Discovering Kashmir Shaivism.
It has been a long journey. When I first entered religious life all seemed clear and set. Only one week earlier, however, John XXIIII announced his decision to call the Second Vatican Council. The years that followed were for me a huge transition from a certain isolation of the Church to the exhilarating openness of inter-religious dialogue. It was a journey of questioning and discernment, a lonely journey, for few shared my interest.
I did not wish to live the monastic life although it held many attractions for me. Rather I wished to give witness in the Eucharistic assembly and to speak of the things of God to the people of God.
I had read widely in the great classics but felt drawn ever eastwards, to Palamas, Gregory of Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa. I studied yoga and read some of the Hindu classics and works by Jean Varenne, an Indologist. I sought advice from Bede Griffiths O.S.B and from Thomas Matus O.S.B. Camadoli. However, the great break-through came with the discovery of a Hindu tradition called Kashmir Shaivism, which flourished in Kashmir about 1000 years ago and has flowered anew in recent decades under the impact of the great Swami Laxman Joo. As I read the texts and their commentaries by Lilian Silburn and Jaideva Singh a wonderful resonance hummed in the depths of my being. Even a word or phrase snatched in passing vibrated like a great pedal point. It was the Word resounding in the depths of my being.
In order to understand the texts properly I learned Sanskrit and with the support of the Archbishop undertook a doctorate in Kashmir Shaivism so as to have a well-founded knowledge, which could match the knowledge of the Scriptures which I had expounded in lectures.
Thus I had a double resonance, or rather the one Resonance found variously in two directions – the Scriptures of the Christian faith and the writings of Kashmir Shaivism. I experienced the interreligious dialogue first and foremost within myself.
This did not occur without much soul searching. Was I being unfaithful to the Christian faith to which I had been committed from my earliest years? Was I acceding to some dark temptation? Yet the joy occurred in peace. The heavens opened more widely at the meeting of the traditions; the Divine Mystery appeared all the more wonderful. There was a sense of vitality and freedom, of innocence and salvation.
The absence of a teacher, a guru, has been a drawback for me. I would have profited so much to sit at the feet of a learned and experienced practitioner whose heart was as wide as the Word, but I live in a far away land where interreligious dialogue is only just beginning.
It was natural that I should move from intra-religious dialogue – a term coined by Raimundo Panikkar – to inter-religious dialogue In Australia, a wide scattered land, the few monasteries can provide only a limited context for interfaith dialogue, so that the non-monastic and the lay must play a more active role.
The meditation group that I led established the ‘East-West Meditation Foundation’ in order to enter into the dialogue of religious experience. We began to meet with members of other traditions, to welcome them into the warmth of our Christian hospitality and to join with them in meditation and to learn from them, even if we did not always agree with everything that was said. Because we had some experience of the Logos within us we could see more clearly the depths that lay within their traditions. Equally we gave witness to the Christian faith and showed something of the Good News, which inspired us.
In this context I experienced again the resonance I had known earlier: the Word that was expressed in various ways in the great traditions and which was made flesh at Bethlehem.
This dialogue of religious experience liberated us from the accretions of history, which have sometimes been confused with the essence of the Christian faith. The shock of differing points of view opened up the storehouse of the Gospel where so many treasures still lie concealed. Our Christian faith was not weakened but enriched. The excitement of the resonating Word made us eager to deepen our awareness of the universal Christ. Our abandonment of all fear developed in us a more universal love. By being more fully present to members of other faiths the divine Presence became more evident to us. By welcoming them we felt welcomed by our God.
Apart from small-scale events we also conduct larger meetings where there is time for meditation, ritual, input, discussion, conversation, and table fellowship. We do not impose or conceal. We do not dominate or argue. We welcome and listen, not naively but respectfully, presuming that all have something valuable to say. Nothing is done to mask the incompatibilities such as may exist, but the covenant of charity is always maintained. The result has always been a peaceful exhilaration on the part of those who attend, whether Christian or of another faith. Beyond the differing words and the symbols, the one Word is known.
A notable event was the joint ceremony at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 2000 AD, the Year of Jubilee.
The work of interreligious dialogue is a work of evangelisation, for Jesus is shown to be the universal saviour to the extent that his followers are able to hold all things together in unity. By opening our arms wide to the diversity of faiths, people will come to perceive more easily the presence of the Word made flesh, crucified and risen; and by perceiving him enter into the heart of the Silence from whom the Word springs.