A study of the contemporary western response towards India is possible only on the basis of the nineteenth-century conflict between ideal and practice, theory and realization. The conflict, instead of being solved, was greatly intensified by the economic and political struggles of the first decades of this century. The attempt to solve the problem in terms of economic re-adjustment by establishing a classless society, the gigantic rise of political reaction both in East and West, the intensification of racial prejudices and the insistence by political leaders, social reformers, and popular philosophers, on the irrational elements in human nature, only served the purpose of sharpening the consciousness of Europeans to the existing conflict without providing any solution satisfying to all. Their response towards India was increasingly coloured by racial and political pre-occupations; only in a few exceptional cases did India provide them with a new intellectual stimulus. The new ‘Renaissance’ of which Radhakrishnan speaks in such glowing terms is indeed only part of the attempt by a minority of profoundly frustrated intellectuals to find a way out of their spiritual dilemma.
We have followed the growth of this dilemma, this split of the European consciousness, throughout the nineteenth century. There is no doubt that during the last fifty years the number of dissatisfied intellectuals has increased in proportion to the growth of values based upon the essentially acquisitive character of modern society. That is why Buddhism found more adherents in the West during the last few decades, and especially shortly after the first World War, than at any previous period. It seemed to them, as long as it was not a challenge to existing social and political values, a thoroughly satisfying solution. And, more than anything else, it saved Europeans the trouble of making a deliberate choice, of taking sides in the forthcoming battle. It is no accident either that this neo-Buddhistic cult was strictly limited to the higher middle-classes : the labouring masses had long ago been alienated from religion and looked in political extremism for a solution.
Hegel and Nietzsche provide the background to the contemporary attack against Buddhism; the former had, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, pointed out the senile character of Indian civilization and philosophy, the latter, at the end of the same century, considered the Neo-Buddhism of Schopenhauer and Wagner to be part of the disappearance of aristocratic values of life, of leadership, and the striving for perfection beyond all the standards of morality. Buddhism to Nietzsche was the cult of the philistine, the spiritual equivalent to political democracy. And those who followed in his footsteps were inspired by his contempt for ‘equality’ of any kind Whatsoever, by Gobineau’s pseudo-scientific thesis regarding the ‘inequality’ of the human races, and, lastly, Hegel’s theory of the ‘decay’ of Indian civilization.
While both Tolstoy and Nietzsche were still alive, two books were written which were going to influence the average European’s attitude towards India for many years to come: Houston Steward Chamberlain’s Foundations of the Nineteenth Century and Spengler’s Decline of the West. The former was published in 1899, the latter written before the first World War, but published very shortly after the Peace Treaty. These two books have much in common : a truly monumental analysis of modern life on a historical basis, a comparative study of various civilizations, a synthetic approach to religion and philosophy, a strong anti-semitic bias, and lastly a revaluation of Buddhism on the lines already suggested by Hegel and Nietzsche. It will hardly be possible to do full justice to these two books here: we are concerned only with their attitude towards India as part of their philosophy of history and their outlook on life. And from the very outset we are struck by one characteristic feature which both these thinkers have in common : their constant attempts at reducing Buddhism to a historical necessity which, both in ancient and in modern times, is the result of a spiritual decline. Both were equally obsessed by the idea of the interplay of historical forces, predetermined and inevitable, and against which neither the mind of man nor his will are ever able to struggle. This profound pessimism, pervading both these books alike, quite naturally also affected their attitude towards India, and in particular, towards Buddhism.
For Chamberlain, Buddhism formed the anti-thesis to Christianity. Buddha, according to him, ‘represents the senile decay of a culture which has reached the limit of its possibilities;’* on the other hand, he continues: ‘Christ represents the morning of the new day; he won from the old human nature a new youth, and thus became the God of the young vigorous Indo-Europeans, and under the sign of His cross there slowly arose upon the ruins of the old world a new culture. As part of a historical process Buddhism, therefore, stands for ‘decline’; Chamberlain calls it ‘a living death’ and ‘a lived suicide’; for according to him, ‘Buddha lives solely and only to die, to be dead definitely and beyond recall, to enter into Nirvanaextinction.’ t To appreciate Chamberlain’s thesis properly we must remember that through-out his book he was out to prove the superiority of the ‘Indo-German’ race over all the other races on earth. For although Buddhism symbolizes for him the senile decay of a culture, he has nothing but praise for the ‘Aryan Indians’. It is only when comparing them to the Semitic races that the characteristic features of the Aryan raceGobineau’s ‘white principle’ become evident: The Aryan Indian can stand as an example of the extreme contrast to the Semitea contrast, however, which clearly reveals itself in all people that are devoid of Semite blood, even the Australian negroes, and which slumbers in the hearts of all of us. The mind of the Hindoo embraces an extraordinary amount, too much for his earthly happiness; his feelings are tender and full of sympathy, his sense pious, his thought metaphysically the deepest in the world, his imagination as luxuriant as his primeval forests, as bold as the world’s loftiest mountain peak, to which his eye is ever drawn upwards.’tt And with the usual thoroughness so characteristic of German scholarship, he will now prove that Christ really was no Semite at all, but an Indo-German’: ‘The probability that Christ was no Jew, that he had not a drop of genuinely Jewish blood in his veins, is so great that it is almost equivalent to a certainty:
It goes without saying that Chamberlain’s generalizations, on the basis of comparative history, are extremely misleading. According to him, for instance, Christ and Buddha, are the ‘opposite poles’ the antithesis of one and the same experience. For whether it be the ‘denial’ of the will, as in the case of Buddha, or the ‘conversion’ of the will, as in the case of Christ, both belong to what he calls the ‘Indo-German’ attitude to life. Chamberlain, therefore, carries Gobineau one step further, and establishes what he considers to be the fundamental in-equality of two races on earth, the Indo-German (including both Christ and Buddha and ‘even the Australian negroes’) and the Semitic race by which presumably he means the Jews. And instead of Gobineau’s rather crude pseudo-scientific approach, Chamberlain plunges into comparative religion with all the enthusiasm of an obsessed monomaniac : ‘Redemption by knowledge, redemption by faith: two views which are not so very different as people have taught; the Indian, and Buddha, put the emphasis on the intellect, the Graeco-Teuton, taught by Jesus Christ, upon the will: two interpretations of the same inner experience. To the Jewish religion both views are equally foreign.’ t
Spengler’s approachthough based on fundamentally similar assumptionsis more subtle. His interest embraces a wider view of human history. His historical parallels of the rise and fall of civilizations include both primitive and civilized societies and all the expressions in art, religion, philosophy, and social structure that characterize particular periods in the past. Being less obsessed than Chamberlain by racial prejudices, he attempts a more objective, but not therefore the less sinister, analysis of the process of culture in both East and West. Spengler saw in the history of civilization a continuous process of birth, growth, and decay according to pre-established historical ‘laws’. The fatalistic character of these laws, however, almost precludes all struggle. An understanding of these laws may, at best, help human beings in fore-seeing and shaping the future. Human intelligence and will are abolished for the sake of predeterminism and a mechanistic view of life. Every period carries within it the ‘decline’ of the former and the germs of the next civilization. Nothing can ever stop an evolution, for ever turning round itself in an increasingly vicious circle. Such a fatalistic outlook on life could not but lead to an over-emphasis of the irrational over the rational, the instinctive or intuitional propensities of man over the intellectual. Spengler’s followers will, therefore, be found among the strongest, i.e. the least rational, forces of reaction. He, not Nietzsche, is the spiritual father of Fascism.
Periods in which intellectual ratiocination prevails over free instinctual expression are to him periods of decline. He includes among these periods, Buddhism in India, Stoicism in ancient Greece, the Europe of Rous-seau, and the rise of modern Socialism. All these four periods have one thing in common : they try to save a moribund civilization by a process of fundamental re-valuation; they are the flowers of decline, the germs of which can be found in the preceding centuries of ‘progress’ and increasing intellectual effort; their failure is very largely due to the fact that theyhaving reached and being themselves the climax of a civilizationsaw no future in front of them. Indeed, they were condemned to death at the very hour of their origin: for their pre-occupation was with the material and intellectual des-tiny of man, rather than with the metaphysical truth underlying it: the ‘strength.’ of Buddha, Socrates, and Rousseau, is also their most significant weakness : ‘Again and again there appears this type of strong-minded, completely non-metaphysical man, and in the hands of this type lies the intellectual and material destiny of each and every “late” period. Such are the men who carried through the Babylonian, the Egyptian, the Indian, the Chinese, the Roman civilization, and in such periods do Buddhism, Stoicism, Socialism ripen into definite world-conceptions which enable a moribund humanity to be attacked and reformed in its intimate structure. Pure civilization, as a – historical process, consists in a progressive taking-down of forms that have become inorganic or dead:
It has already been said that such ‘late’ periods constitute at the same time the climax of a particular civilization. Their inherent rationalism is mostly directed to-wards the material well-being of man; on the other hand, it is only after the historical process of urbanization has taken place that we are confronted by a ‘will to decline’. When the intelligentsia shifts to the city and thereby loses all touch with the soil and the masses, the process of disintegration starts. The ‘rationalism’ of Buddhism and Stoicism is synonymous with an a-moral and a-historical view of life; the very foundation of all social life breaks to pieces : ‘We have in two examples the Classical and the Indian world–a picture of utterly careless submission to the moment and its incidents. Different in themselves as are Stoicism and Buddhism (the old-age disposition of these two worlds), they are at one in their negation of the historical feeling of care, their contempt of zeal, of organizing power and of the duty-sense; and therefore neither in Indian courts nor in classical market-places was there a thought for the morrow, personal or collective:
When Spengler, later on, speaks of the ‘abdication of the soul’ in these late periods, he means by soul the absence of consciousness that distinguishes the peasant from the city-dweller. The ‘urbanity’ of all late periods implies an insistence on consciousness unknown to the metaphysical ‘soulfulness’ of primitive man. ‘Only the sick man feels his limbs.’ And although we today can hardly accept this antithesis between ‘Reason’ and ‘Soul’, it constituted for Spengler the very foundation of his theory. No wonder, therefore, that he opposes scientific progress to the more essential ‘progress of the soul’. According to him the ideas of Buddhism, of Stoicism, and Socialism, rest upon a ‘superficial, practical, soulless, and purely extensive world’; life ceases to be ‘self-evident’, but is to be treated as a problem ‘presented as the intellect sees it,’ judged by ‘utilitarian’ or ‘rational’ criteria. And the distinction dear to all German scholars, between Culture and Civilization, almost automatically obtrudes itself on Spengler’s vision. ‘The brain rules’, he exclaims, ‘because the soul abdicates. Culture-men live unconsciously, Civilization-men consciously.’ t The inhabitants of the cities of modern Europe as of ancient India and Greece have in common ‘the purely practical world-sentiment of tired inegalopolitans…it was the basic feeling of the Indian civilization and as such both equivalent to and “contemporary” with Stoicism and Socialism: Contemporary also are the roots from which this world-view draws its inspiration : the ‘rationalistic atheistic Sankhya philosophy’ for Buddhism, on the one hand, ‘Pythagoras and the Sophists’ for the Stoa, and the ‘sensualism and materialism of the 18th century’ for modern socialism. Modern psychology and social doctrines, in short, correspond to a very considerable degree to the ‘Indian psychologists of early Buddhism.. .who reduce the inward man to a bundle of sensations and an aggregation of electro-chemical energies. . .’* And it is in such periods, Spengler concludes, that the educated man, the Sage, goes ‘back to Nature’, Voltaire to Ferney, Rousseau to Ermenonville, Socrates to the Attic Gardens, Buddha to the Indian grove ‘which is the most intellectual way of being a megalopolitan.
Spengler’s influence on his contemporaries was very considerable. It is undoubtedly true that he expressed in terms of academic scholarship that consciousness of decline and fatalistic resignation which characterize the first few decades of this century. To some of the writers of our own time this parallel between Buddhism and the rise of modern socialism seemed particularly fascinating. Both Nietzsche and Chamberlain, before Spengler, had. pointed out the essentially ‘democratic’ character of all moribund civilizations. For Nietzsche’s insistence on aristocratic values, Chamberlain’s assumption of the superiority of the Endo-German race over all the other races on earth and, lastly, Spengler’s parallelism between Buddhism and Stoicism, on the one hand, and modern Socialism, on the other, they all pointed the same way: a denial of the intellect in favour of intuition, a new emphasis on the soul of man as opposed to his reason. However different their hypothetical assumptions, their implications were the same. We should, therefore, not be surprised to find reflected in contemporary literature a similar revaluation of all standards. And if we choose D. H. Lawrence as the most significant instance among modern writers, it is because he unconsciously was on the side of Spengler, Chamberlain, and Nietzsche, and because he took up an attitude towards the East which fits in admirably well with that of his spiritual predecessors.
Lawrence was indeed the most significant writer at the beginning of this century : we find in him all the ‘un-pleasantness’, the ‘terrifying honesty’ which is usually associated with all great works of art. For Lawrence’s primary concern was with the soul, and he took the soul out of the stuffy drawing-rooms of Victorian England, that disinfected and sterilized centre of middle class respectability, and placed her again in the dark and windy paces that still surround modern civilization, and left her alone in a waste land of chaos, conflicting desires, and a self-destructive dualism. Some have read into Lawrence’s pre-occupation with the human soul a return to ‘spirituality’, an emphasis of mind over matter. But Lawrence’s concern was neither with mind nor with matter: his discovery that the instinctive and affective life of man was being crippled in modern times led him to a revaluation of the process of civilization and an overemphasis of impulse over reason, of instinct over intellect. He visualized a time when the individual human soul will be free again to follow her own pre-destined path regardless of the inhibitions and repressions of a mechanized and stereotyped civilization.
It goes without saying that Lawrence’s primary concern was with the West. For it was there that he found the soul in bondage’, the bondage of the rich and the poor alike. More than once he left England in search of countries where the essential unity of human nature was not yet broken into disconnected fragments. But whether it was Australia or Mexico or the South of France, his mind found rest nowhere. And the utopian society of which he dreamed all his life was gradually reduced to a small circle of friends all equally frustrated and equally longing for an escape.
Once while travelling to Australia he also stopped for a few weeks in Ceylon. This indeed was his only contact with the East, and there can be no doubt that Ceylon was the country least likely to inspire any writer in search for certainty and truth and the lost freedom of the soul. The innocence and naivety of great men are, however, at times overwhelming. For Lawrence, the son of a miner born in the very heart of England, Lawrence the schoolmaster and the writer of genius, took Ceylon at its face value. Ceylon to him was the East, the very incarnation of that strange exotic appeal which has made more than one intelligent European look foolish. Ceylon was Buddhism, Nirvana, and the transmigration of souls.
It is not for us to decide whether Ceylon is the East, is all that Lawrence wanted it to be. We are concerned only with the fact that he, the most honest interpreter of the western soul, responded to Ceylon as though it represented all those ‘mysterious’ and alien elements which Europeans as a rule associate with the East. There is, however, no doubt that Lawrence reached Ceylon with a prejudiced mind. Already during the last war, when the average Westerner passed through a phase of temporary enthusiasm for the Orient and all it stands for, Lawrence expressed his doubts with regard to the possible affinities between East and West : ‘ … Buddha-worship is completely decadent and foul nowadays : and was always only half civilized. . . : it is ridiculous to look to the East for inspiration … One always felt irked by the East coming it over us. It is sheer fraud. The East is marvellously interesting -for tracing our steps back. But for going forward, it is nothing. All it can hope for is to be fertilised by Europe, so that it can start on a new phase.’* Indeed, whenever Lawrence speaks of the East in his later letters this attitude of ‘tracing our steps back’ reappears. This historical valuation of the East is almost an obsession with him. The Orient is a kind of fairyland on a stage (for the effect of the East on Lawrence was always that of the theatre) representing some weird prehistoric event and ‘one sees a darkness, and through the darkness the days before the Flood, marshy, with elephants mud-grey and buffaloes rising from the mud, and soft-boned voluptuous sort of people, like plants under water, stirring in myriads. Lawrence, the man in search of a soul, could not but feel disconcerted at the ‘soft, moist, elephantine prehistoric’ of the East, the indifference of the time-less Orient to the overstrained consciousness of the European escaping from collective bore dom and neurosis. Instead of the liberated soul, he found Buddha in Ceylon. And the very name of Buddha evoked within him stock-responses of a peculiarly un-illuminating kind: ‘I feel absolutely dead off Buddhhism’, he writes from Ceylon, ‘either Nibbana or Nirvana, Kama or Karma. They can have Buddha.
What exactly Lawrence understood of Buddhism is very difficult to say. He found in it mostly negative qualities, denial of life, denial of the soul, rejection of activity or creation as a life-giving principle. This lack of a dynamic appeal made him unreasonably bitter. One more reason for his bitterness is undoubtedly due to the absence of any dualism whatsoever in Buddhism; he found ‘souls’ that could afford not to struggle against them-selves, because they had achieved a final and ultimate liberation of which Lawrence could not but be ignorant. The fact that Buddhism is something more than an external cult consisting of dogmas and rituals, seems ne-ver to have struck Lawrence. Pre-occupied, as he always had been, with the twisted complexities of the European soul, he could not possibly visualize a soul liberated from boredom and neurosis without any visible effort. The effort implied in Buddhistic teaching is all within; no westerner without a thorough knowledge of Buddhist training will be able to appreciate much of the external cult. And Lawrence also finds it ‘all a bit extraneous. I feel I don’t belong, and never should. . .It was wonderful, gorgeous and barbaric with all the elephants and flames and devil dances in the night. One realizes how very barbaric the substratum of Buddhism is. I shrewdly suspect that the high-flowness of Buddhism altogether exists mostly on paper : and that its denial of the soul makes it always rather barren, even if philosophically etc., more perfect. In short, after a slight contact, I draw back and don’t like it.’ * The best that Buddhism has to offer to D. H. Lawrence is ‘a vast twilight’ of indifference and carelessness and a life led complacently and without time. ‘What does life in particular matter ? he asks, ‘Why should one care ? One doesn’t. Yet I don’t believe in Buddhahate him in fact his rat-hole temples and his rat-hole religion. Better Jesus.
The Indian reader will probably feel disconcerted at these statements; for Lawrence, the writer, has achieved in recent years a good deal of well-deserved popularity in the East. Lawrence’s reaction to Buddhism was indeed only part of a set of values conditioned by the West and its inherent cultural problems. He could not but feel a stranger in a continent where (except for the upper middle-class in the cities) his valuation of human nature was meaningless and divorced from living reality. From far away only he saw the ‘people’ a dark teeming mass, it seemed to him, of prehistoric crudity and of a rather terrifying, because aimless, impulsiveness. Did not Lawrence’s own ‘soul’, that pathetic bundle of pro-tests and utopian longings, feel afraid when confronted by souls which were not fed on Shakespeare and Beethoven and Rembrandt? Was not this utter lack of sophistication, the savage and uncontrolled and undisciplined soul, the other extreme from which he recoiled as from something impute? It almost seems so. For a few days after his arrival in Ceylon, he exclaims : ‘I doubt if we shall stop long… My mind turns towards Australia…I have a fancy for the apple-growing regions, south from Perth : have a great fancy to see apple trees in blossoms : and to be really “white” …’
Lawrence here is treading on dangerous ground. For he does not say what it is ‘to be really white’. White is the war and the civilization from which he was just then escaping; white also is the slum in which he was born and brought up; white are the literary censors who had banned his books. Is it not a contradiction in terms that Lawrence, the writer who more strongly than any-one else indicted the ‘white’ civilization of Europe and America, should when confronted by the ‘darkness’ of Ceylon want to be ‘really white ‘ ? A few weeks later he is, however, even more definite : ‘Those natives are back of us in the living sense lower than we are. But they’re going to swarm over us and suffocate us. We are, have been for `five centuries, the growing tip. Now we’re going to fall. But you don’t catch me going back on my whiteness and Englishness and myself. English in the teeth of all the world, even in the teeth of England. How England deliberately undermines England . . . ‘
These quotationsinteresting as they undoubtedly are-may, however, be very misleading. A writer’s ‘opinions’ are always an anti-climax; and D. H. Lawrence is no exception to the rule. But once we place these statements within the inevitable context of Lawrence’s system of values as expressed in his novels and stories, they will acquire an altogether new meaning. For, superficially speaking, these statements show an appalling degree of ignorance and racial prejudice. White as op-posed to black has today only one connotation : the superiority of the former over the latter. And we find that such an attitude is unbearable. But Lawrence was no spurious propagandist for the superiority of the white races. No one was more convinced of the decline of values and intelligence in the West. To be ‘really white’ implied a struggle against oneself, against one’s complacency and self-satisfaction. It also implied the dualism between mind and matter, the soul and the body, which characterizes Lawrence’s work. And from Ceylon .he writes to a friend: ‘I think that the most living clue of life is in us Englishmen in England, and the great mistake we make is in not uniting together in the strength of this real living cluereligious in the most vital senseuniting together in England and carrying the vital spark through. Because as far as we are concerned it is in danger of being quenched. I know now it is a shirking of the issue to look to Buddha or the Hindu or to our own working men, for the impulse to carry through.’ * _
Lawrence’s ‘soul’ was too deeply involved in the complexities of life in the West to respond in any helpful manner to the East. He only saw the ‘mirage’, the magic of exoticism, the pre-historic moisture of a protoplasmic kind of existence. And with amused interest we watch Lawrence’s liberated soul groping in the darkness the days before the Flood among ‘soft boned voluptuous sort of people’ and almost losing himself and his cherished soul in the timeless indifference of the East.
The ‘complexion’ of the soul is, after all, an irrelevant issue. For in the cities, of both East and West alike, the souls of those who are discontented and frustrated by civilization, are searching for certainty and the fulfilment that lies in complete living. And strangely enough, Lawrence knew, before travelling to Ceylon, that this fulfilment would only be achieved in solitude, in the withdrawal from a reality in which the human soul had no place at all: ‘I think one must for the moment withdraw from the world away towards the inner realities that are real: and return, may be, to the world later, when one is quiet and sure. I am tired of the world, and want the peace like a river. I don’t believe in Buddhistic inaction and meditation. But I believe the Buddhistic peace is the point to start fromnot our strident fretting and squabbling.’
The economic disaster after the last war, the visits of Rabindranath Tagore to Europe and America, the sense of frustration and the consciousness of failure among middle-class intellectuals, these are some of the factors that shaped the response of the West towards India during the last twenty years or so. Apart from Indological research mostly carried on by scholars in Universities and therefore inaccessible to the wider public, India became known to the man-in-the-street by Tagore’s lectures, delivered. in the capitals of Europe before a middle-class audience consisting of a fairly large number of genuinely sincere people, and by the various societies and associations established both in Europe and America for the purpose of ‘spreading the knowledge of the East’ and of helping those who had lost their way in the after-math of war to find back their lost spirituality. These organizations were frequently business enterprises catering for a very wide public : ‘They have adopted the high-powered salesmanship of American business to boost their course of philosophic and religious teaching to spiritually hungry and nervously sick American men and women, mostly women, using such bait phrases as “marvellous illumination”, “instantaneous healing”, “God–consciousness” and charging. each from 25 to 100 dollars for their course of lessons.’* That spirituality and money are by no means strange bed-fellows in modern civilization, is proved by the fact that the missionaries of the New Thought Movement ‘have what they call prosperity meetings by the thousand all over the country where they sit and visualize prosperity in the “cosmic”, and millions of absent treatments per week for healing, are sent out through the air. They like to harness and goad the Soul to run errands for them. The Indian idea of the divinity of man fits in pretty well with the demands of American individualism.
The more intelligent among Europeans found such a state of affairs shocking. It insulted their sense of discrimination and outraged their intelligence. D. H. Lawrencewithout understanding much of the East had already given expression to the inevitable reaction against the fashion of Buddhism, spiritualism, Theosophy and what not. Indeed, a whole chapter could be added on the way in which a large number of Europeans and Americans plunged wholeheartedly and unhesitatingly into the muddy waters of this pseudo-eastern revivalism, But we here are concerned only with significant figures who gave expression to a body of opinions less indiscriminate and sensational than the mass-response of the man in-the-street * It is certainly true to say that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was the author himself who established a public opinion and guided public response along the proper channel, while today the individual authorhowever significant his statements may behas little influence on the average reading public. It would certainly be possible to determine the popular response towards. India during the last few decades from a close study of newspaper cuttings, editorials, column writers on India, pseudo-religious publications, letters to the press : research of this kind would open our eyes to the average man’s attitude towards India and, in all probability, would make it exceedingly difficult to apply Radhakrishnan’s dictum of a new ‘Indian Renaissance’ in the West to any but the ‘high-brow’ elite of Bloomsbury. On the other hand, the middle classes after the last war were ready to accept any kind to exotic adventure provided it would save them for the time being from the more pressing problems of daily existence.
Movement will be found to be extremely illuminating in this context.
They welcomed the ‘soul’ because it did not make any demands on their critical intelligence and provided them with an outlet for the inhibitions brought about by an increasingly mechanical civilization. Spengler’s ‘megalopolitan’ gave himself up to the ‘soul’ as one of the forms of passive relaxation (like novel-reading, the wire-less, or the cinema) which constitutes the modern city-dweller’s most favourite week-end occupation. A Sunday-Soul and Buddha-for-the-week-end became the cherished possessions of countless Europeans whose main activity during the remaining six days of the week consisted in acquiring wealth and to outdo their neighbours in crookedness and deception.
The significance of Count Keyserling and Rene Quenon in this context consists in the fact that both of them utilized this Eastern revival to bring about a revaluation of individual standards of conduct and morality. Both of them alike appealed to the elite in terms of eastern philosophy and traditional religion; both treated the common man with contempt and founded esoteric ‘schools’ and ‘movements’ on the basis of an aristocratic exclusiveness and intellectual superiority. The influence of Keyserling, especially on the German intelligentsia after the last war, was short-lived but intense; Guenon’s influence is still a matter of conjecture : it was certainly limited to a much smaller number of ‘followers’ but was more definite and lasting in character. Both were intensely and sincerely concerned with the problem of civilization and the decline of the West and both attempted to transform the wisdom of the East into individual awareness. Their insistence on the traditional values of the East and their rejection of western progress (at least in its material implications) make them side with the reaction. In an auto-biographical sketch Count Keyserling writes : ‘I am without a doubt exceptionally self-centred. I lack every fundamental social instinct’* This is a key-passage for an understanding of Keyserling’s work and his pre-occupation with the East. In all his books he was more concerned with personal salvation than with solving the social or political conflicts around him. The strongest intellectual influence on him comes from Chamberlain’s Foundations of the 19th century.t His Travel Diary of a Philosopher published shortly before the first World War, established his reputation as a writer, a thinker, and a propagandist for the East. Keyserling’s books impress the reader by the occasional brilliance of style, their vagueness, and mystical indefiniteness; his enthusiasm is at times too explicitly obvious not to irritate the intelligent reader; his prophesies are many and give the impression of an over-conscious sensibility, tortured by vague ecstasies and longings, speaking down to the average man with the condescension of a misunderstood seer and the pompousness of a German professor lecturing to his students. In short, Keyserling can be exceedingly annoying at times and the reading of his books is very seldom a literary pleasure. Chamberlain’s influence undoubtedly accounts for the vast and cyclopaedic vistas characteristic of Keyserling’s work. But instead of the very substantial scholarship behind the vastness of Spengler and Chamberlain, we are confronted here by brilliantthough at times unconsciously amusing ‘parallels’ and comparisons; for instance, when he says that ‘for Buddha as well as for the modern psycho-analyst, life was essentially Impulse,’ the modern reader is liable to wonder at this intellectual tour-de-force; but when Keyserling, warming up to his subject, calls Buddha’s doctrine ‘the highest possible expression of psycho-analysis’. we are frankly unable to appreciate the formula, however stimulating it may appear to be. This is intellectual charlatanism of the most ambiguous kind. The secret of Keyserling’s great success can be found in this very same charlatanism, his constant confusion of issues, his escape into nebulosity and non-committal eye-wash whenever he was confronted by the reality of life, his long-rolling sentences, his self-centredness, his truly amazing ability to sentimentalize even the simplest of human phenomena. His intelligence throughout his work, is receptive and passive, not active and discriminating. That is why he accepted and even understood the East better than most of his contemporaries, and yet falsified that first experience of his into abstract generalizations and dogmatic pronouncements, the meaning of which is frequently obscure and always highly controversial. Buddhism and psycho-analysis is only one instance out of many.
That Keyserling remained under Chamberlain’s influence all through his life can be gathered from his attitude towards Buddhism. Chamberlain (as well as Spengler) saw in Buddhism the abdication of the soul; according to Keyserling, ‘in Buddhism the philosophical nation par excellence has renounced the tendency to philosophize, the people who delighted most on earth in created forms here capitulated before the ideal of uniformity, the most speculative race who ever existed has sought salvation in empiricism. This could not lead to a good end:* Keyserling also finds in Buddha’s ‘rationalism’ a destructive element, a lowering of the human level of existence ; his own School of Wisdom, established at Darmstadt shortly after the last war, although inspired by Buddhism and its search for truth, aims at creation, instead of annihilation. ‘Buddha’, says Keyserling elsewhere, ‘used his understanding for the purpose of destroying the world. But it can be used as well for the purpose- of raising the world to a higher level. This is what we are undertaking. The School of Wisdom is the antipode to Buddhism.
Keyserling’s significance is this study lies, however, not so much in his attitude towards Buddhism as in his frequent and repeated attempts at reconciling what he considered to be eastern and western philosophies and ways of life. He has been called both ‘ an eastern propagandist and a defender of the West, a representative of Pan-Germanism and the founder of a new interna-, tional religion. And in a manner of speaking he was all that combined; elasticity of mind is a virtue in some writers : in his case it was a deeply rooted intellectual vice. His knowledge of both East and West was profound; the use he made of this knowledge always led him into ambiguities and loose thinking. In his attempts to be thorough and precise, he more than once mistook dogmatic generalizations for scientific truth. His definitions of the Eastern and the Western mind are a case to the point.
Many of these definitions will be found in the Travel Diary. Here East and West are still irreconcilable opposites, the former laying greater stress on ‘psychic phenomena’, the latter on ‘physical’ ones. He also makes a rather subtle distinction between ‘significance’ and ‘fact’; facts, he says, ‘as such are totally irrelevant. Thus India with its tendency to produce myths, has judged from the angle of life, chosen the better part as opposed to precise Europe. The division of humanity into those who follow ‘tradition’ and those who believe in ‘progress’ is one of Keyserling’s favourite devices in dealing with the East. (It will also be the main argument in all of Guenon’s writings.) But Keyserling is too clever to leave it at that. Progress, according to him, represents the masculine principle, while tradition is essentially feminine. In the modern West, he says, ‘the masculine principle in all its purity has attained sole control’; that is why the West will become more and more ‘masters of the world’, because whenever tradition and progress compete with each other ‘the latter must gain the victory, because its principle is superior to empirical accident’ tt And Keyserling very strongly feels that only this masculine spirit of progress ‘will in future achieve greatness and goodness’. Having again warmed up to the subject, he now applies western ‘masculinity’ to the attraction of the East, the feminine principle. Despite ‘increasing masculinity’, he exclaims, the feminine element is by no means dying out : ‘This is proved sufficiently clearly by the immense attraction exercised by the religions of the East among us. Many are drawn towards them as men are to women; and yet I think that most of them are only attracted as one woman is to ‘another who is possessed of understanding … the feminine element .. is the more profound one in the real sense of the word. The work of understanding will be done best by feminine humanity until the Last Judgment.’ * Carried away by his own play with words and his rather overstrained symbolism, Keyserling leaves us with a sense of having failed to grasp ‘the real sense of the word’. Allied to the ‘feminine principle’, is also what Keyserling calls ‘profundity’. The Indian personality, he tells us, ‘is notably lacking in width and breadth and ‘seems poor compared with its western equivalent’; but on the other hand, ‘it knows modulations of intensity, a manifoldness in the dimension of depth, as no other does.’t In its final analysis, the division of eastern and western minds boils down to the rather commonplace statement that in the East the metaphysical reality pre-, dominates over material reality, while the West has invented ‘idealism as a substitute for metaphysics’.
Keyserling, just like Spengler and Chamberlain before him, is concerned with ‘saving’ western civilization, and his experience and understanding of the East only serve the purpose of an anti-thesis, as it were; his books are studies in contrasts; the so much desired synthesis, the compromise between East and West, comes like an after-thought, as though to justify and to give a finishing touch to his involved symbolism. If indeed the world can be divided into a feminine principle (perfection) and a masculine principle (progress). it naturally follows that the union of the two would produce a ‘new’ Drincinle. On a metaohysical level such a union is profoundly desirable and it hardly should require many thousands of pages to arrive at this conclusion. And while there is something intrinsically convincing in Nietzsche’s desire to go ‘beyond East and West’, beyond Schonenhauer and Buddha, Kevserling’s ‘union’ of East and West strikes us as hardly anything more than the symbolism of a scholar who has lost his roots in the West and is unable to take roots in the East. It goes without saving that the compromise found many fol-lowers in Europe; it saved them the trouble of thinking: Kevserling did that for them.
When discussing the features that characterize Wes-tern civilization, Keyserling has much to say on Progress and Heroism and Personality. ‘From the angle of progress’, he says, ‘it is we who are the chosen people among all the others.’ Indeed, western influence on the East in recent times is so strong that even there progress becomes invested with a new ‘eastern’ significance It is, in the opinion of the Sage of Darmstadt, due to the western urge for progress (the masculine principle) that ‘the eastern civilizations are acquiring significance for mankind at large’. For does it not seem as though the ‘progress’ imported into the East during the last 100 years is now ‘flowing back’ again to Europe in the shape of ‘Missionaries from the Ganges and the Yellow River’ ? It is perhaps remarkable that Keyserling is by no means alone in believing that the revival in the East was very largely due to a ‘western influence’, the importation of the principles of progress and of what he calls ‘heroism’. The French philosopher Bergson, by the way, even goes a step further. By identifying progress with industrialization, social amenities, and material comfort, he comes to the astounding conclusion that ‘it was industrialism, it was our western civilization which liberated the mysticism of a Ramkrishna or a Vivekananda’. Bergson by identifying progress with improved machinery and a growing social and political consciousness, arrives at the paradox that ‘with the advent of machines which increased the yield of the land …with the advent of political and social organisations … deliverance became possible in an entirely new sense … the mystical power was no longer going to be brought up against the impossibility of interfering and … the soul could open wide its gates to a universal love.’ t And as these inventions and organizations are essentially western, both in ‘principle’ and origin, they have ‘enabled mysticism to develop to its fullest extent and reach its goal.’ Keyser-ling has very little to say about mysticism. To him progress, apart from being a masculine principle attracted by and presumably ‘fertilizing’ the East, expresses itself best in Heroism. Heroism as a principle of conduct is essentially western. All that is needed is to infuse into it then the spirituality of the East to reach the final compromise.
Here Keyserling raises a question which is no longer metaphysical, but related to the life of his own time. Heroism for its own sake, regardless of ends and means, is hardIy worth fighting for. On the other hand, the rise of vast political organizations is detrimental to individual heroic expression either in thought or in action. The ‘masculine principle’ is being undermined by the herd-instinct whichwe may assumerepresents neither the masculine nor the feminine principle, but is essentially ‘neutral’ and, therefore unattractive. Salvation, according to Keyserling, lies in individual heroism as opposed to mass-acceptance of patterns of thought or con-duct. The first requisite of the School of Wisdom, there-fore, is training for leadership. Kevserling’s use of political terminology shows where his thoughts are leading him : he is only one of the many German intellectuals (Spengler belongs to that same group) who consciously or unconsciously drift towards Fascism which according to them, constitutes the union of heroism and spirituality. The goal of the School of Wisdom, therefore, must be ‘the raising of the human level by proclaiming the standard of quality and not of quantity in human values, now that the democratic ideal at its lowest has destroyed itself, and must be replaced by that of an aristocracy founded not on class, which is also played out, but on individual worth?* These are very beautiful words, if taken at their face-value. It is indeed unfortunate for Keyserling that exactly the same terminology is used by Alfred Rosenberg, the official ‘philosopher’ of the National-Socialist Party, on every page of his Myth of the Twentieth Century.
Keyserling again and again affirms the necessity of bringing about that synthesis between East and West, which alone will guarantee the training of the right kind of leadership for Europe. His method of approach, however, lacks consistence; at times he wishes his followers to go ‘beyond East and West’ (If mankind wishes to attain to a higher stage of insight, it must get beyond the East and the West.) and a few pages later he opines that ‘our occidental spiritual body, properly adjusted and perfectly developed, would be the very body required for the best possible expression of that very spiritual reality which in itself and as such has been recognized only by the East.’ That, he says, would be an entirely ‘new’ philosophy which would ‘bring the antagonism of the East and the West to a peaceful end’. Keyserling’s con-fusion increases, the more he thinks of this union of the masculine and the feminine principles. For, towards the end of that same book he very definitely states that ‘the School of Wisdom does not mean to transplant eastern being to the Occident .. its goal is absolutely westernparticularly in so far as the emphasis will have to be laid on the personal and because this must be done to an extent the East has never known .. this leads to a fundamental difference between the schools of the East and ours, not only as to the goal, but also as to the way.’ t We do not doubt the sincerity and good intentions of Keyserlings’s attempts at unifying eastern sensibility and western progress. What he was lacking was the necessary awareness to see beyond the veil of metaphysical speculations; – that explains his use of an unrealized symbolism and his lack of consistency. We wonder what happened to him during the last ten years. He has been strangely silent all this time. Perhaps he has found the personal salvation he had been looking for all his life.
If anything distinguishes Kevserling from Guenon, it is the latter’s consistency. It amazes and terrifies the reader: the impression it creates in his mind is that of a mania, a fixed idea, an obsession. No other western scholar has exposed with the same vehemence that very same principle of progress underlying all Euronean civilization during the last few centuries. ‘Tradition’ is the key-word for everything that Guenon has ever written, and whatever is outside tradition is rejected with all the spiritual violence at his command. Guenon is as intensely pre-occupied with western civilization as Kevserling; he is as much concerned with the revaluation of the standards of conduct as Tolstoy or Romain Rolland. But he has made up his mind as regards the trend of western ‘progress’ and he has nothing but contempt for it: ‘The civilization of the modern West appears in history as a veritable anomaly : among all those which are known to us more or less completely this civilization is the only one Which has developed along purely material lines, and this monstrous development, whose beginning coincides with the so-called Renaissance, has been accompanied, as indeed it was fated to be, by a corresponding intellectual regress. This regress has reached such a point that the westerner of today no longer suspects that anything of the kind can exist; hence their disdain, not only for eastern civilization, but also for the Middle Ages of Europe, whose spirit escapes them scarcely less completely.
Rene Guenon is a Frenchman and endowed with all the intelligence and perspicacity of his race. That may be the reason why his condemnation of western civilization carries greater conviction than the occasional teutonic outbursts of Keyserling. His generalizations, however, are just as dangerous as those of his German counterpart. Just as Keyserling distinguishes between eastern perfection and western progress, so also Guenon classifies humanity into ‘western science’ and ‘eastern knowledge’. The former ‘means analysis and dispersion,’ the latter ‘means synthesis and concentration’. What the West needs, he exclaims, is ‘a principle of a higher order’.t He calls this Principle sometimes ‘tradition’, sometimes ‘pure intellect,’ and there is no doubt that he refers to the essential spirit underlying all human thought and action, the metaphysical reality of human existence. That is why, he says, all true Easterners reject the principles of change and progress on which all western civilization is built. Contrary to Keyserling and Bergson, he does not believe that Europe has made the faintest impression on the East. Mysticism still exists in India not because of, but in spite of western influence : The only impression that, for- example, mechanical inventions make on most orientals is one of deep repulsion; certainly it seems to them far more harmful than beneficial, and if they find them-selves obliged to accept certain things which the present epoch has made necessary, they do so in the hope of future riddance; these things do not interest them and will never really interest them. What westerners call progress is for orientais nothing but change and instability; and the need for change is in their eyes a mark of manifest inferiority; he that has reached a state of equilibrium no longer feels this need, just as he that has found no longer seeks:
Who are exactly those ‘easterners’ and ‘orientals’ in whose name Guenon seems to speak ? He never quite clearly commits himself, but we can assume that he means that very small number of people in the East for whom religious tradition and spiritual integrity matter more than the eternal flux of life around them. That is where he found the ‘pure intellect’ of the East. Although Guenon is evidently concerned with the very few only, he generalizes all the time and speaks of ‘Easterners’ while meaning only a handful of ‘traditionalists’. He conveniently ignores all those millions of orientais who have taken to western progresseither for the better or for the worse. Western civilization, he says, cannot have a real ‘influence on those who possess just those things which it lacks itself’, t but he does not tell us who ‘those’ are. Religion, according to him, is the foundation of all knowledge. Its absence leads to mechanical progress and an over-emphasis on science as the aim and end of all civilization. Religion in the West, he continues, is anti-intellectual and its place is taken by ‘religiosity’ or in other words, by a mere sentimental aspiration’; and following the tradition established by Schlegel and other expounders of Eastern religion and philosophy in Europe, the only refuge for traditional knowledge ‘appears to be Catholicism’.
Guenon has also much to say about orientalists in Europe, those in particular whose academic specialization has prevented them from grasping the inner signicance of the doctrines they chose to interpret to the West. ‘Germans above all,’ he says, ‘who refuse to take into the smallest consideration the opinoin of the authorized representatives of these doctrines’; and he specifically mentions Deussen ‘thinking to explain Shankaracharya to the Hindus, and interpreting him through the ideas of Schopenhauer .’ The results of western research into oriental philosophy and religion are lamentable, ‘because they have brought into their studies all the prejudices that their minds were encumbered with, the more so because they were “specalists”, having inevitably acquired beforehand certain mental habits which they could not get rid of.’tt And he particularly attacks Schopenhauer and his followers who have made ‘philosophy’ out of Eastern traditional knowledge and have spread the idea of ‘Buddhist pessimism’ all over Europe.
Guenon’s books have undoubtedly all the seriousness of a great scholar and of one whose concern with the future of civilization was intense. His opinions-however extravagant they may appear to the uninitiatedare based on a thorough study of the materials, and Keyserling’s charlatanism , is absent. But Guenon also likes to be ‘prophetic’ and his constant pretence of being misunderstood and of having a grievance against each and everybody (including all the leaders of art and thought in Europe from the Renaissance onwards) at times turns into an obsession. His conclusion, however, is as lame as that of Keyserling: only a return to the Middle Ages can save Europe, an insistence on the traditional elements still existing in the West, the creation of a minority of the elect, a spiritual elite. He distinguishes between the religious form’ of a tradition which is meant for the majority of the people, and an ‘intellectual form’ which ‘concerns directly none but the elect’ and adds in a foot-note; ‘An analogy might well be drawn here with the caste system and its way of ensuring that everyone participates in the tradition’.* Quenon is also very well aware of the fact that this ‘minority of the elect’ does not exist at present in Europe, that the ‘legacy of purely intellectual tradition of the Middle Ages’ has been lost and that, therefore, only an indirect assimilation of the eastern doctrines ‘could bring to birth the first elements of the future elect’. Individuals who have succeeded in assimilating these doctrines will still have to keep in touch with whatever remains intact of the western traditional outlook ‘chiefly under the form of religion:’
The modem dilemma is very largely the dilemma of the uprooted intellectual who has lost his way in a civilization which has broken with the past and offers no promise of a future. Surrounded as he is at present by the dynamic forces of progress and deeply aware of the spiritual destruction this progress entails, unable to take sides in the battle for social justice, he cultivates a form of intellectual nostalgia (the basis of all attempts at revivalism), longing for a past which is irrevocably gone and eager to save the last vestiges of a tradition which has lost its meaning for the man-in-the-street. Op-posed as he is bound to, be to any attempt at popularizing this tradition, he devises ways and means of creating an elite which alone would understand and know what is best for the people and would alone be responsible for the destiny of a future civilization. His hope lies in the individual, intelligently aware of the implications of the spiritual decline in the West and willing to assume leadership in a disintegrating world. In India alone tradition is still alive : the future leaders of Europe will have to go to school in the East, and having absorbed eastern doctrines, will prepare the ground for a spiritual revival of Europe. Both Keyserling and Guenon seem to agree on that point : their one-sided emphasis on the individual as opposed to the masses, their rejection of the democratic attitude, their lack of sympathy with the toiling people, create cynicisms and contempt. They carry within them the germs of political reaction. Their revival, however attractive the metaphysical foundation,- does not lead towards purposeful social action.
It may be of some, interest to know that quite a large number of representatives of ‘tradition’ in Europe considered the East to be the greatest obstacle in a revival of western traditional forms of life. A few years after the first World War a list of questions was circulated among an impressive number of eminent men of letters in the West. These questions were drawn ,up by a group of French intellectuals who considered the oriental influence on European thought and culture to be responsible for the gradual decline of western civilization, and whose main concern it seems to have been to oppose the ancient classical values of Greece and Rome and especially those of the Roman-Catholic Church to the newly discovered Eastern conception of life as propagated and preached by such men as Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi in India and Romain Rolland in France. The bias inherent in the questions themselves is obvious. Their approach is aggressive and confused. Most of the questions lack in precision and take for granted the existence of an altogether separate eastern and western sensibility. They never offer a definition of the former, and the latter, according to them, consists mainly of the ‘Mediterranean’ values which have guided the spiritual destiny of Europe for the last several thousand years. Here is a literal translation of this list. Its significance apart from its great historical interest lies in the fact that the consciousness of decay and disintegration among French intellectuals at that time was compensated by an aggressive ‘cultural’ nationalism directed against those who attempted a fusion of eastern and western thought, in particular against Romain Rolland
Do you think that the East and the West are altogether impervious to each other, or at least that, in the words of Maeterlinck, there exist in the human brain an oriental and an occidental division which mutually paralyse their efforts ?
2. If we are open to oriental influence, which are the lines of approach, Teutonic, Slavonic, Asiatic, that seem to you to have the deepest effect on France ?
3. Do you agree with Henri Massis that this influence from the Orient is liable to constitute for French thought and art a grave menace and that it would be urgently necessary to oppose it, or do you think that the liquidation of the Mediterranean influences has begun and that we could following in the footsteps of Germany demand from the “knowledge of the East” an enrichment of our general culture and a spiritual revival ?
4. Which is the domain art, literature, philosophy in which this influence seems to you necessarily to lead to particularly creative results ?
5. Which are, in your opinion, the occidental values that constitute the superiority of the West over the East, or which are the false values that, according to you, lower occidental civilization ? ‘
This list of questions was reprinted in a French periodical “Les Cahiers du Mois” (9/10) in 1925, together with the replies from scholars, philosophers, writers, and artists; we also find there extracts from a number of books dealing with the problem of cultural relations between East and West. This publication remains one of the most significant documents in the history of contemporary western resistance to any oriental influence whatsoever. Psychologically speaking, it was an antidote to the overwhelming success of Rabindranath. Tagore and other eastern thinkers in the West. From a political point of view it provides the modern reader with historical documents of the greatest significance with regard -to the wide-spread opinion in France that oriental thought will penetrate western civilization via Russia and Germany, the two countries which, according to these French intellectuals, had turned their back to the ‘Mediterranean’ values and, not least of all, to Christianity. Even a scholar of the standing of Professor Sylvain Levy who had spent many months in India, could not help feeling that something was wrong somewhere, though he does not, in the following quotation from the same book, specify his misgivings in a very helpful manner : ‘…From East to West, from West to East, let us try to know each other just as we are, loyally, without being either favourably biased or blindly prejudiced. Romain Rolland who depicts the India of Gandhi as Philostrates depicted the India of the Gymnosophists, does an ill turn to India which he pretends, to glorify; Tagore who denounces to his compatriots, in China, in japan, the faults and crimes of the West, and contrasts them with an Orient of pure fantasy, does harm to Asia, to Europe, and to his own ideal.’
Henri Massis who has already been mentioned in the list of questions, was probably the most outspoken opponent of eastern influence in Russia. Apart from innumerable essays in which he attacks sometimes Russia, some-times Germany, sometimes eastern thinkers -and writers and very often Romain Rolland, he also published a book, The Defence of the West, dealing as the title implies with the very same problems as are mentioned in the list of questions. This book .was also translated into English and found in G. K. Chesterton, who wrote the Preface to it, a worthy propagandist. Massis’s attitude towards the East is a mixture of conspicuous ignorance of the problems involved, prejudice as regards the political implications which he found in all the attempts at propagating eastern thought in Europe, and a disconcerting inability to see beyond the confines of French civilization.
Nevertheless, Massis’s book is more than a compensation of suppressed fear or persecution complexes. He gave voice to a fairly large number of discontented people, whose conservative bent of mind saw in every attempt to spread knowledge about the East in Europe an at-tempt at weakening the stability of western civilization. Here is how Massis puts it : ‘It is in the West that one must first look for and denounce the ideologists who. while pretending to open our eyes to oriental ideas betray occidental civilization and their own proper vocation. On the other hand, when we consider who are their allies in Asia, among the orientals themselves, we observe that they all have been formed by western culture. Tagore, Okakura, Coomoraswamy, even Gandhi himself, all of them have been educated in European universities; they quote unceasingly our poets, our philosophers, and it is our own ideas meaning thereby our worst follies which they give back to us. . ‘.How does it happen that under the pretext of coming to an understanding, a union between East and West, their thought by a kind of pre-established harmony is in agreement with What is most destructive in European ideology ? It is obvious that they utilize the breaches and search for the line of least spiritual resistance in order to penetrate into the body of the disintegrating West.’
One of the ‘lines of least spiritual resistance’ was, according to these French intellectuals, Germany. It is undoubtedly true that, shortly after the last war, Germany was passing through a spiritual crisis. France which had provided Germany for several centuries past with civilizing influences in art and culture, had ceased to be the predominant factor, and Germany saw, however vaguely and obscurely it might have been, a light in the East. According to a well-known German scholar, ‘Germany prefers looking towards the East, towards Russia, India, China, towards Asiatic civilization. The pillars of German culture erected on a Roman foundation are shaken. .Germany moves towards an Asiatic realization of universal synthesis? It is undoubtedly true that Germany between 1920 and 1930 was looking to the East for a new inspiration. Innumerable novels and poems with a preponderantly eastern background testify to this growing interest in Indian thought and, particularly, religion. Whatever one may think about the sincerity and earnestness of this search for oriental wisdom in post-war Germany, (Hitler’s racial theories should shake even the most dogmatic enthusiast)’ French intellectuals looked upon this tendency in German civilization With grave misgivings. And those who, in France itself, became the defenders of the East were subjected to unceasing- attacks.
It is necessary to know this background and to understand the significance of this cultural struggle in order to appreciate rightly Romain Rolland’s contribution’ to a new synthesis between East and West. All through his life Romain Rolland fought a battle on two fronts. For apart from the necessity he found himself in, of resisting these attacks from outside, he had himself to struggle towards the truth which he ultimately attained despite all the spiritual obstacles; for he himself was brought up and fed on the classical ‘Mediterranean’ values, on the art of the Renaissance, on the classical music of Germany, on the philosophy of ancient Greece. Solitary all his life, his path led from Tolstoy to Mahatma Gandhi, from Beethoven to Ramakrishna, from Michel Angelo to Vivekananda. And oblivious of the racial and nationalistic hatred around him, he found his way. And into everyone of his biographies from Tolstoy to Vivekananda, he infused his own newly-found convictions, and an ever-growing belief in the fundamental similarity of all human creation.
Romain Rolland’s preoccupation with things eastern, and in particular with India, is not the result of some abstract and purely intellectual conflict between the principles of contemplation and action, between the oriental tendency towards introspection and the occidental conception of a permanent dualism in the life of man : India for Romain Rolland was, first and foremost, an intensely personal experience, indeed almost a revelation which from his early youth served the purpose of creating an equilibrium, a stability, so sadly lacking in the life of most westerners. The intensity of Rolland’s Indian experience explains both his strength and his weakness as a champion of Indian thought and culture. Frequently purely mental phenomena were invested with an emotional glamour foreign to them and on the other hand, the westerner’s attempt to rationalize, sometimes brought about to Indians an almost intolerable anti-climax and bathos. Whenever exaggerated emotions or rationalization were introduced, Rolland the Frenchman seems to-lose himself in an indefinite vagueness which at times is both painful and disconcerting.
Personal experiences, however, are undoubtedly of this kind; they begin as a voyage of discovery, exploring ever new vistas in as yet unconquered territory, until some unsurmountable obstacle is reached, a’ mountain which it requires superhuman strength to cross. Here the explorer hesitates, casting lingering glances at the snow-covered peaks, and looking for the valleys which would lead across the mountain to the plains beyond. And when, after overcoming all the difficulties, the tired traveller sets foot on the promised land, the sudden light blurs his vision, and blind and weary he stumbles across the plains. But he knows that it was worth it : for there is fulfilment in discovery and a never-ending joy in having reached one’s destination.
Romain Rolland’s Indian experience was such a voyage of discovery. Not the painstaking labours of a philologist, nor the far-fetched comparisons of a philosopher, nor the pre-conceived ideas of a social reformer or the sentimentalizing glorifications of a poet: it was an inherent, almost inborn tendency, inevitable like life itself. And Rolland knew it, when he wrote in a letter : ‘Now I am a Frenchman. of France born in the heart of France, in a family which has been nurtured on the soil for centuries. And when I was barely twenty I had no knowledge of the religions and philosophy of India. I believe therefore that there is some direct family affinity between an Aryan of the Occident and an Aryan of the Orient. And I am convinced that it was I who must have descended down the slopes of the Himalayas along with those victorious Aryans. I have their blue blood flowing in my veins.’ * Let us follow Rolland on this voyage of discovery. The journey will lead us across many gigantic rivers, each one of them a landmark in the explorer’s progress. And only after having crossed all of them, will Rolland realize that they all flow into the same ocean and that the same clouds rain water on all of them alike.
Rolland’s fascination for human greatness is of an intensely complex kind. The genius of three great artists attracted him before the last war: three men in whom a continual and self-destructive dualism was striving for a solution beyond the boundaries of common human experience Tolstoy, Beethoven, and Michel Angelo. The struggle of the artist with his own art, with the limitations imposed upon him by his medium of self-expression, the word, the sound, stone and colour, the ever-repeated attempts to express the inexpressible, his ultimate failure to give the only one and perfect shape to the intensity of his experiences it was always the same struggle, ‘always the same Man, the son of Man, the Eternal, our Son, our God reborn. With each return he reveals himself a little more fully, and more enriched by the universe.’ Each one of them a creator of myths, unsurpassable and inimitable. – And yet the mountain was still towering above the plains beyond, seen from far away in The Death of Ivan in the Appassionata, in the frescoes in the Sistine chapel. And Rolland turns towards a different medium of integrating reality; no longer the word, the sound, or the colour., but the mind of man itself. In one of his early plays (1917), he creates a character, Saint Louis, half fictitious. half historical, who for the first time approaches the ‘ideal’, the great and unique synthesis, which neither of the three artists could achieve, Saint Louis is certainly no artist, no dreamer of dreams. His medium is faith, and his defeat on earth is his victory in the realm of the spirit: ‘His leading quality is gentleness, but he has so much of it that the strong grow weak before him; he has nothing but his faith, but this faith builds mountains of action. He neither can nor will lead his people to victory; but he makes his subjects transcend themselves, transcend their inertia and the apparently futile venture of the crusade, to attain faith. Thereby he gives the whole nation the greatness which springs from self-sacrifice. In Saint Louis, Rolland for the first time presents his favourite type, that of the vanquished victor. The king never reaches his goal, the more he seems to be crushed by things, the more does he dominate them? Indeed, we wonder whether Rolland remembers his Saint Louis when, five years later, he began his book on Mahatma Gandhi.
The clue to a proper understanding of Rolland’s Indian experience lies in his early attempts at finding a new frame of reference in the lives of great men. The step from Tolstoy to Mahatma Gandhi, from Beethoven to Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, is indeed much shorter than many people seem to believe. Already in his early book on Tolstoy, published in 1911, references to India can be found, and once even a comparison between Tolstoy’s inherent dualism and the Hindu synthesis of thought and action : ‘But as he (Tolstoy) was no Indian mystic, for whom extasis is sufficient, as in him intermingled the dreams of the Asiatic with the westerner’s mania for reason and his need for action, he had to translate his revelation into practical faith and to deduce from this divine life rules for his day-to-day existence.’ t This seemed to Rolland the ultimate problem all through his life. And nothing pained him more than Tolstoy’s inability to live up to his faith. Rolland’s early and unbounded admiration for Tolstoy was responsible for his first great disillusionment with the West; but it was also the first stepping-stone leading across the mountains to the plains beyond : ‘But I must say nevertheless that Tolstoy is a bad guide. His tormented genius has always been incapable of finding a practical way out .’ * And when- one year later his book on- Mahatma Gandhi appeared, he found that ‘everything in Gandhi is natural, simple, modest and pure : whereas in Tolstoy pride fights against pride, anger against anger, everything is violent not excepting even non-violence.’
It was during the last war the period of greatest disillusionment in Rolland’s life that his Indian experience took a more definite shape. In. neutral Switzerland many men of intellect, free thinkers, revolutionaries, social reformers, used to meet. We do not know whether Rolland met any Indians there, either before or during the war. But in the course of conversations with friends, India and the East were mentioned more than once. Tagore had delivered his Iectures on Nationalism in Japan. Rolland read them, translated extracts from them, and printed them at the end of one of his own books.tt Neither the war nor the peace brought a final solution to the tortured European soul. The alternative between East and West became in the eyes of Rolland the choice between two diametrically opposed attitudes to life. And already in 1918 he writes : ‘Out of this battle of the nations two collossal powers will emerge, one facing the other: America and Asia. Europe will be engulfed by either of them” I am no prophet and nobody can say which of the two currents will engulf Europe. But I believe that the salvation of humanity, the hope of its future unity resides in the latter.’* Rolland is even more definite in his Preface to the French edition of -Mahatma Gandhi’s Young-India. Speaking of ‘the spiritual tide rising from the East’, he continues : ‘This tide will not recede until it has covered the ‘shores of Europe.’ -Again and again, after the last war, Rolland makes the same kind of statement. ‘ His disillusionment with the West is boundless, and so is his hope for some light from the East : ‘We are a certain number of people in Europe,’ he says, ‘who are no longer satisfied with European civilization .. _There are among us same’ who look towards Asia … I do not suggest to Europeans to adopt an Asiatic faith. I only want them to taste of the blessing of this magic rhythm, this large and slow breath. They will learn there what the soul of Europe (and America) is most in need of : quietness, patience, virile hope, serene joy. ‘t
The evolution of Rolland’s Indian experience is also his own personal evolution from the artistic impulse considered as the most vital factor in human life to Faith in its most spiritual expression; it is his own personal development starting from Tolstoy, Beethoven, and Michel Angelo, and ending in -Mahatma Gandhi, Ramakrishna, and Vivekànanda. And each one of the biographies he wrote, was indeed part of his own autobiography. Does he not admit it himself at the beginning of his book on Ramakrishna: ‘Neither Shakespeare nor Beethoven nor Tolstoy nor Rome, the masters that nurtured me, ever revealed anything to me except the “Open Sesame” of my subterranean city . But the standards by which human greatness is measured are the same everywhere. Again and again Rolland comes across similarities in the struggle for self-realization, and his comparisons between occidental artists and oriental religious leaders are intensely illuminating. For the dualism of the European ‘tragic hero’ is resolved in the Indian saint. What neither language, nor music, nor painting could do, was fulfilled by Faith. A new frame of reference had been discovered. Once again reality could be integrated : ‘But he (Ramakrishna) had realized cosmic joy more fully than our tragic heroes. joy appeared to Beethoven only as a gleam of blue through the chaos of conflicting clouds, whilst the Paramahamsa the Indian swan rested his great white wings on the sapphire lake of eternity beyond the veil of tumultuous days. It was not given to his proudest disciples to emulate him. The greatest of them, the spirit with the widest wings Vivekananda could only attain his heights by sudden flights amid tempests which remind me over and over again of Beethoven.’
Rolland’s preoccupation with master-minds, on the one hand, and his insistence, in his later writings, on the problems of social justice and revolution, may seem to some the result of loose thinking and of an inherent intellectual inconsistence. Actually, all through his life, Rolland had been insisting on the fundamental difference between the life of the masses and the life of the elite.
He was intensely conscious of the solitary struggle of all great masters in a world of ignorance and hatred. From Tolstoy to Vivekananda, it was the individual achievements that fascinated him, not the inertia and docility of the masses. And in a letter he wrote: ‘A minority of choice spirits shall always be several centuries ahead of the masses whom they can understand and even love as they should. But the masses will never understand them for what they are.’This quotation explains why in all his books on India hardly ever mention is made of the Indian masses, except in terms of abstraction or generalizations. This undoubtedly is the greatest drawback in his three great biographies. They indeed attempt a spiritualization of India. The indebted peasant on his neglected land, the underpaid labourers in suburban factories and workshops, the uprooted middle-classes in the fast growing cities–they are all absent from his books. Never having been to India, he was indeed singularly handicapped. We do not feel the ‘land’ with its own continuity of tradition, which for the better or the worse is shaping a future, different from the one that Rolland put before his western readers. There is individual greatness in his books, but it is divorced from the breath and being of the people. They are solitary figures all of them and far too frequently oppressed by the consciousness of their own solitude. The people are simpler, and their greatness is deeply immersed in the soil on which they. live; It is not to be found on the mountain tops, but deep down in the fertile and for-ever reborn earth. And we would like to believe, that Rolland’s ‘inconsistence’ is the result of a new awareness, that the greatest creations of the human mind are collective and anonymous, originating in the silence of the labouring millions, and finding their richest expressions in the achievements of master-minds.
Perhaps mention should be made of another writer who, shortly after Romain Rolland, attempted a similar synthesis of social action and individual integration. There are two opinions about Aldous Huxley in the West : some say that he is too intelligent and too sophisticated by upbringing and temperament to be genuinely absorbed in anything he undertakes; according to them he is a writer who knows a good deal about everything from biology to music, and from chemistry to mysticism, but who never as yet succeded in integrating his knowledge.
His personality, they say, is divided. The experiences he depicts in his novels are the result of an innate cynicism, the modern intellectual’s inability to ‘live. Huxley, according to them, becomes the prototype of a modern Hamlet who can see beyond the surface of things and who realizes the need for action, but who is constantly afraid to do what alone he considers to be right. His recent enthusiasm for things eastern is, they say, another intellectual tour de force which need not be taken any more seriously than any of the preceding ones.
There are, however, some few who think that Huxley’s evolution as a writer and thinker could not but lead him in a straight line to India, and that this ‘increasing pre-occupation with eastern religion and philosophy far from being a purely intellectual attitude is Huxley’s firstserious attempt at integrating a new system of values. They attach a particular significance to the fact that a writer of such distinction and eminence should have lost his bearings and should turn his back on a civilization which, according to him, has ceased to represent a system of ethical values worth living for. The split which undoubtedly exists in Huxley’s personality is no longer the result of a dissociation of sensibility (the malaise of most modern poets, for instance), but is the result of an intense intellectual- effort at revaluating contemporary life. But revaluation, it goes without saying, always implies an integrating process; in that sense Huxley’s eastern pre-occupation is more than a new intellectual device of solving the pressing problems of life. It is an attitude, brought about by mental discipline and training. Huxley provides us with the best instance of a man who turns his back on a civilization which he had probably integrated deeper than any one else among his contemporaries; for only one who has a civilization to lose, knows the implications of such a loss, and ultimately can afford losing it.
Huxley’s evolution from cynicism to integration is identical with his evolution from western cultural tradition to Indian religious experiences. The inner logic of this development is expressed in his books, both novels and essays. His first contact with India was established when he journeyed across the world shortly after the last war. The intelligent and open-eyed European will find much to criticize in India, and Huxley took full advantage of his scientific training and his capacity for under-statement in criticizing Indian institutions, be it the Taj Mahal, Hindu mysticism, or the English spoken ` by educated Indians. His jesting Pilate (as well as the short chapter dealing with India in Point Counter Point) are the best instances known to us of a highly sophisticated European taking up a defensive attitude towards all things eastern : defensive, because the psychological mechanism of frustration always leads to a wholesale denial of spiritual or ethical values. if frustration is combined with an ever-alert intelligence, the result cannot but be a self protective kind of cynicism indulging in paradoxical sayings in order to hide one’s own lack of faith and convictions.- jesting Pilate abounds in such savings. Nothing indeed is easier than to ridicule the Indian tendency towards the spiritual in terms of modern scientific research : ‘And what meaning for us have those airy assertions about God ? God, we psychologists know, is a sensation in the pit of the stomach, hypostasized: God, the personal God of Browning and the modern theologician is the gratuitous intellectualist interpretation of immediate psycho-physiological experiences ‘ The same argument can be applied to the moral aspects of religion. For does not the history of religious movements ‘teach us ‘ that it encourages those elements in human nature which make us complacent,
indolent, and frequently evil ? ‘And religions have been unanimous in encouraging within limits that have tended to grow wider and ever wider, the social, altruistic, humanitarian proclivities of man, and in condemning his anti-social, self-assertive tendencies. Those who like to speak anthropomorphically would be justified in saying that religion is a device employed by the Life Force for the promotion of its evolutionary design. But they would be justified in adding that religion is also a de-vice employed by the Devil for the dissemination of idiocy, intolerance, and servile abjection.’
It took Huxley ten years to overcome cynicism and frustration. And gradually the conviction dawned up-on him that society cannot be changed unless and until the individual sensibility has been purified of all. prejudices and is ready to take that final step towards self-realization which lies in self-less and non-attached action. Ends and Means and After Many a Summer pro-vide us with many hints as to where this method of self realization is to come from : it is always the East, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucius, or the mediaeval European mystics. But Huxley is also the first to warn his readers of the dangers involved in an interest in the East which is ‘undisciplined’ and not yet ready to live un to the demands of one’s own conscience: ‘There is a danger that the present wide-spread interest in oriental psychology and philosophy may lead, through misunderstanding to a recrudescence of the grossest form of superstition.’
This therefore, must be emphasized: Huxley’s interest in the East is essentially ‘practical’. He is concerned with it in the same way as a doctor is with the medicines which are needed to cure his patient. And since Huxley’s ‘patient’ is contemporary Western civilization with its false values and its insistence on ‘action’ as a dynamic principle of life, he must needs ask himself whether actions if morally evil can serve a morally good purpose. A reply to this question can hardly be expected from the West with its worship of brute animal power, its dictatorships, its wars. Action becomes meaningful only if the individual himself has been ‘regenerated’, i.e. if it is essentially non-attached : ‘To us, “life of action” means the sort of life led by movie heroes, business executives, .war correspondents, cabinet ministers and the like It is a matter of experience and observation that actions undertaken by ordinary unregenerated people, sunk in their selfhood and without spiritual in sight seldom do much good.’ Huxley’s concern, therefore, is with activity of a purposeful nature and on the basis of social and political progress. He realizes that in ‘unstable, unisolated, technologically progressive societies, such as ours, large-scale political action is unavoidable,’ But even if we take for granted that the end of such action is always well-intentioned, ‘the human instruments with which and the human materials upon which political action must be carried out, is a positive guarantee against the possibility that such action shall yield the results that were expected from it.
And if everything in Huxley’s latest books centres around the problem of action, and especially political action, he has to devise a ‘means’ by which action will be come not only purposeful and leading towards progress but also self less and non-attached. And this ‘means’, this method of achieving an active annihilation of self (as distinguished from passive annihilation which consists in pure ..contemplation), Huxley finds in the life of all great mystics, be they Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, or Sufis : ‘For the radical and permanent transformation of personality only one effective method has been discovered: that of the mystics. It is a difficult method, demanding from those who undertake it a great deal more patience, resolution, self-abnegation and awareness than most people are prepared to give, except perhaps in times of crisis, when they are ready for a short while to make the most enormous sacrifices.
Huxley had a long way to go before reaching these conclusions. But armed as he was with the. instruments of modern scientific research he had the courage not only to burn the boats behind him (only the least sensitive among European intellectuals refused to do that), but also to apply the methods employed by mystics and saints and founders of religions to a new conception of society where the result of political action will be determined by the degree of non-attachment and selflessness of the individual who acts. For if once again ends and means are identical, the split in the consciousness of modern man will be abolished and instead of frustration and cynicism, there will be a deeper awareness of the moral implications of action. According to Huxley, this awareness is the first step towards non-attachment.
Our analysis of the cultural relations between India and the West has come to an end. It was a story of moral bewilderment within the context of political and social confusion and unrest. The response of European intellectuals towards India during the last, hundred and fifty years was very largely determined by their desire to solve the problems of civilization and their inability to do so within a purely western frame of reference. Let us, however, keep in mind that this response was essentially limited to a small group of people in the West, those indeed who alone were conscious of the necessity of affirming new ideals of life, new standards of con-duct, and a new system of values. The uprootedness of the modern intelligentsia in Europe, since the Industrial Revolution, explains their utter disregard for the people pie, either in the East or in the West. India, in the writings of most of them, is still a fairyland of immense spiritual possibilities: it is the India of the. Upanishads, the Vedas, of Ramkrishna and Vivekananda, of Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. Hardly any of the writers discussed in this volume, except Tolstoy and Romain Rolland, were aware of the implications of the loss of political freedom for India. None of them were concerned with the living reality of the people, their search for happiness and for certainty and for freedom. Even the most sympathetic novels dealing with India by modern western authors exhibit a peculiar lack of awareness regarding the reality of contemporary life in India. Even the best among them, such as Forster’s Passage to India, however sympathetic their appeal and however powerful their moral challenge, lack that complete integration of a country and a people which requires something more than moral sympathy. We still wait for a master-mind who will tell the western reading public what India _ is, the reality of popular traditions among the people, the rise of new thought and behaviour patterns among the various groups that constitute the Indian nation, the bewilderment of the Indian intelligentsia when confronted by western progress, the struggle of a whole continent for the fundamental freedom in thought in’ speech, and in action.