The history of Sediba Mountain Retreat Centre started with the story of Prashant’s life; this is why Fr. Emmanuel Mosoeu OMI suggested a study of, and research on Prashant’s spirituality in the context of Sediba after Prashant died. This web site is the result of the research on Prashant and Sediba.
Fr. Emmanuel Mosoeu OMI
Prashant never wrote books to be studied. The only source in his own words is a DVD. The following is a transcription of the DVD on Prashant by Katinka Heyns .
Fr. Joseph Anthofer OMI
"I was born on the 12th of April 1933, the very year Hitler came into power. My parents were farmers. When I was six years old the war broke out. My brother died that very day [the war broke out]. The war altered my school years, so that by 1945 I went to boarding school, since we lived far away from a high school. For seven years I studied in Salzburg and did my matric there in 1953. And then, very much to the displeasure of my parents, I didn't take over the farm, but opted to become a priest. That is what I always wanted to do.”
Germany and Canada
“In 1953 I moved to Germany and did my training as a novice with the Oblates. I studied for seven years in Germany and in Canada. I finished another year of theology in Ottawa at the university and worked at an immigrant parish. From there I was transferred to South Africa.”.
“I arrived here in 1964 on the 18th of August. I came by ship and disembarked in Durban where I took a train; I ended up on a farm where I was to stay near Ladybrand. I spent one year learning Sesotho from books and with the help of Fr. Blumer (OMI), my tutor; but he left for Europe after six months so that I had to take over the farm – I looked after 200 cows, as well as the 70 sisters who lived in the convent. When Fr. Blumer (OMI) returned, I was given my first placing in Bloemfontein where I served all the out-stations around town. After 2½ years I got the transfer of my life to the place I really wanted to go, namely Zastron, the southernmost town in the Free State bordering on the Orange River. I loved the place because it had mountains in the background and the whole of Lesotho and the eastern Drakensberg were at my disposal. I did a lot of photography in those days and the place was my hunting ground. Most of my time was taken up by building my house. After we had dug the foundations, it was snowed over. Zastron is a very cold place because it is so close to the Malutis. When the house was finished we started the church. During those years I developed a great passion for photography to occupy myself. I also did a lot of reading and praying.”
“After four years in Zastron I escaped into the mountains of Lesotho in order to improve my language. I was called down by radio on Easter Monday: I had to return to my place of work because I was needed (I wasn’t given a reason). Halfway down the mountain I learned that my Provincial Superior had been appointed Bishop of Kimberley. I guessed that I had to take over his job as provincial, and so it was.”
“When I completed this job, I was granted a sabbatical year and I chose to go to Japan, because since 1975 I had been doing intensive meditation. During my home leave in 1975 I had taken up Zen meditation in Europe with Hugo Enomiya-Lasalle who studied Zen meditation in Japan. And so it was a natural choice in 1980 to go to the teacher of my teacher and further my Zen studies – this time in Japan.”
“I sat in the San'un zendo in Kamakura with Koun Yamada Roshi as my teacher and twice a week I went to Tokyo to do Shiatsu and to learn Japanese properly. Travelling to Tokyo was an immense challenge (not speaking Japanese), but it also gave me confidence because I was told once you can master Tokyo you can master any situation in the world because it is not an easy place to live. I came into touch with oriental arts of healing that don’t need instruments or medicine; it costs nothing (in a sense) and yet can be extremely effective. In Japan I also became aware of the need of my body to take care of my body. I took up fending in the morning, living in Kamakura at the sea side. It was very pleasant to go jogging at 5 o’clock in the morning along the beach and then come home and sit, be free during the day and train from 19h00 to 21h00 every evening.”
“When my year was up, I flew back – this time not via the North Pole, but via India, and so I landed in Madras and visited my colleagues in the southern part of Tamil Nadu where I spent six weeks of my two months in a Hindu Christian ashram under Fr. Bede Griffiths.”
“I came back to South Africa and again to the Free State, where I spent another three years, again in Zastron, my first place, and my first hunting ground in the country. This time I took up the parish ministry, although I told my provincial that I would like to go back to the East to complete my training in meditation. The very man I was replacing was in Rome at the time to do his Master’s degree in Psychology. He needed three years for his degree and I had been given only one year for meditation training. I was actually due two more. When Fr. Michael Morrissey (OMI) finished his training, he took over from me and I left South Africa again and went back to Asia.”
“I was on my way to Japan to my former teacher, but again visited an ashram in India. Instead of going further on to Japan, I remained in India for the next six years, staying with an Indian guru, St. Vandana, high up in the foothills of the Himalayas. And so I was exposed for the first time in my life to Hindu philosophy and to their meditation practice, and how to integrate different traditions into one’s personal life. You do your meditation at 4 o’clock in the morning and then late in the evening again. For the first two years of my six years I spent the time from 8 in the morning till 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a construction site, since we were 40 workers building the ashram. It’s a good way of living because it is an integration of meditation and manual labour. Praying therefore is no excuse not to work for your livelihood and doing all the necessary jobs. The ideal of an Indian ashram is that you try to live a simple life, so that others can simply live.”
“I had a view of the magnificent mountain peaks of the Himalayas. One clear winter morning I counted 112 peaks lined up in front of my window; amongst them Nanda Devi, India’s highest mountain at about 7800 m. I was lucky during this time to make the journey into the Himalayas proper – once to Patronat, one of the holy places, and twice to Gangotri, the source of the Ganges. Truly, walking to the source of the Ganges is beneficial, because in the walking you shed a lot of baggage, you lose your thoughts and you join many people who are also undergoing the hardships of the journey; then you dip into the waters of the Ganges that come out of the Gangotri Glacier. For the Hindus the Ganges is a holy river and it is cleanest at the very source where it comes out of the glacier as an ice cold stream at 3-4˚C.”
“While meditating at the source of the Ganges we had a tremendous experience: a big chunk of the glacier broke off while we were there and the ice fell in the water. It caused a tidal wave in the Ganges which came towards us. I only saw it for two seconds and my guru was sitting at my feet lower down on a rock. She was simply washed away. I was only splashed and my camera was taken by the flood. Then looking around there was no sign of my guru until she surfaced in front of me and we had to drag her out. Some young men carried her out on the bank of the Ganges and then we had to sit and wait for her clothes to dry. She was not able to walk back the 14 km to our rest camp, so we took a day and a half (to get back) – I walked for 500 m, and then carried her on my back for 500 m until we reached our rest camp. It was a good experience in the sense that it was a baptism, not by fire, but by ice. From that time on I was told that I could become a monk if I wanted to because this was divine intervention which changed everyone involved. It happened on my teacher’s birthday on top of it, on 13 September 1968. So the Ganges and the Ganges trip will always stand out for me as an outstanding place where one really touches God.”
“I also learned a tremendous lesson seeing the pious people coming to the temple: in order to bring an offering they had their gifts blessed by a priest and those priests were mostly illiterate – they just knew their prayers and performed their functions, but were not spiritual masters (as such). I learned the difference between a priest and a monk: people who needed to bring an offering needed a priest to bless their gifts, but if they needed spiritual advice they visited the monks. So I followed their example and sat at the feet of two people during those four weeks before I came back to Gangotri. I learned from their wisdom and was encouraged by their high standards regarding quality of life, generosity, simplicity, and holiness that was unpretentious.”
“I had to make up my mind where I wanted to settle. It was a question of either going back to my hermitage, which I had built at the ashram, staying in Europe, or coming back to South Africa. I decided to come back here (South Africa) and look for a place in order to settle, because I was clear that I would leave the ordinary parish ministry simply to help people meditate. From my first day in India already it was a shocking experience to see hundreds, thousands of young people from Europe, America and Australia roaming India in search of spirituality and meditation, because they didn’t find it in their own churches at home. It was not their fault. I could clearly see where the churches and religions failed their people by not offering them what they needed. There and then I made a decision that I will get out of normal parish ministry and try to be helpful to people on their way to meditation. So, I was looking for a place for meditation like Sediba.”
“Nothing came forth and nobody was prepared to hand over a place. I was not prepared to compromise so that the place could be used for meditation sometimes, and other times for political meetings or any other conferences. Not having found a place I packed my suitcases for the last time and left South Africa for the East in 1990 – with sadness in my heart because I had spent 25 years in the country.”
“I went all the way back to the ashram in India. After a few months I was invited back by the bishop of Tzaneen, who offered me a place and a job. I accepted the invitation I came back in 1991.”
“On my way to Tzaneen I slept over at Good Shepherd in Hartebeespoort since the bishop was not home. The sisters offered me, on my birthday, their place, the Good Shepherd Retreat Centre to start a meditation centre. Even before reaching Tzaneen I had found a place! In the end I had to make a decision to settle either in Magoebaskloof, a beautiful place on the way down to the Lowveld, or at Hartebeespoort. The decision was in favour of Hartebeespoort as it was so close to Pretoria and Johannesburg. It was also a place where one could start from scratch. So I arrived on the first of May 1991. Being a good monk not having any money in my pocket I had to wait for the funds to come forth (which took half a year). The waiting served a good purpose as I could walk the length and the breadth of the land and settle for the right spot to build the retreat. In October 1991 we started building what is presently known as the Sediba Mountain Retreat with the help of a young South African architect, one African bricklayer, one stone mason from the village here and four labourers . In a year and a half we managed to build eight cottages, the dining room, the meditation hall, the ablution block, and the church.”
“It was opened in 1993 by Fr. Marcello Zago (OMI), who was the Superior General of the order. He had been a missionary in Laos before, and was highly involved in inter-religious dialogue in Asia. He was also professor in Ottawa and secretary of the Vatican commission on inter-religious dialogue. He was my great benefactor and my support; to him I owe everything. Sediba owes its existence to this man and that is why we also honoured his memory by putting up the plaque and his picture. Sediba was opened on 9 October 1993 and has been functioning ever since.”
“Being true to one of my convictions, namely, not to ask about people’s orientations, sexually or religious, as long as they are sincere in their search of something deeper, everybody is welcome to be here. Particularly now with the global threat of fundamentalism on all sides it is absolutely essential for the survival of humankind that religions contribute to a common policy on peace. Also, the tradition of meditation is not a new age phenomenon, but part and parcel of our Christian heritage: it has been practised for 17, 18 hundred years in the Church. Maybe this is one thing I am most happy to be able to do to help the inter-church dialogue: to introduce something which might have fallen by the wayside because of the reformation. I am very happy that Sediba can act as a spiritual source for people from various backgrounds.”
“I remember the opening of Sediba. The main address was given by the Superior General on inter-religious dialogue and it was breaking new ground, especially for the established Christians. I also believe you have to experience it in reality – living with other people. As the priest from Botswana said, who spent seven months at Sediba, the most interesting is our table in the dining room because at that table you meet people who you would not normally associate with in life, who come from different backgrounds – church people, non-church people, and people from different religions.”
“My hope is that the people who come here develop a desire to deepen their lives and use meditation as a means of survival in stressful times. I believe each one of us has several centres. We have a physical centre (our bodies), we have an emotional centre (our hearts), and we have a spiritual centre. It is the spirit within that leads us to the divine spirit, which is the source of everything. My very teacher in Japan emphasised always that it is not necessary to change your religion. One adds another dimension to your religion when you take up meditation – it deepens your perception because meditation simply goes beyond rational understanding of religion, especially Zen meditation, which is beyond all forms of religion. You simply get in touch with the source of your being.”
In 2009, Prashant fell at Sediba and sustained serious injuries. He passed away on 14 March. Fr. Mike Bracken OMI was then appointed at Sediba.
Fr. Mike Brachen OMI