Conversation with Karen Andrews, our oblate: I was speaking about a young Indian-American, who has been inquiring about staying in one of our guest rooms. This led me into talking about what India is for me. I last was there in July-September 2004, but it is like yesterday, and India was a place for my soul even in my early teens, when I read the Autobiography of a Yogi and felt the call to be a monk.
I told Karen about two Yeshu-bhaktas (“devotees of Jesus”) whom I had known at our ashram (Saccidananda Ashram, at Shantivanam, in Tamil Nadu State). One was a village poet, illiterate, who improvised songs that he sang at village feasts; he would often come to the evening service at Shantivanam, which included chanting in the local language and in other tongues spoken in India, Christian songs in the style of the Hindu bhajans. When he was there, Fr. Bede Griffiths and the brothers would always let him add one of his songs, whose words I did not entirely understand, except for common religious terms, and the name “Yeshu, Yeshu” repeated often. This man never came to the morning service, which included the Christian eucharist. Except one day, perhaps in December 2003, when he came and sat in his usual place behind a pillar in the temple. The monks saw him there, and let him sing. That evening word came from his family that he had just passed away. So, I said to Karen, after singing “Yeshu, Yeshu” so many times, where do you think he went?
Another devotee of Jesus was a woman, who would walk, limping, almost a kilometer from her home to attend the 6:15 a.m. eucharist. She was a Hindu, and sat silently meditating in a corner right by the entrance to the ashram temple. One of our sisters (Marie-Louise Coutinho) suggested that she could forego the difficult daily walk and attend only on Sunday, when someone might drive her there. She replied, “No, Sister, I must come, because Jesus calls me.”
The strict rule of our ashram is that we must welcome everyone, but proselytize no one. What need would there be for us to proselytize, if Jesus speaks to them?
When I think of these two devotees, I feel I am still in India.