- Bathing in the Ganges
- An Interfaith Retreat
Bathing in the Ganges
It was at Devipatan, in northern India near the Nepalese border. They were a group led by Matsyendranath, a Russian yogi who lives in Sydney and who had invited me to join his group of Russian speaking nathyogis. They were a remarkable group: young, happy, very committed to the spiritual path, sensible, peaceful and joyful. It was obvious that I appreciated them. In fact I was living out the recommendation given in the ‘Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions’ (Nostra Aetate) of Vatican II, which states “Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture.” They in turn appreciated this attitude. Indeed, they were surprised, puzzled and curious.
Therefore, one evening they asked me many questions: about the selection of the books of the Bible; the Gnostic gospels; monastic life; the Orthodox ‘prayer of the heart’; the reality of eating Jesus’ body and blood; corruption in the Church; the relationship of Church and State and so on.
So there I was, in a small temple town where no one speaks English, witnessing to Russian speakers about the truths of the Catholic Church. They in turn expressed their appreciation with words of high praise. We had truly met.
We journeyed down to Allahabad for the great festival of the Kumbhamela in 2013 where some 40 million pilgrims over the space of about 2 months immersed themselves at the meeting of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. I joined with the nathyogis and some 10 million others on that day in immersing myself in the waters. I felt something of Jesus’ emotion as he immersed himself into the waters of the Jordan and into the whole history of Israel although he was their source.
The whole experience was an authentic act of interreligious dialogue that gives much room for reflection. It was a new evangelisation, in the best sense of the word.
An Interfaith Retreat
For three days, 1–3 November 2010, Father John Dupuche, Father Michael Mifsud (Camaldolese oblate Oblate), Venerable Abbess Chi Kwang Sunim (Korean Zen Buddhism), Venerable Toby Gillies (Tibetan Buddhism), Swami Atmananda (Kashmir Shaivism), and Brni Nivedita (Vedanta) gathered at the Janssen Spirituality Centre to spend time in meditation and discussion. All members were highly committed to their traditions, knowledgeable and welcoming to each other, both on a personal basis and regarding each other’s spiritual dimensions. The three days were passed in intense joy and vitality. The times of meditation took place in deep silence and mutuality. Discussions ranged from the question of the Void in Buddhism to the Persons of the Trinity, without at any stage getting bogged down in ideas. Rather, the many questions and possibilities were all the more inspiring.
The participants agreed to come together again for another such retreat in 2011 and perhaps even to go together on pilgrimage to Uluru, the extraordinary monolith sacred to the Aborigines, located at the desert heart of the immense Australian continent.
Two of the participants expressed their experience of the retreat as follows:
In terms of interfaith events it was perhaps one of the most rewarding and truly interfaith events I have been to. It has given me new ideas about what true interfaith could be and how it would work. The key seemed to be, at least in part, the mutual honest discussion of differences rather than similarities. In that confrontation there is growth and a higher level of dialogue is made possible.
I think I saw more clearly than I have before the potential of interfaith as a spiritual path. The broadening and deepening that occurs through opening the mind enough to properly comprehend the depth of “another way” can, it seems, take you further than remaining with the same sadhana.
During the retreat there was also a discussion about the possibility of an interfaith ashram, which was readily accepted as an interesting and enriching proposal.