Sunday, February 06, 2005

postal scrotum: the Maven on Hinduism and Judaism

The Maven writes (with my comments interspersed throughout):


I don't [purport] to be an expert in Hinduism, much in the way I don't think of myself as an expert in Judaism. I do, however, consider myself fairly well read, and continue to seek out truths and absorb and process what I read daily.

Hinduism is almost akin to Quakerism, in as much as there is really no set dogma from person to person.

Indeed: every Hinduism 101 course begins with the caveat that the term "Hinduism" is a Western imposition on a variegated set of thought-systems and traditions. This caveat stems from a recognition that "religious studies," as such, is largely a Western academic pursuit. Whether Hindus themselves adopt the label "Hindu" is a matter of personal practice and history. The term "Hindu" has become associated with India's internal politics and often has, for Indians, a nationalistic tenor. But in terms of the more explicitly religious discussion that interests scholars in religious studies, Hinduism most certainly isn't a single "-ism."

Many Hindus will use the term sanatana dharma-- roughly, the eternal dharma-- to describe what they do and how they live.

Each person (or family rather) has their own set of core traditions [...] which they follow, and they might vary [dependent] upon their caste/class and [geographical] location. They have several holy books unlike the Christian "Bible" (and apocrypha), or the Islamic Koran; and even though Jews have several books, they lump them all into this tidy thing called a Tanakh (according to Wikipedia: Tanakh (also spelt Tanach or Tenach) is an acronym for the three parts of the Hebrew Bible, based upon the initial Hebrew letters of each part: Torah ("The Law"; also: Teaching or Instruction), Chumash ("The five", also Pentateuch or The five books of Moses) Nevi'im ("The Prophets") Ketuvim ("The Writings" or "Hagiographa") ... the "t" the "n" and the "k" all represent different collections of books/writings. However! I do not believe that in Hinduism anyone has agreed upon any ONE set book as THE HOLIEST of books.

The academic term for what you're taking about is "closed canon." Hinduism and Buddhism don't have one. The Abrahamic faiths do.

A good reference: Wilfred Cantwell Smith's muscular work, What is Scripture?

PERCEPTIONS of Hinduism [vary] greatly from person to person. If you were to ask my mother-in-law, she would say that it is a pantheistic religion, all encompassing, and acknowledging ALL G-ds. My husband however, would say that it is polytheistic. Even though that evangelizing/[proselytizing] of Hindus is tres-tres-TABOO in India, most Indians can relate to and respect Jesus, and some would even say he IS God, and even contrast and compare him to Lord Krishna. Some people even suspect that the missing years of Jesus' life were spent in India, and perhaps that is where he gained his belief in the resurrection.

Some interesting insights on the question of Jesus as avatar can be found in Avatar and Incarnation by Geoffrey Parrinder, and in Harvard Hinduism expert Diana Eck's Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras.

One of the things I advocate as a pluralistic proponent of interreligious dialogue is the willingness to be reunderstood by the Other. Many stubborn Christians will reject a Hindu interpretation of Christianity. To my mind, that's too bad. They're missing out on a chance to view their own faith from a very different angle.

As to the question of Jesus' "missing years"... color me extremely skeptical. I think a lot of writing on this subject is wishful speculation, not backed up by convincing evidence.

One more rather interesting Hindu-Christian nugget would be to read up on Ramakrishna (I believe I have a linkypoo on my sidebar). This was an interesting chap. He was a Hindu, however, he was on a similar quest for enlightenment (who really isn't these days). At one point he claimed that Hinduism was the only path to enlightenment. He then explored Islam, and converted and claimed that was the only path. He then converted to Christianity and claimed that was the only path. In the end, he made a very sound argument for all three religions being valid vehicles to enlightenment.

And much in the way that your thoughts vs someone else's thoughts on the Hinduism vs Buddhism discussion do not change YOUR thoughts or beliefs on the topic, same could apply to me and my Libby-Christian beliefs/values when I enter a Hindu temple and participate (however I am able) in rites and offerings. It doesn't change our integrity, if anything, I think it validates the things we have been taught and how we process those things we have been taught (i.e. loving your neighbor as yourself; do unto others, etc).

I hope some of this email helps or inspires you,


Thanks for your email.

One of my religion profs commented, "Everyone's fundamentalist. It's just a matter of finding out where each of us draws the line." I think this is true, which is why I'm now perfectly comfortable with the fact that my pluralistic stance contains its own exclusivism. It's going to rub some people the wrong way, because they want to cling to their spiritual dogmatism. My stance also opens me to the charge of arrogance, and I may as well plead guilty. Then again, the whole issue of arrogance is a dead end; I discussed that here, in reference to Alvin Plantinga's defense of Christian exclusivism.

I could've sworn that I'd done my own blog about Tanakh, but I can't find it now, dammit. Oh, well. Maybe it was an email. Trivia: Jack Miles, the author of God: A Biography, contends that the Christian arrangement of the Jewish Bible might be more properly called Takanh (TKN).


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