So the question becomes, how can Vedantists in the West combine the individual freedom of Hindu spirituality with the sense of community characteristic of Abrahamic and indigenous spirituality? Can we evolve a form of shared ritual that fosters group support and responsibility while preserving and encouraging individual striving for spiritual realization?
A group of Vedantists from different parts of the United States held a working retreat at Our Lady of Guadalupe Benedictine Monastery in Pecos, New Mexico last October 13-15. One of the topics discussed was the place of group worship and ritual in Vedanta in the West. An experimental worship service was tried in the opening session. Those participating found it meaningful and moving. The text of the service follows.
My interest in Integral Vedanta centers on transformation of consciousness. By that I am referring to the idea that consciousness can appear in a number of modes or states, each setting the “tone”, as it were, for the way we are aware of and perceive things. Furthermore, we can direct which way our consciousness develops these states through a process of self-transformation, or what in India is called yoga.
Siddheshwarananda’s essay entitled “From anxiety to union, or, Ramakrishna’s spiritual experience” contains a number of interesting insights and observations, some of which seem to me to be startlingly original.
Many years ago I asked my guru if I should pray that the way be cleared for me to enter the monastery. After a moment’s pause, he replied, “No. Don’t pray for that.” The import was not to pray for another position in life. I had recently emerged from a somewhat painful divorce. The message to me meant: remain single, live alone, and associate with sadhus and devotees.
Readers of Romain Rolland’s biographies of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda may have noticed that Rolland compares Vivekananda to Beethoven more than once.