Author: Paul F. Knitter
Publisher: Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England
In his book Jesus and the Other Names Paul Knitter
sets out to generate a little more light and energy in inter-religious
debate, as well as intra-religious dialogue with fellow Christians,
both of which he deals with thoroughly and extensively. This book
is of interest to Vaisnavas that are interested in entering inter-religious
dialogue as well as those who are skeptics. It helps highlight the
issues that need tackling as well as suggesting a possible method
of approach. More urgently, he seeks to persuade those who are skeptics
of the moral imperative for world religions to enter dialogue.
He speaks mainly to a Christian audience (he himself comes from
a Catholic background) attempting to convince them that inter-religious
dialogue would benefit their tradition, rather than dilute and damage
it. To those coming from other religious traditions there are a
number of points of interest: his reasons for the necessity of dialogue;
the approach he embraces in order to convince members of his own
tradition of the necessity for dialogue, as well as some of his
proposals towards how an inter-religious debate could be conducted.
The author begins with an autobiographical introduction describing
his own dialogical odyssey. He carries the reader through the main
events in his life that has shaped his theological approach: the
sincere religious non-Christian friends that made him question that
Christianity was the only path to God. The ability of Christians,
Hindus and Muslims in the Indian sub-continent to dialogue and function
successfully within the same community brought the realisation that
inter-religious dialogue could and does work on a practical level.
The plight of the 'suffering other' poor in the slums of South America
who rarely have a say in the making of Church Policy, and the Native
American Indians that impressed upon him the suffering and great
harm that human society inflicts upon the earth and the animals
that live upon it. From these deeply felt experiences, he devised
his 'Co-relational, Globally Responsible' model for conducting an
He seeks to explain with the use of scripture that to enter dialogue
is a moral imperative for Christians. Not only will it bring greater
co-operation between religions, but it will also help Christians
come to a clearer understanding of what makes Jesus unique; to come
to a more committed following of him and enable them to ultimately
carry out a more meaningful mission to the world.
Throughout he attempts to persuade through practical guidelines
how to conduct a workable inter-faith dialogue. More than anything,
his sincerity rings true, convincing us that there is an urgent
need to address the 'suffering other' (the poor and destitute) and
the 'religious other' (traditions not of a Catholic origin). His
main contribution to the debate is that the needs of the 'religious
other' and the 'suffering other' must be addressed together, because
they have both been marginalised historically in Church debate.
After many years working in this, field Knitter comes to the conclusion
that the best way to conduct an inter-religious debate is for it
to be 'Globally Responsible', based on a shared commitment to promote
eco-human well being. This raises an interesting point; an eco-human
dialogue would enable dialogue to aim to fulfil a common practical
purpose. This may encourage greater urgency to co-operate for a
cause that cuts across religious boundaries. It seems that Vaisnavism
has a great deal to offer to this debate, but would we agree to
this as being a good starting point?
Debate must also be co-relational for it to be useful. By this
he means through dialogue, religions can come to a better understanding
of truth by sharing their truths. This is achieved by a mutual back
and forth, co-relationship of speaking, listening, teaching and
learning, witnessing and being witnessed to. He goes on to outline
the preconditions needed for a fruitful dialogue, they include co-operation,
equality, honesty, respect, and sensitivity towards other participants.
This approach is in line with Vaisnava teachings. In the Shrishastika,
Caitanya Mahaprabhu recommends: trnad api sunicena / taror api
sahisnuna / amanina manadena / kirtaniyah sada harih. 'One should
chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking
oneself lower than the straw in the street and one should be ready
to offer all respect to others without expecting any respect for
oneself.' Amoung other things, this text emphasises humility. Humility
is a quality that Vaisnavas nurture inorder to cultivate an appropriate
mood that will enable them to grow in their spiritual lives. This
quality should make Vaisnavas especially capable of entering such
a dialogue, as their training should enable them to co-operate,
respect and react with sensitivity towards other participants. Moreover,
this verse gives Vaishnavs the theological basis in support of entering
such a dialogue.
Interestingly, Knitter rejects the pluralist model because to him
it suggests an approach that sees different religions as equal in
every sense as 'differences are painted away in order to create
some kind of common religious soup.' Rather, he suggests that many
religions share truth, but they share truth in very different ways,
in his model 'differences are maintained, recognized, cherished.'
This is encouraging, as it means that participants need not fear
that by emphasising theological and cultural differences they will
be undermining the purposes of the discussion, indeed, they would
be enriching it.
Dialogue enables one to admit that one tradition does not have
a monopoly on the truth: 'To stand before the beauty and power of
another tradition does not necessarily call into question our own
religious truth, but it does announce the limitations of our own
truth.' Knitter suggests that the debate must start on the assumption
that all religions are limited and that no one religion has a monopoly
on the truth. We may not agree that our faith is limited in its
revelation of truth. However our understanding or actual realisation
of that truth may be limited, and we may benefit from sharing realisations
and hearing the realisations of members of other faiths. In doing
so, we may actually increase our understanding and faith in Krishna's
mercy and revelation.
A humble stance is adopted by Knitter as he and highlights the
injustices that his tradition has brought onto others, and he suggests
that dialogue 'may even point out how our faith has excluded, demeaned
or exploited them.' Through dialogue a tradition can renew and modify
itself as well as guard against ideological abuses because, 'Alone
in our background, we cannot recognise the distortions of our own
Indeed, we must ourselves guard against becoming dismissive of
other faiths, which is very easily done through ignorance or misinformation.
Everyday during their work devotees come across people form numerous
religious persuasions. They are continually confronted by question
asking where Vaisnavas stand on a multitude of theological issues.
How well do we respond to their questions? What do we understand
of these other faiths? Inter-religious dialogue could be an extremely
useful forum in which we could increase our understanding of other
traditions, as well as promoting a better understanding of ourselves
in other traditions.
Reassurance is offered to those that might be fearful of entering
the dialogue. One of the main fears for any religion entering such
a dialogue is the fear that their missionary potential will be damaged
and that what their tradition has to offer will no longer be considered
unique. This also has relevance for devotees in ISKCON. Devotees
may be also be fearful that by entering into a dialogue with other
faiths may no longer allow Shrila Prabhupada's teaching to be considered
unique. For these fears the Paul Knitter makes some helpful suggestions.
He proposes that with a few modifications in missionary outlook
for the Christian Church this need not be the case. To him Christ
is known through experience; faith and fidelity are a matter of
practically living, rather than having. There should not be any
fear that the authority of the Bible will be compromised through
dialogue. The Bible affirms that God has 'really and truly spoken
the saving word in Jesus' and it remains authoritative because those
that live by the teachings of Christ continue to experience it as
true. Therefore, the teachings of Christ continue to be unique because
He offers a clear and decisive path to follow in order to know God,
and this is equally true for those that are practicing the teachings
of Shrila Prabhupada. He encourages Christians and other traditions
that by simply having some faith in one's tradition; there is nothing
to fear because the saving grace of God can transform not only the
human heart but also human society.
With this in mind, he suggests mission should be viewed differently.
He goes as far as to say that living by Jesus' example is more important
than the Christian Church. To him a missionary is considered successful
if he enables Hindus, Christians and Muslims to live together in
greater harmony through Christian teachings, rather than a missionary
who makes many converts to the church, but fails to make a positive
contribution by changing the way humans behave towards one another.
He believes strongly that conversions should not be forced, nor
missionary success measured in terms of conversion. Having said
this, there are still some circumstances where conversion to the
Church may be necessary. His approach begs the question, how else
would success be measured if not by conversion? To him 'Conversion
to the Kingdom of God', and by this I think he means living in God-consciousness,
or by God's will 'is more important than conversion to the Church.'
Again, the Vaisnava perspective supports this, as practice is more
important than precept.
He goes even further to say that the Church would benefit by not
only making dialogue part of its mission, but by making dialogue
mission, indeed, to him it is a 'moral imperative.' Dialogue is
a 'beneficial two-edged sword.' Not only would it help Mission,
but it would also help the Church renew and reform itself. He calls
for greater co-operation between religions because 'building God's
Kingdom is too big and too complex a job for any one religion.'
This sounds encouraging and familiar, because Shrila Prabhupada
wanted greater co-operation between religions in order to create
a more God conscious society.
All these proposals throw up important questions as far as our
own tradition is concerned. Some members of ISKCON have taken the
initiative and have already taken part in inter-religious dialogue,
but as yet many preachers have not yet considered this possibility.
How are we going to relate to other faiths in such a dialogue? What
rules would we be comfortable with? Indeed, would we be happy with
the suggestions Paul Knitter puts forward? Are we clear about what
we want to achieve through inter-religious dialogue?
Paul Knitter lays out clearly why dialogue is important, how it
can practically take place and the possible positive outcomes that
could come about. His voice is significant because of his many years
experience of 'coming up against walls' when taking part in inter-faith
dialogue, therefore, his proposals come with the wisdom of experience.
We need to decide clearly what our objectives would be when we enter
dialogue-only by envisioning these aspects clearly will we be able
to achieve a constructive outcome.
Arti Kachhia is a congregational member of ISKCON in
England. She read History at Trinity College, Cambridge and graduated
Author: David Gordon White
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press Ltd., London,
ISBN: 0-226-89497-5 (cloth)
The Alchemical Body excavates and centres within its Indian
context the lost tradition of the medieval Siddhas. Working
from a body of previously unexplored alchemical sources,
David Gordon White demonstrates for the first time that
the medieval disciplines of Hindu alchemy and hatha-yoga
were practised by the same people, and that they can only
be understood when viewed together. White opens the
way to a new and more comprehensive understanding of medieval
Indian mysticism, within the broader context of South Asian
Hinduism, Jainism and Islam.
Issues in Hinduism
(A volume in the World Religions:
Themes and Issues series)
edited by Paul Bowen
Publisher: Cassel (London and Washington)
First published 1998
ISBN 0-304-33850-8 hardback
ISBN 0-304-33851-6 paperback
This book offers useful insights into the complex and internally
diverse realm of Hinduism. It is intended to acquaint the
reader with themes and issues that, while of relevance to
all religious traditions and systems, contribute to an understanding
of the abstract nature of Hinduism as a whole. Beginning
with Hindu religious understandings of the human condition,
the chapters are arranged so as to form a thematic survey
and overview of Hindu religious beliefs and practices. The
themes of morality and ethics, the role of women in Hinduism,
the Hindu religious construction of nature, and issues such
as mythology, the status of texts, forms of worship, and
sacred time and place can be systematically considered;
or, alternatively, focus can fall upon those topics that
are of particular personal interest. Readers should find
this book a wide-ranging and balanced introduction to Hinduism's
Written for students of comparative religion and the general
reader, and drawing on the chapters originally edited by
Jean Holm and John Bowker in the Themes in Religious Studies
series, the volumes in World Religions: Themes and Issues
explore core themes from the perspective of the particular
religious tradition under study.
of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas
Author: David Kinsley
Publisher: University of California Press Ltd., London,
ISBN: 0-52020498-0 (cloth)
ISBN: 0-520-20499-9 (pbk)
What is one to make of a group of goddesses that includes
a goddess who cuts her own head off, a goddess who sits
on a corpse while pulling the tongue of a demon, or a goddess
who prefers sex with corpses? Tantric Visions of the Divine
Feminine deals with a group of ten Hindu Mahavidyas, who
embody habits, attributes or identities usually considered
repulsive or socially subversive. It is within the
context of tantric worship that devotees seek to identify
themselves with these forbidding goddesses. The Mahavidyas
seem to function as 'awakeners' - symbols that help to project
one's consciousness beyond the socially acceptable or predictable.
Kinsley not only describes the eccentric qualities of each
of these goddesses but seeks to interpret the Mahavidyas
as a group and to explain their importance for understanding
Tantra and the Hindu tradition.
Hinduism for Our
Author: Arvind Sharma
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1996
No religion ever remains static: it affects and is in turn
affected by material reality. It is the creative tension
embodied in this dynamic which makes the world of religion,
rich with possibilities.
This book examines the contours of this creative tension
in the context of Hinduism in our own times. For Hinduism,
a religion of unknown antiquity is also, in several ways,
surprisingly modern. Hinduism for Our Times is an attempt
to raise this dimension of Hinduism to an unprecedented
level of self-awareness. Thus the choices that Hindus
must make in the context of modernisation and globalisation
become conscious as opposed to random choices, choices which
will place Hinduism at the cutting edge of the contemporary
world instead of consigning it to the periphery. This
book will appeal to all those interested in giving religion
a modern agenda.
A Hare Krishna
at Southern Methodist University
Author: Tamala Krsna Goswami
Publisher: Pundits Press, Dallas
A Hare Krishna at Southern Methodist University is a collection
of award-winning essays mapping the convergence of East
and West by Hare Krsna leader Tamala Krsna Goswami. Readers
are invited to enter the world of a unique spiritual pioneer,
who in reality is the seeker in all of us.