Respectfully Engaging Jainism
In this episode, Dr. Darrell L. Bock and Conrad Bauman discuss respectfully engaging world religions, focusing on Jainism.
- Conrad’s experiences working with Jains
- Lifestyles of Jains
- Fundamental beliefs of Jainism
- Creation and deities in Jainism
- Jainism and the Hindu caste system
- The principle of nonviolence in Jainism
- Practices of Jains
- Why do people adhere to Jainism?
- How to share the gospel with Jains
- Evangelism and the India Diaspora
- Advice for respectfully engaging Jains
Darrell Bock: Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary, and we are continuing in our series on world religions and our subject today is Jainism, which is a variation that comes out of Hinduism. We’re going to be discussing a little bit about both and my guest – well, you're probably wondering where is my guest? He’s not with us at The Table, but we are going to be interviewing him off camera for security reasons and we’re not even going to give you his name. We’re going to give you a pseudonym. So Conrad, welcome and we appreciate you're being a part of The Table with us today.
Conrad: Thank you Dr. Bock for the introduction. We look forward to the conversation.
Darrell Bock: Let’s talk about your own interest in how you became familiar with Hinduism in general and Jainism in particular because Jainism is probably one of the least well known of the religions that we’re going to discuss in this series. Primarily from northern India, involving many people there, but also now has managed to come into the United States. Most people are not aware that there are at least a thousand families, for example, in the L.A. area and estimates put it about 50,000 or so in North America. How did you become familiar with these religions?
Conrad: God burdened me and my wife for unreached people who have never heard the gospel and in our desire and intentionality to follow his call and his heart into working with unreached people, he led us to India. And India is about 1.2, 1.3 billion people who have never heard the gospel before and getting involved in the India, meeting people, living life, understanding who’s there. You’ve got 200 million Muslims. The majority of people in India are Hindu. You’ve got Buddhists and we learned that four percent of the population of India is represented by people who consider themselves as Jain. So four percent of India, four percent of 1.2 billion people, are Jain. And last night, I actually Googled – there's a Derasar, which is a Jain temple, right here in Dallas. And I don’t know how many Jains would be here in Dallas, but Jains are one of the most unreached peoples on the face of the planet. There are only a few handfuls of Jain people who have come to faith from a Jain background in the world that I know about. And so most people, in terms of missions, there's not much work going on with Jains.
Darrell Bock: I was trying to do the math real quick on what four percent of 1.2 million people would be. Ten percent would be 120 million, so four percent would be 50 million probably or there about. That’s a significant number.
Conrad: If you meet someone from south Asia, two of the most common surnames – Jain surnames are Shah and Mehta, and even Jain. If you know a Shah or someone that has the last name Mehta, chances are that they are Jain for sure.
Darrell Bock: And Mehta, is that M-E-H-T-A?
Conrad: That’s right.
Darrell Bock: Shah is a common Indian name. It’s not unusual. That in itself is interesting. What region of India did you minister in?
Conrad: We were in Western India in the state of Gujarat and we lived in the city of Ahmedabad. The heartbeat of Jain country is found in Gujarat and the southern part of Rajasthan. The two most holy sites of Jainism are probably within a six to seven hour drive from Ahmedabad. The most holy site of Jainism is in a place called Palitana and they believe that’s where Mahavir had his enlightenment more or less. And so it’s this mountain that you climb up. There are 3000 stairs you climb up and there are over a thousand temples on the top of the mountain, and a lot of Jain pilgrims go there to root their karma and to – so it’s a fascinating place. If you're ever in west India, make your way to a place called Palitana and you'll be blown away.
Darrell Bock: Am I right that there was a migration involved with Jains or is the – has it always been centered in western India?
Conrad: Can I answer your question the long way around?
Darrell Bock: Yeah.
Conrad: When I said Jains represent four percent of the population of India, they own 20 percent of the wealth. And so why is that important? In order to understand Jainism and their migration patterns, you have to understand their lifestyle, why they live the way they do. And so Jains will never be farmers. They won't do anything that will involve the earth. Jains believe in this philosophy known as ahinsa, which translates nonviolence. And so a Jain, historically for millennia, for a long, long time, they would even be afraid to walk across a farm field and dig anything up.
Darrell Bock: Nonviolence includes anything having to do with death, right?
Conrad: That’s right. They're strict vegetarians. They will not eat root vegetables, so no carrots, no garlic, no leeks, no onions, no potatoes.
Darrell Bock: Vegans on steroids.
Conrad: Vegans on steroids, for sure. So because of these beliefs, they had to find modes of work that would allow them to protect and stay true to their convictions. And so what job will allow them to do that? Pushing numbers. Most accountants in India – almost all the accountants I know in India are Jain in Gujarat. I had a team of accountants. They were all Jain, so pushing numbers. They're really good with math. They're really good with business. They own companies and so they might own a farm, but they're not going to work on the farm. They're going to make tons of money and because they're enterprising, because they're entrepreneurial, they can go anywhere in the world. And like I said, 20 percent of the wealth of India is owned by Jains. My accountant was – he comes from a very wealthy family. Think of 1960, 1970’s India. His family owns 70 vehicles in India. Some of the wealthiest guys in India, think of ___, who’s one of most trusted advisors. He’s a big time business guy all around the world, billionaire. A lot of the billionaires and multimillionaires are all Jain.
Darrell Bock: You said that explains the migration pattern.
Conrad: That would be my guess. I’ve never heard that before, but yeah.
Darrell Bock: Let’s back up. Jainism comes out of Hinduism. We haven’t talked much about Hinduism in the series yet. Let’s talk about Hinduism a little bit and the relationship between it and Jainism.
Conrad: You first have to ask yourself what is Hinduism? Is it a religion or is it a civilization? In reality, there are basically a million Hinduisms. And so in light of that, there were a lot of reform movements that came from Hinduism. Buddhism was one and Jainism was another one. Mahavir was a Hindu and there were several things he was unhappy with. Corruption in the Hindu temples was one of them, but Hinduism and Jainism share a lot of the same concepts, like the ahinsa, the vegetarianism. Jains worship different tirthankaras. A tirthankara is basically – Mahavir would be considered the last tirthankara or the first. I mix those up. When you go to Palitana, for instance, as your climbing the mountain, there are different places and stages where you worship different Jain religious gurus of the past.
Darrell Bock: And a Jain, just to explain, is someone who has achieved this, for lack of a better description, super spirituality that is the goal of Jainism.
Conrad: You would be born into a Jain family. That’s how you become a Jain and the – I know of one Hindu guy who was Hindu and paid a pujari, a priest, to do a certain kind of puja to become a Jain. There are ways to pay money to change your caste or your religion in India or in the Hindu worldview, but basically the – yeah, so – I’m sorry, what was your question?
Darrell Bock: At the top of the Jain chain, if I can say it that way, are these people who have become pure – spiritually pure, if I can say it that way, that are at the top of the – so the people that you're worshipping as you move up this ladder on the mountain, these are – I take it these are people who have achieved –
Conrad: Nirvana or –
Darrell Bock: – a certain level of spirituality.
Conrad: Yeah, for sure. They believe Mahavir attained mokṣa and so mokṣa, this idea of release from the cycle of saṃsāra, of rebirth and re-death, and karma and kagso. Hindus will call it yooroneicrantus, thoughts of the heart. For a lot of Hindus, there are three problems and in some ways this would apply to Jains. You have avidya, kāma, and karma. Avidya translates as ignorance and so it’s you are ignorant to the fact that you are God. God is in you, that kind of thing. The ignorance is driven by kāma, which is a desire. You have these desires that are produced by ignorance, which leads to you having to do certain acts and deeds to quench this understanding for the true knowledge and the truth that you are God and God is in you. And then it’s all melded together and different Jains believe different things. And so there are two main sects of Jainism, the Digrambra and it’s slipping my mind right now, the other one, but the Digrambra are – you'll hear sometimes of these Jain priests that will walk around naked in India. And this idea of wearing clothes could harm an insect or an animal. That’s why they don’t wear clothes because the idea of ahinsa is so important to them.
I would go into Jain temples in our city and the priests, they would wear these masks over their mouth and their nose for fear of inhaling a bug or a fly or a mosquito, that kind of thing. And so they really go to the extreme of looking out for life, even to the fact a lot of my Jain friends in India, they would not eat dinner after sunset because they – when it goes dark, they want to make sure they can see what they're putting in their mouth. And so they're very devoted. They're very – and granted, keep in mind, there are exceptions. There are Jains who would be secret non-vegetarians. I met plenty of those and – but generally speaking, Jains are pretty strict and austere people.
Darrell Bock: The second group that you're talking about, I think now – I may not – I may botch this pronunciation, but it looks like it’s Svetambara. We’ve got these different groups. Let’s stay on Hinduism for a second. Hinduism is so different from Christianity that I think we just need to stop and realize how different it is. Let’s start at the basics when we think about this theologically. There's no creator god, correct?
Conrad: They call it the trimurti and so the three main gods in Hinduism – now keep in mind in the Hindu pantheon, there are 330 million gods and goddesses, and that’s according to Diana Eck, the Ecumenical Center Harvard University, and so I don’t know how she came up with that number.
Darrell Bock: I hope she didn’t miss one along the way.
Conrad: Hindus will talk about the trimurti, so Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Shiva’s the lord of destruction, god of the demons. Vishnu is the preserver, so the various avatars, the various incarnations. When the world is in danger and the gods need to save it, Vishnu will send his avatar to save the world. And then Brahma is the – they might say he’s the creator god, but in the sense that we understand it, it would be totally different, not like we understand it.
Darrell Bock: What about the creation? Is it created or is it – does it – has it always existed?
Conrad: There are different myths and understandings whether from a grain of rice to – yeah, so there's where the creation comes from, but there's –
Darrell Bock: It’s actually not a question they're very concerned with. Is that true?
Darrell Bock: I’m just trying to point out here and pick out how this is really significantly different than anything we think about in the west.
Conrad: There's a Hindu concept known as aagman. It’s this universal cautiousness that is in you and it’s in me, and it’s the god’s soul that exists. And that’s what's always existed from time beginning – before time began or whatever. And so all of this – some Hindus believe all of this that we experience in life is an illusion. And so you're living life and you have this fatalistic view of what will be, will be, and it’s all based on whatever – there's so many different schools in Hinduism. If you're living your life and you're trying to follow your dharma and you're caste, and there's certain things that you're supposed to do and you're not supposed to do, and it improves your karma or takes away your karma. And that will determine your next birth. And so it’s this endless cycle of rebirth and re-death, and you're trying to escape from that. It’s a never-ending mess.
Darrell Bock: Again, I’m going to help – have you define terms here. Dharma is?
Conrad: When you talk to a Hindu, a Hindu will never refer – if they're talking in their main language, if they're talking in Hindi, they will never refer to their belief system as religion. Hindus call their belief system somotoro dharma. Basically dharma translates – it’s an all encompassing concept of truth, righteousness, law, faith, order. It’s this idea of how everything fits together. And so somotoro dharma basically translates to eternal faith. When a Hindu thinks about Christianity, they refer to it as videshu dharma. This concept of dharma is foundational. If you really want to understand Hinduism, you’ve got to understand the idea of dharma. And so the swasts, which we get the word swastika, it’s a Hindu symbol and the four points of the swastika refer to the four goals in dharma. And so this idea of dharma, it’s supposed to – your wealth, your life, your family, all these things are working together and it’s the circle of life. And so dharma is also determined by your caste. And so if you're born in a high caste family, you have a certain dharma that you follow. If you're born in a low caste family, you have another dharma that you follow.
Darrell Bock: Again, just for analogy sake, so people get a caste as kind of like your social status or social standing or is it more comprehensive than that?
Conrad: In Hindi, they call it varna and jati. Basically it’s the idea of class and caste. There are four major classes of people, the Brahmins, the Shudras, the Vaishyas, and the Shrudas. Basically in these four classes, you would have thousands of castes and the Indian government actually puts out a book about that thick of all of the castes in India.
Darrell Bock: He went that thick, everybody. Sorry.
Conrad: They're scheduled castes. They're forward castes and all of these castes historically represent all the rules and functions in society. And so your caste in a lot of cases will determine who you can marry, who you can't marry, your profession, your job, what life is going to be like for you, that kind of thing.
Darrell Bock: It’s a very ordered religion in one sense. Anything else on Hinduism that we need in order to understand Jainism?
Conrad: The important thing and one of the things when I’m talking during church or to a group of people about Hindus is you can never assume anything about a Hindu. Because if there literally are a million Hinduisms, the best way to learn what a Hindu believes is to develop a relationship with a Hindu family and just pepper them with questions to understand where they're coming from so you can communicate more skillfully. And in terms of understanding who they are and what their worldview is, how they think, how they approach life, and in terms of loving them with your life, with your time, and with your witness. It’s really important when dealing with Hindus to define terms or to seek clarification on things they say. That’s what I would say and that – because there are atheist Hindus. There are agnostic Hindus. There are polytheistic Hindus. You take the baps, the Swaming around Hindus. That’s one branch. You have the Brahma Kumaris. You have the Hare Krishnas. You’ve got somperadis. A somperdi is denomination. You’ve got various gurus from – think of guys like Rajnish or Deepak Chopra. It’s really hard to nail down and the Aresabas. It’s like a lot of people when they think about Hindus. They think about people who worship an idol made of stone, but the Arya Samaj group, they reject that and they don’t believe in actual icon or an idol. And so there's just so much out there that it just takes time and questions.
Darrell Bock: A significant part of India is Hindu in fact, right?
Conrad: Yeah, about 80, 85 percent for sure and then 70 percent of India lives in the village and 30 percent lives in the urban setting. You’ve got folk-y type Hindus involved with a lot of black magic and witchcraft and all that kind of stuff, and especially a lot of the village settings and even when you go – it’s all tied together, even with educated Hindus. You think about this. The prime minister of India at the time, his name was Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I think he was back when Bill Clinton was president. This guy is super educated. He was the leader of one of the largest democracies in the world, now the largest democracy in the world. And this guy worshipped at the feet – was it Surbama? And Atal Bihari Vajpayee talked about having – I call them LSD trips and visiting the moon and going to different places. You’ve got people who are – who have had some crazy experiences, who claim some extraordinary things. You’ve got people who are a little bit more rational or grounded. You’ve got people who can't read, who are devoted to certain gods or goddesses. It’s one huge smorgasbord.
Darrell Bock: So 80 percent of 1.2 million is about 900 million. It’s one of the largest religions in the world.
Conrad: Yeah, and in America, there are over three million south Asian Indian people. If you follow those percentages, so 80 percent of 3 million, you could probably guesstimate that’s how many Hindus are in America. The city I live in, in Toronto, we have about 500,000 to 700,000 people from India, 200,000 to 300,000 of them are Sikhs. I mapped out 70 Hindu temples in our city in Toronto. And to put that in perspective, the state of New Jersey has the most Hindu temples out of any state in America. In the entire state, they have 30, at least that was several years ago. The sun never sets on the Indian diaspora. You can go to any country in the world and you will find Hindu people. Indians are very enterprising. They're very smart, very intelligent. They're very hard working. They love money. They love making money and so whether you're in east Africa – I had friends working with Hindus in Tanzania and ____, in Nairobi, in Mauritius, in Europe, all – in Dallas. Hindus are everywhere.
Darrell Bock: You’ve already mentioned this principle of nonviolence, which is – what is it?
Darrell Bock: A lot of the concepts we’re going to talk about here, people are not very familiar with. But if I can just give one bridge so that people can understand, my understanding is that Mahatma Gandhi was very influenced by Jainism in his whole approach to life and politics. And this nonviolent feature was one of the key parts of what was a part of his approach to life.
Conrad: That’s right. Gandhi was born in Porbandar, which is in the middle of the Kathiawar peninsula on the Arabian Sea. Gandhi was Gujarat and Jainism is – in Gujarat, Jainism is the epicenter. He would have for sure had Jain friends. He was a Hindu and he would’ve understood Mahavir. He would understand all of these concepts. And so ahinsa is both shared in Jainism as well as Hinduism. Gandhi, in his Sattisvaha movement, when they did the salt march, Gandhi told all his followers we will not fight. We won't hit. And so the British had given a salt tax and Gandhi’s like, “This is our country.” And they went to one salt farm and the British knew they were going to be there and they had batons. And Gandhi told them, “Look, we’re going to go collect salt, but we won't fight back.” And so this idea of ahinsa saw all of these Hindu and probably Jain people walking along the beach to the salt farm, getting whacked in the head by clubs and not fighting back. And so the idea of ahinsa not only applies politically, but it also applies with diet and clothing and one’s vocation in India if you're Jain.
Darrell Bock: I’m trying to be descriptive here. It’s an extreme asceticism that distances itself from attachment to anything earthly.
Conrad: Yeah, so I’ll tell you a story. We were working in India and I was doing an audit for my books. My accounting team was comprised of all Jain guys and so we’re working. And when we were finished with the audit, the lead accountant who was a strict Jain, he looks at me. And he says, “Conrad, do you know why there are so many wars in the world?” I had an idea where he was going to go with this and so I said, “Tell me. Why are there so many wars in the world?” And he’s like, “It’s because of all the meat eaters.” And so I said, “Well, tell me about that.” He’s like, “Anyone that takes the life of an animal is a violent person and that violence is just there and it makes the world a bad place.” That’s the mindset. In the city that we lived in, the fact was there were very wealthy Jain people that were looking out to buy restaurants that served meat just to close them down. It was interesting.
Darrell Bock: This faith doesn’t have a doctrine really other than this nonviolence and this preservation of life, this desire to be unattached to the world. There are vows that involve the nonviolence. There are vows that are tied to not receiving anything that hasn’t been freely given to you, that kind of thing.
Conrad: Yeah, I’m sure there are cultural variations depending upon where you come from or what sect, or just even – it’s kind of like Hinduism in the sense of even with the two distinctions of the two types of Jains, even with those. They could have interesting outlooks and have interesting ideas on how they interact with people or what you're saying.
Darrell Bock: There's an emphasis on truthfulness and integrity.
Conrad: Yeah, for sure.
Darrell Bock: I have one of the vows as being celibacy, which is interesting ‘cause it seems to me that that’s a way not to perpetuate your clan, so to speak.
Conrad: Hindus would call that Brahmacarya. And so basically when you take a vow of celibacy – so the current prime minister of India, he’s taken a vow of celibacy and that’s another interesting story, but I – yeah, so when you decide to do that, it shows that you're a spiritual person and you want to give your life to the causes of god or what you believe. If you were to go to Palitana, for instance, this Jain holy place – I’ve been there several times and you can tell those people by what they wear. If you see a woman wearing all white at a Jain holy place, you know she's taken a vow and that she's dedicated herself to the purposes of god. And so there are cultural markers that you can pick up on with certain people to understand their level of devotion, that kind of thing.
Darrell Bock: Another vow that I see here – well, we’ve already mentioned this – the nonattachment to worldly possessions. So much so that a strict Jain, my understanding is, moves from place to place and doesn’t have a home or anything like that. Is that true?
Conrad: For my own personal experience, I don’t know how much that happens anymore.
Darrell Bock: It used to be.
Conrad: It would’ve definitely – so they might’ve referred to it as Sannyasin. And so the different stages of life in the Hindu worldview were you're a child, then you're a student, and they you're growing into adulthood. And then you renounce things and you might become a hermit in a forest. I’m sure that happens still, but I don’t think it probably happens as much, especially in the modern world.
Darrell Bock: In fact, one of the comments that was made in – at least in the preparation and reading I was doing is that the modern world has injected terrific pressure on pure Jainism because it’s harder – it’s becoming harder and harder to live this way.
Conrad: I’ll give you a perfect example of that. I have Jain friends who are business guys, who do international business. And I know for a fact because they’ve told me this, when they come to New York City, let’s say. Finding a restaurant that serves pure Jain food, you can't find one. And so I’ve had Jain friends tell me, “Okay, in that case, we’ll go to a vegetarian restaurant and we will eat garlic. We will eat onions.” They will compromise, especially if they're traveling on business.
Darrell Bock: The premise of that is that – my understanding is they want to eat that which has the least sensibility in some sense. This is my paraphrase for it, but there's some sense of orderliness, of consciousness that different living beings have. And so they're working down the scale to do the least amount of damage possible in the killing.
Conrad: Yeah, so they wouldn’t eat those things because if they were to dig in the ground, it has the potential to kill things. And so there's almost – it’s taboo. And so it would really violate many of their cautiousness to do that. And so I’ll tell you another story. When I first moved to India looking at business opportunities, the reason I chose to work with a particular accountant was because I – my German friend who introduced me said to this guy, “You need to meet my accountant.” And so he’s telling me this story and he says that when Johan met – we’ll call him Rajesh. Rajesh learned that Johan wanted to build a chicken manufacturing processing plant. And so Rajesh says, “Look, Johan, I hope you do really well. I hope you make lots of money, but unfortunately I cannot use my services to set up your company because I feel like it’s taking the life of innocent creatures and you’ll have to find someone else to do that for you.” And so when he said that, the fact that he would turn away money for the sake of his convictions, that led me to work with him.
Darrell Bock: Interesting. Part of what we’re dealing with here is this is such a different kind of faith, if I can say it that way. It really represents a completely different way of thinking about the world, completely different way of thinking about reality, completely different way of thinking about salvation. And yet one of the principles that we – that we’re wrestling with here, once we explained what a faith is about, is asking the question what causes someone to be attracted to this. What is the point of adhering to this kind of way of life?
Conrad: That’s a great question and I’ll answer it by saying – so when – think about when you were growing up. And if you were raised by your parents or a guardian, you probably had your favorite dish maybe that your mom made. You come home from school and you smell your mom cooking this delicious food and you have memories of that’s – so for a Jain, it’s kind of like that, and for Hindu as well. You grew up with it. You were born into this family.
Darrell Bock: This is the world you know.
Conrad: This is your culture and it impacts your relationships. It impacts the people you know, the food that you eat, the rites of passage that you have. It impacts how you – the filter and the grid in which you learn to see the world around you comes from all of that unspoken stuff that you learned by watching those that you love. And so the reason why Jains are Jain and the reason why Hindus are Hindu is because they're born into it. These faiths, these religions if you want to call them, inform their entire worldview. That’s why Jains are Jain.
Darrell Bock: Let me ask you one other question about content, which I forgot to ask that I should. You’ve alluded to – I don’t know if it’s – worship is the right term, but the kind of honor that is given in the – and I’m assuming that there are temples and that kind of thing associated with Jains. Is that right?
Conrad: There referred to as derasars, D-E-R-A-S-A-R. If you Google Derasar, are there any Derasars near my location, it’ll tell you yes, there are temples. They will go to temples. They’ll have pujas. Puja is a worship service. They’ll have all different kinds of things. They’ll have singing. There will be idols in a lot of cases of the tirthankaras and the tirthankaras are these former people who – like Mahavir, who attained Moksha.
Darrell Bock: Which is the highest status you can attain. It’s the liberation of the soul. It’s an honoring of those who have made it.
Conrad: Yeah, it could be that for sure and doing things like that improve your karma. And so the more you can improve your karma, the better. And so the better your karma, your next birth, they call it janumdin, you'll – yeah, you have a better chance of coming back as something better.
Darrell Bock: The reward in the religion is by being a better kind of person. You get a better next life.
Conrad: You could boil it down to that.
Darrell Bock: We’ve got this background. We’ve got this adherence and I can understand this. You’ve said that Jains are very, very hard to evangelize and so – but when you think about how the gospel speaks into a Jain’s life, what do you think of?
Conrad: I am really big on pursuing becoming a skillful cross-cultural communicator. People really are different and in order to communicate in such a way, understanding has to take place first. In order to communicate in a skillful way with a Jain, you’ve got to know what they know. I’m more familiar with Hindus. The gospel impacts every area of life. It addresses issues of origin, of destiny, of meaning, of significance. It affirms the fact that men and women are created in God’s image. It gives us hope. It gives us something to live for and these south Asian culture, especially Hinduism and Jainism, we’ll take one instance. Being a woman is not an easy thing in these places. When skillful communication is happening and people understand – what was it, Paul in Acts 17:20.
Darrell Bock: Yeah, we’re talking about in Athens.
Conrad: Remember where they said to him, “Paul, you're bringing some strange things to our ears.” For me, I think the gospel is – would be considered strange things to these ears and for me, that’s part of the hope in that it’s a different message and one that I believe is rooted in truth, in the truth of God. It’s true. Taking pains to make sure that I communicate in such a way that these people understand exactly what I’m saying and what I’m not saying, but I’ve got to know what they know. Because if I don’t know what they know, our communication might miss each other.
Darrell Bock: We’ve talked about, in this series throughout, what I call getting a spiritual GPS on someone, which basically means listening, listening, listening, listening. And initially not worrying about correcting, but just coming to a point of understanding what drives the person spiritually.
Conrad: One of my mottos I live by is I prefer clarity over agreement. If I can make sure that I know them and they know me, it’ll help me in how I transmit the gospel message and the life of Jesus to people who have never heard of him before.
Darrell Bock: Of course the hard part here is that – and again, I’ll make a comparison to Acts 17 just so we have a point of reference. When Paul begins with an audience that doesn’t know Genesis from Malachi, they don’t know anything about the bible at all, he starts with the understanding of accountability to a creator god, and they do – in the Greco Roman world, they do understand transcendent spirits and that kind of thing because there's a lot of religion – religious practice around that involves a lot of religious activity in the broadest sense of that term. But here, you're talking about a whole orientation that doesn’t even have that dimension in a significant way. There might be awareness of transcendent power or presence or that kind of thing, but it isn’t – well, maybe – or maybe it is. You said there were 330 million gods in Hinduism, but there's not that personal direct singular accountability that the Christian faith has. That’s a big hurdle.
Conrad: Yeah. Reaching people from south Asia is not for the faint of heart and it – whether you're from India or whether you're from outside of India, it’s a life work. It’s going to require investment. We’ve been doing this for 16 years and we’re always learning. One of my mentors would always say, “Conrad, there are things you can control and there are things you can't control.” You can control how you spend your time with people, what you say to them. You can learn how to communicate, but at the end of the day, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit convicting of sin. In trying to reach these people – and by the way, we need more champions for Hindus and Jains because there aren’t many people trying to reach them, both here and there. And that’s why I’m excited to encourage people who might be listening that – so I asked the question today to a group of people. I asked them if you decide to invest your life, if – to give your love, your life, and your witness to a Hindu or Jain family, the question was, what is the probability that you would be the first one in the entire lineage of their family for the last 2000 years to introduce the gospel? You would be the first one to do that. And if the statistic is true that 95 percent of 1.2 billion in people in India have never heard the gospel, it makes me wonder – wow, you talk about what an opportunity and a privilege from the creator to work to try to introduce people to the one who made them.
Darrell Bock: Of course, one of the challenges in India now in the social and political situation is it’s becoming more restrictive in terms of gaining access for the gospel in the country. That’s become a problem, but the other flipside of this, as you already mentioned, is with the India diaspora, you have people who are Indian who literally are located all around the world.
Conrad: Absolutely. The current missions paradigm is changing and will be changed within 20 years. I’ll say this. The current Indian government doesn’t like videshu dharma, the religion of the foreigner, but they love money. I think that concerned Christians that want to make a difference in south Asia, if they're coming from outside of Asia, they're going to have to start businesses to both fund the work of God, but then also to reach people in and through the workplace. What do they say, 90 percent of people who tithe in the local church in North America are in the baby boomer generation or older. Finding alternative funding streams for there, but even here, it’s like, yeah, God has given a prime opportunity to reach people from limited access and restricted access countries on our doorstep. I asked a lot of people today. How many of you work with a Hindu, know a Hindu? And almost everyone raised – Dallas, every day, 500 – 400 to 500 people move to Dallas. A hundred of those are from India. It’s amazing. We were actually praying about moving to Dallas to do this and before we went to Toronto, but the – it’s – Dallas is the fastest growing population of south Asian Indians all over America.
Darrell Bock: Wow, so that means it’s possible. We just have a couple of minutes left. What advice would you give, beyond just getting to know and doing a lot of listening, to someone who wants to think about interacting with a Jain or a Hindu for that matter?
Conrad: With both Jains and Hindus, there are two barriers you have to overcome. The first barrier is the social barrier and the second barrier is the spiritual barrier. Most Jains and Hindus aren’t going to listen to anything you have to say unless they accept you for who you are. You’ve got to go to where they are and I’m a big believer of not having expectations on lost people and taking the gospel to them. Find the local Indian market and in every Indian market, they're going to have a magazine that advertises and broadcasts where the south Asian community does life events that are coming up, cricket leagues. Go get plugged in. Go find where people are and just immerse yourself. Find people who are open to you. And if someone’s open to you, you invite them into your world. Let’s meet with a cup of chai. Let’s do this. You start doing stuff with people. You start building a relationship.
The key is you want to find people who accept you for who you are and then who will respond to the invitation to come into your life. Then you’ve got to address the spiritual barrier. You want to introduce Jesus into the equation. You're listening for needs with your new friend. They say my mom has cancer and then you say can I come over and we’ll have a prayer ceremony in Jesus’ name. Jains and Hindus are all about experience and so you want them to experience the power of prayer and to see how you live your life. And you really want to invest your life and I’ll leave it at that, but just remember the social barrier and the spiritual barrier. Get involved. Just do something.
Darrell Bock: Conrad, I thank you for coming in and helping us with Hinduism and Jainism. These are probably largely foreign worlds to our audience, so I thank you for introducing them to us. We thank you for being part of The Table. Hope you found the discussion interesting and hope you'll join us again soon.
About the Contributors
Conrad is a staff member with Crossworld ministering to Hindus in Ontario, Canada.
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, writes for the Christianity Today’s Places and Space series, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College, Chosen People Ministries, the Institute for Global Engagement, and Christians in Public Service (CIPS). His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.