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Re: Comparison Hinduism - Christianity

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani)
Date: Thu Mar 02 1995 - 13:22:34 PST

Subra Suresh writes:
> Namaskaram,
> The following question follows me quite some time. Any answers?
> There was a discussion going on recently in my area (southern Germany)
> about similarities between Krishna and Christ (Kristos).  
> One evangelist told that Krishna cult was an answer for 
> Christianity when it entered India during the first century.

In spite of similarities between the childhood stories of Christ
and Krishna, the two personalities are very much distinct. The names
"Kristos" and "Krishna" are in no way linguistically related and
really have no connection to one another. For one, "Kristos" comes
from the Greek and is used in reference to Jesus after the writing
of the synoptic Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament)
between the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.

The Krishna religion, however, has origins much earlier than Jesus.
R.G. Bhandarkar has discussed to origins of Vaishnavism in 
"Vaisnavism, Saivism, and Minor Religious Systems". As early as the
3rd century B.C., there is a pillar in Besnagar in Northern India
where the Greek ambassador Heliodorus describes himself as a "bhagavata,
a devotee of the highest Lord Vasudeva".  Early Sanskrit grammarians
(Patanjali and possible Panini) equate Vasudeva with Krishna, etc.

The origins of Krishna-based devotion are lost in antiquity, but
suffice it to say that there are enough references to it early on
to preclude any causation by Christianity. The Bhagavad Gita,
which at the latest can be dated to 200 B.C., and is most probably much
earlier, is *the* foundational bhakti text in Sanskrit.

We can also look at Tamil devotional elements, where early on,
we find expressions of devotion to Maal, MaayOn, Tirumaal, etc.
It is extremely unlikely that this is an outgrowth of Christianity,
which was never as mystical or emotional as Indian bhakti.

The only "exterior" influence on the bhakti movement was from
Buddhism and Jainism (hardly exterior, since these are indigenous
to India). The former, with its strong faith in the Buddha, dharma,
and the sangha, its intricate temples, etc., undoubtedly was an
influence on the bhakti movement, making it the temple-based culture
that it is today. The latter provided a very strong sense of ethics,
particularly regarding ahimsa, which was probably already an aspect
of many bhakti sects.

> I am also in search of ºBhaktiº in Christianity and 
> ºlove thy nextº in Hinduism.

Bhakti, by which I mean single-minded devotion to God, abounds 
in Christianity. Please take a look at "The Imitation of Christ", 
written in the 13th or 14th century by St. Thomas A Kempis.
It is a wonderful book of Christian practice. Mahatma Gandhi refers to
it often in his commentary on the Gita, and many passages are very
thought provoking and spiritually inspiring.  Apart from the Bible,
this book is perhaps the best loved Christian work.

Also look at any work by Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk of this
century who explored contemplative meditation. He spent quite a bit
of time in Asia, learning meditative techniques such as Zen, etc.
Surprisingly, he was also familiar with the thiruppallaaNDu and a few
other Vaishnavite classics. I suggest you look at "New Seeds of
Contemplation", a very profound and deep book on the practice of
contemplative meditation.

"Love thy next", while not so explicitly emphasized,
also is very strong in the bhakti traditions of India.  Take a look
at the story of Rantideva found in the Bhagavatam. This king, a
great devotee of Vishnu, had been fasting for many days. When 
he had decided to break his fast, he gathered what little food
he had around him and prepared to eat. The devas decided to test
him a bit. One came in the guise of a hungry brahmin and begged
the king for some food. Rantideva gave him most of what he had.
Another came as a poor man with some dogs, all of them starving.
Rantideva gave what food he had left. Finally, as Rantideva was
about to take a sip of water, one came as an outcaste, apparently
very thirsty. Without flinching, Rantideva gave him his water,
saying something like, "We are all Vishnu's, so what is the
difference?"

Prahlada has also explicitly said that when Vishnu is the indweller
of all, how can he not care about all? The Mahabharata also has
explicit statements to "love thy neighbor"; the ahimsa ethic of
most of Hinduism is also a theoretical expression of this.

Note here that "love" doesn't mean romantic love, or love of a child
by its mother, etc.; each of these are selfish to some extent. 
The love expressed by Jesus and the examples above are what is
known as "agape" love, a love for someone out of respect for who
they are as living beings (or as the case may be, human beings).

Mani