“Kurisumala Ashram is at the heart of the Sahya Mountains, which run parallel to India’s south west coast. It is a place sanctified by the breeze which blows softly across the valleys and by the overwhelming beauty of the creation, and the meditative thoughts which arise from the depth of silence. Even today people move to the mountains in search of peace of mind and of God-experience.
What we write here about Francis Acharya, the head and architect of the Ashram, was heard from the sadhakas of Kurisumala. Mountains are the place of God-experience. In the wilderness of Sinai, Moses the prophet heard great revelations. Jesus loved to retire to the mountains, in the silence of the night to have a colloquy of love with His Father.The spirituality of understanding is all-pervading here.
Today Kurisumala has become the Mount of Transfiguration, as it gives to all who come to the Ashram for a visit or to spend a few days, the feeling that, ” It is good to be here”, as Peter said on Mount Tabor. Here the seeker’s soul realizes the commands of God. Here are relevantly assembled ‘Om karam’, the primordial sound of the ancient seers of India and the Cross.
Kurisumala Ashram is a community of spiritual seekers who have become one in the spirit. The spiritual light of Kurisumala is the acharya, the leader of seekers. The history of this place is the history of the Acharya. It was in 1955 that John, (given name at Baptism in Belgium) now called Brother Francis as a Csitercian monk, and an India citizen since 1968, reached Kerala. He was prompted by an inner call, a call to a new life.
He had travelled all over India to have a direct knowledge and experience of Her people. He felt, as by touch, the spiritual nature of India through learning, travelling and spiritual seeking. he visited and stayed in most of the great Ashrams in India.
In 1950, Abbe J. Monchanin (Swami Parama Arubi Ananda), a French missionary priest and H. Le Saux(Swami Abhishiktananda), a Benedictine monk, had founded the Christian way of life on the bank of river Kaveri, near Trichy (Tiruchirappally). Saccidananda Ashram, Shantivanam, was a Christian Ashram, based on Indian spiritual tradition. Br.Francis joined them and studied with them for a long time. He was specially interested in the Ashram life-style. John had come under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi when he was studying in London in1931. Gandhiji who had come for the Round Table Conference of the British Dominions had been contemptously spoken of as a half-naked fakir, yet it was in his simple Inidan dress that he led the delegates into Bucckingham Palace for an audience with Queen Mary. The nobility of his character and the simplicity of his life deeply touched John’s heart. This influence promoted John to study the ancient culture of India to which he was from now on looking as to the land of Promise for him. It was in 1955, after clebrating Christmas night in a small village at the foot of the mountains, that Zacharias Mar Athanasios, Bishop of Tiruvalla, a Syrian Catholic Church, invited Fr. Francis to make a monastic foundation in his diocese. It was therefore quite providential that a few months later a gift of 88 acres of virgin land, in the Sahya Mountains was offered to him by Shri. K.V. Thomas Pottenkulam. Fr. Francis was then still alone but there was no delay in the fulfilment of his dream. Soon an English Benedictine monk (Fr.Bede Griffiths) offered to help him and, when they had settled on the land and built a small monastery for some twenty monks, in spite of the isolation and quasi-inaccessibility of the place, within three years, the community counted 15 members. “ (www.vagamon.com)
And so it was due to the influence and advice of Fr. Bede that I went to spend a retreat there. I was really uplifted by the beauty of the mountains and the serenity that enveloped the place. The prayers started from as early as 4 am and as I had been given a book so I could follow, I discovered the beauty in the Orthodox rituals. There were curtains which separated the sanctuary from the rest of the chapel but at the first glimmer of light, the many lamps were lit and the curtains were drawn and there was a special ceremony with hymns to welcome the light. It was very similar in a way, to the Jyoti celebration of light in the Hindu tradition.
From where I was, I could see the souls of the feet of the monks. They were always barefoot and so I could not ever remember seeing such calloused feet, whereas, their faces were as beautiful as some of the painted icons. They worked hard and prayed beautifully. They were up way before the morning prayers as they had a farm and cows and animals to tend, then they showered and came to pray.
In the evening before supper after the prayers, there was a period for silent meditation and we all went outside.
I was told that this was the custom and there were enough flat rocks so we each have one to sit on to meditate.
I had no camera with me, but the memory of these meditations and the the view from the rock where I sat, is something I could never forget. It felt at times, as though I was floating and as far as my eyes could see, there were only some low lying clouds and mountains.
The last evening that I was there, when I came out of meditation and looked around for the last time, there was a very sad feeling that came over me, to think I would be saying good bye. The next day after breakfast I went to say good bye to the abbot Fr. Francis, and I expressed how sad I was to leave, and he said to me, “my brother, you know, the Jain monks never spend more than three days in one place when travelling. It is because they feel that after three days we may begin to have attachments. If you feel sorry to leave, then its time you leave before you become too attached.”
I can still see him, with his very peaceful face and clear blue eyes and white beard as we walked, and he, dressed in a simple monk’s garb and barefoot on the dirt path as he gave me his blessing and sign of peace and we parted.
His words, “Death is a passover to the real life.
when someone dies, our expectation of ‘meeting again’ should be stronger than our sorrow.
Actually they don’t “pass away” but “pass over”. Fr. Francis Acharya