Bede Griffiths (17 December 1906 – 13 May 1993), born Alan Richard Griffiths and also known as Swami Dayananda (Bliss of Compassion), was a British-born Benedictine monk who lived in ashrams in South India.
I READ FR BEDE GRIFFITHS’ A New Vision of Reality way back in 1989 when it was published. Formerly a Benedictine monk at Prinknash Abbey, Fr Bede, the book’s dustjacket informs, left England in 1955 to travel to India to assist in the foundation of Kurisumala Ashram, a monastery of the Syrian rite in Kerala. In 1968 he moved to Saccidananda Ashram in Tamil Nadu by the sacred river Cauvery. This Ashram (founded in 1950) was a pioneer attempt to found a Christian community in India which would incorporate the customs of a Hindu ashram and the traditional forms of Indian life and thought. It seeks to become a centre where people of different religious traditions can meet together in an atmosphere of prayer and grow together towards that unity in Truth which is the goal of all religions.
I’m a devotee of Brother David Steindl-Rast whose website Gratefulness pointed me to the old VHS tape footage of Fr Bede (above) which is simply priceless …
You see, for me, coming to America from India – the complexity of life! All these telephones for one thing, you know, and cars and tv and so on. It’s very wonderful in its way but [in India] in the simplicity, you seem to get an integrity, your whole life becomes more whole … if people can learn to simplify their lives, you know, at least in part – some sphere of simplicity where you can let go and be simple in the presence of God …
Bede Griffiths never lost his grip of the most fundamental requirement for a child of God: living in the presence of God. His / her entire life story arises therefrom. But we human beings are forgetful as Bishop Kelvin Wright of Dunedin (another prophet possessed of “a new vision of reality” in our own day) wrote a day or two ago …
These empty worship shells scattered around the countryside are the signs of the death of a particular religious infrastructure. I look at them with such fascination, I think, because they represent a process which is still continuing. A particular way of meeting the spiritual needs of our society is disappearing because it no longer meets the needs of our society, and still we are preoccupied with preserving it: keeping our buildings open and making sure our functionaries are paid and making sure the committee structures which kept the whole system turning over are filled with the fewer and older and wearier people who still give us allegiance. I think we have missed – are missing – the point.
The role of the church is to introduce people to the Living God and open them to the transforming power of the presence of God. Gradually we have forgotten to do this. We have forgotten how to do this. We have forgotten, even, that we are supposed to do this. And quite naturally, and quite rightly, the infrastructure we have created precisely to help us to do this crumbles and dies.
The old churches tell me one thing and they tell it to me clearly and loudly: The church must facilitate personal transformation or it must cease to exist. It is time to forget the infrastructure except to the extent that it facilitates the one essential task of the Church. As my Lord tells me, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the rest will be added to you as well.”
Personal transformation before ecclesiastical transformation, that’s the secret. Jesus changed individual hearts before he changed church. Personal transformation begets ecclesiastical transformation, and thereafter societal transformation. Bede Griffiths, Roger of Taizé, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Kelvin Wright … might all have worn the name badge Swami Dayananda (Bliss of Compassion). And that’s where personal transformation begins: in compassion, first for oneself, and then for all other created persons and things, and that (Christ-like) compassion leads to “some sphere of simplicity” where we can “let go and be simple in the presence of God.”
In other words, we re-member. How lovely that an old VHS tape (oh, the simplicity of such things!) should bring Fr Bede to hearts and minds in 2011. How glad he might be to read Kelvin’s Available Light, even from the perspective of his now living entirely within it. Brother David, I’m grateful.