Talk to Community

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This is a repeat of NC 00594




There's the subject today, the monastic community today, and I'd like to draw on our experience in Shantivanam all through these years. Obviously it will be different from yours in many ways, but obviously also there will be many points of resemblance, even identity, and I think it may be helpful for us to reflect together on this shared experience. It begins, of course, with our founders, Father Moshina and Father Lasso, who began this life in 1950, and they began it in the most radical way. It was really very inspiring in its way. Father Moshina had been parish priest in a little town of Kolitalai, and he was offered this land by the river Kaveri, which was largely a mango grove, vast wooded, almost a forest,


and to begin with they simply put three little huts, they'd been joined by a goan at that time, three little palm leaf huts in the middle of the forest, without any conveniences whatsoever, and it was really the most radical beginning. Of course, according to Indian tradition, they were going barefoot, they were wearing the simple kavi, dhoti and shawl, the palm leaf huts were on the ground, on the earth, and they attempted at first to live simply by the local food, so it was an attempt for radical simplicity, and it was too much for them, as a matter of fact, there were many snakes and scorpions about, there were insects of all sorts, and they found to live on, to have a bare earth like that was not adequate, and in the same way the food was not sufficient,


and they began to get some bread from the local town and so on, so they had to modify it, and then it was found to be too dangerous, the wood was rather well known for various crimes, even murders took place there, and so they were advised to move, not very far, it's only about half a mile away I suppose, but by the side of the road which goes down to the river from the village, and that is where the ashram is now, but I think it's worth mentioning that, you see, it really was an attempt to go back to the source, to be totally radically simple, and it was very deep, particularly in Father Moshanah, and when they started the ashram as it is, they built little huts with a concrete floor and brick walls, and then a palm leaf roof, and Father Moshanah said if we begin now with concrete and bricks, where shall we end, you see, he was feeling this was too luxurious altogether, and so I think this, and we all feel this sort of radicalism, it goes back


to the fathers of the desert, this sense of going back to utter simplicity is a very important element in monastic life, and we all have to keep it, and I think we all have to judge our life continually in the light of that. For instance, when we came there, there were these three small huts, Father Moshanah, Father Lasseur, and a guest hut, and a hut for one man would be living with them, and there was a very small guest house for three, all with palm leaf roofs, and a very small refectory and library attached to it, and it was all in the middle of a palm grove, Palmyra Palms, and there was no cultivation, I stayed there in 1956, and it was really a wilderness, there were little paths, thorn bushes everywhere, little paths through the thorns and the palm leaves to, and the palms


to the huts and the refectory and so on, so that you really had the character of a desert at that time, of total simplicity, and on the other hand, when we came, as you know, I must perhaps recall, Father Moshanah died in 1957, before really the community had been established at all, he had several disappointments, a Tamil priest joined them, they had great hope from that, but he didn't stay, and then Father Francis Mayur, a Cistercian monk from Skombor, joined them, but he also left, and I'll speak a little about him later. And so Father Moshanah died with nothing achieved, and we all feel, I think I may have mentioned it before, that that is very, very significant, that this, he really made the sacrifice of his life for the ashram, and again, you see, I think when we think of these things, this sort of radical simplicity that's giving one's life, really important in a foundation.


And then Father Lasso remained, and many people came, but nobody stayed, and he felt more and more attracted to North India and finally left in 1968, and then I came there with two monks from Kurushimala, and the story of that is that Father Francis, taking the name Acharya now, joined Father Lasso and Father Moshanah in 1955, I think it was, and this was a tremendous hope for them, this Cistercian monk with all that tradition behind him coming, and they really had great hopes, but he felt that they would never get any vocations there, their life was too far ahead for anybody there, and even now, you know, it's not really accepted in Tamil Nadu, and on the other hand, he recognised that most vocations in India at that time, today it's changing somewhat, there are many from Tamil Nadu, but at that time


the vast majority were from Kerala, and he went to Kerala and he was fascinated with the Siromalankara Church, the Syrian church there, one branch of it, there are two, which had all its liturgy in Malayalam, in the local language, and this was before the Vatican Council, so it was the first vernacular liturgy which we'd encountered, so he felt drawn to that, and then I myself was free at that time, and I joined him, and we started this community in Kurushimala with Syrian liturgy and traditional monastic life, you see, and I would emphasise that I came out of the Benedictine tradition, I was 20 years Benedictine monk in England, and we always had this seven prayers a day, in the Latin office of course, and so at Kurushimala


also we started with this tradition of the seven hours of the prayer, and the study, and the manual work, and on the other hand, now when I came to Shantivanam, we had nothing there, we started absolutely from scratch, and it really was an extraordinary opportunity, there was this beautiful little ashram, a lovely situation by the Kaveri River, and just three of us there, and we could decide what kind of life we were going to lead, and that is how really the ashram has grown, it's from a source like that, and step by step as new ideas, new people came, the whole thing began to develop, and first of all we started with the Syrian liturgy in English, which was quite unsatisfactory, and then gradually we turned over and we've gradually formed our own liturgy with the basis of psalms and Bible reading,


we take that as a base, only two psalms normally and a Bible reading, and then the rest has grown round that, with a great deal of Sanskrit chanting as you saw yesterday, and also chanting in other Indian languages, and readings from different scriptures which we find tremendously inspiring, when you read them in the context of the Christian scriptures they have very great meaning, and then introducing this Indian rite as you saw it yesterday, which has been approved both by the bishops and the Holy See, it's rather important, it's one of the stages of growth which has taken place in the church in India. So that was how our liturgy started, but now a very important thing arose then, that we began to see that the times of prayer, solitary personal prayer, were more fundamental than the liturgy, you see as I


say I'd grown up in the Benedictine tradition where the liturgy is absolutely primary, let nothing be placed before the work of God, St. Benedict says, and we had these seven hours of prayer day by day, and I loved it, I must say, it's a beautiful prayer in the Latin, and I was quite happy with it, but when we came now to Chandiwanam, the Indian tradition of contemplative prayer, of meditation, came much more into our lives, and now I consider the hour of prayer in the morning, the hour in the evening, as fundamental, we have it at Sandhya, the time of dawn and sunset, which is considered the sacred time for meditation, and that as I say to me is fundamental, this personal relationship to God in meditation, each one has to find that unique relationship, and that makes a great change, but I think it's also rather in harmony with the Kamaldi tradition, because you see you have also


gone from the communal liturgical life to the hermetical solitary, where this personal prayer is more significant, and that of course is one of the things that drew us to Kamaldi. So we see now the two hours of prayer, which can of course be increased for many who can take longer times, and then we have three hours of prayer, morning, noon and evening, and we've limited the songs to two, the prayer doesn't normally take more than twenty minutes or half an hour, and so it has a limited place, but I think a very important one, I find that common prayer three times a day really keeps the community together and keeps the whole ashram together, it really does centre the life, though as I say I regard the times of personal prayer as even more important. Now there are two things which concern with that, first of all as regards the simplicity


of life, as I say they tried a radical simplicity, which was too much at first, and then they got a certain balance, and when we came we had to develop the life, and one of the first things we did was to get in electricity, and you may be interested to know, it was rather interesting that the head of the electricity board in Trichy, the neighbouring town, was a Brahmin, and we entered our name, and there was a long waiting list for electricity, but he put our list name at the top, he said this is being done for God, it must have the first place, and that is rather typical of the Indian attitude, and so we got our electricity, and I find that very important, you see I think we've got always to test our life in relation to modern technology, I don't think we, we shouldn't simply take it, you see, without discrimination, and on the other hand we shouldn't reject it without discrimination,


but when it really advances the life we're intending to lead, then we should be perfectly free to use it, and when it hinders that life, we should reject it. So we put in electricity, and we've made it reasonably convenient now, so that we think not only of the monks but of the guests who come to stay, some from abroad, that it's reasonably convenient, it's not what they're used to, but it's not too hard for them. So, you see, I do think this is important, this continual questioning our standard of life, we shouldn't simply accept things, because other people are doing it, therefore we can do it, but we try to relate always the way we're living to the purpose of our life, and it needs great discrimination I think, it's quite small things one can discern what we ought to have and what we ought not, obvious things like television for instance, you see, should you have a television room


in your monastery, they have it commodely of course, but you have to make your choice. And so that question of the standard of life, and you see in America today there is a very considerable movement I believe towards greater simplicity, there's a book called Voluntary Simplicity came out some years ago I think, which is very, I mean it's a secular movement towards greater simplicity of life, and to connect it also with a holistic way of living, with ecology, with a concern for your natural surroundings, concern for the kind of food you eat, and the kind of clothes you wear, the whole life you're living, so this is part of a wider movement, you see, and I think monks are right at the centre of that, we should be discerning how we relate to our natural surroundings, how we, what kind of food we have, what kind of clothes we wear, how we relate to the society in general, and


to this mode of life, you see, to which we are being called, which makes these demands. And so often I think we simply tend to take either what the society gives or what our own tradition gives. For instance, I'm told that the Carmelite sisters in India began, I hope they didn't continue, to wear woolen habits, you see, in India, because St. Teresa used it in Avila, you see. And that kind of thing can be ludicrous, you see, you simply impose unnecessary penances on yourself which have no real meaning. So always trying to relate our standard of life, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the whole situation, to the real call of God in the monastic life, and not to, either to the society in general or simply to a past tradition which may no longer be relevant. So that was this question


of standard of life, and one's always facing it, I mean, we still have to question sort of new things that come, whether it's acceptable or not. And then the other thing is this question of private prayer and liturgy, and there I think obviously in the Camaldolese tradition you have a very, very interesting, you see, combination which is unique, really, of the community life and the solitary life. And on the other hand, I think everything depends on establishing that relationship, and the difficulty of our life normally is we have to combine opposites, you see, because there's a call to solitude which goes on and on and on to total transcendence, and there is also a call to community, and I think everyone has to relate himself to those two. The most solitary monk has to be related to the community, and the man who's living in the community has also to have his own very personal life, his own unique relationship with God, and we've


all got to be balancing them, and it's not static. At one time we may be called to greater solitude, another time to more community, and I think in Camaldoli now they have rather a good relationship. As you know, in the past there's been a tension, the hermits want to be separated, have their life alone and reject the community, but I think everything depends, really, on this balance and harmony of the community with the solitary life. You see, in our ashram we each have a separate hut, but the huts are somewhat near together and they're rather close to the guesthouse and so on, so we're not very separate from the rest of the ashram, and many of the monks now feel that we're not sufficiently separate, and on the other hand we're beginning to build huts in a more remote area, and we're thinking now of moving the community over to those huts so that they can have greater solitude, and we would be open, and we probably will eventually have huts that are still more


remote in place, so that there'll be greater silence and solitude. And so we try to keep that openness, and as I say, I feel it should be flexible. We've not had any hermit at present, but people can take times for solitude, maybe a few days, maybe a week or a month, or it could be of course a year or more, and again I think that has to be related to the community and to the individual person, and there shouldn't be great openness. I find it very distressing, you know, that these active orders in the church don't seem to have any place for a contemplative or a more solitary vocation. We get many sisters coming to us, especially, who've got a very clear call to contemplation and a wanting more silence, more solitude, and they cannot get it in their congregation. They have to leave, and it seems ludicrous to me that you have to renounce your vows to God because you want to live more totally


in the service of God, you see. They're not renouncing their vocation at all, they're asking that they be able to go to a deeper level of it, and some are recognizing it, but I think it's extremely important, and that brings on this whole question of contemplation and action, you see. We've got stupid kind of division, contemplative life and active life, whereas really all Christian life is orientated towards contemplation, it's the final goal of Christian life, and all Christian life has a community dimension, you see, and each one has to find his place in that, and again they're opposites, you see, it's the vertical and the horizontal, and there is a vertical call to be solitude, to silence, to be alone with God, to experience this unique relation with God, and the opposite, to be open to the world, to others, to the whole community, and we have to reconcile whatever – if we're living the most solitary life, we've got to be related to the community and to the rest of the world, and if we're living a community life, we want each one


to have this unique call. So it's living coincidencia opositorum, as St. Nicholas of Giza said, the coincidence of opposites, we've always got to learn to balance opposites, and it's so much easier to go one way or another, you see, but not to live in that tension, that polarity, you see, which is also the polarity of the male and the female and all these opposites which make up human life. So that is the problem of solitude and community, and I think you've got a unique opportunity here, really, of working that out, but it does need working out, it's not a simple thing, obviously, and we've gone very little in that direction, we're much more concerned at the moment with building a community, and perhaps I should give the background to that, you see, we took people at a very early age, Raymond and Anthony, another brother, and they had to have some


education, and Anthony took the high school thing, and then both of them took college, and then they both did philosophy, and they both went out to study philosophy. This is not good, you know, going to seminaries and things, it breaks up your monastic life, but I don't think there's any other way, we couldn't do it in the ashram, certainly, and that education is needed, and also, you know, to be able to relate to the society around you. If you separate yourself too soon, before you know what the world is like, you get an unbalanced view of it, you see, and I think it's necessary to get that experience. That's why vocation, which is somewhat later, I believe today vocation tend to come after 25 very often, which can be very good. So, they had to be going out like that, and consequently, we were not able to build up community life as much as I would like, and we're doing so


much more now, and that is what I hope, we can grow more and more together as a community, and then this openness to a greater solitude, it should always be there. So, as I say, this is something we all have to work out in our lives, each individual and each community, how to relate the community and the solitude. And now, the next thing is this relationship to the world outside. Now, in the ashram traditions, it's extremely interesting that there's total openness to the world. Take any Hindu ashram, and people come from all parts to it, and yet they retain a very strong contemplative life, you see. And I think this is something we have to learn, really. Perhaps the root of it is this, you see, that a Hindu ashram begins from a sannyasi who has a unique experience of God. It's all focused on the experience of God. And people come there to share that experience, and then the neighboring people


will come to bring their problems to somebody who has God-experience, you see. They believe he has an insight which others may not have. So the whole thing centers in that experience. And that is why I think this times of prayer, of personal prayer and meditation, is so fundamental, because each one should be requiring this experience of God, this awareness of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, so that he becomes a spiritual father, you see. That is really the goal. That's what I'll term for it. A realized soul, they say among the Hindus. So you see, it's very interesting, again, this opposites being open to the world, and it really is the world, you know. Poor peasants will come along with their problems, and women will come along with their children, their family problems, old people and young people. Of course, in modern Hindu ashrams, people from the West will come as well as from India. So they're open to all these influences, and yet the whole thing centers on an inner life


of prayer, and usually of some liturgy. Though, of course, in the Hindu ashram, liturgy is much less significant. They have this bhajan singing, this chanting, it's one of the main features. And there perhaps it's worth mentioning, as relating to the liturgy, that this bhajan singing is very popular. What we were doing yesterday, this Om Namah Krishna, you see, like that. You take some simple phrase and you repeat it, and then everybody takes it out. And it goes on for hours sometimes, you know, and the repetitive prayer has a tremendous power. Because, you see, when we pray, we're trying not to be discursive. We don't want to be going from one thing to another. We want to focus our minds. And this chanting focuses the mind and unifies it, you see, with all the people as well. And so I think, you know, this is something very valuable for our prayer and liturgy. Now we have Sanskrit, you see, which is a very sacred language and has tremendous power. And obviously that's


not very meaningful in America. But, you know, I seriously wonder whether we shouldn't consider Latin again as a sacred language which has a certain power in it. You see, I was brought up for 25 years in the Latin liturgy, and it's incredible beauty, you know, and sacredness in that chant. And I think it's a pity that we should lose that. We needn't use it too much, you see. We don't use Sanskrit a great deal. You have an opening prayer which sort of sets the tone, you see, and then you have a chant at the end maybe. And I think we could use Latin like that. And I'm told, you know, at Taizé, the Protestant Benedictine community in France, they are developing something very interesting like that, that they have some short phrase saying, Christus sur exitallelui, or something like that, and they chant it again and again, and the whole people take it up. So that would be a perfectly valid way of introducing this kind of chant, you see, which has a powerful effect on you. As it


grows, you know, the chanting going on, everybody is affected by it, and it really opens your heart and mind and gives you an experience of God, you see. So I think we ought to consider that very seriously, and it could be easily integrated in the literature. And for us, it has a very great importance, and a Hindu ashram is practically everything. Most of them, the whole prayer is simply a chanting, in that Muktananda's ashram, at Ganesh Puri or Sai Baba's ashram, at Whitefield, all that is chanting together is the prayer, you see, and then times of silence, of course. So that's really worth considering. But now, again, I go back to this openness to the world. Again, you see, it's this combining of opposites, and what attracted me to Kamaldi, you know, they asked why we wanted to join at one time, to write it down, and I said what struck me in Kamaldi was the combination of a monastery which was open to the world, and hundreds of people coming there, and an


eremo where people could be withdrawn, you see. And that seems to me to combine these two extremely well, and this openness I think is extremely important for monks. You see, it's good to go into solitude, but 99 out of 100, if not 100 out of 100 people, need the relationship to the community and to the world. And to me, it's tremendously stimulating. People sometimes say to me, don't you get sort of overwhelmed with all these people coming and so on, but if you have your times of prayer, your times of meditation, your times of Lectio Divina, then you should be able to take in what these people bring, and it keeps you in constant contact with human nature, with the human reality in which we're living, you see. Otherwise we can get separated from it and really become irrelevant to it, and lose the existential contact, you see. So I think this is very important. And again, it's different for different people, you see. One needs more solitude and less contact.


Another person really is helped by a great deal of contact with outsiders. And both find their place in a contemplative community. And so, now this contact with outsiders, it's the local people, of course, come constantly. And then in our ashram, as in all Hindu ashrams, we've got this steady influx now of people from the West, you see. And that also is extremely stimulating because, you see, they're all in search of God. And it's really wonderful to listen to their stories, you know. And they go through terrible experiences very often, and they've tried fasting and watching at night and repeating prayers and so on, often in an undisciplined way. But really in the search, you see, and it stimulates you and it helps you to realize your own vocation. So there's a two-way traffic there all the time. You are giving something, which they need, you see. These people in search need


some stability, a tradition, some community where they can see what they're seeking, realize that at the same time, that community is constantly stimulated by this search for God, you see, this vitality which they bring to it. So there again, it's very much, you see, you have always to be open to the world, to what people are bringing to you, and yet preserving your own tradition, preserving your own inner life of prayer, preserving your relationship to God in solitude. So it's interrelationship all the time, this balance of opposites. Now that brings us to the further question of the relation of the Church to other religions. You see, once we begin to open to the world, we contact other religions. In India, of course, we're surrounded by Hindus on every side, and we have to relate to the Hindus. And that


changes our attitudes in many ways. But here also, in America, you see, you've got, particularly here in California, you've got Zen centers and Tibetan Buddhists and yoga centers and so on, on every side. And we are being challenged by those, because, you see, each of these religions offers itself as a total way of life, total way of human existence and of human fulfillment. Each one, you see, offers total fulfillment, whether it's Buddhism or Hinduism or Sufism, whatever it may be. And many, many are finding fulfillment in those religions. And many Catholics are. I'm told that in the Zen center, is it in Los Angeles or somewhere, or San Francisco, the majority are Catholics, you know. And they don't find what they're looking for in Catholic institutions. That is the problem. And most of the people who come to us from the West don't find the kind of prayer, of meditation, of experience


which they're looking for in their churches or even in monasteries in the West. Maybe many have not gone very deeply, no doubt, and some have just rejected everything. But it is a challenge, really, you see. And these people are offering ways of prayer, ways of meditation, a practical method. So often we don't offer any practical method for them. Now, one of the monasteries which has been most effective in America, I think, is Spencer Abbey of Abbott Thomas and Fr. Bethel Pennington, where they did some Zen meditation and transcendental meditation and developed this method of centering prayer. And that is an extremely practical method, a totally Christian method, but drawing on the traditions, the way, the methods of Oriental spirituality. And so that to me is a very important dimension that in our personal prayer we can discover methods and we are able to help other people, you see. We may


be able to follow a Christian tradition and earn ourselves, but other people are looking and they need some method. And what we do, you know, in the ashram, we give a very simple sort of yogic method of prayer, which is extremely simple, but it begins with sitting. And that is important, you see. We attach very little importance to the position in prayer, but the asana in the Hindu tradition is fundamental. How you sit will determine how you pray. If your body is tense and so on, then your mind will be tense and your whole prayer will be one-sided. And on the other hand, if the body is relaxed and open, then the mind is relaxed and open and you are open to God. But of course it is not mere relaxation. You are relaxed and firm, they always say, sukha-sthira. Sukha-sthira, easy and yet firm. And which means you shouldn't move, you see. You have to learn to sit without moving. They often ask you to sit for an hour without moving. It is extraordinary how difficult it is. And


so they teach a method of asana like that, and we do too, and breathing. They all say that the breathing relates the body to the mind. When your mind is disturbed, your breath comes quickly. When your mind is calm, your breath is regular, and vice versa. When your breath is calm and regular, your mind also becomes calm. And so you link your breath to the mind in that way. And then we use the Jesus Prayer, you see, as a mantra. And most people need some mantra, some words to repeat. You see, if you are doing the ordinary meditation on the Bible, the Gospel, you reflect on it, you apply it to yourself, see how it relates to your life, you try to change your life in that way. And that is a good beginning, but that is really only a beginning. And the next stage is you become aware that Jesus, whom you're talking to, who you're reading about, is not a person in the past, he's present


to you. You try to relate to the presence. And then you enter more and more deeply into that presence, and a word keeps you in the presence, you see. And that is the purpose of the mantra. Some people simply use the name of Jesus, some use, we in India, we say Om Sri Yesu, or Yesu Om you can use, but you would obviously adapt in your own way. And Brother Amaldas, who has developed a very effective method now of meditation, which he teaches to others, uses the mantra Yesu Abba. Yesu as you breathe in, Abba Father as you breathe out. You breathe in the whole world, everybody, everything, all the troubles of life and everything in Jesus, and then you surrender everything to the Father, Yesu Abba. So some simple formula like that is extremely helpful, you see, and people are looking for something like that. They don't know how to meditate and what to do, but if you just use some simple asana, breathing, and then some word. And for the Christian prayer, I


think the name of Jesus is extremely important. We have this wonderful tradition in the Eastern Church, you see, which has come down all these centuries, and it has power in it. I use the full form, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, but most people find that too long. But one must find one's own mantra, you see, that's very important, that there's some word, some phrase, some form which answers your particular need, which opens you up, which focuses your person, and that's what you have to find, and then you go on quietly repeating it. And on the other hand, you know, there's no need to be too rigid about it, so you must always keep the same mantra. Many Hindus insist on that. It may be good in certain circumstances, but often I think it's necessary to be rather flexible, and when other words come, to let those words come out, and then go back maybe. But you probably need a basic mantra, particularly when you're tired or depressed or distracted,


you see, that is when your basic mantra comes in. It goes on quietly, and it gradually calms your mind, you see. But a mantra is extremely important, I think, for contemplative prayer. And the aim now is very important, of course, your asana, your pranayama, your breathing and your mantra are only means to calm the body, calm the mind, and be open to the Holy Spirit, you see. There's nothing else that's open to that movement, that grace, that gift which is totally beyond us, you see. But that is the purpose of the discipline. And that, as I say, is the value of these Hindu and Buddhist methods. They teach a method which brings you to that point, but what you're going to find at that point depends on your faith, whether you're a Hindu or a Christian or a Buddhist or whatever, you see. So that could be our method, our way. And so that is the challenge of the different religions.


And I feel today the Catholic Church and Christian churches cannot keep separated from other religions. We have to recognize that God has been at work in all these religions in different ways and they're all related to Christ. And again and again, you know, today they say we live in one universe, one world, and they're not independent, you know. The way the Hindu devotion to a personal God, the Bhagavan, grew up two or three centuries before Christ and how the Bodhisattva, the one seeking nirvana who makes the vow not to enter nirvana till every soul has been saved, these ideas of a personal God, of his mercy, his compassion, were all fermenting around the time of the Incarnation. And they're not independent, you see. It's all part of a cosmic scheme. And Christ comes to that center in which these things converge. And more and more I think we have to see the Church as a point of convergence,


you see, of these different religious traditions, but which means we have to be totally open to whatever those traditions can give us. So that is part of this total openness to the world. Yes, I think those were the main points I wanted to make. Perhaps it would be good if we could have some questions about them. One of the polarities of Buddhism and Baptism is also affected by the monastic life. Is there a difference between men and women? Yes. I'm sorry, I didn't mention that. That's been very interesting, you see. We started as a very traditional Catholic community, three brothers and no men, no women. And then from the beginning we received both men and women as guests into the ashram, and they


shared not only the prayer but also the meals. That came from the time of Father Moshina and that is the Hindu tradition. So that we accepted from the beginning. And I found that very helpful, you know. I do think this polarity again, that men need women and women need men. And the monk is a man after all, and he can't escape these needs of nature. And so we accepted that. And then a sister came who felt extremely attracted to the life and great devotion to Father Moshina and would like to join us really. But we didn't feel that we could accept a sister into the community. And I think we were probably right, both from the situation in Tamil Nadu and in the church as a whole. And so she decided to start an ashram beside ours, just across the road really. And she started an ashram there, and it's


grown, it's mainly, she puts up huts there where visitors can come. We thought at first that it would be more a women's ashram and ours are men, but we have women coming to ours and she has men coming to hers, so it's become mixed. But she has put up about twenty huts she has there now, all among the coconut trees, it's beautifully set out in the shade. And many, many people come there. And of course they come to the ashram for prayer, they usually come for an institution which we have of coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon, and everybody sits round under the mango tree and they share together. Now there's another point which we found very interesting, that you see many people think of a retreat as you go into silence and solitude, and that of course is one way and can be very helpful at times, but there's also a retreat where you share. And most people


who come to the ashram, I've been most interested to find how much they learn from the other visitors, guests there. Often they just seem to meet the person who answers their need, you know. And it's in these meetings of coffee and tea they share with one another, and really serious conversation and serious understanding is reached among them at that time. In fact to me it's been one of the graces of the ashram that I can sit there and things happen without my knowledge and without my will necessarily, but you have to create the atmosphere in which those sort of things can happen, you see, that is the point. If people feel they're being kept out in any way or not wanting to talk, then of course it changes. But there again, as I see it, is this combination, you see, of the monastery where you're open and you share, and the Ero Remo where you have the greatest solitude. So she's formed this ashram, and now one other person has joined her permanently, and a third is hoping to


join very soon, a very wonderful sister. She's a Franciscan bishop, Mary, who's wanted contemplative life for years and years, and wanted an ashram, but her congregation wouldn't allow it, and she's a great scripture scholar too and has been giving wonderful courses on the Bible, but she now would like to join. So a little women's community is coming up there, and then, as I say, all these other people come there. So now we have a very good polarity in that. We're really open to one another, and yet there is really a seclusion too, you see. She has her own group there, and we, as I say, have our own group of monks and we want them to be a little more separate. So again, one has to find this separation and yet communion, you see, sharing. So that's how that has worked out with us. But again, it is a matter of polarities, and you have to work out how you can relate.


You see, some have gone too far. There was a wonderful little community I visited in Masseblanc in Spain. It was a mixed community, men and women, which was started by a group who had been monks at Montserrat. And he inspired these... Stanislaus, wasn't he? Stanislaus. Stanislaus, Father Stanislaus is leading a solitary life in Japan, and he inspired these others. They were mostly simply professed or not solemnly professed, and they left Montserrat and started this community in a wonderful about 300 acres of forest land outside Barcelona and had a summer living hermit life, little huts there, and then a community and mixed men and women. But they were having problems. I went there four years ago, I think, and


they were having problems how to relate the men and the women and feeling they should be more separate. And I hear since then they've had a lot of problems, people falling in love and so on, and marriages, and that tends to break a community up. So there again, one has to find the proper balance. But I think this is something we all have to face, you see. The whole movement is growing now, and this whole sense of polarity in the society and in the church, and we have to really recognize that dimension in our life and see how we can relate to it. I'd like to ask you a little specifically about sharing worship, sharing meals and things like that, your experience with regard to the men and the women. Sharing... Sharing worship and sharing meals. Yes. What kind of guideline have you arrived at? Yes. Sharing worship is no problem, of course. They all come very freely. Sharing meals,


we always have silence at meals, you know. I'm very keen on it. Most people don't like it at all. But I find it very good. And for a practical thing, you get through a lot of very interesting books which you wouldn't have time to read otherwise. And secondly, I find making conversation at meals very troublesome. And thirdly, you see, it does bring a sort of recollection into the meal. It makes it sound prayerful. And we always start the meal with a chant, Om Shakti, which is a very impressive chant and puts people in a right mood. And so with their silence at meals, it doesn't raise much problem, you see. I think it's really a rather simple solution to the thing. Because if you get a lot of talking, then of course a lot of sharing will take place and more problems can arise. So one has just to work that out. Are there a lot of vocations in India? I have a friend who is in Kathmandu, Nepal, by the


And he's working mainly with Indian, young Indian men who want to become Marianists. Become? Marianists. He is a Marianist, a Marianist artist. And from the way he writes, it's just almost overflowing. They can't take anybody from Nepal because they're not allowed to do anything but teach. But they get from India. But they get them from India. I know when I first mentioned this to somebody who had been in Kathmandu, they said, oh, he's doing something against the law. He's going to get caught with the jail. And I said, oh no. And then I let them read his letter and they said, oh, what he's doing, he has Indian young men. And it just seems like they have vocations


almost more than they can handle. Yes, that's a bit of a problem, you see. There are a great number of vocations in India, especially in Kerala, and now much more in Tamil Nadu, and many in Mangalore and Goa, all these Christians, Catholic centers, you see. And there's a flow of vocations from them. But it has its dangers, you see. They're all formed in a rather traditional Catholicism and they tend to form kind of ghettos, you see. They form a Catholic community which has very little relation to the society in which they're living, you see, certainly to the religious traditions around them. And so I'm rather against those communities, you see. I don't know what his would be like, but that is the tendency. They get a lot of young Indians from South India and put them down in Nepal or in North India somewhere, and then they form a Catholic community there, but unrelated to the Hindu society around them, you see.


And that we feel is counter-effective in the end, you see, because the church gives this impression of being a foreign religion with its little islands in India, you see, but not related to the whole spiritual quest of India. So that is the real problem. But true, vocations, you see, are abundant in India. There's many congregations. Their main influx is from India today, you know. Jesuits, for instance, are getting a vast number. So, but as I say, it very much depends on the kind of training you give them and whether you're open to the whole Indian tradition, you see. We feel very strongly that if a Catholic community wants to live in India, then they must relate to the Indian tradition, which means partly Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh. It's a whole spiritual tradition, you see, which has gone for thousands of years, and we have to be related to that. We have to find our place there, that is our need. Father, when a person has a vocation from one type of culture, and that contemplative


life, there isn't that contemplative life in that culture, so he tries to go to another culture, he'd probably have trouble relating in the communion like they're doing here. That would be a big problem. It can be a problem, but I think today people are discovering more and more, you know, that you can relate, where you can come from a Catholic culture or Christian culture, and you can relate to Zen Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism and so on, and enrich your religion. You see, this is the real problem today, how we can, as Catholics, as Christians, within the Orthodox Catholic tradition, we can open ourselves to the spiritual values of Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, the Hinduism, Yoga and so on, and enrich our own religion and be open therefore also to the religions of the others, you see. And that to me is really the core of the church today, you see. It's difficult for some, but in my experience, people find it a wonderful


experience, you see, they simply find it opens them up, you see. If a person felt called to connect with the black community, if he was with the culture, the general culture and community, he would be easier for him to relate and he could open up to the other people, and he'd be easier that way. Yes, but you see, a tradition is always a living thing, isn't it? It's growing from and we receive a certain tradition from the past, but it's an open tradition, a flowing one and it should be able to expand, you see. I mean, that's how I see the Benedictine tradition, you see, it's not simply St. Benedict, it's a whole monastic tradition coming down from the New Testament, from the fathers of the desert through St. Basil and all the rest, canonized by St. Benedict at a certain time in a certain way, and then flowing on through medieval Europe to the present, but it's a living, growing tradition. And now we're being challenged to encounter the monastic tradition of the East, you see. That's the interesting thing, it's a monastic tradition.


And when we meet Tibetan monks especially, but also Hindu and other Buddhist monks, we see this kind of community, you know. You see, the most interesting experience, Praglia in Italy, you know, it's the Padua Benedict community there, and the abbot there, with various other friends, opened up this dialogue with other monks, and I went to a meeting three years ago, four years ago, I think, and we had Buddhist monks and Hindu monks with the Benedictines, and at the first meeting I was told, it was very tense, the monastic community wasn't really ready for it, didn't know what they were in for, and these people came and all these strange happenings took place, but apparently by the end of the week there was an extraordinary sort of understanding had been reached. And the second time when I came, then there was really complete openness, and the Hindu


did his puja there, and the Buddhist did a Buddhist ceremonial, and we celebrated an Indian mass, and the whole thing begins to come together, you see. Of course it needs discernment, it's true, and people get afraid of syncretism, but syncretism is simply mixing, you see, without discrimination, whereas what the church today is seeking, call it ecumenism if you like, is to be an authentic Christian tradition which is open to the values in us, you see, that's very much the secret. And I think we ought all to have a certain openness, obviously different in many, but I think everybody ought to have a certain openness, otherwise you're closing your own tradition, you see, you're saying now we stop here, but the thing is a growth. Do you see any clear difference between the dialogue that you're speaking of conducted in India, where you're in touch with those traditions still brought from their roots perhaps, and here in California, for instance, where we have a kind of imported Eastern


culture? Yes, it's very different, but you know what strikes me here, and that's why I found it at Esalen very much, is the way people are beginning to relate to the American Indian tradition. I think that's very important, you see, this was a very sacred country to the Indians, those hot springs of Esalen were one of their sacred places, you see, and that belongs to the past of America, you see, and you can't ignore your past. And then again, you know, psychologically people are discovering if you try to ignore your past, it's simply there and it comes up in the most unexpected ways. It's a negative force, you see, but once you accept your past, it becomes a creative force. So I would think some relation to the American Indian, you see, at Osage Monastery, it's in Oklahoma, they call it Osage, which is the name of the Indian tribe, and they, not very much, but they have created a sort of, the altar and so on, relating to the sun dance, they've tried to give a certain ambience of the American Indian tradition, so I think


that is a point of insertion into traditional culture. And don't forget, all these traditional cultures are interrelated, you see, the American Indian has its links with the Indian culture, you know, there is a common tradition behind all these things. What I call the cosmic revelation, God, knowing God in the whole creation, you see, that is the base of all these religions. You were going to ask something. Father, you spoke of many people coming into the monastery in great open and stuff like do the brothers ever leave? Or very often, I know they do for studies, but other than that, do they ever go and come back? Yes, that is an interesting point which we've made with Kumaldini, you see, in Hindu tradition you have what is called parivraj, that is the way of wandering. In fact, the typical Hindu and Buddhist monk is a wandering monk, you know. He's not supposed to stay more than three days in one place. And the only, why the ashrams, not the ashram, why the Buddhist monasteries first grew up


was because in the rainy season you couldn't go wandering, and so they settled in one place for the four months of the rainy season, that became a monastery. And so gradually the monastic tradition grew. But originally they were wandering. And still today the typical Hindu sannyasi wanders, but frequently he settles in an ashram always for the rainy season, he'll settle in an ashram, and then he may settle for life, of course. So the two go on side by side. And we feel that we should keep that tradition. And many people have tried this wandering, you know, without money. Raymond tried it for a week once. He had a terrible experience, he thought he was going to die. But God comes to the rescue always at the last moment. And many, many have done this. And you get an extraordinary sense of divine providence, you know. Unexpected ways people come and offer you something.


Here in America it's very different. You're taken up as a vagrant very soon, aren't you? And I don't know what you do about it. But that you have to work out. Brother John has tried that. But we suggested to Kamaldoli, you see, that as we have the community life and the solitary life, we should also have that third stage, St. Romuald, the evangelical life, that you can go out and share in some way. And we've not gone very far, but I feel very open to that, you see, to be able to go out and share. And maybe, you see, typically in India you would visit other ashrams. You see, you visit Hindu ashrams. Now, Raymond and Krishnadas and Namadas have all been out in that way, visiting other Hindu ashrams. And so you enrich your experience in that way. But there again you'd have to adjust that to a situation in America,


but I think it's a very important way. You mentioned syncretism before. I was wondering if you could say more about that. Because you've made a differentiation now, and I'm glad to hear that. How do we remain open, and yet what would be the safeguards so we don't get caught in syncretism? Yes, it is a problem. You see, the Hindu particularly is entirely syncretist, you see. He says there are no differences in religion at all. That's the great difficulty. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, even Christianity are all one religion. You see, they differ only in externals, the cult and customs, you see. And they even put most Sufis in their clothes. Ramakrishna is a typical example, you see. He said, we go to the river and we take water. And one calls it pani, which is the Hindi for water, and another calls it wellam, which is the Malayalam, Kerala word for water,


and another calls it tanya, which is the Tamil word for water. There are only names for the one reality, you see. There's only one religion and we give it different names. Well, that is frightfully superficial, you see, and meaningless. And another Hindu put it to us, it's like you sit down to a meal and one likes some fish and another likes some meat, another wants some vegetables. They're all different foods, but they all feed the same man. So religions are all different. You each choose your own food, you see. But all that is syncretistic and childish, I think, really. But what we call it ecumenical, you see. In ecumenism, with Christian ecumenism, the Catholic remains a Catholic, but he opens himself to the values in the other church. He recognizes the presence of Christ in the other church. He sees their values, their biblical knowledge, their prayer, and so on. And we relate to that, you see, and we learn to harmonize it with ours. And so also with the other religions, you remain within the Catholic tradition


and then you open yourself. And it has to be a real openness, of course. You see what the council said, the Catholics should recognize, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral values of other religions. So you read the Upanishads, you read the Bhagavad Gita, you read the other bhakti writings in Hinduism, you see how they relate to Christ, you see. You've got continually to be relating the thing. It's a living contact you have to make. It needs great discernment, I think, but we find that it's growing everywhere. I mean, in our ashram we've had practically no problems that way. Most Catholics who come there find it without difficulty they can relate to the other religions without losing the Catholic tradition, you see. But an immature person, it can be, and many are caught up in a kind of syncretism, of course. There seems to be a movement here in the United States,


and how strong it is, more than not in frequent times, one might hear, there's no difference among the Christian churches, there's no difference among the Catholic churches, among all the congregational churches that follow. So why all these differences anyway? And I really think they're being simplistic too. For me, I find what does make a difference, what my tradition is, like you were mentioning the past, the Indians in our country, my past as a Catholic, and what that all brings in there, where I am today, is significant. I can't throw that out. You know what I'm saying? What I want to say is that it does make a difference which tradition I choose, and what it does to me and my relationship to the Lord as well. Are you thinking of a Catholic who observes other religions, or to a person without any religion who chooses?


Probably a person without any religion. That is another problem. That is another problem, and I think today we have to recognize that a vast majority, or certainly a vast number of people, have no particular religious affiliation, and have no religion very often, but they're in search of God. And I think each has to follow his own path. There's no doubt that some people are led through Hinduism, through Buddhism, through all different experiences, and they have to be true to what God is saying to them in that religion. And I've known many come through, you know, to Catholicism, through that path. But I think you have to leave people open, you see. You can't say that... I mean, God is leading people through these different... After all, he's been leading Hindus through Hinduism for thousands and thousands of years, you see. They had no other choice at all. You are a Hindu, and that was God's way of salvation for you, same with a Buddhist, same with a Muslim. So God is leading people through these different traditions,


and he's leading people today through different traditions. I think we would say, and I understand, that the Catholic Church is that sort of center of communion, you see. It's the center, Christ is the center, who in principle is open to religious truth wherever it exists, you see. Yeah, that was another statement that I was reminded of. You were talking about the mission of the Church, according to that Council, is to find truth wherever it exists and to claim it as your own. Yes, not to be too possessive about it. But to recognize that in a real sense it's a common search, you see. To me, what distinguishes mission today is that mission is always through dialogue. It's never simply giving one thing. It's always being open to the other. God is present in the other, he's led him so far in that way, and now we as Christians meet that other and we share, and we receive something from him and he receives something from us.


It's a real sharing that takes place. I'd like to make that question, part of his question, a little bit more specific relating to Christian ecumenicism. That very interesting Benedictine nun in Kansas City, Joan, who had become a counselor and so on, and she was working and counseling and teaching modern theology to different religious institutions, the United Church and other churches, and she found that she went wherever she was, to one church or another church or to a Catholic's when she was there, and this kind of what he would call sacredism of all the Christian churches are much the same and one simply goes into, feels communion with the particular community that one's with. How would you answer that question, that her Catholicism doesn't seem to her to be exclusively important anymore?


Well, the question of intercommunion is a problem, you know. I mean, I think that there are, how we had yesterday, there are occasions when one can open the communion very wide. As I said, the church did say in the declaration, isn't it, on ecumenism, that communion in the Eucharist is a sign of the unity of the Christian people and also a sign of desire for that unity, and it can on occasion. But you see, if you simply open, take all churches equal, then the real values of the Catholic tradition, equally the real values of the Orthodox or the Lutheran get lost. You've got to preserve the real values in each tradition, you see, that is the point. And Catholicism is in principle open to all these values, but in practice it's far from it. We're a very limited tradition, you see.


We've lost most of the Orthodox tradition, you see. Before the division we had this immensely rich spirituality of the Eastern churches, but we've lost most of that now, and we need to recover that. And then again the Protestants, you see, and Wesley, you see, this tremendous experience of conversion in Christ was a marvellous thing, you see, and something Catholic in itself. Wesley was very Catholic actually, but inside the church that sort of thing was very rare. So the church in practice is extremely limited, limited by its Western tradition, by particular circumstances, by our own limitations, but in principle the church is open to every valiant religious experience, you see. Where then falls the call also of the Vatican documents, the Vatican fathers, for the proclamation of the Gospel, the parable in Paul VI, the call to evangelization? Yes, I don't think it's contradictory, you see.


You're open to the other, but when you've established that openness then you can share. You see, when you go to, as I've often done, you go to a meeting of Hindus, say, you see, and we meet together and we share. Now what they want, we want to listen. What does that Hindu, we take a subject like prayer or salvation, what does prayer, what does salvation mean to the Hindu? And you as a Christian are asked to say, what does salvation mean to you? And you proclaim Christian salvation, you see. It's a wonderful opportunity, really, and they want to hear what is your tradition, you see. But you do it with total openness, and that I call proclaiming the Gospel, you see. By openness you're not necessarily saying the openness to the extent of compromising your Christian position, are you? Openness to the? To the point of being compromised in your Christian position. No, no, you don't compromise. You see, we make a principle, the same in Christian ecumenism and in this wider ecumenism, you never compromise your own tradition, you see.


You speak from the depth of your own tradition and then try to lift the other. The compromise is always a mistake at every level. Which means that one really has to be knowledgeable and living his own tradition quite well before he has the authority, in a sense, to come and die about it. You have to have a certain maturity, but your maturity grows with the contact, you know. That is the interesting thing. But there is danger in it. I mean, some people do sort of drift into a vague syncretism, you see, which is valueless or has very little value. Thank you. There's been such a resistance in the Catholic Church and in all of us, I think, to opening to this. We need an insight into the resistance that we feel inside of ourselves. There's a kind of psychology of opening to this kind of thing that we don't know much about. It's very difficult, yes. Yes. The interesting thing, you know, is Stan Grove, this man at Esalen, you know, he's been doing all these experiments with psychology.


And he's found, and it seems to be fairly evident, you know, that basic ideas of religion are present in everybody. That people bring out extraordinary experiences from Tibetan Buddhism or from some ancient religion from their psyche, you see, so that we all have in us, our human psyche is open to different expressions of religious truth, you see. We all have this depth in us. We tend to narrow ourselves to a particular tradition, but we can open ourselves to the whole cosmic revelation. God has been revealing himself in humanity from the beginning, you see, and each has its own value. The American Indians have a unique value, you see. And don't forget there was no other way of salvation for thousands of years. You see, the American Indians were probably here by 10,000 BC. So for 10,000 years there was no other way of salvation for an Indian except through that God-given tradition.


And it's a beautiful tradition, you know, the idea of the Great Spirit who is present in the whole earth, in the water, in the air, in everything you do, in the animals, in the trees. God is present everywhere and you've got to relate yourself to the presence of God in the world around you, the presence in your own tribe, the presence in your ancestors. It's a beautiful religion, you see, and that was God's gift to them. And we have to be open to whatever way God has revealed himself, you see. That I call the cosmic revelation, which is in the Bible, you see. Before Abraham you had the cosmic revelation, God's revelation in creation, and God's revelation in the human heart. And that is absolutely universal. Then comes the historic revelation in Abraham versus David Christ, you see, which Christ brings to fulfilment the whole cosmic revelation and the revelation to Israel, you see. He's like Melchizedek, this beautiful figure, you see. He belongs to the cosmic revelation.


He's not a Jew, he's not a Christian, and yet he's a saint. And Melchizedek is the figure of Christ, you see. You are a priest forever of the order of Melchizedek, the pagan priest, you see. It's beautiful. This is a little new, I know, in some ways, but it's spreading so rapidly and it's demanded of us now, you see. That's the point. And if we stick in a limited tradition, we get left out, you know. Because this is the way the whole humanity, I think, is growing. You see, what is so extraordinary in our experience in the ashram, we have people coming from all five continents and from at least 50 different countries and all in search of more or less the same thing. They're all seeking experience of God, which you can put in the terms of realising themselves, to find their true humanity, their true relation to God, to the universe, to other human beings,


and to the source of all, you see. So they're on the way to God. And that is going through all over the world today, you see. This search is going on from every different direction. And I feel the Church is called to show how she can be a centre of convergence for all this movement, you see, of humanity today. Yes, there you go. How do you think the charismatic movement in India is doing? Is it alive there? Has it affected the ashram? Sorry, how do you...? The charismatic movement. Yes, I think it's a very important movement, you know, because for the first time Catholics opened themselves to this spontaneous movement of the Spirit, didn't they? It has its adorations, no doubt, but I think it's very authentic from what I know of it and that the majority have been confirmed in their faith and have discovered the Bible very often


and have discovered the Christian liturgy, the people meeting at the mass. So I think in that sense it's extremely hopeful. I don't take to it myself, you know, that's not quite my way, but I think contemplative and charismatic are somewhat complementary, you know, and that probably the charismatic probably needs the contemplative dimension. Perhaps we need a bit more of the charismatic. In this country frequently you've got a tension between the charismatic movement and interest in the Eastern traditions. Yes. You said that the charismatic movement would be very fearful of the Eastern traditions. Yes, that is a problem. I don't understand why. Maybe it's something to do with the Protestant background. Yes, I think it is due to that, you know, the very biblical Christianity of the Protestants. But many charismatics, even in India, regard as yogurists of the devil. There's somebody in Bangalore going around teaching that, I know, and they're very fundamentalist very often. But there is an accident, there's no reason why a charismatic movement


should be bogged down in their tradition. It can be, don't you think? Well, partly it's more of an emotional thing, and the emotion tends to be exclusivistic like that. It wants to hang on to, it's like a love affair, you know, where one's in love with one particular person and then all other people are much lesser than that person. And so one falls in love with Christ through the charismatic movement, and it's not really an intellectual or a wisdom tradition. It comes from the heart. That's the danger, I think, that it's too emotional. But it needn't be. I think when it matures, then you get a real, as I say, understanding the Bible, and a more authentic tradition. But it can be too emotional. Well, being said it's not very charismatic, but I mean, that mass yesterday was totally charismatic. It's a deeper kind of charismatic thing, which is incorporated into and included in this contemplative and wisdom tradition,


rather than being exclusively emotional and feeling. And of course then it's an experience. These people have a strong experience, which gives such an authenticity at the moment to that particular tradition. And it's not intellectually reasoned out. It's just, well, I felt a certain thing, and therefore it must be... I want to share this great feeling that I have with other people. So often it comes out of a goodness of heart that they become so fundamentalist, out of good intention. Well, another important thing in the charismatic movement is this healing, you see. That's another dimension which has come up now, and it's very important. You see, in the New Testament, Jesus sent his apostles to preach and to heal, and we've frankly lost that, but they've recovered it, you see, and wonderful healings take place. And that should also be part, I feel, of our own tradition, you see, that contemplative prayer should lead to an experience of God, which will even be everybody, but certainly it would be quite normal


for a power of healing to manifest itself. It's like the Catholic or Hispanic, what's happening now, it seems, is that there's a greater interest in contemplation, so to put, when there are conferences, big conferences, they have the teaching of how to pray, and assigning prayers, and so forth. So it's kind of integrating the external worship, and so forth, too, with the inner dimension. So that is a maturing, isn't it, really? It started being very emotional, but I think it's maturing in many ways. And also I remember Le Saul saying how he liked to see this happening, this group, I remember reading him. He was kind of excited about the charismatic movement of the spiritual dimension of the Spirit awakening. Yeah. It's such a tremendous advantage when coming from this tremendously intellectual religion that so many of us are caught in,


to be able to open the emotional side. But then it needs the balance, the conjunctive balance between the two. Yeah. Thank you very much.