When I was young, at a time when Europe was torn apart by so many conflicts, I kept on asking myself: Why all these confrontations? Why do so many people, even Christians, condemn one another out of hand? And I wondered: is there, on this earth, a way of reaching complete understanding of others? Then came a day – I can still remember the date, and I could describe the place: the subdued light of a late summer evening, darkness settling over the countryside — a day when I made a decision. I said to myself, if this way does exist, begin with yourself and resolve to understand every person fully. That day, I was certain the vow I had made was for life. It involved nothing less than returning again and again, my whole life long, to this irrevocable decision: seek to understand all, rather than to be understood.
No peace among the nations without peace among the religions.
No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions.
No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions.
“It may be that in the state of union, as many mystics have testified, the soul no longer experiences a difference between itself and God, but the difference remains. The very purpose of creation was that other beings, both men and angels, and through them the whole creation, should participate each in its own unique way in the one being of God. The state of union is often illustrated by saying that it is like a drop of water merging in the ocean, but it can equally be said that it is like the ocean present in the drop. In the ultimate reality, the whole is present in every part and every part parcipates in the being of the whole.”
“But the soul that enters into this state of bliss (saccidananda) does not lose its individual being. It participates in the state of universal being and consciousness, it enjoys perfect bliss, but that personal being which was conferred on it by creation, that unique mode of participation in the divine being, which constitutes it as a person, is eternal.”
“There are schools of Hindu thought which consider that when the spirit of man (the Jivatman) is thus united with the spirit of God (the paramatman), the individuality is lost. But this is not necessarily so. It is true that the individual soul ceases to exist as a separate being. It is transfigured by the light and participates in the very being and consciousness of God. This is the state of saccidananda, the state of being (sat) in pure consciousness (cit), in which is found absolute bliss (ananda).”
Postcards from beyond. That is how Eknath Easwaran describes the sacred texts of India. It would also be a fitting description of this collection of writings of Abhishiktananda.
Born in France and trained in the French Benedictine monasticism of the pre-Vatican II era, Henri le Saux (1910-1973), who became Abhishiktananda, traveled to India and immersed himself in Hinduism.
A monk cannot accept mediocrity; only extremes are appropriate for him (45).
All of the writings in this collection are, at least in the broad sense, autobiographical. Abhishiktananda was concerned with experience, not theory.
All notions are burned in the fire of experience (198).
These writings are rooted in his own mystical journey, a journey which is often difficult and dangerous.
Several key themes emerge in the writings. The first, already mentioned, is Abhishiktananda’s focus on experience. He is not primarily concerned about conceptual understanding but a meeting of Hinduism and Christianity at the level of being or experience. Of the conceptual tools that Abhishiktananda uses to explore this meeting, the Christian mystery of the Trinity and the Paschal mystery are central. These concepts are brought into dialogue with the Hindu concept of Advaita (non-duality) and Saccidananda (from Sat = Being, Cit = Consciousness, Ananda = Bliss). Christ is brought into conversation with the Hindu concept of Guru where Christ is described as the Sad-Guru (true guru) and the church is described as his body. The tension between East and West is also discussed with India and the East representing the “Within” and Abhishiktananda counseling that the West needs to embrace the gift of interiority that India offers, but that it can only be accepted on its own terms. There is also a beautiful discussion of inculturation in a letter that Abhishiktananda writes to would-be missionaries to India. As you can see, this book covers a lot of ground!
A few notes on the structure of the book… The book is a little over 200 pages and divided into nine chapters: 1) Benedictine Monk, 2) Advaita, 3) East-West, 4) Immersion in Hinduism, 5) The Life of the Hermit, 6) Christianity, 7) God, 8) Prayer, and 9) Awakening. The writings are roughly chronological so one gets the idea of the development of Abhishiktananda’s thought. No selection is more than a few pages long and a few or only a sentence. The average selection is about a page in length. Selections are drawn both from Abhishiktananda’s published works and from his letters. There is a brief glossary of Sanskrit terms at the beginning of the book.
The book is certainly worth reading. The selections provide a lot of material for reflection and perhaps even prayer. It is obvious that Abhishiktananda was a pioneer in inter-religious dialogue. His insights shed new light on familiar Christian teachings and invite deeper exploration. Some Christians may be put off by Abhishiktananda”s approach which relativizes Christian dogma and doctrine. Abhishiktananda himself struggled with that fact. In the end, he attempts to remain faithful to his experience.
One who knows several mental (or religious or spiritual) languages is incapable of absolutizing any formulations whatever — of the gospel, of the Upanishads, of Buddhism, etc. He can only bear witness to an experience — about which he can only stammer (205).
This stammering witness to the truth of his experience has a lot to teach us.