The process by which abstractions find concrete realisation is certainly a very satisfying one. But the process requires suitable support which in the present context the Southern Regional Office of UGC, headed as it is by Dr. K. Gunasekharan, invariably provides through its various projects and programmes. To activate these is necessarily a special form of dynamism which Prof. Pramada Devi, Principal of our college extends.
The result of this creative collaboration took the form of a National Seminar on “Aldous Huxley and Indian Thought”. The scholars found this a platform quite conducive to trying out new ways of looking at Huxley who, most people agree, has been almost forgotten in the last few decades. Gone is the aura of reverence with which his prophetic writings were read and cited. His centenary in this very decade does not seem to have done much to revive interest.
But does Huxley’s thought really deserve no more serious engagement than that? This was the question with which the proceedings began and two lively days of satisfying intellectual exercise resulted in a plethora of ideas. It is only proper that instead of keeping these ideas imprisoned within the walls of the seminar hall, they are allowed to see the light of day.
Publication, thus, becomes essential. The book brings wider currency to the interpretations provided by the scholars and the intellectual chain gets lengthened. With the hope that many more interested persons will come into contact with the ideas of Huxley and Indian thought than could participate in the seminar, the proceedings are being published. Not that it is an easy job. In spite of much effort, there is bound to be unevenness in arrangement, documentation, choice and expression. But other advantages, it is hoped, outweigh these limitations, and the book acquires positive value for posterity
Thanks are due to numerous individuals who have contributed, often unobtrusively, to the entire process culminating in the publication of this book. Rev Ranganathanandaji, President of the worldwide organisation of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, must be mentioned with respect for the kind blessings he sent us; ‘Sri Ram’ for his anonymous presence through absence; Prof C. Subba Rao, Chairperson of AP State Council of Higher Education, for graciously delivering the inaugural address; Prof M. Sivaramkrishna, our teacher, for first introducing us to Huxley more than a decade and a half ago, and giving us the benefit of an intellectually stimulating and satisfying keynote address; Prof; Issac Sequiera, Prof A. Subba Rao, Prof. Bala Kothandaraman, Prof M. Venkateswarlu, Prof Siddiq Ali, Prof: C. Vijayasree and others for their valuable contribution as chairpersons of the numerous sessions; all the scholars who came from different parts of the country to enrich the interactions; the students who helped in every stage of organisation; all our colleagues at the department who were with us throughout; all others whom we may inadvertently have forgotten to mention; and finally; S.K. Ghai, CMD, Sterling Publishers for bringing out the volume promptly and meticulously Special thanks are due to Dr. Jelani, Education Officer, UGC South Eastern Regional Office, Hyderabad, for his great help.
The conjunction of Huxley’s thought and the thought of India appears to be an interesting area of research. Huxley’s response to India has great range and variety—not merely coloured in black and white but in different shades of gray Also, for an Indian reader, reading Huxley’s exposition of ideas borrowed from India, which unconsciously have parallels with a universal trend of which India forms a part, are avenues for endless intellectual experiments. Huxley himself was an experimenter par excellence and those who admire or are influenced by his writings are sure to imbibe this trend of experimentation.
Therefore, Huxley and Indian thought can be approached from innumerable fairly distinct experimental directions: Huxley’s direct contact with India during his visits, expressed in strong terms in jarring Pilate, his distaste for what he considered the excesses of religion and spirituality in India, his admiration for eminent Indian thinkers such as Krishnamurti, his reading of the scriptures of Hinduism, Buddhism, and the deep impact of some of this philosophy in the formulation of his perennial consciousness, his idealising of the method of ahimsa advocated and practised in the political arena by Gandhi, his tacit support to the independence movement but with imperialist overtones, a kind of veiled superiority and condescension hidden but unsuccessfully, his close association with the Vedanta Centre after his emigration to the USA, his acceptance of Prabhavananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, as his guru, and their later rift due to Huxley’s drug experiences, these and many other possibilities hold out an endless vista for studies on Huxley and Indian thought.
Swami Ranganathananda, a well-known Indian practitioner of the inward life which Huxley was trying to reach, makes an invaluable comment about Indian thought when he writes, “In this great task of reconstructing the mental life of modern humanity by bridging the gulf between faith and reason on the basis of a unified view of human nature and a more adequate conception of spiritual life, the contribution of Indian thought is unique and lasting.” (1991)
Huxley was concerned about each of these facets of the “task” spoken of above.
For instance, Huxley’s lifelong commitment to the search for totality of awareness found in Buddha’s words a possible structure of resolution. In Those Barren Leaves we are told that “Buddha considered the most deadly of all deadly sins . . .[as] unawareness, stupidity” This validated his own almost exclusive life in the mind and total preoccupation with the world beyond the immediately perceived one.
Of course, this kind of an interpretation has to be arrived at with tremendous caution because in Jesting Pilate the same person holds a different viewpoint-“to one fresh from India and Indian ‘spirituality’, Indian dirt and religion, Ford seems a greater man than Buddha? Nevertheless, when he was in search of mystical dimensions of experience, he gave much respect to the mystical tradition that had grown up in India during its long history In Time Mast Have a Stop, Barnack’s death comes close to the accounts of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Suffering and return to life repeatedly to go through the same suffering is like the movement of the Buddhist wheel of fortune and if Barnack has been spiritually ready; he would have been able to go beyond this incessantly turning Wheel.
A mind given over to speculation, a process through which much of the sophisticated thought and subtle interpretation of the classical Indian systems must have proliferated, Huxley’s intellect was willing to assimilate diverse trends which would provide his speculations with sufficient material for endless indulgence. In addition, his physical deficiency of sight must have made the urgency for insight more immediate. Darkness, as a metaphor for spiritual handicap, to be vanquished by the Dark Goddess of Destruction, is a popular image in Indian spiritual traditions. To Huxley; this must have had special appeal because he knew what it was to be locked up in the lonely cell of blindness. How loneliness grows into creative solitude and silence rings with the sound of the spirit is an inevitable part of mystical experience, not only Indian, but common to all the other traditions of the world.
Even in the early phase of Huxley’s writings—his verse, for instance, had references to the unitive experience of mystical ecstasy As the creative intellect of the artist evolved, it passed through a phase of negation in the novels of the first half slowly taking the form in the second part, of the possibility of growth and redemption through self—transcendence. The initial preoccupation with moral and intellectual concepts gradually merged into a vision which was predominantly spiritual—from satire through negative utopia to a positive picture of salvation as depicted in his last novel, Island.
The sceptical beginning, therefore, reaches the inevitable conclusion in the acceptance and formulation of a perennial philosophy which saw duality as imperfection and the knowledge of unity with the divine as the only goal worth pursuing in human life. Huxley’s writings are closely related to the changing map of his own consciousness through time and have, thus, a strong autobiographical flavour. Anthony Beavis in Eyeless in Gaza performs well the function of modelling a positive transformation from a predominantly sensuous materialist to a seeker of spiritual light.
This inherent glimmer which took many decades to shine out brightly can be seen faintly even in Anti: Hay. Lypiatt’s experiences of annihilating the past may serve as the first step towards the dawn of light. Shearwater’s moment of epiphany and Gumbril’s effort at self—transformation are brief sketches of the human mind dimly perceiving an order of reality beyond the immediately available one. To pursue this vision and make it acquire actuality and experiential validity appears to be the unspoken thread running through most of Huxley’s works.
Critics have noted that Huxley’s contact with India may have increased the possibilities available to him in this pursuit. Growing wisdom revealed the possibility that timelessness can be experienced within the limitations of time. Oriental frames of reference seemed to have offered him the key to many of those doors which he found locked during the early stages of his serious quest. Being born to the Occidental tradition, this cultural contact provided him with the tools for achieving a reconciliation between the material and spiritual dimensions of human existence and this is a task which he carried forward until the end of his life. This gave his vision a multiple facet which took into consideration the human situation as a whole.
The strongly rational trait with which Huxley was genetically endowed and the realisation that this was not the whole truth made him accept the concept of maya or illusion: in Do What You will he suggests a conjunction of the mystical with the rational in order to get a complete picture of reality Reconciliation of the phenomenal and spiritual was what held sway over his changing stance and though at no point of time does he express this emphatically the very ambivalence of his position is more convincing than any categorical statement could have been. The ideal order hinted at in Paint Counter Point through Rampion and Spandrell also does not reach any conclusive stage because order is well hidden beneath the heap of apparent chaos. Quarles speaks about the shattering experience of visiting the East before which he glibly spoke about the search for Truth as the highest of human tasks. After his encounter with the East, he feels that integral living is more difficult than merely looking for Truth.
Spiritualism, false mystical states and gums who are themselves imperfect and therefore unable to lead others to enlightenment abound in the sketches of Huxley Huxley himself, in association with Gerald Heard, played a “guru”—like role and finally hoped that the judicious use of drugs would bring the mystical state within the grasp of all human beings. To this end, he carried out laboratory experiments under control conditions, somewhat like Tantric practices with intoxicants as aids to sadhana and earned much ill- fame for it.
Another point of contact between Huxley and India was the conditions of life in this country. Many of his ideas that were structured in the form of the later essays were based on his experiences in the East—he was intensely concerned about the terrible state of existence which is the lot of the people here. Poverty; environmental protection, war, international amity, and such other topical issues were never sidelined by him in spite of his all- engrossing interest in spirituality In India, it is said that the test of one’s power of inwardness is not in living in the solitary mountain retreat but in the market place. And Huxley took this test with remarkable success, judging by the fact that in the last part of his life, he wrote more essays showing his concern for the human situation rather than engage himself exclusively in the continuing inward—directed search.
How relevant all this is today and how we as Indians assess the works of Huxley with our totally different tools of perception is an exercise worthy of our effort. English studies in India at this point of time needs to formulate its own ways of looking at the works coming to us from outside the country. For long we have read these from the perspective of the West; may we not do so now from a different one? Doubt, disagreement, healthy argument, acceptance or admiration are all part of the intellectual exercise. Keeping aside value judgements, we may come out with some genuine insights when we begin studies of this nature—just as Indian thought reached many in the West through the medium of Huxley it can be said that Huxley’s use of Indian thought enriched the age—old tradition exactly as Eliot had visualised it in his seminal essay “Traditional and Individual 'Talent.” If such an interaction and enrichment did not take place, there is still the possibility that by studying both these, side by side, we learn a little more about each than we did before.
Ranganathananda, Swami, 1991, Human Being in Depth: A Scientific Approach to Religion, Albany: State University of New York Press.
From the Jacket :
The conjunction of Huxley's thought and the thought of India appears to be an interesting area of research. This can be approached from innumerable, fairly distinct experimental directions. Huxley's was a mind given to speculation, a process through which much of the sophisticated thought and subtle interpretation of the classic Indic systems seem to have proliferated. Huxley's willingness to assimilate diverse trends in his quest for inwardness made creative use of Indian thought. This contact may have increased the possibilities available to Huxley for his pursuit. In the present situation, Huxley's futuristic vision has great relevance and its conjunction with Indian thought brings out the best in both.
Sumita Roy [Associate Professor] worked on Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot and Aurobindo for her doctoral dissertation, which was published by Sterling [Consciousness and Creativity, 1991]. She has just completed a UGC major project on Indian Philosophic Prose.
Annie Pothen [Assistant Professor] got a gold medal for her Ph.D. on Indian Poetry in 1990 and is currently doing further research in the area, with special reference to Nissim Ezekiel.
K.S.Sunita [Assistant Professor] has written many articles on Marginality and Travelogue. She is currently working on Indian women poets of the last two decades.
Sumita Roy and Annie Pothen have recently been transferred to Nizam College, while K.S. Sunita teaches at Osmania University College for Women, Where this seminar was hosted.
1. Inaugural Address - Prof. C. Subba Rao /9
2. Keynote Address: Betwixt Jesting Pilate and Hindu Initiate - Prof. M. Sivaramkrishna /16
3. India and Huxley: A Symbiotic Relationship - Prof. A.A. Mutalik Desai /26
4. From Regression to Progress: Indian Metaphysics and Huxley's Ape and Essence - Dr.Rama Nair /39
5. Brave New World and Island: Contrasting Vision - Mrs. Tilottama Roy Banerjee /47
6. Aldous Huxley's Indian Travels: A Note on Jesting Pilate - Mrs. K.S. Sunita /55
7. Huxley's Foreword to The Gospel of Ramakrishna: Definitions of Consciousness - Dr. Sumit Roy /60
8. Huxley and Isherwood: Eyeless in Gaza and The Memorial - Dr. Sobha Chattopadhyay /69
9. Huxley and Isherwood: Account of a Friendship - Mr. N.R. Chatterjee /79
10. Hemingway and Huxley: The Dispossessed apostles of the Lost Generation - Prof. B. Gopal Rao /90
11. Huxley, Russell and Mysticism - Dr. Uma Narasimha / 98
12. Huxley and Rajneesh: A Study in Ideas - Dr.A. Karunakar and Dr. Sumit Roy /107
13. Aldous Huxley's Vision of an Ideal State - Dr. Balachandran /114
14. A Note on Huxley's Ends and Means - Dr.P. Laxminarayana /120
15. Experience of God According to Huxley - Dr. Annie Pothen /131
16. Aldous Huxley's Acquaintance with Indian Philosophy - Dr. C. V. Seshadri /137
17. Aldous Huxley's Perennial Philosophy: Unity of Eastern and Western Spiritual Experience - Dr. Yashoda Bhat /142
18. Homage to Huxley - Mrs. Susan Walters /151
Select Bibliography /159
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