Sunday, November 29, 2009




As you may know I am on a Sabbatical year, after being 18 years working as the director of Gurjarvani. I still continue the work of the President of Signis India, the International Organization of Catholic communicators, thanks to the internet.
Between July and September I attended 4 courses/retreats of 10 or 12 days each at Atmadarshan, Patna, Bihar. Atmadarshan is Jesuit run Pycho-spiritual centre. The courses/retreats help one discover one’s inner self, spend time with the Lord and can achieve inner healing of experiences half or not digested, which cause harm and sicknesses. They have a highly competent team of counsellors/therapists, and I found the experience practical, deep, enriching and liberating.
Half of September and October I was at Gurjarvani, with a ten day trip to Thailand to participate in the Signis World Congress.
In the second week of November I reached Bodhi Zendo, the Zen Meditation Centre at Perumalmalai, near Kodaikanal, a hill station in Tamildandu. I hope to be here till the end of January, 2010, living and experiencing Zen meditation under the Jesuit, Fr.AMA Samy, the only recognized and approved Zen Master in India. He follows the Japanese tradition of Zen, which he mastered in Japan under an eminent Zen Master.
All spend about four hours a day in official meditation in the Bodhi Zendo (Zen prayer room), with a Cross and a statue of Buddha below it. More meditation, as one wishes. After half an hour of meditation, there is a brief meditative walk always.
The daily time table at Bodhi Zendo goes like this:
6.00-7.00 meditation.
7.00-8.00 breakfast
8.00-9.30 Seva (work in the garden, cutting vegetables, cleaning, etc... )
10.30-12.00 silence
12.00-12.30 meditation (optional)
12.30-1.30 lunch
1.30-4.00 silence
5.30-7.00 meditation
7.00-8.15 supper
8.15-8.45 meditation
(Silence after 5.30)
Full silence every Wednesday. Thursdays are free days till the last meditation, and Sundays free after lunch. Kodaikanal is just 12 kms from here, and there are many buses from Perumalmalai, outside the Estate. From the first Thursday evening of every month there is a 3-day Mini Sesshin with complete silence and about 6 hours of meditation with a talk by AMA Samy. During the morning meditation every day anyone can meet the Zen Master for very brief guidance. On Sundays, Eucharist is celebrated.
There is an excellent library on Buddhism, Hinduism, Mysticism, Philosophy, etc.... Good food, vegetarian with eggs, with good fruits and much of the vegetables organically grown here.
What is extraordinary for me is the beauty of nature around here. Deep inside a 500 acre Jesuit Coffee estate, Bodhi Zendo is surrounded by the Palani hills, and far removed from all noise except for the birds. Green mountains all around. Mist, clouds, rain and sun alternate, almost every day. Temperature around 18 C., most of the year. Beautiful Zen gardens, vegetable patches, coffee under Silver Oak and Eucalyptus trees. On a sunny day, the landscape is incredibly beautiful!
There are about 30 rooms, fully occupied most of the year. Booking needed, well in advance. Seekers of peace and meditation, of any/no religion come from many countries in the world; relatively few from India. Some spend 3-4 days, a week, some weeks, some months, ...., some come every year,... People come from Auroville, or after visiting different other Ashrams, mostly in south India. The other day we had a group of older people from the Church of England, with 3 pastors. After that a group of 20 University students from the USA, doing a semester of their studies in India, spent 8 days here.
I am enjoying the Zen experience very much. It takes me deeper into myself - gently, quietly, almost imperceptibly, and the Lord is within.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A little less than an Angel -Navneet Parmar

“The human being may be little less than an angel but is much more than an animal”
When I look at the sky, which you have made,
At the moon and the stars, which you set in their places.
What is man, that you think of him;
Mere man, that you care for him?

Yet you made him inferior only to yourself;
You crowned him with glory and honour.
You appointed him ruler over everything you made;
You placed him over all creation;
Sheep and cattle, and the wild animal too;
The birds and fish and the creatures in the seas.
(Psalm: 8: 3=8: Good News Bible, Catholic addition.)

The Bible gives a clear cut account of a creation story. In the beginning there was chaos and the Lord God brought about order. To do this HE just said, “Let there be,” and it was. The words spoken from his mouth were powerful enough to generate an order and to create creatures that could fly in the sky, walk on the earth and swim in the water.
When the Lord God thought of creating a man, He made himself actively involved. He bent down and stretched his hand out to take some soil. “Then the Lord God took some soil from the ground and formed a man out of it; HE breathed life-giving breath into his nostrils and the man began to live.” (Genesis: 2: 7). So much so that he shared his own breath (life) with man. Thus God mad man little less than HIMSELF.
Bible does not give any account of creation of an angel. This does not mean that the angels are existing from all eternity. Angels were created to serve and praise the Lord God.

They serve him best, his state
is king. Thousands at his bidding speed.
And post o’ver land and ocean without rest
They also serve who only stand and wait. (On his blindness by John Milton)

Angels have an extensive existence and are not bound by time and space. We see in the Bible that an angel of the Lord appeared to Mary. Yet they cannot be in two places at the same time, for their essence and existence are two different qualities. In the case of God this essence itself is existence. Angels are not embodied spirits, therefore they will never die. They had an origin but have no end. Man is an embodied being, hence he will die. The beauty of an embodied being is that he could express his feelings and say “I love you.” or “I hate you”, this is possible, for God has endowed him with free will and intellect. Angels are just pure spirits.

When we, the members of the human family, look around us at the world in which we live, we notice three types of beings, basically. First, there is what is traditionally been called the mineral kingdom, the vegetative kingdom and the animal kingdom.
Let’s begin with the mineral kingdom and the human being. What we have in common is that our body is 65% oxygen, 18% carbon,1.5 % calcium, 1% phosphorous and 1.5% other elements. We are 70% water. As someone has well put it, “We are cousins of stones and sisters are stars.”
As for the vegetative kingdom, it is characterized by four basic living activities: growth, reproduction, nourishment and repair. We share with it these basic functions with the vegetable kingdom.
Finally there is the animal kingdom which, in addition to the vegetative activities mentioned above, also has locomotion (can get up and go elsewhere for food, not being rooted in one place like a plant) and , in addition, gives clear evidence of sensation (that is can see, hear, smell, taste and touch – which include feeling pain and pleasure). All these animal activities are ours too.
And maybe we can pause briefly to ask ourselves what we mean when we say that a thing has life or is alive. Actually life is a kind of short-hand term for a complex of activities; and when a being gives evidence of them, we say that it is alive. A being which is able to move itself without any apparent pulling of strings or shoving or pushing from outside is alive. Here of course, the meaning of motion or movement would be widened from its usual connotations of local motion (capacity to transport oneself from one place to another), and not of plant-life. It would encompass any self-initiative activities (growth, reproduction and the like).

Human being in his/her uniqueness

But there are other equally evident and undeniable activities of human being which distinguish her/him from all other observable realities on our planet. The human being, and only the human being, gives evidence of his activities. They can be listed in various ways. I prefer to sum them up as the following trio: use of a conceptual language, art, religion.
In the first place, I do not say that only a human being has a language, a means of communication: even bees and ants have some kind of language – they inform each other (by tapping their feelers on the ground, or whatever) as to where recently discovered food supplies may be found. But their communication is limited to very concrete and limited topics. Whereas we humans can, by means of abstract ideas and concepts, communicate to each other about theories and notions that go far beyond the creativity. The human being is ever creating new styles of architecture, dress and so on; s/he is able to express her/his imaginative insights in a variety of ways from batik to sculpture to dance and painting. Animals have some instinctive know-how: how to construct their nests, burrows or whatever form of dwelling places they have. Some of them have a more or less elaborate mating “dance’. But they remain singularly devoid of any creative or artistic variations here. The same species or sub-species have always built their nests in the same way as far as we can reach back in recorded knowledge of these things. The scorpion and snake haven’t come out with any new dance steps to vary their mating game. But look at the variety of styles and fads in architecture, dress, dances and what have you which characterize human social life! Finally, a human person is the only observable creature which has been able to form some sort of an understanding of the deity, be it gods, goddesses or spirits. Only a human being has evolved a religion which concerns this whole area of her/his life. Various rites and rituals and religious beliefs have existed among men since the dawn of human history. There is nothing comparable to this in the animal kingdom. These three examples of uniqueness are characterized by one word, “transcendence,” the capacity to go beyond; to be driven from within toward in the world.

A Psychological look into human and animal kingdoms.
A human being is neither an angel nor a brute. A human is both lower and higher, both body and spirit, both outer and inner, both mechanical and purposeful.
I would like to high-light specially the behavior of a human which makes him different from both animals and angels. Behavior is a mirror in which everyone displays his image.
Every aspect of our behavior, feeding to reading, depends on the nature and support of society, for we are social animals. We are individuals, but our individuality evolved only within and through our interdependence.
I divide human behavior in to five categories…
1 Innate behavior
It is widespread in all the species. As our physical form has evolved, human behavior too evolves. Invariably a chimpanzee probes holes with twigs, a baby kangaroo will hop. But humans have gone a step beyond and can analyses rocks from moon. I mean humans can control their innate behavior. From the primeval age there were and are men dedicating an entire life for celibacy. Man can be like a fawning dog, a roaring lion, a thieving fox, a robbing wolf, a dissembling crocodile or a rapacious vulture.
2 Learned behavior
A child newly born learns, through experience. As its brain develops it behaves. Dependence, co-operation, plays, problem-solving are some of learnt behaviors. The animals extensively are driven by innate behaviuor (drive). Though there are cases of taming animals but animals by themselves are incapable of learning.
3 Experience behavior
From time immemorial, behavior has been expressive. We know who somebody is by what he does and how he behaves. Let me explain this by taking you all to primal age –at that stage humans relied on hunting for food, hard work was mint for males and child caring for women. Thus the division of labour was allotted between male and female. Eventually social arrangement, old and new emerging tradition, the essential sexual behaviorism and group co-operating paved the way for interdependence
4 Purposive behavior
Human behavior can be oriented on a sense of purpose which is not just fragmentary, but overall, relating to long periods and even to an entire lifetime, taking the form of long-term planning. Such a capacity, implies first that the subject is conscious, informed about the environment and about his potentialities. This awareness, the sense of purpose which guides choices and the effective implementation of purposeful behavior, is the essential feature of the freedom which is the impulse behind all self-constructed behavior. Contrary to other mammals, the human being with an over-riding sense of purpose can transcend the most powerful drives like the need for food or self-preservation and more easily sexual urges. Man hungers and thirsts not only for bread but for the bread of eternal life, truth, beauty, goodness and holiness- there is an aim for his existence.
5 Free behavior
Man is gifted with free will – to choose or not to choose. He is free to take control of himself (even to the point of offering his life), and free to decide his attitude towards his fellows (even to the point of dying for them); man is a creature capable of deciding what his relation will be to his creator. This gives rise to ethics and morality. For something to be ethical there are alternatives modes of action- man is capable of judging the alternative in ethical terms and he is free to choose what he judges to be good. Freedom implies commitment.

Animal behavior is instinctive, mechanical and unconscious. A dog knows a bone but does not know that it knows the bone. There is no possibility of cultural convention, non-competition, co-operation, territoriality, teamwork, selflessness, kinship, tool-use, communication, generosity, reciprocity in animals… man is an animal that bargains – no other animal does this – a dog does not change one bone with another. Man cooks his food.

The angels may have wider spheres of action and nobler forms of duty than ours, but truth and right; to them and to us are one and the same thing. Angels are mighty, frightening and unlimited; in their nature they are spirits, in their behavior they are angels. We humans can only behave a high-degree of flexibility - within the limits imposed by our nature (that is why our freedom is like being a fish in the tank). Angels relate infinitely irrespective of universal boundary. Angels are also serviceable, caring and active.

Thus human being may be little less than an angel but is much more than an animal.

G.C 35 Decree 2:Kindle Other Fires -Sunil Macwan

G.C. 35 Decree 2: A Fire That Kindles Other Fires
(A summary with questions for reflection)

The Society of Jesus has kept its flame alive for nearly five centuries. She has done so against all odds at all times. She continues to do so in present times. And this is no mean task because the world situation today is evermore challenging as it overwhelms people with an abundance of sensations, ideas and images. The Society’s flame – her original inspiration – offers people warmth and light. It is an undeniable proof of the goodness of God towards the Society. Keeping that fire alive enables us to give meaning to people and to provide them focus in a fragmented world.
One outstanding characteristic of the Society has been unity-in-multiplicity. At the heart of this unity is Jesus Christ. Our desire to serve Him; to be prompt and ready to do His most holy will is what unites us. Therefore, “Jesuits know who they are by looking at Him.” And the Jesuits find their identity in companionship. It is the companionship with Jesus who calls and with those who share this call. The foundation of this insight lies in St. Ignatius’ La Storta experience where he was “placed” with the Son and called to serve Him as He carries his cross. That unique experience of Ignatius remains alive in the life of every Jesuit. It calls for a continuous conversion from the life of the world to life for Christ.
Furthermore, this experience leads a Jesuit to view everything in a new light. He looks to find God in all things. Just as Ignatius did, after his experience at the river Cardoner. The Jesuit then endeavours to be a contemplative in action. To see the presence of God in the grim present day realities like poverty, forced displacement, violence between people, abandonment, structural injustice, sin etc. and the desire to seek the face of God in the world takes Jesuits to limit situations. This is achieved through commitment to “the service of faith and promotion of Justice” and dialogue with cultures and religions. Jesuits encounter sources of life and energy but also grave forces of death and suffering. Never for a moment losing faith in God, Jesuits succeed in finding Him in the most hopeless and darkest of realities. Thus, they become evermore truthful “servants of Christ’s mission.”
Jesuits’ mission of hope is to find divine life at the depths of reality. The aim is to find Jesus at work in all places and situations. Hence, Jesuit on a mission struggles with the polarity of being firmly rooted in God at all times, while at the same time remaining involved in the reality of the world.
So, polarities like being and doing, contemplation and action, prayer and prophetic living, being completely united with Christ and completely inserted into the world mark the life of a Jesuit. This pattern is based on the life of Christ on mission. Deep love for God and great concern for the world inspire Jesuits to continue their mission with zeal. It provokes people to know more about Jesuits. The Jesuits in turn plunge into every reality of the world with the belief that nothing is too profane to get involved in for the greater glory of God. They light a fire that enkindles other fires!
In the grace of La Storta, the Father placed Ignatius with Christ, His Son, carrying His cross. For Jesuits, this grace poses a challenge in daily life – that of announcing the Gospel of hope to the poor of this world. The hope that can “restore entire human persons in their integrity, reintegrating them in community and reconciling them with God.”
The Jesuits can fulfill this task by following the example of Jesus. As companions with Him on Mission, his way is their way too. Therefore, the service of faith and promotion of justice as two sides of one reality appears as the core of the Jesuit mission. Along with it availability for the Church’s universal mission to be carried out under the Roman Pontiff - in the spirit of obedience and magis – remains a distinguishing mark of the Jesuits.
To excel in the practice of our vow of obedience is to excel in Jesuit vocation. Along with obedience, the Jesuit vows of poverty and chastity complete our commitment to God’s call. Inspired by this commitment each Jesuit serves the Church in accordance with his particular vocation.
Companionship in the community gives Jesuits working on different missions a common identity. Indeed, identity, community and mission are a kind of triptych that explains our companionship. Our living together as “friends in the Lord” should inspire others, especially the young to join our ranks.
Our mission today is in the global context. It is for the worldwide community. Globalization, technology and environmental concerns have made us aware of our responsibility for the welfare of the entire world. Today, ever more than in the past, we need to work in collaboration with all persons of good will.
There is a lot of diversity among people across the world today. At times this diversity becomes the cause of grave inequality and injustice. Consequently, some prosper at the expense of the others. Jesuits are called upon to go to ‘Nations’ that today include those who are poor and those ignore the existence of God, and those who use God as an instrument for political purposes.
The changing situation of the world changes the context of our mission. Accordingly, today we look to dialogue with religions; promote justice and campaign to save the earth from further degradation. It is a serious challenge before all Jesuits to become and remain whole, as Jesus Christ, in a fragmented world! It is only through fraternal and joyful community living that we can meet this challenge and become whole.

Questions for Reflection:
1. What is my ‘ la Storta’ experience?
2. When did it take place?
3. What were the contents?
4. What are the challenges that I continue to embrace as a result of my ‘la Storta’ experience ?
5. Have I undergone a conversion? From what to for what?
6. Is there a harmony in my life between my world-view and my actions?
7. Am I able to find God in poverty – both actual and spiritual – in insults, abuse, sufferings, humiliations, injustices, dishonors, sickness and death, in the depths of darkness where Christ’s divinity is hidden?
8. As a Jesuit, am I able to give people meaning and focus in a fragmented world?
9. Am committed to restore the integrity of creation by facilitating the process of reconciliation with God, world and self?
10. What is my commitment to community life?