Jyoti Sahi and the Art Ashram

(cyprian consiglio)

Recently I had a correspondence with a gentleman who is rather well known in the lore of the life of Bede Griffiths, Jyoti Sahi, an artist from South India. My good friend John Marheineke was visiting his Art Ashram near Bangalore as he was chaperoning a trip with his high school students, not knowing Jyoti’s background. At the end of Jyoti’s presentation to the students, John casually asked him if he knew Fr. Bede, and Jyoti lit up, telling John that not only had Bede written an introduction to his book on Indian art (The Child and the Serpent), but had also witnessed his marriage to Jane. John later emailed Jyoti to thank him for the visit and copied me. Hence began our own correspondence, which I have edited and offer here, with his kind permission, to introduce him and his work to our readers.

* * *

Dear John,

Thank you for your message. I must say that both Roshan [Jyoti’s son] and myself enjoyed the meeting with you and your students. It is refreshing to have an encounter with young people who are interested, and happy to be here in India.

As we tried to share with you all, Roshan and I have been very interested in folk culture which we have been looking at and thinking about around where we live, but also in India generally. I have been very much studying this folk culture ever since I wrote the book “The Child and the Serpent.” The symbols that we find in the primal culture of people who live close to the earth, and respond to the symbols that constitute the special meaning of the land, represent something which is archetypal and common to all cultures. However, each landscape has its own “spirit of the place” and in that sense is also unique.

I have also been very much influenced by the ideas of Rabindranath Tagore. The person who taught me art as a child, whose name was Suddhir Khastigir, was among the first students of Tagore at Shantiniketan. Roshan spent three years at the Santiniketan Ashram art school which Tagore initiated.

Sudhir Khastigir encouraged me to take up art as a life work, and suggested I focused on arts in relation to crafts. So I went to a school of arts and crafts in London, and it was while I was studying there (between 1959-63) that I was also thinking of becoming a monk. It was the novice master of the monastery that I was going to who suggested I meet Dom Bede Griffiths, who was visiting England at that time, talking about his experience setting up a Christian Ashram called Kurisumala. At art school I had been reading the works of Ananda Coomaraswamy, and it was in connection with his son, and a group inspired by Eric Gill who published a magazine called “Good Work” in America, that Fr. Bede had also been in the USA in 1963. Fr. Bede was interested in the connection between art and the monastic life, and had helped to establish a small community of artists and craftspeople near his Abbey in England, called the Taener Community. So Fr. Bede suggested that when I returned to India, I could visit his Ashram, and live near the monastery.

So in 1964 I travelled to Kerala and met him at Kurisumala Ashram. There was an architect called Laurie Baker, a Quaker, who was also living next to the Ashram. And so for a few years I worked with this architect who was also British, and had been designing a number of churches and other buildings using local materials, and what was being called “vernacular architecture.” It was in his house that I met my wife Jane, who also comes from a Quaker family background. In 1970, when Fr. Bede had already moved to Shantivanam Ashram, taking it over from Swami Abhishiktananda, Fr. Bede married Jane and me, after baptizing Jane standing in the river Kaveri next to the Ashram!!

Later that year we came to Bangalore, as I had been invited to work at the National Biblical and Liturgical Centre, which had been set up just after the Vatican council, to implement some of the ideas about relating the Church to Indian culture. And in 1972 we came to live in this Christian village of Silvepura.

Roshan and I have been thinking of perhaps setting up a website to explain the kind of workshops that we are interested to do with those who would like to think about folk culture, and the spirituality underlying an art that is close to the earth. This culture has, we feel, much to do with ecology, and a respect for the earth and the landscape. When I started what I called an “art ashram” in 1983, I called it “INSCAPE,” inspired by the ideas of Gerard Manley Hopkins. We have always been inspired by the landscape, and the ideas of Joseph Campbell on the “Inner reaches of Outer Space.”

As you saw, we do have some space, and are trying to construct more studio areas. One of our ideas is to offer the possibility for those who would like to explore the imagination through visual art forms, to perhaps think of a residency programme in which to engage with the creative imagination in the context of Indian spiritual traditions. As I said during the workshop which we had together, I really believe that “the artist is not a special sort of person, but every person is a special sort of artist,” which was an aphorism dear to both Eric Gill, and Andanda Coomaraswamy.

Like you I was very inspired by Tagore’s work on Sadhana, and have been telling those who have come here to work with us from time to time, that I believe that all forms of art are a sadhana or spiritual search. I am happy that we could meet, and hope that we can share more on these themes, and a common interest in the contemplative tradition, in the future.

I will be very happy to also learn more about what Fr. Cyprian is also doing in the way of relating music to contemplation.

Yours sincerely, Jyoti

Later, after I wrote to him…

Dear Cyprian,

I do not know if you have heard of a person called Stanley Jones? He was an American Missionary who came out to India and was inspired by the life and work of Gandhi. He created a Christian Ashram in the North of India, in the Himalayas, not so far from where I was brought up near the River Ganges, and Rishikesh and Haridwar. Anyway, Stanley Jones wrote a book about his approach to Christian Indian spiritual dialogue in which he took the theme of the Pilgrim wandering Jesus, and Walking with Jesus on the Indian roads. Stanley Jones had been close to the Pad Yatra or foot pilgrimage movement that Gandhi initiated, and which was carried on by Vinoba Bhave.

For Stanley Jones an ashram was not just a place; it was a process of walking together. Originally the word ‘ashram’ meant a stage in life (there are traditionally four ashramas). And so Stanley organized “ashram retreats” in different places, including in America, which you could say were part of a “vision quest,” a time of searching and sadhana.

For various reasons I have also been rather disinclined to think of an ashram as a place, though I did buy a plot of land encouraged by Fr. Bede and others, to set up an Art Ashram. We call this place “The Land,” and I found that after trying to run, or at least look after this land, was taking more of my time and energy than I felt able to give, especially as I was being asked to travel myself quite a bit, in connection with what I was calling “art retreats” and also commission work in designing, and also decorating churches in different places both in India and abroad.

It was in 1999, after struggling to administrate the art ashram as a registered society that I called the Indian School of Art for Peace or INSCAPE, that I finally decided to hand over this place to my two sons Kiran and Roshan, who had studied art and design and wanted to set up a design collaborative, and got together various young artist and designer friends to live together and be involved with craft work, mainly ceramics. Kiran also got married to a British girl, called Imogen, and they have three children. Roshan is the one who spent three years with the art school at Santiniketan (founded by Tagore) in Bengal, and then spent another three years working with the mentally challenged in a L’Arche community in London (linked as you must know to Jean Vanier). Roshan is very concerned with art practices as healing, and has been thinking of “earth art” which started with pottery and ceramics, but then developed into garden and vegetable planting, which he also sees as “earth art.”

For the last 6 years Roshan has been back here at The Land, working with groups mainly from the USA and UK who are interested in alternative approaches to education. My wife has also been involved with this since 1975 when she started a school here for village children. Her school has also changed and has become more of a learning centre for children with special needs, and teacher trainees who want to think about other approaches to learning that include the arts. We have two daughters who are also here, one involved with woodwork, which she calls “the wisdom of the hands,” and the other who is a dancer and teacher of mainly folk dance. (She studied classical Indian dance at Kalakshetra in Chennai founded by the famous dancer Rukmini Devi.)

However, of late I have been thinking more of returning to our interests in folk culture and in what we have also been trying to develop as an “eco-theology” and spirituality. Maybe later we can give more flesh to that understanding. Just now I am working with Roshan on a website, in which we are trying to put together various ideas that we have been involved with, and which we also hope can be interactive and the basis for further “art retreats.” Roshan and I are interested in relating to the folk culture that we have around us. This folk culture is, I am afraid, changing very fast, as a process of Hindu nationalism is now remodeling the Indian cultural and religious identity. Later, I will write to you more about this process of Hindu nationalism which I am afraid has very much affected the kind of work I have been doing over the last 50 years.

When Fr. Bede was at the last Ashram Aikya (Ashram fellowship) meeting that he was able to attend before he had his first stroke, he expressed his anxiety and sorrow over the way that the Indian spiritual landscape was changing. In a way that all began with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992, and the movement that initiated what we now understand as a Hindu Nationalism, which has now come into political prominence. Perhaps fortunately Fr. Bede did not have to struggle with what that political initiative has meant in terms of Hindu-Christian dialogue, and in fact what it is doing to the cultural and spiritual diversity of the Indian social fabric. These are certainly profound issues that we are trying to address, as various forms of fundamentalism are changing the whole world. It would be important I feel for your website to take cognizance of this, as the future of the Ashram movement. Indeed spiritual dialogue and diversity will be possible only if we recognize what is happening in the fractured world around us.

Anyway, let us continue this correspondence, and reflect slowly and with prayer on current socio political issues. I think that was the great insight that Thomas Merton had, and the new direction that he gave to the contemplative understanding of the monastic tradition.

In a common spirit of searching and friendship, Jyoti

Jyoti and Roshan’s mailing address is: Art Ashram, Silvepura P.O. Bangalore North 560090, Karnataka, South India. Check out Roshan’s blog, <roshansahi.blogspot.com> or the website that Kiran has developed for visiting teachers, <sangmaprojects.com>.jyotijohn Jyoti Sahi with our friend and Camaldolese Oblate John Marheineke on his visit to Bangalore.

 

Oblates of Shantivanam

Summer 2016


On the 21st March 2013, the 63 rd anniversary of the opening of Shantivanam, the website Oblates of Shantivanam went officially online. The site was created for friends and oblates and for all those who follow the teachings of the Founders of Shantivanam. Fr. George said in his message “On this occasion I am pleased to announce that we have opened the website for oblates of Shantivanam to be in communication with each other and with our community. I am sure that this website will help us to deepen our spiritual pursuit and promote the communication between Shantivanam and oblates.”

“Our ashram’s mission is simultaneously spiritual and social, encompassing 100% love of God and 100% love of neighbor”.
(Extract from a message from Br. Martin taken from the website of Oblates of Shantivanam)

In addition to a deep contemplative life that we live daily ourselves, we are committed to providing a conducive atmosphere for anyone who wishes to deepen their spiritual journey, and, quite importantly, we are engaged in inter-religious dialog, a vocation that we inherited from our founders Jules Monchanin, Henri Le Saux and Bede Griffiths. And we, like them, are inspired by Jesus himself, who said, “Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called the children of God”. Our world, as you know, is in conflict largely because of the lack of understanding and harmony between religions.

Jules Monchanin’s mission was that the ashram be “fully Christian and fully Indian”. Since we cannot separate the spirituality from the culture of India, we are both Christian and Hindu in the deepest sense. This is no simple witness, but one that challenges us every day. Swami Abhishiktananda focused on us bearing witness to the “The Hindu-Christian Meeting Point”. This entails living the mystical depth of two traditions simultaneously. And our dear Fr. Bede Griffiths not only wrote extensively on “The Marriage of East and West”, he exemplified this harmony in every facet of his life urging us to follow suit.

We are grounded in the inspiration of the Gospel as well as the vision of the Upanishads. Our founders worked tirelessly to build bridges among the great world religions and we feel compelled to continue this mission.” http://oblatesofshantivanam.yolasite.com/

Fr. Bede welcomed people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world who wished to be connected to the spirit of Shantivanam. This was the spirit of the Founders of Shantivanam and Fr. Bede continued as the Spirit led him. Some were accepted as oblates, as brahmacharis and sannyasins and he was instrumental in bringing many of us together.

We had a wonderful gathering of friends and oblates at Shantivanam in December 2015 and there will be another gathering taking place in December 2018 – still a long way ahead but we have already begun discussions, which will be shared on our website for those interested.

Tina Goodchild (oblate of Shantivanam living in Cape Town, South Africa)

Sangha Shantivanam Santa Cruz

Summer 2016


Sangha Shantivanam was formed in 2004 when Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB cam., while living away from The Hermitage in Big Sur, began to teach “The Universal Call to Contemplation” as inspired by Bede Griffiths whom he had met more than a decade before. Santa Cruz, California seemed like the perfect place to gather together a small group of people committed to interreligious dialogue and deepening one’s contemplative practice.

Fr. Bede Griffiths had visited the Monterey Bay area in 1992 when he spent time at New Camaldoli Hermitage. He thought California was definitely where it (The Spirit) was happening! We were in the right place at the right time. Under the umbrella of New Camaldoli, Sangha Shantivanam is an official 501c3 non- profit charitable organization. As our Mission Statement states, we are a “Christian community which aims to promote the Universal Call to Contemplation through shared prayer and spiritual practice and to be a sign of unity and instrument of peace by seeking to understand the experience of Ultimate Reality as found in all the world’s spiritual traditions.”

We meet twice a month, in a space rented from Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz. We use a form of the Syrian liturgy developed by Fr. Bede and adopted by Fr. Cyprian which includes readings from Universal Wisdom, chanting psalms, reading from Christian Scripture and time for teaching, discussion and period of meditation. This is followed by intercessory prayer, a closing metta, and we finish off the evening with a shared soup and simple potluck.

Over the years, we have read and studied the sacred texts from a variety of wisdom traditions as well as contemporary authors writing about non-duality and the evolution of consciousness. In addition to Fr. Cyprian as our lead teacher, we have benefited from a number of nearby guest teachers who have taught on Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Native Spirituality, Christian Mystics, The Divine Feminine to name a few. We have hosted interfaith events, retreats and pilgrimages.

Some of our founders accompanied Fr. Cyprian to Shantivanam Ashram in Tamil Nadu in 2006. We have raised funds for Bless School in India as well as our local Homeless Garden Project. We make two pilgrimages a year to New Camaldoli in Big Sur for a day retreat and conferences with the monks as well as an extended weekend retreat with Fr. Cyprian during the Easter season.

Several of our members make up a small service committee helping to coordinate our calendar for topics of study, guest teachers, field trips to the Hermitage and our growing library. We have managed to acquire an extensive collection of excellent books on many world religions. There is a free will offering from members which helps defray the cost of our room, a small stipend for guest teachers and other organizational needs. Our bi-monthly planning meetings are open to the whole Sangha. There is a core group of about 10-20 regular attendees at our meetings and 160 people on our mailing list who ask to receive updates from the sangha. Many conferences are posted on our website as well as the topic and book we are studying so people who cannot attend meetings regularly can still participate.

For so many of us, Sangha Shantivanam has become a very important spiritual home. The vision of Fr. Bede Griffiths is alive and well. Sangha Shantivanam is a sign of hope and a true place of belonging.

Om Shanti
Ziggy Rendler-Bregman
May 2016

Bede Griffiths Sangha UK

THE BEDE GRIFFITHS SANGHA

http://www.bedegriffithssangha.org.ul

Back in 1993, soon after the death of Father Bede, a small group met at a retreat house in Wales called The Skreen. Led by Ria Weyens, then a member of the Christian Meditation Community in London, the ten of us created a weekend retreat based on the rhythm of the day at Shantivanam. We met three times a day for prayer, including readings from different traditions and singing bhajans and chants from Shantivanam.

This little group called itself the Shantivanam Sangham, but later, as numbers grew, we changed the name to the Bede Griffiths Sangha. This was to make it more accessible to the large numbers of people who have been inspired by Father Bede; his vision for the renewal of contemplative life and the renewal of Christianity in the light of Vedic philosophy and spirituality.

Numbers grew and we have over 600 people on our mailing list – mostly in the UK but also from all over the world. Over the last 25 years or so we have met regularly for retreats and conferences. For many years the old Prinknash Abbey was where we met for our Advent retreat. Some of our retreats are quite active – more like contemplative seminars, others are silent. We have published a newsletter several times a year for almost a quarter of a century., most of which are available on our website.

LATEST NEWS

  • LIVING from the GROUND of BEING:
    Continuing the dialogue East and West
    Conference followed by an optional silent retreat

JUNE 16 th – 18 / 19 th 2017

At Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre
Birmingham – UK
Fr Brian Pierce & Br Martin Sahajananda
in contemplative conversation

The speakers will lead us, and invite us into ‘contemplative conversation’
together. This sort of dialogue was described by Fr Laurence Freeman of WCCM in his 2016 Lent reflections:

We are all part of a conversation. The word ‘conversation’ usually evokes
the sense of speaking together but this is a late meaning – from the
16th century I think. Its original meaning is suggested by St Benedict’s
vow of ‘conversatio morum’, change in values and our way of life. (…)
Conversation is primarily about ‘turning towards’ something together,
training our attention on a common point and ‘living together’ in that way of looking and seeing. To look at is not always to see. But you have to look first before you can truly see what is.

THE PROGRAMME:

The Conference:
Each day will follow the pattern as at Shantivanam Ashram, that is, three periods of silent meditation together with morning, midday and evening prayers. We end the day with Nama Japa (chanting the name of Jesus) and then keep silence until after breakfast. Integrated into this rhythm will be a programme of talks, contemplative conversation, and periods of meeting in small groups. There will be time to walk in the 10 acre grounds with a lake, a labyrinth and conservation area. The conference finishes after lunch on Sunday 18 th .

Optional Silent Retreat:
We are also offering a 24 hour silent retreat at the end of the conference, at the same venue and at extra cost. The speakers will join in this, and the format will arise from the conference.
It will not be possible to come to the retreat only. The retreat finishes after lunch on Monday 19 th .

THE VENUE:

The Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Selly Oak, Birmingham B29 6LJ is based in the Grade II listed building which used to be the home of George Cadbury the Quaker chocolate manufacturer, and benefactor. 49 of the 60 bedrooms are en suite and there is a mixture of single, double and twin bedrooms. There are a conference room and 3 smaller rooms available for our conference, and full board using produce from the garden and ethically produced sustainable food products. For further information see http://www.woodbrooke.org.uk

WANT TO COME?
For details of cost options and for booking go to:

http://www.bedegriffithssangha.org.uk