The Web of Life
Dom Bede Griffith was one of the most significant spiritual voices of the last century. A contemporary of Thomas Merton, he was a brilliant Oxford scholar, who entered the Benedictine Order. Drawn to eastern theology, he travelled to India and established a true contemplative Sanyasin’s ashram at Kurisumala on the Kerala - Tamilnadu border. His classic, "The Golden String" tells of his search for the True Self in contemplative intimacy with God. Today Griffith’s ashram continues to be a pilgrimage centre for spiritual seekers.
My whole life has centred on Advaita, the principle of non-duality. As long as we remain in the world of dualities, we are going to be divided and in conflict.
In the fifth century before Christ, there was a breakthrough in human consciousness, when the Indian thinkers expounded a new philosophy, Advaita, in the Upanishads. The Upanishads start with the world of the senses, of human experience and suffering, and they break through to the transcendent mystery, the reality which is beyond reason and the senses. When we touch reality, there is no name. We must go beyond all names and forms and open our hearts and minds to the divine mystery.
In the fifth century BC, people experienced that divine mystery, Brahman, which means to grow or to swell. Sacrifice was central to all Hindu worship. They built a fire and offered everything to it. Agni, the god of fire, came; he was a messenger of the Gods and he carried the gifts up to heaven. The power in sacrifice is the power of the whole universe. Sacrifice is to make a thing sacred. To make a thing sacred is to open it to the divine.
In India, food, drink and bathing are all sacred actions. In the traditional way, you have your banana leaf and you put your food on the banana leaf and then you take some water and you sprinkle it round the leaf and you make a sacred space. You keep out all the contrary forces. The water purifies that space, and then you offer that food to the divine and the divine power consumes it in your stomach. You offer it in the fire of your belly to the divine.Every meal is a sacrament, a means of union with God. The ancient tradition saw the world as essentially sacred.
But genuine Advaita recognises that Samsara and Nirvana are the same. Samsara is the world of change and Nirvana is the end of all change. The rational mind is created to divide, to analyse, to break things up.God and the world are not two. There is no God over there, and the world over here. That is an illusion. This universe is a web of interdependent relationships, and we are all parts of this interrelated universe. The whole is in every part and nothing happens in any part of the universe which does not affect the whole.
Every one of us is a part of this whole universe and interrelated with every physical being in the universe. Then we take it a stage further. We tend to think that our ego consciousness is ourself. Who am I? I am this being sitting here, thinking, writing and so on. This is I. I have conscious thoughts and will, and I build up my conscious self. It is a very useful thing. We cannot live without this conscious self, but it is a terribly limited thing. We all think of our selves from childhood and we grow up with this idea that I am a separate self. That is an illusion. We are not a separated self. Psychology has opened us up to the understanding that this conscious ego is the vast depth of the unconscious; what Jung called the collective unconscious.
If I go beyond my ego consciousness, I discover my links with other people and with the whole world. Then I can go beyond and discover my relation to the universe. Time and space are all aspects of this total reality and we are all parts of this cosmic whole.
The Eastern philosophers observed the mind. They sat in meditation and they discovered how the mind works. They found that all these concepts of the mind by which we divide the world are limiting concepts. They arrived at a deeper vision, which transcends all these limited thoughts.
So, as we go beyond our rational mind, we discover wholeness. When we go beyond our mental consciousness and scientific concepts to the deeper wisdom we integrate it into the higher wisdom. We must not lose our scientific and rational knowledge, but we must integrate it into the higher knowledge.
We cannot remain on this level of rational, conceptual, analytical and divisiveknowledge. It divides up the universe; it divides up human beings; it divides religions; it divides philosophies. It is what is called the learned knife, which cuts everything to pieces. But when we go beyond the rational mind we are set free from the limitations of this multiplicity and we discover the unity behind it all. Only when we transcend this dualism of the mind and open to the non-dual reality are we free from this conflict and the tragedy of the world.
—Dom Bede Griffiths