Three more countries remain to be considered. In all of them alike the impact of the East led to a revival both in the domain of literature and of religion. We have already seen how the discovery of India affected the romantic revival, especially in Germany. Although it may be an exaggeration to say that the newly acquired knowledge of Indian religion and philosophy actually led to the Romantic revival, there is no doubt that, on the continent at least, it contributed to a very considerable degree to that ‘revivalist’ attitude underlying all new and revolutionary movements either in religion or in literature. A similar revival took place in America and in Ireland, though at a much later date. The New England Literary Revival, on the one hand, and the Irish Literary Renaissance, on the other, were based on very similar attitudes of mind as the ‘romantic’ revival on the Continent: they were intimately connected with a search for new values, and by no means only literary values, a realization that Christianity had failed to fulfil its original purpose, and a consciousness of a separate cultural tradition based upon the present and past achievements in the field of cultural and religious life. The very term ‘revival’ implies a looking back, a becoming aware of traditional cultural forces : it is indeed one of the paradoxes of Western civilization that revivalist movements, however revolutionary they may appear on the surface, are always based on conservative, if not reactionary, patterns of thought. The romantic revival in Europe ended in medievalism, the Roman-Catholic Church, and excessive nationalism. The Irish revival, for instance, also carried within it, as we shall see in this chapter, the germs of reaction and authoritarianism. There is no doubt that India whenever it became part of any particular ‘movement’, either literary or religious, or any particular ‘revival’ in the West, helped to slow down rather than to accelerate the progressive forces in Europe. This holds good for almost all the schools of thought in the West since the French Revolution. In the fight that lasted throughout the nineteenth century, the forces that wanted to preserve a status Quo in politics or social structure took indeed wholeheartedly to India.’
We can, therefore, from now on distinguish three separate forces at work in the West regarding India: first, those writers who guided by humanitarian ideals and a sense of justice and equality considered India a moral challenge to their conscience, such as Voltaire, Goethe, some of the nineteenth century English writers, and also Tolstoy and Romain Rolland in more recent times; secondly those who took to India as part of some particular literary or religious revival and also thereby utilized India in most cases. unconsciously to foster their own conservative if not reactionary ideals of life, such as Friedrich Schlegel and the German romantics, Schopenhauer, and in modern times W. B. Yeats, Count Keyserling, and Rene Guenon; and lastly those who, conscious of the gradual decline of the West, opposed any Indian influence whatsoever, in order to save European civilization from complete extinction, such as Hegel, Gobineau, Nietzsche, and, during the last fifty years Austen Steward Chamberlain, Spengler, Henri Massis, and a host of others.. Such a classification may seem unnecessarily dogmatic; for some writers undoubtedly are difficult to classify. They unconsciously represented the vested interests of which they were a part, be it religion or social organization or political structure. India, for all the three classes alike, however, was hardly anything more than a useful peg on which to hang their prejudices and preconceptions. This applies even to a philosopher such as Schopenhauer who found in Buddhism, first and fore-most, a reflection of his own glory.
Apart from the New England literary revival and the Irish Renaissance, we also include Russia in this chapter, and especially the personality of Tolstoy. It is true, he did not belong to any school nor was he part of any ‘revival'; but, on the other hand, his reponse to India was coloured by very similar emotions, as that of Emerson or W. B. Yeats. It was part of his longing to revaluate Christianity and the moral standards of modern civilization. And although the conclusions these three writers arrived at show very little similarity in-deed, their starting-point is the same, a strong desire to integrate Eastern wisdom and to recreate with the help of Indian religion and philosophy, a new attitude to life. The influence they exercised over their contemporaries was very great indeedEmerson as a thinker, Tolstoy as a writer and a religious reformer, W. B. Yeats as a symbol of national revival. Emerson attempted to integrate India into his philosophy of life, Tolstoy into his attempts at religious reform, Yeats into the rejuvenated civilization of Ireland.
The best approach to Emerson’s integration of India is through his Journals. A careful scrutiny of his entries throughout more than 20 years will enable us to follow the development of Emerson’s thought with regard to India. These Journals are in many respects more revealing than his poems dealing with India, because they consist of day to day entries, essentially personal in character. The first time India is mentioned occurs in 1842 when Emerson was already 39 years old. There are two entries, one in December 1842 and the next early in 1843, both of them dealing with Buddhism. The effect Buddhism had on Emerson at the beginning was indeed of an ambivalent nature. He, in all probability, recognized the greatness of Buddhistic doctrines, but he was afraid of their application in .the daily life of men. He perhaps saw in it an easy way of escape for the Philistine and, on the other hand, the very conception of nothingness, the Nirvana, filled him with terror; for he visualized the Nirvana as an abyss of infinite dimensions, a sterile darkness, into which we are all going to fall sooner or later: ‘The trick of every man’s conversation we soon learn. In one, this remorseless Buddhism lies all around, threatening with death and night. We make a little fire in our cabin, but we dare not go abroad one furlong into the murderous cold. Every thought, every enterprise, every sentiment, has its ruin in this horrid Infinite which circles us and awaits our dropping into it. If killing all Buddhists would do the least ‘ good, we Would have a slaughter of the Innocents directly. And, ‘Buddhism : Winter, Night, Sleep, are all the invasion of eternal Buddh, and it gains a point every day. Let be, laisser-faire, so popular now in philosophy and in politics, that is bald Buddhism; and then very fine names has it got to cover up its chaos withal, namely, trance, raptures, abandonment, ecstacy, all Buddh, naked Buddh.’
What seems to have attracted Emerson more than anything else during the years following these first entries, is the belief in the transmigration of souls. In the following year he notes down : ‘Then I discovered the Secret of the world; that all things subsist, and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again: T Closely connected with this belief is also his defence of suti as an eminently ‘practical’ doctrine : ‘In the long rotation of fidelity they meet again in worthy forms. The flame of the funeral pile is cool to the widow. To this practical doctrine of Migration we have nothing corresponding. Ours is sentimental and literary.’tt On the same page of the journal written probably on the same day we find another entry which reminds us of the disenchantment of the romantics, when confronted by the ‘reality’. Emerson, probably, did not know much of the Indian people; but what little he knew, made him doubt the efficacy of the ancient religious faith. Beneath the veil of Indian mythology and religion, he sees the real people of India his contemporaries and he is amazed at their suffering born with resignation, their fatalism, and reluctance to fight; ‘Indian mythology a lace veil; clouds of legends, but the old forms seen through. We should infer a country of sages and devotees: but there seems no relation between the book and the actual population. One thing marks it all, the Fate in the character. As soon as they confront each other. victory is declared without a struggle. It is by posts, not battles.’ Although we may disagree with the generalization implied in this statement, it almost grew into a conviction with Emerson: for a few years later we read : ‘Orientalism is Fatalism, resignation. Occidentalism is Freedom and Will. We Occidentals are educated to wish to be first:* A comparison between Eastern and Western religious sensibility led Emerson to a number of other generalizations. First he finds nothing but contrast and difference. He thinks of the Indian kings and courtiers ‘making the most romantic sacrifices’ for the sake of `knowledge and spiritual power'; in France, on the other hand, personality and intelligence count for more than anything else, while in England ‘possession in every kind’ is the ultimate standard by which human beings are judged. Not very much later, however, it strikes him that there exists a fundamental. similarity in all human aspirations whether originating, in the East or in the West. It is the same discovery that Rolland was going to make some eighty years later and which Rolland calls the ‘predisposition to Vedantism': Trace these colossal conceptions of Buddhism and of Vedantism home, and they are always the necessary or structural action of the human mind. Buddhism, read literally, the tenet of Fate, Worship of Morals, or the tenet of Freedom, are the unalterable originals in all the wide variety of geography, language, and intelligence of the human tribes. The buyer thinks he .has a new article; but if he goes to the factory, there is the self same old loom as before, the same mordants and colours, the same blocks even ; but by a little splicing and varying the parts of all patterns, what passes for new is produced.’* Many years later Emerson will come back to this idea that the fundamentals of all religions are the same everywhere. The discovery of India and her religions taught Emerson’ that Christianity is by no means the sole revelation. And what Voltaire had found out long ago with some-thing amounting to frivolous satisfaction, reappears again in Emerson almost a century later; for in Indian religions he found ‘the same principles, the same grandeur, the like depths. moral and intellectual, as in Christianity.
To Emerson the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism were undoubtedly a matter of personal faith. He found in them realized what was lacking in the growing mechanization of life around him. His response towards India was indeed part of his revolt against the Industrial Revolution : ‘The Indian teaching through its cloud of legends, has vet a simple and grand religion, like a queenly countenance seen through a rich veil. It teaches to speak truth, love others as yourself, and to despise trifles. The East is grand and makes Europe appear the land of trifles. Identity, identity ! friend and foe- are of one stuff Cheerful and noble is the genius of this cosmogony- With growing age, Emerson became increasingly absorbed- in Hinduism. And we are justified in assuming that Hindu and Buddhist. doctrines and ways of life were, in his old age, his main spiritual support. Thus he writes in 1866, when he was already 63 years old : ‘In the history of intellect no more important fact than the Hindu theology, teaching that the beatitude or supreme good is to be attained through science: namely, by the perception of the real and unreal, setting aside matter, and qualities, and affections or emotions and persons, and actions, as Mayas or illusions, and thus arriving at the contemplation of the one eternal Life and Cause, and a perpetual approach and assimilation to Him, thus escaping new births or transmigration.
There is much in Emerson’s attitude and response towards India that remains vague and indefinite. How-ever much and sincerely he tried to integrate Eastern wisdom, it only remained an appendage, though not without significance, to his philosophy and his constant attempts to give a meaning which had been lost by most of his contemporaries, back to life. His desire to attain the ultimate truth of the spirit was great, but perhaps be like most of those who followed in .his footsteps–was afraid of facing the real issue, the divorce, brought about very largely by the Industrial Revolution, between the thinker and the people, the intellectual and the labouring. masses. The path of the spirit, the one that Emerson pointed out, was the path of escape. It led upwards into regions where the people could not follow him. Emerson is indeed the first of the great moderns for whom India was but a brick in the building of his ivory-tower.
Nor was Yeats the only one to discover that poetry is born out of a mystical experience, a kind of supernatural trance where all earthly conflicts are solved and the subconscious itself is transformed into artistic creation. Many before him had experienced a similar spiritual awakening; indeed almost every great poet is confronted at one time or another, by the truly overwhelming realization that the life of human being on earth is in it-self hardly at all a significant subject-matter for great poetry, unless it is purified of all extraneous matter, the irrelevancies of a purely ‘human’ existence. Instead of the ‘all-too-human’ of common-place experiences, there is a new awareness of the ‘super-human’ level of existence, where the poet becomes one with the all-pervading spirit of the universe.
Many literary critics will not feel happy with such an interpretation of the creative process. They will accuse the poet of indefiniteness and attempt a more ‘scientific’ analysis of the urge for literary expression. But we have to go by what the poet himself tells us. And there is no doubt that, in the case of Yeats, the ‘super-human’ or ‘super-natural’, in short the non-rational, played an exceedingly important part in his evolution as a writer and a poet. And the fact that, from his childhood onwards, he felt attracted towards things Eastern, and particularly India, indeed proves that not only intellectually, but also temperamentally he was drawn towards the subconscious of the human mind. And more than once he found in India what was so sadly lacking in the West: an intuitive approach to life. a religion born of an inner need, a challenge to the materialism of Europe
Yeats was a dreamer and more than once he deceived himself into believing in an India of his own creation, the India of the Romantics; indeed, as to so many other European thinkers and poets before him, India was a wish-fulfilment rather than a reality. And first and foremost it was an escape, a looking back rather than a looking forward, an India coloured by the nostalgic emotions of a dissatisfied European poet.
Yeats discovered the East when, still an adolescent, he became alienated from science by the Odic Force’ of which he first heard in Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism. From that time onwards Science became for him ‘them tree of death’ or, as he calls it later on `the religion of the suburbs’. Theosophy, Buddhism, the Odic Force, and poetry, constituted, for the time being, the essence of Yeats’ dreams. He remembers this period of his life with a certain amused irony in his Reveries over Childhood and Youth (1916) : ‘We spent a good deal of .time in the Kildare Street Museum passing our hands over the glass cases, feeling or believing we felt the Odic Force flowing from the big crystals. We also found pins blindfolded and read papers on our discoveries to the Hermetic Society that met near the roof in York Street?* A more mature understanding of things Eastern came with the visit of a ‘Bahmin philosopher from London’ whom Yeats and his friends had invited to spend a few days with them at Dublin. ‘It was my first meeting’, he says, ‘with a philosophy that confirmed my vague speculations and seemed at once logical and bound-less. Consciousness, he taught, does not merely spread out its surface but has, in vision and in contemplation, another motion, and can change in height and in depth.’
Yeats’ discovery of India can hardly be called an intellectual and even less an academic achievement. His poetry, indeed his love for all that is primitive and simple and rooted in the soil, quite naturally led him to-
wards India. Already in 1897, in an essay entitled .’The Celtic Element’, he speaks of the imaginative passions of the ‘ancient people’ who were nearer ‘to ancient chaos, every man’s desire, and had immortal models about them.’T A few years later, in 1900, in an essay on Shelley, he compares the ministering spirits of Intellectual Beautv with ‘the Devas of the East, the Elemental spirits of mediaeval Europe, and the Sidhe of ancient Ire-land’, and he regrets that Shelley knew so little about their traditional forms.
Yeats, in his early manhood, was intensely preoccupied with the past, that dim and primeval darkness of ancient times. Indeed he shows all the symptoms of that kind of revivalism which is more concerned with the past than with the future. Even a cursory glance at contemporary poetry made him realize that the future of European literature could hardly be expected to be found in a return to the primitive darkness of ancient times: ‘There are two ways before literature:’ he says, ‘upward into ever-growing subtlety or downward, taking the soul with us until all is simplified and solidified again? This was written six years before Yeats discovered Tagore’s English rendering of Gitanjali. And it was quite in the nature of things that he found in Gitanjali just those elements of poetry which were lacking in the West, the living tradition of the past, a continuity in the life of the people whose roots are deep down in the soil: ‘If the civilization of Bengal remains unbroken, if that common mind whichas one divinesruns through all. is not as with us, broken into a dozen minds that know nothing of each other, something even of what is most subtle in these verses will have come. in a few generations, to the beggar, on the roads.
It is from this time onwards that we find Yeats definitely turning towards the East for inspiration. For by means of a rather subtle identification of ancient Ireland. on the one hand, and India, on the other, Yeats looked for a common past and a common soil in both the countries alike. And in moments of deep depression he will cry out : ‘It may be well if we go to school in Asia. for the ,distance from life in European art has come from little but difficulty with material..’ Or, ‘Only our lyric poetry has kept its Asiatic habit and renewed itself at its own youth, putting off perpetually what has been called its progress in a series of violent revolutions.’tt Sometimes, indeed, Yeats feels that Europe has out-grown her past, that every seed has borne its fruit; and in the same essay he continues: ‘It is now time to copy the East and live deliberately.’
This incidentally reminds us of another great Irish poet, George William Russell, popularly known as AE. He also, from his earliest boyhood, had taken keen interest in everything pertaining to the East. Johnson’s Translation from the Upanishads (1896) and the Irish Theosophist helped him in this direction. just as W. B. Yeats, AE also discovers an identical spirit underlying both Gaelic and Indian civilization: `The Earth-world, Mid-world, Heaven-world and God-world spoken of in the Indian scriptures are worlds our Gaelic ancestors had also knowledge of.’ * He also postulates a new Renaissance in the West based on the wisdom of the East: ‘If Europe is to have a new Renaissance comparable with that which came from the wedding of Christianity with the Greek and Latin culture it must, I think, come from a second wedding of Christianity with the culture of the East. Our own words to each other bring us no surprise. It is only when a voice comes from India or China or Arabia that we get the thrill of strangeness from the beauty, and we feel that it might inspire another of the great cultural passions of humahity.
In more recent times, Yeats’ attitude towards India has indeed become more ‘deliberate'; instead of the imaginative identification of his early life, he will now take recourse to intellectual prognostication which at times hardly bears scrutiny at all. When he borrowed something from India, he would excuse himself by the supposition that India is essentially Irish. In his introduction to the Mandukya Upanishad (1935) he praises the belief of certain Indians who seek the divine in sexual union. Louis Macneice mentions Yeats’ last prose writing On the Boiler which reveals the reactionary ideals which he would have liked to see embodied in his nation. ‘The formation of military families should be encouraged,’ he writes, ‘for human violence must be embodied in our institutions.’ And Ireland also must have a caste system : ‘The new-formed democratic parliament of India will doubtedless destroy, if they can, the caste system that has saved Indian intellect.’
A poet’s approach to a foreign civilization must necessarily imply a valuation; for what are attitudes if not determined by a system of values that are entirely the poet’s own ? In the case of Yeats we may safely say that many of his values, both literary and cultural in general, were derived from that revivalist movement which he himself helped .to create and which was by no means determined by purely literary .considerations. In poetry and in politics, in the drama and in religion, the same forces were at work. It was a return to the primeval simplicity of the past, the unsophisticated civilization of the ‘people’, In discovering their own land, they also discovered India. And although they all too frequently generalized on abstract issues and found similarities between Ireland and India which actually never existed at all, although Yeats in his old age came obviously under the influence of reactionary tendencies, there is no doubt that India was to him the fulfilment of many of his dreams, a vision of the final harmony in human life.
While in America and, later on, in Ireland, the literary and spiritual revival was the work of an intellectual elite of writers, philosophers, and poets, in Russia a similar revival took place centering, however, around the personality and message of one great solitary figure, Tolstoy. The search for new ideals of life which made Emerson and Thoreau in America and W. B. Yeats and George Russell in Ireland turn towards the East, affected Russia no less, and indeed long before Tolstoy Russian intellectuals became conscious of the historical necessity of affirming a new ideal of life. Coinciding with the Romantic movement in Western Europe, these Russian intellectuals also reacted against the increasing mechanization and industrialization of life by turning to-wards the East and by repudiating the best and the worst in European civilization alike. It was not so much a philosophical revival as in the Germany of Schopenhauer, nor even a spiritual awakening as in the Anglo-Saxon countries with Emerson, or a religious re-orientation as in most western countries; rather it was a new awareness that Russia, both geographically and temperamentally ‘belonged’ to Asia, was indeed part, of that continent of vast and unlimited spaces, where time does not count, and the infinite is vaguely floating above the darkness of impenetrable mysteries. This, we might say, was an unscientific view to take. But it appealed to the inherent lack of emotional stability of those intellectuals who needed ‘vast and timeless spaces’ to let their emotions expand and contract at will. The scientific precision, the artificial conduct, the pompous self-consciousness, of western Europe was considered an insult to their elasticity of mind. And one of them, by the name of Tchadaiev, in 1840 already, exclaims: ‘We are the darling children of the Orient. What need have we of the West ? Is the West the home of science and of all the profound things of life ? Everywhere we are in contact with the East, it is from there that we have once drawn our beliefs, our laws, our virtue … The old Orient is going. Are we not its natural inheritors ? It is among us that henceforward these admirable traditions will be perpetuated, that will be realized all the great and mysterious truths which had been deposited in the East since the beginning of all things.
We shall not be wrong in assuming that the Russian people knew nothing of these ‘admirable traditions’ and ‘mysterious truths’. Indeed the history of cultural relations _between Russia and the East is very largely the history of two intellectual movements which opposed each other all through the nineteenth century, the one known by the name Zapadniki (Occidentalists) and the other by the name of Slavophiles. The one said that Russia is subjected to the same laws of development as the rest of Europe. Russia has its own destiny to fulfil, said the others, a destiny diametrically opposed to that of the West. It is worth remembering, however, that this dispute was carried on on a purely intellectual level. The ‘people’ either knew nothing about it or remained indifferent to the issues involved. The higher classesthe only ones that were literateartists, politicians and scholars, weft alone conscious of the existence of this conflict.
For a conflict undoubtedly it was, though it remained till the days of Tolstoy a merely intellectual dilemma divorced from the realities of life. It is perfectly true that the Russian peasant, till the Revolution, exhibited characteristics not dissimilar from those of Chinese or Indian peasants. Maxim Gorki who knew the people better than any other contemporary Russian writer wrote, for instance, during the last war to Romain Rolland: ‘I am afraid Russia is more oriental than China.. . A Russian is a man who knows not how to live well, but who knows how to die well… .The Orient is pessimist and passive… A tendency towards mysticism is discernible in almost the whole of Russian literature, together with a singularly ‘oriental’ willingness to resign oneself to fate. But most of the litterateurs during the nineteenth century led a life divorced from the masses. The ‘people’ had become a convenient abstraction, or at best, figures on their political and cultural chessboard. Where, for instance, are the labouring masses in Dostoievski’s, novels ? Peasants merely provide stimulating subject-matter for endless and rather futile discussions. There is no outstanding peasant-character in the whole of Dostoievski’s work as there will be in Tols toy’s. And yet Dostoievski took up a very definite attitude regarding the conflict between East and West.
‘Give us Asia,’ he exclaims, ‘and we shall create no faculties for Europe … If we would devote ourselves to the organization of our Asia, we shall see at home a great national revival.’ Although most of his novels take place in large cities, he thinks that ‘it would be useful for Russia to forget Petersburg for some time and to turn her soul towards the East.’ It is obvious that for Dostoievski the East was a purely mental, an intellectual, proposition.
Tolstoy, it seems to us today, experienced the East not only with his mind, but with his whole sensibility, conscious as he was of a common spiritual heritage. His acquaintance with the East was based on personal experiences rather than on ideological discussions among intellectuals. As a student at Kasan he took up Oriental Languages and Literatures as his first subject; his frequent stays in the Caucasus brought him in close con-tact with people of Asiatic extraction. Already in 1870 he published a collection of folk-tales, including Indian. After his ‘conversion’, he first read the ‘Sacred Books of the East’, Chinese Philosophy, and later on, Indian philosophy and religion. He was greatly fascinated by the writings of Swami Vivekananda, and shortly before his death he published a number of essays, among them one dealing with the life of Buddha, and others dealing with the sayings of Mohammed and the teaching of Confucius– and Lao-Tse. The genuineness of his attempts to capture the spirit of the people of the East, first through the medium of folk tales and later on through religion and philosophy, cannot be questioned.
There is no doubt that the East’ provided Tolstoy with new religious standards which helped him in his attempts at revaluating Christianity. If, however, we want to assess correctly Tolstoy’s attitude towards India, we have to look at his letters written to prominent Indians during the last’ ten years of his life. These letters have one advantage over his philosophical writings; their context being essentially personal, he infused into them all the intensity of his moral and religious fervour. For whatever we may think of Tolstoy’s philosophy and however much we may regret his statements about art, we cannot doubt his sincerity of purpose and his disinterestedness. And even if we are amazed at the contra-dictions inherent in Tolstoy’s literary work, on the one hand, and his ‘message’, on the other, we cannot overlook the fact that Tolstoy’s attitude and response towards India was very largely determined by his religious convictions during the last years of his life. We shall, indeed, in vain look for any relevant reference to India in any of his great novels. It is only after having completely exhausted the raw material of life itself in his creative work, that he started on his weary pilgrimage in search of the inner spirit of man. It is with these questions of religion and true spirituality in relation to society that his letters to Indians are concerned.
The first letter written to Tolstoy from India comes from Madras, and is dated June 1901. In it Mr A. Rama-Seshan, the editor of the Arya, a paper affiliated to the Arya Samaj, proposes certain solutions regarding the social structure of India. Tolstoy’s reply was published in the Hindu and the Madras Mail. It deals with the necessity of purifying religion and of non-cooperating with the British Government. The letter was also criticized later on by Rama-Seshan in the Arya magazine. Tol&toy’s main assertion in this letter is that all European countries undergo at present a process of social disintegration and that, therefore, any social structure imposed upon India by a Western nation will carry within itself the germs of decay. ‘The only possible solution’, he continues, ‘of the social question for beings endowed with reason and with love consists in abolishing all force and in building up society on a foundation of mutual love and comprehensive principles which will be voluntarily accepted by all. In my opinion, therefore, it is the duty of each cultured Indian to destroy all the old prejudices which rob the masses of an under-standing of the fundamental principles of true religion; the realization that the soul is of divine origin, and respect before the life of any living being without exceptionthis realization ought to be spread as widely as possible. It seems to me that these principles are implicitly stated in your ancient and profound religion and have only to be further developed and clarified.’
It appears from this as well as from the following letters that Tolstoy looked upon the Hindu religion with the eyes of a social reformer, of one who was out to find the basic principles of any religion and to build up a true spirituality on the foundation of a simplified and essentially undogmatic faith. He, therefore, represents religious revivalism in its pure state : a going back to the very roots of all faith, an insistence on what is essential and relevant in all religions, a rejection of all the cumbersome symbolism which prevents the average man from actively participating in a common faith. In another letter addressed to an Indian, Baba Premanand Bharati, at Los Angeles (1903-4), he vigorously attacks the artificial cosmogony of Hinduism: ‘But in the religion of Krishna as in all ancient religions can be found assertions which not only cannot be proved but indeed are the creations of any unbridled imagination which, furthermore, are altogether irrelevant for an understanding of the fundamental truth and for the strengthening of the rules of conduct which are implied in the essential doctrines. Herein belong all cosmological and historical assertions concerning the creation of the world and its duration, all the stories of magic, the theory of the four ages, and the origin of the caste system which contradicts the fundamental truth.’
Perhaps the most important pronouncements of Tolstoy on India are to be found in a letter addressed to C. R. Das. C. R. Das had written to Tolstoy at the end of 1907 as the editor of a Magazine called Free Hindustan whose motto was, ‘Resistance to aggression is not simply justifiable but imperative; non-resistance hurts both, Altruism and Egoism.’ As a revolutionary, says C. R. Das, he cannot accept the doctrine of non-resistance to evil. And he requests Tolstoy to encourage the fight of Indian revolutionaries and to give his support to his paper Free Hindustan. C. R. Das’ letter unfortunately is lost; only Tolstoy’s reply is available. This letter was later on published under the title ‘To An Indian'; Gandhi who was then in South Africa himself edited the translation and enclosed a copy of it in his letter to Tolstoy on October 4, 1910. The importance of this letter in a study dealing with the Western response to India cannot be overestimated and justifies more extensive quotations and a more detailed analysis.
He begins with a comparison between the Indians and the English : ‘It strikes me particularly in India,’ he says, ‘that here a physically and mentally highly gifted nation of 200 million inhabitants is under the Yoke of a small circle of complete strangers who from the point of view of morality and religion are immeasurably inferior to those they have conquered.’ * Tolstoy again, as in his previous letters, resents the Western influence, especially on Indian leaders, and the indiscriminate acceptance by the masses of India of an alien attitude to life : ‘Most of the leaders of public opinion in your country no longer attach any importance to the religious doctrines which were and still are valid for the Indian people; on the contrary, they see the only possibility of liberating the people from the oppression under which they suffer, by adapting the anti-religious and profound-Iv immoral social structure in which live the English and other pseudo-Christian nations. Nothing indicates bet-ter the complete absence of religious consciousness among the present leaders of the Indian people than their effort to persuade the people to accept European, ways of life. And yet, if not the only, the main reason for the conquest by England resides in that lack of religious consciousness and the consequent attitude to life–a lack which at the present time all the nations of the West as well as the East, from japan to England and America , have in common.
Tolstoy is the first among the great Europeans to grapple with contemporary problems in relation to the social, political and religious life of India. All his predecessors, throughout the nineteenth century and most of the intellectuals in recent times, found in India the simplicity and integrity of ancient times which made them aware of their own lost spirituality. Tolstoy’s first pre-occupation with the East was undoubtedly based up-on a similar wish-fulfilment. But it was not long be-fore he realized that the conflict between ideals and practice which characterizes modern Christianity was as much in evidence in the East as in the West. The only solution for this conflict is what he considers to be the religion of love. It is only through love that ideal and realization, theory and practice, will be co-ordinated. It is quite in the nature of things that Tolstoy in this letter to C. R. Das anticipated the modern pre-occupation with the problem of ends and means : neither %main Rolland nor Aldous Huxley contributed much to what Tolstoy had discovered long before them: ‘Love is the only salvation for mankind from all its miseries. In love you also possess the only means of freeing your people from slavery…. You who belong to one of the most religious of nations, you, in this twentieth century, light-heartedly deny your law, convinced, as you are, of your scientific enlightenment and your inner justification; and you repeat don’t mind my saying so that amazing stupidity which had been infused into you by the defenders of violence, ‘the enemies of truth, first by the servants of religious hypocrisy and then by those of science, your European masters.’
Throughout this letter to C. R. Das, Tolstoy is at great pains to point out the intrinsic similarity between East and West in modern times. Both alike are passing through the same crisis. And it seems to Tolstoy that it is very largely a crisis of the spirit. He knows only too well that neither the old religious faith of Europe nor the religions of ancient India provide mankind with ready-made solutions. He finds, on the one hand, a loss of belief resulting in cynicism, callousness, indifference, to what is best in human nature, and on the other, a strong conviction that scientific progress, compulsory education, and material comfort, will alone guarantee a higher standard of life, both spiritual and material. And Tolstoy begins his single-handed fight against the slavery of the mind, against mental and spiritual prejudices, against the priest and the scholar alike: ‘Men, free yourself, he exclaims, ‘of your belief in all the Ormuzds, Brahmas, Zebaoths, and their incarnation in the Krishnas and Christs, the belief in paradise and hell, in trans-migrations and re-incarnations, in the interference of God in external destinies of life; free yourself above all of the belief in the infallibility of the Vedas, Bibles,
Evangels, Tripitakas, Korans and all the rest, free yourself equally of the blind belief in the various scientific doctrines concerning infinitely small atoms, molecules, infinitely large and infinitely distant worlds, their movement and origin, of the belief in the permanence of scientific laws which are supposed to dominate mankind, of historic laws, of economic laws of conflict and experience, and the others; free yourself of this terrible burden, the idle excitement of an inferior mindand the capacity to memorize which is called science; of all the innumerable subjects of various histories, anthropologies, homiletics, bacteriologies, legal sciences, cosmographies, strategies, whose name is legionfree yourself of all this silly and corrupting ballast, and that simple clear law of love, accessible to all and solving all questions and doubts, will of its own accord unveil itself before you and fulfil your life.’
Tolstoy is up in arms against both of them alike. Having replaced dogmatic religion by his religion of love, he now has to apply the same process to what he calls ‘science’ and especially the underlying belief in material progress as the only standard by which to judge human civilization. Tolstoy is hardly conscious of the slippery ground on which he is treading. The moment he hazards a solution of political and social conflicts on the basis of ‘love’, he either overestimates the innate goodness of men or deceives himself into believing in a gradual regressive evolution from cynical exploitation of the poor by the rich to some kind of vague and indefinite equality among men. We have already mentioned the fact that all revivalist movements are by their very nature regressive in spirit; Tolstoy is no exception to the rule. His dream and his prophecy go backward, not forward; he visualizes a society resembling that of the early Christians, classless and unified in a common faith, revolutionary in the same sense as were the early Christians before they achieved political power. And by rejecting the very principle of progress Tolstoy, though unconsciously and unintentionally, sides with the reaction:
‘What the Indian needs as much as the Englishman, the Frenchman, and the German, are not constitutions and revolutions, not all sorts of conferences and congresses, not shrewd inventions of U-boats, aeroplanes, powerful explosives, or all kinds of pleasures for the rich and ruling classes, not new schools nor Universities with innumerable scientific subjects, not additional journals and books, gramophones and cinemas, not that childish and for the most part immoral foolishness they call art, they only need one thing : realization of that simple, clear truth which has a place in the soul of everyone who has not been fooled by religious and scientific superstition, the truth that the law of love is the law of our life and that it leads all men to the highest salvation.
At the end of his letter to C. R. Das, Tolstoy analyses the contemporary situation in the West. The conflict and tension which he discovers everywhere in ‘socialism, anarchism, the Salvation Army, the increase in crimes, unemployment, the growing and insane luxury of the rich and the misery of the poor, the terrible growth in the number of suicides’t can be solved only by non-violence and love. It is, perhaps, interesting to find that in this letter he considers socialism and communism to be signs of the spiritual decay of the West. The explanation for this attitude can be found in the fact that to Tolstoy both these political movements were characterized by the rejection of any religion whatsoever. The atheism both of the labouring class and the intellectuals is mentioned in another letter of Tolstoy in 1909-1910, addressed to W. A. Posse, and published under the title ‘On the Study of World Religions’. At that time Tors-toy and Gandhi had already exchanged a number of letters, dealing mostly with the problem of non-resistance, his letter to C. R. Das had become widely known both in India and abroad, and he had also read with the greatest interest I. Doke’s book M. K. Gandhi : an Indian Patriot in South Africa (London, 1909) in which his influence on Gandhi is already mentioned. It was also at that time that his collection of essays dealing with ancient oriental religions was published. Tolstoy’s study of the past and Gandhi’s experiment in South Africa had taught him once more the fundamental truth that the conflict inherent in modern times is the result of the inability of the labourers and the unwillingness of the intelligentsia to find a common faith: ‘However pathetic appears to be the position of the labouring class,’ he writes to W. A. Posse, ‘because of its inability to distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant in religious doctrines the position of the so-called cultured people is even sadder.
The simple man cannot distinguish the important from the unimportant because he lacks the necessary knowledge. The cultured people cannot do it, not because they are unable to, but because they do not want to. Either they have to pretend to believe in something in which nobody can any more believe, or they deny, with the firm conviction born of ignorance, and unable to apprehend it, the higher disposition of the soul of man.