As a College Chaplain, I am the one person who is officially designated to help support the spiritual journey of the campus community. I dare say we are living in the most religiously diverse nation this planet has ever seen. As a result, most colleges and universities today have incredibly diverse campuses in terms of religion. However, many people don’t realize this. They tend to stick with people like themselves, and this includes any religious belief set or observance.
One of my great joys is helping students learn about different religions, and how to engage with people of other faith traditions. A group of students and I recently attended the Hindu Temple of the Triad. I’ve been several times now, and the smell of incense as I entered the building welcomed me with open arms. The leader of the community emerged, shook our hands, and generously spent time explaining Hinduism and puja (worship) to our students. Enthralled with the space, the students had numerous questions and began to see connections with their own religions.
So many of the aspects of puja seemed familiar to me – a beautiful altar, a priest who trained years for this role, offerings to the divine, sacred writings. Yet, on this day, another similarity struck me. As our host explained the deities, he pointed out the particular animals associated with them.
“Each idol has an animal, because it represents that all of creation is connected and part of the divine.” I sat there, again seeing a connection with my own faith of Christianity. One of my favorite parts of the Bible is where God created everything – every animal, tree, flower, star, and humans. And once God created, God said, “It is good.” All of creation is a gift from the divine, and it is good. Celtic Spirituality brought these concepts to the forefront. The first British theologian, Pelagius, understood that creation is good. However, the Western Church followed in the footsteps of Augustine, who himself was immersed in the Greco dualistic understanding of good and evil. Augustine couldn’t get past his hatred of his desires or his body. And so the church (in official doctrine, at least) rejected the understanding of the goodness of creation, and bought into the Greco ideas that our bodies (created in God’s own image) would lead us astray from the spiritual path and must be subdued. The church bought into the concept that creation itself must be dominated as well, and made to follow the will of man (and I use the word man specifically, not as a substitute for humanity).
As I sat cross-legged in the Hindu Temple, soaking in the words of this bright man who immigrated from India, and whose life could only have been markedly different from mine own – I remembered the words of Genesis. “And God created, and it was good.”
I’m happy to see that you were able to find common ground between Christianity and Hinduism. Your mention of Augustine’s dualism is interesting because there is a strain of Hinduism that also emphasizes renunciation. The jnana marg (path of knowledge) encourages withdrawal from the world in order to cultivate wisdom and insight, specifically about the ephemeral nature of the world and the eternal nature of the spirit.
Although such wisdom is worth cultivating, it does lack a devotional approach (bhakti marg) wherein the line between Divinity and nature is not always set in stone. I’ve heard a nice way to think about this: instead of considering things of the world to be used for our own pleasure and thereby a distraction from God, consider that everything in the world is crying out to be offered to God. Further, fruits and flowers that live their lives only to be offered to the Lord set an example for us, just as Christ did, to live a life of sacrifice.
Please continue to share the connections you make between Christianity and Hinduism!
Thanks for the insights, Fred! That’s fascinating, and quite helpful in comprehending the different interpretations in my own tradition.