India Travelogue From A Century Ago …


A Travel Diary

By Nicholas Roerich

[ Published by Claude Bragdon ]

Part III : INDIA (1924)

The Tibetan tailor is making kaftans. He takes all measure­ments with his eye, but most astonishing is it that the kaftan comes out well-fitting. And all this is not done without care ! The quality of gold for the trimming, the color of the lining and the length—all this is thought out. The local homespun is very narrow and one is astonished how evenly they can smooth the many seams.

If we take the accredited historical data of the last century it is astonishing how definitely the folk-consciousness was freed from the obvious survivals of the middle ages. Those who defend such survivals should examine these historic paths and convince themselves and realize that what is occurring now is not acci­dental but under rational guidance and control. He who fails to recognize this rationality, cannot understand evolution.

In sudden support of fundamental Buddhism, the realist of realists, Huxley says, “No one but a superficial thinker rejects the teaching of reincarnation as nonsense. Like the teaching of evolution itself, reincarnation has its roots in the world of reality and is entitled to the same support commanded by every con­sideration which evolves from analogies.”

Two beautiful characterisations of Buddhism : “As a lion unafraid by noise. As a wind beyond being captured by a net. As a lotus leaf impervious to water. As a rhinoceros treading in solitude !” — “The study and manifestation of energy in all its forms. Energy of armament. Energy of application in action. Energy of dissatisfaction giving birth to the eternal striving which brings man into the cosmic rhythm.” So said Asanga.

Where, then, is the inactive pessimism ? Where is the philos­ophy of despair, as Buddhism is sometimes called by persons of small comprehension. How many books have been written under the false romanticism of the nineteenth century ? How many scientists, not versed in the languages, have fed their minds with these vague sour conclusions ? And now there has appeared again an image — Buddha, with a sword, with leonine daring, armed with all energies, within the universal structure, cosmic in striving.

“Watch the movement of the stars, as one who participates in them, and constantly consider the transmutation of one element into another, because such a process purifies one from the grime of earthly life.” So reflects Marcus Aurelius.

So also says an educated Hindu from out the Himalayas.

L. Horn writes : “With the acceptance of the teachings of evolu­tion, the old forms of thought everywhere are crumbling. New ideas arise in the place of outlived dogmas and we have before us the spectacle of a general intellectual movement in a direc­tion becoming ever more strange — parallel with eastern philos­ophy.

“The unheard-of speed and variety of the scientific progress current in the last fifty years cannot but call forth an equally unprecedented hastening of thought in the broad non-scientific circles of society. That the highest and most complete organisms develop out of the simplest organisms; that upon one physical basis of life stands the whole living world; that there cannot be traced a line which divides animal and vegetable kingdoms; that the difference between life and non-life is a difference in grada­tion and not substance — all this already has become commonplace in the new philosophy. After the recognition of physical evolu­tion it is not difficult to say that the acknowledgment of psychic evolution is only a question of time.”

The observation of the East astonishes and rejoices one. And not the obvious power of observation which leads to a dead stereotype; but observation, fine and silent in its substance. One remembers how the teacher asked the newly arriving pupil to describe a room, but the room was empty and in a vessel was swimming only a tiny fish. In three hours the pupil wrote three pages, but the teacher rejected him saying that about this one little fish he could have written all his life. In technical imita­tion is revealed the same sharp observation.

In the adaptation of the meter of a song, in the character of a call, in movements, you see an all-powerful culture. Somewhere the Hindus, en­veloped in their mantles, were compared to Roman senators. This is an inane comparison. Rather liken them to the philos­ophers of Greece, and still better, call them the creators of the Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita, Mahabharata. For neither Rome nor Greece existed when India was flourishing. And the latest excavations begin to support this indubitable deduction.

In the Tao Te Ching are drawn the following subdivisions of the types of scientists : “Scientists of the highest class, on hear­ing about Tao, seriously bring their knowledge into life. Scien­tists of the middle grade, on hearing about Tao, sometimes observe it. And sometimes lose it again. The scientists of the lowest class on hearing about Tao, only laugh loudly at it.”

Lao Tze knew.

Hindus regard objects of art with fine understanding. From a Hindu, you naturally expect an interesting approach and un­usual remarks, and so it is. Therefore to show paintings to a Hindu is a real joy. How captivatingly they approach art ! Do not think that they are occupied only in its contemplation. You will be astonished by their remarks about tonality, about tech­nique, and about the expressiveness of the line. If the observer be long silent, do not think that he has become tired. On the contrary this is a good sign. It means he has entered into a mood, and one can expect from him especially interesting deduc­tions. Sometimes he will tell you a whole parable. And there will be nothing vulgar or crude in it. It is astonishing how transformed are the people of the East before the creations of art. Indeed it is more difficult for a European to enter into the current of creation and as a rule he is less able to synthesize his impression.

In the epic designs of India all can be coördinated. If in the crowd, your next neighbor should be a skeleton, pale with lep­rosy, you are not frightened. Next to you will lean a Sadhu, colored with blue stripes and with a head-dress made of cow dung. You are not surprised. A Fakir with toothless cobras will cheat you. You are smiling. The chariot of Juggernath crushes the crowd — you are not astonished. There is a procession of fearful Nagis of Rajputana with blades like curved fangs. You are calm.

And where are those for whose sake you have come to India ? They do not sit in the bazaars and they do not walk in processions. And you will not enter their dwellings without their consent. But do they really exist ? Are not leisurely authors writing about them only for the sake of being unique ? Yes, yes, they exist, and there exists their knowledge and their skill. And in this sharpening of human qualities is being exalted all human substance. And no leprosy will turn you away from India.

All that takes place at the metapsychical institute in Paris — the experiments of Nötzing and Richet in ectoplasm; the experi­ments of Baraduque in the photography of physical emanations, the works of Kotik in the exteriorisation of sensitiveness and the attempts of Beckhterev in thought – transmission at a distance — all this is familiar to India. Only, not as unbelievable novelties, but as laws long since known. They speak little on these themes, because of the dearth of scientifically enlightened fellow – conver­sationalists.

The ancient method of Hinduism and Buddhism is to open the doors to him who knocks, but not to call any one and not to coerce any one. But the quality of the knock also must be powerful. In the practical teaching of Buddhism, inde­pendence of consciousness is sharply emphasized, and as its consequence, an unconquerable forbearing and all-conquering patience. The greatest patience will win a victory. So let the ignorant deniers immerse themselves in the true East to learn and to absorb the power of containment.

Two characteristic episodes are related about the Tashi Lama. When he was in India, he was asked whether he possessed any psychic powers. The Tashi Lama silently smiled. In a short time, though closely surrounded by guards and officers, he sud­denly disappeared. All search was in vain. Finally, after a considerable period of time, the officers saw him calmly sitting in the same garden and around him were running, in fruitless search, the guards.

This incident reminds me of Gorki, who many years ago told me that he himself saw vivid images of Indian cities upon the blank metallic leaves of an album, which was shown to him once in Caucasia by a Hindu. With all his realism, Gorki absolutely affirms that he saw in vivid colors that which the Hindu pointed out to him. Greetings to Alexei Maximovitch !

Attraction by thought is astonishing. The desire was expressed to have an old Tibetan Buddha, but this is already difficult now. We spoke and thought among ourselves how to get it. In a few days came a lama and brought an excellent Buddha : “The lady wanted to have a Buddha and I am told to give the Buddha from my house altar. I cannot sell the sacred image — accept it as a gift.”

“But how did you know of our desire to have a Buddha ?”

“The White Tara came in a dream and told me to bring it to you.”

And so it happens.

Recently we read in the Statesman that the lowest castes of India begin willingly to accept Buddhism. Rabindranath Tagore, in a talk with Gandhi, spoke against castes. Out of the mouth of a Brahmin this avowal is significant. Many significant and beautiful signs.

Special attention must be given to the Puranas — therein are many most valuable indications : “When the sun and the moon, and Tishya and the planet Jupiter are in one mansion, then the Krita (Satya) age will begin.” So does the Vishnu Purana point out the age of Maitreya.

Lamas are constantly coming to us. They spread paintings on the lawn; and chantingly pointing with a little stick, they relate a whole epic. The vivid colors of the paintings merge with the natural colors of nature. The visual reactions have been valued since long ago. A nun comes. She sits at the threshold and throwing back her handsome head she chants her prayers. We can only distinguish “Tra shi sho !”

Altogether the ques­tion of language is very difficult. All these mountain dialects somewhat resemble Tibetan. But still the difference is very great and the number of dialects of the small tribes is also great. Finally from Lhasa comes Kung Kusho of Doring to salute the house of the Dalai Lama. The Kung (this is a title like a duke; remarkable is the coincidence of Conung, Kung, King) is an important old man with a wife and daughter, round of face like a Ukrainian; with numerous servants; on big black mules shod with silver are high saddles and many-colored horse blan­kets. On their foreheads they wear vivid red caps with the image of Chintamani. In 1912 the Kung was attacked by Chinese soldiers. They almost wounded him. They killed his secretary. This led to a revolt in Tibet. The Kung is astonished and rejoices at our Buddhist objects. We are breakfasting. We are making Tibetan dishes. We speak of the movement of Buddhism. He is a very ceremonious old man.

Interesting are the tales about the attacks of the cavalry of Kham and Golok. Wild riders do not need reins. Their horses, as in ancient narratives, take part in the battle with teeth and hoof. During battle, the riders take off their khalats up to the waist. Helmeted, with swords, lances and guns, this avalanche is borne onward. Sometimes they disappear under the stomachs of the horses. If all means of attack are exhausted the riders take stones from the ground and fight with screams resembling laughter. There is one sign which at once quiets this avalanche. Of course every tribe has its particularities in battle and by not knowing them one can weaken the best force. Tibetan women in songs, and in life sometimes, are not behind in manifesta­tions of courage. They throw hot water on the enemy; they meet the temporary conquerors with derision.

Near Ghum stands a high rock. It is said that on its peak is lying a significant prophecy. In each stupa are enclosed significant objects. It is wrong to think that the bookshelves dis­played in temples to some travelers comprise the entire book treasures of the monastery. Besides these official volumes of teachings everywhere in the secret recesses of the abbot there are manuscripts of unusual interest. One thing is dangerous. Often these hidden places are harmed by dampness, or mice, or are simply forgotten during some hasty evacuation. Often a lama will tell you : “I have written down the prophecies but I do not carry them with me. They are lying under a stone.” Then some unexpected event happens; the lama hastens to put his sack on his back and depart; and the invaluable manuscripts are lost.

Some idiomatic commands are characteristic : “To put on trousers” means to get ready for a march. Idiomatic terms often bring difficulties into negotiations. Once an ambassador spoke in very high terms about “the hair of Brahma.” Nobody understood him and the negotiations had to stop. However, he had nothing else in mind than the river Brahmaputra. Often the languages taught in universities do not help in the local places.

A Chinese book, “Wei Tsang T’u-Shih,” thus describes the Potala : “The mountain palaces are glowing in a purple sheen. The luster of the mountain peaks is equal unto emerald. Verily the beauty and perfection of all objects make this place incom­parable.”

We are reading of the builder of the Potala, the fifth Dalai Lama, named “Ruler of conjurations, eloquent, holy ocean of fearlessness.” It is he, who on becoming His Worthiness the Dalai Lama in 1642, built Potala, the red palace, Pho Brang dMarpo, on the red mountain Marpo ri. He also built the remarkable monasteries Mo-ru, Labrang Garmakhiya, and many others. He also erected on the rock the colossal relief of Buddha and the saints of Buddhism. During his rule Mongols entered Tibet the second time. Gruber, the Jesuit, dislikes very much this strong leader, although he finds that he was cautious in his methods, assiduous and devoted to art and knowledge.

Unusual is the end of this Dalai Lama. According to one version the Dalai Lama died in the eighties and his death was hidden for a few years in order to give opportunity for various political matters to be adjusted. According to another version the Dalai Lama voluntarily abandoned his rule and hid himself for several years in the very same seclusion in the Himalayas.

History is paralleled by the following ancient legend : “Every century the Arhats make an effort to enlighten the world. But until now not one of these efforts has been successful. Failure has followed failure. It is said that until the day when a lama will be born in a western body and appear as a spiritual conqueror for the destruction of the century-old ignorance, until then there will be little success in dissolving the snares of the West.”

The Chinese emperors lived according to the astronomical seasons of the year. For each season of the year there was a special colored garment. Each period of the year used to be spent in a special part of the palace.

The method of Buddhist teaching reminds one of the method of the Kabala, that of not imposing, but attracting, and pointing out the best way. They speak about a remarkable monastery, Mo-ru, and about the special learning of the lamas of that monas­tery. For the three summer months the lamas go away to the west for meditation.

During the “hearings,” the lamas often cover their heads with cloth. This recalls “biblical” ceremony. It recalls the statement of Damis, the pupil of Appolonius of Tyana, of how Appolonius, when he heard a “soft voice,” always wrapped himself com­pletely, from head to foot, in a long scarf of woolen texture. This scarf was kept only for this purpose. From altogether other times, the very same details reach us. Contemporaries were astonished how strangely Saint Germain sometimes “wrapped himself up.” Let us remember also the warm shawl of Blavatsky. Lamas carefully observe a certain condition of tempera­ture which is favorable to the induction of different manifes­tations.

Lady Lytton came to see the pictures. In the Lytton family splendid traditions remain from their celebrated grandfather Bulwer-Lytton. Then came Colonel Bailey. Then came the whole Everest Expedition. By the way, they persistently wanted to find out whether we did not ascend Everest. In the painting, “Burning of Darkness,”* they recognized the exact image of the glacier near Everest, and they did not understand how this characteristic view, seen only by them, could have come into the picture.

A page of the true East : “Again they will come with the ques­tion, ‘How shall one deal with obstacles ?’ One person is hin­dered by the family; one by a distasteful occupation; one by poverty; one by the attacks of the enemies. A good rider likes to show his skill on untrained horses and prefers obstacles to a smooth path. Every obstacle must be the birth of possibilities. When difficulties appear in the face of obstacles, they result precisely from fear. No matter in what attire a coward would garb himself we must find the page about fear.

Friends, so long as obstacles do not seem as the birth of possibility, so long do we not understand the teaching. Success lies in the enlarging of the consciousness. It is impossible to come near in the presence of fear. The ray of courage shall lead above the manifestations of obstacles, because now, when the world knows where to go—the seed of blood is growing. If the path is strewn by bones one can go courageously. If peoples speak in unknown languages— it means we can open the soul. If one has to hasten—it means that somewhere a new enemy is ready. Be blessed, obstacles, through you we grow.”

India, I know thy sorrows, but I shall remember thee with the same joyous tremor as the first flower on the spring meadow. From thy Brahmins we shall select the greatest who understood the Vedic wisdom. We shall select the Rajah who strove for the finding of the path of truth. We shall notice Vaishya and Shudra who have exalted their craft and labor for the upliftment of the world. A boiling kettle is the forge of India. The dagger of faith over a white goat. The phantom flame of a bonfire over a widow. Conjurations and sorcery.

Complicated are the folds of thy garments, India. Menacing are thy vestures blown by the whirlwind. And deadly burning are thy inclement rocks, India. But we know thy fragrant essences. India, we know the depths and finesse of thy thoughts. We know the great Aum, which leads to the Inexpressible Heights. We know thy great Guiding Spirit.

India, we know thy ancient wisdom ! Thy sacred scriptures in which is outlined the past, the present, the future. And we shall remember thee with the same tremor as the most precious first flower on the spring meadow.


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