Monday 23 September 2013

A Holiday in India

There is a chapter in Meeting the Masters which recounts a trip to India that Michael Lord and I made shortly before going to live there on a more permanent basis. This was in 1979 while we were still in Bath and I was just beginning to find my spiritual feet. It was the Masters' wish that we went to India though they did not tell us that until after we had decided to go. That, incidentally, is a basic spiritual rule. You are not told what to do. You may be impressed by the higher powers but you must respond to impression and make your decisions for yourself.

Anyway, in the book I mentioned that Michael had taken a few photographs during that trip, and I would have liked to have included some of them in the book. Production costs made that impossible but the great advantage of a blog is that there are no production costs! So this post is a bit of an indulgence as it will really only consist of a few photos with the odd comment. It's more a direct extension of the book, for those who, having read it, might be interested in such a thing, than a development of its spiritual themes as most of the other posts are.

Michael's camera in 1979 was a pretty basic one, even for the period, so the pictures are not of a high quality. Also, though he took around 20-30 photographs, not many survive and some of those that do are too underexposed to put up here.

We started our trip in Delhi where we visited the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid and other tourist sites but the first photograph I still have was taken at the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, one of those  grand buildings the British put up in the Indo-Saracenic style which mixes Mughal and Gothic revival architectural features. It's now a museum.

As you can see I was not a particularly willing subject!

While in Calcutta we stayed at the Ramakrishna guesthouse and visited the Swami who had initiated Michael into that order a few years previously. He was a venerable, old gentleman but still fully fit, mentally speaking, and demonstrating the inner calm that the Masters were frequently telling me to acquire but which I singularly lacked. Of course, inner calm may be easier to maintain in an ashram than in the hurly-burly of the world but, as an attitude of mind, it should be unaffected by outer circumstances whatever they may be. That is because it is not a question of controlling emotion but of being centred in the true, and seeing the external world as precisely that, external to what is really real.

After Calcutta we went to Darjeeling and then Varanasi but unfortunately no photos remain from those visits. They were probably just standard tourist photos of the Himalayas and the Ganges so no great loss though I do regret the absence of a group photo of the Buddhist monks who were staying in the same lodgings as us in Varanasi. There was no problem in getting them to smile for the camera, something I evidently found difficult!

While flying to Delhi en route to Kashmir something unpleasant got into Michael. I had been warned of the possibility of this by the Masters, and told that my conduct was the key as to whether it happened or not. In this case I had aggressively argued with him over what I perceived as his unspiritual (as in worldly) behaviour. He had reacted, and the resultant 'bad vibrations' had given the entrée to some kind of demon which had possessed him. I didn't realise what was going on at the time but was profoundly shocked by the transformation. He hissed at me and then shouted, oblivious to anyone who happened to be nearby. His eyes became a dull reddish colour and even his skin turned sallow. He was totally uncompromising and hard, quite unlike his normal self. This lasted for the entire flight to Delhi and the thing was only ousted when Michael fell asleep while we were waiting for our ongoing flight to Srinagar. He remembered nothing when he awoke. The Masters told me afterwards what had happened and said that they permitted this as a means of showing me externally what my own lack of control looked like. Extreme, you might say, but effective. I realise demonic possession is not much accepted nowadays, except by fundamentalists who probably see it in many places where it is not, but it was recognised by Jesus who regularly drove out demons, and even today it remains a possibility for those of a mediumistic tendency. Full possession is rare but partial overshadowing may be more common than we realise.

Michael was well protected by those he served and this sort of thing happened on very few occasions and when it did it was always initiated by a spiritual lapse on my part. That, as I say, is why the Masters permitted it, which remark prompts me to say that the main job of a spiritual teacher is to expose the disciple's lower self. Normally we keep this side of ourselves well hidden and acknowledge only its more peripheral aspects. But everyone has this self which is the result of our fallen nature and which is chiefly embodied in what we call the ego. The confrontation with the ego is pretty much the whole of spirituality.

(As a brief aside, I have been asked what I mean by the fallen nature. Essentially it is this. When our soul descended through the planes on its way to incarnation in this world (where it was sent to gain the experience needed to expand its self awareness) it began to lose contact with its spiritual source. The energies of matter became dense enough for the illusion of separation to be possible (separation from God, from Nature, from each other), and this led to identification with our outer selves, the ‘bodies’ that were our vehicles for the material planes, and resultant loss of connection to our inner or true self. Thus was formed the separate self or ego. The fallen nature is a consequence of the identification with the ego.)

Kashmir was a perfect place for healing and rest. We stayed on a houseboat on the lake called Nagin Bagh and for a week did little more than read, walk, swim and laze in the sun. Here's a picture of the boat.

and here's a not terribly good picture of Michael in a shikara, the narrow rowing boat that ferries people around on the Kashmiri lakes.

The Masters came frequently while we were in Kashmir, and it was there that they explained what had occurred at Varanasi airport. They told me that there was no need for fear but every need for vigilance which perfectly encapsulates how the spiritual aspirant should regard evil. Don't be offended by my use of this word. One of the great failings of those interested in spirituality outside of a religious context (which can sometimes amount to no more than a sentimental aspiration to universal happiness) is the refusal to accept the reality of fallen powers. That is just naive wishful thinking. Either that or a failure to understand (or want to understand) that spirituality is about making choices and, if there are right ones, which there are, then there are wrong ones too. Everyone has the right to make their own choice but not every choice is equal.

From Kashmir we went back to Delhi and then on to Agra. North India is a confluence of Hindu and Muslim civilisations, and the latter reached its apogee in the Mughal Empire which by any criteria must be one of the most splendid ever to have existed. But by the criterion of architectural excellence it is surely peerless, and Agra is the centre of that. Naturally Michael took a picture of the Taj Mahal but there is no point in me showing that. Instead here is the photograph he took of me at Akbar's Tomb that I mention in the book as the only one I which I smiled.

Sometimes you feel a connection with a place. I felt a strong connection with India from the moment I got there and, in fact, the Masters told me that such a connection existed as I’m sure it does for many of us, given the size and antiquity of the country. India includes every aspect of humanity within itself from the most sublime to the most debased, and it is unique in that Hinduism, the religion of the country, does not arise from a particular revelation or prophet, like all other major religions, but from the country itself. To be sure, there are numerous saints and sages in Hinduism but none of them, not even the avatars such as Rama or Krishna nor the gods such as Siva or Vishnu, are the real origin of Hinduism for that is nothing less than the externalisation of the spirit of India. Far from perfect, inevitably, since nothing is on this plane, but carrying enough of the inner quality of the country to represent it truthfully. And that is why, to be a Hindu, you really have to be born in India.

I was not born in India but a part of me felt it belonged there which is possibly why, just six months after this holiday, Michael and I returned there for a more extended stay. I have a few photographs from that time which I will put up here at a later date.


Paul Hillman said...

Thank you, Michael, for those very evocative photos which add to the account of that visit in your book very effectively. Michael's "demonic episode" and your comments thereupon are very relevant to my present struggles with my behaviour and attitudes which just leap to the fore before I can deal with them.

I seem to become almost a different person when I am behind the wheel of a car, or even, and this is very shaming and absurd, when I am riding my bike!
My wife has the best approach ( she has certainly been my greatest teacher) and uses humour to defuse situations with great aplomb. She suggests that I need a loud hailer on the car to explain to other drivers, somewhat loudly, where they are going wrong. This measure she suggests as a corollary to" The Hillman School of Motoring" which she strongly advises me to establish. She laughs at me and coaxes me out of aggressive and unreasonable responses to real or imagined, inconsiderate acts on the part of other motorists. There are, it has to be said, numerous such acts on view in any driving environment.

I think my attitude which is defensive and expressed aggressively, in words rather than actions, comes from my formative years in Portsmouth, a fiercely independent and tough urban, island environment. A certain "attitude" is required which is always apparently aggressive at first if you are not to become a victim and subject to bullying. This attitude was always at odds with my naturally courteous inclinations but became as a protective armouring.
The main method of travel around the city was bicycle or bus. My attitude was extended to my cycling and I must have been a nightmare to encounter , even as a pedestrian where you moved swiftly and determinedly with feet splayed so as to occupy maximum space!

I am laughing now as I write this but can still see the continuing traces of this persona and its after effects. It was and is also obviously rooted in my personal development and I begin to see its origins and consequences which I am able to deal with and eventually overcome but sometimes it just slaps me down again and via my wife's humour and a measure of self control on my part I am brought back to something like solid ground and understanding. Constant vigilance is , however, required.

William Wildblood said...
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William Wildblood said...

Dear Paul, when you talk about a protective armouring I think you put in a nutshell the difficulties that spiritually sensitive people have in this world. We are not at home here and our 'naturally courteous inclinations', as you put it, often seem to be rebuffed or taken advantage of so we develop this armouring to insulate us against the world. Funnily enough I was talking about this to someone only this morning.

It's what the Masters called an outer skin or front when, referring to Michael, they said that “due to various experiences in his life he has had to present a front to the world. This is necessary as, in his evolved state, lower vibrations could harm him.” But they went on to say that he now had to overcome this in order to make progress as he had become too identified with it so it wasn’t just a barrier against the world but had become a barrier against his inner self as well.

We have to learn to let other people be themselves and not let their behaviour determine ours. Which I think is more or less what your wife is saying.

By the way, I’m not always able to practise this as well as I can preach it!

Paul Hillman said...

As always, William, Thank you for your additional remarks and understanding. I will continue to work on that armouring which is, indeed, a barrier against my inner self.