Hindu-Christian Dialogue Discusses the Hiddenness Of God

April 20, 2012 By Public Affairs Office
WASHINGTON—Thefifteenth annual meeting of Vaishnava Hindus and an ecumenical body ofChristians convened to discuss the hiddenness of God as it is understood in theHindu text Bhagavad Gita and theChristian classic the Mystical Theologyof Dionysius the Areopagite. The meeting was held in Potomac, Maryland on April13-14.

The first presentation addressed thehiddenness of God from the Christian perspective. Edward Shirley, Ph.D.,professor of religion at St. Edward's University in Austin, TX, identified acommon thread in the Christian mystical tradition, namely, that while theessence of what God is remainsutterly unknowable to unaided reason, God emerges out of his infinite silenceto make himself known in creation. In the thought of Dionysisus the Areopagite,this conveyance of God to humanity is understood as a progressive unfolding of God'sown self in creaturely being, which is only dimly perceivable until God'sconcrete appearance in the Incarnation. For Dr. Shirley, this understanding ofGod's relation to the world and humanity, which extends from Dionysius the Areopagiteto Francis of Assisi and Bonaventure, is a tacit celebration of the creation asthe locus of man's encounter with God.

The second presentation addressedthe hiddenness of God from the perspective of Vaishnava Hinduism. Dr. GrahamSchweig, professor of religion at Christopher Newport University, began theconversation with the assertion that the Great Secret of the Hindu sacred textis the passionate love that God has for his creatures and the longing God hasof receiving a return of this love. The entirety of the Bhagavad Gita is an attempt to explicate this unfolding love story,this Great Secret of God to humanity. However, God's relationship to the world—arelationship that is presented to the world in hiddenness—is the occasion ofvery real pain and sorrow. This concealment of God, which is similarlyexpressed in the Christian mystical tradition, produces in humans a yearningfor ever greater disclosure and, ultimately, union.

One key point of intersectionbetween the Christian mystical tradition and Vaishnava Hinduism identified bythe group is precisely the shared belief that the mystery of God is hidden but,paradoxically, that hiddenness is perceivable in creation as a mysteriouspresence that instigates a yearning in the human knower, especially as oneencounters, or rather is encountered by beauty in creation. For both Hindus andChristians, creation holds a great secret—the presence of a passionate God, aGod who is the hidden love poured forth into creaturely being and that, bymeans of creation, reaches out as it were to man who is both gifted to perceivethis "presence" and beckoned to return this love to God.

Another perceived convergencebetween the groups was the realization that such "presence" in creation is simultaneouslyjoyful and painful—the latter being apparent in our inability to "seize" thisdelightful, elusive One. This last pointraised the question of God's relationship to suffering—a topic brought intoinformal group session following the presentations.

The Vaishnava Hindu dialogue, whichis attended annually by the Secretariat of Ecumenical and InterreligiousAffairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is sponsored by theInternational Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), whose communicationsdirector, Anuttama Dasa, serves as host.

The following attended the meeting:Kenneth Cracknell, Susan White, James Wiseman, James Reddington, Jon Pahl,Edward Shirley, Samuel Wagner, Ravindra Svarupa, Ravi Gupti, Rukmini Walker,Ananda Vrindavanesvari, Dvija mani Dasa, Anuttama Dasa, Graham Schweig, SraddhaDasi, D.C. Rao. 

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