Book Review: “An Indian Jesus from Sankara’s Thought” by K. P. Aleaz, Kolkata: Punthi Pustak, 1996.

Posted: May 5, 2012 in General

[Prof. Dr. Kalarikkal Poulose Aleaz (or K. P. Aleaz) is Prof. of Religions at Bishop’s College, Calcutta, India. He is also a professor and Dean of Doctoral Program at the North India Institute of Post-Graduate Theological Studies (NIIPGTS; Jointly sponsored by Serampore College and Bishop’s College). He guides Doctoral candidates of South Asia Theological Research Institute, Bangalore as well.Author of 18 books and more than 200 articles as well as editor of 3 more books, he was William Patton Fellow of the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, in 1997, Visiting Professor at Hartford Seminary, USA, as well as University of South Africa, Pretoria, in 2002 and Teape Lecturer in the Universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, Bristol and Edinburgh, in 2005. E.Mail: aleaz05@yahoo.com. Formerly, this Review was published in the Indian Journal of Theology.]

Christology is central to Christian theology. It is Christology, the study of the person and work of Christ, that makes theology Christian. Christ is one of the titles of Jesus, a title by which the Hellenistic Christianity appropriated the Jewish Christian vision of the Messiah, the Saviour. Indian Christians have every right to understand Jesus in their own way as the Jewish, Hellenistic or Western Christians have done. Understanding Jesus is understanding God. Reality is non-dual, advaita. Jesus represents both humans and God. Jesus belongs to the whole humanity. By understanding Jesus we understand both God and humans. Dr. Aleaz in this book attempts to understand the person and work of Christ from an advaitic standpoint. He considers this work as the high point in his theological endeavours, “the thesis of my life”, fulfilling the “purpose of my life”. This is a completely Indian interpretation of Jesus in advaitic terms, original in every respect. It claims a place of its own among Indian Christian theological writings. It contributes to our ecumenical understanding of Christ, an originally Indian perspective, and enriches the content of it.

Even though the author provides an introduction to the development of Christology in the history of the Church that has not in any way made an impact on his own Jesulogy developed in this work. This introduction is intended only to show the legitimacy of developing an understanding of Jesus on the basis of one’s own culture. If Jewish Christians can understand Jesus as Messiah/Christ, Hindu Christians can understand him as Chit, the consciousness of reality. It is unnatural and impossible for a Hindu to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah who came as the fulfillment of the Jewish prophesies. Knowledge cannot be externally produced and imported. Therefore attempts to adapt, indigenize, inculture or contextualize are epistemologically unsound. Jesus is relevant to a culture only when he is born in it, becomes a part of it. Christology becomes a Chit-fogy for an advaitin. Chitfogy and Christology are only two possible understandings of the one Jesus who represents God and humans in his person. The author’s attempt is to provide a Jesulogy through the “Jiva-Brahman relation of Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta” which will serve as a framework within which any number of understandings of Jesus as Christ or Chit, Black or Dalit is possible. This Advaitic Jesulogy provides a larger framework than the Chalcedonian formula which was much constrictive and divisive rather than open and unitive.

In ten chapters the author discusses about the person of Jesus, the function of Jesus, and the implications of his Jesulogy. Without succumbing to the preposterous ‘two-nature’ doctrine on the divinity and humanity of Christ an Indian can very well rely on the advaitic categories such as upadhi (extrinsic denominator), namarupa (name and form) and karya (effect) to explain the meaning of the incarnation of Jesus. “The life of Jesus shows us that when name and form, existing latent in the Self (atmasthe anabivyaktte), get manifested (vyakriyete) they manifest into all the states (sarvavasthasu) by retaining their intrinsic nature as the Self (atmasvarupaparityagenaiva) and remaining indistinguishable from Brahman in time and space (brahmanaapravibhakttadesakale)” (Ch. 11). “The constitution of the person of Jesus is the same as that of a human person. During his life with us in this world, his intellect, mind, senses and body functioned as extrinsic denominators (upadhi) to the Inner Self” (Ch. I). Jesus, the representative Jiva, is the effect of Brahman. The relation between Jesus and Brahman is tac1atmya relation (nonreciprocal dependence). If Brahman is the cosmic space Jesus is the pot space (mahakasah and ghatakasah). Jesus reveals Brahman as Pure Consciousness as well as the Witness of all, the Self of all. The function of Jesus is to reveal the pervasive illuminative and unifying power of the Supreme Self. It is this illumination, realization of God as one’s own self, that brings real liberation to human beings. ”The gospel of Jesus from India for the whole humanity is that liberation is an ever attained fact (nityasiddhasvabhavam).” By liberation the author means not social liberation but individual’s transcendence over all limitations.

True to his advaitic convictions Aleaz maintains that the gospel of Jesus is a renunciation of the lower self. Christianity has distorted the “religion of renunciation and realisation of potential divinity of Jesus into a secular dogmatic religion of the innate vileness of human nature and atoning sacrifice of Christ…” Dr. Aleaz is not sympathetic with people like Swami Akhilananda who consider Jesus as an avatara, the descent of God, born without karmas and above maya. The reason is that avatara has no significance in Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta. All humans are avatars, being reflections of Brahman. What makes Jesus distinctive is his “total sacrifice” for others and not claiming any uniqueness for himself. Aleaz is also not in favour of identifying Jesus with Isvara. Sankara does not make any distinction between Brahman and Isvara; Para Brahman and Paramesvara are interchangeable terms for him. To project Isvara as a link between God and the world is based on a dualistic notion of reality. Aleaz also rejects the emphasis given to the historicity of Jesus, what matters is the “eternal meaning behind the important historical fact”.

The author explicity claims his “Jesulogy is an attempt to raise the question of the foundation of Christian thought outside the Western categories of ‘person’, ‘creation’, ‘world’, ‘action’ etc.” That alone is reason enough to take seriously this seminal work from a prodigious thinker of our time.

[Reviewed by Dr. T. Jacob Thomas, a Marthomite Priest who served as Professor of Christian Theology & Ethics @ Bishops College, Kolkata, and Gurukul Lutheran Theological College & Research Institute, Chennai]

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