“Our beloved Abhishiktananda was the example of a perfect Sannyasin; he had reached very great heights.”

Swami Chidananda (Rishikesh)

 

7th December 2014

On the 7th December, we commemorate the 41st death anniversary of Swami Abhishikthananda. The community of Shantivanam is ever grateful to the vision, the sacrifice, the courage of Swamiji for taking the untrodden path. His life has been a great inspiration for those who wish to make their journey to the further shore.


He was a great seeker of truth and the lover of truth. He did not admire the ocean of truth from a distance but jumped into it and swam in it. His encounter with the vedic wisdom helped him to discover the universal Jesus Christ and inclusive Jesus Christ. He liberated Christ from the clutches of Christianity and opened the possibility of a deeper Hindu-Christian Dialogue. Christanity has still to digest this new vision of Christ. As Christianity is going through a deep crisis in Europe, the vision proposed by the swamiji can be a solution to  come out of its crisis and move into the future with an inclusive and liberating vision of Christ and Christianity. 

May Swamiji intercede for us so that we open our hearts and minds to this new vision of Christ and Christianity.

John Martin Sahajananda,
Saccidananda Ashram,
Shantivanam

 

A TRIBUTE TO SWAMI ABHISHIKTANANDA

(1910 – 1973)

By

Dr Maxim Demchenko
 
 on behalf of  the Abhishiktananda Centre  (www.abhishiktananda.org.in)

Swami Abhishiktananda is one of the XXth century’s most prominent spiritual figures well known by spiritual seekers and scholars for his pioneering activities in the sphere of interreligious dialogue in India.

Born in St. Briac, Brittany (France), Henri Le Saux (the future Swamiji) since his early years had felt an overwhelming vocation for the monastic life and at the age of 19 he entered the Benedictine Monastery of St. Anne de Kergonan (Plouharnel) where he spent almost 20 years. Being attracted by Indian spirituality and ascetism he contacted Fr. Jules Monchanin who had worked in Tamil Nadu since 1939 and, having obtained all the necessary permissions, on the 15th August, 1948 he arrived to India.

On January 25, 1949 Swamiji (along with Monchanin) had the first darshana of the great sage Sri Ramana Maharshi which happened to be the turning point of his life: the call of advaita (non-duality) became irresistible and brought him to the caves of the holy mountain Arunachala where he spent weeks in silent meditation (in 1952 and 1953). These events are thoroughly described in Swami Abhishiktananda’s book The Secret of Arunachala[1]. In December 1955 Swamiji met another realized saint - Swami Gnanananda Giri (Sadguru Gnanananda) of Tirukoyilur who became his Guru and accepted him as an authentic disciple and sannyasi. As Swami Abhishiktananda puts it in his classic Guru and Disciple[2], “For the first time in my life, I could not resist making the great prostration of our Hindu tradition, and to whom I believe I might give myself over completely…. I now know what India means by the term ‘guru’….[3]

Swami Abhishiktananda is popularly known as a co-founder of Saccidananda Ashram, Shantivanam (Tamil Nadu) designed as a meeting-point between Hinduism and Christianity. The Ashram’s inauguration ceremony took place on March 21, 1950 and was performed by Swamiji and Jules Monchanin. However in late 1950s Swamiji felt the call of the Himalaya and in 1959 set off for his first trip to the North. In 1968 he handed over Shantivanam to Dom Bede Griffiths and, following his vocation, settled down in a small hermitage in the Himalayas (near Uttarkashi).

The last three years of Swami Abhishiktananda’s earthly life were marked by several significant events among which the most important were the meeting with his main disciple Marc Chaduc (the future Swami Ajatananda Saraswati) in October 1971 and the sannyasa-diksha of the latter in June 1973 in Rishikesh, performed jointly by Swamiji and the then Divine Life Society’s President, Swami Chidananda Saraswati. In one of his letters Swamiji remembers: “I have found in him [Ajatananda] a truly total disciple. With him and two young Hindus I experience from the other end what the guru is. It is really the chela [disciple] who makes the guru, and you have to have lived it, in order to grasp this relationship “beyond words…[4]

The culmination of Swamiji’s life was his spiritual awakening that took place on the 14th of July, 1973 and led him to the ultimate understanding beyond religions: It was a marvellous spiritual experience. The discovery that the AWAKENING has nothing to do with any situation, even so-called life or so-called death. One is awake, and that is all[5].

Swami Abhishiktananda attained mahasamadhi on the 7th of December 1973 in Indore. His life and legacy were highly appreciated by many traditional masters and saints of different religious backgrounds in India as well as abroad. At the celebrations of Swamiji’s Centennial Anniversary in 2010 in Rishikesh at the Ajatananda Ashram the President of the Divine Life Society, Swami Vimalananda Saraswati, said that“Swami Abhishiktananda, during his lifetime, has done a great contribution … enabling numerous [French speaking] people to have insights into Advaita and the wisdom of the Upanishads[6].

Since 2008, the Abhishiktananda Centre for Interreligious Dialogue constituting a part of one of the oldest NGOs in India, the Delhi Brotherhood Society, holds copyrights for all Swami Abhishiktananda’s titles in English and Indian languages. Its main scope is to promote Swamiji’s message by publishing his books in India and abroad as well as by organizing interreligious retreats and seminars. The latest title released in 2012 is Guru and Disciple: An Encounter with Sri Gnanananda, a Contemporary Spiritual Master, new and enlarged edit. by Swami Atmananda Udasin, pref. by Swami Nityananda Giri, Chennai (Samata Books), 2012. A few other titles will be published in the nearest future (such as The Secret of Arunachala: A Western Hermit at the Foot of Lord Shiva's Holy Mountain, foreword by Sri V. Ganesan and The Further Shore: Essays on Samnyasa and the Upanishads). An important tool of the Centre’s activities is its website www.abhishiktananda.org.in which contains Swamiji’s biography, chronology of his life, selected quotations from his writings as well as larger extracts from his books. The presented materials will be useful for spiritual seekers as well as for all those interested in Hindu-Christian dialogue non-dual spirituality.

The Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (DIMMID) carries out the work of promoting Swamiji’s writings in languages other than English and Indian ones. Its official webpage is: www.dimmid.org/.

Nowadays the message of Swami Abhishiktananda gets special importance due to the ever growing interest in non-dual spirituality and interreligious dialogue on a worldwide scale. Undoubtedly the time has come for all religious leaders and spiritual seekers to understand that Every dharma is for its followers the supreme vehicle of the claims of Absolute. However, behind and beyond the namarupa, the external features such as creed, rite, etc., by which it is recognized and through which it is transmitted, it bears within itself an urgent call to men to pass beyond itself, in as much as its essence is to be a sign of the Absolute.[7] This is the ultimate message of Swami Abhishiktananda.

Dr. Maxim Demchenko is an Associate Professor of History and Phenomenology of Religion at the Russian Orthodox University, Moscow. He has authored: Aspects of Hindu-Christian Dialogue in the Mid-Twentieth Century (According to Jules Monchanin’s and Henri Le Saux’ Experience), doctoral thesis, Russian State University of Humanities, Moscow, 2011; and The Path of Saccidananda, Moscow (Ganga), 2008 (in Russian). He has also published the first Russian translation of Swami Abhishiktananda’s Guru and Disciple, Moscow (Ganga), 2013, and is currently working on the translation of Swami Abhishiktananda’s other titles into Russian. He is a Member of the Editorial Board of the Abhishiktananda Centre for Interreligious Dialogue (Delhi).

[1] The Secret of Arunachala, Delhi (ISPCK), 1979.

[2] Abhishiktananda, Guru and Disciple: An Encounter with Sri Gnanananda Giri, a Contemporary Spiritual Master, new and enlarged edit. by Swami Atmananda Udasin, pref. by Swami Nityananda Giri, Chennai (Samata Books), 2012.

[3] Letter to J. Lemarié (December 24, 1955), in Stuart, J., Swami Abhishiktananda: His Life Told through his Letters, Delhi (ISPCK), 2000, p.87.

[4] Letter to Odette Baumer-Despeigne (January 7, 1972), in Stuart, J., Swami Abhishiktananda: His Life Told through his Letters, Delhi (ISPCK), 2000, p.258.

[5] Letter to Sr. Marie-Thérèse Le Saux (August 9, 1973), in Stuart, J., Swami Abhishiktananda: His Life Told through his Letters, Delhi (ISPCK), 2000, p.308.

[6]Message reproduced on the website of Ajatananda Ashram, Rishikesh  http://ajatananda.org/ajatananda/swami-vimalananda-saraswati-msg.php 

[7] Abhishiktananda, The Further Shore, Delhi (ISPCK), 1997, pp. 26-27.

 

Mr Vishvasam’s Memories of Swami Abhishiktananda

(Compiled by Atmajyoti-Ma)

Collated by Ma Atmajyoti-Ananda, Beyond #13 of Aranya Kutir (www.aranyakutir.org)

When I first met Mr. Vishvasam at his home in the village of Tannirpalli, close to Shantivanam, in late 2007, he was seated under an old black and white photograph which featured him and his wife and children with Swami Abhishiktananda. Further to the article in the last edition of Beyond, recounting Mr. Vishvasam’s memories of Fr Monchanin, here are some of Mr. Vishvasam’s memories of Swami Abhishiktananda during the years 1949-1968.

 

Swami Abhishiktananda, Mr. Vishvasam and his wife and children, August 1968, Tannirpalli. The photo was taken the day Swamiji was departing Shantivanam permanently for northern India.

 

The affection the Hermits felt for Mr. Vishvasam was clear as he told the following touching incident:

“Once, I had a quarrel with someone at Kulittalai and so I left and went to Bangalore (laughing). After about ten days I came back. During that time, Fr. le Saux and Fr. Monchanin managed without a cook. I returned one morning at about 4am. As soon as Fr. le Saux saw me, he hugged me and cried with joy and said, ‘One day or another you would come back, I knew you would!’ Fr. le Saux was crying tears (of joy).

“In 1957, when I stopped working (full-time) at the Ashram, I started working at the (nearby) sugar factory. Fr. le Saux helped me get that job. After finishing my duties each day at the factory, I would come back here to look after the Ashram. I helped look after Shantivanam until 1968, when Fr. le Saux left Shantivanam (to go to Uttarkashi, North India). Fr. le Saux would send me money for my family during that time but there was no work for me to do at the Ashram as such.

“In 1968, Fr. le Saux packed up all his things, took his luggage and happily went to Uttarkashi, and there he stayed until his death in 1973. No-one (no candidate) was willing to stay in Shantivanam. For the twenty years he was here no-one wished to be here with him. When he left he was very sad (about that).

“This photograph (featured) was taken the last time I saw Fr. le Saux; it was in August 1968. When Fr. le Saux was about to leave Shantivanam to go to North India, he had this photograph taken of our family as a memento. The photo was taken in Kulittalai between 8-9am. He left after finishing his lunch, at around 1pm. We went to Trichy railway station with him and stayed there. We saw him off on the 10pm train for Chennai.

Mr. Vishvasam’s wife, Antonia sat on the floor nearby, listening attentively to her husband’s stories. I asked if she had any memories she wished to share.

“Fr. le Saux accompanied Vishvasam to see my parents. Fr. le Saux asked my parents (permission) and we got married (in January 1961). After, Fr. le Saux managed to buy us a four cent block of land and to construct us a house, so that we could be here and remember his name. That’s how it is that we are here in this house, due to his great blessing.

“When Father would return from the North, we would go to the Ashram to see him and we would help him. He was very kind to us. He would spend time with our two children. He would take my son on one shoulder and my daughter on the other and he’d walk to the nearby village of Pattavarthi with a turban around his head. He’d buy some pots there for cooking at Shantivanam.

“Fr. le Saux was like an Indian. He lived a very simple life. He had no money; he suffered like a very poor man. But he was very happy and always laughed. Fr. le Saux was a true sannyasi.

“We gave the name of ‘Le Saux’ to my grandson (born 2000) in remembrance of Fr. le Saux and all the help he gave us.

Mr Vishvasam ended with the words, “Fr. Monchanin and Fr. le Saux were my friends. They never thought of me as the cook, or treated me as a servant, but they saw me as a friend, like a brother, till the end. There were no differences between us. I was happy”.

 * * *

 

 "In the life of Swami Abhishiktananda the Upanishads had a central place. His spiritual path essentially consisted in the complete appropriation of the advaitic experience of the Upanishadic rishis, without however losing hold of his own rootedness in the Christian tradition. He had made the Upanishads his own, and whenever he happened to comment on them, it was always with a reverent enthusiasm and in order to bring out the radiance of their marvellous intuition.”

* * *

   “Truly nothing that Swamiji wrote had not been lived by him, realized in himself. This is the beauty of his written work, which was the fruit of his silence.

    Sannyasa was his last word before being carried off in his final awakening to the Great Light beyond all worlds.”

* * *

Swami Ajatananda (disciple of Swami Abhishiktananda)

Taken from:  The Further Shore, Delhi (ISPCK), 1975; reprinted with addition of The Upanishads and the Advaitic Experience and poems, 1984; reprinted in 1997, pp. 9 & 12 (Foreword).

Reproduced here with the kind permission of the Abhishiktananda Centre for Interreligious Dialogue (Delhi Brotherhood Society). Website: www.abhishiktananda.org.in



 


 

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