Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hindu Preaching

Bankim Chandra Chatterji was perhaps the greatest literary figure of Bengal during the later part of the nineteenth century. He was one of the creators of modern Bengali literature and wrote on social and religious subjects. Bankim was a product of the contact of India with England. He gave modern interpretations of the Hindu scriptures and advocated drastic social reforms.

It is said that one day he was invited to the Calcutta home of a friend named Andhar to converse and question the great prophet Sri Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna was central to the renaissance of Hinduism in the nineteenth century.

Following is the answer that Ramakrishna gave to Bankim when he asked, "Sir, why don't you preach?"

MASTER Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): "Preaching? It is only a man's vanity that makes him think of preaching. A man is but an insignificant creature. It is God alone who will preach — God who has created the sun and moon and so illumined the universe. Is preaching such a trifling affair? You cannot preach unless God reveals Himself to you and gives you the command to preach. Of course, no one can stop you from preaching. You haven't received the command, but still you cry yourself hoarse. People will listen to you a couple of days and then forget all about it. It is like any other sensation: as long as you speak, people will say, 'Ah! He speaks well'; and the moment you stop, everything will disappear.

"The milk in the pot hisses and swells as long as there is heat under it. Take away the heat, and the milk will quiet down as before.

"One must increase one's strength by sadhana; [spiritual practices which are are followed in order to achieve various spiritual or ritual objectives] otherwise one cannot preach. As the proverb goes: 'You have no room to sleep yourself and you invite a friend to sleep with you.' There is no place for you to lie down and you say: 'Come, friend! Come and lie down with me.' (Laughter.)

"Some people used to befoul the bank of the Haldarpukur [a pool in which Ramakrishna bathed and played as a child] at Kamarpukur [a village in the west Bengal state of India] every morning. The villagers would notice it and abuse the offenders. But that didn't stop it. At last the villagers filed a petition with the Government. An officer visited the place and put up a sign: 'Commit no nuisance. Offenders fenders will be punished.' That stopped it completely. Afterwards there was no more trouble. It was a government order, and everyone had to obey it.

"Likewise, if God reveals Himself to you and gives you the command, then you can preach and teach people. Otherwise, who will listen to you?"

cph: The thing that struck me about this quote was how close it came to the Christian belief on preaching. In our preaching,
1. We believe that it is God speaking through the preacher to the heart of the hearer.
2. Unless we are preaching the Word of God, it will come to nothing. People's ears may be tickled for a season, but after a little time it will be forgotten.
3. You cannot preach what you do not know and do not live.
4. This is only received through regular practice of spiritual disciplines.
5. We must always remember that we speak with the authority of God behind us.

I am not trying to become synchretistic, but I am a little amazed by the similarities of the doctrine of preaching in these two inharmonious understandings of God.

On the other hand, we should not expect the non-Christian world to understand everything about preaching. As scripture says, "God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." (I Cor. 21)

What do you think?

The entire interview can be found at:

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