Charan Das is still here. He now thinks it appropriate
I should know he is indeed collecting material for a book – a spiritual
guide-book, no less. He has been working on the project for the past 10 years.
With his curiosity and gift for discovering lesser-known gurus, saints and holy men, and his instinctive
flare for being able to arrive at the right place at the right time, what he
has to tell us should make for lively inspired reading. His publisher is a patient
man. Charan Das is a real sadhu;
he lives to the full every minute of his roving experiences, and no right-thinking
publisher is going to put a deadline on that. Charan Das knows all about devotional
life. He also knows more real-life Ashram scandals than anyone else –
he has, of course, been to more Ashrams than anyone else.
As I couldn’t go across the bridge with Charan
Das to hear Krishnamurti’s lecture last night as suggested by Mr. Balfour-Clarke,
Charan is explaining how he decided at the last minute to catch Sathya Sai
Baba instead; this other heavy-weight spiritual power-house has also just
hit town. No matter: I am due to visit Sai
Baba’s Ashram in a few days.
Ever helpful, Charan Das is taking me outside the grounds
of the Theosophical Society to a secluded house
by the beach. It’s a long walk. He of course knows the owner, so”we”
and I have been invited for tea and a swim; I am to Interview the imposing American
who has been living here for many years. The walking gets slower and slower,
we are enjoying the simplicity of nature. I try to warn Charan Das we are going
to be late. Sadhus
don’t rush. They saunter…a walk by the sea is food for the soul.
We are over-doing the sauntering and arrive so late that our host prefers to
get the Interview over first – he has dinner guests coming later –
if there’s time, the swim can follow. A swim in January…and in the
Before you tell me about life in this superb beach
house, can you translate the name given to your village?
It’s called Tiruvanmiyur… tiru means sacred place, ur means village,
and Valmiki was the famous author of the Ramayana — so because he is supposed
to have worshipped at the temple, the full name is Tiru-Valmiki-ur.
But before I talk about my present life I should tell you something about
my background. I was brought up in a very well-to-do family in the USA. The
only person interested in spiritual things was my mother who was basically a
Christian Scientist. I majored in physics, but I realized I was not being taught
what I wanted to know. I became more interested in literature. One of my professors
had an interest in Vedanta and had been to India, and that
influenced me. I read books on the New Thought Movement, and then I became interested
in Buddhism. I quit Kenyon College after
two years to study Buddhism on my own…that must have
been in 1941 — yes — I’m 59 now.
My father wanted me to continue at university so I tried the Philosophy Department
at Chicago University; but the courses were staid and stilted — no use
to me — so I never went back to college. The war was on; I had done some
flying, so I became a flying instructor in the Air Force, and this brought me
to India. In 1945 I was stationed at Karachi, and it was there I discovered
Theosophy in a book; it seemed to me a real, consistent, beautiful, logical,
well-organized system of cosmology. But I didn’t know the Theosophical Society still existed. I
didn’t even know there were other T.S. books.
Not until I was back in Indiana was I made aware that there were Theosophists
actually living there; we got a group going very soon.
Did it take long before
you returned to India?
It happened like this. Rukmini Devi is a great lady in her own right,
but at the time she was the wife of the T.S. President — she was nominated
a couple of years ago as President of India but she declined — well, it
was she who invited me back. I could talk for an hour on her, how she married
Dr. Arundale at 16, how she studied dancing with Anna Pavlova, how she revived
and made respectable the ancient Indian temple dances and later founded Kalakshetra,
an academy of the Arts in 1936 where Indian dance, vocal and instrumental music
can be studied. But when the Republic of India was formed, she accepted a ten-year
period in the Upper House of Parliament. I became her secretary and helped her
most important work which was getting Parliament to pass an Act against cruelty
Did these political activities
affect your Theosophical interests?
In a way they weren’t such a change in the interests I had. But since
1949 up to the present, I have traveled every year with Rukmini Devi on world tours…she is of course
a well-known Theosophical leader. And I should say that every time I return
to India I notice the difference — the magnetic difference — and
I would like to stress that from my point of view, India is like the spiritual
guru of the world. Each nation has a
certain character, as each person is different and has his own unique value.
The fundamental contribution India has made historically and is qualified to
make in the future, is to be like a spiritual guru to the world. From the dawn of history,
its sages and adepts have experimented with the forces of the human body and
the depths to which human consciousness can go. In each generation, spiritual
truths have been taught and confirmed by each succeeding generation. Unlike
scientific experimentation where they experiment on others, the only way to
experiment in spiritual life is to experiment on yourself.
Is this spiritual experimentation
part of Theosophy or the work you are involved in?
That’s been one of the battles of the T.S. — defining this sort
of thing. In the thirty or forty years I have been in Theosophy, my conception
of it is to have an open mind searching for spiritual truths…and I think
I’m a real Theosophist because I’m interested in looking into all
spiritual truths, some of them even like Krishnaji’s [J. Krishnamurti] denying
the value of all concepts. I can see colossal advantages to humanity accepting
the principles of karma and reincarnation
from our earliest school days, as a fundamental part of our basic thinking.
Unfortunately, karma as a conviction is disappearing
even in the East because people are committing all sorts of crimes even though
they say they know there will be a karmic reaction. But if children are brought
up with the cosmology of karma, reincarnation,
evolution, spiritual progress and so on, many of society’s problems would
Can I ask you again if
you will talk about your work here?
My work is mainly teaching — I have developed about a hundred cosmological
diagrams, and have been teaching that for many years on my travels. I had a
series of classes here at various times. I get invited to lecture once in a
while. In February I have a two-weeks course in the T.S. school. One can’t
tell anyone about the actual experience of what is called self-realization,
or moksha in Hinduism, or salvation in Christianity.
That’s an experience about a state totally unknown and incomprehensible
to a brain developed in three-dimensional thinking. To teach spiritual values
— in the sense that you think you can tell anyone how to develop the knowledge
of the Self — can’t be done.
Yet teaching has a value in the sense that it helps
people understand there is such an experience. People can be convinced that
such an experience can happen to them and that it instantaneously solves their
problems. There are no problems for those who have experienced that. One can
also help others understand that we are not seeing this world as it is; we are
seeing an illusionary projection of our own consciousness distorted by desires,
likes and dislikes; nobody could call it objective. Most of our pains and sufferings
come from this ignorance…so teaching can help achieve a higher awareness
state. Teaching has value, at least that has been my experience.
Do you teach any form
The course I’m giving is called: Kundalini and Meditation. There are many
definitions of what meditation is, but if you don’t meditate there’s
no way to go beyond the illusion we are in. Meditation helps us turn within
and see differently what we are seeing now. This is so essential that most of
us cannot achieve awakening, illumination — call it whatever you like
— without that inner seeing.
But Theosophists don’t
believe in the need of a living teacher. Or is this Krishnaji’s idea?
I have great respect for his teaching; he’s struggling with the essential
points which will reduce human suffering and will transform society into one
where spiritual growth is more possible than it is in this one which is rapidly
degenerating. He has the key to get rid of that degeneration. His idea of not
having a guru I don’t quite agree with.
There are stages on the path where a guru is essential because one goes into
a totally unknown territory with a body totally unprepared; you really have
to get someone to help you. Gurus who can do this are scarce.
May I ask about the spiritual
masters who have been guiding Theosophists? Have they actually manifested?
I don’t think they have been guiding Theosophists. If you look at the
early literature you’ll find that people were constantly saying to H.P.Blavatsky
and Col. Olcott: How is it you make so many blunders if you say you are pupils
of the Masters and the Masters are behind the Theosophical Society? The Masters themselves
explained in their letters: “We give help and general principles, but
it’s up to you what you do.”
When I asked about a
Master, I meant one in the body, one you can sit with and talk to.
Yes, I understood. I did much research and even wrote a book about that —
it was never published; I never found time to finish it — but there’s
absolutely no doubt that if you went into a court of law with all the witnesses
that had met these Masters in person in their own physical bodies, you could
establish their existence legally. Obviously no one would do that now. But those
Masters do exist…there’s so much proof.
Why are there no reports
of Theosophists contacting the Masters these days?
If you look at the Masters’ letters, there are things that have a bearing
on that. In a letter to Mr. Sinnett, the Master said: I wish we could convince
you that the last thing we want to do is convince everybody that we exist; that
would cause our work to be much interfered with. On another occasion, the Master
said: By a certain time, if certain things are not accomplished - I can’t
remember the exact words - then every trace of the Masters will disappear.
Can you say how the Masters’
letters were sent into this material world?
These letters are definitely physical letters. In fact they are deposited in
the British Museum. I was once able to examine them with a microscope and found
that the words which seemed to be formed by ordinary hand-writing are actually
formed by tiny lines, each one of which is separate and which couldn’t
happen with a pen, although they look as if they have been written with a pen.
There are, of course, people who don’t think these letters are genuine.
The process of precipitation which the Master describes as helpful to the chelas is extremely fascinating. The Master
may be riding a horse in Tibet. One of his disciples may be in the Indian plains,
and that disciple will be instructed telepathically by the Master to take down
a letter for him. The disciple places paper and ink powder before him which
are used in the precipitation. The master then sends his thought into the mind
of the disciple who then puts the thought into words which he materializes on
the paper using molecules of the ink powder to embed it onto the paper. It doesn’t
soak into the paper like ink; it’s sort of on the surface of the paper
and is made up of a series of tiny lines if you look at it microsopically. I
personally think the letters genuine. They have been published in book form
as: The Mahatma Letters.
When were the last ones
When we say the last ones, we are talking about the last ones published. The
Masters are there and the chelas are there, so they are still being
sent, I presume. One of the first published — I’m not an authority
on this — came to Dr. Besant long after Madame Blavatsky died. Some people
thought Madame Blavatsky was faking the letters, but this couldn’t be
So nothing has been published
since the turn of the century?
One of the most outstanding letters we received came later; this story I can
tell. But remember, it will be from memory, so the exact words and circumstances
may be slightly off. One night before the 1925 Jubilee Convention, Dr. Arundale
woke up, as he did many times in the middle of the night and had to write something
down: his whole book, Nirvana, was written that way. He could
apparently only hold the higher influences in his consciousness brain in the
early hours when everything is still. Well, this message was taken down and
in the morning shown to Rukmini Devi. They were inspired ideas, so they
were shown to Mr. Leadbeater who declared it was a letter from a Great Being
— a Master of the Masters — and it was sent specially for the convention.
I will give you a copy…it’s very beautiful.
Thank you. May I ask
you as a last question what you feel you have gained by choosing to live this
life all these years?
Being in India one is in a kind of spiritual atmosphere — the country
is spiritually orientated. In the course of my being here, I have been helped
very much. I have reached a stage where I recognize that everything, even something
that may make me unhappy, is the most valuable step that could be made for my
spiritual growth. I know there’s absolutely nothing that could happen
to me including violence and starvation that would make me feel upset because
I would recognize it as an extremely valuable lesson life is teaching me.
With that conviction — that knowledge —
that gives you a happy life. Even if you are unhappy, you are happy being unhappy.
I don’t have any regular meditation practices,
although I agree with Dr. Besant who made this categorical statement: A man
should take at least half an hour daily to bring down currents from the higher
world, but I’m continually travelling so this is difficult for me.
Anyway, I do have an ideal in life and that’s
to spend up till noon in spiritual studies, meditation and spiritual discourse.
And there have been certain periods in my life here when I have been absolutely
disconnected from all worldly obligations, so I’ve been able to do that.
That is my idea of an ideal life. Now look, before the sun sets I think we just
have time for a swim in the ocean; that’s if you’d like that?
Peter Hoffman is alive and well.
My last morning at the T.S. is spent buying some of
their books, and looking for the letter the elusive newly-wed Ram and Parvati
are supposed to have left for me (I never find it so I don’t know where
they have disappeared to). I then fall into discussing the rest of my tour with
the king of Ashram travellers, Charan Das. He is ridiculously over-generous
with his hard-won Ashram information — who to avoid, who to placate, who
All this is being written down for me as we go to the
bus station: I have decided to take the mid-day bus to the Ashram of Sri
Aurobindo in Pondicherry so that I can arrive while it’s still light rather
than go by the evening train which may be more comfortable but may involve me
in another locked-gate-who-are-you?scene.