SAT CHIT ANAND
FR BEDE GRIFFITHS, SACCIDANANDA ASHRAM
Retreat December 2010 / January 2011
O God, you are my God, for you I long,
For you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
Like a dry weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
To see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life,
My lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
In your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
My mouth shall praise you with joy.
Among the gifts given by God to India, the greatest is seen to be that of interiority, the awareness of the presence of God dwelling in the heart of every human person and of every creature, which is fostered by prayer and meditation, by contemplative silence, and the practice of yoga and sannyasa. The aim of Saccidananda Ashram is to bring into Christian life the riches of Indian spirituality, to share in that profound experience of God which originated in the Vedas, was developed in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita, and has come down to us today through a continual succession of sages and holy men and women.
Saccidananda Ashram of the Holy Trinity is a Christian-Hindu Ashram. The name “Saccidananda” means Being-Consciousness-Bliss, and is a Hindu term for the Godhead and a symbol of the three persons of the Christian Trinity. The name of the Ashram was chosen to show its connection with the Hindu search for God, the quest of the Absolute, which has inspired monastic life in India from the earliest times, and to connect this quest to the Christian experience of God in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
The Ashram was founded by two French fathers, Jules Monchanin and Henri Le Saux who took the Indian name of Abhishiktananda (the bliss of Christ). In 1968, the Ashram was taken over by Fr Bede Griffiths, and in 1980 it became part of the Camaldolese branch of the Benedictine Order. Fr Bede passed away in 1993, and when I visited the Ashram, his successor, a wonderful monk by the name of Brother Martin was Spiritual Director. He is a Benedictine monk of the Camaldolese branch. St Benedict is the father of Western monasticism. Benediction means blessing, and monk is ‘monos’ in Greek which means one – striving for oneness in love.
The aim of the Ashram is to establish a way of contemplative life, based alike on the traditions of Christian monasticism and Hindu sannyasa. There are two hours specially set apart for meditation – the hours of sunrise and sunset – which are traditional times for prayer and meditation in India. The community meets for prayer three times a day: morning, when the prayer is followed by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, midday and evening. Prayer time includes readings from the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita, together with psalms and Bible readings, Sanskrit and Tamil songs or bhajans. The universal message contained in all religions is emphasized: love and unity in God and the possibility to grow into that.
“In our search for God, God is searching for us. When we find God, God finds us. The Kingdom of God is the experience of finding God and being found by God.” [Br Martin]
The Ashram seeks to be a meeting place for Christians and Hindus and people of all religions or none, who are genuinely seeking God. What people need above everything, is the knowledge of God. The Ashram is therefore a place of prayer, where people can find God; where they can experience the reality of the presence of God in their lives and know that they were created not merely for this world but for eternal life.
The philosophy of Saccidananda was expressed by Father Bede as follows: “Meditation and leading people to an experience of God. The aim of all meditation is to pass beyond the limits of rational consciousness and awake to the indwelling presence of God. People are no longer satisfied with theories about God and want direct experience, through meditation or contemplative prayer, which leads to the one reality beyond all, and that is common to all religions.”
Meditating on him, uniting with him,
Becoming more and more like him,
One is freed at last from the worlds of illusion.
The eternal which resides in the Atman should be known.
Beyond this, there is nothing that needs to be known.
GOD IS LIGHT AND YOU ARE LIGHT
God is light and in him there is no darkness. Darkness is symbolic of ignorance and blindness: the darkness did not comprehend the light. Light is symbolic of salvation. You can see and find your way. In light, one is safe and warm, and there is life. Light is God’s illumination of the path: your words are a light to my path. Jesus is a light shining in darkness. He brings en-light-enment. The Upanishads pray: lead us from darkness to the light.
God is light and in him there is no darkness. God is fullness, absolute good – there is no evil or sin in God. When you have union with the absolute goodness of God, there is no sin and you manifest his goodness in your daily life. What you do for yourself you do for others as there is only one. In this kind of relationship there is no sin or darkness. If you act from a separate self, then there is sin. If there is union and oneness, there is no sin.
You are the light of the world. It is our duty to live as the light, to bring hope, peace, love into the world. Let us not look for somebody else to save the world. Bring light into the world and help to remove the darkness. You are the light of the world. Be that, and help manifest the Kingdom of God. Jesus said: I am the light of the world. You are the light of the world.
When Jesus discovered that the foundation of his being, God, was the light of the world, he also discovered that the foundation of every created being, which is God, is also the light of the world. Jesus did not say you must become the light of the world – he said you are (already) this, but you have lost this awareness, and I want you to discover it.
We are created in the image and likeness of God, which can’t be improved. It is already perfect. The deepest reality can’t be improved, but the expression thereof can be improved. Improvement relates to the manifestation. In Zen there is an expression: you are already perfect (in your Buddha / God nature) but there is room for improvement (in the expression / manifestation).
“One’s original state, the real ‘I’, which is the image and likeness of God in every human being, is a gift God gives to each one of us from all eternity. That is what God has created and what God has created he has already saved. This is the hidden treasure, the precious pearl, buried in the heart of every man and woman. The ego is not the creation of God; it is the creation of the human mind through ignorance, and it is bondage from which the human mind has to liberate itself so that it can discover the truth and the grace of God.” [Br Martin]
MADE IN THE IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD
God created humanity in his own image and likeness. Our original self is the image and likeness of God. This means there is a transcendent aspect or mystery in every person. There is an ‘I AM’ which is without name, without form, naked and empty. This is the natural and essential aspect of every human being, on top of which lie the ‘acquired’ aspects of name, race, color, sex, personality and psychological disposition.
Everything that separates us from others is artificial and does not belong to the transcendental aspect of our being. They are what we have and not what we are. All our relationships with God, and with one another, are based on these immanent aspects, on names and forms. Human beings are not created to settle into names and forms. They are created to be on the path of discovering their transcendent aspect, which alone gives final fulfillment.
We have to die to all identities that separate us from one another and from the created world. We have to die continually within ourselves until we discover that we are united with every created being and with God, and always have been. “All religions have value and we are moving beyond them to realizing our essential oneness.” [Br Martin]
GOD IS THE FOUNDATION OF OUR BEING
God is everywhere, was everywhere. and will be everywhere. We are already in God. God is our Father, the foundation of our being. Jesus discovered that the foundation of his being was God, and that the foundation of every created being is God, and that the whole of creation is the manifestation of God.
“Jesus discovered that he had God as the foundation of his consciousness; he discovered that he was the manifestation of the transcendent mystery. The real ‘I’ is God, truth, light, life, the God of the Upanishads. The real ‘I’ is the light of the world, that is to say, God, and we have no existence outside of God. Jesus realized that his real self is God. He realized that his foundation is one with the Father, the source, the ground of the whole existence. This is just what the sages of the Upanishads had said centuries before.” [Br Martin]
“The whole of creation is the body and blood of God, the whole creation is the manifestation of God. God is the only reality and creation is the manifestation or solidification of this reality in space and time.” [Br Martin]
When we discover that God is the foundation of our being, we discover that God is the foundation of everyone and everything: “The internal journey is not an individual egotistical journey but a journey in which every creature participates because each one of us is connected to every other person and every creature. There is no individual discovery in relation to God; every discovery of God is universal.” [Br Martin]
I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their god, and they shall be my people … All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the Lord. [Jeremiah]
“God is the treasure hidden in the heart of every creature, and Jesus calls to every individual to dig and discover this infinite treasure, the Kingdom of God.” [Br Martin]
To know God is to have experiential knowledge of God. It can’t be intellectual understanding only. When you know God, there is no choice but to surrender to God and allow God to work through you. Discovering God always has consequences, and manifests the love of God in the love of neighbor. Only then can you say that God lives in you. The love and presence of God must permeate every aspect of your life before you can say that you are living in the light. Growing into the radical love of God and neighbor is the death of ego, and feeling the unity of all.
To know God is to be in union with God and to experience the mystery of his divine love. It is always springtime in the heart of a person who loves God. [Br Martin]
ETERNAL AND HISTORICAL
There are two aspects to Truth: the historical and the Eternal (also called the relative and the Ultimate). The historical is the God of history: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God of eternity = eternal Truth that is beyond time and space. Moses asked God: “Who are you?” God answered: “I am that I am.” The Eternal: I am who I am. This is the God of eternity, the God of the eternal now.
I AM is the universal I AM that is united to all. God is present within as the universal consciousness. God is presence, inner wisdom, freedom. Inner freedom of your true self is fulfillment. Time doesn’t add anything to it. Your true self doesn’t have origin in time or space. It is eternal and timeless and doesn’t belong to the process of evolution. It is the eternal I AM. You were there before creation began millions of years ago. You were already full, complete, whole, and nothing was needed. Evolution is not needed for your true self. The awakened consciousness is aware that I AM one with the Divine: I AM God; I AM the way, truth and life etc. At this level, you discover that only God exists. The whole creation is God manifesting himself.
Each one of us has two selves. The first is the phenomenal self, the ego, which has its origin in time and space. The second is the eternal self, which has its origin from above, from God. One is born of flesh and blood, the other is born of the spirit. To discover that ‘I am the son / daughter of God’ is to discover that eternal self which is in each one of us and which has its origin in God. It is the eternal self which says: ‘I am the image and likeness of God’, or ‘I am the son / daughter of God’, and it is even possible for this eternal self to enter the bosom of God and say: ‘I and God are one.’
You are the image and likeness of God which is changeless and eternal. Time has no power over it. You have to give up your finite ego self to gain eternal life. But you can joyfully give up your false self to gain your true self. We have eternal identity and relative identity. When we know our eternal identity, then the relative is not important. The problem is that we elevate the relative to the essential level.
Usually we live in the ego with its ambitions and goals, always striving towards becoming rather than just being. This is linked to time. Actions coming from ego are related to becoming. When we realize oneness, there are no personal goals, there is no becoming. This is linked to the eternal now, living in the present moment. There is an unfolding, which is not linked to time. This is where the action of God is found.
“Jesus is life, and life is movement. Life is moving towards the destiny of every person, a destiny in which our temporal state finds its final consummation with God. Human life is created to run towards God, to encounter its final death and to become one with God. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. [Jesus] Without the death of the false ‘I’ and the emergence of the real ‘I’ there can be no eternal life. To enter into eternal life one has to be ‘born from above’, that is, born of the spirit.” [Br Martin]
Mark 1:14-15: Time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news … Time has come to an end. The Kingdom of God is here and now. This is what Jesus said, but not what his disciples understood as they did not have the eastern understanding of the dimension beyond time. Eternal life exists in the present – the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. Jesus shows the way to find it. Awaken to the eternal and discover unity with God. He who knows, becomes immortal, beyond death – he enters into eternal life. This is the universal message of all religions.
OBLATE AND AFFILIATION
I have called you by name,
you are mine.
You are precious in my sight,
And I love you.
Bring my sons from far away,
And my daughters from the
end of the earth,
Everyone who is called by my name
Whom I created for my glory,
Whom I formed and made.
I became an oblate, which establishes a spiritual connection with Saccidananda Ashram. SAT CHIT ANAND is now affiliated to Saccidananda Ashram. We have truly become an interfaith spiritual retreat centre that is open to all religions. My oblate ceremony took place early on Sunday 02 January, which was also the Feast of Epiphany, a very auspicious day. The ceremony was conducted by Fr George (head priest) and Br Martin, and was held in Father Bede’s hut.
Fr George gave me an orange shawl – the color sanyassins and priests wear – and put it on me. Br Martin gave me a new name: LEELA ANANDA! My oblate name! I am very happy with it! It is very meaningful for me to retain Leela – because I am not discarding the past but adding something more. I am not discarding Buddhist philosophy, but I am adding God. I have found the love at the heart of the Trinity, and it is now expressed in my oblate name: LEELA ANANDA = the bliss of love xxx
The Lord says: I will lead you in the way you must go.