Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dialogue – A Search for the Common Truth with the Aim of Answering the Question: Can a Christian be an Advaitin?

I will like to start this article with the words of Bettina Baeumer, Following the Indian tradition with a peace prayer—Shantimantra:

“May He bless us, may He nourish us, may we together accomplish a powerful work, may our study be full of vigor and light, May we love one another.”[1]


In our life, dialogue as we experience it every day plays an important role. Through dialogue we clarify many doubts and uncertainties. In the same way many Christian sages like Abhishiktananda, Richard De Smet, Bede Griffiths and Hans Staffner found in dialogue, a means to clarify many uncertainties and doubts, which exist in various religions. They found in dialogue the common ground in which they could seek the common Truth in all religions. According to Hans Staffner, for a convinced Christian dialogue has an additional attraction; for it means listening to what the Spirit of God is saying to the people belonging to other religions and cultures.[2]

Dialogue leads us, as Christians, to be open to the truth of other religions and learn from them and at the same time be loyal to the faith that we hold. We can quote the words of Bishop Stephen Neill who says, that on the one hand the Christian today must “put himself to school” with other faiths “in readiness to believe that they may have something to teach him,” while on the other hand no compromise is to be made for a man who has seen Jesus the Christ, “as the truth of God,” to go back on what one believes.[3] This is what exactly I found in my research.

Swami Abhishiktananda (Henry Le Saux) (1910-1973):

His life:

Swami Abhishiktananda or Dom Henry Le Saux was born on August, 1910 at Saint Briac in Brittany, France. He was the eldest of a family of eight children. He felt called to the priesthood at an early age; he was sent to the Minor Seminary, from which he entered the Major Seminary. He became a Benedictine monk. He came to India on 15, August 1948; He co-founded in 1950, with Father Jules Monchanin, Saccidananda Ashram, a monastic institution dedicated to integrating the monastic values of the Benedictine tradition with the values of the Indian monastic tradition.[4]


Abhishiktananda understood from the very beginning of his encounter with Hindu Spirituality that it is not a question of entering into a dialogue with another but that there is an inner challenge with in Christianity that is in need of the spirituality of Asia in order to overcome the deep crisis of western Christianity. For him dialogue is not a device. It is not only a way to understand the other or an academic exercise or an institutional duty; rather it is the only way to respond to the challenges that humanity is facing and a way to rediscover our own identity and to relativize our false certainties. He also said that dialogue has to take place at the spiritual level and not at the level of conceptual or academic or at the social or institutional level though all these are necessary. These have to follow the spiritual level.[5]

Advaita and Christianity:

According to Abhishiktananda Christianity and Advaita are neither in opposition nor incomparable – they are at two different levels. Advaita is not something that conflicts with anything else at all. It is not a philosophy, but an existential experience (anubhava). The whole formulation of Christianity is valid in its own order, the order of manifestation (vyavaharika) and not of the Absolute [Paramarthika]. The Christian Darshana (perception) is no doubt opposed to the Vedantin Darshana, but this is merely the doctrinal level. No formulation, not even that of the Advaita can claim to be Paramartha. So as a result of this there is anguish and tension. This anguish and tension cannot be solved at the conceptual level but it lies in the original anguish of the person.[6]

Advaita in Christianity:

Abhishiktananda was a man who was deeply attached to Christ and at the same time was able to see the same truth in the Hindu religion especially in Advaita. Quoting his own word he said:

“Whether I like it or not, I am deeply attached to Christ Jesus and therefore to the Koinomia of the Church. It is in him that the “mystery” has been revealed to me ever since my awakening to myself and to the world. It is His image, His symbol that I know God and that I know myself and the world of human being. Since I awoke here [in India] to the new depths in myself (depth of Self, of the Ātman), this symbol was marvelously developed. Moreover I recognized this mystery which I have adore under the symbol of Christ, in the myth of Narayana, Prajapati, Shiva, Purausha, Krishna, Rama, etc… but for me Jesus is my Sadguru. It is in him that God has appeared to me…”[7]

Bettina Baeumer said that the ultimate experience which helps Abhishiktananda to overcome the duality of his Hindu and Christianity experience in both the traditions is the final and true “I”, aham.

His understanding of God is that God is a Being who is in this very Self the very I am (God within me) in which I awaken myself. It is not satisfactory to say that He is the “cause” or the Substratum of the being but nothing can escape this Parama (the Supreme Being). This I am, this awakening to myself is the very awakening of God to Himself (in realizing myself it is God who is awakening in me). This awakening is at once within time (I realize it in time) and outside time (it is already there or pre-exists before I am awakening). In this word aham (I) heard in the depth of myself that the whole world was made, exist and subsist. This I am (aham asmi) is the light of everything (Jyotih), and the life of everything (prana). He is beyond all darkness, tamasah parastat.[8]

This I AM [aham asmi] was made flesh. Christ is the total transparence of this aham asmi to which I awaken at the source of my consciousness. Christ is the one who is totally awakened, even in his body [deha-jagarita]. He is the symbol par excellence of this awakening. Christ is the revelation of my aham, of my mutual relationship (paraspara) with every consciousness, every awakening. Jesus is this mystery of Advaita in which I can no longer recognize myself separately. Here we can see that in the life of Abhishiktananda there is advaita, non-duality, between his Hindu and Christian experience or, in other words, Abhishiktananda was able to see that non-duality in both religions and thus was able to find out the common ground for dialogue.[9]

Bede Griffiths OSB (1906-1993):

Bede Griffiths was born in England and educated at Oxford, where he converted to Christianity and became a monk. He traveled to India in 1947, where he took over the ashram of Shantivanam from Monchanin and Le Saux (Abhishiktananda).

Bede Griffiths saw in Hinduism a unique way of experiencing God. He said that many people think that Hinduism consists of a confusion of doctrines, contradictory in many respects: rituals, customs, and traditions. Griffiths disagrees with this view and holds that there is an underlying unity in Hinduism, and it is the unity of the mystical experience, an experience of God. This is something which is a need of humanity. He said this experience of God also belongs to the Church. The Church is the place where God is experienced and we believe that in Christ is the fullness of the experience of God is to be found. Thus he said the Hindu experience of God must have a place in our Christian life. [10]

Advaita in Bede Griffiths Understanding:

Bede Griffiths has a very unique of understand of Advaita. He said that we can know God (Brahman/Ātman) only when we experience Him as Satcidananda. For him Satcidananda is the name for the Godhead, as far as it can have a name: Being, Consciousness and Bliss. He said that when that Being (sat) or that Brahman is experienced as pure Consciousness (cit) then we can have an experience of (Ananda) and Absolute bliss. He holds the view that learning about Brahman or Ātman is meaningless unless it has been assimilated. Thus according to him meditation has an important role in knowing God. It is only in meditation and contemplation that we can experience God (Brahman/Ātman).[11]

According to Bede Griffiths there are three ways of meditating or contemplating. The first way is: we can meditate on the whole creation and become aware of the Immanent God in every particle of matter, in every living being, things, in our own bodies, in every single person around us. It is here that we can become really aware of the presence of God in the Universe and in the whole creation that he created. The second way of meditation is on our own inner Self, by going beyond our bodies and our senses, our thoughts and our feelings and thus discovering our inner Self, the person within; thus we can become aware of the Spirit of God dwelling in our hearts. There is a third way of contemplating or meditating, that of looking upward to the Lord Himself where we in love and devotion turns towards Him and call Him Lord and worship Him as Transcendent. In all these three ways of meditating and contemplating we meditate and contemplate the same Reality that is, the same Supreme Being who is in the creation, who is in my heart, who is the Lord, the one Creation, the one Reality.[12]

Griffiths said that if we bring in the insight from the New Testament to this way of experiencing God it will enable us to realize Christ more deeply and see him from a new point of view, and another thing is that it will enable us to meet our Hindu Brethren in the heart of their religion and in the heart of our religion.[13]

Richard De Smet (1916-1997):

Richard De Smet was a Jesuit priest. He was born at Charleroi, Belgium. He came to India in the year 1926. He is a well-known indologist and a missionary to India. He is a great scholar of Shankaracharya. Apart from studying Shankaracharya he also gave equal importance to religious dialogue with other religious people. He was invited by many religious persons to give lectures on Indian Spirituality and on request he would also lecture on Jesus and Christianity.[14]


De Smet’s style of dialogue is very peculiar. Each one has their own way of dialogue. De Smet’s way of dialogue is very distinctive as compared to that of Abhishiktananda who insisted on the experiential and almost totally neglected the theoretical aspect. De Smet’s approach to dialogue is marked by a deep appreciation of both Hinduism and Christianity.[15]

Advaita in De Smet understanding:

According to De Smet, Shankara said that Brahman is the root of the World or Brahman is that omniscient, omnipotent cause from which proceed the origin, subsistence and dissolution of this world. God is the creator of all things, visible and invisible, and that God has created all these things from nothing.[16] He saw in Shankara’s non-dualism that God, world and man are drawn in a single concept of unity.[17] God, world and man are one and the world and man depend on God for their existence since they receive their existence from Him. Brahman is the total cause of the universe. Yet Brahman as the Upadana (‘material’ or reality-giving cause) of the world is unchangeable. He explains the concept of relationship between the creature and Brahman as Tadatmya. This is rightly translated as ‘Identity’ but it also means that the world is totally dependent on God (Brahman).[18] For De Smet Shankara is a Śrutivādin;[19] for him Sruti plays a very important role. For Shakara it is from Sruti that the Brahman, the all knowing, the all powerful and subsistent can be known.[20]

With regard to the relationship of man (jivatman) with Brahman in Shankara according to De Smet the ‘I’ is in search of the uppermost Ātman and this Ātman is in the innermost part of the ‘I’.[21] We are in search of God, but God is our innermost; without him we would not be. Shankara explains the Jivatman as the reflection of the absolute Ātman.[22] We are the reflection of God who is our creator who creates us in His image and likeness (Gen.1, 26). The concept of immortality of the soul seems very similar to that of our belief. According to De Smet for Shankar the ātman which is in Jiva would still exist even after it attains liberation since it is the reflection of the Ātman. [23] Our soul since it has received its own existence and thus can still exist even after it is separated from the body.

Hans Staffner (1909 - 1997):

Hans Staffner (1909-1997), a Jesuit Priest, was a man with passion for the search of the common truth in all religions. He spent most of his life in dialogue with eminent persons of different religions, trying to see the good in each of them and searching for the basis and common ground on which all religions can come together for a dialogue. He was a man who was open to other religious ideas and beliefs and tried to find in them something which would be helpful to him to deepen his faith as a Christian. He was a man of deep knowledge of Hinduism and its religious practices. He was a man who brought about a new way of looking at Christian faith without going against the teaching of the Church.[24]


Staffner in the introduction to his book: Dialogue Stimulating Contacts with Hindus mentions the reason why he is so fond of dialogue. He said that he found in it the best way to come into a common understanding of the faith and beliefs of other religions, and a way to preserve mental health. By mental health he means that which is based on a loving, positive attitude towards the people around us. He also found in dialogue a best way to promote a better relationship between religions and cultural communities. He also said that most of the communal tensions arise due to prejudices and lack of mutual contact.[25]

Christianity and Hinduism: Fictitious differences

Hans Staffner tries to show the similarity of Christianity and Hinduism by showing us some fictitious differences between the two religions. He said that most Christians often blame Hindus for holding views which they themselves hold without realizing it. Some of the fictitious differences are:

The unreality of the world:

Hans Staffner said that some Christians blame Hindus for holding that the world is not real; forgetting that Christian theologians hold that when God created the world, reality did not increase. They also admit that if the whole world would disappear, the existing reality would not decrease. Thus in some way Christians too claim that the world is not real for when the world is created, reality does not increase. The second reason is that with the disappearance of the world this existing reality does not decrease. Thus this indicates that there is already pre-existent reality and this reality is not affected by the creation of the world or its disappearance.[26]

Emanation versus Creation:

Hans Staffner also said that there are different views with regard to the origin of the world. Some people maintain that Hindus view the origin of the universe as emanation from God while Christians speak of the creation of the world by God. In fact, they fail to realize that Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Christian Theologians, speaks of the emanation of the world from God. To make this point clear, Staffner quotes St. Thomas own words which says: ‘Now we have to deal with that form of emanation of things from God which is called creation.’ He continues to say that we must remember that the mode in which the whole world proceeds from God is and remain a mystery for all human beings. He said that it is really difficult understand in reality what we really mean by saying: ‘God creates the world by the power of his will.’[27]

The Nirguna Brahman:

Staffner claims that it has been taken for granted that the notion of Nirguna Brahman is not accepted in Christianity. But Christians forget that they hold that in God justice and mercy are identical and thus admit that our notion of distinct qualities is not applicable to God. Thus Christians also hold that God is ‘Nirguna,’ without qualities.[28]

Christian as an Advaitin:

Hans Staffner said that both Christianity and Hinduism seem to take for granted that a Christian cannot be an advaitin. But he says that this is not true since Christians believe that God is one and admit that God is an Infinite Being, which means that nothing can exist in addition to God. As a consequence of this we cannot exist in addition to God and God and we cannot be two; we are one, as St. Paul said, ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ Now the word Advaita means: ‘not two,’ which means that Brahman and the Jivatman are not two (aham Brahman asmi). Staffner concluded saying that every Christian can be an advaitin.[29]

Conclusion: what I have learned

This research work has helped me to widen my way of looking at and appreciating the truth of other religions especially of Hinduism. It has helped me to change my attitude toward the Hindu religion and has become for me an eye-opener to discover that the truth that I hold is also found in some way in other religions. In dialogue we can still see the means to fulfill the mission which Jesus Christ has entrusted to us ‘to make the whole world his disciples’(Mt.28, 19.) though we may not be able to baptize all of them as Christians.



Coelho, Ivo. Richard De Smet, SJ (1916 -1997): For Encyclopedia of Indian Christian Philosophy. Completed Nashik, 31 August 2009, (unpublished material)

De Smet, Richard. “Shankara’s Non-Dualism (Advaita-Vada),” Religious Hinduism, eds. R. De Smet and J. Neuner, 4th ed., (Mumbai: Saint Pauls, 1997)

De Smet, Richard. “The Philosophers’ Transition from Atheism to Theism in India from Fourth to Eleventh A.D.,” Challenges of Societies in Transition, eds. M. Barnabas, P.S. Jacob and S.K. Hulbe, (New Delhi: Macmillan Company).

De Smet, Richard. Brahman and Person: Essays by Richard De Smet SJ, Ed. Ivo Coelho SDB, Is the Concept of ‘Person’ Congenial to Śānkara Vedānta?” (Unpublished material).

Lawson Slater, Robert. Can Christians Learn from Other Religions? (New York: Seabury Press, 1963.)

Staffner, Hans. Dialogue Stimulating contacts with Hindus, (Gujarat: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1993.)

The New Revised Standard Version Bible: The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments. Bangalore: Thomas Nelson for theological Publications in India, 1990.


Richard De Smet, “Origin: Creation and Emanation” Indian Theological Studies (Bangalore: St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute of Theology, 1978) XV/3, 268

Internet Article

Baeumer, Bettina. Abhishiktananda and the challenge of Hindu-Christian Experience, from Bulletin 64, May 2000, accessed on 18/9/09.

Coff, Pascaline. Abhishiktananda: An Interview with Odette Baumer-Despeigne, from Bulletin 51, October 1994, accessed on 08/09/09.

Griffiths, Bede. Experience of God in Hinduism: Unique! 18/9/09. An excerpt from a talk entitled “The Advaitic Experience and the Personal God in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita” given at Symposium on Patristic and Indian Spirituality, Bangalore.

[1] Bettina Baeumer. Abhishiktananda and the challenge of Hindu-Christian Experience, from Bulletin 64, May 2000, accessed on 18/9/09. [Hence fort this footnote will be cited as: Bettina Baeumer. 18/9/09.]

[2] Hans Staffner. Dialogue Stimulating contacts with Hindus, (Gujarat: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1993.) 2.

[3] Robert Lawson Slater, Can Christians Learn from Other Religions? (New York: Seabury Press, 1963.) 11.

[4] Pascaline Coff. Abhishiktananda: An Interview with Odette Baumer-Despeigne, from Bulletin 51, October 1994, accessed on 08/09/09.

[10] Bede Griffiths, .Experience of God in Hinduism: Unique! 18/9/09. An excerpt from a talk entitled “The Advaitic Experience and the Personal God in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita” given at Symposium on Patristic and Indian Spirituality, Bangalore. [This footnote will be cited as following: Bede Griffiths, 18/9/09.]

[14] Ivo Coelho. Richard De Smet,SJ (1916 -1997): For Encyclopedia of Indian Christian Philosophy. Completed Nashik, 31 August 2009, (unpublished material) 1-3. [this footnote will hereafter be cited as: Ivo Coelho. Richard De Smet,SJ]

[15] Ivo Coelho. Richard De Smet, SJ, 3.

[16] Richard De Smet, “Origin: Creation and Emanation” Indian Theological Studies (Bangalore: St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute of Theology,1978) XV/3, 268.

[17] Richard De Smet, “Shankara’s Non- Dualism (Advaita - Vada),” Religious Hinduism, eds. R. De Smet and J. Neuner, 4th edn., (Mumbai: Saint Pauls,1997) 80.

[18] Richard De Smet, “The Philosophers’ Transition from Atheism to Theism in India from Fourth to Eleventh A.D.,” Challenges of Soceities in Transition, eds. M. Barnabas, P.S. Jacob and S.K. Hulbe, (New Delhi: Macmillan Company) 326.

[19] Ivo Coelho. Richard De Smet, SJ, 1.

[20] Richard De Smet, “The Philosophers’ Transition from Atheism to Theism in India from Fourth to Eleventh A.D.”, 326.

[21] Richard De Smet SJ, Brahman and Person: Essays by Richard De Smet SJ, Ed. Ivo Coelho SDB, “Is the Concept of ‘Person’ Congenial to Śānkara Vedānta?”, (unpublished material), 113.

[22] De Smet SJ, Brahman and Person: Essays by Richard De Smet SJ, “Is the Concept of ‘Person’ Congenial to Śānkara Vedānta?”, 114.

[23] De Smet SJ, Brahman and Person: Essays by Richard De Smet SJ, “Is the Concept of ‘Person’ Congenial to Śānkara Vedānta?”, 116-117.

[24] Hans Staffner, Dialogue Stimulating contacts with Hindus, (Gujarat: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1993.) 1.

[25] Hans Staffner, Dialogue Stimulating contacts with Hindus, 1.

[26] Hans Staffner, Dialogue Stimulating contacts with Hindus, 96.

[27] Hans Staffner, Dialogue Stimulating contacts with Hindus, 96.

[28] Hans Staffner, Dialogue Stimulating contacts with Hindus, 97.

[29] Hans Staffner, Dialogue Stimulating contacts with Hindus, 97.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Martin Buber I and Thou My Personal reflection

[In the Book 'I and Thou' Buber focus on the Two ways of living or relating in this world.These two ways consist basically the 'I-Thou' and 'I-IT' way of living or relating. There is an intimate relationship between the 'I' and the 'Thou' and between the 'I' and the 'IT'.From here we can draw a conclusion that one cannot really exist all by oneself or that there is no man's land, but always in relationship with the other(here come the aspect of the community, family etc.) This is also true when I speak of the other (Thou or IT) the 'I' is included or present in the other. By this I feel Buber say that in my speaking with the person I enter into a relationship with him.Thus Buber would say that both 'I-Thou' and 'I-IT' does not described that there are two independent existence, but in being spoken they bring about existence.
In the I and Thou Buber emphasis on 'the Between'. The fact that he speaks of the 'I-Thou' and 'I-It' relationship clearly indicate that he is interested in 'the Between' i.e., the dialogue or relationship between man and the existent over against him. There is no 'I' in itself but only the 'I' of the Primary word 'I-Thou' and the 'I' of the Primary word 'I-IT'. That when the 'I' speaks or when i say 'I'I refers to one or the other of these. In saying I the other or the It is also present. Thus the existence and the speaking of teh I are one and same thing.
Human life is not only passed in the sphere of activities (percieve, sensation, feeling, thinking) all these are only at the realm of It. but man's life is also composed of relationship. in his life he takes a stand in relationship.]
Men experience his world, what do Buber mean by saying this? Man travelled, study and experience his world, it is true but what he experience is only what belong to the thing (It). But the world is not presented to man by experience alone. In experience the world has no part in the experience for experience is not between the world and man but only within man. The world has nothing to do with experience and experience has nothing to do with it. In experiencing the situation of a person or thing does not change, however experience is inner or outer or however secret or open it is. It is only the accumulation of information. The world we experience is always an IT, He or She. The Experience of the world falls under the primary word 'I-IT'. The I -Thou is at the realm of relationship. Buber says that there are three sphere in which the world of relationship arise.
1. Our life with the nature: here our relationship is not clear it is at the sway of gloom, it is beneath the level of speech. in ordinary langauge it a way of relationship with the thing that cannot speak or converse with us. Here Buber did recognise that to some extent relationship does happen even at this level. Though relationship is in darkness for we cannot express it and even if we address them as a thou our word cling to the threshold of Speech.
2. Our life with man: here the relationship is open and in the form of speech. Here there is a dialogue, sharing, and mutuality. In this way of relationship we can both give and recieve the Thou. Here we can express and take a stand.
3. Our Life with Spiritual Being: Here the relationship is clouded but yet disclosed itself. we do not need speech yet begets it. We cannot comprehend and express our relationship yet relationship do exist. we cannot really explain what it was, no word will suffice in order to explain it. Here relationship is express through our life. It is through our existence that we speak the primary word I-Thou.
But by what right do we draw what lies beyond our speech into relationship with the world of Primary word? or putting it in another word How can we really relate with what we cannot see and experience? To this Buber answer that at every stage of our relationship with the world, Man and Spiritual being (God) we always look to something higher that us (eternal Thou) and in each we are aware of the presence or the breath from the Eternal Thou and in each we see the Eternal Thou.
To make clear these three ways of relating Buber gave us the example of how we can consider the Tree. We can look at the tree as a picture , object or percieve it as a movement or classify it according to its species and types and structure ect. But I can also relate to it as my thou and bound myself in the relationship with it as my thou.] In this binding myself with the tree the tree ceased to be an IT. In order to come to this relationship i do not need to gave up anything that belong to the tree, but must take it as a whole and indivisible. But we say that relationship is mutual the question is: How can relationship happen between the me and the tree or is the tree has a consciousness that is similar to that of ours? Buber answer to this question is that first he has no experience to say whether the tree has similar consciousness like ours. The answer he gave is base on the I-Thou relationship where we see the other as a whole. He said doe we wish to disintegrate that cannot be disintegrated? If we do so the tree will be an object again. Thus Buber says that in my relationship with the tree I encounter no soul but the tree itself.
In my relating with the other as my Thou, the other is not a thing among things nor does consist of things that can be discribed, experience,qualify but a whole in himself. In experience buber would say the Thou is far away (Thickening of the distance). The Thou meet me through grace and is not found in seeking. The Thou is very much part of my being and in my speaking. It is in my being and speaking that true relationship with the Thou takes place. The I- Thou relationship can be spoken only with the whole being, through 'the between' for no relationship can take place through my agency alone nor it can takes place without me. It needs both the I and the Thou, both must exist. Thus it is in meeting between the I and the Thou that true relationship happens. It is because of this that buber said in his book I and Thou that "All Real Living is Meeting". I became what i am through my relationship with my Thou (Parents, Brothers, Sister, relatives, friends etc. and even with God.) The relationship with the Thou said Buber is direct, by this I feel that relationship is between person to person and being to being or face to face. It does not need any means or foreknowledge who the person is. It does not require any desires or fancy, no lust, no aim. Every means to relationship become an obstracle to it. It is only when these means collapse or disappear that the real meeting happen otherwise with all these means no relationship really happens but only experiencing and in experiecing (I- It).]