I am thinking that if God is God, It is far greater than the human mind could ever imagine, and the paths that lead to It are themselves not all been seen and visited, just like there are, in many a forest, grounds, where human feet have never walked.
For another, who from childbirth, at home, in school and social life has been influenced and formed in an environment steeped in Christianity, the experience, the associations in the mind may produce yet another particular flavour. In this second case, such a one practicing, maybe in the beginning stage, would naturally seek a balance, a point of reference, to which he can refer to.
Having read “La Voie du Silence” of Fr. Jean Deschanet was a great help with Yoga and then I came across books written by other Christian monks who went into the depths of Hindu teachings and sacred scriptures. I think of men like Fr. Henri Le Saux and Fr. Jules Monchanin., Fr. Bede Griffiths and others.
I was delighted in reading this, that even a Cardinal of the Catholic Church was advocating the reading of the Bhagavad Gita.
I attended a talk given by a Benedictine monk from Holland, who was visiting Montreal his name was Dom Tholens.*
He began his talk by first chanting a prayer in Sanskrit. He said ‘if you want to have a good understanding of the Gospel, you should have a certain knowledge of the Old Testament. If you want to have a better understanding of the Old Testament, its good to have some knowledge of the Vedas.”
Abbot Cornelius J.Tholens, OSB, is a member, and one of the founding fathers, of AIM (Aide Inter-Monasteres) in Vanves, France, and Director of the European and American Monastic Boards for East-West Dialogue. The Dutch-born Abbot resides in the heart of Amsterdam where his very presence is a Prayer Center for persons of all cultures and creeds. Former Abbot of St. Willibrord’s, Slangenburg, Holland, having helped build the new Abbey from scratch after World War II, he later spent three years in a Hindu-Christian Ashram in India before taking up his permanent residence in Amsterdam.
Abbot Tholens: “First, let me say, as I did in Petersham, that we can no longer talk about contemplatives without including contemplative life in all other religions, and the contemplative mind of the hidden monk in the layman, in everyone. We must be in contact with others who are not institutional monks, because together we are forming the new world. One then helps to create an openness of approach for all monks.”
At that same monastic meeting in Petersham , another participant,Father Theophane Boyd, OCSO, of St. Joseph Abbey, Spencer, spoke on the subject of religious experience, using in part his own experience of Vipassana retreat and the Zen sesshin.
He began by introducing a comparative relationship between Catholic, Hindu and Buddhist texts, pointing out that for many American Catholics the text of the Baltimore Catechism with its questions, Who made me? Why did God make me? And its answers, God made me . . . to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next—was normative as a context for their religious life.
The Baltimore Catechism was also a little book I used in learning about my Christian faith, and in it, I was taught some things which I could never forget; things that have always given me a meaning to life.
In the little catechism, book of instructions, it is said that we came into this earth for three reasons; to know, to love and to serve. Knowledge, Love and Service; these are the three main principles which I looked at in the light of Yoga. They are known in Yoga as Jyana, Bhakti and Karma Yoga.
The first Chapter of the Bagavad Gita, speaks to us about the depression of Arjuna but the second Chapter is the one in which Arjuna decides to do something very beautiful.
He says in V21, “Oh Lord of the earth, allow my chariot to stand in the middle between the two armies.”
When I read that, it reminded me that a spiritual author once said that the word “meditation” comes from two Latin words “Medio, Stare” which means “To stand in the middle”. And so I presume that Arjuna in his depressive mood puts aside his weapon and meditates, and from this state, the Lord Krishna begins to teach and to give him knowledge.
In the Bible, we are told of another war, we learn that the Jewish people were being attacked by the Assyrians and they went to the king of Egypt and asked for help and they received horses and chariots and weapons. And Isaiah, who was the holy man of the time, arose and spoke very harshly to them. He said that because they placed their trust in the arms of Pharaoh, they would perish. He said, in chap 30, v 15, “Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘in returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
This word translated as “returning”, in Greek “metanoia” means going within, meditation…returning to the center
It is said that St Benedict studied this text of Isaiah and came to the conclusion that it was a reference to silent meditation and he practiced this sitting every day until when death came to meet him. This ‘quietness’ which Isaiah spoke about is what the Carthusian monks call “quies” and the Greek “hesychia”or finding interior peace.
The Lord Krishna, as he teaches Arjuna, explains how one obtains wisdom, knowledge and how the mind can become peaceful through meditation.
“There is no wisdom in him, who is uncontrolled, and there is likewise no concentration in him who is uncontrolled and in him who does not concentrate, there is no peace. How can there be happiness for him who is not peaceful?”(v.66)
In order to obtain knowledge of God, it requires a peaceful mind and the early monks of the Christian communities believed that a peaceful person is a dwelling place for God. The Book of Wisdom says that God seeks among people, a place of rest. After agitation has been left behind, silence of the lips and heart have no other purpose than to lead to this repose. This is the true meaning of Sabbath.
Jean Yves Le Loup in his book on Silence said, “Humanity has received a mission of being ever more intimate with the One who is Being Itself, to the point of union.” This union the Christian author spoke of, this union with the Divine is the ultimate essence of Yoga.
“Those who are established in this wisdom, those who have abandoned the fruit born of action, and are freed from the bondage of rebirth, go to the place that is free from pain”
There are no more rebirths!
And so the lord Krishna speaks about knowledge and he also gives instructions as what to do, how to meditate to acquire this state and to where it leads.
Fr Bede Griffiths was a Catholic priest who lived in India and who was co-founder of an Ashram called Shanti-vanam (Forest of peace). Fr Bede was well known for his work in Inter-faith dialogue and he wrote several books and among them a commentary of the Bhagavad-Gita. During my stay in India in 1981, I spent most of my time in Fr.Bede’s Ashram and I accompanied him to my first Inter-faith Conference which was held in Cochin, near Madras in South India. .Fr.Bede lived the life of a true sannyas. I will always remember visiting him in the mud hut in which he lived on the banks of the Kaveri River. He wore the orange robes of the sannyas, was barefoot, and ate simple vegetarian meals seated on the floor. He celebrated mass Indian style seated cross-legged as he broke and blessed the bread, chapattis for communion. Fr Bede passed away in his hut on the evening of May 13 1992. He wrote a commentary of the Bhagavad Gita called “River of Compassion.”
(to be continued)