January 2012 course

The following is the syllabus for the course I taught this January at the JST, which is the Berkeley branch of Santa Clara University.


This course will offer a broad historical view of the constant interaction between Hinduism and Buddhism, together with a focused examination of spiritual practices (yogas) common to both, especially in schools categorized as ‘tantric’. This perspective, both broad and focused, will suggest a multi-pronged approach to interreligious dialogue, through: a) reading primary sources in the Vedas, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Yoga Sutras, Hindu and Buddhist Tantras, and subsequent tradition in both East and West; and b) reflection on them in the light of lived experience, especially in those forms of yoga and tantric practice that have spread beyond India and Asia in the last two centuries.

The course will emphasize the ecclesial nature of interreligious dialogue (see Vatican II, Nostra Aetate), and will examine this dimension in a critical/faithful reading of documents of the Catholic magisterium regarding meditation, etc. Students will recognize the interplay between faith and culture in addressing the theological and/or pastoral issues that emerge in Hindu/Buddhist/Western cultural contexts. Students will be invited to share, and reflect upon, their own interreligious connections.

The students will read, study, and critically reflect upon, the interfaith context and relations of yogis and other practitioners of spiritual disciplines, of the distant and recent past, in the light of the Catholic Church’s view of, and relationship with, these faiths and their adherents.
The students will explore how people today, in contact with persons of faith belonging to various traditions, can through dialogue deepen their own life of faith and spiritual journey.


Thomas Matus. Ashram Diary: In India With Bede Griffiths. Washington D.C.: O Books, 2009. ISBN 978 1 84694 161 0

Thomas Matus. Yoga and the Jesus Prayer. Washington D.C.: O Books, 2010.
ISBN 978 1 84694 285 3

Yogananda paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. New York: Philosophical Press, 1946. In the public domain; available for on-line download. Later (somewhat modified) editions from Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship Press, 1970 ff.


I—A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH’S ATTITUDE/RELATIONSHIP with regard to other faiths and spiritual traditions. Dialogue as an ecclesial practice and as a personal commitment, in the spirit of a critical fidelity to Catholic tradition, as expressed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, especially Nostra Aetate. In what way, and to what degree, have Hindu and Buddhist sacred texts become part of contemporary Western culture? [Read Nostra Aetate; understand how interreligious dialogue is integral to the Church’s mission, in service of the faith that does justice; see also the Holy See’s document Dominus Jesus and subsequent debate].

II—THE UNCLEAR AND INDISTINCT CONCEPTS OF BOTH ‘RELIGION’ AND ‘HINDUISM/BUDDHISM’ in the context of the Church’s efforts to affirm her own, and Christ’s, ‘uniqueness’; the centrality of the concept of Dharma as a unifying factor between Hinduism and Buddhism [Read from Huston Smith, The World’s Religions; Raimon Panikkar, The Intra-Religious Dialogue].

III—HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM AS ‘SISTER RELIGIONS’: Indian religious traditions and their tendency to coalesce and cross-fertilize, as compared to the separation of Christianity from Judaism and the divisions among Christians; the priority of ‘practice’ and ‘experience’ in both Hinduism and Buddhism, contrasted with Christian dogmatism [Read selections from Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom; Anagarika Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism; reflect on the range of texts held as sacred by Hindus and Buddhists].

IV—THE WEST AND CHRISTIANITY IN RELATION TO RECENT HINDUISM/BUDDHISM: the Western discovery of yoga and the re-emergence of the tantric traditions, against the backdrop of the nineteenth-century Hindu and Buddhist revival movements and the Tibetan exile in the twentieth century [Read from Jeffrey J. Kripal, Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna; reflect on the renewal of Hinduism through the Brahmo Samaj, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and others; Sri Aurobindo; Ramana Maharshi and the quest for the Self; read from Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo; Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi; Maurice Maupillier, Le Yoga et l’homme d’Occident; Bede Griffiths, The Marriage of East and West].

V—GURU AND DISCIPLE: The non-hierarchical transmission of India’s civilization and spiritual teachings through lineages of gurus; the new lineages established by Ramakrishna, Yogananda, Chogyam Trungkpa, and other recent gurus [Read from Yogananda, Kripal, et al.; reflect critically on cultural and spiritual transmission in the West in general and in the Catholic Church in particular; reflect also on the changing image of a ‘guru’ in both East and West].

VI—SYNCRETISM AND INCULTURATION: ‘Syncretism’ as intrinsic to Hinduism in general. Hindu and Buddhist worship or veneration of Jesus. Is the practice of yoga or Buddhist meditation in the West a form of ‘inculturation’? [Reflect on the practice of ‘Oriental techniques’ in the West: Matus, Yoga and the Jesus Prayer].

VII—SANNYASA AND YOGA, or ‘Renunciation’ and ‘Integration’ as inherent elements of the inner dynamic of Hindu/Buddhist spirituality [Read passages from the Bhagavad Gita and from selected Buddhist texts; examine the historical and spiritual link between sannyasa and yoga, and between Hinduism and Buddhism; consider the recent tantric revival as reaffirming integration of flesh and spirit].

VIII—MYSTICISM AND EROS IN TANTRIC TRADITIONS, ANCIENT AND MODERN: In what way and to what degree are erotic symbols experienced both inwardly and in outward practice; can we speak of ‘Christian tantrism’ in our own mystics? [Read from Eliade, Kripal, Govinda, Matus].

IX—NEW POSSIBILITIES FOR AN EXPERIENTIAL APPROACH TO HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM through the practice of yoga. [Read from Eliade, Kripal, Matus, and Bede Griffiths, Return to the Centre; understand how a Christian’s opening to yogic/tantric practice can lead to absorption of Hindu and/or Buddhist elements into one’s global vision as a Christian].

X—VARIOUS THEOLOGICAL HYPOTHESES on Hinduism and other traditions in relation to human salvation by, through, and in Jesus Christ [open discussion of these questions and hypotheses, examined by reading from one or more of the following authors: Karl Rahner; Jacques Dupuis; Jules Monchanin; Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux); Bede Griffiths; Raimon Panikkar].

(This was a 40-hour course, three credits, and it was all compressed into two weeks, four class hours a day. It was impossible to do justice to the theme and all the possible ramifications of it. Yet I did my best, and the students made heroic efforts to cover the ground and submitted brilliant papers. But I don’t think I’m going to do a course like this again.)

About ashramdiary

Thomas Matus, who blogs this Ashram Diary, was born 1940 in Hollywood, California. Academics: A.B. in music from Occidental College (Los Angeles); S.T.L. in ecumenical theology from Athenaeum Anselmianum (Rome, Italy); Ph.D. in comparative mysticism from Fordham University (New York). Initiated into Kriya Yoga (by direct disciples of Paramahansa Yogananda) in 1958. Became a Catholic in 1960 and entered New Camaldoli Hermitage (Big Sur, California) as a novice monk in 1962. Lived for more than 30 years at the Monastery of Camaldoli in Italy. Traveled to India some 20 times; made frequent retreats at Saccidananda Ashram (Shantivanam) in southern India. Was in Brazil, off and on, from 1999 to 2006. Now back in California, he lives at the Hermitage in Big Sur and Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley, California. See: http://www.youtube.com/user/thomasmatus
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2 Responses to January 2012 course

  1. You say “…I don’t think I’m going to do a course like this again.”
    If I didn’t live in the San Diego area, plus my age, I certainly
    would take one of your courses! But I was wondering if you
    might consider teaching a course on the “New Theology”
    featured in the BELONGING TO THE UNIVERSE, with
    your contribution along with Br. David? Exciting material
    there! Also in a website of yours, you mention the paradigm
    shift re Cosmology, how “Monastics must help humanity
    see history in a new light and discover new attitudes
    of the heart.” Lots of great material from which to share,
    If not in the classroom, how about more on this in your
    blog where there’s the potential for a larger audience?
    Resoectfully, –Beatrix.

    • ashramdiary says:

      Thanks for your comment, Beatrix. Indeed I plan to work more on my blog (the URL is now, simply, http://ashramdiary.com), and on my YouTube channel (thomasmatus). I should like to develop further some of the themes from “Belonging to the Universe”. Peace, Thomas


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