OM and the Christian Monk

Late into last night I read The Cave of the Heart by Shirley de Boulay. It is an intimate portrait of the Benedictine monk - Henri Le Saux - who went to India and became Swami Abhishiktananda - in the late 1940's.

As William Johnston, SJ, notes on the back cover - Le Saux "stands besides Thomas Merton, Anthony de Mello, and Bede Griffiths as one of the architects of a new mystical Christianity." And these of course, have been three of my favorite writers for decades.

Le Saux underwent a radical transformation as he truly immersed himself in the practices of two traditions - being fully anchored in both.

I was moved by reading how he went to the Himalayas, and there practically stripped naked - he recited the Psalms and chanted OM for three weeks.

These are some of his insights on his experiences and the meaning of this Sacred Syllable:

"Not allowing myself to locate God anywhere outside of me, but recognizing that within as well as without there is only He alone. For if there were God plus an 'other,' he would no longer be God, the Absolute! Nothing is left but he who says: I AM! Then what does it matter where I 'myself' am? Nothing is left but He who says 'I' 'aham,' from eternity to eternity. OM is precisely the word of the one who in the presence of the mystery can do no more."

Du Boulay notes that "Abhisiktananda loved the sacred syllable OM and wrote about it with a rare passion and insight."

Here are some more of this mystic's musings:

"OM is not a name for has no special meaning...It stands...for the ineffable and unsearchable nature of the abyss of the divine Being...It is a kind of barely articulated exclamation, which is uttered when anyone finds himself personally confronted with the infinite mystery of God...

OM is the primordial word uttered by God in creating. OM is the beginning of God's self-manifestation. OM is at the origin of the universe. OM is also at the center of the soul from which arises the awareness of being oneself. All the possible sounds that our lips could utter, all the words which will ever be derived from them in the languages of mankind, are already contained in this primordial OM, the shabda-brahman, brahman in the form of sound, as it is also called."

And this final excerpt comes from a poem written by Le Saux that is a hymn to OM:

"The OM which our rishis heard resounding in their souls,
when they descended to the greatest depths in themselves,

deeper than their thoughts

and deeper than all their desires,

in the existential solitude of Being.

The OM which sounds in the rustling of leaves

shaken by the wind,

the OM which howls in the storm

and moans in the gentle breeze,

the OM which roars in the rushing torrent

and the gentle murmur of the river

flowing peacefully down to the sea,

the OM of the spheres making their way across the sky,

and the OM that throbs at the core of the atom.

That which sings is the song of the birds,

that which is heard in the call of beasts in the jungle,

the OM of people laughing and the OM of their sighs,

the OM that vibrates in their thoughts
and in all their desires,
the OM of their words of warfare,
of love, or trade,
the OM that Time and History utter on their way,

the OM uttered by Space when entering into Time.

This OM suddenly burst out, whole and entire,

in a corner of space and at a point of time,

in its indivisible fullness,

when in Mary's womb was born as Son of man,

the Word, the Son of God."

And Le Saux's one journal entry during this time:

"The solitude of the Alone. An advaitic retreat...Solitude with God is not solitude. Accept being alone, infinitely alone. Alone in my eternity. This is the royal road that leads to the real face-to-face with the Father. Jesus was alone in his death: Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachtani."

I was left speechless. In a place of profound insight...


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