Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From ‘India’s Unending Journey’ by Mark Tully

……..one of the lessons I have learnt from India is to value humility. Others are to avoid thinking in black and white, to be suspicious of certainty, to search for the middle road, and in particular, to acknowledge that there are many ways to God.

…….. R.C.Zaehner, the former Professor of Eastern religion and Ethics at Oxford……..Hindus do not think of religious truth in dogmatic terms: dogmas cannot be eternal but only the transitory, distorting images of a truth that transcends not only them, but all verbal definition. For the passion for dogmatic certainty that has racked the religions of Semitic origin, from Judaism itself, through Christianity and Islam to the Marxism of our day, they feel nothing but shocked incomprehension.

………Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks………..Bad things happen when the pace of change exceeds our ability to change, and events move faster than our understanding. It is then that we feel the loss of control over our lives. Anxiety creates fear, fear leads to anger, anger breeds violence, and violence – when combined with weapons of mass destruction – becomes a deadly reality. The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope.

Those who are dogmatic and certain that they are right don’t feel vulnerable and have not desire to have conversations. They only want to convince.

……..Chaturvedi Badrinath…..he has written:
The question is one of knowing the true place of everything in the scheme of human life. To value too greatly or too little a particular human attribute in its relation to the rest is to disintegrate the natural wholeness of human personality. To value the material over the spiritual, or the spiritual over the material, the transient over the eternal, or the eternal over the transient, the body over the mind, or the mind over the body, the individual over the society or the society over the individual, the self over the other or the other over the self, is to create conflicts both within ourselves and with the rest of the world

And so to me, the Indian tradition has come to imply that in everything in life, we should seek to be balanced, and that the quest for balance never ends.

In his book, Radhakrishnan explains that Hinduism does not demand the kind of certainty that had always troubled me so much about Christianity, as I understood it. He says there has never been ‘a uniform, stationary, unalterable Hinduism whether in belief or in practice’ and he describes Hinduism as ‘a movement, not a position, a process not a result; a growing tradition, not a fixed revelation’. Because it was not fixed there could be no certainty and the possibility of further development must always be allowed. But even so, Radhakrishna warns against thinking that ‘Hindus doubted the reality of a supreme universal spirit’. Rather, Hindus accept that there can be many descriptions of this spirit and that none is complete. That is why in the Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad there two words neti, neti…..are repeatedly added after a description of the supreme spirit or reality. Radhakrishnan translates neti as meaning ‘not this’. But………..my friend the Sanskrit scholar Chaturvedi Badrinath always insists it should be translated as ‘not yet complete’, ‘not this alone’, because the word neti implies that we can never come to a final and complete definition of God, the ultimate reality or the supreme universal spirit – call it what you will.

Hindus….what they do say….is that their certainty is not necessarily the only certainty.

Hinduism doesn’t have a monopoly on pluralism. It is part of the general Indian tradition of questioning, discussion, dissert and indeed skepticism………Pluralism is a characteristic of all the major religions born in India………………….To my mind, pluralism involves humility. It means acknowledging that you don’t have the complete or final answer, that what you know may seem right, but there are other points of view.

Radhakrishnan, who wrote: ‘In Hinduism, intellect is subordinated to intuition, dogma to experience, outer expression to inner reality.’

Meritocracy is a cruel concept because success becomes the goal of life and we can never all be given equal opportunities from birth onwards in order to succeed and become a meritocrat. Those who do not succeed in a meritocracy often suffer mentally because the social ethos implies that it is their fault that they have failed………such societies tend to turn into a rat race, with those who lose being regarded, and regarding themselves as failures. What we need is a society which, while trying to remove disadvantages, at the same time recognizes that we can never all be equal and respects every sort of achievement.
Going back to caste, the system does have a certain social value. Each of the main divisions of caste is divided into hundreds of jati……..each individual should marry within his or her own jati, and it is the members of this jati who form that persons biradari or community. That community can form a rudimentary social system.

……..he decried the caste system as:
the chain of social hierarchy, reflecting an ascending scale of reverence and descending order of contempt that cannot be allowed to be broken in this life. If you are an ‘untouchable’ you are told you should remain so and you are warned that if you deviate and do not discharge the duties of an untouchable and a scavenger you will not get to a higher position after death.

Swami Veda Bharati said, ‘In Yoga, one simply practices the methods and waits for the doctrine to emerge out of the experience.’………….’The yogi ministers to people of all faiths, lets them see the ever-present God in their own church, temple, mosque, or pagoda, but first see him in the temple which is the human personality.’

…….the Irish poet Diarmuid O’Muyrchu…..’the prevailing culture, especially within the formal Church or religion, tends to protect the old values and can be quite harsh in its treatment of those whose spiritual growth leads them in other directions.’

I once heard the Dalai Lama asked why there were different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. With a broad smile he replied, ‘Because there are different sorts of people.’

Chaturvedi Badrinath wrties: ‘There has hardly been anything in human history that has produced greater violence and killing than conflicting perceptions of what truth is.’ It is when those perceptions leave no room for doubt or questioning, when they are held too firmly, that violence follows.

………..Smugness and self-satisfaction in every line of it. That is the Irish church all out…..if not the whole Church. Nothing short of a spiritual earthquake would make them even question their belief in themselves. They don’t know that anything is wrong and they are unteachable. They prefer to be what they are – autocrats, domineering over a sycophantic clergy, holding an ignorant laity in check through fear of eternal damnation.

Philip Francis was the vicar of the small country parish in Cheshire where my siblings and I lived as children after returning from India………..the All Saints Marthall was neither particularly old nor particularly beautiful. Nor could it have been called a prestigious post for a parish priest.
Philip, a small, rather insignificant figure with a wisp of hair standing up on his otherwise bald head, emerged from the vestry Sunday after Sunday to preach to the same handful of faithful church-goers. He was a humble man, and some of the parishioners seemed to think of him as Churchill did of Clement Attlee: ‘He has plenty to be humble about.’ Philip was unmarried, not because he was a celibate priest, but because he had never found anyone to marry. His career was going nowhere. He was never going to hold any higher office in the Church than that of parish priest, and only in small insignificant parishes. If success in the job was to be measured, as if often was in the Church, by ‘bums on seats’, the number of people attending Sunday Services meant that he was a failure. But to me he wasn’t a failure at all. He was an inspiring example of someone who labored and yet who did not seek for any reward; someone who truly practiced the Christian virtue of humility.
The memory of Philip Francis came back to me while I was writing this chapter because it is a critique of a competitive culture obsessed with rewards. Of course there has to be a balance. We cant have a society without competition and rewards…….But that does not mean we should go to the other extreme and accept that rat-racing is the natural sport of human beings.

For many Hindus, Varanasi is the archetypal sacred place, yet almost 1/3rd of its population is Muslim………. Varanasi has learnt to preserve tradition and accommodate change. It is one of the oldest living cities in world – as old as Jerusalem, Athens or Beijing……Diana Eck, who has studied the city’s traditions, religion, and culture….in her book, Banaras, City of Light, she says:

If we could imagine the silent Acropolis and the Agora of Athens still alive with the intellectual, cultural and ritual traditions of classical Greece, we might glimpse the remarkable tenacity of the life of Kashi. Today Peking, Athens and Jerusalem are moved by a very different ethos from that which moved them in ancient times, but Kashi is not.

Varanasi and India have taught me to respect the faith I was born into. For me to become a Hindu would be to deny that Christianity is also a way to God………The Swami told me, ‘Your well being lies within your own tradition.’ I was born a Christian and I believe that by remaining a Christian I am respecting fate and tradition, both of which are such important aspects of a balanced life. There is also a question of loyalty to the Church and to the priests and others who have kept my faith alive at those times when I had almost abandoned it. Bede Griffiths………wrote of a marriage between the East and West. He didn’t divorce the West and marry the East.

For me, India acknowledges that we can never find absolute answers to the most important questions in life, but we must go on asking them. That is why I have called my book India’s Undending Journey. It is a journey we can all learn from

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