Chapter 28


Allan's adventures in Ceylon had been varied. His first idea had been to take the Yellow Robe; that is, to become a member of the Buddhist Sangha. These men are not priests or monks, as we understand the words; it is hard for European minds to understand the conditions of their life. They have renounced the world and live as mendicants; but it may be stated roughly that the rules of their Order, which are very complex and often seem irrational or frivolous, are all devised in the interest of a single idea. Each rule meets some probably contingency. But in every case the object is to enable the bhikkhu to carry out his programme of spiritual development. There are no superstitious terrors, no propitiatory practices; the while object is to enable a man to free himself from the fetters of desire which hamper his actions, and (incidentally) produce the phantasms which we call phenomena. In Buddhism, the universe is conceived as an illusion, created by ignorant cravings. It is, in fact, a dream as defined by Freud's hypothesis.

Allan was already at heart a Buddhist. The more he studied the Tripitika, “the three baskets of the law” — waste paper baskets I used to call them — the more he was attracted, but he was fearfully disappointed by the degeneracy of the Singalese bhikkhus. With rate exceptions, they were ignorant, idle, immoral and dishonest. At Anuradhapura, the sacred ruined city, there conduct is so openly scandalous as to have given rise to a proverb: “A bhikkhu is made, not born — except at Anuradhapura.” Allan had been offered the post of treasurer to a famous monastery outside Colombo, for the avowed reason that they could not trust any one of themselves. Considering that a bhikkhu is not allowed to touch money at all, this was rather the limit.

The Solicitor-Generral of Ceylon, the Hon. P. Ramanathan, engaged Allan as private tutor to his younger sons. This gentleman was a man of charming personality, wide culture and profound religious knowledge. He was eminent as a yogi of the Shaivite sect of Hindus (he was a Tamil of high caste) and had written commentaries on the gospels of Matthew and John, interpreting the sayings of Christ as instructions in Yoga. It is indeed a fact that one of the characters who have been pieced together to compose the figure of “Jesus” was a yogi. His injunctions to abandon family ties, to make no provision for the future, and so on, are typical.

From this man, Allan learnt a great deal of the theory and practice of Yoga. When he was about eighteen, Allan had accidentally stumbled into {237} the trance called Shivadarshana, in which the universe, having been perceived in its totality as a single phenomenon, independent of space and time, is then annihilated. This experience had determined the whole course of his life. His one object was to get back into that state. Shri Parananda showed him a rational practical method of achieving his. Yet Allan was not wholly in sympathy with his teacher, who, despite his great spiritual experience, had not succeeded in snapping the shackles of dogma, and whose practice seem in some respects tat variance with his principles. Allan was almost puritanically strict. He had been offered a position as manager of a coconut plantation, but refused it on learning that his duties would involve giving orders for the destruction of vermin. He had not sufficient breadth of view to see that any kind of life implies acquiescence in, and therefore responsibility for, murder; by eating rice one becomes the accomplice of the agriculturist in destroying life.

His health was vastly improved. In the Red Sea his asthma completely disappeared and he had thrown overboard his entire apparatus of drugs. But the enervating climate of Colombo sapped his energies. He had little hesitation in accepting my proposal to go and live at Kandy and devote ourselves to Yoga.

At “Marlborough” we found the conditions for work very favourable. The firs step was to get rid of all other preoccupations. I revised Tannhäuser, wrote an introduction, typed it all out and sent it to the press. I put aside Orpheus and left aside Alice, An Adultery to ripen. I did not think much of it; and would not publish it until time had ratified it.

One of my principal inhibitions at this period was due to the apparent antinomy between the normal satisfaction of bodily appetites and the obvious conditions of success. I did not solve this completely until my attainment of the Grade of Mater of the Temple in 1909, when at last I realized that every thought, word and act might be pressed into the service of the soul: more, that it must be if the soul were ever to be free. I “mixed up the planes” for many years to some extent, though never as badly as most mystics do.

During this retirement I was fortunate in being under the constant vigilant supervision of Allan Bennett, whose experience enabled him to detect the firs onset of disturbing ideas. For instance, the revising and typing of Tannhäuser were quite sufficient to distract my mind from meditation, and would even upset me in such apparently disconnected matters as Pranayama. It is easy to understand that a heavy meal will interfere with one's ability to control one's respiration; but one is inclined to laugh at the Hindu theory that it can be affected by such things as casual conversation. None the less, they are right. Apart from one's normal reactions, these practices make one supersensitive. I was not confining myself to any rigid {238} diet; and I remember that at a certain period the idea of food became utterly revolting. It is doubtless a question of nervous hyperaesthesia; as is well known, over-indulgence in alcohol and certain other drugs tends to destroy the appetite. Inexperienced practitioners, insufficiently grounded in physiology and philosophy, may perhaps be excused (though of course reproved) for misunderstanding the import of the phenomena. One is inclined to say, “Now that I am becoming holy, I find that I dislike the idea of eating: Argal, eating is unholy; and it will help me to become still holier if I resolutely suppress the squeals of appetite.” Such, I believe, is the basis of much of the fantastic morality which has muddled mystical teaching throughout history. I do not think that straightforward a priori considerations would have carried unquestioning conviction in the absence of apparent confirmation of their hypotheses.

This “confusion of the planes” is in my opinion the chief cause of failure to attain. It is constantly cropping up in all sorts of connections. The aspirant must be armed with the Magical Sword, dividing asunder the joints of the marrow of every observation that he makes. A single unanalysed idea is liable to obsess him and send him astray: “It may be for years and it may be for ever.” He must never weary of assigning its exact limitations to every phenomenon. History, by the way, is full of examples of this error in major matters. Consider only how the idea that epidemics, the failure of the crops and military misfortune were due to the wrath of God, prevented the development of science, agriculture and the art of war. Last spring, 1922, there was a drought in Sicily. The priests made a mighty puja and prayed for rain. The rain came and did more harm than the drought; then the drought took hold again and lasted all the summer either in spite of the intercessions of Cybele, or whatever they call her nowadays, or because she was not to be propitiated by the adulterated sacrifices with which her modern ministers pretend that they can cozen her.

I attribute my own success in mysticism and Magick, and the much greater success that I have been able to secure for my successors, almost entirely to my scientific training. It enabled me to determine the actual physiological and psychological conditions of attainment. My experience as a teacher enables me to simplify more and more as each fresh case comes under my notice. I can put my finger more quickly and surely on the spot with every waxing moon. I achieved in eleven years what hardly anyone before had done in forty, and it cannot be explained by individual genius, for I have been able to take men with hardly a scrap of talent and teach them what took me eleven years in seven or eight for the firstcomers, in five or six for their successors, and so on till, at the present moment, I feel able to promise any man or woman of average ability who has the germ of genuine aspiration, the essence of attainment within eight sessions. Of course it {239} depends on each postulant to determine the details. Some departments of occult science lie outside the scope of particular people; each one must fill in for himself his personal programme. But the supreme emancipation is the same in essence for all, and for the first time in history it has been possible to present this free from confusion, so that people can concentrate from the very beginning of their training on the one thing that matters.

Our life was delightfully simple. Allan taught me the principles of Yoga; fundamentally, there is only one. The problem is how to stop thinking; for the theory is that the mind is a mechanism for dealing symbolically with impressions; its construction is such that one is tempted to take these symbols for reality. Conscious thought, therefore, is fundamentally false and prevents one from perceiving reality. The numerous practices of yoga are simply dodges to help one to acquire the knack of slowing down the current of thought and ultimately stopping at altogether. This fact has not been realized by the yogis themselves. Religious doctrines and sentimental or ethical considerations have obscured the truth. I believe I am entitled to the credit of being the first man to understand the true bearings of the question.

I was led to this discovery chiefly through studying comparative mysticism. For instance; a Catholic repeats Ave Maria rapidly and continuously; they rhythm inhibits the intellectual process. The result is an ecstatic vision of Mary. The Hindu repeats Aum Hari Aum in the same way and gets a vision of Vishnu. But I noticed that the characteristics of both visions were identical save for the sectarian terminology in which the memory recorded them. I argued that process and result were identical. It was a physiological phenomenon and the apparent divergence was due to the inability of the mind to express the event except by using the language of worship which was familiar.

Extended study and repeated experiment have confirmed this conviction. I have thus been able to simplify the process of spiritual development by eliminating all dogmatic accretions. To get into a trance is of the same order of phenomena as to get drunk. It does not depend on creed. Virtue is only necessary in so far as it favours success; just as certain diets, neither right nor wrong in themselves, are indicated for the athlete or the diabetic. I am proud of having made it possible for my pupils to achieve in months what previously required as many years. Also, of having saved the successful from the devastating delusion that the intellectual image of their experience is an universal truth.

This error has wrought more mischief in the past than any other. Mohammed's conviction that his visions were of imperative importance to “salvation” made him a fanatic. Almost all religious tyranny springs from intellectual narrowness. The spiritual energy derived from the high trances makes the seer a formidable force; and unless he be aware that his interpretation is {240} due only to the exaggeration of his own tendencies of thought, he will seek to impose it on others, and so delude his disciples, pervert their minds and prevent their development. He can do good only in one way, that is by publishing the methods by which he attained illumination: in other words, by adding his experience to the sum of scientific knowledge. I have myself striven strenuously to do this, always endeavouring to make it clear that my results are of value only to myself, and that even my methods may need modification in every case, just as each poet, golfer and barrister must acquire a style peculiar to his idiosyncrasies.

Yoga, properly understood, is thus a simple scientific system of attaining a definite psychological state. Consider its Eight Branches! Yama and Niyama, “Control” and “Super-control”, give rules for preventing the mind from being disturbed by moral emotions and passions, such as anger, fear, greed, lust and the like.

Asana, “position”, is the art of sitting perfectly still, so that the body can no longer send messages to the mind. Pranayama, “control of breath force”, consists in learning to breathe as slowly, deeply and regularly as possible. The slightest mental irritation or excitement always makes one breathe quickly and unevenly; thus one is able to detect any disturbance of calm by observing this system. Also, by forcibly controlling the breath one can banish such ideas. Also one reduces to a minimum the consciousness that one is breathing.

One may remark at this point that such precaution seems absurd; but until one begins to try to keep the mind from wandering, one has no conception of the way in which the minutest modifications of thought, impressions which are normally transitory or unperceived, form the starting point for Odysseys of distraction. It may be several minutes before one wakes up to the fact that one's wits have gone wool-gathering.

Pratyahara is introspection. One obtains the power of analysing an apparently simple thought or impression into its elements. One can, for example, teach oneself to feel separately the numberless impressions connected with the act of crooking one's fingers. This is a revelation in itself; so simple a muscular movement is found to contain an epic of deliciously exciting ingredients. The idea is, of course, not to enjoy such pleasures, subtle and exquisite as they are; but by analysing thoughts and impressions to detect their prodromal symptoms and nip them in the bud. Also, to understand and estimate them by detailed examination. One important result of this is to appreciate the unimportance and equivalence of all thoughts, very much as modern chemistry has put and end to the medieval nonsense about the sacredness of some compounds and the wickedness of others. Another is to give one a clear and comprehensive view of the elements of the universe as a whole.


Dharana, concentration, is now easier to practise. One has learnt what interruptions to expect and how to prevent them. We, therefore, make a definite attack on the multiplicity of thoughts by fixing the mind on one. In my Book Four, Part I, I have copied from my diary at this period an attempt at classification of invading ideas. I am very proud of this apparently simple observation and it will aid the reader to understand my work in Kandy if I insert it.

Breaks are classed as follows:

Firstly, physical sensations. These should have been overcome by Asana.

Secondly, breaks that seem to be dictated by events immediately preceding the meditation. Their activity becomes tremendous. Only by this practice does one understand how much is really observed by the senses without the mind becoming conscious of it.

Thirdly, there is a class of breaks partaking of the nature of reverie or “daydreams”. These are very insidious — one may go on for a long time without realizing that one has wandered at all.

Fourthly, we get a very high class of break, which is as sort of aberration of the control itself. You think, “How well I am doing it!” or perhaps that it would be rather a good idea if your were on a desert island, or if your were in a sound-proof house, or if your were sitting by a waterfall. But these are only trifling variations from the vigilance itself.

A fifth class of breaks seems to have no discoverable source in the mind. Such may even take the form of actual hallucination, usually auditory. Of course, such hallucinations are infrequent and are recognized for what they are; otherwise the student had better see his doctor. The usual kind consists of odd sentences or fragments of sentences, which are heard quite distinctly in a recognizable human voice, not the student's own voice or that of any one he knows. A similar phenomenon is observed by wireless operators, who call such messages “atmospherics”.

There is a further kind of break, which is the desired result itself. It must be dealt with later in detail.

Dhyana is the name of the first trance. By trance I mean a state of consciousness definitely distinct from the normal. Its characteristic is that whereas in normal consciousness two things are always present — the percipient and the perceived — in Dhyana these two have become one. At first this union usually takes place with explosive violence. There are many other characteristics; in particular, time and space are abolished. This, however, occurs with almost equal completeness in certain states of normal abstract thought.


The attainment of this trance is likely to upset the whole moral balance of the student. He often attributes and exaggerated importance to the imperfect ideas which represent his memory of what happened. He cannot possibly remember the thing itself, because his mind lacks the machinery of translating it into normal thought. These ideas are naturally his pet delusions. They seem to him to have become armed with supreme spiritual sanction, so he may be come a fanatic or a megalomaniac. In my system the pupil is taught to analyse all ideas and abolish them by philosophical skepticism before he is allowed to undertake the practices which lead to Dhyana.

Samadhi, “Union with the Lord”, is the general term for the final trance, or rather, series of trances. It differs from Dhyana in this way: Dhyana is partial, Samadhi is universal. In the first Samadhi, the universe is perceived as a unity. In the second that unity is annihilated. There are, however, may other Samadhis, and in any case the quality of the trance will depend upon the extent of the universe which enters into it. One must really be a profound philosopher with a definite intellectual conception of the universe as an organic whole, based on the co-ordination of immense knowledge, before one can expect really satisfactory results. The Samadhi of an ignorant and shallow thinker who has failed to co-ordinate his conceptions of the cosmos will not be worth very much.


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