‘Remain in Me, as I remain in you’:
Being centered on Him who is the centre of everything. Giving primacy to prayer , contemplation and solitude and the ontological value of the life hidden with Christ as a power in the Church ; Being an oasis of peace and harmony and providing a conducive atmosphere of peace and Divine experience for genuine seekers – Christian and non- Christian.
Giving living witness to the primacy of God through the life of prayer, solitude, and simplicity;
Providing an atmosphere for silence and prayer and being available for spiritual help through guided retreats, spiritual direction etc.
Regular, ongoing Prayer of Intercession for the Society, Church and the world
The 13th (thirteenth) General Chapter of the Society of the Divine Word (June – July 1988), it its document on ‘SVD Missionary Spirituality Today’ had, among other points, a specific recommendation. It was recommended that “the Provinces, in line with our missionary charism, consider proposals for the establishment of Houses of Prayer and Contemplation. Such houses can encourage the contemplative dimension among our confreres and they can help in our missionary endeavours since lives dedicated to the contemplation of the Word offer powerful witness”. For us in India, more specifically in INC, it is gratifying to note that the first of such ventures in the Society was begun in our Province already in 1975 with the founding of Dhyan Ashram at Kankaria, Manpur. In fact, the idea of the Ashram had evolved over a period of several years after it was first thought of and suggested by Rev. Fr. Thomas Lynch SVD (RIP). In the Regional Chapter of 1968 (of the SVD Indore Region), a resolution was passed that an SVD contemplative Ashram be started.. All the three Indian Regional Superiors of the time were involved in the preliminary deliberations and on November 13, 1970, the General Council of the Society gave permission to begin this unique venture within the Society after a combined discussion of the General Council with the Indian Provincials. The main guidelines concerning the Ashram in its various aspects were drawn up Fr. T. Lynch SVD in 1971 which were all approved by the General Council (cf. letter of Fr. Karl Mueller, Assistant General, to Fr. A. Kloepper SVD, Regional Superior of Indore, dated 20 April, 1971).
Many, including confreres, wondered how a contemplative Ashram could be integrated into the framework and the spirituality of the Society of the Divine Word which is an active missionary congregation. However, several confreres and the Superiors had a wider vision of ‘mission’. In 1972, Fr. T. Lynch, in a booklet ‘SVD Contemplative?’ had also explained the context and the background of the Ashram for the benefit of the confreres all of whom were a given a copy of booklet then. Already in December 1970, Rt. Rev. Francis Simons SVD, the Bishop of Indore, had given official permission for opening the Ashram in the Diocese. Rev. Fr. E. Zeitler SVD, the then Regional Superior of South Indian Region was always an ardent supporter of the Ashram and was ready to pay for a land suitable for the Ashram. Eventually Kankaria village was chosen for this venture as there were already two plots of the SVD in the village. One plot of land –of Rev. Fr. Valentine Zimmermann SVD belonged to Catholic Ashram, Khurda and the other belonging to the Regional Superior, Fr. A. Kloepper SVD and operated by the Rector of Catholic Ashram, Palda. Though the first plot was more fertile, the second plot was preferred for the new venture as it was closer to the mountains and more conducive for solitude and prayer. Fr. E. Zeitler SVD paid for and bought the land from the Regional Superior of Indore for the Contemplative Ashram. Thus the Ashram property was a special entity and had a certain status to operate without hindrances. It was meant only to live a contemplative way of life in the Society of the Divine Word as long as there are members to do so. (An agreement was made by the Regional Superiors that if the Ashram ceases to be a contemplative venture, the property would be given back to the Southern Region).
Dhyan Ashram was officially blessed and inaugurated on May 18, (Pentecost Day), 1975. ‘Ashram’ as such is a general word with various shades of meaning. There can be and are several types of ‘ashrams’ with varying degrees of emphasis on activity and withdrawal, contemplation and apostolate, solitude and social involvement. The primary emphasis of Dhyan Ashram has been and continues to be on silence, solitude and contemplation. It is believed that a ‘life of prayer and penance in the midst of the missions justifies itself’. Especially in the Indian context, even a hidden life of solitude and contemplation with the minimum, if any, activities associated with a missionary is as much a missionary life as any other. Even as Divine Word Missionaries we may (and must) proclaim The Divine Word as much by silence as by speech and action. This emphasis on silence and meditation is one the aspects that has impressed some of the non – Christian visitors to the Ashram some of whom have been remarkably surprised that Christians too have such Ashrams where silence and meditation predominate and people who have made this a way of life.
While keeping this primary emphasis, Dhyan Ashram has also been always open to anyone who wished to spend days of silence, prayer or retreat here. Though no formal courses or retreats were organized at the Ashram, quite many have made use of the facilities at the ashram for spiritual renewal over the years. If Dhyan Ashram exists today, it is due to the vision and initiative of Rev. Fr. Thomas Lynch SVD, who always had a contemplative bend of mind. He had the vision and the will to realize it. Although the Ashram was blessed only in May 1975, he had already started construction of some simple buildings from 1972. Fr. T Lynch lived at the Ashram as a true contemplative for 36 years – with very short breaks for visits to Ireland and USA a few times and for Nemi course and treatment (Jan. – Nov.1979), for settling some affairs at Gyan Ashram, Andheri, Bombay at the request of the Generalate and one year at London as Prefect/Rector of the Scholastics (1983-84), which was also an assignment given by the Generalate. He lived in utter simplicity, in deep prayer and contemplation, giving a powerful witness of life and also imparting guidance and spiritual help to many priests and religious as well as material help ( especially medical) to the people around here till his ‘pass over’ to the Lord, to eternal life on 7th October 2011.
Rev. Br. Paul Rauschen- Gabinus SVD – was the companion and helper of Fr. Thomas Lynch SVD and Brother had moved into Dhyan Ashram, Kankaria from Khurda where he had spent many years. Brother looked after the farm and shared the life of simplicity and prayer at the Ashram until his departure to Europe in April 1983 and his retirement at the Mother House at Steyl. Rev. Fr. Joseph P Xavier SVD had been very much associated with Fr. T Lynch in the initial planning of the Ashram and was assigned to the Dhyan Ashram after his Ordination in 1977. He was a member of the Ashram until the beginning of 1980 when he moved to the missions. He spent another year in the Ashram from December 1985 until he went for Nemi Renewal course in December 1986. After the demise of Fr. Lynch in October 2011, Fr. Joseph Xavier was assigned to the Ashram and he was in charge of the Ashram until June 2013. Rev. Fr. Ittoop Panikulam SVD was also keenly interested in the new venture and was involved in the planning of the Ashram along with Fr. T. Lynch. He also co-authored the booklet ‘SVD Contemplative?’ along with Fr. T. Lynch. However, after a couple of months in the Ashram, he went for mission experience and was then absorbed into formation ministry. Rev.Fr. Theodore Van Eindthoven SVD, a Dutch national and a missionary in Ghana was a guest- member of the Ashram from 1979 till 1983. He spent a few months in the Himalayas and at Shantivanam, Kulithalai, (Trichy, T.N) and Kurisumala (Kerala) each year and was at Dhyan Ashram only for part of his stay in India.
Rev. Fr. Antony Poruthur SVD was a member of Dhyan Ashram from July 1981 to April 1982. Fr. George Theruvapuzha SVD was also a member of the Ashram from October 1983 until April 1984. Rev. Fr. Ignatius Thottapilly SVD had initially applied to join the Ashram in October 1983 and was expected in the Ashram community from 1984. However, due to some urgent need in the Province he was given another assignment and could not come to Ashram as expected. However he lived in the Ashram as a member for a year from June 1993. Fr. Philip Prashant Lukose SVD had expressed the desire to join the Ashram in his Desiderata before the final vows. As Fr. T. Lynch planned to go for Nemi renewal Course from January 1979, he requested that Fr. Prashant Lukose SVD be assigned to the Ashram after his Theological studies and thus Fr. Prashant Lukose SVD was assigned to the Ashram in October 1978 and was given charge of the Ashram in the absence of Fr. T. Lynch. Fr. T. Lynch SVD could return to India only by end of November 1979 and Fr. Lukose was given a mission assignment (Ranapur) from June 1980. However, Rev. Fr. Henry Heekeren SVD, the then Superior General, deputed Fr. Thomas Lynch SVD to Gyan Ashram, Andheri, Bombay, in August 1980 to settle some affairs there. The Superior General also suggested that Fr. Prashant Lukose SVD could return and take charge of Dhyan Ashram (cf. letter of Fr. H. Heekeren SVD, Superior General, dated). Thus after only a few months in the missions, Fr. Prashant Lukose SVD returned to Dhyan Ashram in October 1980. (It was at that point of time that he added ‘Prashant’ to his name – the name by which he is more known today). Fr. P. Peasant Lukose SVD was appointed Director of Dhyan Ashram in June 1991 and was re- appointed for a second time in 1994. He was shifted to Catholic Ashram, Khurda in June 1989, as assistant Novice Master due to an urgent need in the Novitiate and was appointed as Novice Master in June 1990 and was given other appointments later. He is back in the Ashram after period of 24 years.
The INC Provincial Assembly and the Provincial Chapter 2012 had specifically mentioned about continuing the vision of Fr. Thomas Lynch SVD and reviving the Ashram. We need to be ever more deeply convinced about its relevance and importance in the present context – of the Society, the Church and the world at large. The Assembly and the Chapter recommendations also show that the SVD confreres have a better appreciation and regard for the Ashram way of life, with its emphasis on silence and prayer. This is very encouraging and a positive sign. As most of us are aware, Dhyan Ashram has been considered an ideal place for days of personal prayer and retreat. Many have made use of the conducive atmosphere here for their spiritual renewal. Even though there were very few, if any, for retreats and prayer days in the last few years (ever since the illness of Fr. Lynch SVD and his reluctance to accommodate people in the recent years), many, including the confreres and others feel that it is important to have a place of this sort in the Province. In the past, many local people and especially some of the Hindu visitors used to call and refer to Dhyan Ashram as ‘Shanti Kendra’ . ‘Shanti Kunju Ashram’ etc. Visitors who have been to very many Indian Ashrams seemed to agree that Dhyan Ashram at Kankaria is one of the most conducive for silence and a spiritual quest. We do hope that Dhyan Ashram can continue to remain such an oasis and offer this atmosphere to true seekers.
Most of the buildings were constructed nearly 40 years ago. For reasons of simplicity and perhaps also due to the scarcity of funds, the constructions were done with mud and lime (‘chuna’) and also did not have proper foundation; consequently, lot of renovation / reconstruction is necessary. Plans are being made for this and some work has already begun. Visitors (for prayer days / retreats) can be accommodated only after basic renovation work.
1968 Regional Chapter a resolution was passed that an SVD Contemplative Ashram be started in our Mission. This resolution was taken up in the General Chapter too. And the General Chapter made a recommendation and resolution to make a SVD contemplative Mission as our missionary endeavor.
1970 By December 1970 His Lordship Bishop Simons officially gave permissions for opening the Contemplative Ashram in Indore diocese. Fr. E. Zeitler SVD, the Regional of South Indian Region worked out the cooperation of the other SVD Regional and was ready to support the Ashram and buy the Land which we found suitable for the Ashram.
1971 The Society of the Divine Word also gave approval. We must thank God for this development under Rev. Fr. John Musinski SVD, the holy and pious General. Brother Max was also took a keen interest in the project of Operation Watchman.
We owe much thanks to God! Now we were at the stage of search for the venue for the Ashram. Kankria village was seen as a possible spot. There were two plots-one of Fr. Valentine Zimmermann SVD belonging to Khurda Ashram and the other operated by Rector of Palda Ashram, Fr. George Anathil SVD (later bishop of Indore) belonging to the Regional, Fr. Alois Kloepper SVD. Though the first was more fertile better gardened, we preferred the latter because it was closer to the mountains and more suitable for solitude and prayer. Fr. Zeitler SVD according to his generous agreement bought the Land from the Indore Regional Superior for the Contemplative Ashram. Thus the Ashram property was a special entity and had certain status to operate without hindrance, because those confreres who are not interested in it may consider it just one of the mission houses. It was meant only to live a contemplative way of life in the Society of the Divine Word as long as there are members to do so. According to the official archives an agreement was made by the Regional that if the Ashram ceases to be a contemplative venture it would be given back to the Southern Region. Thanks are to God for such clear visions and concerns of the Founding Fathers!
Thanks be to God that Generalate has upheld its decision to the present in accordance with the our INC Provincial Chapter 2012 confirming this mandate to keep up the Vision and Mission of Dhyan Ashram, Kankria in the wake of Fr. Tom Lynch’s death
2011 Death of a Guru: Fr. Thomas Daniel Lynch SVD. With a special call of God and to the great joy of the confreres around the world, Fr. Tom Lynch SVD spend over 36 years of his priestly life here in the Ashram as a true SVD Contemplative. He can be considered as one of the classical Irish monks of the Church’s history. He loved God, living in faith hope and love. He loved all, confreres, people around. As a true contemplative he loved silence, solitude, simplicity of life, prayer and suffering with a rare combination of cheerfulness and meekness. Father Lynch succeeded to combine his Irish assets of lively wit and interiority with the Indian spirit of living in God and God in Him, God everywhere, Emmanuel. Though not garbed as Indian Sadhu or Sannyasi, Fr. Thomas Lynch SVD can be counted among the famous Christian Gurus of our times. The French Fr. Parma Arubi Anandam, Swami Abhishktananda, Fr. Francis Acharya and the English, Fr. Bede Griffith had been his predecessors. Providentially he is buried near Swami Abhishktananda in the Garden of Resurrection in Palda.
2011 By God’s Providence I was appointed to the Ashram to continue in the foot-steps of Fr. Tom SVD. First I was asked to be in-charge for eight months and then for one more year. The Superiors did well to take time to appoint a proper director for the Ashram by the beginning of June 2013. I have accepted it in obedience. Hence it was also my choice by the merciful love of Our Patron, the Divine Word, Who is eternally in the Contemplation of the Father.
In the mean-time I have tried to keep up a regular life here- of prayer, study, work and rest. To a great extent prayer times were kept alive. I have also done some serious reading and study. I have also done certain amount of Manual labor and some biblical work. I think I have rested more than Father Lynch! Silence and Solitude are very important in the Ashram. I should say that I have succeeded only partially in these. I need to be more interiorly and exteriorly silent before the Lord. Many times I was out. I also need to be more contended with the solitude and stay in the Ashram.
With God’s blessings we have tried to get good yield from the farm by better use of the Land, better seeds, cleansing, manure etc. The hard work of the laborers and the blessings of God gave us better results. But farming is a very creative job and the monks would need much more cooperation from the workers. Efficiency and Labor management is another art. I have not been very good at it, and await one who would be better.
Confreres who worked so far
Name of the Confreres
Fr. Thomas Lynch
Fr. Joseph Xavier
Fr. Prashant Lukose
Fr. Prashant Lukose
Fr. Anthony Poruthur
Fr. George Theruvappuzha
Fr. Thomas Lynch (RIP)
Fr. Ignatius Thottappilly
Fr. William Tirkey
Fr. Thomas Thalachira
Fr. Joseph Xavier
Fr. Joseph Xavier
Fr. Prashant Lukose