Diwali and Christian-Hindu dialogue


By Leon Bent

Mumbai, Nov. 9, 2018: “Dasara, derived from the Sanskrit Dasha-hara meaning, “remover of bad fate,” is among the most important festivals celebrated in India.

Regional spellings include Dashera, Dussera and Dussehra; following the ten-day grand, devotional, ethnic Gujarati, scintillating, delighting-the-senses, festival of Navratri.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated twenty days after Dussehra. The feast gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that, Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that is meant to protect them from spiritual darkness.

Diwali is a time when you throw light on the wisdom you have gained and welcome a new beginning. When true wisdom dawns, it gives rise to celebration. For the one who is not enlightened, Diwali comes only once a year, but for the wise, Diwali is every moment, everyday.

On Diwali one should light the lamp of love in heart; the lamp of abundance in home; the lamp of affirmation to build a person’s self-image; the lamp of harmony to bring peace; the lamp of dialogue to build relationships; the lamp of compassion to serve others; the lamp of forgiveness to bring about reconciliation; the lamp of mercy to heal hurts; the lamp of knowledge to dispel the darkness of ignorance, and the lamp of gratitude for the abundance that God has bestowed on us.

Every lamp that we light is symbolic of a virtue. There are good qualities in every human being. Some have forbearance, some have love, strength, generosity; others have the ability to unite people, still others touch those they meet with fireside warmth. When all these qualities are lit and awakened, Diwali come to be. Don’t be satisfied with lighting one lamp; light a thousand! Awaken all the grandiose facets of your being!

Every year Hindus celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. It’s the biggest, brightest, and most elaborate of all Hindu folklore in India. Light dispels darkness, which stands for evil. Jesus pierces the darkness of sin and death and conquers them. All the darkness in the world cannot put out one candle flame, and Jesus cannot be overcome by evil, no matter how colossal it is!

However, we associate light with God, as did our Jewish ancestors in the faith. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). In the Nicene Creed, we call Jesus “Light from Light.”

Our greatest Liturgical celebration, the Easter Vigil, opens by lighting a Paschal Candle from new fire and acclaiming the Light of Christ. Light is beautiful mystical and mysterious—like God! Jesus, Light of the world, illumine me, so that, I, in turn, may light up the lives of others.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, President, Prefect of the Pontifical Council, for Inter-Religious Dialogue, wrote to Hindus, on Diwali, October 27, 2000:
Dear Hindu Friends, “Diwali, or Deepavali, is the Hindu festival of lights. One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolises the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. During the celebration, temples, homes, shops and office buildings are brightly illuminated.”

It is Pope John Paul II who, during his last journey to India, reminded us once again that the “Catholic Church wants to enter ever more deeply into dialogue with the religions of the world. She sees dialogue as an act of love which has its roots in God himself.

‘God is love’, proclaims the New Testament, ‘and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him…Let us love, then, because he has loved us first…no one who fails to love the brother whom he sees, can love God whom he has not seen’” (1 Jn. 4:16, 19-20; Meeting at Vigyan Bhavan with Representatives of Other Religions and Christian Confessions, November 7, 1999).

Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University organized an International Conference on ‘Enlightenment and tantra – Christian and Hindus in dialogue’, October 18, 2017, to coincide with the Hindu festival of Diwali. The symposium noted that although dialogue between Christians and Hindus is difficult, it is yet imperative to get to know one another, to appreciate the richness of the other.

Church leaders, representatives of the Hindu community, and scholars came from around the world. In his address, Monsignor Ambrogio Spreafico, President of the Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy, stressed the current challenges faced by interfaith dialogue. Still, he noted that “It is imperative to know each other because ignorance brings many evils.”

Card Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Religious Dialogue, mentioned the Pope’s openness. In his welcome speech the Cardinal quoted from Amoris Laetitia (No. 139): “Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them.”

Prof. R Sathyanarayana, of the École française d’Extrême-Orient, in Pondicherry, India, also underlined the need for greater involvement between Christians and Hindus. “There is an extreme need for interreligious dialogue,” he told AsiaNews. “Every religion and every believer thinks that his or her belief is the best, but there should be more ties; religions should embrace one another.” The entire world will be held closely by this kiss!

Fr. Bede Griffiths was an English Benedictine monk, who spent 50 years in India, living and building an ashram that was Christian and, in many respects, Hindu. He wrote a number of books on the coming together of Eastern and Western mysticism.

Thomas Merton, developed a pantheistic identification with God, as does his present day devotee, William Shannon, said: “I suddenly saw all the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could or see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time! There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more violence, no more greed….”

William Johnston, a great mystic and renowned writer, after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), noted: “Vatican II acknowledged that the Spirit of God is at work in all peoples and in all religions. Since then, most theologians recognize non-Christian religions as ‘valid ways'” to the One, True God!

The Buddhist leader Dalai Lama on visiting the grave of Thomas Merton at Gethsemane Abbey, prayed, “Now our spirits are one!”

Now, this final flourish! Each one of us, dear readers, can rest silently, passionately, profoundly, daily, in the presence of the great mystery that is “Light,” which envelops the whole universe and all its peoples.

(Leon Bent is a former student of St Pius X College, Mumbai. He has published three books. He won The Examiner, Silver Pen Award, 2000 for writing on social issues. On April, 28, 2018, Leon received The Cardinal Ivan Dias Award for a research paper in Mariology.)

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2 thoughts on “Diwali and Christian-Hindu dialogue

  1. We believe that at the bottom of every human heart there exists a craving for the right things. That craving is the valid way. When more knowledge and experience came,different interpretations were the outcome and men pursued different ways— including ways which are not right In short , the well formed conscience( Conscience formed as a result of available knowledge and experience and dictated by the inner life)is important.

  2. I’m thoroughly confused. If most theologians recognize non-Christian religions as ‘valid ways’” to the One, True God, why did this God single out Abraham and then nurture his descendants for two thousand years even literally feeding them manna in the desert for forty years and then sending a Messiah Christ to start a new religion called Christianity. Surely the religions of the Babylonians and then Egyptians, Hindus , Buddhists Romans, Incas , animists and pagans were already valid paths. Maybe it was all a great mistake.

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