Sannyasins or Swindlers?
Hinduism Today, a bimonthly1 published by the Saiva Siddhanta Church with headquarters in Hawaii, U.S.A., carried an article, ‘Catholic Ashrams: Adopting and Adapting Hindu Dharma’, in its issue of November-December, 1986. It noticed particularly the Saccidananda Ashram at Shantivanam in the Tiruchirapally District of Tamil Nadu. “The Shantivanam Ashram,” it said, “looks like a rishi’s home transported from Vedic times to the bank of sacred Cauvery River… A pilgrim’s first impressions are strong, and very Hindu; the elaborately colorful Hindu shrine; the bearded, saffron-robed ‘swami’ seated cross-legged on a straw mat; devotees practising yogic meditation, even chanting Hindu scriptures. But these impressions gradually prove false. First, the eye detects that the courtyard shrine is for Saint Paul and that ‘puja’ is actually a daily mass, complete with incense, arati, lamps, flower offerings and prasadam. Finally, one meets the ‘swami’, learning he is Father Bede ‘Dayananda’ Griffiths, a Christian ‘sannyasin’ of impeccable British background.”
The article raised an important question. “Are these places to be endorsed by Hindus as worthy attempts to share each other’s spirituality Or are they a spiritual oxymoron, a contradiction of terms, because Christians are interested in sharing - dialogue is the term they use - only as a means to conversions?” It also provided the answer by drawing a parallel. “A comparison,” a observed, “might best illustrate Hindu concerns. Let us imagine that one day a Muslim missionary arrives in a poor section of America such as a part of the Catholic Hispanic (Mexican origin) section of San Francisco. Well supplied with zeal and petrodollars from his own country, he learns Spanish, builds a Muslim cathedral along the lines of a Catholic building, outfitting it with pews, organs, choirs and so forth. Preaching from a Christian Bible appropriately edited according to the Koran, he puts on the clerical collar and black robes of a Catholic priest and holds Sunday services which look just like Mass, except that prayers are to Allah and Mohammed instead of Jesus. In ministering to the local people, he tells them that his Islamic faith is just a slight variation of Christianity, one which puts the crowning touches on it. Their fathers’ religion, Catholicism was, he says, flawed but it is a good preparation for Islam. He gives loans to those in need, which need not be repaid if one joins his Church. He opens an orphanage and raises the children as Muslims though their parents are Christians. When accused of deceiving the people, he says he is only adapting his religion to the local context and expressing his Muslim charity and divine call to evangelize.”
Soon after this article appeared, an interesting dialogue developed, independently, on the character and role of these “experiments in cross-cultural communication” or “contemplative hermitages that revolve round both Christian and Hindu ideals.” The Hindu point of view was presented by Swami Devananda Saraswati of Madras. Fr. Bede Griffiths himself came forward to present the Christian point of view.
The dialogue started when the Indian Express of Madras published on March 18, 1987, the summary of a talk which a Christian theologian, Dr. Robert Wayne Teasdale, had delivered on March 12. Describing Fr. Bede Griffiths as “Britain’s appropriate gift to India”, Dr. Teasdale had applauded the Saccidananda Ashram as ‘a place of dialogue reconciliation and experience in depth’ between Christianity and Hinduism. Shantivanam, he had said, was “the peace capital of the world.” Between March 25 and April 30, the newspaper published five letters from its Christian readers. Three of them supported Fr. Bede Griffiths’ experiment with Hindu symbols and sacred texts; the other two opposed it as a pollution and a move unauthorised by the Vatican. Finally, Dr. Teasdale came out with a rejoinder which was published in the Indian Express of June 1, 1987. He praised Fr. Bede Griffiths for the latter’s study of “the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Gita as well as other texts sacred to the Hindu tradition”, and explained that he (Fr. Bede) had adopted “elements of Hindu ritual and prayer not to ‘produce his own mix’ but rather to express the Christian faith in terms intelligible to Indians.”
It was at this point that Swami Devananda wrote a letter to the Indian Express. “Ten years ago,” he said, “I suggested to a papal nuncio that I might don a friar’s habit and preach Hinduism in the Italian countryside. I was promptly warned that I would be charged with impersonating a cleric and public mischief, as Roman Catholicism was the protected state religion and in full control of Italian education. Hinduism is neither protected nor India’s state religion and we find priests like Bede Griffiths in the garb of Hindu sannyasis preaching Christianity in the Tamil countryside… Bede Griffiths has no grasp at all of the Indian psyche. It must be brought to his attention that he is meddling with the soul of a very old and sophisticated people by continuing his experiments at Shantivanam.”
The Indian Express did not publish this letter. But its copy which had been endorsed to Fr. Bede Griffiths, elicited from him a reply on June 17. “The ochre robe,” he said, “is the sign of sannyasa and sannyasa according to ancient Hindu tradition signifies renunciation of all worldly ties, the transcendence of all ‘dharmas’, that is, all social bonds, whether social or religious… Today we feel more than ever the need to go beyond the limitations of the different religions and seek for the source of unity which can unite them in the service of humanity. This is how we understand sannyasa in our ashram and why we feel justified in wearing the ochre robe. I may say that in all my more than thirty years in India I have never before known a Hindu sannyasi object to this… We see in this one way of bridging the gulf between Hindus and Christians and working towards that unity among religions for which the world is looking today.”
Swami Devananda replied on July 21. After explaining how “the sannyasin is the very embodiment of Sanatana Dharma, “ he said, “The Church does not recognise a priest outside of the apostolic succession of Peter, and we do not recognise a priest outside the Hindu parampara. In that you are a Roman priest and a Benedictine monk, you cannot possibly be a sannyasin; it is verily a contradiction in terms... Christianity, from its very inception to today, has subsumed and subverted the deities, symbols, rituals and philosophies of the peoples it wishes to conquer. This activity which is imperial and not spiritual, must cease before hostilities and mistrust will die; hostilities, by the way, that we never invited in the first place. By trying to justify your position as it is now, you impugn Hinduism, slur sannyasa, rout reason, ruin meaning, mutilate categories, transpose symbols, deny sacred convention and usage, profane principles, philosophise, and generally present an argument that is oxymoronic.”
Fr. Bede Griffiths wrote back on July 23: “You are anxious to establish Hinduism as a separate religion with its own unique doctrine and symbols which differentiate it from other religions. But most Hindus hold the opposite view and maintain with Ramakrishna and Vivekananda that all religions are essentially the same and differ only in accidental characteristics which can be ignored. I have myself difficulties in accepting this position but I would have said that it is the prevailing view among educated Hindus to-day…2 Perhaps my chief quarrel with you is that you are trying to institutionalise Hinduism, to turn it into a sectarian religion, which seems to me to be the opposite of its true character. I feel that you do the same to Catholicism. That Catholicism has a strong institutional character I do not deny, but I would say that there is something in Catholicism which transcends its institutionalised character as there is in Hinduism and that is what matters… Our search today is to go beyond the institutional structure of religion and discover the hidden mystery which is at the heart of all religion. It is this that sannyasa means to me.” He quoted in his support what Swami Abhishiktananda (Fr. Henri la Saux), another ‘Christian sannyasin’ and his predecessor in the Saccidananda Ashram, had written about sannyasa.
Swami Devananda replied on July 30: “I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt (as do many of my brothers). I am not able to do so because the inherent tolerance and secularism of Hinduism has been abused by your kind too long. I appreciate that you do not want a sectarian Hinduism, for that would directly threaten your own vested interests… Church motives are always suspect when they are not openly vicious, and the means she employs to further her own wicked ends has never had any relationship to the ideals she preaches at others. You have been in India long enough to know that we idolaters are more interested in what we see than what we hear. We want action, right action, not words... You preach the transcendence of religion but remain yourself an official of a sectarian religion... And not only are you a Roman priest, but the moment you get into trouble you run to mummy Church for financial, emotional, moral, psychological, and doctrinal aid. How is this foreign and first allegiance going to bring about the Indianisation of Christianity, much less the transcendence of religion? Yet you have the insolence to suggest that Hinduism not organise herself in her hour of need. You will teach us religious transcendence from the very pit of religious institutionalism, a pit we have not fallen into in 10,000 years. I think your motives are clear; indeed, the idea is worthy of a Jesuit! We will transcend our dharma and the Roman Church will happily reap the benefits of our foolishness, being already on the scene to fill in the void we leave behind us. If you were remotely serious about the spiritual ideals expressed in your letter, you would renounce the Church forthwith and humbly place yourself in the hands of God. Hinduism has always been a commonwealth of religious and spiritual institutions, some highly sectarian, though we have avoided the curse of centralisation. There are times when centralisation is justified, when the Hindus of conviction must work together for a common goal. This is not sectarianism; it is common sense. I do think Dayananda and Vivekananda would agree with me here. Shankara himself institutionalised sannyas for the same reason that the institution must be revitalised today: to protect dharma. We have always maintained and practised the spiritual ideal of transcending institutional limitations, and have succeeded where others have failed because our spiritual disciplines demand that the correct means be employed. The first injunction observed by all seekers is that they do not interfere with, bastardise, or destroy the culture, traditions, symbols, and religion that support them on their journey, even when they have passed beyond these institutions. And passing beyond these institutions does not mean meddling with them on the way. God has always given us reformers when we need them. Do you qualify, Bede Griffiths?”
Fr. Bede Griffiths wrote back on July 31: “It is clear from all you say that you are a fundamentalists.3 #3 Whether Hindu or Christian or Buddhist or Muslim, a fundamentalist is one who clings to the outward forms of religion and loses sight of the inner spirit... Nothing could be further from the spirit of the great Hindus of the past, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi or Ramalinga Swamigal. They remained firmly Hindu in their religion but were open to the spirit of truth in Christianity and in all other religions. I consider myself a Christian in religion but Hindu in spirit, just as they were Hindus in religion while being Christian in Spirit…4 It is obvious that we differ fundamentally in our understanding both of Hinduism and of Christianity and indeed of religion in general, so I will not continue this correspondence.”5
But Swami Devananda did not give up. He wrote on August 7: “I had hoped that when you took refuge in humbug jargon, I would at least rate above a superstitious fundamentalist. Chinmayananda is often dubbed a communalist, and I was looking forward to some dramatic monotheistic curse like Great Satan or Antichrist… it remains that you have avoided every specific issue, with generalisations and specious philosophising; it remains that you exploit our tolerance, secularism, and hospitality; it remains that you abuse and pervert our symbols and traditions to your own motivated missionary ends… You have not transcended religion and you have no intention of doing so, whatever your pious declarations. You have an overriding ambition to subvert and subsume us with our own spiritual concepts, just as Paul subverted and subsumed the Greeks with their’s. As you see parallels in history, so do we, and we are thus forearmed. We will not be meekly sold down the river like Constantine !… I am not the protector of Sanatana Dharma; Narayana is the only protector of Dharma. This is an awful truth for you to admit, Bede Griffiths, and one that neither you nor I will escape.”
The dialogue remained at a standstill for some days. It was resumed after Swami Devananda had studied the writings of Fr. J. Monchanin, the founder of the Saccidananda Ashram, who also had taken to the ochre robe and named himself Swami Param Arubi Anandam. He had written frankly and in a straightforward manner that Christianity should use Hindu philosophy and cultural forms in order to subvert Hinduism. Swami Devananda brought these writings to the notice of Fr. Bede Griffiths. “I discover,” he wrote on August 27, “that his writings directly confirm my suspicions about your motives and activities in India... This being the case, you have no moral authority to address or advise seekers of Truth.”
Fr. Bede Griffiths replied on August 31: “Of course, if I held the same view as Father Monchanin, you would be justified in suspecting me of deception. But you must remember that Father Monchanin was writing forty years ago and immense changes have taken place in the Church since then. The Vatican Council introduced a new understanding of the relation of the Church to other religions and all of us have been affected by this. Swami Abhishiktananda (Fr. le Saux) in particular early separated himself from Fr. Monchanin, especially after his profound experience with Raman Maharshi at Tiruvanamalai...6 you must realise also that the view which I hold is not peculiar to me. It is approved by the authorities of the Church both in India and in Rome. Many Catholics, of course, will not agree with it, but the understanding of the relation of the Church to other religions is only slowly growing and there are many different views in the Church today.”
Swami Devananda’s reply which he wrote on September 7, deserves to be quoted at some length. He said:
There is no evidence that the Church has changed her wicked ways in the last forty years. On the contrary, since the checks placed on the Church by the British were removed, she has been busy making hay in our tolerant secular sunshine. The methods of conversion have changed, but the Church’s ancient ambition for world dominion has not changed. The Pope himself contributes over fifty million dollars a year towards missionary work worldwide, and this does not include the vaster sums of money available to Christian evangelists of all persuasions for their so-called charities. What has happened in the Church is that the term ‘heathen’ has been changed to ‘non-Christian’ (with the prayer that the ‘non’ will soon disappear). There have also been some unctuous platitudes uttered about our spiritual heritage at official functions. Rome, in her eternal conceit, thinks we will accept the facelift at face value and not probe into the heart of the person who wears the mask. This presumption itself is an example of patronising Christian arrogance. If the Church had in fact changed her ways then the dirty work of converting our poor and humble masses to Christianity would have long ago ceased!…
You do not need Church sanction to experiment with Hindu traditions and symbols or call yourself a sannyasin. You do need - and refuse to seek - the sanction of traditional Hindu authorities. Hindus do not recognise Church decrees vis-a-vis acts that affect them and their religious culture. Your declarations of Church approval is part bluff, part appeal. As we do not permit you to stand on our head, you seem to think we will permit the Church to stand there instead. This is exactly the message your bastard symbol of Omkara and cross conveys to us. We utterly reject both the symbol and the message…
Except as a psychological curiosity, I am no more interested in your personal beliefs than I am in those held by the political commissar at the local Russian consulate. Like him, you will argue that my beliefs compel me to respect your beliefs and thus accept your actions, even if they are detrimental to my traditions. I am very interested in your actions and how they affect Hinduism, and I do not accept them. I have said this before and it is what lies at the heart of my letters. In reply, you manifest that syndrome the Germans call vorbeireden, translated as ‘talking-past-the-point’. This is a tactic to avoid contact with relevant issues. It often involves deceit and/ or self-deceit; but it does not mean that you misunderstand the situation. It is a verbose device to circumvent truth; and this, I concede sadly, is exactly what you have done. I really think it is time for some serious introspection.
I have read Christ in India: your expressed attitudes and ambitions for us are little different from Monchanin’s.”
In his book, Christ in India, written in 1966 and reprinted in 1986, only an year before this dialogue took place, Fr. Bede Griffiths had left no one in doubt that Hindu philosophies and cultural forms were to be used for conveying Christianity. Only his language was less straightforward than that of Fr. Monchanin. So was the language of Fr. Henry le Saux who was the successor of Fr. Monchanin at Saccidanand Ashram and who went about as Swami Abhishiktananda, proclaiming that he had reconciled Hinduism and Christianity in his experience of the Advaita!
A few more letters were exchanged. Finally, Fr. Bede Griffiths insisted on his right to use the Hindu symbol, OM, in his letter dated October 16. He said, “Of course, Om is by no means confined to Hinduism. It is found in Buddhism as well. Would you like to write to the Dalai Lama and tell him to stop the Tibetan people from using their most sacred mantra; Om mani padma hum?”7
Swami Devananda replied on October 21: “Apparently you know as little about Buddhism as you do about Hinduism, both of which are Sanatana Dharma. They have the same roots and traditions and usages and a mutual spiritual ideal that goes far beyond their differences. This is not true of the Semitic ideologies, which by their own definition, claim to be superior, unique and exclusive. Voitaire warned of these closed creeds when he wrote: ‘The man who says to me, Believe as I do or God will damn you, will presently say to me, Believe as I do or I will kill you.’ Think about this carefully, Father Bede, for you are the ordained representative of one of these creeds. And you seem to know even less about mantra than you do about Sanatana Dharma.”
This dialogue about Christian missionaries masquerading as Hindu sannyasins continued, off and on, in the columns of the Indian Express of Madras. Some Hindus showed awareness of the true character of Christianity and its missionary methods. Others saw no harm in Christian missionaries taking to the ochre robe and using Hindu symbols in their worship; they felt that this was the way for the two religions to come together and work for common good. Goodwill, however, is no substitute for knowledge. And that is what most of our men of goodwill seem to lack. They will do well by reading some of the books in which Christian missionaries have expounded their strategies.
The article in Hinduism Today and the dialogue between Swami Devananda and Fr. Bede Griffiths alerted me, and made me look up the literature on Indigenisation (Acculturation) and the Christian Ashram Movement. Here I hit pay-dirt as they say in detective stories. The literature was quite frank about missionary intentions. I was, now equipped to quote chapter and verse in proof of the stark truth that Indigenisation was no more than a mission strategy calculated to rope in Hindu philosophies, Hindu schools of Bhakti, and Hindu cultural forms in the service of Christianity. The Christian Ashram Movement, I discovered, was a predatory enterprise inaugurated in the early years of the seventeenth century by an abominable scoundrel, Robert Di Nobili of the Society of Jesus, who had masqueraded as a Brahmana from Rome, who had claimed to be in possession of the lost Yajurveda, and who had succeeded in baptising some Hindus before he was found out. The very fact that this scoundrel became and had remained the patron saint of Indigenisation was speaking volumes about its true character. Starting with Fr. Monchanin of the Saccidananda Ashram at Shantivanam, Fr. Henri le Saux and Fr. Bede Griffiths were in the same game. The book, Christ in India, by Bede Griffiths was giving a call which was loud and clear, namely, that Hindu civilization was to be taken over by ‘Hindu Christians’ as the ‘Greek Fathers’ of the Church had taken over the Greek civilization.
The outcome of this research on my part was a book, Catholic Ashrams: Adopting and Adapting Hindu Dharma, published by VOICE OF INDIA in 1988. It included four articles from Hinduism Today and the dialogue between Swami Devananda Saraswati and Fr. Bede Griffiths. A Preface was provided by me, documenting the Indigenisation strategy in some detail from impeccable Christian sources. Hindu readers found the book revealing. Christian missionary circles, on the other hand, felt upset. Christian Ashrams had been functioning so far without any fear of Hindus knowing their true character. Now on, they had the feeling that they were being watched by a vigilant Hindu society. Fr. Griffiths’ stock fell even in Christian circles. The number of visitors to his ‘Ashram’ declined. He had been found out.
I happened to be the Treasurer of the Abhishiktananda Society in Delhi for a number of years. I had joined the Society at a time when I believed that the talk about Hindu Christian dialogue was sincere. Now that I had exposed it as a strategy, my Christian friends in the Society felt pained, particularly at what I had written about Abhishiktananda after whom the Society was named. They tried to convince me that although Abhishiktananda had started as a missionary, he had changed in later years. One of them, Vandana Mataji who runs a Christian Ashram at Rishikesh and has written a book on the subject, protested, politely in my presence but vehemently elsewhere. It became her wont to describe me as a ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ in Christian publications in this country and abroad. I was also attacked as a ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ by a Catholic lady writer in a book published in Belgium in 1990. Some other notices of the same kind were reported by friends in a few other countries.
There was another sequel to the Devananda-Griffiths dialogue in early 1990. Shri Ram Swarup has the laudable habit of erring on the side of generosity. He had a distinct feeling that Swami Devananda and I had been unnecessarily hard on Fr. Bede Griffiths - Swami Devananda- in his letters and I in my Preface to the book -, and that the man was after all not that bad. So he decided to try out Fr. Bede on his own. He sent to Fr. Bede a copy of his review of The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Towards a Pluralistic Theology of Religion edited by John Hick and Paul F. Knitter and published in the USA in 1988. The review had appeared in The Statesman on 14 January 1990.
Fr. Bede thanked Ram Swarup in a letter dated 17 February 1990 and offered a few comments. “This openess to other religions,” he said, “has always been present in Christianity from the beginning, though the opposite attitude of rejection has generally prevailed. The Bible itself, though it became more and more exclusive, always had an opening for the ‘Gentiles’… The God of Izrael was always conceived as the God of all humanity, although interest centres more and more exclusively on Izrael. In the same way Jesus in the New Testament goes out of his way to proclaim the presence of God among other nations…” He also struck a personal note as he wrote, “When I was received into the Catholic Church in 1930 it was this belief in the presence of God among all nations that I accepted. Still I admit that it was rare and it was only at the Vatican Council in 1960 that it was officially acknowledged by the Church. For me this was only the formal acceptance of what I have always believed and practised.” He concluded by saying that “we all have to learn how to be true to our own religion while we are critical of its limitations and to be equally true to the values of other religions while we recognize their limitations.”
Ram Swarup replied on 31 March 1990 and commented that Fr. Bede’s “personal history is not merely interesting but it encourages me to make a personal confession.” He went on to relate how he, like “all or most Hindus”, had started by believing that “all religions say the same things”, but had to “reflect deeply on the subject” after going through the following, among other books:
1. The Encyclopaedia of Religions and Ethics in 12 volumes.
“It was my first contact with ‘liberal’ Christianity,” proceeded Ram Swarup, “and I thought it was the old missionary ‘war with other means’. After twelve years or so I wrote an article on ‘liberal’ Christianity. I am sending a copy of this article… I find that it also mentions you briefly.” At the same time, Ram Swarup drew Fr. Bede’s attention to how mainstream Christianity was continuing to wage a relentless war against other religions while maintaining the pretence of studying those religions and holding a dialogue with them. “They talk of ‘dialogues’ but they are determined that their victims should reach the same conclusions as they do. Their means are flexible, but their aims are fixed. The situation and the truth of the matter demands that we look, not on their arguments but on their mind.” He enclosed another article with his letter. It was his review of Seven Hundred Plans to Evangelize the World. The Rise of Global Evangelization Movement by David B. Barrett and James W. Reapsome published in 1989 by the AD- 2000 Series. The review had appeared in The Statesman dated 25 March 1990.
Fr. Bede was quick to come out in his true colours. “I am not quite sure,” he barked in his letter of 6 April 1990, “what your purpose is in your attack on Christianity and Christian Missions. Is it simply to foment communal strife in India between Christians and Hindus, or have you some deeper purpose? If you want to attack Christianity itself, you will have to make a far deeper study of it than you have yet done. Above all you have to recognise the profound wisdom and goodness to be found in it, as all unbiased Hindus have done…”
I too had had some correspondence with Fr. Bede in 1988 before the first edition of Catholic Ashrams was- published. I had found that the Father did not want Hindus to look into missionary methods but concentrate on the “evils in Hindu society” instead. In his reply of 6 April 1990 to Ram Swarup, Fr. Bede referred to this correspondence and said, “I suggested to Mr. Sita Ram Goel that you should both make a study of the shady side of Hinduism if you want to be honest… How do you account for the fact that with all its long tradition of wisdom and spirituality, India today is generally considered one of the most corrupt and immoral countries in the world?… I suggested to Mr. Goel that the Voice of India might well make a special study of various aspects of Hinduism. I suggested as a beginning the history of human sacrifice and temple prostitution from the earliest times to the present day… Another institution is the practice of sorcery and magic… Above all, of course, there is the problem of untouchability. Surely one of the greatest crimes in the history of religion. These things should be known and faced by those who defend Hinduism…”
It was the old story once again. - The Christian missionary was telling the Hindus, “Please keep on with self-flagellation and breast-beating about the wicked society in which you live. We will take care of your salvation.” In other words, the bandit wanted his victim to look the other way so that he could occupy the latter’s house. The ruse had succeeded eminently. A whole battery of Hindu-baiters had come forward to play the Christian missionary’s game. Some of them were employed by the missionary apparatus, while most of them were doing voluntary service to the same racket. It had become their whole time occupation to keep Hindus on the defensive, while the Christian missionary reaped his harvest of converts. It never occurred to these knaves and fools that the Christian missionary whom they were aping and helping was viewed in the modern West as a maniac whom it was better to dump abroad with a bag of money.
Fr. Bede had sent to Ram Swarup with his first letter of 17 February 1991 a copy of his Hibbert Lecture delivered in 1989. Ram Swarup had been impressed by it. But now he was face to face with a different Fr. Bede. He acknowledged Fr. Bede’s letter of April 6 in his own letter of April 24, and wrote. ‘It is so different from your Hibbert Lecture which probably presented a more formal and public face, while the letter revealed a more conventional traditional-Christian or missionary visage. It was surprising that it took so little to surface so readily.’ Fr. Bede’s accusation that Ram Swarup’s articles were aimed at creating “communal strife between Christians and Hindus” was pinned down by him as “the language of blackmail and even threat to which Hindus are often subjected when they show any sign of stir.”
He proceeded to point out that Fr. Bede had said “not a word” about “missionary Christianity, its theology, its apparatus and plans” with which the articles sent to him had dealt. ‘As a missionary,’ conceded Ram Swarup, “probably you think that the missionary apparatus is innocent and indeed we should be thankful to it for the spiritual aid it offers.” At the same time he asked, “Why do you put on hurt looks if they [Hindus] do not take this apparatus at its Christian face value and look at it in the light of historical evidence and their own experience?”
Coming to Fr. Bede’s advice that Ram Swarup had to “make a far deeper study” of Christianity in order to discover ‘the profound wisdom and goodness in it’, Ram Swarup observed that he had studied Christianity for quite some time and from its most orthodox sources. “I must admit that to a scholar like you, my studies of Christianity must appear to be inadequate particularly when they have not led me to your conclusions. But I must beg you to take into consideration scores of others of impeccable Christian scholarship, whose scholarship is at least as good as your own, who have failed to find that ‘profound wisdom and goodness’ claimed by you in Christianity. On the contrary, they found in it arrogance, exclusive claims, contentious spirit, superstitions, lack of charity. Other scholars found that whatever was good and true in Christianity was found in other cultures and traditions as well but whatever was claimed to be special and unique to it - like virgin birth, resurrection, sole Sonship - was just make-believe and not of much worth…”
There was nothing new in Fr. Bede’s charge that India today is generally considered one of the most corrupt and immoral countries in the world. “I have no means,” commented Ram Swarup, “of ranking India in the moral scale, but I can readily believe that its place in the missionary world you inhabit must be very low, and it must also be low wherever the missionary influence reaches.” Missionaries had been painting India black for several centuries. “Vivekananda had spoken of the mud which missionaries have thrown on India, an amount which not all the mud in the ocean-bed will equal.” Many Christian networks in the USA at present were singing the same tune. Pat Robertson, a presidential candidate in the USA in 1989, had said, “Satan, beasts, demons. Destruction of soul in hell. That is what Hinduism is all about.” Dayspring International had described India as “without spiritual hope” and quoted Mother Teresa as saying that Hindus were hungering for Jesus Christ.
Regarding Fr. Bede’s advice about studies to be undertaken by VOICE OF INDIA, Ram Swarup wondered as to what was to be their scope. “Would the proposed study of human sacrifice, for example, include religions in which human sacrifice and even cannibalism form the central part of their theology and where they celebrate them daily in their most sacred rites?… Will it cover temple prostitutes, male and female, at Jerusalem often mentioned in the Bible? Will it include nunneries and monasteries, and the whole system of ‘consecration of virgins’ where the morals are often described, not always without documentation, in the language you use for the Devadasi system?… You want a study of ‘sorcery and magic’… You must be knowing that the first Christians pastors were known to be magicians and exorcists and that every church had its exorcists. Even now exorcism is central to baptism... John Wesley, the founder of Methodists, said that ‘giving up witchcraft is in effect giving up the Bible’.”
Finally, Ram Swarup informed Fr. Bede that VOICE OF INDIA “cannot undertake studies, you have proposed” and that Christian missionaries should stop dictating how Hindus should look at themselves. “Too often the missionaries have set our agenda for us. They taught us how to look at ourselves through their eyes. What they found wrong with us, we found wrong with ourselves. Voice of India wants that Hindus use their own eyes in looking at themselves and - also in looking at others.”
Fr. Bede chose not to reply to Ram Swarup’s letter and carry the dialogue further. He was not the first Christian missionary nor likely to be the last to run away when faced with stark facts and straight logic. But one thing must have become clear to him, namely, that Hindus were no more in a mood to take it lying down, and that Hindus had started seeing through the patent game of a predatory ideologies masquerading as religion.
Christian missionaries like Fr. Bede Griffiths have been trained in and practised double-think and double-speak for so long that they seem to know no more the difference between honesty and deceit. Their writings on mission strategy leave no doubt that they are out to undo Hinduism. But in their tactical writings, particularly in Hindu journals, they pretend to be better Hindus than the Hindus themselves. They themselves remain tied, hand and foot, to closed dogmas and authoritarian institutions. Yet they call upon Hindus to transcend everything and ascend into a startosphere where anything can mean anything. They themselves do not believe that all religions say the same things. Yet they try to silence Hindus by presenting this proposition. Readers of the earlier dialogues in this book know what Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi stood for. Yet our Bede Griffiths will have us believe that these great Hindus endorsed Christianity in the same way as they did Hinduism. A creed which breeds such dubious and double-faced characters raises many questions for which Hindus will have to find adequate answers.
The exchange between
Ram Swarup and Fr. Bede Griffiths was included in the second and enlarged
editions of Catholic Ashrams published in 1994. Meanwhile, more
letters to the editor on the subject of Christian Ashrams and the
mission strategy of Indigenisation had come to our notice. They were also
included in the new compilation. The subtitle of the publication was changed
from Adopting and Adapting Hindus Dharma to Sannyasins or swindlers?
to make it more appropriate.
2 This shows the mischief created by Mahatma Gandhi’s and Ramakrishna Mission’s slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhAva. It also shows the depravity of the missionary mind. Fr. Bede is not at all ashamed of using a doctrine to which he does not subscribe.
3 The word ‘fundamentalist’ was in the air as a pejorative term at that time. All sorts of secularists were bandying it around without ever explaining as to what it meant. An official of the Catholic Church calling a Hindu sannyasin fundamentalist sounds like a Stalinist naming Mahatma Gandhi as ‘fascist’.
4 In this instance, Fr. Bede illustrates the Christian maxim of the Devil quoting the scriptures
5 The Christian missionary is always quick to run away from a dialogue if it does not develop as per rules laid down by him.
6 Here Fr. Bede was lying with a straight face. His writings as well as those of Fr. le Saux, penned years after the Vatican II, leave no doubt that they shared the strategy of Fr. Monchanin. The cat has now been brought out of the bag by no less a person than Raimundo Panikkar, the guru of the current mission strategy in India. Speaking at a seminar in Lyons, France, held on April 5-7, 1995, he said, “Monchanin is, with Le Saux, the founder of Shantivanam. Shantivanam lives on today in the tradition of the Trinity transmitted by its two founders and the last guru of the ashram, Father Bede Griffiths’ (Bulletin of the Abhishiktananda Society, No. 17, January 1996, p. 115).
7 Strictly speaking, ‘Om’ is not a symbol but a mantra. It has, however, become one in usage over the last 20-30 years to identify Hinduism.