Inculturation: The Frank Morales Jesus videos – Vijaya Rajiva

Gods of Hinduism

Hindu polytheism and the worship of murtis (images) cannot be wished away. The creation of a sanitised Rishi tradition is a travesty of the Vedic heritage for the Hindus, a heritage which is both Sruti and Smriti. – Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

Dr. Frank Morales aka AcharyajiThe U-turn that Dr. Frank Morales took in glorifying the historical Jesus (Part 2 of the  video ‘Jesus the Dharma Master’ (2008)) caused some consternation in the Hindu Samaj. The present writer wrote about it in two articles ‘From Sanatana Dharma to Jesus‘ and  ‘The Enemy at the Gates‘. Dr. Frank Morales, a brilliant and erudite Hindu of European descent (he is described as of European descent, specifically Spanish and Italian in some of the biographical sketches about him) started an unusual career of endorsing Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), especially in his 2005 article ‘A Philosophical Critique of Radical Universalism‘ where he took to task the Indian Neo-Vedantins who since the 19th century in India, tried to water down the central message of Hinduism by placating the white sahibs and holding forth that all religions are the same. They tried to present this as the traditional attitude of Hinduism. Not so, says Morales, the acharyas of Hinduism have roundly debated and defeated the non Hindu religions as being inferior to Hinduism. In Dr. Morales’s own view Hinduism is a unique religion and is superior to others. The reader is referred to his extremely interesting and provocative article (mentioned above).

A brief sketch of his life and achievements to date may be useful. At the very young age of 14 he visited a Hindu temple and was struck by the devotional aspects of theistic Hinduism. In 1986 he was ordained as a spiritual teacher (acharya) by a famous Vaishnavite acharya who had been the guru of Sri Prabhudpada the founder of ISKON. His academic career can be briefly summed up:

  • B.A. in Philosophy and Theology from the Loyola University of Chicago (1994)
  • M. A. from the same place in South Asian Languages and Literature(1999)
  • Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in South Asian Languages & Religion (2002)
  • In 2010 his doctoral dissertation was published as The Vedic Way of Knowing God

Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev Goswami MaharajHe is now known as Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya and was the resident acharya of the Hindu temple of Nebraska (2007-2009).

He is also the founding head of International Sanatana Dharma Society. He has publised numerous articles and books . He has been endorsed by some leading North American exponents of Hinduism such as Dr. David Frawley (aka Vamadeva Shastri). In 2005 he wrote the article ‘A Philosophical Critique of Radical Universalism’ (as mentioned above), which brought him immediately to the Hindu Samaj’s attention.

Then in 2008 he produced the Part Two of the video on Jesus the Dharma Master, in which he glorifies the historical Jesus as a great Dharma Master, obviously alongside of the Hindu Rishis. The present writer and other Hindus noticed the contradiction in his trajectory. His claim that these talks (captured in the videos) were for Christians whom he hoped to bring around to Sanatana Dharma sounds hollow. This is indeed somewhat of a questionable argument and can only be verified if follow-up studies were done as to whether these listeners returned to the Church (as the Church gladly hoped) or they went on to take up Sanatana Dharma. As a strategy it is not helpful to the Hindu Samaj, which is already under attack from evangelical and Catholic Christianity, both in the scale of conversions (especially in the homeland of Hinduism) and in the ongoing process of Inculturation, a process by which the Church insinuates itself into local culture and traditions with a view to eventually overcoming them.

Fr. Robert de Nobili SJThe present writer is of the opinion that Dr. Morales is an Inculturator (with due respect) of a refined and not so easily recognisable category, partly because he does not believe himself to be so, and seems to be in earnest in his expositions of Hinduism, and mainly because of the appropriation of the Vedic heritage and the Vaishnava tradition. He can be placed alongside of Dr. Francis Xavier Clooney, the Jesuit priest and scholar who teaches at Harvard university. The latter is a polite and well spoken individual who is also a scholar in Hindu Vaishnavism; neverthless he is a committed Jesuit for whom the Vatican’s message that Jesus Christ is the final saviour and that Christ’s message is to be actively propagated cannot be abandoned. Frank Morales at first glance is somewhat different in that he has been initiated into Vaishnavite Hinduism by no less a personage than the acharya mentioned above.

Furthermore he has never been a Catholic (according to his own statements). And judged from the honours bestowed on him by some sections (not all) of the Hindu diaspora, he seems to be well on his way to being a confirmed Hindu.

But does all this add up to negate the idea of his being an Inculturator in the time-honoured Catholic tradition since the 17th century when Robert de Nobili insinuated himself into Hindu culture in order to better carry out his design of spreading the Gospel? Perhaps Dr. Morales’s work can be better understood in the context of three well-known Inculturators Fr. Bede Griffiths OSB, Swami Abhishiktananda (original name Fr. Henri le Saux OSB) and Fr. Raimon Panikkar.

Fr. Bede Griffiths OSBBede Griffiths (1906-1993) who settled permanently in India was born Richard Griffiths and took the name of Swami Dayananda. He was a British-born Benedictine monk who lived in ashrams in South India and became a noted yogi (so his biographical accounts tell us). He became a leading thinker in the development of the dialogue between Christianity and Hindusim. He was also part of the Christian ashram movement. For all practical purposes he became an Indian Christian. Neverthless, his goal had always been the Christianisation of India and indeed the whole world! He was therefore a devout Christian with an agenda. In an interview he gave a year before his death, in response to a question from the interviewer as to how Christian spirituality will renew itself, this is what he had to say:

” . . . I think the way I see it is the Gospel came out of Palestine into the Roman empire, and all our Christian spirituality is the result of this meeting of the Gospel from Jesus and the Apostles with the spiritual tradition of Greece and Rome, particularly Platonism. Nearly all the Fathers, both Greek and Latin, were Platonists, and Plato gave mystical understanding which sort of consolidated the Christian vision, and then Aristotle came later, and St. Thomas Aquinas made his great synthesis using Aristotle, but still, you know, preserving the Platonic Augustinian tradition of mysticism, and particularly Dionysius the Areopagite, the great Christian mystic. So I would say the Christian Church, the Catholic Church, so far has built up its mystical contemplative tradition on the Gospel interpreted in the light of a Platonic philosophy and experience. And now we are challenged to interpret Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, Sufism, of the whole oriental tradition, and to me THAT’S THE WORK OF THE NEXT THOUSAND YEARS.” (emphasis added by the present writer).

AbhishiktanandaHindu readers will recall the eerie echo of all this in the visit of Pope John Paul to India where the pontiff openly said in the third millennium India (and Asia) will be the focus of Christian evangelisation!

Henri le Saux (1910-1973) was a Benedictine monk who took the name of Abhishiktananda and lived his entire adult life in India, and set up the Catholic ashram Shantivanam in 1950 in Tamil Nadu. Here, he adopted the local rituals and traditions while performing the Catholic mass. He and his followers adopted the sannyasa robes, became vegetarians and lived a simple life. His spiritual journey included an intense engagement with Advaita Vedanta and his diaries reflect his anguish at having to give up his Christina faith. In the end, however, he returned to his Christian faith and made Christ the central figure of mystical experiences which included the union of the soul with the Trinity. As with Bede Griffiths he made mysticism into the common ground with Hinduism and Christianity, but emphasised the superior role of the Christian experience in mysticism. The Trinity experience is different and superior to the Vedantic experience of Atman-Brahman.

Fr. Raimon PanikkarLikewise, his friend Raimon Panikkar, the Roman Catholic priest (1918-2010) and scholar of comparative religion, was greatly involved in that aspect of Vedanta which could be bent to his Christian agenda. His writings include such works as ‘The Unknown Christ of Hinduism‘ (1964). He was also an advocate of Hindu Christian dialogue ( at this stage one wonders why any self-respecting Hindu would be enticed into the garden of interfaith dialogue!).

Hence, whether the entry point is Vaishnavite Hinduism (Francis Xavier Clooney) or Advaita (Bede Griffiths, Raimon Panikkar, Abhishiktananda) their commonality is that in the end their refined Inculturation serves the purpose of the Christianisation of India, even if it takes another thousand years! Of course, Hindus living in India know that this is an ongoing process, and the frenetic conversion activity is all too visible on a daily basis because of the coercion, bribery and superior funds coming from abroad. Needless to say, the northeastern provinces have fallen to the conversion process.

Priest-kingWhat is curious is that the above account reveals that all four of the figures are either engaged in Vasihanavism or Advaita. They have no time or interest in the Hinduism of the aam admi or the traditional acharyas, both of which are Vedic in origin. Hindu polytheism and the worship of murtis (images) cannot be wished away. The creation of a sanitised Rishi tradition is a travesty of the Vedic heritage for the Hindus, a heritage which is both Sruti and Smriti. The Christian Inculturators can never accept the polytheism of Hindu worship and the worship of murtis. Their sanitised version of the Sruti, the Vedas, is also a truncated version of the same. The Rig Veda is an invocation of the terrestrial, atmospheric and cosmic deities and cannot be forced into the procrustean bed of Abrahamic monotheism. All the Vedic rituals preserved from that time (as in the Adirathram of the Kerala Nambudiris to cite one example) are the worship of those powers, in this case Agni.

What can be said of the above four figures can also be said of Frank Morales, with due respect. The globalisation of Hinduism and the curious detaching of it from the living history and traditions of Hinduism and refining the Vedas to the point of their obliteration in some universal Divine message, the abandoning of the Gods and Goddesses of the Vedas in favour of a universal something euphemistically called the Divine, smacks of the bringing in by the back door the monotheistic faith of the Abrahamic religions, their one god. Indeed Abhishiktanandas’s refinement of this union of the Trinity must be carefully read to understand that Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit are both one and yet many.

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami PrabhupadaIn addition, the so-called ‘theism’ of the Hindu Vaishnavite tradition lends itself easily to distortions. Both Krishna and Krishna Consciousness can be manipulated by those with an agenda. And it must be pointed out that Frank Morales ends his Jesus videos with Jai Krishna! Readers who have interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita by Sri Prabhupada will remember that the Swami seemingly rejects the avatars of Hinduism. Krishna is not an avatar. He is the supreme Godhead. Here again, the nuances of the Swami’s interpretations can easily be distorted to form the basis of a reintroduction of the Jesus figure into the Hindu pantheon. And Krishna Consciousness can also be easily inculturated into the worship of the Trinity.

Frank Morales is also curiously averse to using the word Hinduism. His explanation is that the word is not found in any of the traditional scriptures. While no Hindu could object to the use of Sanatana Dharma (the eternal Dharma) the lack of grounding in the history of the subcontinent is not to be encouraged. The Sindhu river’s name was changed to Hindu because the Persian invaders could not readily pronounce the word and changed it to Hindu. And the British changed it to the greek Indus. All this is well-known.

However, what has been neglected until recently in this narrative is that a mighty river was called the Saraswati in Vedic times. The Rig Veda mentions it at least 78 times. The river disappeared owing to techtonic shifts after the Vedic period. Contemporary Indic scholars and researches in the field have discovered through satellite photography the remains of a dried up river bed flowing from north to south and has identified it as the Sarasvati river. Hence, the name now for the Indus valley civilisation is the Sindhu Saraswati civilisation.

Hindus should not be shy of holding on to the word ‘Hinduism’ and the historical and sociological associations which are being ironed out in the globalisation of Hinduism. The Hindu Samaj should take note of this new trend.

»  Dr. Vijaya Rajiva is a political philosopher who taught for several years in the part-time faculty of a Canadian university. She is now retired and lives in Canada with her husband who is also an academic. Since retirement her interests are in Indian history, culture and politics. She holds a B.A. Hons. & M. Litt. in Literature (University of Madras, India), an M.A. in Philosophy (University of Madras, India), an M.A. in Political Science (McGill University, Canada) and a Ph.D. in Humanities in Political Science, Philosophy, Political Economy & History (Concordia University, Canada).

See also