“For our goal was not only the East, or rather
the East was not only a country and something geographical,
but it was the home and youth of the soul,
it was everywhere and nowhere,
it was the union of all times.”
~ Hermann Hesse, “The Journey to the East”
In homage to Jean Biès,
Who wrote the most beautiful book
On the splendour that is India,
‘Les chemins de la Ferveur‘
India. I visited her and fell under her spell and her charm. If I look back, my spiritual journey started as a big cliche: I went to India to find truth, and I found it. Well, I didn’t find a neatly arranged package of truth, ready made and understood to be lived for ever thereafter. No, I rather found a messy bundle of bewilderment and puzzling questions about the nature of truth. But it had a lasting impression on me. Mind you, it came in the form of a big, exotic, full-fledged, but short lived awakening experience. Nothing less for this little big man who knew nothing about spirituality, and woke up to his first Indian trip burdened with a memory and experience that would take him a lifetime to understand. So why? Why does India take such a large part in shaping not only my life, but the life of so many people, when it comes to spirituality? What lives there that is so potent? Let’s find out. Let us all embark on a journey in Bharata, which the Brahma-Purana describes in this way: “The continent situated north of the Ocean and south of the Snow Mountain is called Bhârata. There resides the descendants of the tribe of Bharata. Its width is seventy-two thousand times the distance traveled by a cart. A land where deeds are fruitful for those who seek deliverance.”
Don’t get me wrong, there is no need to go to India to find something that is already our deepest, innermost nature. So many teachers have pointed this fact that the place for the discovery of our true nature is here and now, not in an hypothetical future, or in a particular place. Though concealed, the door is wide open anywhere, and whenever. India is not anymore special than the very place you are right now, and the only travel that counts is the one within yourself, which is a no distance one.
So what happened to the little big man, and to so many brothers and sisters in spirituality? I was full of hope and expectations during my first journey to India. Maybe that’s what made it. I made India the sacred and magic land that I needed. So many people have this dreamed India in mind when they first land, and many of them find what they are looking for, at least to some extent, whatever little this is. Maybe India has a magic hand, after all. Others have noticed it. The French writer Jean Biès wrote eloquently : “The prevailing impression in India is that everything is possible, including the impossible, that everything possible will arise anywhere, anytime and anyhow, that whatever sleeps and swims in suspension, very high, in a rarefied air, halfway between what is and is not yet, can inform itself in a flash, incarnate in the course of things, harnessed in the most baroque and unexpected forms. As silence, in its entrails, conceals all the sounds and words of all languages, the sky of India contains in itself, mingled with the figures of the clouds, all the unexpected, all the adventures, and above all, the thunder of any sudden and unexpected event.”
The little big man was afraid and unsure. India is the land of ashrams, thousands of them, and the place to be when it comes to spiritual understanding. Yet, he made the decision to not go to any such places, or to any guru for that matter, to stay simply a tourist visiting India. I didn’t want to be influenced in any way. In my heart, I knew very well what I was here for, but on the outside, I was sightseeing, while keeping an eye for some evidence of the eternal India. And what can be seen? India doesn’t make it easy for us, and presents before our eyes all that we never wanted to see: the pollution, the noise, the dirt, long queues, “chaos of situations, entanglements of inextricable occurrences“, as Jean Biès puts it. Not to mention the extreme poverty, so blatantly seen, and the culture shock, which is huge and deeply felt. Maybe that’s the way India does it. She presents herself to you through a maze of difficulties and complexities so that you feel troubled, annoyed, lost, your ground literally ripped off. You are left vulnerable, so vulnerable that resistance dissolves, and you can see through the door left wide open.
So where is the little big man now? What else did India teach him? With the first emotions left behind, the shocking encounter with India and its madness finally faded away. A tranquility emerged, and India spread out, took possession of me, showed her face, slowly, inevitably. What are her tools for doing so? How does the most hectic and clamorous place in the world bear such a pregnant peace and stillness at her heart? It is as if the real India is not disturbed or affected by the roar of its every day life, just as physical space is not affected by what is taking place in it. This quality – this acceptance, this surrender to what is – comes close to the one we find in awareness. India is a big yes! That’s what it is: India is always surrendering to its occurrences. And this is the main requirement for peace.
This surrender, this relaxed way of being is pervading India’s daily living. And it can be contagious. The little big man, though anxious and nervous by nature, did feel it. I remember how, little by little, this had reached my very way of being, of travelling through the maze of this country. I became unusually relaxed and confident, even though I was alone, leading my boat in this ocean that is India. As Jean Klein said: “In the relaxed state, there is love, there is kindness. You live more in the now, free from becoming, anticipating.”
Another prerequisite for the search is the company of like-minded people or friends. This, the little big man didn’t understand at the time since he fled from anything resembling an assembly of students around a teacher. But India again had her own way to provide him and his solitary quest. This whole society was once built around the search for truth and has invented many human mechanisms, or frames, to progress along that line. The possibility to renounce the world is one. The presence of these spiritually inclined people all over India acted like an invisible hand securing the fate of any lost truth seeker, like a giant net would do. “This net carries in its nettings hundreds of holy cities, thousands of hermitages, sanctuaries and stacks of sacrality, as so many jewels of a miraculous fishing. It envelops the whole of India with the palpitations of its swell.“, says Jean Biès. “In addition to its unusual size and solidity, it presents the curious characteristic of being knotted with human meshes: anchorites of the mountains, guru unseen in the heart of palm villages, sacred beggars, sannyasi, yogis and sadhu, the strangest creatures in the kingdom of humanity, whose wandering presence weaves and spread on this earth this net of prayers and blessings.”
There is another feature that makes India a cradle of spiritual investment and investigation. It is to be found in the very nature of its religious endeavour. The writer and historian Amaury De Riencourt gives us a beautiful explanation: “Religious feeling in India was entirely mystical, as is only natural in a people who have no feeling for past or future but only seek to sublimate the present moment into immortal timelessness; the religions and philosophies of India were concerned only with eternity.” This timeless expression of India can be felt while traveling. It pervades your way of being and is experienced as a profound sense of freedom. Everyone feels it, and so did the little big man whose trajectory was by now infused by it. This is what the hippies loved when they moved towards Goa, Benares or Katmandu. They also loved this mysticism that is so pregnant in India, and that is, deep down, an expression of India’s timeless and perennial understanding of the nature of experience. The adepts of the flower power felt so imprisoned by the old structures of the west. Of course, India had nothing to offer them in the long run, but at least they could have a taste of their own hidden nature.
At the end of this trip in Bharata, I am recalling a phrase from Jean Biès’ book: “To whom travels in India with confidence, India responds with confidence and reveals hidden treasures.” Maybe the little big man had done just this. He had dived into India’s bewildering surface with an innocent trust and was gifted with a merging into her presence, which is nothing else than the eternal and infinite Self. Even beggars understand it who sometimes call the people they approach by Mā, ‘mother’, be they men, showing in this manner that they are not addressing the person that they see, but the goddess in them, or should I say, the very presence, or awareness we share. India had now slowly released her grip on me. Not supported by any deep understanding, these spiritual heights withered away. Habits of duality spread in again and I found myself on the solid grounds of name and form, caught in the old schemes, beliefs and comforts of my separateness. I was left with the perfume of it, for many months, until it receded completely in the background like a powerful animal that fell asleep.
Back home, the west offered yet another vantage point. The world here was lacking depth, it felt flat, superficial, tasteless. It was impatient, fast, efficient. I felt another culture shock in return, seeing all these neatly arranged houses and parking lots, this beautifully organised society. In contrast, I wondered why India was so aloof and negligent when it came to the outside, ordinary world of forms. Imbued by the wisdom and philosophies of its glorious past, influenced by the powerful legacy of its illustrious ancestors, the impression is that she remained on the level of the witness, of the ‘neti neti‘ stage, of the ‘I am not the body, not the mind’. India’s passion for inner exploration enveloped her and changed for ever her approach to the world.
Today, India is showing its marvels to the world. As Jean Biès says: “The threshold opens up: the interior of the palace already shines.” A time will come when the world will be amazed at Indian legacy, at its spiritual gift to the world: religions are born there, like Buddhism – India’s offering to Asia -, countless teachers, philosophies, Vedas, Puranas, Gitas, Upanishads, Shastras, Sutras, techniques like yoga, etc… India explored the spiritual endeavour in any possible way, developing the three different paths to truth, Jnana, Bhakta, and Tantra. So what is India’s secret? And what did the little big man learn from its mysteries, coming from a world lost in the objective realm, and meeting one lost in the contemplation of truth. In both worlds, beauty, love, and intelligence, which are consciousness’ inherent qualities, have yet to shine fully. Except for one placeless place, one timeless center of being, that reconcile both worlds. The little big man had a glorious glimpse of it.
Text and Pictures from Alain Joly
Guests on this page:
– Hermann Hesse
– Jean Biès
– Jean Klein
– Amaury De Riencourt
– ‘Les Chemins de la Ferveur‘, by Jean Biès – (1995, Editions Terre du Ciel)
– ‘Returning To The Essential’ Selected Writings Of Jean Biès – by Jean Biès – (World Wisdom Books)
– ‘Siddhartha’, by Hermann Hesse – (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)
– ‘The Soul of India‘, by Amaury De Riencourt – (Honeyglen Publishing Ltd).
– ‘The Book of Listening‘, by Jean Klein – (Non-Duality Press)
– ‘India My Love’, by Osho – (St Martin’s Press)
– Back to Pages