Book Reviews - The plurastic view
by Jamuna Rangachari
Why I Am - a Believer; Edited by: Arvind Sharma; Pages: 378; Rs. 450
This is a collection of nine essays by scholars from various traditions. In one of them Harvey Cox, an eminent Christian scholar, says, “We are entering an age of unprecedented religious interaction and a global world torn by hunger, injustice and the appalling threat of nuclear catastrophe. But it is also a world bursting with fresh promise and new possibilities. I cannot conceive of another epoch in which I would have preferred to have lived.” It is this promise that the book explores.
The fact is, while there is greater awareness in the world about all faiths, there is also quite a lot of misunderstanding. Hence, this collection of essays by scholars who share their experiences is quite enlightening. Steering away from purely pedantic presentation, they share their stories as believers, touching on such basic questions as why people believe and why they do not, how beliefs are affected by encounters with other traditions, and whether it is possible to be at home in two or more traditions.
Nun Karma Lekshe Tsomo, born Christian, embraces Buddhism for its philosophy of cognition and its values of compassion and equanimity, while Amir Hussain discovers the dialogic possibilities between Islam and Christianity and even begins to understand the Hindu law of karma and Buddhism’s understanding of change as the only constant. Contemplative practices in Taoism draw Bede Bidlack closer to Christ, while for Vincent Shen, Western philosophy and being Christian deepen his understanding of Confucianism. Harvey Cox examines his own quest and recognises the piety of the Hindus when they use symbols and idols to worship. Arvind Sharma finds Hinduism’s appeal in its definition of Divinity: sat-chit-ananda – truth, awareness and bliss. Likewise, the ritual fasting to death in Jainism, which she herself has witnessed, makes Sandhya Jain’s faith stronger. While encountering Islam through marriage, Kartar Singh Duggal finds the Sikh Gurus teachings as potent and realistic as when it was first articulated. Jacob Neusner passionately talks of his quest and finds his answers in the Torah, the scripture of his own faith, which he now begins to understand better…
It is interesting to see how encounters with other traditions have only enriched the beliefs of all the scholars, whether they continue to be in the path which they were born into or move into another belief system.
Read it for a peek at the stories. Read it to understand how a pluralistic perspective can lead to a meaningful pursuit of religion and indeed, life itself.
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