interfaith dialogue

(Tina Goodchild)


Inter-religious Dialogue, a daily Reality in life

Inter-religious dialogue is a subject that is much in vogue today. By the very fact that society is composed of people belonging to diverse religious traditions and practices, it becomes incumbent on all to interact with one another avoiding confrontations and enhance one’s life through it. We are constantly engaged in inter-actions with one another in every field. In fact we are inter-dependent on one another all the time for the fulfillment of our basic needs and growth in every area of life. Most people profess affiliation to one religion or another by dint of their birth. However, whatever values and traditions a religion contains and passes on to its followers, it is not complete in itself for the simple reason that no religion can exhaust the fullness of truth. Religions have certain belief systems, code of laws and rituals which come to take shape over the years through the influence of culture, perception of values and the means of living it out in accordance with what one understands as consonant with the teachings of a religious founder or leader. Unfortunately, in course of time they get solidified with their local cultural expressions and become less amenable to change. The followers of all religions have had the tendency to carry with them wherever they go all the externals of their religion such as the specific rituals, dress code and their particular theological understanding of the perennial truths. This has led to much tension in human history. People from different lands meeting together find themselves contradicting each other when they view their religious practices against that of others who live side by side with them following a different religion or a different understanding of the eternal reality. This has necessitated inter-religious dialogue in some form at least among people for a peaceful co-existence. The conviction has been gaining ground in enlightened circles that no religion is the embodiment of truth but only the finger pointing to it in an imperfect way. Hence every religion has in it only segments of truth. One must delve deeper into one’s own religion and explore the perceptions in another’s religion too in order to arrive at complete truth and be built by it. Inter-religious dialogue does not imply compromising one’s beliefs and adopting another indiscriminately. It is rather the meeting together of human beings as they are and sharing together the best of doctrine, tradition and life style they possess. There is no evaluation of each other as good or bad but of appreciating each other’s assets for what they mean to them. No name given to God is his real name because God has no name or form. It applies also to the qualities that one attributes to God. Hence no one can say that he/she is right or wrong in whichever way he or she names God or speaks of him. The plan of God for each human person varies and it ought to be respected while sharing one’s own experience of religion. The town of Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, India, where I live, is a meeting ground for people from all over the world who are drawn here by the life and teachings of Sri. Ramana Maharshi, a sage who lived here in the first half of the last century. He belonged to a Hindu Brahmin family from Madurai but came here drawn by the grace of Shiva who has been considered embodied by the Mountain of Arunachala at Tiruvannamalai. Living for two decades in the caves of the mountain in silence with his altered state of consciousness, he grew into an enlightened sage whom people sought after from near and far. Going beyond the tenets of religion, he led those who came to him to seek and find the real self hidden in each one under various external expressions. Having an Advaita approach to life, Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi left behind him at Tiruvnnamalai an aura of spirituality and God-seeking which continues to draw tens of thousands to the town every year. Today people from all walks of life and rooted in diverse religious affiliations come here, stay at Ramana Maharshi ashram or anywhere around and do the pilgrim walk around the mountain. No one is keen to learn about the religion the other pursues but all are united in seeking to discover the self within which was the clarion call of the Maharshi. All the guest houses in Tiruvannamalai are booked up to capacity by Western seekers by and large from November to February every year. Most of these are followers of Christianity. A minimum of 100,000 people do the Girivalem walk around the Mountain of Arunachala at every full moon. The vast majority of these are Hindus but there is no distinction among the persons who constitute this crowd that walks around. The follower of any religion can sense the presence of God on that Mountain as well as in the crowd of pious pilgrims. At different points along the route, the pilgrims are served free food or snacks by groups of kindly volunteers from anywhere who bring cooked food ready to serve. No one is asked his or her religion. Everyone is accepted as a devotee of Shiva or a seeker of God. It is inter-religious dialogue taking place on a high level. People learn to go beyond one’s religion to recognize the humanity of the other and serve him or her with joy and humility. I have seen Muslim women in their purdah go into Ramanashram premises and experiencing the atmosphere of spirituality and acceptance prevailing there. The gate is open to all throughout the day and nobody is ever turned away unless evidently he or she is a public nuisance. Inter-religious dialogue takes place where men and women meet together on the common ground of their humanity and share each other’s spiritual, intellectual, artistic and other humanistic riches. Every form of talent present in any man or woman is a gift of God, under whichever name or form one perceives him. When we recognize that and appreciate it with thankfulness we render glory to God and make our lives more human and enriched. It is not our distinctions in religion that we need to share but rather what our religion has led us to on our spiritual journey. When we enter into true dialogue and listen to each other intensely, we shall pass on to each other even unknowingly the gift of God’s presence and love. This indeed is the ultimate aim of inter-religious dialogue. Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt (India)


  “The importance of the inter-religious dialogue as an example for reaching tolerance on political views.

Unfortunately, the past few months have been full of political turmoil in our country and one of the social behaviors that struck us the most was the extreme expression of hate. It is surprising to see how once apparently close people get to be so segregated by a passion for defending each one’s own political thought. While popular social movements should be encouraged, it was clear to see people’s differences and their distance of reaching a medium ground where opposite views could be at least accepted as freedom of expression. Looking from a spiritual point of view, moments like this must be carefully lived by those who can see the Divinity in all. While it could be difficult not to get somehow involved in society; the person in the spiritual path must attain a state of tolerance and amplify the feeling of love and generosity. Our sangha group in São Paulo has been a common ground for friends not only of different religious traditions, but also different political ideologies where the dialogue can be embellished by the desire of joining in the name of the Lord. We are most pleased to see the influx of new people and young minds interested on the quest of a broader living experience of spirituality and of what is truly Sacred. After our return from India, in 2016, as on previous years, we continued receiving the presence of guests and spiritual seekers from the Orthodox Church, the Order of Franciscan Friars, Buddhists, Kardecists on Spiritism, Hare Krishnas, spiritual yogis, and a group of Progressive Christians brought up by the Oblate of Shantivanam, Angélica Tostes. A variety of themes were studied and discussed ranging from inter religious prayers, introduction to Tantra, Christian Mysticism Theology and spirituality, the Bhagavad Gita commented by Bede Griffits (River of Compassion) compared to the Gospels and all the traditional prayers and bhajans from Shantivanam. We would like to invite friends and Oblates from everywhere to visit our sangha and get to know a little more about our country and culture. All are welcomed.” Zen Moraes and Marcos Mohan Das, São Paulo – Brazil


“There are various situations where people of different religions come together to share with each other. We may join in interfaith sharing among friends or Interfaith dialogue, which requires a deep knowledge and experience of one’s religious tradition. Our small group in Cape Town have weekly interfaith meetings which could be considered more of an experience of ‘Satsang’ which translates into ‘sat’ Truth and ‘sang’ being in the company of. We get together and each shares their experience of Truth or shares readings from the Holy Scriptures with commentary or writings of a particular saint or sage. Those of us who meet together are mainly Hindu and Christian although we have also had Islam and Buddhist practitioners join us. We always commence the meeting with the Om chant followed by singing of The Lord’s Prayer, then the Universal Prayer of Swami Sivananda and the chant from Shantivanam Om Jagadishwara. We follow it with sharing, a short meditation and prayers for healing etc. We have all been connected to the teachings of Bede Griffiths and the founders of Shantivanam and/or the teachings of Swami Venkatesananda and Swami Sivananda. Satsang is held at Ananda Kutir Ashrama in Cape Town twice a week and is based on the Satsang of the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh. It is a spiritual food – something that fills us with faith hope and love and encourages us to continue on our spiritual journey.” Tina Goodchild (Cape Town – South Africa)


on dialogue between people of different religious traditions

“Interfaith dialogue only makes sense if the participants themselves are genuine believers and practice their particular faith, a faith which is generally known and respected in our society by all people of good will. The spirit of the dialogue should be fundamentally a spirit of listening, of trying to understand what the other is actually saying. Any questions or comments by others should aim at clarifying what the speaker is seeking to communicate. Participants should refrain from criticising what others have shared concerning their faith and religious practices because it is not a debating session nor an exercise in comparing and evaluating religions.”   “The work of the Holy Spirit is not confined to Christians or the Church. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God who can “touch” and inspire any human being of good will irrespective of his religious tradition. It is this sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that we should seek to encourage among all people irrespective of their religious faith – and this work of the Spirit is shown in our peace-making efforts, in respecting one anothers’ sacred dignity,in being merciful and helping one another in our real human needs, in “doing unto others as you need others to do unto you.” In this universal perspective of the work of the Holy Spirit in humanity, it is possible for the Christian to “see” in faith Christ present in our midst and in people of all religions and even of no formal religion… The late Nelson Mandela got it right when he wrote: “Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished”. Bishop Joao Noe Rodrigues – (Diocese of Tzaneen – South Africa)


Religious Images & Statues

(Brother Martin)

(extract taken from THE FOUR O’CLOCK TALKS – Discussions with JOHN MARTIN

SAHAJANANDA compiled by Carrie Lock (pg. 114)

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there is a strong sense that God is transcendentand that we should never make an image of God. ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol’(Gen 20:4) is one of the Ten Commandments. In Judaism they do not have any image of God. In Islam there is also no image of God; Muslims are completely against any idol worship. In Christianity, we do not have any image of God. God may be presented as having a long white beard, but it is not a real image of God.

Sometimes, others accuse Catholicism of a type of idol worship due to the prevalence of statues of Christ, Mary and the saints. In Christianity, we have to distinguish between worship and veneration. There is a subtle difference between the two. Worship only belongs to God. What we need to do is to ensure that our symbols have universal value so that others can also understand and follow the meaning; otherwise our symbols become a narrow type of mentality which excludes others.

In Hinduism, there are a lot of statues, especially of the gods such as Vishnu, Ganesh and Shiva. Hindus believe that when you concentrate on a statue of one of the gods, the spirit of God comes and dwells in the statue and that the idol is worthy of worship. In my view, we cannot take sides whether this is absolutely right or wrong. There is something positive in having the idols. The danger is when we make these images absolute.

Especially in the Western mind, it is thought that Hindus believe in many gods. This is called polytheism. We have to be very clear about this: Hindus do not believe in many gods, they believe in only one God, and this one God has infinite attributes. The term is sahastra nama. Sahastra means 1000, which means infinite. God allows individuals to have an image according to his or her need. For God, it is not a problem. God is the same even though there are many images; what is different is only the external form or expression of God according to people’s needs. We should not see the differences but instead we should focus on the unity, and then you don’t worry about the image.

Temples, like images, can also represent attributes of God. Whenever we go to a temple, we should ask, ‘What is the meaning of the name of this god?’ and consider whether this name is OK with God. For example, there is a famous temple in the state of Orissa called Jagannatha Temple. God is worshipped as Jagannatha. Jagath means ‘the world’ and Natha means the Lord. God is being presented as Jagannatha, ‘Lord of the world’. Is not God Lord of the world? Another example: there is a temple called Vishvanath in Varanasi. Vishva means universe. God is being presented as ‘Lord of the universe’. Is not God the Lord of the universe? We have a temple here in the nearby city of Trichy called Sri Ranganatha. God is called Sri Ranganatha. What do we mean by ‘ranga’? Ranga means stage. Nadha is the Lord.

So God is the director of the stage. People are acting on stage and God is the director. In the state of Andhara Pradesh there is the famous temple Sri Venkateswara Swami. This means ‘The Lord who removes sins’, We say Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, this is Venkateswara. In Islam, they may not have an image of God, but still they have attributes of God. They have 99 attributes of Allah. Likewise in Catholicism, there is only one Christ, but he is given various attributes such as ‘Christ the Healer’, ‘The Sacred Heart’, ‘Divine Mercy’ and so on. What the Hindus do is they make the attribute into a form.How do they know God is merciful? They put it into visual form. For example at Jagannatha Temple, God as ‘Lord of the world’ is an attribute. It is difficult for some people to understand God as the Lord of the world, so an image is created so that people can relate with God.

In Hinduism, they have different names for different aspects of God; according to that name they build the statue or temple for worship. It is not the stone but the presence of God in the stone that is being worshipped. The most important thing is not to say don’t worship these idols. If you don’t want to worship, don’t worship, but if this stone is able to awaken devotion in millions of people, that is really a great miracle, no? We human beings are not able to awaken devotion in the people but this stone is able to do so. The important thing is whether this stone is helping people find devotion. We should not just find fault. We should not blame people, as long as their form of worship is benefiting them to be more spiritual and move closerto God then there is something good there.

In the Prophetic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God is portrayed as transcendent and that you should never have any image of God, but then people can identify God with the scriptures and say ’This is God’. That is also a type of idol worship. Idol worship isn’t only related to statues; it can also be in the form of a book. That we forget. Any image of God can be an idol, even the ideas we have of God in our mind can be idol worship. We can use the idols and symbols but we have to go beyond the idols and symbols to the reality. The real nature of God is love and compassion.

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, <> or the website that Kiran has developed for visiting teachers, <>.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.”

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


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.


  • 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 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 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

For details of cost options and for booking go to: