Acharya Tulsi - Fifty Years Of Selfless Dedication ► Ahimsa, Peace And World Problems ► Agape and Ahimsa: A Christian Encounter with Jainism

Posted: 06.10.2012

In 1966, after completing my training as a teacher at Westminster College, Oxford (a Methodist Teacher Training College), England, I should have been looking for an appointment as a Religious Education Teacher in a UK secondary school, but I wasn't. I sensed that going from school to college and then back to school could not be right for a teacher of religious studies. What did I know but 'bookish learning' and that mainly about one religion, my own, Christianity? So I offered my services to a British Volunteer organisation. Voluntary Service Overseas (V.S.O.) which sends young trained people to parts of the Third World where their skills might prove useful. It was my good fortune to be selected and posted by V.S.O. to teach English as a foreign language at Gandhi Vidyalaya, Gulabpura, a Jain school founded on the principles of the Mahatma in Bhilwara District of Rajasthan, India.

Before leaving the U.K., I was warned by V.S.O. who were aware of my strong Christian background, that I should not use my posting to attempt to share my Christian beliefs with the people of Gulabpura. I recall travelling to India with many anxieties. Could I be a vegetarian after a lifetime of being a non-vegetarian? Could I adapt to living in a society where idolatry was commonplace? Would my Christian thinking be compromised by living with Hindus and Jains? These and many more fears about snakes, customs and diseases all filled my mind.

In the two years that followed all those fears were rapidly dispelled for I was greeted with such warmth and friendship and treated with such love and care that I began to think that if the notion of reincarnation was correct then in a previous life I must have lived there, because I felt so much at home. I came to admire and love so many Hindu and Jain friends and talking together about our religious lives proved so enriching and stimulating and liberating. Whoever in England advised me not to talk about religion obviously knew very little about India! How can we not talk about the things which matter most to us and which lie at the very heart of our being? I enjoyed sharing in Hindu and Jain festivals and joining in the hymns in our school's morning assembly. At Christmas time my Hindu and Jain friends approached me demanding 'You have celebrated our festivals, now we want to celebrate yours!' So at Christmas we read together the story of the birth of Jesus: how he was born illegitimate in the eyes of the world, how he was born in poverty and humility in a stable; how his parents were poor ordinary people yet how both rich and poor came alike to worship him; how, soon after his birth, he became a refugee escaping the attempted massacre of a powerful local king. 'How like the birth of Krishna', my Hindu friends remarked. I explained that for Christians God comes to us in the place we least expect him and where we do not think to look - in the poor, the illegitimate, the rejected and the refugee, in the oppressed and the outcast. I explained that by identifying With the poor and the rejected and by loving and caring for and uplifting the oppressed we too can become in the image of God, following the example of Jesus. I believe that my Hindu and Jain friends understood this truth more deeply than I did.

Entering into faithful dialogue

By sharing our religious life and thoughts together our faith was not threatened or shaken - it was enriched and the bonds of love and fellowship between us became stronger and firmer. As we learned about each other's deep insights into the spiritual life we recognised how much we had in common. For me, at the heart of Christianity is the teaching of AGAPE - the pure, selfless love displayed to Christians in the life and teaching of Jesus. At the heart of Jainism is the teaching of AHIMSA - displayed to the world in the tirthankaras and in particular by Mahavir. Leading philosophers and theologians studying in universities in England and India may tell me that they are not the same thing, my Jain friends and I knew from our real personal encounter together that when we talked about ahimsa and agape we were talking about the universal love and care we shared for each other and the world. My admiration for the central Jain ethics of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigrah made me question the quality of my Christian life much more deeply. I came to understand in a new way how that great Christian, Albert Schweitzer, had come to propound an ethic unusual to Christianity based on a reverence for all life including the nonhuman, very akin to Jain teaching. Most of all I appreciated and valued and still do value (and teach as many people as possible) are the Jain kindred teachings of Nayavad, Syadvad and Anekantavad. Whilst initially overpowering to the Western mind brought up on the logical rule of the Greeks that a thing either is or is not, these doctrines greatly helped me to appreciate how it was not inconsistent for me to leave India saying with the surprise of John Moffitt in his book 'Journey to Gorakhpur': 'I am a Christian but I can no longer say that I am not a Jain or a Hindu’. The religious experience I had shared with my Jain and Hindu friends had brought me closer to God and made me more intensely aware of His presence and Jain teachings had stimulated me into seeing the crucified Christ and our crucified world in a new and far wider perspective.

Academics who sit comfortably apart from the world theorizing about Christianity and Jainism will find many conflicts and differences, but when Jains and Christians meet in fellowship together as people, they find they have so much in common. Christians are not Christianity and Jains are not Jainism. Our beliefs and doctrines will bind us in all kinds of knots - they can become a dreadful tyranny to us so that we look at people through 'doctrinally trained eyes' and we arrogantly think that we have the right to pronounce quick judgements on them. But Jesus and Mahavir never did this. When a woman was caught in the very act of adultery in one of the Gospel stories about Jesus, some Jews were ready to stone her to death because this was what Jewish teaching prescribed in such a case. But Jesus simply said that the first person to throw a stone should be the one who had committed no sin. When all had left and Jesus was alone with the woman he simply said to the woman 'Go, sin no more'. (St John's Gospel Ch 8 v 11) Would that we could all follow the spirit of Jesus and Mahavir and interpret our doctrines and beliefs through that spirit rather than by the letter.

Our doctrines and beliefs as Christians and Jains are very different. They are bound to be because they have developed in different cultures. Beliefs are culturally bounded. Because of my real encounter with Jains in India, I have come to know that when men of faith meet together, then faith (the opening of the mind to transcendent reality) is one. When Christians and Jains meet together in faith all the superficial differences quickly fall away and they become one in the spirit of universal love. This distinction between Faith and Belief has helped me considerably to understand the relationship between Christianity and other religions. I owe my understanding to Alfred George Hogg (1875 -1954), the Scottish educational missionary who spent over 30 years teaching at Madras Christian College. In
his preface to his study 'Karma and Redemption' he says:

‘.... the innermost faith of all religions worthy of the name must be one and the same.’

Yet he considers the differences between the intellectual beliefs by which men preserve their common spirit of faith to be immensely important. Faith he sees as being immediate and existential: a living trust in God and a desire for intelligent fellowship with God. Beliefs are those intellectual expressions to which men resort in order to express the implications and consequences of their faith to perpetuate their faith and to communicate it. As such, beliefs are always open to change and indeed must change if the underlying faith is to live - blind faith can readily decline into superstition and then the beliefs become an obstacle to faith. At the heart of all religions there is a common source - the Eternal Religion. Religions themselves do not save men but rather simply make us aware of our need for salvation or liberation. It is faith that saves and liberates and there is only one faith, but many beliefs. Our beliefs are very much a result of our environment and culture. Having shared in the life of Jains and Hindus, I can understand how many Hindu aVid Jain beliefs have come to be expressed. Those Jains and Hindus that I know in England can better understand why vegetarianism is not the order of the day for most Christians. If we are moving towards ONE WORLD more and more people must be enabled to shed their culturally bound outlooks and see through a wider perspective.

Jonathan Swift once wrote: "We have just enough religion to make us hate but not enough to make us love one another." Sadly as we look around at our world today we can see the truth of his words. Here in the UK Christians fight in Northern Ireland. In the Middle East Moslems fight Moslem in Iran and Iraq. In India, the Sikh community has felt the bitterness of religion dividing. Whilst not suggesting that religion is the sole source of these and many world conflicts, it is undeniable that religion is playing a central part. I hope that by facilitating dialogue between men of different religions and bringing them together in an atmosphere of love - agape and ahimsa, the International Institute of Peace and Non-Violence may help men to appreciate that faith is one although beliefs are many. By entering into dialogue with men of other faiths, by open, personal encounter, without making pejorative criticisms and without loss of commitment to one's own beliefs, it is possible, without aiming at evangelism or surrendering to syncretism, to develop a deeper appreciation of one's own traditions through a fuller understanding of another's. In enabling this to happen not as an academic exercise but as a genuine meeting of men of faith, I believe that creative and stimulating possibilities for action will develop that will give grounds for hope in our violent and uncertain world.

I believe that Christianity and Jainism (agape and ahimsa) are two complementary streams both demanding of their followers service and self-giving to the human community, striving always for understanding, peace and love. At the end of his admirable study 'Recovery of Faith', the late Dr. S. Radhakrishnan wrote:

In every religion today we have small minorities who see beyond the horizons of their particular faith, who believe that religious fellowship is possible, not through the imposition of any one way on the whole world but through an all-inclusive recognition that we are all searchers for the truth, pilgrims on the road, that we all aim at the same ethical and spiritual standards. Those who thirst for a first-hand experience are prophets of the religion of spirit, which is independent of all ecclesiastical organisations and the subtleties engendered by human learning, which looks for the formation of an earthly community governed by love. The widespread existence of this state of mind is the hope of the future.

There is no doubt that the future depends on those who can give our young people grounds to live in hope and love and faith and we Jains and Christians in our respective teachings of ahimsa and agape can offer that hope. We must make every effort to share our 'secret' with the world at large. In many respects we have failed alone. I hope that by sharing together we may grow stronger and deeper in our respective faiths and find new ways of communicating our 'changeless Gospel' to a rapidly changing world society.

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Title:

Acharya Tulsi - Fifty Years Of Selfless Dedication

Publisher:

Jain Vishva Bharati Ladnun
Shrichand Bengani

Editor-in-Chief:

R.P. Bhatnagar

Editors:

S.L. Gandhi
● Rajul Bhargava, Department of English, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur
● Ashok K. Jha, Department of English, LBS College, Jaipur

Edition:

First Edition, 1985-2000

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