Please find attached below a report on my recent eventful visit to India. Many thanks again to all who made my stay so memorable.
My visit to India began in Bangalore with a plenary address at the International Conference organised by Vinayasadhana (The Institute of Formative Spirituality and Counselling) at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram (DVK) – a theological institute run by the Carmelites of Mary of Immaculate (CMI). The conference celebrated the end of the Year of Consecrated Life initiated by Pope Francis in December 2014 and its title was ‘Consecrated Life in the Globalized Era: Catholic, Ecumenical and Interreligious Perspectives’, coordinated by our genial host, Fr Saju Chackalackal CMI, Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy. I was asked to comment on the psychological dynamics of consecrated life and took as my title, ‘The Awakening of the Heart: Psycho-spiritual reflections on Consecrated Life’. Drawing on themes from the Bengali Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, and from Western writers including James Fowler, Carl Jung and Robert Johnson I looked at consecrated life from the perspective of the human life cycle. To conclude I drew on recent reflections on the life of the Indian sannyasi from the writings of Fr Augustine Thottakara CMI and Fr Kurian Perumpallikunnel CMI, with the latter of whom I was delighted to share my plenary session so that an interesting dialogue developed. Some of the talk has been placed on this blog already and it is hoped the rest will appear in an edited volume of the proceedings from the conference later this year. Notable speakers at the conference also included Prof Kees Waaijman from the Titus Bradsma Institute in the Netherlands and Prof Franco Imoda SJ, President of AVEPRO at the Holy See and former Rector of the Gregorian University in Rome and Swami Sadananda. All of whom contributed interesting insights to a fascinating event.
After the conference in the congenial surroundings of DVK I travelled to Vidyavanam Ashram on the outskirts of Bangalore at Bannaghatta National Park. This Christian Ashram in the Indian tradition was initiated by the 81 year old Fr Frances Vineeth CMI. Fr Vineeth was present in the ashram throughout the week and I was privileged to record a series of addresses, meditations and interviews with him which I hope to work on in the coming months to prepare an article assessing the work of this remarkable pioneer of Hindu-Christian dialogue. During my stay Fr Vineeth spoke with eloquence and passion about the influence of the Hindu scriptures on his life and thought, the foundation of Vidyavanam and the life of the Christian sannyasi. I was accompanied by Fr Jose Nandhikkara CMI, another keen worker on Hindu-Christian dialogue and along with the other ashramites we enjoyed days full of yoga, meditation, discourse and a chance to enjoy the beauties of the Indian natural world.
At the end of the week I returned once again to DVK to form part of the ‘jury’ for the public defence of Dominican PhD candidate: Fr Vinoy Thomas Paikkattu OP. Fr Vinoy is one of 100 Indian Dominicans (refounded from the Irish Dominican province – we had many friends in common) and his thesis was entitled: ‘To be Human, to be Relational: An Analysis of Aquinas and Wittgenstein for a Philosophical Anthropology’. I had not conducted a public doctoral defence in India before and the hall was crowded with family, friends and fellow students. I was enormously impressed by Fr Vinoy’s sang froid in front of such public exposure and was secretly grateful for our more private British system of closed doctoral vivas as I am sure I would not have stood it as well as he did. We awarded him a distinction for his excellent thesis and defence.
As my time in India drew to a close I had one final surprise. On my last evening I met four young Tibetans from the nearby Sera monastery at Mysore who had risked life and limb, giving up their homes and families, to trek across the high Himalayas so that they could practise their religion and studies in peace in India. They asked if I could spend my last morning in Bangalore teaching them something of the Christian mystical tradition. Not surpisingly, I took as my ‘sutra’, Teresa of Avila’s ‘Interior Castle’ and with Fr Mathew Chandrankunnel CMI we engaged in an interesting discussion on this ‘honorary Tibetan’ discussing the ‘seven levels of consciousness’ in her writing and its similarity to Tibetan models of thought. Themes I hope to explore in future writings.
I left India with a sense of having been lucky to meet some outstanding practitioners of dialogue and with plenty of material to work on in the coming months. I am very grateful to all the kindness and help shown me by the staff and students of DVK and Vidyavanam and am looking forward to future collaborative work between DVK and St Mary’s Twickenham in the form of conferences, publications and visits.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti!