THE ALMORA SWAMI UPON PHILOSOPHY IN GENERAL AND OUR FAILINGS IN PARTICULAR
[The Theosophist, Vol. IV, NO. 10, July, 1883, P. 245]
In our February number (see page 118) prefacing the valuable though somewhat hazy contribution by the venerable Swami of Almora on “Advaita Philosophy,” we wrote the following editorial lines:
“As the subjoined letter comes from such a learned source, we do not feel justified in commenting upon it editorially, our personal knowledge of the Advaita doctrine being unquestionably very meagre when contrasted with that of a Paramahansa—hence THE FOOTNOTES BY OUR LEARNED
BROTHER, T. SUBBA ROW, TO WHOM WE TURNED OVER THE MS. FOR REPLY.
This notice, we believe, was plain enough to screen us thereafter from any such personal remarks as are now flung at our head by the holy ascetic of Almora in the paper that follows. Some of those rhetorical blossoms having been left by us for the purpose of enlivening the otherwise too monotonous field of his philosophical subject, the reader may judge for himself. We say “some,” for, having to satisfy all our contributors, and our space being limited, we cannot consent to crowd out more interesting matter to make room for just fifteen and a half columns of quotations profusely mixed with reprimands and flings of any correspondent, even though the latter be as we learn from his own words, “a modest hermit of the jungle.” Therefore, with all our profound respect for our opponent, we had to curtail his too long paper considerably. We propose, however, to show him his chief mistake, and thus to blunt a few of the most pointed shafts intended to pierce through the points of the editorial harness.
If, after the humble confession quoted above from our February number, the editorial reply that followed another paper from the same ascetic, namely, “In re Advaita Philosophy,” in the March number—was still taken as emanating from one who had just confessed her incompetency to hold a disputation with the learned Swami upon Advaita tenets—the fault is not ours. This error is the more strange since the Swami had been clearly warned that his points would be disputed and questions answered in future by our brother Mr. T. Subba Row, as learned in Advaita philosophy as in the esotericism of the sacred books of the East. Therefore we had a right to expect that the Paramahansa would have remembered that he was ventilating his not over-kind remarks upon the wrong person, since we had nothing to do personally with the replies. Thus the disagreement upon various topics in general, and the abstruse tenets of esoteric Advaita Philosophy especially, between the “Almora Swami” and Mr. T. Subba Row, can in no way, or with any degree of justice, be laid by the
former at the door of either the “foreigners who have come to India for knowledge,” nor of “Western Theosophy”; for, in this particular case he has found an opponent (quite as learned, we love to think, as himself) in one of his own race and country—a real Advaitee Brahmin. To take therefore to task Theosophy for it or the conductor of this magazine, expressing dissatisfaction in such very strong terms, does not show either that philosophical equanimity, or tact and discrimination that might be expected from one who has devoted his life exclusively to meditation and the Yoga Philosophy. If pardonable in a person who has to lead that sort of life which in the words of Mr. Max Müller, quoted by the “Almora Swami”—(as an additional hint and a hit we suppose)—a life “with telegrams, letters, newspapers, reviews, pamphlets, and books”—it is quite unpardonable in a holy ascetic, who is never troubled with anything of the sort and gets, as we suspect, even his appropriate quotations from European authors ready-made for him by his amanuenses and friends. But, since the article is addressed in the form of a letter to the editor, the humble individual who holds this office hastens to assure the venerable Swami that beyond their appalling length, his letters have never given the said editor one moment of “annoyance and trouble” as he seems to imagine.
In reference to another personal taunt, we agree with him. It is more than likely that some (not all by any means) Vedantists, such as the modern “Aryas” and some Dvaitees and Viśishtadvaitees—after “hailing Western Theosophy with joy,” have ended by comparing it “to the mountain that gave birth to a mouse”—the disenchantment being due to many and various reasons upon which it is needless to enter at present. We can only hope and trust that the lofty Almorian mountain, chosen by our venerable friend as the seat of his contemplation, may not bring forth some day, for India, any worse animal than the humble “black mouse.” True we have come to learn in this country, and we have learned a good deal already. One fact, among several others, namely, that the learned ascetics of modern India have widely shot off from the original mark when
compared with the Rishis of old. Spinoza is quoted against us in his definition of methods of investigation. Our saintly critic fears that his venerable friends have followed the first (or vulgar) method. The proof which with him goes far to justify his “fear,” rests chiefly upon a fallacy and mistake of ours—one happily held by us in common with nearly all the great men of science in Europe, viz., our ignorant claim THAT MATTER IS INDESTRUCTIBLE, HENCE ETERNAL. We will not understand his ideas, he says, because being fond of absurdities, “our own absurdity would be exposed.” If so, we prefer indeed our absurd belief in the indestructibility of matter to any scientific opinion upholding the contrary, submitting cheerfully, in this case, “the weakness of our understanding to be laughed at”—even by an ascetic in “the state of Nirvikalpa.”
We feel very grateful to the good Swami for his explanation of “Pravana” and other kindred words. Mr. Subba Row will no doubt profit by, and answer them. Personally, however, we respectfully decline to be taught the noble science by any other man, however learned he may be, than him who has originally undertaken the task—namely, our own MASTER: yet, as many of our readers may well benefit by the controversy, we will, with his permission, leave the arena for the present to Mr. Subba Row, a far abler controversialist than we can ever hope to become.*
* [This has reference to Subba Row’s essay entitled “Prakriti and Purusha” in the same July number of The Theosophist, pp. 248-51.]