Lecture 17: Christian Response Case Studies (Part 1)
Course: Introduction to Hinduism
OK. We're really pressed. We blitzed through a lot of material last time and I was like ambitious to get through the whole thing.
Question: When you're talking about the ... like the avatars came down and they were free from the effects of karma ...
Right. The distinction actually was the fact that whether or not Brahman is free from all effects of karma. So in the avataric state, the avatar could have the appearance of suffering even, which would have the appearance of kamric encrustations, but in fact is free. So it's a matter of ... it's again the whole rope/snake appearance versus reality. That's really how they would come down on that. So the discussion was really about whether or not Brahman could be involved in the world and yet free from karma. And that is a perennial tension within Hindu thought actually. So, it's a good point.
It's not something actually resolved fatefully because, if you take Sankara's view, then you have to abandon any possibility of interaction with the world. That solves the problem, but then it creates a new problem: How can a person be devoted to god or speak about god or know god or worship god with any certainty if god is completely separated from the world? The other solution is to favour some kind of interaction with the world, but then you raise the problem of how can god be free from karma unless you abandon monism?
And so Madhva will eventually try to abandon monism. But that's not actually true to the Upanishadic vision. So, if you stick to monism, then it creates the problem very profoundly because you have no distinction between the worshipper and the one who is worshipped in any ultimate sense.
Other comments or thoughts about Ramanuja?
Question: I have a question about is the spilling of the ??? so to speak ??? in the sacred mantra it has a certain power to affect ??? apologetic ???
Definitely. I mean, I think it actually comes down to this distinction here as well, because if you argue that a mantra has inherent power apart from the believer's being incorporated into that over many years of study ... because the idea was that the mantra was supposed to be based on decades of study of the Vedas and the Upanishads and you'd finally be given the mantra. So just to say a mantra would supposedly not be considered valid.
In fact, in the Buddhist tradition, the mantras play a very important role as well, so when you come into the chamber of the master and he has given you a cone. I mean, the most basic one is "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" or "what did you face look like before your mother was born?" and things like that. So you could give the same answer. Like a person who will, say, told you there what they said and they got accepted, and they went and whispered it to you and you gave the same answer, they would slap you in the face and send you out. So the whole point was you can't just like parrot someone else's answer. You've got to show that you have that insight. So that line of argument would say that just knowing that mantra had no power.
But, in fact, in practice, as we saw on the banks of the Ganges that when you go down to the river bank and you want to put your loved one into the river. I have sat there and watched these poor people sit there and try reciting the mantra – learning a little phrase of Sanskrit. They have no idea what it means. I mean, at least, presumably when Ramanuja shouted it down, people may have known at least what it meant or what they were hearing. But they don't even know what it means. They recite the mantra and they believe that, just by simply reciting it, it releases the power. So that tension ... you're quite right is there.
I don't know that any Christian has tried to exploit that. That's an area you could work into. That's one great thing about missiology. There's just so many opportunities for study. This is not a field that's been like massively hashed through by Christian thinkers. There are a lot of opportunities for study and reflection. OK.
That ties off Ramanuja. And so then we had that marvellous quote which we ended in briefly last time, but I think this summarises. And I'll just repeat this for the sake of bringing this back again to a close where Max Müller makes this marvellous insight: It must be admitted that in India, instead of one Vedanta philosophy, we have two springing from the same root but extending its branch into two very different directions; that of Sankara being kept for unflinching reasoners who, supported by an unwavering faith in monism, do not shrink back from any of its consequences. This is the real heart of Sankara. He's going to protect the freedom of god at all cost. He's willing to abandon any possibility about us knowing god, worshipping god, devoted to god – all of that for the sake of preserving the absolute freedom of god from interaction with the human race.
On the other hand, Ramanuja, trying hard to reconcile their monism with the demands of the human heart that required and always will require a personal god as the last cause of all that is and an eternal soul that yearns for an approach to or reunion with that being. So this you have a personalistic emphasis. You have the idea of an eternal soul. This would keep your soul, your atman, separate even in the moksa state which is not considered by Sankara. And kind of this relational union with god in a way that is a little closer to the beatific vision in Catholicism than it is to Sankara's idea of being swallowed up or absorbed into Brahman.
And yet, in both cases, Sankara and Ramanuja are deeply committed as a starting point to monism. So in that sense is the point that you raised last time that there's no fundamental shift from the overall philosophical foundation. The real question is how it's worked out in terms of really a functional theism as opposed to an ontological theism. And that's an important distinction in the Hindu context, because ontologically there's no debate between Ramanuja and Sankara about the monistic conception. OK, yes.
It was made at the end of his Gifford Lecture on Vedantism at Oxford University. The Gifford Lectures, famous lectures, given by Max Müller around the world. These lectures are given and it was at the end of that ... This is how he ended the lecture actually. It was a very powerful kind of climactic ending.
Let's now focus on our case study. And what we're going to do is we're going to look at two figures: one Brahmabandhav Upadhyay, a nineteenth century Bengali, and the second a nineteenth century twentieth century figure named A. J. Appasamy, who, I think, illustrate some of the Christian response to all of this – or at least the different poles of it all. Brahmabandhav is going to try to reconcile Christian faith with Sankara's Advaitism. He's going to go all out. Basically, he wants to argue that one cannot really have victory in India unless you have victory at the level of nirguna Brahman. Appasamy is, on the other hand, going to focus on the bhakti tradition and seek to show how to contextualise to Christian faith in the bhakti tradition. And really, in some ways, that is illustrative of the whole tension among how Christians have responded.
So we're going to begin with a couple of case studies just to give you a little in depth view. And then we're going to look at a much more extensive categories of how Christians have interacted with Hinduism in trying to preach the gospel in India. And then, our final class, we'll be looking at specifically the work that I'm involved in in north India and you can kind of see, for better for worse, some of our strategies and how we're seeking to reach Hindus for Christ. And we'll hopefully start that next time and then go also into all the ... next week with that.
The substance of what I'm going to be sharing with you about Brahmabandhav is taken from my book on him. It's a portion of chapter 5. One of the positive things about what we're going to be looking at is that virtually the first couple of chapters of this book highlights things that we've ... we all very well familiar with – basic theology of Hinduism, especially Sankara. The more problematic part, in terms of doing this as a case study, is that Brahmabandhav is deeply, deeply influenced by Thomism. He himself is a Roman Catholic. He was born into a very high caste, high jati, Brahman caste family. So because of that, he grew up steeped in the whole Brahminical tradition, the sacred thread. He studied philosophy. He graduated through all of the Advaitic schools primarily that taught him virtually everything that we've been looking at in terms of the Advaitism of Sankara. He also had a grandmother who was deeply influenced by the bhakti tradition. So he grew up like a lot of Indians, even Brahmans, very well acquainted with all of the popular religious stories and that becomes also in his ??? He went on and said in his writings – in one of his notes that he wrote – that he had read the Ramauja – I mean the Ramayana something like 25 times. You know, this guy was deeply interested in the popular literature, epic material, as well as the philosophical material.
He became part of a movement known as the Brahmosamaj, which we have not discussed, but this was part of the nineteenth century revival movement that occurred in India during the British raj. And the Brahmosamaj which you might recognise this is the word for god. The Brahmosamaj means the society of god. And it's still active today in India, though it's not as active as it once was. It's founded by a man named Ram Mohan Roy, who is a well-known reformer in nineteenth century India. And Roy was very well acquainted, for example, with William Carey. And there was a lot of interest, especially in Bengal, which was the capital of the British Empire at that point, to find ways to integrate Western thought with Hindu thought. So there was a number of people who were also studied under Western education who also were well aware of the Indian tradition.
So Brahmabandhav became deeply acquainted with Western learning. He was sent to Western schools in Calcutta, British schools in Calcutta. So he became very well acquainted with English. And he began to be exposed to English literature. He loved Shakespeare, for example. He loves a lot of the English discourse that wasn't part of the normal upbringing of people prior to the British presence in India. So during that time, there was an attempt to say: Why don't we cleanse Hinduism of its more, how shall we say it, repulsive elements – some of the crass idolatry and things like the Kali, bloodthirsty Kali, and all of that – and try to reconcile Hinduism with Western thought, monotheism. So this created a revivalism in terms of Hindu philosophy which was more separate from the kind of the popular religion of the people. So the result was ... And by the way, his dates are 1861-1907. He became involved in this movement.
This was really the heyday of British presence in India. After the turn of the twentieth century ... well, actually after 1905, the British presence begins to be questioned. In August 1905, that's when British partitioned Bengal which is why West Bengal which is in east India. And the reason it's called West Bengal is because in those days, of course, Bangladesh was part of India. And so they separated Bengal into West Bengal and East Bengal – east being the Moslem part which, of course, today now is Bangladesh, and West Bengal the Hindu part. Now when the British partitioned Bengal, this was received very poorly by Indians in Bengal. They viewed it as an attempt by Indians to divide India. They had no idea what would eventually happen with partition where they would lose, you know, what's now Pakistan. They would lose Bangladesh. All this is before that happened.
Once 1905 came, Upadhyay Brahmabandhav, who has spent his entire adult life writing theology, abruptly stops all theological writing – in August 1905. And that's the end of it because the whole of Bengal was in uproar. And from then on, for the next two years, he focused exclusively on nationalistic writings and he founded several new journals and everything is based on British ... on nationalism and breaking free from the British. This is long before Gandhi comes back to India and that becomes, of course, a much later development with Gandhi. But Gandhi's working among an area that's ... he's a Gujarati, he's from north-west India, but he finds his greatest supporters and the movement really is something that's fuelled largely from Bengal. So that doesn't really concern us.
But in his early life when he was in the Brahmosamaj, he was good friends with another figure who is at that time the leader of the Brahmosamaj, name ??? You do not need to know these figures' names, but just to give you a build up to his conversion. ??? was the head of the Brahmosamaj at the time of Upadhyay. He's also a very well-known reformer at that time period in India. Sin and Upadhyay became very good friends. He was more or less the mentor for Upadhyay. In the process of their time together, Upadhyay became a Brahmo teacher. So he would travel all over India, demonstrating how the Upanishads were not inconsistent with the Sermon on the Mount. And so, through that, he was trying to demonstrate ... I think there are actually very well ... there's a number of Indians in this time period who became Unitarians. Unitarianism was very strong in India. And so there was a lot of discussion about Christianity and how it relates to Unitarianism; Trinitarianism and all of this. Well, Sin suggested the possibility that the sat cit ananda of the Upanishads could be a Trinitarian formulation And Sin is actually the first one to propose a Trinitarian explanation of sat cit ananda, which we've looked at earlier in the class. It was actually very poorly done. It was a kind of modalistic view of the Trinity, but it was ... the idea, I think, was planted in Upadhyay's mind.
But he took time to study Christ's life more. He felt like He deserved more study. So he began to take time to study Christianity. He read the Bible carefully. And at one point his father became very ill and he went to sit by his father's bedside and, in Indian tradition, if your father is sick, it's very important to keep vigil as it were. So he had weeks where he just sat by his father's bedside. And he picked up a copy of this book called Catholic Belief. Now Catholic Belief is another text that we'd be familiar with, but everybody in the nineteenth century knew this book. It was the standard theological book of Catholicism. In fact, the one that he had was the fifteenth edition of this book. It's had many more since then. In fact, when I was in Calcutta, I actually went and picked up a fifteenth edition. I didn't want one of the new ones. I wanted to see the actual one that he had. And I read through it just to see what was his exposure to Christianity from that perspective. So his first real knowledge of Christian theology came from Catholic writers. It's like a standard ... complied by Jesuit scholars. It's not actually a single-authored work. I don't know if our library has it. We should, but it may not be present here. But you definitely find it down in BTI. Catholic Belief. There probably is a single Jesuit editor or something, but it has contributions from a number of Jesuits.
Anyway, so he begins to be acquainted with this. And this, of course, leads him to Thomism. So he begins to read through, especially the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles, the two major works of Aquinas. So the result is he becomes very, very convinced that Jesus Christ is sinless and he begins to think higher and higher of Christ. And he at one point says to Sin: I really believe that Christ is greater than any of the Hindu teachers that we've ever known. Sin had on his wall a huge picture of Krishna and Upadhyay had on his office wall a picture of Christ. As a guru, but nevertheless, you know, this was ... he was just slowly being oriented towards Christ.
Eventually a Protestant friend of his led him to Christ. He accepted Christ, but he refused to join the church because he associated the British Protestant presence as anti-India. This was before his nationalistic thing, but nevertheless he was already wary of that. So he finally decided that Catholicism really represented the only universal Christianity, because it was non-sectarian. I mean, from his point of view, it had a large tent that encompassed people from all over the world. And Protestantism was associated, he thought, with certain European countries. And so he was much more attracted to Catholicism. So eventually, he is baptised as a Catholic.
Now, this created a huge firestorm, because it's very rare, as you might imagine, for a Brahmin to convert to Christianity, especially a Brahmo teacher who's travelling all over India promoting this kind of gentler kind of version of Hinduism. He is essentially put out of the Brahminical community and they tell him he can no longer wear the sacred thread and all of this. And he says: Fine. And he becomes an avid follower of Christ.
But he begins to revisit all of this and he begins to wonder why he cannot still be a Hindu and fully an Indian as a Christian. So he goes through a long process where he works out ways in which Advaitic thought and Christian thought can be reconciled and be interpreted and accepted as Christian. That's essentially his program. So this book is essentially describing what he does and how he tries to develop that.
What I want to do for our purposes is just focus on a few key themes to demonstrate what he does and how he reconciles it with Thomism. One of the ... a little disadvantage you may have is that it's hard to understand what he's driving at theologically without a background in Thomism. So this would be a lecture that could be given very easily to a Catholic audience that's very familiar with Thomism. It's not as easy to give in a Protestant group like this. But, nevertheless, the few points we need to make, we'll make.
The first thing he does is he decides that you cannot succeed in India unless you actually penetrate the Brahminical community. So he said we cannot create a popular Christianity that relates to popular Hinduism. So he's going to reject Appasamy, as we'll see later. Instead, he argues for an acceptance of the basic nirguna/saguna vision. So, for example, let me give you a quote from him here. He founded a number of journals and one of his journals he makes the point. He says: Brahman, the supreme being, per se, is nirguna. That is, he possesses no external attributes, no necessary correlation with any other being other than his infinite self. He is sat, existing by himself. He is cit, self-knowledge, knowing himself without any external intervention. He is ananda, he is supremely happy in his self-colloquy. But looked at from the standpoint of relation, he is saguna. He is Isvara, creator of heaven and earth, possessing attributes relating him to created nature.
So what he's going to do is, he's going to try to find a way to reconcile the nirguna/sagnua distinction with Thomism. That's essentially what he's trying to do. He's not going to challenge Sankara's basic starting point. This is page 218. So, when he says that the supreme being, Brahman, is nirguna, that means he possesses no external attributes, no necessary correlation with any other being than his infinite self. So he's going to be arguing that Thomistic distinction between necessary being and contingent being is critical to hold the whole of Thomism. God is a necessary being. We are contingent beings. We are dependent upon God. God has no dependence upon us. So he says: Essentially, that's what the nirguna/saguna distinction's talking about. It's saying God has not external need for anything in His creation. He was free to create, free to redeem. And he develops a lot the whole Sankarite point that the whole point of nirguna is to point out that God is free. He didn't need to create us.
So Brahmabandhav will say there's a distinction between looking at God as He is in Himself (which we would call the aseity of God in our theology) with how God chooses to reveal himself. So he would say, in terms of God's aseity, He has no external attributes – no necessary (that's using Thomistic way) no necessary correlation with any other being other than Himself. That is, He's completely self-dependent. He exists by Himself. He is sat. He is cit; self-knowledge, knowing Himself without any external intervention. But if He chooses to create, that's a free choice of God. God was not under any compulsion to create. He chose to create the world. He chose to redeem the world. That represents a different kind of way of looking at God. So if we say God is Creator, he would say that's different from saying God is, because God is is an eternal reality. God as Creator is something that God chose to do. He chose to create. He is ananda – supremely happy in his self-colloquy.
This is the original citation of it where he ... one of his journals called Sophia Weekly. Looked at from the standpoint of creation relation, He is saguna. He is Isvara, creator of heaven and earth, possessing attributes relating Him to the created nature. So he's not saying that God is not related to creation. He's saying that came out of a self-chosen act of God. That's very Thomistic in his basic approach. So he accepts the nirguna/saguna distinction, but he interprets it as consistent with St Thomas' famous necessary and contingent distinction.
He reconciles this with the terms that you're already well aware of ... the Sanskritic Paramarthika. Remember this was the highest level of knowledge of God's being is Paramarthika. That, to him, is what Thomas meant by necessary being. The vyavaharika remember was a sub-cateogry of Sadasadvilaksana and this is that which is truly real – little "r" real, like the world, the material existence of the world. All of these things, not illusions like seeing a snake, but actual the rope is vyavaharika. There actually is a rope curled up there in your tent. That's contingent though. That rope is not ... has no existence apart from God's existence. If God ceases to exist, the rope ceases to exist. If the rope ceases to exist, it no way affects or changes or impacts God's existence. So he's just talking about two different kinds of existence – the independent existence of God and the contingent existence of the human race.
He's making a distinction between what we would call the aseity of God (His unchanging essence) versus the free exercise of His attributes which does strike at the heart of a lot of our own, I think, sloppy theology when we fail to make careful distinctions between God as He is in Himself and God as He chooses to act in the world to save or redeem. Sometimes we act as if God was under some kind of compulsion to save us, redeem us. And that is unbiblical. So in that sense I think he's operating essentially on, at least in the broadest terms, Christian grounds. Certainly, he's consistent with Thomistic thought. So this is kind of the bridge that he tries to go across. Thomism – it's a very complex work, but it's also very simple to read. I mean, he's over argumentation's very, very precise but he operates on a very logical progression of thought.
And my favourite story about Thomas is that he was so interested in showing the superiority of the Christian worldview. At the time that he lived, you may be aware, that Aristotle was considered to be taboo. It was not taught in universities in Europe, because it was considered to be a major challenge to Christian faith. So people were intimidated by the re-emergence of Aristotelian thought. Thomas says, and he's a Dominican, he's not even a Jesuit, he's Dominican. He's a beggar – beggar class of Catholics. And he's a brilliant scholar. So he kind of combines all of this. And so Thomas says to himself: Why would Christians be intimidated by any worldview? Why can't we take what is present in Aristotle and Christianise it? And essentially, Thomas builds the entire Christian formulation on Aristotelian thought to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian worldview. Now, we can criticise that forever, but the point is, later on, Brahmabandhav would say: Well, if Thomas could use Aristotle, why can't we use Sankara? So that's the kind of connection he made.
So, at one point, at the time, one of the big controversies was the Manichaean controversy. And because he was a well-known scholar at this point, he was invited to this big banquet. And he was at this table and they were serving food and all this. And so everybody was – this will be just an enjoyable time to talk and relax. And suddenly, in the middle of this meal, Thomas throws his fist down on the table and shouts out. He was apparently totally buried in his thoughts: I thought of an answer to the Manichaean controversy. It was like what? Right, he was totally absorbed in how he'd respond to the Manichaeans.
He was so prolific. I mean, he died at maybe 42 years old – Thomas Aquinas. And yet he's so prolific. I sat down and figured out one time, in one of my spare moments, how much he had to write per day in order to produce what he produced. And in the time that I was writing my dissertation,, I was writing 1000 words per day to produce my dissertation. And so I figured that Aquinas, in order to produce what he produced in his adult career, would have to be in that kind of writing mode his entire life. It's like he was writ... he was always writing his dissertation his entire life, as well as, you know, performing maths and all the other functions that he did.
And this may be hagiography, but Catholics say that he was so brilliant that he had several amanuenses that worked with him – because in those days there's no word processors and all this. So he was dictating all this. And apparently, he was kind of out of his head directly onto the page – no drafts and all that. And he would ... he had so many ideas that he wanted to get across that he would be dictating to one amanuensis one, you know, argumentation. And while he was writing, he would go to the other amanuensis and dictate another argument. So he was having two people writing at once. Pretty remarkable man.
Well then, the other story is that, at the end of his life ... towards the end of his life, he was probably around 40 years old, he goes into the sanctuary to pray by himself. He looks up at the crucified. And, of course, in the Catholic tradition this is the Christ on the cross. This is the crucifix. Christ is affixed to the cross. He's meditating and praying. And he has a vision of Christ on the cross. But we're not exactly sure what happened, but he had some kind of remarkable vision of Christ, you know, in the sanctuary. And he stumbles out after this and his, you know, people who took care of him and his amanuenses and other helpers saw he was obviously visibly shaken. They said to him: What happened? And he said: I saw a vision. And he said: Everything I have written – now he's already produced the Summa Theologica; he's already produced the Summa contra Gentiles (the major work against the Moslem scholars); all of this has been completed – and he says: Everything I've written is but hay and stubble compared to what I've seen. And he refused to ever write again. He never wrote another word after that. Amanuenses were sent away. And he said: All I've written is just straw – just nothing compared to the knowledge of the face of Christ. And then he had a stroke about a year after that and he never actually even spoke for about a year. And then he died. Remarkable. Remarkable man.
So, pick up his Summa Theologica sometime and just have a quick read through. It took me about three months to read through it but, you know, it can be done.
So the distinction between what is necessary – this is actually a quote from my book – the distinction between what is necessary to the Infinite and what is contingent to the Infinite is an important infrequently travelled bridge which Upadhyay uses to reconcile Advaitism with Thomism. Thus, to say that God is not necessarily related to creation does not deny that He is the Creator or that creation is related to Him contingently. That's essentially a summary of his overall hermeneutic which he explores.
Now the other problem that he has to reconcile is that once you accept the Paramarthika/vyavaharika kind of necessary/contingent hermeneutic, he still has to reconcile the problem with that Christianity ultimately proclaims a personal God and Advaitism does not. So, essentially what he argues is that external relationship indeed implies limitation, but not so internal relationship. So what he basically argues is, is that all this discussion of Sankara about us not knowing Him is just simply pointing out that God cannot be known unless God reveals Himself. He cannot be known through any kind of human revelation or human attempts to discover revelation.
Now, earlier in his life Upadhyay is very, very excited about general revelation – what you can know about God, all of that. I spent a whole chapter dealing with that. And that's something that is important. But he gradually begins to back away from that. Instead, he says, what the Advaitans missed is not the point that God cannot be known unless he reveals Himself, but that God has knowing with Himself – the Trinity. The Trinity is the point where he says that the Adviatans missed. And therefore they couldn't understand how God could have internal relationships within Himself. The infinite, self-sufficient being is related within Himself. He is not necessitated to enter into relationship with any objective unit external to Himself. I know it sounds like this is like the cold, austere Brahman of the Upanishads, but he goes on to say the subjective self of God sees and contemplates the objective self of God and in this single eternal act are His knowledge and love fully satisfied. So he's basically trying to say that, within the Trinity, there is this great colloquy, this great relational joy and fellowship and knowing and known.
And that is something that you must establish first before you can say: We know God. We cannot say we know God unless there's first a Trinity among whom the members of the Trinity know one another, because that establishes relationship in the aseity of God, not in the self-revelation of God that we have uncovered or discovered later. God is eternally relational, not just when He creates Adam and Eve. That's an important point.
So, to go back to the basic sat cit ananda, he develops a marvellous and lengthy theological analysis of each of these which goes on for many, many articles that he publishes over a number of years. To summarise it, he essentially argues that this is how you should interpret sat cit ananda. Sat refers to the aseity of God – God as He is in Himself. He challenges Descartes famous dictum: cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am. Instead, he says, actually that puts the starting point with the thinking person. But he says there can be no thinking person without first the God who is behind that – the God of thought. So he says actually it should be enzest ergo cogito – being is, therefore I think. Because God is, because God exists, therefore, and only because of that, can we think and contemplate God's essence. So he develops sat in kind of that, again, Thomistic sense of establishing first God's freedom from us before we can discuss how He's related to us in any way through redemption.
And there are people ... I've read and certainly heard sermons where people sometimes speak as if Christology was a subset of soteriology. And that's not true. Christology is not a subset of soteriology. Christology is a set; soteriology is a subset. So Christ saving us is the great wonderful truth of God's incarnation but, after all, there was the wonderful fellowship of the Trinity – the Father and the Son – before the decree (if you want to use the term decree) the decree to create or the decree to redeem the world.
He develops cit as referring to this self-knowledge of God – this inner relationship. It goes back to the whole discussion in the Eastern Church about whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or Father and the Son. He says the Son is the – and this is actually applying to the Son here – but the Son is the eternal procession from God's being just the way your thought progresses from your being. Your consciousness progresses from your being. Your being is not your consciousness. They're separate. And so that's a very famous Upanishadic description ... In the Upanishads, that you now have read, you'll know that they spend a lot of time talking about what is the nature of the self. And they would say: Is it a person when they dream? Is it their consciousness? What is the nature of the self? And so this idea of consciousness is tied into a very powerful theme in Hinduism.
And finally ananda, which he relates to the Spirit, is the blissful overflow of His essence. The word bliss means that God was free to do it. He didn't have to do it. But His joy, His creativity, that was already present in the Trinity, overflows and He creates the world. Out of compassion, He redeems the world – not because He saw that we were sinners, but He already was the fulfilment of all and the apex of all compassion. And so the redemption was an overflow of His nature – overflow of His being. It wasn't called forth because of our sinfulness by any necessity. It was a free act of God to save us and redeem us.
Now that's a very quick overview of a lot of his discussion. And I refrained myself from having you purchase and read this book because I thought you might go crazy. But if you are interested in this area and you want to look at how one theologian in nineteenth century Bengal takes on Sankara as a committed Christian, I'd recommend it. Bedtime reading.
But I do want to expose you to one little thing he did on the worship side that I think is quite beautiful. He wrote a hymn to Sat Cit Ananda. I've a handout to give you the hymn so that at least you can see it for yourself. But this has been called by a number of scholars of India the greatest Christian hymn ever written by an Indian. And I was in a service down in Bangalore a year and a half ago I guess it was I was down there and I was so ama... I was into this service, it was a Christian service of Brahmins who had come to faith in Christ. It was like a Brahminical fellowship. They had some outsiders there too – some Westerners – but it was a worship service. In the context they were singing in Sanskrit a hymn to God and it was this. They were singing this hymn to God. I was just so moved. I was deeply moved. So I want to share it with you.
So he argues that we can use the language of Advaitism and even the language of popular Hinduism – this thing's also filled with popular Hinduism – to express the Trinity. He believes that it's best expressed as an act of worship because he says the only way to talk about the Trinity ultimately, not in a theological discourse like Thomas, but is an act of worship. So, here is some of ... this is the hymn. This is my translation of it. There is different ways it could be translated but this is a sense of how it goes.
I adore the Sat Cit and Ananda – Being, Conscious Intelligence, Bliss. The highest goal which is despised by worldlings which is desired by yogis. Now this is the refrain. You always come back to this. So the whole thing is Trinitarian. At the end of every verse you repeat this. This highest goal can actually be also translated the highest step. Now if you translate it as the highest step then it's definitely an allusion to a very famous Vishnu – I think we discussed the whole thing of Mahabali who made himself into a little dwarf and asked for three steps. So this is that whole story. And so he took one step, you know, over the world and the universe and he, you know, took control of everything. So this idea of the highest step, the highest goal, is a very popular theme that he's weaving into this as well.
Then you have again a very ... the first stanza ... a celebration of the Trinity: the Supreme, the Ancient, higher than the highest, full, indivisible, transcendent and imminent. So he's playing on his nirguna/saguna. He is transcendent and yet He's immanent. All that is played in here and the way ... the language he uses. One having triple interior relationship – celebrating that the Trinity is an interior relationship. Holy, unrelated – nirguna – without relations from a point of view ontology. Self-conscious – He knows Himself. Hard to realise – you cannot know Him through your own effort and ingenuity.
Then the following three stanzas – I mean, of course, you do the refrain after each one. And we will not break into song, by the way. And then each of the next three stanzas – two, three and four – are dedicated to each person of the Trinity.
So the first is the Father. The Father, Begetter – which, of course, comes out of the creed. The highest Lord, unbegotten, the rootless principle of the tree of existence. This is another thing we haven't really discussed, but the idea of they say the atman is the seed of the seed and all of that. This is ... that plays on that whole theme about the atman. The Cause of the universe, the One who createst intelligently, the Preserver of the world. So he is also, you can see, the whole .... he draws on the trimurti. God is the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer of the world. He brings out how God is the one who not only creates but who preserves the world. So those are things that again are popularly recognised in the Hindu tradition. And yet, he's trying to do this as a Christian. The Cause of the universe, the Creator, the Preserver – we would say: Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Stanza three is dedicated to the second person of the Trinity – the Increate, infinite Logos or Word, supremely great, the image of the Father, the reflection of the Father, one whose form is intelligence, the Giver of the highest freedom. This is the giver of the highest moksa is the word used here – the greatest release comes through Jesus. By the way, he has another hymn, which we will not look at, but it's in my book – a hymn to the Incarnate Logos. Equally beautiful hymn which simply illustrates and worships Christ as the Logos.
And finally the Spirit. The One who proceeds from the union of Sat and Cit, the Blessed Spirit, intense bliss, the Sanctifier, One whose movements are swift, One who speaks the Word, the Life-giver. These are all drawn from their own tradition. A lot of this is drawn from popular as well as ....
One thing I didn't show you on the refrain, I should have mentioned. In the refrain he uses a very powerful word here. The highest goal which is despised by worldlings which is desired by yogis. ??? any devotees. The word he uses here is a very unusual word, but he actually is playing on who your devotion is ultimately given to. Because a devotee will be devoted to a say guru. And the question arose: Well, who is the guru devoted to? And the guru may be devoted to Vishnu or whatever. And so this is a word that says: This is the one to which ultimately everyone must be devoted to. This is the only true bhakti focus. Everything else is ultimately nothingness. It's only the true devotion that the guru and the devotee must give the desire for this god. So he plays with a lot of very powerful themes in the Hindu tradition.
How successful was he at this program? I think that there are definitely some problems with it. It would take a lot more time than we have to develop it. But I think he also has a lot to offer. I develop about seven major ways I think his writings have contributed to the whole Hindu/Christian interface. My own thinking about this in general is that I don't believe that Brahmabandhav or anybody else for that matter has the key to like unlocking the Hindu worldview. I believe that he is representing a particular strand of how a Brahminical Christian can address the Brahminical community with a particular line of reasoning. And I think he's very helpful, though limited, in that regard. I think he has a very powerful statement to say.
I think a secondary way .... I shouldn't say it's only for Brahminical strand. I think he's also given a lot of courage to ordinary Christians in India who can be intimidated by Advaitism. I found this in our school in India. I found ??? students find, despite what they learn about Christianity, they don't know how they can possibly engage or interact or talk to people from the Advaitic tradition because this is obviously very, you know, lofty tradition with long centuries of reflection. So when they read Upadhyay, they realise here's a person who knows all of this and yet is still a fully-convinced Christian.
The end of his life was more problematic. I will say a little bit more about the end of his life, but let me just pause there. Are there questions or reactions? What kind of reaction do you have of being exposed to this? Any thoughts about Brahmabandhav?
By the way, this is his Sanskrit name. He wasn't ... when you became a sannyasin, you take on a name. And so Brahmabandhav is his chosen name – just the way like when you become a pope, you know, you choose a name that tells you about the kind of pope you'll be or whatever. In the same way, in the sannyasin tradition, if your name is, you know, Bill Smith and you become a sannyasin, you will take on a sacred name. So he chose the name Brahmabandhav because it means, as you can probably see in here, the word of god is here. It means lover of god. And this is the Sanskrit equivalent of Theophilus in the New Testament. So, this Theophilus Brahmabandhav, it's a ... they're equivalent terms – one's Greek, one's Sanskrit – so that he chose the name Theophilus essentially – a lover of god – for his name. OK, questions? Comments?
Question: ??? imagine that a curious Hindu wandering into this Brahminical Christian congregation hear this hymn ??? who it is that's being worshipped?
Brahmabandhav advocated what he called ??? Christian mathas, which would be like Christian seminaries, the way that Sankara did, where you would work out all this theologically to decide where are we willing to go, where are we not wanting to go. He also believed ... and this is one of the points on our ... I was really interested in some of your responses to this because one of his points was that the role of the sannyasin to him was indispensable in India. So he believed that if he could raise up a small army of sannyasins who could be wandering mendicants all over India, that they could teach people the Christian way of all this. So I think he would encounter all of the same problems that anybody would have in India in terms of carefully teaching, explaining things and all the rest. Unfortunately he didn't live long enough to implement a lot of this.
The Catholics, by the way, eventually turn on him and believe that he had gone over the line. So the Catholics which once really endorsed his journals – he had a journal called Sophia Weekly, Sophia Monthly, one called the Twentieth Century that he founded at the turn of the twentieth century – they banned all these journals. And they refused to let Catholics read them – which made them even more popular. But anyway, he was under all kinds of problems with the Catholic hierarchy over this very point. So you are quite right.
To this day, in India, there are raging debates that go on about whether he was just a master forerunner of contextualisation or whether he was, you know, a massive syncretiser. And, in fact, did you meet ... who went on the New York trip? The New York Plunge? Did you meet Rick Hivner when you were down there – the guy that Creockoes kind of got into a little tivvy over? Well, Rick Hivner is a great believer in Brahmabandhav as the key to solve all of India's problems. I mean, he thinks that Upadhyay is the fist that's going to crush Hinduism. So he's written a book. I was asked to give lectures down there. We've interacted quite a bit. I myself am not convinced that he's the fist. I think he's one of the fingers. I think he's a part of this overall strategy. But I see the strategy as much more complex and I think this is very helpful to a very, very narrow strand. But it's an important stand of Hindu thought. But I don't view it as a program that can be used as a paradigm for all Hindu interaction. And I think a lot of Hindus you have to spend more time explaining to them Advaitism in order to explain what he means. I mean, what's the purpose of that? And so I don't see really any value for a lot of village Hindus, but there's definitely a crowd. And there's many Brahmins who've come to faith because of Upadhyay. So in that sense it's been a ... you know, there have been some positive side to it.
Other thoughts? Yes.
Question: I don't see anything in here as far as a reaction to monism. To me, part of worship is realisation of our own fallenness. So I think that that's lacking. How does moksa and karma tie into his thought?
He, of course, does not accept monism obviously. So, ??? the way he in terms of everything is simply to say that all of this discussion about monism is actually Sankara's way of trying to establish the absolute freedom of God and the independence of God. He says the problem with Sankara is that he did not realise that the eternal being could be related to us as separate contingent beings. So actually this ... we'll come back to it a little bit later and we'll look at his view of Maya. So in that sense he breaks from the overall worldview of Sankara and, I mean, his writings are very clear on that point. So he's not trying to Christianise monism at all. This whole hymn is actually in the context of people who are worshipping that which is other than them, other than they are, wholly other – not as a recognition of tat twam asi. He has a lot of discussion, of course, of tat twam asi, how he interprets that. And he basically says that tat twam asi can ... one thing it cannot mean is "thou are that" cannot mean "thou equals that". And a lot of Hindu philosophers agree with that actually. So he taps into many Hindu philosophers as well that do not accept kind of the classic monism that Advaitists try to promote. Yes.
One of the criticisms that appears in a book by Robin Boyd called Indian Christian Theology. His one criticism of Upadhyay, and he spends about six pages on the guy's entire writings, but at the end of that six page kind of overview, he says: For him Thomism looms way too large and the Christian faith is too small. My reaction to that was: But for him Thomism was the greatest exposition of the Christian faith – just as his only knowledge of Christian teaching that he thought was actually dealt with the ideas philosophically that could actually address Advaitism. The Protestants were not at all discussing these issues. So, he saw in Thomism a ray of light that would help him.
I'm not a convinced Catholic obviously. I'm a convinced Evangelical. I'm not even like tempted to become a Catholic. No temptations. If you hear a rumour that Dr Tennent is converted to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy say: It ain't true. OK. I am a total, absolute, thorough-going, to the bone Protestant. But I've always said, as you know from this class, there's so much we can learn from Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. So I think, in that sense, maybe I'm not as critical because his starting communicationally is the Hindu tradition in the sense that we have to communicate to them. We can't ask them to come to us. We have to start with their language. But we have a desire to be faithful to the tradition. So, in that sense, he's trying to find a way to communicate within their worldview, not within our worldview. I don't actually have a problem with that basic approach in the sense that we have to communicate in human language. And the moment you invoke any human language, you have to submit yourself to the language forms of the people to whom you are communicating. So when you ask yourself if you're going to talk to Brahminical Hindus, you can't just download for them our theology. You have to show how their vocabulary is missing whatever.
I mean, he says, for example, Aquinas used Aristotle minus his errors. So he acknowledges that Aristotle's full of errors. He says: Why can't we use Sankara minus his errors? So he's not just trying to say: O Sankara's wonderful. He's just trying to say: Can we harvest the language? In fact, he says ... a great quote in here. He says: Christianity will never be victorious in India until we make Hindu philosophy hew wood and draw water for us. That's the essence of the quote. In other words, we've got to make it service. We can't just ignore it. And I think that's kind of where he's coming from. Yes.
Question: ??? sees relationship ???
Yeah, he cared. He deeply cared. But he saw himself as you know, within the Jesuit tradition. So he was ... he had a lot of Jesuits who were very upset by his works were banned. But he eventually said: I don't really care about that because I'm a Hindu Christian. This is how he called it – a Hindu Christian. ??? Christian wouldn't even be a Hindu, you know. All that thing comes up at this point, nineteenth century. But he was trying to say: What really matters is I'm an Indian and if the Catholics don't see it yet, they eventually will.
And his work, by the way, was carried on by a group of Belgian Jesuits who deeply appreciated his writings and there was a man named P??? Hans, a Belgian Jesuit, who spent years developing Upadhyay's thoughts in a lot of ways we discussed earlier in terms of concerns and working out theologically, establishing the mathas, the ashrams, all of that was done. And one of our students, Sean Doyle, graduated three years ago. Sean is doing his doctorate in Edinburgh on these Belgian Jesuits. So there's a lot of people still interested in the way they followed up on it.
His ??? of the Catholic Church was very problematic and he essentially was excommunicated. One of the challenges is that he wanted to be reaccepted into the Brahminical community and they also had difficulty ??? The only way you could be accepted back into the community was to go through a repentance service – where you repent of your sins that separated you from your caste. And so he performs this ceremony called prayaschitta, which we have not discussed in this class. But it's a ceremony of repentance where you have to eat cow dung publicly. And, when you eat the cow dung, you confess that you've eaten with foreigners, you've conversed with foreigners, and so forth, and that you want to be brought back into the community. Well, he does this. Well, this creates a huge stir because people interpret it as he's coming back into Hinduism. But he was trying to say: No, I want to be a Brahminical Christian. I want to be a good Brahmin and a good Christian. And that created a ... a lot of his Christian friends broke from him.
Well then, later on, he begins to advocate things like performing puja to Durga, and things like that, as cultural icons where he really goes like berserk. A lot of very radical ideas. And he reinterprets Krishna. He has all kinds of ways that he ??? but a whole section of the book discussion his interpretation of Krishna. And it's very, very controversial and I think, in many ways, he goes too far in those respects. But again I think there's a lot we can learn from his concerns, because he's still asking: What do we do with the India of Indian people? When they come to Christ right now, the point is that, if you're a Christian, you have to deny your Indian-ness. And he's really against that. And so he says: The Protestant movement especially has not helped people to become Christians without leaving India culturally.
So, in fact, let me give you his last two quotes. It was 1897 he wrote this. We have no definite ideas as regards the modus operandi of making Hindu philosophy the handmaid of Christianity. This is the point that you raised. The task is difficult and beset with many dangers. OK, he admits that. But we have a conviction that is growing day by day that the Catholic Church will find it hard to conquer India unless she makes Hindu philosophy hew wood and draw water for her. Very famous quote of Upadhyay. Saying we can't go around Hindu philosophy. We've got to go through it. You may disagree with that, but this is certainly one strand of thought.
The other thing he says, I think I quote at the very end. This is the last line or so of the book. Largely due to his influence, no longer can the Indian church be characterised today as Upadhyay did in his day as, quote. This is how he characterised Christianity: standing in the corner like an exotic stunted plant with poor foliage showing little or no promise of blossom. What he's saying: We have this plant called Christianity in some foreign soil and we can have like potted-plant Christianity, but at some point we've got to plant it in indigenous soil. So he has this radical idea about what do we have to do to make Christianity indigenous in India? He may have gone over the top. He may have ideas that should be dismissed. But there's no question, he's the first person that has really seriously engaged, for better or worse, with the Hindu tradition, especially Advaitism.
He is called by major Christian theologians, such as K.P.Elias who teaches in Calcutta at Bishops College, and many others, who call Upadhyay the father of Indian Christian theology. So he's widely regarded as the forerunner of a whole body of literature that's now out there – hundreds of Indian theologians that are trying to – some less fatefully than others – interact with Christianity and the Hindu tradition. I would say most people today that are drawing on the Hindu tradition are hopeless liberals that have done great damage to the Christian faith. And the reason that I studied him was because I felt like that Christians, Evangelicals, should reengage in this enterprise. And there's no Protestant who's done this. So I had to go to with a Catholic. But Evangelicals should, with all of our concerns for historic Christianity, we should engage with Hinduism and find a better way to communicate the gospel in the Indian context. Even if we reject 70% of his ideas, we need to understand why he's driven by this in his goals – what his passion. Because largely today the passion has been by liberal scholars to show that there's no difference between Advaitism and Christianity and that really Christianity's the same as Hinduism. That was not at all his program.
So that's the kind of ... in fact, in that book that came out recently by a well-known Indian scholar, he draws on Upadhyay throughout his book and takes Upadhyay's quotes to make him say things that he would never have said. Because I know, I know what he would say and I've studied his works for three years. And so I was so upset by this, that people were harvesting him for liberal purposes – when I know that you may not agree with his Thomism, but he's a committed Thomist. I mean, he's definitely a Catholic. He's a Christian in that sense. And he believes the Nicene Creed as much as anybody in this room. So, in that sense, he's valuable. And we need to keep reminding people what he actually taught.
His view of Maya is also the other problematic area because, as we've seen, if Maya's interpreted as illusory, then you cannot have a legitimate engagement with the world. It's illusory. That goes against everything – both Christian and Aristotelian. So he develops Maya along very carefully worked out lines that I think are consistent with, at least in a broadest sense, with Christian thought. He basically says that Maya refers to contingency – that we're contingent beings, that creation is contingent, not necessary. We've already discussed that. And Maya is our mistakenly attributing independent existence to the universe. So people who think all that is is what is – all that we see is what is – don't recognise the fact that all that we see is actually dependent upon God. And therefore that is a false way of looking at the world. Remember, we defined Maya as a false way of looking at the world. That's exactly what he's exploiting here.
And finally, Maya in the Vedic period, especially the Rig-Veda, refers to the power of God to create the world. It's God's power that comes out. So he draws on Vedic ideas to say it's the power of God to give birth to communicated multiplicity and a sustained finite dependent beings everlastingly. So, he basically explores the idea: How do we as Christians live for eternity? Is it because we become ontologically eternal? No. He says we are always created beings, even heaven. The reason we live forever is because we become related to His ontology through His power. God chooses to sustain us eternally. It is not that we have a transformation of our being ontologically, but we have a eternal relationship with God through which He sustains us, though we're finite, everlastingly. Even in heaven, if God were to cease to exist, we would cease to exist. That whole argument.
He basically develops Maya along these lines. So rather than saying the world is illusory, he's just saying: No, the world is contingent. And it has a dependent existence, not an independent existence. That gives you a little idea ... I mean, you could go through his whole program, all the Vedic doctrines. But this is two of the most problematic areas – the relationship to the absolute and the relationship to the world – are probably two of the biggest theological hurdles. And you can see kind of how he seeks to reconcile it, for better or for worse.
All right, any final thoughts, comments or questions about Brahmabandhav Upadhyay. Upadhyay means teacher. The teacher who loves God. When I was doing my research on him, I spent quite a bit of time in Calcutta reading all this and studying it. And I went through all of his journals and I was plucking out all the articles he wrote and all that. Well, there was an article – articles ??? written by a guy named ... what would be the Sanskrit ... it's Dasha ... I can't ... I'm drawing a blank on the exact phrase, but it means servant of God. But it ??? just a names. So there are several articles by this name and so I ... It was not his writings, I kept going on. At the very end, after I went through this whole process going through thousands of journals, I finally get to the end of the process and I was going through some archival material – like notes he'd written, personal notes and ??? At one point, I found this letter he'd written to some ... a woman in Calcutta. And he said that when he was under a bind for publication – to publish, you know, his journal – and he didn't have enough articles to go to print, he would put another one in that he had written under this name. My heart fell through my feet. So I realised there were other things he had written that I had thought was somebody else. I had to go back through the entire thing and pluck out all the articles by this fellow. It was quite an amazing experience. Some time, when we have time, I'll tell you more stories about the archival work on this man. But he's a remarkable man.