Religious pluralism is a reality in the world. With globalization, the exchange of information and cultural issues makes the religious identity more fluid. However, this pluralism context is new for the West, where the Christianity still is the majority religion. Otherwise in the East the religious pluralism is part of life and is the foundation of the religious experiences. There are many faiths in Asia. There are many faiths in India. This essay has the aim to reflect on the religious pluralism in India and how it can be a tool for a building a theology of liberation in this context.
Poverty and Religious Discourses
As people living in this ambiguous world we must deal with the beauty and the ugliness of humanity. The poverty is one of the faces of our reality. In Asia, the rate of the poverty is alarming, besides Japan, South Korea, India that have more capital, other countries like Afghanistan is the poorest country in the Asia. India’s poverty is a “thing” that the development discourses want to hide. The strong economic growth that put India on the list of emerging countries has increased social inequality, especially in rural areas. The rich class is richer, the poor class is poorer. Many religious discourses including Christianity have denounced that capitalism is taking advantage of the present situation.
I’m a Latin American woman, I was born in a poor Christian family in Brazil. In my childhood and teenage years, I used to listen in the church that the poor are/ poor because this was the God’s will, because they “asked” for that, maybe could be a sin, that the only thing that we can do is preach the “God’s love”. This is not the gospel of Jesus. The gospel that seeks to liberation of humanity for oppression and to give a new life. Religious discourses like this makes the famous sentence of Karl Marx true “Religion is the opiate of the masses”, opium that can blind our eyes from reality and make us non-action person. The same Bible, Bhagavad-Gita, Vedas that could be abused as tool of oppression and can also be a tools of liberation.
When Mahatma Gandhi reads the Bhagavad-Gita he founded the principles of his struggle against British colonization like satyagraha (loyalty to the truth) and ahimsa (non-violence). In Latin-America the liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, Ivone Gebara read the Bible with the lenses of liberation of the oppressed. In Asia Kwok Pui Lan, Chung Hyun Kyung worked with the Bible in the post-colonial perspective.
The theology is a narrative of how our different bodies feel the Mystery of Life. The theology must go out of the office and dwell with the people, must walk barefoot to feel the earth, to smell the people, to feel hungry and thirsty, to cry and laugh, to dance, to touch the others. If theology is not born among the poor people then it will be only a discourse of God’s love that isn’t love at all.
Hinduism and Christianity
The term “Hinduism” is too wide and generic to relate the religious experience in India. This word has never been mention in the Vedas or used by Indians. Max Weber said that Hinduism was a word that Islam created to describe the faith of non-believers (WEBER, 1987). There two kinds of religious books in India, Sruti – revealed, inspired, “what is heard” and Smriti – “What is remembered”, are a supplementary book. Most of religious expression in India (sampradaya – religious system) are inspired by on Vedas. The word Veda means knowledge, revelation. The Vedas are Sruti literature and there are the Vedas: Rig Veda, Yagur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. All the rituals, chants, and mantras are directions to offer sacrifice are in the Vedas. The Bhagavad-Gita is Smriti literature, and has a great significance in India and religious thought. To understand the India culture is very importance to know the principles of the Vedas and how the religious thought is building.
In my graduation in Theology in Brazil I spent 3 years studying the sampradaya called Bhakti-Yoga. Bhakti-Yoga is one of a thousand of tradition in India that has as objective to get moksha (liberation) of samsara (cycle of reincarnation). For this tradition, the way to get moksha is the path of devotion. Bhakti means
Bhakti is proposed both as a means of liberation and as the supreme goal of liberation itself. Bhakti as a means of release denotes the love of God shown by the devotee with the view of attaining final liberation and bhakti as the liberated state signifies union with and surrender to God; it is the felt participation of the soul in the total being of God (DHAVAMONY, 1982).
The Bhakti-Yoga believes, as Christianity, that’s the relationship with God that can make us free from our own ego (or sin). And then find moksha and get the complete union with God. Both of tradition can make a mistake building “a kind of spirituality which so detaches itself from the world that it is not concerned with this world at all and only seeks the kingdom of God above.” (GRIFFITHS, 1987). But this “above” distances itself from the here and now, from the people who are suffering and hopeless in this world. Fr. Bede Griffiths, who lived “in-between” Christianity and Hinduism, said that “but the concern of the Gita, as of deeper tradition in Christianity, is precisely to be detached from the world in the first place, in order to guide and to direct the world, which means bringing everything under the control of the Spirit” (1987).
All traditions have the conflict of escape of this world, seeking his/her own salvation, or working for the others and help them to get the liberation. In tha Bhagavad-Gita period there was a bhakta movement, vaishnavas, who spreading the mahamantra (important to obtain moksha) for all castes in India. In Buddhism, there was the bodhisattva movement, who, in reaching his goal, makes a vow not to enter nirvana until all beings attain liberation. Fr. Bede Grittiths wrote about this question: “But the deeper one goes in the vertical direction towards God the more one should be able to go out in every horizontal direction towards humanity” (1987). Mahatma Gandhi said once:
My one object in life is to obtain moksha, liberation, and if I thought I could attain it by going to a cave in the Himalayas, I would go there straight away, but I believe that I can find God in my neighbour, particularly in my suffering fellow countrymen, therefore I devote my life to them in order that I may find God. (GANDHI apud GRIFFITHS, 1987)
As religious people, our dharma is bringing and building the Kingdom of God, Nirvana, Moksha here and now. In Sanskrit there is a concept called Jivanmukta that means finding liberation in this life and helping others to reach this liberation with the end goal of unification with the God. Jivanmukta-ideal is an “ideology for a movement of social transformation” (IRUDAYARAJ, 2010). Xavier Irudayaraj talked about e the concept of Jivanmukta with Liberation Theology, he understands that liberation theology is very important to build a theology that incarnates the social-political context and are commitment to world community.
Kwok Pui-Lan, Chinese theologian, in her book called “Globalization, Gender, and Peacebuilding: The Future of Interfaith Dialogue” said that the interfaith dialogue is a better concept than interreligious dialogue. Interreligious dialogue is dialogue between Christianity and other religions, but Interfaith dialogue is a meeting between people living in a living faith. “The interfaith dialogue would benefit from the insights of post-colonial studies, which question how the self and the other, the center and the periphery, the cultural dominator and the marginalized have been constructed” (PUI-LAN, 2012). Not only religious leaders can dialogue about their faith, but all kind of people who have a faith can dialogue, can build a new perspective of world. That’s why the postcolonial studies are very important in the interfaith dialogue.
Pui-Lan works in the postcolonial perspective and questions where are the multiplicity of voices in the discourse of liberation theology and interreligious dialogue. The postcolonial theology provides a more nuanced articulation of the meaning of liberation for marginalized groups.
Marginalization no longer becomes exclusive to socio-economic categories, race, or cultural appropriation of difference. The disenfranchisement of other groups has in many ways been a result of colonization. Imperial forces have not only subjugated individuals physically, but perhaps more ominous intellectually. The totalizing effect of both the physical and the intellectual colonization has necessitated a liberation hermeneutic that accounts for these facets. Liberation theology through a postcolonial perspective has provided an apparatus for such a task, starting with redefining the meaning of poverty in the midst imperial forces (THOMAS, 2015)
Where are the poor on the interreligious dialogue? Where are the women? Where are the LGBT people? The colonialism thought can be in our discourse about interreligious/interfaith dialogue. Our discourses can be oppressive even when we are acting for freedom, Christianity is a hegemonic power in the world, so, the interfaith dialogue can happen when the Christians understand that power of discourses and the give others the opportunity to speak and create a his/her own narrative.
All religions have their own liberation theology. The interfaith dialogue is about building bridges between religious people so that they build new horizons of peace and justice. I hope that our practice and discourse of interfaith dialogue will be anchored in the concept of jivanmukta, which is “liberated from selfishness, permeated with the presence of the God and, spends their life both loving and serving others” (THOMAS, 2016).
DHAVAMONY, M. Love of God according to Saiva Siddanta: a study in the mysticism and theology of Savism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.
GRIFFITHS, Bede. “River of Compassion: A Christian Commentary on the Bhagavad … Warwick, N.Y.: Amity House, 1987
KWOK, Pui-Lan. Globalization, Gender, and Peacebuilding: The Future of Interfaith Dialogue. Paulist Press, 2012.
THOMAS, Nicolas. Black Liberation Hermeneutics: A Postcoloinal Perspective. As part of coursework for The Bible and Empire in Texas Christian University, 2016.
WEBER, MAX. Ensayos Sobre Sociología de la Religión. Versión Castellana de Julio Carabaña. 1ª edição, Tomo II, Madrid: Taurus, 1987.
IRUDAYARAJ, Xavier. The Jivanmukta Model of Interiority and Service. In WILFRED, Felix. Leave the temple: Indian paths to human liberation. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010.