8 J. J. Lipner, Bhahmabandhab Upadhyay (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. xv.
M. M. Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance (London: SCM Press, 1969), p. 107.
Bhahmabandhab Upadhyay, 'Christianity in India', The Tablet 69 (1903), p. 8, cited in S. Sumithra,
Christian Theologies From an Indian Perspective (Bangalore: Theological Book Trust, 1995), p. 70.
Christianity. The task of philosophy is to support, defend, clarify, expound and develop revelation and show how it is relevant for life. In the west Aristotelian philosophy served this purpose at the hand of Thomas Aquinas. However, that system is alien to the Indian mind and hence must be replaced by Vedanta, Upadhaya argued, 'because the Hindu mind is synthetic and speculative, and not analytic and practical'.10 Vedanta must be made to 'hew wood and draw water for the Catholic Church', he believed. In the process, as Lipner rightly points out, he is not developing an indigenized Catholic faith by implanting Christian concepts into Vedanta soil, but only replacing Thomism with Vedanta.11
Making use of the Upanishadic understanding that described the Absolute in terms of the sat, cit and ananda, Upadhyay held that the essence of the divine being that was understood by neo-Thomistic reasoning could be expressed as sat, cit and ananda of classical Vedanta.12 The Supreme Being, parabrahman, is essentially sat; that is, whose nature is to exist in and for itself. It is the first cause of all. It is self-sustaining. Thus, the parabrahman of the Vedanta and the God of the neo-Thomistic philosopher is one, infinite and eternal. It is also cit; that is, consciousness in the form of self-awareness, as self-productive. Hence, it alludes to the procession or generation of the Son from the Father. Thus, the Upanishads prefigure the Christian revelation.
Thus, according to Upadhyay, Vedanta provides to India the natural basis to receive the supernatural Christian truth, which is not to be identified with the European garb. The European garb of Christian truths makes it unintelligible to the Hindus. Hence, the Vedantic tradition would serve as the vehicle to present Christian truth, the truth regarding the Trinitarian nature of God, to India.
Upadhyay described Brahman, the Supreme Being, as pure Being, pure act and thus intrinsically self-contained and unrelated. Using the structure and terminology of Shankara, Upadhyay shows how Shankara can serve as the metaphysical foundation for a Christian understanding of the divine nature and its relation to the world.
God, in God's supernatural, intrinsic aspect, is separate from creation. Once we realize this distinction with all its implications, humans can live an appropriate natural existence with the liturgical practices and beliefs derived from Christian revelation. Shankara, according to Upadhyay, was granted some form of divine dispensation which enables Advaita and his commentary freedom from subtle errors.I3From the transcendental standpoint, the
Lipner, Bhahmabandhab Upadhyay, p. 187. Ibid, p. 188. Ibid, p. 191. 3 Ibid, p. 268.
Supreme Being is nirguna (not impersonal, but attributeless), whereas from the perspective of creation, the Supreme Being is saguna, having attributes. Further, Upadhyay insists, Shankara has not held that Brahman is unknowable; rather he is knowable as bliss, intelligence and so on.14
Commenting on creation and the principle of Maya, in the Advaita understanding, Upadhyay writes:
Shankara teaches that the individual soul is different from the highest Self (Para Atman) as well as non-different from it. If abheda means 'absolute identity' as M. Thibaujt supposes, then the individual soul can never be said to be distinct from the Supreme Being in the face of their declared non-difference.15
According to Upadhyay, Shankara means that the individual soul is a reflection (adhyasa) of Brahman and thus creation is a sort of communication by the Supreme Being, participating in his being. This communicating and this participating is a mysterious activity. It is similar to the sun's reflection in different water-bodies, which have a type of dependence on the sun, without affecting it in any way. This communication is called Maya. Maya affects the communicated things, but not Brahman. Thus, the individual soul is different from Brahman as its reflection, as a result of the mysterious communication of Brahman. It is not-different from Brahman in as much as Brahman is the substratum of the individual soul. Maya, thus, is not illusion, but the principle of creation. It is neither real nor unreal.
Maya can be an occasion for sin, in so far as it can lead to distortion of nature and reality, bestowing on the world a reality that it does not deserve.16 Further, Maya expresses the Christian understanding of creation in the following aspects: (a) that God does not necessarily create; (b) that created things come into existence from prior non-existence; and (c) that the infinite perfections are contained in the finite in a pre-eminent way.
The legacy, bequeathed by Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, of developing an Indian theology through the mould of Advaita died out with his death in 1907 (aged 46), due to the high-handedness of the then papal delegate. Interest among the later generation begins with three Jesuit scholars, G. Dandoy, J. Bayart and P. Johanns. They were encouraged by Upadhyay's disciple, Animananda, to interpret Christianity, especially the understanding of Jesus Christ, through the philosophical tradition of India.
The main argument of the trio is that the Indian philosophical tradition is the natural base for Christianity in India. The Vedantic tradition is the preparation that finds its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Johanns argues contentiously that there is nothing that St Thomas writes that is not somehow anticipated in Advaita.17 The Vedantic systems, thus, pave the way for a true Christian theology.
Thus far we have concentrated on the intellectual methodology of the Indian tradition, represented by Advaita. We turn now to the insight that a genuine encounter of Christianity with the soul of India can take place only through India's mystical tradition.
Abbe Jules Monchanin (1895—1957): the land of the Trinity Abbé Monchanin, belonging to a French religious missionary congregation, reached India in 1939, with the mandate, as he acknowledged, given to him by his theologian friend, Henri de Lubac, 'to rethink everything in the light of theology and to rethink theology through mysticism'.18 This inspired Monchanin to launch a sannyasic-monastic movement in India in 1950, founding, with another French missionary, Dom Henri Le Saux, the renowned Saccidananda Ashram on the banks of the holy river Kavery.
Although, following Upadhyay, he named the ashram as Saccidananda, the name for Trinity, he was careful not to identify the Advaita notion of the Absolute with the Christian understanding of the Trinity. In a lecture in 1956 he states:
Christian mysticism is Trinitarian or it is nothing. Hindu thought, so deeply focused on the Oneness of the One, on the kevalin in his kevalatva, cannot be sublimated into Trinitarian thought without a crucifying dark night of the soul. It has to undergo a noetic metamorphosis, a passion of the spirit.19
Yet, he believed that at the depth of the mystical experience the two could meet and he worked for the reconciliation of the two traditions.
His contemplative theology and his life focused on the Trinity. He writes: 'It is because of the mystery of the Trinity - Alpha and Omega -that I am a Christian.'20 The Saccidananda Ashram was the expression of Monchanin's relentless search for the Absolute. He believed that
7 Wilfred, Beyond Settled Foundations, p. 40. 18 Teasdale, Toward a Christian Vedanta, p. 29.
Christianity could strike roots in India only if it met the innermost soul of India in the mystery of interiority, mysticism and contemplation.
The object of the contemplation where both Christianity and Hinduism can meet is the mystery of God as Trinity. He proceeds from the events of the incarnation, death and resurrection, and concentrates on the Triune God, the fulfilment of the Hindu experience of God as Saccidananda.21 Christian faith, on the other hand, must rethink the understanding of person and creation in line with the Hindu experience of Saccidananda. Trinity, as opposed to the individualism suggested by person, is a being for the other. A sannyasi should transcend concepts and concentrate on God the Father as Sat, on the Son as Cit and on the Holy Spirit as Ananda. Such a vision leads him to qualify India as 'the Land of the Trinity'.
Abhishiktananda (1910—73): meeting the Mystery at the cave of the heart Dom Henri Le Saux, a French Benedictine, came to India in 1948, led by the desire to integrate the Indian contemplative tradition into the Christian monastic ideal as a meeting point of Christianity and the eastern religions. For this he joined hands with Abbé Monchanin in founding the Saccidananda Ashram and adopted the much-researched name Abhishiktananda (joy in the anointed one; that is, Jesus Christ). He was of the view that the western intellectual formulations of Christianity could not adequately express the spiritual reality of the Christian faith; for this we have to turn to the Upanishads which offer experience based on the spirituality of wholeness.
Abhishiktananda, convinced as he was that for a meaningful dialogue with India the church has to enter into its mystical traditions, develops his theology based on this mystical dimension. He became the first Catholic priest to sit at the feet of Hindu Gurus when he made himself a disciple of Sri Ramana Maharsi and Swami Gnanananda, who introduced him to the Hindu contemplative tradition.22 At their feet he learnt what it means to enter into the cave of one's heart.
He holds that the great primitive Upanishads, like the Chandogya and the Brihadaranyaka, are incomparable witnesses to the awakening of the soul to the Mystery of being and of the self, and these earliest formulations of that experience have never been surpassed.23 Hence, he starts from the
22 Wilfred, Beyond Settled Foundations, p. 50.
Swami Abhishiktananda, Guru and Disciple (London: SPCK, 1974), p. 87.
Swami Abhishiktananda, Hindu-Christian Meeting Point (Bangalore: CISRS, 1969), p. 51.
Upanishadic relationship of the Atman and Brahman, which for him ensures a solid foundation for the Christian encounter with traditional Indian thought. The Christian turns to Vedanta, according to Abhishiktananda, as an encounter between the Word of God communicated by means of speech and thought on the one hand, and on the other, as an inner experience springing from those levels of the Spirit that transcend words and concepts.24 Hence it is only in the highest experience of the Spirit that the Christian can come to terms with and crown the Vedantic experience. While in the Bible God's inaccessibility is symbolized by turning to heaven (Our Father who art in Heaven, Matt. 6:9, RSV), the Indian tradition expresses the same by emphasizing the need to enter ever deeper within (Kaivalya Up. 1.3).
According to Abhishiktananda, the Johannine prologue, through its identifications and its deeper penetration into the Mystery of God, recalls the Upanishadic experience. Abhishiktananda shows how John, as in the case of the Upanishads, starting from God and proceeding to the lowest level of the creature, discovers the presence of the Mystery of God in each stage.25
John, using the Greek concept of the Logos, the principle of order and continuity, presents the Word as God. Further, Logos-God-Life-Light is identified with the man born on earth. This way, all that was said in the Upanishads is in reality said of Christ. Hence, in John we have not only the Upanishadic method, but also the fundamental themes contained therein.
The 'I am' statements in John remind us of the Upanishadic maha-vakyas (great sayings) such as 'I am Brahman'. Jesus simply identifies 'I' with being. Here we are not using the Bible to understand the Indian scriptures, but our knowledge of the Indian texts enables us to interpret the Bible. We come across the reciprocity and communion of love which is the very foundation of the unity and non-duality of being. Based on Matthew 11:25, 'No one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him', Abhishiktananda believes that the knowledge in which the Father begets the Son and in which the Son receives existence from the Father is the 'revelation' of God within himself which the Son came to make known to the world, inviting whoever 'receives' this revelation to share in his own divine sonship (John 1:12; 18).26 As the Father and Son are one, so the Son and his own are one. Ultimately, in him, they are one with God. Similarly, the Father has given the Father's glory to the Son
4 Abhishiktananda, Saccidananda, p. 11. 25 26
Abhishiktananda, Hindu-Christian Meeting Point, p. 86. 2 Ibid., p. 94.
from the beginning (John 17:5) and it is given to them as well. Just as there is only one glory, there is only one life; the life that was in the bosom of the Father from the beginning (John 1:4). Through other concepts like joy (John 17:13), name (17:26) and love (John 17:23), Abhishiktananda concludes that just as in the inner silence the sages of India hear the primordial OM, the murmur of Sat-cid-ananda, so in the depths of the silence of the Spirit, springing up from the Word, the Christian hears deep within his or her own soul the echo of the same Sat-cid-ananda 2
One who has never experienced the non-duality of being cannot understand the Mystery of God manifested in Jesus Christ. As long as we look upon God or Jesus Christ as another, we cannot grasp what God is or what we are. For Abhishiktananda 'the Ultimate Mystery lies at the very heart of non-duality. The Spirit of unity alone silently teaches that essential reciprocal Gaze of Love in the depths of Being of which all earthly ''otherness'' is simply a sign.'28
The Christian knows how God is in all things; and in order to meet God one has to plunge deep within oneself and within all things in pursuit of his final secret. But in this search the soul finds that every atom of it is ablaze with the glory of God and the 'I' and the 'Thou' disappears like a person shipwrecked in a high sea, tossed from wave to wave that sweeps him away. Abhishiktananda adds, 'Soon there will no longer be any I to be conscious of any experience whatever, still less to be aware that all possible experiences are now finished.'29 Just as it is only at the very heart of Being that the loneliness of the Monad can transcend, so also it is only in the heart of God that the antinomy of created existence can and must be resolved. 'In the end', he points out, 'it is in the mystery of the essential koinonia of the divine Being that man can rediscover himself as simultaneously one with God and yet present to him.'30 The Christian jnani knows in truth that in the Mystery of God, at the very heart of Being, the Son and the Spirit proceed from the Father, alike in the non-duality (advaita) of nature and in the threefold communion (koinonia) of Persons. The Vedanta experience of Self leads to the Trinitarian experience of Saccidananda. However, the Christian experience of Saccidananda transcends that of Hinduism. Whereas in Hindu understanding everything stops with Being, the indivisible and attributeless Brahman (Mundaka Up. 2.2.11), the Christian passes on to the communion in love, within the indivisibility of unity of being. However, it is a mystery of faith.3I
Abhishiktananda, Saccidananda, p. 64. 30 Ibid, p. 104. 31 Ibid., p. 198.
Abhishiktananda rightly holds that though there are several texts in the Hindu scriptures articulating the Vedantic experience, it is in the lives of saints like Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Gnanananda that we encounter it concretely.32 The whole Indian spirituality is shaped on the basis of sages' intuition of the Self within, the call of which can be heard only from within. It is the realization that who one is does not depend on the changing external circumstances of bodily and mental existence, but is at the kernel of one's consciousness and cannot be identified with any external circumstance.
Christianity, with its experience of the Spirit, can accept what is essential in the Advaitic experience and penetrate to its very heart. In the process it may find itself anew 'precisely in those ultimate depths of the Spirit to which advaita recalls it', Abhishiktananda insists.33 He goes on to say that, whether we like it or not, we are faced with the fact of India's religion and spiritual experience and we are challenged to define our faith and present it in the presence of this experience. It is in this spirit that Abhishiktananda and others have attempted to define the Christian experience of the Mystery from the Indian perspective.
Likewise, he points out, Christianity has a universal definitive service of manifesting God's love made present in Jesus Christ.34 To do this it will have to integrate whatever is true and good, wherever it is found, to itself. If Christianity is incapable of assimilating the spiritual traditions of India, it will cease to be an agent of universal service, in so far as the truth of the Vedanta in itself is unassailable.
As Gispert-Sauch shows, one of Abhishiktananda's concerns is to go beyond (or below) the namarupa (world of multiplicity) to Reality itself.35 In the spirit of the Upanishadic tradition, he had a distrust of all mental forms, which he considered as belonging to the realm of maya, entering the realm of the Real. Towards the end of his life he acknowledges the relative value of the realm of vyavaharika (world of senses), which loses its significance when the Absolute Truth (paramartha) dawns in the heart of the world of multiplicity and history. The vyavaharika is left behind when theparamartha dawns, as one leaves behind the boat that one has used to cross the river.
What about the Christian faith - does it not belong to the vyavaharika? For Abhishiktananda, though much of the Christian faith was part of the vyavaharika, the deepest Mystery of Jesus who said, I AM, the pure being
G. Gispert-Sauch, 'Christ and the Indian Mystical Tradition' in J. Mattam and K. C. Marak (eds.), Blossoms From the East: Contribution of the Indian Church to World Mission (Mumbai:
of non-duality, is interiorized and is seen as one with the Godhead. He writes in his diary on 28 May 1972, about a year before his death:
Saving mystery can only emerge from the cave, from the depth of consciousness. 'Christianity believes that salvation comes from outside, through thoughts, rites, ''sacraments''. The level of namarupa.' But actually, in truth, Christianity is first of all Upanishad, correlation, not direct teaching. Direct teaching only gives namarupas. Correlation causes the spark of experience to flash, that alone gives fulfilment .. . The pure act of love or service, that is what awakens one to oneself. That is what awakens one to God, not to the God of namarupas but to God in himself! It is on this inner experience that all real religion should be based, not on ideas that come and are passed on to us from outside.36
What is happening in Jesus the Incarnate One is his awakening to the Father's intimate presence in him. This Jesus Christ is the Satpurusha in whose awakening the awakening of all are included. Just a few months before his death he writes: 'There is in truth only one act by which Jesus - every human being - goes to the Father (to use biblical terminology): it is the act of awakening [italics added]. As soon as you awake, on account of the essential connectedness of all human beings, you awake with, on behalf of all.'37 The Paschal Mystery is an impressive symbol of the awakening of Human Being to himself or herself.
In short, Abhishiktananda's understanding of the Ultimate Mystery evolves out of his grasp of the Upanishadic traditions as well as his Christian Faith.
A new vision of reality: Bede Griffiths (1906—93)
Bede Griffiths, a British Benedictine with an Anglican background, who came to India in 1955, carried forward the tradition Abbé Monchanin and Abhishiktananda left behind. As can be gleaned from his autobiography, from childhood he was blessed with a mystical sense and a spirit of contemplation that generated in him a regard for cosmic revelation.38 His exposure to Hindu and Buddhist mysticism convinced him of the need to develop a valid and creative synthesis of the inner encounter of Christianity and Hinduism, relating the Oriental tradition to Christianity.39
He was influenced also by modern science, especially Fritjof Capra, David Bohm, Ilya Prigogine and others. He was attracted by the scientists' advocating a cosmic whole, as the vedic revelation sees it.4°
Bede Griffiths, The Golden String: An Autobiography (Springfield: Templegate, 198°), p. 1°.
Bede Griffiths, A New Vision of Reality: Western Science, Eastern Mysticism and Christian Faith (London: Collins, 1989), p. 27.
Hence he asserts:
The one divine Mystery is beyond word and thought, reveals itself in different ways in each religious tradition. Each religion manifests the one Reality, the one Truth, under different symbols, a symbol being defined [as] a sign in which the reality is really present. In this sense it is true to say that Jesus Christ is a symbol of God.41
Beyond the physical world of differences there is a deeper dimension, the world of the transcendent. Bede Griffiths writes:
This we find, in the great revelations. There what is revealed is not merely the physical or the psychological or psychic world but rather there takes place an intuitive insight into the ultimate, the transcendent. All the great revelations are, as it were messages from that transcendent world .. . transcendent reality.42
This revelation he describes in terms of the myths understood as the mystical. All religions have their origin in some sort of mystical experi-ence.43 This experience as such is incommunicable, though the religions do communicate it through myths and symbols. Hence he describes myth as 'the symbolic expression of the one Reality experienced as a living unity in an undivided consciousness'.44 In fact, even the biblical books, according to him, gain their meaning from the mythical elements they contain.45 It is the myth that relates the events contained in the Christian Bible to the eternal drama of human salvation.
In the Christian tradition this One Reality is known as the Father, the Source of the Godhead. The Father signifies the Absolute from which every thing originates. Griffiths writes:
The understanding is that from this ground, from this source, there springs a Word, a wisdom, an image of the Godhead, and that is this cosmic Person, who reveals the Father, the Source. In that cosmic Person, in the Word or Son, all the archetypes of all created beings are contained. The archetype of every being in the universe is contained eternally in the Word, in the Godhead.46
His Word, his image, the Cosmic Person, Jesus Christ reveals the Father, the source. In the Son all created universe is contained as the archetype, unfolded.
Bede Griffiths, 'Reflections and Prospects' in Michael von Bruck (ed.), Emerging Consciousness for a New Humankind (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 1985), pp. 123—4, cited by Teasdale,
42 Toward a Christian Vedanta, p. 73.
43 Griffiths, A New Vision of Reality, p. 267.
44 Bede Griffiths, The Marriage of East and West (Springfield: Templegate, 1983), pp. 174—5.
46 Bede Griffiths, Return to the Centre (Springfield: Templegate, 1982), p. 79. Griffiths, A New Vision of Reality, p. 269.
As the Word/Son is the source of all forms in creation, so the Spirit is the source of all energy. 'It is the uncreated energy', Griffiths says, 'which flows forth eternally from the Godhead and which then brings into being the energies of matter and of nature.'47 Thus, the universe is an overflow of the energy of the spirit, the energy of love. In other words, the Spirit is the love-energy of God. God calls into being the whole creation to manifest God's self, to manifest God's love and to bring forth that love in the creation. The Spirit flows out in this love to effect the creation and the Word organizes all those energies of matter and creation gradually bringing it back to its source in the cosmic Person, Purusha. The Spirit is active throughout history, and at work in all religions. As part of this cosmic process at times certain centres, like Israel, are formed, in and through which the cosmic process of redemption is consummated. Through Israel, the organizing power of the universe, the archetypal man, Jesus, manifests to overcome the power of sin and death. Through his resurrection the redemptive power of the Spirit is poured out to the world. The Spirit's coming on the church is part of that outpouring, though the Spirit is everywhere and not limited to the church.
The church is the centre for the regeneration of humankind, the Spirit rebuilding humans into the likeness of Christ and uniting all in the love of the Father from which everything comes. So the universe and humanity return to the divine unity and each element and each person discovers its original archetype. So he writes: 'In love the whole universe is pouring out and that love is drawing it all back to itself.'48 All are reintegrated into the one. All are held together in Christ, the supreme Person, and all become persons in the Person. However, it is not a matter of dissolving into the One. As Hinduism says, rather it is a reintegration into the One in total unity. It is an eternal and infinite reality, and all of us, even now, are interwoven and interpenetrating in that one reality. Yet, Bede Griffiths reminds us:
The Absolute itself is beyond all human comprehension and we use words, images and concepts taken from everyday finite experience in order to direct our mind, our will and our heart towards the Infinite and to allow that Infinite to enter into our lives and transform them.49
Bede Griffith's contemplative theology springs from his spirituality, mystical experience and reading and reflection on the sacred texts of eastern religions and the Bible. Thus, it can be qualified as 'theological
47 Ibid., p. 270. 48 Ibid., p. 273. 49 Ibid., p. 275.
epistemology'50 paving the way for a new world order through religions renewing themselves in relation to one another.
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