Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Perspectives > Chapter 15: The Orient
The present day needs not only a synthesis of Oriental and Occidental ideas, but also a new creative universal outlook that will transcend both. A world civilization will one day come into being through inward propulsion and outward compulsion. And it will be integral; it will engage all sides of human development, not merely one side as hitherto.
Those Westerners who try to ape Indians--and not only Indians, but the ancient Indians at that--by adopting their dress, clothes, beliefs, and general way of life are putting themselves in a somewhat ridiculous position, if not a false one. We may give admiration and sympathy to Indian ideas and ideals up to a certain point, but we need not do it by throwing away completely all our Western heritage, which also has its substantial value. We need not let them prevent us from giving an adequate appreciation to the offerings of our own culture.
The Western peoples will never be converted wholesale to Hinduism or Buddhism as religions, nor will their intelligentsia take wholesale to Vedanta or Theosophy as philosophies. These forms are too alien and too exotic to affect the general mass. Historically, they have only succeeded in affecting scattered individuals. The West's spiritual revival must and can come only out of its own creative and native mind.
He would do well to give respect, veneration, and love to the Oriental Wisdom. For when the structures that we Westerners have put up are gone, its verities will still be there, unchanged and unchangeable.
Sir S. Radhakrishnan, Vice President of the Indian Republic and honoured expounder of Indian philosophy, has humbly said that "there is much we have to learn from the peoples of the West and there is also a little which the West may learn from us." My own travel and observation in both hemispheres lead to a less humble conclusion. What each has to learn from the other is about equal.
I have for some years kept myself apart from Indian spiritual movements of every kind and do not wish to get associated with them in any way. Consequently, I shall not resume my contact with any swami or yogi, for I wish to work in utter independence of them. My reasons are based on the illuminations which have come to me, on my understanding that the West must work out its own salvation, and on the narrow-minded intolerance of the Indian mentality towards any such creative endeavour on the West's part.
Professor T.M.P. Mahadevan, head of the Department of Philosophy at Madras University, recognized instantly and delightedly the symbol painted on several Greek icons when I took him into the church belonging to an Orthodox monastery in Athens. It was, he exclaimed, "the gnana mudra," the gesture made by touching the tip of the forefinger with the thumb to form a circle. The inner meaning is that the ego (forefinger) is a continuation, a connection, or a unity with the Overself (the thumb). Only in appearance is it otherwise.
No one need find himself faced with the choice between Orient and Occident in his search for truth. It is a false choice--the real one is within himself.
Those in the West who saw that it could not proceed metaphysically to its farther possibilities out of its own resources, nor develop mystically, had to call in the aid of Oriental knowledge, experience, and teaching. This was a wise and broad-minded move. But this is not the same as deserting the Occidental heritage, from the early Greeks onward. Some do this and become fanatics.
Most either fall in love with the Oriental presentations and attitudes on spiritual matters or underestimate them. There ought to be room for a few who want to take an independent stand, who try to be impartial, and who know the subject.
Just as the Westerner is feeding and clothing his physical body, furnishing his home, conducting his business and operating his factories with stuffs from all parts of the world, thus enjoying a fuller larger life than his forebears ever did, so he ought to feed his mind on ideas from all worthy sources and build it up in a healthy way. He ought to keep open the willingness to recognize and receive spiritualizing impressions from outside. Their acceptance ought not to be allowed to imply the renunciation of what he has developed out of his own original resources. He need not give it up in order to take the other in. If any of these values is missing from a full culture, the latter is thereby and to that extent impoverished. Each has its distinctive offering to make. Let him accept it then. Let him assimilate all worthy elements but let him take care to do so from his own independent point of view. If he is to receive Asiatic ideas, let him receive them respectfully and appreciatively but let him not surrender completely and uncritically to them. Thus at the same time he will remain faithful to his own inner vocation and fulfil the purpose of this particular incarnation in the Western world.
Those who are so fascinated by the ancient tenets and methods that they surrender themselves wholly to them are living in the past and are wasting precious time relearning the past. They are ignoring the lessons of Western civilization. Why were they reborn in the West if not to learn new lessons? Let them absorb whatever is good and useful and true in the old teaching, but let them give it the new form required by our altered conditions of life. They must be flexible enough to adapt themselves to the demands made by the present. Those teachers who have not perceived this continue to teach the old methods alone. They are phonographically handing down that which they have received by tradition. If they had realized the inner spirit of their inheritance rather than its musty outer form, they would have become utterly free of the past. For then they would stand alone in the great Aloneness. And out of such a spirit they would instinctively give what is needed now, not what was needed in past centuries. We may welcome the knowledge and custom which have come down to us from those who have lived before but we must not become embalmed in them. Our times are not theirs, our world shows large differences from that in which they dwelt, and our needs are peculiarly our own. Nature will not permit us to revert in complete atavism even if we try, for disappointment calls us back in the end. Here is today's book of life, she says; read it and master the fresh lessons it offers you.
It is no longer enough to be merely Western in standpoint. But this is not to say that we must consequently swing to the opposite extreme and adopt an Indian one, as some of those who have been unable to satisfy their spiritual needs in Christianity aver. On the contrary, the truth is to be regarded from a universalist standpoint, for this is the only correct one. If it be sought as being merely Indian, its Occidental seekers will go astray. This is so not only because their needs and their situation are exceptional, but also because a dozen different traditional conceptions of truth now befog the Indian scene and bewilder the Indian seekers themselves.
Youngsters who take to the Indian religions with all the enthusiasm of converts, too often get a hazy understanding of the philosophy associated with them if, intellectually, there is any interest beyond the religious one itself. Nor is this surprising when the swamis who collect Western disciples confuse religion with philosophy in a kind of mixed-up Irish stew.
We need to carry something of the Oriental brain under our Occidental skulls, to seek for a kind of synthesis between the seething activities of the West and the dusty quietism of the East, to accept and use the advantages of modern technical civilization whilst avoiding the evils that come with it. We need the dynamic power of the Occident but must mingle with it something of the introspective qualities of the Orient. Such a combination of ideals would lead to a full and truly human life. We must be pioneers of a new and wiser age which would bring together the best elements of Asian thought with Euro-American practicality in happy marriage. This would not only bring us contentment, not only restore inner peace and outer prosperity, but also put the larger nations on the path to true greatness.
The bane of Indian higher cultural life is the lack of independent ventures of the mind. For hundreds of years men have not had the courage to do more than write interpretations of other books, which themselves were written thousands of years ago and hence before human knowledge had advanced to the degree it did later. We find in Sanskrit few original works but any number of commentaries.
Freemasonry: The roots of Freemasonry have been attributed both by its own pioneers and by history to lie embedded in ancient Egypt. The cultural connection of ancient Egypt and ancient India is now slowly being established; the philosophic and religious indebtedness of the country of the Nile to the country of the Ganges is being uncovered by history and archaeology. This esoteric system admittedly once fulfilled a far loftier mission than it does today and was therefore worked in an atmosphere of greater secrecy. It was closely connected with religion, mysticism, ethics, and philosophy. Even today we find that it still possesses three progressive degrees of initiation, whose names are drawn from the act of building: the "Entered Apprentice," the "Craftsman," and the "Master Mason." The first degree represents spiritual faculties just dawning; the second degree represents those same faculties grown quite active; the third degree represents the quest and the ultimate discovery within himself of the true Self. If the earlier degrees teach him how to behave towards others, the last degree teaches him rightly how to behave towards himself. For here his search ends in undergoing the mystical death of the ego, which allows him to live in his own spiritual centre henceforth.
Whoever fulfils the Masonic rule of being "of lawful age and well recommended" may then knock as "a poor blind candidate" at the door of the Master's chamber for admittance. The initiation of the novice into the first degree of Masonry is symbolically performed while he is half-clothed. He is then called an "Entered Apprentice." All men throughout the world who sincerely and seriously adopt religion because they apprehend a mystery to be concealed behind the universe, thereby unconsciously enter this degree. All religious men who live up to their ethical obligations and thus make themselves worthy are eventually passed into the second degree, that of "Fellow Craft." This symbolizes the stage of mysticism wherein the seeking mind passes halfway behind the symbol. It is the mystics who consecrate their quest to inner contemplation within themselves rather than in external churches or temples. They furnish from among their number the few who have discovered that service is the most powerful means of advancement and who are raised to the third degree of a fully-robed "Master Mason." He alone is given the clue whereby he may recover the "Lost Word" of the true Self, the ultimate Reality, a secret now vanished from the ken of the modern successors of Enoch and Hiram Abiff. And he alone dons blue robes as a token of his universal outlook--that same blue which is the colour of the cloudless overarching sky that covers all creatures on the planet.
Apart from its use of the solar symbol, in this highest grade, of the sun at noon as a sign that the Master will work for the enlightenment of all, you will find that Masonry has indicated its worship of Light by including the cock in its ceremonial rites. For this is the bird which rises with the sun; which, in fact, vigorously and loudly informs its little world that the dawn is at hand and that the benign rays will soon be shed upon it.
There was a sanity, a wholeness, about the goal of the best Greeks which we do not find easily elsewhere in the antique or Oriental world. They appreciated art created by man, beauty created by Nature, and reason applied by man. They developed the body's health, strength, shapely form; they disciplined it at certain periods for special purposes, but without falling into the fanaticism and extremism of those ascetic religions which abjure enjoyment merely because it is enjoyment.
In my Asian wanderings I noticed that the people of sun-scorched plains were the most fatalistic and those of the hills were least so. Where the one group surrendered easily to lethargy, the other used will and energy to shape circumstance.
We hear of lamas in Tibet who immure themselves in sealed rooms, with but a small hole in the wall to receive their morsel of food, so that in total darkness and in total inactivity they may better concentrate all their attention on their inner practices. We hear of monks in the Zendo halls of Japan who sit half round the clock while holding the mind persistently to their meditations. We hear of yogis in India who forsake wife and home, position and possessions, and withdraw to forest, cave, or ashram. We shrink with terror from such hard exercises and abnegations. How puny seems our own effort by contrast, how paltry our own self-denial!
The ancient Hellenic mind was sharpened by the study of mathematics. This enabled it to search for truth unclogged by superstition and unswayed by imagination. It helped too by nurturing the power of concentration. But it was still inferior to the far more valuable capacity of the Indian mind to still thought altogether.
In the personal presence of Gandhi, one felt that he was being used by some tremendous impersonal, almost cosmic power. But the feeling was noticeably different in kind from that one experienced with, say, Sri Aurobindo or Ramana Maharshi. It may be that in Gandhi's case the inspirer was the energy of Karma, shaper of India's destiny!
For the first couple of hundred years of its history, Buddhist piety honoured Gautama as an enlightened man but did not worship him as a God. For this reason it refrained from depicting him in statue or picture, but figured him symbolically only by the Bo-tree or the Truth-wheel. Muhammed was even more emphatic in demanding no higher recognition than as a Messenger, a Prophet, and strictly forbade the representation of his human form. To this day, in no mosque throughout the Islamic world can a single one be found. But, in striking contrast, every Buddhist temple throughout Asia has its Buddha statue. What overcame the earlier repugnance was human emotional need to admire the superhuman attainment of Nirvana, the religious desire to worship godlike beings or pray to them for help, the feeling of devotion toward a higher power. And a great help was given to breaking the ban by the spread of the Greek empire in the lands between Persia and India, as well as in Northwest India itself. For this brought Greek ideas and influence, a less otherworldly, more rationally human attitude, expressed in the way the Greeks figured their own gods always in human forms. When their artistic skills were called upon to make the first stone statues of the founder of Buddhism, they represented him not as a half-starved lean ascetic, not as a bare-shouldered shaven-headed monk, not even as a spiritual-looking saint, but as a curly haired, beautifully featured, Apollo-headed prince. For it was Greek sculpture which first portrayed the naked human body with a beauty, a pose, and a refinement unmatched earlier and hardly surpassed even in our own time.
A remark once made by Ramana Maharshi reminded me of Tagore's extraordinary statement in his poem Vairagya. A pilgrim goes in quest of God after leaving home. The more he travels, the farther he goes from his house, the more he puts himself farther from the object of his pilgrimage. In the end, God cries, "Alas! Where is my worshipper going, forsaking me?"
Sir Francis Younghusband crossed the Gobi Desert on foot and explored it again on a later occasion. Mongolia, where it is positioned, as a Lamaistic Buddhist country, owed spiritual fealty to the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Sir Francis told me one day of a mysterious Mongolian whom he had met and who without uttering a single word aloud, purely by telepathic contact, had powerfully influenced his mind and given it a greatly broader spiritual outlook. Many years later I met this same adept, then an exile in Cambodia from his native land which had fallen to the Communist-atheist regime. Through the services of an educated Chinese disciple who was with him, we were able to converse about Buddhism and other matters. He gave out a teaching which formed the basis of mentalism and which was occasionally so subtle that it went above my head, but which I understood sufficiently to revolutionize my outlook. Some of its tenets were incorporated in the mentalism explained in my books The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself.
Ramana Maharshi: One night in the spring of 1950, at the very moment that a flaring starry body flashed across the sky and hovered over the Hill of the Holy Beacon, there passed out of his aged body the spirit of the dying Maharshi. He was the one Indian mystic who inspired me most, the one Indian sage whom I revered most, and his power was such that both Governor-General and ragged coolie sat together at his feet with the feeling that they were in a divine presence. Certain factors combined to keep us apart during the last ten years of his life, but the inner telepathic contact and close spiritual affinity between us remained--and remains--vivid and unbroken. Last year he sent me this final message through a visiting friend: "When heart speaks to heart, what is there to say?"
Pathos in Ananda Mayee's singing voice caused her hearers to weep. It was like listening to a divine angelic voice.
Except for our first meeting, tea seems to be associated with my contacts with Professor D.T. Suzuki. He invited me to help myself from the ever bubbling samovar of the light-coloured weak-tasting green tea which was the national Japanese drink. This was at the Engaku-ji Monastery, Temple, and Academy in those far-off years before the war. This was the fitting place, the pertinent atmosphere, in which to talk quietly about Zen. Then we met again, about a decade later, after the war, at the Los Angeles Japanese Buddhist Temple where he was staying as a guest. He offered some little round rice-cakes this time to eat with the tea. I noticed that he now put a lump of sugar between his front teeth and held it there while he drank. The third time he asked me to tea was a couple of years later at Columbia University, where he again was a guest. There we had Western-style toasted rolls as the accompaniment. After his secretary-assistant removed the trays, we went at great length and in much detail into a comparison of Indian yoga, philosophy, and texts with Zen Chinese and Japanese meditation methods, philosophy, and texts. I was amazed at his extraordinary erudition, for he not only knew exactly where the references supporting his statements could be found, but his ability to read Sanskrit and Chinese, along with his native Japanese and early-acquired English, gave a width and authority which few other men possessed. His basic point was that whereas Zen sought and achieved direct penetration to reality, Indian yoga sought and achieved mental stillness--not necessarily the same and certainly inferior. We were unable to come to a full agreement, so we gradually drifted away from the matter and he talked confidentially with touching humbleness of his own spiritual status. "They consider me a master," he said finally, "but I consider myself a student." Then before leaving I suggested that we meditate together, communing in the silent way that was well-understood in both Japan and India. "But I only meditate in private, alone," he protested, "or in the assembly of a zendo (monastic hall for group meditation). Nobody has ever asked me to do this before." But in the end he yielded, and there we sat with the grey university walls of Columbia all around, the warm summer sunshine coming in through the windows.
Ananda Mayee: Instead of using the personal pronoun "I," she often used the phrase "this body." She was born in 1896 in a Brahmin family noted for its religious learning and piety. When nearly thirteen years old, she was married to another Brahmin. She developed a great liking for religious music, from which she passed to mantra yoga practice. "Everything becomes possible by the power of pure concentrated thought," she says. No guru initiated her. From her middle teens to her twenty-fifth year, she passed more and more time in reveries, abstractions, and long periods of silence, until even trance states were achieved. Often she passed into states in which tears of joy or of longing and aspiration would well up in her eyes while singing devotional songs. Those who heard her were thrilled by the emotion in her voice. Strange phenomena manifested when she was alone. Her neck would be turned by some force and remain twisted for some time. A brilliant light would shine all around her; or her body would automatically assume one of the yogic postures, and she would stay in it for hours, eyes open and unblinking. Or she would fall into a trance so deep that no one could awaken her. She had to be left to come out of it of her own accord. Her food intake is very small. I first met her in Rajpur, at the foot of the Himalayas. Her husband had become her first disciple; his relationship with her was then a brother-and-sister one. She gives no formal initiation to disciples and recommends everyone to take a few minutes every day out of their routine for meditation. Benares is her headquarters now, but she goes on tour for a few months every year so that others elsewhere may benefit by her heavenly singing.[Ananda Mayee has died since this note was written--Ed.]
In the Musée Guimet in Paris, we may see a couple of ancient statuettes that perfectly portray Buddha's wonderful half-smile of happy deliverance from this world of ignorance, illusion, error, sin, and suffering.
Those Indian religions which preach futility and enjoin renunciation are as much a product of their tropical enervating climate as the malarias and fevers and choleras which beset Indian bodies.
The story that Pythagoras was murdered because he refused to pass through a bean field (which was his only way of escape) owing to his aversion to beans is as untrue as so many other legends of antiquity. When there was trouble at Crotona and his work there became impossible, he simply removed in 515 to Metapontum, the capital city of a small state, and continued there until he died peacefully. His ban on beans in the diet of his followers applied to the large "fava" bean, as it is called in Italy where he then lived, or the "horse bean," as it is now called in some other European countries. This definitely contains a poisonous element, and I remember two cases of food poisoning in villagers who had eaten too largely of them during my sojourn in Greece.
In the blind adherence to superstitious beliefs which affects Westerners who try to turn themselves into Hindus, I am more anti-Hindu than most prejudiced sceptics; but in the deep acclaim for the wonderful truth-statements to be found in some ancient Indian texts, I am more pro-Hindu than the swami followers. This is because in both cases I write from inside knowledge and personal experience. My attitude is consequentially a semi-detached one.
It was a widely travelled, well-educated, but deeply spiritual Indian who said to me, because he was free from narrow religious sectarianism, that "India is a dying land." Once noted for its intense religious faith, India exists now more outwardly than inwardly and the depths of human search for the highest Truth are being covered up. This search is passing over to the Western countries.
Those who care for koans will wander about in circles and in the end come back with empty hands. They will have to start afresh on a new road having learnt that wisdom is not hidden in lunacy--except for minds already confused or distorted.
Why did Buddha not wait even a week after his enlightenment near Benares before going out to preach among the people? Why did he keep up this spreading of his message so incessantly for the remaining forty-five years of his life? Contrast this with the many Hindu sages and mystics, from his own time till this day, who sit and wait for would-be disciples to approach them. The answer lies only partly in the special mission and power with which he was invested by the World Mind.
The Oriental use of the term "wisdom" not only includes our Occidental notion of Solomonic judgement in dealing with a situation, but ranges far enough to include the capacity to understand the universe as it really is in depth, and not merely in terms of sensory experience.
Confucius lived 2500 years ago yet for 1500 years his wisdom was highly prized throughout China. He described a standard and ideal to be sought for human behaviour and human social intercourse. Character and conduct need to be disciplined and polished, he affirmed, and proper decorum must enter into one's relations with others. Proper respect must be shown to those entitled to it. The Chinese rightly considered him a sage who knew the ultimate significance of life, who was enlightened and understood the hidden meaning and the higher purpose of human existence. For these reasons I also advocate that this matter of refined behaviour be regarded in a totally new light as a form of spiritual expression and development.
To leave out of one's reckoning both the body and the world as non-existent is not an idea that has profited India in any way, if we look at her history. In the very act of denying them as illusions, the Indian has himself fallen into an illusion.
It is my well considered belief that Ananda Metteya was a Bodhisattva, come from a higher plane to penetrate those Western minds which could appreciate, and benefit by, Buddhism as meeting their intellectual and spiritual needs. He gave the hidden impetus, but others came later to do the outer work.
The tea ceremony was started in China one thousand years ago by Zen priests and spread into Japan a couple of centuries later. Whereas Chinese priests started it to ward off drowsiness in meditation the Japanese laity made it popular. Slowly it changed until the sixteenth century, when the present rite was finalized by Zen priests. The greatest possible economy of movements is aimed at. The rite is an exercise in refinement, gracefulness, and calm. But surprising humility is also embodied in it in a way strangely reminiscent of the Egyptian Great Pyramid, for like the entrance to the King's Chamber, the entry to the Tea-Chamber is through an opening so small and so low in the wall that a visitor is forced to bend down and almost crawl through.
It could be said that to put fine points upon these three Sanskrit words which are used so loosely today might be helpful to students. First, the word guru applies to one who opens the eyes of those who are spiritually blind. The title swami applies to one who provides spiritual teaching for the ignorant. The term acharya applies to one who provides the best example of spiritual conduct.
If we enquire why Communism is now a sort of nemesis to the religion of Tibet and even begins to threaten India, we must remember that the villagers are ruled as much by superstition and fanaticism as by piety and wisdom. They are certainly not guided in their everyday living by the higher philosophic or mystic culture which mostly attracts the interest of foreigners to Buddhism and Hinduism.
The contrast between loquacious Americans of the cities and silent Arabs of the desert is unforgettable. The Bedouin can sit in a group and say nothing at all for hours! The desert's peace has entered into them to such an extent that the social duty of laryngeal activity is unknown among them, and regarded as unnecessary!
Whoever understands the workings of the Indian mind where it has not been changed by overmuch contact with Western men or modern thought, will understand its pessimistic trend. For it imperiously demands and strongly needs the consolation of a world-escaping religion. The undertones of Indian life are not happy; they speak of resignation and melancholy, of unalterable destiny and the insignificance of man.
Lu Hsiang-shan (1139-1193) originated a school of philosophy boldly developed from the Neo-Confucianist one of the Sung Dynasty (960-1280). His teaching, a Monistic Idealism, reached its culmination with Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529), who expounded and developed it.
Lu Hsiang-shan lectured for several years at Elephant Mountain in Kiangsi, so called himself "the old man of Elephant Mountain." He married at twenty-nine to a cultured woman. In the national examination for governmental posts, his paper stood out as distinctive among several thousand. He was given an official post in the Imperial Academy. His lectures were so eloquent as to attract large crowds. When the celebrated Chu Hsi asserted that width of knowledge should be considered the foundation of virtue, Lu replied that discovery of the Original Mind should precede it. When he became a magistrate, he proved himself to be as practical in worldly matters as he was penetrating in metaphysical ones. He rebuilt the crumbling city walls, eliminated official extravagance, reduced corruption, cut down crime, and quickened legal proceedings. Yet later he declined promotion, for, with all this activity, he continued to lecture whenever possible. He died peacefully after telling his family "I am going to die," and sitting in meditation for several hours. Some of his sayings and his few writings were collected together and it was this book that Wang Yang-ming republished in 1521, so highly did he esteem it.
One should cultivate the feeling of Reverence, taught Lu. He writes: "It is incorrect to explain that the Mind of man is equivalent to desire and the Mind of Spirit to Heavenly Law. How can man have two Minds? Mind and Law do not admit of dualism. . . . This Mind has no beginning or end; it permeates everywhere. Evil is an inescapable fact and a practical experience. A scholarly man must first make firm his will."
To think of Gautama the Buddha, the picture of his face appears as emanating pure intelligence tinted by compassion. To read his printed sayings is to feel that attention must move slowly, that the mind needs all its seriousness to absorb their meanings.
If I admire Wang Yang-ming so greatly it is because he combined in his person qualities and capacities which proved that it is possible to live the philosophic life to the full. He was in his fifty-seven years of life a successful military commander, an excellent magistrate, a talented poet, a discriminating analyst of religions, a cultivator of intuition, a practiser of meditation, and a teacher of philosophy. He not only brought together the best in Confucius' teaching, in Buddhism and Taoism, but made valuable contributions of his own to this synthesis. It is however needful to explain to Western students that Wang's teaching of the unity of Knowledge and Conduct does not refer to intellectual knowledge but to intuitive Knowledge. To this union or Mutuality of KNOWING and DOING he gave the name of "SINCERITY." The theory learnt from books or lectures does not of itself necessarily have power to move the will; but intuition developed in the course of time by practising mental quiet, emotional calm, and personal detachment has this power. What the Indian gurus called detachment is really the same as what the Chinese philosophers like Lao Tzu called "non-action," and this is the term Wang used. It does not mean doing nothing but keeping to a certain emotional dis-involvement while doing things, an attitude itself arising from, or helped by, the quiescence practice. Another definition of "Sincerity" is harmony with the Principle of the Universe.
There is this difference between the two largest and oldest Asiatic peoples. The mystics of India always sought an idealized human being as their master. When they found him, he was proclaimed God incarnate; everything he said or did, everything about him was considered perfect. Consequently they fell into self-deception and in their excess created an unhealthy relationship. The mystics of China were not such dreamers. They sought no impossible human perfection; they recognized necessary human limitations and inescapable human flaws.
The Vedantin needs Buddhism to complete and to equilibrate his outlook; the Buddhist needs Vedanta for the same purpose. Otherwise, there is a kind of one-sidedness in each one. A widening-out will improve their views and better the persons.
Tantra has been greatly misunderstood in the West by those who have seized upon the merely physical aspect of it alone. Its highest and primary reference is not to men and women in their sexual body relationships. The aim of the higher Tantra is to bring the personal self and the Overself together in harmony balance and union. Then only is the full human being likely to be developed. Then only are all the miseries and troubles so often associated with sexual ignorance and sexual indiscipline likely to be overcome.
The first doctrine presented by Hinduism is what the absolute Self, Brahman, is. The second doctrine is the identity of the absolute Self with Brahman. According to the second of these doctrines (whose profundity makes the services of an expounder and a commentator so useful), the inmost Being of man, Atman, is divine and perfect, as is the cosmic Being of the Lord, Ishvara. The third doctrine is that the universe is maya, an illusory thing that has no ultimate reality. The fourth doctrine is that history is not a meaningless scramble of happenings, but flows through karma--God's law--and through avatars--God's incarnations. The traditional mission of all the Shankaras has been to guard, protect, or preach the doctrines and beliefs, from the simple commandments for illiterate peasants to the higher mystical experiences of the yogis and metaphysical teachings of Advaita.
The concept of nonduality given by the Advaitins seems impossible to grasp and to accept to the normal Western mind and quite rightly so. This impasse must exist unless and until the situation is clarified and the only way to do so lies through mentalism. The human mind normally functions in a dualistic manner--that is, it identifies itself as a subject with an object of its consciousness outside. This dualism penetrates the practices followed on the Quest and the knowledge gained as a consequence of them. It cannot be got rid of until both subject and object are thrown into and unified by the pure consciousness--Mind--in which, from which, and by which all happens. In this connection a further point must be established. I have written admiringly of two great souls--Sri Ramana Maharshi and Shankaracharya of Kanchi, the spiritual head of South India. Now both these are strict followers of the original, the first Shankaracharya, who lived more than a thousand years ago, and they quote from his writings very frequently. Whoever studies those writings will discover that Adi Shankara, meaning the first Shankara, in his arguments against the Buddhists--especially those of the idealistic Yogacara and Vijnana schools--seems to reject idealism which is an incomplete form of mentalism. But let us not forget that Shankara was engaged in a campaign to reduce the power of Buddhism and increase the power of Hinduism. Let us not forget too that Buddha himself was not bound by any such bias; he was a free thinker and he did not hesitate to question the authority of the Vedas which Shankara followed and accepted. The Buddha rejected animal sacrifices and futile religious rituals, for instance. It is to Shankara's credit that he gave out the Advaitic teaching of nonduality--which is impossible for a Western mind in all its rationality to accept unless it falls into mysticism and yoga. Both the living Shankara and Ramana Maharshi were upholders of Hinduism. As I have said, the doctrine of nonduality is quite acceptable when presented with a mentalistic explanation or through a mystical experience, but not otherwise.
Zen Buddhism is a form of mysticism, perhaps one of its highest if most puzzling forms, and not a philosophy. Therefore it is incomplete, one-sided. The evidence for this is inherent in itself for it disdains metaphysics, study, reason, and stakes everything on a flash intuition got by meditation. There is here no such check on the correctness completeness and finality of such an intuition as is provided by philosophy. A further evidence lies in the history of its own founder. Bodhidharma admittedly travelled to China to give out his teaching yet, after his arrival, he contented himself with sitting in complete solitude for nine years at Sung-Shan, waiting for a prospective disciple to approach him. Had he been a sage, however, he would surely have filled those nine years with making his knowledge readily available to whoever was ready for it, and if there existed no such elite, he would in that case have helped the masses with simpler if more indirect forms of truth.
The Muhammedan and Hindu authors of important spiritual works including scriptural works usually began with an invocation. This prefatory act was both part of putting themselves into the mood, the passive mood, of receiving inspiration from the Higher Power and part a reminder to the reader to approach his reading with sufficient reverence and seriousness.
Atman--one of the most important and basic doctrines in Sanskrit learning. To take Atman as self is to confirm and strengthen the very error which the doctrine of Atman seeks to refute! Such a procedure imbues the mind anew with the thought of "I." For in Atman there can be no such thing as a personal entity, no existence of an ego at all. Those who have studied both the Hindu Upanishads and the Buddhist Abhidhamma sufficiently and profoundly cannot fail to observe that Atman is merely the intellectual parallel and counterpart of Nirvana. And who has more strongly fought the belief in self than Buddha?
And yet, if everything is incessantly changing, still there is a certain continuity of substance or essence throughout these changes which prevents us from asserting that it has become a totally different thing; if every human being is not the same as he was some time ago, still we have also to admit, with Buddha, he is not another being. The alterations we witness occur in the realm of form, not of essence.
The Chinese temperament was too realistic to follow the Indian into a merely metaphysical view of life and too practical to run away with it into an escapist view. Indeed, the very name of the principal religion of China--Confucianism--is the Doctrine of the Mean, the Mean being the middle point between two extremes, the balance between two sides. Even the two most celebrated Chinese mystics exhibited their national tendencies in their writing and philosophically united the idea of real being with the idea of illusory being. Such were Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Like the Indians, the Chinese were ready to find out what other-worldliness had to offer them; but unlike the Indians, they were not ready permanently to forsake the worldly life while doing so. Even the Buddhist school, which has lasted longest and remained strongest in China, is the one named "The Round Doctrine"--meaning that it is widely rounded to include both the spiritual and the material. This is the "Tendai" school.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.