The Cosmic Revelation

Without Christianity I don’t think the oriental religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, can answer the needs of the modern world. But without the enrichment of the mystical tradition of Asia I doubt whether the Western Churches can really discover the fullness of Christ which we are seeking. ~ Bede Griffiths

Bede Griffiths, a one-time student of C S Lewis, combined the life of a monk and a yogi. On his own, apparently, he undertook Guenon’s project to reinvigorate his Catholic tradition with Oriental metaphysics. In a series of six lectures, published as The Cosmic Revelation, Griffiths provides us with a fine overview of the Vedanta and its relevance to the West. I’ll organize the following review by the chapter titles while highlighting their main points.

Due to the depth of the material, the full review will appear in multiple segments.

See Part 2 ⇒.

The Vedic Revelation

As does Rene Guenon, Griffiths accepts that the Vedas arise from a divine revelation. In them, the word (vac) is the mediator between God and man. The word veda means knowledge, the same as the Latin video, to see, to know. Hence “knowing” is like “seeing”. As Griffiths points out, the Vedas (and Sanskrit) were brought to India by the Aryans from the North in the second millennium BC. Its authors are called rishis, or see-ers. But Vedas are not a fabrication; they are also called sruti, which means they were “heard”. In sum, they are what has been heard, what is eternal, without human authorship.

After the Vedas came the Brahmanas, which were commentaries on the ritual sacrifices, the Aranyakas, written by the mystical forest dwellers, and then the Upanishads, or records of discussions between the rishis and their students. These are all the echoes of the original peoples who arrived in India from the North; that is why they may still resonate in some deep part of us.

The later epics (the Mahabharata and the Ramayana) evolved over time from the intermixtures of the Northern Aryans with the Southern Dravidians. Griffiths notes that the northern religion is “a religion of a nomadic people, of warriors, and much more dynamic”, in contrast with the earthy religion of the Mother goddess worship of the South. Next came the Darshanas, or the orthodox philosophical systems.

Monotheism

Hinduism, he says, is called the sanatana dharma, the “eternal religion”. Griffiths does not mention that St Augustine made the same point: there is but one tradition, which is now known as Catholic. Therefore, Griffiths needs to explain the two concepts of God. The first Veda refers to “the one being the wise called by many names.” Therefore, the gods are names and forms under which the one God manifests himself. That is, they are more or less the equivalent of “angels” or the “cosmic powers” mentioned by St Paul. The One Being is behind the powers of nature, the sky, the earth, the sea, fire, and so on. Hence, Hinduism is no more polytheistic than is Catholicism with its cult of angels and saints.

Esoteric Understanding.

Words in sacred languages are not as univocal as modern ones. For example, the word “spirit” in most languages also means “wind or air or breath or life or soul or spirit.” That is what makes translations difficult: there is no one precise meaning, since the word contains all the meanings. Griffiths refers to Poetic Diction by the anthroposophist and inkling Owen Barfield for support.

The rishis did not have the same dualistic consciousness of most people today. For example, in the Vedas we find many prayers for material prosperity: cattle, horses, butter, wealth, and so on. Aurobindo Ghose, in the Secret of the Veda points out that these words have both a psychological and a physical meaning. So as butter comes from milk and thoughts come from mind, “butter” may also mean thought.

A better example, from our perspective, is the fire sacrifice associated with the hearth, since keeping the “home fire burning” was such an important rite to early Indo-European people. But that also means to build the fire in the heart. Tapas, which means “asceticism, self-control, discipline”, originally meant “heat”. Hence, the buildup of friction in the mind through self-discipline is the same as “heart” or the fire in the heart.  So there is the exoteric religion of the rites around the physical fire, and the esoteric religion of inner fire. Yet it would be a mistake to separate them, or to claim that the esoteric meaning is the “real” meaning. That is a dualistic view. Rather, our ancestors would have experienced them as the same; the fire in the hearth and the fire in the heart are the same. The discipline of the outer rite is a reflection of the inner discipline.

The Three Worlds

The rishis recognized the three worlds of physical being, psychological being, and spiritual being as one, not separating them, as we may do. (Actually, the spiritual is now opaque to most people, and even the psychological is understood as a mere physical process.) Hence, the sun is not just an astronomical body providing light to the physical world but also the source of light to the mind as the inner sun. Hence, the sun, moon, and earth, trees, etc., understood at the level of soul and spirit, are revered because God is in the midst of them. That is, the whole creation is pervaded by God.

Two Conceptions of God

The Hebrews begin with God’s transcendence. God is infinitely high above the heavens and descends to the prophets, becomes incarnate in Jesus, and so on. That is, it is a movement of descent from above.

The Hindu starts in the opposite way. God is immanent in every created thing. Of course, Christians pay lip service to the idea of omnipresence, but have largely lost the experience of it. Hence, these two visions are complementary, not opposed.

Of course, God as transcendent to the physical cosmos is one thing, but God as transcendent spiritually is another. Hence, we should also understand transcendence in our interiority, in our “heart”, as the I that watches the flow of consciousness. Many theological conundrums can be resolved through spiritual experience and understanding.

Griffiths concludes the first lecture with a call for the Church to be enriched from the encounter with other religions, just as it absorbed European paganisms. However, I believe he is neglecting a certain fundamental point. Europeans and the people who were formed around the Vedic revelation have the same ancestors. Hence, there is a certain affinity of the Vedic revelation to the West which makes it more appropriate.

As the Church has been expanding into Africa and elsewhere, there is an encounter, as he points out, with those aboriginal religions, leading, for example, to cults like Santeria. However, as much as it may be valid for them, that is not our present concern.

10 thoughts on “The Cosmic Revelation

  1. Cologero, this being the Internet, I realise the mere text of a post may give more of an offensive impression than intended, so please, accept an aplogy. Not that I don’t stand by what I wrote; I merely intended it as a kind of reminder, not as an attack.
    The devil, being the first ‘Plotestant’ as well as the first Jacobin can probably quote Scripture better than either of us 🙂 I have always agreed with St Augustine on the tradition.
    A reading, time permitting, of an essay by Robert Fastiggi and Jose Pereira, titled “The Swami from Oxford” gives a good indication of where I tend to come from with respect to such issues and Fr Grifiths in particular after several decades of interest – summarising better than I could and saving me more typing than perhaps ought to be done in a comment box. It was in Crisis Magazine, but Catholic Culture has it here:

    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=3427

    (I can’t help thinking you might also be interested in James Arraj’s work “Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue” which goes over much of the matter here discussed – and more besides. You may already know it, of course. Online at

    http://www.innerexplorations.com/catew/christia.htm)

    Re St Augustine… As a reader of Tomberg you are no doubt aware of the interest in his work from the side of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue/ Centering Prayer people; Fr Keating, Fr Pennington, Br Teasdale, Fr Barnhart… Some of the names, indeed, associated with Fr Griffiths and his legacy. Golden Cain newsletter, ‘Wisdom Christianity’? They appear to have it in for St Gus a bit. It’s early centuries yet, of course but I must admit to a measure of unease.

    Anyway thanks for the reply.

  2. My dear G. Inquisitor, I am neither saint nor heretic. Merely a sinner like your good self 🙂 As to Holy Mother Church; She being the Mystical Body of Christ, there is of course a distinct lack of idolatry involved. It has been fashionable to reject Her of late. And I sense this may be your choice also… It was not that of Meister Eckhart, or of St John of the Cross (or of Valentin Tomberg, indeed). Each Pope is a Warrior Pope. (St Leo pray for us).

  3. It’s my bad, Saint-Efficace. The question marks appeared because this blog does not support UTF8 encoding, which was not the default when it was created. It would take too much effort to change the encoding at this point.

    So now we can move onto your bad. In your zeal to be super-correct, you have misread or misunderstood the text. Of course, Griffiths did not say that the angels are names or forms of God. That is the Vedic claim and he offered an alternative explanation, much as Thomas Aquinas did in respect to the Greeks. See Angels and Demons for an explanation.

    Now I can quote the Bible as well as you, though probably not as well as the devil to which you refer. Following Griffiths, I offered a biblical explanation for a type of “inspiration” and even pointed out that there is a greater revelation. That is perfectly orthodox teaching.

    What Griffith does with the Vedic teaching is not unlike what the Fathers did with Plato and Thomas with Aristotle. Griffith’s aims are not what you claim; in any case, the ideal of a “rapprochement” was never mentioned in the post, so it is out-of-bounds in a cross-examination. Moreover, as we have explained previously, we deal with a text by (1) bringing out its logical conclusions and (2) placing it into a larger perspective. Please try to make an effort to see that and then reconsider your comment.

    This larger perspective takes Augustine seriously when he claims there is but one tradition.

  4. „Saint-Efficace” you are Heritic-Efficace.

    God loves you, deep down; but you worship the idol of an earthly church and kiss the images of a warrior-pope.

  5. Please excuse the ineptitude of poor old Saint-Efficace. All those question marks in my post – detracting perhaps from the desired impression of certitude!

    Allow me to transliterate the LXX Greek of Ps. 95:5 here, for clarity: “pantes hoi theoi to:n ethno:n daimonia”.

  6. “… the gods are names and forms under which the one God manifests himself. That is, they are more or less the equivalent of “angels” or the “cosmic powers” mentioned by St Paul.”

    Of course The Church does not believe and teach that angels are names and/ or forms under which God manifests Himself, or any such nonsense. Quite the contrary. She also disagrees with Griffiths (as well as Guénon) on the inspired character of the Vedas. It is worth noting perhaps that the particular attempts at rapprochement of Catholic and Hindu positions of Griffiths c.s., however slight their resonance in the Catholic Church, have met with typical indifference and r a t h e r
    w o r s e among Hindus. Exceeding one’s brief never was a good idea.

    Anyway, Catholics, unlike (most) Hindus, still avoid like the plague any worship of angels as of false gods, “quoniam omnes dii gentium daemonia” (Ps XCV: v) or, in the venerable English translation, “For all the gods of the Gentiles are devils” (Douay-Rheims) following the Greek ??? ?????? ?? ???? ??? ????? ???????? (LXX)

    (Like the modernisers you can have them as “idols” if you want – which, if you will permit me, I venture to doubt you do, somehow 🙂 – following the Hebrew: ?????? (kol elohei HaAmim elilim) of the trimmed MT. The reference is 96:5 in that case. Hardly an improvement for the case of the Devil’s Party. Silver, gold, rocks, stones, devils – the Gentiles were happy enough to worship any of them. Your modern Gentlile, of course, desperately tries to join in, adding paper – but as often as not proves to be worshipping but the Self.

  7. Nothing is final as the world is eternal.

  8. It was through the stunning accuracy of the Doctrine of the Ages and the predictions of the Kali Yuga in the Vedic Tradition that led me to my current stand as a mild Christian Hermeticist (a less bold perennialism). There is simply no other way of explaining how this doctrine so accurately reflects the cyclical degeneration of mankind other than some higher revelation given to its author. Whether this was angelic or diabolical in nature is largely irrelevant, both angels and demons have their role in the order and balance of the Divine Realm, both being products of ‘primordial’ origin.

    If one takes Christianity as the final revelation from God, he need not totally discount some elements of truth in other earlier faiths that may have had lower orders of divine influence, as long as they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, studying these faiths that also fed from the ever-present and almost riverine qualities of the World of Tradition, can lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of Scripture, of God, and of the Divine Realm. Even studying the perverse and fiendish cults of the Canaanites and such can give us insight into the nature of the demonic entities that presumed the status of gods over these debauched peoples and thus some knowledge of these entities that are beyond any realm of practical study and examination.

    Great post by the way.

  9. obscure, dear sir,
    would you elaborate on the difference between a narrative and a whole system? then would you elaborate on the sameness? this because so we can reach a wholeness of the understanding (of how aspects of the world relate to other aspects of the world and add to making up the whole).

  10. I notice you mention univocity, so I must warn you away from the narratives being produced by the ‘radical orthodoxy’ movement wherein they derive some rubbish from Heidegger and Deleuze about Duns Scotus. I am referring of course to the ‘univocity of Being’. Their narratives however are not derived from familiarity with Scotus’ work. Scotus argued that being is predicated univocally because the analogy is contained in the subject per se. Namely, Scotus argues that we begin metaphysics with an intuition of Being and this raises a disjunctive: finite or infinite? The mode of understanding the infinite subject is analogy and is not found in the mode of predication. Scotists call this doctrine ‘real analogy’ as opposed to the older doctrine of ‘analogical predication’. However, scholars don’t often read the fullness of the primary sources and are unfamiliar with whole systems; they are interested in narratives. Nothing new of course.

    Scotus in a sense improves upon St. Thomas rather than contradicts him, hence he is called the ‘subtle doctor’ while Thomas is the easier-to-grasp ‘common doctor’. Scotus also promoted the ‘absolute primacy of Christ’, which you may be interested in. The Franciscans promote it today, but Scotism is overshadowed by the more popular Neo-Thomism. Absolute primacy is a very important theological doctrine once it is understood adequately, since it entails that theosis is more fundamental than redemption (most important site for the doctrine):

    http://absoluteprimacyofchrist.org/

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