Christian Ashram Movement

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The Christian Ashram Movement (not to be confused with the United Christian Ashram movement) is a movement within Christianity in India that embraces Vedanta and the teachings of the East, attempting to combine the Christian faith with the Hindu ashram model and Christian monasticism with the Hindu sannyasa tradition.


  • But of all the missions that were established in these distant parts of the globe, none has been more constantly and universally applauded than that of Madura, and none is said to have produced more abundant and permanent fruit. It was undertaken and executed by Robert De Noble, an Italiac Jesuit, who took a very singular method of rendering his ministry successful. Considering, on the one hand, that the Indians beheld with an eye of prejudice and aversion all the Europeans, and on the other, that they held in the highest veneration the order of Brachmans as descended from the gods; and that, impatient of other rulers, they paid an implicit and unlimited obedience to them alone, he assumed the appearance and title of a Brachman, that had come from a far country, and by besmearing his countenance and imitating that most austere and painful method of living that the Sanyasis or penitents observe, he at length persuaded the credulous people that he was in reality a member of that venerable order. .... Nobili, who was looked upon by the Jesuits as the chief apostle of the Indians after Francois Xavier took incredible pains to acquire a knowledge of the religion, customs, and language of Madura, sufficient for the purposes of his ministry. But this was not all: for to stop the mouths of his opposers and particularly of those who treated his character of Brachman as an imposture, he produced an old, dirty parchment in which he had forged, in the ancient Indian characters, a deed, showing that the Brachmans of Rome were of much older date than those of India and that the Jesuits of Rome descended, in a direct line from the god Brama.
    • About Roberto De Nobili. Transactions of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, published in its Volume XIV (1822) an article, 'Account of a Discovery of a modem irritation of the Vedas', by Francis Ellis. quoted from Goel, S. R. (1988). Catholic ashrams: Adopting and adapting Hindu dharma. Chapter 3 ISBN 9788185990156 [1]
  • A book entitled L' Ezour Vedam was published in Paris in 1778. A manuscript of this book had reached Voltaire, the famous French thinker, in 1761. He had thought it a genuine work on Hindus religion and philosophy and presented it to the library of the king of France. M. Anquetil Du Perron who had spent many years in India and who "professed a profound knowledge of its religion, antiquities and literature" helped in getting it published. But M. Sonnerat, who saw the publication, inferred that it was the handiwork of Christian missionaries and must have been written in an Indian language. The purpose of the work, pronounced Sonnerat, was "to refute the doctrines of the Puranas and to lead, indirectly, to Christianity". Mr. Ellis was able to "ascertain that the original of this work still exists among the manuscripts in the possession of the Catholic missionaries at Pondicherry, which are understood to have originally belonged to the Society of Jesus". He also found "among the manuscripts, imitations of the other three Vedas"- Rigveda, Samaveda. and Atharvaveda. There was also an Upaveda of the Rigveda composed in "16,128 lines or 8600 stanzas"-a work unknown to any Hindu tradition. Several other forgeries came to his notice. On enquiries made at Pondicherry, "the more respectable native Christians" informed him that "these books were written by Robert De Nobilibus" who had become "well known to both Hindus and Christians under the Sanscrit title of Tattwa-Bodh Swami".
    • About Roberto De Nobili. Transactions of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, published in its Volume XIV (1822) an article, 'Account of a Discovery of a modem irritation of the Vedas', by Francis Ellis. quoted from Goel, S. R. (1988). Catholic ashrams: Adopting and adapting Hindu dharma. Chapter 3 ISBN 9788185990156 [2]
  • Nobili appeared in Madura clad in the saffron robes of a Sadhu with sandal paste on his forehead and the sacred thread on his body from which hung a cross and took his abode in the Brahmin quarters. He thus attracted a large number of people. He gave out that he was a Brahmin from Rome. He showed documentary evidence to prove that he belonged to a clan of the parent stock that had migrated from ancient Aryavart and assured the members of the high castes that by becoming a Christian one did not renounce one’s caste, nobility or usage. (Pages 65-70 Christians and Christianity in India and Pakistan). He learnt Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit, and took up the Brahman style of living. He wrote in Sanskrit a Christian Sandhyavandanam for Brahmin converts. He declared that he was bringing a message which had been taught in India by Indian ascetics of yore and that he was only restoring to Hindus one of their lost sacred books, namely the 5th Veda, called Yeshurveda. It passed for a genuine work until the Protestant Missionaries exposed the fraud about the year 1840. (History of Missions, Richter, Page 57). In five years, from 1607 to 1611, he baptised 87 Brahmins. These conversions, then so marvellous, drew upon De Nobili the eyes of friend and foe alike. A big controversy raged among the Roman Catholic missionaries the world over for a considerable length of time. Much of the opposition could be explained by wounded pride on the Portuguese side. In 1623 Pope Gregory XV gave a bull in favour of De Nobili, declaring thus: We allow the present and future converts to wear the (Brahmin) thread and the tuft of hair as distinctive marks of race, social rank and office, to use sandal wood as ornament and to take ablutions as a matter of hygiene. This Brahman Sanyasi of the ‘Roman Gotra’, Father De Nobili, worked for 40 years and died at the ripe age of 89 in 1656. It is said that he had converted about a lakh of persons but they all melted away after his death.
    • About Roberto De Nobili. Madhya Pradesh (India), Goel, S. R., Niyogi, M. B. (1998). Vindicated by time: The Niyogi Committee report on Christian missionary activities
  • "The name of Robert de Nobilibus will be lastingly associated with the first spread of Christianity in Southern India. It must be admitted, however, that he, his associates, and successors aimed at high game... With preaching and persuasion, these teachers adopted a questionable policy. They sought for converts among the heaven-born of India; they addressed themselves to the Priesthood-the Brahmins.
    • William Hickey, in his book, The Tanjore Mahratta Principality in Southern India, published in 1873. quoted from Goel, S. R. (1988). Catholic ashrams: Adopting and adapting Hindu dharma. Chapter 3 ISBN 9788185990156 [3]
  • "I professed to be an Italian Brahmin who had renounced the world, had studied wisdom at Rome (for a Brahmin means a wise man) and rejected all the pleasures and comforts of this world."
  • All the efforts made to bring the heathens to Christ had all been in vain. I left no stone unturned to find a way to bring them from their superstition and the worship of idols to the faith of Christ. But my efforts were fruitless, because with a sort of barbarous stolidity they turned away from the manners and customs of the Portuguese and refused to put aside the badges of their ancient nobility." ... "On all sides spread before our eyes fields with ripening harvest, and there is not one to reap them, no one to bring help to these populations, sunk in profound ignorance. ... For so far it is along the Coasts of India that the courage of the Portuguese has brought the torch of faith; the rest of the country, the inland provinces, have not been touched, so that it may rightly be said that the Christian faith can be found only where Portuguese arms are respected." ... Nearly everybody is full of admiration for the Christian religion, very few if any condemn it, many embrace it; but there is one thing which delays conversions; it is the fear of being outcast by their own people, exiled from their country, deprived of their friends, relatives and temporal goods, as will happen if they give up the badges of their caste and the manners and customs of their ancestors."
  • "Christianity has again after a long period come in contact with a philosophy which, though it may contain errors-because the Hindu mind is synthetic and speculative-still unquestionably soars higher than her western sister. Shall we, Catholics of India, now have it made their weapon against Christianity or shall we look upon it in the same way as St. Thomas looked upon the Aristotelian system? We are of the opinion that attempts should be made to win over Hindu philosophy to the service of Christianity as Greek philosophy was won over in the Middle Ages." .... "But we have a conviction, and it is growing day by day that the Catholic Church will find it hard to conquer India unless she makes Hindu philosophy hew wood and draw water for her."
  • I have come to India for no other purpose than to awaken in a few souls the desire (the passion) to raise up a Christian India... I think the problem is of the same magnitude as the Christianisation, in former times, of Greece... It will take centuries, sacrificed lives, and we shall perhaps die before seeing any realizations... A Christian India, completely Indian and completely Christian, may be and will be something so wonderful. To prepare it from afar, the sacrifice of our lives is not too much to ask... But once Christianised, Greece rejected her ancestral errors; so also, confident in the indefectible guidance of the Church, we hope that India, once baptized to the fullness of her body and soul, will reject her pantheistic tendencies... The Christianisation of Indian civilization is to all intents and purposes a historical undertaking comparable to the Christianisation of Greece.
    • Jules Monchanin. Quoted in part in Goel, S. R. (1988). Catholic ashrams: Adopting and adapting Hindu dharma. Chapter 6 ISBN 9788185990156 [7] and in Swarup, Ram (1995). Hindu view of Christianity and Islam. Quoted from Ram Swarup, Meditations. Yogas, Gods, Religions (2000) p. 211-13.
  • Here Hindus are asked to take lessons in Advaita from a man whose sole occupation in life was torturing Upanishadic texts into the dogmatic framework of a gross monolatry. It is difficult for a Christian missionary to renounce the role of a teacher even on subjects about which he knows next to nothing. In the case of Henri Le Saux there was an added difficulty: he was a poet. The flow of mellifluous phrases, particularly in his native French, was mistaken by him for mystic experience. One has to read his writings in order to see how he became a victim of his own word-imageries and figures of speech. Silencing of the mind, which is a sine qua non for spiritual experience according to all Hindu scriptures on the subject, remained a discipline which he never learnt. Small wonder that the man ended as a neurotic.
  • "De Nobili, in fact gives us the key to what was wrong in the Christian approach to the Hindu and shows how the gospel might have been presented to India in such a way as to attract its deepest minds and its most religious men."
  • Of course, if I held the same view as Father Monchanin, you would be justified in suspecting me of deception. But you must remember that Father Monchanin was writing forty years ago and immense changes have taken place in the Church since then. The Vatican Council introduced a new understanding of the relation of the Church to other religions and all of us have been affected by this. Swami Abhishiktananda (Fr. le Saux) in particular early separated himself from Fr. Monchanin, especially after his profound experience with Raman Maharshi at Tiruvanamalai... you must realise also that the view which I hold is not peculiar to me. It is approved by the authorities of the Church both in India and in Rome. Many Catholics, of course, will not agree with it, but the understanding of the relation of the Church to other religions is only slowly growing and there are many different views in the Church today.
    • Bede Griffiths in a reply to Swami Devananda (who accused Griffiths of holding the same view as J. Monchanin who said that Christianity should use Hindu philosophy and cultural forms in order to subvert Hinduism). Quoted from Goel, S. R. (2016). History of Hindu-Christian encounters, AD 304 to 1996. Chapter 19 ISBN 9788185990354 [10]
  • I do not believe that there is an easy answer to the question of how religions relate to one another. In my experience most Hindus believe and practise a facile syncretism which simply ignores essential differences. I don't think that anyone, Christian or Hindu, has the final answer. We are all in search. I would be inclined to say that Buddhists tend to be more objective and understanding than most people. But I think we all have to learn how to be true to our own religion while we are critical of its limitations and to be equally true to the values of other religions while we recognize their limitations.
  • The most notable pioneer and prime exemplar of Christian inculturation was the Tuscan Jesuit missionary Roberto de Nobili (1577–1656), who came to south India in 1608. He proudly documents that he presented himself first as a sadhu (a spiritual man who has renounced worldly dependencies), and when that was found to limit his access to householders, he adopted the guise of a Kshatriya (warrior) in order to win peoples' trust. After a series of false starts and further experimentation, he assumed his most effective role, that of a Brahmin, complete with dhoti and three-stringed thread, which he said represented the Christian Trinity! He assiduously studied Sanskrit and Tamil, publicly adopted the rigorous lifestyle and simplicity of a Brahmin ascetic, and taught the Christian gospel dressed in words and ideas that were Hindu equivalents or approximations to Christianity. He succeeded in converting a large number of Hindus, even from the highest and most learned castes. During his life, the Vatican frequently disapproved of what it considered to be compromises with pure Christianity and closely followed his movements, but today his work is lauded by the Church as a role model for inculturation – even though it involved deception.
    • Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.

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