Bede Griffiths was a Benedictine monk who lived in ashrams in South India and became a noted yogi. He was a leading advocate of dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism. Through daily practices of meditation and prayer he opened himself to the myths, symbols and teachings of many of the world’s major religions. He was intrigued with the concept of the archetypal or universal man. He taught we should all honor the sacredness of every person and believed each person is a unique image of the divine. He would often quote the ancient Vedic Sanskrit text Chandogya Upanishad about how though our body takes up only a small space on this planet, our mind encompasses the whole universe.
He was born Alan Richard Griffiths on December 17, 1906 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey England. At age 12, Griffiths was sent to Christ's Hospital, a school for poor boys. He excelled in his studies and earned a scholarship to the University of Oxford, from where he graduated in 1929 with a degree in journalism. Shortly after graduation Griffiths and two friends settled in a cottage in the rural Cotswold region of southern England and began what they called an "experiment in common living”. They followed a lifestyle attuned to nature and sold milk from their own cows to support themselves. They would read the Bible together and Griffiths noted a strong connection between the teachings of Scripture and the rhythm of the nature around them.
In a crisis of faith, Griffiths was comforted by the writings of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the controversial Anglican priest who abdicated the Church of England in favor of the Catholic Church. Newman believed in a middle ground between freethinking and ecclesiastical indoctrination, one that respected both the rights of the individual seeker of knowledge and the moral authority of the Church, one that would refrain from theological censorship. In November 1931, Griffiths went to stay at the Benedictine monastery of Prinknash Abbey where he was impressed by the life and was received into the Roman Catholic Church, being ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1940.
Years later, Griffiths met Father Benedict Alapatt, a European-born monk of Indian descent who was greatly interested in establishing a monastery in his homeland. Griffiths had already been introduced to Eastern teachings of yoga and the Vedas and took interest in the project. In 1955, he embarked for India with Alapatt. He wrote to a friend, "I am going to discover the other half of my soul.” They settled in Kengeri in Bangalore with the goal of building a monastery there. That project was eventually unsuccessful as Griffiths left the location in 1958, saying that he found it "too Western". Griffiths then joined with a Belgian monk, Father Francis Acharya, to establish the Kurisumala Ashram ("Mountain of the Cross") a Roman Catholic monastery in Kerala. They sought to develop a form of monastic life based in the Indian tradition, adopting the saffron garments of an Indian monk. At that point, Griffiths took the Sanskrit name "Dayananda" ("bliss of compassion"). He continued his studies in the religions and cultures of India, writing Christ in India and giving a numerous talks about East–West dialogue.
In 1968, Griffiths moved to the Shantivanam Ashram in Tamil Nadu, South India, which had been founded in 1950 by the French Benedictine monk Dom Henri Le Saux, and stressed a religious lifestyle which was completely expressed in authentic Indian fashion, using English, Sanskrit and Tamil in their religious services. They had built the ashram buildings by hand in the style of the poor of the country. Under Griffiths’ guidance the Ashram became a renowned center of contemplative life and of inter religious dialogue and contributed greatly to the development of Indian Christian Theology. Griffiths became known as "Swami Dayananda”. He wrote 12 books on Hindu–Christian dialogue, including Vedanta and the Christian Faith.
Eventually he desired to reconnect himself with the Benedictine order and sought a monastic congregation that would accept him in the way of life he had developed over the decades. He was welcomed by the Roman Catholic order of Camaldolese monks and he and the ashram became a part of their congregation. At the ashram he gave daily teachings on the Vedas and presented homilies deciphering Christian mysticism at Eucharist and Vespers. In 1987 he published a commentary on the Bhagaavad Gita, titled Rivers of Compassion.
In January of 1990 Griffiths suffered a stroke in his room at the ashram but quickly made a full recovery. He celebrated the extension of his mortal life by lecturing extensively in the United States, Australia and in Europe. “I was overwhelmed and deluged with love,” he said about this time. “The feminine in me opened up and a whole new vision opened. I saw love as the basic principle of the whole universe. I saw God in the earth, in trees, in mountains. It led me to the conviction that there is no absolute good or evil in this world. We have to let go of all concepts which divide the world into good and evil, right and wrong, and begin to see the ‘complementarity’ of opposites.”
On his 86th birthday, Griffiths had a major stroke and died at his ashram on 13 May 1993.