Eight Christian Encounters with Hinduism
by Yann Vagneux
Indian Portraits : Eight Christian Encounters with Hinduism by Yann Vagneux
ISBN 978-81-951915-8-1 2021 Rs. 795 Indian Paperback
Foreword by Bettina Sharada Bäumer Translated from the French by Roderick Campbell Guion, Caroline Malcolm & William Skudlarek
Yann Vagneux’s Indian Portraits is a seminal book depicting the lives of eight Christians who have experienced a deep encounter with Hinduism through a bold spiritual quest. Each of them has become the seed of a reconciled world. This may be through a luminous service of the poor as with Mother Teresa, the Jesuit Pierre Ceyrac, Jean Vanier and the L’Arche communities, or through the silence of a hidden contemplative life as with Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux) and his two disciples Ajatananda and Sister Thérèse, Vandana Mataji or the hermit Prasanna Devi. Known or unknown, these deep voices are an inexhaustible source of inspiration leading us to discover our own spiritual path in a world signed by plurality and a desire for a greater communion.
Spun out of Yann Vagneux’s deeply lived experiences earned during his travels on the paths of his devotional sojournin the holy city of Banaras and mystic heights of Himalayas, the book is a must read for all those interested in understanding the unique mosaic of faiths that forms the very basis of spirituality in India.
These eight Indian portraits are the fruits of Father Yann’s own contemplation and lived experience as one who travels alongside such human saints and shares their vocation of a Christian life in India. There is indeed a ninth portrait in this book, revealed in the brushstrokes of its author, which is equally inspiring.
– Carrie Lock, Foundress of Aranya Kutir, an interspiritual and contemplative ashram in Rishikesh
Higher spiritual experiences are neither Hindu nor Buddhist nor Christian. Even though the experiences themselves may have originated among the followers of one of these religions, these experiences take spiritual aspirants beyond the boundary of the traditions to which they belong. The very purpose of sadhana (spiritual practice) is to attain the highest freedom.
Indian Portraits is worth reading for both the enquirers and the followers of all traditions. Despite legitimate differences of opinions which may exist, they can gain a great deal from this book as it gives us a unique vantage point on the experiences of eight mystics who went beyond the frontiers of their own religion as they lived contemplative and service-oriented lives in the Holy Land of Bharatavarsha (India).
– Swami Ekarthananda, President and Spiritual Head, Ramakrishna Ashrama, Nepal
Indian Portraits draws us into the edifying stories of eight spiritual personalities, Western or Indian by origin, who strove to live up to the ideals shown them in the Gospels and by pioneering monastics such as Jules Monchanin and Henri Le Saux. Persons as familiar to us as Mother Teresa and lesser known pilgrims come to life in these pages. Together, they are members of a wide and deep spiritual community that reached from the West to the East, thriving in Indian soil. The volume as a whole is the meditation of Yann Vagneux, himself a young Christian monastic in India who seeks to live in the 21st century the ideals he narrates to us. Indian Portraits helps us to remember saintly figures of the past, but also to re-imagine for ourselves how we might be wiser and more spiritual in the diverse and changing world of today.
– Francis X. Clooney, SJ, Parkman Professor of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School
It is amazing how Indian society, which is predominantly Hindu, has always been open to wisdoms flowing in from the entire universe. With communicative words, Yann Vagneux has painted several portraits of Christians who have totally identified with the deepest spirit of India through friendly encounters across religious boundaries. In them, Hinduism and Christianity have been interacting and conversing in honesty with a desire for mutual understanding and enrichment, overcoming mutual suspicions which have not been lacking throughout history. This book shows what human beings have in common and what can promote fellowship among them. Here are rays of hope for a society of peace and harmony, not only in India but far beyond.
– Felix Machado, Archbishop of Vasai and General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India
In a world riddled with seismic religious fractures, Yann Vagneux’s work is a reflection of virtues he embodies as a person. As we are confronted with suffering and pain, Yann’s Indian Portraits offers us a way to heal. It comes from his compassion, love, and a deep understanding of India and what it has to offer to the world. Highly recommended.
– Rahul Pandita, Journalist and Author of Our Moon has Blood Clots
Himself touched by the same spirit of openness to the religious other, Yann Vagneux offers a moving account of the lives of Christian women and men who have ventured into the heart of India and Hinduism and who have drawn timeless wisdom from the experience. This book will be a source of inspiration for anyone seeking to broaden their spiritual horizon and learn from spiritual pioneers who have gone before us.
– Catherine Cornille, Professor of Comparative Theology and Newton College Alumnae Chair, Boston College
When we struggle to understand a person intimately, we enter a journey within ourselves. When we are in the company of eight persons then we are blessed far more than we expected. Yann is promising us a foretaste of the eschatological banquet.
–Subhash Anand, Emeritus Professor of Indian Philosophy and Religions, Jnana Deep Vidyapeeth
This excellent book brings to the reader the joys of experiential religion. Here is a gifted writer who understands that building bridges across culture, languages and religions is the need of the hour globally. The lucidity of YannVagneux’s language brings to us the sense of shared journeys and sustained archival research.
– Susan Visvanathan, Professor of Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Indian Portraits bursts forth with a gentle brave voice, unravelling a religious and spiritual practitioners’ India. The gentleness is in the description of the great Christian personages, the bravery is in YannVagneux’s expression of a language of a new spiritual theology. Unsurprising then that this focused account has behind it more than two decades of the author’s exploration of spiritual geographies in the subcontinent, lit and perfumed by the candle and the camphor.
– Ravi Nandan Singh, Professor of Sociology, Shiv Nadar University
Indian Portraits carries the memory of all those who, often in silence and with great courage, have widened the spaces of love. It is not a book depicting only the past, but above all foreshadowing a future in which all of us have to enrol in order to hasten the advent of peace, understanding and greater communion between people and religions. Thanks to Father Yann, who came among us along the banks of the Ganges a decade ago, for reopening so many sources of inexhaustible inspiration.
– Raphy Manjaly, Archbishop of Agra and Member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
Yann Vagneux’s work makes a vital contribution to the study of Christianity in India and of the Church’s encounter with Hinduism. Among the eight persons whose stories are told here are familiar ones such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta; but Vagneux also recounts the spiritual journey of a few figures whose stories have never before been told in print. These portraits are informed not only by his grounding in theology and Christian spirituality, but also by his experience of India, especially his years of study in Varanasi, the sacred centre of Hinduism. The friendships he has nurtured in South Asia have made him one of the most prominent and effective voices in the Church’s dialogue with Hinduism.
– Gregory Sharkey SJ, director of the Boston College Nepal Program and professor of Nepalese Religions at Kathmandu University.
No one else other than Yann Vagneux could write this delicate and scholarly book, infused by his own path and experience. My own first name, François-Xavier, from the Jesuit missionary, is not the only reason why this book did not leave me indifferent. Nor the fact that the interreligious dialogue is obviously a crucial part of mutual understanding between people. Indeed, as a diplomat, I feel that, like the lives depicted in this book, we have to accept being uprooted but also remaining deeply rooted; to express a sincere sense of respect to foreign cultures while keeping our own identity and the sense of our mission; to give high value to dialogue but keep a time for silence and in-depth reflection. As these women and men of faith, we also embark upon a life long journey having the unique privilege of experiencing the hospitality and the interior richness of so many people.
– François-Xavier Léger, French Ambassador in Nepal
Indian Portraits illustrates how authentic dialogue and inner conversion, sometimes excruciating, characterize the experience of Christians who open their hearts and minds to the spiritual wealth of Hinduism. In reading YannVagneux’s portraits I was struck by the quality and the depth of his meditations on the lives of eight pioneers in this encounter, whose lives have been particularly impacted by this encounter. It was for me an inner voyage as rewarding as it was demanding. As a ‘bonus’ I discovered a very inspiring and powerful ninth ‘Indian portrait’ – that of the author himself. An essential book!
–Dennis Gira, Buddhologue and Specialist of Interreligious Dialogue (Catholic Universities of Paris and Lyon)
Distinguished scholar, Yann Vagneux was born in 1976. His family comes from the region of the French Alps near to the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse. He is a Catholic priest and a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society who has studied in Paris, Rome and New York. His Doctorate Dissertation in Theology was published in his book Co-esse (DDB, 2015) which set out the Trinitarian Theology of Jules Monchanin, a pioneer of the dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism.
Vagneux first discovered India in 1997 whilst living in a slum area of Madras (Chennai). Fifteen years later, he settled in the multi-religious holy city of Varanasi (Banaras) where he has followed the path of a contemplative Christian presence to Hinduism as had originally been traced by Jules Monchanin and Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux).
Deep friendships unite him to the traditional world of the Brahmin Pandits, with whom he continues his Sanskrit studies and engages in a fruitful inter-religious dialogue. His book A Priest in Banaras (ATC, 2020) recounts his early years on the banks of the Ganges.
He lectures in India and France, sharing his life between Varanasi and Kathmandu, at the heart of the main religions of Asia.
Indian Portraits is a token of gratitude towards those who have sculpted his spiritual bond with Hinduism.
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