The purity and flexibility of mind-stuff have nothing to do with its attributes and acquirements; these last correspond to the colour and design of a cloth, which may be elaborate or simple, or absent altogether. Compare Dr. Shastri himself, with his teacher who was popularly known as Shri Dada. Dr. Shastri was a learned man, and famous for his learning. He was one of the great Sanskritists of his time; for instance, he produced the three-volume translation (after 50 years still regarded as the standard one) of the classical Indian epic called Ramayana. He knew English, in which he produced some thirty books; naturally he knew Hindi, and also the classical Persian expected of a well-educated Indian of the time. But he also travelled extensively. He lived for years in Japan, and longer still in China.

After coming to Britain in 1929 he kept up his knowledge of Japanese (following the Chinese maxim in the Thousand-character Classic: Do not let slip what you have once learned). He read a little every day, and translated some poems from the Japanese to use in his lectures. He wrote an account of some incidents of his time in Japan, in a small book called “Echoes of Japan”. He was a remarkable scholar. In his time, there were only some ten thousand pandits in India who could claim to use Sanskrit as their first language. He was one of them.

Not so his own teacher Shri Dada, though he was often accorded the courtesy title of ‘Pandit’ in recognition of his spiritual attainments He was born in a family proud of its long Brahmin lineage, which had recently become rich by an unlikely piece of good fortune. The head of the house became excited by his prosperity and began to entertain aristocratic pretensions. The son, Narayana (later to become Shri Dada) had a secular education, which did not extend to Sanskrit though he learned English. As a very young man he was attracted to the society of yogis, and began to attend the discourses of the great yogi who ultimately became his teacher.

But the father did not approve: he said that his high-born son should not associate with beggars. When the boy persisted, the father disowned him and closed his door against him. The father was not necessarily unsympathetic to the ideal of Yoga: he simply did not want his own son to be engaged in it. The role of the aristocrat, he would have thought, should be to support such things from a distance. He had this knot in his heart: “No. The son of an aristocratic family cannot waste his advantages and become a personal attendant on some ascetic in a temple.” That knot could not be touched. So in the end he disinherited his son.

Looking at a case like this, some people think that it is very understandable. That was how the father was by his nature: that was him. And similarly, they can feel about themselves: that’s me. One cannot change human nature, they argue; admittedly there can be development, but it must be a slow, natural process, which cannot be hurried. Let things happen naturally. (Whenever the word “natural” is used in this way, warning gongs should be sounded and red flags waved.) In the anarchist News From Nowhere there are to be no schools or universities. There are to be libraries and when people feel the need, they go and study. Thus they learn “naturally” and there is no need to hurry. We should do things that are congenial. And so one will gradually make progress. That was the anarchist dream.

But this is not the way things happen. For instance, in learning to type there is a deluded belief that you begin with two fingers and then naturally go onto three and finally touch-typing with ten… It’s so natural … Easy. Whereas when you learn to touch-type the keys are hidden by a shield, you’re looking at a chart and trying to feel where the keys are. “Oh, that’s so restrictive, so difficult.” But actually people who start with two fingers hardly ever progress to three. They can go very fast with two: like a couple of mad hens. If you learn to type like that you don’t progress because it’s become fixed. Now they say, “This comes natural to me, this is me.” But not at all. The hands have got ten fingers though they’re using only two of them. So this is not an expression of the proper use of the hands.

In the old days butter used to be produced in large square lumps and they were brought out from the dairy on big trays. Girls would pack them into boxes, big boxes which were made so they’d exactly fit. Instinctively they used just one hand. When time and motion studies first began, the experts trained the girls to use both hands. Now some of the girls picked it up very quickly but others resisted. They said “No, no, no, I use one hand.” But we have two hands. So the efficient expression is with two hands. If we’re left to ourselves, we’ll just use the one we’re used to, the master hand. This will become stronger and stronger and the other hand will become weaker and weaker. The trainer says, it will take a little bit of time to get used to using both hands but then you can get through more and your wage will go up. This concrete example shows how when people say, “I want to be myself”, they’re not myself, just a small part of myself. It’s the small remnant of the clotted cloth that is still free.

© Trevor Leggett 1999

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