Hinduism and Christianity, ‘Comparative Theology’
Introduction The method of comparative theology enables Hindus and Christians to understand their own traditions more fully, one in the light of the other. These few pages wish to raise, ever so briefly, questions and possibilities in the fields of theology, scripture, philosophy, phenomenology, and spirituality.
- Theology: Christian theology has become highly dualistic. We speak of ‘God and man’, ‘heaven and earth’, ‘good and evil’, ‘sin and grace’, ‘church and state’, ‘faith and reason’, ‘pure and impure’, ‘theology and philosophy’. This dualism has had negative effects. For example, the gulf created between faith and reason during the mediaeval period led, after the Wars of Religion, to the rejection of faith and the adoption of reason as the only possible foundation of social cohesion. This shift of perspective led directly to the Enlightenment, to the separation of Church and State, and to the relegation of religion to the private domain. In Hinduism, whilst there are dualistic schools such as Saṃkhyā and Śaivasiddhānta, the greatest respect is reserved for the non-dualist schools. Divisions such as ‘heaven and earth’, ‘good and evil’, ‘sin and grace’, are considered to be ‘mental constructs’, mere illusions, sheer ignorance. The thoroughgoing non-dualism of Hindu thought will be invaluable in helping Christians appreciate their own teaching that “all are made one in Christ” ( 3.28) and that “all things are reconciled through him and for him” (Col. 1.20), the hypostatic union of two natures in one person, and the monotheism of their faith. However, a renewed non-dualist Christian theology involves investigating the vastly different metaphysics and anthropology that India has developed over many centuries.
The article entitled “‘Jesus is the Christ.’ (Acts 9.22) Can Jesus be called Shiva?” shows how it was possible to present the Christian faith, free of Biblical imagery and Greek terminology, in the vastly different outlook of Indian thought.
Comparative theology works in both directions. Let me give an example. The Christian faith states that there are three Persons in one God, not three individuals. It thus distinguishes between the terms ‘person’ and ‘individual’. Hindu thought does not have the sense of the person which Christianity has elaborated and since the doctrine of the Trinity is seen by the proponents of non-dualism as dualistic, indeed as tritheistic, it is rejected. Furthermore, the relationship between Christ and the Christian, which is also understood individualistically and therefore divisively, is also rejected. Yet, in the light of Christian understanding of ‘person’ as distinct from ‘individual’, the relationship of the primordial amorous couple, Krishna and Radha, or of the guru and disciple, for example, could be perceived in ever more fully.
- Scripture Kālī is the fearsome goddess worshipped in West Bengal, Orissa and Assam. An article entitled “The goddess Kālī and the Virgin Mary”, presents certain aspects of the Kālī’s ferocity and then revisits some Gospel passages concerning Mary, showing, through objective exegetical study, how she can be seen in a new light, not as just peaceful and obedient but as perceptive and energetic, a fitting icon of the Spirit who “moves wherever it pleases” (Jn 3:8).
- Philosophy Greek philosophy is deemed to have started in the 6th century BCE with Thales of Miletus who held that water is the basic substance out of which all is created. Plato by contrast argued that the objects of the real world are merely the shadows of eternal forms or ideas. Hinduism proposes a different view. There is no doctrine of creation ex nihilo, but only a doctrine of emanation. All names and forms are expressions of the primordial Word (vāc), the praṇava ‘AUṀ’. All is word, all is expression. God and the world are the same, not in a pantheistic sense but in the way that the speaker (vācaka) and the spoken (vācya) are one.
- Phenomenology My friends in India do not ask me what I think but what I have experienced. It is a troubling question. What indeed has been my spiritual experience? The Indian tradition is remarkable in its ability to analyse the experiences undergone in body and mind and spirit. The process of perception is described with extraordinary accuracy. What does the Christian undergo in the moment of faith? What evidence does the Scripture hold for the emotional journey of Jesus of Nazareth? The Hindu method of phenomenological analysis will be of value in investigating such questions.
- Spirituality The 19th century jibe goes as follows: ‘Those Christians say they are redeemed but they don’t look it’. The smile is almost entirely absent from Christian art, yet it is commonly portrayed in the sculptures that adorn Hindu temples. To what extent does the Hindu spirituality of pleasure, with its constant emphasis on bliss (ānanda), show how Christianity is not just a religion of asceticism but also a religion of joy and laughter, of pleasure and indeed of sexual pleasure?
- Other themes There are many other themes for comparative theology. Christianity speaks of the saviour; Hinduism speaks of the guru who enlightens his disciples. Christianity speaks of sin as consisting in disobedience; Hinduism speaks of sin as due to ignorance. Christian theology favours clear and distinct ideas; Hinduism shows how paradox reveals the divine mystery.
The Centre for Interreligious Dialogue moves in multiple directions. In what way does the apophatic nature of Hindu thought challenge the Religions of the Book, Islam in particular? What is the value of Hindu polytheism in helping people discover their spiritual gifts? What is the connection between the Buddhist doctrine of the Void and atheism?
Conclusion In such ways, the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue recontextualises the work of many sections of the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy. Its work is not fanciful and exotic; it is challenging and rewarding.
NB: These pages first appeared in ‘Doing theology inter religiously in ‘Doing Theology Inter-religiously?’ Anita C. Ray, John D’Arcy May, John. R. Dupuche. Australian e-Journal of Theology 20.2 (August 2013) pp. 94-107.
 Cf. L’Inde Classique. Tome 1. Edited by Louis Renou and Jean Filliozat. Paris: Ecole française d’Extrême Orient, 2000. Paragraph 1421 ff.
 Cf. L’Inde Classique. Tome 2. Edited by Louis Renou and Jean Filliozat. Paris: Librairie d’Amérique et d’Orient, 1985. Paragraph 1291 ff.
 Dupuche, John R. Theology@ McAuley, E-Journal, Australian Catholic University, 2003.
 Cf. Brahman and Person; essays by Richard De Smet. 2010. Edited by Ivo Coelho. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
 Dupuche, John R. ‘The goddess Kali and the Virgin Mary’. In Australian eJournal of Theology. vol. 19, no.1, (April 2012) 43-57.
 See http://www.pravmir.com/why-is-no-one-ever-depicted-smiling-on-icons/ accessed 29 December 2012. A rare exception is the angel on the facade of Rheims Cathedral.
 ‘Field Work on the Kula Ritual in Orissa’, Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia 43 (2011) 49-60. ‘A Spirituality of Pleasure: Deciphering Vijñānabhairava Verse 68’, accepted for publication in the International Journal of Tantric Studies.