By Luis S. R. Vas July 2004 Several contemporary christian thinkers have delved deep into spirituality, often dialoguing with other faiths and imbibing from the indian heritage One can find the deeper roots of one’s own religious tradition by becoming immersed in other religions—and then returning ‘home’ to see one’s own heritage in a transformed way, with a transformed consciousness. Anthony De MelloWhen Bombay-born Fr. Anthony de Mello died of a heart attack at Fordham University, USA, at the start of a lecture trip across the US in 1987 at the age of 56, his numerous admirers were stunned and aghast. De Mello was at the height of his powers. Readers were lapping up his books which straddled eastern and western spirituality for the first time in a way that was accessible to people everywhere. Sadhana, a virtual transcript of a workshop on vipassana meditation, was his enduring best seller. His other books included The Song of the Bird, One Minute Wisdom and Wellsprings. The first two were collections of transformative stories and the last a collection of exercises in the mould of Sadhana. De Mello’s admirers were somewhat relieved when they learnt that he had left with his publishers Gujarat Sahitya Prakash a manuscript collection of more stories which were later published as The Prayer of the Frog in two volumes. Later two more manuscripts surfaced: Contact with God ( a collection of conferences), One Minute Nonsense (some more stories) and The Call to Love. As Fr de Mello’s popularity mounted, 10 years after his death the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) woke up and issued a notification warning of the dangers of de Mello’s work which it declared “incompatible with the Catholic faith” and a cause of “grave harm”. Fr. David Toolan S.J., a Jesuit editor, wrote: “In my judgment, Father de Mello’s Sadhana remains the best Catholic ‘how to’ book for someone looking for instruction in methods of prayer. Some of de Mello’s early texts, the CDF acknowledges, ‘can be helpful in achieving self-mastery, in breaking the bonds and feelings that keep us from being free, and in approaching with serenity the various vicissitudes of life’. But overall de Mello’s writings are said to exhibit a ‘progressive distancing from the essential contents of the Christian faith’. Particularly objectionable, it is alleged, are his concept of the unknowability and cosmic impersonality of God, his sense of Jesus ‘as a master alongside others’, a preference for ‘enlightenment’, criticism of the church, and an excessive focus on this life rather than life after death. Bishops were ordered to ensure that the offending texts are withdrawn from sale and not reprinted.” Fr. Toolan goes on: “The Vatican is bewildered by de Mello’s emphasis on ‘awareness’ and ‘interior enlightenment’ over against Scripture, doctrine, and belief—and puts the worst possible construction on de Mello’s awkward formulations. His stress on awareness, I would say, tries to get at the difference between theory and experience, external conformity and interiorised faith, or the letter of the law versus the spirit. The Vatican complains of ‘ambiguity’ and ‘perplexity’ in interpretation. “But of course. De Mello was not writing theology; he was a collector of parables, and loved to shake people up, get them thinking or reimagining. Above all, he was an artist in helping people to reimagine God—as much greater and more giving than they had dreamed… De Mello used an odd principle to get at the unfathomable goodness of God—the idea that God couldn’t be worse than you and I, but had to be at least as good as we are at our best. What came out of that pedestrian principle was a radical doctrine of divine abundance and grace.” “He loved stories,” says Fr. Joseph Brown, a Jesuit priest who coordinated de Mello’s workshops in St. Louis, USA. “He was an entertainer, a storyteller and a challenger. He blows your mind. He is one of the most powerful speakers I have ever heard. He makes you see things in different ways. He was a genius of devising exercises for people to get in touch with themselves and to pray out of that experience.” Joanne Callahan, a pastoral minister, says her friendship with de Mello had helped her in her work with the dying. “His exercises put us in the presence of our own death and our own feelings about that,” she says. Sadhana Institute was founded in Pune by Tony de Mello in 1973 (later relocated to Lonavla) as a centre for spirituality for the training of spiritual guides and retreat masters. Today it has evolved as an institute that attempts to integrate psychology and spirituality in an experiential way. From the very beginning there was a definite emphasis on the integration of the different aspects of the human person such as the emotional, intellectual and the spiritual. And there was also an emphasis on the integration of Christian spirituality with the Indian heritage. It offers courses that provide the flavour of the de Mello approach and point to his surviving legacy, despite CDF’s strictures which have been largely ignored. The courses are: Midi Sadhana (a retreat), Human Sexuality and Affectivity, Vipassana Retreat, Chetana: A Journey into Light, Breath and Spirit, Gita Sadhana: A Spirituality for Today, Breath & Spirit and Spiritual Emergencies, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)—Basic and Advanced, Intensive Journal and Process Meditation and Mini Sadhana. Raimon PanikkarFr. Raimon Panikkar is to Fr. Tony de Mello what J. Krishnamurti is to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, that is cerebral to the experiential, but no more of a conformist. The son of a Catalan Catholic mother and an Indian Hindu father, Raimon Panikkar was born in Barcelona (1918) and has pioneered a spirituality of interfaith and intercultural dialogue. His interdisciplinary approach was aided by his three doctorates in philosophy, chemistry and theology. In the 1940s, Panikkar became a Catholic priest and in the early fifties come to India for the first time where he studied Indian philosophy and religion (University of Mysore and Varanasi). During the next half century Panikkar held professorships in various European, Indian and US universities. Panikkar is currently Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, but lives in Tavertet, outside Barcelona, where he maintains a rigorous regimen of study, prayer and writing. He has also married (at 70), remains a ministering Catholic priest, but regards himself as a monk. Among Panikkar’s numerous books, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism; The Trinity and Religious Experience; Worship and Secular Man; The Vedic Experience; Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics, The Intra-religious Dialogue and The Cosmotheandric Experience qualify him as a major religious thinker. Notable collections of his essays include The Invisible Harmony and A Dwelling Place for Wisdom. The Rhythm of Being, based on his 1989 Gifford Lectures, is billed to be his “ultimate word”. One of them carries a statement that characterises his whole approach to spirituality and dialogue: “I left [Europe] as a Christian; found myself a Hindu; and I return as a Buddhist, without having ceased to be a Christian.” He bases his spirituality on a cosmotheandric principle which could be stated by saying that the divine, the human and the earthly—however we may prefer to call them—are the three irreducible dimensions which constitute the real. Three assumptions lie behind Panikkar’s cosmotheandric vision. The first is that reality is ultimately harmonious. It is neither a monolithic unity nor sheer diversity and multiplicity. Second, reality is radically relational and interdependent so that every reality is constitutively connected to all other realities. Third, reality is symbolic, both pointing to and participating in something beyond itself. For Panikkar, all cultures, religions and peoples are relationally and symbolically entwined with each other, with the world in which we live, and with an ultimate divine reality. Tony de Mello and Raimon Panikkar have followed in the tracks of pioneering spiritual dialoguers like Fr. Hugo Enomiya Lassalle, Bede Griffiths and Thomas Merton. Hugo Enomiya LassalleHugo Lassalle (1898-1990) was a German Jesuit running his mission in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped there. Later he created a Catholic zendo (meditation centre) called the Cave of Divine Darkness near Tokyo. He was probably the first serious Catholic practitioner of Zen in Japan. He studied under Yamada Roshi for many years, and was allowed to teach. In his book Living in the New Consciousness he writes that the content of enlightenment is the “experience of undivided, absolute reality. This reality can be experienced either as personal or impersonal… Genuine mystical experience resists all attempts at conceptual expression. This means that anyone who attempts to do so will utilise the categories available, although this by its very nature can easily lead to misunderstandings… In enlightenment, the Buddhist experiences his deepest self as one with absolute existence, and is strengthened as a result in his faith in the nonduality of all existence. The Christian and anyone who believes in a personal God experiences the self not only in himself, but also in his relationship to an absolute personal reality.” He wrote a book Zen: A Way to Enlightenment, which became a classic and was immensely influential to other Christians attempting to dialogue with Buddhists like Thomas Merton. Thomas MertonThomas Me
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