Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Celebration of Abhishiktananda's Life

[Picture: Before Eucharist on Sunday, July 18, 2010, Wimborne, England]

This past June I wrote a posting about a French monk by the name of Henri le Saux who went to India in 1948 and remained there for the rest of his life. He died in December 1973 without ever returning to France. Because he became a sannyasi, a person who renounces all, he changed his name to Abhishiktananda.

In July I attended a retreat in a very quiet corner of the south west of Englad to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of this extraordinary man. During the weekend we heard talks by two women, one of whom knew him very well and the other who was his biographer, and one man, who spoke on his interpretation of the conflict that Abhishiktananda experienced between his deep Christian faith and his experience of the Hindu spirituality of "advaita" or non-duality. Abhishiktananda truly believed in the need to create a bridge between Christianity and Hinduism but his single-minded purposeful seeking caused him a great deal of pain, and, I believe, an early death at the age of 63.

About 80 people came from all over England and Scotland, as well as a handful from Canada, the United States, France and Germany. Several things stand out for me about the four-day retreat, but two in particular I want to mention. The first one is the "at-homeness" I felt among so many strangers. Culturally we were literally an ocean apart, but it was evident that in this situation the communion of spirit and heart was a much stronger bond than language or culture. Our conversations never stayed on the surface for more than a few minutes; we would easily move into sharing our great desire for God. The second piece that I found helpful in integrating the teaching of Abhishiktananda were the snippets of readings we had from his writings and those of other mystics at the beginning of our meditation periods or during the prayer periods. They reminded us over and over of the need for silence, both interior and exterior, solitude and going into the cave of our heart to encounter the Presence.

Praying is simply believing that we are living in the mystery of God,
that we are plunged into and immersed in it, that the mystery of God in its
fullness is both inside and outside us, like the air which surrounds us
and penetrates the tiniest hollows of our lungs.
Abhishiktananda on Prayer
For more on Abhishiktananda, the conference, and the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, click here.

Perhaps next month I will write on my visit to Montreal, Canada, which followed my time in England!


  1. Love the definition of prayer!

  2. I often struggle with the idea that I do not devote sufficient time to prayer. This definition of prayer reminds me that my daily life is prayer. Geraldine

  3. I frequently have concerns about my prayer life. This definition of prayer makes my whole life a prayer. Geraldine