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Swami Abhishiktananda: An Interview with Raimon Panikkar

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Published on Nov 19, 2011

Swami Abhishiktananda: An interview with Raimon Panikkar conducted by Dr. Christian Hackbarth-Johnson.

Swami Abhishiktananda (1910--73), originally Fr. Henri Le Saux of Saint Anne's Abbey in Kergonan, France, is well known for his deep immersion into the Advaitic spirituality of India.

Abhishiktananda came to India in 1948 as a missionary with the concrete goal of establishing a form of Benedictine monasticism inculturated to the Indian context. In his first years in India he toured ashrams to gain an idea of Hindu monasticism and was deeply taken when he visited the ashram of the famous holy man Ramana Maharshi in Tamil Nadu. This led to a growing appreciation of Advaita Vedanta on its own terms, apart from any desire to convert Hindus to Christianity. For two decades, to the end of his life, Abhishiktananda pursued the Advaitic goal of immersion into pure, unqualified consciousness, beyond personal identity. At the same time, Abhishiktananda maintained his identity as a Catholic priest, celebrating Mass and praying the psalms to the end of his life. His deep fidelity to two traditions made for an extremely valuable experiment. Different people draw different conclusions from his life, but for good or for ill, his life was, in the words of Bettina Bäumer, "a laboratory of spiritual alchemy"
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Raimon Pannikar was born as the son of a Spanish Roman Catholic mother and a Hindu Indian father in Barcelona. His mother was well-educated and from the Catalan bourgeoisie. His father belonged to an upper caste Malabar Nair family from South India. Panikkar's father was a freedom fighter during British colonial rule in India and escaped from Britain and married into a Catalan family. Panikkar's father studied in England and was the representative of a German chemical company in Barcelona.

Educated at a Jesuit school, Panikkar studied chemistry and philosophy at the universities of Barcelona, Bonn and Madrid, and Catholic Theology in Madrid and Rome. He earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Madrid in 1946 and a doctorate in chemistry in 1958. He earned a third doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome in 1961. He compared St. Thomas Aquinas's Philosophy with the eighth-century Hindu philosopher Ādi Śańkara's Interpretation of the Brahma Sutras

He entered the Opus Dei organization in 1940. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1946, and was a professor of philosophy at the University of Madrid. He made his first trip to India in 1954 where he studied Indian philosophy and religion at the University of Mysore and Banaras Hindu University, where he met several Western monks seeking Eastern forms for the expression of their Christian beliefs. "I left Europe [for India] as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be Christian," he later wrote.

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