Sangha Shantivanam was formed in 2004 when Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB cam., while living away from The Hermitage in Big Sur, began to teach “The Universal Call to Contemplation” as inspired by Bede Griffiths whom he had met more than a decade before. Santa Cruz, California seemed like the perfect place to gather together a small group of people committed to interreligious dialogue and deepening one’s contemplative practice.
Fr. Bede Griffiths had visited the Monterey Bay area in 1992 when he spent time at New Camaldoli Hermitage. He thought California was definitely where it (The Spirit) was happening! We were in the right place at the right time. Under the umbrella of New Camaldoli, Sangha Shantivanam is an official 501c3 non- profit charitable organization. As our Mission Statement states, we are a “Christian community which aims to promote the Universal Call to Contemplation through shared prayer and spiritual practice and to be a sign of unity and instrument of peace by seeking to understand the experience of Ultimate Reality as found in all the world’s spiritual traditions.”
We meet twice a month, in a space rented from Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz. We use a form of the Syrian liturgy developed by Fr. Bede and adopted by Fr. Cyprian which includes readings from Universal Wisdom, chanting psalms, reading from Christian Scripture and time for teaching, discussion and period of meditation. This is followed by intercessory prayer, a closing metta, and we finish off the evening with a shared soup and simple potluck.
Over the years, we have read and studied the sacred texts from a variety of wisdom traditions as well as contemporary authors writing about non-duality and the evolution of consciousness. In addition to Fr. Cyprian as our lead teacher, we have benefited from a number of nearby guest teachers who have taught on Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Native Spirituality, Christian Mystics, The Divine Feminine to name a few. We have hosted interfaith events, retreats and pilgrimages.
Some of our founders accompanied Fr. Cyprian to Shantivanam Ashram in Tamil Nadu in 2006. We have raised funds for Bless School in India as well as our local Homeless Garden Project. We make two pilgrimages a year to New Camaldoli in Big Sur for a day retreat and conferences with the monks as well as an extended weekend retreat with Fr. Cyprian during the Easter season.
Several of our members make up a small service committee helping to coordinate our calendar for topics of study, guest teachers, field trips to the Hermitage and our growing library. We have managed to acquire an extensive collection of excellent books on many world religions. There is a free will offering from members which helps defray the cost of our room, a small stipend for guest teachers and other organizational needs. Our bi-monthly planning meetings are open to the whole Sangha. There is a core group of about 10-20 regular attendees at our meetings and 160 people on our mailing list who ask to receive updates from the sangha. Many conferences are posted on our website as well as the topic and book we are studying so people who cannot attend meetings regularly can still participate.
For so many of us, Sangha Shantivanam has become a very important spiritual home. The vision of Fr. Bede Griffiths is alive and well. Sangha Shantivanam is a sign of hope and a true place of belonging.