Tuesday, April 20, 2010






One can propose that the representation of Christ in Indian art goes hand in hand with a new spirit of secularization in Indian culture. This seems to be the basic thrust of M.M.Thomas’s work on the ‘Acknowledged Christ of the Hindu Renaissance’. The Christ figure is seen to represent a counter culture, which addresses the existential situation of a nation suffering from years of exploitation and colonial rule. It is the suffering Jesus that speaks to the heart of a suffering people. Walter Benjamin spoke of the “tradition of the oppressed”, and he saw in art an effort to discover a new and revolutionary freedom.[1]

W.G.Archer discussing the work of Jamini Roy, claims that his distinctive style  combining modernity with a tradition of folk art came from an intense sense of nationalism that was not just political, but imaginative. He comments:

By 1934....in his pictures of Santals dancing, drumming and making music, the stress is everywhere on the vertical and the rigid. An idiom similar to that employed by Picasso, but, in fact, in direct line with medieval Indian sculpture, the miniature paintings of Central India, and the village paintings of Bengal, converts the nose and forehead into a single straight line. Faces are shown in profile and eyes are not only enlarged but are given the same kind of arrogant sharpness noticeable in the earlier style of Indian painting, that of the Jains....

In 1937 Jamini Roy shed Santal subjects, he concentrated on a theme which was even more closely related to problems of independence and defiance—the career of Christ. Speaking much later, in 1943, he told Mary Milford:

‘This is my latest period. I am not a Christian. I do not read the New Testament or any other writing but I meditate on what I have heard or what I know. There have been few, if any, satisfactory paintings of Christ for expression of the significance of his life. This is a great theme and I shall continue to struggle to find a fitting expression in modern times’

“Art and the Primitive” in Modern Indian Art by W.G.Archer pp110-11[2]

In the eighties Fr. Samuel Rayan sj drew my attention to a series of paintings by the important modern Indian artist Kishen Khanna [3]many of which represented St. Thomas exploring the wounds of the Risen Christ. I went to meet Kishen Khanna in his studio, and asked him why he had been so interested in this theme. He began by answering my question in a rather aggressive way by stating “I am not a Christian”. However, he later explained to me that he was attracted to the figure of the Apostle Thomas because of his attitude of doubting. He said that he too was a doubter. Further he told me that the Christ of the Gospels was of interest to Indians because this Teacher was somehow between two opposing cultures. On the one hand there was the narrow religiosity of the traditional Jews, and on the other hand there was the Colonial power and wider global interests of the Romans. It was in relation to the conflict that existed between these two cultures that Jesus suffered, and was finally crucified. “We as modern Indians are in a similar position” Kishen Khanna told me. “On the one hand we have the narrow religiosity of communalism, and on the other hand the colonial powers that still dominate our economy. That is why we are fascinated by this figure of Jesus.”

In both the art of Jamini Roy, who in many ways was the Father of modern Indian art and Kishen Khanna, a post-independence art representative of progressive trends in modern India, led to an interest in themes that had engaged artists in the West, especially in modern German expressionism. It is the secular Christ who opposed political and religious oppression in his time, that spoke to modern secular minded Indians. One can relate this art to a movement in modern art opposing Fascism, as in the work of Emile Nolde or Barlach. It is the suffering Christ of history that makes a mark on Indian art, so that in the fifties and sixties, many important Indian artists painted Christian themes.

Christ and a counter culture: a secular encounter with the Other.

My own childhood was in the context of an encounter with the different Faith traditions of my parents. My Father came from a reformed Hindu tradition of the Radha Swami sect. My Mother was brought up in the Unitarian Church, and I was baptized as a baby into the Presbyterian Church. My Mother became a Catholic when I was about fourteen years old, and I followed her into the Catholic Church. But for me this diversity of Faiths remained an important dimension of my own spiritual life. I did not become a Catholic as a radical step away from either the Faith of my Father, or the form of Christian life that I was brought up to enjoy as a non conformist Protestant. I remember as precious the evenings when we had Bible study in the home, which my Father would join in with great interest. In fact my Father used to accompany  my Mother and I to the local Presbyterian Church in Dehradun, and it was his expressed wish that I should be brought up a Christian, though he himself did not want to identify himself with the Church. At school, it was my Father who taught me the English metaphysical poets, and I remember my deep sense of respect for what I could recognize as his own spiritual understanding of their Christian mystical experience. It was this that led me, as an art student in London, to try and understand the spiritual roots of the Hindu tradition. When I heard of Dom Bede Griffiths, who was visiting England in 1963, I was delighted to find someone in the Catholic Church who was appreciative of the Hindu Faith, and felt that as a Christian, we could learn much from other Faiths. This is finally how I came to join his Ashram in 1967, after teaching in a Krishnamurthy inspired school. I might mention here also, that the final decision to give up my work as an art teacher, and go to Kurisumala Ashram came about after a long talk I had with Swamy Ranganath Ananda, who became the head of the Ramakrishna order. I had heard a series of lectures he gave on the Bhagavad Geetha, in which he made frequent references to the Bible, and I had been very much inspired by the evident spirituality of this Hindu Monk. So I went to him for advice in the nearby Ramakrishna Math. I told him about my own inner search, and the fact that I had a Hindu Father, but had been brought up as a Christian. I also told him about the Ashram of Dom Bede Griffiths. He listened attentively, and finally with the authority of a spiritual director, advised me to give up my teaching job, to go and find my spiritual journey in the Ashram of Dom Bede. Later, I heard with surprise from Swami Abhishiktananda, that this same  Swami Ranganath Ananda had been less than sympathetic of a Christian monk’s attempt to live and dress like a Hindu Sanyasi. Swami Ranganath Ananda had, as far as I remember, asked Swami Abhishiktananda why he felt it necessary to wear the robes of a Hindu monk, and to follow Hindu practices. Why did he not simply remain a Christian monk, open to and respectful of the Truth underlying Hindu experience ? Ramakrishna monks in Rome do not try to wear cassocks, he had commented. We can respect the other, without trying to imitate the other.

In my work as an artist connected with what has been called the “inculturation process”, I have often faced this problem. By representing Jesus as an Indian Sanyassi, or by incorporating Indian forms of worship, or cultural practices into Christian liturgy, were we not appropriating what was distinctive of another Faith tradition ? I became increasingly aware, from what Hindus also communicated to me, that the efforts of inculturation were resented, as coming not from a real desire for religious dialogue, but from a hidden agenda to convert. I felt that this was really not fair on either Dom Bede Griffiths, or Swami Abhishiktananda. In fact there were many Christians who felt that Swami Abhishiktananda had gone too far. Was he still a Christian, or had he become a convert to Hinduism ? To those who might accuse me of appropriating Hindu symbols into my art, I had to say that these were as much my cultural heritage, as they were of any Hindu believer. A person in my position, like even Brahmobandab Upadhyaya, might claim to be a “Hindu Christian”. I have to say that I have never felt comfortable with this kind of dual identity. But I would say that though I am a Christian in all that I try to express through my art, the Hindu or Buddhist ‘Other’ is very important to me. This Otherness is not just outside of myself—it is part of my own self understanding. Here I would like to add that as an artist I would not like to be labelled as being just a “Christian artist”. As I have tried to explain in this essay, Art is essentially secular, in that it springs from a human rather than a religious identity. Art does not belong to any particular Faith. There is an independence in art practices that makes the imagination not subservient to religious or sectarian propaganda. Art, like the imagination, is an expression of what it is to be human, and the human longing for the Spiritual.

Recently I have become involved with a project at an art and design school where I have been teaching for the last thirteen years, which is called the “Kabir Project”. The school where I have been teaching is what might be called a “secular” school.  The people who started this school of art and design did not want to be categorized as belonging to any particular Faith tradition. And yet there was an interest in exploring the way that spiritual traditions in India had influenced art. I was asked to teach because I was interested in religious symbols in art, and how these symbols could be interpreted in different ways, bringing Faiths together. My Mother had been very interested in the ideas of Carl Jung, the psychologist, and she had kept a diary of her dreams, and used to encourage me also to remember my dreams, which she tried to help me to understand. From an early age I became interested in symbols, and in the Mandala. I had myself dreams of the Mandala form. These, my Mother felt, indicated an inner search for wholeness. When I went to Kurisumala Ashram I painted a series of Christian Mandalas, which was something that I had thought about a great deal. These were, to begin with, not acceptable in the context of the Indian Church, where such designs were associated with esoteric schools such as Tantra. But later Missio in Aachen chose these Mandalas for a Calendar which they published  in 1975. Later, Misereor also asked me to use Mandala designs for their first “Hunger Cloth” which came out in 1976. The tradition of using large hanging curtains over the Holy Images during the season of Lent, goes back to ancient liturgical practices in the Orthodox Churches, where the Veil of the Temple was incorporated into a ritual recognition that the Divine Mysteries lie beyond what can be represented. However these ancient liturgical cloths were also used for catechetical purposes, by incorporating symbols that helped the faithful to reflect on liturgical signs.

The work that I was doing relating liturgical symbols to forms that are used in the Hindu and Buddhist tradition for meditation, was of interest to Christians in the West. This was because the Church in Germany was very conscious of the ideas of Carl Jung about the archetypal symbols which cross over religious and cultural boundaries. In fact Carl Jung had himself done much research into the structure and symbolism of the Mandala. An early Christian mystic like Saint Nicholas of Flüe[4] in Switzerland, had used a Mandala form for meditation, which was later also printed as a Hunger Veil for Lent by Misereor.  Hildegard von Bingen had instructed her nuns to paint mandala pictures which she had experienced through her own mystical journey. So there was ample indication that Mandala forms were as much a part of the Christian tradition (as we see even in the great Rose windows of Gothic Cathedrals) as they have been important in Yoga, and Tantric art both in the Hindu and Buddhist tradition. Islamic art is also rich with these symbolic abstract patterns which have a mandala structure which are often found in the domes of Mosques. Kabir spoke of the “gagana mandala” or mandala of the sky dome.

Can these archetypal symbols be a bridge between different Faith traditions? After the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and Muslim reactions to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, many Indian artists felt that it was important to show that what we are calling Indian Culture and art is itself a product of the meeting between Hindu and Islamic art forms. It was for this reason that the poetic tradition of Kabir was chosen as representing this coming together of Hindu mystical experience, and the Sufi vision of Reality. All Faiths have reached towards a celebration of Unity. But this Unity cannot be found at the cost of diversity. In fact it has been pointed out that Kabir himself was very critical  both of Hindu and Muslim orthodoxy. His distinctive message was that God is to be enshrined in the human heart. In one of his dohas he says that we can break the Mandir and the Masjid, but we should never break anyone’s heart. In a way one could say that Kabir belonged to the Prophetic tradition which insisted that God is not concerned with rituals, and sacrifices, but accepts the “offering of a humble and broken heart”. Listening to the songs of Kabir I felt I had found a spirituality which spoke to me at a very deep level. After all the Radha Swamy tradition of my own Grand Father, who became a Sanyasi in that mystical movement of Panjab which has much in common with Sikhism, is deeply enmeshed with the spiritual language which we find in the songs of Kabir. It was this coming together of Islamic and Hindu spiritual movements, which inspired Rabindranath  Tagore, who was also in touch with a distinctively Bengali movement of inter-religious Faith through song, among the Bauls of Bengal. It was Rabindranath Tagore who attempted to translate some of the songs of Kabir into English, which I first encountered in Dom Bede’s Ashram. Later I was to find a similar bringing together of mystical insights in the Lingayat culture of Basavana in Karnataka. Here too a spirituality had emerged, coming out the insights of both Sufi Pirs, and Hindu Sants. It was from this faith-dialogue that a unique synthesis of a common search for the Divine found creative and poetic expression. This has been the contribution to Indian art through the Ashramic idea of the Sat-Sangh, where people of different Faiths come and share their common experience of God by living together in a natural environment. This was the distinctive idea behind Tagore’s educational experiment at Santiniketan, in Bengal, where he tried to reach towards the ideal of a “Viswa Bharati”, or Universal Culture.

Jyoti Sahi

Art Ashram. April 2010








(The following might provide a general overview of the thinkers on art, culture and secularism, that have influenced me.)

“Traces of the Other” by Michel Barnes. Satya Nilayam Endowment Lectures Series No. 3.  2000

“The Rupture with Memory: Derrida and the Specters that Haunt Marxism” by Nissim Mannathukkaren. Navayana Publishing Pondicherry, 2006

“The Great Transformation” by Karen Armstrong 2006.

The Historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant” by John Dominic Crossan. Harper San Francisco 1991

Tradition Modernity and Counterculture: An Asian Perspective.” By S. Kappen. Visthar 1994

Man and the Universe of Faiths” by M.M.Thomas. C.L.S. 1975

Christian Art in Asia” by Masao Takenaka. CCA 1975

Jesus in Indian Painting” by Richard Taylor. CISRS 1976

The Spirit of Man in Asian Art” by Laurence Binyon. 1935

Christ the Form of Beauty” by Francesca Aran Murphy. Edinburgh 1995

Time and Narrative.” Vol. 1.  By Paul Ricoeur. Trans. Kathleen McLughlin and David Pellauer. Chicago Press. 1984



[1] Cf “The Rupture with Memory” by Nissim Mannathukaren op cit. Chapter IX “The Angel of History”

[2] WG Archer: India and Modern Art (George Allen, 1959). 

[3] Kishen Khanna was born in 1925 in what is now Pakistan. He studied at the Forman Christian College in Lahore. He came to Mumbai to work in Grindlay’s bank, and joined the Progressive Artists' Group which was started just after  the Independence of India by artists like M.F.Hussain, Francis Souza, Raza etc.

[4] The Patron saint of Switzerland, lived 1n the Fifteenth Cent. and was known for his political interventions. Though he was a hermit at the end of his life, he had been married, and had a large family. The Mandala form ascribed to him shows the face of Christ at the centre, with an abstract structure that leads the eye into the centre of the face, but also outwards to the world.






and the Great Transformation of the Axial Age.


The relation of Art to cultural diversity implies
an understanding of a caring Justice, that also underlies a theology
of Liberation. Aesthetics does not exist in an ivory tower of ideal
forms, but is immersed in ethical issues that concern the secular world
in which we live. The relation of aesthetics to ethics faces every sensitive
person, for whom a sensual sensibility, also raises issues concerning
a sense of Justice. Art is compassionate, and cares for the other, in
so far as it is made conscious both of the joy and the suffering of
other human beings.

The German Philosopher Karl Jaspers, proposed the
concept of the Axial Age which took place between roughly the 9
and 3
rd centuries before the Christian Era. The idea proposed
by him, and developed by Karen Armstrong in her work on “The Great
Transformation” is that all over the civilized world, there was a
shift from Religious practices that involved rituals and sacrifices
to a more internalized, ethical world view.
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">2 Now priority was given to a change of consciousness,
and a concern for fellow human beings, following the golden rule that
should do to others only what one would like done to oneself’
What I would like to propose is that art also passed through this transformation,
and had an important role to play in the process of internalizing outer
ritual practices, by discovering the importance of the imagination.
It has always been remarked that the human ability to represent a symbolic
image, had a magical function in ancient societies. Gombrich in his
“Story of Art” shows how the representation of the mask enabled
the human being to enter a virtual world that was the beginning of theatre.
Masks were considered to be magical representations that allowed an
individual to assume the role of a Spirit functioning outside the conscious
control of the individual ego’s will. The mask represented the “Other”
that can take possession of one, through a transforming ritual.

Recognition of the process of the imagination, which
is an inner faculty of the soul, allowed human beings to picture an
inner world linked to the dream, or what Gaston Bachelard calls the
“Reverie”. Art is not only concerned with an outer Reality, which
we experience through our senses, but is also related to an inner response
of feelings, through which we give meaning to what we see, hear, touch,
taste and smell of the world around us. The poetic language which we
use to articulate this meeting of inner and outer worlds, is not just
a spoken language, but is also a language of signs, gestures, images
and musical sounds that constitute the cultural expressions on which
our sense of community belonging depends. Communion is a sharing which
includes the whole person, both mental and physical. It is in this context
we can also speak of
art as being sacramental

The work of art creates a ritual space, or ‘ class="Normal__Char">mundus imaginalis’,
where the creative imagination plays. This play is essential for our
ability to represent ourselves, and the world in which we live. We represent
not only the outer world, but we also represent ourselves to ourselves. 
It is through this process of self-representation, that art functions
as a way of becoming aware of ourselves as distinct and separate from
the world  that we inhabit. Here, as Susan Langer points out in
her work on
Feeling and Form, the
actual and the virtual meet. Play requires a meeting with the Other.
This Other is the world that we are in dialogue with, but is also a
part of our inner imaginal world. A dialogue  takes place between
the “I” and the “myself” which I need to discover and understand
as an objective reality. What we call the dream, is a virtual world
from which we awaken. This process of awakening takes place when language
becomes aware of its own provisional world that it constructs in the
process of finding meaning in human action. To be awake is to
know that we have
been dreaming—we become
conscious of an unconscious
over which we have no conscious control.

There is much in common between art and ritual. The
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">4of ritual, is that it creates the world out of its
own playfulness. But art transcends ritual in the very process of becoming
awake, or aware that the dream of the ritual world is a representation
of a Reality that is itself dreaming the dreamer.. Philosophers like
Levinas have shown that here lies the difference between speaking and
what is spoken. Art consists in the process of imagining, of creating
a virtual world.  But what is created as an ‘object of art’,
whether it is an image which can be seen, touched, or a text which is
written down, the material object is no longer art in the sense of a
creative process. Between the saying and what is said there lies a gulf,
which is the difference between the ritual as a dreaming play, or
, and the rubric which
turns the provisional into something that is fixed.

Dialogue, Levinas proposes, can only exist when there
is a kind of existential uncertainty about the meaning of what is being
said. This happens in the visual arts when the artist paints a picture
and realizes that the meaning of the picture is not something that can
be pre-determined..  That is to say, the picture cannot be defined
in terms of the artist’s intention. The image evokes a response, and
this exists in the way it is interpreted by the on-looker. Coming to
the picture, the observer sees in it what is actually lying  latent
in the image, reflecting in a mysterious way the reality of the one
who sees and responds to the image. The meaning that is found reveals
as much about the intention of the observer as the will of the creator
who made the image. This is also true of the way we interpret a text—even
a sacred or canonical text. We find in the text our own meaning as much
as the meaning with which it was originally invested by those who turned
an oral, recitative ritual, into a written text.

The process of rediscovering the ritual as provisional, 
is a way of turning what is ‘said’ back into a living, actual process
of saying it. Art always interrogates the rubrics of ritual, as prescribed
ways of acting, and  of understanding the significance of symbolic
action. The ritual, however,  is a way of representing the ‘Other’. 
But this ‘Other’ is also the (M)other. We have a symbiotic relationship
with this all-embracing Other. It is the
Garbha Griha, or Temple
‘Womb-house’, which we are nurtured by, and to which the worshipper
surrenders in an act of self offering, and gesture of obeisance. To
discover the inalienable independence of the self from its social and
spiritual matrix, it is necessary for the individual to break out of
this primordial golden egg that constitutes a nurturing sense of “belonging”.
There is that in ritual which is obsessive—it is repetitive without
the freedom to choose. It is in the act of choice that the ethical dimension
comes into being. Art has a prophetic role, in that it questions the
encircling world of ritual, by searching for meaning beyond the religiously
ordained rubric.

It is in the act of choosing, that the secular, profane
world comes into its own. Meaning is not pre-ordained, and pre-determined. 
The philosophy of  the Other proposes that there is an aporetic
relation between the Universal and the particular. The Universal, which
presents a primal Order as a Unity, has to accommodate the diversity
of creation. Creation, we are told, came about through an eternal Fiat,
which was the Word. But this Word remains unsaid, in the sense that
Creation as we experience it, is always in the process of becoming.
We ourselves are imaginatively involved in that coming-into-being of
the world in which we discover ourselves. Incarnation is a becoming
human through the process of ‘saying’, which we call Creation. It
is not only the Divine that is incarnated into the world, the Eternal
enfleshed in the particular, and time bound, but rather every human
being is in the process of being incarnated through this insertion into
a physical reality. Creation is a continual flow of uttering the Word
in the here and now of the world drama that is the Play of God.

An Indian theory of art has stressed on the aesthetic
experience or ‘
Rasa’,  which emerges
from this playful interaction between the one who acts, and the one
who witnesses the act. There is a “
juggalbandhi” between
performer and audience, between the one who plays, and the other who
witnesses the play in a joyful act of participation. It is in this improvised
relationship between those who participate in the play, that gives the
aesthetic flavour to the work of art. The outcome of this dialogue remains
uncertain. It is as though the performance has a life and intentionality
of its own. The individual player in this theatre, is surprised by what
the significance of the play consists in. The meaning of the play cannot
be defined in any dogmatic terms. There can be no Magisterium which
says “this is the meaning of what has been said or imaged”. In fact
there may be many meanings, each coming from the unique perspective
of those who witness the art work as a playful, interactive performance.

It is precisely this attitude to meaning in the play
that gave rise to what has been understood as the “genre” narrative
or secular thrust of Asian art. The term “genre” in art refers to
a style of painting concerned with depicting scenes and subjects of
common everyday life. Even in the paintings which we find in the caves
of  Ajanta, or in the landscape paintings of Ch’an and later
Zen art, the line between the secular and the sacred cannot be defined.
The Holy is there to be found in the secular, or time bound. This is
the mystery of the story. The Universal lies hidden in the particular,
the parable. But the “meaning” of this parable cannot be fixed—it
remains open ended, waiting for each person to discover in it a meaning
that comes from life as it is lived in the present. Every time a story
is retold, a new level of meaning is uncovered. Meaning itself is as
endless as the variety of those who find the significant word or image

The web of diversity which constitutes Indian culture
is woven on this approach to art as an eternal performance, or Lila.
It is in the creation of this fabric of many meanings that art forms
have contributed to the richness of Indian secular culture. Indian aesthetics
celebrates the polyvalent. Every image, or poetic utterance is believed
to have a significance at different levels of participation, depending
on the existential experience of the individual. It is this understanding
of the “Dhvani” interpretation of the artistic act that both gives
legitimacy to the many meanings found in image or poetic utterance,
but also insures that every expression of the Imagination remains secular,
forever interpreted within the context of a living community, situated
in a given time and space. This means that no religious dogma can possess
a work of the imagination, by defining what it means. The imagination
gives life to forms that are meaningful, but are never limited to the
particular meanings that are given to these forms.

When Indian artists have played with religious themes,
they have been part of a continuing process of retelling the stories
which have given meaning to life. The problem arises when these stories
have been appropriated by religious fundamentalists, to represent their
own pre-determined understanding of social and cultural identity. The
Ramayana, and the Mahabharata contain profoundly meaningful stories
that are constantly being retold in countries that lie beyond India, 
like Indonesia where most of the population are Muslim. Stories as well
as images travel abroad, crossing national and geographic boundaries,
and changing in the process of the re-telling. Gospel stories have also
inspired artists who are Hindus and Buddhists and who have re-interpreted
them in their own way. Can we say that these stories belong to any particular
religion ? Can only Christians paint the Gospel narratives, and only
Hindus represent
Saraswati or Rama ? Are
Jatakas only relevant
for Buddhists ? It is precisely because the artist is open to re-interpreting
all these stories in an imaginative way, that the artist is essentially
a secular person. The fact that an individual is a Christian or Buddhist,
does not affect his imagination.  The importance of art is that
it helps a Christian or Buddhist to see the world imaginatively through
the eyes of the other. We discover the Hindu world view through the
stories or myths that are told by Hindus and give expression to a Hindu
world view. It is through the power of the imagination, that we are
able to see through these images and poetic narratives, the way that
a Hindu believer might see the world. It is here, in a secular world
of shared meanings that a real dialogue takes place.

When a   Hindu represents a Christian
story from the Gospels, the Biblical narrative is being seen and understood
from a Hindu perspective. This does not diminish the power or beauty
of the Gospel narrative. In fact it enriches it. We rediscover the significance
of the Christ narrative, through the way a person coming from outside
the Christian tradition finds meaning in the Gospels.  Having said
this however, it is important that that we continue to respect the ‘otherness’
of stories that do not belong to the Biblical narrative, which cannot
be appropriated by Christians as only pointing to the Christ event.
Each story tradition has its own integrity and cannot be merely instrumentalized
as serving the narrow self interests of some religious sect. A Hindu
Purana, or Adivasi myth cannot just be turned into a Christian story,
pre-figuring the Jesus event. Every story or image has to be left to
speak for itself.  Dialogue is about allowing the other to remain
‘Other’. Art is about respecting difference.

As a Christian, painting very often Biblical themes,
I have found Hindu friends interpret my images in the light of their
own Faith. This interpretation is not false. The image is not limited
by the particular beliefs of the person who makes the image. Further,
I believe that the Jesus image, or Jesus story does not belong to Christians.
No religious community can
possess a work
of the imagination. The story or the image goes beyond the community
which first imagined the significance of an event that takes place in
the world of a community’s deepest reveries. It is in that sense that
the image is archetypal. But by this term I do not imply something other-worldly,
which we cannot experience with our senses.  The work of art always
addresses our physical senses. It is precisely for that reason that
it is being understood in the context of people living in the here-and-now
of the secular.


There have been attempts to explore a secular spirituality.
By this we might mean a “this-worldly” spiritual approach, as distinct
from an “other-worldly” spirituality. Such a spirituality might
also question ‘religiosity’, understood as concerned only with an
institutionalized form of religion. Secular spirituality may be set
against the narrow form of fundamentalism, claiming that a particular
religious creed, or pious practice, represents the
only way to salvation.
A secular spirituality may approach Faith as something that concerns
the individual search for God, and is not tied down to a clerical, communal
attitude to Belief systems. In a world plagued  by various forms
of fundamentalism, that come out of conflicting truth claims, and social
identities, a secular spirituality may be seen as liberal, open to varying
ways of expression. In this sense secularism may be also thought to
be relativist in its approach to dogmatic statements. Secularism in
the modern world represents a counter-culture, in its radical questioning
of religious formalism. The 15
th Century mystic Kabir, living
in North India, or Basavana in Karnaka, both questioned in their own
way the tyranny of external ritual practices. These practices had built
up walls between communities, entrenching social divisions that ultimately
tore apart the whole social fabric. Superstitions can be found in all
religious communities, and some of these superstitions are in fact dehumanizing.
Secular spirituality can in this sense represent a critique of religious
traditions, from the point of view of what has been termed a “caring
justice”, which places ethical norms above what are taken to be divinely
inspired Canonical texts. All texts, on which religions base their authority,
are understood as being both spiritually inspired, but also socially
and historically conditioned. In other words, the fact that a certain
practice is taken for granted in a Holy writ, does not mean that it
is of ultimate spiritual value. Religious tenets cannot be called “spiritual”
if they are derogatory or defamatory, and incite people to acts of violence
against other communities, who believe in a different Faith. Hans Kung
has remarked on the fact that many of our conflicts in the world today
are legitimized in the eyes of communities by religious differences,
each side claiming that God is on their side, and that they represent
the “True Faith”.

The tendency to validate a patriarchal social system,
and belittle the rights of women as equal in dignity to men, a discriminatory
attitude which can   be supported by certain passages in sacred
scripture, is another example of an interpretation of Holy Writ that
many would now question. The fact that such attitudes are reflected
in Scriptures which were written by men, at a time when such Patriarchal
notions were normative in society, cannot be taken to mean that they
have Divine sanction.  Our understanding of what it is to be human,
and  human values that transcend communal interests, gender and
power politics, have evolved over the centuries, so that we are now
in a position to over-rule those belief practices that go against what
we now take to be a common and caring approach to issues of justice
and human rights . Such questions would characterize what we might call
a secular spirituality in the world of today that no longer accepts
scriptural or religious authority outside what might be understood as
ordinary human and ethical values. This critique of Traditions that
are often supported by scriptural and ritual practices is based on a
secular understanding of an evolving human self consciousness, and responsibility
to the world in which we live.

Another concern that modern secular people have relates
to the ethical responsibility of those who have done so much to widen
the horizons of modern science, and have as a result developed technologies
that have profoundly affected our natural environment. The whole concept
of evolution, and a cosmology that takes for granted an expanding universe
and complex notions of time and space, would regard the world as described
by ancient myths as insufficient for an understanding of many questions
that we confront today. Science and technology has done much to 
create the kind of secular society that seems to challenge the world
of spirituality or Faith. However, a simplistic rational approach to
our technological world, has already been challenged by those branches
of science that realize the limitations of what we can know through
scientific instruments that in the final resort, are mere extensions
of our conscious powers to observe the world in which we live. The mind,
and how it functions remains the great mystery, which psychology tries
to unravel. Science has not dispelled the mysteries of Creation—in
fact in many ways the world becomes  more mysterious as we probe
deeper into its design, or ways of functioning. However, a secular approach
to spiritual issues has to take into account these new perceptions that
science and technology have engendered, and which gave rise to what
was termed the ‘age of enlightenment’, however misconceived was
the result of such knowledge in its dismissive attitude to ancient sources
of wisdom.

The demands of a “secular spirituality” for today,
concerns a deeper understanding of the important place of the “Other”
in a process of self awareness, and growth towards human freedom and
responsibility. The “Other” represents not only another way of looking
at the world, and other human beings inhabiting our common world, but
also another history,  culture; other belief systems and languages
through which fundamental human experiences  are articulated and
made conscious.


as a Basis for Dialogue.


Here I would like to introduce the idea that art
forms, and by this I mean not only visual representations, but also
other aesthetic expressions such as we find in music, dance, poetry,
and other forms of literature, all engage with the “other”. This
“other” is not only outside in the objective world, but is discovered
within our own inner landscape, as a hidden possibility, a world of
the imagination. It is in this way that I would like to understand art
forms as providing a space for inter religious as well as purely human,
person to person, dialogue. Here what is important is not the dogmatic
statement,  but rather a confession of “not knowing”, and of
being open to the yet unknown. When the apostle Thomas dared to ask
that he might touch the wounds of the Risen Christ,  what was being
articulated in this request can be understood in the context of an ‘
class="Normal__Char">aesthetics of doubt’
To touch is to question, to qualify.  Jesus never spurned such
a need, but pointed to a reality beyond the human senses. Faith reaches
beyond what we might see or touch, to a Reality that has no name and
form. By recognizing the limits of human knowledge, art can reach towards
the abstract beyond literal representation. It is in this “nirguna”
aspect of art that we find what might be termed a secular mysticism,
rejecting the power of language and imagination to define Reality.

Indian aesthetics has recognized
the importance of “suggestion” or “uncertainty” as the basis
for the art experience.
Dhvani, or resonance in the image lies precisely in its
capacity to go beyond all forms of literal meaning and to suggest that
“hollowness” or “emptiness” that lies beyond all visible or
audible forms. It is “suggested” not by what is, but by what is
not—it lies in the space between forms, or the silence between notes.
It is the stillness which gives significance ultimately to all movement.
This quality which is beyond quality, or “nirguna”, is what gives
rise to the essential significance of all form. This abstract scaffolding
on which all form depends, is not other-worldly, mere thought, as opposed
to what is experienced in what the body experiences in our secular existence.
According to the Tao te Ching, the importance of a building does not
consist in its walls, but in the spaces, of windows, doors, and inner
proportions. In the same way the usefulness and beauty of a vessel,
does not lie in its outer shape, but in its way of containing space,
and being contained by space.  Finally speaking the usefulness
of any secular object consists not in what it is, but in what it is

There no eye can penetrate,

No voice, no mind, can penetrate:

We do not know, we do not understand

How one should teach it.

Other It is, for sure, than what is known,

Beyond the scope of the Unknown too

So have we heard from men of old who instructed us

That which cannot be expressed by speech,

By which speech itself is uttered,

That is Brahman—know  thou this—

Not what is honoured here as such. class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">6




In the illuminated manuscripts of the Persian miniature
tradition, there is the concept of the “
Muraqa” which refers
to a collection, or montage of images.. This term “
Muruqa” originally meant
a patched garment, which was worn by wandering Sufis. Even among Buddhist
monks we also find the idea that the spiritual seeker should wear clothes
that are a patchwork of worn out pieces of cloth. In village India the
new born baby is laid to rest on a patchwork quilt of old saris stitched
into a soft cover. The idea of patchwork is related to the preciousness
of what is old fabric, which however worn out, can also be re-used.
Pieces of old cloth that are still serviceable are cut out, and joined
together to create a new garment.

The relation of the old to the new, of what is joined
together using fragments of the past, to create a new garment, can be
applied to culture itself, which is a patchwork of traditions and memories.
The Gospels mention a saying of Jesus in which he points out that a
new, unshrunk piece of cloth cannot be patched onto an old garment,
because it will tear the old fabric (Matt. 9.16) However, from ancient
times, especially among the poor, old pieces of cloth are re-cycled
to create a new fabric for practical use.

Levi Strauss in his work on the Savage Mind, has
shown that there is nothing new in a culture. In fact every culture
is a patchwork of pieces of already used fabrics.  Cultures are
not “whole” in the sense of coming from nowhere,  woven completely
seamless, out of a newly spun threads. The relation of what is seamless,
without rents, and what is patched together, is in a way the relationship
between what is timeless, sacred, and what is secular, ordinary and
humble. A woven piece of cloth is related to the body, and this is a
metaphor often used by Kabir, who was himself a weaver. When Jesus suffered
and died on the Cross, we are told that the veil or curtain of the temple
was torn to pieces.
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">7 Patchwork implies that which is provisional, even
accidental. Like the patchwork pattern of fields that we look down on
when flying over a landscape divided up by human cultivation, the different
plots which have been divided by historical and geographic necessity,
seem to come together in an over-all design which has a beauty of its
own. This beauty lies not in its uniformity but rather in its diversity.
What is called “fractal” in chaos theory, which is the haphazard
pattern created by random developments that control the way that natural
forms expand or contract, constitutes the beauty of nature. Order is
not opposed to chaos, but arises out of it, as a principle of design
that emerges from the random or provisional nature of what we call the
secular. The nature of this design is that it is not rational in the
sense of pre-ordained, or even controllable or predictable. All forms
of exchange within the secular order of life, follow such patterns of
growth.  There is a randomness about country foot paths traversing
a natural terrain, which is quite different from the planned structure
of a city, with rationally and intentionally laid out highways.

The secular emerges out of a living dialogue with
materials, as also with people. The artist working with clay, or with
wood, finds that in the very process of interacting with the material,
shapes are created that are not consciously planned, but which emerge
from the interaction between mind and nature. The material itself has
a will of its own, which is linked to the possibilities that lie present
in every substance. By extension, when human beings work together in
a cooperative way, as a dialogue, the outcome of their process of exchange,
cannot be predicted. It has a unity that belongs to the provisional.
It is a kind of gift.

This concept of the gift is related to the notion
of the “Justice” or “rights” of the Other.  It is a form
of grace which comes out of the infinite openness to the Other, and
the “infinite asymmetry of the relation to the other”. It is an
acceptance of the givenness of the Other. Derrida comments on this concept
of the gift in relation to the Other, by stating:

“I start destroying the
gift, by proposing an equivalenc
e that is a circle which encircles the gift in a
movement of appropriation”

Cultures are given to each
other—they represent the gift which one culture offers to another.
But any attempt to appropriate another culture, is to destroy this grace
of giving. T
o be a blessing, there can only be “just giving”.
Any gift which becomes a way of possessing, turns into the destruction
of the creative potential in the gift to transform, and create something
radically new and unpredictable. Art, in so far as it is concerned with
this transformation of culture, has to respect the freedom in any culture
to grow according to its own inner necessity. The imposition of one
culture on another is like stitching an unshrunk piece of cloth onto
an old garment—it ends up tearing the garment. It is this sensitivity
to the very nature of a cultural fabric that is often missing in a process
that is linked to a form of cultural imperialism. This is when cultural
elements are given and taken according to a barter system which no longer
respects the autonomy of the free gift.

theology of Beauty as the basis for inter-religious dialogue.

The search for Beauty, which extends to a longing
to see the Divine Face and Body, indicates that the spiritual is not
only in the abstract realm of Truth, or even ethical Goodness, but includes
the perception of that which we recognize as ‘wonderful’, ‘sublime’,
but also incarnated in all that is experience through the body. A spirituality
which rejects the body as irrelevant, concerned only with the immaterial
and intangible, is ultimately not true to a Christian spirituality.
In fact one could propose that all spiritual traditions have in common
an appreciation of the beautiful;  it is at this level that spiritualities
seem to speak a common language, which cannot be discovered by the rational,
discursive and propositional discourse of dogma. The belief that the
Spiritual dimension includes the experience that we call Beauty, enables
different Faith experiences to come together in a non threatening exchange
of the wonder of the Spirit present in Creation. The aesthetic dimension
of Faith experience is not “mystical” in the sense of other-worldly.
Beauty is what we recognize with our bodily senses. This appreciation
of beauty is profoundly
secular, belonging
to a particular age and culture, and founded on our physical contact
with the world in which we live in the present.

As a Christian, I can sense to beauty of the Hindu
or Buddhist Temple, the Mosque, or the primal expression of the Divine
which we find in tribal  or folk art. This experience of Beauty
in all that aspires to a spiritual perception of reality, does not set
up barriers, or walls that are constructed between what is termed ‘true’
or ‘false’, as distinguished in propositional statements of the
logical, discursive mind. Beauty is concerned with
wholeness, and
cannot be analysed rationally. In Beauty all expressions of the Spirit
have a transcendent Truth that crosses boundaries of religious differences.
This, I believe, is because Art is itself a form of dialogue in the
Spirit. Art goes beyond self conscious thought, to give expression to
that which we all share; the intuitive world of experience. Essential
to Art is communion, or participation, going beyond mental or physical

The role of art in the making of a secular spirituality
in the Indian context, lies precisely here in the creating of a space
where people of different Faith traditions can experience their unity
in a common culture that celebrates the whole history of a community
through the language of beauty. To recognize, and communicate this language
of beauty one does not have to be limited by a communal or religious
identity. An experience of beauty transcends caste, ethnic or social
forms of “belonging”, by reaching out to the ‘other’ through
a common sense of the mystery of being human, and a sensitivity to all
that is divine and eternal in what is human and conditioned by time
and space.

Art-forms not only reach out to the ‘other’,
but also celebrate the wonder of what we experience as Other. I would
like to explore what we might understand as the
spirituality of art,
in the experience of the Beauty of the Other. This Beauty evokes 
a sense of strangeness, of a reality that we cannot explain, or appropriate.
The Beauty of the Other, challenges our own sense of identity, making
us humble in the face of the ineffable.  To be able to apprehend
the Other in what is unfamiliar, and beyond our rational control, is
the mystery that enlivens what might be called the “art experience”.
This experience widens our horizons, gives greater scope to what is
our human potential. We discover ourselves, in the very act of celebrating
the Other.

A theology of Beauty would entail the Biblical concept
of the Glory of God (Kabod), which cannot be contained within the confines
of any dogmatic doctrine. By its very nature this Glory goes beyond
all boundaries, revealing Creation through its energy. All spiritual
traditions have glimpsed this Glory, which is like the Golden Seed,
or Embryo, from which the fundamental human sense of Wonder springs.

Giver of life, giver of strength,

Whose behests all must obey,

Whose behests the gods obey,

Whose shadow is immortality.....

What god shall we revere with
the oblation?


Then neither Being nor Not-being

Nor atmosphere, nor firmament, nor what is beyond

What did it encompass? Where? In whose protection?

What was water, the deep unfathomable?

class="Normal__Char">Rig Veda, X cxxi, and cxxix

It is from this existential
sense of Wonder, in what the Vedas refer to as “Ka”, or
class="Normal__Char"> “What?”, that all art derives its energy. Art
interrogates reality;  the image does not attempt to define what
even lies beyond the imagination. The artists remains conscious of the
limits of visual language.


experience of Beauty in discovering the ‘Other’.


Michael Barnes sj in his three essays entitled “Traces
of the Other”
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">9 discusses the approaches to inter faith dialogue
that can be found in the ideas of Emanuel Levinas, Franz Rosenzweig
and Paul Ricouer. In fact we might look beyond these thinkers to the
vision of Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, and Gaston Bachelard, to name
just a few of those seminal thinkers who have struggled to understand
how art opens up a world beyond the religious divides that confront
us today.

Matin Buber explored the world of dialogue as fundamental
to the ‘I-Thou’ relation. Walter Benjamin reflected on issues of
human responsibility in a confusing world of conflicting ideologies.
His writings on the role of art expressions in the context of the modern
world brought together the domains of ethics and aesthetics. In particular
he noted the importance of  film as a social media that uses narrative
along with images to create a way of seeing contemporary reality. Finally
Gaston Bachelard, who began his creative writing in the world of the
philosophy of science, discovered in his “poetics of  Space”,
the intersection of scientific knowledge, and the inner world of poetic
intuition, and the creative imagination. All these approaches touch
on what we might call a “philosophy of art” as it has emerged out
of the interplay of a conscious understanding of objective knowledge
systems, that the age of the Enlightenment focussed on, and inner processes
of the mind, and the very function of language in creating cultural
diversity. Disciplines of anthropology, comparative religions, psychology,
and the phenomenology of language (understood in its broadest sense
as communication and interpretative tools of thought,) have all contributed
to what we are now seeing as a secular approach to human mind interacting
with nature, and creating a way of seeing and relating to an empirical

It could be argued that the very concept of different
‘Religions’, as distinct phenomena in the world of ideas, having
different world views, and spiritual practices, is itself a result of
a new consciousness of different races and peoples that came out of
the Enlightenment. More recently still, it was only after the World
Parliament of Religions that was held in Chicago in 1893, that people
in the West became conscious of Indian religions as having a depth and
vitality comparable to the religious diversity that has come out of
the Abrahamic family of Faiths. Even the term “Hinduism” which was
first coined in the mid nineteenth century to connote that confusing
multitude of Faith systems that comprise the rich tapestry of Indic
spiritualities, has proved a very misleading term as far as dogmatic
statements about what Hindus believe, is concerned. The link between
a Hindu identity and what might form the basis for a “Hindu Rashtra”,
or state based on Hindu culture, has alienated many who would prefer
politics to be secular. The division of Secular as opposed to Sacred
has emerged out of a long history in Christianity, separating the domains
of the spiritual realm, and profane or merely human institutions. This
distinction goes back to the thesis of the Two Cities, a heavenly and
an earthly city, which St. Augustine imagined as constituting the fundamental
narrative of Eternity in dialectical opposition to human concepts of
time and space.
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">10 Though this understanding of Salvation History helped
people through the turmoil’s of the Dark Ages to understand the dynamics
of a changing world order, with the collapse of ancient civilizations
like that of Rome and Greece, it has its limitations, in that it creates
the image of two independent worlds, one earthly, and the other belonging
to the future, and heavenly.

The Japanese theologian Masao Takenaka, who helped
to focus on the role of art in expressing Faith systems in Asia, suggested
that the kind of mental and rational categories on which Western thought
is based, cannot answer the fundamental need for a unitive world view
which finds the sacred in the profane, the Eternal in the everyday and
transitory. He showed that if there is to be a distinctive Asian form
of theology, it will not be on the lines of Western discursive, rational
and speculative thought. Rather art, poetry and storytelling, will be
an important feature of “doing theology” in the Asian context.
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">11 And yet, at a meeting of Asian artists who had painted
Christian themes, which was held in Bali in 1978, it became evident
that many Asian artists who have been interested in the Christ figure,
have not in fact become members of any Church. The very term “Christian
art in Asia”
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">12 implies a secular identity, which goes beyond communal
or dogmatic lines. It is in this sense that art has helped link people
of different Faiths, and the Asian Christian Art Association, as it
emerged after the Bali meeting, functioned as an ecumenical forum going
beyond Christian institutional ties. The problem was compounded when
Christian missionaries wanted to use art as a way of propagating Christianity,
and making it part of the Mission of the Church. This ended in alienating
many artists who did not want to be part of this Mission agenda of Churches.
This tension between Church and Culture, which has been at the heart
of what we have understood as the “inculturation” movement, arises
out of a particular understanding of the way in which the Church interacts
with the world  and its cultures.
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">13 When Asian artists have been drawn to represent
Biblical, and particularly Gospel narratives in their art, this has
not been because they saw such stories as essentially spiritual as opposed
to the secular reality. In fact it was precisely because these stories
seemed to throw a light on the spiritual within the secular, that they
had a particular appeal. They revealed another dimension to the significance
of story telling, which had been the basis for a mytho-poetic world
of Asian narratives. The great epics like the Ramayana or the Mahabharata,
had spiritual teachings like the Bhagavad Gita embedded in the very
structure of the heroic tale. The new element here was that the “hero”
was not some high born soldier or priest, but rather an ordinary peasant
craftsperson,  who  spent much of his life as a carpenter
in some out of the way town, before taking on the role of a Guru, who
taught that God had chosen to become the “last person”, what Gandhi
termed the “
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">14 What was important in this story was not the establishing
of a Church, but rather the discovery of the Divine in the human, or
the human face of the Divine.

In the official Liturgy of the Church, class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">15 there is no recognition of the fact that ‘non-believers’
from a Christian perspective, are often, at least in the Asian context,
class="Normal__Char">believers in other Faiths
and that they also have a Faith in the Presence of the Divine in Creation.
Christianity, despite the fact that we are now conscious of a great
diversity of  Faiths in the world, still operates under the assumption
that there is only One Faith, and all other forms of belief are in fact
non-belief. This deprives Christians of the possibility of understanding
Faith in the light of the plurality of Faiths. A recent book by Paul
Knitter speaks of his Christian Faith as being itself supported and
enriched by the Buddhist Faith of his wife. That Faiths are not mutually
exclusive, but are complementary has not been recognized, at least in
the Liturgical life of the Church. The situation is not unlike that
of the Church in the middle ages which felt threatened by the suggestion
that the earth was not the centre of the Universe, and that it revolved
round the sun like other planets. There are many Christians who feel
that they cannot be true to their Faith in Christ, unless they refuse
to recognize the Faiths of other people who are outside the Church,
by accepting that their devotional practices, and spiritual experiences
have an integrity and Truth. . Even more troubling to many orthodox
Christians is the idea that there are ‘Other Faiths’, which are
founded on Divine acts of Revelation, which have an authority outside
the ambit of the Biblical or Abrahamic Revelation. What is missing is
a theology of Religions is a recognition of the omnipotence and universality
of God, as acting through all human history and its different cultures..

There is an ontological issue at stake here. Salvation
history is also being imputed. To accept that there are Other Faiths,
would  be to suggest that God has spoken to people through Faith
systems other than the Judeo-Christian tradition of Abrahamic Faith
experience. Further, there is the question as to whether salvation can
be found outside the Church, and that also not just any Christian Church,
but the divinely chosen and sanctified Apostolic Church, in communion
with Rome. Uniqueness is opposed to diversity. To question whether God
can save human beings who earnestly seek for Truth and Beauty outside
the official Church, is to doubt the omnipotence, and indeed Compassion
and Justice of God. A God who  can condemn the majority of human
beings to damnation, because they do not acknowledge the Church, is,
I would have thought, an insult to our concept of God. To comprehend
this fundamental existential question, Karl Rahner proposed a distinction
between the Church and the Kingdom of God. The Church may be the Sacrament
of that Kingdom, but it is not to be equated with the Kingdom. There
are those who do not belong to the Church, who are never the less faithful
to the Kingdom of God. Also there are people who belong to the institutional
Church, who are not part of the Kingdom of God. This would explain to
a certain extent the historical scandal of those members of the Church
who have acted in conjunction with obviously unjust human institutions,
like colonialism. We have to recognize that the official Church, which
has often failed to speak out against evil structures in society, has
itself alienated those who have been the victims of injustice. The need
to recognize the Other, is tied up with a deeper understanding of God’s
caring Justice for all peoples, throughout history.

It is here, in this quest for an understanding of
God’s caring Justice, that we are confronted by a deeper problem which
is the enigma of Faith. We do not know God truly, and do not yet see
the Eternal Creator “face to face”. In this situation of ontological
“not knowing” all human beings are the same. The question which
is addressed by all Faiths is the unknowability of God, the Otherness
which we cannot have access to. God is finally Other, as “His thoughts
are not our thoughts, His ways not our ways”. We discover that there
is an apophatic Revelation which all deeply Spiritual traditions would
recognize. And it is in the light of this Otherness of God, and this
unknowability of God, that we discover the Divine not only in our own
familiar Faith practices, and dogmatic beliefs, but in the Otherness
of people who believe and practice differently from us. Buber was to
suggest that we only discover ourselves when we recognize the Other.
And it is important, as Levinas was also to point out, that we do not
try to appropriate the Other, and make it some kind of unconscious part
of ourselves, assuming the Other into our own world view and implicit
mono-culture. The idea that there is an “Unknown Christ in Hinduism”
is only acceptable in terms of dialogue, if we can also accept that
there is an unknown Shiva in Christianity. If this uncertainty ( which
might almost amount to an existential doubt) is maintained then dialogue
is possible, but if we purport to know, and cannot accept the integrity
of the Other, then dialogue is no longer honest, or creative.

Beauty as a manifestation of Divine

The word “Grace” can mean beautiful, but also
‘freely given’, as when we speak of Divine Grace, as  given
gratuitously to human beings, who in no way deserve such benefits. Grace
is always associated with freedom. We speak of graceful movement, and
in that sense grace implies a spontaneous, free movement of the body.
Thus the theological importance of this concept of Grace is related
to the idea of Beauty as given, what the scholastics defined as the
“radiance of form”. Beautiful form, has a radiance, or a glory,
which reflects from its surface, like light that reflects from something
that is polished, clean. The theologian Von Balthazar in his great work
on the Glory of  God, relates the  concept of the Beauty of 
God to the notion of the Divine  Glory (Kabod, Shekinah), what
in Hindu terminology might be called Shakti. To radiate is to extend
outwards, filling space.  The Glory of  God fills the whole

This concept of Grace that is given to all, also
implies the sense of free gift. It is part of the outgoing generosity
of the Creator that has no limits. Culture itself can be understood
in this way as given, and giving. The anthropologist Mauss discusses
the cultural significance of the Gift.
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">17 This concept has led some modern thinkers on culture,
to discuss how cultural exchange also functions as a way of giving and
receiving outside the narrow demands of a market system. The market
system depends on barter, and the idea that nothing is given which does
not have to be repaid. But the concept of hospitality, and culture as
transcending the demands of necessity, is that beauty lies in the realm
beyond that which is needed for physical survival. Beauty is in that
sense something given in excess of what is required, a kind of cosmic

The notion of the “Face of Glory” or Kirthimukha class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">18 as it is known in Indian myth, includes that which
is unknowable, beyond what can be comprehended by human logic. This
“Face of Glory” can be terrible, in that it challenges all that
we take for granted, and is the “alter” side of the Divine. 
It is this face that Arjuna Sees through the grace of Krishna, but which
he asks to be shielded from.
class="Footnote_0020Reference__Char">19 It is also the Divine Presence that appears before
Job,  challenging all his conventional ideas of what the Creator
manifests. God appears in a form that is counter-cultural, questioning
our conventional notions of what is beautiful, or pleasant.

He had no form or majesty
that we should look at him,

Nothing in his appearance
that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected
by others

A man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;

And as one from whom others hide their faces

He was despised, and we held him of no account......

class="Normal__Char">Isaiah 53  2-3

We may understand the Divine
as engaged in the human as a gift of Grace. Gift implies a recognition
class="Normal__Char">of the ‘Other’ in a gratuitous act of exchange.
The ‘givenness’ of Grace, also implies that Beauty, is something
given—it is a graceful giving that helps us to see  the process
of creation as a Divine-human dialogue. Human expression through art
is a way of communicating with this Creative energy of the Divine, in
freedom. We experience the Divine Spirit in Creation as an abundance,
or extravagance of that Creative energy which communicates freely, without
impinging on the freedom of the creature, respected as the ‘other’.
This idea Beauty of God helps us in an exchange which goes beyond rational
and discursive discourse. We  experience God as the ‘Other’
that we cannot define by using human language or imagery. The beauty
of God is the radiance or Glory of God which reveals Creation through
the very power of its illumination.

According to Carl Jung, in his “Answer to Job”
it is this experience of the terrifying Otherness of the Divine, that
forces, one might say, God to become human, in order to enter into a
dialogue with the self conscious human being. “This final vision....”
he writes, “has the meaning of a ‘uniting symbol’ and is therefore
a representation of perfection and wholeness..”

Dom Bede Griffiths used to suggest that it is in
the mystical experience of God as wholly Other, that all human spiritualities
converge, and can dialogue with each other.


Cf  An Ethics of Hesitant Learning: the Caring Justice of Levinas
and Derrida. Julian Edgoose. Teacher’s College Columbia University.

The Great Transformation, by Karen Armstrong. 2006

The Idea that art is sacramental is not to deny its secular spirituality. 
The sacrament invests the ordinary, and every day, with a spiritual
meaning.  It could be suggested that the Karma Yoga of the Bhagavad
Gita lies essentially in this concept of all work being a form of sacrifice.

The Greek word Aporia, means “as if”.

Tao te Ching by Lao Tsu.  Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space
within that makes it useful. Cut doors and windows for a room; It is
the holes which make it useful. Therefore benefit comes from what is
there; Usefulness from what is not there.  No.11. Trans. By Gia-Fu
Feng and Jane English. 1989

Upanishad I. 3-5. Hindu Sciptures, Trans. R.C. Zaehner 1966

Matt. 27,51

Quoted in “The Rupture with Memory” by Nissim Mannathukkaren, ChapterVI,
“Justice and the Other” p. 43 Navayana 2006

“Traces of the Other” by Michael Barnes sj

Cf Time and Narrative by Paul Ricouer. University of Chicago 1984. Vol.
I, Part I. The Aporias of the Experience of Tim. Book 11 of Augustine’s

The theologian Christine Lienemann-Perrin calls works of art the eyes
of Asian Theology. Religionsbegegnung: indische-christliche Kunst. Religion-Theologie-Glube.
Nr 97, June 1998. P.1

Christian Art in Asia, by Masau Takenaka. CCA 1975

We might refer here to the document of the second Vatican Council “Church
in the World” which proposes a concern for the human as lying at the
heart of a Christian approach to Incarnation.

It was this idea, related to “Unto this Last” by John Ruskin, that
led Gandhi to coin the term Sarvodaya.

For example in the prayers of the Church in the Good Friday service.
In fact it may be remarked that these prayers may be hurtful to people
of other Faiths.

Simon Weil speaks of “Gravity and Grace” For her Gravity represents
the human condition, to be contrasted with a grace that seeks freedom
of life and expression.

The Gift by Mauss. 1950. English Trans. By W.D. Halls with foreword
by Mary Douglas. 1990  Routledge 2002.

Cf Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization by Heinrich Zimmer.
Bollingen series VI. Pp 180-84

Bhagavad Gita. Chapter II. “I am the all-powerful Time which destroys
all things, and I have come here to slay these men. Even if thou dost
not fight, all the warriors facing thee shall die...”(v.32) 
When Arjuna heard the words of Kishna he folded his hands trembling;
and with faltering voice and bowing in adoration, he spoke(v.35)....’In
a vision I have seen what no man has seen before: I rejoice in exultation,
and yet my heart trembles with fear. Have mercy upon me, Lord of gods,
Refuge of the whole universe: show me again thine own human form’

In this connection we can also understand
Job: “I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees
you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” Job.
42 5-6

Answer to Job by Carl Jung. The Portable Jung edited by Joseph Campbell.