On Saturday 16th June 2018, SPC, in partnership with the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, organised a small symposium on reading the New Testament and the Bhagavad Gita together. Two different sets of texts were discussed during the day. Below are some brief reflections on those conversations. 

Reflections on the first conversation

The first conversation was on the theme of “Foundational texts” and juxtaposed BG 10:8-11 (the so-called “seed mantra” of the Bhagavad Gita) with John 14:1-7.

The discussion of the Johannine text included the observation that 14:6-7 could be understood as a Guru talking with his disciple. Gurus necessarily demand exclusive allegiance. That does not mean they expect everyone to be loyal only to them, but rather than if someone has chosen loyalty to them, then that loyalty must be total. Within a Hindu context, there is an expectation that a shishya (disciple) will excel past the guru, the student doing greater things than the teacher. How does this apply to the text of John’s Gospel, where Jesus says the disciples will do greater things than him (John 14:12)?

The discussion of the Gita text included the observation that the key teaching Krishna offers is that the only thing we actually have to offer is our choice to love him. The giving of material things is equated to a thief giving back what was already the recipient’s; because God made and owns all things, there is nothing we can give him that is not his already. Krishna is patient, gradually revealing more and more of himself to Arjuna. He discloses his nature as God over time. The analogy was given that in reading the Gita we get off the train at the station that is most attractive; Arjuna waits till Krishna tells him what he, Krishna thinks, and fully reveals himself.

Reflections on the second conversation

The second conversation examined “the human body and what happens after death” and contrasted BG 2:11-30 with 1 Corinthians 15:35-57. The juxtaposition of these two texts brought out the key insight of the difference between a Hindu and a Christian worldview, which can be expressed in the two ways. First, the transitional nature of death versus the finality of death. That is to say, for a Hindu, death is simply a transition from one type of existence to another while for a Christian, death is the end. This explains different the attitudes to outreach; there is an urgency for a Christian which is not present for a Hindu. Second, the irrelevance of time versus the urgency of time. Although for a Hindu there is an ultimate end to the current age, time more cyclical than it is linear. This is a further reason for not being as urgent in engagement with the spiritual, as they have the time of many lives to make spiritual progress. But for a Christian, time is short and so progress is urgent. The contrast is exacerbated if the Christian lives conscious of the possibility that Jesus might return at any point. 

Next steps

This day is part of an ongoing process; SPC and the OCHS have been co-operating on this project for over two years and we hope to extend the conversation to include many more people. If you are interested in taking part, please get in touch with Tom or Laura at the Centre.