You’ve certainly read one or two biographies of a Yogi.
And you have probably read your fair share of hagiographies of Christian saints.
But what about the autobiography of a Christian yogi?
Bede Griffiths’ “The Golden String” is exactly that.
Covering the first half of this exceptional man’s life.
Who Should Read “The Golden String”? And Why?
Since “The Golden String” is an autobiography, it’s only obvious that the people who’ll enjoy it the most are those who have some previous knowledge of Bede Griffiths.
However, if all you know about him comes from Wikipedia, be warned that this book only covers the first half of Bede Griffiths’ life, ending with his decision to embark on an enlightening journey to India.
So, if you are interested in his experiences from the ashrams of South India, then you should consult Griffiths’ other book with a Blakean name, “Marriage of East and West,” an autobiography justly subtitled “A Sequel to the Golden String.”
Of course, if you have the time, it would be best if you read both books – so that you get the full picture.
About Bede Griffiths
Bede Griffiths, born Alan Richard Griffiths, was a British-born Oxford-educated Benedictine monk who spent the second half of his life living in the ashrams of India.
Because of this, by the end of his life, he was known by yet a third name, Swami Dayananda, i.e., the Bliss of Compassion.
After spending his childhood in poverty, Griffiths got an Oxford scholarship. At Oxford, he met C. S. Lewis and started regaining his lost faith. This will ultimately result in him rejecting modernity and becoming a monk.
“The Golden String” was his debut book. By the end of his life, he will end up writing eight more.
“Universal Wisdom,” Griffiths’ idiosyncratic selection of the religious thoughts from all major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism) will be published soon after his death in 1993.
“The Golden String PDF Summary”
In one of the “Notebooks” of the great English Romantic poet William Blake, there’s a beautiful stanza which ultimately ended as the epigraph of “To the Christians” plate of his prophetic poem “Jerusalem”:
I give you the end of a golden string;
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.
Bede Griffiths used its first verse as the title of his 1954 beautifully written autobiography; the implication: this book, chronicling Griffiths’ personal experiences with faith, may lead you to the discovery of God as well.
Because, in his personal dictionary, discovering God is synonymous with discovering yourself.
Alan Richard Griffiths was born at Walton-on-Thames on December 17, 1906. He was the youngest of three children in a middle-class Anglican family.
However, soon after Griffiths was born, his father was betrayed by his business partner, leaving Griffiths’ family at the very brink of absolute poverty.
Consequently, in 1919, Griffiths was entered into the Christ’s Hospital, the “Blue-Coat school,” called that way because it was only attended by the poorest boys.
Griffiths excelled in his studies, and by 1924 it was obvious that he was destined for something great.
He had also fallen in love with Marx and many other social thinkers, so, by the end of his secondary education, Griffiths considered himself a zealous socialist, an ardent pacifist, and a devoted atheist.
“We did not believe in any authority beyond our own reason,” writes Griffith.
However, an evening walk in 1924 will change that profoundly, because a mystical experience would open his eyes to the presence of God in nature:
I remember now the feeling of awe which came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of an angel; and I hardly dared to look on the face of the sky, because it seemed as though it was but a veil before the face of God.
It was with this new-found belief in the divinity of all living things that Griffiths continued his journey, by entering Oxford in the fall of 1925.
Needless to add, he was one of the very selected few of his milieu who had the honor of earning an Oxford scholarship.
Two years later, still believing that Christianity is “a religion of the past,” he started studying English literature.
S. Lewis, the guy you may know as the author of “Narnia,” but also the guy many people revere as one of the wittiest Christian apologetics of the 20th century.
Lewis’ views on religion – combined with a careful study of Plato and Aristotle, Spinoza and Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” – will affect Griffiths deeply, especially after 1929 when the author of “Narnia” will experience his first conversion to theism.
The next year, repulsed by the flux of modernity and the dehumanization of man by the second Industrial Revolution, Griffiths would start a Waldenesque “experiment in common life” with two friends, Hugh Waterman and Martyn Skinner.
The three men shunned civilization and settled in a cottage in the Cotswolds, where they earned money almost exclusively by milking cows and selling the milk, and where they spend most of their time reading the “Bible” and discussing it.
The experiment – which lasted for a year – had a strong effect on Bede Griffiths and, on returning home, he decided to seek Holy Orders in the Church of England.
He was advised to first gain some experience in the London slums, but during his time working with the poor he suffered a crisis of faith.
He overcome it through the writings of Cardinal John Henry Newman, which helped him undergo a powerful conversion experience.
On Christmas Eve 1932, Bede, despite the protests of his mother, was received in the Roman Catholic Church.
A year later he took the name “Bede,” and he made his solemn profession on December 21, 1937.
A decade later, Bede Griffiths was appointed prior of St. Michael’s Abbey in Farnborough, but he was transferred to Pluscarden Priory in Scotland as a novice in 1951 after he was unable to generate sufficient financial support.
It was in Pluscarden Priory that he wrote “The Golden String,” one of the most moving autobiographies of its kind.
Key Lessons from “The Golden String”
1. A Mystical Experience: The Golden String of Bede Griffiths
2. Discovering God is Discovering Oneself
3. The Divine Mystery Is a Mystery of Love
A Mystical Experience: The Golden String of Bede Griffiths
Bede Griffiths was an Oxford-bound poor boy who excelled as a student in a poor boys’ school before an evening walk in 1924 changed his outlook on life altogether.
Suddenly, he saw himself as something more than the greedy egos we all are – namely, a humble part of everything and all, Nature and God.
And, years later, he realized that, on that very evening, he had managed to find the end of a golden string which, to paraphrase Blake, throughout his lifetime, he would wind it into a ball which would, in turn, lead him to heaven’s gate.
Discovering God is Discovering Oneself
In Bede Griffiths’ words, discovering God means discovering oneself.
Turn that around, and you realize that you can reach God by merely trying to find who you are.
Consequently, if you have that objective in mind, it doesn’t matter if you’re reading the “Bible” or the “Vedas,” the “Qur’an” or Dante and Shakespeare.
They will all lead you to God.
The Divine Mystery Is a Mystery of Love
The divine mystery,” writes Bede Griffiths at one place, “is ultimately a mystery of love, and it reveals itself to love alone. It is only if we are prepared to give ourselves totally in love that Love will give itself totally to us.
To Griffiths, Love is a consuming fire.
It can purify you if you embrace it; but burn you if you resist it.
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“The Golden String Quotes”
It is a movement towards a science and a technology which will cease to exploit nature and will learn to live in harmony with nature. It is a movement also towards a more human way of life... an attempt to reconstruct science and… Click To Tweet
The source of evil was to be found in the human mind rising up against God and seeking to build up its civilization without reference to God, the supreme arbiter of destiny and... human happiness. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Bede Griffiths’ life had two interrelated halves: one as a monk and one as a yogi.
“Golden String” documents the first of these two halves – from his childhood until his departure for India – and is as beautiful as any autobiography you’ll ever read.
It’s personal, it’s honest, it’s moving – and it’ll probably make you want to yearn for a similar spiritual journey.
Learn more and more, in the speed that the world demands.