Where East and West meet: Henri Le Saux/Swami Abhishiktananda

Henri Le Saux (1910-1973) was a Benedictine monk in France for 19 years, who felt called to India where he stayed for the next 25 years practising his Catholic faith and immersing himself in every aspect of India and Hinduism, including pilgrimages and living in caves in the holy mountain of Arunachala; he was deeply influenced by the guru Ramana Maharshi.

He felt the Truth within both Christian and Hindu traditions, and at the same time could clearly see the apparent irreconcilability of the two, finding this paradox painful and conflictual. The search for God and enlightenment  meant that he had given up his country, his family and almost all material comforts, putting his physical health and sometimes his sanity, his relationship with his monastic community and with the Christian church at risk as he devoted his life to Awakening. In the last part of his life, he became a hermit leading an almost solitary, contemplative life, trying to resolve the apparent contradiction of East and West practices:

‘Every morning I begin my solitary mass with Vedic mantras, appeals to the earth, the elements, fire, water, infinite space, an appeal to the Purusha*, adoration of the Purusha under the form of Christ, appeal to and adoration of the Trinity, then Upanishadic reading. We must integrate all that with the richness of the Christian experience; but will advaita* allow itself to be integrated or to integrate anything whatever? The insoluble problem.’

He found the language of silence was ‘the only real solution’, the only way to teach, that ‘it is the secret that only the Spirit tells to the spirit’. We need to share the interior silence of Jesus: ‘the awareness of the Presence, and when that is experienced, one is free, one needs nothing else.’ In the last years of his life the inner struggle led him to what he called “a total explosion” of any possible theological system as being true in itself, rather than as being simply a pointer. He felt his anguish transcended, he had come to a new level of understanding: his taste only for the Upanishads and the Gospels. ‘It could only be communicated in parables, and when true prayers did emerge, they came from “too great depth and shattered everything”.’

A heart attack brought on by the stress of the struggle and his ascetic life turned out to be the great climax of Swami Abhishiktananda’s life:

‘Really a door opened in heaven while I was lying on the pavement. But a heaven which was not the opposite of earth, something which was neither life nor death, but simply “being”, “awakening” – beyond all myths and symbols …The Awakening is independent of any situation whatever, of all pairs of opposites … One awakes everywhere and once and for all. It is a change of consciousness.’

When his disciple got to Abhishiktananda he found him ‘simply transformed into the radiance of the Lord’. Abhishiktananda wrote:

‘I can only aim at awakening people to what “they are”. Anything about God or the Word in any religion, which is not based on the deep I-experience is bound to be simply “notion”, not existential. From the awakening to self comes the awakening to God – and we discover marvellously that Christ is simply this awakening on a degree of purity rarely if ever reached … it is wonderful to pass through such an experience which makes you find full peace and happiness beyond all situations, even of death and life. Life cannot be the same anymore, because beyond life we have found the Awakening.’

*Purusha is the primordial archetypal person

* Advaita: Sanskrit word meaning where the inner self is the same as the Ultimate Reality