I’m always in India

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.

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
This entry was posted in Hinduism, India and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to I’m always in India

  1. Grateful says:

    Hello, I am curious about your experience with the sisters of Ananda Ashram (across the road from Shantivanam). I understand they have the same spiritual approach as the monks. Can you tell me more about your impressions of them? Thank you and God bless…

    • ashramdiary says:

      Hello, Danielle. Yes, the sisters at Ananda Ashram follow the same spirituality as the monks, based on the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Camaldolese Constitutions and the special customs handed down from the three founders of Shantivanam: Jules Monchanin, Abhishiktananda, and Father Bede. Since the Camaldolese Benedictines favor a more solitary monastic life (for those who have a full experience of life in the monastic community), Ananda Ashram offers a hermitage setting for the sisters and their guests. The sisters “across the road” were founded by Sister Marie-Louise Coutinho, who passed away earlier this year. She had been there for more than forty-five years. She was initially formed in a Franciscan community dedicated to health care for the poor, and they permitted her to transfer to Shantivanam and make Benedictine vows. There are still sisters at Ananda who continue the hermitage-ashram and welcome people for silent retreats there. I am personally grateful for Sister Marie-louise’s hospitality and for the wisdom with which she guided her ashram and also helped the brothers across the way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s