July-December 2020
A yogin of the holy site of Ayodhya.
A yogin of the holy site of Ayodhya.

The Yogin and the Child

In the sacred geography of India, the saṅgama– the confluence – has a particular importance. In this place, the rivers come together and flow further from their respective sources, moving towards the ultimate saṅgama with the vast ocean wherein they will lose both name and form (nāmarūpa) – the mystical symbol of the awakened being who completely immerses himself in the infinite splendour of the Absolute. [1] Speaking about the Bhagavadgītā,Jules Monchanin (1895-1957) accurately used the appropriate image of the saṅgama,saying that "The Bhagavadgītā is a confluence and a mirror. It is a confluence which invites us to go up along several rivers (saṃkhya, yoga, bhakti, post-upanishadic and prevedantic jñāna [2]) to their sources, known or lost. […] It is also a mirror of the Indian mind: a thousand facets in which the ineffable unity is glittering". [3]
Written at the turn of the Christian era and included in the sixth book of the Mahābhārata,the Bhagavadgītā is a culmination of a number of undercurrents that moulded the sanātana dharma better known as Hinduism, though this specific appellation risks negating its inherent diversity. However, as a saṅgama of so many spiritual influences, the Bhagavadgītā is also the starting point for a new way pledged to transform the face of Hinduism: the bhaktimārgaor, the way of devotion. This, while undergoing a remarkable development, has not caused the disappearance of the other ways; these are the jñānamārga or the way of mystical knowledge so admirably sketched out in the blaze of the Upaniṣad, and also the karmamārgaor, the way of selfless action, which has its original inspiration in the Bhagavadgītā itself. There, once again the image of saṅgama is a precious aid for orientating ourselves in the labyrinths of Hinduism because it obliges us take the high ground in order to contemplate the many deviations and confluences in the journey of the Spirit making its way towards the final liberation (mokṣa).
Another way of orienting ourselves in the eighteen complex chapters of the Bhagavadgītā would be to put in place some overall figures (gestalt) that can provide a synthesis of the various parts of this text that has nowadays become one of the most popular in Hinduism. Next to the bhakta, the devotee or servant of the Lord, the figure of the yogin is central, and when these two figures are fused into one single person, he is then promised the ultimate accomplishment: "Be thou a yogin, Arjuna! Because the yogin goes beyond those who only follow the path of the austere (tapasvin), or of wisdom (jñānin), or of work (karmin). And the greatest of all yogī is he who with all his soul has faith, and he who with all his soul loves me". [4] Among the various yogī who appear throughout the Bhagavadgītā, one of them was committed to a remarkable destiny, taking upon himself the entire message of this book: the karmayogin. In fact, in the dialogue between Arjuna and his divine charioteer Kṛṣṇa, a crucial question torments the conscience of the Prince on the battlefield at Kurukṣetra where he has been called, along with his other Pāṇḍava brothers, to fight their Kaurava cousins and some of their uncles as well as the teachers who had educated them since childhood: "How to accept such a bloodbath that will generate an accumulation of bad karman?" For Arjuna there would be a considerable temptation to retreat if Kṛṣṇa were not there to remind him of his princely status: his dharma of kṣatriya. And it is precisely the fullfilment of dharma according to the own way of karmamārga – the way of selfless action (niṣphala) – that guarantees Arjuna his liberation: "Set thy heart upon thy work (karman), but never on its reward (phala). Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work". [5] A bit later, using the keyword ‘detached’ (asakta), Kṛṣṇa describes the heart of karmayoga which has been crucial in the life for so many Indians: "In liberty from the bounds of attachment (asakta), do thou therefore the work to be done: for the man whose work is pure attains indeed the Supreme".[ 6] Summarizing the new message given during the approach to the decisive combat, Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010) wrote:
The true yogin is not the man who does not act but the man who acts with detachment, that is, without hankering for the results of his actions, not only on a moral but also on an ontological plane. The true ascetic not only has perfect control over himself and total equanimity, but he is also liberated from all desires, sees the Lord everywhere and everything in the Lord, and is ready for action when it is required and seen as his duty’. [7]
It is obvious that the karmayoga had a crucial impact upon the Indian mind. However, it must not be forgotten that the Bhagavadgītā suggests other yogas: the jñānayoga or the yoga of mystical knowledge, the bhaktiyoga or the yoga of devotion, and one even finds in these writings some echoes of the yogic exercises of the śramana, who in the fifth century BCE were the first to explore the mysterious connections between the body and the spirit. Perhaps so many distinctions between the different yogas risk leading us astray among what the Bhagavadgītā wanted to draw together in such a luminous way. Also, we would like to simply re-read this iconic writing using the archetype of the yogin in the way it appears throughout the book, setting out a figure in which the Indian soul reads its own spiritual quest within itself as if in a mirror.
The being who is unified
Yukta ityucyate yogī’, "the yogin is the one who is brought together". [8] This is how the Bhagavadgītā defines the yogin, going back to the Sanskrit root YUJ: to join, to attach, and then unify. The yogin is etymologically the being who is unified and who remains thus at the center of every passion: "He whose mind is untroubled by sorrow, and for pleasure he has no longings, beyond passion, and fear and anger, he is the sage of silence (munin) of unwawering mind". [9] Beyond the alternation of good and bad fortune, a deep peace settles upon him and such is his spiritual accomplishment: "The man who forsakes all desires and abandons all pride of possession and of self reaches the goal of peace supreme". [10]
In order to achieve such a state of equanimity, a sādhanā (that is, a spiritual exercise rather than a technique) is necessary in order that the yogin can conquer his senses (yatendriya), which continue to drive him towards the outside whilst scattering him. Moreover, he has to walk on the path that is the opposite of the innate tendencies of his nature, activating the drawing together of his senses and his spirit into the silence of the depths in the extreme concentration implied by the root YUJ along with the derived adjective yata in the beautiful description "yogī yuñjīta satatam ātmānaṃ" that Lord Kṛṣṇa makes of the yogin:
Day after day, let the yogin practice the inner unification: in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind (yatacittātman), hoping for nothing, desiring nothing. Let him find a place that is pure and a seat that is restful, neither too high nor too low, with sacred grass and a skin and a cloth thereon. On that seat let him rest and practice yoga for the purification of his spirit: with the life of his body and mind in peace; his spirit in silence before the one. With upright body, head, and neck, which rest still and move not; with an inner gaze which is not restless, but rests still between the eye-brows. With the soul in peace, and all fear gone, and strong in the vow of holiness, let him rest with mind unified, his spirit on me, his god supreme. [11]
Such a sādhanā, if practiced till the end, should lead the yogin naturally to mokṣa, the liberation to which India aspires:
When the sage of silence closes the doors of his spirit and, resting his inner gaze between the eyebrows, keeps peaceful and even the ebbing and flowing of breath; and with life and mind and reason unified (yatendriya), and with desire and fear and wrath gone, keep silent his spirit before final liberation (mokṣa), he in truth has attained final liberation’. [12]
Thus is the yogin, also called yogayuktātman, [13] the being who is joined together, who is attached and who is then unified. We can easily understand then how the spiritual ideal that the Bhagavadgītā has just sketched out through incorporating several traditions of the śramana, was promised a tremendous future within Indian thought and its spiritual practice. As proof of this we have the Yogasūtra of Patañjali with their commentary by Vyasa but also the subsequent developments as much in Hinduism (in particular of the hahayoga of the mythical guru Gorakhnāth), as in the Buddhism of the yogācāra and the vajrayāna tradition, and also in Jainism, making yoga to be thus "an age-old pan-Indian dimension of the spirituality of India […] one – or the most characteristic – of its essential manifestations".[14] However the seed of all of these subsequent developments can already be seen in wonderful descriptions that the Bhagavadgītā has given of the figure of the yogin. This is why it is worth relating some of them here.
In the twelfth chapter, the yogin meets again the figure of the devotee (bhakta) on the way of perfection:
The man who has a good will for all, who is friendly and has compassion; who has no thoughts of ‘I’ or ‘mine’, whose peace is the same in pleasures and sorrows, and who is forgiving; this yogin of unification, ever full of my joy, whose spirit is unified (yatātman) and whose determination is strong; whose mind and inner vision are set on me – this man loves me (bhakta), and he is dear to me. He whose peace is not shaken by others, and before whom other people find peace, beyond excitement and anger and fear – he is dear to me. He who is free from vain expectations, who is pure, who is wise and knows what to do, who in inner peace watches both sides, who shakes not, who works for God and not for himself – this man loves me, and he is dear to me. He who feels neither excitement nor repulsion, who complains not and lusts not for things; who is beyond good and evil, and who has love – he is dear to me. The man whose love is the same for his enemies or his friends, whose soul is the same in honour or in disgrace, who is beyond heat or cold or pleasure or pain, who is free from the chains of attachments; he who is balanced in blame and in praise, whose soul is silent, who is happy with whatever he has, whose home is not in this world, and who has life – this man is dear to me. [15]
Another description of the yogin’s cloak of virtues is given in the sixteenth chapter:
Freedom from fear, purity of heart, constancy in sacred learning and contemplation, generosity, self-harmony, adoration, study of the scriptures, austerity, righteousness; non-violence, truth, freedom from anger, renunciation, serenity, aversion to fault-finding, sympathy for all beings, peace from greedy cravings, gentleness, modesty, steadiness; energy, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, a good will, freedom from pride – these are the treasures of the man who is born from heaven. [16]
Lastly, the eighteenth and final chapter concludes by depicting the yogin at the height of his sādhanā, when he has become brahmabhūta, the being who is completely united with the Absolute (Brahman), his Lord:
Hear now how he reaches Brahman, the highest vision of light. When the vision of mind is clear, and in steadiness the inner unification is completed; when the world of sound and other sense is gone, and the spirit has risen above passion and hate; when a man dwells in the solitude of silence, and meditation and contemplation are ever with him; when too much food does not disturb his health, and his thoughts and words and body are in peace; when freedom from passion is his constant will; and his selfishness and violence and pride are gone; when lust and anger and greediness are no more, and he is free from the thought ‘this is mine’; then this man has risen on the mountain of the Highest: he is worthy to be one with Brahman. He is one with Brahman (brahmabhūta), and beyond grief and desire his soul is in peace. His love is one for all creation, and he has supreme love for me’. [17]
Such a perfectly recollected yogin is essentially a hidden being in the secret of the night of all beings. [18] Therein this place of interior unification with the Absolute (Brahman), he awakens and takes wing, like the great Golden Swan (paramahamsa): "He is not bound by things outside (asaktātman), and within he finds inner gladness. His soul is one in Brahman (brahmayogayuktātman) and he attains everlasting joy" [19]; 'He has inner joy, he has inner gladness, and he has found inner Light. This yogin attains the nirvāṇa of Brahman (brahmanirvāṇa [20]); he is one with God and goes unto God (brahmabhūta)". [21] This man who is totally free can from now on say: "I am not bound (asakta) by this vast work of creation (karman). I am and I watch the drama of works". [22] However – and such is both the paradox and great newness of the Bhagavadgītā in its teaching on the way of selfless action (karmamārga)the yogin, while being detached from everything (asakta) does not flee to the desert far away from people and this comes from the fact that in the midst of the waves of the saṃsāra, he is attached to the one and only Absolute:
The integrated man is both yukta, yoked to the whole of reality, involved in the net of relationships, and vimukta, free, liberated. He is committed but not concerned, he is detached but not unattached, he is involved but not entangled. Hence derives his ‘holy indifference,’ his serenity, his peace, which is not one of having taken refuge in an ivory tower or an inaccessible eyrie but is the result of being situated in the very heart of reality. [23]
To this fully liberated yogin, we can finally apply the same words that the Bhagavadgītā uses to describe the supreme Spirit with which the yogin has now become one: "He is never born, and he never dies. He is in Eternity: he is for evermore. Never born and eternal, beyond times gone or to come, he does not die when the body dies". [24]
The child who springs forth from eternal newness
Faced with the sublime figure of the yogin who for all time has been for India the unblemished mirror of her spiritual quest, the Christian is entitled to ask himself which figure represents the fullfilment of his spiritual way. On several occasions, [25] the Swiss theologian Hans-Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) liked to make a contrast between the pagan sage who "with his power declining, achieves the distance required for serenity and religious wisdom" [26] and the immutable youth of the Christian sage: "In the figures of the great saints the truth is crystal clear: Christian childlikeness and Christian maturity are not in tension with one another. Even at advanced age, the saints enjoy a marvellous youthfulness’. [27] Von Balthasar had elsewhere found confirmation for his suggestion in a quote from Saint Augustine who liked to say: "Let not our progress through life turn us from new men into old; rather, let our growth be a growth in newness itself". [28]
Of course, von Balthasar’s contrast between the pagan world and the Christian world might need to be nuanced. However, it has the merit of bringing us to the heart of the unique figure of spiritual achievement that Christ himself described for us in his teaching: that of the child. Teaching his disciples, one day Jesus
took a little child and put it among them, and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes a child such as this in my name, welcomes me’’ (Mark 9:36-37). Another time, he said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:14-15). It is worth noting that the words of Christ are found to be identical in the three synoptic Gospels, [29] and this confirms how the image of the child is the generative source of all types of Christian holiness each in its own way diffusing the unique holiness of Christ which strictly speaking is his spirit of childhood. In fact, if Jesus has thus proposed the child as the royal path for those who follow him, it is, as the Gospels indicate, because the Son is the child par excellence. Here we should note how touching it is that Hans-Urs von Balthasar, at the end of his immense theological career, wished to "show the essential traits of the man who lives this childhood in God as an adult" [30] for "inasmuch as childhood uniquely interweaves loving trust (in those who care for the child’s needs) and unquestioning obedience, it possesses an affinity with the Father’s eternal child". [31]
To understand how the way of childhood in Christianity is the perfect expression of the sequela Christi,we have to hold a psychological view that is orientated more towards the qualities of childhood itself together with a theological perspective that contemplates the mystery of Christ. To illustrate the psychological viewpoint, few pages can rival the magnificent description of spiritual childhood given by Romano Guardini (1885-1968) in his masterwork The Lord. Meditating on the words of Christ to his disciples, the German theologian made a contrast with the adult spirit by emphasizing the openness of the child to reality through pure welcoming and availability:
The adult is self-centred; he is constantly examining, testing, judging himself. Herein lies the earnestness of life, which consists of a feeling of responsibility, conscious living. The immediacy of things and people is broken in the grown-up world, for the adult is constantly projecting himself between them and him. The child does not reflect. His life moves outside himself. He is open to the world and everything in it. Unconsciously he stands straight and looks straight at things as they really are. [32]
Such an openness creates a radical humility within the child, which allows him to disappear when faced with the reality greater than himself:
In the child’s attitude towards life lies his humility. . . . He does not drag his small ego into the foreground; his consciousness brims with objects, people, event – not himself. Thus is the world is dominated by reality: that which is and really counts. [33]
Such an interior openness then allows the child be led into the newness of the Kingdom and to dance with his Lord who, ‘playing the flute’, requires this of him in the same way as "children, sitting in the marketplace and calling one to another" (Matthew 11:17): ‘Because the child is natural, open, without any intention or fear of failing to assert itself, it is receptive to the great, revolutionary ideas in Christ’s teaching about the kingdom. The same teaching is met with reserve by the more mature listeners. Their cleverness condemns it as impossible; their caution warns them of the consequences; their self-esteem is soon up in arms; their hard grasp cannot let go. They have locked themselves up in their world of artifice, fearing that it will be shaken, and for this reason they cannot understand. Fear has made their  eyes blind, their ears deaf, their heart dull. As Jesus would say, they are 'over-mature’ [34]. Thus, according to Guardini, an abyss opens up between the ever new universe of the child and the prematurely aged world of adults:
The child is young. It has the simplicity of eye and heart which welcomes all that is new and great and salutary; it sees it for what it is, goes straight to it and enters in.This simplicity, naturalis christianitas, is the childlikeness. . . . Jesus means nothing sentimental or touching; neither sweet defencelessness nor gentle malleability. What he values is the child’s clarity of vision; the ability to look up and out, to feel and accept reality without ulterior motives. [35]
All of this allows Guardini to conclude by affirming:
The spiritual childhood Jesus means emanates from God’s Fatherhood. Everything comes to the child from its father and mother, is related somehow to them. They are everywhere, the origin, measure and order of all things. The adult soon distances himself from his parents; in their place stands the world, irreverent, disinterested or hostile. Once the parents have gone, everything becomes homeless. For the child of God a fatherly Someone is again omnipresent; to be sure, he must not be distorted to a super-projection of an earthly father, but must remain who he is, as he has revealed himself: God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ who helps us to accomplish his will. The childlike mind is the one that see the heavenly Father in everything that comes into his life. . . . To become a child in Christ’s sense is to reach Christian maturity’. [36]
The discovery of the benevolent presence of the celestial Father as the source of our existence brings the psychological view of the child back to theology because our destiny to "become children of God" (John 1:12) is completely rooted in the figure of the eternal Son, who, according to the incomparable prologue to the Gospel of St John was "with God" and "was God". That is why von Balthasar could write that "the youthfulness of Jesus and of his genuine followers is a mystery that far transcends psychology. For it springs from the most hidden depths of theology, from the very mystery of the triune God". [37] In fact, this is the spiritual childhood promised to the disciples of Christ through their ontological roots in the mystery of the Trinity, in the place where Jesus eternally dwells:
The divine Child – even when he is sent out into the world – is ever springing forth as the fruit of the Father’s generative act. There is no routine habit here, only constantly fresh amazement, eternal gratitude, and eternally ready obedience. [38]
And it is in the depths of the Trinitarian exchange that all newness and all renewal in this world find their unique source:
Jesus’s eternal youthfulness is no obstacle to his adult manhood. The mystery of his origin is also the mystery of the ever-renewed act of his release. God the Father lets God the Son be God – not a subordinate divinity, but God equal in dignity to the Father. And both let the Holy Spirit be the co-equal expression of their love. The Father’s begetting and the Son’s letting himself be begotten; the Father’s and Son’s inspiration of the Pneuma and the Spirit’s letting himself be spirated – all of this is both eternal act and eternally complete result. . . . This is why God’s eternity is eternally youthful and surprising, why it is an abyss of newness. [39]
Having thus re-read, in the light of the words of Christ, the penetrating reflections of Guardini on the psychology of childhood and the equally penetrating theological research of von Balthasar on the trinitarian newness, we more easily understand how much childhood is the mirror of the Christian journey towards the mystery of the eternal birth within God as it is sung on the eve of Christmas: "in splendoribus sanctorum, ex utero, ante luciferum, genui te’. [40] It is this mystery of generation that in Christianity is the framework of the whole of reality: the mystery of the endless game of the divine Logos [41] in his creative enthusiasm, the mystery that inextricably unites time and eternity, as the pre-Socratic Ionian Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535-475) foresaw in such an impressive way: "Time is a child playing draughts, the kingly power is a child’s". [42]
Lost in the Mystery
It is obvious that the figure of the yogin and that of the child may seem at first sight to be at opposite sides of an unbridgeable abyss, especially as the Christian will always be tempted to take up the old theological quarrels about grace and apply them to other spiritual paths. However, by too hastily setting the advanced age of the wise man against the immutable freshness of the "God who died so young", [43] he may prevent his interlocutor from setting out the entire depth of his argument. The Indian tradition is undeniably much more spiritually subtle, and it is cautious about too radically opposing what is gleaned through the efforts of extreme ascesis against what is received as a fruit of the divine grace. To convince oneself of this, one has only to read the magnificent dialogue in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad between the sage Yājñavalkya and Kahola, where it is written,
Therefore a brahmana should turn away from learning (pāṇḍityaṃ), and desire to live like a child (bālyena). When he has turned away from both childhood and learning, he is a ‘silent one’ (munin). When he has turned away from both non-silence and silence, he is a brahmana (brāhmaṇaḥ) – a true knower of Brahman. [44]
It is worthy of note here that in order to describe the spiritual way of humanity, the upaniṣad blends together the figure of the child (bāla) with that of the yogin in its different aspects of scholar (pāṇḍita), silent one (munin), and one who is united with the Absolute (brāhmaṇa) – aspects that the Bhagavadgītā has itself adopted while ignoring the child. Also remarkable is the fact that in his Commentary on the Brahmasūtra [45], Śaṅkara (788-820) returned to the same verse of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad in order to explain the term anāviṣkurvan, "without any display", that is present in the sūtra ‘anāviṣkurvannanvāyat’ of Bādarāyaṇa. In doing this, Śaṅkara stands against the interpretation of those who in the Upaniṣad under discussion, read the term balya with a short a signifying ‘force’ instead of bālya with a long a signifying ‘childhood’. With the short a rejected by Sankara, it would mean ‘the sage must try to live by that strength which comes from knowledge’ whereas for him the text should read as; "that the sage renounces knowing and becomes like a child (bālya)". This then allows him to affirm that
Hence by the term bālya is to be understood here some inward state of a child such as having immature functional ability. That fact is referred to by the sūtra in, ‘without display’ (anāviṣkurvan). That is to say, without showing himself off by parading his wisdom, learning, virtuousness… He should be free from pride, conceit… like a child who, owing to the immaturity of his senses, does not try to make a display of himself before others. [46]
The interpretation that Śaṅkara has here made of childhood could not avoid challenging a Christian immersed in Hinduism as was Henri le Saux-Svāmī Abhiṣiktānanda (1910-1973). In a short and almost ignored text written in 1972 to the Carmel of Lisieux, he declared that
In the commentary on the Brahmasūtra (III, 4, 50), Śaṅkara asks himself what is to be understood by this state of childhood . . . what characterises the (spiritual) childhood is the absence of malice and vanity. Childhood has no idea of putting forward its persona and its own value – the exact opposite of what the upaniṣad calls pāṇḍityaṃ, the satisfaction of knowledge and the display of that knowledge. The child, himself, is itself quite simply, without a viewpoint or reflection on what he is or on the way that he is. [47]
Śaṅkara, the master of Vedanta, has thus used the image of the child to comment on the term anāviṣkurvan, "without any ostentation". Pushing his reflection further, he declared, returning to an ancient tradition, that
He is a brāhmaṇa whom nobody recognizes either as an aristocrat or a commoner, either as well-read or not well-read, either as well-behaved or not well-behaved. A man of enlightenment should resort to unostentatious behaviour while following his spiritual practices in secret. He should roam over the earth like a blind man (not attracted by sense-objects), like one benumbed (i.e. without the sense of taste…), like one who is dumb (i.e. without active organs), and ‘without any outward sign and with unostentatious behaviour (anāviṣkurvan)’. [48]
Even more subtly, for Henri le Saux, the "without any ostentation" (anāviṣkurvan) was above all a spiritual attitude that was completely interior. It is the naked experience of the child (bāla), fully open within a pure openness to reality, without any turning back upon itself. Thus, the child is fully hidden within the mystery, as distinct from the adult who knows (pāṇḍita) and above all wants it to be known that he knows.
The vedantic ascesis can be defined as a return to the origins, to that inherent state within ourselves which has not reached the process of becoming and that is not able to experience the modifications that the subsequent conditions of our existence bring about in our body and our thought. Back to the origins? More precisely, the discovery of that within us that is beyond all beyond all origin lived, thought or felt. Even when the adult has recognised this most interior mystery of his being, is he not constantly seeking to make of formulation of it, seize it, whereas that is actually as present to him as the light in his eyes and the air in his lungs? [49]
And Henri le Saux adds
Without a doubt it is this transparency to oneself of the child over and above all reflective thought, which is more commonly found in Indian thought when it contemplates the state (more than the way) of spiritual childhood – at least at the level of the way of wisdom or jñāna; because the bhakti tradition (loving devotion) will certainly be responsive to the attitude of trust and surrender to the paternal love that was so strongly emphasised by the saint of Lisieux’.[50]
As the most secure remedy for the temptation towards complexity that is woven into the hearts of adults, the child is worthy of "the blessed simplicity" [51] by which Raimon Panikkar described the monk as universal archetype. For the Catalan theologian, the child is truly the future of humanity that, on the threshold of maturity,
has, at this stage, two ways open to him: either to begin all over again and increase and broaden the flow of information, or to begin to simplify, to condense, to concentrate, so that all once again becomes simple, more transparent, as if he were recovering his lost innocence, though in a higher degree and a deeper sense. [52]
However, through the eyes of Indian wisdom, the child does not represent the final achievement of humanity's spiritual pilgrimage. In fact, after having exhorted "the sage to renounce learning (pāṇḍityaṃ) in order to become like a child (bālya)", the upaniṣad previously mentioned goes even further, proposing a higher and more reconciliatory ideal in the image of munin and above all that of brāhmaṇa of which the Bhagavadgītāsays that it is brahmayogayuktātman [53] and brahmabhūta [54]: "When he has turned away from both childhood and learning, he is a 'silent one' (munin). When he has turned away from both non-silence and silence, he is a brahmana (brāhmaṇaḥ)." [55] Commenting on this new spiritual stage, Henri le Saux wrote,
One might think that everything has been said, once the ideal of the child has been proposed; but no, it is necessary just as much to renounce being a child as being a scholar and to become a munin (or better a silent one: one who is led by the inspiration from within), then it is necessary to abandon all interest in being or not being silent or inspired. Only then does one become a true sage, one who knows from intimate experience the very mystery of Brahman. [56]
And with an extreme finesse that issues from the original outpouring of the upaniṣad that he wished to recover above and beyond all the commentaries from the subsequent tradition, the monk from Brittany clarified all the new contradictions that emerge along the path of awakening.
The child, himself, is unaware of his carefree indifference and of his freedom, he does not think that he is acting as a child. But the adult who has become a child again finds it difficult to forget that he has become a child again; and, in the very development of his state of infancy, he becomes again an adult: in so doing he is the same as the one who is in silence. When he becomes aware that he has attained this silence from outside, he has already broken the silence and he is no longer munin. At the level of ultimate experience, of the perfect childhood and of total silence, it is as if everything that could be said of wisdom, of childhood and of silence has evaporated, only the Brahman remains, alone and without another. The crystal that reflects the light is so much at one with that light that it no longer knows anything of itself or the light. There is not a word to describe that mystery; there is no action to attain it. That is, quite simply as the child is, and is itself, without thinking about it. [57]
Indian wisdom here reaches the virginal silence covering the human being, who now being nothing but pure astonishment in the face of the infinite newness of the Mystery, completely embedded in the Mystery and, above all, without any possibility of turning back to himself, lets the Mystery simply be. In an impressive way, by this spiritual achievement, India has anticipated the one who gathers within himself the figure of the perfect "gnostic" (pāṇḍita), to use the term of Clement of Alexandria (150-215), the figure of the child (bāla) or ho pais [58] as Clement of Rome (35-99) called him, and the figure of the silent one (munin) of whom Ignatius of Antioch (35-108) said he was the "the Word that came from silence" [59] – in short, the one who is perfectly united with the Absolute (brāhmaṇa) because "in the beginning he was with God, he was God" (John 1:1), in other words Jesus himself, the eternal Son hidden for eternity in the bosom of his Father, upon whom
he gazes with eternal childlike amazement: 'The Father is greater than I' (John 14:28). Indeed, he is irretrievably greater in so far as he is the origin of all things, even of the Son, and the Son never thinks of trying to ‘catch up’ to this his Source, for by so doing he would only destroy himself. He knows himself to be sheer Gift that is given to itself and which would not exist without the Giver who is distinct from the Gift and who nonetheless gives himself within it. [60]
Lost in "God’s eternity that is eternally youthful and surprising", lost in the trinitarian exchange that  is "an abyss of newness", [61] "in the Absolute Spirit of Love," the Son "marvels at Love itself as it permeates and transcends all that is". [62] But such a newness, source of the inexhaustible wonder of the Son, is also what is promised to all those who are called to be sons in Him, participants in Him in the trinitarian exchanges where they will be completely united with God.
Unceasingly, the divinised soul, in tune with the trinitarian rhythm, comes to the Father in the Spirit and by the Word, and goes from the Father to the Spirit through the Word, it is gathered into the One, it expands itself into the Three, having itself become mutual indwelling (circumincessio). [63]
For those who travel this path of unification in the present day by again becoming the little children to whom the Kingdom of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is promised, there is a vow to accompany them all along their journey:
God must give us a renewed mind
For nobler and freer love:
To make us so new in our life;
That Love may bless us
And renew, with new taste,
Those to whom she can give new fulness;
Love is the new and powerful recompense
Of those whose life renews itself for love alone.
Those who newly wish to know
In the new springtime, the new love. [64]
Translated by Roderick Campbell Guion OCDS

[1] Cf. Praśna Upaniṣad VI, 5

[2] Jules Monchanin here makes reference to two Indian philosophical systems (darśana): the saṃkhya and yoga as well as the way of devotion (bhakti) and that of spiritual knowledge (jñāna).

[3] Swami Parama Arubi Anandam (Fr. Monchanin) 1895-1957. A Memorial, Saccidānanda Ashram, Shantivanam: 1959, pp. 162-163.

[4] Bhagavadgītā (BG) 6, 46-47.

[5] BG 2, 47.

[6] BG 3, 19.

[7] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, Mantramañjarī. An Anthology of the Vedas for Modern Man and Contemporary Celebration, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977, p. 444.

[8] BG 6, 8.

[9] BG 2, 56.

[10] BG 2, 71.

[11] BG 6, 10-14.

[12] BG 5, 27-28.

[13] BG 6, 29.

[14]J. Monchanin, ‘Problèmes du yoga chrétien’, Mystique de l’Inde, Mystère chrétien, Paris: Fayard, 1974, p. 258.

[15] BG 12, 13-19.

[16] BG 16, 1-3.

[17] BG 18, 50-54.

[18] Cf. BG 2, 69: ‘In the dark night of all beings awakes to Light the tranquil man (saṃyamin). But what is day to other beings is night for the sage who sees’.

[19] BG 5, 21.

[20] On various occasions the Bhagavadgītā uses the expression nirvāṇa which had a huge influence in Buddhism. Cf. BG 2, 72: ‘This is the Eternal (Brahman) in man, O Arjuna. Reaching him all delusion is gone. Even in the last hour of his life upon earth, man can reach the nirvāṇa of Brahman – man can find peace in the peace of his God’; BG 6, 15: ‘The yogin who, lord of his mind, ever prays in this inner unification, attains the peace of nirvāṇa, the peace supreme that is in me’.

[21] BG 5, 24.

[22] BG 9, 9.

[23] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, p. 444.

[24] BG 2, 20.

[25] The principal texts of Hans-Urs von Balthasar on childhood are: Unless You Become Like This Child,San Franscisco: Ignatius Press, 1991; ‘The Eternal Child’ (Explorations in Theology. V: Man is Created, San Franscisco: Ignatius Press, 2014, pp. 205-217); ‘Young until Death’ (Ibidem, 218-224).

[26] H.-U. von Balthasar, ‘Young until Death’, p. 218.

[27] H.-U. von Balthasar, Unless You Become Like This Child, p. 41

[28] Saint Augustin, Ennarationes in Psalmos 131, 1=PL 37: 1710.

[29] Mk 9, 33-37=Mt 18, 1-5=Lk 9, 46-48; Mk 10, 13-16=Mt 19, 13-15=Lk 18, 15-17.

[30] H.-U. von Balthasar, Unless You Become Like This Child, p. 44.

[31] H.-U. von Balthasar, ‘The Eternal Child’, p. 214.

[32] R. Guardini, The Lord, Allahabad: St Paul Publications, 1962, p. 289.

[33]R. Guardini, Ibidem, p. 289.

[34]R. Guardini, Ibidem, p. 290.

[35]R. Guardini, Ibidem, p. 290-291.

[36]R. Guardini, Ibidem, p. 291.

[37] H.-U. von Balthasar, ‘Young until Death’, p. 224.

[38]H.-U. von Balthasar, Ibidem, p. 221.

[39]H.-U. von Balthasar, Ibidem, p. 222.

[40] ‘In the splendor of the sanctuary, from the womb of the dawn, I have begotten you’. This comes from a verse of Psalm 110 that the Roman liturgy uses as a communion antiphon at the Christmas eve mass so as to evoke, as does the gradual ‘Tecum Principium’, the eternal generation of the Word. In these immortal pieces, the music rises to summits of theological expression, which the feeble words of our intelligence cannot rival.

[41] This divine game is also a drama, as von Balthasar clearly showed concerning the entry of the coming of the eternal Son onto the world scene: "And even death itself turns out to be an essential part of the game. Jesus, now grown and with a full measure of responsibility, returns all his earthly achievements to the hands of the Father. It is as if he were trustfully asking the Father to repair a broken toy or a spoiled game, like an earthly child who knows that fathers can do anything. His child’s gesture – ‘into your hands’ – is thus the perfect act of trust in the Father, who will straighten every crooked line and retrieve every lost moment. There is a close connetion between childhood and death: the essential secret of both consists, quite simply, in the act of handing over the gift. It is in physical nakedness that the child enters the world, and it is in spiritual nakedness that he must entrust himself, stripped of all power, to the mystery of the Father. Everything between birth and death is a parenthesis. The seriousness of this parenthesis is part of God’s game, but at either end it is the aspect of play that stands out most prominently. The Father’s Child who proceeds from him eternally also returns to him eternally and in every moment of time. And this is the game that we, God’s other children, are invited to play as well" (The Eternal Child, pp. 216-217).

[42]Heraclitus, fragment 52.

[43] Cf. F. Boyer, Le dieu qui était mort si jeune, Paris: P.O.L, 1995.

[44]Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad III, 5, 1. Cf. H. Le Saux, ‘Dans le pays tamoul, Dieu, c’est l’enfant. Enfance spirituelle et Upaniṣad’, Les yeux de lumière. Écrits spirituels, Paris: ŒIL, 1989, p. 124.

[45] Cf. Śaṅkarācārya, Brahma Sūtra Bhāṣya III, 4, 50, Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama 1965, pp. 806-807.

[46]Śaṅkarācārya, Ibidem, p. 807

[47]H. Le Saux, ‘Dans le pays tamoul, Dieu, c’est l’enfant’, pp. 124-125.

[48]Śaṅkarācārya, Brahma Sūtra Bhāṣya, p. 807.

[49]H. Le Saux, ‘Dans le pays tamoul, Dieu, c’est l’enfant’, p. 125.

[50]H. Le Saux, Ibidem, p. 125.

[51] R. Panikkar,Blessed Simplicity: The Monk as Universal Archetype, New York: Seabury Press, 1982.

[52] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, p. 767.

[53] BG 5, 21.

[54] BG 5, 24.

[55] Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad III, 5, 1.

[56]H. Le Saux, ‘Dans le pays tamoul, Dieu, c’est l’enfant’, p. 125.

[57]H. Le Saux, Ibidem, p. 126.

[58] Cf. Clément of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians XVI, 3: "The Christ belongs to humble souls, to those who do not raise themselves above the flock. […] We have announced it like a small child".

[59] Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Magnesians VIII, 2

[60] H.-U. von Balthasar, Unless You Become Like This Child, p. 44.

[61] H.-U. von Balthasar, ‘Young until Death’, p. 222.

[62] H.-U. von Balthasar, Unless You Become Like This Child, p. 46.

[63] J. Monchanin, unpublished note: ‘Contemplation’.

[64] Hadewijch, Vale Millies 9 in The Complete Works,New York: Paulist Press, 1980, p. 130.


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