Kurisumala: An Example of Inculturation

Armand Veilleux, ocso

ADAPTATION and inculturation are two quite different things. The secondis hardly possible without the first, but the first often exists without thesecond and is sometimes confused with it. When a group of monks ornuns from Europe or America found a new monastery in an African orAsian country, it is normal and wise for them to make numerous adap-tations, adopting the local customs concerning, for example, the formand color of habits, the nature of the food and the way it is consumed,musical instruments, and the use of local languages.

These are adapta-tions required by common sense that we would always like to see hap-pen, but they fall short of inculturation. This latter comprises all theaspects of the life of a group. The fact that a monastic community ofEuropean style has introduced into its liturgy the music and symbols ofthe culture in which it finds itself makes it a community that has had thewisdom to adapt its liturgy to the local circumstances; it does not makeit an inculturated community.Inculturation is not merely a social phenomenon; it is a spiritual andtheological reality. It takes place when a culture or a cultural tradition isput in contact with the Gospel or with a way of living the Gospel (forexample the monastic life). In this meeting, the two poles undergo atransformation. The culture is enriched and receives a new ultimatefinality; the Gospel, or the form of Evangelical life, receives for its part anew mode of expression and being. Besides, Christian monastic life itselfis the result of admirably successful inculturation, for it is the fruit of themeeting of the Gospel message with an ascetical tradition that flourished*Translated from “Kurisumala: un exemple d’inculturation,”Liturgie 122 (2003): 103–18.Cistercian Studies Quarterly40.3(2005)
in the Middle East at the time of Christ and that is so widespread in allthe great cultures throughout human history that it could be called auniversal human archetype.The monastic community of Kurisumala in Kerala, India, stands outfor the capacity it has shown to adapt to local customs, both those com-ing from Hinduism and those coming from the Syro-Malankar Christiantradition, this latter being already well inserted into the culture of Keralasince the first centuries of Christianity. When you arrive at Kurisumalayou meet a community closely resembling a Hindu ashram. The monkswear the khavi, go barefoot or wear simple sandals that they leave at thedoor when going into the monastery, and sit on the floor while eating,their plate on the ground. All the guests are invited to satsangh,a meet-ing of the community in the evening, and to share in the communitymeals. The buildings are simple and poor, etc.However, there is more. Kurisumala is a fine example of incultura-tion, on numerous levels. The style of monastic life one finds there is thefruit of the meeting of the Christian monastic tradition, of Cistercianlineage, with the practices and soul of the traditional monasticism ofIndia. The liturgical life is also the fruit of the meeting of a Benedictine-oriented experience of prayer with the great liturgical tradition of theSyriac Church as well as with the most contemplative strata of Hindumysticism. It is about this multiple inculturation that I wish to speak inthis article.Christian Cistercian Monasticism and Hindu MonasticismIFadaptations to a new cultural context can be thought about, prepared,and decided on, such is not the case for inculturation. This latter happensof itself when the conditions of the encounter are fulfilled. If incultura-tion has been able to happen in the community of Kurisumala, it isbecause it happened first in the very person of Francis Mahieu, whoreceived the name of Francis Archarya when he became an Indian citizenin 1968.1280armand veilleux, ocso1. For a history of the foundation of Kurisumala and a biography of Fr. Francis Acharya, seeMarthe Mahieu–De Praetere,Kurisumala—Francis Mahieu Acharya.Un pionnier du monachisme