Monday, January 19, 2009

From Hindu to Orthodox: The Conversation Continues

Anjali has created quite a stir in the blogosphere with her post about her conversion to Orthodoxy from Hinduism via Baha'i. She had one person ask her some specifics from a Hindu perspective about the relevance of the resurrection for Christians. Since she took the time to try to explain her point of view in detail, I have dug out the question and the response from the comments section and onto its own post for all to read. Maybe it's time for Anjali to start her own blog?! (Not that I mind her using mine at all but she has plenty of fodder to keep a forum of her own going for quite some time!)

Interesting to read about Anjali's conversion to Orthodox Christianity. As a fellow spiritual traveler, I would like to better understand your statement, "As for Hinduism and other ancient faiths pre-dating Christ - I have not "discarded" them, I believe Christ fulfills them - basically, every way in which Baha'u'llah claims to be a fulfillment, I believe that is already found in Christ and the Christian faith.

How is Christ the fulfilment of the Hindu tradition? As someone born in the Hindu tradition, I still don't get, what is so special about Jesus's resurrection as you experienced it in the Eastern Orthodox Church as different from other Christian sects? Why does it feel different to you from the hundreds of miracles that is commonplace in Indian epics and puranas? Regards.

Dear fellow spiritual traveler,

Well you are definitely right in not seeing it spelled out in this blog post – I actually originally wrote this to respond to Orthodox Christians who were curious about my religious background, so I think I’ve left a lot out with the assumption they already understood it – plus I was trying to make it short, since you can already see how long it is :-)

Well, in the beginning, the resurrection made no difference to me – especially because of all of the miraculous/supernatural phenomena I had heard concerning various Hindu yogis and the Hindu myths as well. That was one of the reasons why I never cared when Christians talked about the resurrection – a) Hinduism had its own miracles; b) why would I care if someone else (Hindu or not) had a miracle anyway, it had no effect on me; c) why would I care about a bodily resurrection anyway, since as Hindu I viewed the body as a source of bondage. The first time I realized Christians wanted to rise from the dead in new bodies, I was revolted by the idea. I thought it sounded like some very primitive fairy tale idea compared to Hindu concepts of the body, birth, and death. In any case, I figured Jesus was an enlightened yogi-type figure or maybe even an avatar, that maybe he was just misunderstood. As a Hindu, I read the Gospels and thought it was about Vedanta. And I know there are Hindu gurus who have written volumes about the Gospels from this perspective.

For these reasons, I didn’t see Jesus as unique, and in some ways, less sophisticated than his Hindu counterparts. In the course of reading Hindu myths, I had grown accustomed to the idea of oral traditions changing, different versions of myths being handed down, of the essentially important message having more to do with symbolic meanings and metaphysical issues, not necessarily the outward details of these stories. I assumed the same had happened with Jesus. And I certainly noticed certain universal themes, the idea of God coming to earth to save his people reminded me of the avatars of Vishnu.

What got me more interested in Jesus was when I realized that we actually have quite a bit written about him with an effort to preserve what historically happened, not just to convey various spiritual messages. Despite what people say about how little we know, we know more about him than the true historical figure of Krishna. And as I began reading more about Judaism and the earliest Christians, I became convinced that these people were genuinely trying their hardest to preserve their sacred scripture without mistake, and that they were intending to preserve the history, not taking the freedom to change details to reveal a new moral story – and not basing everything on mystical experiences and visions either (thought some of that is in there too, of course).

I really overlooked Judaism and Christianity when I explored religions earlier, because they seemed kind of boring to me. Their were some miracles, but for the most part, it was a lot of history, and it didn’t seem as interesting, exotic, or spiritually enlightening (boy was I wrong about that part!) as the myths and writings of other religions. But I now began to really respect the uniqueness of that endeavor, I realized there was something different happening here. I could read these writings and really get a look at historical people in historic places, it was more concretely based in historical reality than, say, the story of Ganesh losing his tusk. Instead of thinking it was just boring, I began to really respect this and get curious. Various other books piqued my interest in the Biblical basis for the Big Bang theory, the archeological evidence supporting the historicity of various Biblical figures, the written documents concerning Jesus himself by non-Christians. I began thinking – well, if Jesus was an avatar or powerful figure like this, maybe I should start looking more deeply at this. Even if Krishna were an avatar too, Jesus seemed much closer in history and more concretely accessible through research. So I kept reading more, trying to understand Jewish beliefs and culture at the time of Jesus, and what his teachings would have meant at the time.

This is where I began to realize that there was a whole story here that was unknown to me as a Hindu. I began to learn about the Judeo-Christian metastory for all of humanity. I used to think that the Old Testament really only concerned Jewish people, just as Hindu creation myths seemed to be so entrenched in India – meaning we hear about the origin of the Ganga, the founding of the caste system, things that are very Indian. I never imagined as a Hindu that all people really originiated in this way, then spread out and lost their Hindu belief system, as that was never a part of our mythology. But in the Old Testament, I found a (proposed) history for all of us – not just the Jews….combined with all the other ideas I was having that I have described above, I felt that if I were to believe any of these stories, this one was the one I trusted the most. The story of creation and the Fall, and the promise to send a Savior – yes, it was similar to Hindu concepts of an avatar, but to me it seemed it was in keeping to what St Paul talks about when he says that people have written in them, innately, a knowledge of God. To me, what the rishis were seeing, as well as the myths of avatars – the myth of this savior type that can be found in various cultures – was the innate seed planted by God within the human soul, for us to be able to recognize our need for Christ. And when Jesus came, unlike many similar figures, he emphasized the crucial importance of his followers traveling to the ends of the earth to bring tidings of his coming so that everyone could be saved, restored to God. As with all things, there is a concrete urgency on the practical, earthly, level - this is all on a very real level, it's not just happening on a mythological level or in some Jungian way, if that makes sense?

I know I’m still not going into enough detail to really iron these thoughts out, but you can see how long this is already getting! The way Eastern Orthodoxy came to be very useful for me – I simply did not understand the way others were describing salvation and sin and justification – the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on theosis was similar to the Hindu idea of Self-realization, further demonstrating to me that the rishis were truly “on to something”, as it were. It just made a lot of sense, whereas the Western perspective seemed really random to me. Also, I didn’t understand how Adam’s fall led to all of us having fallen nature, and I didn’t unerstand how Jesus’ victory spelled victory for the rest of us, until I read “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius. If I had just read that book from the start, it would have saved me a lot of confusion. It was also Eastern Orthodoxy that finally made me understand that Christianity was actually very unique in the importance it places on the body, the idea that a human is both body and soul together, not one without the other. I used to think this was backwards, until I realized that the body is way too amazing of a thing to pass off as just a cage – I realized I was actually insulting the work of God by not realizing it’s incredible importance to the state of being a human. I also learned that this was not a primitive belief at all – in fact, it was the opposite – it was very novel compared to the Hindu and Platonic notions that the body and soul were separate, and that the soul was what we truly were, the body just a cage…

I know I am leaving this kind of vague by simply referring to another book, but again, I see this message is getting lengthy. I think to truly address your question, I'd have to give a really solid catechism, actually! In a way, I think your question, as simple as it sounded, really struck at the core of my spiritual journey, and I don’t know how I can write it out briefly or quickly – it would have to encompass all of the books I read, the experiences I had, the thoughts and feelings I mulled through….I wish I could write it more clearly and in greater detail, but that would end up being a book, I think! I’ve been meaning to try to tackle this very thing….but I haven’t really had the time to sit down and do it, and I feel I realize more and more everyday, making it kind of overwhelming to write about it in a way to do it justice…


Anonymous said...

You know, not to keep yammering on (Mary's right, this should be on a blog of my own, but if I do that, I'll never get off of the internet), but I feel I missed a nugget of importance in this conversation: To understand the meaning and purpose of the Resurrection and our salvation, one first has to really understand the Christian concepts of Creation, the Fall, our true nature, and what God wants for us, the goal of our lives, and how that goal comes to be achieved - and for me, I couldn't even begin to really "get it" until I found the Eastern Orthodox Church and the writings of the Holy Fathers. Well, let me back up - first, I had to be open to the idea that the Christian religion might have some legitimacy, which meant putting away my pride or any preconceived notions/objections to it - then on to the other things I mentioned above. Honestly, I think coming from a Hindu background helps in understanding the mystical side of it. I think it is well-worth anyone's time to at least strive to understand it all at a deeper level, whether they want to agree with it or not - otherwise, it seems there are SO many misconceptions concerning Christianity even among Christians!

I am a baby to all of this, but the books I would recommend to anyone who is curious are:

1. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius

2/3. The Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Way, by Bishop Kallistos/Timothy Ware

4. Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells by Matthew Gallatin

5. Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith by Peter Guillquist

5. Various books by Clark Carlton, though sometimes I cringe at his tone....

6. The Reasons to Believe website:

7. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

8. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

I started with the Protestant ones, than ended up toward the Orthodox ones, but the Protestant ones were very important in getting my attention, in taking a much closer look at Jesus Christ and realizing how little I knew about Him and how many benevolent misconceptions I had about His claims.

orrologion said...

I had started a Yahoo!Group for Hindus looking at Orthodox Christianity, but have not yet recruited members with experience in Hinduism, yet. Anjali would be more than welcome to use that list as a forum to answer questions regarding Orthodoxy for those from a Hindu background.

The list can be found at:

Jnorm888 said...

Excellent post. Thanks for sharing, and expanding more on your journy.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Ma o' MAW said...

Anjali, your 'article' was a really interesting and enlightening read. Thanks for the brief glimpse into Baha'ism and Hinduism.
Most of the books you recommended I have recently read, as I explore Orthodoxy from an Evangelical Protestant background.
Although I think Clark Carlton has a wealth of knowledge about Orthodoxy, and I've read all four of his books (The Faith, The Way, The Truth, and The Life, more than once), you are indeed correct in your assessment... his tone can be harsh and dismissive; sometimes off-putting to those seeking to understand Orthodoxy, (especially coming from Protestantism). That said, however, read them anyway,if you are investigating Orthodoxy ... just bull your neck, put on your thick skin, and plow through (several times), because they really are powerful and enlightening books about all aspects of Orthodoxy. Read all the other books as well. Matthew Gallitin's book is (in my estimation) a bit 'sacchariny' but really good and totally worth the time. (I had several "Aha! Wow! Now I get it!" moments while reading 'Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.)