“Inculturation and inter-faith dialogue have recently taken the back seat in the church”
Augustine Thottakara, CMI
Your autobiography is titled as Yanam, why, what is significance?
“Yanam” means journey, travel, etc., The book delineates the journey of my life.
All through the telling of your story there a language which amuse the reader, why did you employ such a language of light hearted humorous language if not satirical?
My creation has become a hit in the family circles. Primarily, I wrote it for the family members. It is published by the ‘Thottakara Kutumba-yogam.’ It became popular precisely because of the humorous style and the light and serene language, and its humane face. Our life is incredibly short; why should we make this short life burdened with unnecessary seriousness and superfluous solemnity?! Be happy, make others happy; grow, help others to grow; live well, let others also live well! I do not intend that my humble volume become an object of research and scientific investigation. You take it, read it and discard it. Incidentally, one of my cousins phoned me up and said that he is reading it a second time. With the onslaught of internet search engines like Google, Wikipedia, etc., and with the mobile phone facilities, the habit of reading is disappearing even among professors and researchers. Undue seriousness will make the book unpopular; readers would be rare specimens.
You taught so many generations of priests Indian thought and spirituality, what did you achieve, how was your teaching taken by the students?
When I was a teacher of Philosophy at Dharmaram, students were offered a two-year philosophy course. Classes were huge; between 120 and 150 students. Majority of the students were from other Congregations. Now some of these Congregations have their own philosophates, I used to teach Indian Philosophy, Indian Religions, Sanskrit and German. May be 5 to 10 % of the students understood well what is being taught and studied the subjects with interest. The others mugged up things and vomited them in the answer books to get through this necessary evil, the exam, and conveniently forgot them forever! Philosophy of God, Philosophy of Man, Philosophy of Nature, Philosophy of Knowledge, Philosophy of Science, Moral Philosophy (Ethics), – all these philosophies do not touch the lives of students; do not create any impact in their world-views, vision of life and life-style. Students make speeches on different occasions; they write essays and articles on different subjects; but I have never heard them making mention philosophical concepts and names of philosophers. If philosophical learning has impacted them, references to what they have learnt should naturally come in their speeches and writings.
It is different in Theology. Students are interested in Bible and Biblical Theology, Moral Theology and also Canon Law, because these subjects are useful for them in their future ministry.
Why did you opt for Indology for your higher studies? Has the enthusiasm to study Indian thinking among Indian Catholic clergy evaporated away?
I did not choose Sanskrit and Indology as the subjects of my specializations. When I completed my philosophy course at Dharmaram, the great Father Jonas Thaliath was the Rector of Dharmaram. He selected four of us, and asked us to secure deep knowledge in Sanskrit. We are asked to find out capable traditional pundits, sit at their feet, and learn from them. Later I joined the Samakrta Maha-pathasala of Bangalore. This College (Maha-pathasala) teaches only Sanskrit and allied subjects; no other subjects are taught there. It is a thirteen-year course. First eight years are dedicated to Sanskrit language with all its literary branches: Poetry, Drama, Campus, and basic darsana texts. The last five years are for specialization. My specialization was Visistadvaita Vedanta of Sri Ramanuja. I completed the course and obtained the highest degree offered by the Board of Higher Sanskrit Education of Karnataka Government “Vedanta-Vidvan”. I have also passed the Sastri examination of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan of Mumbai.
How do you look at the church’s inculturation of Fr. Amalore and Cardinal J. Parecattil? Why did it die down?
You are right: inculturation and inter-faith dialogue have recently taken the back seat. But the need, relevance and scope of these vital duties of the Church and its theologians have in no way diminished. In the vicissitudes of history, there are ups and downs. One reason might be that there are no eminent and charismatic leaders to stand in front and lead. I believe eventually the importance of these action plans will emerge as important duties of the Churches.
You were the rector to Dharmaram college as well as the Chancellor of Christ University, what is the concept of education you carry through your life as teacher?
The fundamental and basic goal of education is to create good human beings. If that happens, the rest will fall in line: the student will be a good doctor, engineer, etc. In the past, for the Church, education had always been a service to humanity.
Then all on a sudden, the private agencies found the field of education a lucrative field to make money. They jumped into it. To attract customers’ (students) they offered luxury class services: sports complex, swimming pool, etc. I know one school in Bangalore which teaches riding horses, and even flying helicopters. The middle and upper class parents wanted the best educational services for their wards, even if it comes rather expensive. Now, the Church, if it sticks to the old methodology, it will be pushed out of the field. So Church too started to provide premier class facilities and services. To my mind, the educational institutions of the Church today are mixture of service and business.
St Paul in Areopagus of Athens saw the altar of “Unknown God”, he quotes pagan poet and thinkers, what is the meaning of the unknown Gods and poets in other religions and cultures for you as a one spent you whole life on interreligious thinking and teaching?
This is an issue which demands serious thinking. Vat. II has declared that there are seeds of truth also in other religions. Truth is from God; so God’s presence and grace are present in all religions. If God’s generosity and munificence deign to embrace all men and women, who is man to set limits to God’s providence and goodness?! India has around 967 million Hindus (79.8 % of the total population of India). They are all sons and daughters of our loving Father in heaven. For us, our commitment to our faith and to Jesus Christ is irrevocable, absolute and uncompromising. We need to respect this sort of commitment of the followers of other religions to their faith and religion.
How do you evaluate Hinduism and Hindutva?
Hinduism is actually a federation of many religions. The differences between various Hindu religious traditions are more radical and irreconcilable than the differences between Christian denominations. All Christian denominations, as I understand, have two things in common: faith in Jesus Christ and practice of Baptism. The three Hindu religions are Saivism with four or five sub-groups, Vaisnavism with numerous sub-groups and Sakti religion. The bitter rivalry between Saivism and Vaisnavism in the past is well-known historical truth and fact. A Saivite may become a Christian, but never a Vaisnavite. The legendary story of Lord Ayyappan of Sabarimala was invented by some ingenious peace-maker to reconcile these two rivals. Ayyappa is known as ‘Hari-Hara-suta’, that is, son of Hari and Hara. Hari is Visnu and and Hara is Siva, He is the son of Visnu and Siva, two male divinities. The legend behind this unusual birth is rather interesting, which I do not want to narrate here.
Hinduism as such is, to my mind, is the most tolerant religion in the world. It is generous and tolerant to accept and accommodate any ideologies and spiritual-religious traditions. Hinduism accepted the Buddha as one of the incarnations (avatara) of lord Visnu. The Buddha is the ninth and most recent incarnation of lord Visnu. Real Hindu spirit is that different religions and spiritualties are differed paths leading to the same goal. It is like different branches of a tree, which receive life from the same source, or like different rivers which flow into the same ocean.
Hinduism has no central authority, no Pope, no common administrative set up, no dogmas, nobody to teach you how to live your Hindu life. But it flourishes, it is ever vibrant, because it has not fought any wars with other belief systems and religious traditions. The real Hindutva has to be understood in this sense. But today the word ‘Hindutva’ has a pejorative and sinister significance and connotation, and is linked with religious fanaticism, sectarian fundamentalism, and unwholesome exclusivism.
You taught years religions, why is religions degenerating to religious fundamentalism?
Very often we are religious but not spiritual. We stick to numerous religious practices without assimilating the spirit and spirituality behind them. We are very often content with the stereotyped, very often meaningless pious practices, and we think that we are spiritual persons. Undue and excessive importance given to external expressions of religiosity, and an obsession for observances can make us hardliners, when we do not see these ingredients in the religious lives of others. Fanaticism and fundamentalism are nasty aberrations of real religiosity.
God bless! Jay Yesu! Om Santih!
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu / Subham astu!!