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A Response to: ISKCON in Relation to People of Faith in God
by Saunaka Rsi Dasa, Vol. 7, No.1

Marcus Braybrooke

God's love has no limit

Father Murray Rogers, a pioneer of Christian-Hindu dialogue, told me when I visited his ashram in India more than thirty years ago, that the 'external' dialogue has to be matched by an 'internal' dialogue. In 'external' dialogue you learn about the faith of others and share your own, whereas in 'internal' dialogue your reflect on what you have learned in communion with the Lord. How does the faith of the other compare with your own faith? Where is there disagreement? Where does it correct your own misunderstanding? This 'internal' dialogue is also a necessary task for a faith community. Do others have a genuine experience of the Divine? If so, can one claim for one's own faith a monopoly of the truth?

In recent years, there has been considerable discussion among Christians about the theological basis for dialogue — perhaps because many Christians want to move away from an exclusive position. There has been less discussion among Hindus — perhaps because many Hindus, as I was told when I first visited India more than thirty years ago, believe that all religions are the same, or at least paths up the same mountain. If that is the case, differences are only superficial and there is no urgency for dialogue, because questions of truth are not at stake. ISKCON, however, regards 'love of a Supreme personal God' to be the highest form of religious expression. Whilst respectful of other positions, once you recognise one way as 'the highest form of religious expression', you have the possibility of disagreement and also of dialogue about the truth.

The ISKCON document, 'ISKCON in Relation to People of Faith in God' is, therefore, a valuable and important document. It is first of all an internal reflection of the ISKCON community and, as it says, will provide members with 'clear principles, guidelines and perspectives for relationships with members of other faith communities'. It is also a significant document to members of other faiths who participate in dialogue with members of ISKCON. There are many motivations for, and approaches to, dialogue and it is helpful when participants clarify their approach as this ISKCON document does. This is particularly the case as, initially at least, ISKCON was seen as a proselytising body keen to recruit new members.

Part Two of the document addresses the issue of 'Dialogue and Mission'. When A.C. Bhaktivedanta first registered ISKCON, he said its primary aim was 'to systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large'. It is clear that he did not claim a monopoly on the truth. It is good, however, that this is now made clear in an official statement as some of his first followers may not have had this breadth of vision. Indeed, it is a puzzle to any new believer why the amazing truth that he or she has discovered is not equally apparent to everyone else. The early Christians could not understand why the good news of Jesus was not as self-evident to others as it was to them. They felt that they had been specially chosen to receive 'the secret of the kingdom of God' (Mark 4,11). They felt that others, who rejected their message, were blind, wilfully disobedient, wicked or even 'children of the devil'. The ISKCON statement refers to a passage in the Srimad-Bhagavatam that says the neophyte — or new believer — usually expresses the sentiments of fanaticism and exclusivism. The new truth is so amazing that everything else must be wrong. The mature devotee, however, recognises other devotees by the quality of their lives. He or she does not judge them by religious affiliation. This liberating discovery can, however, be difficult if one's fellow believers are still at an immature and exclusive stage of discipleship. Wesley Ariarajah, who did much to develop the dialogue programme of the World Council of Churches, tells in his new book Not Without My Neighbour[1], which arrived in the same post as the ISKCON Communications Journal, of his childhood in Sri Lanka, where he grew up with devout Hindu neighbours. 'I was aware ... that their prayer life was for them profoundly meaningful. Perhaps what impressed me most was that their prayer life appeared to bear fruits.' Yet he had to listen to 'hard-nosed' gospel — preachers who described Hindus as 'idol-worshippers' bound for hell, while Christians were destined for heaven. 'It was inconceivable to me; it was clearly unfair. I wouldn't want to be in a heaven where our neighbours were not.' Meeting in friendship with sincere members of other faiths shatters an exclusive theology.

The ISKCON statement affirms a mature relationship to people of other faiths. It is respectful of those who do not share belief in a supreme personal God, and welcoming to those who do. It recognises the need for people of faith to work together for a better world.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam also recognises a third stage. 'The advanced devotee sees all living beings as eternal servants of Krsna and treats them as such. He or she will have no interest in sectarian designations of race, caste, sex or religion.' This was the awareness of Francis Younghusband, who founded the World Congress of Faiths, and of many of its leading members. I doubt, however, whether it can be the position of a faith community, which, insofar as it is organised, seeks to develop its own institutional life. This is why, perhaps, although some great religious leaders recognise this advanced stage, religions as such — and indeed many interfaith organisations — operate at the second stage. That is a great advance on the immaturity that has so often characterised relationships between religions.

Most of us need a faith community by which we are nourished and to which we contribute. Yet we also need to be disturbed by the advanced devotees who remind us that God is free to enter into loving exchanges with whomsoever He wishes.


Ariarajah, S. Wesley. Not Without My Neighbour: Issues in Interfaith Relations. Risk, World Council of Churches, 1999.

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