Christ-bhakta Yesu Das
I have been requested to summarize the book1 I compiled on the life and works of my father. The only parameter I have applied is to present a spiritual biography in the context of southern Asia, which I intend to attempt in this article, utilizing much of the material from the book (reference of pages are given wherever they are quoted).
When I presented a copy of the book to one of my senior colleague in the theological fraternity, Dr, K.C Abraham, Director, Southern Asia Theological Research Institute, his first comment, after just having a glance over its contents, was that ‘it was a valuable addition to Christian literature. A saintly person, Christu bhakta’s life was a combination of two spiritual traditions, Hindu and Christian. In a pluralistic context like ours, nothing could be relevant than his experience as we search for a viable form of Indian spirituality’. My father too considered himself a Christian Bhakta, as he recalls:
‘I consider myself a Christian Bhakta. My Hindu friends introduce me, to others, as Christian Bhakta. Jesus Christ I experienced in the following ways: (a) he is my ishtadevata: (b) he is the saguna Brahman, the agent of creation (Logos); (c) he is Shabda Brahman; (d) he is the guru, through Him I experience God; (e) he is the image of god; (f) to the Muslim, I would say, he is a prophet; he is a teacher. After knowing the personal God in Christ, I know the Hindu Bhakti experience better; Tulsidas, Mirabai etc. become more intelligible to me’ (p.19).
It is in this context, I preferred this title, Christ-Bhakta, for the write-up.
A brief biography
Yisu Das is the baptismal name of Badri Prasad Tiwari. He was born in 1911 in a middle class orthodox Brahmin family of Agra. His father, Pandit Hari Govind Tiwari and
mother, Rajkunwar were pious Vaishnavites, who worshipped Rama and Krishna as their family deities. He was greatly influenced by the piety of his mother and scholarship of his father and wanted to be a true bhakta (devotee) of God the way Prahlad2 was. He ran away from home, quite a few times, to realize his dreams. In his teens, he was a zealot of his faith, arguing for the defense of his religion and editing an apologetic magazine. He was greatly influenced by iconoclast Swami Dayanand Saraswati and mystic saint Swami Ramatirth.
During college days, he came into contact with some of the saintly Christian personalities, such as Canon Holland, Dr. Stanley Jones, Deen-bandhu C.F.Andrews, Kumarappa brothers, Rev. G.D.Reynolds and Rev. Bradnocks, and took keen interest in the studies of theBible and devotional writings of Christian mystics. This, and resolving of his personal problems through prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, led him to the personal knowledge of Jesus Christ as his “Ishta” (God of personal choice). His open acknowledgement of new found faith outside his own tradition was enough to cause problems for him from within his family and society. It was during this time of personal trials, and internment in a mental asylum, that he had a personalvision of Christ that changed his life once for all. It was a matter of time for him to take baptism and join the Church. His life, thereafter, was a constant wandering in experiencing His grace and maturing in faith in Christ.
He was an ordained as a minister by Baptist Church and had the privilege of being the minister of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia and the Church of North India as well. Most of his life, he spent as a teacher, first in a school, then at various theological colleges- United Theological College, Bareilly, Serampore College, Serampore, and Bishop’s College, Calcutta. After retirement, he spent
five years at Christ Prem Seva Ashram, Pune as an inmate and co-acharya with Sr. Sarah Grant. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity (Honoris Causa) by Serampore College in 1995 for his contribution to theological education and translation of new Hindi revised version of the New Testasment. He breathed his last during his sojourn with his son at Shillong in 1997.
The following sections deal with his life pattern as a devotee of Christ.
Christ-Prapatti: Surender to Christ
In the bhakti tradition, god-realization is possible only through complete surrender of
one’s whole self to the mercy and grace of the deity. It is in the midst of crisis situation, at the utter helplessness of the devotee that God intervenes in the life history of the devotee. This is what happened in the life of this bhakta, about which he wrote in his autobiographical essay:
‘I had completed twenty-two years of my life. Though a spiritually minded youth, sin had entered into my life. I wanted to be good, religious, spiritual, but I could manage only to be wicked, unholy and worldly. The more I struggled, the more I sank in the mire of sin. In one such despondent mood I went to Christ in the Silence and read the commentary on the words of St John’s Gospel, ‘Ask in My Name’. The commentary spoke of the Bishop, Charles Gore, of Sushil Kumar Rudra and of, Sadhu Sundar Singh, and how their prayers were answered. C. F. Andrews then went on to relate his own experiences.
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’.
But I was face to face with the Lord. He said, ‘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?’
So I got up from my chair and went to the small room adjacent to my study and knelt there and prayed, ‘O Lord, if you are a living Lord, save me from my sins. Save me from myself’. 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).
I knew instantly that my sinful habits and besetting temptations were broken, life became different. Trees looked greener, and the chirping of birds was sweeter’. (p.4 )
Conversion as Christanubhava
In the normal sense, conversion and baptism often go together; for the bhakta it is not the case. He thinks that he can remain within his own house, locality, community and society, and so lives in his own ideal world till the reality is forced upon his, as was the case with my father:
‘Christ has said that we should not hide our light under a bushel. We have to bear witness. It was when I tried to follow this command that storm broke out first in my home and then in the city. The people at home said, ‘Better you had become a drunkard, a gambler or an adulterer. That would have been more tolerable than to know that you worship this strange God.’ Soon people began to pour in to argue with me or sympathize with my father. It was incredible news that an educated Brahmin wanted to become a Christian’ (p.4-5 ).
Perhaps forced to the wall, he had to take a decision, and he took in favour of taking Baptism without joining, at that time, any denomination though he later joined the Baptist Church.
How does he understand conversion? This is what he had to say:
YDT Christ-experience is Conversion. In Christ, I reached to my supreme goal in life (He quotes Tulsidas, ‘Payo parama dhama’). Conversion is a relationship, the vision of Christ as I asked him in a prayer. More I asked, more I got. Ask Him in any Name with faith, He listens and answers. Every one is free to ask him in his name.
RT How many times did you experience Christ?
YDT I have seen him many times; He cannot be cast out, certainly not on the cross.
Even now, he is visible.
RT Where did you see him first?
YDT I first saw him the other side of the barred window of the room in the mental hospital in Agra.
RT Can you picture him? Was he similar to the picture of Christ, which we often see in Christian homes and Christian art forms?
YDT No. He did not have a form, but he was there, shining in light, very luminous. RT When did you see him last?
YDT (He just lifted his frail hand and pointed his index finger at the top of the front wall, eyes transfixed, yellow face turning red and peaceful. Without saying any
word on that day, he went into deep meditation and sleep) RT Who is your Christ?
YDT Creator of Heaven and earth. All and Everything (Saba kucha). God (Prabhu)
and Bhagwan (source of all), Guru (Teacher/preceptor). Seen the face of the Lord
(Quotes Tulsidas) (p.23)
Faith of the Christ-bhakta
One of the advantages of intellectual and educated converts have over others is that they
can formulate their own faith assertions in the light of their experience with the Divine.
The presentation of the their confession is not immediate; it takes long
time for proper formulation and expression. The conference of converts, organized by Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society in 1963, gave my father an opportunity for such a formulation, as quoted below:
1. The presence of the Living Christ. To quote Thomas a Kempis, ‘He that findeth Jesus findeth a treasure of infinite value; good transcending all that can be called good…. That man only is poor in this world, who liveth without Jesus and that man only is rich with
whom Jesus delights to dwell’.
2. Certain sects of Hinduism believe that God is personal. They teach about the grace of God and many other things, which we Christians ignorantly think belong to Christianity only. Hinduism also has Bhakti, the way of devotion and faith: but the objects to which this love and faith are directed are not worthy. Indeed the devotees have a nobler character than the gods whom they worship. In Jesus only we find human perfection, which is divine too. He is unique.
3. Christ has taught that the Eternal God, God who is the Creator of this
universe, is our Father. This teaching has given to Christian prayer simplicity, directness, dignity, which is seldom found elsewhere. What is exceptional in other faiths is commonplace here.
4. Christianity has always emphasized the practical service of humanity. A
Christian Bhakta is ipso facto a servant of humanity. The existence of innumerable schools, colleges, hospitals, churches and other places of service prove this. (p. 5)
Training of the bhakta under the father of Nation
One may be surprised to know that this Christ-bhakta went to Mahatma Gandhi to learn
the basics of living a Christian way of life. It must have a plan of his Guru to lead him to such a man for further strengthening of his faith and resolve, and learn to lead a truthful life. This is what he learnt from the Mahatma:
‘When opportune time came, Gandhi showed me the file about me. He said this was his custom not to hide any thing but to keep every thing open. This act of openness, of course, won my heart and respect for him. A lesser man would have kept that file hidden; but he was indeed a Mahatma and he kept me fully informed about matters relating me. Gandhi had taken a vow that he will give equal respect to all religions. Not “merely tolerance” but positive equal respect to Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, etc. etc. So he would never start a dialogue or discussion on a religion. But he openly declared that he had entered politics because he wanted to realize God. Gandhi never discussed with me the doctrine of virgin birth or about miracles or the doctrine of Atonement. He never argued whether Gita was greater than the Gospel or vice versa. Gandhi had become a staunch pacifist. In this he was influenced by Ruskin (Unto the Last) and Tolstoi (Kingdom of God within You) and not by Greek and Latin fathers and evangelical Protestant missionaries. From him I learnt the importance of sweeper’s work, leatherwork and the work of weaving and to apply ancient gospel teaching to modern problem. All this was against my Brahmanic ways and Manu’s teachings.’ (p. 10 f )
Futility of disputation
Shashtrartha, (literally, it refers to a discourse directed towards understanding true meaning, import and exposition of the Scriptural texts) is a very ancient and well-
developed form of dialogue, and public debate, with a motive to settle theological and ideological disputes in India. It was revived once again in the nineteenth century with
additions of new ingredients- degrading, misrepresenting and ridiculing other’s point of view. Missionaries of the Gospel and the Hindu reformers and apologists were greatly
involved in this process, not only through personal participation, but also through written tracts. My father was not unaware of it, and did use this method too:
Those were the days of religious disputations and it is no wonder that I came in conflict with Christian teachers and preachers. I could hardly love Christians and Christianity. Some of them openly and loudly said that Krishna was a thief and adulterer and Swami Dayanand was sexually impure. All this prompted me to read Chapter XII of the Satyarth Prakash, which criticizes Christianity and the Bible. I had all my school education in the local Government High School. There was an Indian Christian teacher who was very critical of Hindu religion. I told him that, though I am a Hindu, I did not believe in polytheism, idol worship, caste system, but believe in the Vedas who teach worship of one God and contain all knowledge and science in them. Then he started to accuse Swami Dayanand of moral and sexual sins. This enraged me and I became the editor of a handwritten magazine against Christianity, in which most of the material was reproduced from the Swami’s book mentioned above, along with some original writings by school students. This was in retaliation to what he said against Hinduism and Swami Dayanand. This enterprise did not last long.
It should, however, be mentioned that the main contestants outside school walls were Hindus and Muslims. Hindus said that their religion was true, and opponent’s religion, e.g., of Islam, was untrue, unscientific immoral and cruel. On the other hand, Muslims argued that their religion and their Holy Book was true, while Hinduism was full of evils like polytheism, idolatry, animal worship, untouchability etc. These wrangling, ostensibly carried out in the name of truth and religion, led to riots, imprisonments, law- suits, even murders. Mahatma Gandhi could not control this insanity, for some time, by his teachings, by his national movements and by his supreme sacrifice.
I should return to my autobiography again.
Soon after my Baptism, I became conscious that there are many types of Christianity and many types of Christian attitude towards other religions. What Arya Samaj thought of the Vedas, Christians thought the same about the Bible. Salvation is found in their brand of Christianity. All the rest are going to hell. This was the fundamentalism of the uneducated Christians. But it was distressing to discover that most educated Christians were not better. I mention one such attitude, which was commonly held. The position of Barth and Brunner was quite popular in theological communities. “Christian Message to the Non Christian World’ was Kraemer’s book written for Tambaram Conference which propounded that all religions are from below, earthly, merely human attempts, groping in darkness, leading nowhere; only Christian revelation is from above. As H. Kraemer so succinctly puts it, there is discontinuity between revelation and religion, and this is the message that Christianity presents to other religions. I wondered, ‘Good God! What narrow-minded religious community I have joined. But to my relief I found a reply came in ‘Rethinking Christianity in India’. All Christians had not bowed to the Baal of ‘religious’ or communal arrogance. 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 a student who reads Indian philosophy and religion in depth.(p. 15)
Essence of religion and god-realization
One who rejects his own, and ancient, religiosity and spirituality, and accepts another, especially a foreign one, has to justify the reasons for taking such a step through his
changed life pattern; in the Indian understanding, he has to be a ‘sadhu’ (saint) and a theologian, rolled into one. This is what my father seemed to be, as he himself noted:
‘In a word, there are three things that last; faith, hope and love. But, the greatest of these is love’ (I Cor.13: 13). It is this love, which Mahatma Gandhi called Ahimsa : “I have thrown away the sword from my hand; and I have now only the cup of milk to offer you”. This and a lecture on St. Francis of Assisi changed me and had a great effect on my life. Earlier, as a Hindu, I realized that essence of religion is love and suffering (cross) and sacrifice, and not in empty talks and arguments. I started visiting the poor and low caste people living near my house. I started even a night school among them (which is functioning even now). I want to make this clear: I worked at this night school because I wanted to ‘see’ God, or realize God. (p.16)
The life-long spiritual quest of my father found its expression in his studies of Johannine spirituality. In fact, it all began with the study of farewell discourses of Jesus Christ in the early youth, which was prompted by the lectures and writings of Deen-bandhu C. F. Andrews. Towards the end of his life, since 1980, he was pursuing Johannine studies in depth in order to write his own reflections on the discourses. He has reasons to do so, and he expresses it in the following way:
Why have we taken only these chapters (John 13-17) for our discussion and reflective thinking3? Christ reveals the sum and substance of his work and personality to the public in general in the first twelve chapters. Thereafter, from Chapters thirteenth to seventeen, the second part4 of the book begins. The time has come; he is going to the Father. What will happen to these disciples? He tells them, in summary, the teachings of last twelve chapters. As a mother lovingly feeds her child, Christ, in the same manner, feeds his disciple with the nectar of his teachings5. This nectar6 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 nationality7. Let us also be benefited by this nectar.
The second half of the book, in reality, is the Upanishad where the teacher imparts, in secret8, the teachings that are full of mysteries9. This is the ‘Yisu-Gita’10, where the highest of the highest knowledge11 is expressed in poetic language; where an attuned devotee12 can listen to the divine music: a person hungry and thirsty for righteousness13 can receive the spiritual food: a person with intense desire14 and thirst15 can find the nectar the teachings.
The ‘ beloved disciple’ implanted these words16 in his heart that came out from the mouth of the Lord. By the deep thinking, reflection and meditation/contemplation upon this Word and by the inspiration17 of the Holy Spirit, not only this beloved disciple was satisfied, he satisfied others as well. May this Word open our hearts so that Lord Jesus may enthrone18 within this heart. Exhortation and victory be to Lord Jesus19.
The sermon20 ends with a prayer, in which the Lord wishes for the well being of his disciples, and the forthcoming generations of the faithful and believers21. It is not only a prayer but also a call22 to us to establish communion23 and deep relationship with Christ Jesus and God24, and experience25 the unity26 with all the believer/faithful and the whole human kind. This prayer teaches us to pray; this prayer is the mother of the ecumenical movement of the Churches and ecumenism: ‘that they may all be one, even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be in us…(Jn.17: 21). We shall see it later that this prayer is a lighthouse for our spiritual life. Let there be auspicious good; let there be well being27.
After fifty-two years, on the sacred place28 of Christ Prem Seva Ashram intense desires29 arose to write something on these chapters. The result is before you. The deep thinking, reflection and meditation/contemplation has given me a very useful30 fruit, the reader may also receive the same.
Let this be auspicious/ good31.
Let all be happy; let all be free from sickness.
Let all perceive the good; let there be none with any part of sorrow32. Let this be dedicated to Shabda-Brahman33. (p. 31-34)
A message to the troubled world
As Gautama Buddha so succinctly and rationally put forth centuries ago, life is full of
misery: pain is Dhukkha (suffering), so also the absence of pain; pleasure is dukkha, so also the absence of pleasure, the world, and its inhabitants, have never been without the trace of it in its personal and societal life. He had a rational answer to it, so also Jesus Christ in whose refuge my father found blissful solace and peace. This is what he has to say to the troubled heart of his generation:
14:1 Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.
Let us first try to understand the context of the time and situation in which Jesus Christ spoke these words34 before we embark upon understanding and considering these words of the Lord and Teacher35.
Jesus knew that his last hour had come (13:1). He also had the painful experience with his disciples. He kept them in closer company for the last three and a half years, taught36 them, gave them signs37; yet they could not fully understand the teachings of their Guru (14:9). Jesus now applies a kind of method, the prophets (Ezekiel, Jeremiah) some time symbolically used, in order to make his disciples to understand; he, being the Guru, began to wash the feet of his disciple. This greatly disturbed the disciples38. After
washing their feet, he conveyed the shocking information that one among the disciples will turn a betrayer and sell his Guru into the hands of enemies (13:24). He clearly told his disciples that his death is very close (13:24). He cautioned Simon the Peter: ‘ you will deny me three times before the crowing of the cock’ (13:38).
In such a situation, it was natural for the disciples to be troubled. Prabhu, therefore, consoles them: ‘Let not your heart be troubled’.
Let us now take up some minute and deeper facts into consideration. The writing, editing and composition of this source book were completed approximately about five years after the above-mentioned events. But the final book was written in different context and situation.
The Fourth Gospel was written at the end of first century, probably between 85-95 A.D. Above-mentioned events had already taken place. The crucifixion of Jesus, his death, resurrection and ascension were things of the past. The teachings of Jesus began to influence the people beyond Israel. The numbers of churches were increasing with the faster pace. The followers of Judaism had excommunicated the followers of Jesus from their community and religion. The life and properties of followers of Jesus was constantly in danger. In such a critical time, John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, remembered the word of Prabhu: ‘Let not your hearts be troubled’. These words he wrote at the beginning of the fourteenth chapter. History of the Church bears witness to the fact that readers in all every age have received inspiration and peace39.
At the end of twentieth century, human heart is again troubled. Destructive armaments are again being produced even after the atomic explosion at Hiroshima. The whole world, specially the European society, is terrified from the danger thus created. Apartheid is still torturing people in Africa and other countries. The destructive forces may reach to the climax at any time, bringing murderous assault upon the people. What will happen to our commonwealth? It will give a negative impact to our high and human values. In our own country, linguistic sentiments and casteism are destroying the roots of the nation. If we look into our own hearts, we find enemies everywhere. Our hearts are troubled and we are terrified. Do we have any remedy? Yes, we have; move on to the next Vachan:
Believe40 in God
If we look closely into the Greek text, the word “en” draws our attention. It points to the fact that God is our safe vault; we can deposit our precious trust and faith without any fear. In doing so, our anxieties and our troubles are deposited in the heart of God. It is now His problem: we are free and liberated.
What is this ‘Vishwasa“, the believing? If I have to say in a word, I would say
‘Nirbharta’41. There is someone with Unseen Power42, 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 our 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.
John, probably did not use the qualitative Noun, ‘pistis’ (belief), instead he used verbal forms, ‘pisteuo’ – to believe, to have faith etc. One can thus discern that belief for him 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. It is an active force bourn out of apparent passivity (Dodd: Epistle to Romans).
Believe also in me.
‘In me’ denotes, implies, means and stands for, ‘in Jesus Christ’.
A doubt and objection can be raised: belief in God is sufficient, why also in Jesus Christ? To this, we propose the answer: In the opinion43 of St John there is no difference
between the essence of God and essence of Christ; there is no contradiction in the essence of God and Christ44. In other words, we can say, there is no difference in them as far as essence is concerned. One is Prakashya, the revealed; the other is Prakasha, the revealer45. They are the two sides of a coin; two sides of a wood. One is Avyakta, Un-
manifested God; the other is Vyakta, Manifested Word46: ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (14:9). The path that leads to Avyakta is not easy; one, therefore need the light and help of Vyakta Prabhu47.
Some readers may not find these thoughts right and appropriate. I can only say to them that they should take them as the words48 of a realized saint49, behind which lays his spiritual experience50. Anubhava of a saint cannot be straight away and contemptuously set aside. (35-40)
Way of Life
Eastern mind works through a mind that is reflected in one’s life pattern than that which
expresses itself through flowery language and sweet talks. This is what our society seeks in the life of the saints, religious leaders and charismatic personalities. Any change in normal way of life-pattern, especially the traditional one, is seen with suspicion and is closely watched for its genuineness and authenticity. The convert, therefore, has to pass a personal test at every level of his relationship with his neighbours; he has to be ready for scrutiny of every sort and has to be open and transparent in his way of life. My father never hesitated to be so:
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. (p.19)
My father was a disciplined person first, and then the disciplinarian. He preached what he practiced, and would not venture into anything apart from it. He would rise early and get ready to work first before waking us and asking us to study. It was difficult not to follow, as there was nothing to blackmail. Prayers in the morning were compulsory for the family, so also attending Sunday worship at least once a day though he would attend two services. He would send us to Sunday school every Sunday what might come; and we had to walk about a mile for that. As a discipline, he taught us Lord’s Prayer in Greek in early childhood even before we could know what it was, and all of us can recite it, even now in parts, if not in full. So also, it was with Sanskrit. Brisk walking, physical exercises and yogic practice were natural to him and he kept himself engaged with all, or one of them, till the very end.
The disciplinarian aspect of him was a bit over-applied in cases of older children. They always felt that it was overdone in their cases. They might be right as I am told that he was like this even in his pre-conversion days at home. The younger ones, then, were in constant fear of him as long as he was in the house. Some of them just shivered in his presence. His fury, at the least irritation, was well known and the tantrum he often created was fresh, even after fifty years, in the minds of his younger cousins. His older sons had enough of it, or, perhaps situation slowly changed after the death of our mother, and there was nothing left when the younger two grew up. He expected younger generation not to talk directly to the elders. In the absence of mother, he tried to be mother to us, but still expected not to argue with him. As children grew up he did compromise with his traditional views but not to the full. But by then, eldest son was already prompted to join navy before completing studies in junior college.
His disciplining himself led him to a very austere and temperate life. He would not increase the circle of his friends and acquaintances. He will sleep on the floor or a hard cot, observe fast and would have the minimum for the necessities of life. He would often fast on Christmas day, for which he provided rationale that all birthdays of incarnate gods are observed as fast days. He rarely accepted invitations on Christmas day, and never allowed us to visit homes of friends on that day. He followed the tradition of visiting homes a day after the event, extended up to a week. (p.143f.)
Dr. M. Abraham, a colleague of my father, noted another aspect of his way of life: ‘I have seen him as one without guile and transparent to the core. His simplicity, verging on asceticism and humility were his identifying marks and his forte. I am not sure as to how much he was understood by others (probably, he was a freak or queer sort of person!). But he was a pearl, a beautiful rose now adorning God’s garden. Just as a rose exists among thorns, his life was full of pathos through the early loss of his dear wife, and the many poignant experiences that he went through. Yet, I have never seen him carrying a bundle of sufferings or parading a tale of woes. He had a philosophical way of looking at life (one day I asked him where his wife was; he replied, “God wanted her more than I did). He was very feeble in his speaking and his communication method was different from that of others, which might have put off his students some times, and yet those who took him seriously benefited much from hid depth of wisdom and his life’. ( p. 202f)
Rev. K.D. Bhaskar, one of his admirer, found in his humility another mark of his character; ‘By nature, Tiwariji was gracious, courteous, gentle, soft spoken and humble. Humility was one of his great virtues. For these and other noble qualities, he was respected and was looked upon with great love and reverence. There was much that Tiwarji could have justifiably boasted of, boasted of his family background, his upbringing, his culture and tradition that sustained him and his ancestors over the centuries. His learning and knowledge of religions, specially that of Hinduism; all these he counted as loss to gain Christ, as in the words of Saint Paul: “the stock of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews…I have suffered the loss of all these and count them rubbish that I may gain Christ.” (p. 205)
Dr. K.V.Matthew, one of his colleagues at Serampore, considers him a sadhu in spirit: ‘ He shunned violence. He was a ‘sadhu’ indeed. This doesn’t mean that Yesudas was a coward or one who could not endure pain and suffering. He would endure anything in his body and mind and never cause pain to others. Being a bystander or witness to violence like a sadist, was not part of his nature. Being a ‘sadhu’, he was full of love and compassion. It was difficult for anyone to pick a fight with Tiwari. He was willing to lend a helping hand to others at all times. ( p.217 )
Dr. K.P.Aleaz, one of his pupil, recalls some of his striking characteristics:’ He inculcated in students a respect for other religious experiences. Through his life, he taught that we can be disciples of Jesus without discarding any of our ancestral cultural traits. He was a typical Indian Christian, whose life proclaimed that Christianity is not a foreign religion. He was a person who kept constant contact with the people of other religious faiths; a person who was all for dialogue in practice. He had deep knowledge in Hindu Sanskrit religious texts, but would impart that knowledge to another person only if he found that person fit to receive. (p.220)
Problems of Thought and Life
Conversion, and joining a new society of believers, is not the end of personal problems; it is, in fact, a beginning of another sets of problems. Idealism can only be tested at the
realm of reality, theories have to be applied and found its applicability in concrete situations. The test of faith and commitment is a long process in life, which shows its
growth in due course of time that is some times more painful and audacious than the trauma of cutting one’s roots of family and community relationship. One has just to be
more patient and has to wait for the maturity of his faith. Living in faith and living in a community which was not a part of the convert poses difficult personal problems in his
life that too has to be addressed as he continues his journey in life. My father had to struggle with this aspect of new situation with the following observations:
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.
But now I was face to face with the creeds and doctrines of the Church. For example, it was maintained that Christ rose from the dead. I was taught from childhood that the soul is immortal, but the body changes, decays and perishes. Here was now an article of faith – the physical resurrection of Christ. Is this doctrine rational? This question agitated my mind long before I took baptism. Then there was the doctrine of Atonement. One suffering and dying for the sins of many, I asked, is this doctrine ethical, moral? One of my teachers of philosophy (a Hindu professor) had written on this topic. I also thought that it was very bad to glory in the fact that someone else had suffered from my sins. The whole ‘Washed by the blood’ doctrine and preaching was strange to me.
But God gave me wisdom to be humble in my doubts and questionings. By His grace I knew that I was too young and immature. I was looking through a glass dimly. One day I shall know the reasons for these doctrines, which the Church believes to be true. I thought these must be true doctrines though I cannot yet understand them.
However, I thought that it would be only honest to join a Church, which recites creeds in its worship. So after long deliberations I joined the Baptist Church.
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 the saints both past and present.
I, like many other converts, have found it difficult to adjust myself to the Christian community of which we have become members. The community has its defects and these can be easily pointed out. But converts have to realize that largely the fault lies in the attitude of the converts. We need social education, which the religion of our ancestors has not given us. Hinduism has taught meditation, individual perfection, communion with the divine, but it has never emphasized the virtues of good citizenship, harmonious community living, the art of having fellowship with our friends and neighbours. Little wonder a convert alienates his fellow-Christians. This is very unconscious. I think that if we become conscious of this defect something can be done to remedy it. Of course we need the grace of God and the love and prayer of our fellows to effect this adjustment. (p. 7f)
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 Gore51, or Brahmabandhava Upadhyaya52, 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 Sadhana53, religious quest, was very much personal; he was working out his own salvation.54 His Purushartha55, final goal in life, was to have Brahma–Sakshatkara56 and Brahmanubhava57, the realization of Christ-tattva58. He found support for this in his studies of the Gospel of Saint John.59 And once he had it, he wished to share that experience with others60. 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.61 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. (p.230f)
Theology of the Bhakta
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 an un-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 Jesus62, and the experience of liberation from sinful habits and besetting temptations’63. He was, therefore, inwardly compelled by what Christ expects; ‘we should not hide our light under a bushel, we have to bear witness’64; ‘I
had to bear witness, had to follow the Lord in concrete daily living’65. 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’66. 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.67 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-davata68′, 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’69. 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’70. 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 needs to understand theology of religion of a convert as the theology of the Way. (p.268f.)
Message of the Bhakta
Life-pattern is the message in the case of any bhakta, it is for this purpose many surround
the abodes of the saints in India. It is through the personal contact that the message of the saints is communicated to a community of admirers. Apart from this, the followers reverently preserve each word that comes out of the mouth of the master as he is imparting the very truth that he found from spiritual quest for the well being of his disciples. This trend can easily be marked in the following section of his writings:
‘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.71 It was for the same reason, Maitreyi told her husband, Sage Yajnavalkya72: what would I do with that wealth and property through which I would not attain the Eternal73. John has the same message for those great souls, searching for the liberation74. Are you in search for the way to liberation? Are you in search of truth? Do you wish to have eternal life75? May I plead you to learn to place your faith in that Word of embodied God76, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life’. You, if God so wills in his mercy, will achieve your goal.77
( p.274 )
1 Yisu Das: Witness of a Convert, Delhi: ISPCK, 2000
2 A child-devotee of God Vishnu in Puranic story who was attempted to leave the path of devotion by his father and had to pass through the ordeals that Daniel and his friends had to go through in biblical story. It is in this context He took the form of Narsimgha-avatara ( incarnation as Man-lion).
3 Vichara.. Well considered opinion, discussion, reflection.
4 Uttardha. Later part. Like the metaphysic of Aristotle, it refers to the section, in Indian religious theological philosophical works, that deals with the spiritual matters.
5 Upadesh-amrita. Spiritual teaching, instructions that leads to salvation/eternity.
6 Amrita. Potion of eternity, drinking of which makes a person immortal.
7 Varna, desha, Jati . Varna refers to colour as well as the primary, secondary or tertiary status within the Hindu/Indian society. This, socio-economic placing, is the one of the factor that created of caste system in India. Desha. Refers to a nation, locality, and place of living. Jati refers to the family in which one is born, descendent, heredity. Caste and caste system. These criteria for social and religious distinction are very important as the mysteries are not revealed to other than those are well defined within these parameters. Christ mystery is revealed to all.
8 Ekanta. Alone, individually, stillness, calmness, secretly
9 Rahasyatmaka upadesh. Message that contains mysteries,
10 The Song of Jesus, in the manner Bhagavad-Gita of Lord Krishna. Mysteries are often expressed in poetic form and language, hence such a preference by my father.
11 Gyana. Knowledge of the highest, knowledge of God.
12 Sahridaya bhaktavrinda. Devotees with same mind and heart
13 Dharma. supreme foundation of Moral, ethical and religious affairs, religion, duty
14 Jijnasa. Intense desire, thirst for knowledge, quest. Refers to spiritual enquiry.
15 Pipasakula. Unquenchable thirst, .refers to thirst for God and his righteousness. Cf. Ps.42.
16 Vani. Original sound, sacred word.
17 Prerana. Prompting, encouragement.
18 Viraja. To live, to sit. Echoes of promises of Jesus in John.
19 Jai Prabhu Yisu. This is a favourite exhortation of my father, a call of a devotee for the attention of deity as well for his favour and succour.
20 Upadesha. Religious discourse, brief assertion of personal findings. One can see the reflection of the sermon of Gautama Buddha at Deer Park in Saranath, Varanasi.
21 Vishwasa. Befief, nearest in meaning to ‘Samyag-dristi’, right kind of belief. Literally, to live insecurity, well-lived, established well, sound and secure inhabitat.
22 Ahvahana. Calling back, exhortation, call to action
23 Ghanishta Sambandha. Close relationship, mutually binding relations, strong and inseparable relation. My father preferred the word, communion’ for the word used.
24 Parameshwara. Supreme Being, God. Common word used for God. In sectarian religious literature in
India, it refers to the supremacy of sectarian Gods, namely, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh.
25 Anubhava. Direct perception by being, ultimate experience, divine experience.
26 Ekata. Oneness, organic unity. Commonality. He is referring to communion, togetherness, communality is its positive aspect.
27 Shubhamastu kalyanamatu. A benedictory prayer.
28 Punya bhumi. Place where meritorious deeds were/are performed, place where saints lived/live, sacred and holy place.
29 Sphurana. Eruption, voluntary disclosure, Inspiration, burst forth.
30 Amogha. . right, correct, imperishable.
31 Another benediction: Shubham bhuyat.
32 Yet another benediction: Sarvey bhavantu sukhinah, sarve bhavantu niramayah;
Sarve bhadrani pashyantu, ma kashchid duhkhabhaga bavet.
33End of the work and dedication the same to the deity: Shabda-brahmarpanamastu.
34 Shabda/vachana is used here. These are also the words used by my father in his translation on the New testament for logos. Therefore they do not mean merely words spoken by some one to explain some thing, but indicate the very person-hood of the speaker, who is Christ. They represent the eschatological presence of Lord and Guru who is revealing the mystery through these words, spoken, written or heard.
35 Prabhu and Guru. The word Prabhu is used for God. Etymologically it means ‘the one who is’, ‘self created’, ‘to come into being on its own’. Guru, etymologically means ‘heavy’, ‘weighty’, and usually refers
to teacher, preceptor, spiritual guide, and supervisor. It also refers to God in the ultimate sense, as He is the
author, revealer and teacher of the Mysteries.
Wherever he has used the terms Prabhu and Guru, we shall use these words rather than their English equivalents.
36 Upadesha refers to moral and spiritual teaching that is exhortative in nature.
37 Literary: ‘Performed ample of signs in their presence’. He notes that ‘semeion” can be translated as sign and miracle (chinha and chamatkara), but Hindi/Sanskrit does not have equivalent word for it.
38 For their reaction, see 13:6-10
39 Prerana and shanti. Prerana includes encouragement, motivation, insight, strength, support. Shanti refers to stillness, quietness, and absence of any kind of disturbance apart from peace.
40 Vishwasa refers to faith, trust, believe. Etymologically, unmoved and well founded, well established.
41 Nirbharta neans complete and total dependence for once survival
42 The expression in Hindi is clear but difficult to translate into theologically correct expressive English. Use of one (eka), unknown (koi) and unseen (adrsta) may create problem. One (eka) is used not in the numerical sense but as a definite article. Unknown (koi) is used in the sense of indefinite in name, definite in existence. Unseen (adrsta) refers to the One, which the normal or physical eyes cannot see. The use is definitely not Advaitic; it does not point to Maya or Prakrti.
43 Mata refers to personal and well thought out opinion, point of view, a system of thought, rational and logical conclusion.
44 He uses theologically and philosophically Saturated terms Ishwara tattva, Christ-tattva and contradictory tattva to counter the opposition and doubt. He does not seem to use Aristotalian terms essence and substance for tattva. Tattva denotes is-ness, essential (kutastha) nature of the Supreme.
45 Terms used are Prakashya for God: that which is to be revealed. It is interesting to note that he first used the term Prakashaka ( revealer), then strike off the last letter, making it Prakash (light). Meaning theough
remains the same as revealer, light reveals.
46 Avyakta Ishwara and Vyakta Shabda. It is interesting to note that he used Advaitic categories of Vyakta and Avyakta but omitted the term Brahman that is qualified by them. Ishwara which is vyakta Brahman in Advaita becomes avyakta and he introduces another term Shabda as the vyakta form of the Ultimate.
47 He did write Guru but strike it off. The category of Guru is not qualified by Vyakta, only Prabhu does.
48 Vani is usually taken, in religious literature, to mean ‘revealed word’, therefore authoritative and valid for spiritual matters
49 Another difficulty with translation; ‘Pahunche hue sant’ is a general phase used for an authority on
spiritual matters, the one who has reached at the top of spiritual height but is willing to share his experience with others to help them. The word ‘realized’ is neutral here and has nothing to do with its advaitic connotation.
50 Adhyatmika Anubhava. I will deal on this as an epistemological category separately.
51 One of the famous Brahmin convert from Maharashtra in the nineteenth century, known for his refutation of six systems of Indian philosophy and theology.
52 Another Brahmin convert from Bengal who tried to understand Trinitarian concept from Upanishadic
53 Spiritual aim, goal in life
54 Chapter 3: ‘All this work, I may say humbly, was ‘inspirational’ in character and was done for my spiritual needs and aspiration.’
55 Goal in life
56 Final revelation, meeting, face-to-face, Ultimate Reality
57 Experience of Ultimate reality
58 Essential nature of Christ, Christ as he-is, Christ-ness.
59 Chapter 4: ‘The revelation of Reality of Christ is the chief aim of the Fourth Gospel.’
60 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.’
61 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…’
62 Chapter 4
63 Chapter 1
65 Chapter 3
66 Chapter 1
67 Chapter 5: comments on 14:2 In my father’s house
68 chapter 3
69 Chapter 1
70 Chapter 3
71 Chhandogya Up. VII.1.3
72 Brhad. Up. II.4.3
73 Amrtatva: the highest goal in life, attainment of Brahman hood. My father uses Ananta-jeevana (eternal life) along with Amrtatva.
74 Moksha. Also salvation. The last and the supreme goal of human life.
75 The same word Moksha is used here.
76 Sakara Ishwara. God in form, embodied God, God in embodied form.
77 Comments on 14: 6 I am the life