore, has the certainty of a place in His Father’s house and the well-established tradition of eternal life as the foundation of his faith in the continuity of life after death.
There is a place to live for a bhakta, always and under all conditions. ‘Loka and Parloka’, this world and Other World, are very clear in the mind of a person who is facing the fact of passage of life through death, so also its continuum. One cannot negate this world; this world is also the house of God. The assertion of the bhakta, devotee, is sound and clear: “The whole creation is the house of God. It is everywhere; at every top mounts of the Himalaya, in the deepest depths of the oceans, in India and elsewhere in other foreign countries, on this Earth or on celestial places like Moon etc. The whole world is my (Prabhu Jesus”) Father’s home, the home of the Supreme Compassionate God. There is no scarcity of living places in His home’155. He is accommodated and accepted in any of those rooms of the Father here on earth whenever he is in need. The same is true in the case of world beyond when a bhakta enters in his Father’s house through this way of death. Living in Father’s house is considered to be ‘a state that is eternal, permanent, peaceful and fellowship, free form disease and enveloped by love’156. The bhakta, believer, therefore, lives in the twilight zone while he is on earth: ‘When we live a life in eternal peace and fellowship with God and His Son, we, then, have a glimpses of that state which is denoted here in the phrase, Many rooms’157. Obviously, it shall be perfectly attained after entering through the way of death. The word, ‘Purna prapti’, final and perfect attainment, is used to indicate ‘here and now’ aspect of living with the Father and the Son in their abode. For those who do not have the living experience of God, simple faith is enough: ‘Believe in God, believe also in me’ (Jn. 14: 1). The content of the faith is that ‘Prabhu takes his devotees to the place we mentioned above where they blissfully reside for eternity with God the Father and God the Word’158. Faith is very essential component in the life of a bhakta, devotee; it provides consolation to the mind and eschatological hope to the heart. In absence of such a belief, human life is nothing but a petite, worthless and meaningless existence.
‘The well-established tradition of eternal life’ is found in the third part of Mahavakya, Great pronouncement, of Jesus Christ: ‘I am the way, the truth and life’ (Jn.14: 6). The life, presented here, is the source of creative power of Shabdeshwara, Word-God. So, wherever, Chetanata, creative consciousness is active, the bhakta, devotee discovers creative power of Word-God at work: ‘Our Buddha and Saint Francis, Gandhi and Mother Teresa, and countless saintly women and men in every nation and age, are wonders of spiritual world of the human; they are the visible expression of the wonders of the same Word, about which John wrote, ” in him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn. 1: 4); “the who believes in this ‘life’ attains eternal life” (Jn. 3: 15) ‘159. The eternal life has both the dimensions – here and hereafter: ‘You ask the women from Samaria, and she will testify; there was none as sinful as myself, but now I have become, in my heart, “a spring of water welling up to the eternal life” (Jn.4: 14)’160. Jesus Christ the Word-God is the life-giving Bread (Jn.6: 35, 63) and Water (Jn.4: 10); he is the one who provides us the physical, mental and spiritual life: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly’ (Jn. 10: 10). Now he has gone to the Father, as he had stated, to prepare a place for the disciples in the house, where they can have lasting rest and live in ‘Daivy Sahacharya’, constant company of the Divine.161
After ascertaing the life-thereafter, which is the continuation of life here on earth, there is the assurance from Prabhu himself that he will come and take us to the Father’s home: ‘And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also’ (Jn. 14: 3); ‘I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you’ (Jn.14: 18). This takes us to another aspect of Christian hope: Parousia – the Second Coming of Christ. A believer looks at this hope from three perceptible facts: the fact of the resurrection of Christ, the concept of ‘Parousia’ in the early Church, and the faith experience of the bhakta, devotee. Christianity is the faith that grew out of the fact and experience of resurrection of Christ. One need not be apologetic of the dogmatic assertion of this fact, and this is what is asserted by the bhakta: ‘This, therefore, is very clear that Jesus did go to the Father’s home, and now returned to the earth for our salvation’162. So also, his coming in future is noted with appreciation, as this made Christians more responsible towards society and family.163 The third fact is the most important as it goes beyond the dogmatic assertions of the Church and the believers: it provides a bhakta not only the Pratyaksha Pramana, direct perception, of the fact of second coming of Christ Jesus, but also Anumana, indicative inference, to others, encouraging them to strive hard for Sakshatkara, revelatory Darshana, of the Divine. For him, it a life in Christ, exhilarating experience of which is expressed in the phrases such as these: ‘to live in the loving and pleasing company of Prabhu Jesus’; ‘to live with Him in close proximity’; ‘to be profited with the supreme bliss in companionship of God’. He prefers the phrase, Purna Sangati’, to express the wholesome idea of companionship, fellowship, association and togetherness with Prabhu for the part of the sentence, in John 14:3: ‘I will take you myself that where I am you may be’. It is considered to be Purushartha, the final objective in the life of a person. He could only agree with the seer of the Kena Upanishad that it is ‘a state where power of speech is lost into silence of a dumb, and where there are no words to express the thought’.164
Theology of the Way: Witness of a convert
The term ‘theology’, perhaps is a misnomer term when applied in the context of a convert. He does not present a ‘theology’, but a life-style and a witness- marturia; and here lies his significant contribution to the community of fellow believers, and the society-at-large. Nothing would have happened if he would have remained andun-Baptized Christian’, or ‘anonymous Christian’; the Church would have formed a ‘theology’ for such ‘sympathizer’ and ‘God-fearers’. Bur he, through shravana-manana-nididdhyasana, reading-reflection- contemplation, had ‘Sakshatkara of Prabhu Jesus165, and the experience of liberation from sinful habits and besetting temptations’166. He was, therefore, inwardly compelled by what Christ expects; ‘we should not hide our light under a bushel, we have to bear witness’167; ‘I had to bear witness, had to follow the Lord in concrete daily living’168. It is then, he began to understand what the cost of discipleship was: ‘It was when I tried to follow this command that storm broke out first in my home and then in the city’169. And when he returned home after taking baptism, the doors of his home were closed at his face; all relations were suddenly severed to the pain and agony of the convert, and of course, of his own family.170 It was only Christ who stood by him, in all situations then, and thereafter. And he too, was resolute in his resolve to follow his ‘Ishta-davata171′, God of personal choice, what may come: ‘I became a Christian because of my faith in the person of Christ. Him I regarded as my Saviour. He had the devotion of my heart and the obedience of my will’172. His life, thereafter, is a life in following his Master and Saviour, leaving the life and the path of religiosity followed by his ancestors. He went to Mahatma Gandhi to learn to live Christ’s life, a life of a true Christian, and after initial training, got the injunction from him: ‘If you have become a Christian, be a good Christian’173. Christ as the ideal and Christ as the ‘ishta-devata’, God of personal choice is taken here to be the understanding of ‘the way’. It is in this context of changing the way, one need to understand theology of religion of a convert as the theology of the Way.
The theological foundation of his understanding is provided in his comments on one of the Mahavakya, great pronouncement, in the Johannine Gospel: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn. 14. 6). It seems to me that he has taken the first part of pronouncement, the Way, to mean Christianity as religious community as well. The approach to religion as a way was nothing new to him, as he notes: ‘In the religious literature of our country, the word ‘way’ is not something new; almost everyone is familiar with the way of knowledge, the way of devotion and the way of action. In the middle ages, saints, like Kabir, Dadu and Nanak, established their ways for spiritual teachings and education. These ways offered the highest spiritual teachings to the common folks’174. He uses the word, ‘Marga’ here for the three ways for salvation through knowledge, devotion and action, and ‘Pantha’ for the religions, or sects established by these poet-saints. He also notes that ‘in the beginning of Christian Church, its religion also became famous by the name ” the way” ‘175. In his translation of the New Testament, he has the word, ‘Marga’ in the Johannine text, but uses both ‘Pantha’ and ‘Marga’ for translating the Greek, ‘hodos’ in the book of Acts of the Apostles (9: 2; 22: 4). It often happens that the person, and his established ‘way’, becomes synonyms in common usage. Christianity and Buddhism are the good examples of such cases in the history of religions. The way, therefore, also refers to the way of life that particular community follows under the guidelines and teachings of the initiator of the way, who has now become an ideal for the community. It is, in the light of this, I wish to propose that this part of Mahavakya, great pronouncement, of Christ, ‘the way’, should be taken as the accidental definition of the Ultimate. In the context of miracles that are found, he points out that these ‘semeion, signs are also the way, Marga, ‘that leads to the highest truth,
Parama–Satya’; ‘treading on this way, we receive life (14: 6)’.176 Christ is indicated by what the new community of Christians is, and the character of its ideal characterizes the new community. My father notes two characteristics of this community that separates it from other communities: ‘First of all this community, in its teaching and attitude gave importance to love’, and, ‘second most important characteristic of this way lies in austerity, renunciation and sacrifice (or cross)’177. One can easily mark that ‘Love’ is the essence of these characteristics, which is the essential definition of the Ultimate, thus making the way an accidental definition. In order to avoid the danger of community absolutizing itself as the Way, Christ has assertively spoken this Mahavakya, great pronouncement; you as the community, or an individual member of that community, are not ‘the way’, ‘I am the way’. The same is again underlined through the next phrase, ‘ no one comes to the Father, but by me’ (Jn. 14: 6). He is present there in the new community amidst all its struggles of life: ‘He, even today, walks with us on life’s way, guides, being present with us, through the difficulties of life and inspires and encourages us. At the end, he leads us to the goal of our journey- to the presence of his Father’178. He is the way in this sense.
This understanding of the way recognizes relativity of religions and religious truths, and not of the ‘Ishta’, God to whom the Bhakta owes total allegiance: ‘a devotee has to be established in Christ: “believe also in me”; “I am the way, and the truth and the life”; “no one comes to my Father, but me” ‘179. It is neither the communal narrowness of Saint John, nor of the bhakta, the devotee. Once it is understood that it is the Ultimate himself who is making such claims, the doubt is cleared and there is remains no misunderstanding. This is Shabdeshwara, the Word-God, who is proclaiming this truth.
My father uses the term, ‘Christ-nishtha, firmly grounded in Christ, and not into a particular religion or religious sect, to differentiate the two. He, therefore, had no hesitation to agree with Mahatma Gandhi that ‘all religions are true, but all religions are imperfect also’, for it does not cast any aspersion on his, and on that matter, on any one’s,
‘Ishta’, God of personal choice. He always paid his highest regards and respect to all religions and their religious leaders. This attitude helped him to recognize, and appreciate, the true seekers of the truth everywhere and anywhere, wherever they are found. He, for this reason, first paid his respect and homage to all explorers of the truth of the whole world before entering into discussion on truth.180
Love is the principle upon which he built his relationship with the people of other faiths, first through controversies, then through dialogue: ‘though my love for my traditional faith, and my adolescent age, drew me into controversy, I really did not like religious controversies181; ‘I realized that essence of religion is love and suffering (cross) and sacrifice, and not in empty talks and arguments182. He saw some sense in what Mahatma Gandhi said about inter-faith relationship: ‘As I love my religion, so you love yours.
Therefore we should not hurt knowingly religious feelings of others’183. But a convert is often deeply hurt by the treatment he had received from his family and often feels bitter against them and the society. It often leads to a total, and reciprocal, severance of social and cultural ties with the past associations by the convert and his society. It was C.F. Andrews and Mr. Hodge who encouraged him not to do so by showing two different aspects of love. It was C.F. Andrews who pointed him out that this was not the Christian attitude and he should always try to have love and goodwill towards them. The earnest and loving direction, given by Deenabandhu to the young bhakta, has relevance for us even today: ‘Don’t confine yourself to Mission Compounds and missionaries – the colonial Christianity, but maintain your relation with Hindu friends, and the national and social movements sweeping across this land. Don’t lose your cultural contact with your people’184. This helped him to maintain cultural link by cultivating interest in Hindi and Sanskrit: ‘One common thing that binds me to my Hindu Friend is love for Hindi and Sanskrit, or to say in general, the study of Indology’185. This brought him closer to scholars and he came into happy contact with people engaged in such studies. He attended as many religious, political and academic meetings as were possible to him so that he could maintain his contact with the people of other faiths. This won him many friends and admirers among them. In this journey of witnessing, he notes: “my experience is that when I walk closely with God I am able to exercise a good influence on these people. While I live on a lower spiritual level the effect id harmful’186. Mr. Hodge, on the other hand, advised the new theologians in 1941 ‘to go out of the college walls and sow India with friendship’187. The phrase, ‘sow India with friendship’ touched the heart of the young convert, and he tried to emulate this, in his own way, rest of his life: ‘as an Indian Christian, I have, since then, tried to make friends with Indian of whatever caste or creed. And, some how, I have been able to combine this with my devotion and loyalty to Christ, my Lord and my Master’188.
His humility, child-like inquisitiveness, smile without guile and no pretension of vast knowledge that he had, won him many friends. He himself revealed his method of witnessing his life-in-Christ with sheer honesty: ‘I want to lay my method and strategy clear. I scrupulously dress myself in Indian dress – Kurta, dhoti, or pajama. I eat vegetarian food. I cultivate taste for Indian painting and Indian literature, which is limited, in my case, unfortunately to Sanskrit and Hindi only. But I have always encouraged my Bengali, Tamil and Malayali students to gain fluency in Indian languages. I always love to see Christian truth expressed in Indian terms. All this brings me closer to my Indian friends and they are willing to hear what I have to say about spiritual matters’189.
Was he a failure in life? I would not like to pass a judgment over it; I will rather leave it to others to do the job. But something must have been bothering him as he wrote his comments on ‘So long’ (Jn. 14: 9), and he found resonance in the words of his Master, and in the heart of the writer of the Gospel, a feeling of hurt and disappointment, as he wrote: ‘One can also perceive, behind these words, the heart of the writer of the Gospel. He had left his land and was now residing in Ephesus, a city in Asia Minor. He had some disciples, but most of them were just listeners. He could only partially succeed in making others understand the good news190 of Jesus: “I have been with you for so long; my life was an open book for you; I have delivered sermons, yet you did not fully understand me. I am now writing this fourth Gospel to make you understand” ‘191. And he added his own name, along with other commentators of the Gospel, at the end of his script of the commentary to express his disappointment and hurt.
Let me conclude this attempt at the theology of a convert with the words of the convert himself as he reminds us the futility of our intellectual exercise if they are not focused on Christ:
‘The knowledge, success and pleasures of the world alone cannot make the human heart and mind happy and satisfied. It was for this, Narad, after mastering over all the knowledge of his time, unburdened his heart to Sage Sanatkumar: I feel sad, Sir: these knowledge could not Satisfy me.192 It was for the same reason, Maitreyi told her husband, Sage Yajnavalkya193: what would I do with that wealth and property through which I would not attain the Eternal194. John has the same message for those great souls, searching for the liberation195. Are you in search for the way to liberation? Are you in search of truth? Do you wish to have eternal life196? May I plead you to learn to place your faith in that word of embodied God197, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life’. You, if God so wills in his mercy, will achieve your goal.198
1 A comparative study of Paul Tillich and Samkara with special reference to the concept of Being. (Ph.D thesis submitted to R.D University of Jabalpur, 1984)
2 ‘A critical evaluation of Christological and soteriological titles in the terminology of Indian Christian theologians, with special reference to Appasamy, Chenchaiah and Goreh, and their parallel concepts in Hinduism.’ ( Unpublished B.D. thesis, 1972)
3 Joel 2: 28 ‘…your young men shall see visions.’
4 Is. 6: 1ff.
5 Acts 9: 1-9; 22: 6-11
6 Chapter 5: f. n. for Comments on ‘I will come again’.
7 Dharma stands for religion as well as for duties that regulates one’s life. In the context of fourfold division of Hindu/Indian society, it has reference to caste duties, which so forcefully exhorted to be upheld by the writer of Bhagavad-Gita. Parivartana means change
8 The four are considered to be Purushartha- Dharma. Artha, Kama and Moksha. Dharma refers to duties; Artha, to the means of livelihood; Kama, to pleasure and procreation; and Moksha, to the final liberation.
9 Chapter 1: ‘When I decided to be baptized, I did not think that I was “leaving” Hindu society. I thought I
was adding something new, something glorious to my Hindu heritage. I wanted to continue to live with my parents, to co-operate with other Hindus in social work, to visit temples, etc. I was like those early Christians who met daily at Solomon’s porch in the temple. Soon I discovered that this is not possible. The leaders of the community told me that I could not work with them and my own family shut the door, literally, in my face. I was driven out.’
10 Bhagavad-Gita 18: 66
11 Mk. 1: 17f : ‘follow me…And immediately they left their nets and followed him.’
Lk. 9: 62 : ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
Mt. 19: 21: ‘I you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’
Lk. 18: 29f : ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come, eternal life.’
12 Chapter 1: “At once I realized that there is a glorious Personality by my side on whom I may repose my feverish head, one who is closer than the closest friend, one who understands, one who is indescribable (anirvachaniya).’ See also Chapter 3.
13 Sanskrit for heat, fire, burning, self-control, strong resolve and Sadhana.
14 Ch.1 (italics are mine for emphasis)
15 Chapter 3: ‘I am entirely ignorant of this theological discipline. Similarly, philosophical studies are entirely beyond my mental powers.’
16 Devotee, follower
17 One of the famous Brahmin convert from Maharashtra in the nineteenth century, known for his refutation of six systems of Indian philosophy and theology.
18 Another Brahmin convert from Bengal who tried to understand Trinitarian concept from Upanishadic Sat-cit-ananda.
19 Spiritual aim, goal in life
20 Chapter 3: ‘All this work, I may say humbly, was ‘inspirational’ in character and was done for my spiritual needs and aspiration.’
21 Goal in life
22 Final revelation, meeting, face-to-face, Ultimate Reality
23 Experience of Ultimate reality
24 Essential nature of Christ, Christ as he-is, Christ-ness.
25 Chapter 4: ‘The revelation of Reality of Christ is the chief aim of the Fourth Gospel.’
26 Chapter 3: ‘So when Lord Jesus Christ, in great mercy and love and grace, revealed himself to me, I could not contain revelation to myself. I had to bear witness, had to follow the Lord in concrete daily living.’
27 Chapter 4: ‘ the second half of the book, in reality, is the Upanishad where the teacher imparts, in secret, the teachings that are full of mysteries. This is the ‘Yesu-Gita’, where the highest of the highest knowledge is expressed in poetic language…’
28 Chapter 4: ‘As a mother lovingly feeds her child, Christ, in the same manner, feeds his disciple with the nectar of his teachings. This nectar was not only for the first disciples; it was available to the people of John’s time. In fact, this nectar is for the whole humankind, irrespective of their caste, colour or nationality.’
29 Chapter 1: ‘I became a Christian because of the faith in the person of Christ. Him I regarded as my
Saviour. He had the devotion of my heart and the obedience of my will.’
30 Chapter 3
31 Ps.19: 1 cf. chiding of him in Ps.53: ‘the fool says in his heart, “there is no God” ‘
32 Is. 55: 6
33 Brahma-sutra (BS) 1.1.1 Athato Brahm-jijnansa.
34 Badrayana is considered to have authored the Sutra; some consider him the compiler of the Sutras in BS
35 Chapter 4: ‘I was interested in social service that brought respect and recognition for me in the society. Yet, there was no inner peace, the peace of heart and mind.’
36 Chapter 5: Comments on14: 1; See also his prayer in my introduction to the chapter: ‘I am troubled in my heart; comfort me by making me write these pages.’
37 Chapter 4 ‘The deep thinking, reflection and meditation/contemplation has given me a very useful fruit, the reader may also receive the same.’
38 In the Upanishadic thought, the distinction is made between the knower; one is Brahma-vijna, the professional knower of Brahman, the other is Brahma-vid, the true knower. One has attained the
knowledge by the studies of the Upanishads; the other has attained the knowledge by being the Brahman. The latter is closer to Johannine expression, ‘ I am in the father and the Father in Me’ (Jn.14: 11), and also to Pauline, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal.2: 20)
39 ‘Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, London: The Edinburgh House Press, 1938
40 Chapter 3: ‘I felt intuitively that this sort of theology might do good for Europe where the only Church is the Christian Church. But, India is a country where five or six living religions are found and Barthianism is simply out of place for student who reads Indian philosophy and religion in depth.’
41 Differentiation needs to be made between ‘Hindutva’ (Hindu-ness of Hindu nationalism) and Bhartiyatva
(Indian-ness of modern nationhood)
42 See, Jn.17
43 Brahmasutra Bhashya (BSB) 1.1.1
44 Nityanityavastuviveka. Along with the discriminatory power, a sense of certitude is also involved
45 Mt.19: 20; Mk.10: 17-22; Lk.18: 18-25
46 Mt.13: 44-45
47 Romans 12:2
48 Rom 8
49 Shama, dama, uparati, titiksha, samadhana and Shraddha.
51 Mumukshutva. also release from bondage.
52 Ps.42: 1f.
53 The confession, Book I, chapter I
54 Chapter 2: ‘ I had experienced that Christ is living and that He is my Saviour. This implied discipleship, renunciation, asceticism and heroism, which appealed to my youthful idealism. But I discovered that Christians were very worldly people. I discovered that even our theological students at Serampore and Calcutta were like that. According to my immature youthful thinking those days the word ‘Christian meant to be a saint, a sadhu, a mahatma, but our teachers were professionals and were training pupil for a profession.’
55 Chapter 3
56 Chapter 1: ‘You have used all your methods. You have tried to be good by your own efforts, through philosophy, through meditation, all this has not worked. Why not try this method? Why not try?’
57 Chapter 1:’This devotion to social service brought certain happiness to my distressed soul because my
motive in doing so was to realize God. However, I was still far away from the spiritual peace for which I
58 Vyavaharika and Parmarthika
59 BSB 1.1.1 Brahmano Jijnasa Brahm-Jijnansa.
60 Chapter 1: ‘Any indiscriminate use of such language will produce vagueness. We cannot be theologically accurate if we use these term.’
61 BSB 1.1.1 Jnatumiccha Jijnasa.
62 Mundak Up. 3.2.9; also Tai. Ar. 2.1.1
63 BS 1.1.2 Janmaddhyasya yatah (That from which the origin etc. of this.).
64E.g. Ps. 8; Job 38:4 etc.
65 Taittiriyaranyaka 3.4.1: Yato va imani bhutani jayante…
66 Exodus 3; 6 See also f.n.4
67 Galatians 3: 9; Note the idea of grafting in Rom.11
68 Ex.20: 3-7
69 Ex. 3: 14: other renderings, ‘I am what I am and I will be what I will be’, are also bring out the essential nature of God. See also Mt.22: 32 where Jesus Christ brings out the fact that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living
70 Introductory comments on 14:6
71 See Chapter 6; also his comments on Jn. 14: 6 in Chapter 5.
72 Comments on 14: 6: I am the truth
73 Chapter 6: Aletheia studied in several significance verses of John
74 Chapter 6: Etymology
75 I John 4:8, and also, 4:16 ‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.’
76 Jn.1: 1-3, 14
77 Chapter 5 Comments on 14:1 Believe also in me
79 Chapter 1: Suddenly a thought occurred to me, ‘why not pray in Christ’s name?’ I was horrified at this thought. ‘What’, said I, ‘should I pray in this name? Why should I pray in His name? I am a Brahmin, a Tiwari, a descendant of the rishis, a teacher of the world. Shall I pray in His name? Never.’
80 From Brahmana. It refers to the priestly class of Hindu religion and the highest group in caste hierarchy in Hindu/Indian society. Originally, it refers to a person who lives and has his being in Brahman, the Ultimate reality and has no reference to caste or social hierarchy.
81 Chapter 1: ‘ I knew instantly that my sinful habits and besetting temptations were broken, life became different. Trees looked greener, and the chirping of birds were sweeter.’
82 Chapter 1:At once I realized that there is a gracious Personality by my side on whom I may repose my feverish head, one who is closer than the closest friend, one who understands, one who is indescribable.’
83 Chapter 7, Sec 9: On my further query, he said, ‘I cannot describe Him in pictorial or photographic presentation; it was the Luminous One’.
84 E.g. Jn. 3:16: 14: 1
85 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 2 If it were not so, would I have told you.
86 Chapter 1: ‘I shall use the literary vocabulary of Sanskrit language, its idioms, figures of speech, its literary allusions, so far as they as they harmonize with our present-day usages and needs, but, as far as
possible, not the Hindu philosophical terms.’
87 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 9 So long
88 Chapter 5 comments on 14: 1 Believe also in me
89 Chapter 5: comments on 14:2Many Rooms
90 Chapter 4: ‘Let this be dedicated to Shabda-Brahman.
91 Chapter 5: comments on 14:8
92 Chapter 6 One needs to discern the relationship between ‘aletheia’ and ‘agathos’, Truth and Good, that is not worked out here
93 Job 19: 25 ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives’ See also, Chapter 2: ‘I had experienced that Christ is living and that He is my Saviour.’
94 I Corinthians 13: 12
95 Chapter 5 comment on 14:1 Believe in God
96 Chapter 1. See Chapter 3: When Lord Jesus Christ, in great mercy and love and grace, revealed himself to me…’ and also Chapter 4:’ I had the revelation of Lord Jesus Christ.’
98 BS 1.1.3
99 II Timothy 3:16
100 Jn. 1: 4, 9: In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. Ps.119: 115: Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
101 Revelation 3:20
102 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 2 If it were not so, would I have told you
103 Aptopadeshah shabdah (Nyaya Sutra 1.1.7)
104 Chapter 5: comments on 14:2 If it were not so
107 Chapter 1: Problems of thought and life
108 Chapter 5: comments on 14:9 So long
109 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 1 Believe also in me.
110 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 9 He who has seen me has seen the Father
111 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 7
112 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 9
113 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 1 Believe in God
114 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 1 Believe in God
115 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 12 He who believes in me
116 Chapter 5: comments on 14: 1 Believe in God
117 Refer discussion on Sutra 1.1.2 and commentary on Jn. 14: 1
118 Jn. 14: 10
119 Mandukya Up. 7
120 Commentary on Jn. 14: 10
121 14: 9: a comment on He who has seen me has seen the Father.
123 As the word, ‘mystery’ has no equivalent in Hindi or Sanskrit, the Sanskrit word Rahasya’ too has no equivalent term in English. It conveys an understanding that the realized saint knows the essential nature of the Ultimate, but cannot express it in human language. It is therefore ‘Rahasya’ for other, but not for the knower of the Truth.
124 Comments on 14: 1 Believe in God
125 Comments on 14: 12 He who believes in me
126 See comments on 14: 12
127 Comments on 14:15: If you love me
128 comments on 14: 15: You keep my commandments
130 Comments on 14:16: He will give you another counsellor
131 Comments on 14:16: Another; and For ever
133 Comments on 14:17: The Spirit of truth
134 Section II: Definition of Brahman
135 Comments on 14: 6: I am the truth
136 Chapter 6: Aletheia studied in several significant verses of John
137 Comments on 14: 6; I am the truth; also Chapter 6
138 Chapter 6: Aletheia studied in several significant verses of John
140 See section II Definition of Brahman
141 Comments on 14: 17: The Spirit of truth
142 Comments on 14: 17: The Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive
143 Comments on 14: 17: Because it neither sees him nor knows him
144 Comments on 14:17: You know him; He dwells with you
145 Comments on 14:17: The Spirit of truth
146 Comment on 14:18: I will not leave desolate
147 Bhagavad-Gita II.27
148 Comments on 14:19: The world will see no more
149 Comments on 15:19: Because I am alive
152 Comments on 14:18: I will come to you
153 Comments on 14: 2: In my Father’s house
155 Comments on 14: 2 In my Father’s house
156 Comments on 14: 2: Many rooms
159 Comments on 14: 6: And the life
161 Comments on 14:2: That I go to prepare a place for you
162 Comments on 14: 3: I will come again
164 Comments on 14: 3: Where I am you may be also; Ken. Up. 1: 5
165 Chapter 4
166 Chapter 1
168 Chapter 3
169 Chapter 1
170 Chapter 5: comments on 14:2 In my father’s house
171 chapter 3
172 Chapter 1
173 Chapter 3
174 Chapter 5: the Way
176 Chapter 4
179 Chapter 5: Comments on 14: 6: No one comes to the Father, but me
180 Chapter 5: I am the truth
181 Chapter 1
184 Chapter 3
187 Chapter 3
188 Chapter 3
190 shubha sandesha. Message that brings good tidings, Refers to the Gospel
191 Comments on 14: 9 So long
192 Chhandogya Up. VII.1.3
193 Brhad. Up. II.4.3
194 Amrtatva: the highest goal in life, attainment of Brahman hood. My father uses Ananta-jeevana (eternal life) along with Amrtatva.
195 Moksha. Also salvation. The last and the supreme goal of human life.
196 The same word Moksha is used here.
197 Sakara Ishwara. God in form, embodied God, God in embodied form.
198 Comments on 14: 6 I am the life