The One Mystery (part 1) by Bede Griffiths

Uzen's picture



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Dialogue with Hindus is something which has grown up only very recently in India. It began, apart from pioneer efforts by some individuals, scarcely ten years ago with some meetings of a group of Christians–Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant–under the direction of the then Swiss ambassador to India Dr Cuttat. This group met in a spirit of prayer to prepare themselves for dialogue by meditating together on passages of the Bible and the Upanishads, which for many are a revelation of the depths of wisdom and experience of God. The aim of this group was always to seek to meet the Hindu in the depth of his mystical experience and to see how a Christian can come to share in this experience. The result of these meetings was a conviction that in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita there is an experience of God of a depth and significance that can only be compared with that of the contemporary Hebrew prophets.

Perhaps the two greatest pioneers in dialogue with Hindus were Fr Monchanin and Fr le Saux, two French priests who founded the ashram of Shantivanam in 1950 in South India on the banks of the Cavery River. Fr Monchanin, who took the name of Swami Paramarubi Anandam, the Bliss of the Supreme Spirit, was both a scholar and a very holy man, who conceived his vision of a meeting with Hindus on the level of contemplative experience in the 1930’s, when even the ecumenical movement among Christians was only just beginning. Unhappily he died in 1957, yet he left behind a legacy, not only in the ashram which he founded, but also in the principles which guided him in the dialogue with Hindus, which are of permanent value. Fr. le Saux, who took the name Swami Abhishiktananda, the Bliss of Christ, continued his work at Shantivanam but finally retired to a hermitage in the Himalayas, where he wrote several books of extraordinary insight and, through his own experience of God, he gave an inspiration to the whole Church in India.

Fr le Saux himself died only two months ago, but his work is being continued at Shantivanam, and last month a Hindu Christian dialogue meeting was held there, which may be considered as the fulfilment of much which both he and Fr Monchanin had sought. The meeting was organised by the Commission for Dialogue in India, and was attended not only by two bishops on the Dialogue Commission, but also by Mgr Rossano from the Secretariat for non-Christians in Rome, who gave a key-note address of outstanding importance, setting out the principles of dialogue which are now accepted officially by the Church. There were over 50 people, Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Hindu, present each day for three days. There was throughout an atmosphere of extreme openness and friendliness, which, when one considers the atmosphere of fear and suspicion which prevailed until recently on both sides, and which still prevails in many, was itself an achievement.

But the discussions themselves were of great interest. The tone of the meeting was deliberately made personal and existential. Each one was asked to answer the question, ‘what does my religion mean to me and how do I relate to the partner in the dialogue?’ This meant that it was not an academic discussion of religious differences which leads nowhere, but a sharing of religious experience, which leads to a real communion in the experience of God. This became very clear in the prayer services that were held in common in the chapel, which is built in the style of a Hindu temple. The Hindus felt perfectly at home and the service was composed of readings, prayers and chants from both Hindu and Christian sources. It is a deeply moving experience to listen to Hindu prayers and songs expressing sorrow for sin and longing for grace, the call for self-surrender and the bliss of union with God. At this level Hindu and Christian meet in a shared experience of communion with one another and with God.



neo's picture

Remarkable

This is a remarkable report.

A few comments:

Unlike Christianity, there is no such thing as Hinduism. Hinduism is composed of many different, sometimes contradicting factions, sometimes with no relation - yoga, advaita, etc. It is our wrong western view to approach The Hindu spiritual arena as a monolithic solid body.

I do not think that these encounters 10 years ago as stated were the first. There were fruitful collaborations and dialogs between Christianity and various sects of Hinduism long time ago, let alone the World Religious Conventions in which figures such as Yogananda and Vivekananda participated.

There are Hindu-Christian communities and temples that mix both streams well noticed in Kerala and Goa. There is also such a temple in Rishikesh. Also there are several Indian religious and spiritual figures who embodied in their doctrines and teachings Christian and Hindu ideas (as well as Sufi ones) - worthwhile to mention are Meher Baba and Yogananda.

neo | Fri, 05/15/2009 - 14:08