In April 29th’s FB post I mentioned that in 1858, when a 16-year old English girl, Priscilla Winter, arrived in Delhi, she found that the capital of one of the mightiest empires in the world, the Moguls, had not built a single hospital to care for its ailing women and children. So she sat down on the banks of the holy river Yamuna with a chest of medicines and began caring for the sick. Her Christ-like compassion laid the foundation of Delhi’s oldest hospital — St. stephen.
During the last Thursday’s zoom session, Dr Vinod Shah presented a powerful paper on the role the Bible played in bringing modern healthcare to India. His presentation will be available on the Internet. It will be published in a book to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence (15 August 2022). Tentatively the book is called “How The Bible Created Modern India.”
So, what prevented “the richest country” in the world from inventing a simple printing machine? Was it because India lacked Scriptures, literary language or literature to print? Or, was it because of the absence of inventive ingenuity, economic resources, or a reading public?
Orality has many advantages: If a disciple has no access to a written or printed copy of the sacred Scriptures (e.g. the Vedas), he is totally dependent on the guru (teacher) to help him memorize the scriptures. The student has no way to check if the teacher is wrong or if he has forgotten a section of the Vedas.
A written text is a dangerous thing. If God wrote the Ten Commandments then you can’t fool around with it. You can correct your priest when he forgets or breaks one of the commandments. That is why reading, meditating and teaching God’s Word kept reforming the Jews and Christians.
There were many reasons, one of them is that when priests are given the right to invent gods, they also invent stories to motivate people to make offerings to idols. Truth can be investigated and debated, but not stories. Truth liberates because it demands obedience; stories carry no such authority. It was God’s command that ‘Thou shalt not covet or steal or unjustly tax your neighbour’s property’ that created the Middle Class. It saves our money from our rulers (until they reject God’s word, begin extorting bribes from us and loot state treasury.) God’s commands are not stories. They are laws that have to be obeyed.
The Vedas were composed in Sanskrit. It is a pretty sophisticated language. Learned priests memorized the Vedas, but they remained careful not to develop a script for their scriptures. Most Indians do not know that Devanagari script began to be used for writing Sanskrit only a little over 150 years ago. Ashoka Pillars were made before the Christian Era, they used different languages and scripts but not a word of Sanskrit. That is why two centuries ago India did not have a single pundit who could read the text on any of the Ashoka pillars. You cannot print scriptures If you choose not to even develop a script for your enchanting language.
My professors of Indian philosophy at Allahabad University introduced me to the glory of the Vedas. None of them, however, ever brought a copy of the Vedas into the classroom. So, I went to a bookshop of the Gita Press Gorakhpur to buy a complete set of the Vedas.
“Oh” the manager took pity on my innocence, “the Vedas are magical mantras. They were never written to teach you the truth. They were composed to give you occult power. That is why you have to find a competent teacher and sit at his feet for 14 years. He will teach you correct pronunciation, enunciation and intonation. He will coach you when to put how much ghee (clarified butter) in the sacred fire to get the maximum results. Such secrets cannot be translated or printed.”
“You mean in order to learn the most sacred Scriptures one has to use only his memory, not his mind — critical thought? Is that why not a single ashram in India invented printing or grew into a university — an institution for critical thought?”
Well, to cut a long conversation short . . . the kind manager helped me understand why the 19th century reform movement that created modern India had to wait until the Bible began to be translated and printed. The Bible brought to India its prophetic worldview which confronts our sinfulness and calls for repentance and change.
Two hundred years ago, the Bible began reforming India. Once again, India is in a desperate need of a new reformation. Therefore, please become a regular participant of these Thursday night events. The papers being presented will grow into a book intended to help shape the 21st century India.
Do please check out Dr. Babu Verghese’s incredible study, “Let There Be India: Impact of the Bible on Nation Building.”