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Scott, Hindu and Christian Bhakti

Scott, Hindu and Christian Bhakti

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Published by Keren Mice

Hindu and Christian ' Bhakti: A Common Human Response to the Sacred DAVID C. SCOTT· Of all the traditions which characterize Hinduism perhaps none has so stirred the hearts of Christians as the personalist tradition of religious devotion or bhakti. Here, it is commonly felt, is a tradition which has close affinities with Christianity and can surely be us~d as a way of leading to the fuller Indian understanding of the Christian faith. Indeed, here there is warmth and love and personal devotion; h

Hindu and Christian ' Bhakti: A Common Human Response to the Sacred DAVID C. SCOTT· Of all the traditions which characterize Hinduism perhaps none has so stirred the hearts of Christians as the personalist tradition of religious devotion or bhakti. Here, it is commonly felt, is a tradition which has close affinities with Christianity and can surely be us~d as a way of leading to the fuller Indian understanding of the Christian faith. Indeed, here there is warmth and love and personal devotion; h

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Published by: Keren Mice on Nov 15, 2011
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Hindu
and
Christian'
Bhakti:
A
Common
Human
Responseto the Sacred
DAVID
C.
SCOTT·
Of
all
the
traditionswhichcharacterize Hinduism perhaps
none
hassostirred the hearts
of
Christiansas
the
personalist tradition
of
religious devotion or
bhakti.
Here,
it
is commonly felt, is a tradition whichhas closeaffinities withChristianity
and
cansurelybe
us
~d
as away
of
leading
to
thefullerIndian understanding
of
the Christianfaith. Indeed, herethereiswarmthand
lo
veand personal devotion;here is theexperience
of
God's
gr.ace; here
that
utterself-abandonment
tothe
lo
veandpower
of
Go~
whichhascharacterized
so
many
Christian
saints.
Is
it
any wonderthen
that
for
so
many, herehasseemed
to
beadirect bridge linking
the
Christianfaithwith
Hindu
faith,abridge overwhich
the
bhakta
maypass and
st
ill feel
that
he has
not
strayedfromhome?
In
all
of
thistherehas been no dearth
of
the
o
logicalandphilosophical
studies-too
many
to
atte
mpt
to list
them
here. However,
in
order to understandmore fully thismajorcom
ponent in the
religious life
of
human
beings,and
thus
to contribute
to
the on-going dialogue between men
and
women
of
various faiths,
it
wouldseem usefultoexplore devotionand worshipl
in
the generalhistory
of
religions. Beingacutelyaware
ofthe
vastnessofthesubject I can only plead for forbearance, in
that
the
present treatmentis,
of
necessity,selective.However,
it
is hoped
that
on
the
basis ot
the
examples
and
interpretation presented
it
might bepossible to demons
tratethatHindu
and
Christian
bhakti
participate in a certain kind
of
common human
respons
~
to
th
esacred.
Devotion
as
a
Response
to
the
Sacred: Outward
Action
.Although itis
not
possible to present a precise picture
of
the
structure
of
devotion at the so-called"primitive
"2
religiouslevel, an
Dr
Scott
teaches
Religions
at
Leonard
Theological College, Jabalpur.
1
In
the
contextof
our
discussion,aswell as
in
a
more
general sense,
wor
ship
may
be
understood
as
"devotion
occurring
in
event
."
Henc
e,
the
term
.. worship"
and
"devotion"
may
justifiably
be
used
as
mutual
referents~
devotion being
the
more
inclusivecategory.
I
Though the term
"primitive~'
is
misleadingand
should
be
replaced
by.. pre-literate"
or"
non-literate,"
I have
kept
it,
with the
majority
of
authorl~
for reasonS
of
convenience.
12
 
underStanding
of
"primitive"
m:an's'r-eligious experience may helpto clarify theorigin
of
religious devotion in its more definite forms
iri
other areas
of
the
history
of
religions.
To
this end, then, we maytake cognizance
of
the
general form
of
the
manifestation
of
the
sacred,which has been shown by Mircea Eliade
to
involve certain principles
of
coherence
that
can conveniently be outlined in
the
followi
ng
manner:
1.
The
sacred is qualitatively different from
the
pro1"ane,
yet
it
may manifest itself no matter how
or
where in
the
profane world because
of
it,!>
power
of
turnin!; any naturalobjectinto a paradox by means
of
a hierophany (it ceasesto be itself, as a natural object, though
in
appearance
it
remains unchanged).2.
This
dialectic
of
the sacred belongs to all religions,
not
onlyto
the
supposedly
"primitive"
forms.
It
is
expressedas
much
in
tlfe.worship of stones and trees, as
in
thetheology of
avatiirs,
or the Christian mystery of theIncarnation.
3.
Nowhere does one find
on
ly
elementary hierophanies (thekratophanies of the unusual,
the
extraordinary,the novel,
mana,
etc.),there arealsotraces
of
religiousformswhich" ev
olutionist"
thoughtwouldcall superior (SupremeBeings,
IIl,oral
law3, mythologies,andso on). 4.
There
is,even apart frcm these traces
of
higher'religious forms, a system into which
the
elementary hierophaniesfit.
The
"
system"
is always greater
than
they ar
-:
:
it
ismade
up
ofall the
religious'experiences
of
the
tribe
(mana,
kratophaniesof the
unusual,
etc.,totemism, ancestor worship, and
much
more),
but
also contains a corpus
of
traditional theories which cannot be reduced toelementaryhierophanies: for instance myths about
the
origin
of
the
worldand the
human
race, mythsexplaining prese
nt
human
conditions,
the
theories
und
erlying variousrites,.moral notions, and
80
on.·
This
basicanalysis
of
the manner
in
which the sacred is experienced
in "
primitive"
religionspoints
up
the essential characteristic
of
the
religious
r~sponse
asworshipor devotion:
it
isaresponse directedtoward
that
part
of
man's environment in which thesacredmanifestsitself.
In
practice this may include individual objects
in
nature, suchastrees, stones or rivers,
or it
may involve images,mythicheroes or historical powers,
The
object
of
worshlpmay beas wide
as
the
uni
verseitselfor
it
may be limited to an idea in
th
eworshipper's,mind.
De
votion
ma
yalso
be
directed to the formless divine.
What
isneces
sary
is
that
a" localization"takes place towardwhich humanspiritual energies maybedirected for the
purpos
~
of
devotion .
Mircea Eliade,
PatternsinComparative Relfgion
(Cleveland:
The
WorldPublishing Company.1961).p. 30.
 
As
an example
of
a
CC
primitive"
religion tnoving towards
an
experience
of
devotion we may cite the example
of
the Baigas
of
Central
India
,withtheir belief
in
a Supreme Being, Bada De
o.
Anything massive,suchas a large mithan or a great boar,
or
any other impressive object is called Bura Deo, which is meantto indicate
that the
deity takes
up
his abode temporarily
in
these things
...
When a fierce electricalstormlashes
the
Satpura hills, Bura Deo is said
to
be coming down inanger.
The
thunder is the voice
of
the deity and
the
earthquake is caused
by
his mighty footsteps. Bura Deo sotnetimescom
es
also
in
the
body
of
a tiger or python, and it is in
that
form he walksabout among
men to
see what they are doing.'However, it is not at all
c~eal
that
ac
ceptance
of
this general sacredcharacter for the natural environment, even including particularreverence shown towards manifestations
of
BadaD
eo,
alsoindicates
the
existence
of
devotion
in
any technical sense. Nevertheless,
it
is
out
of
this more generalized spiritual state
that
human beings ultimately distinguish and organize their life
of
religious devotion.
What
concerns
us
here is
the
religious act'bywhich elementary hierophaniesare integrated into
the
epiphany
of the
SupremeBeing,and this ex ample is particularly instructive because
it
involves an aboriginaltribe,whosemembers,
it
seems safe toassume,have notexperienced
the
severe systematization imposed by theologians or mystics.
It
would seem rather
to
be a case
of
the spontaneous integration
of
elementar.y hierophanies with the complexconceptof theSupremeBe ing.Surely,then,
the
universality
of
the sacred
inhuman
experienceat this level allows onesafelytoassertthat a real religiouseXiperience, however indistinct in form it may be, resultsfromtheeffortwhich Ruman beings make toenter
the
real,
the
sacred, by wayof
the most
fundamental physiological acts transformed into ceremonies.
The
notion
of
a personal deity who is capable
of
respondingwithlove to
tl).e
homage
of
d
ev
otion is largely lost
in
the diffusion of thisreligiousexperienc
e,
although otherelementsdoenterinto the fundamental
ba.<,is
of
the religiousexpression.
1.
Symbol-Making Mechanism
Perhaps it is
not
too far afield
to
find in
the
veryprocess
of
the
symbol-makingmec
hanismof
"primitive" religion the sourcefrom
wh
ich arisethereligiousformsthat"allow" worship, properlyspeak ing, to take
pl~ce
..
However,.it
shoul~
be
~ote~
t~at
this symbolmakingmecharusm
IS
not
the Simple affaIr
wh
IchIt rrughtseemon the surface to be.
It
is clear froman analysis whichcanbemade
of
the
component partsof hierophanies
that
th
eprocess
of
symbolizationtends
to
group similarlyrelatedformsinto majorsymbolsystems,
,
R.
V. Russell
and
Hira
Lel,
Tribes and Castes
of
the Central Prcnnme,
of
lruli~
'
(Delhi:
CosmOll
Publications,
1975),.v01.
II,
p.
~5.

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