NEW WEBSITE: www.ephesians-511.net OCTOBER 2005
ASHRAMS IN INDIA: CATHOLIC OR NEW AGE?
By Michael Prabhu [ABRIDGED BY MARIA LAURA PIO, BALERNA, SWITZERLAND]
Michael Prabhu is a Catholic New Age expert, living in Chennai, India. One of the pioneers of the Indian Catholic Charismatic Renewal in New Delhi in 1982, he is now fulltime dedicated to the study and exposure of New Age ideas, techniques and activities which often infiltrate Catholic parishes and institutions. His work has been acknowledged by letters from many Bishops and Cardinals, as well as the Commissions of Bishops’ Conference of India and the Apostolic Nuncio. He has greatly contributed in his country to a better understanding of the document “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life – A Christian Reflection on the New Age” issued in February 2003 by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Saccidananda Ashram, better known as Shantivanam
- Everyday life in the Ashram
- The ideology and teachings of the Ashram
- Holy Mass in the Ashram
Some heresies and serious doctrinal errors promoted by the ashrams
- “The Eucharist: not yet the Ultimate means of God-experience”
- Denial of sin: “There is no absolute good nor bad in this world”
- Deification of the self: “We are gods”
- “The Eucharist: not yet the Ultimate means of God-experience”
- Promoters of the ashram movement: from Hinduism to New Age
- Catholic Ashrams: source of controversy with Hindus and Catholics
Today, in the Catholic Church in India, there are many institutions, estimated variously from 50 to 80 in number, that call themselves “Ashrams”, which initiated as a project in the 1950s. The word “ashram” designates in Hinduism a place of meditation, spiritual search and teaching, not only religious but also cultural, where the students and teachers live together. They are also the centres where live the sannyasis, Hindus who have decided to retire from the mundane life. Ashrams function simultaneously as a place of retreat, hostel, community, school and public dispensary. From a certain point of view, they resemble Middle Age European monasteries.
The foundation of Catholic Ashrams by the Catholic Church of India was originally projected as an inculturated Indian Christian way of life and worship that would find mass appeal, and remove the impression that has been created that Christianity is a ‘foreign’ religion, in a country where just over 2% of the population have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord. The direction of the 1969 All-India Seminar on the Church in India Today expressed the need “to establish authentic forms of monastic life in keeping with the best traditions of the Church and the spiritual health of India.” The final declaration of the Seminar proposed to “encourage the setting up of
ashrams both in rural and in urban areas… [to] project the true image of the church…“
But the true story of the Catholic ‘Ashram Movement’ is, sadly, different, as can be easily seen from the writings of the many priests and nuns connected with it. It is impossible to find the unique monotheistic dualism of the Bible in the different shades of monism that colour all their ‘Christian’ writings. From there, it was just a short step into the New Age for many of them.
One of the pioneers of this movement, the late Benedictine Fr. Bede Griffiths
OSB, opened his Ashram to New Agers from the West. His teachings greatly influenced hundreds of people who are today influential in the major religious congregations and Church hierarchy and who continue to promote New Age ideologies and the Hindu-isation of the Catholic Church in India.
These Ashrams have not brought anyone to a saving knowledge of the Jesus Christ of the Bible. Rather, the use of gross iconology, cross-breeding of sacred religious symbols, the practice of yogic exercises and OM
chanting, temple-dances, and dubious rituals and liturgies, continues to be one of the major reasons for Catholics leaving the Church.
The Ashram movement is nothing but religious syncretism or a Hindu way of life thinly disguised as Christianity. It has opened the door to a multitude of evils which have been documented in the writer’s detailed report on this subject, the result of his study of the literature of this movement and his personal visit to three ashrams. We present hereunder a brief account of the writer’s visit to one of the most famous Catholic ashrams of India, followed by some reflections on the teachings given in the ashrams and their consequences on the Church in India. The writer’s complete report can be consulted for more detailed information.
SACCIDANANDA ASHRAM, BETTER KNOWN AS SHANTIVANAM
Saccidananda [Sanskrit for the ‘Holy Trinity‘] Ashram, popularly known as Shantivanam is located near Trichy. The term “Saccidananda”, or SAT-CIT-ANANDA, has been wrongly equated with the Christian understanding of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, with SAT said to be the Father, CIT the Logos or Word of God, Jesus Christ, and ANANDA the Holy Spirit that proceeds from them!
Shantivanam was founded in 1950 by two French priests, Fr.
Jules Monchanin, who took the name of Swami Parama Arubi Anandam, and Fr.
Henri Le Saux O.S.B., a Benedictine who became Swami Abhishiktananda. Several years later, Shantivanam was taken over by Fr. Francis Mahieu, a Belgian Cistercian Trappist monk, who also assumed a Hindu name: Swami Dayananda. In 1958, Fr. Mahieu had already founded, together with Father Bede Griffiths, the Kurisumala Ashram in Kerala.
Shantivanam was inaugurated with good motives on 21st March 1950, the feast of St. Benedict “with the blessing and approval“ of Bishop Mendonca of Trichy who said it was “the beginning of a new era in the history of religious life in India.” The Ashram brochure states that “the ashram is a community of spiritual seekers and a monastic community is in charge of the ashram.
It is dedicated for contemplative life in the Benedictine tradition.“
The brochure further says that “The Second Vatican Council, in its declaration on non-Christian religions, [Nostra Aetate] declared that ‘the Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions’ and encouraged Catholics to ‘recognize, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral values as well as the social and cultural values to be found among them.’ Following this, the direction of the All-India Seminar on the Church in India Today in 1969, which was attended by the whole of the hierarchy and representatives of the whole Catholic Church in India…. showed the need of a liturgy ‘closely related to the Indian cultural tradition’ and a theology ‘lived and pondered in the context of the Indian spiritual tradition.’ In particular, the need was expressed ‘to establish authentic forms of monastic life in keeping with the best traditions of the Church and the spiritual health of India’.“
This writer’s visit to Shantivanam established that this Ashram has failed to be faithful to the mandate given to it by the Catholic Church in India, and the same can be said of the entire “ashram movement”. We describe hereunder the life in the ashram, as well as the teachings given there.
b) Everyday life in the Ashram
The permanent members of the Ashram follow the customs of a Hindu ashram, wearing the kavi (saffron-coloured robe of a sannyasi) and live sometimes in small thatched huts. There are periods of community work. For all occasions, one squats on the floor. Food is vegetarian. The Grace before meals is a long drawn out chant of the OM mantra. All during the serving of the food, everyone intones Om Shakti  Om, Pitru Shakti, Putra Shakti, Para Shakti Om. It is explained that chanting this OM SHAKTI
is praising the energy in our food, the energy of the Father, the Son and “the Great Feminine Force”. The Grace after meals is another mantra from the Bhagwad Gita.
The community meets for common prayer thrice a day. The manual states that this corresponds to the monastic offices of Lauds, Sext and Vespers: “Hence they are based primarily on songs and readings from the Bible, according to the Syrian Christian and Latin Benedictine traditions. But the Christian prayer is always preceded by chanting in Sanskrit, and by readings from the Scriptures of Hinduism… Among the gifts given by God to India, the greatest was seen to be that of interiority, the awareness of the presence of God dwelling in the heart of every human person and of every creature, which is fostered by prayer and meditation, by contemplative silence and the practice of yoga and sannyasa. These values belong to Christ and are a positive help to the Christian life… Our life is based on the rule of St. Benedict, the patriarch of Western monasticism …but we also study Hindu doctrine (Vedanta) and make use of Hindu methods of prayer and meditations (Yoga). In this way we hope to assist in the meeting of these two great traditions of spiritual life… At our prayer we have readings from the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita as well as from Tamil classics and other Scriptures together with psalms and readings from the Bible, and we make use of Sanskrit and Tamil songs (bhajans) accompanied by drums and cymbals. We also make use of ‘arati ‘ waving of lights… The ritual consists in sipping water and repeated invocations and mantras, especially the Gayatri Mantra.”
The church is built in the style of a South Indian [Shaivite] temple with a ‘gopuram ‘ or gateway on which is shown an image of the Holy Trinity in the form of a ‘trimurti ‘, a three-headed figure, which according to Hindu tradition represents Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the three aspects of the Godhead as Creator, Destroyer and Preserver.
A circular, pillared, thatched hall, open all around serves as a yoga and meditation centre, with a black Christ seated in padmasana posture on a lotus at the centre, facing in four directions. The westerners wear t-shirts and shawls decorated with the OM, and OM earrings and pendants. Some carry with them everywhere their yoga mats.
c) The ideology and teachings of the ashram
Shantivanam describes itself not as a Catholic ashram but as a Christian ashram. However, if not for the celebration of the daily Mass, a visitor might find it hard put to distinguish it even as a Christian, leave alone a catholic institution. The spiritual pot-pourri dished out would make one wonder if one was in some centre of religious experimentation, except that no Hindu ashram or other institution would dare to offer such a fare.
What you get is syncretism, a whole lot of advaita
garnished with New Age ideologies, a railing against all forms of dogmatism and organized religion [read as ‘the Catholic Church’], and a rejection of accepted teaching on Biblical revelation which is itself skillfully re-interpreted, and presented as a “New Vision of Christianity in the Third Millennium.”
This “Christianity” has simply no resemblance to the Christianity of the apostolic or any other tradition. The freedom to experiment “in keeping with the best traditions of the Church and the spiritual health of India”, and personal interpretations of what they claim is “the mind of the Church today“, have led to numerous aberrations.
“In our prayer we make use of various symbols drawn from Hindu tradition in order to adapt our Christian prayer and worship to Indian traditions and customs according to the mind of the church today,“
ashram literature states.“At the midday prayer, we use the purple powder known as kumkumum. This is placed on the spot between the eyebrows and is a symbol of the ‘third eye’. The third eye is the eye of wisdom. Whereas the two eyes are the eyes of duality which see the outer world and the outer self, the third eye is the inner eye which sees the inner light according to the Gospel ‘if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light’.
This verse from Matthew 6:22 is one of the most abused by New Agers. All accepted Bible translations say, “If your eye is sound/whole/good…” It is the favourite for those who need it to justify from the Bible the existence of the psychic ‘third eye’. There are other such abuses of Holy Scripture in the writings and teachings of Bro. John Martin Sahajananda of this Ashram.
“In our daily prayer we make constant use of the sacred syllable OM..” The
OM mantra is the alpha and the omega, the heart and the soul of ashram life, Hindu or Catholic. The practice of yoga is also an integral part of all Ashram life and of all the writings of the priests and nuns who lead the Ashram Movement.
At Shantivanam, there was the late priest, Swami Amaldas, a yoga exponent, author of books on yoga and kundalini, and founder of an Ashram in Narsinghpur.
During my visit, another Fr. Amaldas sang an ode to the god Ganesha and was warmly applauded by all at a public celebration of Fr. Bede’s 98th birth anniversary.
The Shantivanam library contains a large number of books on Hinduism and Hindu scriptures; on and by babas, gurus, and godmen and women like Sai Baba and Mata Amritanandamayi; the Theosophical Society, Jungian psychology, esotericism, and the occult; and New Age books authored by New Agers like E F Schumacher, Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, Deepak Chopra, etc. Good Catholic or Christian literature is hardly available. Though the above is what I found at Shantivanam, much of it is true of all other Ashrams.
d) Holy Mass in the Ashram
The Ashram manual says that: “Every Hindu puja consists in the offering of the elements to God as a sign of the offering of the creation to God. In the offertory therefore, we offer the four elements as a sign that the whole creation is being offered to God through Christ as a cosmic sacrifice… The eight flowers which are offered with Sanskrit chants [of OM] represent the eight directions of space and signify that the Mass is offered in the ‘centre’ of the universe… We then do arati with incense representing the air, and with camphor representing fire. Thus the Mass is seen to be a cosmic sacrifice in which the whole creation together with all humanity is offered through Christ to the Father.”
The priests do not intone the words “The Body of Christ” when distributing Holy Communion, which is received in the hand and by all present, no one abstaining. When I visited Shantivanam, 95% of the seekers there were westerners of whom none were Catholic barring one Italian, several cohabiting couples, theosophists and atheists; there was a couple who have divorced their first spouses and are ‘married’ together by Bro. Martin who delivered a ‘homily’ at the service, but the Benedictine fathers gave them all Holy Communion at daily Mass.
We ask ourselves if the ashrams have not flouted the mandate given to them by the Church. Ashram theology and experiments with Indian-rite Mass, urgently need to be investigated. There are some very dubious Eucharistic liturgies being used at the various Ashrams. One wonders if
these rites are approved by the Church ?
Shantivanam is hailed as the “mother house” of catholic ashrams in India and abroad. Since 1980, the Ashram has been “part of the Benedictine Order as a Community of the Camaldolese Benedictine Congregation“ who are a “reformed movement” in the Benedictine tradition. Camaldoli too is completely afflicted with New Age and yoga as can be seen from a visit to some of their websites, for instance http://www.camaldoli.it/web_it/editoria/vitamonastica/vm2004_227.htm or http://www.contemplation.com/Hermitage/symposium.html )
The common denominator in ALL the Ashrams is the practice of yoga meditation, and the incessant use of the mantra OM.
3. SOME HERESIES AND SERIOUS DOCTRINAL ERRORS PROMOTED BY THE ASHRAMS
Through the ashram movement, a new theology is emerging. And the most preoccupying is that “we see evidence of the ashram ideals being percolated into the larger community” says Sr. Amala, founder of an ashram in Bangalore. We present hereunder some examples.
a) “The Eucharist: NOT yet the Ultimate means of God-experience”
Ashram Aikiya, the Federation of Ashrams of Catholic Initiative in India was constituted at a gathering of ashramites at the National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre [NBCLC] in Bangalore in 1978 at the invitation of Fr. D.S. Amalorpavadas [Swami Amalorananda, 1932-1990]
who was its Director, and Secretary of Liturgy.
At this meeting, two of the important elements which had been well implemented by Fr. Bede Griffiths and others, were agreed on:
1. “Study of the Bible in addition to the scriptures of other religions”.
2. “The Eucharist: not yet the Ultimate but an important means of God-experience.”
“Bede… has rightly been insisting…[that] in Christian Ashrams, we should centre our prayer life not on the Eucharist but on contemplative prayer or ‘Meditation’ as we call it in the East. This [meditation] should be for us the ‘source and summit of the activity of the Church’, NOT THE EUCHARIST, which only some can fully participate in“ says
Sr. Vandana Mataji RSCJ, an Ashram founder.
WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS:
The Church teaches the opposit:
The Second Vatican Council rightly proclaimed that
“the Eucharistic sacrifice is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia n. 1, Lumen Gentium n. 11.)
b) Denial of sin: “There is no absolute good nor bad in this world”
There is a heavy silence on the issue of ‘sin’, broken only in the denial of it. Bro. Martin has made it clear that “God is absolute Good, which has no opposite, Evil”.
“Evil belongs to the world of duality… there is no fight between God and evil since there are not two independent realities.“
“I saw God in the earth, in trees,
in mountains. It led me to the conviction that there is no absolute good or evil in this world,“ says Sr. Pascaline Coff.
“Sin is a refusal to grow, or [it is] block[ing] the growth of others”
insists Martin. “Sin is a falling away of our awareness from the Real to the Unreal…“, ignorance, the antidote being self- ‘enlightenment’, he says.
WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS:
The Vatican document on New Age ascertains that “In New Age there is no distinction between good and evil. Human actions are the fruit of either illumination or ignorance. (…) In New Age there is no real concept of sin, but rather one of imperfect knowledge.”
Instead, the notion of sin is central in the history of Salvation. The Catecism of the Catholic Church defines it as follows: “Sin is an offense against God: ‘Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.’ (Ps 51,6) Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,‘ knowing and determining good and evil (Gen 3, 5). Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God’ (St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 14,28:PL 41,436). In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation. (Phil 2, 6-9)”
c) Deification of the self: “We are gods”
The affirmations of the preceding paragraph help understand the next step taken by the the ashram movement promoters, by denying sin justify their claims that “we are gods”.
Vandana Mataji quotes Swami Vivekananda who says “We are the greatest god… Most Christians cannot easily think of man becoming god…“
“To enable people to become God by entering into silence, is this not the raison d’etre of an ashram ?“ asks Vandana. Confirms Sr. Pascaline Coff OSB, “Bede often said ‘The aim of an ashram is to realize the Self – and then you know God’… This is the real call of the ashram.“
Bro. Martin recommends chanting OM as “This experience communicates with the famous utterance : aham brahma asmi, I am Brahman, I am God.” One can say, “My real ‘I’ is God’ or ‘I am God‘.” Or, becoming enough enlightened, declare “the second great statement ‘Tattvamasi’ which means ‘You are that’ or ‘You are
God‘,” [and] realize that “God and human beings are ultimately one.”
“There is no ultimate truth in the religions and their doctrines. Truth is the human person. Human being is the way, the truth and the life,“ says Bro. Martin.
WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS:
The Vatican Document declares [“the god within… we are gods” syndrome, n 3.5] deification of the self as a primary characteristic of New Age. The Catchism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains that originally “created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God” (Gen 3,5), but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God“. Only Jesus Christ says: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14,6).
4. PROMOTERS OF THE ASHRAM MOVEMENT: FROM HINDUISM TO NEW AGE
Bro. Martin Sahajananda OSB
is the major ideological influence at Shantivanam. He says that Marx, Sartre, Nietzsche and atheist thinkers were his gurus in his formation. He is the author of at least 9 books, all of which reinterpret and distort every aspect of the the Gospel and every teaching of the Church. He conducts daily satsanghs for the ashramvasis during which he, as he does in his writings, systematically attacks the seekers’ potential need for Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, or any form of religious structures, with his anti-Christian rhetoric and radical indoctrination.
Fr. Thomas Matus
OSB, a Camaldolese Benedictine and disciple of Bede, is upset about the Church’s “dogmatic insistence on the Bible specially since the Second Vatican Council.“ Fr. Bede himself believed that the piety of “popular devotions like the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross … and the Imitation of Christ… is far from the spirituality of the Gospels.”
Fr. J. Mattam SJ records his complete disagreement with the post-synodal document Ecclesia in Asia, but a strong approval of what is going on in Shantivanam and other ashrams.
Sr. Vandana Mataji RSCJ accuses the Church of the fear of syncretism, adding “We need to recognize… that no one religion, no, not even Christianity, can claim to have the whole truth.” She also harshly criticizes the October 1989 Vatican Document on “Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, which “warns all Catholic Bishops that Eastern forms of prayer and meditation such as Yoga, Zen and Transcendental Meditation are ‘not free from dangers and errors’,“
The writings of the ashram movement are a rebellion against the Magisterium as well as against organized religion and all authority. They are full of heresy and dissent. They also indicate a deep abhorrence of evangelization.
Several gurus are revered in Catholic Ashrams and by the priests and nuns who lead them, several of whom have actually lived at these hindu ashrams and have gone to receive darshans (a “vision of the divine”) to numerous babas and gurus. Some of the most famous are Swami Yogananda, Swami Muktananda Paramahamsa, Ma Anandamayi, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society, and even Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Both Muktananda and Aurobindo are named as leading New Age influences in the Vatican Document on New Age, note no. 15. From Hinduism, all the way to the New Age.
Ashram leaders quote liberally from New Age influencers as well as New Agers or their influencers such as Meister Eckhart, the excommunicated Dominican priest Matthew Fox, C G Jung, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and others.
Vandana’s 800-page book
Shabda Shakti Sangam, is loaded from cover to cover with material on yoga, the OM mantra,
kundalini, chakras, nadis, the sushumna, energy fields, the astral body, Hindu deities and gurus, etc., often accompanied by diagrams, in her own articles as well as those by other Catholic Ashram priests and Hindu contributors.
Despite all this, Sr. Vandana Mataji was also on the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) National Liturgical Commission for several years! On her retirement as Provincial of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart she re-opened the old Anglican-founded Christa Prema Seva Ashram
in Pune in 1972. In 1976, she founded the Jeevan Dhara Ashram in Jaiharikal.
She has experimented with New Age spirituality and has participated at the Findhorn Centre in Scotland which is the world’s primary institution of New Age activity. She teaches that there is no need for conversion to Jesus Christ or evangelization, that the Eucharist is secondary to meditation, that couples can cohabit without marriage, and so on.
Another leading Ashram is
at Kalady in Kerala founded by Jesuit Fr. Sebastian Painadath. A workshop on Interreligious Dialogue here included
“a Hindu temple where it had been arranged that we could actually participate in a Hindu ritual, guided by one of the devotees of Shiva who led us around the temple around the linga and the sacred tree
and taught us the Sanskrit chants that the pilgrims use there… Next we arrived at 7:30 PM at the house of Govind Bharathan, an enthusiastic
devotee of Sai Baba whom some Hindus consider an incarnation of Krishna.”
It also gave visitors exposure to yoga, Hindu meditations, philosophies and scriptures, but omitted a study of the Church documents which was part of the original timetable.
In Bangalore, there is the Art Ashram of Jyoti Sahi who has played a leading role in Ashram art forms. He draws “on the insights now available to us through psychoanalysis“, of course as proposed by Carl Jung on the New Age concepts of ‘synchronicity’ and ‘the collective unconscious’. His explanation of his symbolism of the ‘serpent’: “According to kundalini yoga, the serpent power at the base of the spinal column could be compared with what Freud
called the ‘libido’. It is the vital energy in man.“
Sahi too quotes many New Agers including one whom the Vatican Document ranks as New Ager No. 1 the French Jesuit priest / paleontologist de Chardin. Sahi sees no problem with the occult yin-yang symbol and its philosophy of life and devotes three pages to it in one of his books. Sahi also promotes the use of the ‘mandala’, which is a ‘visual mantra’ and is used in some Ashrams for meditation.
The February 3, 2003 Vatican Document on the New Age has much to say about the propositions of Jung, which it ranks as New Ager No. 2 in the section on Notes, nos. 24 and 34, on “left brain” rational thinking vs. “right brain” intuitive thinking, n 2.1 and n 2.5; on “the god within“… “we are gods” concepts, n 3.5, n 2.3.2; A Select Glossary: Androgyny, n 7.2; Depth Psychology, n 7.2; notes 24 and 34, and n 8. All these terms are commonplace in Ashram literature, as are frequent references to Jung.
Then, there is the
Bodhi Zendo Ashram founded by Jesuit Fr. Ama Samy in Tamil Nadu. It has round-the year Zen Buddhist sessions and is very popular in the Ashram circuit. There are other Ashrams where other Buddhist meditations like Vipassana are taught. Groups of nuns, and also novices and seminarians are sent to these Ashrams by their superiors as part of their formation as priests and leaders in the Church.
One of Swami Sachidananda‘s DHARMA BHARATHI books “is an invitation to disciples of Christ in the modern world to liberate themselves from the paralysing bondages and structures of institutions, hierarchies, dogmas and rituals that have emasculated the Christian faith today.“ He wrote, “we need a new form of ‘Church’ which need not even have the name ‘church’.
As Bede Griffiths remarks, ‘This ‘Universal Church’ may not have any resemblance to the existing churches at all and may not even have the name ‘church’.“
Swami Sachidananda strongly promotes all Ashram practices. He talks of “the proponents of new [age] science like Werner Heisenberg, David Bohm, Fritjof Capra, Paul Davies, Ken Wilber, Rupert Sheldrake and E.F. Schumacher.” In his Manuals, he lists a number of “progressive movements” they are associated with such as the Theosophical Society, Divine Life Society, Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Aurobindo Society and the Sri Ramakrishna Order which he believes have “Indian insights into the truths of spirit”.
Another of Bede’s disciples, Sr. Pascaline Coff
OSB is the foundress of Osage Monastery, a monastic ashram in Sand Springs, Oklahoma USA that spreads New Age influences.
Russill Paul, an Anglo-Indian native of Chennai, now a well known composer and record producer, was a member of Bede’s Ashram community from 1984-1989. Today a US citizen, he leads groups of American pilgrims on visits to Indian gurus and temples, centred on a yoga retreat at Shantivanam. Russill has been a faculty member of New Age institutions like Matthew Fox’s Naropa Institute and the University of Creation Spirituality, has been presenting workshops throughout North America at New Age centres such as The
Esalen Institute in
Big Sur, the Omega Institute of Holistic Studies etc. and has been a presenter at prestigious conferences such New Age Journal’s Body and Soul Conference.
5. CATHOLIC ASHRAMS: SOURCE OF CONTROVERSY WITH HINDUS AND CATHOLICS
Despite all attempts made by the Catholic gurus and acharyas to adopt forms of Indian culture, worship, liturgy, and philosophical and theological concepts even to the extent of their forsaking a dualistic for a non-dual [advaitic] understanding of God and self, most traditional Hindu leaders are unable to accept them as one of their own.
To these orthodox Hindus, the Catholic gurus are still Christians preaching a Christianity thinly veiled as Hinduism, with an agenda of conversion in a new approach that has been approved by Rome. Which is a wrong assessment. Most traditional Catholics, at least those who have not been ‘programmed’ at these ashrams and by the priests, nuns and lay persons associated with them, do not accept these centres and their protagonists as being truly representative of Christian expressions of faith. They view these places and people as having been subverted by Brahmanaic Hinduism.
Since over five decades of ashram ‘experimentation’ has generated no goodwill from either Hindus or Catholics, [leading instead to controversy and ill-will], nor is it true to the teaching of Church documents like Ecclesia in Asia , instead going against their spirit by abjuring evangelization and conversion, what is the reason for the ashrams to be allowed to continue to exist, especialy when they are now ‘trojan horses’ in the Church, promoting dissent, heresy, liberation theology, New Age, a ‘New Society‘, a ‘New Vision of Christianity‘?
This report demonstrates beyond any iota of doubt that the ashrams are inter-linked with each other and with a network of New Age individuals and organizations. The consorting of ashramites with New Agers is not simply on an intellectual or academic level but on a personal one as exemplified in Bede, Swami Sachidananda, Russill Paul and others. Thus, there is taking place an “osmosis” as hoped for by Le Saux, Painadath and Vandana, between Christianity on the one hand and New Age and Eastern spirituality on the other, resulting in an unacceptable syncretism.
The ashramites’ numerous teachings contradict those of the Church and Biblical revelation. Further influenced by Jungian thought and anchored in advaitic philosophy, they lead to many abuses, errors, aberrations and evils including religious pluralism, the rejection of the unicity of Jesus and a ‘sacramental Church’, the primacy of contemplative meditation over the Real Presence in the Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament, the impersonalization of God, a view of the Holy Spirit as a divine ‘energy’, the deification of nature and the self, the unrestricted distribution of the Holy Communion at Mass and the institution of such practices as yogic meditation, which is the bane of the Indian Church and the Ashram Movement. Modern developments are a Yogic celebration of the Eucharist, courtesy the late Swami Amaldas of Shantivanam, and not a few other priests including Fr. Gilbert Carlos SVD who even celebrated Yoga Healing Masses as reported to me by friends in Australia.
A great many of the ashram teachings are New Age and are refuted by the Vatican Documents on the New Age and Christian Meditation, and by Ecclesia in Asia. These very documents are directly attacked and criticized by ashram founders Bede, Vandana, Painadath and others. They also “reinterpret” the Gospel
as the Church is accused of preaching only “Half the Gospel”. Bro. Martin asserts,“There is no obligation to believe in Christ.” He indulges in manipulation not only when interpreting the Bible but also when quoting from it, dropping what does not fit into his scheme of things.
One has simply to visit the Internet to see the volumes of revolutionary anti-Catholic [and New Age] material posted on websites connected with Bede’s legacy, the Bede Griffiths Sagha, Russill Paul, Sr. Pascaline Coff OSB, Wayne Teasdale, the New Monk Project, the Camaldoli monastery and many others.
One of the greatest casualties of ashram theology is Evangelization. The Ashram movement, while focusing on Dialogue, abhors the very idea of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is the very raison d’etre of the missionary Church. Genuine ‘Inter-religious Dialogue’, according to Church teaching does NOT preclude evangelization.
In my brief pilot letter of 1st January 2005 concerning these Ashrams sent to selected Church and Charismatic Renewal leaders, national and international, all of whom responded with encouragement and a call for a detailed report, I had claimed that I had witnessed “New Age, blasphemy, heresy and sacrilege” at Shantivanam.
This report confirms that claim.
SUMMARY BY MARIA LAURA PIO, CATHOLIC APOLOGIST