Volume XIII:2 July - December 2023
Abhishiktananda’s Tao: 
Bridge Consciousness
Introduction: The Importance of Pathfinders
Today, people find themselves straddling cultural, social, and even religious fault-lines, frantically searching for convincing models as they try to find their way through uncharted lands. There exists a considerable fluidity and unpredictability in all domains of life. Clear ideals or inclusive ideologies are alarmingly missing in the present epoch of immediate access to information, Artificial Intelligence, and global markets. People find themselves in borderline situations where the interaction of variant religious pursuits and values engenders a cultural and religious chaos. Even though this confluence of cultural, informational, and spiritual values may cause confusion, it is also enchanting. Frontiers are no longer boundaries of separation and conflict; they can be bridged through dialogue and collaboration and thereby become centres of cultural and religious mutations and permutations in the evolution of humanity. We are confronted with paradoxical (but not necessarily contradictory) trends as conflicting models cohabit and cohere in seemingly implausible appropriations and juxtapositions.
Tolerance has become the dominant virtue in our present ever-expanding pluralistic culture. People sense they are completely free to belong to various religious and cultural orthodoxies and orthopraxies as a way of coping  with the pluralistic context of the present time. In such an ambivalent setting, they begin to think, articulate, and live out their lives beyond set patterns and binaries. A sense of unpredictability and directionless in the midst of multiple options has become the “new normal.” Members of the present generation resist polar binaries; rather they seek a middle path (tao) in order to bring together and harmonize the ambivalences of the present multi-layered and multi-lineal scenario.
In this process what is needed is a hermeneutics of inter/multi-culturation that may not necessarily lead to a third reality. A hermeneutic of this kind implies a composite and layered cultural consciousness in which one stands firmly on one’s own shore of beliefs and faith but is at the same time bridged to the belief systems and philosophies of others in a creative contemplation that is more directed to experiencing the compelling miscellanea of daily life than to creating virtual constructs and absolutes. What is in gestation is a silent but sure shift from the exclusive “insight” of each tradition to an enthralling “inter-sight.” This “inter-sight” is generated and nurtured in a mind-space of tolerance in which the dignity and claim of the “other” is respected, recognized, and appreciated, even to the extent of entertaining mutations and permutations.
A consciousness of this kind respects and integrates the inviolable uniqueness and claim of the “other” without compromising one’s own identity. Sequentially, a new hope and promise of an interactive cultural and social harmony and synergy is silently and surely gestated and fostered. What is implicit is a silent paradigm shift from “hub” to “web” in which one’s identity is interpreted and constructed in the labyrinth of a multi-layered and dimensional network of relations. Identity is not conceived in self-referential and impenetrable silos but on the heterogeneous spectrum of inter-sights and multiple belonging. One does so because it has become evident that someone who is 100% Christian, or 100% Muslim, or100% Hindu is dangerous and obstructs humanity’s tryst with destiny.
The Advocacy of Abhishiktananda
For Abhishiktananda, this inclusive pluralistic spectrum of tolerance is “bridge consciousness.” It is a consciousness of plurality in unity rather than of unity in plurality. That is to say, it is a “harmony of life” built up and sustained in a network of synergic partnership or of juxtaposition attained through reverence and mutual receptions and “re-conceptions” of one’s own identity sources, all of which lead to mutual transformations and empowerment. Abhishiktananda insists that this consciousness is to be achieved, first and foremost, at the depth (au sein du fond) of one’s being. This interior depth will then naturally brim over into the public realm: into cultural life, religious values, political options, etc. Such an outcome is dependent on being grounded in one’s own inner core, the constant of one’s narrative. Indeed, it implies uprooting one’s existing complacent identity and certainties. Obviously, it also entails a voluntary embrace of vulnerability and a positive indulgence of the wisdom of uncertainty. What is inherent in this process is adventuring into the “inner space,” which, as the mystics and seers would say, is larger than outer space. One must cast one's net into the deep! (see Luke 5:4).
If the inner war is won, it will be easier to take on the struggles of daily life. To phrase it differently, the prerequisite for transforming the present identity crisis, as frontiers become diffusive and indefinite, is the awakening of oneself to one’s own ground of being (guhantra) and becoming a witness “within.” Inner space is the “constant” to which one existentially belongs, a source beyond space and time. It is precisely in this domain of “guhaja” that one should learn to take on the current cultural and religious instability.
Today many consider Swami Abhishiktananda a prophet, a pioneer who through his own self-awakening embodied multi/inter-religious consciousness. His spiritual path was in line with the teaching of the Buddha: First you become a light unto yourself (atmo-deepo-bhava) and then everything is accomplished effortlessly. That is also the teaching of Jesus: First seek the kingdom of God [within] (Matt 6:33); then the rest will happen spontaneously. Abhishiktananda’s experimentation with Advaita made him a wayfarer and a pathfinder for spiritual seekers in the cultural and religious milieux of a “Brave New World.”
Swamiji’s initial intention was to bring about a synthesis between Benedictine monasticism and Hindu sannyasa. At this point it should be stated unambiguously that his exploration and experimentation in the Asian world of asceticism and mysticism was with Advaita (non-duality), and Advaita should not be identified with Hinduism. In fact, Advaita is antithetical to Hinduism. The latter is a caste-ridden, inhumane religious system that promotes regressive social, political, and economic practices that are harmful for all layers and domains of the society. Swamiji was fascinated by Advaita and Advaita alone; his endeavour was to bring forth a Christian Advaita that would offer an alternate way in the present state of religious pluralism.
The fundamental conviction that Abhishiktananda came to through his arduous experiment with Advaita is that awakening to self implies and entails a spontaneous and simultaneous awakening to God, to our brothers and sister, and to the whole of creation. The spontaneous awakenings that arise in one’s pursuit of the divine in the deepest recesses of oneself are the crux and core of Abhishiktananda’s way and witness of life. His mentor Ramana Maharshi used to say, “Be the water and not the froth. That is done by diving in!” Why should one dread the “depth”? In the turbulent waters of religious pluralism, the net must be cast into the deep for a good catch!
The Underlying Theological Narrative
As was the case for the sages of eternal India, Swamiji was drawn by the call of being per se, and for this reason he passionately immersed himself in self-inquiry. Inward musings were the text and tone of his inquiry, which was intuitive, experiential, experimental, explorative, and above all existential. Without fear of contradiction, it can be said that God, the source of life, is fundamentally being without beginning or end. This being is “be-ing” (Dasein, Martin Heidegger). It is always in process (karma), and thus being is simultaneously and instantly karmani (actor). Hindu terminology refers to this source of life as Brahman, which means “expand,” “explode,” “processual.” It is “anahata-shabda” (unproduced sound): knowledge and energy. The Word (nama-rupa) is born from the bosom of brahma-shabda (the divine quantum or big bang of God’s particle?). In this sense, existence is a continuous process that has no beginning or end; it is justified in virtue of itself. It is an eternal surge, vibration, and flow; it is a continuous process, the ecosystem of which is shristi-shtiti-samhara (creation – preservation - restoration).
In the Christian dispensation, existence, tout court, is made explicit in the “Christ event;” Incarnation is not merely a historical event that happened once upon a time; it continues ad infinitum through the dispensation of the Spirit. The mutuality and simultaneity of incarnation–death-resurrection is intrinsic to and constitutive of the Christian dispensation. It could be interpreted as a living parable or paradigm of the creation–preservation-restoration ecosystem of life and its effulgent epiphany in myriad manifestations. It entails a processual movement in the very texture of being, which is fundamentally intuited as advaitic (non-dual) in the Vedanta. Reality is neither one nor two; it is simply non-dual. Thus, Advaita offers a more creative tension, implying that reality is not at the pole but in the creative continuum (Tao) without poles. It is processual and ever unfolding in the existential web of life in both the manifest and unmanifest realms.  
It could be conjectured that such religious intuition of the existence is in sync with modern physics, which suggests that the “implicate [or “unfolded”] order of reality” at the subatomic realm is ever a wave or a flux. Hence, there is no such thing as utter objectivity. In other words, reality is simultaneously subjective and objective. Everything is relative and impermanent; the enduring phenomenon is reality in flux. One must be in sync with the constant flow of existence at the unmanifest realm in which synergic appropriations and approximations are embodied. The beauty and harmony of the external world of myriad diversity is to be recognized and celebrated in an inclusive and holistic way. Quantum physics tells us that the immense manifest world of billions of galaxies is just a fraction of reality: only 00.5%! The remaining 99.5% is unmanifest, hidden, and beyond sense perception. The manifest world is gestated, nurtured, and crafted by the unseen, intangible, and unheard depth.
In Abhishiktananda’s nomenclature, the one who lives in the depth of being is Guhantra.[1] Ramana Maharshi, the guru of Abhishiktananda, would speak of the hrdayaguha (the cave of the heart). The beyond-ness of this ever-enthralling guhaja is the heart of existence, which we can call God, mother, abba, Brahman, being, Trinity, satcitananda etc. There, as the Bhagavat Gita puts it, “Curving back within myself I create again and again” (IX.8). Being ever in the mode of “re-creation” is the inner life of the being. The core of reality is this ontological vulnerability of being’s becoming (“I am who become [am]”! (Exodus 3:14). Unlike Thomism, which posits an “immutable” God [immutability regarded as holiness], the godhead is processual and is a profound engaging presence at the ground of existence. The manifest world is only a microscopic speck of the unmanifest world. Human beings can intuit the subtlest movements at the depth of being (guhantra) by adhering to a profound path of awareness and becoming a sakshi (witness). Swamiji was totally committed to Ramana Maharshi, who taught that it is through atma-vicara (self-inquiry), that one can reach this advaitic core.
Mundaka Upanishad offers this way of understanding guhantra:
[It is] effulgent, near at hand [saṁnihitaṁ = put (nihitaṁ) together (saṁ)], and well known as moving in the heart [guhācaraṁ], and (It is) the great goal. On it are fixed all these that move, breathe, and wink or do not wink. Know this One which comprises the gross and the subtle, which is beyond the ordinary knowledge of creatures, and which is the most desirable and the highest of all (Muṇḍaka Upanishad 2, 2, 1).
Swamiji employs both guhantra and guhāja intermittently in his writings. Indeed, guhantra is the title of his magnum opus, which was published posthumously. guhaja denotes “bosom” or “womb” wherein life sprouts – verily the source of life. Its biblical equivalent could be the “kingdom of God within” (see Luke 17:21). Swamiji insists that this can only be lived out and celebrated by going to the depth, the latent advaitic coherence and integrity of existence (the coincidence of “many in the one” and “one in the many”/the manifest in the unmanifest, and unmanifest in the manifest). His insistence can be interpreted according to vedic intuition: tad-ekam (that-one). It is also be interpreted as ekam evadvitiyam (the one without a second) by Chandogya upanishad (6.2.1) The advaitic interpretation sees the Vedic “tad-ekam” not as an ontological monad existing in eternal aloofness and ideal holiness, as a “sky god” but as an existential exuberance of being (mother god). It is processual, ever creative, and ever new, and it spills over into the world of maya (time and space). Tad-ekam indulges in shristi–sthithi-samhara (creation-preservation-restoration): a simultaneous movement of evolution-involution.
Abhishiktananda’s witness is profoundly shaped by the ambience of an advaitic intuition that existence is neither one nor two but “non-dual.” It is an inner movement of being (nirvrtti) on a par with its outward movement (pravrtti). In this inward transcendence (inscendence) one can intuit the inherent fluidity of being through guhantra, the “constant” of the passing and relative phenomenal world. One must first enter this depth through atma-vicara¸ “witnessing-I” (vipassana). To phrase it differently, it is through the path of conscious awareness (“choiceless awareness”)[2] that one can awaken to the depth that is the immediate threshold to the divine.
According to the Buddhist tradition, the path of awareness is the path of “mindfulness/heartfulness.” Delving into the depth (au sein du fond, guhaja) coincides with the divine, the source of life. Thereby an ontic bridge between the divine and the earthly is achieved through interiority. Such self-realization naturally brims over from the interior realm to the exterior socio-religious and cultural realm. Hence Swamiji insists that any fruitful dialogue between Christianity and Advaita is possible only when it realizes a communion of beings at the depth (guhaja). One can really bridge  “self-awareness” to the whole of reality that is at the root of one’s being at the unmanifest realm. In post-modern conversation, this inner core of communion is called “cosmic intelligence” or “life-energy.” Such a dialogue would be characterized as one of mutual empowerment and enhancement in which the harmony of religious pursuits is discerned and celebrated effortlessly and spontaneously. The question of changing one’s religion, which involves cultural and social entities, is nonissue in the realm of interiority.
Bridge Consciousness”
Swamiji characterizes his “awakening” au fond as “bridge consciousness.” He claims, “I simply find myself profoundly Hindu and Christian at the same time.”[3] He endeavours to delineate this double loyalty in a dialectic logic: “It is precisely this being torn apart between Advaita and Christianity which enables me to live the fundamental experience and to express its mystery to some extent.”[4] This fundamental experience could be a “profound mutation” or an inclusive and non-conclusive “witness” beyond all knowledge and human reasoning. Or it could be a mystical subject-referral at the interiority of his being, which is same as the very subjectivity of existence itself. “Guhaja” must involve “inter-subjectivity,” and that means that his double loyalty can be expressed through the metaphor of a bridge. While a bridge connects two riverbanks, a turbulence flows underneath it. Swamiji’s being “torn apart” can be conceived as something brought about by a “breakthrough” and/or a “breakdown.” Such is the inexplainable paradox of awakening! It is experiential and existential, beyond human constructs. It is  “knowing of knowing”—the “eye of the eye,” “breath of the breath”—a radical witness without a subject or object, just pure “karma” that is justified in virtue of itself, an ecstatic synchronicity with the web of existence. Metaphorically, it is a correspondence of “the art of living” with “the art of dying.” The decay of a seed coincides with its sprouting.
From a Christian point of view, it might be said that in virtue of the vicarious death of Jesus on the cross, the empty tomb becomes the womb of new life! The cross turns out to be a “plus,” the transformation of limited existence into greater communion! Swamiji opted to live out this tension in an inter-faith context. He was convinced that this border experience should be prolonged in the story of his life as well as that of the Church. If a theological synthesis can come out of this border experience, it might well become the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) in due course of time.
Being the bearer/witness of this seamless border experience seems to be Abhishiktananda’s missionary vocation. For him, the frontier between Christianity and Advaita is not to be marked by conflict and apologetics but rather by harmony and the mutual appropriation of two fundamental experiences of humanity. Becoming a bridge in his very being was how he wanted to embody this harmony. As Raymond Panikkar writes, "Swamiji’s importance and ‘weight’ lies not in his ideas but in his ‘being.’”[5]
In an inter-faith context, depth consciousness is bridge consciousness of tolerance, dialogue, reverence, and acceptance of the other in his/her ingenuity, dignity, and identity. Such a dialogue evolves into a synchronicity embedded in the eternal flow of existence that has no beginning or end. Existence of its very nature is processual; it is mandated in, through, and by itself; the processual ontic structure of being is the very essence of the whole epiphany of existence. Inter-faith dialogue should vibrate with the inclusive and overarching phenomenon and noumenon of existence. It should be clear that it is only through an utter surrender to this unknowable at the depth (the Ekhartian Grund) that one can truly become a genuine agent of the ontological unity and existential harmony of existence. In sum, according to Abhishiktananda, bridge consciousness, which is the very substance, style, and grammar of inter-faith/multi-faith dialogue, is the vital space in which harmonious religious pursuits can be achieved. Bridge religiousness is indeed an inclusive space sui generis within which religions in dialogue should be willing to be interrogated as well as re-cognized. Through self-critique and a process of unlearning and of recognizing commonalities, mutual appropriations and empowerments can be realized.
Christological Implications
Abhishiktananda endeavoured to appropriate his advaitic consciousness into his Christian faith through an evolutionary-revolutionary Christology. He interpreted the mystery of the ever processual being in the ambit of the “cycle of being” of birth-rebirth, where the movement is not understood as a cyclic repetitive movement but one that is spiral —an ever-deepening and enhancing epiphany in space and time ad infinitum. Swamiji interpreted the Christ event as the exemplar par excellence of the “ideal cycle of being.” He based his reasoning on Jesus” foundational identity statement: “I have come from the Father and I return to the Father” (see John 16:28). The coming and the returning of the Word would be interpreted as the birth and rebirth of being (dvija) that undergirds the whole of existence. A distant metaphor of this phenomenon can be seen in the sustenance and equilibrium of the whole of creation, which is sustained in the ecological recycling process to such a degree that the whole universe is innately self-reliant and self-supporting. The whole ecological system can be seen as a parable of the incarnation event; the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus can be interpreted as a mutually clarifying equation in which no event is negated or excluded. Instead, since all events are constituents of one and same eternal process, each event is critically integrated and appropriated in the redemptive sequence . For example, the crucifixion does not nullify the import of the resurrection; rather, it  integrates and appropriates it. Resurrection does not stand alone, independent of the crucifixion in the Christ event. Rather, resurrection is a consequence and a constituent of the crucifixion. Thereby, birth, death, and resurrection belong to an integral sequential continuum so much so that all are the indispensable coordinates of one and the same mystery of incarnation.
In the story of Jesus, his Abba consciousness, can be interpreted as his guhantra/guhaja. In his journey of life, Jesus constantly dealt with four existential questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? Why have I come? Where am I going? He lived out these four questions in constant reference to his Abba consciousness while also constructing his identity with reference to his kingdom ministry. His ministry of healing and driving out evil spirits and his preferential option for the poor were for the glory of the Father and to fulfil his will. From birth to death, he was conscious that he came from the Father and would go to the Father by engaging in the Father’s mission (missio Dei). He always kept alive the processual consciousness that he was being sent. As he constructed his identity and went about his mission, he reiterated this profound self-awareness in his engagement with people and in his teaching, preaching, and healing. His Christological sayings“I am in the Father and Father is in me” (John 10:38); “I and the Father and I are one” (John 10:30)unambiguously reveal that his self-understanding was deeply embedded in Abba consciousness and the consequent missional engagement.
Moreover, one can easily recognize that there was a profound mutual appropriation between the “kingdom of God within” and “kingdom of God without” in the narrative of Jesus. He was in constant conversation with the Father. Indeed, Jesus’ witness is to fulfil the will of God; his absolute surrender in this regard can be inferred in his utter renunciation: ““My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39). This Abba-to-Abba movement through the missio Dei (kingdom ministry) is the very grammar and gamut of Jesus’ story. This movement is a spiral, evolutionary, and even revolutionary (prophetic) movement from his birth to the death on the cross, and it climaxes in the resurrection and beyond through the missio Spiritus.[6]
Conclusion: The Way, the Wayfarer, the Pathfinder
Abhishiktananda interprets awakening (svayamjyoti) in terms of God’s presence to Himself: I AM. He says one can enter the PRESENCE in the mystery of self. He writes: “This presence is entirely mine, founded in me, fixed in me, gushing out from the very depth of my presence to myself.” According to him, all our attempts to understand God gush out from the fundamental witness: “I am” (aham asmi). The same was true of the self-understanding of Jesus: “I am” (John 8:58). We can therefore say that “awakening to self” turns itself into “awakening to God” in virtue of the very act itself. It does not need any external agency or mediation. Rather, it is an interior face-to-face communion through which one simply becomes a witness (sakshi), a seer. Face-to-face immediacy is expressed in advaitic immediacy. When one becomes a seer, a seeker, seeking and sought roll into “tat-tvam-asi” (you are that). There is an ineffable and effulgent “coincidence of opposites” (Nicholas of Cusa) that is existential, experiential, and beyond all human constructs.
Succinctly, this advaitic communion with reality is simply the “suchness” (tathata) that one savours rightly and justly, without cause or purpose. It is effortless wu wei (non-doing), an active passivity. a pure act of witnessing without subject or object. Moreover, in this communion, a mutual surrender takes place in which there is a mutual inflow of the finite and the infinite. The Bhagavat Gita expresses the dynamic of this interior communion quite aptly: “atmani-atmanam-atmana (self is known in and through and by itself). This communion can be interpreted as the trinitarian communion of life in which coherence between the Father and Son brims over in the mutual communion (energy) that is the joy of the Holy Spirit. According to Advaita, this interior witness is “sat-cit-ananda” (being-consciousness-bliss). It is purnam (fullness) that is processive anandam (eternal), of which the Upanishad muses: “There is fulness; here is fulness; fulness comes from fulness; when fulness is taken away from fulness what remains is fulness” (Isha Upanishad: Peace prayer). Thereby one finds oneself immersed in this fullness in which existence evolves and turns inward, is born and reborn. In the realm of bridge consciousness, one cannot but be in sync with this eternal flow.
 A realized person will be in accord with this “flow” (shakti, maya, ruha) and become a wave in the ocean of life. Then, the awakened person in his/her domain of  interior witness “sees everything in one's own self, and one's own self in everything” (Isha Upanishad, 6). This is the radical experience of the communion of beings at the ground of being, which, according to Abhishiktananda, should be at the core of any inter/multi faith dialogue. To phrase it differently, dialogue will grow into witness. This veritable interior compass is the missional third space where the Gospel can genuinely take flesh and blood through an inclusive and non-conclusive dialogue.
What is imperative in this sadhana of dialogue is utter obedience to the a posteriori revelations of the Spirit that transpire in the very process of religions being in conversation. At that turn of events, dialogue will be transformed into a competent and genuine religious praxis in a multi-religious scenario. Thus, our own understanding of faith evolves into and involves witness, an existential and experiential inter-faith/multi-faith expression of bridge consciousness, of which Abhishiktananda is the way, the wayfarer, and the pathfinder!
[1] "For they enter into the Depths/ of the Heart of Arunachala,/ and have they not lost even their names/ and all that was until that moment,/ that they might be nothing more/ than those who live in the Depths,/ Guhantara-/ those who live within the Cave/ of the Heart of Arunachala?" Le Saux, Intériorité et révélation. Essais théologiques, Éditions Presence, Sisteron 1982, pp. 123-124, in Italian: H. Le Saux, Nella caverna del cuore, ed. S. Rossi, Le Lettere, Firenze 2022, p. 256.
[2] J. Krishnamurthi, Choiceless Awareness (Chennai: Sudarsan Graphics, 2009)
[3] Henri Le Saux, La Montée vers le fond du coeur (Paris: O.E.I.L:1986), 47.
[4]James Stuart, Swami Abhishiktananda: His Life Told through his Letters (Delhi: ISPCK, 1989), 207
[5]Vandana, ed., Swami Abhishiktananda, The Man and his Teachings (Delhi: I.S.P.C.K., 1986), 12.
[6]Antony Kalliath, “Christic-Wheel, Christological Reflections on the Pilgrimage of Swami Abhishiktananda,” Word & Worship, Vol. 43. No.2 (2010): 109-129.
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