Bede Griffiths was a serious student of religions and of Hinduism and Christianity in particular.  By living in a Hindu culture he immersed himself in many ways (including the clothes he wore) into that culture. 

“Портрет о. Беды Гриффитса ” (Father Bede Griffiths, OSB CAM) Image by Maria Zakharova. Wikimedia Commons.

A list of the titles of just some of his books alone gives an outline of his interest in Deep Ecumenism:

River of Compassion: A Christian Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita

Christ in India: Essays towards a Hindu-Christian Dialogue

Return to the Center

The Golden Spring (an autobiography)

The Cosmic Revelation: The Hindu Way to God

The Marriage of East and West (Forward by the Dalai Lama)

One of his important teachings about religion is the following statement about the central role that mysticism plays in all religions:

All religion derives from a mystical experience, transcending thought, and seeks to express this experience, to give it form, in language, ritual, and social organization.

Demeter Mourning Persephone: the goddess of grain, bereft, removes the grace of fruition from the Earth, bringing the cold and death of winter. Painting by Evelyn de Morgan, 1906, on Wikimedia Commons.

Myth is not something negative or inferior to rational thought and fact-finding.  Rather,

Myth is the language of primitive religion: it is the poetic expression of a mystical experience. Myths can only be understood as poetry. They spring from the depths where man encounters the ultimate mystery of existence and interprets it in poetic form.

If this is true, then does it not follow that to renew religion is to return to mystical experience and to alter forms of language, ritual and social organization accordingly? To invite the poetry out of people’s hearts and the poet into the heart of religious education?

So often religion, instead of renewing itself this way, defensively re-entrenches its social organization, makes walls of orthodoxy ever thicker, deepens slight differences into moats. Meanwhile, poetry withers, becomes ever distant.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, p. 260.

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

Banner Image: The Hindu god/dess Ardhanarishvara, Elephanta cave (Mumbai, India). Ardhanarishvara represents the cosmic integration of of masculine and feminine energies, merging Shakti and Shiva, the female and male aspects of the Divine as the source of all creation. Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Fr. Bede that all religion derives from a mystical experience?  Is there any way to revitalize healthy religion or spirituality except through mystical experience?  Surely this is what Carl Jung meant when he said that “only the mystic brings creativity to religion itself.”

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17 thoughts on “The Deep Ecumenism of Bede Griffiths”

  1. Avatar

    I am looking forward to future DM’s, regarding this topic of discussion, that being the connections between myth, spirituality, intuitive wisdom and the feminine, as well as the link to ethics, and the evolution of consciousness.

    In my experience, within the Christian faith, myth has been buried beneath literal and historical interpretations, expressed as absolute truths.
    Myth and mysticism has been and continues to be communicated as a form of heresy, largely in part due to the oppression and suppression of the Divine Feminine as well as the Universal Mother’s wisdom pathways of intuition and imagination.

    Personally, this oppression and suppression has resulted in much wounding on a deep spiritual and soul level, which many like myself are in need of being healed of… through uncovering what has been buried and hidden for centuries.

    In all honesty, it’s a bit scarey, stepping into this unknown territory, into the depths of this darkness, and I am grateful for the mentoring and companionship of others whom are venturing into this landscape of myth, mysticism, intuition, and imagination, seeking to recover the wisdom ways of the Divine Feminine and all that She so desires to awaken within our conscious awareness of Her presence and essence, and Her many gifts and blessings offered to assist us through these very troubling and challenging times.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, You write that in your experience “within the Christian faith, myth has been buried beneath literal and historical interpretations, expressed as absolute truths.” That is very true, especially in fundamentalist and conservative circles where they continue to interpret scripture in a literal way. More than this, in some mainline churches, “Myth and mysticism has been and continues to be communicated as a form of heresy.” In all of this we agree, but our concern for you, and others like you is your comment: “In all honesty, it’s a bit scary, stepping into this unknown territory, into the depths of this darkness,” but then you say that you are “grateful for the mentoring and companionship of others whom are venturing into this landscape of myth, mysticism, intuition, and imagination”–and that is exactly why we have this site for the Daily Meditations–it is or can be a gathering place of fellow travelers upon this path that Eckhart said was good and familiar…

      1. Avatar

        Richard, I appreciate your responses to my comments. This path of creation spirituality may be very familiar to you as you have been immersed in this for quite sometime. I on the other hand am not as far along in this pathway, so my comment, which caused you concern, is me simply communicating my vulnerability and yes at times my fears in trusting where Spirit is leading me. I have not had the same priveledges and community learning opportunities that you and others have had, regarding creation spirituality within inparticular the Christian faith.
        I did experience this within my 10 year apprenticeship in Native Spirituality.

        Most of what I have learnt regarding creation spirituality and the path of the mystics in the Christian faith has been from diligently seeking and searching on my own, being mentored mainly through books. This forum of the DM’s has really been the first opportunity I have had in dialoguing with others about all of this, with the exception of conversations with my mother, whom like you has had a much broader education within her Christian spiritual formation.

  2. Avatar

    The Gale Encyclopedia of Relgion, defines myth as an expression of the sacred in words, through analogies, parables, metaphors and story-telling; which can be expressed also through ritual, ceremony and spiritual practices; which reveals realities and events from the origin and nature of the world, that remains valid as the basis and purpose of all there is.

    Consequently, myths function as a model for human activity, society, wisdom and knowledge. The purpose of myth is to be a timeless paradigm of a human action, that no matter how unrealistic it may be; can still guide humanity to that which is Good, Beautiful, and True; by illuminating life’s deeper meanings.

    In the following days DM, is this definition of myth appropriate to hold within one’s understanding or is there another definition that you present within creation spirituality that is important for us to understand, as we continue with these discussions?

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, As far as I am concerned, the definition of myth that you have shared with us from “The Gale Encyclopedia” is “appropriate to hold within one’s understanding…” But take for example creation myths. In creation spirituality we refer to the creation myths as creation storIES, and the New Cosmology that we have today, is just the most recent creation story that humans have had. Not long ago I posted on my Facebook site which is called, “Spiritwind,” a picture of the Egyptian goddess Nut, with her body stretched above the earth with the stars running through her body (I hope you are familiar with this image). So I posted Nut and underneath her, I posted the Milky Way galaxy which stretched the same way over the earth–two different creation stories that were/are meaningful in the times that they were in force, and for the Egyptians, the story of Nut was their “science” and “cosmology.”

  3. Avatar

    I think there are at least four causes of the Western Christian church’s retreat from mysticism:
    First, its fear of “heresy” and its subsequent fanatic decision to “nail down” EVERYTHING into an intellectual, officially-approved framework of theology, a safe box to contain and limit the original intuitions, myths, and mystical experiences. Second, the arrogance of the Age of “Enlightenment” which gleefully discarded old forms of wisdom for “new and improved” rational analysis and science. Third, the “scientific analysis” of “religious experiences” led to them being perceived as MERELY “cognitive events.” Fourth, the study of schizophrenia, bipolar mania, epilepsy and hypnosis, and the categorization of their perceptions on a scale of “degree of mental illness” has led to a pervasive fear of ALL mystical experiences as delusional expressions of a mental illness.
    Additionally, many of the Protestant churches stampeded away from “anything Catholic,” which led them to bury mysticism, pretending it doesn’t exist.
    The erasure of mysticism is a hypocritical act of cowardice. It’s also a grievous destruction of the deeper layers of meaning and experience that were originally available from mystical teachings, myths and poetry in the Bible, replacing it with the “surface forms” of the words, such as taking it ONLY as history and morality lessons. On top of that, it actively undermines the training of people in how to access and integrate these deeper layers of wisdom from their church and its sacred literature. They offer a shallow, “safe for the peasants” version, and keep all that “dangerous stuff” locked away. And women have been especially locked out the mystical traditions. Women have often been barred from being trained in mysticism, and that second-class citizen status was still pervasive when I was in high school and attended a Lutheran church. They seemed to think that women were only capable of shallow “silly little thoughts” and couldn’t handle the “really big, important, deep stuff.” But I needed something much deeper than what they condescended to give me. I needed bread and they gave me rocks. I drifted away from the church because of that. But God, in His/Her immense kindness and generosity, proceeded to give me a front row seat in Theology 101, an astonishing mystical experience. But I didn’t know anything about mysticism. I didn’t know it was a “mystical experience.” I had to slowly, haphazardly stumble my way into learning about mysticism and had to figure out for myself how to integrate it. The church was no help in this. It failed.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Melinda, Let me summarize what you have said in your comment. After saying, “I think there are at least four causes of the Western Christian church’s retreat from mysticism” you list the following: First, its fear of “heresy;” Second, the arrogance of the Age of “Enlightenment;” Third, the “scientific analysis” of “religious experiences,” and Fourth, the study of “mental illness” has led to a fear of ALL mystical experiences as delusional expressions of a mental illness. And besides my summary I might add, you are right in the Protestant fear of mysticism, because most of the mystics they have heard of were Catholic–and you know how Protestants are with Catholicism… And you are also right in your assessment of how girls and women are treated differently than boys and men, because of men’s negative assessment of women’s ability to grasp “deep thoughts” which is the height of arrogance and misogyny!

    2. Avatar

      Melinda, I appreciate the honesty of your comments, and I totally relate, especially concerning what you communicated about stumbling on your own, trying to integrate your own mystical experiences from a woman’s perspective. What you and I feel that we both spoke of today is the collective deep soul wounding that many have experienced for centuries from the Church and its own failure of integration on many levels, which has left many fragmented.

    3. Avatar

      Melinda, your analysis of four causes of the Western Christian church’s retreat from mysticism, seems absolutely accurate to me. Thank you for your wise analysis of the illness and your perfect way of explaining it. May I quote you, and if so, may I use your name? I can’t imagine your dissection being worded better. My churches have always been Protestant. But since I was introduced to and have studied Creation Spirituality with Matthew, Richard Rohr, and through books by other teachers, I have found myself becoming more Catholic, albeit through the lens of deep ecumenism for the very reasons you present. Thank you so much for your words.

  4. Avatar

    I have always said that one of the problems that literalist church-goers have in interpreting scripture is that they don’t seem to understand that there are different genres in the Bible. These folks study genres in elementary and high school, but they can’t seem to understand that the compendium of the Bible includes different genres. The Bible’s genres include mythology, poetry, parables, journalism, correspondence, allegory, apologue, and history (or historical fiction) and sometimes combinations of the various genres. Seeing all the disparate genres as one kind of literature, leads to, as Melinda says, an “undermining” of religious thought. It disallows people access to and integration of the “deeper layers of wisdom from their church and its sacred literature.” Thank you, Melinda.

  5. Avatar

    Appreciate all the thoughtful contributions many of you make in this Comments section! Too busy to respond individually to most of them however; sorry about that. Wonderful summary by Melinda today, for example, about the tough road to mysticism in the West especially during the modern era. Consider too what Dorothee Soelle says about mysticism–that it deconstructs masculine hierarchy and patriarchy–this too is part of keeping women (and men) ignorant of mysticism. The marvelous contributions of Jeanette Metler and Patrick Watters and others in these DM’s on a regular basis are much appreciated also.

  6. Avatar

    The “hidden heresy” which the Church declared war on, from a very early date, was that women’s souls were equal to men’s (egalitarian nature of all souls), even though Jesus taught that even the lowliest outcasts were blessed. When authoritarian religions were allowed to frame the mystical experience, it suited them to ignore the radical, egalitarian implications of the revelation.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Melinda, the way the Church has dealt with women in general has been a “hidden heresy” of which Matthew has worked tirelessly as a feminist to correct. That is why he spends so much time speaking about the Divine Feminine. And your right, “Jesus taught that even the lowliest outcasts were blessed.” In this you ar3e right again for Matthew also speaks of the “anawim”–the voiceless ones for whom we must speak up for…

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