I’ve often tried to imagine how I would react if a young man, radiating authority, looked at me and said, “Mini, leave everything and follow me. Leave your husband, your work, your home, your comfortable life… there is something you have to do.” Used as I am to sacred geography, sacred animals and sacred trees, indeed a miracle on every street corner, I might ask myself, “Is there some quality here….?”
I believe I would investigate.
If the young man spoke mysteriously about buried treasure, a kingdom I couldn’t see, triumph through death, I might still persist, drawn to him by years of a false belief that there was some truth to be found outside of myself
If he said, “You need only one sari” I would believe it because the state that is most widely admired in India is that of the ascetic but I would say, “No, I need two saris in order to be clean.”
If he said, “Love your neighbour,” I would agree.
If he said, “Blessed are the merciful,” I would agree.
If he said, “Love your enemy,” I might hesitate but know, as anyone else would, that to offer passive strength in the face of abuse calls for a powerful current of love and compassion. Chanakya had advised his king, “Rule with love. If you cannot, rule in fear because your subjects can turn against you at any moment if they know you don’t love them.”
No committed Hindu would disagree with any of Christ’s teachings. But — and here is the tough cheese — such a man said all these things in a non-Hindu environment. I wonder why there were places where his messages made no impact at all. His native district drove him away. In others they caused only a small stir and were soon forgotten. He could assemble a crowd of admirers but it was just as easy to move a mob against him.
If he had said to me , “It doesn’t matter if you don’t read or recite or do parayana but it will matter if you are unkind and discriminate amongst the people you interact with; and if you pretend to be pious you might as well go and lie down in the burning ghat,” would I have agreed?
As a Hindu I would have had to agree.
Chapter 5 of the Bhagavad Gita talks of samadarshana, making no distinction between a sadhu, an elephant, a dog or an eater of dog meat. Chapter 13 talks of the virtues we need to practise if we are to progress at all, spiritually — honesty, humility, non-violence, forgiveness, gratitude…
Why did a great many people find it impossible to accept Jesus or follow him? Jesus of Nazareth was a rabbi, learned in his faith, but the core of his message could not be contained in the Jewish framework though he repeatedly said that he had not come to overturn the scriptures.
But Jesus, son of Mary, linked his new ethics with a new interpretation of the divine and a new description of the mechanism of salvation. The ill, the unfit, the physically unclean, the mentally unstable, were all welcome in his Kingdom. How ironic that a new vision that began as a subaltern faith is today celebrated amidst gold and power, things the founder said were not to be accumulated. He did not need them while he lived. He does not need them now.