Deep Ecumenism: Bede Griffiths on the Wisdom of Hinduism

In the shadow of COP26 we are meditating on the powerful role that Deep Ecumenism can and must play in the future of the planet.  To get the most out of individual humans and our diverse communities, we must include the spiritual dimension.  That is where the fire of excitement and passion, sacrifice and visions, is lit and stays lit.  

Father Bede Griffiths envisioned and Brother Wayne Teasdale inspires the modern movement toward lay monastic communities. Photo by Newmonastic on Wikimedia Commons

We have been focusing lately on Anika Coomeraswamy and Meister Eckhart, the synergy of a Hindu and cultural scholar of the 20th century and a great Christian mystic of the 13th and 14th century.

Father Bede Griffiths was a 20th century Benedictine monk who oversaw a Christian ashram in southern India for over 50 years.  He was a pioneer in deep ecumenism and wrote many excellent books on Hinduism and Christianity.  He was an authentic monk and very holy man who graduated from Oxford University as a young man and as an atheist but on reading Thomas Aquinas was smitten by the Christian tradition.  C. S. Lewis became his mentor into Christianity.  

“As one with the Earth, we are never lost.” Los Algorrobos, Panama. Photo by Ian on Unsplash.

Consider his learning about the sacredness of nature from living in India:

Perhaps this is the deepest impression left by life in India, the sense of the sacred as something pervading the whole order of nature. Every hill and tree and river is holy, and the simplest human acts of eating and drinking, still more of birth and marriage, have all retained their sacred character.  

How does this contrast with the West? 

In the West everything has become “profane”; it has been deliberately emptied of all religious meaning. . . . It is there that the West needs to learn from the East the sense of the “holy,” of a transcendent mystery which is immanent in everything and which gives an ultimate meaning to life. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, p. 251.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image:  Fr. Bede Griffith (second from left) leading a retreat in Denmark circa June 1984. Photo originally posted to Flickr by Dialogcentret billedarkiv.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree that the West has lost “its sense of the ‘holy’” and we can recover it through other cultures?

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12 thoughts on “Deep Ecumenism: Bede Griffiths on the Wisdom of Hinduism”

  1. Avatar

    Receiving your meditations on a daily basis is consolidating the work I have been striving to do all my life (76 years). Until recently I could not hold the ‘remembering’ of the Sacred for more than a few minutes at a time but now, with the daily reminders my life is transforming into a constant search for ‘Connections to the Other’.
    Jan Ellan Bows with gratitude.

    By the way… a new documentary is being shown on BBC called ‘Scotland’s Sacred Islands’ ,,, a Pilgrimage journey by Ben Fogle who covers 1000 miles and 20 islands retracing the steps of early Christianity through the Celtic origins and the story of St. Columbus. It is another example of how some people are searching and not quite understanding why.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jan, Thank you for your comment. “Remembering” the Sacred or the Divine is a spiritual practice that goes back to Jesus’ “Do this in remembrance of me,” to Brother Lawrence’s PRACTICING THE PRESENCE OF GOD, and from a deep ecumenical perspective there is the “Zikr” in Islam, or the practice of remembering God through chanting the 99 names of God–See Matthew’s book, NAMING THE UNNAMEABLE: 89 WONDERFUL AND USEFUL NAMES FOR GOD… INCLUDIING THE UNNABEABLE GOD. And thank you for telling us about your documentary. The more we can know about Celtic Christianity, I feel, the better!

  2. Avatar

    Just before reading today’s DM and hearing Matthew’s mention of Rabbi Abraham Heschel I read Judy Cannato’s quote from Heschel in her book Radical Amazement [2006]:
    “Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.” The mystics east and west have been weaving the threads of Ultimate Reality into a ‘seamless garment’ for every being emerging from the womb of the ‘Great Mother’. The male mystics are brothers of the sacred masculine fulfilling their role as protectors of all Life – fully human/fully divine. This is a timely urgent message for participants in COP26.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, Judy Cannato’s quote from Heschel (one of Matthew’s heroes) is a perfect definition of the Via Positiva–Creation Spirituality’s path of awe and wonder at the universe and all creation. And thank you for the nod to the “male mystic brothers of the sacred masculine.”

  3. Avatar

    Forgive my lack of knowledge, but how has India become one of the largest emitters of carbon, and known for it’s polluted water and air- tho its sense of the sacred is part of the primary culture?

    Could it be that the sense of the sacred in all things is not going to save us from the consequences of global overshoot (over-population, poverty caused by extractive economies, etc)?

    But instead we are asked to stand in sacred witnessing, actively loving God and our Neighbor, through whatever may come?

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Susan, I hear your doubt and frustration with countries which seem to be spiritual and yet pollute. That would have to go for this “Christian Nation” (at least that is what “they” say) for we too are guilty of polluting. I was inspired to write a book titled, LITURGIES OF THE EARTH which proposed an alternative holy year based on the earth’s changing seasons–with eight liturgies to be used in churches over the course of the year. I felt that if people would have instilled in them a sense of the sacredness of the earth, they would quit polluting it, realizing that they were doing this to their Mother–this was in response to Matthew’s book, THE COMING OF THE COMSIC CHRIST where he gave so many staggering statistics of environmental destruction. but I think that how you end your comment is what should be our response: “we are asked to stand in sacred witnessing, actively loving God and our Neighbor, through whatever may come.”

  4. Avatar

    The meditations about relations of other religions and religion leaders help me with my United Religions Initiative work and my Third Order Franciscan TSSF work. These meditations expand my thinking about Peace with Earth for Peace on Earth in myriad ways. They also help me enter into silent time of walking or sitting. When walking I can better feel and know this sacred ground I walk upon with every step I take… blessed be what is!

  5. Avatar

    The question that keeps circling around is, how do we create a middle way language between the political/economical powers that be, and the sacred/spiritual? What common ground can we find, where we can really begin to relate?

    Spiritual lingo is often disregarded as unintelligent, inferior, as well as critisized and judged as non rational whooo whooo, by these political/economical powers. The use of any such words as sacred and spiritual often results in simply being tuned out, or being left out of the neccessary collaborative discussions altogether. Just talk to the Indigenious leaders whom have sort of participated, as much as they have been invited to, during the past 26 years of climate change talks and conferences.

    So how can we use a different language these one’s may be more receptive to hearing, while still communicating the essence of the sacred and the spiritual beyond the usual forms of expression? Is there such a thing as sacred politics and spiritual economics and what is the language of this? Perhaps this is simply hopeful questioning… however, if we can’t create some kind of common ground in our language, how will we ever be able to communicate and relate to one another, as we must during these challenging times.

    1. Avatar

      Great questions! Some succinct replies here. Science is a common language insofar as it brings awe alive and practical. Thus the work of people like Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme and Rupert Sheldrake and Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams to mention a few. Of course I try to incorporate a common language (including science) in my work including that on the Cosmic Christ, the Reinvention of Work and the A.W.E. project where the “10 C’s” name a value system that is not religion-based (since I used it for teaching inner city teen agers in public schools, one can’t use “religious” language as such. A kind of translation is needed.) AND, of course, art of all kinds–as told in the beautiful story above about the Canadian man who suffered a stroke–is a bridge language to all peoples. Ritual too, which is the art of art forms, the gathering of many art forms. Our Cosmic Mass is that kind of experience. And of course common suffering–like climate change brings about and extinction meditation reminds us–is a very common denominator. Grief applies to all humans. All beings suffer. Praise and Grief are common languages. “Walk your walk of lament on a path of praise.” (Rilke)

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I hear what you are saying when you say, “Spiritual lingo is often disregarded as unintelligent, inferior, as well as criticized and judged as non rational whooo whooo, by these political/economical powers. The use of any such words as sacred and spiritual often results in simply being tuned out, or being left out of the necessary collaborative discussions altogether.” My own point of view here is that we can’t solve this problem that has been here since the Enlightenment period when science began to take center stage. Science does deem the sacred as unscientific, there is nothing, from a scientific point of view that makes the earth or anything else sacred–and so your are right to a certain degree. BUT their judgments are usually based on the judgments of fundamentalist thinking. As I look at the respect that has been given to Pope Francis in the area of climate change, and know that Creation Spirituality is a “science-friendly form of spirituality”–I think we can use the right language according to the situation. I talk of the sacred with spiritual people, but I talk science with scientists…

  6. Avatar

    I think it is interesting to learn that C. S. Lewis was Bede’s mentor in leading him from Atheism to Christianity. J. R.R. Tolkien gave this gift to Lewis, who had been an atheist since childhood. Passing on the gift?

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