Born in France in 1910, Benedictine monk Henri le Saux moved to India in 1948 as a Christian missionary. His encounter there with Hindu spirituality led him to adopt the life of an Indian holy man and to take the name Abhishiktānanda (“the Bliss of the Anointed One”). Many of his writings attempt to bridge Christian faith and the Hindu philosophy of advaita, or nondualism. Abhishiktānanda never returned to France and continued to immerse himself in Hinduism, but he also never disavowed Christianity nor his priesthood, and he celebrated Mass for most of his life. He lived his final years as a wandering monk in the hermit caves of Arunachala, a holy mountain in southern India. He died in 1973. The following is excerpted from Saccidananda: A Christian Approach to Advaitic Experience, by Abhishiktānanda, (Delhi: ISPCK, 1974, 1997). Reprinted with permission of the Delhi Brotherhood Society.
It is the worst possible illusion to imagine that we have to struggle to find liberation or mukti, or to experience the self, which is the same thing. In truth, what is this world? Or what is the other world? What does it mean to attain self-realization? Or not to have attained to it? To strive consciously and deliberately to arrive at this “realization of the self” is paradoxically the greatest obstacle in the way of reaching it; for it involves the assumption that man’s natural state . . . is something that man does not yet possess — as if a man could be without being himself! Is a man really less of a man when sunk in deep slumber?
That you are, my friend, you know well. Your experience every moment reminds you of it. Simply find out who you are, find out what it is in you that does not depend on the changing circumstances of your bodily or mental existence, that kernel of your consciousness which, in the last analysis, cannot be identified with any of the external circumstances in which you find yourself. Do not waste time in negating the passing identities of which you are momentarily conscious, for that will only detain and hinder you. Pass beyond; discover in yourself that which is free and independent of all around or within you that changes or passes away. In every deed, every act of will, every thought, ask yourself the essential question: “Who is thinking, willing, acting? Who am I, the actor behind the action, the thinker behind the thought, the one who wills behind the act of willing?” To this question your mind, becoming increasingly bewildered, will less and less know what to answer. Your thought will be hopelessly bound to the shifting world of phenomena, the world of all that ceaselessly appears and disappears when perceived by sense or mind. In all this there is nowhere any stable point to which you can succeed in fastening your fundamental intuition that you are: yet you are, with no possibility of saying where you are, what you are, who you are. . . .
The mind then realizes more and more its inability to say: “I am this or that; I am this person or that person.” For in the very moment at which the thought appears that I am this or that, this person or that person, then this manifestation with which I have automatically tried to identify myself in the flow of consciousness has fled away from me — but I continue. Sensory and psychic experience flow on in a steady stream which nothing can stop, being part of that constant succession of change which is the nature of the cosmos. While this flow continues endlessly, I myself abide. I am in an unchanging present. All things pass, change; but as for me, I am. What am I? Who am I? There is no answer except the pure awareness that I am, transcending all thought.
“I am,” and there is no need for me to strive in order to find this “I am.” I am not an “I” searching for itself. The Maharshi pointed this out very astutely when certain disciples sought by means of thought and reasoning to realize “who” they were, and thus engaged themselves in an endless mental pursuit of this elusive self. The search is endless because the self which is thought poses the problem of the self which thinks, and so on ad infinitum. All that a man has to do is simply to allow himself to be grasped by this light which springs up from within but itself cannot be grasped. Who can ever savor the taste of absolutely pure water? So also with pure air, who will ever see it or smell it?
Awake, O man, and realize simply that you are. You are neither the butterfly dreaming that it is the king nor the king dreaming that he is the butterfly, as in the Chinese proverb. You are yourself. Indian folklore preserves the tale of the lion cub whose parents had been killed by hunters and which was reared along with a flock of sheep. He learned to bleat and to eat grass, and grew up without suspecting that he himself was not a lamb. One day a lion fell upon the flock. Seeing the lion cub, he asked him what he was doing among the sheep and why he was not ashamed of bleating and eating grass. “But am I not a lamb?” replied the astonished cub. Then the lion took him to a pool of water and told him to look at their two faces reflected in it and to compare them. “Are you not the same as I am? Is it not your nature to drink blood and to roar? Come, roar like I do. . . . ” The cub roared, and as he roared he recognized himself. . . .
So it is with the soul which awakes to the Self.