The Theosophical Forum – July 1942

INDIAN YOGA AND THE MODERN WORLD — Charles J. Ryan

In one of Dr. Paul Brunton's earlier works, A Search in Secret India, he says that although Yoga "is one of the most valuable inheritances India has received from her ancient sages," if it is "to remain the hobby of a few hermits the modern world will have no use for it and the last traces of the sacred science will disappear." The West will ignore it and the new India will abandon it. Readers of that widely read study of Indian yogis will remember that the author was profoundly impressed at first by the mental peace shown by the Maharishi of Arunchala, "a saintly yogi who had perfected himself in indifference to worldly attractions and in the control of the restless mind." But after further experience he has concluded that the effort to attain such a goal was not a justifiable one if it led to nothing of practical benefit to humanity at large.

Dr. Brunton's latest book, The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, is the result of long experience in theoretical observation of Indian yoga and in its actual practice, and his previous works must be regarded as descriptions or expressions of the stages through which he has traveled in reaching a higher altitude. Its title conveys the realization that humanity can reach a far more all-round development than the limited outlook offered by the yogis. It is surely the most important contribution the author has yet made to occult literature and to the cause of social welfare, and we are glad that a further development will follow in a second volume. It is both critical and constructive in showing that certain mental disciplines of Indian yoga might be extremely useful when the terrible conditions now prevailing have passed and men of good-will are called upon to redeem the world from the nightmare of materialistic thought and action we have brought upon ourselves. For any artificial culture of psychic powers, sometimes mistaken for yoga, a terrible menace in this hotbed of passion and emotion, Dr. Brunton has of course no sympathy, and his presentation of yoga has no element which could appeal to the curiosity-seeker or the psychic researcher. He broadly defines yoga as "a Sanskrit word which appertains to various techniques of self-discipline involving mental concentration and leading to mystic experiences or intuitions," but he emphasizes the warning that though these experiences may help to thin the veil between the ordinary consciousness and its profounder reaches they are certain to mislead unless strictly controlled and checked by the discriminating analysis of a mind trained by the methods of certain great Sages of old, and by practical experience and service in the world of men. The visions of "yogis," whether in the Orient or among the Christian saints, or among certain Western seers or "sensitives" or even those of so-called "primitive" races, are rarely balanced by logical thinking, with the result that so many differences of opinion prevail about their correct interpretation. The Mahatman K. H. strongly emphasizes this in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 276. The need for the scientific and philosophical teaching of the Sages which we call "technical" Theosophy is apparent.

The author's final conclusion, after years of personal experience of yoga-states and wide acquaintance with genuine yogis, is that while there is much to say for a disciplined yoga training, freed from emotionalism, curiosity hunting, superstition, and "the miraculous," its real usefulness lies in its practical methods of mind concentration, the control of the restlessness of the mind which is our greatest hindrance in hearing the Inner Voice. He does not disguise the danger of yoga becoming a mere personal gratification and a turning into ashes in the mouth, "a shriveling complacency accompanied by an open disdain for life's practical fulfilment in disinterested service of others." He repeats the old teaching that the withdrawal from the pleasures of the senses to the more subtil enjoyments of self-centered isolation is no self-abnegation at all. He quotes the well-known and cultured yogi, Sri Aurobindo: "Trance is a way of escape — the body is made quiet, the physical mind is in a state of torpor. . . [but] . . . The disadvantage is that trance becomes indispensable and that the problem of waking consciousness is not solved; it remains imperfect."

Speaking from the logic of critical reflexion and somewhat painful experience, he writes:

I became acutely aware that mysticism was not enough by itself to transform or even discipline human character or to exalt its ethical standards towards a satisfactory ideal. It was unable to link itself thoroughly to life in the external world! . . . Even the emotional exaltations of mystical ecstacy — wonderfully satisfying though they be — were fleeting both in experience and effect and have proved insufficient to ennoble men permanently. The disdain for practical action and the disinclination to accept personal responsibility which marked the character of real mystics prevented them from testing the truth of their knowledge as well as the worth of their attainments and left them suspended in mid-air, as it were. Without the healthy opposition of active participation in the world's affairs, they had no means of knowing whether they were living in a realm of sterilized self-hallucination or not . . . The true sage could be no anemic dreamer but would incessantly transform the seeds of his wisdom into visible and tangible plants of acts well done. — p. 25

The latter, of course, is the essential teaching of the true "Raja Yogis," the Masters of Wisdom, and Compassion, who established the Theosophical Movement and its humble instrument, the Theosophical Society, to bring "Truth, Light and Liberation" to a world in sore need of them.

We have always admired the Zen system of Buddhism, and it is gratifying to find that Dr. Brunton accepts the Japanese Zen as a sensible and beneficial system free from the objections that apply to much of the Indian yoga. In Zen the students are given active duties as well as discipline in meditation, and after a period of training they are returned in most cases to the outside world, equipped with the power of sustained concentration and a desirable balance of the inner and the outer faculties that make them successful and respected citizens. A few adopt the monastic life but all made spiritual contacts by which their lives are permanently enriched.

What, then, is the balancing philosophy which is needed if Eastern Yoga training in concentration of mind, etc., is to be any use in the daily life of the world? "Disenchanted," as the author says, "by long experience of certain ashrams and ascetics," and no longer "confusing yogis with sages — as most of us do," he was led, largely by the help and example of a truly great and spiritual philosopher-ruler, the late Maharaja of Mysore, to such ancient teachings as the Mandukya Upanishad, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Ashtavakra Samhita, Sankaracharya's writings, etc., which contain what he calls "The Hidden Teachings Beyond Yoga," the teaching of "the yoga of philosophic discernment" . . . "philosophic disciplines using the intense concentration generated by yoga practice but directed toward freeing the mind of its innate ignorance and habitual error": in short to develop the fullest powers of insight. He says he is not writing for cloistered pedants of academic metaphysics but for the intelligent "man in the street" who is taking thought for the meaning of life; and therefore he has avoided technical language as far as possible, without sacrificing accuracy or depth — an example many writers on philosophy would do well to follow.

The great Hindu scriptures mentioned as of such transcendent importance by Dr. Brunton are not unfamiliar to Theosophists. The Bhagavad-Gita., for instance, has been the subject of almost universal and intensive study since the early days of the Theosophical Society. The teaching that is "Beyond Yoga," but for which yoga concentration of mind is no doubt a good preparation, is not a new revelation, as Dr. Brunton says, for it is enshrined in the works mentioned, but unfortunately its meaning has not been properly understood by Western scholars and still less by the general reader unless enlightened by the teachings of Theosophy. If we understand Dr. Brunton correctly, the Theosophical discipline and outlook is practically the same as his "yoga of philosophical discernment" adapted to the comprehension of the Western mind. We are, however, looking forward with interest to the second volume of this study, where more complete interpretation is promised.

After a careful consideration of the modern developments in science, education, transport facilities, inventions, etc., which have transformed our social conditions and mental outlook, and especially the widespread increase, under the baleful influence of materialism, of the despairing feeling that there is no purpose in human life, the author declares that this is the time when the ancient "Aryan" knowledge must be brought to the West "to help the better cultured classes act more wisely that something nobler may emerge . . . toward a finer human world." This is true indeed, but it is not exactly new, for the Theosophical Movement was started in 1875 to promote human welfare on "Aryan" lines of thought, spiritual, intellectual and practical. At that time only a minute coterie of scholars in the West knew anything about these principles, and few regarded them as anything more than an abstruse field of linguistic and ethnological research. The Theosophical activities called popular attention to the Wisdom of the East, and in the few years that have elapsed since H. P. Blavatsky brought her message it has produced far-reaching results by giving hope and encouragement to an immense number of discouraged people as well as by powerfully affecting the religious, scientific, and social ideas of our age. The Theosophical Movement was established by Hindu Sages, not "hibernating hermits," but philanthropists of the highest compassion and wisdom, whose aims and ideals are universal in scope and application. These Masters of Life "have made the age-old cause of all mankind their own" and are not "ascetically indifferent" to the social welfare and evolution of the world in its common everyday experiences and tribulations. According to Dr. Brunton, this can hardly be said of many of the self-centered and self-sufficient Hindu yogis, pure-minded and mystically inclined though they may be, and untainted by the selfish desire to be reverenced for their possession of strange powers.

In the last chapter, "The Philosophic Life," the author discusses the woes of the world and its crying need for a true and dynamic philosophy of life, one which would be recognised and accepted by men of action and leadership. But, as he writes, the ground for such a world-philosophy must be prepared by a voluntary clearance on the part of the organized religions of their labyrinth of traditional rubbish and a complete reorganization of their methods. The Unity of the Universe must be recognised, and this implies the divinity of man because he is an integral part of it — some would say of God, but the author prefers a term he has suggested, the Overself. He insists that the laws of Cause and Effect, Perfect Justice — Karman — and Reincarnation must be understood and lived up to. Fully to accept the law of Karman — you reap what you sow, and nothing else — is of the utmost importance for it is a natural and inescapable fact from which we shall suffer and suffer until we recognise it. Every day we are shaping our future conditions and history by our thoughts and deeds — fortunate if they are good, unhappy if they are selfish. The only way to change one's life for the better is to take the bull by the horns and change one's way of thinking, as he says. All this is good sound Theosophy, though Dr. Brunton does not use the word even though its antecedents in classical thought are excellent and expressive of his views. We notice that he avoids any reference to or consideration of the seven (or four) kosas or "principles" of man's complex nature as given in Oriental philosophy, which have been found so illuminating by Theosophists in their study of the subtilities of human psychology and universal consciousness.

Dr. Brunton strikes a profound Theosophical keynote of action when he says that the key to happiness is forgetting oneself. He sums up his ethical position in the words: "It is the duty of the strong to assist the weak, of the advanced to help the backward, of the saintly to guide the sinful, of the wealthy to enlighten the ignorant. And because ignorance is the root of all other troubles, therefore the Buddha pointed out that, "explaining and spreading the truth is above all charities." " This, of course, is the "practical charity" which is the Theosophical ideal, the most effective way to bring about a permanent condition of universal brotherhood. The reason why the Theosophical Society as a philanthropic organization is more concerned in spreading the light of Theosophy in this Dark Age than in extending material assistance is that the latter can only be a temporary alleviation or "appeasement," to use a popular expression, so long as human ignorance and selfishness remain unchanged. Members of Theosophical societies, as individuals, may and do help in any charitable work they prefer, for as H. P. Blavatsky says in The Voice of the Silence, "Inaction in a deed of mercy is action in a deadly sin."

Dr. Brunton calls for a remedy for "the malady of human suffering," and he clearly indicates that the remedy lies in the active participation of men of "goodwill" and wisdom in the work of redemption. For instance, he writes:

The sages who have gone looked within self in the quest of abiding reality rather than fitful experience, of final truth rather than emotional satisfaction . . . hence they alone found the genuine goal. And because they did not flee as did mystics from the vexing problem of the world, they solved that too at the same startling moment that the self was understood. . . . Thenceforth they made the age-old cause of all mankind their own.

This is excellent so far as it goes, and knowledge of the Self, even in part, is essential for a true Teacher. We must remember, however, that such an understanding is not gained by merely intellectual processes, nor can the search be entered upon without a higher inspiration if it is to succeed. According to the teaching and example of the Great Ones, the Buddhas and the Christs, the first and most important qualification for discipleship in "the age-old cause of all mankind" is to "love thy neighbor as thyself," or, in Buddhism, to obey the highest of its rules of conduct or Paramitas, "Dana, the key of charity and love immortal," and as H. P. Blavatsky gives it in The Voice of the Silence, "To live to benefit mankind is the first step," and "Compassion speaks and saith: "Can there be bliss when all that lives must suffer? Shalt thou be saved and hear the whole world cry?" "

We hope that in his forthcoming volume Dr. Brunton will emphasize this fundamental teaching of all the Saviors of humanity without which the candidate for even the highest psycho-intellectual states of consciousness is always in danger of being led into unproductive bypaths toward what is called the pratyeka condition. Dr. Brunton has certainly deserved gratitude and has done excellent service in this volume by courageously presenting the matured judgment of an expert in Hindu Yoga at the risk of inevitable misunderstanding, as he tells us. By his frankly critical but constructive and not unfriendly analysis he has cleared up many obscurities and helped greatly in exposing the false and fantastic notions about yoga so prevalent in the west.

Amid the wreckage of outworn forms of thought the world is blindly reaching for a nobler philosophy of life. If it would realize the admirable principles so skilfully and earnestly put forward here, which are practically those of Theosophy, and put them into practice, we should indeed begin to see the "Promised Land"!


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