[by Dennis Lingwood: 1925-till date]
You asked, ‘What is this transient pattern?’
If we tell the truth of it, it will be a long story;
It is a pattern that came up our of an ocean
And in a moment returned to the ocean’s depth.
(?1050 - ?1123)
As is usual in Indian bookstalls, pornography and religion rubbed shoulders. An English translation of the Bhagavad Gita …. was keeping company with The Adventures of Erotic Edna and Hindu Art of Love (Illustrated). Later, especially in South India, I often found articles on God-Realization and frankly-worded advertisements for aphrodisiacs printed side by side in the same magazine. India believed, apparently, in impartial catering for all tastes.
Sometimes I walked several miles along the Agra-Delhi road before getting a life from a passing army truck. The flat, rocky landscape, barren save for the tender green of stunted thorn trees, had a delicate austere beauty which touched me more deeply than anything I had seen in England. Lush meadows and leafy woods seemed, in fact, rather vulgar in comparison. It was an aloof, aristocratic landscape which somehow suggested centuries of culture and refinement.
Sri Ramakrishna’s wife, popularly known as the Holy Mother…Her room, now preserved as a shrine, was the purest and the most peaceful place in Calcutta…
….Singapore ….The Indian quarter, a small island in the sea of Chinese humanity, was the dirtiest and the most unsavory section of the entire city.
From Audrey’s brother-in-law, a high-ranking police officer, I heard a story which I liked even less, and which made me ashamed of being English. It concerned the Dacca communal riots which had occurred more than twenty years earlier. In great detail, and with every evidence of satisfaction, Dave described how, step by step, agents provocateurs had stirred up Hindu against Muslim, and Muslim against Hindu, until half the city had been set ablaze and hundreds murdered. Much as the story shocked me, I was still more horrified by the laughter which followed. Uncle Dick, Audrey, and Audrey’s sister Gladys were kindly, good-natured people. But Dave’s story of how the police, in order to prevent the two Indian communities from forming a united front against the government, had resorted to tactics which can be described only as vile, seemed to fill them with nothing but amusement. Did they, then, have a double standard of morality, one for use among themselves, the other to be employed in dealing with Indians?
All over India, during the last twenty years, people knowing nothing of Buddhism, who never in their lives opened a Buddhist text, have told me with an air of authority, ‘Buddhism is the same as Hinduism.’ It may be. But uninformed insistence on the point betrays either a pathological basis or plain intellectual dishonesty.
Friendships as a rule ripen quickly in India.
….[Ma Anandamayi’s] Ashram was rigid in its observance of caste distinctions, especially as between brahmins and non-brahmins. All could, indeed, sit together in the hall, and all could join in the singing of the divine names; but the members of a lower were not permitted to eat with members of a higher caste…..The Ashram rules, as far as he knew, had been framed by Anandamayi’s chief disciple and manageress, Gurupriya, a woman of the narrowest and most rigid orthodoxy……
…Having heard from her disciples that Banerjee was really a brahmin the Blissful Mother [Ma Anandamayi]asked him whether, as was the orthodox custom, he wore his sacred thread and recited the Gayatri Mantra thrice daily. This, we learned later, was a standard question, for she was strongly in favour of the strict observance of these practices by all brahmins. …..in subsequent conversations she could not be brought to admit either that she approved or that she disapproved of the restrictions observed in the Ashram. Each time she extricated herself by adroitly covering philosophical evasiveness with an exercise of personal charm. The latter was of so extraordinary a quality that our dissatisfaction at her failure to give an unambiguous reply to our main question always ended by being subtly dissolved in the delight we could not help feeling in her fascinating presence. …I noticed she seemed to carry on with her disciples, male or female, young or old, a sort of spiritual flirtation. Such a procedure was quite in keeping with the ideals of Bengal Vaishnavism… So highly charged was the atmosphere surrounding Anandamayi, of so many eyes was she the cynosure, that her slightest word, look, or gesture could give rise to repercussions, and become the subject of animated discussion, for days and weeks afterwards. Devotees to whom she playfully tossed a flower almost swooned with emotion. Any special favour shown to one disciple threw the rest into paroxysms of jealousy….We soon discovered that, after being divided from the non-brahmins, the brahmins themselves were subdivided into three groups, each of which ate separately. What the principle of this subdivision was I do not remember; but Anandamayi ate only in the presence of the first-class brahmins, one of whom…..had to feed her…..After lunch the Blissful Mother…..If she called for a glass of water non-brahmins had to withdraw for a few minutes while it was poured down her throat.
A verse in the Ramacharita Manas of Tulsidas …. declares that a Shudra ….should be despised even though possessed of all virtues; while a brahmin, though committing all sins, should be worshipped.
….both Anandamayi and her more intimate followers not only tolerated, but actively encouraged, the observance of the caste system in all its rigid exclusiveness……both Anandamayi and Gurupriya wore sacred threads. Since the custom of investing female brahmins with this insignia of caste status had died out more than 1,000 years earlier, the fact of its revival indicated orthodoxy of the most pronounced type…..according to the best Hindu tradition….. ascetics, whether male or female, are casteless, the sacred thread being one of the articles consigned to the flames at the time of initiation. ….Membership of certain Vedantic orders is indeed restricted to brahmins.
However disinclined Banerjee and I felt to accept Anandamayi as god incarnate, we saw no reason to question the fact that she lived in a state of consciousness that transcended the waking state as much as the waking state transcends sleep, or that she possessed psychic powers of the highest order. Gurupriya’s seven Bengali volumes of reminiscenses…..related hundreds of anecdotes of inedia, levitation, telepathy, clairvoyance, prophecy, and other supernormal phenomena ……Several anecdotes related to phenomena witnessed not only by Gurupriya but by one or more of the other ashramites.
According to the Buddhist tradition, it is the fourth dhyana, or superconscious state, which is the ‘base’ for the development of supernormal powers, so that any person regularly manifesting such powers may be assumed to have made considerable progress in meditation (shamatha-bhavana)
At Anandamayi’s suggestion, each of us maintained a spiritual diary wherein, immediately after each meditation session, we recorded the degree of concentration attained, the kind of mental distractions that had arisen, and any unusual experiences that might have occurred.
No one in the world, we felt, could be more charming than Anandamayi.
….my friend, who like most Bengalis was loquacious and sociable……
Like most Hindus who have received a little education he believed that the marvels of modern science had all been anticipated by the ancient Hindu saints and sages and described in the Hindu sacred books. ….His belief gave him an emotional satisfaction that no argument could be allowed to disturb.
In Kishengunj eye-witnesses had related how a truculent devotee once challenged her to show what difference there was between herself [Ma Anandamayi] and an ordinary person. Calling for a shovelful of burning coals, she dropped one into her open palm and without the slightest changes of expression in her laughing face allowed it to burn there for several minutes…..On examination it was found that her hand had been badly scorched.
Though all Indians are by nature so warmly hospitable that it may appear invidious to make comparisons between the people of different provinces in this respect, Punjabi hospitality is overwhelming even by Indian standards.
…..our meditations…Often we spent the whole session in a dull, semi-conscious twilight state from which we were aroused only when our heads jerked forward heavily ….known as yoga-nidra, or yogic sleep …..Beginners are warned not to mistake it for the superconscious state of samadhi. It corresponds, in fact, to the subtle physical world, or astral plane, and with practice, shadows may be discerned moving about in it though in depths of gloomy water.
….on Independence Day, 15 August 1947, I was invited to address the public meeting that was held at Kasauli ….That even in such a remote place everybody should think it right and natural that an Englishman should be asked to speak on the great occasion showed not only how little room for bitterness there was in Mother India’s heart now that independence had been achieved, but also with what nobility of spirit the struggle for it had been waged.
Tibetan Buddhists believe that the appearance of a rainbow is one of the most auspicious of signs….
Though not strikingly beautiful, Trivandrum, with its trees and gardens and open spaces, is certainly one of the most attractive cities in India….
…. [Kerala] The Untouchable fisher-folk had been Christianized….
In India, particularly in South India, people rarely feel at ease with a stranger until they know his caste, language, income, marital status, and family history. Should this information not be immediately forthcoming, they do not drop the matter, as people in most other countries would do, but they do not drop the matter so vigorous and aggressive as to suggest that they have a right to know….Hindu society consists of about 2,000 castes….Until a Hindu knows a man’s caste he is uncertain whether or not he may eat and drink with him, or even touch him. So acute is the discomfort created by this state of uncertainty that orthodox Hindus, especially brahmins, will go to almost any lengths of rudeness in order to wrest from the uncommunicative this vital secret……Malabar (that is to say, Travancore and the adjacent Malayalam-speaking areas) we found even worse in this respect than Tamilnad. Once we had told a Tamil brahmin that a sadhu possessed neither caste nor nationality the matter could usually be regarded as closed. Not so with the Malayalis. They insisted on pursuing the argument to the bitter end.
….Malayalis had an inordinate passion for attending lectures.
…a Malayalam proverb … ‘If you meet a brahmin and a cobra, kill the brahmin first.’
Among the members of the Ashram was a Nair woman …..There were five or six children in the house, but no man. Her husband, apparently, was always out. One day, …we found a handsome, fair-complexioned young man lounging against the railing….he was the father of the children…their mother, who was his concubine. He was a Nambudiri brahmin. Among the Nambudiris, he explained, only the eldest son was allowed to marry a Nambudiri woman and inherit the ancestral property. The younger sons, ….were not permitted to marry. Instead, they had to keep Nair women as concubines and visit them in their own homes. Caste restrictions, however, were still observed…he told us that he was not permitted to touch his children, nor take so much as a glass of water under his concubine’s roof……..Such was the prestige of brahmins in general, and Nambudiri brahmins in particular, that an alliance of this kind still reflected great honour on the family of the Nair family concerned. ….the present Maharaja [of Travancore] himself being the product of a liaison between the previous Maharaja’s sister and a Malayali brahmin. …..facilitated by the fact that Nair society was organized on a matrilineal basis, with property passing not from father to son, but from maternal uncle to nephew…..Nambudiri girls were treated with extreme strictness… If a girl so much as looked at a strange man, she was finished. Public announcements would be made of her crime, with the information that on a certain day, at a certain hour, she would be expelled…..As the time drew near, men of various castes and communities would gather expectantly…..the door would fly open, the girl would be flung out….The men would then fight for possession of the girl. Whoever seized hold of her first had the right to carry her off. Henceforward she belonged to him. Being fair-complexioned, which by Indian standards automatically meant beautiful, such girls were in great demand, especially among Muslims.
The Nambudiris …..Judging by what we heard of them they were distinguished mainly for their extreme socio-religious orthodoxy and for the extent of their philanderings. According to a Malayalam proverb a Nambudiri brahmin took three ceremonial baths a day and enjoyed four women. Another Nambudiri characteristic was that they had no inhibitions about nudity…..One of the commonest sights of the day in villages of the interior, we were told, was that of a group of Nambudiri brahmins squatting after their bath under the mandapa, ……all deep in discussion, and all stark naked. Mindful of the fact that Shankaracharya, the great non-dualist philosopher, had been a Nambudiri brahmin, I enquired what it was they usually discussed. ‘Sex,’ I was told, ‘nothing but sex.’……… Younger sons were growing restive, and a number of them had, in fact, become Communists.
Occasionally….we had poppadam…rice-flour cakes ……There was caste in poppadams. One could buy brahmin poppadam, Nair poppadam, Eazhava poppadam, and Christian-Muslim poppadam….
As with most Malayalis, ….cultivation of the soil was in his blood…..
In Travancore, as in other parts of India, Untouchables were not allowed to use the ordinary Hindu personal names. Instead they were known either by the names of birds or beasts or by such denominations as Dirty, Ugly, Stupid, Thief, and Rascal …The reason they were not allowed to use Hindu names was that these usually incorporated the name of a god or goddess, and the names….were much too sacred to be defiled by association with the Untouchables …Swami Vivekananda’s famous exclamation when travelling in the same part of the country half a century earlier. Malabar was a mad-house!
Satyapriya and I were far from approving Swami Agamananda’s abuse of the Virgin Mary, but we knew that he was only retaliating for the attacks that Christians of all denominations (except the Syrians) had long been in the habit of making on the morals of Sri Krishna and other Hindu gods ….
Very much to my regret, I had to admit that so far I had been more fortunate in my contacts with Hindus than with Buddhists. Among the Buddhist monks I had met there was none who could be compared with the Yoga Swami of Jaffna, or with Anandamayi.
Fasting helped to destroy craving, not only craving for food, but for material things in general…..the idea of fasting for a whole week seemed slightly suicidal……we need not have worried. On the third day, as the stomach reached the limit of its contractions, we felt extremely hungry ……Occasionally there was a slight fever and dizziness (due….to expulsion of toxins)…Towards the end of the week,….we felt light, almost weightless …..the mind, once its initial reactions had subsided, became calm and bright. There was no desire to do anything, and no desire not to do anything ….During these and subsequent fasts we consumed only water, with perhaps a few drops of lime juice…..
Toothbrushes and toothpaste had been replaced by the cheaper and no less effective margosa twig and rolled mango leaf.
Later on something …..stranger happened….having finished my meditation, I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by seven or eight tall black figures …..six or seven feet tall, naked ……each …..possessed a pair of enormous white saucer eyes…..looking down at me….expressive of an indescribable mournfulness, of an infinite hopelessness and sadness …….Rising to my feet, I walked straight through the figures ………Later I concluded that the figures I had seen must have been ….pretas, or hungry ghosts ….Though I did not know it at the time, I ought to have spoken to the pretas and asked them what the matter was and whether I could do anything for them….
Though like Anandamayi both [Swami] Ramdas and Krishnabai were brahmins by birth, no discrimination on grounds of caste was practised within the Ashram precincts. Indeed, none was allowed to be practiced.
….Ramdas turned to the subject of pranayama. To practice this without a teacher…..was the height of folly. ……On our enquiring whether the traditional warnings were to be taken literally and whether one could actually become insane as a result of practicing pranayama, Ramdas replied in the affirmative. Cases of people losing their mental balance due to forcible methods of breath-control were by no means uncommon, he declared, especially in South India…..he strongly disapproved of pranayama ….for the vast majority of people, constant repetition of the name of God was far more beneficial.
No less interesting …..was an elderly ascetic who lived ….in a cave …With him in the cave lived a huge cobra, who not only shared the milk ….but coiled up beside him at night on the rude stone couch that was the cave’s sole furniture…..
….Tiruvannamalai ….Virupaksha Guha ….associated with the early life of the Maharshi. …..the place had and atmosphere of peculiar intensity.
….Yalahankar Swami had an expression of compassion such as I had seen on no other human face…..spoke with a conviction and authority I had rarely if ever encountered. …Egotism could be overcome only by the prolonged experience of Samadhi, by which he meant, not meditation in the ordinary sense of the term, but a superconscious state in which all sense of separative individual selfhood was transcended.
According to a widespread Indian belief, shame, in the sense of sexual modesty, was one of the very last fetters to be broken by the disciple in his quest for spiritual enlightenment, with the result that those who practised religious nudity were traditionally held in high esteem by both Hindus and Jains.
Sringeri….was the seat of Shankaracharya……The Math had vast landed properties in every part of India,….gifted by kings and merchant princes over a period of many centuries, and its annual income amounted to millions….it owned practically all the sandalwood forests in Mysore…..despite the fact that the original Shankaracharya was a Nambudiri Brahmin from Malabar, for some centuries past the Shankaracharyas of Sringeri Math had been drawn exclusively from a particular sub-caste of Telugu Brahmins living in the Andhra country….As a result…the office of Shankaracharya had become in effect the private appendage of that community, the members of which considered themselves entitled to dip into the Math’s treasury as frequently as they pleased…..
Unless they were cornered, leopards rarely attacked human beings, but the hyena, a killer born, had no such inhibitions.
…we halted at a well and asked a woman who was drawing water there to pour some into our lotas or brass pots. Respectfully she refused. She belonged to the Chamar or leather-worker caste…..and for high-caste holy men like ourselves contact with anything that she had touched would mean pollution….. could hardly believe our ears. The woman at the well was saying exactly the same thing as the Matangi woman had said to Ananda, cousin and personal attendant of the Buddha, 2,500 years ago, and saying it in exactly the same circumstances. History was repeating itself…. India had not changed much since the days of the Buddha, it seemed.
Our next stop was at a Muslim house. …the occupant…..told us to go round to the back door. If the Hindus saw
…Newars [Nepal] …Some of these songs were of great beauty….for sheer emotional appeal they far surpassed anything I had heard in India, the note of hysterical abandon which had so repelled me at Anandamayi’s Ashram was completely lacking.
Kashyap-ji ….preferred the ‘rationalism tinged with mysticism’ of the Theravada to the ‘mysticism tinged with rationalism’ of the Mahayana…