Over the next several weeks, I would like to share with you all some of my reflections on the three weeks that I recently spent in India on a theological immersion into Hinduism. These reflections are both spiritual and theological, personal and social. The purpose is to clarify my own very undeveloped thoughts on many of these matters, so I wholeheartedly welcome comments and dialogue for clarification.
I applied for this course along with the trip to India for one reason: to reflect academically and spiritually on the presence of God, on the “rays of truth” as Nostra Aetate puts it, that are to be found in the Hindu religion. I went to India convinced that discernment of those rays is no mere academic exercise. Unless one is willing to pray with those of other religions, one will never be able to discover the presence of God within them.
And yet I went with some trepidation as well. Although I have studied Islam briefly previously, I really have very little experience of other religions. And while Islam worships the historical God of Abraham, Allah, to whom I’ve never had any trouble praying, the Hindu pantheon of gods presents to me a greater challenge. What I needed was wisdom and discernment, and for this throughout the trip I prayed.
Two scripture passages and two prayers constituted the backbone of this prayer for wisdom and discernment. The first scripture passage is Genesis 28:16. Jacob is traveling and ready to bed down for the night. As he sleeps, he dreams of the angels of God ascending and descending from heaven. When he awakes, he exclaims, “Surely God was in this place, and I did not know it!” On the third day of our trip, this scripture was given to me in prayer, and I have used it since as my guiding prayer. Jacob does two things. First, he recognizes that God was already present in a place that he did not recognize. Second, he renames the place, “baptizing” it Bethel, the “house of God.” I have prayed that I would recognize whether God was already in this place, whether this “place” was a temple of Siva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Lakshmi, or any other Hindu manifestation of the Supreme Being, Brahman.
The second passage is 1 Thessalonians 19-21, in particular the lines “Do not quench the Spirit” and “test everything; hold fast to what is good.” I think sometimes it is easy to focus on the “hold fast to what is good” and forget that first, even to know what is good, we must “test everything,” “everything.” Reflecting on this has given me freedom to pray in ways with Hinduism that I may not have been comfortable with before.
Two prayers have also been a staple. The first is the “Prayer for a favor through the intercession of Father Richard Thomas, SJ.” Fr. Thomas was the Jesuit with whom I grew up and who is most responsible for my vocation. With the permission of the provincial of the Southern Province, Fr. Mark Lewis, prayer cards have been made seeking his intercession to receive favors. Fr. Thomas was a man of tremendous discernment, and so I have used this prayer throughout, asking him for true discernment of spirits, that I may know the presence of God when I see it and distinguish it from the presence of evil or from simple non-presence.
The second prayer I picked up at the Ashram Saccidananda (about which I will write in some depth later on), a Catholic ashram or monastery in the state of Tamil Nadu, that has taken Hindu inculturation very seriously. The prayer is used to begin morning, midday, and evening prayer at the ashram. The Sanskrit transliteration runs as follows:
Om Bhur Bhuva Svah
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
It translates as:
“Salutations to the Word which is present in the earth, the sky, and that which is beyond. Let us meditate on the glorious splendor of the divine Giver of Life. May he illuminate our meditation.”
This is my prayer also for the following reflections on my time in India. May God, the Supreme Being, illuminate my meditations and our conversation together as we move forward in dialogue.