April 1, 2014

WASHINGTON—The seventeenth annual meeting of Vaishnava Hindus and an ecumenical body of Christians convened to discuss the topic “Mother of God” as it is understood in the Hindu and Catholic traditions. The meeting was held in Rockville, Maryland on March 28-29.

The first presentation, entitled “Mary of Nazareth, Mother of God,” was delivered by Dr. Leo Lefebure, S.J. of Georgetown University.  This paper provided an historical overview that included a scriptural analysis of Mary in the New Testament, a recapitulation of early church traditions and the major debate with Nestorius over the question of Mary as Theotokos, a consideration of contemporary ecumenical dialogue and recent agreements on the ecclesiological importance of Mary, and an interreligious commentary on Mary in the Muslim tradition, and Mary in Asian and African contexts.  “Mary,” Lefebure concluded, “is constantly on the way, crossing boundaries, building bridges, making connections, appearing in the most unlikely of places.”

The second presentation, entitled “Mother of God in the Vaishnava Hindu tradition,” was delivered by Anuttama Dasa, Director of Communications for ISKON.  This paper provided an explication of the text of the third canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatuma, “The Glories of Devotional Service,” and a summary presentation of Rupa Goswami’s study of the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindu, with special emphasis on parenthood.  “In these works, we find,” Anuttama Dasa remarked, “elaborate descriptions of the parental rasa, or vatsalya-rasa, i.e., the love of God in the mood of parenthood…special descriptions of Krishna’s mother, Yasoda, are to be found in these texts…And, as we see, in her full absorption in love for her son, Yasoda…teaches that ecstatic love is experienced when Krishna (God) is accepted in parental affection.”  

A convergence point in the Vaishnava-Catholic understanding of the mother of God is precisely the deep tenderness and affection that is cultivated for her in popular piety.  Where our traditions depart is on the content: for Catholics, Mary is a historical person that human beings have identified themselves with, and attached themselves to, for nearly two millenia; for Vaishnava Hindus, the Mother of God, Yasoda,  is both a powerful literary symbol and, precisely as such, a paradigmatic means by which through careful study and imitation of her virtues, e.g., the rapturous and devout love she keeps for her son (Krishna), one can attain the ecstasies of encounter with the divine.  Nevertheless, for both Vaishnava Hindus and Christians, the Mother of God is a bridge to an ever-deeper encounter with God. 

The Vaishnava Hindu dialogue, which is attended annually by the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is sponsored by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), whose communications director, Anuttama Dasa, serves as host.

In addition to the presenters, the following attended the meeting: Anthony Cirelli (SEIA), James Wiseman, James Reddington, Samuel Wagner, Rukmini Walker, Ananda Vrindavanesvari, Dvija mani Dasa, Graham Schweig, Sraddha Dasi, D.C. Rao, Jerry Carney, Philip Simo, Jon Douglas Anderson, Tom Ryan, Kristin Largen, Abhishek Ghosh, Bhakti Charu Swami, and Elaine Watt.