A Christian Ashram — Center for Action and Contemplation

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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

A Christian Ashram

Interspiritual Mysticism

A Christian Ashram
Thursday, September 24, 2020

It is only in prayer that we can communicate with one another at the deepest level of our being. Behind all words and gestures, behind all thoughts and feelings, there is an inner centre of prayer where we can meet one another in the presence of God. . . . If we could learn to live from that centre we should be living from the heart of life and our whole being would be moved by love. —Bede Griffiths (1906–1993)

The interspiritual teacher Bede Griffiths was born in England, became a Catholic after college, and soon entered Prinknash Abbey in Gloucester as a Benedictine monk. After almost twenty-five years in this community, he went to India in 1955. He recalled:

I had long been familiar with the mystical tradition of the West, but I felt the need of something more which the East alone could give; above all the sense of the presence of God in nature and the soul, a kind of natural mysticism which is the basis of all Indian spirituality. I felt therefore that if a genuine meeting of East and West was to take place, it must be at this deepest level of their experience and this I thought could best come through the monastic life. [1]

In 1968, Bede was asked to take over Shantivanam (Forest of Peace) Ashram, which was founded in 1950 by two French Benedictines. Thomas Matus, who lived with Bede at Shantivanam, writes:

The liturgical hours, tuned as they are to the cosmic rhythms of sunrise and sunset and the seasons of the year, already link the prayer of Christian monks to the religious and even mystical sense of the cosmos which is an essential characteristic of Hinduism. . . . The Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Sufi texts, read at the beginning of each Hour, are seen clearly as a preparation for the Christian prayer, which opens with the sign of the cross and the invocation of the Holy Trinity. [2]

It was in India that Bede discovered a different way of thinking:

The Western mind from the time of Socrates and Plato had concentrated on the development of abstract, rational thought which had led to the great systems of theology in the Middle Ages and to the achievements of modern science and philosophy. But India had been nourished from the beginning by the truth of the imagination, the primordial truth, which is not abstract but concrete, not logical but symbolic, not rational but intuitive. So it was that I was led to the rediscovery of the truth which the Western world has lost and is now seeking desperately to recover. [3]

I have deep respect for the courage it must have taken Griffiths as a Catholic monk in the pre-Vatican II era to follow the calling of the Holy Spirit to live and worship in the East. He not only taught a nondual consciousness but embodied it in his life, remaining faithful to Christ while embracing the wisdom and practices of Hinduism.

[1] Bede Griffiths, Christ in India: Essays towards a Hindu-Christian Dialogue (Charles Scribner’s Sons: 1966), 17.

[2] Thomas Matus, introduction to Bede Griffiths: Essential Writings (Orbis Books: 2004), 16–17.

[3] Bede Griffiths, The Marriage of East and West: A Sequel to The Golden String (Templegate Publishers: 1982), 47.

Epigraph: Griffiths, The Golden String: An Autobiography (Templegate Publishers: 1954, 1980), 146.

Image credit: Spärlich Belaubt (detail), Paul Klee, 1934.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: I had long been familiar with the mystical tradition of the West, but I felt the need of something more which the East alone could give; above all the sense of the presence of God in nature and the soul. —Bede Griffiths
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