THOMAS a Kempis wrote in his Imitation of Christ: “ There is not any Order so holy nor place so secret, where there are not temptations and adversities.
Those who may imagine that the spiritual life is easier if lived on the silent slopes of the Himalayas or sheltered behind monastic walls, will find little support for their opinions in Prakasha Brahmachari, the latest volume from the pen of Professor Shastri.
Prakasha is a young student of religious disposition who sets out in search of a traditional Teacher, finds him and obtains spiritual enlightenment at his hands. That is the story in bare outline, and it is well called a “ Tale of Spiritual Unfoldment ”—a tale told through an Indian mind steeped in the tradition of centuries of spiritual teaching. The interest centres on the gradual refinement of the personality of the Brahmachari, the subtle change of perspective in his outlook. External events are significant only in so far as they reflect in his mental states. (One is constantly reminded of the accent placed on the essential subjectivity of the world, in The Teachings of the Sage Vasishtha).
In spite of the apparent advantages of his environment and upbringing, the Brahmachari’s difficulties are just those which, in some form or other have to be faced by everyone. His lofty aspirations are checked by the longings of a human heart, and reason rushes to aid the fulfilment of natural worldly desires. Even his noble mind seems at times only to add to his difficulties, investing outer objects with its own splendour, and making of them sources of attraction. A miracle-working Lama symbolises the temptation to make use of psychic powers, which often come unasked to the spiritual pilgrim. Faith and discrimination are tested in the decision to refuse this and other lures with which the path of Prakasha is beset.
Although Goethe’s masterpiece is only once casually mentioned, one is reminded of Faust again and again while reading this book. At the outset Prakasha is already a determined seeker after Truth. But what is Truth, and where is it to be found ? Like Faust in his study, we are told that Prakasha had made a thorough study of philosophy and probed other possible sources of knowledge—all in vain except to convince him of the transient character of external phenomena. Prakasha is intelligent and sincere, earnest and not inclined by nature to look on the bright side. A modern psychologist might conclude from the evidence presented that his particular difficulties crystallise into a neurosis about women and seduction by philanthropic urges. And yet the former is also a key to the solution of his problems.
“ The Woman-soul leadeth us Upward and on ! ”
The hill-girl Vasuli forms a curious though not a literal parallel to Margaret in Faust. Spurned by Prakasha at the beginning of his spiritual pilgrimage, she re-appears triumphant at the last as the one who helps him to the final goal.
From a writing desk in one of the large towns constructed as a result of industrial civilisation, one is conscious that Prakasha breathes an altogether purer and more elevating physical and psychological air. The world of Himalayan peaks and glaciers, of unstinted hospitality and of truthful unsophistication is refreshing. Only in this rarefied atmosphere are possible the teachings of the great Mahatmas and the traditional mystic ceremonies of which we are permitted a glimpse. One might ask : is it all fiction ? Assuredly not, even though Prakasha himself may not have been a historical character. The setting will be familiar to readers of the Shvi Dada Sanghita who will encounter again in Lakshman Jhula and Rishikesha the resplendent Mahatmas of the turn of the century—Swami Mangalnath, Swami Rama Ashrama and others. As in the writings of the French fantaisiste novelists, the reader is wafted along, never quite certain where hard fact ends and imagination begins. Was Miss Norman, for instance, an historical character ? One might infer from the passage on pp. 89-90 that she was a pupil of Swami Rama Tirtha.
What are the most important factors conducive to the “ spiritual unfoldment ” of an individual, as evidenced by this book ? We may say that the first essential is a desire for Truth, strong enough to sustain a determination to undergo the necessary discipline. Then a Guru is essential and must be sought out. “ There is no possibility of release (moksha) without the help of a Teacher, to whom a full self-surrender has been made in perfect faith. A true aspirant will always find his Guru sooner or later. Once found, the Mephistopheles of inner promptings and doubts may take on more subtle forms and remain with him almost to the end of the way, but there is never a danger of a serious relapse. At least, one feels this to be so with Prakasha.
On the technical side, the book has been adequately produced. The useful frontispiece map might, with advantage be printed larger (sideways, if necessary) in a future edition. Revisers should also take care of a number of minor textual errors ; in particular the profound dictum : “Ayam Atma Brahma ” (This Self is Brahman) is somewhat incomprehensibly transcribed on p. 119 as “I am Atman- Brahman.” But beyond any criticism of detail, which are, in any case, often a matter of personal taste, the spiritual “atmosphere” of Prakasha Brahmachari stands out as something definite, though not easy to describe. Few readers will not feel its influence or remain unaffected by the little dark figure, silhouetted against the high snows.