Following my recent trip to Mumbai, I noticed that Western Christians may have a lot to learn from our Christian brothers and sisters in India and their Spiritual practice of ‘Interculturation’, a wonderful Myriad of Indian customs and beliefs interwoven into Christianity.
When Christ himself appeared totally opposed to organized religion, why is it that Western Christianity seems scared getting into dialogue with the spiritual practices of Hinduism and Buddhism? Or indeed the ancient Shamanic practices of Abraham, Moses and of course Jesus. Christianity, when practiced as Christ intended does bring some valuable teachings to Hinduism. Gandhi himself recognised that at the living heart of the faith is the person of Jesus Christ, a figure of selfless love and compassion, who taught his followers that if they give a feast they should invite the poor, the crippled, and the lame. Gandhi also recognised that many Christians find it inconvenient to practice this aspect of Christ’s teaching. Gandhi was quoted as saying “I like your Christ but I don’t like your Christians”
As we sit today in our connected material world, it is surely also time to recognise that Mankind is all one human family guided by the one God. Christianity in India appears to be increasingly seeing Hinduism and Christianity in sync with each other, thereby disentangling the confused multi layered identity of being a ‘Hindu Christian ‘by recognising that whatever our human situation the God we face is ‘One’. In the original Aramaic teachings of Jesus, followers give praise and gratitude to a free flowing God, and had a love all life forms while being unbound by the doctrine of any organised institution……It is also notable that Jesus, his brothers and Disciples were vegetarian which again is in sync with the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism. Perhaps what is happening in India today is getting closer to what Christianity originally looked like.
In India Meditation and Yoga practices in the Vedic tradition help Christians understand that all Spiritual laws operate through one universal God that transcends the issues of faith and nationality. Some Christian institutions in India such as the Fr Agnel ashram in Pune, India, will not ordain priests unless they take a Vipassana course. Most Indian seminaries even have courses on Indian philosophy. In many Christian ashrams in India today, you may encounter a vegetarian kitchen, Sanskrit verses, along with meditation, yoga and the practice of noble silence.
Fr Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, was among the front-runners of inculturation. Through one of his first published works Sadhana (Contemplation), he helped several Christians realize that Indian forms of contemplation were not only compatible with Christianity, but also complementary. Integration is clearly one of the key benefits of inculturation, for it gives Christians a sanction to discover their Indian roots.
Even the Churches themselves are very different in India. The exception being St. Thomas’s in Mumbai which was built for British Christians at the time of British Colonial rule. Christians in India are greeted at the doors of the Church by flower sellers making garlands to drape at the feet of Christ or Mother Mary. Inside devoted followers sit cross legged facing Christ and chanting prayers. Around the floor are the typical accompaniments to Indian puja (prayer ritual), these include food offerings of rice and platters of fruit, one could easily be in a Hindu Temple.
The practice of inculturation may have been the nature of Indian Christianity before the West entered. Christianity in India is believed to have been introduced in AD 52 when Thomas the Apostle came to Malankara, Kerala (a southern Indian State). Thomas converted many caste Hindus and established a church that was Indian in custom and Christian in faith. In early Indian Christianity belief in the divinity of Jesus sat alongside belief in karma, reincarnation, lighting of lamps and distribution of Prasad. In the beginning Indian Christians made a distinction between religion and culture, however when the Portuguese came to Kerala in the 16th century, they gave Christianity a western orientation, eliminating the Indian elements and introducing the Latin rites of Roman Catholicism. In many ways Indian Christianity is returning to its early roots of Indian spirituality, perhaps a more enriched version of Western Christianity.
Other posts that may be of interest:
Christian teachings in Eastern Form: Anthony de Mello, Meditations on the Aramanic Lords Prayer: Aramaic Lords Prayer , Joining Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism with Judeo- Christianity: The Jesus Sutras , The enlightened wisdom of Gandhi Gandhi and The beauty of the Jain Hindu based sect who do no harm to any living thing Jainism,