Asiatic mysticism has been well nigh suffocated under the weight of monkish traditions which have accumulated around it. The consequence is that the present-day student who lacks the spirit of critical research, will not know where the philosophy begins and where the monkishness ends. If we study the available texts today without the expository guidance of a competent personal teacher, we shall almost certainly fall into a number of errors. Some of these are merely contributory towards a superficial understanding of the texts and no harm is really done but one of them is crucial and much harm may then be done. For it must be remembered that in the days before the art of writing was widely used almost all the earliest texts were handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth alone. This entailed wonderful feats of memory which we must admire but it also entailed the possibility of conscious or unconscious alteration of the texts themselves, against which we must guard ourselves. It must also be remembered that the texts were customarily in the possession of a segregated class of men, either priests or monks or both types united in the same man. Quite humanly, too, new passages which praised their own class and idealized their mode of living were slowly if surreptitiously introduced into these same texts. It may be said that an honest man would not do this but it must be replied that an honest yet well-meaning man may do it. Anyone who really knows the East knows that this has demonstrably happened right through its history even until our own era. Whether it happened or not, however, one thing was psychologically unavoidable. This was the interpretation of passages, phrases, or single words according to the unconscious complexes governing the minds and controlling the characters of those who preserved and passed down the texts. It is perfectly natural, therefore, to expect to find that sacerdotal and monastic interests, characteristics, and practices are idealized whereas the interests, characteristics, and practices of all other classes are minimized and criticized. This indeed is what we do find to be the case. The inevitable consequence is that words which bore one meaning when they were uttered by the original author came bit by bit to receive a modified or altogether different meaning when they had passed through the mouths and pens of monks and priests. Our semantic study alone would indicate such a historic probability. The result for us who live today is somewhat unfortunate. For we learn from the text that if we would live a higher life, if we would pursue the quest of the Overself, we must put away our duties, cast aside our responsibilities, and deny our physical natures. We must discourage interest in the improvement of this world or the betterment of mankind's miserable lot. We must flee from society and hide in retreats with other escapists. We must regard the world as a trap cunningly invented by Satan for our downfall and the body as a tomb dug for our divine soul. Whoever refuses to accept the path outlined by monkish and sacerdotal editorial interference is shamed by having the very word-meanings or passage-quotations born of such interference hurled at him in proof of his error! The divine quest, which was originally intended for the study and practice of mankind generally--so far as their worldly status, class, or profession be--has now become something intended for the study and practice of monks and ascetics only. Men obsessed by a persistent complex which made them fuss anxiously over their bodily life to the detriment of their mental life; men who failed to perceive that the real battlefield of human life is internal and not external; men who could not comprehend the unity of Spirit and matter; men, in short, who had yet to realize that they were virtuous or sinful primarily as their thoughts were virtuous and sinful--these are set up today as the arbiters of how we twentieth-century persons shall live in a world whose circumstances and systems are beyond their own narrow imaginations. The quest indeed has been turned into something impossibly remote from us, something only to be talked about at tea-tables because we cannot implement it. Such a situation is unacceptable to the philosophic student. Better ostracism, abuse, slander, and misunderstanding than this.
-- Notebooks Category 1: Overview of the Quest > Chapter 3: Independent Path > # 246