Today our group is switching gears to immerse ourselves in monastery life with a two-day stay at the Shantivanam Ashram. This will be a silent retreat and I am so looking forward to this time of deeper reflection.
But first, having slept 13 hours since returning to the Ideal Resort after lunch yesterday, I wake before dawn.
Father Bede was born Alan Richard Griffiths, in Surrey, England (1906). An excellent student, he earned a scholarship to the University of Oxford and studied English literature and philosophy, and graduated with a degree in journalism. After graduating, he and some friends moved to the Cotswolds and began what they referred to as an “experiment in common living” — a lifestyle attuned to nature. Though lasting less than a year, he decided to seek holy orders in the Church of England. He was advised to first gain some experience in the slums of London, which brought him to a spiritual crisis and then breakthrough. While staying at a Benedictine monestery (1931), where he felt at home with the life, he converted to Catholicism and entered the novitiate (1932) where he was given the monastic name of “Bede,” and was ordained to the priesthood in 1940. He was sent to a monastery at Farnborough, Hampshire, where he came to know Father Benedict Alapatt, a European-born monk of Indian descent to wanted to establish a monastery in India. Having already been introduced to Eastern thought, yoga and the Vedas, Bede became interested in this proposed project. He was sent to India on the condition that he was to be there as a priest subject to a local bishop (not as a member of his abbey), which meant that he would be giving up his vows. In 1955, he and Father Alapatt left for India. He helped found a couple of monasteries (ashrams) at took the Sanskrit name “Dayanaanda” — bliss of compassion — and wrote “Christ in India.”
Bede first came to Shantivanam Ashram in 1957-58, and moved there to assume stewardship (1968). The Ashram had been founded in 1950 by a French Benedictine monk and another Frenchman. The religious lifestyle at the ashram was, and continues to be, a mixture of English, Sanskrit and Tamil in the religious services. Its missions to bring the riches of Indian spirituality into Christian life, to share in the profound experience of God that originated in the Vedas, was developed in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, and has since come down to the present through a continual succession of sages and holy men and women
Under his charismatic leadership, Shantivanam became an internationally known center of dialogue and renewal. During his tenure, he reconnected with the Benedictine order through the Camaldolese monks. He also wrote 12 books on Hindu-Christian dialogue. In January 1990, Bede suffered a stroke, and was declared healed a month later. During the next two years he traveled internationally giving lectures and meeting with the Dalai Lama. He arrived back at the ashram in October 1992, to film a documentary about his life (“A Human Search”) and three-days after the completion of filming, on his 86th birthday, Bede had a major stroke, followed by a series of more strokes, and died on May 13, 1993 at the age of 86.
After settling in, I head to the main common room where we sit on floor mats (or some on low benches) along the walls with a metal plate (more like a cake tin), spoon and cup in front of us. Before being served by today’s volunteer kitchen staff, we sing praise to the Lord. Afterwards, the volunteers make their way to each of us serving sprouted mung beans, rice, samba, a thin yogurt drink and bananas from large pots, bowls and pitchers.
One thought while eating lunch in silence was how inevitable it seems that the Beatles broke up after coming to India — what a respite it must have been at first for them, and yet how destabilizing when it was time to reenter their celebrity lives and the expectations others had of them. In contrast, when I return home except for finishing up tax filings and a few other short-term commitments, I see myself being very quite for awhile, continuing to read the books I am accumulating on this trip and chronicling this journey through my blog as a means of growing and strengthening the cekes or luminous threads I am actively creating to these experiences. How my service in this world will change, I’ve no idea. That it will, seems inevitable.
Presently, I am sitting on the porch of the Ashram’s library relaxing in the “coolness” of the shade” and catching up in my journal. When I close my eyes, I “see” the form that an India-inspired body of new artwork will take. All is good. My creative (feminine) energy is not stagnant. The Library serves as a study center and contains both books of Christian philosophy and theology as well as on Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions.
Our group gathers at the larger Meditation Room at 4 PM to hear Brother John Martin’s Four O’Clock talk. He speaks of the founding of this ashram during same time period (1964-ish) as the Ecumenical Council’s decision to “opening up” Christ so his message is understood in context to the world we live in today. Father John Martin tells us:
Brother Martin says: "From the Wisdom perspective there is a very different interpretation of Christ. Truth is the marrying of the two. Truth is unity. And, we don’t have unity today." [The map Brother John Martin overlays is identical to the horizontal axis of the Andean Tiwantinesuyu map of consciousness that describes complimentary opposites and the uniting of similar (masintin) and dissimilar qualities of energy (yanantin) to create the third way of being (taqé) that is beyond duality and achieved from the place of cooperation, collaboration, and unconditional love. This third way is unity: wholeness: Oneness.]
We are told that Hinduism is a variety pack of interpretation. However, the foundation of all Hindu sects is the Vedas, which he says is the same within Christianity in that they all interpret Christ. To illustrate this, he lays out the following comparison:
One god called by many names (monotheistic); evolved from 4500 BC to 500 BC
Omnipresence of god — whole University is animated by god
Creation is manifestation of god; it is NOT god; God = no beginning/end
Ground of Creation is Ground of Universe: Atman — Brahman
The foundation of consciousness is Atman; the act of creation is Brahmn; both are the same
Human Consciousness — 4 levels:
God of Love — Bagaveda
Wisdom manifesting as action
Action creates karma
Action comes through wisdom
Wisdom comes from action
Human Consciousness is a vehicle of Universal Consciousness — "Thy will be done"
One god (monotheistic)
omnipresence of god; human consciousness is an aspect of god
Christ is incarnation and manifestation of god (slightly different in Judaism)
I and father are one (from Judaism tradition)
Christians believe they are almost one with god. Christ's mission was to elevate Judaism to Vedic tradition — prophet to wisdom tradition
Universal Consciousness — 3 steps:
Love is a manifestation of Action
Personal level: dualistic love and realistic action.
Collective level: non-dualistic wisdom; non-dualistic action — "Do unto others as you would do to yourself."
Human Consciousness becomes vehicle to Universal Consciousness
I really like the two hours set aside for meditation at sunrise and sunset. While in evening prayer, I make a vow to myself to add an end of day meditation to my daily spiritual practice when I return home. Tonight there is so much to information that needs to percolate down. Thankfully, evening prayer is more like a meditation, which allows me to begin creating a rudimentary map based on the information I gleaned Brother John Martin's talk.