Remembering Bede Griffith's Presence

pilgrimage May 13, 2021

Today, May 13, we remember the death anniversary of our esteemed mentor Bede Griffiths. In this remembrance, we want to recall his quality of Presence.

Bede often quoted from the Rig Veda, a passage that found its way into the Upanishads as well:

"I know that Great Person who shines beyond the darkness, whose glory is more luminous than the brightness of the sun. In knowing this Supreme Person, this Purusha, we go beyond death. There is no other way (to eternal life)."

Bede was a Catholic priest and Benedictine monk who made his home in India, where we, Asha and I, first met him. Later, he would come and spend a third of the year with us in the United States. He did this for three consecutive years until his death in 1993. At that time, we were not sufficiently aware of the honor and privilege of someone like him making his home with us. We were young and inexperienced. He left a lasting impression upon us, though, particularly his quality of Presence.

Bede practiced the practice of the Presence of God inspired by Brother Lawrence and going back to the desert tradition of Christian mysticism and early monasticism in the third and fourth centuries. The way he walked and talked to everyone was not all that different from how he conducted himself at the altar while saying mass. He was always in touch with a quality of consciousness that he called "the Presence."

 When the four of us (Bede, Wayne, Asha, Russill) lived together in Vermont, Bede was ill. His heart condition medication was causing him problems. It was during this time that Asha was inspired to learn more about health and nutrition. A couple of years later, when we lived together in a Zen center in Berkeley, Asha would make his tea. Being British, he loved regular tea. However, his health condition required him to avoid certain ingredients. But he was such a good sport. Although he, quite obviously, never liked it, he never complained either. So Asha would change the flavor every day. One day, Asha asked him about the rotating tea flavors. He said with a twinkle in his eye: "sometimes it's nice tea, but sometimes it's nasty." That, by the way, was a classic pun, especially when said with an Oxfordian English accent. Thanks to Asha's meticulous care, he remained healthy whenever he stayed with us in the west.

Bede loved the Hindu spiritual tradition, and he loved India. "I go to India to seek the other half of my soul" is what he wrote. This phrase became the tagline for our pilgrimage. We would take our students from North America (and Europe and Australia) to his ashram every year for 23 consecutive years. If not for covid, this continuity would remain unbroken. We miss India, as we miss Bede, and Wayne Teasdale, too. The four of us traveled together and presented widely across the US the three years Bede came to live with us (1990, 1991, and 1992).

We want to remind all our students about the practice of Presence we teach in our programs. Please use this day to remember Presence and to cultivate it each day with renewed commitment. We never know when our death will come, like a thief in the night. Rather than being afraid or repressing our fear, we can awaken to this profound understanding of the Vedas, which is also the experience of Chrisitan mystics over the ages.

I know that Great Person who shines beyond the darkness, whose glory is more luminous than the brightness of the sun. In knowing this Supreme Person, this Purusha, we go beyond death. There is no other way (to eternal life).

Purush Suktam, Rg Veda

In One Heart,

Asha and Russill

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