On Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Non-uniqueness of Christianity

Hinduism

There are millions of devout Hindus more moved by the story of Krishna in the Hindu holy book, The Bhagavad Gita, than by the story of Jesus. As one Indian Catholic priest candidly told a British journalist, “Although my family had been Christians for generations and I had been through the full rigors of a Jesuit training, I still, in my heart of hearts, feel closer to the God Krishna than to Jesus.” (In Indian courts of law, people swear with their hand on The Bhagavad Gita not the Bible, and there are even popular Indian books with titles like, The Bhagavada Gita for Executives by V. Ramanathan.)

There are also millions of devout Buddhists more moved by stories of the Buddha and his disciples than by stories of Jesus and his. Anagarika Dharmapala, a nineteenth century Buddhist, commented, “The Nazarene carpenter had no sublime teachings to offer, and understandably so, because his parables not only reveal a limited mind, but they also impart immoral lessons and impractical ethics…The few illiterate fishermen of Galilee followed him as he promised to make them judges to rule over Israel [appealing to relatively ‘base’ desires according to Buddhist teachings - ED.].” To such Buddhists, “Jesus is a spiritual dwarf before Buddha, the spiritual giant.”

Oddly enough, one version of the Buddhaʼs life that reached Europe from India underwent subtle changes along the way, until the Buddha became a Christian saint! According to that version the “prince” who “lived in India” was named “Josaphat,” and he was a “Great Renouncer.” Research into the origins of “Saint Josaphat,” revealed that the Latin name, “Josaphat,” was based on an earlier version of the story in which the Greek name “Ioasaph” was used, which came from the Arabic “Yudasaf,” which came from the Manichee “Bodisaf,” which came from “Bodhisattva” in the original story of the Buddha. (A “Bodhisattva” is a person who achieves great spiritual enlightenment yet remains on earth to help others.) Thus the Buddha came to be included in Butlerʼs Lives of the Saints.

Also, some of the earliest Jesuit missionaries to China, who read the Far Eastern book of wisdom, the Tao Te Ching, returned to Rome and requested that that book be added to the Bible, because it contained teachings on non-violence, love and humility that paralleled and preceded Jesusʼ teachings by hundreds of years. (Many of those parallels are commented on in The Tao of Jesus: An Exercise in Inter-Traditional Understanding by Joseph A. Loya, O.S.A, Wan-Li Ho, and Chang-Shin Jih.)

Eastern religions also feature stories of miracles and visions, along with stories of saintly Hindus and Buddhists who died beautifully and serenely. In some cases a sweet flowery odor is said to have come from their corpses. In another case a corpse allegedly turned into flowers at death. All in all, the stories rival those of Catholic saints and their miracles. In fact, “sainthood” is a phenomenon common to all the worldʼs religions. Needless to say, reading about Hinduism and Buddhism in books written by Christian apologists is no substitute for reading books written by Hindus and Buddhists. A tour of any large bookstore can provide plenty of interesting titles by both Hindu and Buddhist authors.

C.S. Lewisʼs lifefriend, Bede Griffiths, who was mentioned in Lewisʼs autobiography, Surprised by Joy, was one of Lewisʼs pupils at Oxford and converted to Christianity about the same year Lewis did. Afterwards they “kept up a copious correspondence.” Griffiths became a Catholic monk and far surpassed Lewis in his ability to perceive a similar spiritual center lying at the heart of all the worldʼs major faiths. Griffiths far outlived Lewis and died at eighty-six years of age while living in a Christian-Hindu ashram that he, Griffiths, had founded in India. The titles of his published works illustrate his mystic universalist approach to knowing God, beginning with his autobiography, The Golden String, and followed by The Marriage of East and West, Return to the Center, River of Compassion, The Cosmic Revelation: The Hindu Way to God, and his final work, The New Creation in Christ.

Dom Bede Griffithʼs obituary in the National Catholic Reporter (May 1993), by Tim McCarthy, stated:

As late as 1990, Griffiths was forced to defend Eastern spirituality against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithʼs (CDFʼs) December 1989 response to the challenge of Buddhist and Hindu spirituality.

Discussing the CDFʼs warning that certain forms of Eastern prayer tempt people to try to overcome the necessary distance between creator and creature, God and humankind, Griffiths wrote in The National Catholic Reporter, “As if God in Christ had not already overcome that distance and united us with him in the closest bonds. St. Paul says, ‘You who were far off, he has brought near-not kept distant-in the blood of Christ.’ Jesus himself totally denies any such distance, ‘I am the vine,’ he says, ‘you are the branches.’ How can the branches be ‘distant’ from the vine?”…

We must “never in any way seek to place ourselves on the same level as the object of our contemplation,” the CDF document insisted. “Of course, we donʼt seek to place ourselves on the same level,” Griffiths countered. “It is God who has already placed us there. Jesus says, ‘I have not called you servants, but friends.’ And to show what such friendship means, he prays for his disciples, ‘that they may be one, as thou, Father in me and I in thee, that they may be one in us.’”

In a letter published in the National Catholic Reporter, beneath the headline, “Vatican Letter Disguises Wisdom of East Religions,” (May 11, 1990), Griffiths drew attention to several Christian movements in ages past that endorsed mystical prayer, then added, “This is not to say that Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian mystics all have the same experience. But it is to recognize an analogy between them and to look upon the Hindu and Buddhist experience as something of supreme significance, not to be lightly dismissed by a Christian as of no importance.”

Also interesting is the fact that the 1996 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion was Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (which also subsidizes Josh McDowell Ministries!). But the very next year the winner was a Hindu, Shastri Athavale, whose spiritual and social activism was inspired by the The Bhagavad Gita. Athavale has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to spend two weeks or more visiting Indiaʼs poorest villages where they seek to advance the self-respect and economic condition of those they visit. For more than four decades Athavale has taught that service to God is incomplete without service to humanity.

There are even what one might call “fundamentalist” Hindus, like the one who asked Joseph Campbell, “What do scholars think of the Vedas [the most ancient Hindu holy books]?” Campbell answered, “The dating of the Vedas has been reduced to 1500 to 1000 B.C., and there have been found in India itself the remains of an earlier civilization than the Vedic.” “Yes,” said the Indian gentleman, “I know; but as an orthodox Hindu I cannot believe that there is anything in the universe earlier than the Vedas.”

Itʼs obvious that the study of the worldʼs holy books by historical, archeological and literary scholars continues to provoke tension and discomfort in “Vedic believing” Hindus, “Koran believing” Moslems, and “Bible believing” Christians (like McDowell). So there is nothing “unique” about “Bible believing” Christians in that respect.

See Also 9 Myths About Hinduism Debunked (here)

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