was shocked by Yeats's suggestion too, but for a different
reason. It shocked me because it's exactly the same
advice the editors of this website have been giving
our writers since we began. We tell them, "Describe
your experience, but don't philosophize."
Yeats believed, as we do, that this is the only way
to educate Westerners about certain things which Indians
take for granted, but Westerners often overlook or misunderstand.
of these things is the fact that for most people, realization
takes effort. Many Westerners don't understand this.
I'll go further: many Westerners don't want to
understand this. They hear the Vedantic ideas that everybody
is already realized and that the efforts of ego are
an illusion, and they jump to the comforting, lazy conclusion
that they don't need to work at realization.
Westerners overlook the most fundamental point of all,
that the enlightenment traditions are spiritual.
Realization has to do with the awe-inspiring, hair-raising,
infinitely peaceful, love-filled intimations for which
our ancestors invented the name God. This stuff
is all about love.
OVERSIGHTS ARISE partly for the same reason that it's
hard to transplant a tree: no matter how carefully you
dig around the roots, some vital part of the plant's
huge anatomy gets left behind in its native soil.
is the tree; Indian culture is the native soil; and
this book is a magic wand that helps Westerners recover
the recalcitrant bits that balked at the ocean crossing.
It does so by letting you watch the life of an exemplary
man, an adept yogi, through his own eyes. The missing
cultural matrix becomes visible in a natural way, through
his peripheral vision.
example, is Purohit on his grandmother, whom he loved
a consecrated life, ate only once a day and then but
little, and like a typical Hindu widow, was always
cheerful and happy (p. 4).
would illustrate an old lady's saintly character by
advertising her reluctance to eat? None, because we
lack the idea of renunciation. But it is everywhere
in the background of this book.
what happened when Purohit's father picked out a bride
my mind had changed [regarding celibacy], and [my
father's] choice fell on Godu Bai, a girl of sixteen,
of well-to-do family. Her father was so surprised,
having understood that I was a convinced celibate,
that he came to make sure that there was no mistake;
and I was able to satisfy him both of my good faith
and of the constancy of my desire for a spiritual
life (p. 73).
imagine this conversation between the young man and
his future father-in-law? It's worth a few minutes of
this, describing his family's daily routine after he
had begun to adjust to his activated kundalini:
flowed into months. I never noted when sun rose [sic]
or when it set. Taking half a pound of milk and a
few nimb leaves a day, I sat absorbed in meditation
as my wife did in the next room, her diet the same
as mine. We got up punctually at 3 a.m. and,
after our bath, began to meditate at 4 a.m. At
10:30 we breakfasted on four ounces of milk, took
a second bath at noon, and meditated till 4:30 p.m.
Then came a second meal of four ounces of milk, and
a third bath in the evening at six o'clock, with meditation
till 10 p.m. Dinner followed of the remaining
eight ounces of milk. Comfortably we each lay down
on separate beds in neighboring rooms on Persian carpets,
over which were spread tigers' skins, and these in
turn were covered with pure white bedsheets. We had
two soft pillows apiece. At times I read the yoga-aphorisms
of Patanjali till 11 p.m., which was the
time when I usually went to sleep. We used to lock
the front door of the house so that nobody should
disturb us. And what on earth could they disturb us
for? (p. 82.)
and a half hours of meditation every day on a diet of
a pint of milk and a salad. Talk about effort! Talk
about austerity! And yet he continues seamlessly into
a sublime description of physical luxury:
we each lay down on separate beds in neighboring rooms
on Persian carpets, over which were spread tigers'
skins, and these in turn...
Is his point
that there is a contrast, or that there is no contrast?
This kind of weird ambiguity is a hallmark of great
I LIED A
MOMENT AGO. I wrote that this book shows Purohit's life
through his own eyes. But of course that's impossible.
Books speak with words, not pictures. When they make
us see things, it is an illusion, a conjuring, an authorial
sleight of hand.
for this magic are well known. Build your narrative
from descriptions of actions, the more concrete the
better, and choose your words with the finicky discrimination
of a child at dinnertime. Purohit does both; he's a
very fine writer of the story-telling school.
benefits not only from the author's gifts, but also
those of W.B Yeats, the Nobel-winning poet, and Thomas
Sturge Moore, an eminent writer of the day, who assisted
Purohit with the manuscript.
also due to Professor Vinod Sena of the University of
Delhi, who is responsible for getting this book back
into print after many decades of obscurity. He has written
for this new edition a fine introduction, notes, and
Copyright 2000 Laura Olshansky.
Olshansky was the editor of this website during its first
RELATED PAGES ON THIS SITE
Our main reference page on Purohit. Contains
a biography, book recommendations, and links.