Swami Ajatananda The Spiritual Encounter with India
The Meeting with Swami Abhishiktananda
The Meeting with Swami Chidananda Saraswati
The Eternal Light
Sannyasa Diksha – The Irreversible Journey
A Life of Seclusion

“The Self is neither born, nor will it ever die. He comes from nowhere and nothing emanates from it. Unborn, eternal, ever present, primordial, it doesn’t perish even when the body is destroyed.” Katha Upanishad I.2.18

The Spiritual Encounter with India Born in France on 10 May 1944, Marc Chaduc had always felt an intense attraction to the spiritual life. In January 1969, a common friend introduced him to H.H. Swami Chidananda Saraswati, the President of the Divine Life Society, who was visiting Lyon (France) at the time. Marc wrote in his journal that the darshan [1] of Swami Chidananda was his first living spiritual encounter with India.

That same year, Marc wrote a letter to Swami Abhishiktananda, in what would prove to be the beginning of a correspondence which would lead to their eventual meeting. After having served for two years as a teacher in Niger, Marc came to India in October 1971 and met Swami Abhishiktananda in Delhi. The following month he met Swami Chidananda for the second time. Both swamis were to have a profound effect on Marc’s spiritual journey.

The Meeting with Swami Abhishiktananda

Immediately upon Marc and Swami Abhishiktananda meeting, both recognised the profound nature of their relationship as guru and disciple. Their consequent relationship was to have a tremendous effect upon the lives of both men. For Swami Abhishiktananda, the meeting was to plunge him into the incomparable experience of being a guru to a true and perfect disciple; this in turn would lead him to reflect deeply upon the meaning and mystery of sannyasa, and ultimately lead to his own Awakening. For Marc, the meeting would lead him upon the sacred and “irreversible journey” of sannyasa and a life of intense seclusion.

The Meeting with Swami Chidananda Saraswati

Whilst Swami Abhishiktananda was Marc’s ultimate guru, Swami Chidananda was the other spiritual master to have a crucial impact in Marc’s life and who would come to be his diksha-guru [2]. Swami Chidananda encouraged Marc in his vocation to search for the Absolute through silence and solitude; shortly after his arrival in India, Marc confided in Swami Chidananda his deep desire for solitude:

“I… told him (Swami Chidananda) about the compelling urge that I had been feeling to practice sadhana in total silence for an entire month in the heart of the forest. He consented, ‘Indeed, God cannot but be found in silence and in a state of non-doing’…When I confided to him my intention…the Holy Man promptly replied, ‘Why not doing it now? Now is the right time to do it!’ …How mysterious it all seems to me! Is it really a life of total silence what the Lord has in store for me? … - it’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that it is the Lord’s will that, from now on, I shall lead a life of seclusion and in total silence…” Swami Ajatananda, Spiritual Diary, November 1971

The Eternal Light For the two last years of Swami Abhishiktananda’s life, Marc spent intensive and extended periods of time with his guru (October 1971 – December 1973). Swamiji dedicated himself to initiating Marc into the essence of the Upanishads and other sacred scriptures. It was during one such period of intense study that Marc had a profound spiritual experience, in the presence of Swami Abhishiktananda. This took place on 10 May 1972 while the guru and disciple were in retreat together in Phul Chatti Ashram, near Rishikesh. Marc described the event in his diary:

“…I find myself unable to start describing the ecstatic experience… – this infinite, non-dual Light... At the same time it is the eternal Truth underlying the very existence of my ultimate being, the non-dual ‘I’ that I AM, beyond all ‘I-ness’… I AM PURE LIGHT INFINITE: Paramjyotilina (ever-dwelling in the unutterable Light Supreme).”
Spiritual Diary, May 1972

Swami Magni Ram Shastri, who was present at Phul Chatti in 1972, recalls the presence of the guru and disciple:

“…I met Swamis Abhishiktananda and Ajatananda at Phul Chatti Ashram when they stayed with us in 1972…They could be found involved in serious studies by the banks of the Ganges. In a way, this pair reminded us of Adi Shankaracharya and his times. Though they did not communicate much with the ashram members, their lives were an expression of fellowship and love. Their manner of adaptation to our lifestyle was praiseworthy. They looked as though they were born with the qualities of discernment and equanimity. They set us an example of interreligious fellowship by breaking the boundaries of religion and going beyond them. They silently showed us a path which roots out religious fundamentalism that is often found in religions today.”

Sannyasa Diksha – The Irreversible Journey

“Sannyasa…the call to total renunciation, which is beyond all names, all forms, even all dharma.” Swami Ajatananda, 1975 [3]

On 30 June 1973, Marc received sannyasa diksha [4] on the bank of Holy Ganges, in Rishikesh, by H.H. Swami Chidananda Ji Maharaj, who represented the tradition of the Upanishads and the monastic lineage of Sri Adi Shankaracharya. Swami Abhishiktananda also attended the diksha and represented the Western monastic tradition of St Benedict and, more widely, the eremitical tradition of the Desert Fathers. After this diksha, in an ecumenical form, Marc came to be known as ‘Swami Ajatananda Saraswati’ (‘Ajatananda’ means the “Bliss of the Unborn”).

Immediately after having been initiated into sannyasa diksha, Marc commenced his wanderings. He wrote in his diary:

“I became aware that I had just embarked on some irreversible journey – a way infinitely beyond me, of which I knew nothing. Soon after this moment…I felt ananda, bliss without limitation, within the infinite ocean of the glorious Self…”
Spiritual Diary, id.

The life that lay ahead for him now was one of strict seclusion.

“Without looking back, I left for the parivrajya [5]…Without saying anything or stopping, I followed my path…without any objective…not knowing anything about my destination… Henceforth, there was no way to follow – except for the footpath laid down before the Self: ‘The path of the origins, imperceptible and unfathomable’… ”
Spiritual Diary, id.

A Life of Seclusion “The Truth, as I have witnessed, doesn’t have any face (…). So’ham [I am That]: there is nothing beyond. To seek sanctuary there, and there alone.”
Spiritual Diary, 1975

After Swami Abhishiktananda left his body on 7 December 1973, Swami Ajatananda was drawn to enter into strict seclusion as per his own deep aspiration and also his wish to fulfil his Guru’s instruction to observe “at least ten years of silence”. In January 1975, after a long search for a suitable place, he settled in a kutiya [6], which was located 35 kilometres upstream from Rishikesh, at Kaudiyala, where he remained absorbed in deep meditation. In 1976, he went on a four months parivrajya, living on daily bhiksha [7], and wandered throughout the holy places and shrines in the Himalayan region of Kedar-Badri.

After having reached a very high spiritual state, Swami Ajatananda mysteriously disappeared from his kutiya in Kaudiyala sometime between February and April 1977. No one has seen him since.

Swami Abhishiktananda wrote of his disciple: “…he will remain buried away for long years, but I am sure that the day will come when the fruit of his silence will be marvelous. But in the meantime no one should disturb him. All he wants…is solitude.” (Letter, 3.7.73)

Swami Ajatananda is the author of a spiritual diary, Years of Grace (1971-1975), and Pilgrimage on Foot in the Himalayas (1976) [unpublished].

[1] Lit. “vision”; here, the sight of a sage.
[2] The spiritual master who has initiated the disciple.
[3] Swami Ajatananda, Foreword to The Further Shore, Delhi, 1975, p. xi.
[4] Lit. “initiation into renunciation”. The monastic life is one of giving up worldly ties, devoting oneself to contemplation, and dedicating oneself solely to the goal of Liberation or spiritual Realisation.
[5] Holy wandering.
[6] Hermitage.
[7] Alms given to a sadhu.