In June of 2006, the Camaldolese Institute for East-West Dialogue invited a group of monastics and scholars to New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur to participate in a conference on the remarkable contribution and enduring legacy of Fr. Bede Griffiths. The culmination of that gathering is summarized in a new book, The Continuing Quest: Carrying Forward the Contemplative and Prophetic Vision of Bede Griffiths. The book is like an invitation into that 2006 conference, allowing the reader to explore, along with each author, the wisdom that Bede gained and utilized along his winding path from England to India. The contributors approach Bede and his all-inclusive vision with great reverence, offering a deep bow to the work he completed before his death as well as to the ongoing efforts to continue that work in the years since.
The Continuing Quest was superbly compiled by two Camaldolese monks, Frs. Joseph Wong and Thomas Matus, like a delicately tuned orchestra of contributors in its 12 chapters in three parts: Theologian: Integration of East and West; Prophet: The Growing Vision; and Teacher and Friend. Each chapter, from beginning to end, provokes one to see the consistent urgings of the Holy Spirit in Bede’s own life, but also gently nudges the reader to be present to those same urgings in one’s own path. Bede was keenly attuned to these directives of the Spirit and honored each one of them as sacred. He understood that wisdom and truth could be harvested from all authentic faith traditions, that the interior journey is one to silence and stillness, and that contemplation is a common aspect to any journey to the Divine.
Bede believed intensely in the perennial value of the monastic path. St. Benedict defined the monk as “one who is truly seeking God,” which Bede interpreted to mean a direct experience of ultimate reality. But this “seeking God” has produced a striving for such an experience in people from all walks of life, whether they be vowed, cloistered or lay. As evidenced in his life and his work, Bede held dear the perennial truth of both the monastic journey and universal call to contemplation.
The Continuing Quest explores various topics, both rich and compelling. Joseph Wong, for example, writes about Bede’s grappling with the Vedantic notion of advaita–non-duality, a theme that emerged and remained a main focus throughout much of Bede’s life. Bede had high hopes that his articulation of advaita as “not two/not one” would serve two traditions in dialogue. Dr. Michael von Bruck, on the other hand, writes about Bede’s “Interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita.” On the Western side, Thomas Matus writes about Bede’s relationship to Thomas Aquinas and the Inklings, and Bruno Barnhart’s contribution deals with “Science, Mysticism and Christ” based on Bede’s New Vision of Reality.
Cyprian Consiglio, current prior of New Camaldoli, shares a chapter entitled “Bede Griffith’s Anthropology: Toward an Integral Christian Spirituality.” What he considers to be the most significant contribution Fr. Bede left us was a new articulation of a spiritual anthropology, an understanding of the human person wrapped inside an ancient cosmology. Fr. Cyprian points out that this was actually Bede’s recovery of an ancient understanding of reality: the recognition of the spiritual, psychological, and physical aspects of all created reality and, following on that, a realization that the human person is at once spirit, soul and body. Fr. Bede was convinced that as we entered this new age Western science was slowly recovering and re-discovering the perennial philosophy, the wisdom that had prevailed throughout the ancient world.
There are also contributions by such notable scholars as Sr. Donald Corcoran, OSB, Francis Clooney, SJ, and the late Beatrice Bruteau, among others.
Fr. Cyprian concludes his chapter with the insight that Bede Griffiths’ explorations, both in his study and in his lived spirituality, in the latter part of the 20th century in India has provided a bridge from traditional Christian spirituality and its lexicon to the sensibility and vocabulary of informed seekers of the early 21st century, hungry as they are for and informed by contemporary incarnations of integral spirituality. As Laurence Freeman notes in his introduction, how Fr. Bede described the prophetic teachers that he was studying while writing his last book, New Creation in Christ, also applies to Bede himself: “So often one person can change life for thousands or millions. So often one person must break through and then everything else follows from that.” Bede Griffiths lived his life with grace and reverence, and intentionally followed the path of truth and peace. The Continuing Quest is testimony to that life well lived and to his lasting legacy.