Abhishiktananda, Swami

   pioneer in Hindu-Christian monasticism
   Born Henri Le Saux, Abhishiktananda was a pio-neer in the field of spiritual and theological dia-logue between Christianity and Hinduism.
   He was born on August 30, 1910, at Saint Briac in Brittany, France. At an early age he felt a call to the vocation of a Roman Catholic priest, and in 1929 he entered the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Anne de Kergonan in Plouharnel. Dur-ing his 19 years there he worked as librarian and master of ceremonies. He served in the French army during World War II and experienced a miraculous escape after being captured by Ger-man troops in 1940.
   Seeking a more radical path for living a spiri-tual life, Le Saux was attracted to India as early as 1934. In Tamil Nadu state he met Father Jules Monchanin, a Roman Catholic priest serving in a Tamil village in southern India, who was formu-lating a path for living a contemplative life that combined Indian asceticism (see SANNYASI) and Christian practice. Le Saux joined Fr. Monchanin in 1948 at Kulitalai; the two began a small ashram near the CAUVERY RIVER at the village of Tan-nirpalli in Tiruchirappalli District, South India. In 1950, they settled in Shantivanam (Forest of Peace) and named their new foundation Saccidan-anda Ashram after the Hindu trinity.
   In 1950 Le Saux adopted the dress of a Hindu ascetic and changed his name to Swami Abhishik-tananda (the Bliss of the Anointed One). He began studying Tamil and Sanskrit and immersed him-self in Indian traditions and practices. A meeting in 1949 with RAMANA MAHARSHI (1879–1950) at Ramana’s ashram in Tiruvannamalai had a strong influence on his developing spirituality, and between 1950 and 1955 he spent many months in deep meditation in the caves near Ramana’s ashram at the holy mountain Arunachala. After Ramana’s death in 1950, he became a disciple of Gnanananda Giri of Tirukoylur.
   When the ailing Fr. Monchanin returned to France and died in 1957, Abhishiktananda felt a growing attraction to the north of India and the Himalayas. He undertook several pilgrim-ages and often visited the holy city of BENARES, (Varanasi), where he found others, such as Dr. Raimon Panikkar, engaged in Hindu-Christian dialogue. In 1968, he left Shantivanam under the leadership of Father Bede Griffiths (1968–93) and went to live in a hermitage in Uttarkashi in the Himalayas. In 1980, Shantivanam, under the leadership of Father Bede, was received in the Camaldolese Congregation of the Benedictine Confederation.
   In 1969 Abhishiktananda participated in the All-India Seminar on the Church in India Today in Bangalore, the aim of which was to adapt the principles of Vatican II to the Indian context. There he was recognized as a pioneer in the field of Hindu-Christian dialogue, whose life and work inspired several religious communities, such as Jyotiniketan Ashram formed in 1969 at Bareilly.
   Abhishiktananda’s books and teaching are largely addressed to Christians, with the aim of helping them discover the spirit and principles of ADVAITA (non-dual) Hinduism. While always remaining a Christian, he discerned elements of Christianity in the spiritual wisdom of India that helped him toward resolving for himself the ten-sions between the two religions and finding an inner integration. His goal was to move beyond the limits of institutional religions and churches to encourage spiritual renewal, which he consid-ered essential for human survival in the modern world.
   On July 14, 1973, Abhishiktananda suffered a heart attack on the road in Rishikesh, where he was on retreat with another French religious. He died December 7, 1973, at Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
   Further reading: Abhishiktananda, Saccidananda: A Christian Approach to Advaitic Experience (Delhi: I.S.P.C.K., 1974); ———, The Further Shore (Delhi: I.S.P.C.K., 1975); ———, The Secret of Arunchala (Delhi: I.S.P.C.K., 1979); ———, Guru and Disciple: An Encounter with Sri Gnanananda (Delhi: I.S.P.C.K., 1990); ———, Swami Abhishiktananda: Ascent to the Depth of the Heart: The Spiritual Diary (1948–1973). Edited and selected by Raimon Panikkar, translated by David Fleming and James Stuart (Delhi: I.S.P.C.K., 1998); H. Ralston, Christian Ashrams: A New Religious Movement in Contemporary India (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1987); James Stuart, Swami Abhishiktananda: His Life Told through His Letters, rev. ed. (Delhi: I.S.P.C.K., 1995).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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