'The Holy Man and the Prostitute' - Thoughts?

(To the mods: I don’t know where to post this so I’ll first post it here. If there’s a more appropriate place for this thread, please kindly move this there.)

There’s this rather nice Hindu tale I’ve heard, which I kind of like.

There was once a holy man who lived in a temple. Now this temple happened to be situated just in front of a prostitute’s house. Everyday, while the man performs his religious duties, he catches sight of the prostitute escorting customers in and out of her house. The Brahmin, of course, felt annoyance and anger at this wretched sinner.

One day, the prostitute went to the temple to worship. As she went out, she was confronted by the holy man. He told her strictly and to the point.

“You whore, don’t you realize that everyday you are committing a grave sin? You are going to Hell!”

The woman was shocked - she had never realized just how grave her offense was. In tears, she promised to repent.

The very next day, the holy man was surprised to find the prostitute. There she goes again, escorting men in and out of her house! The holy man was fed up at the sinner. It seems that this prostitute lied to him. He needed to find a way to make her realize the gravity of the situation - that was when he had an idea: he will take a stone, one for each of the woman’s customers, and place it where the woman can see it.

The holy man inspected the woman everyday: soon he had amassed a huge pile of stones. He called the woman and pointed to her this heap.

“Do you see this pile of stones? One stone for every man who went into your bed. You vile woman, didn’t you say you repented of your sins? I’ve watched you - I’ve seen your conduct. You will most certainly go to Hell.”

The prostitute was utterly devastated. She broke down in remorse. Consumed by the fire of repentance, the woman died on the spot.

Some time after, the holy man also died. He found himself in the courtroom of Yama, god of the dead, where the souls of the deceased are judged.

In front of him was the prostitute. The holy man was sure; she will be sentenced to Hell. Guess just how surprised he was when Yama finally laid down his verdict and ordered his guards.

“Send this lady up to Heaven!”

The holy man was flabbergasted. How could this be? Much more his antonishment was when it was finally his turn. After reviewing his deeds in life, Yama barked: “Send this man to Hell at once!”

The man protested. Throughout his life he had prayed and meditated; he was pious; he avoided any sin or impurity whatsoever. But the woman was clearly sinful; why should she be sent to Heaven and he to Hell? Yama answered him.

“The woman’s body was polluted, but her soul was pure. When you confronted her and warned her of her sins, she sincerely repented. Apparently you are not aware why this woman could not give up prostituting in the first place - it was all she had. On the outside, it may seem to you as if she was wretched. But this very same woman used to look at you through her window, and saw the holy man in you. Wanting to be holy herself she focused only on the Divine; that is what made her worthy to attain Heaven.”

“You, on the other hand, despite acting holy on the outside, was full of pollution on the inside. On the outside you may have prayed and meditated, but in your heart, you only focused on this woman and her sinfulness. You have thus made yourself impure in your thoughts; that is why you will be sent to Hell.”

Would this story also be applicable from a Christian/Catholic perspective? What would be the similarities and the differences?

The overall point sounds familiar (inner vs. outer holiness), but I can’t remember the parable that it reminds me of (I should probably read the Bible more).

Mostly incompatible. While we commit sins with the body, one can’t do it and keep the soul clean because grave sins always involve an act of the will. As Scripture tells us, bear fruit worthy of repentance. “Apparently you are not aware why this woman could not give up prostituting in the first place - it was all she had.” is pure rot. If this is an actual official Hindu tale, my admittedly small estimation of Hinduism just went down.

I’m not sure this story is exactly Hindu. I’m not an expert, but I don’t think Hindu’s believe in Heaven and Hell as Christians do. I am curious to know the origin of this story because…

Within the past few weeks I read a very similar story on a Catholic.com!


I wouldn’t wait until my last moment to repent, but I think it does work with a Catholic understanding of the mystery of God’s mercy. Perfect contrition can save you, even at the last minute, while hardness of heart and blindness of your own sins can condemn you.

Yeah, that part is “pure rot” in regards to compatibility, and therefore truthfulness, to Catholic theology, but I think the outward vs. inward holiness/piety is something that is found within Church teachings.

I think the closest you will find from a Catholic perspective is Matthew 7:2-5:
For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite,* remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Also pertinent:

“Whoa to you scribes and pharisees. You lay a heavy load on men’s shoulders, then do not lift a finger to help them carry it”.

It would seem a “holy man” would have been seeing to the needs of those who are his neighbors".

steve, a sinner

Really it sounds more like some Westerner’s idea of a Hindu tale than an actual Hindu tale. Certainly the interior vs. outward appearances is found just about anywhere. Here, the poison is subtle because it suggests that holy intentions are sufficient, and that all actual holiness is bogus. It reminds me of abortion defenders quite frankly when they talk how agonizing it is for a woman to make a decision to abort. As if a number of tears is somehow sufficient to justify having a “doctor” reach into someone’s womb with a a pair of forceps and dismember an innocent human being.

:thumbsup: Wow! Great article.

Very valid point. On hindsight I’d have to say that there has to be better Hindu tales (here assuming it’s not a Westernized Hindu tale) to use in discussing how Church teachings can be found reflected in other faiths.

Agreed, it certainly does not reflect authentic Hindu thought.

Patrick is not ignorant of Hinduism. Give him the benefit of the doubt.


Okay, I have something to confess here.

I just retold the story in my own words, though the original story/stories is indeed Hindu. (So I’m to blame really for the whole thing.) To be fair, there’s really no one single version of the tale. I’ve seen a number of variants, though the general gist is the same: the prostitute who focused on the Divine/the holy man’s holiness goes to Heaven while the holy man who focused on the prostitute’s sin goes to Hell.

I first encountered this story while watching this film adaptation of the Bhagavad Gita, which inserts this story.* (As an aside, the film is, like the original Bhagavad Gita, in Sanskrit. So Mel Gibson isn’t really the first filmmaker to make a film of a sacred literature in the original language. :D) Here’s the relevant section, if you’re interested. (From the 3:19 to the 7:21 mark.)

Yes, the underlying concept is pretty much Hindu, I would say. In Hinduism, there is even this concept of ‘reverse devotion/love’ (viparita bhakti), where you hate your enemy so much that you think about them all the time and it ends up being a sort of dedicated devotion. So as per this concept, even people who hate God can still achieve salvation. Why? Because in their heart, they continually think of God - even if in a hateful/antagonistic way - that in a way, you can also consider them ‘devotees’ of the Divine. This is the key to the story really: the holy man kept his thoughts preoccupied with the woman and her sin to the point that it became his ‘devotion’ - which led to him being Hell-bound. The prostitute on the other hand kept her thoughts on the holy man/the Divine, that it led to her attaining Heaven.

  • I’ve yet to find the actual origin of the story. I can’t find it in the Bhagavad Gita - or the Mahabharata (which is a very long text anyways), for that matter.

There are indeed heavens (Svarga) and hells (Naraka) in Hinduism, though since Hindus - like other Indian religions such as Jainism or Buddhism - do not really have a linear view of the world but a cyclical one (where every being is continually reborn - until they break free of the cycle, that is), they are hardly ‘eternal’.

There is no such thing as an ‘official’ Hindu tale. You might say that there is even no such thing as ‘Hinduism’, because it’s not a single religion. It’s really more like a set of different schools of thought and beliefs that are arbitrarily grouped together under a single banner.

:thumbsup: Excellent follow-up, Patrick!

While it is true that one can be morbidly occupied with evil, this is usually a character flaw rather than a sin that one is culpable for, even less so that it is mortal. The prostitute on the other hand only really felt shame and disgust for her behavior. The flaw in the story is that remorse, shame, fear of punishment, etc. are only the beginning of repentance. Without a resolution to stop sinning, the interior sorrow is meaningless. People love to trot out the account of the woman caught in adultery, but many conveniently forget the end of the account where Our Lord says, “go and sin no more.”

Correct. I’m pretty much answering my own question, but this I think is one of the differences between Christian thought and Hindu thought. The Christian might say that the prostitute needed to back up her remorse with real action. That’s where real repentance begins. The Hindu concept of ‘devotion’ or bhakti however lays emphasis on the thought, the object of one’s thought. That’s why the prostitute attained Heaven - her heart was on the right place. (And vice versa for the holy man.) And that’s why there are ideas like viparita bhakti - where people who think of their enemies continually are actually expressing a form of ‘devotion’ to their enemies - if that enemy happened to be God (as in the case of mythological baddies), it’s a ticket to redemption.

There’s a variant of this story where instead of a prostitute, you have a lecher. The holy man was his friend; everyday the lecher went to the brothel, but he continually thought of his pious friend in the temple. And, well, the outcome is the same: the lecher went to Heaven because his heart was on the right place.

I think the holy man is still compatible with Christian thought in a way - in that you can see him pretty much as like the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. All the holy man saw was the woman’s sin; he was preoccupied by it. I guess no matter which religion you look into there will always be these ‘holier-than-thou’ types. :shrug:

The story has the holy man going to Hell. In the Prodigal Son parable, the good son doesn’t go to Hell. Quite the opposite actually, “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours’…" The good son just happened to make an error, which is usually not worthy of damnation. The spurious glitter of Eastern mysticism is always billed as more compassionate and more spiritually in tune (or at least spiritual in a way that won’t wreck anyone’s debaucherous weekend party plans). When we look under the hood however, a pretty unpleasant picture emerges.

I have another story. This time this is more blatantly Hindu.

There was once a Brahmin named Ajamila who fell in love with a prostitute. Though he was once a holy man, he became a depraved sinner (sinners are always depraved in Indian religious texts) - even turning to gambling and thieving. The only thing from his life that never deserted him is his love for his son. Despite living a sinful life, he always thought of his son with love and affection. Now it just happened that this son’s name was Narayana (which happens to be one of the names of Vishnu/Krishna, the Preserver).

The Brahmin was so besotted with his mistress that he did not notice death coming near. One day, he focuses his thoughts on his son - when he sees three terrifying figures with noose in hand; they are the emissaries of Yama, god of death, who have come to take him to Hell. In his fear he calls out to his son (who was playing somewhere else), “Narayana!” Guess what happens. The next moment, the Brahmin sees the messengers of the god Vishnu/Narayana, who have come to escort him to Vishnu’s heaven. His saying ‘Narayana’ proved enough to cleanse him of his sins.

Speaking of which, the expiation of sin in Hinduism could be a topic of its own. In Hinduism, there are various possibilities in which a sin might be expiated. The ancient law books (the Dharmashastras) prescribe that someone who had sinned should examine the gravity of his/her sin and then proceed to perform atonement rituals (prayashcitta). There’s also options like going on pilgrimages to holy sites, engaging in austerities and celibacy (mainly for ascetics) or observing rules of purity and acts of charity like gift-giving to or feeding Brahmins (for householders). Then there’s also the ‘easy way’, primarily associated with bhakti: reciting the names of the Divine.

From the CCC:
843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”

I didn’t say that there needs to be an exact parallel. Of course there’s not going to be an exact parallel.

One needs to keep in mind that the Western and the Indian worldviews are really different. That’s why I hate all those New Agey type of syncretism you people have over there in the West which try to graft Eastern spirituality with Western thinking. It doesn’t work, because there’s a fundamental difference in how these two cultures look at the world.

The Western worldview is pretty much linear: there is a beginning and an end. The world was created at a point in time and will eventually end in the future. When people die, there is either eternal reward or eternal punishment. But the Indian worldview is cyclic: the entire universe is continually created and destroyed in a never-ending cycle. Everyone under the cycle of death and rebirth is just that; they are reborn and they die. There is no real ‘final destination’ - unless you have achieved moksha/nirvana, that is. So while the Western worldview presupposes a beginning and an end for everything, the Indian worldview is littered with words like anadi (‘without beginning’), ananta (‘without end’) and sanatana (‘timeless’).

The Western worldview prizes singular, unchanging, objective truth. The Indian worldview is just like the story of the blind men and the elephant: it says that no one can ever know the complete truth (truth itself is perceived differently from diverse points of view), and truth itself is never complete and is ever-changing - so subjective truths are prized more than objective truth. As proof of this, two of the tenets of Jainism are anekanta-vada (‘multiple/non-singular truths’) and syada-vada (‘conditional truth’). To put it simply, Western mentality lays great emphasis on a clearly-defined ‘Yes’ and ‘No’; Eastern mentality, on the other hand, doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with ‘Maybe’.

Here’s something about the Indian cyclical worldview. There was a king named Bharata who had conquered the whole world. He planned to climb the tallest mountain located in the center of the world (Meru) and place his banner there as proof of his greatness. When he got to the peak, he was surprised, because he found the banners of past world conquerors crowding the summit. Bharata was humbled; he realized (despite thinking the contrary) that he was hardly the first person to conquer the world or think himself great, nor would he be the last.

This is true, but at the same time there’s a fine line between inculturation and the recognition of ‘shadows and images’ that prefigure the Truth in other cultures and the New Agey syncretism thing.

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