June 19, 2002
Dr. Warren S. Brown
Fuller Theological Seminary
Dear Dr. Brown:
I was recently sent by the Templeton Foundation a copy of The Link between Religion and Health edited by Harold G. Koenig and Harvey Jay Cohen, and published by Oxford University Press this year.
I hesitated writing this note, but as an advisor to the Templeton Foundation
I was especially dismayed by some of the remarks and
innuendoes in your article in that book, "Psychoneuoroimmunology and Western Religious Traditions." You say, for example, on page 262, "Hindus and Buddhists believe that there is no real meaning to human existence and that the life of the individual is not important
(Haskins, 1991). Hindus' greatest fear , therefore, is that life may continue on in an endless cycle of births and rebirths on earth.
Their greatest hope is that they will find a way to escape this eternal earthly life and unite with a universal spirit that is above meaninglessness and meaning and is therefore impersonal."
You invoke one J. Haskin's book Religions of the World (New York, Hippocrene, 1991) as your authority for this statement. I doubt that any of the scholars of Hinduism or Buddhism in any standard university in the Western World or in India, or any of the thoughtful Hindus or Buddhists, would concur with the content or the tone of this statement.
For the Hindus the whole life is a great festival and a celebration (utsava),
and the human birth is said to be so important that even
the gods are required to assume a human incarnation in order to have a possibility of real Freedom (Moksha or Nirvana) which requires a radical transformation of the whole of the human being. Only then one can connect with the eternal Divine Energy (which is both personal and transpersonal). A mere extension in time, even in terms of endless numbers of lives, will not bring one to God without this fundamental revolution in being. In the Hindu-Buddhist understanding, to have an everlasting life is not the desirable goal. The goal is eternal life, which all the great mystics even in Christianity would say is not the same as everlasting life. A thoughtful Hindu should thus rightly fear that he/she may be stuck with a mere quantitative extension of life rather than a qualitative transformation needed for abiding in the Universal Divine Spirit.
This is surely the sort of transformation which the gospels speak of as a new
birth. It was Jesus Christ himself who said, "God is Spirit
and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth" (John 4:24) (In this connection, may I humbly recommend to you my own book on the Gospel of John, published under the somewhat unhelpful title of Christ the Yogi by Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vermont, 1998. As a separate e-mail, I'll send an article of mine "What Calls You, Pilgrim?" which was circulated on the Metanexus, one of the many projects of the Templeton Foundation, last fall).
It hardly needs to be said that all is not great, wonderful or glorious in
the way the so called Hindus and Buddhists live and behave. Also, there can
hardly be a single interpretation of an idea or a scriptural passage, especially
of the subtle ones. To live the teachings of the great incarnations of Divine
Energy is not easy. But this is surely equally true for the Christians or the
Muslims or the Hindus. We would hardly do justice to the greatness of Christianity
by taking the Mafia dons as the exemplars of good and thoughtful Christians.
This is why the people of goodwill constantly need to strive not only to do
their best in serving their Highest God, but
also to assist, wherever they can, in calling the best in the others to serve their Highest God. It seems to me to be obvious that the
Highest God is not an exclusive possession of one person or another, or of one religion or another, but we could be called by and attempt to belong to the Highest God.
If you would permit me to quote more fully what was partially quoted above, "Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem. An hour is coming, and is already here, when those who are real worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Indeed it is just such worshippers the Father seeks. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth" (John 4:21,23-24).
Cc.: Dr. Harold G. Koenig, Dr. Harvey Jay Cohen, Dr. Dr. John M.
Templeton, Jr., Dr. Charles Harper.