AS ADVAITIC



            In this concluding section, we attempt to look at some of the prominent and encompassing characteristics in his works. We have not attempted to do a detailed and minute analysis of his intellectual works and mystical experience s , but we have tried to review his life in order to identify the most significant characteristics that have been present throughout his life and works, with special emphasis on advaita , the main focus of our search.




            We can view the general characteristics of Griffiths' approach in terms of its negative and commendable features.


Negative Features


            We begin by addressing some of the general negative attacks and criticisms leveled against Griffiths and his own way of living as a sanny_si .

            In general, these criticisms could be classified as suggesting that he has been too progressive or too conservative. The orthodox hierarchy and many traditional Christians have been generally skeptical of any contact or dealings with the Hindus. For them the road which Griffiths was treading was destined for damnation, and any path leading to co-operation with the Hindus would not be in the interests of Christianity . Of course, such drastic allegations, which were made in the very initial stages of his activity, specially in __ntivanam, died down slowly on account of the popularity which Griffiths began to enjoy.

            A second set of criticisms was leveled against the `Hinduization' of Christianity . This tried to distinguish between `inculturation' which could be tolerated, as opposed to `Hinduization'. Griffiths' attempts at incorporating many of the `Hindu' elements in the liturgy, in the very life style and even in the construction of the __ram Church in Saccid_nanda __ram, were regarded as dubious attempts. These groups called for stopping the acceptance of Hindu customs and religious symbols in order to safeguard the pure doctrine of Christianity. For these opponents, Griffiths had overstepped the boundary and was trying for a loose formulation of Christianity and diluting the basics of Christian faith.

            As against these criticisms from the orthodox circles, there were also vociferous protests from those `radicals' who found in Griffiths' attempts a justification of the Brahminical __ram life and Brahminical Hinduism . For these people, the role of the church as a prophetic witness for the poor was being downgraded by Griffiths' attempts. Their general criticisms could also be divided into two classes.

            One group found fault in having recourse to the __ram and meditative practices. They advocated that the Church in India has a very special role to play to alleviate the inhuman suffering of the people. They appreciate the vast amount of service done by Christianity for the poor. They also note that even the non-Christians were impressed by these dedicated witnesses who give their lives for the poor. In this context to have recourse to the spiritual and meditative level, neglecting the social aspect, is subversive, they claim. According to these critics, the venture of Griffiths would only strengthen those traditional Christians who are indifferent to the cries of the poor and the needy and who seek an escape in the spiritual tradition , forgetting the existential, agonizing suffering of the millions.559 

            There is another group of critics who claim that the liturgical tradition s and cultural groups with which Griffiths came in dialogue was itself the oppressive group. The Brahminical group whose privilege it is to establish __rams are the very same people who are the basic cause for the poverty of the lower classes/castes. The untouchables have no entry to such Hindu __rams. Further, since the Christians in India stem predominantly from the lower castes, they would not have had any access to such an __ram. In this context it would be inadvisable and even insulting for these `untouchable' Christians if a Christian priest himself founds an __ram based on the model of the Brahminical __rams.

            The above reactions could be interpreted as some general negative impressions to Griffiths' __ram experience and his dealing with the (high caste) Hindus. Now we shall turn to some further negative criticisms against his own method of living and writings. These regard his lectures, books and the numerous articles published by him.

            The most frequent criticism is that of syncretism. Some of the scholars get the impression that he accepted many things from such diverse fields, without properly absorbing them and making them his own. They point specially to his attempts to coax out the "universal wisdom" from such diverse religious sources and traditions . Further, they point out that such an attempt to integrate the different traditions is not just to the traditions themselves. They accuse him of being shallow without personalizing the other traditions. When one attempts to accept practically all good ideas under the sun, how can one really absorb and personalize them, they ask. They also point to the fact that many of his ideas are repeated and assume this as a further proof that his way of proceeding is superficial. The lack of sufficient bibliographical references also is pointed to as a deficiency.

            As such it is not our endeavor to defend him against these criticisms. We go forward to see what we consider as his strong and commendable aspects. Then towards the end in the general evaluation, we shall refer indirectly to the above criticisms. We shall try to appreciate the commendable aspects under three general categories: compre hensiveness, individuality and integration.


Positive Features


            They may be studied in terms of Bede's own advaitic features: comprehensiveness, individuality and integration.


            Comprehensiveness. Anyone who reads Griffiths' works or who is acquainted with him is struck by sense of wholeness or comprehensiveness in his vision of life and even in his own life. In all his writings a strong comprehensiveness or totality accompanies and guides him. By comprehensiveness, we mean a way of looking at reality with no positive exclusion of any aspects, but an affirmation of all the various aspects of reality.

            We have an initial idea of this comprehensiveness from a significant symbol he uses, that of the gothic cathedral. This symbol is used by him to describe Thomistic philosophy . About the deep admiration he himself had for Thomistic philosophy, he writes: "I began to read St. Thomas for myself but I saw his shadow cast on the poetry of Dante, and I recognized in the ordered structure of Dante's thought and the comprehensiveness of his vision something of the grandeur and immensity of a great cathedral. I had still only a very imperfect conception of its real significance."560 

            In fact, the comprehensiveness which he so much admired in Aquinas is evident in his own life. The divergent sources which influence him, the diverse literature he so ardently read, his various artistic interests cannot be otherwise explained.561

            Further, it must be emphasized that this comprehensiveness is not just at the epistemological level. It is a comprehension which goes from epistemology to a world view and world vision (Weltanschaung). Further, this comprehension extends itself to the whole of reality at a metaphysical level. Even in reality itself he sees a gradation of being. Thus, accepting the analogy of Being , he is convinced of a totality of Being which unifies all particular beings. His view is strictly comprehensive.

            Moreover, his interest in science, psychology and evolution, his involvement with music, art, paintings and literature, and his engagement with the conscious and the unconscious (and even the supra-conscious) are clear indications of this characteristic in him from the early stage. Even if "there was probably a good deal more enthusiasm than discrimination in all this reading,"562 it is evident that this enthusiasm for the whole is part and parcel of his own life.

            Another simple illustration for the concern for the whole is his own description of the future of reality . Such a vision is for him something that involves "the earth and . . . the natural resources of the earth, . . . the sea and all the creatures in it, . . . the animal world as a whole, . . . and outer space."563 Such a comprehensiveness, which is at the same time interdependent and interactive is present all through his mystical and intellectual endeavor.

            Further, the chapter dealing with a unified vision indicates this same comprehension. The unified vision does not exclude anything, but is all inclusive and all encompassing. Methodologically, from the perspective of this whole he finds integration and unity; it is an integration in the totality .

            In this whole, everything including the evil and the inappropriate has its own place. Even though he is vehemently critical of modern science , he admits a place for it. Even the avidya and m_ya, which certainly are not to be appreciated, are facts of life and so have their own proper place in his vision of things.

            This comprehensiveness in his thinking and experience could be easily misinterpreted as syncretism, though the two certainly are different. Syncretism would be a narrow and uncritical acceptance of the other, without in any way making it critically part of the system. Comprehensiveness is a total, holistic view which at the same time does not deny anything in reality . There is a positive affirmation of the different and even the contradictory aspects. This aspect of comprehensiveness was extended notably to the sphere of religious faith and religious traditions towards the end phase of his life. His last book, Universal Wisdom is a clear case. There he tries to study the totality of religions within his grasp in order to see the basic insights of all these religious traditions .

            The symbol for this comprehensive view for Griffiths is the gothic cathedral, as already mentioned. "It was no longer simply the outward form of beauty, the triumph of craftsmanship and of the almost unconscious union of humanity with Nature which impressed me. I saw that behind all this there lay the power of a vast intelligence, not merely of an architectural genius but of a whole philosophy of life."564 From a Trinitarian perspective, the Father could be the symbol of this comprehensiveness and totality . Since he is the source of the whole creation and the origin of everything that is, he could easily be understood as the comprehensiveness itself.


            Individuality . The normal danger with comprehensiveness and totality is that of forgetting the individual, the concrete. There is the temptation in contemplating the beauty of the rose to forget the petals that constitute it. Moreover if one knows the totality, there is no need to get more individual pieces of knowledge for the individual pieces are not going to add anything new to the totality of knowledge one already possess. This could make one less open to other systems, to other sources of knowledge. An attempt at a totality of knowledge could actually lead to regression of further knowledge. But this is particularly the defect avoided by Griffiths for whom the real is important and not just in the context of the whole. There is great respect for uniqueness, differentiation, particularity and concreteness.

            Hence, the second clearly marked feature in his whole thinking process is that of individualization or concreteness. The comprehensiveness we have dealt with above never dissolves itself in the totality ; it positively accepts the differences, the diversity and even the contradictions.

            The best example for this is given in Griffiths' strict criticism of _a_kara's pure advaita . Griffiths' effort to revive the "relationship and reality " in the doctrine of pure advaita is a clear case of his insistence on individual existence. The two addi tional aspects of realism and relationship both imply individuality . Clearly, Griffiths is not speaking of a generalized and all comprehensive reality when he insists on the reality of the individual souls (j_v_tman ). For the existence of love or relationship individuality is a necessity.565 That is precisely what Ramanuja 566 and Madhva were looking for in Indian philosophy without finding it.

            Further, he emphasizes that he is in no way syncretic. For he is very careful not to mix the differences in different traditions and then to attempt an artificial and superficial synthesis. "The danger in the encounter with Hinduism is always that of superficial syncretism, which would regard all religions as `essentially' the same, and only differing in their `accidental' characteristics. Needless to say, this is destructive of all serious dialogue and makes real understanding impossible."567 Avoidance of syncretism implies that there are differences which cannot be easily bridged or easily reconciled. There are individual concrete ideas (or entities) which have to be accepted in their differences. It is respect for this uniqueness that prevents him from accepting syncretism in any way. Each individual is not only to be seen in the totality , but has its own uniqueness which does not give way to syncretism.

            This individuation is the metaphysical basis for pluralism. To talk of pluralism without genuine respect for the individual (be it a person , a culture or a religion) will be unmetaphysical and ultimately meaningless.

            That is why for him the best symbol for this aspect is that of the drop of water in the ocean, which actually retains its identity even in the vastness of the ocean. For him the traditional drop-ocean analogy , wherein the individual soul is dissolved in the ocean of Brahma as the final awakening and wherein the individuality is finally lost, is clearly unacceptable. We can recall once again Griffiths' question about the drop in the ocean. He asks would the drop in the ocean not cry out in great joy: `True, I am living, yet it is not myself who lives, but this ocean lives in me, and my soul is hidden away in its depths'? The soul that flows into God does not die, for how could she die through being drowned in life? Rather, she lives by not living in herself."568 

            From the perspective of the Trinitarian symbol this individuation is clearly found in Christ. The incarnation is the concretization of the divine in the earthly. There is the role for differentiation, rootedness and involvement with the particular in Jesus.


            Integration. The third all-pervading characteristic that we find in Griffiths is that of integration. It has been with him from the very beginning of his intellectual career when he started to deal with the integration of the intuitive and the discursive faculties of knowing. It has remained with him till the end, where this aspect of integration has found manifold expressions . One can even say that integration is the key to understanding Griffiths' intellectual and even spiritual journey.

            Further, the actual relation between the various elements of totality and individuality could be sought only through categories of integration, though it may be mentioned that `comprehensiveness' and `individuality' do not belong to the same category. One is more than the other. Comprehensiveness encompasses individuals. So we cannot really speak of a `marriage' between two `equal' partners in this case.

            Further, it is truly astonishing to see the various realms of integration which Griffiths refers to in his writings. To mention a few of them, he advocates dialogue between:


            · Love and knowledge

            · East and West (marriage between East and West)

            · Feminine and masculine (anima and animus)

            · Science and religion

            · Christianity , Hinduism and other world religions

            · Material, psychic and spiritual dimension s in human


            · Physical, subtle elements and divine elements in the


            · Discursive and intuitive faculties of mind

            · Humanity, vegetation and animals in the earth

            · Nature and supernatural `sense of the sacred' in the


            · Philosophy, literature and theology

            · The prophetic and the mystical aspects in Christianity and

                        also in Hinduism .

            · The conscious and unconscious dimensions in human life

            · The life of a practical monk and that of a theoretical

                        scholar in his own personal life


            The key symbol of integration would be that of `marriage', as the very title of his second autobiography indicates. In marriage, just as there is an integration of the male and the female resulting in offspring, we can see integration as an organic union between two `extremes' resulting in offspring. Actually the very process of integration itself could be seen as a `marriage' between the two above-mentioned characteristics: comprehensiveness and individuality .

            The Holy Spirit is the Trinitarian symbol for this integration. Just as it is biblical to see his action as unifying and integrating the whole of creation and taking the whole cosmos in Christ to the Father , this integration can be understood also from the perspective of advaita .

            The metaphysical relationship involving these three above characteristics is advaitic . It is an organic unity affirming the totality , the unity and the integrating transcendence . We shall be speaking of this advaita further to see it as the hermeneutic key in the inter-religious encounter .




            The three above-mentioned characteristics shed some further light on the much discussed topic of advaita . As we have already seen, the whole life of Griffiths could be categorized and explained from the perspective of advaita. It is, as we shall attempt to show, the key to his whole hermeneutic venture, to his journey. At first hand this advaita could be understood as a relation between the three characteristics mentioned above. If integration could be viewed as a relation between comprehensiveness and individuality , then the whole relation comprising the three together could be classified as advaita.

            We have already seen in detail the exact theological understanding of classical (_a_karite) advaita and Griffiths' Christian contribution to it. There it was emphasized that the two crucial contributions of Griffiths are `realism' and `relationship '. We would say in short that any such ultimate relationship between two partners where an integration is sought and where both the partners retain their own individuality would be perceived as an advaitic relationship.

            In the case of classical Hinduism the two partners, j_v_tman and param_tman , constituted such a relationship . For Griffiths it is clear that the Christian eschatological vision is such an advaitic union. The individual soul (he would prefer to speak of the `spirit') would be ultimately related with the Ultimate Reality (God) in love. This relationship, wherein the individual is transformed and `taken up,' is an `integral' and `integrating' relationship. It is in this relationship that the individual finds his ultimate fulfillment , his ultimate wholeness and fullness. Viewed thus it is a holistic relationship, certainly beneficial to the individual.


Application to Other Modes of Relationship


            Not only in the realm of God-human being, but at the heart of every relationship there is present an element of this advaitic relationship. This modified advaitic relationship could be inspired and extended to almost every mode of relationship. It may not be claimed that in each type of relationship, the advaitic modes of relationship could be exactly perceived. What we strive for is to show that the most fundamental relationships in humanity, in the cosmos and in the divine, could be better understood through the category of advaita . Throughout these clarifications, it is important to stress the relationship between the various terms of interest. These relationships, all of which are not equal, could be more or less understood through advaita. An advaitic relationship is basically one where there is an integration between the two terms, a holistic trend, an organic growth, a tendency towards harmony, a mutual enrichment. It is a synthesis which does not negate the individual elements, but transcends them.

            An illustrative case is that of a normal relationship between two friends.569 In any case the three elements of knowing, willing and loving are involved in every friendship. None of these three dimensions can exist without the other. There is an organic, unifying relationship between knowing, willing and loving; one reinforces and strengthens the other and vice-versa. Further, in the process of the development of friendship, the personality and the very being of both friends are changed even at the most fundamental level of being. Just as there cannot be a genuine knowing without willing, so there cannot be a genuine friendship without intimately affecting the friends in the process. There is then a modified advaitic trend in this basic relationship between two persons?

            It is positively a relationship , and so no monologue; it effects a transformation, it is not chattering or, technically speaking, mere `noise;' it cannot be merely rhetoric, in the pejorative sense. In the Ricourian sense, it is a metaphor, whereby new meaning is created;570 it is the Word which is powerful and which transforms, changes and returns back changed and enriched.

            Thus the whole of reality can be better visualized as advaitic . The three characteristics of wholeness, individuation and integration are constitutive not just of modes of relationship, but also of the whole reality as such.


Relationship between God, World and Human Being


            As reality itself is advaitic every authentic relationship is basically advaitic . In general there are three types of possible genuine or non-genuine relationships.


            No-relationship. For pure advaita this would be the case where no genuine relationship is involved, but, at the most, that of absorption or dissolution. This could be the frame of pure empiricism as advocated by Hume. In this view there could be only individual objects existing independent of each other with no real relationship; hence there could be no relationship between j_v_tman and Param_tman.


            Over-relationship. As opposed to non-relationship, in over-relationship, there is a superficial or one-way relationship , namely, the superficial commonsensical relationship between the knower and the known. This implies that the knower observes the reality and knows it without the reality affecting the knower in any way. The knower could be imagined to be supervising or looking over the reality and establishing a one-way relationship with the reality. Knowledge of the reality is accordingly possible, but only at the level of discursive reasoning. It does not really affect the essence, the being of either the knower or the known. This is primarily knowledge at the scientific level or mathematical level in terms of so-called "neutral observation." Here "value-free-knowledge" is fostered. One is superior and can be imagined to be observing and directing the observed from above; there is a one-way relationship between j_v_tman and param_tman .


            In-relationship. As opposed to both the above types, in-relationship is a dynamic, organic relationship between the known and the knower. In a such a dialogue there is knowledge and love between the two partners, but the intuitive and discursive elements are respected. In such a relationship there is place for sat, cit and _nanda, and it is therefore advaitic . Both the partners are in a dynamic relationship effecting changes in ways unknown and unpredictable to both involved, thereby creating something dynamically new. According to this view the relationship between j_v_tman and param_tman is one of love, knowledge and bliss and there is an emergence of a new dynamics of relationship.

            An example of the first case, "no-relationship," is a monistic relationship such as a fire or burning bush, where everything is absorbed into the fire and the flame continues to grow more and more . In such a relationship, there is only a relation of consummation, where one remains. Whatever be the characteristics of the other object being consumed, the fire remains fire and the object ceases to exist. In this same category the astronomical blackhole falls.571 But it must be emphasized that such a relationship can be imagined only at a purely discursive level, where the other dimensions are not considered.

            The second type of relationship , as opposed to an advaitic re lationship, can be termed an over-relationship. Such a relationship is between two partners without involving in any way a third significant term or partner. We can think of the force of attraction (gravitation) between two particles, where no third element enters. It is a common assumption in modern society with the assumption of the scientific mentality. One could try to show it to be a fallacy of the scientific era, to be corrected by the holistic and integrating vision.

            The third type of an "in-relationship" goes beyond the two cases mentioned above. It assumes a relationship which affects the partners involved, transforms them and transcends them, adding something new, a third factor, to the relationship. A change of being is required in this type of an "in-relationship". As already mentioned there is also a relationship of willing-knowing-loving also is dynamically involved here.

            To sum up the main characteristics of an advaitic relationship as visualized by Griffiths:


            · Individuality is respected and maintained, though in a

                        transformed manner.

            · Ever-seeking for wholeness, the relationship is always

                        open for the more.

            · There is always an integration, a further growth and

                        continued relationship which respects the

                        differences between the partners.

            · The horizontal, dialogical, circular and mediating

                        characteristics which we saw in understanding

                        could all be applied to an advaitic relationship .

            · In the final state, which is more than the sum of the

                        parts, there is always a `surplus', that is, a deeper

                        or holistic dimension.


            The best human example at a physical level is that of a marriage where the partners unite themselves and a child results. The final product, the family, is certainly more than the individual sum of the two partners.


Meeting at the Core of Religious Traditions


            The most significant contribution of Griffiths lies in the fact that he does not shy away from confronting the core convictions and doctrines of both Hinduism and Christianity . As a convinced Catholic he goes to the root of the Christian faith. The two specific Christian doctrines are that of the Trinity and resurrection . Without both these Christianity would not be understandable. In the same way one can assert that the specific Hindu conviction is that of advaita . Though advaita as a philosophical system (advaitaved_nta) is held only by the educated and philosophically sophisticated Hindus, Hinduism can never be understood without advaita. Though there are other m_rgas (means) for salvation than the Gnostic way of knowledge, it must be accepted that all three m_rgas for salvation ultimately lead to an advaitic union with Brahman . So at its core the ultimate goal of all Hindu endeavors is attainment of this advaitic union, that is the realization of nirv_ a . Even if one dissociates advaita from the j__na m_rga with its Gnostic trends, advaitic union remains the fundament of Hinduism.

            Griffiths has achieved a synthesis of these basic convictions in Christianity and in Hinduism . He can never be accused of stopping at the periphery. In confronting advaita from the beginning of his contacts with Hinduism he has absorbed and integrated this advaita and made it his own. In so doing he has accepted it and lived it within the true Christian convictions. After having personalized advaita, he goes on to integrate it with the doctrines of the Trinity and resurrection . It is in the persons and in their relationship that he discovers the perfect model of his Christian advaita. He sees the Risen Lord as the synthesis and wholeness that advaita has always sought. So when he speaks of the transformed existence of the Risen Lord, it can be almost equated to his own vision of his Christian advaitic view.

            Thus Griffiths has managed to bring together two world views which are radically different in their own core convictions. By introducing the notion of advaita he has shown Christianity that there is an aspect of knowledge and of consciousness which traditional Christianity has tended to neglect. It reminds Christians of the immanent aspect of the divine. Finally, it asserts that the final destiny is one of relationship with the divine and that that the relationship of love has a deep metaphysical character. This relationship of love has to be seen in the total perspective of being and of metaphysical communion. Thus it brings Christianity to a deeper metaphysical relationship of love. This reintroduces the aspect of nature with its ecological concerns to Christian thinking. At the same time it reminds Hindus of the fact that j__na m_rga has to be complemented and even superseded by bhaktim_rga. Without stressing the personal and individual aspects, there is the danger in the advaitic tradition of relating the world so much as to ignore the pain and suffering of humanity. Hinduism, therefore, is challenged to consider the uniqueness of human beings as persons. This opens to Hinduism the elements of love and charity which have been generally lacking in the way to the ultimate. Without sacrificing the deep metaphysical notion of enlightenment, it suggests that Hinduism incorporates the deep notion of love into its own convictions. He has managed to meet both the religions at the cave of his own heart and has really gone to the heart of these two religious traditions .

            By introducing these correctives to both religious traditions , Griffiths has opened himself and these traditions to a more holistic and relevant encounter with reality and with the present day world. It is therefore not an exaggeration to assert that Griffiths has gone into the core of both Hinduism and Christianity and has enriched both traditions. This could be seen in his own life. Towards the end of his life he lived a fully advaitic existence without in any way sacrificing his Christian roots and his deep Christian faith. Griffiths' has been a journey to a holistic oneness respecting the individual concerns of both traditions; it is truly advaitic and forms the core of his own life as well.




            From this background we could very well view inter-religious dialogue as a hermeneutics. It could be perceived as a hermeneutic act or encounter , whereby one seeks the other. For the thematic of our paper, we could visualize the whole journey of Griffiths and that of his dialogical method as one of anima seeking for animus and vice-versa, at a global level. Concretely expressed, it could be the West seeking the East, Christianity seeking Hinduism and vice versa. The whole journey, including human life itself, could very well be considered as a hermeneutical venture of seeking `the other lost half,' whereby the goal of his venture is to arrive at totality and integrity, the man ala or the wholeness.

            In other words one could well view other religions as the other "text" to be read and understood. Enlarging the vision of "text" from religious texts and religious traditions to the totality of the religious experience , another religious tradition can well be designated as the other partner in a dialogue or as the "subject" in the hermeneutics of religions.

            It is our contention that in order to be authentic and meaningful, such a dialogue must be advaitic . Here, of course, we are aware that the profound term of advaita , which originally is used to denote the relation between the Brahman and j_v_tman at a metaphysical and absolute level, must be slightly adapted to be used for the ordinary relationships between two persons or religions. But we remain true to the basic insight of advaita. As we have worked out in the whole of this book, the advaitic relation between the Param_tman and j_v_tman is a unique one which shapes and determines our destiny. Such an all-comprehensive relationship could be applicable also to our own limited spheres of personal relationships.

            Once again when we affirm that such an inter-religious encounter must be advaitic , we mean that both the partners involved do not lose their individuality, but are enriched by it. This idea must be historically situated in the Hindu tradition s . Hinduism remains a vital power mainly because of its capability to accept and absorb all other sources , even those inimical to it. Its marvelous capacity to adjust itself to other foreign influences and assimilate them572 is the secret of its success. When we affirm that true religious dialogue must be advaitic, we wish to caution ourselves even against this trend in Hinduism and to a lesser extent in Christianity .

            Where is the third term in this process of encounter ? It could actually be an atmosphere of better understanding prevailing after a genuine encounter. It must never be misunderstood that the third term is another sect within Hinduism or Christianity which tries to be faithful to both traditions . The third term573 is the renewed spirit of enrichment and co-operation that follows from such a genuine encounter.

            This encounter could also be understood in terms of the Gadamerian "fusion of horizon ." In the case of Griffiths the two horizons which merged into himself are those of Christianity and Hinduism . But the term fusion could be misunderstood to mean the loss of the individual. That is precisely what Griffiths has all the time fought against. In his "fusion" what is actually happening is an affirmative synthesis, a positive integration, whereby the two horizons are respected for their individuality and uniqueness. Therein lies the Christian advaita of Griffiths. So the same illustration could be applied to the case of our final destiny, where we could view ourselves as attaining a state of fusion between the Ultimate and individual soul.

            Corresponding to this symbol of fusion of horizons , we can also bring in the ideas of `Sich-Einleben' or `Sich-Eineinversetzen'574 in such a hermeneutic encounter , though they are not fully satisfactory. We can even discuss the merits of Dilthey's "Das Verstehen setzt ein Erleben voraus."575 In the case of Griffiths the most proper symbol for this encounter is that of marriage, as the title of his second autobiography suggests. An actual encounter, or dialogue, will always change, transform and uplift. It has a positive reaction. Moreover a healthy and positive encounter presupposes that such a `marriage' be productive, forming a unity of the triune elements constituting the marriage: Father , Mother and Child. If any of these criteria are lacking it is evident that such an encounter will not be fully productive and healthy.

            Further, in any such meaningful interaction there is a process of integration (organic assimilation) taking place at each moment of a hermeneutical encounter between two events, giving rise to a deeper (better) third event. It is an ongoing process, seeking wholeness. In the process individuality is not lost, but transcended, transformed and validated. It could be seen as a nirv_ a , interpreted positively.

            Before applying the five structures of hermeneutics to the inter-religious encounter it would be advantageous to clarify some terminology.


Terminological Considerations


            As we have already hinted advaita , non-duality, is to be differentiated from dvaita , duality and from one-ness. By one-ness here we mean the existence of a purely no-relationship between two independently existing `ones'; in other words, it is an absence of any sort of relationship . According to our earlier terminology advaita is neither "no-relationship," nor "over-relationship," but an "in-relationship". As such it is evident that not just in English, but also in Sanskrit there is a problem of terminology. It is not easy to convey the richness of the meaning of the relationship between j_v_tman and param_tman through seemingly negative terms. The very many interpretations and re-interpretations also indicate this confusion or even misunderstanding in terminology.

            Griffiths himself not where expresses dissatisfaction with this terminology. We could very well assume that he was ready to accept this term with its apophatic connotations and interpret advaita positively in the following sense: the relation between two `ones', that is, between two persons, leads to a state of not being two. This state, which is neither`one' nor `two' is a third condition. It is denoted by "not-two," since it obviously cannot be one (according to Griffiths' understanding ), nor is it a condition for duality or two-ness.


The Hermeneutical Structures


            In discussing the "meaning of meaning" at a hermeneutical stage, we saw that primarily every understanding is grasping the content of meaning. In fact, there is a circularity between meaning and understanding which cannot be avoided since both are primary terms. Similarly, when we come to the religious level it is clear that every spiritual experience stems from the Ultimate or God-experience. It is the transmission and reception of this primary experience which is primary. Religion and various other traditions are absolutely inevitable in maintaining, transmitting and sustaining this fundamental experience. But religion can at the same time never be a substitute for evoking and transmitting this very primary experience, which constitutes the basic spiritual encounter , so religious dialogue must be extended to this level of primary experience. To imagine that we can reach this primary level without going through religions and religious traditions is illusory; but to imagine that one can remain at the realm of religious traditions without going to the primary experience is foolishness. So in a healthy religious dialogue we try to share in the God-experience of the other.

            Within this background we try to transcend the hermeneutic paradigm of understanding and go to the spiritual paradigm of the God-encounter in which the hermeneutic insights remains prime importance. So we shall return to our original discussion of the fundamental structures of understanding and apply them to inter-religious dialogue with special concern for Griffiths. This is to situate the process of dialogue within the same four structures of understanding: horizontal, circular, dialogical and mediating.

            1. The Horizontal Structure: The individual in correlation with the totality . After having understood the `concrete totality,' the concerned person should moves forward at a `horizontal level' to increase his horizon . In the case of Griffiths, his early encounter with the texts of Hinduism and his initial interaction with the Hindus in Bangalore and Kerala had paved the way for such a horizontal dynamics. The concrete totality of Hinduism was to that extent available to him. For two religious traditions , the horizontal structure implies that both religions come to know each other at a conceptual, historical meaning level. The basic good will and respect created through this process helps this understanding .

            2. The Circular Structure:576 This presupposes the background of `pre-understanding ', opening us to the very possibility of grasping the other meaning which in turn enriches and deepens our own pre-understanding. Since understanding moves dialectically in the circle of pre-understanding and understanding of objects, both partners in a dialogue should be open to mutual enrichment. In the case of the advaitic vision of Griffiths or his religious significance, it is evident that there is a `pre-understanding' of advaita . His early experiences during the evening walk and his own admiration of the romantic poets whereby he experienced oneness with nature were that `pre-understanding' which enabled him to appreciate better the Hindu understanding of advaita. Coming to the realm of religions, we could very well claim that the basic mystical or original experiences fundamental in each religion provide such a pre-understanding. We have tried to show in this paper that there is a basic advaitic element in all religions. This basic experience of unity with the absolute and with nature could be the primary starting point for the circular structure of understanding, which would be reinforced and shaped by other experiences in the encounter with religions.

            3. The Dialogical Structure: Mutual respect for both the partners, is evident in the case of an inter-religious dialogue or encounter . Lothar Lies and Silvia Hell even speak of a "dialogical existence of God"577 which is reflected in the life of the Church and in the relationship of the partners. There is a mutual correlation, also a one-to-one relationship which is to be respected, cherished and has to be deepened.

            4. The Mediating Structure: This is crucial to the advaitic element in any encounter . As in every human encounter or action, there is an element of both mediacy and immediacy. Further, the immediacy that we encounter has to be mediated: the intuitive must be discursively understood, and the unconscious must be rationally understood. This does not make the discursive, the rational or the mediate superior to the intuitive, the unconscious or the immediate, but it is one of the basic structures not just of human phenomena but of the whole universe as such (Hegel). This implies that in a true encounter both these evident, instantaneous or immediate elements and non-evident, reflective or mediate elements have to be considered in their inherent relationship . In the case of Griffiths it is clear that he was not just open to these two dimensions, which he named as East and West, as anima and animus etc., but was seeking a "marriage" or synthesis. Such a synthesis which would correspond to human life cannot be only a mediating synthesis. His very criticism of the rational and discursive indicates that a non-mediating, scientific way of dealing with the totality of reality is insufficient for him.

            Coming to the realm of religious encounter, we must accept both the givenness in each religion and the later developments in dogmas, traditions, etc. The given, the immediate is unavailable to us without the reflected, the handed over, the mediate. This is true not just in the two religious traditions that he attempt to encounter. What is important is that in the very encounter itself and the resulting growth process that takes place between the two religions, there is itself an immediately given and a mediately achieved. So the dialogue or encounter which we wish to arrive at should not be a matter only of mediateness. It should not be restricted only to the level of our own efforts at rational, discursive and even contemplative levels. In the process of dialogue we should be open to the spontaneous, the unexpected, the immediate, which cannot be controlled or manipulated, but can only be received as a gift. This spontaneous gift cannot be mediated as a task, as a human endeavor. In simpler theological terms every dialogue is an act both of God (immediate) and of human beings, perceived in classical theology respectively as gift and task. The relation between these two dimensions is the fundamen tal human structure of mediating the immediate; one cannot negate both these elements. As there is a relation of mediation between the two dimensions of gift and task, of mediate and immediate religious dialogue has also a mediating structure.




            Bede Griffiths does not appear in his writings as a scientific scholar. The scientific rigor demanded of a serious theological study is lacking in many of his books; the critical mind to probe into the various theories is absent. Scholarly or scientific depth is lacking in Bede Griffiths' writings, as well as in his life. The criticism that he is syncretic seems valid, at least some times he uses scriptural passages without recourse to the historical critical method. His generally positive attitude too may not find favor with critical, rational realists.

            However, these lacunae are more than made up by his experiential depth and intellectual breadth. What emerges in his writings is a vision, a world view and a new way of approaching reality . Through sometimes this appears syncretic, his writings stem from a depth of experience with reality. His approach provides the reader with a stimulating vision and an inspiring orientation. The lack of critical nature is made up by his sense of adaptation and absorption of various ideas.

            His readings and knowledge were vast. For a single person to be interested in Shakespeare, gothic cathedrals, purusha-prakrti and quantum mechanics is no mean feat. Though not rigorously scholarly in approach, such breadth does much to compensate for the lack of depth.

            This is true not just of his writings, but also of his person . He was not a fighter but an amicable and gentle person he never picked up quarrel with anyone. He was approachable, his nature was inviting. He was never critical of his friends, though at times they even made use of him. As opposed to an efficient administrator with the critical and stern demands, he is a typical guru, a venerable and inspiring leader, a motivating guide: in short a truly understanding and spiritual person. He provides his followers with a vision and thus changes their hearts and lives. He is a person who has truly experienced reality in its totality in an advaitic manner.

            The following overall evaluation is based namely on his own advaitic convictions, though the other pertinent aspects in his life cannot easily be excluded. His whole life, including his advaitic conviction could mainly be categorized and appreciated in terms of three basic principles: basic positive affirmation of the whole; beyond blind admiration; and beyond absolute relativism. These three characteristics refer not just to his life-journey, but to his basic principle of advaita as well.


Basic Positive Affirmation


            Griffiths' basic attitude towards the whole of reality is affirming and positive. Not just in the realm of religious convictions, but even in reality itself, there is a basic openness which enabled him to show concern for practically all religions. Even in the sphere of literature, the many books he absorbed indicate that he was basically positive. More than religion and literature, it is to life itself that he has basically said yes. That is evident in the way he accepted his stroke just three years before he died. His __ram was a place where everyone, irrespective of race, color or belief, felt welcome. It was this basic affirmation which made thousands of his disciples and friends feel at home.

            That is why he could easily establish a bridge between even seemingly suspicious groups like theosophists and astrologers. In the epistemological realm, he could open himself to myths, symbols and lógos . He was open to both the intuitive and the rational elements in the human being. His basically positive attitude to the animistic and aboriginal religions not just in India but also in Australia and in America also points in this direction. Basically open to all, he had a positive attitude to the other.

            That is precisely what annoyed Swami Sahajananda , one of Griffiths' closest disciples. "One of his attitudes that annoyed me was his accepting of conflicting views. He affirmed all, he accepted all." He adds: "The visitors may be conflicting among themselves, but with Father Bede everybody was accepted."578 

            We can speak of a "hermeneutics of trust " where the basic cosmic confidence is reflected and reaffirmed. In viewing and accepting reality basically as positive, trust and confidence in reality is fostered. Following Ricoeur, we could hold that it is one of the fundamental characteristics of a hermeneutics to be open to transcendence .


Beyond Blind Admiration


            Of course the danger associated with such a basic positive affirmation is that one refuses to see the dark sides of reality and loses oneself in deep admiration of it.579 That has happened with Abhishikt_nda, who was so fascinated by Hinduism that he almost gave up his Christian conviction. Though he was a very close friend of Abhishikt_nda, Griffiths was not unwilling to point out the mistake in his own guru. This attitude of realistic appreciation, as opposed to a blind admiration, was evident from the very beginning of his life, when he was busy with literature. His was not the poetic admiration of the romantics, for whom the whole world in itself was so beautiful that one could only fall in contemplation and awe before it.

            That is why he could very well perceive the effects of evil not just in his own religion, but also in the other. He was critical of many of the deviations and false developments in the Church. He was particularly critical of many of the aspects of the hierarchical church . He was also aware of the evils of Hinduism , although he did not write much about them. The reason being that his audience was not Hindus, but mainly Christians and people in search. He was aware of the tendency to idolization in every religion , including Christianity . His radical criticisms of Western society and science with its technological advancement are also clear indicators of this attitude.

            So his positive affirmation did not lead him to lose sight of the painful reality around him. Their poverty and pain touched him even from his early childhood. His poetic admiration for reality does not enable him to forget the concrete world of pain and limitation. The "hermeneutics of suspicion" makes one alert to the possibilities of deception; the hermeneutics of trust have to be chastened by a hermeneutics which doubts, questions and critiques. This is indispensable for a chastised faith.




Beyond Absolute Relativism


            In spite of the many setbacks in his own life he never became skeptical or disappointed. His basic affirmative attitude to life and reality remained in spite of the numerous failures in his own life and in his efforts at dialogue. He escaped the skepticism and finally the relativism which could result from such terrible disappointment. This could be compared with the vision of his close friend, R. Panikkar, who tends at times to absolute relativism. Such an extreme religious pluralism could result in a post-modern skepticism.580 But for Griffiths, unlike Panikkar, the basic positive attitude to reality was so strong that at no point in his life did he give it up.

            At no point did he give up hope, in spite of the various difficulties that stood in his way. One simple example is the amount of time and effort he had to spend all by himself and without much hope for success to build up __ntivanam. Yet he did not give up in despair, but accepted it as a "test of faith" and surrendered himself to the Divine when confronted with failures and disappointments. So he says: "More than once I have surrendered the whole thing. That's the secret. If you really renounce, somehow it comes itself."581 Hence he was not in despair when his efforts at dialogue with Hinduism did not evoke the response he had hoped for or when his conflicts with Church authorities threatened to destroy his whole life effort. There was in him a basic openness to search and for growth.

            This aspect of going beyond relativism could be regarded hermeneutically as the very possibility of hermeneutics itself. Metaphysically we can never ground true knowledge or understanding on absolute nihilism or skepticism. The very possibility of hermeneutics presupposes that we go beyond absolute relativism, even though relativity is acceptable.

            Within these presuppositions it must be emphasized that Griffiths' methodology of advaitic relationship explains to a large extent the phenomenon of plurality and unity. It does not treat the issue as just phenomenological, but also tries to give a metaphysical explanation . Much more, it tries to arrive at an integrated and unified vision wherein the plurality is taken up, sublimated and elevated the higher level of unity, at the same time maintaining the concrete individuality in plurality. This is true not just in the case between j_v_tman and param_tman , but also is the case of various religious and the human aspects of our lives. It is our contention that we can extend this method with proper modifications to almost every relationship which involves another. Without in any way belittling the deficiencies and pain of this world with its diversity and pluralism, it affirms the world positively.

            Moreover, we would claim further that genuine dialogue is almost impossible without such an advaitic vision. When the individuality of each of the partners is not respected and seriously considered no dialogue is possible. At the same time if the hermeneutical venture has to lead ultimately to nihilism or skepticism then too no dialogue is possible. So Griffiths' Christian advaita with its stress on individuality and hope for integration is the precondition and hermeneutical key for a dialogue, without which no meaningful encounter between religions is possible.




            Christianity has lived with Hinduism for approximately 2000 years in India . There have been times of isolation, dialogue and exchange between the two religious traditions . Since this topic of religious dialogue and interaction is of crucial concern for theology today, the attempt here has been to study one of the modern pioneers of inter-religious dialogue and inculturation: Bede Griffiths.

            A theological and hermeneutic effort was made to understand his approach to inter-religious dialogue from the perspective of the basic Hindu theological notion of advaita , non-duality. We saw how his approach to interreligious dialogue enriched both Christianity and Hinduism and how the future of religions and of the world is determined by such ventures in dialogue.

            In trying to follow the pilgrim way taken by Griffiths towards an authentic meeting between religions most of the time has been spent analyzing the method, procedure and philosophical pre suppositions of Griffiths' pilgrimage. While recognizing the shortcoming of his person and method, it has been argued that he provides an inspiring vision for a dialogical existence between religions, cultures, sciences and world views.

            This study indicates that advaita – which is very close and homologous with the doctrine of the Trinity in Christianity – could be viewed as a foundational human experience and could form the basis for religious dialogue. Without in any way belittling the individuality of others (be it cultures , languages, persons or religions) it opens to an enriching encounter which leads to an integral and holistic synthesis of reality . Such a way was undertaken by Bede Griffiths for the following reasons it could provide a basic key to every authentic dialogue, including that between science and religion or different religions or cultures.


            · It respects the individuality and uniqueness of the partners involved.

            · It leads to a "fusion of horizon " between the partners in the dialogue.

            · It claims that the new understanding arrived at has a   holistic or even "absolute" claim. So the   metaphysical claim for universality and  absoluteness for truth is respected.

            · It fosters an "in-relationship" that respects both partners   in a dialogue without presupposing the superiority  of one over other.

            · The fundamental hermeneutic structures are present in  every meaningful contemporary encounters.

         · The human advaitic experience forms the basis and hermeneutic principle for such dialogues.


            Therefore, it is our contention that the dialogue, practiced by Griffiths, is modeled after his very life and could become a paradigm for every authentic dialogue: be it between cultures, religions, language or even between science and religion. In today's society of meaningful dialogue, respectful exchange and enriching encounter , where individuality is affirmed, plurality is respected and integration is sought after, the advaitic dialogue lived by Griffiths constitutes a beacon of hope. His life and message is the beginning of another journey for humanity; it is a short step for a simple man, but a giant stride for humanity!

            Here we have journeyed with Bede Griffiths as a living symbol of dialogical interaction between East and West, Hinduism and Christianity, as well as between science and mysticism. He stands out as a towering figure in a dialogical experience of existence. His life is the message that life is dialogical and that on this is based the very future of humanity. Only a constructive interaction based on respect, humility and openness can further the cause of cultures, of religions and sciences: in short, of humanity. Bede Griffiths' life is a clarion call for a human life based on enriching dialogue, mutual tolerance and reciprocal respect. That life was his message of dialogue; his wish was tolerance; his vision was advaitic .