5. Development in Huxley's Thought: Hindu-Buddhist Influences
Hinduism-Buddhism has been making a great impact on the West's religious thinking. C.E.M. Joad even called it a "counter-attack from the East". This is a kind of impact however which cannot be measured in terms of "converts". The influence remains even unacknowledged. But it works nonetheless unconsciously and at a deeper level. "Karma", "Yoga", "Experience", "Consciousness", "Meditation" and other such intimately Indian concepts are very much current. Fully 23% American young adults believe in Reincarnation. Under this influence, there is less belief in dogmas and official Saviours, but there is more emphasis on an experimental approach, on personal experience and on finding for oneself. The Church is no longer regarded as the sole vehicle of grace except in die-hard circles; on the other hand, there is a new awareness of the spiritual wealth of non-European and non-Christian nations and cultures, a thought quite new to the West's traditional religion. This new universality and wider appreciation are the best gifts of Hinduism-Buddhism to the West since it discovered the East.
This broadening did not take place in a day. It took more than two hundred years and it began in developments whose results were unforeseen at that time. The initial contact of India with the West was not happy. The Europeans were not curious visitors. They came as conquerors; and soon they developed a contempt proper to their status for the culture and religion of the conquered people. It worked further to the disadvantage of Hinduism when they adopted the views of the preceding Muslim invaders regarding it. Hinduism was idolatrous, polytheist and out of grace with God.
In this mood, the new rulers began to translate Indian religious, philosophical and legal texts. The initial motive was political and administrative, though some scholars did come to their task with genuine curiosity and open-mindedness. The Missionaries had their own approach which is illustrated by William Carey who wanted these translations so that they could show that the Hindu Sanskrit texts are "in reality filled with nothing but pebbles and trash".
But once these translations were available, they went beyond intended results. They won admirers amongst some of the best minds of Europe. In some cases, they even turned the Christian apple-cart. After reading them, Schopenhauer found them the "solace" of his life and death, and also found his mind "washed clean of an early engrafted Jewish superstitions". Kant found that the Hindus were "gentle", that "all nations are tolerated amongst them". This fact also explained to him why they were "subdued by the Tartars". These texts in translations won the admiration of Emerson, Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Romain Rolland, Hermann Hesse, Henrich Zimmer, Sir Edwin Arnold, Yeats, Jung, Toynbee and many others.
The Indian influence was not restricted to some outstanding individuals alone; through Theosophy, it become a popular movement. Theosophy spoke of "ancient wisdom" by which it meant mainly the wisdom of ancient India.
In post-World War II Europe and America, Transcendental Meditation (TM) of Mahesh Yogi has attracted wide attention, and literally hundreds of thousands have attended some kinds of meditation-camps. The two other more important movements are the Krishna Consciousness and the Saiva Siddhanta Church. They offer more than some selected or edited ideas of Hinduism; they represent its mainstream sects in their flesh and blood, in their full-fledged philosophy, symbolism, modes of worship sâdhanâ and even their rituals. The Saiva Siddhanta Church even brings out a monthly journal, Hinduism Today (Hawaii), the first of its kind, which is doing an important work in consolidating international Hinduism.
Aldous Huxley is one of those who enriched the West greatly with the wisdom of the East. Though he came late on the scene, his influence was nonetheless real and deep. Himself a great intellectual, he spoke to the intellect of the West its most effective medium of communication.
Huxley's initial reaction to India was far from being warm. In fact, he started by rejecting its spirituality altogether and finding it no good to anyone and even to itself. During 1925-26, he visited India but left it quite dissatisfied. He landed at Bombay "hot, muggy and expensive" on 2nd October and left India in early February the following year, "rather glad to escape". In Jesting Pilate, his travelogue, he says that "one is all for religion until one visits a really religious country". But he does admit that there are some admirers of Indian 'spirituality', whose "admiration actually survives a visit to India". Elaborating on the theme, he further says: "Admirers of India are unanimous in praising Hindu 'spirituality'. I cannot agree with them. To my mind 'spirituality' is the primal curse of India and the cause of all her misfortune." He felt that religion is a "luxury", which India, at least, in its present condition, "cannot possibly afford". He added that if he were an Indian millionaire, he would leave all his money for an "endowment of an Atheist Mission". Perhaps discouraged by India's material problems, he says that "Ford seems a greater man than Buddha".
Three years later, he repeats his rejection of Indian spirituality through a character in his novel Point Counter Point. "What a comfort it will be to be back in Europe again! And to think there was a time when I read books about Yoga and did breathing exercises and tried to persuade myself that I didn't really exist! What a fool."
In due course, Huxley was more than reconciled to India's spirituality, but physical or geographic India still disappointed him. He visited it briefly in 1961 at the invitation of the Tagore Centenary Celebration, and he found it "almost infinitely depressing". During mid-twenties, Huxley put the word Indian "spirituality" under quotes to indicate that it was suspect in his eyes and that it needed being warned against. A decade had to pass before he adopted it himself and became its warm admirer and able exponent. The new influence radically changed his views on metaphysics and morality, on life and death, on man and his universe and his norms of conduct and excellence.
What accounts for this transformation? It has to do with Huxley's own deeper seeking. From his early youth he was a collector of "psychological varieties" ("the only things I have ever thought it worth while to collect", he says in one of his essays in his Music At Night), world-views and life-views; he was also a critical analyzer and earnest explorer and seeker. He sought to find man's place, purpose and significance in the universe. In this search, he passed through many terrains and reviewed many philosophies, paths and creeds.
In this search, the first guidance came from the intellectual world in which he lived. This world subscribed to materialism in philosophy; it was positivist in outlook and relativist in morals. It was shaped by Rationalism of the 17th and 18th centuries as reinforced by evolutionary and historical theories of the late 19th century. Freud and Pavlov made important contributions. The net result was that the age denied God; it denied the "other world"; it denied any higher purpose and destiny for man. Not excellence or self-exceeding but Benthamite happiness was the Highest Good; not the heightening of the Consciousness to contact a higher order of reality but an adjustment with the sense-world was the admired, scientifically approved and sanctified goal or ideal.
These movements provided powerful influences and they find eloquent formulation in Huxley's writings of the early period. Their impact was reinforced by his own precocity and the stimulation he received from his immediate intellectual quarters. As a young man, he had occasions to spend considerable time at Garsington, six miles from, Oxford, at the Elizabethan manor, maintained by Lady Ottoline, wife of Philip Morrell, a liberal M.P. The place provided retreat and hospitality to many intellectuals and avant-gardists in moral fashions. It was here that Huxley first met Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot and many others. It was here that Russell had his well-known affairs with Lady Ottoline. Sybille Bedford, Huxley's biographer, tells us that the atmosphere of the place was permissive and "constancy and the loyalties of the heart were looked upon as philistine and a bit ridiculous".
Huxley's earlier writings are powerfully coloured by the prevailing intellectual atmosphere. But increasingly he began to find them unsatisfying. The materialist philosophy denied the spiritual dimension; his growing mind refused to take it as the final explanation. He began to reject Freudianism and Behaviourism which made man's mind a prisoner of its own lower powers. He felt that vague intimations of "another world" could not all be illusory. It was at this stage of his intellectual questioning and seeking that Indian philosophy and religion came to him. In a vague way, they were known to him already, but at this stage they came with a new impact. They opened up new vistas; in them he found answers to his intellectual and spiritual seeking. They provided not only answers but also a method, a praxis. They became interwoven with and part and parcel of his spiritual quest.
Can one trace their course satisfactorily in his life? At what stage did he change from a rational truth-seeker to a seeker of the mystic truth and at what stage did this seeking take on a decidedly Indian turn? In short, when did he become a mystic, become an advaitin? Was the change accompanied by inner conflicts?
Huxley provides no direct answer. He wrote no autobiography. He was reticent and he hated to speak about himself. Even his biography written by Sybille Bedford does not throw much light on this subject in this form. The biographer does give events in Huxley's life in their chronological sequence, but she undertakes no specific study of Hindu-Buddhist influences as such on Huxley.
However, this omission proves no great handicap. Huxley's best life consisted in his thoughts and they are lucidly expressed in his novels, essays and letters. If we study them, we find in them an "increasing purpose", a trend progressively expressing Hindu-Buddhist influences.
Under these influences Huxley's views on man's most intimate concerns changed fundamentally. He began to look at the world through different eyes. His ideas on man, morals, life and death were transformed. The subject is large, but we shall take up some illustrations to make the point clear.
Following the new usage of his time, Huxley's early novels abound in philandering and love-making. He explores, mainly intellectually, sexuality in its various facets: committed and open-ended, dogmatic and experimental, prosaic and romantic, illicit and open, guilty and remorseless, critical and passionate. One does not know where his own sympathy lay for while describing the one he also knew the other. In one of his essays of the period, "Fashions in Love", he brings out the relativity of love and says that love has its styles, schools and influences. But his aesthetic restraint makes him describe only a few of these fashions in his novels. Each school is an idea on legs; each offers its intellectual justification, the permissive often making a better case for itself.
In his Those Barren Leaves, published in 1925, Huxley depicts the "love of the parallels"; different pairs make love on different terraces of a large villa, each in its own style, the more philosophical types using their philososphies, as birds use their plumage, to attract their mates. A moralist does not like the permissive atmosphere, but Mr. Cardan, a philosopher, counters that "everyone has his own favourite vice". Another regards love-making as "the best indoor game".
His Brave New World, published in 1932, leans on Freudian wisdom and makes love-making free, plentiful and compulsory for its citizens in order to create a people who have no knots, no complexes, no emotional and spiritual conflicts, and, therefore, are happy and sociable, and docile and easily governed.
In another novel, Point Counter Point, belonging to the same period, sexual exploration continues. But in his writings of the War and post-War period when he had come under the influence of Hindu-Buddhist tradition where brahmacharya (abstinence) holds a high position, there is less interest in the subject and it takes a different direction. Sexual encounters are retained but they belong to the mundane world, saMsâra as it were, and are depicted on the outer walls of the shrine and are kept out of the inner sanctum. In his Ends and Means, he came to regard chastity as a "necessary precondition to any kind of moral life superior to that of the animal"; he began to think of it as "one of the major virtues" for without it, "societies lack energy and individuals are condemned to perpetual unawareness, attachment and animality". But he also distrusted it if it did not serve the major virtues of charity and intelligence. Associated with and in the service of a lower spiritual ideology, it became merely puritanism which was historically associated with "militarism and capitalism, with war and persecution and economic exploitation".
In Island, Huxley's last novel published in 1962, we find that love-making does not cease but it is done under and as a spiritual discipline. It is done with awareness, and "awareness transfigures it, turns love-making into the Yoga of lovemaking."
There was a phase when Huxley believed like so many other thinkers and philosophers of the day that the world was purely physical and had no spiritual dimension. He had no use for "airy assertions" about God and such like things. "God, we psychologists know, is a sensation in the pit of the stomach, hypostasised," he said. Similarly, he held, in the same vein, that the "Other World" was merely an "invention of the human fancy". It took him much time, influences of a very different kind and much self-reflection before he changed his views and concluded that the Other World was neither a human invention, nor other or alien but was one's true home and shelter, but that these truths have to be discovered by each person for himself.
This purely physical and chemical view of the world also gave birth to its own kind of sociology and ethics; it gave us a world which had no meaning, no significance, no morality, no value. "It is obvious, there are no moral laws; there are only social customs," says one of Huxley's characters. But his ideas changed radically when he embraced Upanishadic thought. In this new phase he asked the question again whether the world as a whole possesses the value and meaning we often attribute to certain parts of it (such as human beings and their works). And his answer is very different. He says that this is a "question which, a few years ago, I should not even have posed. For, like so many of my contemporaries, I took it for granted that there was no meaning." He gives two reasons for holding this view. One was because he shared the common belief that the scientific picture of an abstraction from reality was a true picture of reality as a whole. But he also confesses to some "non-intellectual reasons". He says he had "motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning". Explaining these motives and these non-intellectual reasons a few pages away, he says that for himself, as no doubt, for most of his contemporaries, "the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation". They objected to morality because it "interfered with our sexual freedom", he explains. He expounds that similar tactics were adopted during the eighteenth century and for the same reason when many thinkers went 'philosophical'. They preached that people should be "free from prejudices - above all, prejudices of a sexual nature".
Now in the new phase, he came to regard the world as supremely good and meaningful and in the process of realizing it he became a regular mystic philosopher. The ultimate reality is "the peace of God which passeth all understanding", he said and "goodness is the way by which it can be approached". To realize that the world is good one had himself to be good. "Virtue (Buddhist Sîla or yama and niyama of the Pâtañjala Yoga) is the essential preliminary to the mystical experience," he said.
But to arrive at this conclusion, Huxley had to traverse a long road. First he had to overcome, in his own, thinking the powerful bias of the age: world's essential materiality and meaninglessness. He took the first step by recognizing a plurality of dimensions; he thought that the world exists on many planes and in many modes, each on its own, and the problems was to bring these different planes in some sort of unity or at least relationship. In Those Barren Leaves, Calamy, a philosophical character, reflects on his own hands, of course while in bed with Miss Thriplow - perhaps a novelist's device to make philosophy living and even loving; he speculates that his hand exists in many modes: electromagnetically as a structure of molecules; biologically as part of a larger living organism; amorously as at that moment with power to excite and exhilarate; ethically when it does good and executes evil. "Universe on top of universe, layer after layer, distinct and separate." In these early novels, Huxley, through his characters, is very much occupied with "bridge-building", in synthesizing these multifarious universes in one grand philosophy.
After he came under the Indian influence, he saw his universes and his task differently. He saw two orders, saMsâra and nirvâNa, as being different and yet the same. There is a Godhead, Brahman, Clear Light of the Void which is the Unmanifest principle of all manifestations, which is at once transcendent and immanent. Both are held together in a mystic vision, in the unity of consciousness, in an act of unitive knowledge. Both are at heart the same. This is also That. The soul is akin to God and it can grow into his likeness.
In his early writings, Huxley had no use for thinkers and moralists who talked of "true" selves and 'true' Gods, who preached that men should shape their lives in their image. He opposed the "stoic's brutal sacrifice of the physical, instinctive and passionate life" and "the ascetic's self-castration". He said that aspiration for a "consistent perfection" was "aspiring towards annihilation". And then praising the Hindus where the praise was not due, he said that they "had the wit to see and the courage to proclaim the fact" that "Nirvana, the goal of their striving is nothingness". Later on, he had a different view of NirvâNa.
At this time, he held the current scientific view that man was no more than a physical-biological being and the spiritual dimension tended to be neglected or it was equated with the intellectual and artistic faculty. Therefore he came to the eminently reasonable view that a man should be what he really is and should not try to be different. If man was a worm in reality, he should not try to be a butterfly. "Fate has decreed that we shall be worms; so let us resign ourselves to being worms; nay... let us be worms with gusto, strenuously; let us make up our minds to be the best of all possible worms. For, after all, a good worm is better than that nondescript creature we become when we try to live above our station, in the world of wings. No amount of trying can convert a worm into even the worst of butterflies."
Partly at least, this view was a revolt against so many theologians, moralists and utopians who were around and, who in the name of a "consistent perfection" and an "ideal" society and an "ideal" man, exercised great tyranny. The theologians taught that there was no good in man and yet he should do good and then dictated what that good was. Huxley's ideas on human goodness, aspiration and perfection changed when his view of man changed, when he realized that man is secretly good and divine.
In his earlier novels, Huxley teaches the gospel of "noble savagery"; he wants man to be a "life-worshipper". Man should learn to live not only mentally but also "viscerally"; he should admit not only the claims of his heart and mind but also claims of "the bowels, the loins, the bones and skins and muscles".
Huxley's own constitution was highly intellectual and ascetic. In his essay Squeak and Gibber (Music at Night), he says that he finds the life of pleasure boring and painful, that it has do with his temperament, not any ethical theory. Probably pretty girls attracted him, but he found them boring - nothing wrong morally but spiritually raw, bothersome and uninteresting.
Therefore, many of his characters even while in the midst of a passionate love-affair find it a "dreary and fatiguing routine". They remain also aware of another dimension, the dimension of the spirit which they would like to plumb if they were free from their present obsession. However the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. Weak in pain but still weaker in pleasure, they reflect.
Therefore, he developed an ethical theory which had room both for instincts as well as the intellect. He said that man is not one but multiple; He is not one self, but a colony of selves. He must live all his selves and all his parts, and live them not moderately but fully. In his essays on Pascal and Spinoza's Worm both included in his anthology, Do What You Will, published in 1929, he developed the theory of "balanced excess". He preached that the life-worshipper of his conception would be "at times a positivist and at times a mystic; derisively sceptical and full of faith"; he will be "by turns excessively passionate and excessively chaste"; he held that "all the manifestations of life are godlike, and every element of human nature has a right - a divine right, even - to exist and find expression." He said, quoting Pausanias in the Symposium of Plato, that "all the Gods ought to have praise given to them."
Plato had also described such a man who was sensualist and ascetic alternately, who fasted one day and gormandized the other. But according to him, this life was chaotic and it belonged to one who had no metaphysical and moral standards left, and whose soul was heading for a tyrannical life.
Under the influence of Indian religion and philosophy, Huxley also radically changed his view-point. He gave up the doctrine of the "multiple man" and embraced the one of the "higher man". Probably he still remained a "life-worshipper", but under a very different definition. Life now meant life of the soul, higher life, immortal life. He came to believe that "enlightenment is the supreme end of man", the highest purushârtha of Hindu thought. In Ends and Means, an early work written under Hindu-Buddhist influence, he said that "the ideal man is the non-attached man. Non-attached to his bodily sensations and lusts. Non-attached to his craving for power and possession. Non-attached to the objects of these various desires. Non-attached to his anger and hatred; non-attached to his exclusive loves. Non-attached to wealth, fame, social position..."
Spirit and Body
On purely materialist principles, a life even when lived "fully" - as the word is understood - has little meaning. Its best accomplishments are a mere vanity and vexation of the spirit. There is even less to justify the lives of the poor. Huxley once shared these views. Like the rest of his intellectual community, he believed in one life. No after-life, no rebirth, no resurrection. While in India in the mid-twenties, he asked himself the question - to what end millions upon millions of people are born and painfully live? He was honest enough to admit that it is hard enough to find a reason anywhere, West or East. But in India, he thought, there was no conceivable answer to the question, at any rate in terms of the present existence. And therefore, he added, "Metempsychosis had to be invented, and the doctrine of karma elaborated with a frightful logic, before the serried, innumerable miseries of India could be satisfactorily accounted for." The explanation was in the spirit of sciences of the day.
Huxley was never a thorough denier. He recognized the Spirit and its life, but he identified it with Intellect, or with aesthetic or with art. It was also thought to be at the mercy of the body. "Sooner or later every soul is stifled by the sick body; sooner or later there are no thoughts, but only pain and vomiting and stupor.. The Spirit has no significance; there is only the body," says a philosophical character in Those Barren Leaves.
Here again, Huxley follows the lead of Western Science. In it, the fact of pain and death is used to deny immortality, the body is used to deny the soul; but in India, the facts of human sickness, old age and death led its sages to seek a status of the soul where "there is no old age, no death, no sorrow" (vijro vimrityurviSoko), to put it in the language of the Upanishads.
In Western thought, the body holds the soul; in Indian thought, the soul holds the body. After Huxley adopted the Indian view, the body and its death lost their primacy. They were seen as accidents in the larger life of the soul. In 1955 when Maria, his wife and companion of thirty-five years, was dying, he was guiding her on her next journey according to the teachings of Bardo Thodol, The Tibetan Book of the Dead. He continued whispering into her ears that her essence was love and light, that she should now forget her body and the time in which that body had lived, that she should leave her old memories behind, that regrets, remorses, apprehensions - all these were barriers between her and the Light. "Peace, Joy, Love", he kept on whispering into her ears. In 1963, when Huxley was himself dying, Laura, his second wife, provided him similar guidance.
In Hinduism, dying is an art. In the higher reaches of Yoga, one can choose at will when to quit and where to go. Under certain circumstances, voluntary death - prâyopaveSaNa, sallekhana or santhârâ - is admitted. The art of dying however is the same as the art of living. Noble life and noble death go together. In the Mahâbhârata, Arishtanemî, a tapasvin, sings; "Death holds no sway over us, for we have lived a noble life."
One conquers death by ceasing to cling to life. In Island, the inhabitants, who are "Buddhists or Shivaites" when they are not "Tantrik agnostics", are taught, among many other sciences, the science of thanatology, "the ultimate science"; it consists in dying in awareness. It is different from the ordinary, modern-day dying which is described by Huxley in his Time Must Have A Stop: "Ignore death up to the last moment; then, when it can't be ignored any longer, have yourself squirted full of morphia and shuffle off in a coma. Thoroughly sensible, humane and scientific, eh?" It is this kind of dying, in its still more scientifically organized form, that takes place at the "Park Lane Hospital for the Dying", described in the 14th chapter of the Brave New World, the scientific utopia.
The premise of the new mode of dying - dying in awareness is different. It is based on the vision of an "immortal" life. In Hinduism, Immortality has its own connotations; here it does not mean prolongation of an unregenerate life in time but rather a life lived in Gods and in eternity. Huxley adopted this view and presented it ably in his After Many A Summer, published in 1939. In another still later novel, he says that man's problem is not Black Death but the Grey Life - a life without aspiration and experience of divine life.
Huxley always distrusted monotheism from the earliest days of his intellectual life. And even when his views changed radically, monotheism was no beneficiary of this changed outlook. In an article 'One And Many' written in an early phase he says that "monotheism, as we know it in the West, was invented by the Jews". Living in a desert, they found nothing in the surrounding bareness to make them suppose that the world was richly diverse. And their belief in monotheism "prevented them from having any art, any philosophy, any political life", and that "except for a little literature, the Jews and Arabs produced nothing valuable until they left their deserts, and came into contact with the polytheistic races and absorbed their culture". He said that Christian God was a "magnified and somewhat flattering portrait of Tiberius and Caligula".
When Huxley accepted the spiritual view of life, his opposition to monotheism remained and in fact deepened. He could not be reconciled with the Christian God, the Father and a habitual whipping father too - the wholly other. He sees sadism in this God. In Island, a very late work, one of his character says: "Somebody ought to make a historical study of the relations between theology and corporal punishment in childhood. I have a theory that, wherever little boys and girls are systematically flagellated, the victims grow up to think of God as - 'Wholly Other'... A people's theology reflects the state of its children's bottoms. Look at the Hebrews - enthusiastic child-beaters. And so were all good Christians in the Age of Faith. Hence Jehovah, hence Original Sin and the infinitely offended Father of Roman and Protestant orthodoxy. Whereas among Buddhists and Hindus education has always been nonviolent. No laceration of little buttocks - therefore Tat tvam asi, thou art That, mind from Mind is not divided." Continuing he mentions Augustine and Martin Luther, as the "two most relentlessly flagellated bottoms in the whole history of Christian thought"; and how their flagellation-theology is carried to its logical conclusion by Calvin and others. "Major premise: God is Wholly Other. Minor premise: man is totally depraved. Conclusion: Do to your children's bottoms what was done to yours, what your Heavenly Father has been doing to the collective bottom of humanity ever since the Fall: whip, whip, whip!"
No Sudden Conversion
All these changes took a period of gestation to mature. Even at an early stage, Huxley had read Jakob Boehme and William Blake (who had read Charles Wilkin's translation of the Bhagvadgîtâ) with "fascinated interest", though also with a "good deal of scepticism". He was also aware in a broad way that to receive intimations from the higher world, one must have the mind wide and open. He knew that our sublime thoughts are "gracious visitants", but our intellect uses its "rattling" and "noisy cleverness" to scare away these "wide-winged birds from settling in the mind".
But at this stage all this was tentative and experimental. The spiritual view was one of many views, and unlikely to be a true one in the scientific sense. At best, he was neutral between these many views and entertained them all as philosophical and literary occasions demanded. But when the Hindu-Buddhist influence matured, the spiritual view became the foremost and he became its ardent champion. The change came without any dramatic conversion, accompanied by no apocalyptical vision. The new influence worked silently, benignly, by suggestions and hints as it were. At no stage was there a sudden, offensive and unwanted intrusion, no taking of heaven by force,
One notices a definitive turn in Eyeless In Gaza, published in 1936, the change becoming irrevocable in After Many A Summer, published three years later. Here Huxley begins to speak of the need to get beyond personality, "beyond this piddling twopenny-halfpenny personality, with its wretched little virtues and vices, all its silly cravings and silly pretensions"; he begins to see "I am not my body, I am not my sensations, I am not even my mind"; his God also "is not absent from anything, and yet is separated from all things".
In these works, he also quotes Buddha's repeated instructions on Mindfulness for an aspirant for higher life: "Constantly retain alertness of consciousness in walking, in sitting, in eating, in sleeping". It is a variant of the Gita's instruction on the same subject: "Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, moving, sleeping, breathing, one should remember that I am not the doer." In Grey Eminence, a work of great erudition, published in 1941, when Huxley's spiritual thoughts had greatly deepened, he tells us that a "totally unmystical world would be a world totally blind and insane".
Huxley wrote all his future works under this new influence, which gave him a new orientation, a new power and purpose. Time Must Have A Stop, which belongs to this period, is probably his best novel and certainly the one which, as he himself says, he "most enjoyed doing". Here he depicts a character, Bruno, who is the most moving and transforming. He is compassionate and understanding and speaks of the "unutterable weariness, the silly and degraded horror, of being merely yourself, of being only human". He teaches impersonality and believes that man is more than human.
He also teaches self-understanding. The lower life too has its unity. According to the Pâtañjala Yoga, attachment, anger, craving, Ego and Nescience go together and support each other. Following this teaching, Bruno says that the "shortest distance between two cravings is violence", that the "square on lust is equal, so to speak, to the sum of the squares on vanity and idleness".
Therefore when someone commits an offence, it is useful to draw up not so much its balance-sheet of merits and demerits, but its "genealogy", its family tree. One should trace its ancestors, its collaterals and its descendants, its antecedents and its necessary consequences. An eminently Yogic way of dealing with moral problems.
In this novel, Huxley reestablishes God and says that Humanism is not enough. "To the surprise of Humanists," he says, "the abolition of God left a perceptible void. But Nature abhors vacuums. Nation, Class and Party, Culture and Art have rushed in to fill the empty niche." He had already learnt to see that "painting, music, literature, thought - they're not enough". They may take you for a time to the "other world" as he says in Eyeless in Gaza, but it "isn't other enough"; he now wants something still "heavenlier, something less human".
The Perennial Philosophy
During the same period, came The Perennial Philosophy, the Sanatana Dharma of the Hindus. It is an important book on an important subject with an important message and, therefore, needs a special mention. In this book, Huxley discusses the "minimum working hypothesis" of a truly spiritual and tolerant philosophy and its various supporting ideas. The very first chapter is on the Upanishadic message: That Thou Art; other chapters discuss Immortality and Survival, Non-attachment (anâsakti), Self-Knowledge (âtma-jñâna), Religion and Temperament (svadharma), all peculiarly Hindu concepts.
It is a fashion to think that the Perennial Philosophy has no form and face (svarûpa) of it own, that it is compatible with all kinds of dogmas, belief-systems and practices, that it rejects nothing and makes no spiritual demands and calls for no change in belief or orientation and nobody need to give up anything in order to follow the tenets of Perennial Philosophy. But Huxley does not seem to agree; he thinks that the Perennial Philosophy has quite a face of its own and it makes great demands and is incompatible with many belief-systems. Discussing the problem concretely, he finds that both in its spirit and deeper conceptualization, the Perennial Philosophy is opposed to and is also opposed by the so-called "revealed religions" which make salvation and God's truth dependent on a unique and single revelation in history, dependent on an authorized mediator, and makes it a privilege of a particular church or ummah. Perennial Philosophy recognizes no such historical fatality, no priviledged intermediaries, no surrogates, no authorized proxies. Spiritual life is a lawful process, not a lucky accident or piece of history, a happenstance. Salvation is man's assussured possession, not a chance windfall. God is not a pie in the sky who appeared from nowhere at a particular time and became operative in human affairs; he has been active from the beginning. The great spiritual life resides in the heart and its truths are open to all sincere seekers. Man has known, possessed and lived those truths long before "revealed religions" were heard of.
However, Huxley tries his best and closely looks at Christianity and Islam for elements of Perennial Philosophy. In the process, he discovers that it is difficult to reconcile them with any developed form of mysticism. According to him, the difficulty arises, taking Christianity as an example, "because so much Roman and Protestant thinking was done by those very lawyers whom Christ regarded as being peculiarly incapable of understanding the True Nature of Things". So under the circumstances, what does Huxley do? He meets the situation partly by leaving out these lawyers altogether; which has meant leaving out almost all the Popes, the Church Fathers, the Church Councils and most Church theologians. He has also to leave out all the Church dogmas: Sin, the historical Jesus, the Vicarious Atonement, the Missionary Vocation of the Church, and many such things. He quotes Paul but to prove the 'not-1' of Jesus, that is, for opposing the claims of a historical Jesus, which is unpardonable heresy according to all branches of mainstream Christianity.
The other expedient Huxley adopts is that he quotes from unrepresentative mystics like Eckhart or he quote the unrepresentative statements of orthodox mystics like St. John of the Cross. Eckhart, for example, is the most quoted Christian mystic (32 times). But it is well known that his death saved him from the clutches of the Inquisition and that Pope John XXII had condemned him after his death for many of his sermons which contained "error or the blot of heresy". We are assured by A. Pouplain, a Catholic theologian and author of The Graces of Interior Prayer, that the Church never reckoned Eckhart "amongst her mystics, or even amongst the mystics".
Huxley realizes his difficulty. He knows that mysticism is not native to Christianity and has been an uneasy implant from outside. In his Grey Eminence, he shows how through "neo-platonism and along with it, at several removes, the most valuable elements of Hindu religion, entered Christianity and became incorporated, as one of a number of oddly heterogeneous elements, into its scheme of thought and devotion". In a lecture, Man and Religion, delivered in 1959 at the University of California at Santa Barbara, he goes over the subject again and shows the incompatibility of Christianity with mysticism. He says that religion as a system of beliefs is a profoundly different kind of religion, and it is the one which has been the most important in the West. He adds that the two types of religion - the religion of direct acquaintance with the divine and the religion of a system of beliefs - have coexisted in the West, but mystics have always formed a mino-rity in the midest of the official symbol-manipulating religions, and the relationship has been a rather uneasy symbiosis. The members of the official religion have tended to look upon the mystics as difficult, trouble-making people. They have made even puns about the name, calling mysticism 'mystischism' - a foggy, antinomian doctrine, which doesn't conform easily to authority. He also quotes from a letter of Abbot John Chapman, a well-known Benedictine monk, in which he speaks on the "great difficulty of reconciling - not merely uniting - mysticism with Christianity".
In this lecture, Huxley also relates how mysticism acquired a "tolerated position" in Western Christianity by an early "pious fraud". About the sixth century, a Neoplatonic writer, a convert to Christianity, wrote a book on Mystical Theology under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite, who was mistaken for one Dionysius who was the first disciple of St. Paul in Athens. Under this mistaken identity, the book was well received. In the ninth century, it was translated by John Scotus Erigena and thereafter it entered into the tradition of the Western Church. It was not until recent times that the fraud was recognized for what it was, but by then it was too late.
Huxley says that "in one of the odd, ironical quirks of history, this curious bit of forgery played a very important and very beneficent part in the Western Christian tradition".
According to Huxley, St. John of the Cross was the last great representative of the Dionysian tradition of mysticism who was also orthodox.
Huxley faces the same difficulty with Islam. It is strange that in a book containing hundreds of quotations ("about 40% is not written by me," says Huxley about this book), there is not a single quotation from the Quran in support of the Perennial Philosophy. He only quotes from Rabia, Bayazid, Abu Sa'id and Rumi who do not properly represent even the sufi silsilas, the mainstream Islamic Sufism.
Are All Religions the Same?
Huxley was looking for elements of Perennial Philosophy and he acknowledged them wherever he found them. But in all his wide-faring and conscientious research, he found nothing to lead him to conclude that all religions are expressions of a Perennial Philosophy and therefore they are basically one.
On the other hand while discussing Christianity and Islam, he found in them a great deal which was opposed to Perennial Philosophy, and he said so in so many words on many occasions.
He finds these religions exclusive and dogmatic; he finds their cosmology and theology unsatisfactory and God-eclipsing. He finds that they are obsessed with time and events and values of the time and there is very little of the eternity-principle in them. This makes them intolerant and violent and Huxley is forced to refer on many occasions to the spirit of persecution that characterizes them. He observes that while historical religions have been violent, eternity-philosophies like "Hinduism and Buddhism have never been persecuting faiths, have preached almost no holy wars and have refrained from that proselytizing religious imperialism, which has gone hand in hand with the political and economic oppression of the coloured peoples."
Huxley tells us how the time-worshipping Catholicism institutes Inquisition and how it "bums and tortures in order to perpetuate a creed, a ritual and an ecclesiastico-politico-financial organization regarded as necessary to men's eternal salvation"; he tells us how "Bible-worshipping Protestants fight long and savage wars, in order to make the world safe for what they fondly imagine to be the genuinely antique Christianity of apostolic times".
In his Grey Eminence, Huxley wishes that Catholicism knew Buddhism properly for in its teachings it "would have found the most salutary correctives for its strangely arbitrary theology, for its strain of primitive savagery inherited from the less desirable parts of Old Testament, for its incessant and dangerous preoccupations with torture and death, for its elaborately justified beliefs in the magic efficacy of rites and sacraments. But, alas, so far as the West was concerned, the Enlightened One was destined, until very recent times, to remain no more than the hero of an edifying fairy tale" - the reference is to the story of Barlaam and Josaphat, a garbled version of the life of Buddha in the person of a legendary Barlaam who becomes a Christian saint.
Huxley also notices "Islam's black record of holy wars and persecution - a record comparable to that of later Chidstianity".
Huxley continues to speculate on reasons that made Christianity and Islam violent and persecutory. One reason of course is because they are time-philosophies; another reason often mentioned by him is their belief in a personal God who is considered as "the Lord of hosts", or a "commander-in-chief". Illustrating the point he says: "The Moslems who invaded India brought with them the idea of a God who was not the order of the army of being, but its general. Bhakti towards this despotic person was associated with wholesale slaughter of Buddhists and Hindus. Similarly bhakti towards the personal God of Christianity has been associated, throughout the history of that religion, with the wholesale slaughter of pagans and the retail torture and murder of heretics." Huxley adds "that it is the business of the rational idealist to harp continually upon this all-important fact", so that "the evil tendencies which history shows to be inherent" in "belief in a personal deity" could be mitigated.
Huxley repeats this idea often enough in his writings. At one place he says that much of the "folly and wickedness" of those who follow the Bible can be traced back to its "mistaken view of the world". He says that "The Hebrews of the Bronze Age thought that the integrating principle of the universe was a kind of magnified human person, with all the feelings and passions of a human person. He was wrathful, for example, he was jealous, he was vindictive. This being so, there was no reason why his devotees should not be wrathful, jealous and vindictive. Among the Christians this primitive cosmology led to the burning of heretics and witches, the wholesale massacre of Albigensians, Catharists, Protestants, Catholics and a hundred other sects."
Huxley finds that it is no good to anybody to have Religions of the Book. -Writing to his brother, Julian Huxley he says: "One sees the immense good fortune of Buddhists in not being cursed with a sacred book or an impossible dogma".
A sole sacred book is undesirable for two reasons. First it sets up an external authority when the real authority is man's reason and his own deeper spiritual intuition. Secondly these so-called holy books contain much that is undesirable. Huxley says that the early Christians made the enormous mistake of burdening themselves with the Old Testament, which contains, along with much fine poetry and sound morality, the history of the cruelties and treacheries of a Bronze-Age people, fighting for a place in the sun under the protection of its anthropomorphic tribal deity... Ancient ignorance had been sanctified as a revelation... Those whom it suited to be ignorant ... could find in this treasure house of barbarous stupidity justifications for every crime and folly. Texts to justify such abominations as religious wars, the persecution of heretics, breaking of faith with unbelievers, could be found in the sacred books and were in fact used again and again throughout the whole history of the Christian Church..."
Another reason advanced is that they lack a pluralist view of God, man and his nature or what the Hindus call the "doctrine of vocation". This makes all the difference. According to this doctrine, "the Indians admit the right of individuals with different dharmas to worship different aspects or conceptions of the divine. Hence the almost total absence, among Hindus and Buddhists, of bloody persecutions, religious wars and proselytizing imperialism."
Huxley notices the same difference in the treatment of the animal kingdom by the two philsophies. He says that while great eternity-philosophies like Hinduism and Buddhism have taught a morality inculcating kindness to animals, time-philosophies like "Judaism and orthodox Christianity taught that animals might be used as things, for the realization of man's temporal ends. Even St. Francis' attitude towards the brute creation was not entirely unequivocal. True, he converted a wolf and preached sermons to birds; but when brother Juniper, a beloved disciple of his, hacked the feet off a living pig in order to satisfy a man's craving for fried trotters, the saint merely blamed his disciple's intemperate zeal in damaging a valuable property. It was not until the nineteenth century, when orthodox Christianity had lost much of its power over European minds, that the idea that it might be a good thing to behave humanely towards animals began to make headway. This new morality was correlated with the new interest in nature which had been stimulated by the romantic poets and the men of science. Because it was not founded upon an eternity-philosophy, a doctrine of divinity dwelling in all living creatures, the modern movement in favour of kindness to animals was and is perfectly compatible with intolerance, persecution and systematic cruelty towards human being. Young Nazis are taught to be gentle with dogs and cats, ruthless with Jews. That is because Nazism is a typical time-philosophy, which regards the ultimate good as existing, not in eternity, but in the future. Jews are, ex hypothesi, obstacles in the way of the realization of the supreme good; dogs and cats are not."
Some may regard the dietic question too lowly and think that it should not rub shoulders with such sublime concepts as brahman, Sûnya, God and Soul. But in Indian spirituality, it holds a high place. Dietary is more than gastronomy; it involves fundamental attitudes and views. Vegetarianism also represents a great cultural and religious value of India and it has found emphasis wherever Indian religious influence has gone. "Vegetarianism is one of the priceless gifts of Hinduism," as Mahatma Gandhi says. Today under this influence, it is already making an appeal in the West on more than health grounds. It stands high in the spiritual discipline of all those movements which follow Indian inspiration.
Following the Indian lead, Huxley finds a "correlation between religion and diet". He even sees a close link between the Semitic "personal God" and what His followers cat. In his Eyeless In Gaza, Huxley says: "Christians eat meat, drink alcohol, smoke tobacco; and Christianity exalts personality... teaches that God feels anger and approves the persecution of heretics. It's the same with Jews and the Moslems. Kosher and an indignant Jehovah. Mutton and beef and personal survival among the houris, avenging Allah and holy wars. Now look at the Buddhists. Vegetables and water... They don't exalt personality; they try to transcend it... What worlds away from Jehovah... ! The fact is, of course, that we think as we eat."
Huxley says through the mouth of a doctor of Buddhist persuasion that frozen meat, by being widely available, has become the "greatest enemy of Christianity". It has filled the Christians with "scepticism and despair", so that only "the most violent stimuli will rouse them to purposive activity, and what's worse, the only activity they undertake is diabolic". The doctor tells Anthony Beavis, his meat-eating patient, that the latter's "intestines are ripe for fascism".
Hindu art has been incomprehensible to most Western critics, particularly of the colonial era and they often used harsh epithets like 'barbarous', 'ugly', etc., to describe it. But it was not so with Huxley. He found much in Indian art to appreciate even while he used Western standards of judgement. He could also see though obscurely that Indian art was in some radical way different and it was trying to express another feeling, another dimension. But at this stage, he had no proper comprehension of this dimension and also no intellectual sympathy with it. Therefore, after going about in India, it confirmed him even further in his European standards. He tells us with great self-satisfaction that a visit to India "makes one realize how fortunate, so far at any rate as the arts are concerned, our Europe has been in its religions". He said that while in its Pagan traditions, the Olympian deities were men made gods, in its Christian tradition, the Saviour was God made man. But in neither the artist was asked to go beyond the boundaries of real and actual human life. However, it was different in Hinduism, which though it permitted the representation of the human, thought that "the human is not enough". Hinduism, he said tried to represent the superhuman and the metaphysical and, as a result, "Hindus have evolved a system of art full of metaphysical monsters and grotesques". Carrying on the discussion, he concluded that the "Hindus are too much interested in metaphysics and ultimate reality to make good artists. Art is not the discovery of Reality - whatever reality may be... It is the organization of chaotic appearance into an orderly and human universe".
But all this was changed when he accepted the spiritual dimension. His definition of "Reality" changed; his understanding of what is "human" changed. He developed different standards and different criterions of judgement. He developed a new eye for Hindu-Buddhist art. He also began to look at European art, music, and literatu