First Steps Part 2.
Montreal was in an upheaval which was known as the “quiet revolution”. Things were being shaken up, and the structure of social and political atmosphere in the Province was changing rapidly. The tables were overturned and the clergy losing very rapidly their prestige and control. The head of the Catholic Church at the time, Cardinal Leger, passed a law forbidding the clergy to walk in the streets and public places dressed in their clerical garb. They had to wear black suits and clerical collars. Some of the friars of the community left the Order. We were all affected in some way or another. I asked permission for a 2 year leave of absence. It was called an “ex-claustration” which gave me permission to live for a period of 2 years outside the cloister.
It was during those two years that I moved to Toronto to study and there I met a Buddhist teacher. I was renting a room in a small family of two kids. In the evenings I studied and very often the parents would ask me to kindly have an eye on the kids and to make sure the TV was off and they were sent to bed at a certain hour. They mentioned they had to attend lectures given by their teacher. I was curious as to what they were studying and finally on asking they said their teacher was a Buddhist monk they called the Bhikku. I was intrigued and one day I asked if I could attend a lecture and they were delighted to invite me on the following Saturday. This day the Bhikku was speaking about awareness and how we should be aware even of the simple things as to what we ate and how it affected us. I was studying about diets and so I was very keen on listening but his lecture led us beyond food and the taste to another dimension of awareness of who was being aware etc.
I remember leaving the lecture that afternoon and stepping out into the streets in Toronto and feeling as though something had shifted. things appeared different, for some reason and I liked how it felt. I then began going to hear him more often and introduced myself, and after some lectures, he began speaking of organising a retreat to India. I was encouraged to go. I got a temporary job and was well paid and was able to put aside enough money. It all seemed to arrive so magically and the day arrived when I was able with a student’s pass, to board a plane and fly to Bombay.
This pilgrimage in India is something I will have to develop in another essay. India was a most intriguing and different place than one could ever imagine. We travelled from Bombay by train to Delhi and from there by bus and jeep all the way up to Darjeeling, Dharmsala and Sikhim and Rumtek. Most of the time we stayed in Tibetan villages, in hostels and monasteries. The Bhikku had scouts who found us and gave instructions as to where the talks will be and he arranged also for us to have interviews with some extraordinary people. It is there in Dharmasala where I had the grace of a meeting with the Dalai Lama. We also met with his two tutors who were still alive at the time. I thought they were the most impressive people I have ever met in my entire life. The Bhiku, then took us to Rumtek monastery ( we had a visa for three days).
The monastery was perched on a mountain. I will never forget the rides we took in jeeps through the most winding roads to get there. At every turn in the road the scenery was captivating. the land seemed like so many gardens with rice paddies and bamboos and amazingly beautiful. At the arrival at the monastery there were monks with long piped sort of instruments in which they blew sounds of welcome. There was no hotel here and we were allowed to sleep on the floor in the temple and a place was allotted us for food. We stayed for 3 days. They were three unforgettable days of lectures and initiations or ‘empowerments’ as they are called, by the Karmapa who was looked upon as a very holy and enlightened being. He and his monks exhaled a joy and smiled as one could ever rarely experience coming from people who lived so poorly, who dressed so simply and who spent hours in ceremonies, in work and prayers and meditations from early morning till nightfall. It was there where I received initiation from the Karmapa. .On the third day the police came to remind us that our visa was expired and we had to leave.
The very next day we we had a last farewell talk from the Bhiku and we left, drove down to the nearest railway station and were on our way to Delhi and flight back through London to Toronto. What a shock to be back in Western society! It was 1971 and I came back to Montreal and returned to live in the monastery and to continue my life as a Franciscan and to digest some of these experiences and practice some of what I learnt and to see how they fit with my usual old way of life in community.
I asked to live in a Franciscan friary where the accent was more on meditation and the interior life. We had such a place about one hour outside of Montreal in a little town in the country. It was 1971. In 1973 I was given permission to go and spend time with Maharishi and become a teacher of Meditation. Later, I will devote a whole chapetr or two about this.
In the fall of 1980 I was sent to represent the community and attend a symposium in a Trappist monastery in Holy Oak Mass. The title of the symposium was “Word out of Silence” and it was led by Fr. Raimundo Pannikar. Among the participants were some very special people who contributed a lot to promoting the interior life of prayer and meditation in the Christian Church and in dialogue. There was Madame Odette Baumer, a good friend and assistant to the publication of the works of Fr. Henri Le Saux who received the name Swami Abshaiktananda and wrote many books of his experinces as a Christian monk studying Hinduism and having a Guru. There was Fr.Basil Pennington and Fr. Thomas Keating who wrote several books on “Centering Prayer” There was also Br.David Steindlrast who is still very active in giving retreats on prayer and meditation.
It was at this symposium, I was advised to go back to India and spend one year this time with Fr.Bede Griffith at his ashram in South India. This was to be for me, an initiation in Inter-religious Dialogue and sort of following in the foot-steps of Fr.Heni Le-Saux, a bath in the spiritual heritage of the sages and saints of India.
And so it was ten years later in 1981, I returned to India, this time to spend a full year under the guidance of Father Bede Griffiths. I was following a call and this led me all over India and into the Himalayas where for I lived in solitude in a cave. for some time. We will also talk about this in another posting.
Be careful when you try to satisfy the spiritual search, for it never seems to end. One step leads to another. We see the horizon and there is something there that draws us close but as we get to that which drew us, there is still another horizon ahead.
I met many a holy man and woman in India. There is one man who the Western world does not know of just like there are many saints in India who never make the newspapers. This was a man called Vidyananda Giri. He lived in the ashram of Tapovanam in South India. It was the ashram where Fr. Henri Le Saux or Swami Abshaiktananda as he was called, found his guru and studied and wrote some very interesting books and his Journal which was edited and published after his death. The Acharya of the monastery, a monk by the name of Nityananda Giri introduced me to Vidynanada. He told me previously ‘this man is realization itself” I was allowed to accompany him as he went down to the river to do his ablutions and bathe each evening. On coming back sometimes he would talk and teach me. This was the last evening as I had to travel on the next day. I walked just a little behind him and in my mind I was sad because I wanted him to give me initiation or something. (I was thinking..”If this man is realization itself, why cant he do something for me?”) At some point he stopped and looking back at me, he placed his hand on my shoulder and enquired “What is the problem? Self-realization? the Self is already realized. Remember that” he said. He then explained how one should not loose sight of that reality and one should live ones life and continue doing sadhana, (spiritual practices) in peace. He told the story of a man travelling to Delhi on a train. He is going there specifically to meet someone. After about a third of the way, the train stops at a station and this man comes on board. The train pulls out and continues. The man has found the person whom he was going to meet but he does not get off. Rather he stays on to enjoy the company “The one who we are seeking, is with us all the way. Stay with him and enjoy the company” he said.
Hopefully I will share these ‘little flowers’ I met along the path of this my unending journey living in peace remembering the words of that sage that the “Self is already realized” and there is nothing to do but to enjoy the ride. Please join me.