Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Praying the Name of Christ in Sanskrit: Praying with Shantivanam

... This essay of mine talks about using prayer beads, but you do not have to use prayer beads. You can simply sit and meditate, using the Mantra. You recite your mantra anywhere, anytime. Mine somtimes recites itself. The teachers in India say that if the mantra repeats itself, or you start reciting it without thinking about it, it is a sign that your spirit has really connected with the mantra... - Lance

The Witness of Shantivanam

           Bede Griffiths                        Brother John Martin Sahajananda

I admire the witness and teachings of Bede Griffiths and disciple Brother John Martin Sahajananda, of Shantivanam, also known as the Saccidananda (Holy Trinity) Ashram, in Tamil Nada, South India. Father Bede sought to incarnate the message and worship of Christ in an Indian/Hindu context. To this end, Father Bede devised prayers drawing from the Hindu tradition,  from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, for example, that can be used in Christian worship.

           Russill Paul

Russill Paul, another disciple of Bede, describes the cycle of prayer practiced at Shantivanam in his wonderful book, Jesus in the Lotus: The Mystical Doorway between Christianity and Yogic Spirituality (I will have a review of this book coming shortly). On pages 82-93 of his book, he describes these prayers in two sections, Prayers and Mantras, and the Tantric Liturgy (which is the Holy Mass with elements from traditional Indian spirituality). Much of my explanation of the prayers is taken from this section of Paul's book.

The Anglican Rosary
Very often throughout my day, I simply use Tibetan prayer beads that I wear on my wrist. I have found another good way to incorporate these prayers in my life, in order to join with the prayers of Shantivanam, is to make use of the Anglican Rosary, or Christian Rosary, as it is also known. Praying "by hand" is very common across religions; for most major religions have some form of prayer beads, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others.
I first need to explain a little about the Anglican Rosary, and so here is a description of the Anglican Rosary beads from the Wikipedia article:

Anglican prayer bead sets consist of thirty-three beads divided into groups. There are four groups consisting of seven beads with additional separate and larger beads separating the groups. The number thirty-three signifies the number of years that Christ lived on the Earth, while the number seven signifies wholeness or completion in the faith, the days of creation, and the seasons of the Church year.

Grouping of the Anglican Prayer Beads
The groupings are called "weeks", in contrast to the Dominican rosary which uses five groups of ten beads called "decades". The beads between and usually larger than the "weeks" beads are called "cruciform" beads. When the loop of beads is opened into a circular shape, these particular beads form the points of a cross within the circle of the set, hence the term "cruciform." Next after the cross on Anglican prayer bead sets is a single bead termed the "invitatory" bead, giving the total of thirty-three. The beads used are made of a variety of materials, such as precious stones, wood, colored glass, or even dried and painted seeds.

Anglican prayer bead sets are made with a variety of crosses or, occasionally, crucifixes. The Celtic cross and the San Damiano cross are two which are often used.

Typically, on the Anglican Rosary, one will recite the sign of the Cross on the cross, recite the invitatory on the invitatory bead, the trisagion prayer on the cruciform beads, and the Jesus prayer on the grouping of beads known as the “weeks.”

Reciting The Holy Name of God
The prayers from Shantivanam described by Paul in his book focus on worship of the Christ as God. In Hindu spirituality, and in other forms of Eastern religion, the mantra, or repeating the Sacred name of God is a powerful way of bringing us into God's presence. In Christianity, we have a similar tradition with the Jesus prayer.

Therefore, repeating the sacred name of Christ is a powerful way of to come to know God in Christ, and to bring us into God's presence, and for us to seek union with God. This kind of prayer is not the “vain repetitions” spoken of by Jesus in the sermon of mount, but rather, the invocation of God's Holy Name to experience God's immediate presence.

The Bible says, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will saved (Joel 2.32 and Romans 10.13),” and “the Name of the Lord is a strong tower, the just run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18.10).”

Russill Paul says in his book that the day at Shantivanam begins with repeating the name of God, namajapa.  Namah means, “name,” and  japa, to “repeat.” We will see in a moment that this is the focus our the prayers.

Praying the name of God on the Anglican Rosary.
First, we make the sign of the cross on the cross or crucifix.

Then, on the invitatory bead, we recite prayers from the Trantric Liturgy expressing our worship of Christ:

Om Ishaaya Christaaya, which means, Lord and Christ we worship you, is proclaimed by the priest proclaims in the Mass, and the participants respond: Namo Namaste Christo Namaste, which means, Christ we adore you.

So on the invitatory bead, we say:

Om Ishaaya Christaaya/
Namo Namaste Christo Namaste

On the Cruciforms, we recite a mantra of Christ:

Hare Yesu Hare Yesu Yesu Yesu Hare Hare
Hare Christa Hare Christa Christa Christa Hare Hare.

This is based on a traditional Hindu mantra, only using the name of Christ rather than Rama and Krishna, transforming the prayer into a Christian mantra.

And then on the the Beads of the Weeks, worship God in the name of Christ:

Om Namah Christaaya, which can mean, I bow to the Christ, the Anointed One; or, I worship the living presence of the Anointed One.

Om is the sacred syllable in Hinduism, and is like the Hebrew Amen, acknowledging the Divine Presence. It also represents the Divine Word, like the Logos in St. John's Gospel, the mystical Word the creates the World, with which Christ is associated (see Paul, page 80). Namah has the same root as Namaste, which is nam, to bow, bend, to prostrate; and Christaaya of course, is a Sanskrit pronunciation of Christ- thus,  I bow to the Christ. And so our prayer is built around the phrase, Om Namah Christaaya.

When we finish our prayers, we say on the invitatory bead:
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, which means, peace, peace, peace.

In Conclusion
Many people seek to find a robust spirituality in Eastern Religions. They can certainly find it there. But Christianity has its own traditional mysticism and spirituality.

Many people, including myself, have found meaning in what Paul calls in his book, interspirituality, in which one draws from more than one spiritual tradition. In practicing interspirituality, I remain a committed Christian, for example; but I make use of practices from other faith traditions, too, which can enrich my spirituality. God ultimately is beyond religion. Religion is relative, God is absolute. God has revealed God's self in all religions and cultures. God, or Ultimate Reality, is at the center of all religion, as Father Bede taught; all religions lead us to that center.

As a Christian, one who believes in the Reality of Christ (C.S. Lewis), I have found profound truth and useful practices in Eastern religions, which help enrich my devotion to Christ and practice of Christianity, and ultimately, my relationship with God.

This in part explains my attraction to the teachings of Shantivanam.

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