A sense of proportion
We cannot communicate the incommunicable. The absolute reality is outside our finite thoughts; all philosophic writing must fall short of bestowing truth upon its readers. At best it can prepare the way for an attainment which must always be individual. Therefore, we who record the activities of our brains in these directions should not take ourselves too seriously. The printed paper will remain but paper, and readers will still have to take up the quest for themselves though we write a thousand pages. So I make this apology for my occasional light treatment of heavy matters. I am unable to share the illusion of many writers, that a few paragraphs may suffice to convert someone's materialistic darkness into spiritual light. I am well aware, however, that the pen can indeed cast plenty of mental light upon the problem of truth; but since I regard this as a buyer of gold regards brass, please pardon me if now and then I remember the futility of all our writing, when judged from the highest standpoint, and if, therefore, I break into irreverent chuckles in the midst of a grave paragraph or link up the profane with the profound in incongruous manner.
Why do I let my pen slip sometimes into frivolous conduct, though dealing with the most serious of subjects? My reply is to ask another question: Why should fools be the only persons who can be flippant? Why should not the serious and thoughtful likewise toss words without apparent intent? Yet, in the latter case, you will likely find a tasty kernel of wisdom inside the husky shell of frivolity. Why should a spiritual truth conduce to the incapacity to perceive a joke?
The secret of it is that the sense of humour is really the sense of proportion. Those who possess an understanding of the proportionate values of life often throw that understanding into the cast of humour, which becomes one of its natural expressions. So the eagle who has dived deep into the profound waters of Reality, when he returns to the surface again and resumes his breathing, can take a peep at the life around him and tell his friends: "Do not take the vicissitudes of life so seriously, O! Earnest Ones."
It only remains for me to remember that the inspired portion of this book has been written by my subconscious self, according to the psychologists. I have, therefore, to tender my best thanks to that kindly though vague entity for its cordial existence. Readers who may happen to take pleasure in this volume should address their compliments to it, and not to myself.
I take comfort in the continental proverb, "A hundred years hence we shall all be bald!"
Not every man who has been in Hell carries a face like that of the exiled Florentine. I like Dante and take pleasure in his work, but after all, I need not follow him into melancholy.
I felt the presence of a spirit and, acting under an inner impulsion, took up my pencil and rapidly wrote down the message which immediately flowed into my mind . . . Almost exhausted by the effort, I put down my pen and looked at the written words. "XXX," I read.
Why should the witless be the only possessors of Wit; why should they make more enjoyable company than the wise? Must a man forget how to laugh because he has remembered how to live and love aright?
The only proper way to treat this idiotic age, when one puts pen to paper, is with irony.
Let us seek the profoundest wisdom by all means but let us also carry it lightly, aye even with a smile!
Why should we not pour the scalding water of satire upon the feeble shibboleths which pass muster under the name of modern existence?
If it were not for the fact that I have suffered from the disease of Writer's Fingers since I was a boy, it is certain that I would never have troubled to obtrude my private moods upon the public gaze. What? You have never heard of this disease? I beg your pardon! Permit me to explain.
Writer's Fingers is a non-infectious complaint which attacks the hands of certain types of people, usually in their teens. The disease grows in virulence as adulthood is reached and passed, and the victim is rarely able to shake it off. Its most common symptom is an inordinate--sometimes feverish- -desire to clutch the smooth round barrel of a fountain pen, or to pad swiftly on the keys of a typewriter.
I have added the tag that since everything is unreal I might as well laugh at it, because it does not matter. I could just as easily cry over it--only crying hurts, and laughter makes me happier.
There is nothing wrong with cutting satire if it cuts some of the falsehoods out of our minds. Only the weaklings and truth-fearers can object to it. Skin-puncturing is often as useful as soft-soap.
Since I did not seem to make myself understood, I bought a new pen and procured different paper. Now, I thought, surely they will grasp my meaning.
Those who walk from Edgar Wallace straight into these pages, who have never learned from him that other and more spiritual sleuths exist who devote their days not to tracking down crime but to searching for God, will find my writing a mere riddle. But if they will have the patience to read farther, they will fall into a half-sleep; and if they will then do me the kindness of bravely continuing, there is no doubt but that a complete coma will supervene. When, however, they emerge from this mysterious state later, they can take it as a warning that the bright and breezy adventures of their favourite crook are better suited to such delicate constitutions as theirs must obviously be.
Every reformer drives the camel of compulsion before him--which may explain why so many of us get the hump when we see him. But all I ask is that we sit down and try to see straight, to think a thing out impersonally, forgetting for a while the reformer and the evil he wants to reform and the way he would make you do it.
I have somewhere quoted the sage saying (with which I fully agree) that "to be great is to be misunderstood." But sometimes I am amazed at my own achievement in being misunderstood without achieving greatness!
It is not because I think life to be so meaningless that I write so lightly at times, but because I think it to be so purposeful.
Scathing satire is the only way in which I can applaud the achievements of modern man.
It is better to meet an author of spiritual writings on paper than to meet him in person. For in the first case you will always meet him at his best, whereas in the second case you might meet him at his worst. In the first, mind meets mind unhindered but, in the second, his body, his speech, or his mannerisms may offend you and thus prevent such an inward meeting. Thus there was a woman who for some years kept one of my books on a shelf of honour where it might be easily accessible and often read. But one fateful day we accidentally met each other on board a ship for the first time. A single glance was enough for her to make up her mind that she disliked my face, as it was enough to convince her henceforth that she disliked my philosophy! I hope that the next author she meets will be better looking so that he may fare better than I did. For I fear I have little to offer such seekers in the way of hair on the head and less in the way of tallness of the body. As for my features, Venus was too busy elsewhere to give any attention to them when they were formed! Thus a woman may reshape her world view if she is attracted by the shape of an exponent's ear or impressed by the grandeur of its advocate's physical height. I tremble for the guru whom Nature has adorned with a pair of bandy legs. No matter how impeccable his teaching may be, many will come but, being more repelled by his legs than attracted by his logic, few will remain!
An unorthodox yogi
So must I move through the world, "a paradox to those who know you and a puzzle to those who do not," as a certain psychologist once remarked.
I like a quiet, lamp-lit room. I prefer a vista of red-tiled roofs which are sloping on whitewashed cottage walls to a vista of steel-framed blocks of flats. I retreat from gas-heaters, but am charmed by wood fires. I love to tread grass-grown paths, but quickly tire on properly paved streets. I am old -fashioned.
When the hour of passing comes, what better mode for me--as a writer--than to be found dead at my work, pen still in hand, or even better--as a mystic--to be found seated under a wide-branched tree in a little wood, rapt in a meditation so deep that I shall never again return from it to this dark world!
I preferred the perils of a casual existence and let the thought of security disappear into remote recesses of my mind. The world wants to feel safe and aims at a sizeable bank account, not to speak of a place in society. And the world is right. But I was born with a truculent nature and obstinately burned my incense in the haunts of Bohemia when all reason and prudence held up warning fingers.
I could easily console myself for this shortness of height by remembering that everyone has some physical shortcoming of one kind or another. I believe if the matter is sufficiently investigated this will be found universally true. But such consolation is not really effective. Better to apply philosophy.
I am a quiet inoffensive man desiring only to live and let live. Nobody is ever interfered with by me--no neighbour can complain about my habits or my noise, except that I keep to myself. And yet when sometimes I agree to the request of a reader and let him come to see me--"for a single meeting," I always emphasize--he or she is surprised to find that expectation is not fulfilled. From the tone of my writing, a strong personality and a big tall body should appear at the door. Instead there is a little figure, a bald head, a low soft voice . . .
I was not only a popularizer, but also an epitomizer.
I can work in no other way than the one which befits my temperament. I must spread the truth in an unorganized way and let it take root in the individual hearer of it.
I enjoy being studious, without being scholarly in any academic sense.
At different times and places, confronted by different persons and authorities, I have called myself scholar, researcher, traveller, writer, and even entered one official document as "without profession," for I dislike being labelled, "placed," or restricted.
Must a well-ordered meal, dining with linen, glass, and silver, not be for me? Servantless and cookless must I remain because I am a would-be mystic?
The advantage to a hermetic philosopher of being short is the advantage of being inconspicuous in a crowd or a street, especially if he dresses modestly. Deemed insignificant, being ignored, the better he can pursue his strange ways. Blessed are the anonymous and obscure, for they shall be least interfered with.
It is for some only a matter of personal refinements but the psychically sensitive person does not like to be touched and, therefore, does not like to shake hands. It is for him a matter of preserving psychic purity. For in every handshake there is a mingling of the magnetic aura emanating from and surrounding the hands and body.
It is not all nonsense to say, scientifically, that the eyes have special power, in some persons good but in others evil. It is not mere superstition to shrink from the habit of shaking hands with others. It is more than medical knowledge which kept Brahmins for thousands of years from eating food handled and cooked by non-Brahmins.
Because of physical sensitivity to auras, I dislike shaking hands and try my utmost to avoid it, which is too often not possible. A woman may wear gloves, sometimes, but a man must show himself holding many papers and things in both arms if he is to escape the conventional social duty.
If you wish to speak distinctly you must speak slowly. This clear slow articulation is the only way whereby those with weak voiceboxes can make themselves properly heard without having to repeat their words.
It is easy to be a monk who keeps nothing beyond what he needs and who needs nothing beyond a robe, a girdle, a bowl, sandals, and food. It is a complex and harder problem to be what I am--a mixture of several types, including a kind of monk, amalgamated into one.
There is no merit in me for whatever I have done of good. I simply obey the tendencies which I found already present within myself, but there is much demerit in me and I am very conscious of it.
Cynicism corrupts man. I am not a cynic. I am an optimist who prefers to face the facts.
I am neither a preacher nor an educator, yet something of the activity of both has inevitably filtered into my own.
People and places
It is not usually the nonentities of this world who accomplish things that will benefit, change, lead, lift, or better the world.
The years confirmed my interest and faith in two of the magnetic personalities among others--Krishnamurti and Steiner. I met both of them many years ago and recognize that Krishnamurti lived in truth and love, Steiner in knowledge and perception. Each was unique and admirable. Steiner, however, had his limitations--chiefly because of his lack of personal experience and knowledge of the vital Eastern traditions.
A score of years ago in Europe, during a private talk with Ouspensky, he confessed that his own effort to open up the mystery of man's inner being had ended in failure. He had been Gurdjieff's star pupil, until he broke away. A.R. Orage, who established the school in America for Gurdjieff, died of a broken heart, one of his biographers told me, because of disillusionment. Both these men fully deserve our admiration, the first for his qualities of head, the second for his qualities of heart, and both for their literary gifts. Yet neither had established himself in the Soul-consciousness towards which they proposed to lead their students (the first in his school and the second in his lectures).
I take pleasure in the remembrance that I encouraged Vera Stanley Alder to start a writing career and that I recommended the publication of individual books by several other authors, now well known.
There was a certain house in Grosvenor Square, London, which was a meeting place for many of the most distinguished men and women of the time. If you were fortunate enough to receive an invitation, you were sure to meet the latest "lion." You would most likely be introduced to famous personalities whose achievements entitled them to your respect, if not to eulogy. And probably you would also meet one or two persons who counted for nothing in the list of the world's great ones. If so, it was well not to ignore them. For tomorrow you might find their names inscribed in the freshest of inks upon that list. For the titled lady whose salon it was took keen pleasure in the discovery of unknown talent or unrecognized genius.
On Alan Watts' eating habits--ham (pork). How can such gross food and sexual intercourse give purity necessary to see truth so delicately as it is? But determination may give Truth, yet only flamed, hence distorted, blocked in parts. Make pure food a qualification for the quest. It is not merely a humanitarian act to abstain from eating meat.
Mr. Howard Begbie, the gentleman who dusted the mirrors of Downing Street so anonymously yet so effectively, once wrote down a biting phrase. "Our curse is not original sin," he declared in The Glass of Fashion, "but aboriginal stupidity!"
The English mentality abhors the abstract, prefers the concrete. It is averse to metaphysical principles. However, as a result of its struggle against Nazism and its groping amid crisis, it is now beginning to find a factual content in such principle
A man may look at his own history as if it were a stage-play and find it a comedy, but another may find it a tragedy.
The voice of reason is stifled by subtle hints about adeptship and sly innuendoes about apostleship.
They prefer to follow Pope's idiotic advice: "Be not the first by whom the new is tried. Nor yet the last to lay the old aside."
The American people want its thinkers to form clear conclusions.
I find pathetic and poor comfort in the knowledge that Saint John of the Cross was as little a man physically as I am.
It was said of Allan Bennett: "His mind was pure, piercing, and profound beyond any other in my experience. His fame as a magician was immense." He carried a glass rod, potent with magical power. Bennett was tall, stooping, with raven black wild hair, a high broad forehead, and a pallor on his face. An expert in electricity and mathematics, Bennett was "one of the most valuable lives of our generation."
An hour before he died René Guénon exclaimed: "The soul is quitting the body!" And when the final moment came, he murmured: "Allah, Allah."
Without any training but quite naturally a man I knew had the psychic power of knowing at once if a person told him an untruth. Yet in a certain racial matter he was prejudiced and fanatical, that is, accepted an untruth.
Yeats-Brown told me that he wrote the entire first script of Bengal Lancer in a month and a half, so excited was he with its theme--his life in India. Of course he was dissatisfied with the finished result and spent several weeks revising and rewriting it.
Solzhenitsyn senses a calling to share his insights with the world but feels he may not be able to cope . . . there may be too little time.
The man who finds in his declining years that he seems to be no closer to the illuminative experience than he was a couple of decades earlier, that the Real apparently refuses to obey his call despite his practices and disciplines, may also find himself suffering emotionally from sadness, frustration, pessimism, or irritation. Such moods explain why, for instance, a man like Aldous Huxley turns first to a drug like mescaline and later to a cult like Subud.
G.K. Chesterton: A giant in body, a child at heart. The ample and spacious folds of his flesh enclose a soul untouched and untainted by the sordid world. A double chin and a double talent--deadly seriousness with witty absurdity. I found him at his home in Beaconsfield one Sunday, pottering around his garden. He was the humblest of men as we talked: was this modest figure the great G.K.C., dreaded figure of his literary opponents, more dreaded foe of pretentious people? He spoke with a pronounced Oxford accent.
Marcus Porcius Cato: "I had rather men should ask why no statue has been erected in my honour, than why one has."
I am certainly not one of those who despise Americans for their materialistic money-making ways, their pursuit of material possessions. America enjoys the highest standard of living in the whole world. What is wrong with that? And money, as the symbol of power, is really pursued everywhere.
The Beatles have carried to the whole world and brought in particular to the younger generation the important news that there is such a thing as meditation. That their first experiment in trying to learn it under a guru ended in disappointment does not obliterate the service they rendered. For they made it clear that it was not meditation itself which disappointed them, but the human person, the teacher, to whom they had submitted.
One may admire Dr. Johnson as a maker of dictionaries but one cannot admire him as a would-be metaphysician. For he composed definitions by the use of his head whereas he argued against idealism by the use of his foot.
The French were remorseless idol-breakers in an age of unbelief and overthrow.
When royal persons become stiff robots or smiling wax figures with no special quality of real superiority or worthwhile kind to distinguish them from ordinary people, they become unneeded and dispensable.
"I have never myself had what are usually called mystical experiences," confessed the Very Rev. William Ralph Inge, but this did not prevent him from writing much about them.
We are apt to assume a man's greatness from his talent. We confuse the tool with the workman. But a witty pen may contain no wisdom, a bewigged judge may be quite at a loss outside the law court, and a politician proposing to govern an empire may be utterly unable to govern his life!
J.V. Kapila Sastri said, "Let me look into your eyes." He took my head between both hands and gazed for a long time into my eyes. I felt that he was reading something there which no ordinary psychologist could ever read, that he was ascertaining the depth of my soul and not the characteristics of my personality, that he was measuring my potentiality for final liberating enlightenment.
André Malraux drank rather heavily--but it was only tea! Yet it was fitting that he did so for had he not penetrated to the culture of Asia, and especially of China?
We see this nostalgia in the face of Marcus Aurelius, this ruler of an empire who felt it was not his true home, who practised Christian virtues while persecuting confessed Christians, who warred by day through most of his life but meditated at night on the lofty notions of Stoic philosophy. His rebellious subjects did not let him live in outward peace so, wistfully, he ever aspired to it inwardly.
The United States of America is truly a country today where too many babble of their rights and demands, too few of their duties and responsibilities.
Howard Hughes, brilliant designer and financial success, was one of the most secretive men known. He went mad through excess, through hiding from other people, keeping all affairs veiled, remaining a personal mystery.
Your letter of May was read with interest and although I don't really have the time to develop correspondences, I will make an exception in your case by answering your questions.
Your friend last year found his spiritual affinity in the teachings called Transcendental Meditation, which have been put out by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He joined the society with great enthusiasm and devotes his studies to their teachings--in fact, intends to become one of their teachers when he is sufficiently qualified. He came and informed me about this. I told him I was delighted at the news, since he had tried meditation for many years and never succeeded in getting any result from his efforts. Now that he is getting some kind of result from the new methods which he is practising, he blames his former method (Who Am I?) for his failure. He also asserted that it was a wrong method and criticized Ramana Maharshi for teaching it, but I assume that Maharshi did so because, as he himself describes, it was the way he used to come into his own illumination, so it was not wrong for him. Moreover, some years after I met Maharshi I discovered in an old Sanskrit text the same Who Am I method. Whether Maharshi knew of this text or not, I do not know. Since it existed in this text, it was therefore one that had the authority of tradition. It is hardly likely that it would have been given out in those days among the students of Advaita if it had been useless. The real mistake your friend made was to cling for so many years to something that was not helpful to him when so many other ways are easily available. This is a well-known fact.
I am happy that he is now happy himself, since there are many paths to go, as Krishna pointed out, and many ways of reaching the goal of yoga. I have always taken an interest in all the different ways and always said and written that a seeker should try whatever attracts him until he finds the one with which he feels an affinity and from which he gets help. It is true that I gave the Who Am I method in the first book about meditation, which was The Secret Path, but I did that to honour Ramana Maharshi. My own personal path which I used before I ever went to India was quite different and one which I had not learned from anyone else. This student ignored these statements of mine that most of the different yogic paths are valid for different persons, and if he had told me that Who Am I did not suit him, I would have immediately suggested that he look for something that did suit him. I do not know where he got the idea that I was wedded to the Who Am I teaching alone. I don't know of anyone else who thought so. He visited Anthony Damiani at Wisdom's Goldenrod a year or two ago and he must have seen that various teachings are being studied there.
Your inability to accept your friend's persuasions to join Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's society is nothing you need worry about, but follow your own intuitive feelings in the matter. It is true, as your friend told you, that I approved of his having joined them, but it is not true to say that I advised him to join. It was only after two or three months of his membership that he even came and told me for the first time about his interest in the Transcendental Meditation teachings. You ask whether I advise you to do what he has done and join them. My answer is that you should feel perfectly free to do whatever your reason, your personal feelings, and your own knowledge, so far as you have studied philosophy, altogether tell you to do.
Finally, your friend knows that very many years ago, I spent a day and a half watching the work of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, at Mahesh Yogi's request, that he asked me to write a book about him and I refused, and that since that time Mahesh Yogi tells people that I became his disciple, which, of course, is not true. But the work of introducing mantram yoga to the world is one he's successfully doing and I acknowledge that. He is to be admired for this. On the other hand, I do not wish to have any personal connection with him.
The feeling of unsettlement, oppression, and depression which this episode with your friend has caused you, is quite unnecessary. He is entitled to go the way which is helping him but you must find your own way which helps you and you need not imagine that what is suited for him must necessarily be suited for you. That you must ask yourself. Be true to yourself. I am not a personal guru and have no personal pupils and I can look at all these happenings impartially. Anyway, don't worry since both of you are seekers. With Peace, Paul Brunton
As genial Charlie Chaplin remarked to me once, "It is good to know that there are a few people like yourself in the same sub-stratosphere, as it were, with oneself."
Plutarch could write only of public men, warriors, and politicians in his "parallel lives" because, he said, he could not conceive how any "gentleman nobly born" could even wish to be an artist, whilst as for being a philosopher he praised Lycurgus and sneered at Plato for "while the first stabilized and left behind him a constitution, the other left behind him only words and books."
He recalled the questioning Greek sage, though his fate was better than that of Socrates for his own wife was kindly and his end was natural. He was unknown to fame but I, knowing him well, knew his value.
Even great men are not all great. How saddening to watch one fall into some negative feelings, born of the ego's limitations, into quite unnecessary embitterment, and pay for the fall with impaired health or personal trouble!
Many poor sick souls have crossed my orbit who became neurotics and psychopaths only because the spiritual tendencies with which they were born could not adjust themselves to a materialistic environment or a misunderstanding society. The consequence has been business failure, nervous breakdown, shattered lives, chronic melancholia, madness, or suicide. Neither they nor those amongst whom fate had thrown them could help being what they were. None was to be blamed.
When I read Heisenberg's reflections in a small book, I noticed that he used the word "poetry" almost interchangeably with "mysticism" (obviously to protect himself among fellow scientists against the accusation of having become woolly-minded). It prompted the remembrance of two things: first, Carl Jung's statement (in a conversation we had at his home in Küsnact) that he kept his mystical belief and experience secret in order to preserve his scientific reputation; second, Matthew Arnold's prediction more than a hundred years ago that religion would be displaced by poetry, and William Butler Yeats' statement in a conversation at his London club that the poet and the artist were taking over the work of the priests.
When the Mongol hordes of China threatened a second attempt at invading and conquering Japan, the priests of all the religious sects prayed feverishly to avert the calamity; but the regent Tokimune, who was a practising Zen adherent, remained calm, firm, and imperturbable, merely waiting on events. The invasion came but failed, defeated by a providential typhoon.
The key factor in Joseph P. Kennedy's success was his superb sense of timing. He harnessed his fortunes to the momentum of events. He jumped clear of the crashing stock market. Experience, shrewdness, ruthless detachment enabled him to detect warning tremors and shift his ground before it was too late.
The Americans, with their perfectly machine-tooled minds, tend to a gregarious conformity.
The Buddhist sees only suffering in life whereas the Christian Scientist denies it.
I know, from glimpses gained of my contemporaries, that I share this shortness of arm and stature with other authors--notably with the late H.G. Wells, an immeasurably more talented and better endowed writer.
Chaplin, when working out an idea, would become utterly absorbed, gazing into space; then, writing it down, he would remain unaware or indifferent to surroundings.
The picture of Solzhenitsyn as inaccessible is widespread. He occasionally explodes out of irritation with persistent interference with his work. The pressures of writing restrict his schedule of time drastically. After a few minutes of conversation he excuses himself and hurries away.
History has never provided such a wide publicity for meditation as the Beatles' acceptance has. The Beatles, in themselves a sign of the world's governance by youth, declare that they have finally found a meaning and purpose in life, through meditation.
The chill manner of a Mejnour encases him like a suit of armour and makes frailer mortals wonder whether it would be possible to find some vulnerable link.
If some persons found him withdrawn into himself, so difficult to know, so reticent in speech, others found him friendly, amiable, and considerate.
One may not agree with all of his views and believe some of them mistaken, but this need not diminish the regard, the admiration, one has for his character and his ideals.
Our respect for such a man is a personal one. It does not mean that we have also to show the same respect toward his world-view and his conduct of life if the gap between our ideas and behaviour has gradually widened.
The sage's talks on education made a deep impression. He felt turned inside out. He came back with an attitude to life that was entirely strange to him and he felt rather foolish about it. He has no plans nor aims and no inclination to make them. He does not know what life will bring him and in a way he does not care. But when his friend told him that with this attitude the Overself has a much better chance to come through and lead him on his way and that it was really a positive one, he understood at once and was very glad with this new insight.
Dr. Samuel Johnson loathed vegetables although, to his credit, he loved tea. But may it not have been the washed-out, flavourless, boiled corpses of cabbage and the like which repelled him? The Chinese and Indian cooks make vegetables quite attractive.
I admire the mind exemplified in the writings of Plato, in the questions of Socrates, in the thought of Spinoza, and in the plays of Sophocles.
As one who has travelled around the world and as one who has endeavoured to apply the philosophical attitude towards life, he tries to keep his thinking about political international questions not narrow and partisan but global and impartial.
In these short studies of men without ordinary minds, in these impressions of their personalities and records of their sayings, I have tried to see the whole picture, not merely a biased part.
Happenings on the way
What a multiplicity of images the past brings to mind if the search after truth has been its chief preoccupation and subsequent realization! Images which are dark, bewildered, despairing, arise alongside of others which are radiant, teeming with luminous hopes, ethereal with unearthly experiences.
The Latin poet Horace talks quaintly of travel as changing our sky. But the experienced wanderer whom Destiny has taken to distant lands knows well enough that he is beholding the same sky, whether it canopies waving palm trees or sturdy oaks. Yet I propose here to show how a man may really change his sky, though it be by a somewhat new sort of travel. Hitherto he has been going outwards to this or that place; I propose that he shall now travel inwards and find that centre whence all places radiate. Then indeed will he see strange sights, for the old sun and moon will fall from their places, and he will behold a new heaven.
The years filled with so many widely different experiences could easily have made one cynical. But they have not. But neither have they left one naïve and unsophisticated. One finds oneself sufficiently blasé to be unsurprised at any human villainy, unshocked at any moral deflection. The philosopher within oneself is patient to an extreme point. He recognizes that the mysterious alchemy of life, working with the reincarnations, will take the most abandoned wretches and turn them into admirable creatures, although a few monsters of iniquity may be self-hurled into the outermost region of hell, and be annihilated.
New Zealand probably waited longer for the appearance or evolution of human beings than any other currently inhabited area of this earth. I thought it might therefore have a purer aura, less polluted by human evil. But alas! I found that it slaughters more animals than any other inhabited country, leaving the atmosphere no less polluted than elsewhere. Thus a golden chance to establish a new and better way of life was passed by.
For years I have wandered in self-sought anonymity save for an occasional brief splurge of press interviews in benighted countries where I sought to awaken people to what philosophy could mean to them.
I am a citizen of this land by personal choice but a citizen of the world by wide experience and inveterate travel.
As a modest public figure, I have met with so many hundreds of people in the course of time that I was prevented from entering into too personal a view of friendship. Destiny forces me to move and travel constantly, so that the opportunity to take roots is not permitted and the dreamlike character of these contacts begins to intrude itself. I could not help gaining some of the detachment which an exiled and wandering life can give to a person. But this said, I still am human enough to have some feeling about these matters even though I do not allow any feeling to sweep me away and indeed cannot if I am to be true to the philosophic path.
For too long I have been accustomed to the fluid inconstant life of a gypsy, for too many years I have wandered from city to city, village to village, continent to continent, gaining my experience of human existence in a variety of places--some quite jungle-like and primitive, others completely metropolitan and sophisticated. Glamour lies no longer in the unknown unvisited district but in settlement for the ageing body, in taking root and gaining refuge from the burden of ever packing and unpacking.
There are plenty of reminders that this is the twilight of my existence.
When life took me to the end of the inhabited world, to New Zealand, and set me down there for a couple of years, I had a chance to review these past contacts with seekers and their teachers, with doctrines and practices.
It is more than seventy years since I came to this planet. The move was a foolish one, for I know now that it was mere curiosity masked as a search after knowledge. For I exchanged a tranquil existence for a troubled one.
Some years ago I found myself in the position of having to establish a home. This was a new move for me and one that I had hitherto avoided. The reasons were varied--a nomad's temperament, the wide area of my researches, and a sensitivity which pushed me to get away when negative characteristics in my surroundings pushed themselves to the front. It was agreeable to remain footloose.
I remember the fallen autumnal leaves of plane trees on Adelphi Terrace, the thrusting shaft of Cleopatra's Needle nearby, the Adam architecture of so many houses around my office, and the wide tidal water of the Thames beneath its windows.
I have no fixed permanent home, no real abiding-place in this world, and wander like the Bedouin. Yet even he has his desert. I never stayed long enough in any one town or village to be absorbed by it: this enabled me to live my own life, follow my own way. Inclination began this unsettled existence and destiny sealed it.
Those men and women, teachers and taught, of my generation have mostly disappeared from view: the smaller number who remain are dying off with startling frequency. Having reached the span of years which the Bible allots to human life, we seventy-year-olds have to prepare ourselves for the worst, albeit some of us have learned how to convert it into the best.
For more than forty years I moved like a vagrant from country to country, or from place to place. This kind of restlessness is not conducive either to meditation or to work, but it is helpful to detachment or to material-gathering for work.
I live in Switzerland, Greece, and nowhere!
The remembrance that I am too old to squander time comes back periodically but always it is confronted and defeated by the realization that I will be reborn again, that in these future embodiments I shall have all the time needed.
How many happy minutes I spent, in those leisurely Indian years, watching little birds building their nests!
Writing short memos to myself and long notes for my instruction are procedures to which I have become an addict.
There is no mission that I feel or that I would care to undertake, nor indeed is there any sense of such a thing. Moreover, at seventy, time is running short, is the enemy of mission.
I love to listen to the chiming of old bells.
I have kept a deliberate and studied silence for many years on the subject of the past and present history of Ramana Maharshi's ashram. Not even the strange claims and stranger teaching emanating from there since his death have provoked me into breaking this silence.
The first book which brought me into mystical ideas was a curious fictional composition by Abu Bakr Ibn Ab Tufail. The title was The Life of Hai Ebn Yokdan, the Self-Taught Philosopher [also known as The Awakening of the Soul--Ed.]. Ibn Tufail flourished in the twelfth century in Spain and Morocco. He was a practising physician, a mathematician, and a Sufi. The book opened my knowledge in a vague general way to the possibilities of meditation, so I embarked upon the practice--unguided, uninstructed, groping my way in what, at first, was absolute darkness.
I lived once, in my early manhood, in what was then called Highgate Village but now is alas! swallowed up in London's great hungry mouth. Coleridge had lived there too a century earlier, an ornament to English literature.
What more does a writer need than a fat notebook in his pocket and some ideas in his head?
It is difficult to settle down to work when moving from place to place or country to country. Yet I wrote ten books in the same number of years while living just like that. For I found that travelling fed my writing. I not only met many who were seeking God, which allowed me to observe their struggles, but also some who had found God, which allowed me to profit by their experiences.
When I think back to those days, I remember when Michael Juste shared an apartment with me on Tavistock Square in a massive eighteenth-century late Georgian house with lofty ceilings and thick walls, where two or three years later Leonard and Virginia Woolf turned the rooms into a publishing office for "The Hogarth Press" and helped to foster the so-called Bloomsbury Tradition in English literary life, with its high rationality, fastidious stylistic prose and irreverent youthful and unconventional criticism. Juste wrote brief inspired verses. His first publication, a yellow-covered little booklet, aroused the London Times reviewer to enthusiastic appreciation. He had extraordinary genius for poetic creation connected with spiritual sources, but turned his head to other kinds of work. He published an occult periodical for a few years and I know that he opened a bookshop near the British Museum.
I drink tea so freely and so frequently that sometimes I think it is a relic of that fifteenth-century Chinese incarnation of mine--more especially since I deserted the stronger brew of India's Darjeeling for the milder one of Cathay-grown leaves.
If a lifetime given to spiritual research and spiritual adventure bore no more fruit than the keen interest generated during the endeavour itself, I would now judge it well-spent. But the result has fortunately not been so barren as that.
I do not agree with Thoreau's ascetic assertion that "water is the only drink for a wise man." It is a good drink for all, yes, wise and stupid alike, but it brings no such cheer to the heart as tea.
I stood atop the high and lonely lighthouse which itself tops the rocky promontory of Cape Saint Vincent and watched greenish Mediterranean waters meet bluish Atlantic rollers. It is the most southwestern point of Europe and the windiest point of Portugal. Here fish-eye decorated Phoenician ships, Visigoth vessels, Roman galleys, and Moorish sailing boats came with their crews of traders, warriors, pirates, or settlers. The waves dashed themselves in wanton fury upon the rocks, or crashed in suicidal exits from this world.
No flesh food passes between my lips, and no smoke passes out from them.
In all my world wanderings and quests, I met very few who demonstrated completely in their lives the loftiest teachings, though many could talk marvellously or write skilfully about them.
I feel that, in an overpopulated world, it is no longer a duty to leave a brood of still more humans behind me at death. And I feel too that in an overly materialistic age, it is nobler to beget true ideas and divine inspirations for others than to beget children.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that if we are now beginning to find our way to other dwelling places of other inhabitants of the solar system, some of them may be finding their way to us. The suggestion may even be extended to the possibility that they have done so in past centuries and that what they saw of this planet's population was not to their liking.
In the Jain monastery at Shravana Belgola, the largest in South India, the abbot showed me his rare, treasured, ancient palm-leaf manuscripts where numerous symbols were beautifully drawn and their meanings or effects explained. In Bombay, the most learned of all Jain pundits gave me lengthy instruction in the Jain secrets which he had gathered by travelling throughout India for many years, going from monastery to monastery and copying or collecting rare, little-known volumes which are still in the unprinted unpublished state.
More years ago than one cares to remember, some of us, some enthusiasts among us I should say, proposed the creation of a periodical to be called The Philosophic Life. But the cultured Cambridge University graduate among us objected to the proposal. He pointed out that such a publication would be mostly for the use of beginners because articles would necessarily be short and compressed, and philosophical subjects with their mystical profundity and metaphysical subtlety could not be adequately treated within such limitations; further, the pressure of preparing material for a dateline would mean hurried writing--also an unphilosophical procedure. So in the end the proposal was dropped.
It is not only the American business executive who often prefers to be designated by his initials alone. Far from him in geography and interests, it was also preferred, or rather enjoined, by the Imaginists, a group of French and English poets and writers who delighted in a half-spiritual but somewhat obscure symbolism.
Those experiences which now seem to have happened to another man and to belong to another age, did in fact happen to me.
An old gypsy once taught me a few scraps of Romany philosophy, and among them she put this one first and foremost: "A trotting dog finds a bone." I was put in mind of this saying while contemplating today the devious wanderings we Western aspirants must endure before we can even discover in what direction the Bone of Truth lies.
It is not too far off--not farther perhaps than a little beyond the time I became initiated into these studies--when they were as unfamiliar to most people, and as distant, as Cathay was a thousand years ago.
I have almost reached the Biblical age allotted to a man. Whenever I bid anyone farewell, whether at the end of a personal meeting or in one of those rare letters I sometimes write, I never know whether there will ever be any contact between us again.
I am without plans for the immediate future and even without a home for the actual present. Let the World-Mind make the first and find the second!
In the little mountain train I travel in twice each week in order to purchase food and other supplies, a neighbouring passenger asked, in the friendly, well-meant way of village folk, what was my work? I usually rebuff such intrusions, but something influenced me to reply, "I have none."
The snowy peaks redden in the evening's last light as I muse over old age in my Ticinese half-Swiss, half-Italian retreat.
I find myself in my last years and have tried to find the proper way to deal with them. First, I must forgive everyone (which includes myself) their past mistakes. Second, I must prepare properly for the coming event--death. Next, I would look into what others have found, if anything, of what recent knowledge says concerning those who have already striven to open the gates of the half-passing which precedes a full movement away. Ross, Stevenson, other medical writers like Lewis Thomas, and some of the parapsychologists also have some useful information.
I lived among the shady chestnuts on one of the hills overlooking Lugano.
An inward glow comes from the small coloured lamp which rests in the corner of the otherwise darkened room. It provides a kind of mystic beauty and a pleasant comfort.
A writer is instinctively interested in the study of human nature, but a writer on spiritual self-improvement is doubly interested.
Both His Holiness Sankaracharya of Kanchi and Ramana Maharshi were met within the same month of 1930. I had prepared myself by nearly two years' intensive study, principally with the help of the secretary of state for India's library in London. Now more than fifty years have passed and there has been sufficient time to get a little more knowledge and understanding of these two sages and to watch the effects of their persons and teachings upon others.
I was given Holy Communion by a Greek Orthodox priest who later became archbishop of all Greece. Did his sacrament of grace create in me that interest and study of Orthodox Mysticism which arose soon after? Did my personal contact and repeated good wish bring him this promotion over the heads of several senior Bishops?
The ritual of tea-making begins with the hissing of the kettle and ends in its festival of bodily refreshment and mental stimulation.
After all, it was southern China which raised tea to its higher importance; it was Lao Tzu and Bodhidharma, the Taoist and the Zennist, who allied it with contemplation and inspiration, who made its drinking a sacrament, its effects a refined poetic joy.
Superior beings have come to this earth planet since ages ago; but, their work completed, they have gone away again. Since then, other visits have been made from different parts of outer space. It would be surprising if the technological developments which have enabled human beings to probe other bodies in space were to pass unnoticed by these distant inhabitants.
The precious quiet which surrounds me is not hurt by the tick-tock of a grandfather clock. The sound of the swinging pendulum is so gentle and so rhythmic that it soothes the ear.
I love to wander around old-world villages and faded cities whose narrow streets and cobbled squares carry my memory back to a time of periwigged old gentlemen and the powdered Venuses with whom they joked. It is true that the sedan-chair was a poor substitute for the Buick sedan, but the century of the latter kills many true thoughts, whereas the century of the former gave one time to create them. Keep your automobile if it must murder my best hours, and leave me to a more leisured life, wherefrom I hope to draw the honey of diviner joys.
He walked out into the street and thus unwittingly walked out to his fate. For when he reached the traffic-laden crossing a few blocks away, a car drew up to the curb, a quiet voice hailed him, and the most extraordinary pair of dark eyes he had ever seen riveted his own gaze.
We were walking through one of those attractive pillared arcades so often found in Italy, Portugal, and other Mediterranean areas when we met him. As we approached from opposite directions I recognized his face and greeted him.
When I walked the sacred, hilly, Grecian ground where once the Delphian inscription "Know Thyself" met the pedestrian's gaze, I felt the melancholy peace of this glen-like scene. The fragments of carven stone seemed to reproach the warring races of man, steeped in self-ignorance still.
It does not really matter whether he believes in the four Archangels or not as it is not of importance to anyone unless he has advanced far enough to have made contacts with such beings.
When after the act of dying I shall be carried away to my own star, to Sothis of the Egyptians, Sirius of the Westerners, I shall at last be happy.
I found this path of philosophy most interesting and mentally exciting; but many, if not most, will probably find it dull and boring.
I have lived to see strange things. The name "Fakir" applied to a German carpet cleaner! The name "Yogi" applied to an American sweet!
Large cities are also large concentrations of all that is bad in human nature. Whether by falling into temptation or by picking up psychic infection, men are always exposed to moral degeneration in such cities. This is why so many mystics and most ascetics have refused to live in them.
The crinolined dullness of early Victorian women compares strikingly with the vivacious brightness of the modern miss. Two or three generations have sufficed to knock man's stuffy and stupid notions of women on the head.
Sirius, called the Dog Star in antiquity, has a symbolic meaning: it stands for the hidden knowledge of hidden truth.
The horrors of the vivisector's table create an equal karma; moreover, instead of yielding truth, as he thinks, the practice blinds him and yields illusion instead. The motive may be good but the method is wrong, for a right end cannot be achieved by a bad means.
He takes the situations in which he finds himself, the circumstances that surround him, either with instant decision and subsequent action to improve them, or with cultivated serenity--for he is unwilling to suffer the miseries of unsatisfied desire.
If he looks back at his past history, he wonders how he came to give so much importance to so many things, persons, events, and circumstances for which it does not now seem worth disturbing his peace of mind.
From time to time I need to consult some old text, Oriental or Occidental, for the purposes of research, study, or writing. Therefore it is useful to live not too far from a great city or university library.
It was only after the nearly two years which were needed to get rid of the blackwater fever with which India had dragged me down that I was able to begin work on A Search in Secret India. For this purpose I retired from the noisy metropolis to a little village in Buckinghamshire which I knew could give both beautiful wooded landscape and peaceful residence and from where I could attend, Sunday after Sunday, the old Quaker meeting-house nearby where George Fox and William Penn had established the Society of Friends in its first abode. It was in the Buckinghamshire woods, too, that another kind of book was born and finished: Of Everlasting Mercy by John Masefield. It was a spiritual glimpse-inspired, vividly written poem.
We authors are in the paradoxical position of being both known and unknown to our readers. That is to say, they know a part of our mind, the expressed part, but they know little of the unexpressed one, and probably nothing of the physical part, the body.
This huge freighter bore down upon our little ship when it was too close and therefore too late to avoid a collision. In the rending crash which followed, I was thrown from the bunk-bed to the floor.
Buckinghamshire was my favoured English county so perhaps it was fitting that, after my first return from India, I went there to write A Search in Secret India. The two rooms over an ancient village inn gave an open view of quiet countryside. The buxom, red-faced landlady brought up the simple and rather plain vegetarian meals every day--how deliciously garden-fresh they were! On Sundays, I walked over to a neighbouring Quaker village and sat with those grave sober and pious figures in the morning service at the seventeenth-century Meeting-house. Sometimes I would wander through beechwoods, cross streams, look at the graves of William Penn and George Fox, ruminate over America's unique history and England's religious background, and finally return to the table where the book grew.
When I visited England some years ago to see the old village where I wrote A Search in Secret India and where I went Sunday after Sunday to the old Quaker Meeting-house, I found much to disappoint me, alas!
I am not the only vegetarian inhabitant of this room. There is a second party across the room, a long-whiskered creature against whose presence I make no objection, even though he is a mosquito. This may seem strange, as also my indication of his dietetic preference, but it is a fact that the male of the species is quite harmless. The sharp painful incision made daily in the skins of so many million human dwellers in tropical regions is made, I regret to state, by the female mosquitoes. This is because the mouth of the male mosquito is unadapted for this purpose. He dines only on fruits, pollen, and nectar.
I love flowers but only when they are in gardens or in pots. For then they are living things but, cut, they are decaying, dying ones.
Two worthy people may become quite unworthy if thrown together in domestic harness or business association. Every quality in one person seems to stimulate the undesirable qualities in the other. There is constant discord and friction, disagreement and irritation.
Lord Byron refused to let his friends constantly use the formal terms of address or his title. He told them he was content to be called Byron and he would also accept even the initials L.B. alone that some of them chose to use. If therefore, he, a poet and an aristocrat, did not think he was demeaned by such acceptance, I, a commoner, am surely not demeaned by preferring the use of the impersonal initials P.B.
I was told that this area, this canton of Vaud, has a long winter and a short summer. Now I have verified the statement by my own experience. It is an aesthetically pleasing experience to look across Lake Leman and see those huge French Alps rising from the water and the land or to turn in the opposite direction and to see the Swiss Alps jutting upward, but it is not an enjoyable feeling to have their cold icy winds blowing down on and cutting into one's body.
When I was quite young, I became enthralled by poetry to the extent that I studied the laws of composing it and once succeeded in writing nearly eighty poems in a single month. To make those verses as beautiful as possible, I composed lists of beautiful words and put them in a small red notebook where I could constantly read and reread them, linger over their beauty, and eventually bring them into my compositions. There were such words as azalea, azure, nectarine, eventide, chimes, and so on. But alas! with the passing of youth the fascination of poetry faded away and the fascination of the scientific attitude took its place. There was nothing wrong in this, except that I failed to keep the two by maintaining a balance between them; instead, I foolishly adopted a one-or-the-other attitude. To the scientist, the Himalaya Mountains cover an enormous graveyard filled with fossilized animals; but to the poet, how grand and how unearthly a sight is the dawn sun rising over the Himalayan peaks!
Many interesting works have been published since Adamski started writing. As for my opinion, there are two types of UFO. There are the saucers, and there are the ships. Having had personal experience of both these saucers and ships, I cannot deny their existence, but too much unreliable fantasy has attached itself to the subject.
I regret that I am not in a position to discuss it any further. Advanced age has made retirement necessary. Inner needs have compelled a retreat from personal correspondence and interviews.
Thank you for the interest in my books; I hope you keep investigating still further and deeper--not only on the mystical side, but also on the philosophic, for which you have a wide field dating back many centuries. You should also not neglect the ancient Greek and the Chinese. It is not enough to limit oneself to Indian sources. [This was a standard response to queries about UFOs.--Ed.]
There were times when Ramana Maharshi actually appeared before me, advised or discussed. Death had not ended our relationship or barred our communions. He still existed in my mind, life, as a veritable force, an entity bereft of the flesh but clearly present at such times. And then one evening which I shall never forget, about a year and a quarter after his physical passing, he said that we needed to part and that he would vanish from my field of awareness. He did. I never saw him again. If it was his spirit, as I believed, it was either no longer able to maintain communication with this world, which I did not believe, or had withdrawn because the next step in my own development imperatively called for this freedom, which subsequently proved to be the case. [In 1981, P.B. said more about this "next step". He said that while the inner contact had never in fact been broken, he had lacked the ability to recognize that at the time. He had to stop looking for the contact through any sort of imagery, and learn to recognize its presence as pure essence rather than personalized image.--Ed.]
In my search for the truly wise as well as in my mission for the master, I led the wandering life of a dervish for many years; perhaps the time for final settlement is near at hand.
Alas! I can say with the Syrian poet, Abul Ala, "The years have gone like water".
There have been too many lectures and too many books in our time. In the East of long ago, students were not allowed to have the most important books. The teachers alone possessed them. They would bring one of these books out during a lesson and expound a few paragraphs and then put the volume away again.
Closest to the human stage of intelligence comes the ape; then, in descending order come the monkey, the dog, the cat, and the elephant.
There are times when we know that declaration can only lead to disappointment, when feelings must be kept secret and thoughts left hidden.
What wrong is there in seeking sufficient financial resources, sufficient good health, and enough of the pleasant things of this world to make life physically endurable?
Because I usually greet pastel colours with delight, this is not to say that I do not recognize that stronger colours have an appropriate use and place in the scheme of things.
We have lived to hear disembodied voices speaking to us through radio broadcasts, and to see faithful images of the bodies themselves not only speaking but also moving and acting just like them--and all this at several thousand miles distance. We must be more cautious before we deny a miracle.
The horrors of those prehistoric periods when grotesque gigantic monsters existed, as revealed by the nightmares of drug addicts, the vision of past births by Buddha, are confirmed by science. These reptilean creatures who emerged from the slime, these ichthysauruses and dinosaurs, were unbalanced, small heads set on immensely disproportionate bodies.
I have tasted the teas of a dozen different countries on their own soil, from the youthful green plant of Japan to the hard compressed brick of Tibet, and from the mellow mature herb of China to the mild soft growth of the Indian Nilgiri hills. We would have done well had we travelled together, Chang Tai--my fellow scribe across the centuries--and myself, for we could have matched tastes and scribbled lines with mutual understanding and inborn passion for this nectar of the gods. But why, in the pages of what purports to be a philosophic writing, do I thus refer to tea?
Such was my former fondness for tea that I lamented at times over the wasted years when misguided persons filled me with nothing more appetizing than cocoa, most uninspiring of drinks.
It is unfortunate for me that so many believers, because of the number of editions of my books or because I travel so far and so wide or because of my reputation or because I am a celebrity think that I must be rich. They think wrongly. I have stretched the pound and the dollar, the rupee and the piastre to their extreme limits of spendability.
My personal competence in financial affairs is nil.
P.B. called to see Mr. H.B.W. at his office on legal business. He offered to take P.B. to his hotel, as he was travelling home in the same direction. At a very busy intersection, the back of another car got in the way of our taxi. It would not or could not move and soon we were caught amongst and surrounded by a number of other vehicles. We were jammed on every side. Our driver became very angry with the man whose poor driving had created this awkward situation. He shouted imprecations in a loud voice. After two minutes the taxi was able to free itself but, throughout all that period, a volume of vocal abuse poured out uninterruptedly in a strong Brooklyn accent. H.B.W. got tired of hearing this and turned to P.B. and criticized the man. There was no partition between the driver and his passengers, so he was able to overhear them. P.B. replied: "What is the use of criticizing this man? His nerves are upset, his emotions are excited simply because he does not know any better and cannot help being what he is. What is the use of expecting him to behave like a philosopher and become detached from the troubles of the passing moment? He has never even heard of the existence of philosophy." The next morning the lawyer telephoned to P.B. and said: "I thought you might be interested to know that after I dropped you at your hotel the taxi driver turned to me and said: "Say, who is that guy who was with you just now? Is he some kind of monk?" H.B.W. asked him why he wished to know. He replied: "I heard what that guy said to you, and when he finished speaking, something changed inside me. I did not feel mad at the other fellow any more. I seemed to get very calm. I never had such an experience before. I can't understand it. Its wonderful!"
A little brook meandered by the cottage where I made both that world-forgetting retreat and this book. On its green narrow bank I sat for meditation every day at the sunset hour. Within hearing of its tinkling gurgling progress over rugged stones, I prepared the material that was transferred by pen, pencil, and typewriter to these sheets. The brook's waters gave me a rich sustenance.
The object of these pages is to tell the Western world about this spiritual light to which the gods led my feet in India; I seek to share with others, so far as the secondhand medium of writing can do so, this rare blessing of contact with a God-Man.
Chao-Chou, the ninth-century Master of the Ch'an School in China who was gifted with extraordinary spiritual perception, lived till he was 120 years old and travelled about till he was eighty. I follow his illustrious example whenever I say, "Have a cup of tea," to enquiring seekers after truth.
The cottage has been born. All newborn things should be given a name. What can I give mine? Let it be called "Desert Peace Cottage"--a place where a tired soul may periodically return and weave fresh webs of truths for busy men.
A sight of the worn brown cover of Bulwer Lytton's Zanoni--I think my copy is the second edition for it is dated 1853--brings back to me strange yet delightful memories. With what eagerness did I first peruse its quaint double-columned pages! How it opened a new and eerie world for me, a stripling yet at school! It gave me dark brooding ambitions. I, too, would take to the path of the Rosicrucian neophyte and strive to fling aside the heavy curtain which hides the occult spheres from mortal gaze. I could not keep this newborn enthusiasm to myself but was compelled to attempt to communicate it to a vivacious lady I knew, whereat she recoiled in philistinic horror and threatened to have nothing further to do with me if I persisted in trying to become a wizard. Alas! she kept her threat; we began to drift apart and many years ago she came to bid me a final adieu before putting a vast ocean and a great continent between us forever.
I hope the jinns of the ink-well will favour me this day, and let my pen flow fluently.
Nature has made me an exceedingly quick thinker but an excessively slow writer; the years in journalism brought my unwilling hand to keep a better pace with my thoughts.
The difference between journalism and literature is that the productions of the time-pressed journalist come out of his head, whereas those of the leisurely litterateur come out of his heart.
Dr. Roy Burkhart, an organizer of the United Christian Youth Movement, an author of books on psychology and Pastor of the First Community Church of Columbus, Ohio, suffered at night from psychical persecution by an unseen spirit trying to get control of his body, so that he was able to get very little sleep. At last he spoke about this trouble to P.B. and requested help. That night the persecution stopped and he enjoyed a full night's sleep for the first time in several years. The cure was maintained permanently.
"I felt such an outpouring of God's compassion towards your child and I am sure something wonderful is being set into motion. I do understand the nature of this searing problem. The only real answer, in the end, is total dedication to the Father and an opening of God's healing love to bless the wounds of soul and body. I just know deep inside, that it is a yearning for a total clearance and it is this inward readiness that we must speak to. We call for the Living Christ in him; we reach into the deeps of his soul and behold it awakening in the immaculate spirit of God; we enfold him in the love for which his soul yearns until he truly awakens to the highest and noblest and best! This letter comes forth on the wings of love and prayer to help him. . . . I was a real disciple of Dr. Paul Brunton when I was a young man and devoured all his wonderful books."--Brother Mandus
If he should ever see these pages, as I hope he will, may he take them as a tribute from the Western student to whom he opened darkly curtained doors.
When I first went off to India, it was at a time of widespread and massive rioting. It is not surprising that the British Government Foreign Office told me that it was necessary to keep my researches unhindered by irrelevant matters and myself unclouded by suspicion and that I had to satisfy these conditions by keeping rigorously aloof from both political controversy and propaganda in my writings and from political leaders in my travels. The undertaking along these lines which I was asked to give was faithfully kept during all the years of my personal contact with the Orient. Not only did I refuse to write a single page that could be regarded as other than non-political but I also refused tempting offers of personal interviews with men like Gandhi. Yet such is the perversity of human character that in the end and to my disgust, because I did all physical exploring in my own unconventional way, I was an object of unfortunate misunderstanding to both sides!
In the twelve years that passed afterwards until his death, I never saw Ramana Maharshi again. At least a half dozen times I passed within a few miles of his ashram during the part of that period when I was wandering in India. A lump would come into my throat and a choking sensation would seize me as I thought how close we were in spirit and yet so harshly separated by the ill-will of certain men and by the dark shadows of my own karma. For inwardly I never broke away from him.
The complete misunderstanding by this ashram of my character and motive, my outlook and purpose, was of itself sufficient proof that their path did not necessarily lead to true knowledge, however much it led to inner peace.
That I was most unfairly treated by one ashram in particular and many Indians in general is a shameful fact, but nevertheless it was a fact which helped my own emancipation.
I travelled in the Orient not only geographically but also mentally. I absorbed its ancient wisdom from books, men, monuments, and atmospheres.
I am humbly aware that the bulk of my writing is only journalism in book form. It is certainly not literature. This consciousness tames my vanity and mocks the hopes which I nurtured in youth of becoming a creative artist. And yet I know that I was not built for journalism. Its never-ending haste and its intrusions upon the affairs or privacy of other people are repugnant to my taste and repulsive to my temperament. And I know, too, that few journalists have dealt with such unworldly themes or written for such aspiring readers as I have.
I enjoy the old tree under which I am squatting and hear the birds' song uninterrupted by human crows croaking.
Unintelligent, impractical, and unself-reliant men proudly announce their possession of a degree. The worship of degrees often makes me laugh. An education which mistakes books for facts, words for things, and talk for action has produced individuals who over-value degrees and under-value life. I have met too many academic nonentities to be much impressed by an academic qualification. I do not have to have a diploma. There is no academic or professional post which I would accept were it to be offered me. I am in a position where I do not need the honours or even the emoluments which the world can give. I cherish my independence and freedom. I do not share the superficial joy of the typical hunter of academic distinctions any more than I share the infantile elation of the average climber in the social pyramid. My heart is elsewhere and my head is otherwise occupied. With mystical knowledge and experience of an unusual character already in my possession, with an assured place in world literature, there was no need from the point of view of personal advantage to trouble to secure a scholastic honour. Nevertheless I know that while conventional society believes and accepts such values, I can use them for the advancement of true ideas where I would not lift a finger to use them for the advancement of P.B. This is sufficient justification for not discarding the title derived from the college degree which I hold. I sought and obtained this degree for one reason alone and that was for the benefit of the backing of such a weighty academic honour as a Ph.D. For then people will think that the man who holds it has some brains at least and that if he takes up the teachings there may be something worthwhile in them after all. This is quite apart from, and has nothing to do with, the fact that the possession of this degree is an indication to the reading public that I have at least the mental equipment properly to handle the subject of philosophy. And this indication remains and is even strengthened by the further fact that it was granted not on the basis of examination, but partly on a philosophical thesis submitted which was judged as showing capacity for original research and as making a contribution toward existing knowledge and partly in recognition of distinguished service to the cause of Oriental research. And I became a candidate specifically for a doctorate of philosophy because this would be a recognition of attainment in the field wherewith my future publications would be most concerned.
I learned anew the ancient lesson which one learns in every land, that human nature is, basically, everywhere the same, that it runs eternally around the triangle of self, money, desire and especially sex-desire, with religion as the fourth dimension which holds this triangle.
In these ashrams I witnessed at first hand what I had perforce hitherto taken at second hand from history. For I witnessed the spectacle of myth-making which turned a human being into a remote idol, the process of building up the legendary figure of a god out of a man. Although the master himself personally protested against the practice, he did so vainly. Incense was daily offered to him in a ritual of perambulation and worshippers prostrated on the floor before him amid cries of "Lord! Lord!"
What joy came to my heart, during the years when I could wander this earth, each time I met one of those rare spirits who had liberated himself from common prejudice! What ease to be able to exchange thoughts in an atmosphere of perfect equity!
Does Europe need a new evangel?
When I suggest a simpler mode of living, I am not preaching neo-stoic gospel. I believe that man was born to be happy and that he need not disdain the things of this earth in order to attain some supramundane bliss. I refuse to make my philosophy a torture for myself and a nuisance to others. These thoughts coincide with my instinctive tastes and I am well content if the rest of mankind refuses them hospitality. What I do suggest is that we call the bluff of that bully, Mammon, and stop to enquire whether we really need all the things we desire, and whether all our consequent slavery is worthwhile.
Three more letters will turn man into maniac.
Among two or more men silence can be without any significance at all or it may express mere boredom. Still more, it may even be ugly and sinister. Rarely, it may denote spiritual harmony.
The removal of forests leads in the end to the removal of rain. This, in turn, converts flourishing farmland to alkaline deserts. Nature does not ask man to deny himself some land but only not to take all, as he does.
The embryo formed in the womb is in a helpless situation, half-grown and half-conscious, cut off from past incarnatory memories, having no post-natal identity, prisoner in a solitary cell, fearful and anxious.
We overwork the past if we drag it constantly into the present. And this is true not only if it appears in the shape of negative broodings and lamentations but also of intellectual beliefs and views.
It is no doubt hard for the working man to follow this quest, but experience has shown that it is hard for rich people to follow it also. The only difference is that the particular difficulties--such as lack of time--which stand in his way do not stand in theirs. On the other hand, the particular difficulties which stand in their way do not stand in his. However, it is a fact that the hindrances which a poor man has to face are on the whole greater than those which the rich have to face.
The mason's hammer, splintering the aeon-resting rocks for the sake of intruder man, echoes no more. The bricklayers have gone and he with it. The carpenter's saw has ceased its rough music. At last the place has become quiet again and no doubt Nature will absorb this artificial structure of my cottage in her landscape and may lay it in time with part of her own variously coloured phenomena.
The wanderlust which led me from place to place, from land to land, for more than thirty years, led me also nearer and nearer to the work which is fitly mine. Thus it had an undeclared purpose, and was not mere wandering in a circle.
A woman who was P.B.'s London secretary for a time tells the following story. One day P.B. needed some letters in German translated into English. The secretary offered to ask an Esthonian girl, who was living in her house and knew the language, to do the job. It was done and P.B. sent his thanks to her. The girl's people had been taken away in the war by the Russians and were never heard of again: she herself had been in a displaced persons' refugee camp for some years and had become epileptic, with horrible fits. The secretary occasionally told this girl a little about P.B. and about spiritual things, but only a little because she was not ready for more. One night she awoke from sleep in a kind of nightmare and both sensed and saw a very evil creature in the corner of the room. It horrified her. Then she became aware of another presence, whom she felt was or was associated with P.B., who bade her not to be terrified but to drive it away by her mental command. She did this and it vanished. Then this good presence advanced and said, "Just as you have the strength to overcome evil spirits, so you can overcome epilepsy." After that night she never again had a fit; the cure was permanent.
What a disgusting spectacle these humans, with their incessant disputes and wars, must present to the higher beings of other planets.
With what pleasure do I put the dry green or black leaves of Chinese tea in a little earthen pot when the daily rituals of leisurely relaxed refreshment come round! How pleasant to balance in one's hand a cup of the delicately aromatic and fragrant liquid! I have long since lost the taste for Indian Darjeeling, Ceylonese, and Japanese teas, finding satisfaction only in those which come from Cathay or Taiwan--young Hyson green for breakfast, semi-black Oolong for mid-morning, smoky Lapsang or flowered Jasmine for mid-afternoon.
Being in possession of other people's books always disturbs me. I have no rest until they are returned.
As I sit, bending over a desk, writing these thoughts, there comes to memory a sentence from a Chinese classic. Was I in a previous incarnation, the author of that sentence? I have reason to believe so.
Much that I have written in my notes about the Himalayas can quite truthfully be written about the Andes. Both are the world's longest and highest mountain ranges. Both stick a galaxy of snow-capped steeply rising peaks like towers and spires into or through the clouds.
Chinese saying: "The taste of Ch'an (Zen) and the taste of Ch'a (tea) are the same." This is applied to the power of tea to render the mind clear and to refresh its power.
I would like to ask what Europe was drinking during all those barbaric centuries before it first tasted tea in the seventeenth one.
Living in so small an apartment yet having so large a number of possessions, it is needful that the most be made of every bit of space. Everything must be readily accessible, and its whereabouts known or inventoried. Books, office equipment, stationery, domestic items, clothing--all must be put away in an orderly and efficient manner, as the ancient Phoenician sailors stowed things on their far-voyaging ships.
Those immense silences of the Himalayas were like living in a completely soundproofed room. They helped me to quieten the mind as nothing else. And there was more. The sharp air freshened the mind, the endless spaces gave it new perspectives.
I have travelled the world and though I found some countries, some cities, some rural areas better than others, I did not find any place that I could feel was the ideal. Indeed, the conclusion was forced on me that this place was nowhere to be found except within myself. And even there I had to find my way to it by the hardest of explorations.
A journalist travelling in India, and a rationalist sceptic and cynic withal, I received my first lesson in an unforgettable philosophy from this strange little man. He showed me that much of our life is written beforehand.
"Why go off to the East for light? If you believe in a World-Soul, then it should be possible to sit down even in a town like Dublin and look within until you contact that World-Soul and so gain all the spiritual light you seek. But perhaps your destiny compels you to go, for I foresee that you have an exceptional work to perform in threshing the corn of Eastern wisdom for the sake of Western students." This was the advice tendered me by my beloved friend, the distinguished Irish poet "A.E.," a few weeks before he died. It was sound advice, as I found to my cost. Yet the force which drove me to disobey it was overwhelming. It was, as "A.E." rightly surmised, my personal destiny.
The incense began to affect me no less than the staring eyes of the fakir. The room swam before me, all power of movement seemed to desert me, and I stood as one paralysed.
I wander farther afield and, overcome by a feeling of fatigue, throw myself upon the ground and listen to the hum of insects. The minutes pass and then I slowly become aware of a second sound. It is a kind of gentle swishing, yet so faint that it could be easily overlooked. Certainly if my corpse-like position did not bring my ears close to the ground, I could never hear the noise. I sit up suddenly and gaze around in circular fashion. Through the bushes comes a gliding snake. The glittering, baleful eyes stare coldly and petrify me for a few moments. Why has Nature cursed this country with sneaking, crawling things? And then I remember the Buddha's injunction to be compassionate, to live and let live. Was he himself not shielded from the hot mid-day sun by a cobra which formed its hood into a canopy over the sage's head? Has not Nature provided a home for this snake equally as for me? Why need we look at each other with such trepidation? It rises from the ground in magnificent malignity to the height of my own head, a venomous and vertical creature whose neck gradually spreads out into a narrow hood marked with coloured spots. Instantly I direct my thought toward that Overself which pervades the creature confronting me no less than this body of mine. I perceive that this Self is one and the same and that the two forms appear within it. I sense that it is binding me to the other form in universal sympathy. My separateness, my fearfulness, even my repugnance and hatred, melt away. In that sublime unity, there is no second thing to arouse enmity . . . The snake passes on its way, and I am left safely alone. How much higher is this than the snake-magic which I learned in Egypt, how much more worthwhile! For the dervish who taught me his arcana of conquering cobras by occult powers now lies in a sandy grave outside Luxor, his face distorted by the agony of snake-bite, his twenty-year immunity lost in a single moment.
Asia is my ancestral home. Wherever my spirit has wandered in the past, it has mostly taken birth in the beloved lands of the East.
If the task were not so distasteful to my peace-loving temperament, it would be a necessary duty to write a sequel to that immature book, A Search in Secret India, about my later experiences in a country so elusive to a foreigner. The more I penetrated beneath the surface of men and institutions, the more my early enthusiasm evaporated. The better I came to understand the thoughts and deeds of "Secret India," the better I realized how deceptively rose-coloured were the spectacles with which I first viewed them. A truly scientific estimate of such matters would have uncovered the whole picture, the dark side no less than the bright one. The existence of this side is well-known to thoughtful and educated Indians themselves. But the years have passed and I shall certainly never attempt to do work of this unpleasant and unappealing character. Nevertheless it is most needful to the few earnest seekers after truth, as distinguished from the many uncritical seekers after personalistic emotional satisfactions, to know that I have revised most of my former estimates and come to modified conclusions and that, in short, my realization that the West must work out its own salvation is based upon mature experience and profounder reflection. Not by turning solely eastwards, as superficial enthusiasts would have us do, nor by turning solely westwards, as the white-race superiority complex would suggest, but by taking what both have to offer as the starting point only for our own new twentieth-century quest, shall we work out this vast problem of giving a spiritual significance to modern man's life in the most effective and satisfying sense of the term.
Somewhat altered to suit our times, a Sufi master's retort to a question motivated by suspicion is quoted as "Enlightenment is not to think that because a man is a professional writer he is not enlightened."
If this planet's inhabitants can send space vehicles as far as the moon, let it not be denied as a possibility that some other planet can send them here. And if that planet is evolutionarily more advanced, let us grant the likelihood that these missions of exploration are based on deeper knowledge and a higher morality than our own.
How could I live in a house where the view is shut off by ugly walls? I have done it many times when homeless and I had to wander from hotel to hotel, but this was mere existence and was not adequate living. It would be delightful to have an adequate home where all the necessary conditions for a sensitive person's outward surroundings were available. But alas the ideal residence of that kind does not exist--at least not for those of modest incomes like myself. I have to accept surroundings which however imperfect are at least more tolerable.
It was pleasant to recline on a comfortable divan, harmoniously patterned and coloured, with a small table at its side bearing an oriental teapot containing a favorite infusion of delicately fragrant tea.
I see dead races of men rise from their dust. Atlantis has vanished into watery oblivion.
It was one of those delightful sunny days which on occasion, and by contrast, light up the greyness of London.
I am quite content to rusticate amid old villages and decaying windmills.
When I lived in that little Connecticut cottage, the water I used for making the cups of jasmine tea which warmed me in the early mornings and slaked my thirst in the mid-afternoons, came from a spring close by. It had a neighbour, a brook that leaped after rains from stone to stone but sometimes dried up completely. The spring itself never went dry, never stopped giving its beneficent draught. My happiness was just like that spring. It bubbled up all the time, unfailingly fresh.
I love these quiet beech woods which lie close to my cottage in South Buckinghamshire.
The twilight wind moving through the leafy trees sighs out a requiem for the dying day. So to those who have ears to hear all the universe is forever in mourning.
I may only be a writer. I shall certainly be a sage.
It has not been easy to revive these memories, some from a very remote past. Any mind which has become deeply mystical and habitually metaphysical tends to value timelessness more than time, to discard what has gone before as mere pictures vanishing from the world-illusion, and to cling to what is eternal.
I know now after long and varied experience that the place I sought, Home, had no physical existence, only a spiritual one.
With filial joy I offer you this flower of days that whatever fragrance it may have shall tell of the days I spent at your side. My head was heavy and bowed with the sorry burden of earthly life; my feet had wandered long among the rocky places and then grew tired as a sleeping man, when your great love shone down upon it and warmed it into life until it took strong root in some soft earth. Is it not appropriate then that I cull the first blooms for your table? I count it one of the great things of my life that I am privileged to call you Friend. And I know if I know you at all, that I can do no greater deed in return than to speak to my fellows of the unforgettably beautiful stream into which you turned my little boat, broken and halting though the words of my stammering lips must needs be.