Anand Amaladass S.J.
Conversion is a fundamental, conscious decision that brings a person into a radical change of understanding of God, self and neighbours. Reid B. Locklin in one of his articles examines conversion in Hindu-Christian context and makes some pertinent comments taking into account the views of both sides.
It is said that Christians and Muslims aggressively promote conversion and Hindus, Buddhists and Jews resist and reject, according to Swami Dayananda and Sita Ram Goel, among others.
The emergence of modern movements like the Ramakrishna Mission and the reconversion work of the VHP and other Hindu nationalist organizations can ultimately be traced back to much older patterns of Sanskritization and Brahminization embodied in the Vedic dictum kṛṇvanto viśvamāryam, “Let the whole world become Aryan.” Vivekananda’s well-known exhortations, “Up, India, conquer the world with your spirituality,” and “the world must be conquered by India,” are to be seen as an unambiguous mandate to convert.
The Hindu leaders speak of transformation from the lower to the higher categories, particularly the non-dual teaching of Advaita in relation to other religious traditions both within and without the Hindu fold. “To the Hindu,” Vivekananda insisted at the Parliament, “man is not traveling from error to truth, but from truth to truth, from lower to higher truth.” This is applied to the spread of Advaita Vedānta through movements like the Ramakrishna Mission, the Chinmaya Mission and TM.
Some refer to the interrelated themes of “Sanskritization,” “Aryanization” and “Brahminization” seen as an account of mission and conversion in modern Hinduism. “Sanskritization” as a missionary paradigm involves a process of cultural transformation and, as Radhakrishnan puts it, the “gradual civilizing” of lower castes, tribal communities and other cultures of South and Southeast Asia according to an ideal of perfect Brahminhood.
Christian and Hindu traditions include the two elements — crossing-over and going-up: to describe an idealized Christian theology of conversion as Over-and-Up, whereby one enters the religious community as a step in the ascent to God, and its Advaita parallel as Up-and-Through, whereby the upward movement begins in one’s own tradition and takes one through this and possibly other traditions to the highest, universal truth.
As Locklin analizes, a robust encounter with Advaita will require, a re-examination of the common teaching that the second movement of “Conversion-Up” implies and necessitates the first movement of “Conversion-Over,” and an authentic conversion to Christ requires baptism and explicit religious identification with the Christian church.
So also Paul’s communities of gentiles were baptized into the new age inaugurated by Christ and awaiting its imminent fulfillment. These pagans were Judaized in some key respects, receiving spiritual adoption as children of Abraham, attaining new status as a ‘new temple’ inhabited by the Spirit of God and giving up worship of other gods. But these pagans did not become Jews, and Paul continued to insist strongly on the enduring importance of ethnic Jews, the people Israel and the Jerusalem Temple. (R. B. Locklin)
Many Christians and many Advaitins share a common conviction that the highest truth possesses an intrinsic value and power to touch anyone, in any circumstance, with potentially unexpected and enormously varied results. It would be a loss to humanity, if Advaitins, Christians and others did not preach, or teach, and communicate these highest truths with lively expectations of provoking one or another kind of transformation.
Conversion is paradoxical, as it is divine and human action at the same time and it leaves us devastated and transformed. In any case, understanding of conversion is vital to perceiving the mystery of human transformation and its consequences.