The Multireligious Quest of the Christian Sannyasa

Beverly Lanzetta Lectures

“I believe that the only really valid thing that can be accomplished in the direction of world peace and unity at the moment is the preparation of the way by the formation of men/people who, isolated, perhaps not accepted or understood by any “movement,” are able to unite in themselves and experience in their own lives all that is best and most true in the various great spiritual traditions.  Such men/people can become as it were ‘sacraments’ or signs of peace, at least.  They can do much to open up the minds of their contemporaries to receive, in the future, new seeds of thought.  Our task is one of very remote preparation, a kind of arduous and unthanked pioneering.”[i]

Like Thomas Merton, I believe that we are embarking on a new path towards peace, a path marked by the coming together of lay monastics from all walks of life. I feel that each one of us has the ability to be a pioneer for what “is best and most true in the various spiritual traditions.”

The following podcast is the talk I gave at Marywood University in September of this year titled “Christian Sannyasa: A Path of Mystical Union in Bede Griffiths & Abhishiktananda.” The Christian Sannyasa began in the latter decades of the twentieth century as a religious experiment in a remote ashram in India. Founded by European Benedictine monks, Saccidananda Ashram or Santivanam (“forest of peace”) as it came to be known, espoused a dual Hindu-Christian monasticism, and was to become the seed foundation of a lineage of Christian sannyasis (renunciates) that would grow into an international pilgrimage site.

In this talk, I turn my attention to the ideal of the Christian sannyasi—that is, one who lives a monastic commitment fully embedded in Christianity, fully embedded in Hinduism—in Frs. Bede Griffiths and Henri Le Saux (Abhishiktananda). Basing their practice on the dialogue of religious experience as it reaches into the depths of contemplation, and anchoring their vocation in self-surrender, they were pilgrims of a new path of mystical union. I concentrate on the spiritual development of their multireligious quest for final liberation, with reference to some proposals on the spiritual knowing that informs it.

[i] Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love: The Letters of Thomas Merton on Religious Experience and Social Concerns, ed. William H. Shannon (Gethsemani, KY: The Merton Legacy Trust, 1985), 126.