Volume XII:1 January - June 2022
Book Review
John R. Dupuche, The Rivers of Paradise:
A Spiritual Autobiography Uniting Eastern and Western Traditions
Floating World Press, 2019 [Amazon]
The Rivers of Paradise is an unusual autobiography. It takes its title and underlying archetype from the account in Genesis of four rivers flowing from Paradise (2:10-24). Its literary style—paragraphs that are not necessarily connected—is that of the Greek tradition of “Centuries.”
The meditations that make up this book come from a retreat the author made and are poured out, not in poetry, but in short or long paragraphs, assembled under one leading Sanskrit word, taken mostly from the traditions of Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism. The Sanskrit words create a thematic unit on which he improvises and which allow him a free space for arranging his inspiration. As he puts it,  these terms “provided the language to describe my experience” (p.3). The division into four sections (the four rivers) is based on the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit, and a fourth part, “God, All in All.”
These meditations testify to the encounter of Christian spirituality with Tantra, more specifically Kashmir Shaivism, and the transformation it effected in the Catholic priest who wrote them. In his own words:
They [i.e. the meditations] describe my journey but also the journey of everyman. Everyone has their own spiritual autobiography which, being spiritual, is available to every other person. We discover our own journey in listening to another’s journey. . . . each contributing to the other. These are the ‘rivers of paradise’ by which we discover the One Who Is” (p. 3).
The spiritual journey of this priest lies hidden in his free expression, which sometimes reveals a struggle or a transformative experience. The meeting of these traditions results in a greater value  given to the body, to emotions, and to a great sense of freedom, also symbolized by the vastness of space. With regard to the term svātantrya he writes, “I am free in the vast space of the Unrestrained, the Unpredictable, the Evernew” (p. 132). This freedom is ultimately to be oneself, to be an I, the ultimate aham in which every I is received and liberated from its individual limitations.
These meditations consciously avoid any interpretation, any theology or super structure. They loosely pick up a theme, like the search for a guru, but there is an underlying thread: a personal I-Thou relationship with God that is ultimately characterized by love. His encounter with Tantra shows him that this love is sensuous, not abstract or detached. Not by chance does he open with a confession of a love. Under the heading anuttara (Unsurpassable), the supreme in the Shaiva tradition, he writes,
What pleasure  there is to move in the Presence, free, untrammeled. You are magnificent ! My heart leaps at the void of your spacious heart, all receiving, nothing obstructing, from whom absolutely everything comes and into whom all is received, utterly still” (p.23).
Inviting the reader to enter into the depth and vastness of meditation, he writes,
The meditator is the image of the Unimaginable, the “coagulation” of the All-pervading, the manifestation of the Unmanifest, touching from end to end, incorporating every level and every sate and condition. Nothing is separate, nothing is foreign. We will experience all, and so be all, their summation, even as we sit still and single-pointed. . . . Meditators are the solid rock from which the water flows, to which all are invited to come and drink” (p. 85).
With all my appreciation for the inspirational and liberating power of these meditations, I cannot help adding a critical remark, also especially because I am travelling on the same path. In the end the impression remains that this book strengthens the common (mis)understanding of Tantra as primarily concerned with sex. Having studied intensely three of the fundamental Tantras of Kashmir Shaivism, I do not find any basis for this assumption. One of them, the Vijñāna Bhairava, which Father Dupuche knows very well, contains 112 ways of entering into Divine Consciousness. Only two of these practices are connected with sexual union. Another primary text, the Netra Tantra, in its descriptions of three stages of Yoga, does not include any sexual practice. The third, Paratriśikā  and its commentary by Abhinavagupta, has a rich symbolism and mysticism of sexuality, but no prescription for actual practice. It is rather a way to integrate and sublimate this human dimension and elevate it to the mystical union.
I understand, however, that it may have been necessary to raise this issue in the context of the history of Christian spirituality where the body and the senses—including sexuality—have been suppressed. The result of this suppression has been the creation of a counter reaction. It is time that all these dimensions are integrated if we are to reach a mature and wholistic spirituality.
The book is a  wonderful example of the mutual enrichment of two traditions, Tantra and Christian spirituality, and an inspiration for the deepening of meditation.
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