Hebrew Prophets and India’s Holy Men: A Study of Similarities and Difference

In order to understand the similarities and differences of the Hebrew prophets and the Holy Men of India, we need to look at each group separately to better understand who they are and what their background is.

An ancient context sets the scene for these present day religious figures, such as the holy men of India as compared to the ancient Hebrew prophets. Both groups have direct needs to represent God, or a higher power, which offers a powerful position to represent to the public a teaching of right and wrong.HOLY MEN OF INDIAThe main group we see today in India throughout their countryside and whom we think of as holy men of India, are called the sadhus, who “have renounced their worldly life, said goodbye to both their possessions and their families, and now lead a life of celibacy, ascetic yoga, and a search for enlightment” (Leffel, 2006, paragraph 3). An article in Travel Inquire refers to them as “saffron-clad hermits with matted locks who often travel from one holy place to another with scarcely a possession in the world” (Travel Inquiry, 2006).Their bodies smeared with ash, forehead anointed with sandalwood paste, sadhus carry all their material possessions with them: a begging or alms bowl, a wooden staff, a woolen blanket and many a rudraksha or tulsi mala around their neck or wrists . .

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. Some of them travel alone, others in small groups. Some have taken vows of silence, some can be found standing on one foot for years while others unpredictably burst into songs of religious ecstasy, especially when high on ganja (hash or grass) . . .

Others go about chanting hymns or indecipherable mantras.Following the lifestyle of Lord Shiva, detached from life but not necessarily its pleasures – – Vishnu represents light and maintains the universe, while Shiva represents darkness and destruction, some of their rituals involve meditation, water, fire, and yoga and depend on public offerings for a living (Kamat, V. and Kamat, J., Dec. 24, 2006).

These mysterious wandering figures have totally renounced the world, realizing that once they die they will stay in the same level of philosophy due to their belief in reincarnation.This same article by the Kamat authors states that on the other hand, traditional Western fascination comes from a higher level of holy men such as Rishis or sages, who are “bearers of the ancient Vedic values . .  believed to be Hindu scholars and practiced metaphysics.”  These holy men were the writers of famous Hindu epics such as Ramayana, by the Sage Valmiki, and Mahabharata, by Sage Vyasa.

Both writers felt that these holy men sought liberation from worldly bondage through the way of knowledge, and were thought to be blessed with divine knowledge. They were considered the opposite of the shadhus, the holy men who traveled and lived off the land yet all are part of the religious aspects of India.HEBREW PROPHETSLike the more famous Rishis or sages of India, Hebrew prophets were poets, writers, theologians, teachers, and educators. Today, by simply reading the Bible we learn of prophecy that carries into not only our past and present but also our future. Faith in prophecy has the ability to form a spiritual belief between God and his people, according to the teachings of these ancient prophets.

Maimonides, the most influential philosophical person in medieval Jewish history, says, “I believe with complete faith that the words of the prophets are true” (Parsons, 2007).We must realize that there exist human beings who have such lofty qualities and achieve such great perfection that their souls become prepared to receive pure spiritual wisdom. Their human wisdom can then become bound up with Creative Mind of God and receive an inspired emanation from it. This is prophecy, and those people who achieve it are prophets.The Jewish Virtual Library says that “the primary job of a prophet was to arouse the people and the government to repentance and observance” (American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2007). But a very large difference in Maimonides’s reasoning regarding prophets and the holy men of India is that “it is not necessary to believe that human reason can attain to such heights in order to affirm this principle of faith, however” (Parsons, 2007).

The Library’s definition of the ancient age of prophecy stated the prophets had a connection with the people, in that the people could learn what they were doing wrong and how to repent. But today, “the prophet or rabi provides spiritual guidance and advise paths for repentance.”SIMILARITIES BETWEEN HEBREW PROPHETS AND HOLY MEN OF INDIAThe number one similarity is both religious groups had and have presently a connection with God and a higher power. Both the holy men of India and Hebrew prophets composed beautiful spiritual music, wrote wonderful poetry and sang devotional hyms to show reverence to the higher power.Both the prophets and holy men gained divine status with a large following, with Swamis  elevated to deities status and the Hebrew prophets such as Elijah sitting on the right hand of God. Both groups conducted ceremonies such as baptism, birth and death along with festivals.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HEBREW PROPHETS AND HOLY MEN OF INDIAThe holy men of India are still present today, and are seen in the temples and wandering the streets. But the destruction of the First Temple was supposedly the end of the era of prophecy. Any Hebrew prophet born after that period was no longer a prophet as prophecy was removed at this time because of the Temple destruction. (American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. (2007).Another difference is that the holy men of India play a major part in the life of the people of the land, regardless of the level of religious roles – – guru, shadhus, or sages.

The soul-body relation of their teachings is slightly different than the lofty religious aspects of the Hebrew prophets. Medieval India basically removed the caste system for a social movement to shun such practices, allowing the average person to reach God through devotion alone.CONCLUSIONThe conclusion of this paper finds that there are several levels of holy men in India who are still practicing today, and are very active with all levels of the caste system. The lives of the India people involve this religion throughout their daily lives, and the different levels of holy men reflect this need. These holy men begin their lives in early childhood and spend their lives training for this honorable position.

On the other hand, the Hebrew prophets have been extinct and considered un-needed since the destruction of the first Temple of Israel, yet their prophecies before that time still refer to our history in the past, present and future. More eloquent and well-known, these famous figures feel they speak directly from God through channeling modality- – individuals such as Abraham, Sarah, Isaiah, Samuel, Ezekiel, Malachi, and Job – – playing a large role in the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible.