Monday, September 13, 2010

Shattered and Scattered by Contact with the Real

One of my influences -- or maybe inspirations is a better word, since I don't cite his words that often -- is Swami Abhishiktananda, the former Henri LaSaux (1910-1973), a French Benedictine monk who entered the Abbey of Saint Anne de Kergonan in 1929 and remained there until 1948 (he was ordained a priest in 1935).

From his teens he felt an "irresistible call" to experience the immediate presence of God in a monastic setting. Unusual for a westerner at the time, he immersed himself in the mystical literature of the early fathers, but also took a shine to Indian scripture. Interestingly, he was particularly struck by some lines written by St. Gregory Nazianzen (zen... heh):

You who are beyond all, what other name befits you? [um, might I suggest O?]
No words suffice to hymn you. Alone you are ineffable.
Of all beings you are the End, you are One, you are all, you are none.
Yet not one thing, nor all things....
You alone are the Unnamable.


While on vacation recently, I reread this excellent biography of him, A Christian Pilgrim in India: The Spiritual Journey of Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux). For my own benefit, I'd like to reflect upon it in the usual spontaneous way, in the hope of making its truth a part of me -- i.e., of assimilating and metabolizing it.

So long as truth is external to you, it does not liberate. Rather, as we have mentioned before, it must become a part of your very substance, so that you in turn become the substance of truth. Or, if you prefer, it is one thing to awaken the primordial truth within oneself, another to get it to work and school.

By 1934, the future Abhishiktananda began to be troubled, if that's the right word, by a mysterious and persistent call to India. Eventually he was granted his wish in 1948 -- the year of India's independence -- and took up residence in a "Christian ashram" in Kulittalai, which I believe had exactly one other inhabitant, a Father Monchanin.

There the two men embarked on the task of seeking God in a Christian context but through Indian pneuma-technology, as it were. This was not any "syncretic exercise" a la the new age, but "an attempt to fathom the depths of Christianity with the aid of the traditional wisdom of India" found in the Vedanta (i.e., the Upanishads). Thus, monasticism would be the experiential bridge "between Indian spirituality and the Church..."

Despite his immersion in Indian metaphysics, Abhishiktananda never left his Benedictine order. To the contrary, he made every effort to fit the profound experiences that followed into a Christian context. At times this was an extraordinary struggle, but this is one of the things that makes him both so admirable and so fascinating. His was no mere intellectual synthesis (let alone indiscriminate mixture), but a spiritual struggle and eventual transformation within.

Thus, although he was an excellent writer, the real (non)action took place within his own being. It was truly a leap into the unknown -- and what else is faith, truly lived? He quite literally operated at the edge of the spiritually mapped out cosmos, which is why he is such a figure of interest to me. He lived at the very loquation where the known word shades off into the greater unKnown.

You might say that he was initially quite literally shattered by contact with Sri Ramana Maharshi in the early 1950s. Again, it is critical to point out that this was not something he sought, nor is it something that could have happened merely as a result of some ideological shift. Rather, it is something he spontaneously underwent and suffered -- what a Raccoon calls a genuine birthquake. After the birthday quake, it is up to us to pick up the crumbs and reassemble them. And, of course, to open the Presence.

This is how it was for Abhishiktananda. As he wrote in a letter, "the invisible halo of this Sage had been perceived by something in me deeper than any words. Unknown harmonies awoke in my heart.... it was as if the very soul of India penetrated to the depths of my own soul and held mysterious communion with it. It was a call which pierced through everything, rent it in pieces and opened a mighty abyss." (Of note, his worldly contact with Ramana Maharshi was quite superficial; this mostly took place at a distance. By no means was he any kind of formal disciple. His "sadguru" was always Christ.)

Again, how to reconcile this new and undeniable ontological fact with the Christianity he had practiced and deeply lived for the previous three decades? Reason was helpless before this mystery, against which "all rationalization is shattered": "He who receives this overwhelming Light is both petrified and torn apart; he is unable to speak or think anymore; he remains there, beyond time and space, alone in the very solitude of the alone. It is a fantastic experience, this sudden irruption of the fire and light...." (Abhishiktananda, quoted in Oldmeadow, as are all of the above).

Speaking of which, I too am unable to speak or think anymore. Gotta get to work. 2B continued, assuming any intererst....

24 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Interest? O, indeed. I'll have to read that book again.

9/13/2010 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger SippicanCottage said...

So long as truth is external to you, it does not liberate.

I'm a barbarian, so I always say: People vote with their feet.

9/13/2010 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Very interested.
Please continue...

9/13/2010 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

I'm absolutely interested. There have been numerous posts along the way that lead me to believe that Vendanta and Christianity are expressions of the same deep underlying principles (in a way which, for example, Buddhism is not -- at least as fully). I've been a great admirer of Indians and Indian culture for years, so this topic fascinates me.

O knows we need more exposure to genuine Indian spirituality and less exposure to Deep Manure (ak!).

9/13/2010 09:53:00 AM  
Anonymous njcommuter said...

Do please continue.

9/13/2010 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Yes, on my "must re-read" list as well.

I'd be particularly interested in your thoughts about the author's understanding of Christ, as elaborated in the chapter Way Stations, specifically pages 195-96. His writing about this was a big influence hereabouts.

9/13/2010 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

NB says:

"There have been numerous posts along the way that lead me to believe that Vendanta and Christianity are expressions of the same deep underlying principles (in a way which, for example, Buddhism is not -- at least as fully). I've been a great admirer of Indians and Indian culture for years, so this topic fascinates me."

That might have something to do with the fact that Vendanta and Christiantiy are the source of high cultures, wheras Buddhism isn't. Or rather, Buddhism is the terminal product, not the source.

See Spengler for further details.

Of course I have enough problems dealing with Western culture.

9/13/2010 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"Rather, it is something he spontaneously underwent and suffered -- what a Raccoon calls a genuine birthquake. After the birthday quake, it is up to us to pick up the crumbs and reassemble them."

The last time I had an odd experience, I reminded myself that I would never ever again not eat to the point where I triggered an altered state of consiouness caused by fasting.

9/13/2010 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Interesting, intriguing, entertaining, enlightening, enlivening ... I'm running out of 'n' sound prefixes. I'm going to have to go to the store.

You who are beyond all, what other name befits you?
[um, might I suggest O?]
No words suffice to hymn you. Alone you are ineffable.
Of all beings you are the End, you are One, you are all, you are none.
Yet not one thing, nor all things....
You alone are the Unnamable.


Now imagine that with Bo Diddley guitar and Jerome Green Maracas.

9/13/2010 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

footage of
Ramana

he's with Brunton and yogananda
around :50

9/13/2010 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/13/2010 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Many of the forumers where i used to 'spress m'self were BIG Ramana fans/devotees. Many were former Da Free Johnners who may have got over his seductive megalomania only to strengthen their feel for R.M.
[but true it must be lots easier being a 'dead guru']

He was a mountain* dead while alive to all but the etoinal by golly

*arunachala, shiva's abode they say
visible in the video

9/13/2010 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"For my own benefit, I'd like to reflect upon it in the usual spontaneous way, in the hope of making its truth a part of me -- i.e., of assimilating and metabolizing it. "

Flexes little finger.
(Yanks it back before Zen master can whack it off with his knife)

Same here.

OC - Vertical digestive enzymes... M'mm M'mm Good!

9/13/2010 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Pretty funny smackdown of Meghan McCain's epically bad book.

9/13/2010 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Her writing is so bad, reading it might actually make one stupider.

9/13/2010 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

A Christian Pilgrim in India's available in Kindle format.

9/13/2010 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Iowahawk has been twittering all day about ol' Meg.

Example:

iowahawkblog #QuotationsofChairmanMeghan "The embittered writer comes off like the wisest or folksiest... I really hope that this book isn't like that"

9/13/2010 07:28:00 PM  
Anonymous looptloop said...

Carrying a vedantic flashlight has always helped me to grasp many aspects of Christianity - the latter always felt like home - but the constant banging into walls just got a wee bit frustrating as a lad...

9/13/2010 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

OT, Spengler: “Class, your final assignment for the semester is: Devise a heresy for someone else’s religion.”

9/13/2010 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Heh, I was reading the McCain caning earlier... but I must confess...

" the one turned in before the teacher makes all the pretty red marks in the margin that helpfully keep students from turning in final papers riddled with comma abuse, sentence fragments, and incorrect punctuation"

Reading comma criticism ... that could apply to me too... a little bit uncomfortable.

I console myself "It's a blog, not a book"... and at least I'm aware of the problem, I lack time, not sense.

Publish that?!

Egads.

9/13/2010 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

what seldom-mentioned divisive factor cuts even deeper than the schism between Muslim-Christian, black-white, etc?
we like to call it the Gillette factor:
It's the shaven vs the unshaven.

why are some whiskers or lips warmers SO very necessary for SO many 'of color', & of Islam to the nth degree? [it was observing the mosque imam, day-workers thronged downtown, 'Dunk me please!' sheik Khalid in his current post-Belushi, proto-Mr Natural phase and thinking of Whites' enforcing mandatory shaving for all that precip'd this]

why do silly terrorists shave totally before suiciding?

Next contribution: Dogs

9/14/2010 04:53:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Julie says:

"OT, Spengler: “Class, your final assignment for the semester is: Devise a heresy for someone else’s religion.”

I had been wondering for some time whehter there was any truth to the historical hypothesis that Muhammad was not an actual historical person.

9/14/2010 06:31:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

Reminds me of a story about the disciple of St. Seraphim of Serov, who sees the halo around the saint, and is told that he too is in the Spirit, else he could not see the halo....

Something about laying on of hands...

very interested please continue!

9/14/2010 07:52:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

MCS says:

"Reminds me of a story about the disciple of St. Seraphim of Serov, who sees the halo around the saint, and is told that he too is in the Spirit, else he could not see the halo...."

There is always stuff there you can't see.

I'm more interested in why some children can see what adults cannot.

9/14/2010 07:58:00 AM  

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