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(for Earthlight  Magazine, Nov 04)
For me, the main contribution that Fr Bede made to a new understanding of cosmology is the same as what he articulated so well in terms of a new anthropology: to always recognize the spiritual, psychological and physical aspects of all created reality, and to understand that the human person is at once spirit, soul and body.  This was the one topic I heard Fr Bede speak on in 1992, and it permanently changed my way of thinking about and seeing reality.

In a sense to speak of a “new cosmology” of Fr Bede Griffiths, or even of his “New Vision of Reality,” the title of his last major publication, is ironic.  Fr Bede was convinced that as we entered this new age western science was slowly recovering, re-discovering, the Perennial Philosophy, the wisdom that had prevailed throughout the world from 500 AD through 1500 CE. What is really happening in our new age is that Western science is slowly catching up with the mysticism, and “discovering” what especially the oriental spiritualities and philosophies had never doubted: that the material universe is pervaded by and finds its explanation in a transcendent reality.  That was precisely what had already taken place in India in the fifth century before Christ, “when there was a breakthrough beyond mental consciousness to the supramental with the discovery of the Ultimate Reality sustaining the whole universe.”  Bede himself had discovered this perennial philosophy through the Vedanta, and then saw it latent everywhere, not the least of which in his own Christian faith at its best.

Alduous Huxley, in his introduction to Christopher Isherwood’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, wrote that the focus of Indian religion “is also one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the Perennial Philosophy ever to have been made.”   He states it in four points.  First that “the phenomenal world of matter and of individualised consciousness––the world of things and animals and [human beings] and even gods––is a manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being. . .”  Second, that human beings are capable of realizing the existence of the Divine Ground by a direct intuition that is superior to discursive reasoning, a knowledge that unites the knower with that which is known.  Third, that human beings possess a double nature, “a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner person, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul.”  And finally, that the end and purpose of human life is to identify oneself with this eternal Self and “so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.”

Similarly, Fr Bede taught that the great insight the Vedic philosophers had come to was an understanding of the threefold nature of reality, that the world is at once physical, psychological, and spiritual.  These three realms of reality are always interdependent and interwoven.  In other words, according to Vedic philosophy, every physical reality has a psychological aspect, and both the psychological and physical realms have an underlying reality that is the source of both other realms–¬–spiritual reality.  The Vedic philosophers never separated these aspects.   Fr Bede explains that this understanding of the threefold nature of the world
. . . underlies not only the Vedas but all ancient thought.  In the primitive mind (which is also the natural mind) there is no such thing as a merely physical object.  Every material thing has a psychological aspect, a relation to human consciousness, and this in turn is related to the supreme spirit which pervades both the physical world and human consciousness.

This cosmology was “typical of the whole ancient world which had emerged out of the mythological world of more ancient times. . .”  Fr Bede said that this unitive vision of reality
. . . the Oriental view of the universe, which is in fact, the view of the ‘perennial philosophy’, the cosmic vision which is common to all religious tradition from the most primitive tribal religions to the great world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.

He tells us that up until the Middle Ages, in China, India, and the Islamic world as well as in Europe, a creative synthesis had been achieved and was maintained in which the physical, psychic and spiritual worlds were integrated.  Economic, social, political and cultural orders were all conceived as a harmonious unity in which each human being was related to nature, to one’s fellows and to the Divine.  

Often Bede wrote about how western philosophy gradually came to be dominated by a philosophy of materialism, whether implicit or explicit.  According to Fr Bede this unitive vision began to be lost at the Renaissance.
After [the Middle Ages] this creative synthesis began to disintegrate.  The Reformation and the Renaissance, the ‘Enlightenment’ and the French Revolution, the Russian and the Chinese Revolutions, are all stages in this process of disintegration.

In New Vision of Reality, beginning with Descartes’ separation of mind and matter, through Francis Bacon, Galileo and Isaac Newton, he shows how by the eighteenth century all aspects of a divine reality governing the Universe had been gradually eliminated and a mechanistic system alone remained.  Fr Bede also accused rationalism of setting the human mind free from the divine and communism of depriving human beings of their basic liberty and enslaving them to the material world, all as a result of a mechanistic, materialistic philosophy.   Consequently, in our times we have now inherited a mind-set that separates matter from mind, and separates matter and mind from the Supreme Reality, from God.   Especially the West suffers from the disease of the merely rational mind that
. . . causes us to see [matter, mind and spirit] as separate from one another, to imagine a world extended outside of us in space and time, and the mind as something separate from the external world.

This eventually has effect on all aspects of science from social theory such as Marxist dialectical materialism through Freudian psychology.  Just as the existence of a divine Ultimate (spiritual) Reality was no longer needed in cosmology and the natural sciences, so the existence of the soul was gradually deemed unnecessary in psychology due to Freud’s initial mechanistic model, which he never fully transcended.  

In New Vision of Reality, we see Fr Bede, who had had such a mistrust of modern science and the technological age, having immersed himself in the works of modern science in his last years, and rejoicing that “the elements of the more universal and profound vision” were being recovered in the context of scientific thought today.   He then explicates in his own words, through his own filter as mystic and monk, the work of “the new physics” of Frijof Capra, David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake, and Ilya Prigogine, as well as the new psychology, first of all of Karl Jung, but more recently of Karl Pribram, Ken Wilbur and the emergence of transpersonal psychology.  Fr Bede saw far-reaching consequences for the West slowly regaining this original and ancient vision, this Perennial Philosophy, not just through modern physics but through depth psychology as well.

What is marvelous about Fr Bede’s teaching is that it always resolves in a fresh view of the human person in all our glorious transcendent capacity.  From this Perennial Philosophy he comes to understand that just as all created reality has a spiritual, psychological, and material dimension, so each human being is spirit, soul, and body. This is not the typical Western way to speak of human anthropology.  We do not normally distinguish spirit from soul, but speak of the human person as either body and soul or body and spirit, though we do speak of the “spiritual soul.”  For example, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church says:
Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit. . . . This does not introduce a duality into the soul.  “Spirit” signifies that from creation [human beings] are ordered to a supernatural end and that [one’s] soul can be gratuitously raised ... to communion with God.

Fr Bede, among others, found this anthropology lacking.  On the one hand he saw the need always to distinguish between the spirit and the soul, between the spiritual and the psychic; on the other hand he saw the need specifically to understand and accentuate the importance of the spiritual realm, which brings the other two realms to their fruition.

It is this anthropology––spirit, soul and body––that became the core of Griffiths’s teaching and writings.  Once, in a presentation just before his death, he said, “The body, mind, and spirit are the main focus of all my thinking presently; we have to integrate these three levels of reality that exist at every moment.”   As body we are part of the earth, connected to every element of creation from the beginning of time.  Our soul then is the whole inner realm––matter coming into consciouness and then coming into self-consciousness and learning to harness the powers of the mind. Perhaps the rational mind is at the center, but it is surrounded by all the strata of the psyche, sub-conscious, higher states of consciousness, the collective unconscious, and psychic powers and phenomena of all sorts.  But beyond both, and the source and summit of both is the realm of spirit, beyond all phenomena, beyond all thoughts and words.  Our spirit is that point of human self-transcendence where we are one with the Divine spirit who is beyond all phenomena––the Tao, Brahman, the sunnyata, al Haqq, the abyss of the Godhead. The human person first goes beyond mental consciousness to experience the transpersonal, transmental  or, as Sri Aurobindo calls it, the “supramental” consciousness. And then we discover within ourselves that our ultimate “I” is one with the ground of the universe (Brahman) and the ground of human consciousness (Atman).  

What Fr Bede taught me to see through his writings is that all reality is pervaded by the Divine, Atman, the Spirit; and that I too possess a double nature, that I am not only my phenomenal ego but I am an eternal Self, which is my inner person, the spirit, the spark of divinity within my soul; and, more importantly, by his example he made me long for that end and purpose of my life––to identify myself with this eternal Self and so as to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine.