Sunday, June 13, 2010

Curses like chickens come home to roost

I'll make this intro brief because the letter I'm about to share is a bit daunting in length. Still, I hope you'll read it through as it's written by someone I hold very dear in my heart. Though I've never met him in person (he died the year after I was born), over the last 12 years I've read, over again, much of his published writings. His name was/is Sri Krishnaprem and the letter transcribed below was written by him, nearly 60 years ago, to his close friend, musician and spiritual seeker Dilip Kumar Roy, from a tiny ashram outside the small village of Almora, India. Prem, an Englishman by birth left for India, built an ashram at the foothills of the Himalayas and lived there with his guru Yashoda Mai for the last 40 years of his life.

Although the headlines and characters have changed and the name you call things might differ, I feel that the heart of what he's saying touches deep into the heart of what matters today.

Important note: I've read enough of what he's written to know that by "Krishna" he's not speaking of a little blue man.


July 21, 1940

My Dear Dilip,

It was a great pleasure to have your long letter and poems after quite an age. How long it seems since we met at Allahabad! For my part I have not been out of this Ashram, not even as far as Almora town since then, but I have sometimes enjoyed your presence via a gramophone.

You ask what I think of the present state of the world. If I say it is an illusion, you will probably misunderstand me as is nearly always the case when that word is used. You will think I mean nothing at all which is certainly not my meaning. If I say that it is part of the Divine Lila, then the feeling that "it must be all right" will surely arise and, except in a somewhat ultimate sense, it is NOT all right. If I say it is the work of the Asuric powers, we are involved in a hard and fast dualism starring (as the films say) Hitler as the chief Asura. It is hard to know what to say without being liable to be misunderstood in some way or other.

To start with, the war that is raging is not the real war. It is the troubled wake of a ship that has gone on out of sight; it is the trail of slime behind a snail; it is the pathway of dead ash left by a forest fire or--as He says in the Gita--"By Me already have these men been slain." The ship, the snail, the forest fire--these have already gone on ahead in the inner worlds. Because we have eyes for nothing but material things we do not see them but see only the dead ash they have left behind. Therefore I say: it is illusion because it is not what we think it is. It is not that "coming events cast their shadows before"--but that inner realities throw their shadows behind and beneath and we--who live in those shadows--take them for realities. This war is not being fought nor will it be won or lost. It has been fought and won, though what that victory will taste like to us, poor fools, when we, wandering along in our trail of ash, catch up with it, is more than I can say. The victory of Krishna is certain, but if, as is usual, our hopes are set on falsities, that victory may be but dust and ashes in our mouths. This war is part of the Divine Lila. Is it therefore "all right--God's in heaven" sort of thing? The question should be: "all right for whom?" For those whose life is rooted in Reality it is "all right," but for those of us who cling to falsehood and mere outwardness it is not at all all right.

You are appalled at the bitter waves of overt suffering that are sweeping over huge areas of our world. Many people think that Hitler has caused it--were it not for him it would not be. That is quite false. It is we, we, we who have been piling up that sorrow. When we take a photograph the image is impressed upon the sensitive plate, but not till it has been treated with developers does that image appear. This suffering is the photograph upon our sensitive psyches. We exposed them (as the photographers say) to a false view of the world, and now that false view is being developed in hateful black and white. But it was not less there when not manifest to any eyes but those that see within.

Why should you be so surprised that, as you say, "the Asuric (Titanic) powers should succeed so signally" when we--men in general--have given them such lodging space in our hearts? Why does a cholera outbreak sweep a whole great city? Let us try and understand that without being put off by shallow modern half-truths about germs and such like. Let us see such a thing as it really is, yathabhutam, as the Buddhists say, and we shall understand this present outbreak.

These Hitlers and what nots are mere puppets worked by strings which neither they nor others see, great waves that dash upon our breakwaters to overwhelm them or to recoil in baffled fury. The force of Hitler is the force we have given him, we who project on others the devil that lurks within ourselves. He has risen on the wings of our hatred and fear just as, in dreams, monsters created by ourselves rush on us with our power. Remember the profound Puranic story of how when Brahma created the Rakshasas they rushed on him to devour him. Just so does a figure like Hitler, clothed in the projections of a whole world's secret wishes and fears, rush upon us. Like the Gadarene swine of the Gospel, he is the vehicle of all the devils we project from ourselves and in the end his fate will be that of those swine who "rushed down a steep place into the sea." For (and this I say subject to the limitations of my knowledge of him) he has or would appear to have accepted those projected devils and clasped them to him. No man is forced to accept such projections against his will. If he refuses them resolutely they cannot cling to him but return whence they came. Curses like chickens return home to roost. He, however, who accepts them, forthwith becomes their servant, gaining, like Marlowe's Faustus, powers for the time being, but ultimately being rent in pieces by the devils to whom he has given himself. This, unless my vision of him is quite wrong--and I have striven to judge with as much detachment as possible--is what will happen to him. An inner disruption, a tearing in pieces of his psyche, is certain, and, since inner events are reflected outside, it is even likely that that inner disruption will have its outer embodiment so that the pitiable man will perish miserably at the hands of the passions he has given himself to be the servant of.

It is just no use being appalled at what we now see. Things are not worse because they become manifest and these horrors were with us all the time. In the (sometimes) pleasant and fair life of peace in our great cities--East or West--these ghastly figures were standing at our elbows, lying under our feet unseen by most and yet there, as much there as they are now. I am not talking philosophy, but just fact.

You write that sometimes, when you were depressed lately, you felt like the Mayavadin that "this world is too beastly a place to be open to redemption." But this view is superficial. You start by taking this world as a thing in itself and then suppose that the Mayavadin condemns it or rejects and condemns it. But what the real Mayavadin means (and only he should count) by this world is nothing more than a wrong view of Reality and such a wrong view is undoubtedly beastly and must be rejected. Incidentally, don't imagine that by the word view I mean a mere mental view: I mean something much deeper than a creed held by that little corner of our being which we call our conscious mind.

(deleted paragraph here in which he trailed off into talk about England)

Let us not give way to the childish longing for a "miracle". Instead of longing for Divine intervention, like some people who long for American intervention, let us fight our own battle (those of us who are removed from physical fighting just as much and even more than those who are not) and we can be utterly confident that in proportion as we offer in our souls any foothold for the Divine values, to that extent the unconquerable Divine Power will manifest. Those of us who are removed from the overt conflict have a greater opportunity (and therefore a greater responsibility) for seeing things as they are and then of hastening the only thing that matters: the ultimate and inevitable triumph of the Divine.

In any case the really awful thing is not the WAR but the state of the world psyche (of which we are parts) which made that WAR occur as inevitably as a certain state of the physical body issues in a rash upon the skin. Do not blame the Asuric Powers as stupid people blame governments. Those Powers work in and through us for our being is much greater than appears and though our feet tread this dark earth, our heads are far beyond it and the Divine Sun and Moon themselves are our eyes.

It is time I stopped! Thanks again for your poems of which I particularly liked the translations from the Kavirpanthi and the Sufi.

Love always Dilip, and please don't publish this letter. Yours ever, Krishnaprem

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