April 25, 2019 is the third death anniversary of Swami Sadanand CMI. When I reflect on the life and mission of Swami Sadanand, I am convinced that the legacy of Swamiji is an urgent need of today not only to India but also to the whole world.
The pain, suffering and the damage caused by the serial bomb blast in eight places, including three churches in Sri Lanka on the Easter day still linger in our minds. The ISIS on April 23 claimed responsibility for the devastating bomb blasts. In a statement, the terrorist group released photos of eight people who it said were behind the "blessed attack" that targeted Christians during their "blasphemous holiday”, referring to Easter. It is widely presumed that it could be a retribution for the killing of devotees at the mosque in New Zealand on March 15, by a 28 year old a white nationalist extremist, Brenton Harrison Tarrant. An act of hatred and revenge triggers another act of hatred and revenge, leading to a cycle of vengeful violence.
Exclusion, hatred and revenge based on religion are increasing day by day in many parts of the world, especially in India. In the words of Harsh Mander, social activist and a former IAS officer, India has become a ‘republic of hatred’. Hatred and revenge against the minorities have been injected into the veins of Indian society by certain extremist groups. Millions of people, especially the youth, have been brainwashed with hatred against the minorities in India. Killing innocent Muslims by the gau rakshaks, attacks on Christian institutions and hate mongering by the ministers, MPs and MLAs of the ruling party are the results of poisoning of the society with hatred. Fielding a terror accused sadhvi as the candidate from Bhopal Lokh Sabha constituency is a desperate attempt of communal polarization.
Against this backdrop a reflection on the life and contribution of Swami Sadanand can motivate the followers of Jesus to respond to the situation creatively. The followers of Jesus are called to become peace makers. “Blessed are the peace makers; for they will be called children of God.” (Mathew 5:9) The Church in India can be proud of Swami Sadanand, a prophet of peace and harmony, through his inter-faith approach in fulfilling the mission of Jesus. Swami Sadanand was an embodiment of the core values of Jesus. The broad and enchanting smile on his face was the outward expression of his compassion, sensitivity, forgiveness and respect for the dignity of all human beings. At the same time he was open to other faiths and he built up excellent relationship with the followers of different faiths. His life and mission reflected the core civilizational value of India, Vasudaiva Kudumbakam along with the ideals and values of Jesus.
Once Swamiji was giving a pravachan (spiritual exhortation) in the jail and he encouraged prisoners to ask any question. After a while one among the prisoners asked Swamiji, ‘Aap aisa hai to apake Guruji kaise hoga? Kya nam hai uska?’ (If you are so good, tell us how your Guruji is? What is his name?). They even asked him to show them a photo or statue of his Guru. Then he spoke in detail about Jesus Christ, his true Guru. As he went back to his ashram, he had a discussion with the ashram members regarding the possibility of donating a statue or image of Jesus to the jail. The ashram community suggested donating a picture of Jesus and he donated a large size (4 feet long) picture of Jesus. Swamiji gave the picture to the concerned person at the entrance of the prison. Next time when he visited the jail he found that the picture of Mahatma Gandhi was removed and in its place Jesus’ picture was placed and it was the most prominent place in the main hall of the prison. The prisoners started keeping flowers and incense sticks before the picture of Jesus as a sign of their respect and devotion. Most of these prisoners were Hindus.
The prisoners had the curiosity to know about the Guru of Swamiji, seeing the goodness in him and the respect he had for the other faiths. The graceful presence, sweet behaviour and selfless service of Swamiji along with his openness to and respect for other faiths could elicit in the prisoners a desire to know about the Guru of Swamiji, Jesus.
Sacchidananda Asharam, Narshinghpur in Madhya Pradesh became a hub of inter-religious fellowship under the leadership of Swami Sadanand. Festivals of different religions were celebrated in the ashram: Guru Buddha Purnima, Mahavir Jayanti, Sri Krishna Jayanti, Nanak Jayanti, Id-Ul-Fitr, Christmas, Deepavali etc. People from Narsinghpur town as well as from the neighbourhood were invited for these celebrations. In these satsangs (fellowship meetings) spiritual discourse was given by the enlightened persons from the community whose festival was celebrated. During the Christmas hundreds of people visited the Ashram.
Swami Sadanand being a creative person could invent new ways for building harmony and fellowship. On Good Friday the Christians organize procession, carrying the statue of Jesus to commemorate the passion and death of Jesus. But Swamiji had a different way of remembering the death of Jesus. He organized in Narsinghpur town a blood donation camp. Many dignitaries and reputed persons of the town participated in this blood donation camp by donating blood. According to Swamiji, our Good Friday celebration should be inspiring to all people of different religions to offer their most precious gift for the needy brothers and sisters.
On several occasions Swamiji was invited to bless the marriages of non-Christians. As a person who could transcend his own religion, Swamiji could easily relate with people of all religions and become a friend to all of them. According to Swamiji when we experience the universal brotherhood and sisterhood we are able to experience the kingdom of God upon earth. Swamiji says, “I could present Jesus Christ more vividly as an inter-religious person than as a Christian priest. Hence, to become an inter-religious person is not a luxury but an indispensable obligation of every Christian and missionary”.
In a multi-religious and multicultural country like India dialogue is a vital means for evangelization. Pluralism is the heritage of India and a God-given gift. Pluralism is acceptance, appreciation and celebration of diversities. What made Swami Sadanand a widely accepted and respected person among the followers of different religions is his appreciation of other religions while living the values of his religion. Appreciating and celebrating the goodness in other religions is not against the teachings and values of Jesus. In the parable, Good Samaritan Jesus presented a Samaritan, a non-Jew, whom the Jews despised and hated, as the role model of genuine spirituality and not the priest and Levite who were highly religious.
According to Swami Sadanand inter-religious approach is rooted in the attitude of Jesus of Nazareth. Through inter-religious fellowship we are inviting the entire humanity to understand the depth of Christ’s own invitation towards a transformation, “Repent, God’s kingdom is at hand.” Swami Sadanand expressed his firm conviction on evangelization in the following words. “I strongly believe that in our Mother land only through inter-religious lifestyle we can bring the joy of the Good News. Because, it is the very language of Jesus and it should be the language of the Catholic Church and every Christian”.
Swami Sadnand’s view on the mission of Christians in a multi-religious and multi-cultural country like India is reflected in a dialogue between Stanley Jones and Mahatma Gandhi.
Stanley Jones once asked Gandhi:
“How can we make Christianity naturalized in India, not a foreign thing, identified with a foreign government and a foreign people, but a part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift?"
Gandhi responded with great clarity,
"First, I would suggest that all Christians, missionaries begin to live more like Jesus Christ.
Second, practice it without adulterating it or toning it down.
Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity.
Fourth, study the non–Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people."
In the context of India appreciating and celebrating the goodness in other religions should be one of the hallmarks of our approach to evangelization. In a school where more than 95% of students are non-Christians why not we read during the prayer portions from different scriptures highlighting the same spiritual values? Why not we write on the walls the quotes from other scriptures along with the quotes from the Bible, related to the universal values like justice, love, compassion, sensitivity etc? A single act of honouring the scriptures of other faiths will increase the appreciation and respect for Christianity among the people of other faiths. Life of Swami Sadanand is an excellent example before us. Appreciating the noble elements of other faiths can also enrich our own faith.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 29th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 17 & 18)