The Gourmets Of Vomit Series No. 5:
Thomas Dabre Christ In The Vedas
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Bishop Thomas Dabre tells Ashley de Mello how the study of the Vedas helped his understanding of Christianity. Interview in the Times of India, Bombay edition.
AM: Has the sudy of Indian religious heritage deepened your understanding of Christianity?
TD: Christianity teaches that God wants to save and redeem all mankind. My study of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Darshanas and the Maharashtrian Varkari Saints, showed that all these texts agree with this Christian teaching. In Maharashtra, the Varkari poet-saints have shown a profound sense of love and devotion to God, who desires to be in mutual love-relationship with the bhaktas (devotees). This has brought home to me the abiding significance of Jesus' message of God's unconditional love for all mankind and the commandment to love one's neighbour as oneself.
AM: What was your study of Sant Tukaram about?
TD: I studied the 4607 abhangas or poems of Tukaram in the original Marathi language published by the then Government of Bombay in 1950. I have also read the abhangas in English, translated by J. N. Fraser and K. B. Marathe. I discovered in them, almost by a flash of insight, numerous food symbols. These food symbols, like bhatuke, pangat, uchchishta, kala, bhojan and amruta, describe the relationship of love and devotion between God and the bhakta. Through these symbols, Tukaram brings out the stages and the dynamics at work in man's search for God.
Later, in a spirit of inter-religious dialogue, I compared my findings with similar food symbols in the Biblical narrative. And I discovered both similarities and differences in the two religious traditions.
AM: The inculturation movement was strong in India a decade ago. Has it received a setback in recent years?
TD: In India, Thomas Stephen, Robert de Nobili, John de Britto, Kalicharan Banerjee, Rev. Narayan Wamanrao Tilak, Pandita Ramabai and others spearheaded the movement for inculturation. Many sections of the church were perhaps not informed and not prepared enough to appreciate the significance of their work and so they remained admired but unimitated heroes. However, the history of the church indicates that attempts have always been made - sometimes successful, sometimes not so successful - to promote inculturation.
The Vatican Council II (1962-65) again committed itself to underline the need for inculturation. Thirty-seven years later, it is felt that not sufficeint work has been done in the area of inculturation.
However, in India, Indian values like simplicity, renunciation, silence, respect for elders, family values, as well as indigenous literature, customs and traditions are being increasingly adopted by the church. Is it not a matter of patriotic pride for us tha prayer and worship is offered in the current spoken languages of the faithful across the country, when such policy of the introduction of of local and spoken languages does not seem to be adopted by others? So I could say that the church in India has realised the urgent need for inculturation.
AM: What has been the contribution of Vasai to inculturation?
TD: Vasai has a Christian population of a hundred and twenty thousand, which is relatively small. Desite its proximity to Bombay, the Vasai community has maintained its indigenous character. This community has preserved the local Marathi language as the means of prayer and communication. A lot of writing is done on various issues in Marathi. Jesus is depiected in Indian mudras in pictures and posters. Also, the aarti, the use of the Indian shawl, deepa prajwalan, bhajans and Indian musical instruments are used in community worship. Vasai has ten thousand tribal Catholics. We are promoting their art, their customs and their traditions too.
Of course, we too have to deal with a lot of reluctance on the part of people who identify inculturation with Hinduisation and feel that it's a compromise with orthodoxy. Those of us who are active promoters of inculturation have to carry on a patient dialogue with them.
AM: With globalisation growing day by day, will the Western culture now not dominate the Indian ones in the Christian fold?
TD: I believe that all Indian Christians are truly Indian in their spirit and outlook. We are all now getting involved in the process of globalisation which has both good and harmful features. So along with other Indians, Christians too have to be alert so as not to lose their Indian character.
AM: There is a prevalent impression that the Christian community is already more Westernised than others.
TD: The Christian population in this country is around two and a half percent only. That would mean that most of the customers of Western goods in this country are non-Christians. Also, most of the students in the English medium schools and colleges are non-Christians and so, in terms of numbers, it is non-Christians are more Westernised than the Christian community.
A number of Christians speak English at home and have adopted some Western cultural habits. In the process of globalisation, they too will be exposed to its dangers. I'm afraid of Western values and morality influencing both Christians and others. And so, along with all other Indians, the Christian community too has to have a critical judgement of globalisation.
AM: What has been your experience, during your lectures abroad, about the global concept of Chrisitianity in India?
TD: Though we are a minuscule minority in a predominantly non-Christian majority, our number is quite high vis-a-vis many Western countries, so we are a significant Christian community for them. Besides, we have a large number of priests and nuns in this country. Our theological and philosophical education and output is of a high quality, so people abroad look up to the church in India with respect. They do not want us to parrot their way of articulating the Christian faith. They want us to show them the Indian face of Christianity. Pope John Paul II approves, in his Ecclesia in Asia, of the need to present the church in a way that appeals to the sensibilities of Asian people.
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