Sunday, July 25, 2010

Krishna Preaches His First "Sermon"...

Yesterday, our driver/caretaker Radha Krishna and I went back to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Secunderabad.  Krishna had mentioned to me several times (this was to be our third visit in as many weeks) during the week that "he likes St. Mary's very much" and that he really enjoys going to church with me every Sunday.  This might surprise some of my Christian brethren, but - in the most simple but profound ways, Krishna gets it!  He is Hindu by birth and spiritual practice, but I am coming to understand that "Hinduism" is not truly a "religion"...Hinduism is a seriously unique faith in every sense of that term! The most obvious misconception about Hinduism that we from "the West" have... is that we tend to see it as "just another religion".  To be precise, Hinduism is not a "religion", but is is a way of life, a dharma. And dharma does not mean religion. It is the "law that governs all action".  Thus, contrary to popular perception (including my own for most of my life!), Hinduism is not a "religion" in the traditional sense of the term. Out of these common misinterpretations, has come most of the misconceptions that we (including I) have always had about Hinduism.

To be precise, words like "Hindu" or "Hinduism" are actually anachronisms. As a matter of fact, these terms do not even exist in the Indian cultural lexicon. People have coined them, over the many centuries, to suit their needs at different points in human history.  Nowhere in the Vedic (or other so-called "Hindu") scriptures is there any reference to anything called "Hinduism".  "Hinduism" (I find that it still must be used as a "descriptive term" and a point of reference!) does not have any one founder, and it does not have a Bible or a Koran (or a Pope!) to which controversies can be referred for resolution. Consequently, it does not require its adherents to accept any one idea. It is thus "cultural", not "creedal", with a history that is inseparably bound, both to and with, the various peoples with which it is associated.  What we call "Hinduism" is the oldest known spiritual tradition in the world and there is evidence that it flourished long before recorded history in ancient India. The ancient Vedic civilization practiced Hinduism in the Indus Valley over 6,000 years ago and it was already then an old established tradition!!! There is plenty of evidence that its origin goes back into pre-historic times!

Many people mistakenly believe that the fact that there are a "multiplicity of deities" makes Hinduism "polytheistic".  In my studies, I have come to see that such a belief is nothing short of "mistaking the wood for the tree".  The bewildering diversity of Hindu belief - theistic, atheistic and agnostic - rests on a solid unity. "Ekam sath, Vipraah bahudhaa vadanti", says the Rig Veda: "The Truth (God, Brahman, etc.) is one", and, as usually happens, religious scholars define this theory in different ways.  I have come to understand that all of the various deities that I see around India are merely tangible expressions of the One God who is beyond human understanding.  As our own St. John Chrysostom says: "A comprehended god is no God!"  It has been said that Christianity's use of the construct we call The Holy Trinity to explain The One True God is quite similar to the Hindu idea of "Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva" (although the more I study, I find that this comparison to be waaaay overly simplistic!)  The devout Sikhs say something similar in the opening verse of their Holy Book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib: "Ek On Kar" - "God is One".  The Jews, also, have their Shema: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!".  A Christian might rightly and accurately say that the biggest difference between our Faith and the others I have mentioned is the Unique Deity of Christ and His Unique Incarnation into human history (there are many others, of course, for perhaps another time!)...but - many of these other views are really intriguing to me... as I am constantly being surrounded by them!

Anyway, let's return to Krishna and our visit to Mass at St. Mary's yesterday!!  We arrived at the Church a little early, on purpose, so that we could get a seat in the center section, (as opposed to last week, when we sat in the side aisle and watched the main Altar on a big-screen T.V.!).  It was drizzling pretty hard when we got out of the car...and the Telugu language Mass was just wrapping up.  We crossed the wet parking lot and entered the side-door into the "narthex" (really just the "back of the Epistle-side aisle"...) and listened to the Communion Hymn being sung as the hundreds of worshippers went forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  Unlike the music for the English language Mass, this hymn had a distinctly Indian sound to it, aside from the language.  As we stood there, I heard the word "prema" being sung over and over.  I turned to Krishna who was standing next to me at the back of the nave, and asked him: "Krishna, what is this word, "prema"?  I knew that the title of one of our favorite CD's by Snatam Kaur is called Prem - so I had a pretty good idea what it meant. 

Krishna said, "Sir... "prema" means LOVE."  As it turns out, the true meaning of the Telugu word "prema" is quite close to the Christian idea of "agape love".  "Prema" means the experience of love, deep love. It is the love that you have the courage and wisdom to feel in yourself for yourself...and it is the love that God feels for you.

Anyway....the Mass was wonderful as it usually is  - although the music, once again, was pretty schlocky - the Communion Hymn for the English Mass we attended was - - are you sitting down??  "Blessed Assurance"   A beautiful hymn, no doubt...but I am sure this is the first time I have ever heard it in a Catholic Mass setting!!

On the drive back to home in Banjara Hills, Krishna and I talked about prema and Jesus ... and the Gospel Lesson for the day...(it was the one about Jesus teaching the Lord's Prayer to the Disciples... and how He used the word "Abba" for "Father" - - It was interesting to me when Krishna said that the Hindi word is quite the same: "Abba" - "Daddy".   And we also discussed how God shows His love (His "prema") for us by giving us of His Holy Spirit...)

Anyway, our discussion was finally wrapping up as we were approaching the Q-Mart near our home (we were out of milk!)  All of a sudden, Krishna says: "Sir, I like St. Mary church very much.  Everybody is there...(he paused to search for the correct word) ... together.  I like this.  At man he come temple and pujari (the Priest, one who performs puja) he say - 'big man politician he is here now make wait outside'.  And so many people... they wait one hour outside.  I no like this.  At St. Mary church all are together...everyone the same..."

I just sat there in grinning amazement.  "Yes, Krishna...", I said.  "That is what is supposed to happen.  But it is not always that way.  But we try."

"Yes, sir." Krishna nodded in agreement.

"But..." I said, "Jesus said it is more important that His followers be "servants" - servants to everybody.  Just like you Krishna...Jesus says to be a "servant" is a very good thing.  Jesus said that He came to be a servant, just like you, Krishna (I said it again for emphasis!).  And Jesus even proved this when he washed His disciple's feet!"

Krishna smiled.  "Yes, sir."

" see... I am called to be *your* servant, Krishna..."

He looked a little perplexed, still smiling a bit and said "Oh, no sir!!"

I said, "Oh, yes!!  Jesus say: "The first shall be last and the last shall be first"  Today, you are "Krishna-ji"!

He got it!!  He smiled the biggest Krishna-grin of the trip home.  "No, Sir...I am (just) Krishna"

Here ended the lesson.  Krishna had just preached ... and received...his first sermon!

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