My Tour Among The Yogis
This autobiographical article was written for The London Forum by PB just days after the publication of A Search in Secret India in 1934. The editor added the following in a sidebar:
"In view of the notable success of A Search in Secret India (in its second thousand, three days after publication), the author, Paul Brunton, writer of the Book Causerie for the "London Forum," on the invitation of the Editor gives an outline of the causes and motives which led up to his pilgrimage to India."
MY TOUR AMONG THE YOGIS
By Paul Brunton
(Author of A Search in Secret India)
WITH this issue the Book Causerie appears under another signature; for I am preparing to turn my face Eastward once more and explore the less frequented haunts of the Himalayas and China in quest of the faqueers, yogis, magicians, and sages whom white men seldom contact. I hope also to spend a period of training in advanced meditation with the Maharshi, whose mysterious personality is portrayed to some extent in my book.
In the pages of a magazine like this it is possible to express oneself more freely upon occult subjects than could be done in a work that was written largely for the general reader. My book attempted to make clear to the man in the street subtle and recondite matters which are usually difficult enough to make clear even to specialized students. Nevertheless, there is something for the latter in its pages also, some new information which has been drawn out of the taciturn lips of those reclusive men, the yogis. Such students will probably realize that I have been compelled to withhold from print certain items which would be out of place except in a specialized thesis.
The roots of the story behind my book go back to boyhood, when I found myself taking a keen interest in the subject of Spiritualism. From the very first I quickly developed mediumistic powers, particularly clairvoyance and clairaudience, and thus obtained the best kind of proof of the existence of a psychic world, i.e. by first-hand personal experience, without resort to paid mediums. After I had completely established the truth of survival for myself, I turned to the study of Theosophy and joined the Theosophical Society.
I am grateful for what I learned during this second phase; but after two years' membership I resigned from the Society. I felt that the adepts who had sponsored its foundation had now withdrawn and left the Society to its own devices. But theosophical study provided my first introduction to Oriental thought, and set me off upon a line of investigation which has become more fascinating still with the passage of time.
I moved among some of the occult groups and compared their teachings for awhile. From time to time I came into contact with advanced students of Indian, Burmese, and Chinese nationality, and they helped me to a clearer understanding of their own doctrines.
I was fortunate enough to become a close friend of the Bhikkhu Ananda Metteya, who was undoubtedly the first great authority on Buddhism to step out of the cloistered retreat of an Eastern monastery and come to Western shores. He taught me something of the inner side of his faith; he initiated me into Buddhist methods of meditation; and he provided an unforgettable lesson in ethics by the beauty of his own personality. He lived the doctrine of love for all beings to its fullest extent; none was exempt from the sweep of his compassion. Let me relate one anecdote.
When he was living in the interior of Ceylon, he went out for a walk one day. In the middle of his path he came across a krait (this is a venomous and dangerous little snake), but the Bhikkhu made no attempt to kill it with the sun umbrella he was carrying; he greeted it instead with the words, "Good day, brother krait!" and then presently strolled away. I know that Ananda possessed extraordinary yogic powers. He could influence animals to an amazing degree. He could take poisons without injury, and on one occasion he took enough hemlock to kill several men, yet suffered no inconvenience. He had developed a breath control which enabled him at times to alter the specific gravity of his body, so that while sitting in Yoga posture he could rise a foot or two into the air and then float gently down to the floor again a little distance from the spot where he first sat. Our friendship endured until his death, and the latter was in fit consonance with the whole tenor of his life, because he sacrificed his body in an effort to extricate me from a dangerous position-a secret I am now making public for the first time. He too, stirred up anew my interest in the East.
The years passed. For various reasons I dropped my mystic studies and concentrated upon professional work in journalism and editing. I made an intense effort to try to understand and fit in with the busy, active material world around me; this was probably a counterpoise to my earlier and strenuous efforts to abstract myself from it! Yet through all those years of ambitious striving I still felt, however dimly, a secondary desire to go out one day to the Orient and to find those yogis, faqueers, and wonder-workers about whom I had heard so much.
When, however, my ambitions were on the point of being realized, a strong inner voice suddenly interposed and persistently urged me not to take the culminating step had I done so, the next few years would have been contracted away to still more strenuous professional activity. Naturally there was a struggle, but in response to this strange spiritual monitor I let slide the most attractive opportunity of my professional career, withdrew from all activities for a time, and took up the old studies once more.
I entered into correspondence with a young Parsee who was editing a journal out in India. He was an ardent disciple of Shri Meher Baba, who has since achieved some notoriety in the world as the "New Messiah." My correspondent sent tremendously enthusiastic letters about his guru, so much so that I was tempted to go out and investigate the matter for myself. It must be remembered that, at the time, Meher Baba was quite unknown to the Western world, and that many of us felt that the emergence of some world teacher was not an unlikely thing. I thought also that I could combine this enquiry with my long-deferred investigation of the whole question of Indian Yoga.
So I set my face towards the Orient. With regard to Meher Baba, it did not take long to discover that he was a prophet who could give excellent advice to others, but unfortunately was unable to live up to it himself; in short, his Messianic claims were nothing more than claims, while the less I say about the peculiar antics of Meher Baba and his circle the better. With regard to the yogis and faqueers I found that religious fanatics, self-deluded gurus and foolish sentimentalists could be discovered in plenty, but genuine sages and faqueers possessed of demonstrable occult powers were rare enough to make one despair sometimes of ever locating them. However, the tides of my quest turned soon after a strange ring was given me by the man whom I call in my book the Anchorite of the Adyar River. Thereafter I experienced no difficulty in meeting the objects of my quest.
Some of the stories may seem amazing, yet even as I write this article I find on my desk a letter from an Indian correspondent describing some astonishing feats of Yoga magic which were carried out this year at Mangalore, on the Western coast of India. The Yogi's name was Das, and his display of the power of Yoga took place in the Government College before a select audience which included the District Judge and the Municipal Chairman. His performance lasted three hours; he rubbed nitric acid over his hands, he ate burning coals and broken glass, he stopped the beating of his heart and pulse, he was hanged by the neck, and he permitted himself to be buried alive under the earth. Perhaps the strangest feat of all was his last one, when he let a ten-ton steam road roller pass over his body. At the end of his display he arose unharmed and unhurt.
I am not propagating Yoga or any other Eastern "ism" or cult, but I am trying to call attention to a few worthwhile ideas which can be picked up from the East. Neither am I of those who praise the so-called spirituality of the East in order to deride Western materialism. All such comparisons are foolish and incorrect. Sacredness is in ourselves, not in any spot on this planet. Nevertheless the fact remains that Asian and Africa, on account of their age and their more leisurely existence, have had time to discover some profound secrets, both of a spiritual and material nature, which seem to me to have some value for us. Those secrets are now to be traced out with the greatest difficulty, because time has narrowed their ownership down to a reclusive few, yet they do exist, and may be found.
Some of these secrets are really a part of what is known as the Ancient Wisdom, some fragments of which were brought to us from the East by H. P. Blavatsky. She founded the Theosophical Society, which seemed destined to have a brilliant future, but which unfortunately now seems to be falling to pieces.
That, in brief, is a history of how my book came to be written.
The observant reader will discover a few pages in the last chapter which have been set in italics. Those pages contain my own credo, my confession of faith. I am frequently asked what creed I hold: the answer is that I am a Christian to the extent that I concur with Saint Paul in Saying, "And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and have not love, I am nothing." I am a Buddhist to the extent that I realize, with Gautama, that only when a man forsakes all desires is he really free. I am a Jew to the extent that I believe profoundly in the saying, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One." I am a Hindu to the extent of believing and practising the kindly science of Yoga, the science of union with spiritual self. I am a Muhammedan to the extent that I rely on no mediator to carry me into the courts of heaven. And finally, I am a follower of Lao-Tse to the extent that I accept his perception of the strange paradoxes of life.
But I will go no farther into these faiths than the points indicated; they are the boundary posts at which I turn back. I will not walk with Christians into an exaltation of Jesus-whom I love more deeply than many of them-over the other messengers of God. I will not walk with Buddhists into a denial of the beauty and pleasure which existence holds for me. I will not walk with Jews into a narrow shackling of the mind to superficial observances. I will not walk with the Hindu into a supine fatalism which denies the innate divine strength in man. I will not walk with Muhammedans into the prison-house of a single Book, no matter how sacred it be. And finally, I will not walk with the Chinese Taoists into a system of superstitious mummery which mocks the grate man it is supposed to honor.