After trying to be some kind of Christian nearly all of my adult life, changing churches and modes of theology and spirituality several times, I have come to realize that the spiritual teachers I admire most are Bede Griffiths (+ 1993) and his disciple, Brother John Martin Sahajananda of the Shantivanam Ashram in India. Their teaching resonates with me, makes the most sense to me. I recently have had an experience in which I encountered the Life Force, the Spirit of God, outside of the confines of religion. I find the teachers of the Shantivanam Ashram can speak to this experience whereas much religious teaching cannot.
I treasure Brother Martin’s book from 2003, You are the Light: Rediscovering the Eastern Jesus. It is a powerful and moving teaching on our status as children of God.
Below is a brief excerpt from Brother Martin’s book, about the encounter he had with a poor beggar girl and the impact it had upon him.
Although Brother Martin’s book is not about liberation theology, I feel this piece represents liberation theology at its best and most spiritual. One of the implications of Brother Martin’s teaching on non-duality is that we are all connected, and responsible for each other, and that our choices as affluent people directly impact our brothers and sisters in the world.
One evening, I was going for a walk, when something unusual happened to me. Whenever I walked out, I would come across many beggars asking for help and I would feel pity for them, and give them whatever I could give. But on this occasion a girl of 10 years came up to me, stretched out her hand with an empty bowl, begging for something. Her condition was pathetic. Her eyes had sunk inside her sockets. Her stomach was empty, as if she had not eaten properly for days. With her torn clothes, she was half naked. Her bowl was empty. Confronted by this a new revelation came to me.
In front of her empty bowl I found myself with pockets full of money.
In front of her empty stomach I found myself with a full stomach.
In front of her insecure life, living on the footpaths, I found myself living a secure life with all of the luxuries.
In front of her orphaned and uncared for life, I found myself in a well-cared for life.
In front of her half-naked body I found myself with cloths and fully covered.
Then I felt a kind of call:
The empty bowl is calling to the full pockets, “fill me.”
The empty stomach is calling to the full stomach, “feed me.”
The insecure life is calling to the well-secure life, “give me security.”
The uncared for life is calling to the well cared for life, “care for me, love me.”
The half naked body is calling to the fully covered body, “Cover me.”
The material emptiness was calling to the material fullness, but the material fullness had no life to flow spontaneously. I did not know what to do. I felt myself standing like a criminal in front of a judge who was condemning me.
Your pockets are responsible for my empty bowl.
Your huge buildings are responsible for my desolate life on the footpaths.
Your cared for life is responsible for my uncared for life.
Your well-dressed body is responsible for my nakedness.
You are responsible. You are responsible. You are the criminal. You are the criminal.
My ears resounded with these words. I felt as if she was the prophetess sent by God to open my eyes. I could not bear any more. I took two rupees from my pocket and placed it into the empty bowl of the little girl. When the girl saw the two rupees, there was joy in her face. She slowly turned and started going. But I still heard the words, even as she left:
“You are responsible. You are responsible. You are the criminal. You are the criminal.”
This was not just an encounter between the little girl and me. It was an encounter between two classes of society of which we were only representatives. As an individual I came from a poor family, but as a seminarian, I belonged to the official church, I was rich. It was an encounter between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the powerless, the able and the disabled, the masters and the slaves, the secure and the insecure, the employer and the employee. It made a deep impression on me. I felt as if millions of these helpless people were standing on the side of the road, mocking me, saying, “See here goes the criminal! See, here goes the criminal!” Even today whenever I see a beggar I hear the same words.
That evening I began to reflect on the incident. Am I responsible for the suffering of my millions of brothers and sisters in the world? I slowly realized that I am responsible for them, because I am not an isolated individual but part and parcel of a system that exists. In choosing my own options, either political or economic, I choose for the whole of humanity and not just for myself. My decisions, my choices, my options affect the lives of my fellow human beings. I realized I had been committing a mortal sin against my fellow human beings by separating myself from them.
- Brother John Martin Sahanjananda, OSBCam, from his book, You are the Light: Rediscovering the Eastern Jesus, 2003, O Books, pages 28-30.
You can read more of Brother John Martin here:
Unfortunately, Brother Martin’s books is out of print, but you may find and order a used copy here: