Readers would recall Mr Joseph Mani the writer of the famous book BEYOND GOD AND SCRIPTURES (please refer to the Book's Review in Church Citizens' Voice and in mattersindia.com 8-10th July 2018). In this article, Mr Mani shares another insight where he emphasises God does not live in churches, mosques or temples, but in the hearts of men, in our neighbours and that God is in us and with us irrespective of religion. He reminds us of Jesus' only commandment to His disciples: "Love one another; as I have loved you". This commandment is much more applicable to the increasingly Pluralistic Society of our country today than ever before. Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
The Bible mentions an incident about Jesus walking with two of his followers to a place called Emmaus, talking with them for a long time. They did not recognize Jesus till much later when they saw the special sign of him breaking the bread at supper.
Jesus Christ appears to his followers on the road to Emmaus. They do not recognise him.
Unlike these disciples, we would have no problem in recognizing Jesus. If Jesus appeared to us in a vision we would certainly recognize him. Unfortunately most of us are not lucky enough to have such visions.
The only way Jesus appears to most of us is in our fellow men. And we do not recognize him in them.
The scholar-turned politician, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, once asserted that God does not live in churches and mosques, that God lives only in Hindu temples. Dr. Swamy offered no evidence or logic for his assertion. The RSS, BJP and their associate organizations are in a hurry to have a Ram Temple built at Ayodhya and only at Ayodhya. Why, because Lord Ram was born there. Are we sure of that? Are we sure that Lord Jesus was born at Bethlehem though there is a Church of Nativity there? A careful reading of the Gospels indicates that Jesus was not born at Bethlehem (I have dealt with this question in my book ‘Beyond Gods and Scriptures’ (page 26-28).
Let us grant that Jesus was born at Bethlehem. The Jews could claim that long before Jesus, Bethlehem was the city of David and, therefore, they want to build a Jewish temple or synagogue where the Church of Nativity stands. If the Jews were to make such a demand, the Pope should say to the Jews “Be our guests, brothers, please build your temple because we do not believe Jesus sits only at Bethlehem. Jesus is equally comfortable on the top of a mountain, in the lake, in churches and temples, in our hearts and on the cross.”
Do Lord Ram and Lord Jesus sit only at the place where we humans have confined them? If so, what kinds of gods are they?
Would not Dr. Swamy have done a great service to the unity of India and to humanity if he had proclaimed that God does not live in churches, mosques or temples, but in the hearts of men, that God is in us and with us irrespective of religion? That would not suit his political purpose. Using God for our own narrow, divisive, selfish ends! Does it show any real devotion to Lord Ram or Lord Jesus whose cause we claim to champion? But then who said we are interested in the teachings of Ram or Jesus? Their message of love, inclusiveness and tolerance is irrelevant. We just want to use their names to advance our own agenda.
Many years ago there was an Ashram (Monastery) at the foot of the Himalayas. It had hundreds of monks. All the monks were happy and cheerful. They had only praise for one another. They helped one another. Visitors who came to the Ashram saw how holy and happy these monks were. So more young people joined the Ashram and became monks. The fame of the Ashram spread and still more aspirants came to the Ashram from far and wide.
But over the years the atmosphere in the Ashram changed. The monks began to criticize each other for every little thing. The brother who was the cook was constantly told how bad the food was. There was a brother who was a hunchback. He was the gardener. He was always criticized for not having the right vegetables and flowers in the garden. There was jockeying for power and accusations of favouritism. And so it went – criticism and complaints about how bad the other person was.
Many young monks got disillusioned and left the Ashram. Visitors saw how unhappy the monks were and how insensitive they were to each other. No young person wanted to join the Ashram. Finally there were only eleven monks left, all of them quite old.
The Abbot (Head of the Ashram) was also getting on in age. He had joined the Ashram as a young man and lived all his adult life there. He had been part of the happy and glorious days of this great institution. He was sad that it had deteriorated to this state. But he did not know what to do about it.
The Abbot had heard of a very holy Guru who lived in a cave up in the Himalayas. The Guru was known to be very wise too. The Abbot thought that if anyone could advise him it was this holy and wise Guru.
The Abbot made the arduous journey and after a few days reached the Guru’s cave. The Guru was feeble and infirm. The Abbot introduced himself as the head of the said Ashram. As soon as the Guru heard the name of the Ashram he struggled to his feet and exclaimed. “How blessed are you to be living in that Ashram! It is the holiest place on earth” The Abbot was taken aback.
He asked, “How can you say that, Guruji?” Then he explained in detail the situation in the Ashram. The Guru was flabbergasted.
He said, “That can’t be. There is no place on earth holier than your Ashram. If my health would have permitted I would have come down to live there”.
The Abbot said, “How can it be? There are so few monks there and they are all so unhappy. No one wants to join the Ashram. How can you say it is the holiest place on earth?”
The Guru said slowly, “Because Lord Ram is living with you in your Ashram.”
The Abbot thought that the Guru must be senile or mad. He cried “Impossible! There is no Lord Ram in my Ashram. We are all devotees of Lord Ram. We chant the Ramcharitramanas every day. If the Lord was there you think we wouldn’t recognize him?”
“Of course you don’t recognize the Lord”, the holy man said. “Because He is there in disguise. But I assure you one of you in that Ashram is Lord Ram. Now go back and tell all your monks the good news.”
The Abbot was dazed. He got up slowly, thanked the Guru and left the cave.
On the way home the Abbot was confused. What the Guru said was unbelievable. Yet he had absolute faith in the holiness and wisdom of the old man. Was it possible that one of us actually is Lord Ram in disguise? If so who is it? Could it be me? Not possible, I have so many faults. Could it be Brother Cook? Perhaps; he suffers all the criticism from the others without retaliating. Or could it be the hunchback gardener? Possible; he loves nature and tends to the garden lovingly though no one is appreciating his work.
By the time the Abbot reached his Ashram he still did not have a clue as to who among them was Lord Ram in disguise.
But he believed the Guru. So on the evening of his arrival he assembled all the monks and told them what the Guru said. He concluded “It is not easy to believe that one of us here is Lord Ram, but I am sure the Guru is right. One of us is the Lord. We don’t recognize him because he is here in the form of one of us.”
From the next day the whole atmosphere in the Ashram changed. The monks began to be extremely polite to one another. They began to praise Brother Cook for his food; who knows he could be the Lord in disguise. They began to see the beauty of the garden and was all praise for Brother Hunchback; he could be the Lord. Every one was praising everyone. Every one wanted to help the other. There were no criticisms, only praise and solicitude for one another. Who knows, anyone could be the Lord.
Visitors saw the change. Young men wanted to be part of this happy community. More aspirants from far and wide joined the Ashram. In a few years the Ashram regained its former reputation for holiness and happy living.
A story, yes, far-fetched, no. Adi Sankaracharya’s Advaita says we are all part of the Paramatman; the Atman seen as separate is only Maya. The bible says humans are made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus said we are all sons of God just as he was. Stories of God appearing in the form of humans is common in many religions.
Remember the story of Vamana and Mahabali and the story of the young boy and St. Christopher.
The Lord is with You
The Catholic Mass begins with the priest intoning, “The Lord is with you.” and the whole congregation responds, “And also with you.” But do I really believe that the Lord is actually present in you and me, in my neighbour, in the auto driver, in the mentally challenged person who comes to my door pestering me to give him some money to buy food? If I thought each of these persons could actually be the Lord in disguise, would not I treat them differently even when they could be annoying?
If God can take the form of Hunuman or Ganesha, why cannot He take the form of my Muslim neighbour?
Imagine how our behaviour would be different if each of us accepted that every person we meet is an avtar of God!
I drive along, see a big stone in the middle of the road. I skirt around it and curse the fellow who left it on the road. But I do nothing about it. There could be a blind man coming behind me and could stumble on it. There could be a software engineer on his bike hurrying to get to his office for the night shift and could get into an accident. But what do I care? But suppose I know that the next person to come after me on that road will be Lord Krishna on his chariot with Arjuna?
I muscle my way to the front of the queue or use my VIP position or my money to reach the sanctum sanctorum of God ahead of ordinary people. I elbow others out to get into the aircraft before them though I know we will all land at the same time. Will I do that if I knew that the old lady in front of me in the queue could actually be Goddess Saraswathi in disguise?
I spit on the road, litter it with garbage. But suppose I knew that the next person to come on that road will be Jesus, bare foot, with his disciples?
When a Prime Minister is to visit a place in the city the whole Corporation machinery swings into action. Roads are re-laid, all the garbage disappears overnight. Not only the official machinery but all the people along the route make sure that no obstacle, no ugly spot is on the way of the PM’s cavalcade. On that day we will not spit, urinate or throw our garbage on that road. On other days we do all this though hundreds of our brethren go on that road every day.
I Too Am The Lord in Disguise
If every human being is actually the Lord in disguise, the corollary is that I am also an avtar of god. This means I must treat my own person also with respect and consideration. This is not egotism, it is an affirmation of my self-worth. Nehru said death was the birthright of everyone born. That is true. It is equally true that our birthright is also self-affirmation, joy and celebration, not a life saddled with a feeling of guilt, sin and worthlessness.
There are preachers who tell us that man is the acme of God’s creation. The same preachers tell us that man is small, that he is nothing; they go on to aver that God sent the Kerala floods to drill into our heads this message of our insignificance, that God had to kill hundreds and displace lakhs just to tell man that the one whom He created in his own image and likeness is actually a cipher!
These preachers are wrong. We are important. Lord Ram and Lord Jesus are with us and in us, not in churches, mosques or temples.
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