“‘Jesus is the Christ.’ (Acts 9.22) Can Jesus be called Shiva?”

The following article by John R. Dupuche was published in Theology@ McAuley, E-Journal, Australian Catholic University, 2003.

 “‘Jesus is the Christ.’ (Acts 9.22) Can Jesus be called Shiva?” in Theology@ McAuley, E-Journal, Australian Catholic University, 2003.

Roualt Christ 1Shiva Nataraj 2 Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is Pastor of Nazareth Parish, Ricketts Point, Melbourne. He is senior lecturer at the University of Divinity, Honorary Fellow at the Australian Catholic University, and chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese.  He has a doctorate in Sanskrit, specialising in Kashmir Shaivism and is particularly interested in its interface with Christianity. His book Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantraloka was published in 2003; Jesus, the Mantra of God in 2005, Towards a Christian Tantra in 2009. He has written many articles in these fields.

Email:   jeandupuche@gmail.com


We welcome strangers to our land. Shall we exclude their gods? Is the Christian essentially dismissive, even in a kindly fashion? Does belief in Jesus involve a rejection of ‘strange gods’ or can Jesus who is called Christ also be called Shiva and be so worshipped?

This is not a new question. Some see the depiction of Prajapati in the Purusha Hymn of the Rig Veda[1] ‘also as a prophetic revelation about the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.’[2] ‘They maintain that, according to this hymn, Prajapati … should …. Wear a crown of thorns …. [be] Bound to a tree …. [his] Bones should not be broken ….’[3] ‘They affirm that Prajapati is Jesus Christ’,[4] or that ‘Jesus is the real Prajapati’.[5] At the other extreme, some hold that ‘it is not possible to find divinely revealed truths regarding Jesus Christ in religious texts originating’[6] outside of the Holy Land. This paper wishes to avoid those two extremes and to propose an approach suggested by the fourth of the inter-faith dialogues, that of religious experience.


Part I: Asking the question:

  1. The Christ:

In his great act of faith Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ (Mk 8.29). His statement is both true and false for Jesus is not the glorious saviour of Peter’s expectation who must thoroughly reform his understanding of the word ‘Christ’. We know that the various Christologies of the New Testament cannot be reduced to one, for the term ‘Christ’ is polyvalent. Similarly, each Christian understands the word ‘Christ’ differently so that although there is one Jesus he variously resonates in the various believers. Furthermore, although Christian faith is placed in the child born at Bethlehem and in the Master who dies in nearby Jerusalem faith is placed above all in the Christ who is coming. The Christ of faith is above all the Christ of the future who is yet to be fully understood.

It is not enough to ask only what scholarship means by the term ‘Christ’. What is it that moves the heart for this is in fact what is being revealed? The notional Christ is one thing; the real Christ is another. This latter, the Christ that opens the heart, is the one whom the Spirit reveals.

  1. Shiva:

The word shiva means “auspicious”, “beneficent”. The term appears briefly and merely as an epithet in the sacred Vedas, which are concerned more with Indra, the king of the gods,[7] or Agni, the god of the sacrificial fire.[8] It is suggested that the minor figure of Rudra, ‘a storm god and embodiment of wildness and unpredictable danger’[9] is called ‘shiva’, ‘auspicious’, in order to placate his wild nature. Uncertainty surrounds the origin of the god Shiva who is thought by some to be depicted on seals of the Indus Valley Civilisation in the third millennium BCE. It is in the later writings, especially in the Puranas, which recount the sacred myths and legends that Shiva comes to the fore, such that he is now the god principally worshipped in India.

The deities of India, however, do not have the same status as the gods of Egypt and Greece, for the enlightened Brahmin considers them each to be the manifestation of that Reality, which is beyond all names. The manifestation is not false but neither is it absolute or permanent. The particular god or goddess is the form taken on by Ultimate Reality, which is beyond all forms. The deity is a passing manifestation leading the devotee to that absolute, ineffable Reality in which alone peace is found. Even if the Ultimate Reality did in fact manifest itself in the divine beings and their deeds, the devotee is invited to go beyond them to their source, the Unmanifest Void. Alain Daniélou, a noted Indianist and brother of the famous Cardinal Jean Daniélou, abandoned monotheism and adopted Hindu polytheism because for him it led more truly to the divine.

In this respect, the gods of India are somewhat akin to the understandings that

are variously given to the one word ‘Christ’. The gods and goddesses are the personified understandings of the Incomprehensible. There are as many images of Christ as there are deities in India.

  1. Jesus:

The Christian faith states that the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, is the Christ. Even though the meaning of the word ‘Christ’ differs among Christians, the person whom they inadequately describe is held to be one and the same. It is in the individual, more than in the appellation, that faith is placed.

However, the very notion of the individual is put into question by the philosophical system called Samkhya, which is perhaps the original philosophy of India[10] and which stands at the background of its other philosophies. The limited self is considered to be an illusion (maya). The ego is just an agglomeration of characteristics, a construct of the organising mind, like the layers of an onion, which enclose nothing.

In this sense, reincarnation is not the transmigration of an individual soul but the transfer of a set of characteristics, which are wrongly considered to constitute an individual. Liberation, moksha, the ultimate goal of all Indian religions, is found precisely in the loss of self not just as a moral quality but also as an ontological reality. The only self that really exists is the absolute Self, the Void, the absolute “I am”, aham mentioned in the Upanishads.[11]

The individual, in its atomic and monadic sense, is essentially cut off from another individual, is irreducibly other. This exclusiveness is intolerable to the inclusivist Indian mind that sees everything as composed of everything else, sarvamsarvatmakam.

  1. is’:

The word “is”, in the phrase “Jesus is the Christ”, produces difficulties. The Western mind has been profoundly affected by Greek philosophy, which, from the outset, has enquired into the constitutive nature of things.[12] Henri Le Saux, whose Indian name is Abhishiktananda, says, in regretting one of his important works:

 ‘As an unrepentant Greek I sought too much to think the mystery, India. That is why [my book Hindu Wisdom Christian Mysticism], seems so outdated to me – along with the whole of theology and all the understandings.’[13]

The Indian mind does not have a doctrine of being so much as a doctrine of revelation. The question is not “What exists?” but “What is revealed?” This attitude is subjective but not deluded. The Indian mind asks: “What is known without the constructs of the organising mind, without the delusions of limited perception?” Reality, properly understood, is not an object but a revelation. Knowledge is a relationship. Reality is essentially something known and does not exist independently from the knowing subject. The knower and the known are finally identical.

The questions arise therefore: ‘Who is Jesus to you? What does Jesus reveal to you? What happens to you when you know Jesus?’ There is no such thing as a purely objective nature of Jesus.

  1. Jesus is the Christ:

In short, the phrase “Jesus is the Christ” has little meaning in Indian terms since it seems to require exclusivism,[14] limitation, individualism and mere objectivity, all of which are seen to be illusory.

  1. Can Jesus be called Shiva?

Hindus already say that, like the Buddha, Jesus is an avatar of Vishnu. This is natural enough since Vishnu is the Preserver and Jesus is the Saviour. Gandhi, for his part, who revered Jesus as much as Krishna and Buddha,[15] considered him to be a divine manifestation among others but could not consider him to be unique and certainly not to be God in any proper sense.[16]

Jesus can be called Shiva in the sense of “auspicious” and “beneficent” since the Gospel accounts show him to be such. Jesus cannot be called Shiva in the Puranic sense since the stories of the Puranas are not the stories of the Nazarene. But there are other meanings of the word ‘Shiva’.

The recently discovered school of Indian thought called ‘Kashmir Shaivism’ places simple awareness as the Ultimate Reality and calls this consciousness ‘Shiva’. Now, consciousness (samvit) is not ignorant of itself. The self-awareness of consciousness (vimarsha) is the realisation that “I am” (aham), which is the supreme Word (paravac). Furthermore, Shiva is not static but vibrant (spanda) and, being unlimited act, takes pleasure in doing what is improbable and impossible. Shiva takes on the form of limited human beings and even the form of inanimate objects. Consciousness can be interpreted as love since consciousness states, “I am” and does not say, “I am not”. It cannot say: “I am not this wretched person” but says; “You are my very self”.

Jesus is the supreme Word, the Logos, who delights in doing what is impossible, namely to take on the form of the slave and to die. Jesus who often proclaims ‘I am’ is in this sense Shiva.

Part II              Dropping the question:

But is not this type of thinking just the act of another unrepentant Greek? Is it not just another way of saying that Jesus is Prajapati? The third form of interfaith dialogue, the dialogue of experts, has its rightful place but is not sufficient. Theology understood as faith seeking understanding gives way to the more ancient meaning of the word ‘theology’ as the contemplation of God. The fourth form, the dialogue of experience, is needed. The divine glory, doxa, is found best in paradox[17] and is certainly found in the meeting of religions.

  1. The experience of Jesus as paradox:

Jesus does not reject Peter’s calling him the Christ but immediately introduces the paradox of the suffering Messiah. Jesus is the coincidence of life and death, good and evil, sin and grace, divine and human, time and eternity, he is present and absent, come and still to come, all the paradoxes in one. “Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Life’s own champion, slain, yet lives to reign”[18] as the Easter Liturgy proclaims   He is the paradox of paradoxes who reveals the Ineffable One. He is supremely the Logos because he suggests perfectly the Silence from whom the Word comes. The Silence is Subject and cannot be talked about or made into an object of discourse. The supreme Subject can be known only when the listener has become God who is all in all. There is ultimately one Subject, one ‘I am’.

By facing the paradox we become paradox. We enter into mystery and go beyond the contrasting truths to their source and become the source. Then we suddenly realise we have become the Christ for he is the paradox above all paradoxes. Only by becoming Christ can we truly know Christ for only Christ can know Christ. Only by becoming Christ can one place one’s faith in Christ.

The Christian experience cannot be denied. Neither can the Hindu experience be rejected. What happens when they meet?

  1. The meeting:

Shortly after his arrival in India, Henri Le Saux journeyed to Tiruvanamalai and glimpsed the famous Ramana Maharshi. They did not speak but the mere sight of this great figure revealed to Henri Le Saux the truth of Hinduism. He was profoundly affected and recognised in Ramana the reality of the Transcendent. Le Saux then began to live out his wonderful and terrible experience,[19] for he admits that he cannot be both Christian and Hindu and cannot be just Christian or just Hindu[20] and can only live with this tension until the dawn arises.[21] His admission is a wise caution in this difficult field of reflection. He felt fully the difficulty of being both ‘completely open and totally committed’, which Catherine Cornille posits as a requirement for interreligious dialogue.[22]

In the meeting of religious experience there can be no comparing,[23] no domination, no syncretism, no assimilation, no competition, no triumphalism, no despising, no ignoring, no fear, no exclusivism, no inclusivism, but pluralism[24] and more than pluralism. There is an attitude of welcome and reverence, an entry into silence and into each other’s truth. One experience throws light on another and puts it into question. The meeting is not a threat but rather a gift for it involves purification and clarification.

There is in this meeting a ‘buzz’, an inchoate sound coming from the depths, a ‘resonance’ (dhvani) of the original and supreme Word. Has this not been said long ago? In paraphrasing Justin Martyr, Dupuis states:

‘Such manifestation of God through his Word is not limited to the Christian dispensation. It took place before the incarnation of the Word, among the Jews and the Greeks; everywhere there have been people who lived by the Word and deserve to be called Christian’…[25]

 The meeting is an act of recognising the Word, which has already been tasted in one’s own faith, of dwelling in it and enjoying it without hesitation. And this even though some question ‘whether or not it is possible to penetrate into and fully understand that other person’s experience’.[26] This empathy is called metexis.[27] However, recognition, one of the key ideas in the theology of Kashmir Shaivism, goes beyond mere empathy. It is more than the teaching of Goethe to the effect that ‘in every man there dwell all the forms of humanity’[28] for it is a recognition not of shared humanity but of the shared Word or the shared Spirit. John Paul II quotes the Vatican Council II which says that ‘the Holy Spirit works effectively even outside the visible structure of the Church’.[29]

In the words of Catherine Cornille, ‘The idea of a common ground of goal of religions is one of the more debated conditions for inter-religious dialogue.’[30] The Word in this case is not so much an object of study as an experience, which is differently described in the different theologies. The Word is not a ‘neutral meeting point’.[31]

  1. No rivalry

The meeting does not involve the rivalry which has often been found in Christianity and which has also been a feature of the religions of India, each of which shows how it surpasses the others and each of which interprets the others as lesser manifestations of itself. According to the Gospel of Mark[32] the disciples were rebuked for arguing which of them was the greatest in the kingdom. The same rebuke is addressed to anyone who argues who is the greatest religious figure of the world.

Christ is not a Christian and does not belong to Christianity. The Christian Churches proclaim the Christ but do not control him.

  1. The discovery of Jesus?

According to the parable of the Last Judgment, those who are called blessed have fed the hungry simply because they were hungry. Only on the last day do they learn, to their surprise that they have been serving Jesus all along. In keeping with this parable, when Christians reverence Hindus simply because they are holy the Christians will realise, one day, that they have been worshipping Christ. The Hindus will see the Christians reverencing them and reverence the Christians in turn and come to Christ in them.

  1. Clarification:

In this meeting, the participants become aware that the Word has been expressed in the myths of Shiva and has been made flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Nazarene will not be understood until the essence of the Shaiva myths have shed light on things still concealed from the Christians who have only begun to touch the hem of the Master’s garment. Jesus must be re-interpreted in terms of Shiva just as once he was interpreted in terms of the Biblical words ‘Christ’ and ‘Son’. Similarly, the myths of Shiva will be made most real when they are acknowledge as having become incarnate in Jesus of Galilee.

  1. The uniqueness of Jesus:

Like the myths of Genesis 1-11 the myths of Shiva are also immensely powerful and instructive both about human nature and about the Word made flesh. But flesh touches flesh most powerfully and the one who gives his body as food speaks to human heart most powerfully and he most readily takes flesh beyond flesh into the wonderful Void. No other teacher of mankind presents like this. There is no competition.

It may be noted at this point that the ‘doctrine of the incarnation has often been interpreted as a stumbling block for dialogue.’[33]

  1. The future:

Yet this kind of talk is still unsatisfactory. Justin Martyr shows a certain complacency. He states, in Dupuis’ words, that

‘while others have received from him partially, we to whom the Logos revealed himself in his incarnation have been blessed with his complete manifestation.’[34]

Justin is comparing, which is understandable since he is writing an apologia. But he speaks of a ‘complete manifestation’ whereas all things will be complete only at the Second Coming.

In the meeting of experiences, the one Word is heard. The Word, which was made the saving myth of Shiva, is made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Flesh speaks most powerfully to flesh such that Jesus is the ultimate saviour, not so much the Jesus who came but the Jesus who is to come, whose risen flesh speaks all the more powerfully and who is intimated intuited in the dialogue of experience. Memory is sweet but anticipation is exciting. And the anticipation will not be fulfilled without the cooperation of all truths. The Church proclaims the memory of Christ who has come but the Christ who is coming is more significant.

The focus of shared religious experience is not the past but the future, not things taught and done but things yet to come. The participants look to what will happen in their meeting and they will find to their surprise that the Christ who is coming to them will also have the appearance of Shiva and that Shiva will be seen as fully manifest in the future Christ.

This emphasis on the meeting point in the future is taken up by Process-theologians. The perennialists locate the meeting point in the past.[35]

  1. Panikkar

Raimundo Panikkar, one of the most significant exponents of inter-religious dialogue[36], proposes that the non-dual thought, the advaita of the Upanishads is the clue to finding a common form of expression between Hindu religious experience and Christian faith.[37] He states that “Not only is the object lost, the subject is no longer there” and that the ultimate experience is consciousness without self-consciousness, that it is “an awareness that it is not aware that it is aware”.[38] The Trinity, therefore, is not the ultimate Reality but a first manifestation of it.

I feel uneasy with this and with Panikkar’s separation of faith and belief, as though Jesus is the way to the Mystery only for Christians, that other religions can reach faith equally well through their own belief systems. Dupuis confesses that ‘the place held in Christian faith by the Jesus of history becomes problematic.’[39]

Panikkar has skirted the problem, which is not to find a common denominator but reconciliation between the religions. Furthermore, he has understood advaita or non-dualism in terms of the monism of Shankara and not the non-dualism of Kashmir, which notes precisely that consciousness necessarily involves self-consciousness in a non-dual way


We will welcome the Hindus since they reveal aspects of the Word made flesh we have never perceived and purify us of illusions we have long held. This is the only basis on which theological dialogue can take place.

A topic of this sorts bristles with difficulties. A forum such as ACTA provides a helpful context for grappling with them.


Byron L. Sherwin and Harold Kasimow (eds.) John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue, Maryknoll, N.Y., Orbis Books, 1999. xiv+236 pp.

Cornille, C.      Unpublished paper provided for the symposium to be held on 25 July 2002, at Trinity College, Melbourne. No page numbers.

de Béthune, Pierre-François ‘Christian Attitudes at this Period of Religious Pluralism’, in

International Bulletin, 2002 no.1, pp.20-24, published by Commissions pour le Dialogue-intermonastique – Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Commissions.

Dupuis J.        ‘Hindou-chrétien et chrétien hindou’ in Jacques Scheuer, Dennis Gira (Eds.), Vivre plusieures religions, Paris, Les Editions de l’Atelier.

Dupuis, J.       Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism. New York, Orbis Books, 2001. xiv+441 pp.

Encarta Encyclopaedia

Le Saux, H.      Sagesse hindoue mystique chrétienne. Paris, Centurion, 1991. [First published Paris, Centurion, 1965.]

O’Flaherty, W. The Rig Veda Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Penguin Books, 1981. 343 pp.

Pereira, J.        Hindu Theology, themes, texts and Structures, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1991. [First US edition 1976]

Porte, A.         Trois Upanishad, Îshâ, Kena, Katha. Paris, Arfuyen, 2000. 111 pp.

Ivan M. Satyvrata, ‘The Holy Spirit and Advaitic Spirituality’ in Dharma Deepika 1                    (1995) 49-60.

Sherwin, B.L. and Kasimow, H. (eds.) John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue, Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books, 1999. xv+236 pp.

Vasanthakumar, M.S. ‘Expound Christ from Non-Christian Texts’ in Dharma Deepika, July – December 2000, pp.5-20.







[1] The 90th hymn of the 10th Book.

[2] M.S. Vasanthakumar, ‘Expound Christ from Non-Christian Texts’ in Dharma Deepika, July – December 2000 pp.5-20. p.6. But ‘the interpretation of his death as a substitutionary sacrifice finds no echo in the Indian soul’. Op.cit. p.5.

[3] Vasanthakumar ‘Expound Christ …’ p.6.

[4] ibid.

[5] Vasanthakumar ‘Expound Christ …’ p.1.

[6] Vasanthakumar ‘Expound Christ …’ p. 13.

[7] Wendy O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Penguin Books, 1981. p.333.

[8] O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, p.325.

[9] O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, p. 338.

[10] José Pereira, Hindu Theology, themes, texts and Structures, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1991. p.53.

[11] Alain Porte, Trois Upanishad, Îshâ, Kena, Katha, traduites du Sanskrit et présentées par Alain Porte. Paris, Arfuyen, 2000. Îshâ Upanishad verse 17.

[12] According to Thales, the original principle of all things is water, from which everything proceeds and into which everything is again resolved. Before Thales, explanations of the universe were mythological, and his concentration on the basic physical substance of the world marks the birth of scientific thought. Heraclitus believed that fire was the primordial source of matter and that the entire world was in a constant state of change. Encarta Encyclopaedia.

[13] “En grec impénitent, j’ai trop cherché à penser le mystère, l’Inde. C’est pourquoi Sagesse [hindoue mystique chrétienne] me paraît tellement dépassée – avec toute la théologie et toutes les gnoses.” Letter of 21 April 1973, quoted in ‘Préface’ by Jacques Dupuis to Le Saux, H. Sagesse hindoue mystique chrétienne. Paris, Centurion, 1991. [First published Paris, Centurion, 1965.]

[14] ‘Seen from the Indian perspective … The need to use the language of uniqueness does not arise.’ Jacques

Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism. New York, Orbis Books, 2001. p.199.

[15] Jacques Dupuis, ‘Hindou chrétien et chrétien hindou’ in Jacques Scheuer, Dennis Gira (eds.), Vivre

plusieures religions, Paris, Les Editions de l’Atelier. p.58.

[16] Dupuis, ‘Hindou chrétien et chrétien hindou’, p.57.

[17] There seems to be no discussion of paradox in Dupuis, Religious Pluralism.

[18] Victimae paschali laudes, Easter Sunday Sequence.

[19] Dupuis, ‘Hindou chrétien et chrétien hindou’, p.61.

[20] Dupuis, ‘Hindou chrétien et chrétien hindou’, p.62.

[21] Letter to Odette Baumer-Despeigne dated 5.12.1970 quoted in Dupuis, ‘Hindou chrétien et chrétien hindou’, p.62.

[22] Unpublished paper by Catherine Cornille provided for the symposium to be held 25 July at Trinity College, Melbourne. No page number.

[23] de Béthune, Pierre-François ‘Christian Attitudes at this Period of Religious Pluralism’, in

International Bulletin, 2002 no.1, p.22.

[24] Dupuis, Religious Pluralism p.203.

[25] Dupuis, ‘Hindou chrétien et chrétien hindou’, p.57.

[26] Catherine Cornille, Unpublished paper, no page number.

[27] Catherine Cornille, Unpublished paper, no page number.

[28] Catherine Cornille, Unpublished paper, no page number.

[29] John Paul II Crossing the Threshold of Hope (with reference to Lumen Gentium 15), quoted in Byron L. Sherwin and Harold Kasimow (eds.) John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue p.29.

[30] Catherine Cornille, Unpublished paper, no page number.

[31] Catherine Cornille, Unpublished paper, no page number

[32] Mk 9.33 ff.

[33] Catherine Cornille, Unpublished paper, no page number.

[34] Dupuis, Religious Pluralism, p.59.

[35] Catherine Cornille, Unpublished paper, no page number.

[36] Ivan M. Satyvrata, ‘The Holy Spirit and Advaitic Spirituality’ in Dharma Deepika, p.49.

[37] Satyvrata, ‘The Holy Spirit and Advaitic Spirituality’, p. 53.

[38] R. Panikkar Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics. New York, Paulist Press, 1979. pp. 304-305 quoted in Satyvrata, ‘The Holy Spirit and Advaitic Spirituality’, p.53.

[39] Dupuis, Religious Pluralism, p.152.

About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
This entry was posted in Hindu Christian relations, Hinduism, Interreligious dialogue, Interreligious dialogue, Melbourne, Kashmir Shaivism. Bookmark the permalink.

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