ACHARYA VINOBA BHAVE
From, AN ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN INDIAN ELOQUENCE, compiled by R.K.Prabhu. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1965
40. SYNTHESIS OF RELIGIONS
(ACHARYA VINOBA BHAVE)
[In the course o f his post-prayer address at Raigunj (Dist. Manbhum, Bihar) on Christmas Day 25th December, 1954, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, originator of the Bhoodan movement, spoke on Jesus Christ and on the synthesis of religions. The sermon was a historical pronouncement on the status of Christianity and Islam and their future role in India. The following is a free rendering of the original speech in Hindi.]
The 25th of December is a sacred day for us all. The Son of Man, as Jesus loved to call himself, was born today. He belonged to all mankind, for he was above all barriers of race, colour and creed. He represented the human race and strove to raise its stature. He paid with his life in his attempt to redeem it.
Most of you may not know, but not long after Christ’s crucifixion a Christian Mission came to Malabar in South India. The word ‘Communism’ has been derived from ‘Communes’ which once were tiny settlements of early Christian communities’ who lived as one joint family, and shared all their earthly possessions in common. Ever since its arrival here Christianity has flourished. Unfortunately, during the past few centuries Christian missions in India linked themselves with Portuguese; British and other imperialist adventurers and suffered in prestige and stature.
Jesus strove to establish upon earth the Kingdom of heaven. He fought to conquer hatred by love. If we return love with love what virtue is there in it? That is the way even with the animals. Besides, if I must return like for like, I yield the initiative. I surrender my choice in the ordering of my conduct. It is then for the other fellow to determine it. Where is the wisdom, one may ask, in leaving our own course of action at the mercy of others?
Jesus called upon us to love our neighbour. But though this has been extolled as a great virtue by all nations, few have been found prepared in practice to accept it as their immediate obligation. Today science has taken great strides and man is coming upon means and instruments of remarkable potency which are promising him the millennium, -- or, total destruction in the alternative. Human destiny seems to he prostrate at the feet of science trembling at man’s discoveries, only because he has failed to raise himself to a conscious and willing acceptance of Christ and his message. We talk of love and non-violence and One World, but devote the bulk of our resources to piling up armaments for mutual destruction. We despair of our neighbour. This is cowardice. Jesus refused to give way to it. He bore the Cross -- the burden of our sins -- and embraced martyrdom.
Luckily, this, teaching of Jesus is not alien to India. We have been the meeting ground of a multitude of races, creeds and cultures, a land of synthesis and fusions. Our Gurudev Tagore sang of this land as a great ocean of fusion and unity of tribes and races, out of which was to emerge a model, refined and worthy to receive the world’s homage. There has been in the life of our people an underlying unity which transcends nationalism and all other bars and barriers between man and man.
I therefore unreservedly declare that Jesus Christ is our own, that to us in this country Jesus, and his teachings have never sounded strange or unpractical, that we regard Jesus as one of our family.
Indeed, the merciful providence has blessed India throughout her long history with an unending galaxy of saints and holy men who loved their neighbour and stranger and enemy alike, and laboured for their good, regarding their own self as less than dust. Their number indeed is legion. But for the moment I am reminded of one such, -- the Tamil saint. There he lay, the story goes, in his tiny little cell, chanting the name of Lord. Outside, the night is dark and a fierce blizzard is raging. A wayfarer knocks, seeking shelter. ‘Hail brother! Come in,’ says the God’s good man; ‘there is no room here for two to lie, but there is enough for two to sit. You are welcome.’ So saying he gets up and the two sit huddled together. The storm continues. And behold! yet another man; cold and shivering, knocks. ‘Come in, guest!’ says, the saint, ‘thou art the Lord Himself! Sorry, there is no- room for more than two to sit, but surely there is enough for three to stand.’ And the three good men pass the night standing and chanting and praising the good God.
“And verily, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” so said Jesus. He thus is nothing less than our own kith and kin. And I claim in all humility that no country in the world except India has made on so vast a scale a collective effort to follow his teachings as did India under Mahatma Gandhi.
I confess a good deal of our practice falls far short of our ideal. I am deeply aware of the failings in our behaviour. God alone knows the remorse we feel for our many sins. I only wish to submit that the teachings of Jesus are familiar food to every Hindu who is taught from early childhood not to kill, and to look upon the least of God’s creatures as one’s self; and that we have accepted Christ long ago.
It is for our Christian brethren, now that their foreign trappings are shed, to subscribe to the indigenous background suited to our own genius. And I also suggest that similar processes of wholesome assimilation may also take place among the followers of Islam and other religions; that Christians and Muslims of India who have hitherto held fast to their moorings and their traditions outside India, may no longer remain strangers to the Hindu cultural background, but assimilate the Indian Brahma Vidya with profit. It would broaden their outlook and confer a wholesome spirit of quest and tolerance to their religious and ideological approach and add lustre to their culture. Such a consummation, I submit, will render easier what each one of wants to propagate, and would make a worthy contribution to the growth of our common culture. Let us realize that we have come of age now. We no longer belong to the past dawns; we belong to the noons of the future.
Every one agrees that a unique spirit of brotherhood and comradeship pervades the teaching of Islam, and that Islam means PEACE. This is why the moon is its symbol. A man who has no passion for peace and has no compassion in him is not a Muslim. On the other hand he who has peace and compassion in him, is a Muslim, whether he carries such a label or not. I should call him and regard him a true Muslim. Similarly, love and service are the two characteristic features of the Christian way of life. Now I do yearn to live up to these ideals in everyday life. So I am willing to sit at the feet of their prophets and their holy men and learn. And I should love to regard myself or call myself, part Christian and Muslim, and look upon it as my good luck to be so, and endeavour to be worthy of all that this means. This I can do I claim, without the least harm to my Hinduism. I rather feel my Hinduism will bloom and blossom forth and add to its lustre and gain in stature for my doing so. Even so, Christianity and Islam, reinforced in the manner I have just explained, will assume a special significance in preaching universal love and brother hood and service of all God’s creatures.
Throughout her history of five thousand years, India has never attacked another country. Non-violence has been her badge and her sheet-anchor. It is in her blood and her marrow. Thus there is nothing novel if we accept Jesus as our own kith and kin, and refuse to regard him an outside influence.
I am glad the Christian churches of Malabar have declared Bhoodan Yajna (The Land-gifts Movement) as an the lines of Jesus Christ and have commended it for all to follow. I submit that Bhoodan will carry to every home Christ’s message of loving one’s neighbour, disregarding his denominational label.
With me, it is also an article of faith that the modern man has got to attain, sooner rather than later, an adult status when he shall kill no creature of God for food or sport; when he will refuse to look upon any living being as his food. This is a special contribution of the Indian Brahma Vidya to the evolution of human thought and behaviour of which the world may not have taken notice hitherto, but which in good time it shall learn to appreciate better. For, mankind must reach the conclusion soon enough that vegetarian food is the best food for man so as to outgrow the best in him. I am also aware that enough vegetarian food is not available in the world today. Nonetheless, I submit that the reform is essential for the evolution and perfection of man and for the unity of religious and spiritual endeavour of all mankind
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