Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux) (1910-1973)
Abhishiktananda is the name assumed by the French Benedictine monk Henri Le Saux (1910-1973). He went to India in 1948, and together with Fr. Jules Monchanin, started a Christian ashram. It is known by several names: Shantivanam, Saccidananda Ashram, the Ashram of the Holy Trinity.
Shortly after he arrived in India, Abhishiktananda met Ramana Maharshi, a Hindu sage of advaita (nondualism). Abhishiktananda was overwhelmed by this encounter, and spent the rest of his life seeking the to integrate this nondual experience with his Christian beliefs. He believed that nonduality is neither dualism nor monism because although ‘advaita’ means “not-two,” it does not mean “only one.”
My doctoral thesis was on Abhishiktananda. It is entitled “Abhishiktananda’s Non-Monistic Advaitic Experience.” I have since simplified and revised my thesis, and published it in book form as Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux): Christian Nondualism and Hindu Advaita (Calgary: Aevum Books 2015).
Abhishiktananda tried to emulate the advaitic (nondual) experience of the Hindu sage Ramana Maharshi. As a result, many of his Christian beliefs were changed. This book explores his nondual experience and its interpretation.
What does nonduality mean for our perception, our thinking, our ethics, our experience of reality, and our relation to God?
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Abhishiktananda’s affirmation of both nonduality and non-monism was influenced by Christian Trinitarianism, interpreted as an expression of the Many from the One. Jesus’s experience of Sonship with the Father is an advaitic experience that is equally available to everyone. Abhishiktananda believed that the early Upanishads report a similar experience. A monistic interpretation of advaita only developed later with the “dialectics” of Shankara’s disciples. In non-monistic advaita, the world is not an illusion. Using ideas derived from tantra and Kashmir Shaivism, Abhishiktananda interpreted maya not as illusion, but as the shakti or power of Shiva. He compares shakti to the Holy Spirit.
Abhishiktananda distinguished between a pure consciousness experience (nirvikalpa or kevala samadhi) and the experience of a return to the world of diversity in sahajasamadhi. Sahaja samadhi is the state of the jivanmukta, the one who is liberated while still in the body; it is an experience that is referred to in tantra and in Kashmir Shaivism. Abhishiktananda never experienced nirvikalpa samadhi, but I believe that he did experience sahaja samadhi.
Abhishiktananda seemed to have regarded Ramana Maharshi as a traditional sage of Hindu advaita. In my recent book, Ramana Maharshi: Interpretations of his Experience(Calgary: Aevum Books 2015), I have shown that Ramana was influenced by many non-traditional Hindu sources, including tantra, kundalini yoga and neo-Hinduism. Ramana was also influenced by many Western traditions, including Christianity, some kinds of western theosophy, and by western psychological ideas.In my book, I also discuss Paul Brunton, who made Ramana Maharshi well-known to Westerners by his book A Search in Secret India. Brunton later admitted that he had used Ramana Maharshi as a “peg” on which to hang his own previously formed ideas. In this way, Brunton may not only have distorted Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, but he may also have influenced the way that Ramana Maharshi regarded his own teachings. It is possible that Abhishiktananda would have not have been as enthusiastic in trying to emulate Ramana Maharshi had he known of all these other influences.