Bede Griffiths

For other people named Swami Dayananda, see Swami Dayananda (disambiguation).
Dom Bede Griffiths OSB Cam
Born Alan Richard Griffiths
(1906-12-17)17 December 1906
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England
Died 13 May 1993(1993-05-13) (aged 86)
Shantivanam, Tamil Nadu, India
Nationality English, Indian
Other names Swami Dayananda
Alma mater Magdalen College, Oxford
Occupation Camaldolese monk, mystic, theologian
Known for Integral thought
Religion Roman Catholic

Bede Griffiths OSB Cam[1] (17 December 1906 – 13 May 1993), born Alan Richard Griffiths and also known by the end of his life as Swami Dayananda ("bliss of compassion"), was a British-born Benedictine monk and priest who lived in ashrams in South India and became a noted yogi. He became a leading thinker in the development of the dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism. Griffiths was a part of the Christian Ashram Movement.


Early years

Griffiths was born in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, at the end of 1906, the youngest of three children of a middle-class family. Shortly after Griffith's birth, his father was betrayed by a business partner and was left penniless. His mother took the children and established residence in a smaller home which she maintained, though she had to find work to support herself and the children. At age 12, Griffiths was sent to Christ's Hospital, a school for poor boys. The students of this school were nicknamed "bluecoats". He excelled in his studies and earned a scholarship to the University of Oxford where, in 1925, he began his studies in English literature and philosophy at Magdalen College. In his third year at university he came under the tutelage of C. S. Lewis, who became a lifelong friend. Griffiths graduated from Oxford in 1929 with a degree in journalism.

Shortly after graduation Griffiths, with fellow Oxford alumni Martyn Skinner and Hugh Waterman, settled in a cottage in the Cotswolds and began what they called an "experiment in common living".[2] They followed a lifestyle attuned to nature, milking cows and selling the milk to support themselves. They would read the Bible together as a form of literature. Griffiths noted a strong connection between the teachings of Scripture and the rhythm of the nature around them. The experiment lasted less than a year, as one of the friends found the life too demanding. Nevertheless, the experience had a strong effect on Griffiths.

As a result of this experience, Griffiths decided to seek Holy Orders in the Church of England. He was advised, however, to gain some experience in the slums of London. This advice was so contrary to what Griffiths felt to be his vocation that it drove him to a crisis of faith, which nearly drove him to an emotional breakdown. Guided by the writings of Cardinal Newman, he reached a point in this struggle where he had a spiritual breakthrough. He recounts the story of his conversion in his autobiography The Golden String.

In November 1931, Griffiths went to stay at the Benedictine monastery of Prinknash Abbey where he was impressed by the life. Despite the strong anti-Roman Catholic sentiments of his mother, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church and made his First Communion at Christmas Eve Mass at the abbey.

Benedictine monastic life

Griffiths was received by the abbey as a postulant a month after his reception into the Catholic Church. On 29 December 1932, he entered the novitiate and was given the monastic name of "Bede". He made his solemn profession in 1937 (a year before the death of his mother in a car accident) and was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1940.

In 1947 the abbey sent a group of 25 monks to give support to two monasteries in the United Kingdom which had been founded by monks from France. Griffiths was chosen to be the obedientiary prior for the monastery at Farnborough in Hampshire. He led that house for four years, but was unable to generate sufficient financial support to keep the community going. The abbot then sent him to the other monastery, Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. It was there that he wrote his autobiography.

During Griffiths' time at Farnborough, he had come to know 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 thought, yoga and the Vedas and took interest in this proposed project. The abbot at first refused permission. Later, however, he changed his mind and authorised Griffiths to go to India with the Indian member of the community. There was one condition, though: Griffiths was not to be there as a member of the abbey, but as a priest subject to a local bishop, which meant that he would be giving up his vows.

Christian yogi

After some painful inner debate, Griffith agreed to this and, in 1955, he embarked for India with Alapatt. At the time, he wrote to a friend: "I am going to discover the other half of my soul." After arriving and visiting some spiritual centres in the country, they settled in Kengeri in Bangalore, considered the garden spot of India, 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".[3]

Griffiths then joined with a Belgian monk, Father Francis Acharya, OCSO, to establish Kristiya Sanyasa Samaj, Kurisumala Ashram ("Mountain of the Cross"), a Syriac Rite monastery of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in Kerala. They sought to develop a form of monastic life based in the Indian tradition, adopting the saffron garments of an Indian sannyasi (an ascetic or monk). At that point, Griffiths took the Sanskrit name "Dayananda" ("bliss of compassion"). During that time he continued his studies in the religions and cultures of India, writing Christ in India while there. He also visited the United States during the period, giving a number of talks about East–West dialogue and being interviewed by CBS television.

Later, in 1968, Griffiths moved to the Saccidananda Ashram (also known as Shantivanam; Tamil for "forest of peace") in Tamil Nadu, South India,[4] which had been founded in 1950 by the French Benedictine monk Abhishiktananda (Dom Henri Le Saux, OSB), from the Abbey of Kergonan, along with another Frenchman, the Abbé Jules Monchanin. The two had developed 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. Monchanin had died in 1957 and Le Saux wanted to devote himself to a hermit's life. Griffiths came with two other monks to assume life there and to allow Le Saux his wish.

Griffiths resumed his studies of Indian thought, trying to relate it to Christian theology. At this point, he became known as "Swami Dayananda" ("bliss of compassion"). He wrote 12 books on Hindu–Christian dialogue. During this period, Griffiths desired to reconnect himself with the Benedictine order and sought a monastic congregation which would accept him in the way of life he had developed over the decades. He was welcomed by the Camaldolese monks, and he and the ashram became a part of their congregation.

Final years

In January 1990, Griffiths suffered a stroke in his room at the ashram. A month later, to the day, he was declared healed. The following year, he began a period of extensive travel, making annual visits to the United States, then later to Europe, where he met the Dalai Lama. He noted to a friend, "I do believe that he liked me."[5] He continued his journey, giving lectures in Germany and England. He arrived back at the ashram in October 1992, where an Australian film crew were awaiting him to make a documentary about his life, which was released as A Human Search.

Three days after the completion of filming, on his 86th birthday, Griffiths had a major stroke. The following month, he had a further series of strokes. He died at Shantivanam on 13 May 1993, aged 86.


The archives of the Bede Griffiths Trust are located at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. His contributions are promoted and developed by the Bede Griffiths Trust and by the Camaldolese Institute for East–West Dialogue based at the American Camaldolese hermitage of New Camaldoli, located in Big Sur, California.[6]





  1. Order of St Benedict website
  2. The golden string. 1954
  3. Coff, Sister Pascaline, OSB. "Man, monk, mystic". The Bede Griffiths Trust.
  4. "Saccidananda Ashram". The Bede Griffiths Trust. Archived from the original on 13 June 2013.
  5. "Bede Griffiths:Meeting the Dalai Lama" by Meath Conlin on his website, Diverse Journeys, 22 June 2010
  6. Bede Griffiths' Trust website

External links

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