Friday, September 17, 2021

What the Hindus Got Right


We believe that it was the philosopher Peter Kreeft who once wrote that the Hindus got quite a lot right in their theology and anthropology.  And this does seem to be the case, for they saw that the Deity is a trinity of Persons; that one of them descended into the realm of creation; that the human soul is eternal; and so on.

Their beliefs about the sacredness of ‘Om/Aum’ is another instance of this, for it points us to the Orthodox Church’s beliefs about the Name of Jesus.  Here is how one author described the Hindus’ sacred syllable:


The goal which all the Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which men desire when they lead the life of continence… is Om. This syllable Om is indeed Brahman. Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he desires. This is the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahma.

—​Katha Upanishad I


The syllable "Om" or "Aum" is of paramount importance in Hinduism. This symbol is a sacred syllable representing Brahman, the impersonal Absolute of Hinduism—omnipotent, omnipresent, and the source of all manifest existence. Brahman, in itself, is incomprehensible, so some kind of symbol is essential to help us conceptualize the Unknowable. Om, therefore, represents both the unmanifest (nirguna) and manifest (saguna) aspects of God. That is why it is called pranava—meaning that it pervades life and runs through our prana or breath. 


 . . .


According to the Mandukya Upanishad:  


Om is the one eternal syllable of which all that exists is but the development. The past, the present, and the future are all included in this one sound, and all that exists beyond the three forms of time is also implied in it. 


 . . . For Hindus, it is believed to be the basic sound of the world and to contain all other sounds within it. It is a mantra or prayer in itself, and if it is repeated with the correct intonation, it can resonate throughout the body so that the sound penetrates to the center of one's being, the atman or soul. 


There is harmony, peace, and bliss in this simple but deeply philosophical sound. According to the Bhagavad Gita, by vibrating the sacred syllable Om, the supreme combination of letters, while contemplating the Ultimate Personality of Godhead and quitting one's body, a believer will certainly reach the highest state of "stateless" eternity. 


The power of Om is paradoxical and two-fold. On the one hand, it projects the mind beyond the immediate to a metaphysical state that is abstract and inexpressible. On the other hand, though, it brings the absolute down to a level that is more tangible and comprehensive. It encompasses all potentialities and possibilities; it is everything that was, is, or yet to be. 


 . . . Mind moves between the opposites of sound and silence until, at last, the sound ceases to be. In the ensuing silence, even the single thought of Om is itself quenched, and there is no longer even the presence of thought to interrupt pure awareness. 


This is the state of trance, where the mind and the intellect are transcended as the individual self-merges with the Infinite Self in a pious moment of absolute realization. It is a moment when petty worldly affairs are lost in the desire for, and experience of, the universal. Such is the immeasurable power of Om. 


--Subhamoy Das,

In the Orthodox Church’s practice of the Jesus Prayer is the fulfilment of what the Hindus were close to grasping.  Let us look at a few passages written by the Metropolitan Bishop Kallistos Ware to confirm this:


True inner prayer is to stop talking and to listen to the wordless voice of God within our heart; it is to cease doing things on our own, and to enter into the action of God.


 . . . 


‘The Name of the Son of God is great and boundless, and upholds the entire universe.’ So it is affirmed in The Shepherd of Hermas, nor shall we appreciate the role of the Jesus Prayer in Orthodox spirituality unless we feel some sense of the power and virtue of the divine Name. If the Jesus Prayer is more creative than other invocations, this is because it contains the Name of God.


 . . . 


In the Hebrew tradition, to do a thing in the name of another, or to invoke and call upon his name, are acts of weight and potency. To invoke a person’s name is to make that person effectively present. ‘One makes a name alive by mentioning it. The name immediately calls forth the soul it designates; therefore there is such deep significance in the very mention of a name.’


Everything that is true of human names is true to an incomparably higher degree of the divine Name. The power and glory of God are present and active in his Name. The Name of God is numen preasens, God with us, Emmanuel. Attentively and deliberately to invoke God’s Names is to place oneself in his presence, to open oneself to his energy, to offer oneself as an instrument and a living sacrifice in his hands. So keen was the sense of the majesty of the divine Name in later Judaism that the tetragrammaton was not pronounced aloud in the worship of the synagogue: the Name of the Most High was considered too devastating to be spoken.


This Hebraic understanding of the name passes from the Old Testament into the New. Devils are cast out and men are healed through the Name of Jesus, for the Name is power. Once this potency of the Name is properly appreciated, many familiar passages acquire a fuller meaning and force: . . . 


It is this biblical reverence for the Name that forms the basis and foundation of the Jesus Prayer. God’s Name is intimately linked with his Person, and so the Invocation of the divine Name possesses a sacramental character, serving as an efficacious sigh of his invisible presence and action. For the believing Christian of his invisible presence and action. For the believing Christian today, as in apostolic times, the Name of Jesus is power. In the words of the two Elders of Gaza, St Barsanuphius and St John (Sixth century), ‘The remembrance of the Name of God utterly destroys all that is evil.’ ‘Flog your enemies with the Name of Jesus’, urges St John Climacus, ‘for there is no weapon more powerful in heaven or on earth. … Let the remembrance of Jesus be united to your every breath, and then you will know the value of stillness.’


The Name is power, but a purely mechanical repetition will by itself achieve nothing. The Jesus Prayer is not a magic talisman. As in all sacramental operations, the human person is required to co-operate with God through active faith and ascetic effort. We are called to invoke the Name with recollection and inward vigilance, confining our minds within the words of the Prayer, conscious who it is that we are addressing and that responds to us in our heart. Such strenuous prayer is never easy in the initial stages, and is rightly described by the Fathers as a hidden martyrdom. St Gregory of Sinai speaks repeatedly of the ‘constraint and labour’ undertaken by those who follow the Way of the Name; a ‘continual effort’ is needed; they will be tempted to give up ‘because of the insistent pain that comes from the inward invocation of the intellect’. ‘Your shoulders will ache and you will often feel pain in your head,’ he warns, ‘but persevere persistently and with ardent longing, seeking the Lord in your heart.’ Only through such patient faithfulness shall we discover the true power of the Name.


 . . . 


The aim of the Jesus Prayer, as of all Christian prayer, is that our praying should become increasingly identified with the prayer offered by Jesus the High Priest with us, that our life should become one with his life, our breathing with the Divine Breath that sustains the universe. The final objective may aptly be described by the Patristic term theosis, ‘deification’ of ‘divinization’. In the words of Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, ‘The Name of Jesus, present in the human heart, confers upon it the power of deification.’ ‘The logos became man,’ says St Athanasius, ‘that we might become god.’ He who is God by nature took our humanity, that we humans might share by grace in his divinity, becoming ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet. 1:4). The Jesus Prayer, addressed to the Logos Incarnate, is a means of realizing within ourselves this mystery of theosis, whereby human persons attain the true likeness of God.


The Jesus Prayer, by uniting us to Christ, helps us to share in the mutual indwelling or perichoresis of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The more the Prayer becomes a part of ourselves, the more we enter into the movement of love which passes unceasingly between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Of this love St Isaac the Syrian has written with great beauty:


Love is the kingdom of which our Lord spoke symbolically when he promised his disciples that they would eat in his kingdom: ‘You shall eat and drink at the table of my kingdom.’ What should they eat, if not love? … When we have reached love, we have reached God and our way is ended: we have passed over to the island that lies beyond the world, where is the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit: to whom be glory and dominion.


In the Hesychast tradition, the mystery of theosis has most often taken the outward form of a vision of light. This light which the saints behold in prayer is neither a symbolical light of the intellect, nor yet a physical and created light of the senses. It is nothing less than the divine and uncreated Light of the Godhead, which shone from Christ at his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and which will illumine the whole world at his second coming on the Last Day. Here is a characteristic passage on the Divine Light taken from St Gregory Palamas. He is describing the Apostle’s vision when he was caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4):


Paul saw a light without limits below or above or to the sides; he saw no limit whatever to the light that appeared to him and shone around him, but it was like a sun infinitely brighter and vaster than the universe; and in the midst of this sun he himself stood, having become nothing but eye.


Such is the vision of glory to which we may approach through the Invocation of the Name.


The Jesus Prayer causes the brightness of the Transfiguration to penetrate into every corner of our life. Constant repetition has two effects upon the anonymous author of The Way of a Pilgrim. First, it transforms his relationship with the material creation around him, making all things transparent, changing them into a sacrament of God’s presence. He writes:


When I prayed with my heart, everything around me seemed delightful and marvellous. The trees, the grass, the birds, the air, the light seemed to be telling me that they existed for man’s sake, that they witnessed to the love of God for man, that everything proved the love of God for man, that all things prayed to God and sang his praise. Thus it was that I came to understand what The Philokalia calls ‘the knowledge of the speech of all creatures’ . . . I felt a burning love for Jesus and for all God’s creatures.


In the words of Father Bulgakov, ‘Shining through the heart, the light of the Name of Jesus illuminates all the universe.’


In the second place, the Prayer transfigures the Pilgrim’s relation not only with the material creation but with other humans:


Again I started off on my wanderings. But now I did not walk along as before, filled with care. The invocation of the Name of Jesus gladdened my way. Everybody was kind to me, it was as though everyone loved me. . . . If anyone harms me I have only to think, ‘How sweet is the Prayer of Jesus!’ and the injury and the anger alike pass away and I forget it all.


 ‘Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me’(Matt. 25:40). The Jesus Prayer helps us to see Christ in each one, and each one in Christ.


The Invocation of the Name is in this way joyful rather than penitential, world-affirming rather than world-denying. To some, hearing about the Jesus Prayer for the first time, it may appear that to sit alone in the darkness with eyes closed, constantly repeating ‘. . . have mercy on me’, is a gloomy and despondent way of praying. And they may also be tempted to regard it as self-centred and escapist, introverted, an evasion of responsibility to the human community at large. But this would be a grave misunderstanding. For those who have actually made the Way of the Name their own, it turns out to be not sombre and oppressive but a source of liberation and healing. The warmth and joyfulness of the Jesus Prayer is particularly evident in the writings of St Hesychius of Sinai (?eighth-ninth century):


Through persistence in the Jesus Prayer the intellect attains a state of sweetness and peace . . . .


The more the rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; similarly, the more we call upon Christ’s Holy Name, the greater the rejoicing and exultation it brings the earth of our heart . . . .


The sun rising over the earth creates the daylight; and the venerable and Holy Name of the Lord Jesus, shining continually in the mind, gives birth to countless thoughts radiant as the sun.


Moreover, so far from turning our backs on others and repudiating God’s creation when we say the Jesus Prayer, we are in fact affirming our commitment to our neighbour and our sense of the value of everyone and everything in God. ‘Acquire inner peace,’ said St Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833), ‘and thousands around you will find their salvation.’ By standing in Christ’s presence even for no more than a few moments of each day, invoking his Name, we deepen and transform all the remaining moments of the day, rendering ourselves available to others, effective and creative, in a way that we could not otherwise be. And if we also use the Prayer in a ‘free’ manner throughout the day, this enables us to ‘set the divine seal on the world’, to adopt a phrase of Dr Nadejda Gorodetzky (1901-85):


We can apply this name to people, books, flowers, to all things we meet, see or think. The Name of Jesus may become a mystical key to the world, an instrument of the hidden offering of everything and everyone, setting the divine seal on the world. One might perhaps speak here of the priesthood of all believers. In union with our High Priest, we implore the Spirit: Make my prayer into a sacrament.


 ‘We can apply this Name to people . . . .’ Here Dr Gorodetzky suggests a possible answer to a question that is often raised: Can the Jesus Prayer be used as a form of intercession? The reply must be that, in the strict sense, it is distinct from intercessory prayer. As an expression of non-discursive, non-iconic ‘waiting upon God’, it does not involve the explicit recalling and mention of particular names. We simply turn to Jesus. It is true, of course, that in turning to Jesus we do not thereby turn away from our fellow humans. All those whom we love are already embraced in his heart, loved by him infinitely more than by us, and so in the end through the Jesus Prayer we find them all again in him; invoking the Name, we enter more and more fully into Christ’s overflowing love for the entire world. 



We ought not to be overly positive about Hinduism,

But given the similarities, one hopes that the Hindus will continue to seek out union with the True Body of Christ God, the Orthodox Church, as many have already done:


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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