“Don’t forget about god”, Rajesh Bedi, a photographer in Delhi, said to me out of the blue while I was taking leave. I was surprised that a young, successful man talked about god in such a natural and matter-of-fact way and I wondered what he meant by god. At that time – some 33 years ago – I was new in India and did not know that god is alive in this country.
Later, after I had met Devaraha Baba and Anandamayi Ma, I discovered how alive god is and that he* (* the use of ‘he’ does of course not imply that god is male) generally plays a big role in the daily life of Hindus, who form the majority of Indians. In contrast, god seems rather dead in the west. Of course, many people still go to church there on Sundays, but in daily life god is almost non-existent for most people – except if one is in trouble and begs god for help.
I got the impression that India has a different god than the west if I may say so. The concept ‘god’ refers here not to a great being which is separated from humans. The concept rather refers to the whole, to the oneness, to the base of everything, to our very own being, to That, which really is or should I say ‘not is’, because it cannot be touched or looked at and ultimately not even thought of. It refers as it were to a scientific god, to an analysis of truth – and therefore it is acceptable for everyone with an open mind.
However, that does not mean that a Hindu doesn’t think of a personal god, when he or she calls out “Hey Bhagavan!” He may turn to Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha, Devi, depending on who is his ishta devata. But basically he knows that all those gods are aspects of or, access points to the One. Therefore he has no objection, if someone reveres Jesus or calls out to Allah and he has no intention to convert anyone to Hinduism.
Ever since Rajesh had given me the advice “not to forget about god”, I wanted to find out for myself what is meant by god, without referring to books. Several months later I took time out for it. I sat on a roof terrace in Dehradun at night under the stars, behind me the Himalayas and asked pointed questions.
My thoughts often took me astray to other subjects, but when I noticed it, I brought them back to the question. I simply waited, sometimes for a long time, till answers came. Of course I had already read a lot about Indian wisdom, yet the answers were my own nevertheless. And I was not surprised that they were in tune with Indian wisdom:
“What do I mean by god?”
“That which really exists, the basis of everything, eternal, independent, formless, conscious and mighty.
“God must definitely be here. Why don’t I see him?”
“Because he is not separate from me. That is why I can’t see him with my eyes. He rather is that which makes looking out from my eyes possible.
“How can I get close to him?”
“I am close, so close, that closer is not possible.”
“But I don’t feel it. Why?”
“Because thoughts, feelings and imaginations fully absorb my awareness and these conceal that which makes thoughts, feelings and imaginations possible in the first place.”
“What can I do that thoughts and feeling go out of the way?”
“By being conscious that they are just thoughts and feelings, by simply observing them non-judgementally, by not taking them so seriously, by not identifying with them.
“Who am I actually?”
“Deep inside one with god.”
“What does it mean`”
“I cannot be localised, cannot be an object, cannot be changed, I am without form – pure, still, peaceful, conscious being. I am. The fact that ‘I am’ is stupendous.”
“What will happen to my life, if I focus on god?”
“It will run by itself. I don’t need to worry about it, if indeed I focus fully and sincerely on god who is my inner Self.”
I was grateful to Indian wisdom and read not only about philosophy, but also about the life stories of those sages and their lives touched me. Slowly my attitude to life changed. It became clearer what it means to live a meaningful life and it became clear that I wanted to live a meaningful life: If there is basically only one essence responsible for all appearances of this world (and it seemed sensible to me), then I want to make this essence the focus of my life. And I prayed deeply: Please help me. Let me see the truth.
Daily darshans of Anandamayi Ma, who resided at that time in Dehradun, helped me to keep in contact with the Divine and made me aware that this contact is always present. The entries into my diary turned into a conversation with god.
One day I was invited for tea by a family who were friends of my landlord. My landlord was a Christian and his friend was a protestant priest. I soon discovered the reason for the invitation. They had observed me going for darshan of Anandamayi Ma every evening and wanted to bring me back to the ‘right path’.
“What benefit do you get from going to this woman? What can she offer you? Jesus is your saviour. He died for you on the cross. Don’t you know that you were born into the best of all religions? Hinduism is no equal for Christianity. God has revealed himself in Christianity. Hinduism is only a nature religion. They worship all kinds of things”, he started.
It was a strange situation: an Indian missionary trying to make a westerner a faithful Christian again. I replied that only in India I found back to god – a god that makes sense to me – and asked him, whether he is not happy about it. I simply cannot accept that the church presents god as eternally separated from us humans and regards man as a sinner. I also don’t believe in eternal damnation. It makes more sense to me that everyone is permeated by god and finally will consciously merge with him. I also told him that I felt it was very wrong to try to convert Hindus to Christianity, as Indian wisdom comes much closer to truth and the Hindu concept of god is far more solid and won’t collapse if one intelligently and intensely enquires into it.
I had earlier met Christian missionaries. “Even sadhus come to our talks in Rishikesh”, a Canadian missionary who had a whole box of small pocket Bibles to distribute and gave me one, once proudly told me. “Do you offer anything to eat?” I asked. “Only tea and biscuits”, he answered.
Even though I have no sympathy for Christian missionaries, the pocket bible was welcome. Now I could compare it with Indian wisdom and discovered several quotes in the gospel which were in tune with it. For example: “The kingdom of god is within you”. Or “I and my father are one.” “First look for the kingdom of god. Everything else will be given unto you.” “Don’t worry about the morrow”, and so on.
Unfortunately, those sayings are not given much weight in official Christianity, because the Church stresses on other aspects. The opinion of St. Paul, which he propounded in his letters, carries a lot of weight. He claimed that Jesus was the only indigenous son of god and that through his death and resurrection he saved mankind. It is all about belief, for it is impossible to know whether St. Paul is right. In fact common sense says that he may not be right. Yet whoever does not believe those dogmas is damned according to the Church. Belief is demanded. An intense, subjective enquire into truth is unwelcome.
Generally the Christian theologians don’t look for the truth, as Hindu sages do. They are not concerned with the welfare of all people, but foremost with the welfare of the Church and then maybe with the welfare of Christians. One’s own, subjective experience of truth is not accepted as touchstone and mystics who experienced truth and openly talked about it, were excommunicated, like Meister Eckhart or they were burnt to death during the Inquisition. Even today the Pope can order members of the church not to speak out. It happened to the German monk Pater Willigis Jaeger only a few years ago.
The Christian theologians try to justify dogmas in hair-splitting ways and are jealously guarding the boundaries to other faiths. Christianity depends on boundaries, in contrast to the Indian tradition, which reveres not only Ram and Krishna, but also Buddha as an avatara and might incorporate Jesus as well. Yet the Church will not allow it.
Some years ago, in a small Christian ashram in south India I met the head of all Benedictine monasteries worldwide, who was stationed in the Vatican. He had just come from Japan. “Do you think that one day the Church will agree that Hinduism can lead to the truth?” I asked the representative of the Vatican. “But this would go against the self-image of the church”, he answered. I was not surprised.
I really feel sorry that the Church obviously suffers from a superiority complex, which she also injects its members which she gains or ‘buys’ in India. In the west the superiority complex is not so obvious, because Christianity is the dominant religion and nobody questions its status. But here, on the Asian side of the earth, the claim that Christianity is better seems preposterous. Indians, however, rarely get into an argument. They are too generous for that.
I once asked a young village teacher, himself a Christian, how Christians and Hindus get along in the village. “Good”, he said. And added after some reflection, “The Christians think they have the better god and the Hindus let them think so.”
In Christianity, as well as in Islam, the concept of god means the one true, personal god, who seems to have clear preferences and dislikes. He sends those who don’t believe in him for ever into hell, and rewards his followers with heaven or paradise. And he wants that everyone should believe in him and sends his followers out to convert. The Christian god has only one indigenous son and the path to god leads exclusively via his son. And the Islamic god has a last prophet.
This type of god is a matter of belief and depends on the human mind, in the same way, as Krishna and Rama depend on the human mind. This type of god is not absolute. He is as it were a symbol for the formless truth. Yet the representatives of the Christian and Muslim god seemingly don’t realise that the symbol stands for the one, invisible and indescribable basis of everything, that god permeates Christians, Muslims and Hindus all the same, even animals and so called dead matter, and nothing would exist without him. They don’t realise that he is the one essence in everything in creation.
It is rather incomprehensible that such simple truth has not yet taken root in the Christian Occident, which considers itself highly intellectual. The reason may be that the intellectual elite is neither interested in god nor in Church, because not long ago the Church burnt scientists to death when they did not submit to the view that the earth was the flat centre of the universe. From that time onwards, the intellectual elite ignored religion and god as well. The Church finally had to admit that the earth is round and moves around the sun – a fact which was known in India since millennia. Yet she still demands the belief in dogmas which cannot be tested and often go against common sense. The free spirit of man is no doubt violated by such unreasonable demands to ‘confess belief’. No good can come out of this.
I talked recently to an Indian nun who works since many years in a hospital in Paraguay. She came to India for her holiday. She told me that religion no longer plays a role in the life of the people of Paraguay. “They have no faith in god and have no support in life. Only festivals they celebrate with great gusto. That is the only thing which is left of religion”, she said.
She frightened me. Christian missionaries are extremely active in India, and I became afraid that even Indians, who have so much faith and trust in god and who include him so much in their daily life, that even they could lose their faith, if they convert to Christianity.
Those who are targeted by missionaries are mainly from lower classes and convert due to inducements which have nothing to do with religion. And they will have to recite the ‘Nicene creed’, which in all likelihood will not make any sense to them. And if belief is enforced and not comprehensible, how can it be a source of joy and give strength of character in daily life?
The price they and their children will pay for some material benefits at the time of conversion is high in the long term, not only individually, but also for the society as a whole.
by Maria Wirth