Friday, October 2, 2009


As Jesus was sent by the Father to preach the good news, so too Jesus sent His apostles to continue His mission. They preached Christ as the Way of life and introduced the Christian Way of life suitable to the people to whom they preached Christ. They were first preaching to the Jewish people, showing them from the Old Testament that Jesus is the Promised Messiah. St Paul spoke to the Greeks that Jesus is the Wisdom and the unknown god in the temple of Ephesus. St Thomas preached to the Jews in Diaspora and to the people familiar with the Aramaic culture and language. He met the Jewish communities and trade centres in India and Persia. Edessa was the centre of Aramaic-Syriac culture and literature, rather than a centre of Greek culture and literature. The East Syrian liturgy developed in Edessa and spread to Persia and India. Seleucia-Ctesiphon became the See of the Catholicos-Patriarch of the East Syrian Church and had relations with Indian Church.

The Christian way of life (Nasrani Margam) that resulted from the preaching of St. Thomas in India came to be known as Marthoma Margam, due to the influence of Margas in India. The Christian Community was called the Sheepfold of St Thomas in India (Mar’itha Tomaita d-Hendo), due to the biblical concept of Israel as the Sheep/People of God (Qahal Yahweh). St. Thomas ordained priests (Nasrani Katanar/Qashisha), Ranban, bishops (episcopa) and deacons (Shamasha) to be the ministers and mediators, agents and apostles of the Marthoma Nasrani Margam; they should follow, preach and teach it the Nasrani (Christians) in India. The believers were popularly known as Nasrani-Mappila, but are called Suriani- Kristiani today.


The concept of marga existed, even before Christianity, in Hindu traditions of India, Jainism and Buddhism, and in Judaism, the precursor to Christianity. India (Hendo[1]-Sindhu[2]) is the name given by the Greeks and Romans to the ancient Bharata[3] in epics and puranas. Parthian empire united India with Persia, as they shared the Aryan culture, gods and myths, and adopted language and coins for commerce and trade between them. Peoples were united through cultural exchange, communal interests and complementary religious myths and gods. Religion was a way of life – magga in Pali and marga in Sanskrit.

Marga[4] basically refers to footprints of animals (m-rga). Marg (verb) means to seek, seek for, hunt, hunt after, chase, strive to attain, strive after, solicit, beg, ask for, seek through, trace out, move, go, etc. Marga[5] means footpath, walking lane, road, way, passage, course, tract passed over, reach, range, scar, canal, channel, means, search, investigation, right way, proper course, mode, manner, method, style, direction, custom, usage, practice, etc.

Magga[6] in Pali, metaphorically, is way of life, good or bad morally. It is a religious way of life for liberation from the miseries of this world. Asian religions describe various methods or paths (marga) for attaining liberation. Ancient religions were known as margas but today they are called mathas[7]. So we shall have a bird’s eye view of different ancient margas, related to India.


Hindu scriptures are mainly the four Vedas[8] and the Vedanta or Upanishads (the source of Indian Philosophy). Aryan culture and religion are rooted in the Vedas (knowledge), which are the oldest extant literary monument of the Aryan mind. Vedic religious literature presents monism (Iswara) and dualism (Purusha-Prakriti; Brahman/Atman[9] and avidya/maya). The Ultimate Reality is personal and impersonal, transcendent and immanent. Truth is one, and the learned call it by many names[10]. The Vedic religions in India teach the chatur-varna-asrama for mukti from punar-janma into the samsara-sagara. Orthodox sects of Hinduism accept the divine authority of the Vedas: Brahmana, Vaishnava, Saiva, etc. Heterodox sects like Buddha and Jaina, deny the authority of Vedas. Sikhism combines Islam with Hindu religions and castes. Thus, India is a land of religions with their margas for liberation/salvation.

The people of India follow the marga of chatur-varna-asrama-dharma[11]. The Indian way of life is based on the fourfold asrama[12] (state of life): Brahmacarya[13] - studentship with celibacy (reserved for Brahmanas); Grihastya- household, with marriage; Vanaprasta- retired, solitary; and Sanyasa- renouncing/ Bhikshu[14]- mendicant, monk. Purusharthas[15] are four objects of life or aims of existence: kama- lust, artha- wealth, dharma- duty, and moksha- final emancipation. The fourfold varna[16] (caste- based on the colour of the skin, or occupation) is Brahmana- priest, Kshatriya- warrior, Vaisya- trader/ farmer, and Sudra- servant/ slave; others like dalits, tribals, etc. are avarna- non-Hindus.

Sanyasi,[17] Yogi,[18] Rishi become Acharya or Guru[19], and teach the margas for liberation: Man is a complex of intellect, will and emotion; he thinks, wills and feels; hence there is philosophy of knowledge, action, and devotion. The threefold way is jnana- knowledge, karma- action, and bhakti- devotion; different people attain salvation by these different paths, which ultimately stand synthesised. This synthesis is called yoga- union, of the individual with the Absolute, of atman with Paramatman; so we speak of karma-yoga, bhakti-yoga, jnana-yoga[20]. Yogi’s ideal is self-control and self-realisation. Strict ascetical training /discipline[21] is absolutely necessary for students to become humane and mature persons, who may become holy priests, actively taking part in liturgy.

Brahma-Sutra claims to be an aphoristic summary of the Upanishads. Sankara prefers jnana to liberate man from ajnana and avidhya due to maya. Ramanuja chose bhakti-marga. Different methods can be combined. Yogi is the ideal ascetic who curbs his passions and maintains calmness in any situation; this self-control is for liberation from the world of misery and suffering (samsara-sagara) and re-birth (punar-janma) due to “karma-dosham”, or maya (illusion) and avidya (ignorance). Bhagavad Gita is the “Milk” of Upanishads. It tries to build up a philosophy of karma, based on jnana and supported by bhakti in a beautiful manner. It represents a unique synthesis of action, devotion and knowledge, for a human who is a complex of intellect, will and emotion. It is the “Gospel of Humamnity”[22]. Nishkama-karma is renunciation in action, with a detached spirit; devotion is disinterested service to God. Bhakti is a form of karma, and its object is the personal God, Purushottama.

Sri Krishna teaches Arjuna the direct path to free himself from the bondage of karma: "Give up all your dharma and adharma and surrender yourself to me unconditionally[23]. I will save you from all bondage. Do not grieve"[24].

Varna-asrama-dharma was originally based on the division of labour, and state of life. In later vedic period Shudras became exploited in many ways; so also the “avarnar” became bonded slaves in agricultural lands; these are at the mercy of upper castes even today. Buddha and Jina showed them religious means to escape from exploitation and tyranny of the upper castes.

xSo we have different margas. Not logical.


Jainism from Jina (conqueror) insists on liberation from bondage of soul (jiva) to matter (pudgala) due to ignorance and four passions- anger, greed, pride, delusion. Influx of fresh karma is stopped by the possession and practice of right faith, knowledge and conduct. The partnership between the matter and the soul is dissolved through the path[25] of tri-ratna (jewels): right conduct (charitra), right knowledge (jnana) and right faith (samyak darsana). Stoppage of new karma and wearing out of old karma lead to liberation (moksha): the soul shines out in its intrinsic nature of infinite faith, knowledge, bliss and power. Faith is necessary; right conduct perfects knowledge, since theory without practice is empty and practice without theory is blind. Jaina Sangha (community of clergy and laity) takes vow (vrta) to observe (in thought, word and deed) the Five-fold basic spiritual principle of Jainism: 1) Ahimsa- non injury; 2) Satya- truth; 3) Astea- not to steal; 4) Brahmacharya- abstention from self-indulgence; 5) Aparigraha- renunciation. Jainism has no room for devotion. The fire of asceticism must burn all emotions and desires to ashes. Thus one becomes a spiritual conqueror (jina). Jainism is primarily an ethical teaching and its aim is the perfection of the soul[26].


Buddhism teaches the popular marga: Avoid extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification; follow the middle path of three silas: karma-conduct, samadhi- concentration, and pranja- knowledge. Buddha means the enlightened one; he found enlightenment after six years of rigorous religious austerities. He kicked away gold, women and fame (the three universal fetters of man) and conquered Mara, the prince of Evil. Buddhism has an elaborate monastic discipline for men and women.

Buddha preached “the Noble Truths”[27] and “the Noble Eight-fold Path”[28] (Arya Attangika Maggo) to people without distinction of caste, creed and colour. The four "excellent truths" are: 1) all existence involves suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) suffering can be ended if desire can be conquered; and 4) desire can be conquered. The “eight-fold path” to conquer desire, consists of right (faith) views, intentions (resolve), speech, action, (living) livelihood, effort, (thought) mindfulness, and concentration. Thus Buddha appeared as “the Light of Asia, the perfect embodiment of knowledge, courage, love and sacrifice”[29].

Buddha was mainly an ethical teacher and a mystic rather than a metaphysician. Not philosophy but peace purifies people. Ignorance is the root-cause of all suffering. One has to know the cause of suffering to put an end to it. Everything has a cause (Ex nihilo nihil fit). Cause of suffering is desire for worldly things. This world is conditional, relative and limited. So also `dharma' or `adharma’ is the law of nature, to enter Nirvana (conscious liberation). It is the universal and fundamental law of existence, based on the law of cause and effect: Causal law (doctrine) of Dependent Origination.

We get 12 links of the Causal Wheel of Dependent Orgination: 1) Avidya- ignorance 2) Samskara- impressions of karmic forces 3) Vijnana-initial consciousness of the embryo 4) Nama-rupa- psycho-physical organism 5) Sadayatana- six sense-organs including mind 6) Sparsha- sense-object-contact 7) Vedana- sense-experience 8) Trsna- thirst for sense-enjoyment 9) Upadana- clinging to this enjoyment 10) Bhava- will to be born 11) Jati- birth or rebirth 12) Jara-marana- old age and death: cycle of birth-and-death.

St Thomas teaches the Nasrani Margam to Buddhists[30]: there is no cycle of birth and rebirth; there is a new life after death; there is no suffering in heaven; lotus[31] is the symbol of immortality, sign of resurrection. Hence, they say, it is depicted at the bottom of the Cross of St Thomas (San Thome)[32] near Madras.


Zoroastrians, and Parsees of Bombay, teach two ways, good and evil (ethical dualism in Avesta of Zarathustra)[33]. There is a constant battle between God and evil powers (principles); this struggle occurs within the human breast; the immortal soul has to choose between the good and evil. The good life is one of purity, virtue, industry and benevolence. The modern Zoroastrians worship one God (Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom, symbolised by the fire); archangels are Good Mind, Righteousness, Devotion, Domination and others. God and Right will triumph at last[34].

[1] Zacharia, Scaria.[SDSR=] Randu Praachiina Gadya Kritikal (Canons of the Synod of Diamper and the Statues of Roz in 1606) (Changanacherry: 1976) 111. Mar’itha Thomaita d-Hendo: Indian Church of St Thomas. Sindhu – Hendo – Hindu – Indu-India.

[2] Sapt-Sindhu is the land of 7 rivers: Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, Satluj, and Saraswati. Punjab is land of 5 rivers. Mahajan, Ancient India, 62-70; also 220-224.

[3] Vishnu Puranam describes Bharata: "Uttaram yat Samudrasya/ Himadreschaiva dakshinam/ Varsham tad Bharatam nama/ Bharati yatra santatih", as cited by Mahajan, V.D., Ancient India (New Delhi: 1976) 5.

[4] Monier-Williams, Monier. [SED=] A Sanskrit English Dictionary (London:1899; reprint Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986) 812, col.2.

[5] Apte,V.B. The Practical Sanskrit English Dictionary (Poona: 1890; 3rd ed. Bombay: 1924) 758. (Shortened to: Apte, Sanskrit).

[6] Childers,R.C. A Dictionary of Pali Language (London: 1875; New Delhi: Cosmo Publishers, 1979)758. (Shortened to: Childers, Pali)

[7] SED, 783. Mata: thought, doctrine, opinion.

[8] SED, 1015. Rigveda is the original work; Atharvaveda was added about 1000 B.C. Rig-Yajur-Sama-Vedas are called Trayi or Triple Vidya (three- fold knowledge). Manu’s Law refers to “the triple eternal vedas” (p.1015, col.2). Each Veda has 2 parts: mantra and brahmana. Mantras are words of prayer and adoration often addressed to either fire or sun or air, sky, wind, etc. for health, wealth, long life, cattle, offspring, victory, and even forgiveness of sins. Brahmana consists of vidhi and arthaveda. Vidhi means rule, formula, injunction, ordinance, statute, precept, law, direction (for doing rituals) etc (p.968, col.1). Arthavedas are directions for the details of ceremonies at which the mantras were to be chanted, also explanations from legends. Both the Mantras and the Brahmanas are revealed by the deity and heard by the Rishis; hence they are called Sruti.

[9] Brahman is derived from the root brh meaning to grow, evolve. It first meant sacrifice, then prayer, now the Ultimate Reality which evolves itself as this world. It is Tajjalan (Chandogya Upanishat 3,14), as that (tat) from which arises (ja), into which it returns (la), and by which it is supported and it lives (an). Brahman is defined as that from which all these things are born, by which they live, and into which they are re-absorbed (Taittiriya Upanishat 3,1). The Absolute of the Upanishats manifests itself as the subject (Atman) and as the object (Brahman) and transcends them both. Hence “thou art that” (tat-tvam asi) is the great saying (maha vakya)of the Upanishats: Atman is Brahman. “I am that/I am the non-dual Bliss” is the realisation of a Hindu (C.Sharma, Critical Survey, 24f). For Nasrani, Jesus is the Alpha (Alap) and Omega (Tau).

Sri Sankara made a distinction between the Absolute (para-Brahma) and God (apara-Brahma), called Iswasra. Brahman is described in Upanishats in two ways: sa/nir-guna =quality-full/less; sa/nish-prapancha =cosmic/acosmic; sa/nir-visesha =determinate/indeterminate; anirvachaniya indescribable (p.27). Atman originally meant life-breath, then got the meanings of feeling, mind, soul and spirit. It pervades all; it knows, experiences, and illumines objects; it remains immortal and always the same (Sankara’s Commentary of Katha Upanishat (2,1,1) is cited by C.Sharma, Critical Survey, 19). Hindus have tri-murti; also Empirical Trinity: of the knower, the known, and the knowing; E.J. Kilmartin speaks of immanent Trinity (Objective) and economic Trinity (Subjective) in relation to salvation through revelation (Christian Liturgy: Theology and Practice 1: Systematic Theology of Liturgy (Kansas City:1988) 114 & 197, as cited by J.Erambil, The Pneumatological Dimensions of the Eucharist in the Writings of Edward J. Kilmartin (Rome: 1998) 51).

[10] “The Christian [Roman Catholic] attitude towards them [religions] was in fact for the main part a negative one; it was taken for granted that other religions cannot lead to salvation” (Dupuis,J. ed. The Christian Faith (Bangalore: TPI, 1996) 377). Pope Benedict XIV by his apostolic Constitutions Ex quo Singulari (1742) and Omnium Sollicitudinem (1744) brought “to an end the long drawn-out controversy on the Chinese rites” (J.Dupuis, Christian Faith, 437) and the Malabar rites and the effective evangelization in China and Madura (India). Pius XI and Pius XII accepted “true catholicity”; Church’s “ideal is not exterior uniformity, but a healthy pluralism in the unity of faith”. In fact, “the doctrine is based on the unity of the human race and the equality of all people. Hence the right for all nations to preserve and develop their cultural heritage, and the duty for the Church to assume it…" (ibi.p.437).

[11] Dharma means what is firm, firm, established, used to be; usage, custom, law, morality, religion (SED,510). Four vedas correspond to the four asramas; four vernas are described by Manu.

[12] SED, 158. Asrama: stage in life, hermitage, abode of ascetics.

[13] Brahma-charya means walking with the brahman (priest) for learing vedas; hence studentship of brahmana boys. Holy life is needed for studying the sacred Vedas; student has to meditate on Brahman (the Absolute, the self-existent Spirit) and be in his presence; walking with Brahman or being in Brahman. Celibacy is the result of such a studentship. To acquire brahman is the aim of education. Brahm means to go or move. Brahman means growth, expansion, evolution, development, swelling of the soul or spirit; pious effusion, utterance, outpouring, etc. Brahma means priest; the Asbsolute, etc. (SED, 737f}. KIDANGEAN,X. Kudumbavum Paurohityavum (Kottayam:1997) 273,n.13.

Celibacy is related to goddess Cybele in Phrygia ca 250 BC; the Cappadocian priests were castrated to serve Cybele; such priests of Cybele are celibates. Nasrani had married clergy with chastity and holy life.

[14] SED, 756, col.3. Bhikshu means a beggar, mendicant, religious man especially a Brahman in 4th Asrama, when he subsists entirely on alms.

[15] Apte, Sanskrit, 409. Guru: father, ancestor, venerable person.

[15] SED, 637, col.2.

[16] SED, 924. Varna: colour, caste, covering, shape.

[17] SED, 1148, col.1. Samnyasa means resignation, abandonemnt of worldly concerns or renunciation of the world, profession of asceticism, e.g. abstinence from food. Samnyasi is one who has abandoned all things, ascetic, mendicant, etc.

[18] SED, 856f. Yogi is one who practices yogas, i.e. meditation, religious abstraction, connection or relation to God.

[19] Apte, Sanskrit, 409. Guru: father, ancestor, venerable person.

[20] C.Sharma, Critical Survey, 33-37.

[21] Sankara explains the four means necessary for man to become worthy to study Vedanta: 1) Viveka, 2) Viraga, 3) Sama-dama-di (uparati-titiksa-sradha-sanadhana) sadhana-sampat, 4) Mumuksuta (Viveka-Chudamani, p.38-43; cited by R.N.Sharma, Indian Philosophy, p.315). They are very useful for seminarians to study Bible.

[22] C.Sharma, Critical Survey, 32.

[23] Utter faith and absolute dependency on his mercy are very necessary for the devotee. Only a true jnani can perform selfless service, detached action, with resignation. Yoga is essentially and predominantly the path of knowledge through which its ideal of self-realization can be attained. When the devotion is perfect, the individual and his Lord/God become suffused into one spiritual ecstasy and reveal themselves as aspects of one life. Absolute monism is the completion of the dualism with which the devotional consciousness starts (p.37).

[24] Bhagavad-Gita 18:66, cited by Yatiswarananda Swami, Meditation and Spiritual Life (Bangalore: 1989) 41.

[25] Childers, Pali, 357. Patho is path, road, way, course, reach

[26] C.Sharma, Critical Survey, 65f.

[27] C.Sharma, Critical Survey,71f. Buddhism follows four arya-satya- noble truths: dukha- suffering exists; its cause is desire; if desire is removed, suffering will disappear; there is a noble path of eight steps to remove desire and the consequent suffering. They are right-faith, resolve, speech, action, living, effort, thought and concentration (C.Sharma, The Advaita Tradition in Indian Philosophy, A Study of Advaita in Buddhism, Vedanta and Kasmira Shavism (Delhi: Mottilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1996)18-20).

[28] Buddah speaks of the Ashtanga-marga for Nirvana-Moksha (liberation). The eightfold path, leading to liberation from suffering, is divided into three trainings(sila-s): 1)Morality,purity of vocal and physical actions,livelihood; 2) Concentration, control of one’s own mind by effort, awareness and attention; and 3) Wisdom, insight which totally purifies the mind by right thought and under-standing. (HART,W. The Art of Living: Vipasana Meditation, as taught by S.N.Goenka (New Delhi: 1994)159f). This training is absolutely necessary for (minor) seminarians to become self-aware and to know oneself before deciding their vocation to celibate life; to be a virgin to participate in liturgy actively and effectively.

[29] C. Sharma, Critical Survey, 69. His heart overflowed with purest emotion on seeing that human life was essentially fraught with misery and pain, that a shallow optimism was rooted in a deep pessimism.

[30] SDSR, xxviii-xxx.

[31] The Lotus Sutra (Saddharma Pundarika) is the most beloved of the Mahayana scriptures and some Christian scholars liken it to the Gospel. (A.WILSON, World Scripture,16f).

Buddham saranam gacchami; Dammam saranam gacchami: Sangham saranam gacchami; Dammam saranam gacchami: I go by trust in Buddha, Dhammam Sangham. It is used in many solemn occasions. Saranam means refuge, protection, salvation; a house, home, Nirvana. Cf Childers, Pali, 463. These ideas helped Nasrani to understand the deep meaning of Acts 24:14-16 as Marga of Nasrani.

[32] Mundadan, Traditions, 76 & 143

[33] Christian Didache teaches there are two Ways- of life and of death, i.e. the Way to Life and the Way to Death; St Basil also tells the story of young Heracles (Herculis) about the choice of life: he chose the way of hard and troublesome moral life, and was rewarded with a "divine" life in the Mount of Olympus with gods and goddesses. Christians follow Christ, the Way to the Father, and the Door of the sheep, to go to heaven through the narrow gate (Lk.13:24).

[34] A.Wilson, World Scripture,10.

1 comment:

  1. St. Thomas visited Kerala and introduced Christianity .After St. Thomas other missionaries from Persia came to Kerala and converted many people.. The early converts in Kerala belonging to different grades in society on the basis of occupation were commonly called Christians But the name Christian was changed to Nasrani when the Arabs (Moplahs) came to Kerala. Muslims used the word Nasrtani in a contemptuous and derogatory manner. Christians and Jews were hated by Muslims in the Middle East and so they used the word 'Nasrani' in a derogatory and spiteful manner, as the Greeks called others 'barbarians.' Muslims quote the Koran to call Christians and Jews as 'Nasranis.'
    This is the basis of the verse.. " Jews say: 'Uzair is the son of God' and the Christians say: 'The Messiah, son of God'. Such is their saying with their mouths; they imitate the infidels saying earlier. Allah has cursed them, how are they to turn? "(Surat al-Tawbah: 30) By this interpretation, Muslims regard Christians and Jews infidels and collectively call them ‘Nasrani.’
    Even today all Christians are contemptuously called Nasranis in the Middle East by the Arabs. In Kerala also, after the Arabs gave the derogatory name 'Nasranis' to Christians, Brahmins and Nairs also used that word in a derogatory and insulting manner till the arrival of colonial powers. Brahnins and Nairs made Christians work as coolies, agricultural labourers in their farmlands and compulsory service called ‘oozhiyam.’ When the Portuguese and the British educated these hapless Christians and appointed them as soldiers, businessmen and planters, Christians ascended to top position in the fields of education, business, plantations, and commerce making Brahmins and Nairs inferiors. Gradually the contemptuous name Nasrani was given up and the words, ‘Christians’ and ‘Syrian Christians’ became common usage. But in Arab countries Christians are even today called in a vulgar form, ‘Nasranis.” In a recent riot in Cairo, the Huffingtom Post dated August 17, 2013 reported an incident
    “Naguib’s home supplies store on a main commercial street in the provincial capital, also called Minya, was torched this week and the flames consumed everything inside.
    "A neighbor called me and said the store was on fire. When I arrived, three extremists with knifes approached me menacingly when they realized I was the owner," recounted Naguib. His father and brother pleaded with the men to spare him. Luckily, he said, someone shouted that a Christian boy was filming the proceedings using his cell phone, so the crowd rushed toward the boy shouting "Nusrani, Nusrani," the Quranic word for Christians which has become a derogatory way of referring to them in today's Egypt