People I Admire #2: Bede Griffiths
I have been aware of Bede Griffiths for many years, aware mostly that he had attempted some kind of synthesis between Hinduism and Catholicism. But when I became interested in Christian meditation as taught by the wonderful Laurence Freeman I really became fascinated with Father Bede and his remarkable life's work. He is something of a grandfather of the Christian Meditation movement, and his writings are much admired and circulated in those circles.
Father Bede was an exquisite man in every sense - in the video footage I've seen of him he is extraordinarily gentle and possessed of an incredible presence worthy of a movie star. He was an English convert to Catholicism who became a Benedictine monk and eventually went on to establish a fascinating Ashram/Monastery in Southern India, where he practised Catholicism with a distinctly Hindu face. Bede himself took on the appearance of a traditional Hindu sannyasin, wearing saffron robes, observing a vegetarian diet and filling his religious observances with Hindu ritual and Sanskrit chant. He seems to have achieved a genuine synthesis between the two great traditions, and as such is a pioneer in the Interfaith movement. His encouragement of meditation is what makes him so interesting to the Christian Meditation crowd.
Griffiths was following in the footsteps of an earlier Catholic priest from France who went native, the fascinating Swami Abhishiktananda. Griffith's changes were mild when compared to the French Swami's. Abhishiktananda seems to have moved well beyond Christianity, becoming a disciple of the enigmatic Ramana Maharshi and living out his days for all intents and purposes as a Hindu ascetic. Father Bede Griffiths was far more circumspect, maintaining his status as Catholic priest in communion with Rome and advocating the universality of the Christian message, though a Christianity informed and modified by the religions of the East.
Bede Griffiths' books are genuinely intriguing, and display a brilliant mind with a profound understanding of the religions and culture of India. I would recommend them to anyone, and they have given me much spiritual sustenance.