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Center for Action and Contemplation

Widening Circles

Sunday, August 12, 2018


Widening Circles
Sunday, August 12, 2018

What is required is a meeting of the different religious traditions at the deepest level of their experience of God. Hinduism is based on a deep, mystical experience, and everywhere seeks not simply to know “about” God but to “know God,” that is, to experience the reality of God in the depths of the soul. —Dom Bede Griffiths [1]

Like so many Westerners, I grew up knowing almost nothing about Hinduism, even though it is by far the oldest of the “Great Religions.” Because Hindu dress, various gods, and temples seemed so foreign to our faith practices, we did not take Hinduism seriously. That’s what happens when everything is seen in relation to one’s self—whenever one’s nationality, era, and religion are the only reference points.

In 1965, the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church issued its historic conclusions that still stand as inspired and authoritative. In the Council’s document Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), it specifically addressed other world religions, naming what was good and eternal in each of them. Followers of Hinduism are recognized as they “contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry.” [2]

I was only slowly introduced to Hinduism’s profound mystical depths through two very special authors. I admit that I first trusted them because they were both Catholic priests, scholars, and even mystics themselves. One was Dom Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), an English Benedictine, who in the pivotal year of 1968 was asked to take charge of an ashram in India to combine Western and Eastern spirituality. Griffith’s writings are still monumental and important. From the time of his arrival in India in 1955, Dom Bede built a huge and holy bridge, which many have now walked over with great effect.

The other author who led me deeper in Hinduism was a son of a Spanish mother and a Hindu father, Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010). Panikkar’s intellect and spirit astounded all who heard him or read his words. Somehow Panikkar’s ancient roots, stellar mind, and his Christian love all came through. He saw the Christ as the fully adequate Christian symbol for the whole of Reality. I never felt Panikkar compromised his Christian belief even though he was quite able and willing to use metaphors for the same experience from Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, it was his Hinduism that often led Panikkar to the depths and the full believability of his Christian experience. I would say the same for Bede Griffiths.

The great mystics tend to recognize that Whoever God Is, he or she does not need our protection or perfect understanding. All our words, dogmas, and rituals are like children playing in a sandbox before Infinite Mystery and Wonderment. If anything is true, then it has always been true; and people who sincerely search will touch upon the same truth in every age and culture, while using different language, symbols, and rituals to point us in the same direction. The direction is always toward more love and union—in ever widening circles.

[1] Bede Griffiths, Christ in India: Essays towards a Hindu-Christian Dialogue (1965). See Bede Griffiths: Essential Writings, ed. Thomas Matus (Orbis Books: 2004), 65.

[2] Second Vatican Council, “Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (October 28, 1965), 2. Full text at

Image Credit: A Hindu Woman in Yoga Asana Meditation (detail), Lucia Puertas, 2010, river Ganges, Varanasi, India.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Bhagavad Gita does not counsel that we all become monks or solitaries. Rather, the true synthesis is found in a life-long purification of motive, intention, and focus in our world of action. The Gita calls the active person to a life of interiority and soul discovery. How can we do “pure action”? Only by gradually detaching from all the fruits of action and doing everything purely for the love of God. —Richard Rohr
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