Toward a Christian Advaita, Part III

Continuing our reflections…. There’s one of the letters that Abhishiktananda wrote to someone describing some time he spent with his one disciple, Marc. In that letter he says that he and Marc had spent two whole days studying and reflecting on just the first line of the Gospel of John. As I mentioned in the previous posting this is very rich ground and it is key in developing a theological foundation and a spirituality of a Christian advaita.

Let me begin with a quote from Abhishiktananda, from the mid ‘60s when he wrote Saccidananda:

“It is a fact that Jesus never expressed himself in terms like those used, for example, by Ramana Maharshi, and still less does his teaching echo that of the Upanishads. No one has the right to isolate the saying, ‘My Father and I are one’(John 10:30), and to interpret it without reference to the rest of the Gospel. Advaitins themselves apply a similar rule when anyone lays too much emphasis on the apparently dualistic expressions which can be found here and there in the Hindu Scriptures.

“For Jesus, God is truly ‘an Other,’ another I distinct from his own I. Jesus addresses God as ‘You,’ and God also speaks to him in the second person. With this You, this Other, Jesus has continual communion and communication. But the relationship is a particularly profound and mysterious one. No words can adequately describe it or fully express its richness.”

“Again, at the deepest level of his human consciousness, underlying all his activity, all he said and did, there appears that secret and inexpressible relationship that he has with God. He calls God his Father, and that in a sense that no Jew had ever done before. To reveal the Father is the heart of his message, the purpose of his mission in the world…. Jesus constantly refers to that Other from whom he has come and to whom he is going. When he speaks, it is only to repeat what he has first heard from his Father…. The Father who dwells in him bears witness to him….One senses that the continual recollection of the Father underlies Jesus’ consciousness at every moment. He cannot think of himself without being aware of his Father at the very source of this thought of himself; and equally the awareness which he had of himself simply as a man seems to lead him irresistibly to the thought and awareness of the Father deep within, deeper than his own I, the Father from whom he comes and to whom he goes.”


By the end of his life in the early ‘70s, Abhishiktananda was not satisfied with this wording and he criticized his own work in Saccidananda, and you can see from his letters and his journal that he was moving in a more radical direction and he was more uncomfortable with the capacity of traditional formulations to capture the experience of advaita. But this earlier language does serve several good purposes. For one, it does help the person who is new to advaita to begin to explore the possibility of a Christian advaita and not just stay in a bhakti mode as it were. But more importantly, this language reflects quite accurately the real struggle in the Gospel of John between the language of relationality–and thus an implied dualism, “God” as the “Other”–and the language of “oneness,” advaita.

What’s being conveyed in this language reaches a kind of crescendo in the final discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Both relationality and oneness are paramount and neither can be dropped out of the Christian picture. Jesus is “the Logos” in “sarx,” in the human condition totally and fully. Thus Jesus manifests who the “Father” is(this is the function of the Logos), who this Source is and what is this Source all about. Don’t be thrown by that term, “Father”; it is a Semitic expression in contrast to the seemingly more abstract Greek term, “Logos.” It personalizes the Source, and thus this language pushes the vision into a relational, dualistic focus. However, it is also, in this context of the Gospel, not an emotive word, a kind of bhakti endearment, nor is it a gender designator. It is not as if there were “another” person sitting across the table from you. (Thus the folks who want to replace “Father” with “Mother” are missing the point, focusing on a wrong emphasis as if gender is an issue here. True, later generations made the same mistake in making male gender critical in this rendering of the Source. Here is Abhishiktananda: “The words Abba, Amma, Ba, Ma, are the first babbling of the infant, his first expression of relationship. Ba, Ma, designate not the father-mother, but the person close to him whose relationship has for him an absolute value, who is his support, his loka. God the Father[or Mother] is so much more than the abstract symbol of the one who begets.” )

Jesus in the Gospel of John does two things at the same time: on the one hand he manifests an incredible relationality with the Source, “the Father,” which has this intimacy which was jolting to the Semitic mindset. This is apparent in his appropriation of the word, “Abba,” which would never ever be used in reference to God in a Semitic setting. When we reduce “abba” to an emotive or gender word we miss out on the full implications of what the Gospel is pointing to. (As Abhishiktananda said “abba” is the “mystery of non-distance.”) On the other hand, this Jesus of the Gospel also claims that he is “one” with the Source. As Abhishiktananda correctly warns us, we cannot jump from this statement alone to a claim for a Christian advaita. This is a mysterious oneness, and it is very important to recall that Jesus never says that he is “the Father.” “My Father and I are one” is not the same saying as “I am the Father.” That would be what we earlier called “monism”–Jesus and “the Father” are one thing, simply two different appearances of the same thing–this is not uncommon among various Hindu advaitins. But Jesus does emphatically claim a “oneness” with the Source which is all wrapped in absolute Mystery. Remember that Jesus says that NO ONE knows “the Father”… except “the Son.” Thus, oneness with Source is only “known” through and in this relationality. A very paradoxical situation! And then this Jesus of the Gospel invites us into a participation in that oneness. This then introduces the other “mysterious” party in this relationality, the Holy Spirit. And believe me, no one knows what they are talking about when they talk about the Holy Spirit. We do know what Paul tells us is very, very significant: it is the Holy Spirit which utters “abba” in the depths of our hearts; and thus it is the Holy Spirit which is the “agent” as it were of Christian advaita.


So Christian advaita will always be wrapped in Total Mystery which speaks to us through symbols and languages of paradox and mystery which are there for our hearts and minds to ponder. It is always characterized by relationality AND oneness, the irreducible poles of the Mystery between which we live our historical lives and by which our very humanity constantly shines…the Transfiguration…. In the last years of his life, Abhishiktananda was still wrestling to better express this Mystery but he was also pushing the language into new territory. Here is a sample from 1972, a year before his death:

“The Trinity is a threefold depth when the laser penetrates to the deepest point of my being. A threefold depth of myself, not an idea received from without, in the abstract, but an experience of my own consciousness which the Master’s revelation nevertheless helps one to formulate…. The name of these depths: sahatvam – vaktram – gudham.

–Sahatvam: the mystery of being-together, or relationship, of the Spirit.

— Vaktram: the face manifested by the word, vak, the Purusha.

–Gudham: the absolutely ineffable Ground, the Father.

The name of God had been at the same time revealed and hidden in the O.T. Yet in it God had spoken so much. In it God had revealed so much of himself. Jesus claimed for him the function of the Word and of Judgment. He gave back to God his mystery by taking for him the function of God manifesting God.

God is communion–God is Word and face–God is mystery.

I am communion. I am word and face. I am mystery.

Each human “I” is communion, word and face, mystery.

The whole of creation is communion, word and face, mystery.

Sahatvam, vaktram, gudham.”


“So long as I call anyone on earth brother (on whatever grounds I may do this) I have the right to give the name Father to the ultimate depth of the guha….

“Christian experience is really the experience of advaita lived out in human communion. And that is what the Trinity is. But we have sought to escape this fire by deifying formulas and institutions. Christian experience is the Spirit who makes human beings to be brothers and to gather around the unique, cosmic, archetypal Purusha, of whom Jesus is the preferred expression for an entire segment of humanity. But we should not base an ‘apodictic’ theology on this essentially relative mental foundation (a particular myth), in terms of which the Gospel has been thought and expressed. The gospel lived in the Spirit. The Spirit alone is important. No form can hold the Spirit, it passes through them all.

“The Father is not necessarily Someone to whom I would address adoration–prayer, to whom I would say Thou, of whom I would say He. I adore him just as truly when I am recollected in my depth, in myself, outside myself…. I discover him, I adore him, when I say Thou to another person, from the very depth of my own I. Un-born, to whom should I address myself? Born from every look that rests on me, I adore the Father in my surrender to that look.

“Offer the rite, offer the prayer in all freedom-spontaneity. No one can impose it on me. But in the group of believers it has its value. And that is why I was as genuine at Poona in the liturgy as in the Upanishads. Therefore a refusal of all theology–both that which ‘namarupin’ Christians impose on me, and equally that which no less namarupin Vedantins want to impose on me! I am, according to the Trinitarian model, indivisibly non-dual and in communion, ‘both’ of them, the one through the other. Theological questions: recover the wisdom of the Buddha’s silence. Refusal, even refusal of the refusal.”


An amazing statement! And only one of many such statements in the last years of his life. To be continued………..