Editor's Choice

The Gifts from the East


The One Light by Bede Griffiths
"Bede Griffiths' fourth step towards a recovery of wisdom is his recognition of the divine dimension of the feminine. Repeatedly he identifies the Holy Spirit with the 'feminine side' of God. This is a very important point. This 'feminine' Spirit is the divine energy which is The Mother of creation, which brings forth all life, which moves the process of evolution. It also is"that divine life latent in the universe from the beginning, latent in nature, and becoming conscious in us....The Spirit is this energy of love in us, the power of the divine. It is the Source of our real being, by which we become conscious of the divine life in us and know ourselves as sons [and daughters] of God..."[27]"

THE GIFTS FROM THE EAST

"Let us single out some of Bede Griffiths' main contributions to the rebirth of a Christian wisdom in our time. First of all is wisdom itself: his quest of the 'golden string.' It is his conviction - and his ability to communicate that conviction - that there is another way of knowing, which is deeper than the ordinary way that we think in the contemporary West. There is a fuller spectrum of consciousness and you recognize its music in his voice as he speaks or writes. It is this fullness of voice which is to be recovered in Christianity.

Bede's second contribution, intrinsic to his conception of wisdom, is the principle of nonduality, or 'dvaita', and of a unitive absolute, the One. When Bede immerses himself in the world of the Indian scriptures - particularly in the 'Upanishads' - he discovers a perspective in which everything is one rather than multiple, in which all things are embraced within a single, ultimate reality. When Bede speaks of the 'perennial philosophy' or the 'primordial wisdom' or the 'universal wisdom', he can include within each of these expressions several levels of meaning - or several concentric spheres of meaning. The core meaning, however, is that unitive reality, or unitive absolute. Generally, when Bede speaks of the perennial wisdom in his later years, he means the principle of 'dvaita', or a single nondual reality, 'brahman-atman'. That absolute Reality, or unitive principle - which lies at the core not only of Hinduism but of Buddhism and Taoism - becomes the heart of Bede's vision. Identified with 'God' or 'Father,' the first divine Person, it becomes a key to a new Christian vision. There remains the further work of re-interpreting the mystery of Christ from this perspective of nonduality.

His third contribution is the unitive self, or atman. As soon as Bede has written about the nondual Absolute, he usually moves to the atman, because it is through the Self that the unitive ground of all reality is experienced. The search for the Self, Bede writes repeatedly, is the heart of the Vedantan way. In this focus upon the Self, Bede joins Thomas Merton and Abhishiktananda. The critical further step that is needed here from the Christian theological perspective is the correlation of this nondual self with baptismal initiation.

Bede Griffiths' fourth step towards a recovery of wisdom is his recognition of the divine dimension of the feminine. Repeatedly he identifies the Holy Spirit with the 'feminine side' of God. This is a very important point. This 'feminine' Spirit is the divine energy which is The Mother of creation, which brings forth all life, which moves the process of evolution. It also is"that divine life latent in the universe from the beginning, latent in nature, and becoming conscious in us....The Spirit is this energy of love in us, the power of the divine. It is the Source of our real being, by which we become conscious of the divine life in us and know ourselves as sons [and daughters] of God..."[27] This concept of a unitive 'divine feminine,' however, requires further differentiation from the archetype of The Mother.

Bede's fifth gift is something we observed early in our study: the vision of total integration which Bede conceives in terms of the three levels of being: spirit, soul (or mind) and matter (or body) - or, roughly speaking, God, humanity and the universe. Here too we can look toward a further differentiation: a differentiation of the 'masculine' and 'feminine' poles of this intermediate human level of mind-soul. The tripartite vision of cosmos and human person may thus open laterally into a further fullness which corresponds to the cruciform mystery of Christ as it is found in the New Testament.[28] Corresponding to what we have called Bede Griffiths' basic myth, we can see his contribution towards a new wisdom in terms of the realization of a 'Christian advaita'. Bede brings together Hinduism and Christianity within the vital energy field of his own spirit. within this creative matrix there gradually occurs a quasi-fusion of unitive Absolute and Christ-event, giving birth to a vision of a Christian nonduality in two stages. Firstly, Bede tells us that participation in God, the nondual Absolute, is realized in the 'communion of love' which is Christian life and relationship. Secondly, the One is known in the great event of incarnation which is the 'Cosmic Person', gradually emerging as the center of Bede's synthesis.

With Abhishiktananda, we may imagine a further - or rather prior - moment of Christian advaita which is rooted in 'baptismal initiation' as the moment of identity, a pure unitive participation in the One, as if before differentiation into Word and Spirit, knowledge and love. This simple and primordial unitive participation, the moment of identity, may be understood in Jesus' self-identification in John's gospel," I AM."In his last years, Abhishiktananda came to see the baptism of Jesus as the realization of the divine"I AM"In the human person at the very outset of the gospel. From this point, 'Christian wisdom' may be regenerated today.

Abhishiktananda apparently lost himself into this moment of identity, this pure 'East' of the beginning. Bede, on the other hand,[29] followed the way of relationship and synthesis rather than that of primal identity, and returned westward to integrate that which he had earlier left behind - and indeed the whole of reality - into an expansive cosmic vision. The eastern keys which Bede and Abhishiktananda have put in our hands have now to be brought to bear upon the New Testament and upon the experience and thought of the Christian tradition."

The One Light - Bede Griffiths' Principal Writings Introduction, p. 21-23
Edited and with Commentary by Bruno Barnhart
Templegate Publishers, Springfield, Illinois
ISBN 0-87243-254-8

Notes:
[27] Bede Griffiths, 'Return to the Center', 129-130.
[28] See Bruno Barnhart, 'Second Simplicity', New York, Paulist, 1999, 4, 229-232.
[29] See Judson B. Trapnell," Two Models of Christian Dialogue with Hinduism: Bede Griffiths and Abhishiktananda," 'Vidyajyoti', 60 (1996), (I) 101-110, (II) 183-191, (III) 243-254.


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