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The Controversial Mysticism of Hindu-Benedictine Monk, Bede Griffiths

(And how I first met the Hindu Christ)


Bede Griffiths and Adam Bucko


The first time I visited a Hindu temple was with my roommates.


It felt like a sitcom, or maybe a joke: an ex-nun, an Indian, and an evangelical Mexican walked into a Hindu temple…

I suppose the first thing that struck me were all the statues, and how my roommate described you could tell them apart. Vishnu is the one with the conch shell, discus, lotus and mace. Lakshmi has four arms and is sitting on a lotus. Ganesh has the elephant head. 


Not that different from Catholic statues, I thought: you could tell it was Saint Sebastian if he had a bunch of arrows sticking out of him, and it was Saint Catherine if she was pictured with a wooden wheel.


The second thing that struck me was my Mexican roommate’s reaction.

When a man walked over to offer us a bindi (a red mark worn on the forehead), my roommate’s eyes grew wide and his head shrunk into his shoulders as he backed away. He kept several feet between him and each altar, and it almost seemed like he was afraid of catching a disease.


This was not too far off from my mother’s reaction when I told her about our visit. “Did you at least bless yourself with holy water after you left?”


Now I’m not sure what she thought we were doing in that temple – or what kind of evil spirits I might need to ward off – but it struck me as a little funny.


And unfortunately common.


So many Christian circles (and my own native Catholicism) treat Eastern religions as dangerous—as if practicing yoga or sending out loving kindness to the world might cause a demon to possess your soul, here and now.


But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.



Meeting Bede Griffiths


I won’t lie: Hinduism is the world religion I know the least about.


Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk in saffron robes

But I am eager to learn more–and this man is the reason why.


Bede Griffiths was a Benedictine-Hindu monk.


Sound like an oxymoron?


He lived in an ashram in India, where he had gone–already a Catholic monk–to “find the other half of his soul.”


As a novice in the 1930s, he had felt his monastic formation had been too cerebral, too focused on the outside world.


As he recounted another Indian guru’s words, when asked what he thought of Christianity: “If you really want to know, I think they’re good people and do good work in the world. But I don’t know that they have any religion!”


Religion in the East has been dedicated to the interior life much longer than any other world religion. For them, the search for the Divine happens deep within, in a life of meditation.

This extra couple millennia of interior work shows–and it is for this that Bede made his shocking remark:


There is a side of Christ revealed by the Hindus that can only be known through the Indian/Hindu experience.

That is: if you long to know the fullness of Christ, then you need to know him like the Hindus know him.


And he didn’t mean “you need to know how the Hindus view the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth.”


He meant you need to get intimate with the universal Christ.  

He meant the logos, the atman, the divine spark at the heart of all religion. 


Could we ever believe that the West has exhausted the entire wisdom of the Logos?


Historical Christianity was deeply influenced by the Western world. Everyone from Augustine to Gregory of Nazianzen were steeped in Greek philosophy, forming the basis of all our theology. 


But doesn’t it seem reasonable that the East has just as many gifts and insights to share? Insights that might not come from our Euro-centric experience?


Bede Griffith’s whole goal was to enrich the Christian contemplative life with Hindu mysticism. To do so, in his words, was to live the Christian tradition “more deeply and authentically.”


Is that as mind blowing to you as it is to me??



I shouldn’t be so surprised.


I knew that, at least on an official level, the Church was all for interreligious dialogue.


But I didn’t remember how the Church actually phrased it until I read it on the Bede Griffiths website two weeks ago.


Is this wild…?


From the document Nostra Aetate:


“Religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. 


The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of life and teachings.


The Church, therefore, exhorts her children, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions… they recognize, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral values, as well as the social and cultural values to be found among them.”


I’m sorry. What?


I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard any pastors promoting other religions lately. Especially Hinduism.


It can be pretty controversial - we don’t want to appropriate other’s traditions, after all. And some of us have been taught—like my roommate and mother—that dabbling in other religions can be risky business.


But there is a way to deeply appreciate the gifts a religion or culture shares with humanity.


I would argue this is one of the reasons why mysticism is experiencing such a resurgence today.

Not the woo-woo mysticism, but the kind that searches for the divine spark at the heart of all religion.


Because it’s easy to get tangled in all the differences between religions when you compare the fundamentalist versions of each.


But the mystics of every religion speak the same language.


The Sacred is not something that can be monopolized by any one religion.


The Holy One is found wherever we encounter truth, goodness, and beauty.

This makes it pretty easy to revere and collaborate with those who look different from me.


It is because of this mystical heart that I am so excited to learn more at our upcoming class on Bede Griffiths at the Modern Mystics School.


As someone who is so drawn by the Holy, I am sparkling with curiosity—to learn from someone who can introduce me to the Christ of the Hindus!


Taught by interspiritual veteran Adam Bucko (a Polish Episcopal priest who is married to a former Buddhist nun), this class will uncover the spacious spirituality our hearts longs for so.

 

As Bede put it, “Our search today is to go beyond the institutional structures of religion and discover the hidden mystery which is at the heart of all religion.”


If you’re also drawn by that “golden string” that weaves through all religions, we’re eager to have you join us.


Perhaps together we can learn to recognize, preserve, and promote the Divine Beauty peeking out from every source of wisdom.




Bede Griffiths and Adam Bucko

This offering is part of the Modern Mystics School. We’re offering a masterclass on a different 20th century mystic each month!

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