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Krishna Consciousness and the Judeo-Christian Tradition
A Guide to Interfaith Discussion

Hindu Thought in Other Cultures

In June 1993, Prana Krishna dasa (Frank Morales) of Chicago, IL, wrote the following letter:

"I am currently majoring in philosophy and minoring in theology at Loyola University of Chicago, a Catholic university...I’ve had many opportunities to have friendly discussions with Christian clergy and laymen about Vaishnava philosophy—usually with the result that we are all surprised at how many similarities there are between Vaishnava and Christian (pre-Thomist) theologies."

In an October 1993 letter, Prana Krishna dasa explained further:

" my fifteen years of studying religion...I, in concert with many other scholars and devotees, have found the similarities between Vaishnavaism and Christianity to be quite striking. Indeed, Vaishnavas seem to have more in common (theologically, as opposed to culturally or historically) with Christianity than with any other world religion.

"This is most especially true of early, Pre-Thomist Christianity. Most early Christian theologians and philosophers, before Thomas Aquinas, were influenced by the Platonic school of philosophy. Plato’s teachings were, in turn, very Hindu-like.

"He believed, for example, in reincarnation, the separateness, qualitative superiority and ontologically antecedent nature of the soul in comparison with the body/matter; and the primacy of a transcendent reality, of which this world is but a secondary (and inferior) reflection. Pre-Thomist Christians were all greatly influenced by these (and many other) Platonic ideas.

"With the triumph of Thomism as the predominant Christian paradigm in the Fourteenth century, and the consequential decline of the Platonist world-view, Christianity took a radical turn for the worse. Aquinas based his theology on the philosophical works of Aristotle, who was a materialistic, empirical philosopher.

"By stressing Aristotelianism, Aquinas grounded his theology (later to become the official theology of the Catholic Church!) upon the philosophy of a materialistic world-view; and, as you and I know cannot build a theology upon the ideas of an atheist. From that point on, Christianity has plummeted downward."

The Reverend Alvin Hart confirms these statements: "Christian doctrine was essentially Platonic—all the way up to the time of Aquinas, when Aristotelian philosophy started to influence Church teaching." The Greek influence upon Western civilization and especially upon Christianity cannot be ignored or denied.

In his 1992 book, The Universal Path to Enlightenment, Sri Nandanandana dasa (Stephen Knapp) writes that ancient Egyptian civilization, like the ancient Hindu civilization, was a priest-state, recognizing many gods, with the worship of the sun god being especially prominent. In the temple of Edfu the texts explain how the earth emerges from a lotus flower which rises from the primeval waters, a story with similarities to the Hindu account of creation.

The Egyptians worshipped their gods in a similar fashion as that found in India. The priests practiced cleanliness, shaved their heads, and wore white cloth. They would take a bath early in the morning to purify themselves and at dawn they would enter the temple. Opening the sanctuary where the deities were, the priest would prostrate before the images and then sit and chant prayers and burn incense. Then he would bathe the deities and dress them in fresh clothes and offer them food and drink, and then clean the altar and temple.

Other similarities are in the names. The name of the Egyptian sun-god Ra is derived from Ravi, the Sanskrit name for the sun. The name Heru is derived from Hari, which is another name for Vishnu.

Sri Nandanandana dasa notes that the early Greek sculptures seem to have been carved by the priests for the temples. Many of the early forms were almost always carved as a boy of 15 to 17 years of age and with long hair like Krishna. Furthermore, Zeus, Jupiter, and Amon were all blue bodied, not because they were sky-gods like some say, but because they are related to the image of Krishna who is blue, which signifies His spiritual nature.

Similarly, although it is an agnostic moral philosophy a few centuries older than Christianity, Buddhism teaches a consistent ethic of reverence for all life. No wars have ever been waged in the name of Buddhism. The act of abortion is also explicitly condemned in the Buddhist canonical scriptures. Sir Edwin Arnold’s poetic biography on Siddhartha Gautama, The Light of Asia, caused quite a controversy in Victorian England: centuries before Jesus, an earlier teacher lived "the Christ life."

The ethical teachings of the Buddha are quite similar to those found in the Gospel of Jesus: One must never be proud nor harbor anger against anyone. He who humbles himself shall be exalted, while the one who exalts himself shall be degraded. Harsh language must never be used against anyone.

Avoid lust, anger and greed. One should not scrutinize the mote in a neighbor’s eye without first noticing the beam in one’s own. One must "turn the other cheek" if attacked or abused. One’s own possessions must be shared with the less fortunate. If a man obtained the whole world and its riches, he still would not be satisfied, nor would this save him.

In 261 B.C., the Indian emperor Ashoka witnessed firsthand the innumerable casualties he caused during one of his many military campaigns. His heart was filled with grief. He converted to Buddhism. 19th century scholar and writer H.G. Wells considered Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism one of the most significant events in world history.

Ashoka, formerly a bloody and ruthless emperor, became a remarkably kind and gentle leader. Ashoka established some of the first animal rights laws. He stopped the royal hunt, the sacrifice of animals in his capital city, the killing of animals for food in the royal kitchens, and gave up the eating of meat. Ashoka made it illegal to kill many species of animals, such as parrots, ducks, geese, bats, turtles, squirrels, monkeys and rhinos. He forbade the killing of pregnant animals, or animals that were nursing their young. He declared certain days to be "non-killing days," on which fish could not be caught, nor any other animals killed. He established wells and watering holes, places of rest and hospitals for humans and animals alike.

Ashoka educated his people to have compassion for animals, and to refrain from killing or harming them. He sent missionaries to all the neighboring kingdoms to teach mercy, compassion and nonviolence. Through Ashoka’s patronage, Buddhism was spread all over the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism would eventually reach the rest of Asia; today there are an estimated 300 to 600 million Buddhists worldwide.

Sri Nandanandana dasa writes that there are many similarities between the Hindu literature and the Buddhist religion of the Far East. For example, the word Ch’an of the Ch’an school of Chinese Buddhism is Chinese for the Sanskrit word dhyana, which means meditation, as does the word zen in Japanese. Shinto is essentially pantheistic, based upon the worship of the forces of nature. In the early days of Shinto, no animal food was offered in sacrifice because of the taboo against shedding blood in the sacred area of the shrine.

With the advent of Buddhism, Japan became a predominately vegetarian society. A temple was erected in memory of the first cow slaughtered in Japan when they opened their doors to the West in the 19th century. Even as late as the 1890s, according to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the Emperor commissioned a study as to whether or not it was necessary to add meat into the nation’s diet. The commission concluded that the Japanese people didn’t need meat, and that Japan’s diet "stands on a foundation of rice."

Many of the Asian cultures practiced worship of different demigods, the ancestors (pitas in Sanskrit), the emperor (in Sanskrit, the king was revered as nara-deva, or "God in human form"), etc. The Asian cultures, like traditional Hindu society, are very patriarchal, teaching respect for elders, etc.

In Thailand, there is a temple honoring Brahma, the Hindu creator-god of this universe, and the kings of Thailand still use the title "Rama," referring to this specific incarnation of God and ideal monarch. The name "Singapore" means "City of Lions" in Sanskrit. As far east as Kampuchea, we can find temples built by the kings of ancient Cambodia, such as Angkor Wat, a large and well known temple complex originally devoted to Lord Vishnu and the different demigods. It is now a Buddhist shrine.

In his 1981 anticult book, Where is Joey? Lost Among the Hare Krishnas, author Morris Yanoff describes his family’s attempts to rescue his 12 year old grandson from ISKCON. Yanoff is very Jewish, and can even recognize a fellow Jew by the person’s last name. Yet he finds no similarities between Judaism and Krishna Consciousness. For him, the Hare Krishnas are a "cult" which have taken away his grandson. Satyaraja dasa (Steven Rosen) and Rabbi Jacob Shimmel actually disagree on more points than they agree upon in their 1990 book, Om Shalom: Judaism and Krishna Consciousness.

Similarly, in his 1983 essay "A Jewish Encounter with the Bhagavad-gita," Harold Kasimow discusses ideas "which seem totally incompatible with the Jewish tradition. The most striking example is the doctrine of incarnation, a concept which is as central to the Gita as it is to Christianity. According to the Gita, Krishna is an incarnation (avatara), or appearance of God in human form.

"A study of the Jewish response to the Christian doctrine of incarnation shows that Jews, and I may add, Muslims have not been able to reconcile this idea with their own scriptural notion of God."

"It is within the heart that I embrace both religions (Hinduism and Christianity) in a personal synthesis, which intellectually may be more or less perfect... Religions meet in the heart rather than in the mind."
---Father Raymundo Pannikar


Go on to:  16 - Other Sons of God

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