More Personal Stories

Guest blogger Dan Driscoll continues the story he began last month:

I’m already developing symptoms of ‘blogger block’ trying to mirror for myself half a century of life-experience, and mentally scanning the thousands of book pages thumbed through since my first Teilhard book discovery  in 1962.  Perhaps all of us can identify with one of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s oft-quoted lines, “I am a pilgrim of the future, coming back from a journey made wholly in the past”.

But, first things first. In my initial blog I made reference to experience in an Indian Ashram context, whereby I met and conversed during a lengthy ‘afternoon teatime’ with a person who was then contemplating a substantial analysis of Teilhardian thought, within the context of contemporary Vedanta literary output. Thanks to Internet- browser keyword protocols, almost anything that resembles a proper noun can now be typed into a ‘search box’;  my readers may kindly select names and phrases that can be judiciously ‘keyed in’, with further selection of the helpful blue ‘hyperlinks’. Another Teilhard quote comes to mind, though I would be hard put to quote Chapter & Verse for it—“THE MORE YOU LOOK THE MORE YOU FIND; AND THE MORE YOU FIND, THE MORE YOU KNOW WHERE TO LOOK”.

With full appreciation and respect for the ‘academic purist’, may I express my gratitude for the legions of volunteer contributors to such internet encyclopedic ventures as ‘Wikipedia’. Some academics may ‘caution’ (like the cautious theological authorities who scripted a ‘monitum’ warning of the writings of one ‘Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’); my approach is to ‘take my chances’. If Wikipedia seems to be a bit out of line at times, I think that the wealth of information to be found there is worth my easy-chair effort at ‘panning for the data nuggets’— even if betimes some dross may be encountered here and there.

The year was 1978. I was touring India on a study-leave granted by my Canadian Federal Government Agency employer. After an arduous South India bus/train journey through Bangalore/Mysore and ‘Queen of Hill Stations, ‘Ootacamund’  a rickshaw-man delivered me at the main gate of Sri Aurobindo  Ashram located in  Indian’s east- coast former French colonial enclave of Pondicherry. An attendant threw a glance at me, ‘well dressed foreigner, accompanied by his Indian spouse, and intoned the direction:  ‘INTERNATIONAL GUEST HOUSE’.  “Within minutes we were in our room—no reservations; rates unheard of in ‘the hospitality industry’.

Sunset.  Time for ‘dyhana’, meditation at the ‘samadhi’ (‘the great sleep’. We followed crowd, gathering under temple-flower trees that shower with living-fresh blossoms and petals the plain stone sarcophagi of India’s venerated twentieth-century ‘rishi’, Sri Aurobindo (and his lifetime spiritual consort, ‘The Mother’). Hardly is one inside the gate of an Indian Ashram before making a new acquaintance. I was soon conversing with an ashram resident, making casual reference to my interest in the works of ‘my western guru’ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. “Oh”, sez he. . . “one of our people, here,  is writing a book about him. He’ll be coming here any minute now. I can introduce you”.

An ‘auto-rickshaw’ arrived, with owner name and his contact data inscribed on its rear canvas body —Dr. K.D. Sethna. He was obviously a ‘person of substance’. People were approaching him to hand give ‘floral offering’—a rose or simple bouquet. I was quietly introduced, with reference to my interest in Teilhard de Chardin; graciously, Dr. Sethna invited for tea the next afternoon, at his residence. We had relaxed converse for an hour or so, over tea and the delicious ‘Indian sweets’; but details pertaining to both are well beyond current recall. In fact it is only as of past months that I began musing inwardly—‘I wonder—if Dr. Sethna ever got around to finishing and publishing the book”.

So, now with ‘internet technology’ it becomes a matter of simply ‘googling’: (keyword k.d. sethna, in the browser search-box: Instantly: 1 result for k.d. sethna ‘Indian intellectual; poet, scholar, writer, ‘philosopher’; cultural critic; b. 26th November 1904; d. 29th June 2011 aged 106 (!). ‘Writer of more than thirty books’: Scale down to book titles: . . .

“THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE FUTURE: K. D. Sethna—Kaikhushru Dhunjibhoy; Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (New Jersey; London; Toronto), 1981; ISBN 0-8386-2028-0; Printed in the United States of America”.

Publisher’s Statement for ISBN Registry: ‘A Search Apropos of R.C. Zaehner’s Study in Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin. Corrects errors and redresses a balance in Zaehner”s 1971 Evolution in Religion: A Study in Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin, in which Dr. Sethna finds some lack of comprehension of Aurobindo and feels that Teilhard comes off better. Aurobindo emerges in this study as the more spiritually advanced of the two”.

So then it comes down to ‘dramatis personae’, before trying to get in deeper! Pray, who is/was R.C. Zaehner? To put a fine point on it, Robert C. (sometimes known as ‘Robin Zaehner’) was a Britisher (b. 1913 d. 1974) who combined the panache of a James Bond and Lawrence of Arabia in his own persona. He was a convert to Roman Catholicism, and his research interests gradually moved from MI 5 type projects to ‘Zoroastrian Culture’, ‘mysticism’ and ‘cosmic consciousness’.  His meeting with Dr. K.D. Sethna seems to have been somewhat as ‘serendipitous’ as was mine.

As regards the matter of ‘Institutional Politics’, I might tentatively suggest that Dr. K.D. Sethna was one of the earliest ‘disciples’ of the great rishi Aurobindo. Hinduism is the ultimate ‘democracy in religious culture’; a ‘Hindu’ can ‘believe’ in everything, anything, or nothing—it is one’s free choice.  Hindutva Ashram communities that opt for ‘discipleship’ might be roughly equivalent to what some of us in ‘religious life’ were taught by ‘Novice Masters’—“If the superior tells you to plant the cabbages upside down, by virtue of ‘holy obedience’ the novice plants the cabbages upside down”. My capsule summation of Dr. Sethna’s conclusions (very ‘non-academic’) might be that he agrees with philosophic opinion (globally) that Sri Aurobindo and Pere Teilhard de Chardin were ‘on the same page’ in their intuition that evolution of human consciousness will reach a point where it undergoes ‘a change of state’; but he accuses Teilhard of trying to ‘shield Christianity by identifying ‘the overmind/supermind’ with ‘Classical Mediterranean Consciousness’. For Sethna ‘discipleship’ would dictate that neither Teilhard nor Zaehner get it — for Sethna, Aurobindo will always be ‘King’.

What did Teilhard himself think? There are a couple of references in his correspondence with Lucile Swan. My summation of that (very non-academic) would be that Teilhard viewed ‘the noosphere’ as progressive development on cosmic scale (and timeline) towards universally shared comprehension of the ‘ontogeny’ embracing the whole of reality, including ourselves as ‘lead shoot’. In the context of our ‘blog posts’, the ‘new information technologies’ while probably not visualized by Teilhard in fine detail, was certainly ‘foreseen’ by him, so we can hypothesize that we are entering a critical new phase of  ‘the noosphere’—and we are a part of that process.

For Aurobindo, it was more of an ‘individual’ endeavor and personal achievement in spiritual growth. Neither of the two can be dismissed in the advance towards ‘Le Milieu Divin’, but for Aurobindo it is a ‘philosophical’ question involving knowledge and internal experience, while for Teilhard it is more ‘passionate faith and hope for and in the world, and love of neighbor’.

Zaehner was in one of his earlier works quite severely critical of Teilhard. My faint recollection of reading the book (found in a Goa-India Library) is that he felt Teilhard should not ‘speak for Science’. I think the title (from Wikipedia) which rings the bell is ZEN, DRUGS AND MYSTICISM (Pantheon, New York, 1972). So, as a rather cynical saying puts it—‘go figure’—enter the key-search-words, and follow the hyperlinks.

With my thanks to Mr. Frank Frost, and to kind persons who ‘commented’, until next time:

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