Truth and Inter-Religious Dialogue


Hinduism View[1]

Hinduism is the oldest religion coming to and living in Indonesia rather than other official religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. In the 732-729, Hinduism kingdom has existed in Indonesia, namely Mataram Kingdom.[2] Therefore, Hinduism has a great contribution in shaping Indonesian character. One of the Hinduism contributions is peace and harmony among different background. “Inter-religious unity has always been part of nation’s culture”[3] Mpu Tantular’s phrase, Bhineka Tunggal Ika, becomes Indonesia’s National Emblem. However, this phrase often does not match with social fact in which “religious conflict” often happens.

For that reason, this paper wants re-excavate Hinduism view both in historical and religious teaching. It is important to harmonize the plurality of religions which often conflict. Therefore, in this paper, I not only summarize the two selected paper[4] but also respond and add something that they are not mention.

Truth is One, Different Names

In The Long Search film, we can see that Hinduism has 330 million gods. Every culture, even every people, has different view, perception, and concept on response the Ultimate reality, therefore each person has several Gods as way to express his/her feeling, caste and social life. Actually, Hinduism views that God is One, but many people call it different names (ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanty/agnim yamam matarisvanam ahuh).[5] The one God-reality is known in many gods and goddesses. The most important are Brahma the creator god, Visnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer, and various goddesses.[6] It differs from Abrahamic religions which have only One God. Their term is Allah, Ilah, Y-H-W-H (Yahweh, Arab: Ya Huwa) with different pronunciation.

Why Hinduism has many gods is caused the concept of God. Hinduism notices that God cannot be understood by the mind, reason and sense of human being (Acintyarupa). Due to this, Upanishad never defines what God is, or in other words there is no adequate definition. Upanishad calls God “neti…neti,” not this, and not that. It means that what human beings assume as God is not the real God, but god created and assumed by mind and ancestor. Therefore, Javanese manuscript of Wrihaspatitattwa describes as blind people touching an elephant. Each has different responses and understandings.

Owing to thing understanding, social action of Mahatma Gandhi bases on two beliefs; 1] all human beings are brother because they have same spirit, 2] all human beings basically are good. By having those principles, Gandhi promotes social justice and equality without looking at different background. Even, after learning Hinduism, Islam, Kristen, Jain and Buddhism, Gandhi concludes that all religions are equal and right. The core of religion is not dogmatic truth, but ethics in social life.[7]

This Hinduism understanding of God is similar to other religions. For instance, Islamic mystic like Ibn Arabi in Futuhat al-Makkiyah describes how human being responds to God,[8] رأيت الحق فى الا عيان حقا وفى الا سماء فلم أره سوائى (I really see the Truth in many realities, in many names. I cannot see all, except Me). It means that Truth is only one, but has different names. Ibn Arabi cannot see all the names and realities only Me (God). This outlook is called wahdah al-wujud. Many other Islamic mystics have similar understanding to Ibn Arabi, like Abu Yazid al Bisthami, Abu al Qasim al Junaidi al Baghdadi, Abu Hamid al Ghazali, Jalal al Din al Rumi, etc.

Briefly, human beings’ knowledge about God is relative. Therefore, no one cannot claim have the only one truth (absolute truth). All faith and all path are regarded as equally valid. None is superior; none is inferior to the other. Like blind people touching an elephant, each one can touch one part of elephant, and others touch another part. So, how we can claim that we have absolute and comprehensive description about elephant, if we just touch one part of elephant.

In addition, in one of Hindu Scripture Bhagavad-Gita Geeta, it mentions Yet yatha mam prapadyante/Tanis tathai va bhajamy aham/mama varta nuvartante/ manusyah partha, sarvasah, which means that “by whichever method one worships me, I approach them and fulfill their wishes through that very method. Know that people approach Me from various path”.[9]

Those two scriptures, Bhagavad-Gita and Rigveda, show that Hinduism see that the difference of God is naming of One-God. In this sense, although Muslim, Christen, Jew, Buddha have different names of God, all are same. Therefore, the purpose of missionary of Hinduism is regarded as an effort to believe in Hinduism. Missionary in Hinduism just wants to spread goodness, not to get many followers of Hinduism.[10] Hinduism outlook about other religions in Paul F. Knitter’s typology of inter-religious dialogue belongs to Mutuality category, that no one religion is superior over all others; all are called to learn from each other.[11]

Historical Prove of Religious Harmony

After explaining above sub-title, “Truth Is One, Different Names” which explain theological outlook of Hinduism in responding other religions, especially the concept of God, in this sub-title I want to explain both historical prove how Hinduism plays role in keeping inter-religious harmony, and the model of dialogue between Hindu and Christen.

There are many theories explaining how Hinduism goes to Indonesia based on the disseminator, Vaisya theory, Ksatria theory, Brahmana Theory, and Arus Balik theory. Although each theory has different explaining, all theories agree with that Hinduism goes to Indonesia peacefully, because there are several similarities between Hinduism and indigenous belief. For instance, Hinduism worships Brahman and various gods, meanwhile indigenous people worship ancestor spirit, and the leader of Hinduism ceremony is Brahmins meanwhile the leader ceremony of indigenous people is dukun (shaman). Therefore, the coming of Hinduism in Indonesia does not muzzle indigenous belief, even involve in it.

Mpu Sendok (929), for instance, who moves Mataram Kingdom from Central Java to Tawlang East Java, has great tolerance. His daughter marries with Lokapala who belongs to Buddhism. In this era, also, the scriptures of Hinduism (Bhuana Kosa, Bhuana Sanksepa, Vrhraspati Tattva) and Buddhism (Hyang Kamahayanika) are made. [12]

In the era of Singosari Kingdom, there many temples built as places to worship the spirit of kings. It is interesting because there are two temples (Hinduism and Buddhism) as places for the spirit of kings. For instance, there are two temples for Ken Arok, who titled Sri Rajasa Sang Amurwabhumi, Kagenengan temple (Hinduism) and Usana temple (Buddhism). Further, in the era of Majapahit kingdom (1293-1528), the king was helped by two people of Dharmadyaksa; Dharmadyaksa ring kasogatan (managing Buddhism) and Dharmadyaksa rung kasaivan (managing Hinduism). In addition, in this era, Mpu Tantular makes famous phrase which becomes Indonesia’s National Emblem, Bhineka Tunggal Ika.[13] After the death of Gadjah Mada and Hayam Wuruk, the kingdom of Majapahit declines. One of the causes of the decline is because of Islamization. Many Majapahit people reject to believe on Islam, therefore they evacuate to Pasuruan, Panarukan, Bali and inland area.[14]

The history of Hinduism proves that Hinduism has great contribution to promotes tolerance, harmony and peace among background differences. In the kingdom era of Hinduism and Buddhism, social life is more relative harmony than after them. The more religion that comes to Indonesia, the more problem has. In this context, I assume that Hinduism and Buddhism are more compatible with indigenous people than Abrahamic religions (excluding Jew) which come afterward. The concept of mission (dakwah), I think, is one of many causes, which destroy harmony life in Indonesia.

The Model of Inter-Religious Dialogue

In this sub-title, I want to explain the three models of dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity done in India that was explained by Klaus Klostermaier.[15] It is important, at least, as an example for Indonesia.

First, Inner Dialogue. This model emphasizes spirituality aspect rather than comparative religion or theology. The purpose of this dialogue is to try to experience in one’s own depth the meeting of Christian and Hindu spirituality. The encounter of Christian and Hindu spirituality takes part of inner religion, namely spirituality. Therefore, Christian, for instance, must read the Upanishads to find Christ in them in a way analogous to that in which Christ found himself in the Old Testament. Klostermaier notes that the most important event at the meeting is communication, which happened in silent meditation.

I agree with this kind of dialogue. That spirituality which is core of religion will give large space for communication between Hindu and Christian. Conflict among religions is only happen in exoteric aspect, meanwhile in esoteric aspect all religions will meet in the same purpose. This kind of dialogue should be promoted in order to reduce religious conflict. Although this dialogue does not touch practical life in society, this dialogue, indirectly, will give great contribution for inter-religious dialogue. The problem of this kind of dialogue is only little people who concern with this area. Even, spirituality, mysticism or Sufism regard as elite right which means common people feel that spirituality is not their concern.

Second, Sustained dialogue. This dialogue is contact with many Hindus from all level and of different denomination. This dialogue is less systematized, less theological and much more complex, and personally much more challenging. Christian people regularly attend many event held by Hindus to talk and discuss several issues, such as ways of salvation, Christian Yoga, Sufism, etc. By doing this kind of dialogue we can compare and find contrast between Hinduism and Christianity.

I think this dialogue is not so easy, because in every religion there are many several denominations and schools, which differ one to another. “Fundamentalists Hinduism” is the most difficult in doing dialogue. How we can fairly discuss with organization like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Hindu (RSS) of which activists attack Ayodhya Mosque in the 1992.[16] In Indonesia, it is difficult to doing dialogue with some organization like Front Pembela Islam (FPI, Islamic Defense Front) which is very exclusive.

Third, Organized dialogue. This dialogue is more formal than two previous models of dialogue. For instance, World Fellowship of Friends met a number of Hindu and Christian scholars who would be willing to participate in a one-week seminar. This model of dialogue has been done many times not only in India but also in many countries, including Indonesia. As a formal meeting, I think, this model doesn’t touch the real condition of society; whereas the number of religious conflict exist in grassroots society. However, this model is useful to discuss and formulate some issues in order to solve social problem.

Finally yet importantly, the letter between Murray Rogers (Christian) and Sivendra Prakash (Hindu) who discuss many things, actually, I think, is another kind of dialogue. We can imitate this kind of dialogue any time we can. For instance, Suranto (Buddhist) can send letter to his friends from other religions to discuss everything, including his belief and experience. As well, Jimmy (Christian) can send letter for Buddhist, Muslims and other religion.

Some Reflection

There are many kind of dialogue promoted by many scholars to harmonize the relation of religion. Those Hinduism models above are only several models. The problem, I think, is how we can do dialogue with other religion as much as possible. However, we have to realize that the relation of religions up to now is still far from ideal, that the differences of religion often provokes social conflict. There are many efforts, which have done to make relation of religion better and better, but social conflict, which is sometimes provoked by religious tension, is never end.

The problem is not theoretical. How perfect you formulate the models of inter-religious dialogue are do not give benefit if many people do not want do dialogue. Therefore, besides formulating the model of inter-religious dialogue, which you will choose, the most important thing is invite to do dialogue wherever and whenever. Whatever model of dialogue you choose to meet other belief and religions, I think, very useful to reduce the problem of inter-religion relation. The more intense dialogue you do the more respect and harmonic you will get.

The other important thing is intra-religious dialogue. It is important because some people/religion can tolerate other religions but cannot to other denominations in their religion. I have joke example about this. When I study Islam in pesantren, especially nahwu (grammar), I find the example dharaba zaidun ‘amran (Zaid hits Umar). This example besides shows the violence teaching because it uses word dharaba, also shows that Zaid (Muslim) hits Umar (Umar) that mean Zaid cannot tolerate Umar. I never find example rahima zaidun Isa (Zaid love Isa) or rahima zaidun ‘amran (zaid love umar).


[1] This paper was presented at Inter-Religious Dialogue class Center for Religious and Cross Cultural Studies (CRCS) UGM Yogyakarta.

[2] I Wayan Suja, “Perkembangan Agama Hindu di Indonesia” in Elga Sarapung, ed. Sejarah, Teologi dan Etika Agama-Agama (Yogyakarta: Interfidei, 2005), p7-9

[3] Departemen Agama, “Unity Among People of Different Faith”….. p. 106

[4] The two selected paper are 1] Departemen Agama, “Unity Among People of Different Faith: From the Hindu Point of View, in MORA, The theological Frame of Harmonious Religious Communities in Indonesia (Jakarta: Mora, 1997) and 2] Klaus Kostermaier, “Hindu-Christen Dialogue” and “Hindu-Christen Dialogue Posponed: An Exchange between C. Murray Rogers and Sivendra Prakash”, in S.J. Sumartana, Dialogue between Men of Living Faith, paper presented ay a Consultation held at Ajaltoun, Lebanon, 1970 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1971)

[5] I Made Titib, “Agama dan Pluralitas Kebenaran, Perspektif Hinduism” in Relief Journal, Vol.1 No. 2 (Yogyakarta: CRCS-UGM, 2003), p. 144

[6] Ward J. Fellows, Religion East and West (USA: Thomson, 1998), p. 38

[7] I Made Titib, “Agama dan…….p. 148

[8] Ibn Arabi, Al Futuhat al Makiyyah, Dar Ihya al Turats al Arabi, Beirut. p. 532

[9] Departemen Agama, Unity Among People…p. 153. Compare with I Ketut Sudiri Panyarikan, HAM dan Pluralisme Agama; Tinjauan Teologi Hindu, in Anshary Thayib et.al, (ed). HAM dan Pluralisme Agama (Surabaya: PKSK, 1997), p. 107

[10] Ibid,. p. 152

[11] Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (New York: Orbis Book, 2002), p. 150-169

[12] I Wayan Suja, “Perkembangan Agama Hindu…., p. 9

[13] Ibid,. 10-11

[14] Ibid,. 16

[15] Klaus Kostermaier, “Hindu-Christen Dialogue”…p 12-20

[16] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terorisme Para Pembela Agama, terj. (Jogjakarta: Tarawang Press, 2003), p. 140

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3 thoughts on “Truth and Inter-Religious Dialogue

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