SUNYASEES AND TRAPPISTS.
IT is almost a pity that Mr. Rudyard Kipling should have published his last story in the Pall Mall Gazette of Thursday week. No one really reads an evening newspaper, and to those who only skim it much of the magical charm of that strange tale, which only its author could have written, and he only in his highest mood, must perforce be imperceptible. By what mysterious art Mr. Kipling contrives to create intellectual atmosphere, so that in his narrative we see without doubt or dimness a person, a scene, a creed so removed from our habitual sympathies and range of knowledge, and feel that all these are possible, we, who are old critics, are unable to decide, but that he has done it no one who comprehends literature at all can fail to perceive. Sir Purun Bass—the name is a slip, being as impossible in a Brahmin of Brah- mins as Higg or Such in a great English noble—Knight of the Star of India, Premier of his State, administrator, re- former, scholar learned in all the Western as well as the Indian learning, and naked Sunyasee with a lint on the Himalayas, is a true Indian figure, one which, strange as it seems to us in this country, has not only once, but repeatedly, existed. There are two like him described in Mr. Carpenter's "From Adam's Peak to Elephanta " ;— "Only some five or six years ago the son of the late Baja of Tanjore—a man of some forty or fifty years of age, and of course the chief native personage in that part of India—made up his mind to become a devotee. He one day told his friends he was going on a railway journey, sent off his servants and carriages from the palace to the station, saying he would follow, gave them the slip, and has never been heard of since ! His friends went to the man who was known to have been acting as his Guru, who simply told them, 'You will never find him.' Supposing the G.O.M. or the Prince of Wales were to retire like this,—how odd it would seem ! To illustrate this subject I may tell the story of Tilleingthan Swiluoy, who was the teacher of the Guru whose acquaintance I am referring to in this chapter. Tillein6than was a wealthy shipowner of high family. In 1850 ho devoted himself to religious exercises, till 1855, when he became 'emanci- pated.' After his attainment he felt sick of the world, and so he wound up his affairs, divided all his goods and money among relations and dependents, and went off stark naked into the woods. His mother and sisters were grieved and repeatedly pursued him, offering to surrender all to him if he would only return. At last he simply refused to answer their importunities, and they desisted. He appeared in Tanjore after that in '57, '69, '64, and '72, but has not been seen since. He is supposed to be living somewhere in the Western Ghauts."
Mr. Kipling, we doubt not, could point to the actual figure from whom hie sketch was taken, as we could to another, a most competent and unromantic man of business, who, like Sir Purun Dass, died in a moment to the world, shook off the trammels of civilisation, and went forth a naked vagrant, to sit for the remainder of life at -the mercy of passers-by for food, meditating on the divine. Nothing, no training, no weight of circumstances, no temptation of the flesh yielded to or resisted, will ever free a true Hindoo from the latent desire to be rid of earthly consciousness, and be part of the universal, all-pervading spirit life; or of the belief which seems not to be born of his reason, but to be generated in his blood, that the only road to that end is to dominate the flesh com- pletely,—to ignore all the cares of man, even the desire for food, and to meditate through the years until, on some for- tunate day, the inner and divine light shall come to him, making clear all the mysteries of this complex universe. Not that all Sunyasees are like that by any means. Many are chiefly influenced by a desire to be rid of anxiety and toil, and to live free as animals live ; by, in short, what a Western European or a white American would describe as an ecstatic passion of laziness. Many more are but remorseful men, stricken with a consciousness of sin committed in this or previous births, and anxious by asceticism carried to extremes to regain their true relation to the All; but that there are some moved by Purun Bass's emotion, the thirst for more and diviner light, it is supercilious folly to dis- believe. The world knows of but one such, but that one, Gautama, Prince and hermit, as he sat under his tree naked, cross-legged, and motionless, sent out through Asia thoughts• which, to a fourth of mankind, are still " unthought-like thoughts that are the souls of thought," not beliefs so much as the very origins and root-ideas of whole systems of belief. Up to the top of society, and down to its lowest depths, those ideas penetrated ; and to this hour there is not in India or Indo-China or China, a Prince or a peasant, not being a Mussulman or Christian, who wholly escapes their enervating yet stimulating influence. There have been many other Sunyasees less successful than Gautama, and to account for them is one of the unsolved puzzles of the Western mind. What gives them the power to control, as they undoubtedly do, not only their bodies but their minds ? That Purun Dass, once a statesman, should sit in a lonely hut on the Himalayas and eat what the charitable bring, and remain so motionless that the very beasts of the jangle grow familiar and friendly, is hardly conceivable to clothed men impatient of hunger and intolerant of exposure, but still they can believe it; but that he should never grow weary, never be bored, but always be happy and serene, this is so completely opposed to their very natures as to be beyond their mental grasp. They cannot credit that light should in that way come to the soul, nor could we affirm it; but that something comes, a certainty as to the truth of the thoughts that rise unbidden which is mistaken for light, is proved by all Asiatic history, by the story of the monks of the Thebaid, as much as by the influence which at this hour such teachers exercise over disciples, many of whom go to them utterly sceptical, and remain convinced that in the Sunyasee—they could not tell you how—there is something which they recognise as beyond themselves. The Englishman laughs or ridicules, but that it may be so is the rooted belief of every Hindoo or Buddhist ; and, hence the Sunyasee never dies of want, and hence no Asiatic, however educated, is wholly beyond the reach of that strange passion for more light, or wholly exempt from the danger of being suddenly hurled out of himself into the life of the pilgrim or the devotee.
But we have the same thing in Europe, the Roman Catholics will say, and it is partly true. Year after year some noble, some wealthy man, some one familiar with the most living scenes of the world, with Courts or camps or Bourses, flits away silently to bury himself, it may even be under the shadow of the Great Wall of China, or in the depths of Algeria, in some Trappist monastery, there to live on the plainest food under a rOgime of silence, obedience, and daily toil with his hands, for the remainder of his years. Nothing is heard of them, their friends forget them, their retreat is as perfect as that of the Sunyasee, and it is only by chance that a visitor or a doctor recognises with a start in a man who is enduring patiently, it may be gladly, a living death, one on whom great ladies smiled, or who was heard with attention in the councils of those who rule. That happens ; but the motive of the Europeans who accept that sepulture differs from that of the highest Sunyasees. Many of the former, like the Indian ascetics of the second grade, are recovering the cleanliness of their souls besmirched by sin, and many more, a keen Catholic observer once told us, fly not to expiate sin, but to avoid in themselves the tendencies which they know would, unless violently suppressed, lead to its cora. mission. Scarcely one of them is urged forth from the world by the passion for more light. To begin with, they think they have it already, as every Christian must think. There is nothing to discover, though there is so much which ought to be made real and personally effective. The Christian, if a Christian in truth, is certain ; but in the Hindoo or the Buddhist, if he thinks on such things at all, there is an element of uncertainty, of mental confusion, as it were, out of which he is now and then irresistibly impelled to spring. We remember reading somewhere—it must have been in some Missionary record.— the confession of a neophyte whom the fever had inspired with a desire not to meditate but to wander, to see all creeds in their central homes, in Lhassa, Mecca, Rome, and a Moravian village, and who had, obeyed his impulse, to conic at last, if we may trust a memory growing dim as to the details of the story, to the conclusion that Christianity was true, and that he would believe it if he was able. It is that uncertainty producing the passion for light which evolves the meditating Sunyasee whom Mr. Kipling has described, and who is unquestionably one of the strangest and most interesting figures among the
sons of men,—the person who, of all in the world, is most Asiatic and least comprehensible to the race which holds that through effort, not through meditation, is light to be sought, and which seeks in its heart not so much for guidance or light, as for the rescue which it calls salvation. The good life is flying from evil, not flying towards the light,—that is, in brief, the phrase which differentiates between the European monk and the Asiatie ascetic of the woods and hills.
We wonder whether the author of this story, who knows India as only a wanderer of genius could know it, is only using his wonderful power of linking animals into his narrative when he depicts his hero as surrounded by the kindlier animals of the forest, and even followed in friendli- ness by the bear of the Himalayas, or whether he has seen some scene which suggested that detail. We know nothing of forest life, and cannot form, much less offer, an opinion ; but the suggestion is not of itself impossible. The same assertion is made in almost every life of a media3val hermit-saint. Every great sportsman who has wandered far afield, knows that there are men, and women too, who have some special relation to the gentler beasts, who do not alarm or irritate them, whom they in a measure trust, and whom they will, to some strictly limited degree at all events, seem to obey. Mr. Kipling has founded many of his stories—for instance, the incomparable one, "My Lord the Elephant "—u pon artistic exaggerations of that fact, and he suggests in this story, the "Miracle of Purun Bhagat," what, so far as we know, is a novel explanation. The man or woman who would be friendly with the beasts, must not only be fearless of them—that of course is essential, as all beasts read fear in the eye, and think it will be cruel— but they must have a physical quietude, a freedom from sudden movement which gives the creatures confidence. That quietude would, in the case of a Sunyasee, be perfect and be protracted ; and though we cannot conceive that sitting there he would learn to understand animals as a naturalist some- times does, we can conceive that they would play in his presence with a fearlessness which would strike a European, or for that matter a Hindoo, as almost miraculous. We should like to know the evidence upon that point, which must have accumulated at the Zoological Gardens, and, little right as we have to an opinion, we feel inclined to offer one morsel of testimony. Of all domesticated animals the harmless necessary cat is the least amenable to orders, and the least inclined to recognise master or mistress. Yet there are people from whom no cat shrinks, who can give cats orders which are obeyed as if they were dogs, and on whose laps cats will lie quiescent for hours. Such people are usually old, and always tranquil, like the Sunya,see of Mr. Kipling's marvellous tale.