read an excerpt...
there were snowballs and hot chocolate
What is this game about?
I have been extremely lucky
When I enter into the oldest image of my memory I see a little boy in a red overcoat sitting in the snow. Everything is white around me. Thick snow flakes fall gently in the silence. Actually I do not pay too much attention to them because I am very busy eating snow. I have woollen gloves. I find the taste of snow through the taste of the wool extremely interesting and I am at royal peace with the whole world.
A couple of days later, something shocking happens. It is the second image. There is snow in the second image also, but the snow is heaped into hard icy balls and these balls are thrown at me. Can you believe it? I find the experience most distressful. I must tell you the story. It was a sunny and merry carnival day. My elder sister had a little fox mask and I had a huge, superb elephant mask. We wanted to join the children of the village to play with them. But when we arrived on the village’s central place they begin bombarding us with these stupid snow balls. We run away, somewhere, to hide and cry. My elephant mask was torn apart. I do not understand anything about this world but I do not like it. Thank God I have a sweet and lovely Mummy. I can go back to our chalet where she is waiting for me (that is what I assume anyway) and I shall have kisses and dry clothes and hot chocolate.
So, in life there were icy snowballs and hot chocolates. I tried to avoid the first and seek the latter but with the passing of years, this delicate maneuvre became increasingly difficult.
While growing up, I found out that the adults expected me to become reasonable. Now, I don’t know whether you know, but ‘adult’ and ‘reasonable’ are two strange notions.
Adults and those beings that you always see from below. They have long legs and talk loud all the time. ‘Reasonable’ means that you have to become as incomprehensible as they are. To be sure adults are helpful: they open the door, they push the lift button, they keep big dogs away. They also have lovely cars. But they do not make any sense at all. If you are wise you can get a relief from adults. Christmas day, for instance, you can take all the presents they give you under the living room sofa where they cannot see you and there you can quietly open the packages. But these situations are rare. Ultimately, you can only deal with adults by letting them believe that you have become reasonable. To this effect don’t look like you’re having too much fun: adults have no fun. They are serious. They are important. You will further learn about important things in school. School is important.
In school you discover other children. Some of them are pretty nice, some of them are already adults, and some of them throw stones instead of snowballs.
It does not matter that much, because I can come back home for lunch. Also I am quite lucky because I have two adorable grandmothers. My grand maman de Sion (this is my home town in Switzerland) lives in a high ceilinged wooden room. There I climb into her bed and we talk for a long time together. She is not like the other adults, she understands: at Easter time she comes with us into the garden and looks for the eggs in the nests. She is so sweet and so mild, she prays to the Virgin Mary every day and I can always see love in her eyes. My grand maman de Seeburg (this is where my mummy comes from) has a beautiful mansion near the lake. From the balcony I look at the swans and the sunset. We are the best of friends. The poor thing is so scared because she listens to the catastrophes on the radio’s daily news but then I cuddle her and she is all right. In the garage, there is a big American car that no one uses: maybe she will give it to me. The garden is full of the mysterious smells of the lake and it is so quiet also.
When I am eleven, my father puts me in the boarding school of a college run by the priests of a venerable medieval abbey. Sigh! At seventeen I managed, at last, to be thrown out of it. Quite a few things happened in between.
In this all-boys school, the obsessive concern was ‘girls’. Conversations around the topic, aimed preferably at thick laughs. Some priests with a weird imagination are on the watch for the boys’ guilty friendships. I was at first disgusted by this atmosphere. Then only shocked. Then I got used to it. It belongs, I guessed, to the process of becoming an adult. Let me do my homework, many forbidden books are available through classroom friends. Well…I educated myself all right, but in the process I unknowingly began to spoil my attention.
Religion belonged to the daily discipline and was stamped by the same official seal: boring, coercive, artificial. I strongly reacted against both of them and started reading novels during the daily morning mass. I gradually came to enjoy my status as the acknowledged leader of the rebellious elements. With a small party of companions we delighted in all kinds of naughty practical jokes. Among ourselves we would pledge our commitment to the lost spirit of gone by chivalry, chosen poets and nocturnal expeditions to the cellar of the Abbey to steal the canons’ distinguished wines. It is quite thrilling to discover friendship by a midnight candle while tasting the vintages of a sleeping monastery.
We also found out that our favourite authors, artists and musicians had all been deeply annoyed with the prevailing stupidity of their society and that we could not have agreed more with their reactions. So we grew into intellectualism, dandyism and adolescent rebellion, proudly deciding that the greatest crusades are the hopeless ones. Sometimes, however, listening to the basilica’s vaults echoing Gregorian chants, I would find myself wondering: “May be these hymns, once upon a time, were sung by priests who were full of joy.” At fourteen I wrote in a sort of diary: “How can they make God so lifeless? How dare they? He is so great, God’s greatness is what I can dimly catch a glimpse of.”
Contemporary intellectuals were more busy defining the truth than finding it. I took to liking authors such as Socrates, Seneca, Villon, Pascal or Montaigne. They are not very trendy but, I thought, they are honest.
They are not like my professor of religion or my professor of philosophy (I was lucky with the professor of literature) talking about things they had half digested with half a brain. The second half marvelling at the smartness of the first one. In fact I am not quite fair to my professor of religion: he had found the truth. It did not cost him much more than the price of a pocket Bible. But I thought it was not expensive enough and I did not buy it.
I am sixteen, I am in Feiburg am Breisgau, Germany, for summer holidays. And I am madly in love. She is a German girl which is quite good for my German but that’s not the point. I love her. Well, that’s what I thought. In the summer school during class hours, we send each other little paper balls of feverish notes while the teacher is writing on the blackboard. She is complimenting me for how good I am in history and I just love compliments, especially from her. She wants to invite me to a party; I have never gone to a party! ... but I will manage it. Now, the nasty parents come in the picture and I cannot see her. Therefore I cannot eat, I cannot sleep. We arrange, through her girl friend, secret meetings on the bank of a small lake in the Black Forest. How terribly romantic! One day, half closed eyes, she told me “give me a kiss”. I was terribly impressed. I did not know what to do. At last I took my rain coat, put it on her head and kissed her through the rain coat. She was a bit surprised. But – I already had quite a talent at rationalizing things – I explained to her that it was a French trick. I think it worked. She was impressed and pleased to have such a knowledgeable French boyfriend.
End of summer. Back to college, rain and tears. I’m fed up with college anyway. Dialogues with my teachers become increasingly impatient.
– “Sir why is there Evil in the world?
– Because we have sinned.
– Then why did we sin?
– Because our nature has been corrupted by the original sin of our first parents.
– But sir, why should I be corrupted by a sin I have not committed?
– Human nature was corrupted so that it could be redeemed.
– Sir I am afraid I look as little redeemed as you do.
– Get out!”
My friends have been thrown out. Only tasteless people could possibly prosper in this college. Thus the rector, a considerate man in his own way, expelled me from the school, charge: “bad influence on his comrades.” Three more years of college in my home town. Exams passed, 1968: University, Freedom, life begins.
I had firmly decided to enjoy it!
I had great holidays! Summer in Salzburg (Austria); so many friends from various countries. Listening to Mozart’s concerts and taking baths in baroque fountains. I am in love with, well, a couple of girls. Summer in Florence (Italy): I am the guest and become the friend of an old lonely marquess who loves animals and Francisco d’Assisi. Being penniless, he is selling paintings and furniture to feed the extravagant birds which are kept in the aviary of the park. But he had to feed them by himself and a couple of years later he died of exhaustion. I began to learn that life in a money oriented society is rather ugly when you don’t have any. In the so called rich countries, not everybody is rich and few of the rich are happy. Later on while studying Marxism in Bologna I would be quite satisfied to understand more scientifically how developed society became such a heartless mess.
But I was lucky indeed, my family was not poor. In Geneva I had my flat, my car, no real money problems and the possibility to do a lot of what I pleased at that very age when one develops a strong wish to have fun. In my summer holidays, I was trying to blend love, romanticism and some kind of historic landscape. I was a staunch believer in the possibility of engineering poetic happenings. So I was in love (that by the way, had become an adult word) on the French cote d’Azur, in the islands of the Aegean sea, etc.... Of course the year is not made of summers only but in Swiss winters you can do a lot of skiing: sparkling, white snow, blue violet sky and speed. During this University time I also somewhat managed to get a degree in law but that was beside the point. The point is that I was seeking to taste an intensity of pleasure and joy through the various opportunities which were proposed to me. I can recall those days: going to Paris, Brussels or London to meet friends, having balls and parties in mansions and castles.... And yet in this whirl-pool, I did not lose the perception of a deeply rooted drive to find an answer to a few basic questions. “What is this game about? How can I make people happy? How can I be happy (well, I look happy. But deep inside I am not). What is happiness, what is love, what is truth?” This was Pontius Pilatus’ question but I did not intend to wash my hands.
Sometimes I would also feel something supremely adorable, existing far beyond us, totally elusive and yet as badly needed as oxygen. “Oh God wherever you are, don’t you see that this world is going nuts? I am going nuts also. Please aren’t you going to do something about it?” It was not unusual that this dialogue with the walls of my room would begin – and end up – in tears.
I was trying to make a poem or a romance out of my life but I was using the wrong material; aesthetics, the world of forms was a world of limitations. In beauty – be it of a statue, an idea, or a woman – 1 would see the draft of a model which was beyond my reach. I lost myself in drafts looking for the model. That exercise became increasingly frustrating.
In a similar way I could see that the minds of the great thinkers, poets, etc., had been enlightened by sparks of truth, sparks of one and the same fire shivering in the creations of arts and literature, in science, philosophy. But truth, itself, was completely beyond my grasp. I was honest enough to recognize it and proved to be also rather ironic towards people who did not have this honesty. I could see them only too well taking refuge in religions, creeds, ideologies, destroying the old golden calf to build new ones! God, the Nation, Progress, the Working Class, Youth. “Why are you worshipping youth”, I thought disdainfully. “Youth is a blessing that does not know itself, an unfulfilled promise...” but I thought also “Youth is as old as hunger.” I became sick and tired of this upper-class, unconcerned way of life I had shared in many European countries and agreed with Nietzche’s “What makes Man vulgar is to think he lives for nothing.” And what is this thing that makes life worth living? I did not really find anything worthwhile but the quest for what could be worthwhile. Sometimes I became extreme in my argumentation: “Either God exists, or He doesn’t, if He doesn’t let us blow the house up. But if He does. He certainly is worth looking for a bit further.” Most of the time though I would not use the word “God” I would just wonder “What is going on?...” So, as many others I went further. I was not specially attracted by drugs to begin with, but at that time in Geneva, I had a Dutch friend fond of tulips and hashish, especially hashish. She kindly introduced me to her way of life. I found this kind of smoke interesting but in the last analysis, not helpful. All the while I was discovering with so many boys and girls of my generation that to love and to be loved helps to exist ... but discovered also that love without the right balance does not give peace or fulfillment.
Lucidity is a mixed blessing; it all depends what it is that the light shows. I thought I was more lucid than many people around. May be I was right but, anyway, that was no fun. I could feel the pressure of society: inhumane, boring, cruel and stupid. I could see people trying to swim in the pea soup: running after entertainments or political creeds, seeking love or success with little understanding of the mechanisms that made them run. Still, I was running all right myself, thus growing increasingly annoyed with my own stupidity. I could chart my own story fairly easily:
I was born in 1949 in a well-off aristocratic family in Lausanne, Switzerland. This implied two things: I belonged to the postwar generation and to the privileged social stratum of a privileged country. These coordinates provided the framework of the story. I had known enough of material security and social status to realise that, although these privileged surroundings greatly helped to live in the world of man, they did not altogether provide me with what I was looking for. On the other hand I had gone through almost all the possible experiments the post-war generation went through: It did not give me what I was looking for either. Oh well! Let’s go to sleep. I will wake up tomorrow. Existence sticks to the skin in its own ways. Somehow I will make it. Basically I was trying to remember the adolescent who wrote once: “May nothing ever appease my hunger; let it not diminish; may my thirst never be quenched; let it increase. For it is in being hungry and thirsty that I do not betray myself”. Meanwhile, I thought it would be idiotic to reject the world since one is merged in it. So, I accepted it, trying to smile about things or, better learning to laugh, first, about myself, in order to earn the agreeable right to laugh at others. I agreed with Chamfort’s “The most lost of all your days is the one when you did not laugh,” but I was not as cynical as he was. So, I had fun, listening to music, seeing friends, travelling, reading. One day follows another, the sun rises and sets, one day it rains and the next day it’s sunny. I shave in the morning; I sing, I weep, I go to school, to the office, to the barracks, I come home, I go to sleep, I wake up, you see what I mean.
I went through the social rituals one must perform in order to reassure the members of the tribe. I did those things that established people consider very respectable; I socialised in upper class circles, I received an Academic education in Europe and the USA, I became an artillery lieutenant, went into banking and international administration. I also did those things that Western anti-establishment people consider very respectable. I studied Marxism with great care, I went into drug experiments, I visited various new religious movements, lived freely and in hippie communes, etc.... As a whole, all these experiences proved to be fruitful and interesting ... in pointing out what is to be avoided and what to be sought. I tried to seize all the fruits of all the trees, I tried to bite the fruit which would never leave my mouth. Of course I failed. I did not think the Devil could overpower me because I felt I was as innocent as he was shrewd. I made my little gamble with the Devil like dear doctor Faust and Mephistopheles. I guess what kept me moving was my curiosity. I was of the opinion that an open minded boy could not ignore the findings of Eastern spirituality. So I read about it, and I also visited some masters imported from India. To my mind the teachings of Indian philosophy answer many outstanding questions pertaining to the genesis of the Universe, the relation between spirit and matter, the existential status of man, the path of liberation, etc....
On the other hand, after having visited some “masters” for a while I begin seeing the tricks that they play upon their followers. It was distressing to find out that most are fakes, many are corrupt and that they were using the energy of the people who blindly surrendered to them not to mention taking away their material possessions. I felt sorry for many of these disciples, but felt that some others deserved their lot. They seemed to assume they would obtain the Kingdom of Heaven at a discount price in the guru shopping centre, and were rather arrogant about it. “When I try to get anywhere near God I had better keep humble”, I thought, “It is safer”.
Bologna, Italy; old stones gazing at us. I love medieval streets, arcades, piazzas. A country full of beauty and sophisticated intellects where I am learning that aesthetics and intellect alone do not lead anywhere. The taste of a civilisation’s decay can be savoury, poor Europe, but where is life going to spring up next?
Through my studies I set out to chart the findings of the seekers of the past: Arjuna, Akhenaton, Kant, Karl Marx ... Machiavelli is fed up with Augustine. He says “Let’s forget morality because we cannot know anything about it”. Well, he is looking at the pope, I understand the statement! But what then will guide human action? What integrates individuals in the community? Hobbes runs away from Cromwell’s armies and writes “Self-preservation” ... fair enough, it sounds logical but not inspiring. In the nouveau riche England Locke says “private property” ... it sounds inspiring but only for the few who can accumulate it. Rousseau is not happy. Lenin and Mao Tse Tung see the contradictions, Yes. Lao-Tzu and Hegel talk about the synthesis ... you mean in actual history? Marcuse says the synthesis cannot be. But he did not know about Patanjali and Zen Buddhism. My little brain is getting feverish: I guess the outline.
In 1974, when I was studying at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (Maryland) I became convinced that only a radical historical happening could break the vicious circle of individual and collective disequilibria. I somehow reached the conclusion that the break-through would be an epistemological one – that is: it would occur in the field of the human awareness – and that the signs of the time pointed this event to be imminent. But I did not know where, when and how it would happen ... may be it was already happening.
“The” question could have been phrased in those terms: How to evolve a new faculty of perception (beyond the intellect) which represents an evolution in the phenomenology of awareness and not a regression? To go back to instinct is not going to solve the problems of civilisation because instinct and civilisation are nothing but a significant expression of the great human contradiction which cannot be solved by merely going back and forth between the poles of the contradiction. Furthermore, the standard psychic state of a Western man represents a fairly evolved level of rationalisation, that is an asset not to be neglected. One can consider as a regression the attempt to go beyond the mind’s cognitive capacities through “instinctual” media such as drugs, sex considered as a “Weltanschauung”, indulgence in pseudo-mystical and pseudo-animist types of parapsychological enquiries. The present day type of Californian circus, fake gurus, false prophets, Science fiction and so-called “new churches” were only showing that the necessity of an epistemological breakthrough was in the air. Playing with Hegelian concepts, I would say that the present moment of world history is to actualise a potential which is reaching maturity in this second half of the Twentieth Century in the same way, say, that the Nineteenth Century brought forth the material breakthrough. Evidence of such potential could be found in a careful analysis of religious, artistic and literary manifestations as well as in definite patterns of behaviour in the most advanced societies.
Actually the theoretical hypothesis was nicely framed. But it was an empty frame. Unless I came upon the actual happening of the cognitive breakthrough, all these considerations were leading me nowhere. Of this I was painfully aware.
There are days when I do not sound too good myself. Days such as this one:
“I don’t get out of bed before three O’clock p.m. because I don’t know what to do outside of it –
I don’t know how to exist.
I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know how to feel.
I don’t know whether I should think or not.
I just don’t know.
I’m feeling sad. I’m feeling lost.’’
I’m fed up with friends whose parking meter is blocked on “sex”. I begin wondering at my own behaviour. A few years ago I used to think, like most of us that sex love should provide the optimal chance for happiness and fulfillment. We all had accepted “free love” as a matter of course; it was the dogma of our way of life. But how many of us are truly enjoying ourselves? No so many indeed! There is so much insecurity. People are afraid of loving someone because they are afraid of suffering: the elected partner might leave them tomorrow for someone nicer! What is the right relationship? I would not like my own little sister to go with a man who should leave her after some time. Then, why do we behave like butterflies? Even when I am with a girl-friend my attention restlessly wanders around. This restlessness does not give any joy! Thus I decided to settle down, trying to enjoy friendship and love without sex.
I’m fed up with University professors who do not know what matters and what does not. A new type of paralysing sophistry has developed in Academia, under the respectable label of analytical thought. Analytical thought helps to think clearly, and to be sure this is a respectable function. But this contribution is merely methodological or instrumental. To think clearly or not about something is one thing. The thing you are thinking about is another one. This is simple objectivity. You may think clearly about peanuts and think in a confused way about the Universe. To deduce that peanuts is the substratum of the Universe is a pretty foolish step to take but it is one commonly taken in contemporary Academia.
There is nothing Universal about the University’s knowledge. It is an orderly chaos of particulars…everyone cultivating one’s private little province without any relation to the whole. Lucky me, I’m getting my M.A. degree! At once I jump in a 1954 Packard via New Orleans, Los Angeles. I like travelling, life is fun again; I’m going to see the Grand Canyon and swim in the Pacific Sea.
I completed my cycle of “American” experiences, in going as deep into the Californian counter-culture as I could without hurting myself too much. May be they had the answer I was looking for! An answer, I knew, existed: I could feel it in the beauty of the world, in the writing of the sages, in loving or being loved, and yet I could feel it and know at the same time that something prevented me from being one with it. I could sometimes reach “that stage” through very short instants of blissful intensity. Again and again, I had been trying to break the invisible wall between me and Reality, me and myself, me and the unity of love. Were we not, all of us, looking towards the same goal? All, brothers and sisters, trying to pierce through selfishness and confusion, to break through dreams and illusion, to wake up, to be free, to reach the point where we could look around and say: “Yes this I was, am and will always be. The world is shivering with my joy. I am, you are and we are one”.
In California, I reached the end of the road.
I had tried my best, I was honest, I was analysing myself rather lucidly in psycho-analytical and socio-economic terms, etc.... I was confronting situations, others, myself with as much openness and love as possible. I could, at last, see the solution, but could not catch up with it. The kingdom I was looking for was so near me – only a nerve’s thickness away may be – but it was desperately out of reach. The proximity of the unattainable was agonizing. I knew the answer was within me; I would hurl myself at the door but could not open it. It was exhausting.
I remember one evening near Pacific Palisades (Los Angeles), left stranded on the beach, kneeling toward the ocean and the coming night, muttering my little “prayer on the Pacific”: “My Lord, my love, it is You I seek, it is You I want, It is You I seek, it is You I want. Help me to rejoin You. All of You who have the power to help me, help me to rejoin Him.”
Well, I had done what I could, but I knew I could not do any more. From Virginia’s “blue ridges” to the wooded hills of Boulder Creek (California) I had shared the anguishes and hopes of a generation of seekers, beautiful people, lost people, a lot of them heading towards a dead end. All avenues seemed to have been explored. Going everywhere and nowhere. Who could say: “You are wrong”, “You are right”? No one knew. I did not know what to do anymore; I was writing in Berkeley:
But sleeping within
Is the thing I’m looking for, And yet, to wake up,
Should I stay here, should I go there?
Oh Beloved, free me from my blindness.
In Berkeley I got from an Indian friend of mine, a very bright and sweet boy, the address of a person living near London. He told me, “She is truly a Mother and She is Divine. She took birth in the past as Seeta, Radha, the Holy Virgin Mary; She is the promised Avatara of the Shakti and She has come again for the sake of Her children. Oh, you cannot know…you should go and see Her.”
“But Rajesh; how can you say things like that?
– You can feel, Grégoire, you can actually feel it.
You can feel tremendous energy coming out of Her, like vibrations, and it changes your state of consciousness!”
By that time I knew how to refrain emotional and mental reactions to such an apparently crazy statement; experience only can be trusted: “So, I thought, may be, may be not. Let’s see”. My feelings and thoughts were not exactly serene though. On one hand, the enormity of my friend’s statement made it very difficult for me to consider that he could possibly be right. We had been waiting for so long! …It is almost inconceivable to believe that, at last, a true divine Incarnation was actually living in this world, eating, sleeping, unknown to the world and yet preparing its redemption. On the other hand the signs of the time were pointing towards something at the same time incredible and imminent. We were among the false prophets of the last days announced by Jesus, in a growing conjuncture of spiritism, drugs, sexual aberrations pointing toward social dissolution. In the developed countries, technology was out of control. In the developing countries sheer misery was out of control; the physical survival of mankind looked like an awesome challenge. If ever the world stage was to be set up for the coming of the Ultimate Redeemer, it had to be now.
As the existing mess was man and especially male-made I found it rather satisfying that the Incarnation might be of the feminine gender (the Hindu “Divine Mother” “Mataji”). It cast an exciting light on Christian dogmas also. So I began to be attracted to the idea of meeting my friend’s teacher. “If this is so, what am I doing here?” I packed up, got a ride to Chicago. Flew to the East Coast, and from there, to London where Mataji was staying. The last lines written in the USA betray joyous expectations.
Bring forth that for which I’m striving
To let you
In your hand.
The power which controls powers is love.
The great adventure, the fantastic ride, the unknown way.
When I look back at these twenty-five years I must say that I have been extremely lucky. I had not been eaten by lions, neither stabbed or stoned. I did not have to drink an unhealthy potion like Socrates nor did I blow half my brain cells like an acid freak. I did not even take a train to Siberia. I had been above all comforted by the thought that my quest was not particularly original. Looking for the answer to the same questions which had been debated by so many monks, kings, poets, philosophers, madmen and saints. Debates which echoed in the chamber of Pharaoh, the courtyards of Akbar’s Fathepur Sikri, the cells of Buddhist and Cistercian cloisters. Very old questions indeed....Today, as yesterday, they are at the core of the evolution of thought and society.
Is there any answer? Can “THE ANSWER” be found? I had been hopeful, desperate, cynical.... Until the day I met a most adorable, impressive and mysterious super human being: Her Holiness Mataji Nirmala Devi.