Monday, September 2, 2013

Tea yes, Tilak no

Father Brown was asked by the two Whites what he would be saying to a Hindoo Brahmin. As he had been in India, he answered he had accepted a cup of tea after refusing a tilak. As they were curious, Father Brown told this story of his conversation in the Brahmin's house with his host:

I was lost one evening in a town of India. There were people there in cassock, I thought they were Catholic priests. There was a Brahmin talking with them. I went there and talked to them too. Not long after starting I found out they were really of the so called Liberal Catholic Church. A syncretistic sect, say Spiritists with a Catholic style ritual. I disagreed with them. The Brahmin invited me to his home and I thought I might as well accept. When we arrived home, his wife wanted to give me a kind of mark on the forehead. A tilak they call it. I refused. I was still let in, with friendliest welcome, I enjoyed a wonderful meal with them, and then we drank tea. And the Brahmin asked me:

"Do you believe that all traditions are one?"

"In what manner?" I said.

"Every tradition will tell you, you must not kill."

"Mine tells me I must not kill a man. With a cow it is different."

The Brahmin refrained from contradicting me and went on:

"Every tradition will tell you, you must not steal. If you steal your next life is bad."

"Mine tells me a thief won Paradise when he was executed next to God. His next and eternal life is good."

"God executed as a thief? Do you seriously believe that?"

"Yes" I replied solemnly.

The Brahmin sat silently for quite a while. After some time I could bear it no longer and sipped some tea. When I put down the cup he continued:

"At least every tradition will tell you - excepting the worthless Muslim one - that gods have walked as men among us."

"I agree with half of your tradition by saying the true God walked as a man among us. I agree with half of the Muslim one by saying he was not one god among many others, there is one God. I disagree with both in saying He was made Man only once. And remains so eternally. And that God is One God in Three Persons."

"As in Creator, Upkeeper and Destroyer of every Universe, you mean?"

"No, God would have been Three Persons even if He had never created. But being Three Persons He was Eternal Love and of Love chose to Create. Of Love also he choose to Redeem, that is why He became Man and died on a Cross."

"And what do you think of our tradition?"

"In several aspects it is tainted with error by the Devil."

"Him you call the Destroyer?"

"Yes, we call Him the Destroyer and believe the Apollo of the Greeks and your Shiva is a mask of him and one under which he is not very much disguised."

"Is that why you refused the tilak earlier when we met?"

"That is why I will always refuse the tilak."

"If this is so, why are there traditions that are not Christian? Why are there Jews and Pagans, why are there Muslims? Do you call Protestants Christians?"

"Which ones of them? Salvation Army or Dean Inge? Pusey or Sankey and Moody?" - I decided to answer the Protestant question first.

"No doubt you have a reason for making these distinctions, like some of them being more or less Christian."

"Indeed: the Salvation Army takes most the main facts about our Salvation seriously. Dean Inge calls most of them a fable. Pusey took much of what the Church teaches as valid about how we get saved. Sankey and Moody have their own idea about it."

"And you consider Salvation Army more Christian than Dean Inge and Pusey more Christian than Sankey and Moody?"

"When God became Man, He made a Church with authority to teach all nations, not excepting the English one for other Churches."

"And the Jews?"

"They are the splinter of a people prepared to receive Christ, but refusing to do so themselves."

"And Muslims?"

"Are to Jews and Christians as Protestants or Mormons to us or Jainis and Buddhists to you."

"And Pagans?"

"They had refused the old teaching that the Hebrews kept."

"Hebrews and Jews is the same?"

"Jews are a tribe of the Hebrews, the one most directly concerned with rejecting Christ."

"Who were the first disciples?"

"Jews and more so Galileans. And Galileans were a kind of Jews."

"And if I were to say it is Pagans who kept and Hebrews who rejected the Old Tradition?"

"I would answer Pagans disagree among themselves. Hindoos and Indians of America do not agree, nor do Shintoists and Confucians. Nor are they at one with Parsees or with those Pagans who became Christians."

"But if I were to say the disagreements are to get the vulgar off the track, there is agreement among the traditions of the wise!"

"Galileans were vulgar Jews. God was crucified among vulgar thieves. And there is one more thing."

"Which is?"

"By appealing to secret tradition, you make yourself unable to verify where the traditions agree and not. Two traditions may disagree nearly completely except about their secrecy. Two people from those traditions may say to each other a thing about keeping their traditions secret, and both may conclude very wrongly that they agree about religion, when all they agree about is despising most of those Christ died for."

"Is not loftiness and detachment more important than doctrine?"

"No. That is a hideous spiritual pride, an arrogance of the worst sort."

"Is it not possible to be detached from taking pride in one's knowledge by saying knowledge is not important?"

"Saying knowledge is not important sounds too much like a hideous saying I have heard here in India: victory and defeat are the same. That is a very great blasphemy, if you speak about ultimate such, not just earthly. It detaches one from God who alone can give ultimate victory and attaches one to darkness and ultimate defeat."

"Then why did Krishna say so?"

"Because he was no god but a mistaken man."

"Why do our poets tell us he inspired Arjuna to victory? Why do they tell us he ascended to Heaven after dying?"

"Your poets say the soul was received by the gods high above us, no one to see it with his eyes."

"Do you not believe things no man has seen with his eyes?"

"We do, but on authority of Him whom several eyes saw resurrected after the Crucifixion. It was He who unfolded all the Secrets, not a merely human poet."

"And Ascension? Was not that like Krishna's soul ascending to Heaven?"

"No, the Ascension we believe in was before the eyes of the first Disciples so chosen to witness it."

"It was as a living body He ascended then?"

"As a living body He ascended, as a living body we eat His flesh and drink His blood."

"Let me go, this is too strong for me."

"No, I will not let you go, and it is good for you."

The Brahmin was baptised little later. With his wife and children. And grandchildren.

When Father Brown said these last words, the Whites said: "so will we be!" And Simon thought his son looked happier and saner than ever since he was sent to that horrible school.

Father Brown concluded the story: No longer tending the temple was of course ruin to him in the town, so it was fortunate that Goa, under the Portuguese, was near by. He found work as a translator and teacher of Vedic literature - for students whose purpose was purely literary and linguistic. And perhaps historic too. He once was approached by a Hindoo and refused to even talk to him. Now he is dead, his widow lived in the monastery some time afterwards.