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Jesus, the Vaishnavas, and the Spirit of Understanding

By: for The Vaishnava Voice on Aug. 8, 2009

Making friends with two Franciscan monks in Italy. A few more minutes and I would have joined up…

Sometimes – but only sometimes – I like to think my interfaith credentials are all in order. I mean, as a Vaishnava I regard all religions as paths towards the same supreme Godhead. Religion is one, but the ways we do it – and the outfits we do it in – are many.

God Himself says this in the Bhagavad-gita. (That’s not the Vaishnava God as distinct from the Christian or Jewish God, but the one and only original creator and supreme person.) God says that “All are on my path, and as they surrender to me, I reward them accordingly.” That always sounded pretty fair to me.

Certainly when we all get to heaven – as we all ultimately will – there won’t be religious ghettos with all the Christians in one district and all the Jews in another. Despite us preferring our neighbourhoods like that here on Earth, we’d better be prepared for social mixing and friend-making at that great eternal party.

While in Italy I did some impromptu friend-making with two Franciscan monks I met in Assisi. They were very likeable and we had a lot in common: we all liked plain robes and sandals for a start.

You know, I have never returned my Sunday School membership card or renounced Christianity. I still have my baptism certificate which, I understand, is still valid until you hand it back to the vicar asking to be ‘unbaptised.’ So that must mean I am still a Christian musn’t it? Just one with a slightly peculiar understanding of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is very important for me, and I would like to think that I understand him slightly better now – and appreciate his sacrifice more – than I ever did before.

You see, you don’t have to not believe in Jesus in order to be a Vaishnava; and you don’t have to wish ill towards Christians or anyone else.

So it came as a real surprise to me when I visited a local Catholic Church near a Krishna temple in Germany earlier this year and saw a painting which demonstrated the direct opposite of my own spirit of understanding.

Its one of a series of additions to the normal Stations of the Cross found in all Catholic churches. The images are quite clear and nicely done in enamels on copper. They are also of a substantial size and have been erected in the last few years. The theme is ‘Jesus carries his cross for the world’ and all the images show Jesus carrying his cross through the street while, on either side of him, are displayed the problems of the age. There is, naturally, abortion, crime, street violence and war, nuclear holocaust – and the Hare Krishna devotees playing music and singing.

Jesus carrying his cross for the sins of the world. Notice the Vaishnavas at bottom left

The robes, the beads, the sikha (tuft of hair) and the cross-legged sitting position: Did Jesus really come to save the world from the Vaishnavas?

Yes, that’s right. In this particular church at least, quite close to a temple of Krishna in the same village, the Hare Krishna devotees are one of the worst manifestations of the Devil’s influence in the world today.

One would think that in a country that has now outlawed any displays of anti-semitism, and where even displaying a Swastika can get you arrested, that such an image of Jesus carrying his cross for the misguided and fallen of the world would ring someone’s alarm bell. Apparently not.

But not all Christians are charitable, friendly, or philosophical enough to comprehend why such a picture would be a problem. Or why using the images to teach children -  the next generation – might not be taking into consideration the stark lessons Germany learned from 1933 to 1945.

Its not all doom and gloom though. This time last week, in Trier, the oldest town in Germany, we had a great reception from the locals who enthusiastically joined in our singing and dancing as 150 of us came to their town for harinam-sankirtan for a couple of hours in the sunshine. Hallelujah!

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[ christianity ] [ interfaith ] [ vaishnavism ]
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