Swami Suddhananda & Father JohanWhat a gift to our precious world. Interfaith Sacred Spaces are so essential if we are to build bridges in a world where rampant fundamentalism strives to break them apart. They are pools of refreshment where the war has ended, and God can come and rest. They are little containers of the light of unconditional love.  And no matter how small the space is the whole world can fit in! I shall be holding you and your meditation chapel in my heart. With love, Billy [Founder of Temenos Retreat, McGregor]


On 10 March 2010, we had the Naming and Blessing Ceremony of our new Interfaith Meditation Chapel, as well as our first interfaith Special Event, with Swami Suddhananda as our honored guest speaker. What a magical evening! Everyone sitting silently on cushions or chairs on a carpet of green grass, our huge rubber tree forming a canopy overhead with fairy lights interlaced through its branches, surrounded by nature and open space, rather than the walls of a building. The weather was unpredictable with some mist and the possibility of rain. But nature was kind to us, showering only a few drops right at the beginning, which Father Johan said was a blessing from heaven.





Father Johan, Swamiji & Leela[From my introduction at the Special Event.] For some time, I had been getting intuitions to expand the scope of our Centre - not confine it to a Buddhist Centre, as this is too limiting in scope, but rather become more like a Spiritual Centre that embraces all religions. I have always regarded Buddhism more as a philosophy than as a religion, and this way it’s wonderful teachings on meditation and the spiritual path can be more accessible to more people, but not under the label of “Buddhism”. The teachings are universal, and should not be confined by any label, even a religious one.


Last year I went on a retreat at Temenos in McGregor, and I was inspired by how they embrace all religions. When I came back home, I had a vision of the Interfaith Meditation Chapel, which we then manifested into a reality. It was wonderful watching transformation in action, and witnessing an unattractive carport being transformed into such a beautiful space. Thank you to Maurice for being so supportive of everything that I do. None of this would be possible without his help and support.


The direction that my intuitions were pointing me in, seemed to be supported by Existence, which provided me with a very special and dear friend – Father Johan, our Catholic Priest. We have engaged in (and continue to do so) many, many hours of interfaith dialogue. He also helped me to re-embrace the religion of my birth – Christianity – even though I do so in unorthodox, mystical kind of way.


Then I went to India at the end of last year, which happened quite suddenly and unexpectedly – it literally came my way as a Christmas gift. For many years I had been going to receive teachings and do retreats at Buddhist Centres and Monasteries; the previous 3 years I had been going to Bodhgaya (place of the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree). I had an intuition that my time in Bodhgaya studying under a wonderful young Tibetan Lama, had come to an end. So I was not sure where to next. Then the Yoga Teacher Training came up …


So I ended up in Tamil Nadu, South India, which is predominantly Hindu. I was fortunate to do the yoga training on a beautiful ashram belonging to Swami Suddhananda (our honored guest tonight). Many yoga trainings focus only on the physical aspect of yoga. But because this training was held on an ashram, we were lucky enough to have about 3 hours of teachings every day by Swamiji on the spiritual aspect of yoga, which means union with one’s Divine nature. The original yoga scriptures come from the Vedic scriptures, which date back to 3000 BC.


Swamiji is a Vedantic Master. Vedanta is a summary of the Upanishads and it deals with the Absolute. Swamiji taught us about self-knowledge based on a Vedantic text called Tattva Bodha, which means knowledge of Truth which is ultimately knowledge of oneself. He pointed us again and again to our true natures – eternal existence, pure consciousness, everlasting bliss and happiness.


He was talking the same thing as Buddhism, just using different names, names that I deeply resonated with. Instead of referring to our inner Divine nature as Buddha nature, he called it (as it is called in the Vedas) SAT CHIT ANANDA. For the first time I realized the importance of the name I had chosen for our Centre. Again, something shifted inside me, and my heart opened to embrace the beautiful Vedantic teachings.


Swamiji, Leela & Father JohanSAT CHIT ANANDA is the name for the godhead. SAT is being, the ground of all. CHIT is consciousness, and ANANDA is bliss. Being, consciousness, and bliss.


For the Hindu, the Ultimate Reality is total reality, total being, in total consciousness, which communicates total bliss. That is the Hindu concept. And they relate it to the Christian trinity.


The Father is the source of all, the ground of being, the Ultimate. The son is the wisdom of the Father, the self-revelation, the self-expression, of the Father, the consciousness of the One. And the Holy Spirit is the bliss of love, the ananda which flows from this communion of being and knowledge.


It is a beautiful conception: SAT CHIT ANANDA. Being, knowledge and bliss are non-dual. There is no difference there – there is pure awareness, pure consciousness. And they saw in this pure consciousness, a communion of love. Within the depths of reality, of knowledge, there is a communion of love. So you can develop from SAT CHIT ANANDA to a very profound sense of the Trinity as - interpersonal love is the Ultimate Reality. [FATHER BEDE GRIFFITHS, Christian priest who lived on an Ashram in India also called SAT CHIT ANANDA]


Leela's introductionSo this is all mirrored in the creation of our Interfaith Meditation Chapel. It might be small but it represents something big – the universality of the deeper teachings that underlie all religions.


All this points to the well-known phrase – there are many ways to climb a mountain, but when you reach the peak, it is the same, whether you call it Buddha nature, Sat Chit Ananda, God, the Self with a capital S, or “no-self” used in Buddhism to distinguish it from the ego which we usually identify with as being our self. In Zen they have a lovely expression: different words are like different fingers, but they are all pointing to the same moon. The names are pointing to the nameless - That which exists beyond names and forms.


So this is what the Interfaith Meditation Chapel represents – something that transcends all boundaries of this religion or that religion, the wider concept of universal spirituality or universal Truth. The interfaith approach celebrates the beauty of all religions - they are like different facets of a multifaceted diamond that all reflect the light. Take any one away and the whole would be less complete, less perfect.


The concept seems to be supported and blessed by Existence. It has come together so harmoniously, so effortlessly, as if it was meant to be. An example of this is Swamiji’s presence here tonight ... I had a private interview with him in India, and he told me he was coming to SA in March. Upon returning home, I immediately contacted the lady who was organizing the schedule of his SA visit. She told me (very nicely) that a visit to Plett was impossible as his schedule was already full. But schedules can change, and I remained hopeful. As it turned out with his international flight bookings, Swamiji ended up with an extra 2 days in SA – enough to squeeze in a visit to Plett!


And this visit co-incided with the Blessing Ceremony, making the evening a real interfaith event! So everything has happened as if by magic. The Universe has been showering blessings that interfaith is the way to go forward, and this Special Event has come together by the blessings of Existence.





Blessing Ceremony by Father JohanThank you to everybody who nominated names. We received some lovely name suggestions, but one just seemed right. The chosen name for our new Interfaith Meditation Chapel is: THE SANCTUARY.


A sanctuary is a sacred space, a place of refuge. It is a safe haven and a place for spiritual transition. It is love in physical form. The name was nominated by VERONICA OLDING. Thank you Veronica!


THE SANCTUARY is a place for those who stay at our Retreat Centre to discover that sacred space, that place of peace that exists within themselves – their own inner sanctuary – that is untouched by time or circumstance; that is the essence of your being, who you are.


After the name was announced, Father Johan gave a short talk on the interfaith approach, and how important it is that different religions accept and respect one another. He said a prayer, and then blessed us, and blessed the Sanctuary with holy water.


Inside THE SANCTUARY is a beautiful painting by well-known Plett artist and friend, THOMAS JUNG. He recently did a very special painting, the composition of which had come to him in meditation. The painting represents the 7 rays of consciousness flying in the form of white doves to planet earth. Higher consciousness, higher vibration energy, love, light, information, is coming to this planet as depicted in the painting. As we were admiring it, a single dove feather blew into the Meditation Chapel and landed at our feet, which of course was a sign that the painting had found its home, and I sense that this is a portal for this higher consciousness to manifest.


Father Johan provided some information which relates beautifully to the painting: the dove is symbolic of the Holy or Divine Spirit (Ananda, bliss, love, happiness). There are 7 doves in the painting, and there are 7 gifts of the Spirit: (1) knowledge, (2) wisdom, (3) understanding, (these 3 could be Chit, conciousness), (4) counsel (the gift to make right decisions by intuition), (5) fortitude, (6) awe and reverence, and (7) personal intimacy and relationship with the Divine (Sat, being, eternal existence). [Isaiah 11: 2 – 3]  





Satsang by Swamiji[This is a summary from memory by me, which does not depict Swamiji’s delightful way of talking, interspersed with stories, and his great sense of humor.] You lose yourself in the roles that you play. These roles may be secular - husband, wife, father, mother, architect, artist, American, European; or religious - Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist. Roles are temporary, and sooner or later they come to an end. Then you suffer an identity crisis because you are so identified with the role, that you have forgotten who you are.


Who you are, is different from what you have, or what you do. But you think of yourself in terms of what you have: “I am rich”, then when your riches disappear, you want to commit suicide. You think of yourself in terms of what you do: “I am a businessman”, and when this role comes to an end, you are lost.


Your existence precedes any role, name or label. Nobody is born with a name tag: Janet or Susan. Nobody is born branded with an om sign on his bum, or a cross on his chest, or a dharma wheel on his forehead. Everything that you have is picked up from others – your parents, society. It is not who you are.


Most people don’t know who they are. They want to understand the mysteries of the Universe, they want to understand God, but they ignore themselves. You have to start with yourself. You cannot know the far, when you don’t know the near. This is where self-knowledge comes in. Start with yourself. You are the greatest mystery. You contain all the mysteries of the Universe.


But people think it is selfish to focus on themselves. Drop this conditioning, drop this guilt. You can only give what you have. Only if you are a happy person can you give happiness. Only if you have knowledge can you help to remove the ignorance of others. Only if you love yourself can you genuinely love others. Not the common kind of love that says: I love you, while the unspoken words say: conditions apply! I love you if you behave as I want you to! Stop being a beggar for love and find the source of love within you.


Satsang by SwamijiIt is not selfish to focus on becoming peaceful and happy within yourself. Because then you have something worthwhile to share with others. Discover the happiness within yourself. When you know your true nature, you know that you are the happiness. But we attribute our happiness to things outside of ourselves, and not to ourselves.


We want something we think that thing or person will give us happiness. Our minds are filled with desire and discontent, and cannot rest until we get that thing or person. Then we finally manage to satisfy our desire, and we experience happiness. Ask yourself – does this happiness come from the presence of the thing or person, or does it come from the absence of desire / thought? If it came from the thing or person, then why doesn’t that thing or person always give us happiness?


Happiness comes when you let go of wanting what is outside of yourself, you let go of those agitating thoughts, and you are with yourself – silent presence of being that is happiness itself.


Find that inner SANCTUARY inside yourself. Find that space that exists beyond all names and forms – the nameless formless being. Nothing is lacking and nothing is wanting. You have it all. You are the greatest mystery nameless and formless – eternal being, pure consciousness, everlasting bliss – SAT CHIT ANANDA.





Guests listening to talkI enjoyed so much the wisdom and humour given in Swami Suddhananda's talk on Wednesday evening. Thank you for the opportunity to attend. The whole ceremony and atmosphere was quite beautiful. With warm regards, Christine


We absolutely loved the evening and we are so lucky and privileged to be given so much on so many levels. Thank you for all that you and Maurice do and provide. Much love, Veronica


Thanks Leela for a most fantastic evening. Tine xx


I attended the interfaith event that was held last night with my mother - we both highly enjoyed it. I found the event as well as the talk by Swami Suddhananda extremely motivational. I felt that the introduction, blessing and talk was not only a mere event or presentation, but a manifestation of what so many people have been longing for, for so long, thinking inside and hoping for. I felt as if this was an action to dialogue that has been taking place for so many years amongst conflict and hatred. Coming from a traditional Catholic home and school I would also like to say that attending this event did not make me feel threatened in any way but rather made me feel as if we were creating bridges and a place for peace to grow in. I would just like to say thank you once again for this event and also your efforts to get Swami here - it was most enjoyable. Kind regards, Garret


I would like thank you for the wonderful opportunity you gave to meet a special person, such as you are, and to learn more about this beautiful life. May God bless you, love Debora & Andrea.


Congratulations and well done, dear Leela! Thank you for having the courage and vision to bring to Plett an inter-denominational meditation chapel.  The evening was inspiring, harmonious and flowed with a great but simple elegance in every way. You and Maurice were a brilliant team! The Angels were good to hold off the rain! May Sat Chit Anand grow from strength to strength and may you continue to be guided in the valuable work you do. With love, blessings and appreciation, Marion


Maurice, Swamiji & LeelaThank you so much for the wonderful and uplifting evening. The atmosphere was incredible and I enjoyed the talk so much, what a wonderful man. It was fantastic to see so many people sitting there so still and listening to every word. Thank you again.

Love Janet



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