1 NOVEMBER 1930, Page 27

Beyond the Many and the One

Prophets of the New India. By Romain Rolland. (Cassell. 2 Is.) NEO-VEDANTISH, as here presented by the powerful pen of M. Rolland, appears to be (and we do not deny that it is) one of the great spiritual movements of last century. llama- krishna (1836-86) and Vivekananda (I563-1902), his disciple, Lace influenced the thought of the whole world. But in his syncretic mission, M. Rolland never blinks the troth : Indian Vedantists are as often misinformed about Christian my,ficisni as we are of the high truths of the Vedas : they are not idolaters, nor we the worshippers of an anthropomorphic CM. The author's grasp of both philosophies makes him an ideal interpreter of East to West, and vice versa, so that we may consider this book as one of the most important contributions recently made towards the synthesis of two great cultures,

No man or woman of the West—not Sister Nivedita, nor Max Muller, nor Paul Deussen—has succeeded so well in describing the " atmosphere " of Ramakrislum and his circle, although several have been more accurate in their accounts of his philosophy. We see a small brown man, with long, dark, half-veiled eyes, thin, delicate, with a bewitching smile and a great fund of humour. Perhaps no more plastic mystic has ever lived, unless it be our St. Francis of Assisi. He talks Bengali of a homely kind. His metaphors are simple : his life and teaching are all concerned with love. He accepts Christ as Son of Man.

Hamakrislina would have no fruitless discussions on meta- physics or theology :- " Do not trouble yourselves with doctrine (he said) it is the essence of existence in each man which counts. . . . I do not like argument. God is above the powers of reason. I see that all that exists is God. Then of what avail to reason t "

Yet in certain respects his mysticism was peculiar to India. No Western mystic has devoted as much attention as Ramakrislina did to the physical body. He would study the voice of his disciples and the state of their skin ; he generally looked at a student's breast to see if there was a certain redness there, which is a mark of aptitude in Yogic exercises of the school which he chiefly followed. " With a remarkable and scrupulous attention he noted their physiologi- cal characteristics of respiration, sleep, and even digestion. lie held that they were of considerable importance in confirming his diagnosis of their spiritual faculties and destiny." Thus M. Rolland, who seems hardly aware of the enormous impor- tance attached to the training of the sympathetic nervous system in Ramakrishna's philosophy, although he does very wisely suggest that the learned men of Europe who are preoccupied by the problems of mystic psycho-analysis, should put themselves in touch with the living witnesses of this teaching while there is yet time.

" Hindu religious psycho-physiology (ho writes) is entirely materialistic up to a certain stage, which is placed very high. . . . In tracing the genesis of perception from the impressions received of exterior objects to the nerve and brain centres, all the stages are material ; but the mind is made of more subtle matter, although it does not differ in essence from the body. . . . Positive science can walk hand in hand with Hindu faith for three-quarters of the way."

In the next paragraph M. Rolland states that he cannot find room for a detailed examination of Raja-yogic methods. This is no loss, for we do not feel that either his sympathy or erudition would by themselves, and without a practical physical experience of his subject, be sufficient to convey the inwardness of such a complex subject. Indeed, the chapter dealing with the Yogas, based on Vivekananda's writings, is the least satisfactory in the book. That, a few mis-spellings, and the lack of a subject index are the only adverse comments we have to make. Some of the monks who saw both Ramakrishna and Vive- kananda die are still alive, and preserve the traditions of their teachers. Ilow much they will give to the West, how- ever, depends on our attitude : if we were all Romain Rollands there would be no bar to a good understanding between East and West. As things are, the greatest living expositor of the Bhagarad Gita (Arabindo Ghose) is living as an exile at Pondicherry, and would be arrested if he set foot in British India.

M. Rolland is a severe critic of our rule, but in at least a dozen passages he acknowledges that without us India could never have reached her present position. " Great Indians have ever found amongst the English their most valiant and faithful disciples and helpers." Again, he quotes Vivekanan- da : " The British Empire, with all its drawbacks, is the greatest machine that ever existed for the dissemination of ideas. I mean to put my ideas into the centre of this machine, and they will spread all over the world." And how wise Vivekananda was when he said on his deathbed : " India is immortal if she persists in her search for Cod. If she gives 11 op for politics, she will die." Those words of a great Guru might be remembered to-day.

We have praised Prophets of the New India almost unreservedly, for it is full of intuition, and has in it the very rhythm of the best thought of Hindu thought. But we would warn cur readers (as the author himself does) that the literal accuracy of his facts may sometimes be questioned. To what shrine did Vivekananda swim at Cape Comorin ? Kumari's temple is on dry land. Ramakrislina himself would have denied the miracles attributed to him ; also he is only one of many Indian prophets, and has hardly caused a flutter in the dovecotes of Vaishnavite orthodoxy. Nor is the worship of Kali always so exalted a rite as M. Rolland allows us to infer. But these things are trifles : the great thing is that M. Rolland has shown us several facets of the soul of India : no man could do more, and few as much.

F. Y-B.