|Paulos Mar Gregorios|
Paulos Mar Gregorios (1922–96) was a pioneer in Interreligious Dialog. He was one of the prominent leaders of interreligious movement at global level for a quarter of a century till he passed away in 1996. What follows is a brief examination of his vision of religion and interreligious movement in the light of today’s view and understanding of interreligious dialog and learning.
What is religion?
Mar Gregorios is not comfortable with the word religion because it acquired a very different meaning from its original one in the 19th century. The original meaning is found in the Latin word “religio” which meant a life bound by a rule of life or regula. It is something that serves as the very foundation of human existence. But the cultural movement known as the European Enlightenment cast away this corner stone of life as a worthless stone. It placed man on the throne of God, and treated human rational power as the only reliable means of knowledge. It declared that man has attained adulthood, and so he does not need religion any more. Thus in human growth or evolution to adulthood, religion, which was useful once, became a useless appendix that occasionally gives us trouble, and can be surgically removed. Thus religion, which was once seen as the head of a community or culture or human life, was demoted to the status of a useless and trouble-making appendix.
If the word religion is used, the listener or reader will understand it as a useless appendix of human life rather than as the head of human life. Therefore, Mar Gregorios prefers the Sanskrit word Dharma, which retains the original meaning of religion.1 Dharma involves four aspects: understanding, self-discipline, worship, and compassionate service.
- Understanding: This is the awareness of the truth of existence. Dharma means that which holds or sustains the reality. The awareness of the unmanifest reality that holds the manifest reality is fundamental. Based on a Dharmic understanding, a life-style will be developed in relation to oneself, to the Ultimate, and to the fellow beings.
- Self-discipline: We practice Dharma in relation to ourselves mainly in the form of self-discipline. We have to learn to control our senses, passions, drives and desires.
- Worship: We practice Dharma in relation to the Ultimate as unconditional surrender and obedience to the ultimate. The highest honor will always be given to the Ultimate.
- Compassionate Service: We practice Dharma in relation to our fellow beings by unconditional love and service to our fellow beings. We will honor every human being as a dwelling place of the ultimate.
It seems that this view of Paulos Mar Gregorios was influenced by contemporary scholarship in various disciplines. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926–2006) saw religion as a cultural system. In his seminal work The Interpretation of Cultures, Geertz described culture as "a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life". He defined religion as “a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic”2
The idea of Mar Gregorios that today’s limited sense of the word “religion” is a product of Enlightenment is reflected in the present-day scholars such as Timothy Fitzgerald and Daniel Dubuisson. Fitzgerald explains how with the Enlightenment religion became a personal feeling or emotion rather than a universal social attitude.3 Dubuisson explains how religion emerged as a category separate from culture and society in the 19th century.4
What is Interreligious Dialog for?
Interreligious dialog is basically communication among people. It happens globally as well as locally. Its purpose is to enhance understanding among people so that they can live together peacefully. Unity in diversity is the primary condition of a dialog. If the parties of a dialog have the same view of life, there is 100% unity, and there is no need of any dialog. If there is 100% diversity between two parties, there cannot be any dialog between them because there has to be some kind of unity in something between them to begin a dialog. This is usually referred to as a common ground. Various common grounds have been suggested such as the ultimate truth of life behind what appears true to us, the mystical experiences common to all religions, and the healthy and meaningful existence of humankind.
This situation can be understood better if we use the analogy of medical systems. Let us imagine that someone is severely ill, and physicians belonging to various medical systems such as Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Naturopathy, Acupuncture, and English medicine arrive to treat the sick person. They use diverse ways to diagnose and treat the sickness, and they do not even understand each other. What if they make an attempt to communicate with each other? Where do they begin? What is common for them? They are all healers and they are trying to heal the same sick person. If they are open to each other, they can learn from each other, and create new knowledge by integrating the insights from diverse medical systems. Religions are healing systems. In spite of their diversity, they are trying to heal the same sick humanity. If they can communicate and learn from each other, very valuable knowledge and information that will contribute to the well being of mankind can be generated.
Inaugurating the centenary celebrations of the Parliament of the World’s religions in Chicago in 1993, Paulos Mar Gregorios made his view of the goal of interreligious dialog crystal clear.5 The unity of humanity with cultural diversity without any domination by any one part of humanity is the ultimate goal of interreligious dialog. Absolute loyalty to the parts of humanity such as tribes, races, religions, and nations is antihuman, and so we need to rise above and beyond such loyalties in pledging allegiance to the humanity. Each religion is like a healing system with centuries of rich experience behind it. It has to develop in its own way without merging with others. However the existence of a religion should not be more important than the existence of humankind. Religions exist for the wellbeing of humankind. Nothing short of the unity and wellbeing of humankind can be the goal of interreligious dialogs. Religions will be able to do this only if they regain their original status which was lost due to the European Enlightenment.
How is Interreligious Dialog Done?
Once the unity of humanity is set as the goal of interreligious dialog, Mar Gregorios asserts that what we need is a global concourse of religions in which various religions flow together supporting and learning from each other and working together for the good of humanity. He suggests the name “A Global Concourse of Religions” instead of “A parliament of World Religions” because he thinks that religions need to flow together keeping their identity rather than occasionally meet to talk with each other. Religious people need to cooperate with nonreligious people in creating a just and peaceful world with a life-supporting environment. The problems of injustice, war, and environmental deterioration were caused by our immaturity and greedy handling of the earth and in our relationship with the human beings in it. The religions have to work together to redeem humanity. “We do not abandon our particular religious loyalties; but we shall deepen them in dialog and concourse with other religions in order to find those deeper roots in each religion which affirm the unity of global humanity and which affirm the transcendent love in which we all live and move and have our being.”6
|Paul F. Knitter|
Interreligious dialog is to enhance understanding among religions. The quality of understanding depends upon the willingness to understand. Paul F. Knitter gives an excellent introduction to interreligious learning in his book, Theologies of Religions.7 In the four parts of his book, he presents four models of the Christian attitudes toward interreligious dialog: replacement, fulfillment, mutuality, and acceptance. In the first one, the Christian willingness is 0%. The willingness increases in the next models, and finally, it becomes 100% in the acceptance model.
When one party is not willing to listen and understand from the other, there cannot be a dialog, but only a monolog. Thus the willingness to listen and understand from each other has to be seen as the primary condition of an interreligious dialog. If we want to seek a solution to this problem, we need to find out why someone or a group of people is unwilling to listen to and understand from the others. Religions deal with how we view life. Our views of life vary from culture to culture. The phenomenon of existence is so mysterious that we are like the blind men who examined an elephant. If we identify our view to be the absolute truth, we will be unwilling to listen to the others. However, if we realize that ours is just one view of the reality, we will be willing to listen to the others as well.
Those Christians with 0% willingness to listen and understand others believe that they have the absolute truth in their custody, and they seek to convert others to Christian religion. The Christians who are partially willing to listen to others are willing to admit that the others may have a part of truth in their custody too. These Christians are like a physician who claims that only he is in custody of the cure of a certain sickness while other physicians may have the diagnosis of the sickness. Those with 100% willingness to listen to others believe that no religion is in custody of the absolute truth. All are like the blind men who tried to understand an elephant.
Mar Gregorios narrates in his autobiography the attempts he made in the WCC for an interreligious dialog. He speaks about a Christian bishop with 0% willingness to listen to others.
At the Nairobi Assembly of 1975, we invited a select number of observers from the great religions of the world and devoted a whole section of the Assembly to interreligious dialogue, in the hope that along with the environmental issue being highlighted at Nairobi, the issue of cultural pluralism and interreligious dialogue would move from the margins of the WCC agenda to its centre. I was asked to chair that section on dialogue, with our distinguished non- Christian friends present.
Our hopes were soon to be dashed on the hard rocks of European cultural parochialism. In response to my presidential remarks, a friend of mine, a Norwegian Lutheran bishop, asked me, “In what sense does the Chairman find the revelation in Jesus Christ so insufficient that he has to go the non-Christians to learn the truth?”
I was offended, but being in the chair, could not retort in my usual rude manner. So I responded, “In this sense that the Chairman is not as fortunate as his friend the bishop from Norway, who seems to have so mastered the revelation in Jesus Christ, that he is so totally self-satisfied and does not feel any need to learn from others.” I doubt that the barb got through. But my non-Christian friends saw for themselves the shameful narrow mindedness of European Christianity. They were hurt, but kept their cool and continued to be polite.8
Mar Gregorios proposes three ways of interreligious dialog to match with the three ways of dealing with reality: Practical handling of reality, verbal conceptualization and communication, and various ritual expressions of meaning though dance, music, gestures, and liturgical actions. These three ways may be summarized using the Sanskrit words that denote the three ways of yoga: karma, jnaana, and Bhakti. In the words of Mar Gregorios, they are practical level, theoretical level, and symbolic and ritual level.9 He further elaborates these levels as follows:
- Dialog on common social or economic problems and about common projects and practical collaboration
- Dialog on the theoretical or theological aspects of religion
- Dialog in which a and b are transcended into the realm of entering into each other’s spiritual experience and group worship.10
The first way is to talk about or work together in a common existential problem such as poverty, violation of human rights, etc. The second one is to talk about how they are similar and different in their views of life. For example, in a dialog between Christians and Muslims, Christians will have to explain what they mean when they say “the son of God”, and how the belief in trinity does not violate monotheism. The third one is to try to establish a bond at the level of the unconscious by common worship.
These are three different ways to do dialogs, and whichever appropriate is to be chosen according to the context.
- The first one is the most appropriate for the common people, who lack theological training. People need to collaborate everywhere to tackle common existential issues. This is a level at which religious people can collaborate with nonreligious people.
- The second way is appropriate only for those few people who are sufficiently trained in theology. Theologians who are well-versed in their own religion and scriptures may come together willing to explain and to learn from others how they view life. Religious people may enter into dialog with nonreligious people as well at this level.
- The third way is appropriate only in very few situations when an interreligious community is made ready for it through the first two ways.
|Francis X. Clooney|
2. Theology of Religions – The learner takes an insider view of one’s own religion, but takes an outsider view of other religions.
3. Comparative Theology – The learner takes an insider view of one’s own religion as well as of the religion that is compared.
It seems that Mar Gregoios used the approach of Comparative Theology when he learned the other religions. He tried to learn various religions not from the perspective of a Christian but from the perspective of someone inside those religions.
Here is what Kabir Saxena, a Buddhist, says about him: Father once gave a talk on Dharmakirti and Dignaga at our Tushita Meditation Centre in Delhi. It was stimulating to say the best. Here was an ostensibly Christian Father, discoursing on the intricacies of Buddhist madhyamaka philosophy with flowing gusto.
Here is what Dr. Mohinder Singh, a Sikh scholar, says: I once accompanied him to the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi. While taking him around I told him about the Gurdwara and the history connected with it. While coming out there is a tradition that we all take Prasad and the holy water. Whenever I take non-Sikh guests with me I explain the significance of the two but do not insist that they partake the same. What surprised me was the fact that even before I could explain to him about these he had already partaken the Prasad and the holy water like a devout Sikh.
What Mar Gregorios says in his autobiography also illustrates this: I need to learn from all, and have indeed learned from many. My major liberation in life has been from thinking that the Western way of thinking, with its specific categories and modalities, is the only way to think and to know. Now that I know a little bit about the Yin-Yang polarity-complementarity way of thinking and knowing in the Chinese Tao, I do not have to be a slave of the Western subject-object mode of thinking, and the logic of the excluded middle. From my own Indian tradition I have learned the principle of Ekam advitiyam or One without a Second; I know now that all diversity and difference ultimately find their unity in the One without a Second; that One is more ultimate than the many. My own Eastern Orthodox tradition has confirmed that there is no creation other than God or outside God, because the Infinite Ultimate has neither outside nor other.
I have learned from the Jains the great Anekanthavada, which holds that all statements are conditional and qualified truth, which have to be supplemented and completed by other truths; that our Ahimsa or non-violence should extend to other ways of thinking, and not just to other beings.
I have learned from Buddhists that all epistemology is finally without basis; that our perceptions of all things, including the world, are but mental events that happen when our kind of mind -sense and whatever is out there come into contact with each other; that this world which the secular mindset takes to be some kind of ultimate reality is neither real nor unreal, and should be taken seriously, but not so absolutely.
And I have learned much from Jews and Arabs, from Sikhs and Zoroastrians, from Adivasis and Aborigines, from Africans and from the indigenous peoples of America. And I hope I am still learning and will continue to do so until the end.12
Being an extraordinary genius who could see clearly what most of the others could not see, Mar Gregorios had a very clear vision of religion and interreligious dialog. By organizing and participating in global interreligious forums, he devoted his time and energy to create a united humanity and a peaceful world. The world will greatly benefit if his vision becomes a reality.
- Gregorios, Paulos (2000). Religion and Dialogue. New Delhi: ISPCK. P.81
- Geertz, Clifford (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books.
- Fitzgerald, Timothy (2007). Discourse on Civility and Barbarity. Oxford University Press. pp. 45–46.
- Daniel Dubuisson. "Exporting the Local: Recent Perspectives on 'Religion' as a Cultural Category", Religion Compass, 1.6 (2007), p.792.
- Gregorios, Paulos (2000). Religion and Dialogue. New Delhi: ISPCK. P.116
- Gregorios, Paulos (2000). Religion and Dialogue. New Delhi: ISPCK. P.124
- Knitter, Paul F. (2002) Introducing Theologies of Religions. NY: Orbis Books.
- Gregorios, Paulos. (1997). Love's Freedom: The Grand Mystery. Kottayam: MGF.
- Gregorios, Paulos (2000). Religion and Dialogue. New Delhi: ISPCK. P.171
- Gregorios, Paulos (2000). Religion and Dialogue. New Delhi: ISPCK. P.164
- Clooney, Francis X. (2010) Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders. Wiley-Blackwell.
- Gregorios, Paulos. (1997). Love's Freedom: The Grand Mystery. Kottayam: MGF.