A Travel Diary
By Nicholas Roerich
[ Published by Claude Bragdon ]
Part IV : INDIA (1924)
SIKKIM : evokingly and sharply the arrows whistle across the gulley, from out the bamboo grove. The Sikkimese remember their favorite ancient pastimes. One says : “The arrow is better than a bullet. It sings as it strikes while the bullet screeches as it flies outward.”
In the morning a red leaf was brought to us : “In the evening Senge will arrive.” After sunset upon the zigzag of the path, the fires began to flash out and the trumpets to resound. And finally it came rolling on — motley, noisy, trumpeting, drumming; with a dragon, with handmade horses, with paper yaks. With popguns and many-colored fires the dance proceeded, the motley crowd receding into the violet enamel of the night amid the explosions of the flaming spark. . . . These are Polovetsky dances ! And the banners upon the staffs — these are the standards of Genghiz Khan !
If you understand, then you will be understood. Touching are some of the gifts of the lamas. Knowledge is needed in order to understand all the finesse of intention in these gifts : To whom an image, and just which image; to whom, a bearskin; to whom, a leopard skin; to whom, a fur coat; to whom, a khalat; to whom, a khatik; and if so, whether one with designs or a white one. By the hieroglyphs of these objects one can read their entire relationship with you. Are you recognized as a great scientist ? Or are you left within the limits of conventional politeness ? Or are you left without attention ? Often the non-understood “ceremony” is simply a short subtle code of gesture and conduct.
Two worlds find expression in the Himalayas. One is the world of the soil — full of the enchantment of these parts. Deep ravines and grotesque hills rear up to the cloud-line, into which melts the smoke of villages and monasteries. Upon the heights gleam banners, suburgans or stupas. The ascending mountain passes curve with sharp turns. Eagles vie in their flight with the colorful kites flown by the villagers. In the bamboo-stalks and amid the fern the sleek body of a tiger or a leopard adds a glimmer of rich supplementary color. On the branches skulk the dwarfed bears; and a horde of bearded monkeys often escorts the solitary pilgrim.
An earthly world this, full of diversities ! A stately larch stands beside a blooming rhododendron. All is entangled. And all this earthly wealth shades into the blue mist of the rolling distances. A chain of clouds crowns the lowering mist.
Above this synthetic picture, it is strange, unexpectedly startling, to behold new ramparts mounting the clouds. Above the nebulous waves, above the twilight, glimmer the sparkling snows. Erect, infinitely beauteous, stand these dazzling, impassable peaks. Two distinct worlds, intersected by a mist !
Besides Mount Everest, fifteen peaks of the Himalayan chain surpass in height Mont Blanc. If from the great river Rangith we survey all the approaches to the snowy border and all the white domes of the peaks, nowhere, to one’s recollection, is there such an open barricade of elevations. From this superb prospect one obtains an especially enthralling impression of the grandeur of the Himalayas — “Dwelling of snows.”
To the side of the ascent, the summits merge into one implacable wall — the jagged, unending ridge of the Sacred Lizard. It is difficult to discern that just at that point are hidden the snowy summits of Jelep-la and Nathu-la on the way to Shigatse and Lhasa — the fog seems especially often to envelop this road. The upper portion of the Buddhist banners bear the cross-shaped spear, disk, crescent and lotus-petals. Are not the emblems of all teachings intertwined upon one flagstaff ? In these reminders of the symbols of the elements of Nature every one will find an image near to him.
Upon the ikons and ornaments of Tibet often is found, glowing with precious stones, the image of the fish — that happy sign — the same found upon the walls of the Roman catacombs. In one conception is united the Buddha’s “Wheel of life,” the Circle of the “Elements forming the mystery” of the Christian church and the “Wheel of Ezekiel.” The many-eyed seraphim and multiple eyes of the Luminous Mother of the World penetrate equally into the recesses of the soul.
In the cults of Zoroaster there is represented the chalice with a flame. The same flaming chalice is engraved upon the ancient Hebrew silver shekels of the time of Solomon and of an even remoter antiquity. In the Hindu excavations of the periods from Chandragupta Maurya, we observe the same powerfully stylized image. Sergius of Radonega, laboring over the enlightenment of Russia, administered from the flaming chalice. Upon Tibetan images, the Bodhisattvas are holding the chalice blossoming with tongues of flame. One may also remember the Druid chalice of life. Aflame, too, was the Holy Grail. Not in imagination; verily by deeds are being interwoven the great teachings of all ages, the language of pure fire !
It has long since been said, “Faith without deeds is dead.”
Buddha pronounced three paths: the long way of knowledge, the shorter way of faith, and the shortest way—through action. David and Solomon also glorify the strivings of labor. The Vedanta extols the manifestation of works. Verily, in the foundation of all covenants, action is placed foremost. This is the creative fire of the Spirit.
Are the symbols of the Hindu Trimurti alien to the Trinity ? Does the Buddhist Tree of Wishes, hung with the objects of all desires, not respond to our conception of the Christmas Tree ? What of the details of the arrangement of the temple altars ? What of the ascetics and hermits, who buried themselves in their stone coffins ? What of the image-lamps and the fires of conjurations; the wreaths and candles of heartfelt prayer, flung upon the bosom of the Ganges ? And the birch of Trinity, the musk and incense ? And the wrought gem-bedecked vestments ? And the stones flung at Buddha by his closest kin—are they not like the stones of Stephen ? Verily, not by accident have Buddhist legends been carved upon the frescoes of the Campo Santo in Pisa.
From times immemorial have the most ancient forgotten temples extolled the anticipation of the new epochs. In the ancient city, Kish, has recently been discovered the Temple of the Mother of the World. Sarnath and Gaya, the scenes of Buddha’s personal achievements, are fallen in ruins, now only the goal of pilgrims. So too, Jerusalem. “Because Jesus himself witnessed that the prophet is without honor in his own country.”
According to the legend, Buddha’s initiation was performed in the presence of the High Ones. The site of initiation is called “the holiest stupa” but its location is not disclosed. The sites of Buddha’s achievements on the Ganges are known, as well as the scenes of the birth and death of the teacher — in Nepal. According to some indications the initiation was performed farther north — beyond the Himalayas, because Buddha came down from the north for the performance of his works. But where was Jesus until his thirtieth year ? Who knows those haloed retreats ? Whither lies Korya-Morya ? Shall they be revealed? The legendary mountain Meru, according to the Mahabharata, and the equally legendary height Shambhala in Buddhist teaching, both lay in the north and served as the summit for initiations. And not everywhere until the appointed date, can the details of these places of high knowledge be told.
Wise intercourses — one sees clearer from above. Instead of petty quarrels of denunciation, history recalls to us truly international ties. It is pointed out as a historical fact that a Mongolian, Bogdo Khan, was saved from illness by the “appearance of Nicholas.” This is averred by the Mongolian Khutukhtus, whose knowledge is considered very high. All is full of signs, only do not overlook them. Observe keenly and joyously, and flexibly.
Upon the wrist of a Tibetan woman we observed a strange blue sign, which on closer inspection showed the appearance of a tattooed blue cross of equal ends. When she was asked the explanation of this sign, the woman revealed that a Tibetan physician had applied the sign during “a very dangerous cough” —evidently pneumonia. Tibetan physicians generally inject medicines under such signs. This sign was made by the personal physician of the Dalai-Lama during his three years’ stay in Darjeeling. Swastika is a symbol of the conception of fire and life.
According to the prophecy of Lama Tsa-rinpoche, the present attempt to conquer Everest will end only in losses. Let us see whether the old lama is right.*
* The Lama proved to be right.
The lama seemed astonished at the desire of foreigners to ascend the summit of Everest, at any risk. “Why expend such efforts in the physical body ? Is it not simpler to be there in spirit ?” For with ease do lamas project their astral bodies, for which, of course, no height is an obstacle.
From this very window ** the high priest sent prayers to Tibet which was troubled by the Chinese. For three years, facing the wall of the Himalaya, he kept vigil.
** The author lived in the so-called Talai-Pho-Brang where the Dalai Lama stayed about three years during his flight from Tibet.
In the time of the old Jesuit mission, about 300 years ago, in Lhasa, there was a Christian chapel. Great lamas visited it. Now no one even remembers the approximate site of it.
The lama here bewails the visiting hunters — they came and killed many stags ! And now when the lama strolls into the forest, few are the stags that come to him. And he loves the animals to approach him ! Not savagery but deep culture rings in his complaint. We are reminded of the tale of old Avramy, who was a shepherd beyond the Ural, and when he prayed to the East, all the sheep in silence turned also toward the sunrise.
In Buddhist monasteries it was the custom to confine in the library him who was defeated during a scientific argument. Let him learn more ! An excellent custom !
“A Chinese Amban (governor), an evil and dissolute man, was desirous of visiting a venerated holy abbot of the local monastery in Tibet. By persistence and force he demanded an audience, but when he entered the reception room of the abbot, he saw on the throne, instead of the holy man, the image of a hideous pig, and in fright he rushed from the presence. Thus the dissolute man, making his way by force, found an image worthy of him ! A fine reminder to all despots : As ye measure so shall it be measured unto you.”
A legend of Central Asia tells of the mysterious nation, underground dwellers—the Agharti. Approaching the gates into this blessed kingdom, all living beings become silent, reverently pausing in their course. Recall, now, the Russian legend about the mysterious “Tchud” which went underground to escape the persecution of the evil forces. To this secreted place also leads the sacred legend of the subterranean Kitege. Everything comes from the North.
The whole world tells its tales of underground cities, treasure troves, temples merging under water ! The Russian and Norman peasant relates about this with equal surety. So, too, does the inhabitant of the desert know of the treasures which sometimes glimmer from under the sand waves and then — until the ordained time — recede again under the earth.
Around one beacon-fire are gathering those who remember the predestined dates. We do not speak of superstitions but of knowledge — knowledge revealed in beautiful symbols. Why invent, when truth is so manifold ? In La Manche even now is seen the city which has been “submerged” under water.
Many sources tell of the subterranean dwellings in the district of Lhasa and Koko-Nor. A lama from Mongolia recalls the following legend : When the foundations of the monastery Genden were built during the time of the Teacher Tsong-kha-pa, in the fourteenth century, it was noticed that through the gaps of the rocks there arose the smoke of incense. A passage was broken through and there was found a cave in which, motionless, was seated an old man. Tsong-kha-pa aroused him from his ecstasy and the old man asked for a cup of milk. Then he asked what teaching now existed upon earth. After which he disappeared. It is also pointed out that the Potala, the palace of the Dalai-Lama, has hidden recesses of the greatest antiquity. By the facial expressions of the high lamas one will not discover anything. One must seek through other paths.
If so much lies underground—how much more lies under the veil of silence. It is naïve to insist, after the first cautious response. An authoritative astrologer assures us that he knows nothing — has only heard rumors. Another who is versed in the ways of antiquity just now insists he has not even heard of such things. And why should they answer otherwise ? They must not betray. Most heinous is treason — and there are many traitors. We discern the true devotion and behind it the structure of the future.
It is said that Solomon manifested such devotion toward the Temple that even when breathing his last, lest he interrupt or harm the work of construction, he remained upright in prayer until an ant bored through his staff. The example of perseverance and devotion !
Unexplained have remained the strivings of Solomon toward the One Beginning, sheltering all forms of knowledge. Abandoned Fatehpur-Sikri (near Agra) is full of the signs of this unity which was understood by Akbar the Great who preached the spirit of One Temple. In the center of the palace-court is still standing the temple of united religion. Superficial writers wonder why the walls of this mysterious structure bear the remains of such varied signs — the traces of Buddhism mingled with Hindu and Christian fragments. This united torch was already manifested in life !
“Wise in heart and mighty in strength; who hath resisted Him and hath had peace, Who spreadeth out the heavens and treadeth upon the waves of the sea — Who maketh Arcturus and Orion and the Pleiades and the inner part of the south — Who doeth things great and incomprehensible and wonderful of which there is no number” — exclaims Job about the One. And are not the mysterious signs of Watan and Senzar received by great lamas pointing toward it ? We asked the Lama, “Is it true that the Festival of Unity is approaching ?” He looked closely at us, then answered, “Such are the prophecies.”
In 1924, according to Tibetan calculations, the new era began, for here a century is not calculated as a hundred years but as sixty.
You listen to the reading of the Bhagavad-Gita; you hear the exclamation of the Buddhist servers of the temples. You listen to the singing of the choir. Does there not appear before you the One Image — the One common Will toward happiness and joy, to the unity of consciousness, embracing and conquering, to the exalting and enlightening Aum ?
Should we not reflect why all Covenants tell of the same active beginning ? Why is the manifestation of phenomena always accompanied not only by the same unexplainable words, but always by a vivid action of spirit ? The writings say, “He revolted.” And without the wondrous “uprising,” without this invisible action, nothing is decisive. He realized and became enlightened; became filled with invincible courage !
The formulas themselves often astonish by their universality. In them are united the summons of the mysteries with the prayers of the most unexpected cults separated by whole epochs and whole continents. The language of the Mother of the World is the same for all cradles.
“Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,” or “Halelu, Halelu, Halelu” is a conjuration of ancient rites. From the Chaldeans, Babylonians, through the Israelites it reached our era. It is also known by several tribes of India.
In this region the simple guide will suddenly turn around on his path and proclaim : “But men must finally realize that possession is one and all are equal ! But will That soon come, Which will unite men ?” So thinks and ponders the simple, poor man, among the blue hills of Sikkim. In the hope of the guide you discern the powerful proclamation of Vivekananda; without depreciation, only in all powerful unity and righteous understanding, he walked. One wishes that our priests of the West valued Buddha in the same way as the enlightened lamas speak of us. Only in such benevolent understanding lies the guarantee of the future structure.
All creators of Unity must be recognized. Principally let us have less of ignorant denials.
With difficulty one succeeds in getting plants which nurture the musk-deer. But how to bring this mountain pine to the laboratory ? Below the altitude of 6,000 feet, the plants perish.
Most often from Bhutan the ragged, deep blue furling waves of fog crawl upward. Not only the snowy ridges but also the steps to the mountain paths are wrapped in the dense mist. It is difficult to believe there is a hidden glimmer. Shall we not begin denying the very existence of the Himalayas ? If they are invisible, that means they are non-existent ! Whenever something is invisible to us we presume it does not exist. Such is the decision of ignorance.
Intricate are the mountain paths with their many turns. How many are the earth-covered pits under the horse’s hoofs ! Many are the intercrossing currents and streams, with the torpid dampness under the green-blue foliage. Truly many are the serpents beneath the flowers. And the language of the murmuring foliage is incomprehensible.
Early are the stars aglow here. Toward the East, undiminished, flames the triple-constellation of Orion, this astonishing constellation which finds its way through all teachings. In the archives of the old observatories, undoubtedly much remarkable data could be found about it. The cults which surround some constellations such as the Bear and Orion amaze you by their widespread popularity.
The wisdom of the Shamans designates them for worship. Nor did Job accidentally point to them alone as the supreme act of achievement. The glimmer spreads everywhere. In the latest number of the Journal of the London Asiatic Society is this very important item : “The Emperor Baber near the beginning of his memoirs says : ‘On the outskirts of Barakoh is a mosque called the Jawza Madjid. The real meaning of the word is House of Orion. Jawza is a name of Orion.’ “With what ancient cult was the mosque pointed out by Baber identified ?” It is now most likely effaced by the sands of the great desert. Thus we see how unceasingly does Orion attract the eye of men. Again are the astronomic bulletins telling of the inexplicable pink rays, which have suddenly flashed from this constellation. The constellation of Orion contains the signs of the “Three Magi.” The significance of Orion, too, in ancient teaching was compared to the significance of Atlas, supporting the weight of the world. Verily, the Star of the East ! Only in the East do you feel the vital sense of astrology and astro-chemistry in its scientific import. The observatories in Jaipur and in Delhi overwhelm one with their fantastic conviction.
The air is pure. The small Lepchas, coolies of Sikkim, bear huge stones up to the mountain on their backs. It is for the unknown structure. Their heads are bent so low that one cannot distinguish their faces, because of the shawl and metal rings and chains. Will they be able to bear it safely ? How is it possible to overload a body four feet high with such an immeasurable burden of stones ! Yet instead of groans you hear laughter from under the bent back. Much laughter is heard in Sikkim. The further one goes toward Tibet the more communicative are the people. And the more often one hears singing accompanied by a pleasantry. The air is clearer here.
The chief of the caravan is called Sardar. In his purple kaftan, he is mounted firmly on the white mountain pony. Many are the white horses here. The caves of Kinchenjunga, where were guarded the treasures, are still far off. In one of the caves is the statue of Padma Sambhava (teacher of Tibet) and behind it is seen a stone door — never yet opened by man. And yet they say : “Nothing remains hidden !”
The human consciousness often is “like a dog’s tail. If it has curled itself — no matter how you straighten it out, it still persists in curling back.” Thus it was told by the ancient Chinese.
But it is also known how completely the consciousness has been transformed by a mere touch.
“Why do you not tell us all you know, as if you were strewing pearls or setting landmarks ?” By these signposts you yourself will pass the entire way. You alone — by human feet. According to your growth shall you yourself gather pearls. By your own hands shall you match them. By your own hands will you develop dynamic power. “You will return” and project your will.
Otherwise matter will again not flow out in the “song of ceaseless labor.” In this way, superficial curiosity will be divided from true striving. They tell of one “modern sage” who offered to found an institute where any one coming from the street could at once be convinced of phenomena. But this “sage” forgot to offer these strange comers from the street at least the wherewithal to wash their hands for the tests. There are ways which we must approach only with pure hands and with our own will.
And if through the shell of the objects of every day you will be enabled to behold the summits of the cosmos — what a new wondrous and undiminishing outlook shall the world have for the unsheathed eye. The medical lore of the ancients acclaimed laughter as useful for the purification of the glands. How useful then must a smile be for the brain ! Thus shall the trembling conjuries of fear be transformed into the valiant call of joy.