It is difficult to date the origins of yoga with exactness. The ancient Hindus did not care much to keep exact historical records, for time had far less importance among them than it does with us.
The most historic description of one such rope trick appears to be that of Ibn Batutah, an Arab or Moorish Sheikh of Tangiers, in the Volume of Travels, in the middle of the fourteenth century. The first recorded mention of this trick in India is in the ancient shastras and sutras. Shankaracharya, over a thousand years ago, in his great work Vedanta Sutra, has given not only reference but also an excellent explanation of this feat, in Sutra 17: "the illusory juggler who climbs up the rope and disappears differs from the real jugglers who stand on the ground," and so on. From this it is clear that the trick was well known in this mysterious land over a thousand years ago.
Has it occurred to any Western mind that the yogi's legs are coiled up beneath and around him as if his lower body were a snake?
In the field of Indian writing, study the best texts, usually the ancient ones, along with some excellent modern ones. Disregard those twentieth-century authors who pour out torrents of rhetoric, much of it mere verbiage.
They look at life as if from a distance, unaffected by it intellectually, unmoved by it emotionally, unconcerned with it personally. They seem bloodless creatures, these figures held out to us as ideal by Hindu religio-philosophic texts.
The term "pure consciousness" has been used in these books, but it is an unfortunate one, as it was taken over from the Sanskrit. It gives rise to objections which would not appear if the term "Mind" (or, as a variant, "The Overself") were used in its place, with consciousness existing as a potential of Mind, just as dream can exist as a potential of deep sleep.
Sanskrit study: Here a fresh difficulty arose. The decipherment of those texts involved a knowledge of such subtle shades of verbal meaning as only those who had spent a whole lifetime poring over them could possess. For the language in which they were inscribed--highly technical Sanskrit--was the most developed and therefore the most difficult of all ancient cultural tongues. Such a knowledge was possessed only by the respected class of men called Pundits. These erudite scholars were usually apprenticed to Sanskrit learning and literature almost from their infant days, with the result that its numerous nuances of significance were mastered by the time they reached early middle age. The simplicity of their lives, their great devotion to financially unprofitable studies, and their unique services in preserving the classic lore for ages by remarkable feats of memory, saving thousands of manuscripts from destruction by intolerant invaders, had always excited my admiration and respect.
Mahopanishad IV.2: "By the word Samadhi is denoted only the knowledge of Reality and not mere silent existence which burns the straw of desires."
It was one of my teachers, Professor Hiriyanna, who, in an article written in the Tamil language, gave the following explanation: "The knowledge of the true self, Atman, acquired by study, can be transformed into direct experience. The former is called mediate knowledge and the latter is called immediate--by the practice of dhyana or meditation, which signifies constant dwelling upon the nature of the true self until it becomes an immediate certainty."
In the statement "Tat Tvam Asi" (That art Thou) we must observe that the existence of "That" is put first, while the "Thou" is identified with it only later. This is significant.
"Not by avoidance of activity, nor by renunciation either, may freedom of the soul be gained, or perfectness; only by constant service of the world may the great peace of Brahma be attained."--Bhagavad Gita
We must not fear to test the ancient knowledge, and, so far as it is sound, it will survive. We must explore the newer knowledge and not turn timidly from its unfamiliar paths. We must wed ancient wisdom to modern. It is absurd to follow either blindly. That in many ways the men of thousands of years ago thought and felt differently from us is undeniable. Take even such a wonderfully inspired work as the Bhagavad Gita, from which so many millions (including myself) for so many centuries have drawn light and hope and peace. Yet it does not hesitate to insist upon even the most spiritually advanced men offering to the Gods sacrifices of animals birds and cakes upon altar fires. Which of us Westerners would derive inward joy and emotional uplift from watching, as I have watched in North India, a number of screaming goats stabbed and flung on blazing flames? Let us not mislead ourselves in this matter.
The Bhagavad Gita's references to the hidden teaching are as follows: XVIII, 75: it is called "the ultimate mystery"; IX, 2: "the royal secret"; IX, 1: "a profound secret"; XVIII, 63: "profounder than profundity itself"; IX, 1: "profound beyond measure"; XVIII, 64: "the profoundest secret of all."
Although revered by Hindus as the very word of God, the Bhagavad Gita is replete with contradiction. It laments trivialities such as the overlapping of varnas (caste). It ardently advocates a study of Gita as a sure way to salvation, but what this way is is never clear and has been the subject of endless disputatious commentary. The idea of "absolute action" absolved from all relevance to an end or aim is a Gospel in a vacuum. One Hindu scholar holds that Gita is a hotch-potch of various mutually incompatible doctrines (see The Hindu World by Benjamin Walker.)
Those stately scripts, the Upanishads, hold the essence of India's wisdom.
In Mandukya Upanishad, the phrase "on account of the shortness of time" refers to the arguments made by the ancient Indian equivalent of the contemporary "Personalist" school of philosophy. The sentence ending "within the contracted space of the body" should be understood also as a temporary lapse from its own standpoint for the sake of overcoming an opponent by using his own beliefs, which, incidentally, is an old habit of the ancient Indian writers. The comment that one cannot confine an idea within the spatial limits of another idea is quite correct. It is amusing to note that Mandukya disposes of the theosophical "astral travelling" as usually understood, but does not prevent the ideas of other persons and places appearing to one's mind--but both time and space are themselves mental. "Travelling" is therefore illusory but the "appearances" may actually occur.
The illusion of the snake and the rope, as mentioned in the Mandukya Upanishad, is not one that can really arise when the truth of nonduality is perceived, because then both snake and rope are known as mind. For it is the mind that will tell you of their existence and it is only mind again that will tell you of mind's existence. Therefore, do what you will, you can never get beyond Mind. The possibility of an infinite regression does not arise.
The Mandukya Upanishad is not usually recommended for study to Western people. The book is too archaic for modern minds, for one thing, and a number of its arguments were written to refute the arguments of other Indian schools of thought existing at the time, some of which have now disappeared. Consequently these references are sometimes obsolete and often drearily uninteresting. However, for those few who are familiar with this kind of literature, its study is not difficult.
Chandogya Upanishad: "Mind is the self--he who meditates on Mind as Brahman, he is, as it were, Lord and Master so far as Mind reaches."
It may be that the early Indian priests practised interpolation of their sacred texts as freely as the later Christian priests did of theirs; at this late date the point is beyond correct knowledge. But when the whole of the last chapter of the most respected book of the Brahmin way of life, Laws of Manu, informs us that a man who steals a piece of linen will be reborn a frog, the reasonable mind must begin to wonder. Yet the same book contains many rules which are as eminently rational as this statement is silly.
"Let him not wish for death, let him not wish for life, let him wait for the time, as a servant for his wages. Rejoicing in the Supreme Self, sitting indifferent, refraining from sensual delights, with himself for his only friend, let him wander here on earth, aiming at liberation."--The Sannyasi, from Laws of Manu
Professor S.C. Roy: It would be wrong to class Manu with the Rishees. He is regarded as an ethical teacher and law formulator--not as a God-realized man.
"The sages who have searched their hearts with wisdom know that which is, is kin to that which is not." This sentence from India's oldest Bible, the Rig Veda, supports philosophy's award of the highest status to sahaja.
An ancient Indian script itself boldly announces the truth. Says the Shiva-Gita 13, 32: "Liberation is not in a special place, nor does one need to travel to some other town or country in order to obtain it."
"If, O king, anybody could secure success from Renunciation, then mountains and trees would surely obtain it. These latter always lead lives of Renunciation. They do not harm anyone, they do not lead a life of worldliness and are all Brahmacharins. Behold, the world moves on with every creature on it acting according to its nature, therefore, one should act. The man shorn of action can never attain success."--Mahabharata
Mahabharata Santi Parva. CXCI, 31: "The wise hold that righteousness is essentially an attitude of mind."
Bhagavata Purana: "How can the mind drunk with divine thought have other thoughts? Why a thousand words?"
"Most anchorites strive only for themselves, and therefore fail; but those who truly know, engage themselves in service of the world."--Bhagavatam
"The Bliss-Attainment of a yogi is Maya," wrote Sri Samartha Ramadas, in his Sanskrit text Atmaram.
Kamakoti Peeta's Shankara does not shake hands when parting. He merely raises one open hand upward in front of him, with palm facing the other person, as if in blessing.
"My body is Thy temple," wrote Shankaracharya in a prayer to Shiva.
Shankaracharya: Some of His Holiness' teachings and sermons have been translated into English. His explanations throw fresh light on several details of Hinduism. He patiently goes through point after point to reveal the rational side to modern minds.
But all these are secondary compared with His Holiness's own person. He exhibits in himself the qualities of a knower of Brahman, the attributes of a holy Rishee. Those who come into his presence, suitably prepared by previous aspiration or faith, may feel his power, even see his light and experience his grace. Hinduism has been misunderstood by many Westerners; the knowledge of His Holiness and the work of Mahadevan can correct their views so that they can see why it has survived so long.
Sri Ramana was a Pure Channel for a Higher Power [Essay written for publication in The Mountain Path--Ed.]
The organizers of this meeting to commemorate Sri Ramana Maharshi's anniversary have asked me to take part in it. I have no official connection with the movement associated with his name, and for many years have preferred to remain silent. But their kindly insistence has overcome this reluctance.
Forty years have passed since I walked into his abode and saw the Maharshi half-reclining, half-sitting on a tigerskin-covered couch. After such a long period most memories of the past become somewhat faded, if they do not lose their existence altogether. But I can truthfully declare that, in his case, nothing of the kind has happened. On the contrary, his face, expression, figure, and surroundings are as vivid now as they were then. What is even more important to me is that--at least during my daily periods of meditation--the feeling of his radiant presence is as actual and as immediate today as it was on that first day.
So powerful an impression could not have been made, nor continued through the numerous vicissitudes of an incarnation which has taken me around the world, if the Maharshi had been an ordinary yogi--much less an ordinary man. I have met dozens of yogis, in their Eastern and Western varieties, and many exceptional persons. Whatever status is assigned to him by his followers, or whatever indifference is shown to him by others, my own position is independent and unbiased. It is based upon our private talks in those early days when such things were still possible, before fame brought crowds; upon observations of, and conversations with, those who were around him; upon his historical record; and finally upon my own personal experiences, whatever they are worth.
Upon all this evidence one fact is incontrovertibly clear--that he was a pure channel for a Higher Power.
This capacity of his to put his own self-consciousness aside and to let himself be suffused by this Power is not to be confounded with what is commonly called, in the West, spiritualistic mediumship. For no spirit of a departed person ever spoke through him: on the contrary, the silence which fell upon us at such times was both extraordinary and exquisite. No physical phenomena of an occult kind was ever witnessed then; nothing at all happened outwardly. But those who were not steeped too far in materialism to recognize what was happening within him and within themselves at the time, or those who were not congealed too stiffly in suspicion or criticism to be passive and sensitive intuitively, felt a distinct and strange change in the mental atmosphere. It was uplifting and inspiring: for the time being it pushed them out of their little selves, even if only partially.
This change came every day, and mostly during the evening periods when the Maharshi fell into a deep contemplation. No one dared to speak then and all conversations were brought to an end. A grave sacredness permeated the entire scene and evoked homage, reverence, even awe. But before the sun's departure brought about this remarkable transformation, and for most of the day, the Maharshi behaved, ate, and spoke like a perfectly normal human being.
That there was some kind of a participation in a wordless divine play during those evenings--each to the extent of his own response--was the feeling with which some of us arose when it all ended. That the Maharshi was the principal actor was true enough on the visible plane. But there was something more . . .
In his own teachings Sri Ramana Maharshi often quoted, whether in association or confirmation, the writings of the first Shankaracharya, who lived more than a thousand years ago. He considered them unquestionably authoritative. He even translated some of them from one Indian language to another.
In the temple of Chingleput I interviewed His Holiness the Shankaracharya of Kamakoti Peetam, a linear successor of the first Guru. When the meeting was concluded, but before I left, I took the chance to ask a personal question. A disciple of the Maharshi had come to me and wanted to take me to his Guru. None of those I asked could tell me anything about him, nor had even heard of him. I was undecided whether to make the journey or not.
His Holiness immediately urged me to go, and promised satisfaction. He is still alive and still active in the religious world of Southern India. In my humble belief, he embodies the same high quality of Consciousness which the Maharshi did. The belief is shared by Professor T.M.P. Mahadevan, who was present as an eighteen-year-old student during my first meeting with the Maharshi, and who has ever since remained a devotee of both Mahatmas. He is now Head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Madras.[Professor Mahadevan has since deceased, in October of 1983.--Ed.]
Sometimes, as I looked at the figure on the couch, I wondered if he would ever come to England. If so, how would he be dressed, how would he behave in those teeming London streets, how eat, live, and work? But he was uninterested in travelling and so he never came, not in the physical body: what did come was his spirit and mind, which have awakened sufficient interest among the English to make this meeting possible.
Again and again he gave us this teaching, that the real Maharshi was not the body which people saw; it was the inner being. Those who never made the journey to India during his lifetime may take comfort in this thought: that it is possible to invoke his presence wherever they are, and to feel its reality in the heart.
Ramana Maharshi was one of those few men who make their appearance on this earth from time to time and who are unique, themselves alone--not copies of anyone else--and who contribute something to the world's spiritual welfare that no one else has contributed in quite the same way.
For much of each day the Maharshi was an unspectacular person. But when the pentecostal light touched his mind and radiated from his eyes, he became not merely a different, but a superior being. There was something almost supernatural about this change. It was plain for anyone to see that he was animated by some power, being, or presence other than his usual self. Yet it did not last and could not last. The light departed again, and he himself fell back into ordinariness.
Sri Ramana Maharshi is certainly more than a mystic and well worthy of being honoured as a sage. He knows the Real.
There are few men of whom one may write with assured conviction that their integrity was unchallengeable and their truthfulness absolute, but Ramana Maharshi was unquestionably one of them.
Ramana Maharshi: Sometimes one felt in the presence of a visitor from another planet, at other times with a being of another species.
The white loincloth which Ramana Maharshi usually wore served him for most of the year, except during the cooler nights of the mild South Indian winter, when he added a shawl. He had few other possessions. I remember a fountain pen, the old-fashioned liquid ink filling-with-a-glass-syringe type. With this he did his writing. There was also a hollowed-out coconut shell or gourd painted black, in which he carried water for ablutions. He had little more and did not seem to want anything else. The most impressive physical feature about him was the strange look that came over his eyes during meditation, and he usually meditated with open eyes. If they looked directly at you, the power behind them seemed quite penetrative; but most often they seemed to be looking into space, somewhat aside from you, but very fixed, indrawn and abstracted, and yet aware.
When Ramana Maharshi was displeased with anyone, he kept his eyes averted and looked to one side of or away from that person. It was as though he did not want, even by accident, let alone purposely, to meet his glance and give him darshan.
When he went into these meditative abstractions, the expression in his eyes and even face changed markedly. The eyes shone strangely, mystically, and testified, so far as any bodily organ could, to awareness of the Reality behind this world-dream.
Gazing upon this man whose viewless eyes are gazing upon infinity, I thought of Aristotle's daring advice,"Let us live as if we were immortal." Here was someone who had never heard of Aristotle, but who was following this counsel to the last letter.
Some of these Oriental hermits spoke with such verbal economy that one despaired of getting a satisfactory conversation with them. Ramana Maharshi was one of them. Others were so loquacious that their words tumbled over one another. Many of the lesser hermits belonged to this category.
When a non-Hindu--that is, a Christian or Muhammedan--fell into a huddle on the tiled floor before him, touching it with his forehead, the Maharshi was obviously embarrassed . . . but only out of his kindly considerateness for the other man. For he knew that prostration before another man was alien to the custom and attitude of the Christian or Muhammedan.
The name Sri Maharshi is an honourific one, his real name being Venkataraman.
The Maharshi was fond of his dog Chakki. I noticed during my travels that several yogis--not the wandering kind, of course--kept dogs. But never once did I see one who kept a cat. One yogi told me that the yogis abhor cats as belonging to some unclean psychic influence.
There is hardly a posture which has not been used by someone somewhere for meditation. In the Rietberg Museum at Zurich there is an unusual marble twelfth-century figure of a meditating Chinese Buddhist monk. His head and neck are twisted quite askew towards the left side, the left elbow rests on the top of his left knee, the left palm supports his left cheek. This is exactly the position into which Ramana Maharshi eventually moved and in which he long remained after the memorable interview at our first meeting. In later years he took it up again occasionally.
Restricted as he voluntarily was to the couch, the Maharshi varied his position on it at different times of the day. Sometimes his was a recumbent figure, sometimes a seated one. He sat, reclined, squatted, leaned forwards or backwards. Sometimes he assumed the pose of chin cupped in his hands which always reminded me faintly of Rodin's sculpture The Thinker.
The Maharshi said to us after the magistrate from Madras had departed that he had been able to give unhesitating answers because the thinking process was not working, because something other than intellect was using his mind.
There was hardly a period of the day or night when Sri Ramana Maharshi was not on display. Contrast this with the attitude of the guru that Professor Medard Boss, the psychiatrist, found in India who avoided seekers and hid from them. Ramana would not, could not, leave Arunachala, the hill, so he had to take what came with it, the devotees. The place chosen was no longer his own; the time belonged to them. He was reluctant to stay but far more reluctant to leave. His was truly a surrendered life.
The Maharshi was condemned--or self-condemned if you like--to live in public all day and all night. This is not the sort of life we would wish to have and certainly not the sort, as he once told me, that he had expected when he moved to Arunachala as a youth.
Arunachala, South India's sacred mountain, is identified in Hindu mythology with Shiva, the patron God of the Yogis, who is said to have appeared in the night on its summit in ancient times in the ruddy vesture of a flame. The present writer has himself seen a vast luminous cloud move slowly and softly around the hill at night, glowing with a weird phosphorescence, when no moon or starlight was present and for which no natural force could have been responsible.
The Greeks regarded their Acropolis as a sacred hill, just as the Hindus still regard their Arunachala. But whereas they put their most shapely building, the Parthenon, on top, with its symmetry and dignity, its graceful Doric pillars and stately ruined temples, the Hindus put nothing at all except a burning beacon, and that only once a year.
I turned my head to gaze meditatively through the hermitage window. The rising slope of a spur belonging to the Mountain of the Holy Beacon came into sight, its craggy face shimmering in ripples of misty heat.
One of the sacred eighteen Puranas of the Hindus calls Arunachala Hill "the southern Kailas." Parvati, the erring wife of Shiva, was sent from her home in Kailas to make penance at Arunachala, and there I have seen her statue in a little temple on the hillside with several huge stone guards, guarding the approach to her, to protect her while she is absorbed in meditation.
We sat in that sultry hall, enduring the late-afternoon heat, in various stages of dress and undress--men with resplendent long coats from the North buttoned all the way down and collars encircling the neck, men from local Southern villages in nothing but a loincloth, men in shirt and skirt, men in monk's robe leaving one shoulder exposed. Every shade of skin from almost white to ebony black could be seen. And in accord with the local custom that shoes should not be brought into a house, should be left on the verandah, all were barefooted. All sat facing the light brown figure half-reclining on a long couch housed in a corner of the oblong-shaped hall.
Meals were served at Ramanashram on enormously large flat banana tree leaves.
Ramana Maharshi's alleged deathbed statement that he would be more active in the ashram after death can now be traced to its true form. He was fond of reading biographies of saints and mystics, both Western and Eastern. In The Life of Catherine of Siena, her own dying last will and testament, Catherine says: "I promise you [the disciples] that I shall be with you always, and be of much more use to you on the other side than I ever could be here on earth, for then I shall have left the darkness behind me and move in the eternal light." Note her use of the words "on earth" which, in the quoted words, was surely the Maharshi's meaning too. The belief that Maharshi's ghost is now more active at the ashram than was the living Maharshi himself contradicts his own teaching as I heard it from his lips and as it is even stated in print in an ashram publication, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, page 209. Here he expressly declares, "The idea that he [the guru] is outside, is ignorant." That belief is certainly based on the idea that the real Maharshi was tied to a particular place outside his body. By the light of his lifetime's gospel, it is mere superstition.
Ramana Maharshi ended his life in a tragic illness--cancer--which brought consternation to his ashramic disciples. They trotted out their various theories on the religio-mystic level to account for the personal and public tragedy, for the unequal equation which allotted so much suffering to so much sanctity.
The notion that anyone can take on the burden of someone else's guilt, or karma, is itself a negation of the law of karma. This must apply to Ramana Maharshi no less than to the common man.
On Ramana Maharshi: That he made contrary statements at times must be admitted, but he would probably have justified this by the need to adopt a point of view on a level accessible to the person to whom he was talking. When Italian planes flew low over Ethiopian towns and machine-gunned undefended citizens on the streets, the news was brought one morning by a visitor from Madras; we all looked at M. to watch his reaction. He simply said, "The sage who knows the truth that the Self is indestructible will remain unaffected even if five million people are killed in his presence. Remember the advice of Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield when disheartened by the thought of the impending slaughter of relatives on the opposing side." And yet, as against this, I heard him utter on another occasion words which were the exact duplicate of those written by the artist Van Gogh in a letter to his brother: "I am not made of stone," in reference to some situation, implying that human feeling was certainly there.
It was a noteworthy feature of many, if not most, of Ramana Maharshi's answers that they were seldom direct and often evasive. This was because he tried to divert the questioner to the one fundamental need--to know the Overself--whereupon all questions would collapse or find their own answers.
The Maharshi demonstrated the truth of Lao Tzu's counsel concerning the advantages of lying low if one rests one's life on the Overself. Never once did he push his own name and fame, but his worth came to world recognition. Never once did he ask for a roof over his head, but others provided it for him.
Ramana Maharshi tells his questioners to know the Self but he does not tell them how they can do so.
I asked Ramana Maharshi this question: "Is it permissible for a man to engage in teaching his spiritual knowledge however imperfect both he and his knowledge may be?" The mystic of Arunachala answered: "Yes, if the destiny allotted to him for this birth be such."
The translations of his sayings are mostly my free interpretations based on work done with learned Tamil pundits, not literal recordings. The strange exotic idiom of the Tamil language does not give itself to easy understanding by a Westerner unless this is done.
Heinrich Zimmer, the Jungian, wrote in German a book based on Maharshi's teaching. He had to gather his materials from other books, of which very few existed at that time, and from correspondence, as he never went to India and consequently never talked to Maharshi.
A visitor, Lebanese by birth, Egyptian by upbringing, and French by marriage, complained to me that the Maharshi was a phenomenon. She recognized and admitted his greatness but she had come to India in search of a guru to guide her, not someone to be looked at from a distance while he sat in isolation like a solitary mountain peak.
"Every kind of Sadhana except that of Atma-Vichara presupposes the retention of the mind as the instrument for carrying on the Sadhana, and without the mind it cannot be practised. The ego may take different and subtler forms at the different stages of one's practice, but is itself never destroyed. . . . The attempt to destroy the ego or the mind through Sadhanas other than Atma-Vichara is just like the thief turning out a policeman to catch the thief, that is himself. Atma-Vichara alone can reveal the truth that neither the ego nor the mind really exists, and enables one to realize the pure, undifferentiated Being of the Self or the Absolute. Having realized the Self, nothing remains to be known, because it is perfect Bliss, it is the All."--Sri Ramana Maharshi
Excerpt from Maharshi's Talks: "Even the thought of saving the [sick] child is a sankalpa (wish), and one who has any sankalpa is no Gnani. In fact, any such thought is unnecessary. The moment the Gnani's eye falls upon a thing, there starts the automatic divine activity which itself leads to the highest good."
"The prophet of God," wrote Gildas, the Druid prophet, "will know God does nothing but what should be, in the manner it should be, at the time and in the order it should be." And on this same point, Ramana Maharshi declared, "God is perfection. His work also is perfection, but it appears to you--you see it--as imperfection!"
A remark once made by Ramana Maharshi reminded me of Tagore's extraordinary statement in his poem Vairagya. A pilgrim goes in quest of God after leaving home. The more he travels, the farther he goes from his house, the more he puts himself farther from the object of his pilgrimage. In the end, God cries, "Alas! Where is my worshipper going, forsaking me?"(P)
Ramana Maharshi: One night in the spring of 1950, at the very moment that a flaring starry body flashed across the sky and hovered over the Hill of the Holy Beacon, there passed out of his aged body the spirit of the dying Maharshi. He was the one Indian mystic who inspired me most, the one Indian sage whom I revered most, and his power was such that both Governor-General and ragged coolie sat together at his feet with the feeling that they were in a divine presence. Certain factors combined to keep us apart during the last ten years of his life, but the inner telepathic contact and close spiritual affinity between us remained--and remains--vivid and unbroken. Last year he sent me this final message through a visiting friend: "When heart speaks to heart, what is there to say?"(P)
Let there be no misunderstanding about my connection with Ramana Maharshi. My appreciation and reverence for him remain as great as ever. I still consider him one of the few enlightened seers of modern centuries. I did during his lifetime adopt the outward attitude of an independent student. However, my inner connection with the living mind which manifested as Ramana Maharshi remains unbroken.
Although I have not been a rigid follower of the Maharshi and for that reason have been either admired or criticized for the wrong reasons, I have accepted the fundamental rightness of his teachings and the perfect authenticity of his experience.
Although outwardly I ceased to be a literary and articulate link with Ramana Maharshi, inwardly I myself never ceased to be linked with him.
I need not have taken his sentences down on paper, for I wrote them on my mind.
It was partly out of deference to his noble character, his exalted mind, and partly because of my unbroken if unknown link with Ramana Maharshi that I kept such a silence for such a long time. Except for a very few friends, it will not be understood.
The criticisms of Ramana Maharshi are deeply regretted: they were occasioned more by events in the history of the ashram than by his own self. It is not possible to make an appropriate amendment, although I had planned to make one in the next book which I hoped to write. But alas! such a book was never completed.
When the Maharshi was asked by the financial secretary of the government of Mysore, "Is Paul Brunton's Secret Path useful for us Indians as well as the Westerners?" he replied: "Yes--for all."
My deference to the dead master's status and reverence for his worth are great and unshakeable. His pure life was an inspiration and an influence but it was not an example to imitate in all matters.
The evil forces seek to impede such work and will use both those who openly disavow faith as well as those who claim to have it but show little sign of its works. During my years of absence in the Orient one of those unfortunate human instruments published the statement that I had started a lawsuit against Ramana Maharshi! This assertion was utterly false in every way, as well as completely impossible, for the inner contact between Maharshi and myself remained always unbroken, while the outer relationship remained always of the friendliest. Indeed, on my side I made it a habit of annually expressing my affection and respect through some visiting friend or in a written message, and on his side never a year passed without his enquiring kindly after my welfare through these friends. Before he died he sent me a special message: "When heart speaks to heart, what is there to say?" Many years have passed since this stupid lie was printed, but my reaction to it, as well as to other lies emanating from the same source and sedulously circulated, remains a silent one. Such a mixture of evil and vulgarity deserves and can be met only with contempt.
I hold and feel with Gautama of blessed fame that my duty is to extend ungrudging compassion to those that wrong me and to return the protection of benevolent pity for their malicious attacks. I have no enemy. I know that all creatures are of the same divine element as myself, and to those who in their blindness do not see it I bear no resentment. The truth is at once my solace and my strength. All are my tutors, none enemies. May all men share in the peace of true enlightenment!
Although I cannot identify myself with these acknowledged followers of Ramana Maharshi, since I refuse to identify myself with any sect-in-the-making such as they are now creating, I welcome the appearance of every new book about him or his teaching. And I know that the misrepresentation of some part of his doctrine must be the price paid for all that is authentically told us by these followers, since they cannot help either the limitations of their spiritual vision or the ulterior motivation of their interpretations. Let this be regretted, as I must; nevertheless I look sympathetically to the good amid all this, to the benefit of truth and inspiration borne to mankind along with it.
Reply to Critique of The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga in Light Journal, London: The reviewer has mixed up the M with the M in Theos Bernard's book. They are two separate persons. He has also poured scorn on my statements that I had sufficiently repaid Maharshi, and so on. Just as his first critique was based on his own mistake, so his second critique was based on his own misunderstanding. I did not mean that M was seeking repayment or had any desire for publicity. Anyone who, like me, knows M knows also that to attribute these things to him would have been absurd. I meant rather that in giving this publicity to M I did what I considered to be my duty to M and to the public. If later destiny dismissed me from his service, that was because the task allotted me in connection with him had been fulfilled and she had other tasks for me in view.
My published words showed this veneration I always felt, and feel, for Ramana Maharshi. If later the technical difference between mystic and philosopher was completely withdrawn from print where the reference was to the Maharshi--thus finally getting done what had been sought for so many years against real frustrating difficulties in other quarters--I am happy it was done during my lifetime. But final humbling and full amendment will come later still, at the hour dictated by fate.
But I began to understand why the world's scriptures are well packed with marvels. Sensible men today adopt a critical attitude and refuse to swallow half the wonders which are tacked on to a religious message. The additions have undoubtedly been made by over-devout followers. It was highly instructive to me to watch how a similar group of legends was already forming itself around the Maharshi's name during his own lifetime. What amazing wonders will not spring up after he is gone! It is necessary for me to describe things as I find them, not as I would like them to be, and I regret to record that I gathered a crop of stories which were the result of worship that cared more for adulation of a personality than regard for truth. There is a right channel and a wrong channel for the guru-worship which prevails among Indian devotees, and foolish ascriptions to the gurus of non-existent miracles is unfortunately quite a common thing all over the country. Fortunately my inner insistence on the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth put all these tales into the crucible of investigation whence few emerged.
Sri Maharshi is unquestionably a great saint and an adept in yoga. But this must not lead me or others to confuse the issue. The claims of truth press irresistibly on me and I will continue to follow the elusive goddess even though she were to lead me into a deserted wilderness where I must walk utterly alone. Time has opened my eyes to the fact that the states of mystical ecstasy, however delightful to experience, are not necessarily always tokens of truth.
I write all this with reluctance, because I would rather refrain from the slightest criticism of one whom I admire and esteem so greatly and whose teaching I accept so wholeheartedly on all other points, but my remarks are intended to be purely impersonal, as though I were writing of someone who lived hundreds of years ago and whom I had never had the privilege of meeting and of having been treated as one of his own disciples, even to the point of being initiated.
The chapter on Jesus in Discover Yourself explains that He had to go through the growing pains of spiritual ripening, as had every adept who wanted to serve. Where this desire to serve is absent (as in the highest type of mystic, such as Ramana Maharshi) illumination often comes fully and suddenly; but then it is only mystical.
For the sage the suffering of others is his; for the yogi it is not. The Maharshi was an adept in mysticism--that is, yoga--but his idea of truth needs to be disputed. He says that the sage can watch with indifference the slaughter of millions of people in battle. That is quite true of the yogi but it will never be true of those who have sacrificed every future nirvanic beatitude to return to earth until all are saved; they alone are entitled to the term sage; nor can they do otherwise, for they have found the unity of all human beings. They would never have returned if they did not feel for others.
The Maharshi's body lies buried in an Indian grave but his teaching lives inside the minds of all who can perceive its truth.
Aurobindo looked like a grave Chinese mandarin, straight from one of those long scroll-paintings. He was small. His face showed utter composure, unbreakable calm, but no smile crossed it, no emotion flickered even for an instant.
Aurobindo did not communicate with his disciples or others by speech, except on rare occasions or with those closest to him. Instead he wrote countless notes in a tiny pinched calligraphy on small slips of paper.
The tides of life and destiny carried him as a boy away from his race. Time snatched the creed away before he had learned to understand it so that he grew up to meet men of every creed with equal friendliness. He keep this cosmopolitanism in his heart and mind.
Aurobindo Ashram: The Mother made her appearance every morning before breakfast on the balcony of her house, while a large crowd of devotees gathered in the street below. She stood there returning their gaze but slowly moving her eyes from one part of the crowd to another. Within a few minutes this daily ritual came to an end, and everyone dispersed. It was not so much a time for brief meditation as for receiving the blessing of her visible presence. It is a widespread belief in India that the mere sight of a great soul is a benediction in itself.
Pondicherry was a little French colony sending a deputy to represent it in the legislature at distant Paris. Its life has changed under its newer Indian Republican Government but in those days it was becoming shabby, with a pathetic air of lost affluence. The houses in the better part of the town were European in style, but their whitewashed walls were peeling and stained, their little gardens were overrun by weeds, and flowering shrubs were tangled and unkempt. In the early evening, just before lamps were lit, the tropic twilight made the place seem unreal and illusive.
When a young man, Aurobindo learned from Lele, a Maharashtsa yogi, to reject thought. He was told, "Look and you will see the thoughts coming in from outside. Fling them back; do not let them enter." He and Lele meditated together. Three days later they parted and never met again. But from then the Divine Silence took over.
By sending Sri Aurobindo to jail the English rulers unwittingly turned a politician, of whom there were so many, into a mystic, Oxford bred and modern minded, of whom there were none in India. The unexpected effect of their action was to give us all, Westerners as well as Indians, a unique expounder of Yoga and Vedanta in the most noteworthy development they have made in a thousand years.
There are some points in Sri Aurobindo's teaching which do not accord with the highest teachings of philosophy. Three of these are: his rejection of idealism in the Berkeleian sense, his advocacy of the Incarnation doctrine, and his acceptance of the possibility of mystical union with God. On the first point, it is impossible to escape from the truth that mind is the only reality we have ever known or can ever know, and therefore there is no place for matter in the scheme of things. In the second case, how can the infinite mind become confined in the finite flesh of no matter how divine an incarnation? In the third case, God as the Ultimate Reality is incomprehensible, intangible, absolute, and unthinkable. No human capacity, regardless of its power of stretching out, can so transcend its finite limitations as to achieve direct union with it. What the mystic does achieve, however, is union with his own individual divine soul--which is quite another matter. Still, Aurobindo is the most outstanding of recent Indian yogis.
Sri Aurobindo, the invisible Guru of Pondicherry, spent almost the whole of every year shut up and unapproachable in the penthouse-tower of his ashram. No one penetrated to his seclusion except the Mother and a couple of the oldest disciples. His writings on philosophy are dull and questionable whereas his writings on yoga are alive and authoritative.
Westerners are taking some interest in the teaching of Sri Aurobindo. I learn only from occasional book reviews in library journals, and from letters which I get from people I know, that more and more of his writings are being read and studied and appreciated every year. He is coming to be recognized as the authentic spokesman of modern Indian mysticism, as apart from the medieval type represented by the missionary swamis. I often visited him and stayed as his guest. Nevertheless, I still believe that we of the West must work out our own salvation and that Indian ashrams are not the proper places to do this.
Sri Aurobindo is dead! The great experiment, which was to have ended death, and extended life, has failed. The great truth enunciated by the Buddha and repeated by Maharshi, that all compounded things pass and must pass through a cycle of birth growth decay and death, has been vindicated.
In a region of India where one travels as much by boat on inland canals and lagoons as on roads; where coconut groves flourish luxuriantly on every side; where broad white sandy beaches hide the mineral thorium, so much sought in the years immediately after the war by atomic energy producing nations; where--on one of these beaches--the Apostle Saint Thomas is said to have landed and preached Christ, I met Atmananda the Sage.
In a region of India where the fruit of cashew trees and the fronds of coconut palms show themselves everywhere, I met a mentalist. His name was Atmananda.
Sri Atmananda told me that he was taught the higher philosophy and got enlightened by it in a single session. But it ought to be explained that this session lasted from sunset to sunrise the next day.
The Greek philosopher taught his pupils under the shade of wide-spreading plane trees, strolling back and forth, up and down, in little groves of olive trees or paved walks; Atmananda taught them under the shade of tall coconut palms, he seated, they standing out of respect.
Atmananda, the sage. It was a blessed scene: the sage on his simple chair and the pupils standing in front and around in a horseshoe pattern; the respect and homage permeating the air; the yearning for truth upon all the faces; the thick foliage of tall palm trees forming a lofty canopy. But alas! It has vanished with the past and the sage with it--only his teachings and memory are left for the world.
It is good that Atmananda warned his disciples that intellectual understanding of truth was not enough: they had also to establish themselves in it, he said.
Sri Atmananda told a person who could enter mystic trance at will and stay in it for hours, his mind wrapt by bliss, that this was not the highest complete state. "You still have to understand the world through the mind's intelligence," he said.
Atmananda claimed that apart from the spoken communication there was another which was unspoken, a silent spiritual emanation which would enlighten his hearers immeasurably more than mere words could, but which was so subtle and elusive that only a fraction of them could pick it up.
Atmananda's reply to a rich man was: "I don't ask you to renounce the world, but unless you are ready to do so don't come here." A leading disciple of Atmananda, John Levy, said: "Pure Consciousness is the background of perception."
Atmananda moved through the paces of a rhythmic dance with light graceful steps. They alternated as he danced, first forwards and then backwards.
Atmananda's movements were more foot-shuffling than dancing.
Atmananda: The unearthly musical tension mounted as time went on until it finally came to a head; but the crisis was a joyous one, a triumphant note permeated it, sublime peace displaced the suspense and tension; symbolism stopped; here was reality. For one was not merely looking at a spectacle, one was also participating actively in it by responding to it; one was worshipping at the same time.
At the end of Atmananda's ritual, after the gentle soothing climax, a total dignified silence fell upon the scene.
In this strange world with which I have been dealing, Krishnamurti, the South Indian Brahmin who was more at home, and for more years, in Ojai, California, than in Madras, India, occupies a unique position which nobody else can duplicate. There is much in the lives and teachings of Indian gurus which repeats the same pattern; but K's life and teaching are apart, different and outstanding. The colour and mystery with which gurus are invested by themselves or by disciples, he rejects sternly.
It was in 1929 that Krishnamurti exploded for the first time in public addresses which reversed his earlier teaching, dissolved the societies of which he was the titular head, renounced Theosophy, and asserted that "religious organizations are barriers to understanding of the truth."
Krishnamurti was as emotionally forceful in those days and in that little private tent as he was dryly intellectual when I saw him again lecturing upon a public platform in Hamburg twenty years later. He seemed to be a man passionately convinced that he had a mission to fulfil.
The disconcerting abruptness of his speech, the provoking iconoclasm of his views, made the Krishnamurti of those days a fierce critic of the Establishment.
Krishnamurti, despite the strong emphasis put into his sentences, stood during his lectures almost without moving his body, just as Emerson had done more than a century before.
Krishnamurti's attitude has mellowed. He is less harsh in his judgements, more patient with views which he formerly strongly denounced.
Krishnamurti said he never dreams, that dreams have no real importance, and that when he sleeps he gains complete rest.
The criticism of society, its ambitions and ideals, its politics and religion, its education and wars which was made by Lao Tzu was made again in modern times by Krishnamurti.
Krishnamurti: "The so-called saints and sannyasins have contributed to dullness of mind."
Aldous Huxley's close friendship in California with Krishnamurti did not save him from making the mescaline error, nor from taking the inferior Subud initiation.
On Krishnamurti: Our meeting was brief, but it gave me the chance to gain an impression of the man and an outline of his chief teaching that was out of all proportion to its brevity.
When I interviewed Krishnamurti (number one) forty years ago he told me that he was opposed not only to the methods and purifications and disciplines of yoga, not only to the authoritativeness of religious organizations and the dogmatism of religious creeds, not only to the injustices of capitalistic society, but also to the proliferation of temples, ashrams, gurus, and so on. He felt that all this was preventing people from thinking for themselves.
The long meeting I had at Adyar brought out several striking statements from Krishnamurti: (1) He disowned the Order of the Star because he no longer felt that religious organizations could save humanity. (2) He denied the value of spiritual authorities and declared them to be dogmatically harmful to truth-seekers. (3) He said that blind enslavement was the inevitable result of following gurus or adhering to organized creeds. (4) He further said that without full freedom from the influence of others to search for truth, it could not be found.
I admire Krishnamurti for his utter integrity. When it is so easy to let himself be sucked into that bog of teachers who exploit disciples and disciples who exploit teachers, and in his case still easier because of his world-wide fame, he resolutely turns his back upon it and goes in the opposite direction.
The Arcane School exists for novices and after they have made some progress they get into a rut unless they leave it.
One can have great admiration for Krishnamurti personally; he is doing useful work in debunking the nonsense which largely vitiated the theosophic movement, of which the school is only a variant. He is doing good by removing the superstitions and the flabbiness of the average theosophist. However, this is not to say that one endorses all his ideas. He has a particular work of criticism to carry out and does it admirably, but he lacks a constructive technique. He goes to extremes. In his righteous rebellion against the hallucinations of clairvoyants, the exploitations of religion and occultism, the deliberate self-deception of teachers, and the enslavement of disciples, he wants to throw overboard much that is useful and necessary. Meditation generally ends in a desert waste, but under proper guidance it can become immensely fruitful in every way. The pity is that there has rarely been a rational approach to it. Many good things have become so hopelessly mixed up with silly nonsense and personal exploitation that sensible people react in time as Krishnamurti reacted. Krishnamurti has attained a high level of discernment but it is not realization in the ultimate sense. He often comes very close to the truth, but shoots off at a tangent again. Had he realized this he would have been better balanced and done greater good.
The work of the Arcane School is excellent in its place. It cannot be considered to be of real rather than illusory assistance to those who have got beyond an elementary stage. One can be much in accord with Krishnamurti in his criticism of occult organizations, so far as people of sufficient ability to think for themselves are concerned.
The sphere of religion is gross illusion, the sphere of mysticism and occultism is subtle illusion, the sphere of ordinary metaphysics is growing perception but muddled and confused with opinion, while the sphere of pure philosophy is the removal of all illusion and error. This opens the gate to that fusion of feeling and thinking which is finally expressed in all action and thus leads to realization of truth. Asceticism is also a stage, intended to help the mind see clearly, unconfused by its desires, but of itself it can never give truth. It is often taken in India as a sign of highest attainment, whereas the real sage hides himself by trying to be outwardly as much like others as possible; hence he is rarely to be found wearing monkish robes.
Krishnamurti has seen through the religious and mystic illusions--a rare attainment--but unfortunately he is still finding his way through the third degree and has not finished yet. Nor can he finish until he accepts a guide. The real sage never enslaves the mind nor exploits faith, but Krishnamurti has never met such a one, and so is quite correct in his denunciations. He comes quite close at times to perception of reality, but sheers off at a tangent again.
The sufferings of our present epoch have a silver lining; they are spiritual teachers in disguise. But the man of reflection does not need them, if he has made Truth his goal. All the rewards usually but erroneously associated with religion and mysticism become his when he reaches this goal, but their appeal is secondary then. Most of them are but allegories and parables of what he gets rather than a presentation of actual facts.
If Krishnamurti accepts the same conclusions which he recommends to others, he should be logical and stop writing, lecturing, or granting interviews. But he continues these activities. Either he is inconsistent, or there is a flaw in his conclusions.
Does Krishnamurti note that in the very book in whose pages he campaigns so passionately against teachers and teachings, he himself writes as a teacher and gives out teachings? Merely disclaiming the title does not make him less of one.
The students' upheavals are clear exhibitions of what Krishnamurti's views on education lead to. His lectures to colleges, his addresses to youth, his writings on education--all end, when put into practice, in these student riots and violent demonstrations.
Too many of Krishnamurti's followers have only exchanged an old cage for a new one, despite their master's protest against such a course. Moreover, they do not even know that they have done it. For those who seek freedom--even his other followers, who catch his spirit much better and more loyally--are caged by their very seeking. They may become free only if they become relaxed.
I admire Krishnamurti for his sturdy independence and forthright honesty, but I do not admire his followers. They quickly fell into the old temptation of forming another sect, another group with exclusive outlooks.
Krishnamurti has rightly criticized the various kinds of spiritual attachment which aspirants tend to form; but in doing so he has leaned over too far in the opposite direction and nurtured in himself and then transmitted to his hearers or readers a detachment which is so rabid that it becomes compulsive. Thus a new and paradoxical kind of attachment is, ironically yet unwittingly, created by them to replace the old ones they have forsaken .
There is so much truth in Krishnamurti's teaching, so much excellent advice, that it is easy for his followers to get carried away, swept up emotionally by his sharp biting criticisms of orthodox and traditional ways. If this happens, the end result is confusion. For the overlooked fact is that his teaching cannot stand all alone, by itself--it is too negative for that--it takes naïve people out into the wilderness and leaves them there. But if Krishnamurti's counsel is put in its proper place, if it becomes part of a whole, of philosophy, then it is valuable.
Krishnamurti preaches the rejection of all goals and the recognition of the momentary flux of things. This takes away direction, purpose, growth. It leaves men bereft. Yet it is a correct description of the state of the rare few who have unwaveringly established themselves in truth. But the others, the countless millions who live in semi-ignorance, anxiety, fluctuating moods, need the inspiration of a goal, the uplift of a standard, the transforming power of grace meeting aspiration.
Krishnamurti's ideal is excellent but in the end, and in actuality, as demonstrated by observation in a wide area of space and time, it creates disorder. If he really believes in this ideal, surely silence is the proper way, and the only way, to express it.
What Krishnamurti says is partially true. There has to be self-effort in the first stage and the aspiration for improvement. But as this keeps the ego within the circle of self, the second stage opens by that abandonment of effort which Krishnamurti preaches. To enter the second stage prematurely would be a mistake and this he does not seem to grant. He is good medicine for theosophists but still not properly balanced.
Krishnamurti's teaching is certainly a part of philosophy but it is an overweighted part. And being only a part, it lacks the attributes of wholeness and balance which belong so beautifully to truth.
The intention is to shock him into new thought, awakened consideration, by means of bold surprising statements. But if the shock is too concentrated, the attack on too narrow a front and not distributed more widely, it may do more harm than good. This is the danger of methods like Krishnamurti's and Zen's.
In the personal presence of Gandhi, one felt that he was being used by some tremendous impersonal, almost cosmic power. But the feeling was noticeably different in kind from that one experienced with, say, Sri Aurobindo or Ramana Maharshi. It may be that in Gandhi's case the inspirer was the energy of Karma, shaper of India's destiny!(P)
Gandhi spoke more slowly than any other man I have ever heard speak. It was as though he were waiting to receive each word from some other source or as though he were thinking out the full meaning of each word before uttering it.
The young men, with one eye cocked on the West, propose that India shall progress; Gandhi, with one eye cocked on the past, proposes that she will regress.
Again and again I was told before the war that Gandhi, by his new instrument of soul force, would bring peace to the whole world. But what I actually saw was that he could not bring peace to his own country, could not stop the growth of Hindu-Muslim strife.
Gandhi would throw Western science plus Western systems of medicine into the dustbin. But when Gandhi had appendicitis he threw his own doctrines there and submitted to an operation by an English surgeon. The fact that he picked them up again when he was well makes me think: Do these people live to justify doctrines?
Just like those of Hazlitt and Cobbett in the England of an earlier century, Gandhi's ideas were simply expressed in print, lucidly expounded on platforms.
"Machines would remain because they are inevitable," admitted Gandhi. Therefore he proposed to make certain exceptions, such as the sewing-machine, to his opposition to them.
Ananda Mayee: Instead of using the personal pronoun "I," she often used the phrase "this body." She was born in 1896 in a Brahmin family noted for its religious learning and piety. When nearly thirteen years old, she was married to another Brahmin. She developed a great liking for religious music, from which she passed to mantra yoga practice. "Everything becomes possible by the power of pure concentrated thought," she says. No guru initiated her. From her middle teens to her twenty-fifth year, she passed more and more time in reveries, abstractions, and long periods of silence, until even trance states were achieved. Often she passed into states in which tears of joy or of longing and aspiration would well up in her eyes while singing devotional songs. Those who heard her were thrilled by the emotion in her voice. Strange phenomena manifested when she was alone. Her neck would be turned by some force and remain twisted for some time. A brilliant light would shine all around her; or her body would automatically assume one of the yogic postures, and she would stay in it for hours, eyes open and unblinking. Or she would fall into a trance so deep that no one could awaken her. She had to be left to come out of it of her own accord. Her food intake is very small. I first met her in Rajpur, at the foot of the Himalayas. Her husband had become her first disciple; his relationship with her was then a brother-and-sister one. She gives no formal initiation to disciples and recommends everyone to take a few minutes every day out of their routine for meditation. Benares is her headquarters now, but she goes on tour for a few months every year so that others elsewhere may benefit by her heavenly singing.(P)[Ananda Mayee has died since this note was written--Ed.]
"I don't advise anyone to give up the world and retire into forests," Ananda Mayee said to me. She is a contemporary Indian lady guru whom I met at the foot of the Himalayas and then again twenty years later in a city. She has wandered throughout India. Her counsel has weight.
Pathos in Ananda Mayee's singing voice caused her hearers to weep. It was like listening to a divine angelic voice.(P)
Ananda Mayee: Half the time she looked remote, as if she were not present in mind at all.
Ananda Mayee was held in high esteem by Nehru's mother. She continued to visit his family. After his mother's death she told Nehru's daughter on a visit, "This is the last time I shall see him." One month later he died.
Ananda Mayee, most celebrated of contemporary Hindu female mystics, had no guru and no guidance from any other human being.
The Indian teacher of modern times whom so many Occidentals admire most and rate highest is Ramana Maharshi, but Sri Aurobindo and Swami Ramdas follow closely. Nor must I leave out Swami Vivekananda. He interests them more, far more than his own master, Sri Ramakrishna. He possessed the only spirituality the West cares for, the kind which was not afraid to plunge into the world arena and fight, albeit it fought to serve others rather than in self-interest. He had a strong intellectual acumen and sought the sanctions of reason for every doctrine that he adopted; indeed such sanctions were as sacred to him as those of faith in his teacher's words. His was no exaggerated asceticism. He did not prize his yellow robe of renunciation overmuch, did not worship it as a fetish like others, but valued it only for what it was worth--a convenient means of economizing time and energy for the special mission which he had undertaken.
After twenty years of the monkish life, towards the end of his career, Swami Vivekananda seems to have questioned the usefulness of adopting monasticism, inasmuch as he then confessed: "More and more, the true greatness of life seems to me that of the worm doing its duty, silently, and from moment to moment."
With the marriage of Orient and Occident, the developed minds of both hemispheres will perceive activity in rest, and recognize inaction in activity. "The doctrine of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness," says Vivekananda.
Sri Ramakrishna came to his illumination without practising any systematic discipline in yoga and after only six months of passionate prayer, whereas it took Buddha six years of arduous disciplined effort to attain his illumination. The difference of the two accounts and the difference of efforts explains why Ramakrishna attained the high stage of mysticism whereas Buddha attained the high stage of philosophy. The longer the road, the loftier is the attainment, and only those who take the time and trouble to traverse the whole length of the way may expect to gain all the fruits. He who stops part of the way may only expect to gain part of the result.
The late Master Mahasaya told my friend Swami Desikananda that his famous diary The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna contained only the elementary, not the most advanced teachings. Whenever Sri Ramakrishna saw Mahasaya coming, he told his closest disciples not to discuss advanced questions when Mahasaya was present, because he was taking notes. The esoteric teachings based on Avastatraya were never recorded.
The Ramakrishna Mission teachers are good people but have not attained ultimate knowledge. They are most useful in helping elderly ladies slip smoothly into their graves, but a young man ought to have a higher ideal than merely to become a human vegetable.
Other Indian teachers and schools
I was astonished when Professor Mahadevan, then head of the Department of Philosophy of Madras University, India, told me that he had once met Sri Atmananda and that the latter, when challenged about the difference between his teaching and Shankara's--of which Mahadevan is a keen follower--admitted that this was a difference which Atmananda only held secretly for himself, because most people were unwilling to embrace a monastic order and Shankara's teaching led to such a goal. So Atmananda taught them that it was not necessary to renounce the world and become monks, that they could live as householders and still attain enlightenment, which the professor rejected. A somewhat similar statement was made to me by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, ex-guru of the Beatles, when I challenged him that the method he taught was nothing more than mantram yoga and could not lead to self-enlightenment. Mahesh Yogi admitted this, but said that he gave the teaching in its mantric form as a bait, like holding a carrot before a donkey, to get the students started into meditation, and that later on the results of the meditation will lure them to go on to the higher yogas.
That reminds me that Mahadevan told me that Atmananda in explaining his position had also used this very word "bait" as what was held before his disciples. In the case of Mahesh Yogi, I can well believe that this was so; but in the case of Sri Atmananda I find it incredible, as I was not a disciple of his and he knew I was following a very independent line of research, so that he could speak to me more freely. I therefore conclude that Mahadevan, who is to all intents and purposes a monk and always has been even though for family reasons he never embraced a monastic order, makes the usual interpretation of Advaita customary among such orders in India--which is that only monks can achieve final enlightenment because only they have renounced everything.
As against that I quote two authorities whom Mahadevan himself accepts on all other points. The first is Ramana Maharshi, who definitely stated that anyone, householder or monk, could attain enlightenment because it did not entirely depend on outward things, but on one's inner state. The second is the present Shankaracharya of Kamakoti, who made a similar statement and whom Mahadevan also regards as one of his teachers. It is therefore a matter of one's personal bias entering into an interpretation of one's own masters' teaching, as I believe is what has happened in this case.
Madras University had the rare good fortune to have an excellent philosopher with a both a keen intellectual understanding and a spiritual realization of what he teaches his students.
The benevolent sage-king of Mysore put a profusion of flowering trees in the residential quarters of his city. Their exuberant colours and peaceful presence gave much to a sensitive temperament and more to an aesthetic one. He himself possessed such a temperament, but beyond that he was a knower, established in the higher philosophy of truth.
The Indian Swami Ramdas was a conflagration of goodwill and happiness. It was obvious that he wanted everyone to share his joie de vivre--and this in fact is what he told me.
The Indian Swami Ramdas, like Bismarck, read detective stories in his after-lunch rest period. Did he find it a necessity, and not merely a relaxation, thus to get away from all the tense talk of spiritual egocentrism that went on all day around him, and with him?
It was not only a mystic like the Indian Ramdas who had this unusual habit of referring to himself at most times in the third person. An editor I knew, a talented essayist and literary critic, also practised it. But whereas with Ramdas (I felt) it was a genuine detachment, with the editor it was something of a pose--not necessarily insincere but still a pose.
Tagore dryly commented, "One day I shall have to fight my way out of my own reputation."
The alleged Maharishi teaches a simple method for those who have only just begun to find out that there is something better than frozen orthodoxy in religion or hopeless materialism in science. It can be welcomed as such. It can take them one step farther than these two. But it cannot take them into Reality, cannot bestow insight into the ultimate truth. And its associations today with Mahesh Yogi himself are dubious, if not undesirable.
Mahesh Yogi's financial methods and publicity arrangements will not appeal to the fastidious.
I felt that there was an ominous sign of some kind of mild mental unbalance when, in the middle of quite serious conversation, the so-called Maharishi suddenly broke out into foolish needless disconcerting laughter. This repeated itself after intervals at the most unexpected times, so it was obviously a tendency. There is, however, a practice used in some Tibetan Lamaist sects of breaking out into laughing fits, but this is of a different origin. It is philosophic, a vocal act of judgement in weighing the world's reality against appearances.
Medieval Arab and Persian medical texts describing the symptoms of various forms of insanity mention "a childish merriness of heart, and unprovoked laughter, laughing without reason. Sound sleep is the best known remedy for this disease."
Centuries before Martin Luther struck at the materialistic mummery of a decadent European Church, Kapila in India issued his polemics against the superficial ceremonial of the Indian priests. Though the Brahmins, with cunning craft, gradually entangled and absorbed his Samkhya followers in later centuries, the system in its original and pure form remains a standing rebuke to all priestcraft.
Kapila in India thousands of years ago anticipated Bergson's thesis by opening up the perspectives of infinity and evolution.
In the early post-Vedic period, various schools of thought came into existence. One of the least known, because it is difficult to find direct records, is Svabhavavada, which has been translated broadly as Naturalism. This teaching rejected belief in anything supernatural or superphysical. At a later time, during the period when the Jain and Buddhist systems arose, a sort of reincarnation of this school appeared called the Carvaka.
The Jain householder must meditate three times a day and fast once a week. As he draws near his fiftieth year he must totally abstain from sex indulgence; as he draws near his fifty-fifth year he must withdraw from work and other undertakings, dispossess himself of every kind of property, refrain from participating in any business--even to the extent of refusing to give advice on worldly matters--and live on one meal a day. After that age he becomes a homeless sannyasin and strict ascetic.
"The study of philosophy disciplines the senses just as the morn's rising of the sun renders the owls lustreless," was said more than seven hundred years ago by the Jain Sage Ramasingha, who also likened the man ignorant of his divine soul to one "who though living in the house does not know the master of the house."
There once existed in India a system called Viraha Yoga which sought to feel the actuality of love during the separation from the person beloved, which tried to find joy through and in the very midst of its grief.
Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, pilloried the useless asceticism of the yogis: "To fast, to endure great heat and cold--all these works of penance are works of dark ignorance," he explained.
Nanak, the Sikh guru, was taught by no master. His wisdom and power were self-found. It is a rule that the founders of religion are self-illumed, as were Christ and Buddha and Muhammed.
When I first saw that stupendous range, whose head and shoulders are always snow-covered, whose lower trunk and feet are thick with fir and deodar, rhododendron and azalea, I found for once that the reality matched the dream.
I shall never forget the sumptuous colours which take possession of the Himalayan peaks at sunrise and sunset.
There are areas of the Himalayan valleys which are strange country, for, apart from the few villagers, the only other inhabitants one is likely to meet are either holy recluses or unholy bandits.
Why did these recluses choose the frigid Himalayas for their spiritual retreats, when their bodies had been born into and were accustomed to torrid climates? I think it is because the immense tranquillity of Himalaya, the large scenic views, and the freedom from worldly humans which it offers gave the impression of being in another world.
The monsoon season in the Himalayan foothills is frightful, unforgettable. The wind comes in fierce gales, the rain falls in thick sheets.
The gypsies of Europe came originally from Himalaya. An artisan I met and conversed with and who was on his way to the nearest town in British India in quest of work (I think he was a carpenter) was a Drom, a native aborigine of the Himalaya west of Nepal. They are a darker race than other Hindus and keep to themselves, as do the gypsies, and for centuries were slaves and serfs of the Brahmins. They are the primitive race that was here before the Aryans came to India. The word Romany is undoubtedly derived from their name, for the word Dromani indicates a female Drom. The language of the gypsies bears so many words of Indian origin too. The Droms must have been driven out by an invasion and sent on distant wanderings.
Seven stupid brothers went for a walk in the forest one day, when they suddenly saw a tiger; they were all immensely frightened and began counting their company to find out if anyone had been carried away by the animal. Each forgot to include himself in the total and so they found only six. At once they rushed home and informed their father that one of the boys had been killed by a tiger. The father was taken aback by their shouts and weeping and, on hearing the dreadful news, did not verify it but fell down in a fit. This story is a good example of the humour of the Himalayan goatherds who told it to me both as a philosophic fable and as a funny story. Each counter did not remember himself and that is our plight, too. Each of our sceptics has forgotten his true self.
Gangetri was worth all the risks and hardship of attaining it. This vast rock-enclosed glen was inconceivably grand, majestic. The Ganges flowed over a single bed. Though this is popularly supposed to be the source of the Ganges, the river really rises far higher up in a mass of frozen snow which arches it.
A biologist once said that Himalaya is nothing more than a gigantic graveyard wherein countless millions of animals and doubtless human forms have been entombed. But when I enter a graveyard or a cemetery I am at once made aware of it and everything in me rises in distaste. My reaction on entering a cemetery is decidedly unpleasant but my reaction on entering the region of earth's loftiest summits, Himalaya, is decidedly pleasant; I find it attractive and not repulsive.