A. R. Orage

Gurdjieff International Review

My Note Book

by A. R. Orage

October 1933

[A. R. Orage has the advantages of one who has educated himself, and therefore is not hindered by old moulds of thought; he used his vision and imagination in the past in editing The New Era [The New Age], and is doing so now as Editor of The New English Weekly. The Aryan Path will publish every quarter, a few pages of his “Note Book;” in this first instalment, Mr. Orage writes about the ancient culture of India and its influence in the modern world. This theme is very near to our own meditations; we are labouring to restore the use of the forgotten and the abandoned highway—the Aryan Path. Mr. Orage uses the term Aryan in a true sense and it must not be confused with ignominies of the Nazis in Germany who claim for their barbarities the backing of Aryan culture.—The Aryan Path Eds.]

It is certainly not with any chauvinist intention that I would stress the Aryanism of India. But in matters of cultural values, words and their association are very nearly all important; and it is of great advantage that in their first presentation a set of values should be described by a name already in good repute. The auspices under which Indian culture has hitherto been presented to the world have not, on a candid examination, been particularly favourable. Forbid that I should underrate the labours of scholars, Indian and European, in the field of literary research, textual editing, and of painstaking translation. My criticism is that from the very start—with extremely rare exceptions—the scholars on both sides, Indian and European alike, have largely failed to communicate the spirit of the originals so as at once to be assimilable to the common understanding of both peoples. And the reason for this failure, I believe, is to be found in the fact that Indians failed to claim and assume common Aryan values, while Europeans in general paid only lip homage to the community of racial ancestry.

From this initial error of policy a number of misunderstandings have arisen, the chief being the colossally false assumption that a gulf, practically impassable to the ordinary intelligence, exists between the two cultures Indian and European. It has been allowed to be assumed that somehow or other Aryan India differs so profoundly from Aryan Europe that only the rarest circumstances could breed in either an intelligence that could perfectly understand the other. So totally different was their essence as well as their development and history that virtually the two cultures were as materially alien as the cultures of two different planets, differing from each other not in degree or colour or form only, but in kind and species. It is absolutely necessary, in my judgment, to protest in the name of our common race against this unwarranted assumption. I will allow that it is difficult for the modern mind of any race to appreciate, say, ancient Egyptian culture as the Egyptians themselves lived and felt it. I will agree that even the cultures of the real Orient—China and further Asia—are less readily assimilable by the Aryan mind, Indian no less than European, than, say, the cultures of ancient Greece and ancient Rome. But I simply cannot admit that the Indian and European cultures are foreign to each other; or that, in essence, they radically differ. The difference that has been made to appear radical—to the infinite loss of both communities—is the work of bad translators, and, at bottom, of bad Aryans.

It has often been remarked that the influence of the Bible upon any given people depends upon the quality of the translation in which it is presented to them. Let it be imagined that the Greek and Roman literatures when they were revived in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had been first selected, and then translated and presented to Europe, by pedants, with footnotes leagues long and with scholia heaped upon scholia. It is inconceivable that in these circumstances any Renaissance of Humanism would have sprung out of them. They would have been there, of course; and a few scholars would have made a profession of reading them; but their assimilation and fructification in the culture of Europe would have been completely frustrated. With the greatest possible respect to Max Müller,1 I suggest that that is precisely what he did for Indian culture when he introduced it to the European world some fifty or sixty years ago. In the first place, his selection of literature for translation was arbitrary and misleading; and, secondly, the style of his translations, their form and appearance, were calculated to give the impression that Indian culture is exotic to the European mind and, if not entirely without common roots, at least so different in development that virtually it was of another species. It is necessary, I repeat, to protest against this attitude and to change it for the correct attitude. Except in inessentials, which it is the work of humane scholarship to smooth down by creative translation, there is nothing in Indian culture beyond European understanding to appropriate any more than there is anything in European culture not assimilable by Indian understanding. The Aryan Indian has the advantage over the Aryan European in the exchange of cultures from the simple fact that, as a rule, the Aryan Indian reads European languages as well as his own. On the other hand, the Aryan European must, as a rule, depend upon translation for his contact with Aryan Indian culture. But this only strengthens the need for better translations and in no sense implies any other incommunicability than deficiency of language.

My own special fields are literature and psychology, and in each of these I can truthfully say that not only have I had, and still have, much to learn from Indian culture; but, after proper translation, I have encountered no idea in either field in Indian culture that is not completely intelligible to me. The frame of reference, so to say, of Indian culture in these two fields, is identical with their frame of reference in my European mind. Let it be granted that in respect of colour, in respect of attitude, in respect of the distribution of stresses and relative values, the differences between Indian and European literature and psychology are considerable. They are not much greater than the differences already bridged between, let us say, French and English or Russian and Spanish cultures; and in any case their standards are common. Given (once again) a common language in which to discuss, I should not find it the least more difficult to apprehend, if not to comprehend, the principles of literature and psychology as understood by the best representatives of Indian culture, than to apprehend or comprehend the principles of ancient Greek or contemporary Latin culture. And always, when I find any difficulty at all that is not due simply to my stupidity, it is due to the inadequacy of translation. Either I have failed to divine the meaning through the gloss of the translation, or the translator has himself failed to convey it. The fault is not in an essential of understanding, but in an inessential, and therefore remediable, misunderstanding.

In subsequent Notes I hope to have the opportunity of comparing the principles of literature as exemplified in the two cultures, using, as my main Indian exemplar, what I regard as the greatest literary creation this world has ever seen, the Mahabharata. Europe, I assert, has not even got to the beginning of the realisation of the literary greatness of this astounding work of art. I hope also, in my other field of psychology, to make a comparison, in due course, and in simple European terms, between some at least of the most representative Indian theories of psychology and those of Europe,—including, for this purpose, America, and with particular reference to the work of my friend, Professor C. Daly King, whose The Psychology of Consciousness, was published in the “International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method” a few years ago. Here in this work, if I am not totally mistaken, Indian and European psychology meet on the common ground of reason and science. Without claiming for one moment that Sankara and Professor Daly King are of the same rank in respect of their attainments in psychology, it is nevertheless my opinion that in essence they are of the same school. And that school, I contend, is our common Aryan school.

In the meantime I must remark that the misunderstanding already referred to has invaded every field of our common culture. All respect again to men like my friend, Coomaraswamy, Professor Havell, Mr. Laurence Binyon, and now the latest writer on the subject of “Hindu (why not Indian?) Art”—Mr. Mulk Rai Anand2—I cannot allow that the difference between Indian and European æsthetic is radical. Mr. Binyon, for example, says that “from the point of view of the Indian artist the religious import was everything—design, colour, composition, all the purely æsthetic elements of their work being left to the more intuitive activities of the mind.” Mr. Coomaraswamy says, again, that the Indians never valued their works of art purely as works of art, and had, in fact, no intelligible philosophy of beauty. And Mr. Anand, in his very able book, embroiders exclusively on the theme that Indian art is “sacred,” “hieratic,” and in no sense identical with the “art” of Europe. Is not the misunderstanding here the misunderstanding noted before of confusing subject with form and particularly of stressing inessential differences? I challenge the assertion that Indian æsthetic is or ever has been any more “religious” or “hieratic” than many schools of European art. Because in a considerable number of instances the religious motif has predominated in Indian works of art, it does not follow that art has been subordinated to religion, though used in its service, and, still less, that design, colour, composition and so forth were left to the merely intuitive activities of the mind. There may not exist, as Mr. Coomaraswamy alleges, any formal treatise in Indian literature on Æsthetic apart from the relation of Art to Religion—though I fancy even this statement is incorrect. But it is absolutely certain that a theory of Æsthetic was the common possession of Indian culture of the fifth century, from the single fact that Rasa, “the delight experienced through a work of art,” was a term in common use. This “delight” or “rasa,” it is obvious, was something different from the emotions evoked by the religious associations of the object. It was the purely æsthetic, whether in or not in conjunction with the religious. Sri Krishna referred to it when he said “The splendour of splendid things am I;” and even if it was not invariably or even often cultivated for its own sake (that is to say, as a delight without other associations,) it was not because it was not understood as pure Æsthetic, but simply because, as a rule, its association with religion was commissioned—as it was in early mediaeval European art!

Nobody less than I would wish to deny to Indian culture its religious richness. Exactly as elsewhere, all forms of culture developed in India originally under the patronage and from the trunk of the religious emotion. More powerfully than elsewhere, the religious emotion in India persisted and remained predominant among its offspring for a thousand years and more. But to deny that side by side with and under the wing of religion, as it were, pure æsthetic remained either unknown or uncultivated, is not only to fall into the old misunderstanding of regarding India as a land of priests but to leave no possible explanation of the marvellous development of the secular forms of art in poetry, drama, the dance, music, architecture and sculpture. If it is possible for Europeans to separate the motive of the Gothic Cathedrals from the art that went to their building, it should be equally possible to separate Indian æsthetic from Indian religion. Writing with the privilege of a diarist I make the prediction that when Indian religion has resolved like a nebula into its various suns—philosophy, science, psychology—one of its most resplendent suns will prove to be Indian æsthetics.

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1 Max F. Müller (1823–1900) Anglo German orientalist and comparative philologist whose work stimulated enduring interest in the study of linguistics, mythology and comparative religion. He supervised forty-eight of the fifty-one volumes of the then influential Sacred Book of the East series, between 1875 and 1900. These dated translations first made important non-Christian, Oriental scriptures available in English. [G. I. R. Editors]

2 Anand, Mulj Rai, The Hindu View of Art with an introductory Essay on Art and Reality by Eric Gill (1933) London: Allen & Unwin.

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