Text and Context in Dialogue

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On the Use of Om by Christ Bhaktas

by Dayanand Bharati

After research and collecting information from various sources, based on my knowledge as a layman the following are my opinions regarding using the word om in Christian worship.

1. Om is just an impersonal word whatever may be the later developments in giving some meaning to it. It is like Sri which is being used to some gods like Sri Rama, etc. So we cannot address it or pray to it or even meditate on it. Can we meditate on the word Sri?

2. By using om for Jesus as John used logos, we cannot add any new theological insight to Christology that would be relevant to Indian contexts. John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to use it in the Scripture whereas we cannot claim such apostolic authority to add any new meaning to Jesus Christ, even though it would be relevant to our context in India.

3. Using cultural symbols and religious symbols are different matters. Though in some areas in India both culture and religion are intermingled, yet regarding om it is purely a religious symbol. So we must exercise care in our use of it. And I have some personal reservation in using the symbol of om both in picture or metal in the so-called Christian ashrams. For example in Jeevanjyothi Ashram at Thaneerpalli (a branch of Shantivanam) they keep merely om in brass in their ashram and not even a cross. Likewise, I also object to 'crucifying' om on the (Roman) cross as they have done in Shantivanam. At Matridham Ashram in Varanasi they keep it just below the crucifix of Jesus and even offer arati to it with rest of the 'idols' of Jesus and Mary in the ashram. Now it is removed by the present acharya. The same way there is a bhakta's booklet of Khrist Chalisa where om is printed on the cover. All these things will misguide others more than help them to understand the message of Jesus Christ in Indian terms.

4. Om is not a common platform for our dialogue. We want to assimilate our faith in Christ remaining culturally and socially as Hindus. And in this we can only use those religious symbols which have more cultural meaning than religious, like decorating the house with rangoli (kolam), lighting oil lamps instead of candles, using saffron dress for sanyasis, etc. But however we try we cannot give a theological interpretation to such a symbol as om. If our aim is only to use it to exploit the religious sentiment of the Hindus, then it is wrong in every way.

5. At the same time I have no objection for using it in our bhajans. As a mystic symbol we can use it in bhajans and namavalis like, "om namah khristaya", etc. Likewise we can use it while we use some Upanishadic prayers as well as in ending our own prayers, as in om shanti! shanti! shanti!

(Reprinted with kind permission from Appendix B of Living Water and Indian Bowl, 1997, enlarged edition 2001, Delhi: ISPCK)

bhakti. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty