A Travel Diary
[ Published by Claude Bragdon ]
Part II : INDIA (1924)
In the very backyard, in a tiny bed of meager flowers, rests a small homely image of Ganeshi, elephant of happiness. The family of Hindu coolies living in the shanty offers to him its last grains of rice. Not much happiness has this image brought to them.
Against the evidence of such refined values as are seen in Ramakrishna, Rabindranath Tagore, Sir Jagdish Bose, one cannot become reconciled to that which still constitutes the contents of the temples. Here is a phallic cult—Lingam in Elephanta. Up to now, in the sanctuaries of this cult are seen the traces of fresh offerings. From the ancient wisdom we know that “Linga is the vessel of knowledge” and we know the scientific explanation from times immemorial of this wise distribution, of energy. But now the basis of this worship is forgotten and it has degraded into superstition.
Another ugly spectacle ! In a golden temple of Benares, before us, was led a white little goat. She was led into the sanctuary. There evidently she was approved of because in a little while, frantically protesting, she was hurriedly dragged before us. In a minute, she was stretched out on the threshold of the temple and the broad knife cut off her head. It was difficult to believe that a sacred action had taken place ! The meat of the goat evidently went for food, because priests do not partake of any meat except that of offered sacrificial animals. And such animals the population evidently brings each day.
The teaching which sanctioned the priests, evidently pictured them as quite different. Even their appearance is undecorative and they cannot guard the beauty of the symbols of knowledge. As long as the rule of castes is not comprehended properly the country cannot develop. During our stay we read of several difficult family dramas founded on this ground of an evidently surviving prejudice. At the same time, the Vedanta and Advaita clearly establish the principle of unity. Some of the most cosmogonic parts of the Vedas are written by women, and now in India has arrived the epoch of the woman. Greetings to the women of India !
In spite of a superabundance of tourists they seem to know America very little. One can understand this. The whole mass of tourists quickly flows through the sheet-iron channels of tourist companies, and never enters into a real and active contact with the life of the country. In the north of India, Americans are called “nomads” because the agencies give to these hurrying, breathless groups a special character, completely outside of the people’s understanding.
Out of the windows of the car glide by huddled little villages, those original producers of all utilities and the makers of the nation. But who cares for these primary sources ?
Ramakrishna says : “In Atman there is no distinction of male or female, of Brahmin or Kshatriya and the like.”
Ramakrishna executed the work of the sweeper to show, personally, that there were no distinctions.
In December, we want to go into the Himalayas. We are regarded with astonishment : “But now there is snow !” Snow is feared. Whereas the only time for the Himalayas is from November to February. Already in March the curtain of fog rises. From May to August only rarely and for brief periods can one see the entire glimmering range of snow; and truly such grandeur is nowhere paralleled.
Just as when you are approaching the Grand Canyon of Arizona, when you approach the foothills of the Himalayas you go through the most uninteresting landscape. And only for a moment, at dawn, in Siliguri, do the white giants appear before you as the first messengers. And again they are hidden in the curly jungles. And again tea plantations. And again barrack-like structures and factories. And only sometimes does a typical habitation appear and conceal itself again as a vision from another world. There are tales about the attacks of tigers and leopards. There are mountains of cases of tea with the mark, Orange Pekoe. There is a Belgian missionary from Kurseong.
It becomes cool. Crowds of small coolies are repairing the cave-ins from the last monsoon. In the frosty air one cannot even imagine the pressure of the summer monsoon downpour from which all nature becomes moldy. There are few birds. Eagles are seen.
Mountains are densely covered. The view of Darjeeling itself disappoints you. Is it necessary to seek the Himalayas in order to find merely a corner of Switzerland ? The colorful types of the bazaar are not apparent at once, and the regular barracks and bungalows already strike one’s eye.
We search for a house. The first information is not encouraging. We are assured there are no good houses. Some are shown to us, lacking outlook and grounds, some immersed in the little streets of wooden country houses and fences. This is not suitable. We want something, beyond—there before the image of all the Himalayas, where the city orchestra does not play its conventional tunes. “You will find nothing there !” But we are persistent. We go ourselves, and we find an excellent house. And calmness and solitude, and the entire chain of Himalayas before us. And still another surprise : Just here lived the Dalai Lama during his long flight from Lhasa. For us, this house is just what is needed.
Not on one occasion only were we awakened by the chanting and the rhythmic beats around the house. These are the lamas who, bowing to the ground many times, marched around our dwelling.
Somewhere the people are babbling that in this house lives a devil which appears as a black pig. A haunted house, as we were told. But we are not afraid of devils, and in the neighboring village, Bhutia Basti, there are many black pigs which resemble boars. Did not our dear monkeys who came into the bathroom and ate the peas and flowers around the house play the part of the devil ?
There is the tiresome need of having many servants—and the reason always the same : castes. It reaches absurdity. The porter does not clean the path. Why ? It appears that according to caste, he is a blacksmith and has no right to take a broom into his hand. Otherwise he will become defiled and become a sweeper. He decides the problem in a very original fashion. He begins to brush around the garden with five fingers, creeping along the ground. The groom is from the high Kshatriya caste and hints at his descent from a king, which did not hinder him from mysterious operations with the horse feed. Sometimes in the kitchen religious meetings are arranged. And the cook, chairman of the local Arya Samaj, persistently persuades his listeners to something. Buddhists are not limited by caste and are free to perform all kinds of work. They work fast, are merry, are quick to understand and easy to adapt themselves.
There are many tales about Tibetans, the warriorlike tribe of Kham and about the wild Goloks, who call themselves wild “dogs.” They bring one back again even to the times of Siegfried : They cement their brotherly oaths by mixing and drinking brotherly blood. They never part with their weapons.
“His Country” begins to unfold, as the series “Banners of the East” is begun. In June, after the first rains, all the tempera begins to be covered with white spots of mold. One has to heat up the place considerably in order that the mold should dry and come off.
“His Country.” In Sikhim, itself, was one of the Ashrams of the Mahatmas. To Sikhim, Mahatmas came on mountain horses. Their physical presence communicates a solemn importance to these parts. Of course now the Ashram has been transferred from Sikhim. Of course now the Mahatmas have left Sikhim. But they were here, and therefore the silver peaks of the chain glimmer still more beautifully. . . .
Accompanied by pupils, artists and a sculptor, comes the majestic Rinpoche from Chumbi. He walks throughout the whole country erecting new images of Maitreya. All is being hastened. In a long talk, the lama points out that all may be attained only through Shambhala. For those who imagine Shambhala as a legendary invention, this indication is a superstitious myth. But there are also others, fortified by more practical knowledge.
The noble Atisha, the Pillar of the teaching, walked from India to Tibet for the purification of the teaching. The teacher passed by the retreat of Milarepa. The great hermit became conscious of the passing procession and wishing to test the forces of the Pillar of the teaching, appeared sitting on the end of a blade of grass. The noble Atisha seeing this manifestation of the hermit, came down from the porte-chaise and also rose upon the end of the next blade of grass. And when the teachers exchanged brotherly greetings, Milarepa said : “Our knowledge is equal, but why is the blade of grass under me slightly bent, while under thee, it has retained its tension ?” The noble Atisha smiled : “Verily, equal is our knowledge; but I come from the country where the Blessed Tathagata himself lived and taught, and this consciousness raises me.”
What magnets are laid in India ? Indescribable is the charm of the children’s round dance near Madras, with its tiny Gopis and miniature Krishna, Lel and Kupava. The best images are strewn in the unrealized wealth.
India knows the all-penetrating power of the magnet. And how about miracles in India, friends of the west will ask ? We will say that we have not seen “miracles,” but we have encountered every manifestation of psychic energy. If one wants to speak about the manifestations of a “higher miraculous” power— then it is useless to talk altogether. But to comprehend the materially-attained development of psycho-physical energy, then India gives even now the most remarkable manifestations. The celebrated “evil eye” of the east exists, and the people die submissively at the ordained date, if they are not able to counteract it by a still more greatly trained will. The transmission of the command of will from a distance does exist. Suggestion in any form exists in highly complicated correlations. Some manifestations are being performed consciously and a greater part subconsciously through natural ability and beneficial atmospheric conditions. And that which is unusual for a civilized European, that very thing for the cultured Hindu, or rather Asiatic, will be an almost daily material occurrence.
Observe how remarkable are the physiological comparisons traced by the Hindus between cosmic manifestations and the human organism. The womb, the navel, the phallus and the heart, all these long since have been included in the fine system of development of the universal cell. Only it is difficult to entice the people into a discussion of this. Again is necessary that confidence which cannot be established at the dining table.
During the period of Inquisition people were burned for invoking the teraphim. But in India even now this means of influence is practiced. And now, in the Malabar Hills dark persons may come and because of an unfulfilled request will try to touch you, while they say to you : “Sahib will be sick” or “You will live only ten days.” If the organism at that moment is fatigued or if the will is weak, the command is fulfilled, and one can remedy this only by a counter-suggestion. But often the counteraction is less powerful or not applied in time.
The cases related about the “evil eye” provide a remarkable, and as yet untouched, problem for the psychiatrists and criminologists. The person who has received this stroke of the will, on the appointed day begins to lose his life energy and his power of resistance and finally the apparatus stops. The doctors who do not apply suggestion in time are at loss for a cure, and begin to poison the paralyzed nervous system still more. Incipient anæmia, a stroke of the heart or spleen, or gall bladder, nervous spasms and choking are often the visible effects of the command of the invading will. It is difficult to ascertain just how the nature of the attack on the particular organs occurs; one may rather imagine that the most feeble organ succumbs to a nervous attack. In a small and more crude manner the same practice is apparent in Shamanism, but the gradations of the will and its applications are entirely incomparable. It is justly pointed out that such murder or harm by will power is far more dangerous than a physical one. And where can one seek the limits of such suggestions? In the East one sometimes hears a significant sentence: “He shall not live.” It means one has sensed the spark of the will-stroke.
Two qualities must be conceded to the English : steadfastness and precision. For the East, both qualities are remarkable. Precision according to the ordained dates of course is absolutely necessary because “the worst theft is the theft of some one else’s time.” Do not be late if you wish to be respected.
It all began with the unknown traces found by the Everest Expedition. Then, in the Statesman, an English Major related how during one of the expeditions into the region of the Himalayas, he encountered a strange mountain inhabitant. At sunrise, amidst the frosty snows, the Major walked away from the camp and climbed the neighboring rocks. Glancing at the near-by rocks, the Major to his astonishment beheld a tall man almost naked, standing, leaning on a high bow. The mountain inhabitant did not look at the Major, his attention being completely attracted by something unseen behind the curve of the slope. And suddenly the man bent, strained himself, and by madly dangerous leaps rushed from the rocks and disappeared. When the Major told his people about the meeting they smiled and said: “Sahib has seen a ‘snow’ man. They are watching the guarded places.”
They tell of a recent case in Bengal. A Sadhu was traveling in a train without a ticket. At the first station he was put out of the train. The bells rang. The locomotive whistled and did not move. So it continued for some time. The passengers remembered the Sadhu who had been put off and demanded that he be put back in his place. Then the train moved. This is verily mass suggestion !
A European lady living in India entered a dense part of her garden and became lost in a revery as to why the garden walks were not laid out in that place. Three days later she went there again and saw a freshly traced path, but the end of the path was somewhat lost.
She called the old gardener: “Who has made the path?”
“Mem-Sahib wanted to have the garden path but I did not know how to end it !”
Then the woman remembered that the completion of her thought about the garden path was not clear.
Sir Jagdish Bose affirms that the sensitiveness of plants is completely astonishing. As the plants feel the formation of a cloud long before it is visible to the eye, so the East feels the thought at its inception. In the close interrelation between the visible and the invisible, and in the epic simplicity of their interplay, lies the charm of India.