Fathers are important. Spiritual fathers even more so. Without my spiritual fathers, I think I would have ended up badly. They have taught me how to be a human being, not merely by profoundly wise words but more so by their indescribable presence. Don’t get me wrong, my dad is a good father who cared for me and supported me through primary and high school. He has always been devoted to our family and I‘m grateful to him and do love him. But here, I want to highlight my spiritual fathers insofar as they relate to my spiritual formation.
For these are not mere deluded men, but awakened minds who have plumbed the deaths of spirituality and capable of transmitting timeless wisdom and compassion in ways transcending limited perception. They will always be a part of me, and with me, in Christ.
Acariya Godwin Samararatne (1932-2000); Chan master Sheng Yen Shifu (1931-2009); and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) are three of my spiritual fathers. Godwin I’ve met and spent time with physically in person. Shifu and Thay I’ve not met physically but with them I share deep spiritual connections.
I have two other spiritual fathers I’ve mentioned in my writings but not formally acknowledged as such. Here, I wish to introduce them: Shrii Shrii Anandamurti (Baba) (1921-1990) and Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Tashi Tsering (Geshe-la) (born 1937). Both of them are my tantric teachers, the first in North Indian Tantra and the second in Tibetan Tantra.
Baba was in my view the greatest tantric guru of our time, an exponent of all five major Indian tantric systems that he integrated into his Ananda Marga Tantra and a revolutionary social reformer and thinker. In fact, Baba’s Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT) can be seen as a contemporary expression of Saura Tantra, where moral and spiritual leadership of the highest calibre is paramount in macro-historical social cycles (samaja-cakra) and the lived cosmos (mandala). Baba initiated me into the six lessons of Rajadhiraja-Yoga which together constitutes the most powerful concentrative meditation practices I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I owe most of my knowledge, experience, and insights of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist philosophy to Geshe-la. Unlike many Tibetan Buddhist lamas, Geshe-la gave teachings freely and unselfishly. He conferred upon me empowerments of Lower Tantra and Highest Yoga Tantra in addition to the entire spectrum of Sutra teachings in the Mahayana tradition. Without Geshe-la’s guidance, I would not have been able to penetrate the lengths, breadths , heights, and depths of emptiness (sunyata), come to realise the Buddha’s core insight into anatta (non-self/no-self), and fathom their correlations to the nature of mind or Great Seal (Mahamudra), Buddha-nature, the entire Graduated Path (Lam-rim), the Swift Path of the Diamond Vehicle (Tantra), and the pinnacle paths of Ati-Yoga or the Great Perfection (Dzogchen).
On this day of my spiritual father Godwin’s 22nd death anniversary, it seems proper to pay tribute to all my spiritual fathers for what they have given me. I do not deserve any of it but by the grace of God they came into my life and poured out all that ancient wisdom into this unworthy vessel scarcely able to hold it. Without them, I would not have entered into my solitary retreat in 2014 during which Christ broke unexpectedly into my heart, convicted me from within, revealed to me the illuminating and saving truth of His Person and Work, shattered me into gazillion pieces, rejuvenated my spirit, and recreated me from the ground up.
In 2018, the Lord told me to “continue” which immediately shone into my heart as the continuation of my lifetime’s work of meditative and philosophical realisations in the Dharma. I was to continue working and ministering with what God had put into my hands since I was five, and integrate everything I knew into a radically new missional ministry that I now call Gospel-shaped Dharma and Dharma-informed Gospel. To my limited knowledge, I see nothing like it in Christian evangelism or apologetics, which seemingly abhors the religious Other. Humility seems not to come easy to many evangelists I’ve come across.
It is hard. Very hard. Rejected by all sides, all communities, all vested interests, all insignias of authority. Judged as “not blessed” by God, “small trivial ministry” with few followers and little money (for God’s blessing and favour are measured in dollars, as they claim), lacking in God’s “favour,” and of course far more derogatory judgments. Buddhist friends and students of mine would stay away for fear of proselytisation, bitten as they’ve been in the past by typical evangelical heavy-handedness and verbal condemnation of everything spiritual that is “non-Christian.”
But by God’s mercy and grace, I plod on. By the blessings of my teachers’ and spiritual fathers’ teachings, I continue this untrodden journey of integral awakening in Christ (not the western hegemonic model of “integral” as propounded by Ken Wilber and his fans, but a real integrality that truly honours Asian and Biblical paradigms, without dismissing redemptive atonement of the cross as inconsequential event or mere literary device). This is my cross.