Launch of John Dupuche, Towards a Christian Tantra
ACU Melbourne, 11 November 2009
John D’Arcy May, Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin
Autobiography the best medium of theology – but seldom so candid, courageous. Personal story essential for understanding what follows: gripping account of travels between countries and cultures, change sweeping Church in 60s-70s Melbourne, decision to join, then leave Jesuits because seeking spirituality without duality. Key guide: Bettina Bäumer – Austrian and Indian, Christian and Hindu, immersed in tantra of Kashmir Śaivism – unique person.
Christian tantra – can’t be serious! Opposite pole from Vedic tradition of Brahmin orthodoxy (not to mention Buddhism!), ‘left-hand path’ (vāmācāra), pleasure as liberation: deliberately shocking, sexuality as means of enlightenment, practised in secret – yet proposed as complement to Christian spirituality as others propose Zen. Made plausible by John’s transparent honesty, scholarly expertise, theological passion.
Key: overcoming dualism, rehabilitating body, in/through ‘lower’ to ‘higher’. Crucial: dimensions of pleasure + horror; body of consort + corpse on charnel field – no dualism! Śiva’s Śakti as Kula/Kālī, Self as Consciousness (caitanyam-ātmā). Primordial Word: ‘I am’, to point of identification: ‘I am Śiva’ (jīvan-mukti).
For Christian, implies double belonging: danger of losing both? “The religions of India help restore Christianity to itself” – but: “What the tantra surmises, the Gospel announces”. Myth vs. Reality – but ‘not-Christ’ helps to understand Christ. Double fidelity, mutual evangelisation: ‘I am Jesus-Śiva’ (alter Christus, one with Christ in eucharist…).
Not just comparative religion, theology of religions (inclusivist?): neutral, distanced. John has staked everything on this path to liberation after personal pilgrimage. Sees tantra as grace, essence as love: non-dual personalism, but intuition, seeing > reason.
God = consciousness; consciousness of consciousness = Word; power of Word = Spirit; Word self-limiting as ‘flesh’. Trinity as ‘marriage’: “Ultimate reality is essentially a sexual relationship”. All is grace, mediated by suffering and sin as well as pleasure (Greene, de Sade…).
Christian tradition also a “scandalous teaching”: assembly feeds on body and blood of Master, crucifix as portrayal of torture… tantra opens our eyes to own tradition through shock of both pleasure and horror.
Scope for ‘collaborative theology’: theological reasoning from very different premises to address same or similar problems (feminine/masculine, soul/body, suffering/joy). Challenge to mysoginist bias, unquestioned idealism (‘Platonism for the people’, Nietzsche). ‘Philosophising in the mythical’: need for philosophical critique; deeply patriarchal, devised by men for men. Yet inspires lyrical theology: “If God says ‘I am’, it is because he says ‘I love’”. ‘God without Being’ (Jean-Luc Marion), primacy of ethics (Emmanuel Levinas) – unsuspected possibilities of collaboration.