Mother Teresa, Hindus Respected Each Others' Faiths

By 1997, Knight-Ridder Newspapers | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 14, 1997 | Go to article overview

Mother Teresa, Hindus Respected Each Others' Faiths


1997, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Mother Teresa went into the heartland of Hinduism, witnessed for Christianity, gained converts - and was seen by Hindu priest and commoner alike not as a threat but as an exemplar.

The tears and wails of the crowds in Calcutta upon learning of her de ath on Sept. 5 showed the depth of their adulation, and India's decision to give her a state funeral underscored it.

How could Hindu believers respond so magnanimously to her Catholic mission in their midst? That they did says as much about the nature of Hinduism as it does about the gentle example of Mother Teresa. For, if she was a witness for Christian agape (selfless) love, Hinduism was bearing witness that it is "henotheistic," meaning that while it has its own belief system, it does not deny the truth of others. As a result, Hinduism affirms that gurus and religious masters can arise in many ways and from many backgrounds. "There is a very wide, ecumenical part of Hinduism. That is its basic philosophy," said Ranan B. Banerji, a Brahmin and the unofficial priest for the Philadelphia area's Bengali Hindu community. Banerji cited paramatma, a central concept in the Upanishadic scriptures. Paramatma, he said, is the vastness of existence, which contains all things and their opposites, meaning the "phenomenon of creation" eludes precise comprehension and words. "The difference between religions is not a matter of great importance," he said. "Because the totality is beyond comprehension, it is only natural that everyone thinks about it differently." To illustrate, Banerji recalled the popular story of the blind men and the elephant. These men examined an elephant, and each reported back different things: It is like a pillar, it is like a pipe, it wriggles like a snake. All views were correct but confining, just as Hinduism "looks at all forms of worship as basically limited and imperfect." This broad-minded stance comes much easier to Hindus if the respect seems reciprocated - and Mother Teresa, schooled in Indian ways, understood. …

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