Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why M F Hussain Offends

This article is being written in response to certain questions raised at a social networking site. The principal question was why Hindus find certain paintings of M F Hussain (MFH) offensive. The paintings under consideration depict various Hindu deities in the nude. Further, the inquiry asked for a justification for this feeling of being offended in the background of sexually explicit sculptures in certain Hindu temples and Sanskrit erotic literature.

Before these issues are addressed it is necessary to set the context clearly so that there is no dilution or diversion of the discussion. Artistic freedom is not the issue that is being discussed. Every artist has the right to freedom of expression as long as he or she is not violating the law of the land. Certain paintings can justifiably cause offence to a section of the viewers, even if they are very obviously within the ambit of the law.

Before getting involved with paintings of MFH, it is also essential to understand in general terms what in a painting can be offensive to a group of viewers. Sometimes images, icons or symbols depicted in a painting represent persons or objects held in reverence or admiration by the group. If the painting misrepresents what these images actually stand for and denigrate the persons or objects depicted then they will cause offence. Here a couple of clarifications are in order. The finished painting is the complete product for the viewer group. The viewer group is not concerned with what clarifications the painter may have externally issued, nor is it concerned with how the critics have evaluated the painting. The viewer group is only concerned with the response that the finished painting invokes in a majority of the group members. The viewer group is also not concerned with the intent of the painter, in the sense that whether the painter intentionally desired to offend the viewers or not. The viewers can belong to the public domain without knowledge of academic matters in art evaluation. Absence of academic knowledge cannot rule out the viewer from being a bona fide one. Hence the crucial question is whether there is reasonable justification for a homogenous group of viewers to perceive the paintings as denigrating those it holds in esteem or reverence.

It would be counterproductive to discuss the issue taking the said paintings of MFH collectively. Each painting is unique and can have different reasons for being offensive.  Therefore this article selects one representative painting from the lot for analysis. Other paintings of MFH can be analyzed in a similar manner to assess whether they are justifiably offensive to Hindus, and if so to what extent.

The painting being selected is titled Hanuman in Flight. The painting has been sourced from the Internet. It is being reproduced below for ready reference. The painting bears the signature of MFH and this is being taken as evidence of it being a genuine work of MFH.

The status of Hanuman in Hinduism is well established. Given the title and that Hanuman is a vanar, one can reasonably conclude that the monkey in the center of the picture is a depiction of Hanuman. Hanuman has several attributes, but two are relevant to this discussion. The first is that he was an avowed celibate or brahmachari, which means that he eschewed sexual contact of any kind. Yet in this painting MFH has depicted him between two explicitly naked human figures, one a man and the other a woman. To Hindus this would be a derision of Hanuman’s celibacy. MFH has shown no justification for juxtaposing naked figures alongside Hanuman. There is no evidence from the scriptures, mythology or folklore that Hanuman encountered such naked persons. In the absence of any rationale for the naked figures, it is understandable for Hindus to be justifiably offended by the painting, which beyond doubt misrepresents the celibacy of Hanuman.

The question that automatically arises is whether these two nude figures represent any nudes or specific personages. It is here that the second attribute of Hanuman becomes important. Hanuman was an ardent devotee of Rama and Sita. Whenever he has been depicted in painting or sculpture with a couple, that couple has been Rama and Sita.  One of the most iconic representations of Hanuman in Hinduism is of his tearing open his chest to reveal Rama and Sita in his heart. MFH has himself depicted this in one of his paintings. In the absence of any other explanation it would be normal and justifiable to perceive the nude couple in this MFH painting as Rama and Sita. If seeing Hanuman with naked figures would be offensive, then the feeling of being offended would be compounded manifold when the naked figures are Rama and Sita, whom Hanuman revered as his Lord and Mother respectively.

Naked figures of Rama and Sita, particularly Sita, would directly offend Hindu sensibilities as well. And there is justification for this. Hindus worship Sita as the paragon of fidelity and to see her depicted in the nude will hurt. And to add insult to injury, the depiction in the MFH painting is crass and provocative. It can be argued that in so many years of marriage Rama and Sita must have had their moments of intimacy. But the fact remains that no credible narration of Ramayana depicts any moment of intimacy in this explicit manner and any such intimacy is not crucial in the events in the Ramayana. And do not forget that Hanuman is present in the painting, which in fact is named after him, and this puts an end to any argument of personal intimacy. Therefore on several counts icons have been misrepresented and the feeling of being offended is more than justified.

The issue of erotic sculpture and literature must be addressed. Again one cannot deal in generalities. This painting depicts Hanuman, Rama and Sita and therefore it is essential that the depiction of these three characters in sculpture and literature be examined. There are temples with sexually explicit sculptures. Most of these sculptures portray the normal humans. Some of them would also portray deities and events from Hindu mythologies. However, no such sexually explicit depiction of Hanuman, Rama and Sita has been generally reported. One cannot justify depiction of a particular deity in a particular manner simply because some other deity has been depicted in that manner. As explained earlier, each deity has his or her individual characteristics and attributes and mythologies.

Again, while discussing Sanskrit literature one has to look at specifics. The passage that immediately comes to mind is Ravana’s description of Sita in Valmiki Ramayana, in which her figure has been explicitly described and praised. This is a reflection of the lustful desire of Ravana. The MFH painting in question is in a different setting. To use this passage or others like this to justify a naked a depiction of Sita totally out of context cannot be considered reasonable by any stretch of imagination. The fact remains that there is no basis whatsoever for the painting and it misrepresents the attributes that Hindus hold in Hanuman, Rama and Sita. It is natural for these misrepresentations to offend Hindus.

In conclusion, a discussion on how the offended Hindus should react is in order. The best option by far is to ignore such provocations. If one has faith in one’s religion then such misrepresentations, whether malicious or unintended, should not become a disturbing element. If at all some reaction is warranted then that has to be within the ambit of law. Several lawful options are available. Threatening and inciting violence is a symptom of immaturity and just because groups from other religions have resorted to it in the past, it does not mean that the Hindus should follow suit. If the offended Hindus do not respond or respond in a mild manner, it does not imply that there is no offensiveness in the painting. That exists independent of the response adopted.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Father, Son, Holy Spirit . . . heart, mind and soul

One of the more common references many of us have heard over the years is this one: God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The tendency is to speak clearly and openly of the Father as God. The Son and Holy Spirit, well, they have a subset status. We even hear about, "He's the second person . . ." The deity test of our conviction is revealed when we stop short of saying point blank: God died. We say, "the Son of God died." This, of course, is true but it is spoken with an awkward effort to reconcile, or just as soon conceal, our poor understanding of: God is not a man that he should die. (Numbers 23:19)

God did die. He did not remain dead. The Giver of Life has demonstrated his power over death, not merely by raising the dead, but by laying down his own life to take it up again.

One of the key points that I have treasured in my understanding of my God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is that he is one. This is not a quantitative value as Jews, Christians and Muslims too, have feebly designated as being true of God. It is a pronouncement of unity, of agreement. What is so difficult for two human beings to be in and maintain is total, complete agreement. However, this is what God is all about: unity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are totally and completely at one another's service to please each other, to do the will of each other.

No, neither Jew nor Muslim believe in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Rather, the quantitative value they ascribe to the God who is one is a denial, rejection and casting away of a nagging plural form references towards God as much in the Old Testament as in the New Testament. Disciples of Jesus find themselves in similar awkwardness (needlessly) because even as we proclaim the deity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit we get tongue-tied when we declare, The Lord God is one.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit may indeed, I do not know, BE heart, BE mind, BE soul separately and distinctly. These, heart, mind and soul, are the very sources of love which He called on Israel to BE towards God and neighbor and which Jesus reiterated. (Mark 12) These, heart, mind and soul, are no more to be compartmentalized and separated anymore than Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The interesting addition of "with all your strength" by Jesus is significant. It is significant because it alludes to the flesh, the one thing counter to the nature of God who is Spirit. Yet, God was not averse or apprehensive about taking on the same human form his hands created. God took on fleshly human form. We are created in the image of God having heart, mind, and soul have been cast in vessels of flesh. Jesus reminds us that even in this flesh, the energies ("your strength") of our physical ill and well-being, is to be yet another reflection of our love towards God and towards our neighbor.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Submission of Jesus

I agree with the video message content. A bit of rough wording near the end is of no consequence overall. I posted this message in a thread discussion on Facebook originally.

Islam means submission Muslims inform us. There could be no greater irony to a claim of the Muslim SUBMISSION to God and their total unbelief and rejection of Jesus. What Muslims can not believe and can not accept is Jesus complete SUBMISSION of his WILL to the Father.

As much as I value and love scholarly study of the original language Christians, as well Muslims language scholars, lose themselves and their audience with their nothing-but-bland, convoluted explanations from the original language. The video (John 5:30) is an perfect example.

The point of John 5:30 (and similar passages) is so ignorantly and blindly overrun by Muslims (as well as some Christians). The Muslim conclusion of the verse that Jesus is weak, hence not God, reveals their total lack of the same SUBMISSION they claim about Islam. They measure Jesus' words in terms of fleshly strength, not the might of the will. It is this WILL that Jesus asserted throughout the gospels he would SUBMIT to the WILL of the FATHER.

They can neither accept the SUBMISSION of Jesus (regardless whether or not they acknowledge his divinity) nor even CONSIDER that God is big enough that He, unlike man, knows how, is not afraid to, can and WILL SUBMIT himself. What could God possibly SUBMIT himself his WILL? It is is easy to disregard and discard his birth, his words, his miracles, but it is his DEATH to which He WILLFULLY SUBMITTED himself that is for anyone who would put their trust in Jesus to understand and imitate in their own DEATH to self and sin.

Putting one's trust in Jesus is impossible without the SUBMISSION of the WILL of the individual.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Spirit and Truth: The Samaritan woman and Jesus

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
17 The woman answered, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “You said well, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands; and he whom you now have is not your husband. This you have said truly.”
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour comes, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father. 22 You worship that which you don’t know. We worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

This is a brief article on the phrase spirit and truth from the English text. There are two perspectives in John’s account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. The first is of the woman’s life experience. The second is of her familiarity with the Samaritan worship experience. These experiences offer clues and insights on life and worship. It is hoped believers may obtain an appreciation and understanding of the words spirit and truth spoken by Jesus.

A life without spirit and truth

Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the water well in the above passage from the gospel according to John chapter 4. The meeting is a picture-story of the power of truth to make one free. Jesus listened and discerned the woman’s life as one without direction and without God. She may not have understood what Jesus revealed to her about the inseparable closeness of life and worship, but she understood his point on her personal history and Samaritan history. Life and worship are as inseparably close as a husband and wife. They are as inseparably and closely related as, Jesus said, in how God must be worshiped in spirit and truth.

When Jesus broke bread with the Samaritan woman in John 4 it was a feast on the words of life. The disciples who had gone into the nearby village to buy food missed it. They were not as bold as the woman to speak out what was on their hearts when they returned and found Jesus talking with the woman. They missed, like many of us today, the manner in which Jesus listened, discerned and captivated her attention in order to set her free.

What Jesus saw in the woman was not unique. She was a woman, a human being. She had tried in vain to enjoy, rejoice and live life without spirit and truth. Her life was not unlike others who seek happiness, fulfillment or escape through self abuse, good deeds or in relationships as did she with one husband after another. How do the words spoken by Jesus about worshiping God in spirit and truth reveal the absence of spirit and truth in the Samaritan woman’s life and those lost in sin in this world? The clues to this answer are in the context of the passage.

The words that are spirit are truth

The first clue is that her question to Jesus reveals her knowledge of worship was based on what people said, not the divine, higher authority of scriptures. Jesus, on the other hand, alluded to the ancient, established, written fact of what the Jews knew. They knew God. They knew how God was to be worshiped. They knew this by the spirit, that is, the revelation from God to Moses and the prophets. This revelation is that written as the Spirit gave instruction for all Israel to know, serve and worship the Lord. The worship the Samaritan woman knew from the perspective of the fathers was merely of what they said, not necessarily what was written.

Jesus expressed this fundamental message of spirit to his disciples: “The words that I speak to you are spirit.”

The second clue is that Jesus was well aware of the worship of the fathers beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. They worshiped God long before God ever gave his will in written form for them to know and to follow. The worship of God by the fathers was part of Israel’s perspective. Their past and present worship from the time of Abraham to Moses up to the time of Jesus was what they had known. Israel had the perspective of worship from Abraham before it was written, from Moses who received the written instruction, and now in their midst and despite their unbelief, from Jesus; the manifestation of Spirit and Truth. Without the knowledge of truth the woman lacked confidence. She did not possess the perspective to assert her convictions of worship in spirit.

Too often the determination is to seize, not handle rightly, the phrase spirit and truth as a proof-text and sound bite for all-things right. Truth is applied similarly on what is a lie and deception, but also of those things we do not understand and cannot teach with conviction. Like the Samaritan woman the response is to cite ancient and modern writers for their thoughts. Whether or not these thoughts are right or wrong is not nearly as vast a travesty as a disciple who lays claim to know the spirit and truth, but cannot articulate it in his/her own words.

What the Samaritan woman did not understand about her own life without direction was matched by what she did not know about what she worshiped. Some may wonder what she could possibly know or care about worship. However, Jesus was unfazed by her evasive talk to turn away his piercing discernment of her personal life. He drew out of her not her personal life but the thirst in her parched, fear-filled heart. It was not a thirst which could be satisfied by yet another commitment to another man. It was a thirst which could be satisfied by God only. It was from the hurtful and distorted perspective of past, present and future which marked her life that she wondered aloud:

Where ought one to worship God?

The truth which makes one free

What do these perspectives about the Samaritan woman’s life experience and her worship of God have in common with us today? How does Jesus relate these perspectives to set the woman free?

First, perspective is the relationship of one point (or part) to another point. For example, the perspective from the end of your extended arm to your nose to your other extended arm represents three different points. Yet, all three points (or body parts) are related to the same body. The right hand the nose and the left hand are the same regardless from where these are viewed. Their distance from each other remains the same regardless of the point of view. They do not change. Another example involving an immoral sin which was judged to be a murder in the past, remains a murder in the present and will remain as a murder in the future. It does not change whether it is viewed through sources such as newspaper and personal account in the past or present day accounts. What may change, though not necessarily, is how it is viewed by people. Those who were directly affected by the murder may or may not forgive and move on with their lives. Others may not and continue in living in bitterness.

The way in which the perspectives of life experience and worship of God are in common with us today is that both involve past, present and, and implicitly, the future.

The Samaritan woman had a husband in the past, she had a husband in the present and she would likely have the same or another husband in her future. The past and present worship with which she was familiar was what she had heard from the fathers and would likely be the same she would continue to follow in her future.

Second, Jesus stated numerous times He came from the Father, He was here to do the will of the Father and He would return to the Father. This was Jesus’ simple way of revealing a great truth in terms we humans could appreciate even if we are slow to understand his words.

Third, this great truth is what made the woman free and what makes us free. Jesus said,
You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

What is the truth that we are to know which makes us free from a life of sin and without direction to serve and worship the living God? It is being able to look at our past from this present moment and understand and appreciate that God was always near and present even while we suffered or reveled in our sinful lives and understanding this we can rejoice in his saving grace in our obedience and commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior now and in the future.

Jesus knew and proclaimed with confidence 1) He came from the Father (origin, the past), 2) He was here to do the will of the Father (purpose, the present) and 3) He would return to the Father (destination, the future)

Those who know the truth and are made free are those who understand they 1) came from the Father (origin, the past) 2) to know and glorify God, and 3) will return to the Father (destination, the future). Whatever and all sins, past, present and future, are forgiven of those who put their trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior and live their lives in obedience to Him. This is truth.

Those who are in the Spirit and in the Truth rejoice with great joy. Their lives are in fellowship with the saints in Christ. They worship God in spirit and truth.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Nine months of pain and patience
Then bearing me with joy and pride
Cherished when I smiled and laughed
Embraced me when I cried

Watched me taking my very first step
And whatever, first time, I tried
Patted my back when I succeeded
When failed, you were always beside

Fed me well, took my best care
Protected me whenever I needed
Brought me up with care and passion
With values, you got me beaded

Hid my mistakes from others
But gently helped me overcome
Publicized even my smallest deed
As if I was always awesome

When I got sick, or into trouble
As an Angel, you’ re always there
You spent sleepless nights
My pain and sorrows, to share

You never complained or retaliated
Whenever to you, I got unjust
Found some reason not to doubt
Even there you showed your trust

Unlucky me, how did I move
Thousands of miles from you
Chose a career and living so far
Why I chose this fate undue

Still I am positive and optimistic
Things are going to change
Will surely be together always
The destiny will sure arrange

Today is something very special
I want, I wish, and I pray
To be with you again forever
Wish you a happy mother’s day