Catholic Ashrams: Sachidananda Ashram gets a woman Acharya
Posted August 17, 2006
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The Indian Church, especially the Catholic Church, is often seen as a male-dominated religious institution. However, there have also been initiatives coming from within that can help bring women to the center stage. The Ashram movement is one such initiative. There are quite a few Christian Ashrams in India which are founded and headed by women religious.
However, it is a fact that Christian Ashrams in India have not been 'bearing abundant fruit'. One of the reasons why this has been so is their lack of relevance to the contemporary society and its aspirations. Added to this is the reality that Christianity in India still continues to be taken as an alien religion by most people in this country.
The Church has often failed to identify itself with India's national life. It enjoys 'minority rights' in India which is not seen anywhere else in the world. The Christian Churches have also failed to be enriched by the rich cultural and spiritual traditions of India. In dress, customs and values Christians still continue to be mostly westernized.
There have been some initiatives by a number of foreign Christian missionaries and few Indian missionaries for 'inculturation' of the Church. Foremost among the Catholic initiatives has been the 'Saccidananda Ashram' near Trichy founded by two French priests, Fr. Monchanin and Fr. Henri le Saux. This was later on taken up by the internationally famous British Benedictine monk, Fr. Bede Griffiths. The Indian Missionary Society (IMS) is also a major initiative in inculturation. Bharat Mata Ashram at Kurukshetra and Matridham Ashram at Varanasi are living example to this fact.
The Anjali Ashram at Mysore established by Fr. Amalorpavadas continues to attract many seekers. The Vatican II added legitimacy to these Catholic initiatives for inculturation. However, such efforts have been limited to the external aspects of Christian faith like dress, symbols, liturgy, names etc. The Theological, Christological and Missiological dimensions still remain mostly untouched. The philosophy is still 'Greek' and the administration is 'Roman' for the Catholic Church that constitutes the Christian majority in India.
Squadron Leader N.V. John received the new name 'John Sachidanand' in 1984 from his second guru Fr. Bede Griffiths at Saccidananda Ashram. He was also given 'Acharya diksha' in 1990 by Fr. Bede Griffiths. Acharya John Sachidanand took to 'Sanyasa' with the name 'Swami Sachidananda' in July 2001.
His 20-year-long pilgrimage of faith as a disciple of Sadguru Jesus Christ through the multi-religious milieu of India made Swami Sachidananda a heir to India's rich spiritual and cultural traditions. His experiences have finally led him to initiate an Indian Christian Sanysa Parampara which he has named 'Bharathi Sanyasa Parampara'. He himself became the first member of this parampara by taking the name 'Swami Sachidananda Bharathi' for himself on 8th July 2003, the 21st anniversary of his air crash. Dharma Bharathi Mission and Dharma Bharathi Ashram are results of his prayerful efforts to promote an 'Indian face of the Christian faith' and a 'Swadeshi Church' in India without religious conversion and cultural alienation.
On 8th July 2006, Sr. Catherine Prabhujyothi, an American-returned former Carmelite religious sister who did a research study on 'Inter-religious dialogue in Christian higher education in India', was given 'Acharya diksha' by Swami Sachidananda Bharathi and appointed 'Acharya' of Dharma Bharathi Ashram, Mulanthuruthy in Kerala.
Sr. Catherine was initiated by Swamiji with the name 'Prabhujyothi' on 8th July 2004. During the last two years she was under training and guidance at the Guru Bhavan in Dharma Bharathi Ashram. Swami Sachidananda Bharathi trained her in the Shanthi Yagna Meditation, Samasthakriya Yoga and other constituent elements of the Dharma Bharathi spirituality and Dharma Bharathi system of Peace and Value Education.