From the Jacket
Shri Purohit Swami was of the line of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ramatirtha and Shri Aurobindo, and was a true son of the Indian Renascence. This account of his own life, written in 1932 and published in India now for the first time, represents the first autobiography (in the modern sense of the word) of a yogi.
Purohit Swami's account of his own life moves rapidly, covers a great variety of material, is unsentimental, and is at once eminently readable and inspiring. It adds up to a powerful testament of the truth of yoga, and whoever follows it is not likely of think of the life of a sannyasin as one of escape.
An Indian Monk cuts across divisions of taste and may be read and enjoyed at many levels. It provides a vivid record of a form of society fast disappearing from our midst. It may be read as a book of the supernatural and is full of stories of miracles. It is also a narrative of adventure which grips us as we move from episode to episode. But it is written, above all, for the spiritual seeker for whom it will prove a veritable treasure-house of knowledge and wisdom.
About the Author
Shri Purohit Swami received his education at Morris College, Nagpur; Deccan College, Pune, and at Bombay University. He had a flair for learning languages and showed great promise as a writer of Marathi. He was also a fervent nationalist, and his defence of Tilak was proscribed by the British Government. After becoming a sannyasin, he went to the West in 1930 to interpret India's ancient wisdom to the world at large. His books and translations include: Song of Silence; An Indian Monk; The Geeta; The Holy Mountain; Ten Principal Upanishads (with W.B. Yeats); Patanjali's Aphorisms of Yoga; Avadhoota Gita.
W.B. Yeats famous Irish poet, playwright and critic, won the Nobel Prize in 1923. Through Theosophy he became acquainted with Eastern mysticism in early youth and came to believe in rebirth and in a cyclic view of time. His friendship with Purohit Swami helped Yeats to gain a deep knowledge of Indian thought during the last phase of his life.
Vinod Sena is Professor of English at the University of Delhi. He holds doctorates from the University of Delhi and Cambridge. He has already published W.B. Yeats: The Poet as Critic and is presently engaged on a literary biography of Shri Purohit Swami. He has also been awarded a National Fellowship by University Grants Commission.
Dr. W. B. Yeats said he wanted from me a "concrete life, not an abstract philosophy"; here is the result. Had it not been for him, I do not think I would ever have persuaded myself to attempt this autobiography. If any readers find enlightenment in the following pages, let them join me in thanking the greatest living Irish poet.
Mr. T. Sturge Moore gave much time and labour to the clarifying and arranging of this book, and I thank him.
Sir Francis Younghusband, whose interest in Indian affairs is well known, kindly went through the manuscript and made some very valuable suggestions. I am indebted also to Mrs. Gwyneth Foden, the novelist and journalist, whose affinity with our spiritual life Indians have recognized, for she has secured a place in their hearts as though she were one of themselves-to her I owe the title of this book; to Mr. Paul Brunton, who had gone to India in search of his soul's peace; to Mr. Durga Das of the Associated Press of India; Lady Elizabeth Pelham and Mrs. Margot Foster for their keen interest in my misson; and Mrs. Rennie Smith, who made the typed copy for me.
I thank them all.
I WROTE an introduction to the beautiful GitanjaIi of Tagore, and now, twenty years afterwards, draw attention to a book that may prove of comparable importance. A little more than a year ago I met its author, but lately arrived in Europe, at Mr. Sturge Moore's house. He had been sent by his Master, or spiritual director, that he might interpret the religious life of India, but had no fixed plan. Perhaps he should publish his poems, perhaps, like Vivekananda, go to America. He had gone to Rome thinking it was but courteous to pay his respects to the Holy Father, but though the Abbots of the most orthodox Hindu shrines had given him their blessing, and "the organiser of the Bharat-Dharma Mahamandal ... a general letter of introduction", he was not received. Then he had come to England and called upon the Poet Laureate, who entertained him. He is a man of fifty, broken in health by the austerities of his religious life; he must have been a stalwart man and he is still handsome. He makes one think of some Catholic theologian who has lived in the best society, confessed people out of Henry James's novels, had some position at Court where he could engage the most absorbed attention without raising his voice, but that is only at first sight. He is something much simpler, more childlike and ancient. During lunch he and I, Sturge Moore, and an attaché from the Egyptian Legation, exceedingly well read in European literature, discussed his plans and ideas. The attaché, born into a Jewish family that had lived among Mohammedans for generations, seemed more Christian in his point of view than Moore or myself. Presently the attaché said: "Well, I suppose what matters is to do all the good one can." "By no means", said the monk. "If you have that object you may help some few people, but you will have a bankrupt soul. I must do what my Master bids, the responsibility is His." That sentence, spoken without any desire to startle, interested me the more because I had heard the like from other Indians. Once when I stayed at Wilfred Blunt's I talked to an exceedingly religious Mohammedan, kept there that he might not run himself into political trouble in India. He spoke of the coming independence of India, but declared that India would never organise. ''There are only three eternal nations", he said, "India, Persia, China; Greece organised and Greece is dead." I remembered too that an able Indian doctor I met when questioning London Indians about Tagore said of a certain Indian leader. ''We do not think him sincere; he taught virtues merely because he thought them necessary to India." This care for the spontaneity of the soul seems to me Asia at its finest and where it is most different from Europe, the explanation perhaps why it has confronted our moral earnestness and control of Nature with its asceticism and its courtesy.
We sat on for a couple of hours after lunch while the monk, in answer to my questions, told of his childhood, his life at the University, of spiritual forms that he had seen, of seven years' meditation in his house, of nine years' wandering with his begging-bowl. Presently I said: "The ideas of India have been expounded again and again, nor do we lack ideas of our own; discussion has been exhausted, but we lack experience. Write what you have just told us; keep out all philosophy, unless it interprets something seen or done."
I found afterwards that I had startled and shocked him, for an Indian monk who speaks of himself contradicts all tradition, but that after much examination of his conscience he came to the conclusion that those traditions were no longer binding, and that besides, as he explained to Sturge Moore, a monk, a certain stage of initiation reached, is bound by nothing but the will of his Master. He took my advice and brought his book, chapter by chapter, to Sturge Moore for correction. Sturge Moore, one of our finest critics, would say: "You have told us too much of this, or too little of that; you must make us see that temple more clearly", or he would cross something out, or alter a word, helping him to master our European sense of form.
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