Journal : Legend And Conjuration

ALTAI-HIMALAYA

A Travel Diary

By Nicholas Roerich

[ Published by Claude Bragdon ]

Part VIII : INDIA (1924)

Are the inhabitants of Sikhim poor ?

Where there are no riches there is no poverty. The people are living simply.

Upon the hills, amidst blossoming trees, stand the quiet little houses. Through the colored branches shine the bright stars and glimmer the snow-covered peaks. Here are people carrying their vege­tables; here, they pasture their cattle and smile kindly. Here, with fairylike music they walk along the steep paths in wedding processions. Knowing of reincarnation they quietly cremate the bodies. And they are singing. Mark, they are often singing.

Verily, one can sing under a canopy of various flowers and plants. Orchids, like colorful eyes, cling to the trunks of the giant trees. Pink, purple and yellow bouquets are strewn along the way like bright sparks. And these are not simply plants; many have their ancient powers of healing.

Nature awaits here full of gifts. Come hither and be cured. Charura, Parura, Orrura are the three important curative fruits against cough, cold and fever. Charura is like a yellow cherry; Parura like a green chestnut and Orrura like a yellowish-green crab-apple. All three are sharp to the taste and full of tannin. Here is the red bark of Aku Ombo, to cure wounds. Salve against fever is Sergi Phurba, like a dry giant bean. Chuta, the dry bitter root, will cure swelling and heal the throat. Bassack is a brown powder for colds. The red-stemmed Tze produces magenta; bitter Purma is for incenses. A broth from the roots of Berekuro is effective for women’s ailments. The flowers of Dangero heal the stomach, much like the flower of the red rhodo­dendron; while the leaf of Dysro is a disinfectant for wounds. Memshing Pati is a sacred plant in Nepal, where it is used for head ornaments at festivals. Endless are the useful plants…

The leaves of the herb Ava Duti are said “to soften” stones, just as do the “snow-frogs” * in the Himalayas. Therefore, if upon a stone you see the print of an elk’s foot or the paw of an animal, it seems they have eaten or touched this wondrous herb. Turning again to legends : near Phalut, on the road to Kanchenjunga, grows a precious plant, the black aconite. Its flower lights up at night, and by its glow one locates this rare plant. Here again is the trace of the legend of the Russian fire flower, that enchanted blossom which fulfills all wishes— and which leads us not to superstition but to that same source wherein so much still lies concealed.

* Snow-frogs”—a legend which attributes to snow-frogs the ability to soften stones.

Before our gates was found a strange gift. The branches of a fir tree, rhododendron and some other plants were there, with their leaves pointing to our house, and covered with a flat stone. This is a conjuration (Sunnium) and the man who raises this offering receives upon himself all which is sworn upon it, whether of good or evil, sickness or sorrow, or joy. For many days it lay there and even horses shied at it. The same conjuration we observed in the suburb of Jaipur; there in the middle of a street, in a flat basket, lay a lamb’s liver, flowers and three silver rupees. None touched them. These conjurations are of very ancient origin.

Everywhere are legends of the accidental discoveries of sacred spots, the revelation of which was followed by dumbness and even death. Thus it is told that one Shikari (a hunter) in Assam, accidentally wandered into a sacred place and beheld its mys­teries, and when he attempted to reveal them he was stricken dumb.

On the shore of the sea is moving a stick. It moves on alone and near the top of it is tied a lighted tinder. Thus do the conjurers of the coast of Malabar invoke their conjurations to burn the house of an enemy. Doctor Jones of Calcutta tried to overtake such a stick but it “walked away” beyond his own pace.

A legend from around Mongolia : “A venerated mother died and her son was desirous that a high lama possessed of exalted powers should perform the services over her. But such a lama could not be found. The son at the moment of death deposited the spirit of the departing one into a sandalwood casket, strongly sealed this sanctuary and himself invited the best lamas from Tibet. The lamas concentrated upon the casket; one of them be­gan to change in countenance, first becoming red, then blue from exertion. Then suddenly the casket burst into splinters before the eyes of all. This lama was able to free the spirit and thus could perform the service.”

The people here know everything; they have heard everything. One can remember and disclose all things in the twilight : of “Nam-Yg” (heavenly letters)—the letters and sacred books which are falling from heaven; of rings of silver or turquoise which change their color as a sign of foreboding and warning; of Si, the stone bead, sent from heaven to guard the health; of the finding of objects which disappear afterward. All this is known.

A woman was very pious and dreamt that she might receive the image of Buddha. Working in the morning amid her flowers she discovered an image and brought it into her shrine. But soon she forgot it and Buddha disappeared from the shrine. Next time the woman found in her garden a whirling sparkling stone and put it into a coffer and forgot it. Then the stone disappeared. Neglect always results in the disappearance of the bestowed happiness.

Do not record the things which can be read in books but those which are related to you in person; for those thoughts are the living ones. Not by the book but by the thought shall you judge life.

Understand the sparks of the primordial bliss.

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ALTAI-HIMALAYA

A Travel Diary

By Nicholas Roerich

[ Published by Claude Bragdon ]

Part VI : INDIA (1924)

Before the New Year, the evil entities are destroyed by con­jurations and dances. In the Dance of the Stags, the effigy of the evil entity is hacked and its parts strewn around. In the midst of the circle proudly walks the Guardian of the Teaching, brandishing his sword — while black-headed lamas whirl around, swirling the wings of their broad sleeves. Musicians in high yellow hats are coming to the fore, like Berendeys in “Snow-maiden.” And above the ornamented cornices of the temple the eagles wheel, while from the turrets of the hill the assembled crowds stand out in colorful relief.

The dances themselves on the New Year’s day acquire signifi­cance, with their frightful symbols of evil entities. How far removed is the impression made by these awe-inspiring masks, against the sunny background of the Himalayas, from the oppres­sive dark corners of Museums where these examples are so often collected, frightening the visitor by the apparition of a conven­tional hell! Of course, this hell is invoked only for the terrifying of the weakly developed souls, and much fantasy is devoted to the intensifying of these hellish countenances.

In the monastery of the Red Caps the impression is not so luminous. In the Red Monasteries of Padma Sambhava, this symbolization is more physically conventional. The play starts with a simple “mystery” of the judgment over the dead. The chief lord of hell approaches with his assistants. The beast-like servitors drag forward the black soul of a dead murderer. They weigh out his crimes. The chalice of his sins weighs down the balance, and the murderer is thereupon thrust into a seething caldron. The same occurs to the soul of a female sinner.

But then there is summoned forth a saint in the vestments of a lama. He is adorned in a white scarf. Of course, the court must be just, so three messengers of joy lead the exalted one into paradise !

Fifteen years ago there died a remarkable lama who came from Mongolia. We saw his image — resembling the type of Russian ascetic. A powerful visage, unconquerably hard are the cheek bones; the eyes are piercing. “During the departure of this strong spirit, a rainbow shone over the monastery founded by him.”

The lama possessed rare books — and it is very difficult to obtain rare books. One must send a trusted person into remote districts. Remarkable books exist; there is the book of one Tashi-Lama, concerning his visit to sacred Shambhala. There are collections of symbolic parables. There is a treatise on the transmigration of souls. They are not translated.

The teachings brought from Shambhala often find their way into the works of European scientists. For instance, in the ceme­tery of Darjeeling is buried an enigmatic man, Hungarian by birth, who lived at the end of the eighteenth century. He came walking from Hungary to Tibet, remaining many years in un­known monasteries. In the thirties of the last century, Csoma de Körös, as he was called, died. In his works he pointed out the teachings from Shambhala, designating the next hierarchy to succeed Buddha. It is very characteristic that this savant came here from Hungary. His activity was entirely enigmatic.

One more spark about Shambhala. A very well known Tashi-Lama often fell into an ecstasy during his talks with his pupils. Sometimes he seemed to disappear altogether, being transported into the sanctuary, Shambhala. These ecstasies vividly transport one to the discourses of the time of Saint John de la Croix with Saint Theresa, when both blessed conversationalists in exultation were raised to the ceiling of the room.

Remembering exalted occurrences, one also recalls the sparks of indignation. “A slanderer once approached Buddha, but the Blessed One was so indignant, that a spark of lightning struck the offender. Of course, the Blessed One arrested the counter­-blow and revived the defamer, but the latter had been so shocked that he forgot his plan of attack. The sparks of the counter-­blow !”

“The case is also told that Sengchen Lama, before his execu­tion in Lhasa, pointed out that he would soon reincarnate again on earth. And truly very soon in Chinese Turkestan was born a boy with the same rare and characteristic physical defect on his knee, which distinguished the late Lama. Now this Mongolian prince is more than twenty years of age. At present in our service is the son of the servant of the late Lama, and he was wont to travel on the errands of his father to the young prince.”

Whoever is acquainted with riding horseback in Caucasia or in the Arizona and Colorado canyons, will know how to climb the steeps of the hills of Sikhim. Only, instead of the colorful tragedy of American wonders, here you behold an ascending garden cultivated by the mysterious rise of exalted teaching. And in its unknown caves sit hermits, who upon the strings of earth are composing the legend of celestial life.

He who has known the approaches to the old monasteries and ancient town sites in Russia with their blossoming hills and fragrant pine groves, will understand the feeling on the approach to the monasteries of Sikhim. I always repeat that if you want to see a beautiful spot, ask the inhabitants of a town to point out the most ancient site. These people of times immemorial knew how to select the most beautiful places.

Every mountain summit is crowned by a beautiful mendong (in the glossary it is spelled mendang), with its wheels of life, its prayers carved in relief and with its niches for seats from which you behold the image of the far-off distances. Here lamas and travelers are meditating. Here ban­ners are fluttering. Here each rider will slow down his horse.

From the mountain summit, you plunge again into the receding hills. The ribs of the checkered hillocks also disappear, like the backs of panthers, tigers and wolves.

After the hills, again the fairy-tales of the forest. Green gnomes and monsters impede the way. The verdant webs intertwine. The snakes wind themselves around the trunks. The moss-like tigers and leopards here are lurking. An enchanted world this !

The most fantastic hills and rocks form themselves into a seem­ing Sacred Chalice — a vast valley. In the center of the valley stands the unapproachable mountain of the White Stone, girded by two rivers. It is crowned by the Monastery Tashi-ding, which means “Valley open to Heaven.” An ancient place this. Try to search the endless wrinkles and cavities of its rocks. Try to unearth the treasures collected by the monastery — the miraculous stone, fulfillment of all wishes; the immortal Amritha and a hundred images of Buddha; as well as all the sacred books tem­porarily hidden; and all else spoken of in the ancient manuscript, “The Voyage through Sikhim.”

The approaches to Tashi-ding are very difficult. Only recently have the impossible trails been transformed into steep footpaths. Verily, the path of the spirit must be traversed by human feet !

One crossing on the suspended bamboo bridge is especially hazardous. Below, the mountain river rushes and roars, bearing down the icy current from Kanchenjunga. And above the bridge, on the steep slope, you pause many times : Shall I at last arrive ? One must hold one’s breath to conquer this age-old mountain.

Upon the upper slope, an honorary reception arranged for us by the land owners. Ale, sugar-cane and tangerines await us under the canopy of rushes, adorned with their yellow garlands. Farther off resound the reverberant drums and silver gongs.

The reception of the monastery. On the last slope we are met by the pipers and trumpeters.

Amidst the rows of a colorful crowd you reach the ancient place. Behind the gates of the monastery, in purple garments, the lamas receive you. In the front row a venerable old man, head lama of the monastery, stands like a delicately carved image of the fifteenth century. Thus you walk up to the spreading turquoise tents in the midst of a forest of stupas and amidst many-colored banners, amidst the sparkling rows of fires.

Journal : Pilgrim’s Quest

ALTAI-HIMALAYA

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.

ALTAI-HIMALAYA

A Travel Diary

By Nicholas Roerich

[ 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.

 

Journal : Beauty, In Truth

ALTAI-HIMALAYA

A Travel Diary

By Nicholas Roerich

[ Published by Claude Bragdon ]

Serge Whitman : We who search the paths of international understanding and the structure of universal peace, must look upon Roerich as the apostle and forerunner of this new world of all nations.

An extensive literature is dedicated to Nicholas Roerich. A large monograph “Himalaya,” published by Brentano’s, New York (1926), gave 100 reproductions of paintings Roerich made during 1923-25. Another, published by Corona Mundi in 1923, International Art Center, introduced to the world the phases Roerich”s consciousness morphed through in its quest for beauty and peace that he sought for us after the gore and gloom of the First World War.

For four and a half years, Roerich traveled the Indian Himalayas, over the Silk Route through Central Asia to Mongolia, before returning to Tibet. Precisely, his expedition started in 1924 from Sikkim, then an independent kingdom, through British India region of Punjab and Kashmir in Himalayan foothills, on to Ladak, Karakorum, Khotan, Kashgar, Karashar, Urumchi, Irtysh, Altai Mountains, Oyrot region, Mongolia, Central Gobi, Kansu, Tsaidam, and Tibet.

Apart from the paintings he made during that mem­orable journey, Roerich kept a diary of sort with jottings, travel notes, those “thoughts upon horseback and in the tent,” contemplations induced by lofty mountains and boundless deserts, all wrapped in the inviolable secrecy of the East.

The publishers called Roerich’s write up “The Symphony of Asia.” But Roerich himself wrote in a letter, in 1925 : “Friends, it would have been far easier for me to have set down the entire journey in all its fairy-tale of ‘fantasy,’ which colors every peak and every desert space with unprecedented truth. But then some will be incredulous, as he who sleeps in darkness does not believe in the sun. Is it possible that the sun is already rising ? Facts are needed. I am writing only facts. I am setting down fragments of the thoughts as they now live in the East. I am setting down distances and tales, as they are now related. But even in facts, the Sunrise comes from the East.”

Then, after its lengthy wanderings in Tibet, came this telegram on May 24, 1928 :

Roerich American Expedition after many hardships has reached Himalayas. Thus ended big Central Asiatic Expedition. Many artistic and scientific results. Already sent several series of paintings to New York. Hope last sending from Mongolia safely reached you. Many observations regarding Buddhism.

Peaceful American flag encircled Central Asia. Everywhere warmly greeted except Khotan and Lhasa Governments. Further movement Expedition from Khotan assisted by British Consul at Kashgar. On Tibetan territory have been attacked by armed robbers. Superiority of our firearms prevented bloodshed. In spite of Tibetan passports Expedition forcibly stopped by Tibetan authorities on Oct. 6, two days north of Nagchu. With inhuman cruelty Expedition has been detained for five months at altitude of 15,000 feet in summer tents amidst severe cold about 40 degrees below Centigrade.

Expedition suffered from want of fuel and fodder. During stay in Tibet five men, Mongols, Buriats and Tibetans died and ninety caravan animals perished. By order of authorities all letters and wires addressed to Lhasa Government and Calcutta British authorities seized. Forbidded to speak to passing caravans. Forbidded to buy foodstuffs from population. Money and medicines came to an end. The presence of three women in caravan and medical certificate about heart weakness not taken into consideration. With great difficulties on March 4, Expedition started southward. All nine European members of the Expedition safe. Courageously bore hardships of exceptionally severe Winter. Greetings.”

I have chosen to serialise Roerich’s work because, I believe, we all need to have a glimpse of that spirit and its quest, that yet oriental culture, as it was before its westernisation, that yet untrampled topography and pioneering adventure, and those words yet special, in their wonder and pithiness. The excellent “intoduction” here below speaks of “surface existing for depths” and an “aura that brightens the darkness” with which you, dear reader, might well strain to connect but emerge refreshed in ways that is becoming increasingly rare in our electronic age. It merits both my extraordinary belief in beauty and my hope for personal evolution.

INTRODUCTION – By Publisher

ON May 8, 1923, Nicholas Roerich left America for India, and he has been wandering about in remote, dangerous and seldom-visited parts of Asia ever since. “Altai-Himalaya” is the record of his mission, just as his series of pictures “Tibetan Paths,” “Banners of the East,” “His Country,” are records in terms of paint. But “Altai-Himalaya,” though penned on horseback and in the tent, under conditions the most difficult, is as much more, and as much richer than the ordinary diary of travel, as his paintings of the Himalayas are more than a literal transcription of some of the earth’s most magnificent scenery. For in whatever medium Roerich works, or in whatever he is expressing, there shines forth not only the artist, but the embodied intelligence – the man, the whole character of the man. Though sincere and simple, it is a character compounded of such unusual elements as to be on its esoteric side uncomprehended.

Now, “esoteric” is to most ears either a meaningless or a hateful word : what do I mean by it in this connection ? I should perform for Roerich an ill service if I failed to answer such a question, because it would be to avoid mentioning what seems to me the very raison d’être of his journey, his art, his life. And yet how is it possible to make intelligible or even plausible what I have in mind ? Without attempting to elucidate, explain or justify it, therefore, I shall simply say that there is a tenable point of view from which one may regard Roerich as an envoy of those powers which preside over the life and evolution of humanity in the same sense that gardeners preside over a garden : that he journeys into desolate and forbidden lands for the fulfillment of a mission, the purpose of which will increasingly reveal itself. Whether one believes this or not, it would be hard to imagine a better ambassador of good will from the West to the East, for the reason that although he represents the summit of European accomplishment and culture, Roerich is deeply Oriental in his temperament, sympathies and point of view.

One has only to look at him to see – or, if you must have it so, imagine – the reincarnated Eastern sage. In Little Tibet, and in the white vastness of Siberia he was received with an honor, accorded a confidence and even an affection, quite different from the ordinary attitude of these peoples toward strangers, which has the reputation of being covertly or openly hostile. Roerich and his caravan encountered frustration and hostility, too, and in full measure, but it is interesting to note how exactly in proportion to the spiritual development of the various peoples he encountered was their response to his unique quality, and their recognition of the unprecedented nature of his mission among them.

This book was written “in the saddle,” more literally than figuratively. There is a certain vividness, immediacy, authenticity about it for this reason, giving the reader a sense of actual participation perhaps impossible to be imparted in any other way, together with intimate glimpses of the workings of the author’s mind in the presence of sublime scenery, new human types, strange manners and customs, and under the assaults of hardship, danger, and the stresses and strains of exploration in almost untrodden lands. Roerich is a man of original, strong and definite personality, of which everything he does bears the stamp. His expressions are themselves revealing, eloquent – not only of himself, but of the thing he is attempting to describe. The one-, two-and three-word sentences, the subjects without predicates – they have been suffered to remain just as he wrote them because they have so much the merit of the sketch, the jotting, put down in the moment of that “first fine careless rapture” which in a more premeditated form of art is likely to leak away.

This is a book whose surface exists for the sake of its depth, and even for concealing from all but the most penetrating, what that depth contains, as surfaces sometimes do. But in order to give you every possible advantage, and for your further enlightenment upon Roerich’s antecedent accomplishments and life, I shall devote the remainder of this essay to what I have learned and know of Roerich, and what I think of him.

In the history of the fine arts, certain individuals have appeared from time to time whose work has a unique, profound and indeed a mystical quality, which differentiates them from their contemporaries, making it impossible to classify them in any known category or to ally them with any school, because they resemble themselves only – and one another, like some spaceless and timeless order of initiates. Such were Leonardo, Rembrandt, Dürer, Blake, and, in other fields, Beethoven and Balzac; such also, in our own times and in a lesser way, were Rodin, Ryder and Burne-Jones, for their work show flashes of that dæmonic and eerie beauty which is the sign whereby they may be identified as belonging to that mythical, mystic brotherhood.

Roerich, in his life, in his character and in his art reveals himself as a member of this fraternity. For thirty-five years – since the time of his first exhibition in Russia – he has been going up and down the world – Europe, America, Asia – absorbing the auras of diverse peoples, making pilgrimages to remote places, and always and everywhere scattering wisdom, planting seeds of beauty, some of which have sprung up, flowered and scattered seeds of their own.

In Russia, as secretary of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, and later as director of the school of that society, he was an important agent in organizing and coördinating that native, new and powerful impulse which in painting, in music, in the drama and the dance later spread throughout the civilized world : for it is not too much to say that everything which now goes by the name of modernism had Russia for its cradle. It is significant in this connection that Stanislavsky enlisted Roerich’s aid in the Moscow Art Theatre, that Stravinsky dedicated to him the Sacre du Printemps, for which Roerich designed the original mise-en-scène, and that Andriev, Gorky, Mestrovic, Zuloaga, Tagore and others throughout the world, who represent the newness, have paid him the tribute of their homage and their praise.

Coming to America with an exhibition of his paintings, at the invitation of the Chicago Art Institute, Roerich immediately took steps to resume and repeat the work he had inaugurated in Russia, that of uniting the arts, and thus uniting men through beauty, for he believed, as many others are coming to believe, that beauty is the universal and true solvent whereby racial and national animosities may be dissolved. To this end, he founded, with the help of friends, a school in which all of the fine arts were to be taught, under the title of Master Institute of United Arts, and a year later he established Corona Mundi, an International Art Center. The school passed through those vicissitudes which usually beset enterprises of this character in a civilization such as ours, the best image of which would be a rush-light in a wind-swept darkness – but it survived, and has today a permanent home on Riverside Drive, New York. Other vast outlines, sketched by Roerich at this time, have not been filled in : they include Cor Ardens, an affiliation of the creators of beauty everywhere throughout the world, and Alatas, an international, non-commercial publishing association for the interchange and dissemination of new and constructive ideas through the mediumship of the “art preservative.”

I mention these enterprises to show the vast sweep of Roerich’s vision, to indicate his function as a prophet and pioneer, clearly foreseeing and quietly planning a better order in a world still in the grip of its so recent terrible nightmare, not yet risen from a bed drenched with blood and stained by tears.

Should his prophecies come true, and should his dreams of binding humanity into a brotherhood through beauty materialize, it is for this that he will doubtless be most honored and longest remembered, but to us, his contemporaries, he is naturally best known as a painter of hauntingly beautiful pictures. These are of all kinds and on a vast variety of subjects, but in general they represent nature strained though a mystical consciousness – the light that is on sea and land translated, by some potent magic, into the light that never was on sea or land. Roerich satisfies the idealist without affronting the realist. Mukerji, the Hindu novelist and poet, remarked to a friend that if he wanted to know how the Himalayas impressed a beholder, he should see Roerich’s paintings of them, because along with true rendering of their form and color, something of their spirit was communicated too.

After a brief sojourn in America he forsook the ordered and easy life of cities, and unappalled by the rigors, dangers and difficulties of such a quest, he set out for Asia, “trailing clouds of glory” as he went, so to speak, in the shape of paintings of the Grand Canyon, the Santa Fe country, the Pacific, India and the Far East. The culmination of his life work, up to the present, is in those groups of paintings named by him “The Tibetan Path,” “Himalaya,” and “Banners of the East.” These are freighted with mystical meanings which, even though unintelligible to all save the initiated, yet act upon the unenlightened consciousness as does perfume upon the senses, or as music upon the emotions. It is not that Roerich attempts to be deliberately cryptic – on the contrary, a very great deal of his symbolism is almost naïve in its simplicity – but the average mind so resents the very idea of esotericism, that it closes itself to a certain extent.

Roerich’s symbolism, as I say, requires no glossary, possessing the characteristics of directness and universality. An example of his general method is seen in that painting of what he names the Messiah series, entitled, “The Miracle.” It represents a titan valley, not unlike the Grand Canyon, a world primeval, stark, rock-strewn, without visible flora or fauna. Prominent in the foreground is a natural bridge, and over this bridge passes a road. On the near side of the bridge are a few human figures, prostrate before the miracle of a great radiance coming from behind the bridge, the aura of some supernatural presence whose figure is not yet visible. Here is a simple, natural symbology subject perhaps to different interpretations, but none of them contradictory. Considered objectively, the picture is simply a dramatization of that expectancy of a messiah which is so general nowadays, and it holds forth the healing promise, that though his presence is not seen, his aura brightens the darkness, his influence is already felt. Considered from the standpoint of subjectivity, the denuded valley might symbolize the condition of the soul after trials and purgations; the road, the “small old path” to freedom and perfection; the bridge, that stage on that path where the transit is effected between the lower and the higher consciousness; the prostrate figures, those “qualities” which must be redeemed and “carried over,” awe-struck at the miracle of the felt approach of the “golden person” bringing release from the bondage through the shining of the inward light.

But the great merit of this picture, freighted as it is with meaning (and that of others of its class), lies in its beauty of color and composition. The mystic and metaphysician in Roerich never submerge the artist, with the result that when he permits himself the use of symbols he is still lyrical and not literary: his pictures are not sermons, but songs. “The Miracle,” despite the fact that it conveys a message, is not a morality so much as a delight to the visual sense, abounding in spatial rhythms and color harmonies as fine and subtle as those of some priceless old yellow Chinese rug. The “story” is there, but the final indelible impression is one of beauty, and this is as it should be, for in the hierarchy of trades and talents the creative artist is nearest to the throne of God.

Of Roerich’s archæological pictures I shall not speak, nor of his pioneer work in the theatre, important as that has been, because I feel that these things, which at one time absorbed his mind and dominated his consciousness have since become far less important to him than what I shall call his mystical quest. One has the feeling that in everything he does he is seeking the hidden truth, the unrevealed beauty, the Lost Word, in point of fact. Like some mighty indefatigable hunter, armed not with a gun, but with his pen and brushes, he stalks his quarry across oceans, rivers, mountains, though knowing all the while that the thing he is seeking is in himself. Both in his writing and in his paint­ing he permits us to participate in this adventure, and thus draw nearer to that truth which is beauty, and that beauty which is truth.

CLAUDE BRAGDON