A Contemplative Theology Oriented Towards the Experience of God

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Dear friends, we were thinking last night that the Oriental tradition would turn us towards a contemplative experience, and I want to reflect this morning on a contemplative theology, how our theology could evolve from its present scholastic or scientific form into a contemplative form. And I would like to begin by saying that I think we have to revise our idea of the place of logical conceptual thought. Nearly all of us seem to think that logical conceptual thought, abstract thought, is the typical human way of thinking, but in reality there are two ways. One is symbolic thought, and the other is abstract conceptual thought, and really it is the result of the Greek genius which we were reflecting on last night, which has given us this orientation

[01:03]

towards conceptual thought. One of my quarrels with Lonergan, who is a great philosopher, and I admire him very much, but he has four stages in human experience. He begins with common sense, then he moves on to theory, which is scientific conceptual abstract thought, then interiority, when you reflect on your thought and interiorize it, and then transcendence. The last two are excellent, but under common sense he includes all the powers of myth and poetry, imagination, and so on, and we're led to think that we get beyond those when we come to theory, to scientific conceptual thought. But surely that is an illusion. There are two ways of thinking. One is abstract and conceptual, and it's necessary. I believe today they say it's a function of the left side of the brain, and the other

[02:06]

is the function of the right side, exactly how it goes. But two are necessary. But we're neglecting all the time this other mode of thinking and of experiencing reality, which is symbolic. And symbolic thought expresses itself in poetry, and in the whole language of poetry. And when we begin to reflect, we realize that all the ancient scriptures of the world were poetic in form. See, when people had the deepest realization of God and tried to communicate their experience of God, they spontaneously put it in poetic form. Take the Rig Veda, the earliest scripture we have, perhaps, all in the form of poetry, and most wonderful poetry. Those of you who know Father Panica's Vedic experience will know something of the beauty of that poetry which he's managed to communicate in English. And then we think of the Koran.

[03:08]

I can't read Arabic, but everybody says that one of the fascinations of the Koran is its marvellous language. It has this tremendous power, poetic power in it, and that is why it holds people so deeply. And again, of course, we turn to the Bible. And the Bible is, much of it is simply poetry, like the Psalms, the Book of Job, but all the rest of it is imaginative thought. It's not abstract, conceptual thought like Greek philosophy. It's imaginative, symbolic thought. We can think of the Hebrew prophets. All their language has this rich, symbolic character. And it's very interesting that the Greek fathers used to say that the Hebrew prophets were rough, uncultured people, they didn't know any better, they couldn't speak in the terms of Greek philosophy. God spoke through them, of course, but they had to be translated into the language of Greek conceptual thought. They had no idea that this imaginative thought is richer than the abstract thought.

[04:14]

And then we turn to the Gospel, and Jesus habitually expresses himself in symbolic language. He chose the parable as the means by which to communicate the mystery of the kingdom of God. When he wants to say what is this kingdom of God, he says it's like a grain of mustard seed, it is like the leaven which a woman hid in the dough to make bread, it is like a net cast into the sea to catch fish, it is like a pearl of great price which somebody went and sold all that he had to get. Always he's using images, symbols, to open your mind to this deep truth which they signify, to which they point. And then we come to John and St. Paul, and to me they are models of contemplative theology and of symbolic theology. You see, St. John's method is fascinating. He simply takes certain incidents from the life of Christ and shows their symbolic character.

[05:16]

He starts with the cleansing of the temple, seems to be just a practical thing, Jesus comes to cleanse the temple, but at the end of it, Jesus says, destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up, and St. John adds, he spoke of the temple of his body. Suddenly the whole thing is transformed, the temple of Jerusalem is seen as a symbol of the temple of the body of Christ, the mystical body of Christ in which human fulfillment is found. And then, in his conversation with Nicodemus, he speaks of the spirit and immediately uses a symbol of the wind. The wind blows where it will, you do not know whence it comes, whither it goes, even so is everyone who is born of the spirit. And so the wind becomes a symbol of the spirit. And then he talks to the woman of Samaria, and he asks her for a drink. And then he takes that thought up and says, if you ask me I will give you water that lasts

[06:17]

for eternal life. And the water becomes a symbol of eternal life. And then he goes on to feed the five thousand, takes the bread, distributes it among them, and then begins to talk of the bread from heaven. So step by step, St. John builds up a symbolic theology. A symbol, you see, is a sign which points towards a deeper reality. And that is what St. John is doing all the time. We could say the same of St. Paul, all his language is symbolic. Of course, both St. John and the Paul are using conceptual thought as well, it's not pure symbolism, but it's always the two together. And that is the richness of human speech, when the symbolic and the conceptual thought are married, when they're brought together. So the New Testament, then, is a beautiful example of contemplative theology. And that is why when you read the New Testament, meditatively, it leads you into contemplation.

[07:18]

Now we go on to the Greeks, and it is important to realize that the Greek fathers also had this deep vein of contemplation. We can begin with Origen, in the third century, a great master of the scripture, and we owe to him, really, the foundation of scriptural theology. And he was always using, of course, this symbolism of the Old Testament. Many think he overdid it with the allegorical meaning, but still, he built up this wonderful system of symbolic theology based on the Bible and the Old Testament. And then we come to the great Greek fathers, and all of them—now this is very interesting—nearly all of them were either monks or in very close contact with the monastic tradition. St. John Chrysostom, for instance, was not a monk, but he was in very close contact with the Syrian monks around Antioch, and his theology is inspired by this monastic tradition, and

[08:21]

again by this deep symbolism and this call to contemplation. St. Basil was himself a monk, became a bishop, and founded a monastic community, and he again expresses himself in this symbolic manner. And then we have Gregory of Nazianzum, Gregory of Nyssa, and they also lived monastic life for a time, later became bishops, and expressed—gave us the base of our Catholic theology, really. And St. Gregory of Nyssa is particularly interesting because he has three stages in Christian life, which later became traditional—the purgative, the illuminative, the unitive way. And the purgative way, he relates to baptism. It's the separation from the world, separation from sin, awakening to the light of truth. And the second is the illuminative way, and that is the way of meditation on the scriptures,

[09:21]

the whole plan of God in creation, in redemption, of the church and of the angels, very deep reflection on the whole angelic order, all that belongs to the illuminative way. But then when we come to the unitive way, we enter into the darkness. This is very important. This is where this doctrine of the divine darkness begins. And for Gregory of Nyssa, the unitive way is meeting God in the darkness, beyond images and beyond thoughts, the experience of God in a unitive vision, you see. And so he lays the foundation, really, of a mystical theology. And then we come to one of the key figures in Catholic or Christian theology, Dionysius the Areopagite. I expect most of you know that it was probably a Syrian monk of the 5th or 6th century who took the name of this disciple of St. Paul and wrote under that name, and I think by

[10:26]

divine providence, he was taken to be an apostolic writer and was totally accepted in the Catholic tradition, and he incorporated Neoplatonism into Catholic theology. And Neoplatonism, especially of Plotinus, is the nearest we come in the West to the Vedanta tradition in India. Plotinus may have been, in fact, probably was influenced by the Vedantic tradition because Ammonius Saccas was his teacher in Alexandria, and it seems clear that he was influenced by these. This is one of the points where the Indian tradition seems to have entered into the West. And so Dionysius gives us the most wonderful symbolic and contemplative theology. He has his ecclesiastical and celestial hierarchy, and he sees the whole creation as a theophany, a manifestation of God. And the ecclesiastical hierarchy is God's manifestation in the church, in humanity.

[11:32]

And then beyond that is the celestial hierarchy, God's manifestation in the angelic order, which is the cosmic order, really. And we tend to neglect the angels today, but they're extremely important. They're the devas in Hinduism, the divine, the gods, the principles of light. And so he has his celestial hierarchy. But then, beyond the ecclesiastical and celestial hierarchy, we enter into the darkness. And in the mystical theology, he says we have to go beyond concepts, beyond being itself, enter into the divine darkness, and be illuminated by the ray of the divine darkness. And that is contemplation, you see. So that the whole of his theology is oriented towards the experience of God in contemplation. So he is our model, you see, of a contemplative theology. Now after Dionysius, you have the Middle Ages, and you still retain this contemplative character.

[12:35]

Gregory the Great comments on the Book of Job, for instance, and on Ezekiel. And it's all symbolic theology. And then my patron, St. Bede, he was another typical medieval commentator entirely based on the Bible, you see, with its symbolic character. And finally, St. Bernard, whom Thomas Merton called the last of the fathers, who continues this tradition of a contemplative theology. And of course, in the Song of Songs, he finds the marvelous symbolism of the union of the soul with God. So we have models, you see, of contemplative theology. And for those of us who are monks or nuns, the monastic theology of the Middle Ages is of extreme importance, because that was the last time that the Church involved a contemplative theology. Most of us get these publications of the Cistercian Fathers, which are being circulated, where we have St. Bernard, St. Alred, William of Sanctuary, and so on, all contemplative theologians,

[13:39]

you see. And they are our models. But after that, after the 12th century, comes the 13th century and scholastic theology, and that is where the change took place. Aristotle was discovered, the Aristotelian method of logic and scientific exposition and logical systematization, and our whole theology moved over onto that plane. And it remained there until the present day. St. Thomas Aquinas, of course, was a great master. And don't let us ever forget, St. Thomas was a great contemplative. He used this method, this logical method, but he knew that the truth itself lay beyond logic, and he experienced it himself, and as you know, at the end of his life, he had such an overwhelming experience of God that he said, all that I have written seems to me like straw in comparison to what I have seen, and that is what we're aiming at. But nevertheless, the method of St. Thomas continued without his contemplative experience,

[14:41]

and it went on for five centuries. Right into the 20th century, we had this scientific theology in the logical, systematic form, useful in its way, but extremely barren from a point of view of contemplation, you see. And I feel now we have the opportunity to open ourselves to a more contemplative theology. As I mentioned, I think Karl Rahner has opened the way, with his idea of human self-transcendence, the experience of the divine mystery, he has opened the way to a contemplative theology, but we need now to bring the Oriental tradition into our lives if we're going to find a new way of expressing Christian faith in contemplative terms. And this is where the perennial philosophy comes in. Many of you will remember Aldous Huxley, way back in the 1940s I think, wrote a book called The Perennial Philosophy, and for me that was one of the first, and I think for many

[15:43]

other people, it was the first introduction to this whole vast sphere of Eastern wisdom. He quotes Shankara at length, the Mahayana Sutras, the Taoist Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, marvellous texts from them, and some of the Sufis, and Meister Eckhart and the Christian mystics. And so he opened up this whole perennial philosophy, which is the common philosophy of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam and Sufism. And we used to call the theology of St. Thomas the perennial philosophy, and it's a branch of it, but it's only one branch. Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and Augustine, they are a branch of the perennial philosophy, but beyond that is the whole tradition of Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism. And that is what the church today has to discover, to open herself to it, and to assimilate this

[16:48]

oriental wisdom, you see. So we should really enter into the fullness of the perennial philosophy, the eternal philosophy. They say that this is the doctrine which underlies all the great religious traditions. There is a common tradition, different in each system. Vedanta is different from Mahayana Buddhism. They're both different from Sufism, both different from Christian mysticism, but... ...contemplative theology. Now we turn now to the Hindu tradition, and we ask ourselves, what does the Hindu tradition teach us, and what does it show to us of this contemplative theology? And first of all, the Vedas. Now my discovery in the Vedas, largely through Pramukha's Vedic experience, has been that the Vedas are based on this concept of the three worlds, the physical, the psychological,

[17:52]

and the spiritual. I chanted yesterday the Gayatri mantra, Aum Pura Bhuvah Swaha, Pura is the earth, Bhuvah is the atmosphere, Swaha is the heaven. But that is the physical aspect, but psychologically you also have the human base, the earth, and then you have the psychic, the transpersonal experience, and then you have the highest experience of all, the unity vision. And so what the Vedas teach us is, and this is extremely important for our whole understanding, that the whole creation always has a threefold character. Nothing is merely material. Every material thing, the stars, the earth, the atoms, all have a psychological character. They have a relation to the human consciousness, and it's been the great illusion of Western science during the last two or three centuries to imagine that there was a material world

[18:54]

extended outside ourselves, unrelated to consciousness, and that we could simply observe it and characterize it and treat it as a mechanical system. And that, as you know, physics today has exploded, no longer holds, and we realize that matter and consciousness are interrelated, you cannot separate them. And so every physical object, earth and trees, plants, animals, everything has a psychological aspect, a relation to human consciousness. And then again, everything has not only a physical and a psychological aspect, everything is related to the one supreme reality, the Atman, the spirit, Brahman, beyond. And so we live in this symbolic universe, you see, the physical symbolizes the psychological, the psychological symbolizes the spiritual, and the whole is an integrated whole, a cosmic what Father Paniker, in one of his famous words, which he coins, calls a cosmotheandric reality,

[20:00]

cosmos, the earth, the earth, God, and only a man. It's God, man, and the universe are all discovered in their interrelationship, you see, and that is the vision we need, and that is the vision of the Vedas. Now the next stage after the Vedas, or rather the end of the Vedas, is the Upanishads, and they were called Vedanta, the anta, the end of the Vedas, because they brought the experience of the seers of the Vedas to a culmination. And the teaching of the Upanishads is summed up in four Mahavakyas, great sayings, and these are considered to be the very basis of the experience of God in Hinduism. And these four Mahavakyas are, first of all, pranjnanam brahman. Brahman is consciousness. Now that was a tremendous leap, you see, from, brahman in the Vedas was the power which

[21:03]

sustained the universe, and which was present in the sacrifice, behind all the physical phenomena of nature, they saw this brahman, this ultimate reality, and in the sacrifice that brahman became present, became present as a power, and they recognized that brahman as the power of creation, present in the sacrifice. But this was external. And then, at the time of the Upanishads, or rather the Aranyakas, the forest books which preceded the Upanishads, the seers retired to the forest to meditate, and in their meditation they discovered brahman is not merely this force, power within the universe around, brahman is in my consciousness. And that is a tremendous stage in human evolution, when we begin to realize that consciousness is the key to reality. So pranjnanam brahman, brahman is consciousness. And then the next one, to say, ayam atman brahman, this self is brahman.

[22:07]

When I enter into myself, my consciousness, I discover an inner self. Beyond the body, beyond the mind, I discover this atman, this spirit, this self within. And I realize that my inner self is one with brahman, the source of the creation. The source of creation, the source of my consciousness, are one. I am atman brahman, and that is the second great maha-bhakta. Then the third one, aham brahmasmi, I am brahman. Now let us remember that these maha-bhaktas are expressions of a mystical experience, and they cannot properly be categorized. And if we choose to rationalize them, we can make them absurd, aham brahmasmi can be I am God, and many people think that Hinduism is just a kind of pantheism, I am God. But it's not. It's a mystical utterance, and it's a recognition that I, in the inmost depth of my being, am

[23:10]

not this body, am not this soul, this psyche, as we saw last night. I am one with that eternal spirit, that atman, that paramatman, the supreme spirit. I find myself only in my experience of the atman, the spirit within, which is one with the brahman, the source of all creation. That is the Hindu mystical experience. And it was interpreted, as we'll go on to see, I hope, tomorrow, in different ways. But the mystical experience underlies the whole Hindu tradition. And unless we know that, get a glimpse of that experience, we will misinterpret, as many European scholars have completely misinterpreted, the Vedas and the Vedanta, because they haven't realized the mystical experience which underlies it. And the fourth Mahavakya is Tattvam Asi, and that comes in the Chandogya Upanishad, which is one of the most revealing, and there the seer takes, one example he gives, he takes

[24:15]

a seed, and he says to his disciple, break open that fruit, sorry, he takes a fruit from a tree, and he says, break open that fruit, what do you see? And he says, I see a lot of seeds. And he says, break open one of those seeds, what do you see? And he says, I don't see anything. Break open the seed, there's nothing inside. And he says, from that, which you cannot see in that seed, all this great tree arises. From the hidden power in the seed, the whole tree grows. And so also, from that hidden essence, which is in all creation, the whole creation arises, and thou, noticators of that, thou, you, in your inmost being, are one with that power which creates the universe. I in the depths of my being are one with the source of the whole creation. I find God in me, and me in God, you see, in Christian terms.

[25:15]

So, those are the four Mahavakyas, and they are, as I say, the Hindu mystical experience, and we have to enter into that experience in order to assimilate it and to relate it to our own experience of God in Christ, that is our calling. Now, this experience of God is primarily this experience of the self, and I think that is the distinguishing mark of the Hindu tradition, that God is found in your self, your inner self. As we will see, and as I said, there are many different interpretations, and you can have a monistic interpretation, you can have a pantheistic, but I think the doctrine itself is neither monistic nor pantheistic, it's a mystical intuition of the one reality which is discovered in your own depth of your own being, you see. So, that is the orientation of a Hindu contemplation, to discover your self, and I think this has

[26:22]

great importance today, you see, there are many people for whom the word God has either lost all meaning or has become positively unpleasant, it recalls childhood memories which they're trying to get away from. I've met many people coming to our ashram, and they've been inoculated with Christian doctrine of a very crude form in childhood, and their whole life is a struggle to get away from these images which were impressed on them in childhood, images of God of a false kind, and to discover something beyond. And that is the value of this, that we can get beyond these images and beyond all mere thoughts and discover the reality behind the image, behind the thought. And so, the self is discovered, sorry, I was saying, the people today find the word God

[27:28]

difficult to accept, but practically everybody wants to be authentic, to find their reality, their truth, and I think for many people that is the attraction of Hinduism today and also Buddhism, that it calls you to discover yourself, and this path of self-discovery is, I think, the path of modern man. Perhaps the greatest exponent is Ramana Maharshi, any of you will know him, the great sage Arunachala Thiruvannamalai, about a hundred miles from our ashram. He died in 1950, but his influence continues, continually goes on all the time all over the world, and his method of meditation was to ask, who am I? And many people find that is the most revealing thing, who am I? Am I this body? Am I this soul? Am I this personality, this thing sitting here talking, or is there something in me

[28:28]

beyond my body, beyond my soul, to discover the art and the spirit within? So that is the orientation of Hindu tradition. So now we have the Hinduism leads us through the discovery of Brahman, the reality behind the universe, the discovery of the self, the God within, and now we come to the practical aspect. The Upanishads give us the doctrine, but yoga gives us the practice. You'll be having talks on yoga, I won't go into it now, but just to indicate that you have your doctrine in the Upanishads, also in what's called the Sankhya, one of the darshanas, systems of philosophy, and you have your practical discipline in the yoga. And if we want to discover the self, the only way almost, I could say, is through meditation.

[29:32]

And yoga is a method of meditation, as you know it has eight limbs, ashtanga, and it begins, and this is very important, with the moral doctrine, five commandments, not to kill, not to steal, to keep truth, keep chastity, not to covet, those are the basic things, and then the niyamas, as they're called, further refinements of that. You lay your moral basis, then you have your physical base, in the asana, the position, the pranayama, the breathing, and then you go on to the four stages of meditation, pratyahara, withdrawing from the objects of sense, recollection, discovering the inner self. Then dharana, the concentration, focusing on one point, becoming ekagraha, one-pointed. And then dhyana, meditation proper, is continuing the mind, like a flow of oil, they say, continuing in that oneness, focused on the one reality. And finally samadhi, when you're absorbed into the reality which you contemplate, you

[30:37]

enter into the union with God. So those are the stages of yoga. And they remain the most practical method. There are many systems of yoga, obviously, and many new developments like transcendental meditation and so on, but they're all variations, really, on the basic yoga. And so I think we all need to discover, first of all, the Hindu experience of God in the Upanishads, the experience of the self, and then to find a method of self-realization. That's really our method to reach that point. And now, there's an important, I'd like to read you just two extracts about yoga, because they show its origins in the Upanishads. The yoga system of Patanjali, with the eight limbs, derives from about the fourth century A.D. But that is simply the time when the formulation was made of a doctrine and a practice which

[31:42]

went back hundreds, perhaps over a thousand years. And we get in the Kathopanishad a very interesting insight into this yoga, where it says, When the five senses and the mind are still, and reason itself rests in silence, then begins the path supreme. See, when the five senses and the mind are still. See, when we meditate in our Christian tradition, we often use the senses, and we always use the mind. And many people feel that a great problem is we get stuck in the head, we're all focused on the head, thinking about God. Which is good up to a point, but you've got to get beyond the mind. And the Tattiriya Upanishad has a beautiful phrase when it speaks of that before which the senses and the mind fall away.

[32:43]

The mind itself falls away before the reality of God. As long as you're thinking about God, you will never know him. Only when your mind falls away, and you open yourself to the reality, do you discover him. Or as the beautiful medieval English treatise, The Cloud of Unknowing, says, he cannot be gotten by knowledge, he can only be gotten by love. You go beyond your thoughts, you surrender yourself to him. So that is it. When the five senses and the mind are still, and reason itself rests in silence. It's to bring the reason to silence, that is the path of meditation. Then begins the path supreme. Then is the path to the beyond, to God himself, you see. This calm steadiness of the senses is called yoga. That's one of the earliest references we have to yoga. And then in a later Upanishad, the Svetasvapara, we have a more longer one, but the basic statement is this. With upright body, head and neck, lead the mind and its powers into the heart.

[33:49]

And the Aum of Brahman will then be thy boat with which to cross the rivers of fear. It's a beautiful sense, you see. With upright body, head and mind, and they always say in yoga, that the one essential is to keep the body erect. You could be sitting on a chair, you needn't sit on the floor, cross-legged. But the head, the neck, and the spine should be upright, because they say it forms, it creates a harmony, a rhythm, a balance. In fact, they say, you know, that you become the pillar of the universe. The whole universe is centered on a pillar, the skumba, it's called. And when you sit upright like that, you identify with the pillar of the universe, and the whole universe is now in harmony, you're in harmony with the universe. So that upright position really is important. So with the upright body, head and neck, lead the mind and its powers into the heart. And that is meditation, you see, lead the mind into the heart.

[34:52]

And the heart is the center of the person, it's that source which we're reflecting on beyond the mind. And this is exactly what we have in the Hesychast Fathers. Now, in our Western tradition, the nearest we come to yoga is in Hesychasm, which, as you know, was the doctrine developed in the Greek church, mainly in the 14th century, St. Gregory Palamas, the great authority. But the whole of the Philokalia, which most people know through the beautiful book The Way of a Pilgrim, where this Russian peasant goes, it's a beautiful story, I'm sure most of you know it, but it's worth repeating, this Russian peasant reads in the New Testament that we should pray always, pray without ceasing. And he goes round to the different monasteries asking how to pray without ceasing. And at last he meets a star, it's an elder in one of the monasteries, and he teaches

[35:53]

him the prayer of Jesus, he says, repeat the words, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. Repeat that a thousand times, then two thousand, then five thousand, then ten thousand. And so he went on, and that prayer went on night and day, and his whole being was transformed by the prayer. And most of us find that if you want to enter deeply into meditation, you need some mantra, you need some words. You see, if you're meditating in the ordinary way, you reflect on the Bible, the Gospels, Jesus Christ, and your thoughts lead you on. But when you go beyond thoughts, then you begin to get distracted, your mind goes in all directions, you need something to center you. And the mantra is a means of centering. I'm sure you know them, but there are two books, I think, of great importance in Christian tradition now. One is Father John Main, who died a few months ago, in his meditation center in Montreal,

[36:55]

wrote the Talks on Meditation, and he uses the mantra Maranatha, come Lord, it's found in the Apocalypse, come Lord Jesus, Maranatha. And he taught people to repeat the mantra continually, make it the sort of base, and then through that you come to the stillness, to the awareness of God. The other is the Centering Prayer of Father Basil Pennington, which has been developed at Spencer Abbey, Massachusetts, and he teaches the same method, using the mantra rather more freely, and advocating the longer form of the prayer of Jesus. But you can take any form, really, you see, the name itself has this power, and you want to find a form which suits your own physical and psychological being. In India, some of us use Aum Sri Yesu, or Yesu Aum, or one of our brothers, Amodas, who teaches yogic meditation, his mantra is Yesu Abba, Yesu as you breathe in, Abba, Father,

[38:02]

as you breathe out. And you breathe the whole world, the whole creation, your enemies as well as your friends, everybody in Jesus, and then you surrender all to the Father. It's a beautiful mantra, Yesu Abba. But you can find whatever form suits, but nearly everybody finds that a mantra is the best way of opening to the transcendent, to the path supreme. So it says, lead the mind, the Greek fathers used to say, lead the mind from the head into the heart and keep it there. Lead the thoughts from the head into the mind and keep them there, don't let them go wandering from one thing to another, bring them to that point of stillness, of oneness, and then realize God. And then the Aum of Brahman will be thy boat which to cross the rivers of fear. And Aum, you know, is the sacred syllable, and it's a marvelous syllable. For the Hindu it is, and it's part of the Buddhist also, it is the sound which comes

[39:07]

forth from the silence. They say Brahman is sound and Brahman is silence, and that the Aum of sound comes forth from the silence. So the Aum, as it were, is the last thing we can utter before we enter into the silence. So many people simply use the Aum to bring them into that silence, into that stillness. And it has a beautiful, I don't know whether I can find the passage in the Kartal Pranishadam, perhaps I think I can, it speaks marvelously of this Aum. And I think it's important because Christians today are generally accepting it. All over India today we use the Aum as a sacred utterance. It's a little like Amen. It has no specific meaning, it is an affirmation really, like Amen, saying yes to God. And every prayer begins with the Aum, and usually ends with the Aum, and as I say, it's our pathway to silence. And this is what the Kartal Pranishad said, I will tell you the word that all the Vedas

[40:10]

glorify, all self-sacrifice expresses, all sacred studies and holy life seek, that word is Aum. See, all the Vedas glorify, self-sacrifice expresses, sacred studies and holy life seek, that word is Aum. That word is the everlasting Brahman. That word is the highest end, when that sacred word is known, all longings are fulfilled. It's the utterance which opens you to the unutterable, see, to the source. So that is the meaning of Aum. And that carries you over the rivers of fear, and we're all living in rivers of fear, we're all afraid of a nuclear holocaust and all these tragedies which go on around us. And when we meditate, we need something to carry us beyond those rivers of fear, and the word, the Aum, or the mantra, the name of Jesus, is the word we use to carry us beyond those rivers of fear, open us to the peace which passes understanding, to the divine

[41:12]

peace. So that is the mystery of the Aum. So now that is the method, you see, of yoga. And I think another point which is important is this. In our Christian tradition, we have a rather negative attitude towards the body, towards nature as a whole, and towards sexuality in particular. And it started with the fathers of the desert. And as you know, they practiced extreme asceticism, trying to subdue the body. And it all belongs to that rather dualistic attitude, which is found in the Semitic and in the Greek, but it's not in the Indian tradition, whether Hindu or Buddhist. And so we've inherited a tradition of subduing the body, subduing the senses, and negating sex as far as possible. And there were, we must always remember, balancing forces.

[42:13]

In the conferences of Cashel, there's a wonderful discourse of Saint Anthony, where they're all asking, what is the greatest virtue to bring you to the knowledge of God? And some say one thing, some say another, and Saint Anthony says discretion is the one necessary virtue, because they all found people so easily go to extremes. So there was a balance of discretion. And then Saint Benedict came, and discretion, you could say, was the principle of his rule. So he brought a balance into the whole Western tradition, and we've all lived from that. But nevertheless, we still have a rather negative attitude to the body, to the senses, and to sex. And I think that is one of the things which the Oriental tradition can free us from, because yoga has none of that. And yoga is never suppressing the body or the senses. It's always a control and an integration. You integrate your body, your senses, your sexuality, your whole personality into the

[43:19]

supreme reality, the Atman, you see, it's integration. And that, I feel, is what we all have to learn from yoga. So yoga is this harmony, it's sometimes translated, yoga literally, as you know, means yoking, uniting, and uniting the body and the soul, so that the body and the soul awake to the presence of the spirit. That is the art of yoga. And so yoga, there, is our practical discipline, by means of which we open ourselves to the spirit, and in the light of that spirit, we can begin to theologize, to reflect on our faith, and to express it in a new way. And now, this is where I feel we monks and the monastic order has a very special calling, because this kind of contemplative theology is in our tradition. You see, the Dominicans, the Franciscans, they started this scholastic theology, and

[44:20]

that is their business, and obviously, of course, it has many other aspects, the Franciscans bring great love into it, Saint Bonaventure and so on. But the specific monastic theology was a contemplative theology, and I think this particular calling of the monk and the nun of the monastic order today is to realize this monastic theology, this contemplative experience, you see. And now, there are two or three aspects of that. The first is that the theology of this kind rises from a community, you don't do it simply on your own, and in fact, I didn't mention it, but in St. Paul, for instance, it's most interesting the way all his theology arise from a particular situation. He writes these letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and so on, answering certain problems facing the churches at that time, and in facing those problems, talking to those people, he

[45:25]

brings out the whole of his theology. One of the best examples is in the second letter of Philippians, where he's telling his disciples there to be humble, to have that mind in you which was in Christ Jesus. And then he goes to the most wonderful theological exposition, who being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped at, to be equal to God, but emptied himself, and so on. You see, a whole theology arising from a human situation, and that I think is what we're realizing today, that all theology must arise from human experience, and normally a community. And that is, I think, the importance of this liberation theology, I don't agree with all of it, but I do feel that these basic communities in South America are models of what the church can gradually become, or at least one aspect of the church. And there you have people, lay people, coming together, reflecting on their lives in the light of the Bible, and in the celebration of the Eucharist, and out of that responding

[46:28]

to their human situation, social, economic, political, the whole situation. And that is a living theology. So all theology must arise from a human experience, and that normally takes place in a community. And I would think our monastic communities could be cells, you see, in which this reflection on the gospel in the light of our human situation could take place. Now the next thing is, of course, that these communities would be totally integrated in the culture of the people. Whether we're in Asia, or in Africa, or in South America, or in North America, we have to integrate into the culture of the people. And we have to be one with our neighbors. And that is where the test comes, you see. As long as we're theorizing merely, if we're not getting very far, only when we begin to live with the people, share their life, their sufferings, their needs, and experience their

[47:29]

way of relating to God, and to nature, and the world, only then a new creative theology will come. And I would feel that's exactly the core of the monastic order. In our meeting in Kandy, 1980, the centenary of St. Benedict, the main theme was poverty, you know, because that's the great reality of Asia, and the whole orientation was towards small communities related to the world around them, to the culture of the people, and building up their life in that situation. And that is where a theology would evolve. When we live a community life in the context of a culture, of Asia, of Africa, whatever, and when we begin religions, that's, I think, very important, that we begin to introduce reading of the scriptures of other religions. In our ashram, we always have a reading from the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita,

[48:31]

that I'm a part of the Buddha, we've been having the Koran also, and many of the bhakti, the devotional poets, and you read it in the context of the Bible and your Christian experience, and then it comes to life in a new way, you see. So I think we all have to learn to meditate on the Bible and the other scriptures. Actually, it began, you know, with a very interesting group in India in 1965, I think it was, Father Vaso, Abhishek Tarnanda records it in his book, Hindu-Christian Meeting Point. And it was a group of Christians, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, we used to meet together with Dr. Kuttar, who was a Swiss ambassador in Delhi, a man of deep spirituality, and he was one of the leaders in that group. And we would take a text from the Bible, meditate that together, then a text from the Upanishads, and meditate that together, and then see the interrelationship. And that seems to be the way, you see, an Indian Christian theology would evolve.

[49:36]

We must meditate, assimilate the experience of both. And so we would have a community living in the cultural context of the people around them, and reflecting on the scriptures of the Bible and the Fathers, and of the religion of the people around. And then that should lead on to a contemplative theology. And as I say, we have our models, and I didn't mention it, but nearly all of the Fathers developed their theology by commenting on the Bible. Almost all of them wrote commentaries on the different books of the Bible, and developed their theology from that. And that seems to me the natural way, to write a commentary on the Bible or on the Upanishads or the Gita, and to relate one to the other, you see, through a commentary. That is certainly one way in which a monastic theology could eventually evolve.

[50:36]

So all of that should lead to contemplative experience, you see, by living in that way, by sharing this with our neighbors in their cultural expression, by meditating on the scriptures, we're led to this contemplative experience. And then we are initiating that meeting of the different religions. That we must always keep in mind. We're not trying to create a Christian church, a Christian theology, separate from everybody else. That is no longer meaningful today. Any real theology must be related to the theology of other religions. It has to be an interfaith theology. And as we share with them, so we trust they share with us. And then that convergence takes place, which I mentioned yesterday. All the different religions spring from a common source, are moving towards a common end, but they're all different. We've all developed these differences of language, culture.

[51:38]

Every conceivable thing is different, and yet behind the differences is this profound unity. And we have to discover that hidden unity. And then we are open to people of other religions. They can come to our monasteries or our ashrams, and we can go to theirs, and gradually we discover this hidden unity. But as I said, it requires discernment. It's no good having a syncretism, where you just mix things up. You've got to have clear understanding of your own faith, or rather, you've got to be living your own faith, you see, authentically. And when you're doing that, then you're able to assimilate what the other tradition has to say. And they have to do the same. The Buddhist, the Hindu, has to be an authentic Hindu and a Buddhist, but then he should be able to open himself to the Bible, to the Christian tradition, and assimilate what that has to say. And I think we would arrive at a convergence. Nobody can say what form it would take, but we would all be discovering one another and

[52:39]

discovering how to relate to one another. I don't think the differences probably would ever go, and perhaps not desirable that they should, but within the differences, we would be growing together always towards unity. So that is the vision I have of a contemplative theology, and the place which the monastic order has in it. So perhaps we could try to reflect on that and see how it could relate to our own lives.

[53:06]