Shattered and Scattered by Contact with the Real
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....