The emergence of Catholic ashrams in several parts of the country is not an isolated development. These institutions are links in a chain which is known as the "Ashram Movement", and which different denominations of Christianity are promoting in concert. The Protestants and the Syrian Orthodox have evolved similar establishments. Taken together, these institutions are known as Christian ashrams. Several books and many articles have already been devoted to the subject by noted Christian writers.
The Ashram Movement, in turn, is part of another and larger plan which is known as Indigenisation or Inculturation and which has several other planks. The plan has already produced a mass of literature and is being continuously reviewed in colloquies, conferences, seminars, and spiritual workshops on the local, provincial, regional, national, and international levels. High-powered committees and councils and special cells have been set up for supervising its elaboration and implementation.
What strikes one most as one wades through the literature of Indigenisation is the sense of failure from which Christianity is suffering in this country. Or, what seems more likely, this literature is being produced with the express purpose of creating that impression. The gains made so far by an imperialist enterprise are being concealed under a sob-story. Whatever the truth, we find that the mission strategists are trying hard to understand and explain why Christianity has not made the strides it should have made by virtue of its own merits and the opportunities that came its way.
Christianity, claim the mission strategists, possesses and proclaims the only true prescription for spiritual salvation. It has been present in India, they say, almost since the commencement of the Christian era. During the last four hundred years, it has been promoted in all possible ways by a succession of colonial powers-the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the British. The secular dispensation which has obtained in this country since the dawn of independence has provided untrammeled freedom to the functioning as well as the multiplication of the Christian mission. Many Christian countries in the West have maintained for many years an unceasing flow of finance and personnel for the spread of the gospel. The costs of the enterprise over the years, in terms of money and manpower, are mind-boggling. Yet Christianity has failed to reap a rich harvest among the Hindu heathens.
Born in 1921, Sita Ram Goel took his M.A. in History in 1944, from the University of Delhi. He won scholarships and distinctions in school as well as college.
Well-versed in several languages, he had studied the literature, philosophy, religion, history and sociology of several cultures-ancient, medieval and modern. For his judgements and evaluations, however, he drew his inspiration from the Mahabharata, the Suttapitaka, Plato and Sri Aurobindo.
He had written several documented studies on Communism, Soviet Russia, Red China, Christianity and Islam. Author of eight novels, he had translated into Hindi quite a few books from English, including some dialogues of Plato and a biography of Shivaji. His other works include compilations from the Mahabharata and the Suttapitaka.
Having become a convinced Communist by the time he came out of college, he turned against this criminal ideology in 1949 when he came to know what was happening inside Soviet Russia. From 1950 onwards he participated in a movement for informing the Indian people about the theory as well as the practice of Communism in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China. The numerous studies published by the movement in the fifties exist in cold print in many libraries and can be consulted for finding out how the movement anticipated by many years the recent revelations about Communist regimes.
It was early in 1987 that Hinduism Today sent to me reprints of four articles that had been published in its issue of November/ December, 1986.2 Based on extensive research, the articles told the story of some Catholic missionaries establishing "ashrams" in different parts of India and doing many other things in order to look like Hindu sannyasins. They also pointed out some glaring contradictions between Hindu spiritual perceptions on the one hand and the basic Christian beliefs on the other. One of the articles quoted from Vatican sources to show how Church proclamations disagreed with the professions of Christian "sannya- sins". Another asked the Christians as to how they would look at a Muslim missionary appearing in their midst in the dress of a Christian priest and adopting Christian rituals in a Church-like mosque, but teaching the Quran instead of the Bible.' I wrote to Hinduism Today that Voice of India would like to publish the articles in the form of a booklet for the education of Hindus, many of whom had been hoodwinked by this form of mission strategy. The permission was readily granted.
While these articles were getting printed, a friend in Madras informed me that a dialogue on the subject of Christian ashrams had developed through correspondence between Swami Deva-nanda Saraswati and Father Bede Griffiths. He sent to me an article and some letters to the editor which had appeared in the Indian Express of Madras in March and April 1987, and triggered the dialogue. The article, An Apostle of Peace, was the summary of a talk which Dr. Robert Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic theologian from Canada, had delivered in Madras on March 12, 1987. Fr. Bede Griffiths had been presented by him as "Britain's appropriate gift to India".' The letters to the editor were reactions from readers of the Indian Express.
I wrote to Swami Devananda and obtained from him copies of the letters exchanged. He also supplied a letter from Dr. Teasdale that had appeared in the Indian Express of June 1, 1987 and was a defence of Teasdale's earlier presentation. I found the material illuminating and immediately relevant to the subject I was planning to present for public discussion. Swami Devananda had no objection to Voice of India publishing the correspondence provided Fr. Bede Griffiths also gave his permission. He wrote to Fr. Bede who agreed readily and with grace. Swami Devananda then sent us copies of the last letters exchanged in October, 1987.
As I developed the Preface to the first edition and surveyed the mission strategies in the history of Christianity in this country, I realized that I was dealing with not only Catholic Ashrams but, in fact, with a whole movement known as the Christian Ashram Movement in the Christian Mission. Various Protestant missions were also practising the same fraud. But it was too late to change the title of the book because its main body had been already printed. I have retained the old title in this edition also because it has become well-known under this name not only in this country but also abroad, particularly in circles that control the Christian missions in this country. But I have made the subtitle more apt.
In this second edition, while all the old material has been retained, a lot more has been added. The earlier Preface has been expanded and rearranged into chapters with suitable headings. It now forms Section I of the book. In Section Il which carries the earlier articles from Hinduism Today, two more articles from the same monthly have been added as appendices. In the earlier edition, there was only one dialogue, that between Swami Deva-nand and Fr. Bede. Now there are three dialogues, two more having been put together by Swami Devananda and brought to my attention. The dialogues form Section III of the present edition. Another valuable addition is Section IV which comprises letters exchanged between Fr. Bede and Shri Ram Swarup in early 1990. Three articles written by Ram Swarup in different papers and referred to by him in his letters to Fr. Bede have been reproduced as appendices to this section. Section V of this edition is more or less the same as Section III of the old one except for some changes in the numbering of the appendices and addition of a new appendix. The information which this section had carried earlier about Robert De Nobili has been transferred to the appropriate chapter under Section I. The other new features in the present edition are Bibliography and Index.
The first edition of Catholic Ashrams drew two sharp but opposite reactions from Hindu and Christian quarters.
Hindu readers by and large reacted favourably and welcomed the Hindu view of Christian missions. Some readers whom I had known for years and who had thought that Christian missions had undergone a change of character, were unpleasantly surprised. The only Hindu with whom I failed to carry weight was a noted Gandhian who refused to concede that there was anything wrong in what the Christian mission were doing. So unlike Mahatma Gandhi, I thought. I have found that for the Gandhians, by and large, Muslims and Christians are always in the right, and Hindus always in the wrong. I wonder if anyone of them has ever cared to read the Mahatma's works, and know that, no matter what his strategy of serving Hinduism happened to be at any time, his commitment to Hinduism was uncompromising.
On the other hand, my Christian friends whom I had known for many years, expressed pain and resentment at what I had written, particularly about Swami Abhishiktananda who had met me in 1958 and known me rather well for years till he died in 1973. In our very first meeting I had told him in so many words that Jesus came nowhere near even the most minor Hindu saint, and that the missionary attempts to foist him on Hindus with the help of Western wealth, was nothing short of wickedness. He had never mentioned Jesus again, and our discussions had centred on Hindu philosophy of which he knew quite a bit, at least better than I did at that time. I had never suspected that he himself was a missionary and a part of the apparatus. It was only when I read his writings that I learnt the truth. I happened to be Treasurer of the Abhishiktananda Society in Delhi at the time the first edition of this book appeared. I told my Christian friends that we were in the midst of a dialogue, and that personal relations should not obscure ideological differences. But I have failed to impress them. Our relations are now correct but cold. Having been a student of Christian doctrine and history, I should have known that the post-Vatican II talk about tolerance and dialogue was intended to be a one-way affair.
A friend (not Koenraad Elst) has sent to me the relevant pages from a book written by a Christian lady and published from Leuven in Belgium. She has been rather kind to me. "While there has been," she says, "much sympathy and support from both the Hindu and Christian communities in India, Catholic ashrams have also confronted opposition. In Catholic Ashrams, Sita Ram Goel, a member of a fundamentalist movement within Hinduism which seeks to return to the pure Vedic religion, severely attacks and ridicules the phenomenon of Catholic ashrams ... As long as Christians are not prepared to question their own fundamentals of faith, more precisely the belief in the uniqueness of Christ, Hindus, according to Goel, will remain suspicious of Catholic motives for starting ashrams.'" I do not know what she means by "return of the pure Vedic religion". I know of no such movement in India at present. At any rate, I should like her to guide me to the movement to which I am supposed to subscribe. But she has represented me quite correctly when she says that I consider the Christian dogma of Jesus Christ being the only saviour as a devilish doctrine which Hindus will never accept. Readers of the two sentences I have quoted from her book can judge for themselves as to who is a funda- mentalist. In any case, I should like to point out to this Christian enthusiast that fundamentalism is as foreign to Hinduism as honesty is to Christian missions.
Coming to Jesus Christ, I had written an essay on what the Christological research in the modern West has done to this mischievous myth. The essay was intended to be a Preface to this edition of the Catholic Ashrams. But owing to the wealth of detail which was needed to tell the full story of the Jesus of History yielding place to the Jesus of Fiction and finally leaving the fast dwindling number of believing Christians with the Christ of Faith (blind belief), the essay became too long and did not look suitable as a mere Preface. I have had to make the essay a separate book, Jesus Christ: An Artifice for Aggression, which is being published simultaneously with this edition of the Catholic Ashrams. Readers may regard the two books as companion volumes.
I end by mentioning a happy coincidence. When I sat down to write the Preface to the first edition of Catholic Ashrams, I ran into a lot of source material which enabled me eventually to write History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (1989), which, in turn, brought Koenraad Elst to me in December, 1989. This time, as I sat down to write the Preface to this edition, I ran into another lot of material which has enabled me to write Jesus Christ: An Artifice for Aggression. I look forward to my next book on Christianity which I hope will enable me to write yet another.
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