The Fire of Desert Folk. By Ferdinand Ossendowski. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company. $3.00.
The Other Side of the Medal. By Edward Thompson. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company. $1.50.
Youth and The East: An Unconventional Biography. By Edmund Candler. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company. $6.00.
The Face of Silence. By Dhan Gopal Mukerji. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company. $3.00.
At the present moment, it seems to be fashionable—or, at least advantageous—to be pessimistic. On every hand, boob-stalking Menckens brandish surgical scissors; gloomy deans weep upon the chancel rails; color-dazed Stoddards gallop up and down the racial shore-lines of the earth taking tidal readings; atrabilious economists howl their dismal science to the accompaniment of the rattle of machines that spew out indigestibles faster than the gorged consumer can swallow them; Bolshevists and Fascisti pull hair, kick shins and sling billingsgate; and over all click the knacker knives of Fundamentalists and Modernists making a bloody hash of what most folks call religion: a sorry cacophony, ladies and gentlemen, yet singularly bemusing. Looking about to right and left, one sees enough, and more than enough, to justify the ulla-lullas of all the Jeremiahs; and anyone, however insouciant he may be, who desires to do a little viewing with alarm and to enjoy a bit of crepitation of the spine and tensing of the capillary muscles can find almost anywhere as many horrible examples as may be needed to produce the sought-for reactions. If our literature—using that word in its widest sense—means anything, this is a day of wrath and war and dissolution. There is nothing to lean upon, nothing to believe. It is true that before 1914, men fiercely distrusted their neighbors; but in so doing, they showed a belief in something, if only in themselves. Since 1918, they have begun fiercely to distrust themselves, and now they believe nothing. Society—western society at least—like Saturn, is devouring its own children. Such sturdy offspring of the human spirit as Parliamentary Institutions, Respect for Law, Freedom of Speech, Liberty of Conscience, Free Will, the Dignity of the Soul, Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite, Individual Responsibility, and the rest, are rapidly disappearing down the gullet of a cannibalistic generation that is being made exceedingly ill by the meat upon which it insists on feeding. And the contemporary novelist and essayist and historian stand by to report each fearsome symptom of that gargantuan indigestion, and to issue frantic bulletins at four hour intervals to announce the imminent demise of the patient!—Such, if our judgment is worth anything, is what a goodly part of our literature seems to be telling us today.
However, taking it at its face value, we will do well to remember that physicians tell us that in most cases, active symptoms and a reasonable amount of anguish are indications of vigor, and are often the best possible prognostic signs. They at least show that the patient is not going to lie down and die without putting up a fight. And if the patient can be made to realize that he is ill, and can be encouraged to develop a determination to battle with his malady with all his will and all his strength, the physician feels that he has a good chance to recover.
The violence of our social upheavals; the vehemence — verging, many would declare, upon delirium—of our moral and religious controversies, may after all be evidence that our social corpus is vigorous enough to develop a beneficent febrile reaction against the toxins that are attacking it. And such a phenomenon as the League of Nations, and even such curious experiments as are going on in Russia and Italy and Spain and Mexico, to mention no others, show, perhaps, that the poor old patient realizes that something is wrong and is doing his deliberate best to help nature put him to rights!
It must be confessed that in the great mass of literature today there is not much to indicate that the patient is putting up a conscious fight—at least along the lines advised by our best social physicians. The old fool simply will not accept scientific counsel! But if it be permissible to quote from such a hopelessly outmoded work as the King James’ version, it may be that the story of one Asa can throw a bit of light on what is at the bottom of so puzzling a situation: “And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers and died in the one and fortieth year of his reign.”
There are a few signs here and there that thinkers amongst us are turning away from the self-constituted physicians— the politicians, the economists, the educators, the sociologists, the Freudians and the Jungians, the exponents of various species of Uplift, the Theosophists and the followers of other weird cults, the Fundamentalists and the Modernists, and the exceedingly prominent school that seeks salvation via bath-tubs, athletics and the deification of “sportsmanship,” whose ideal is a corpus so sanum that there is no mens left in it anywhere—and are seeking spiritual sources from whence to draw the strength and verities needed to reform our society and straighten out our sadly tangled values.
Nowhere are these tendencies more evident than in the great field of inter-racial relationships. The white peoples of the western world, standing face to face with the pig. mented peoples of the East and South, are no longer certain of their innate superiority nor of their “God-given” mission to bear the torch of “civilization” to their “little brown brothers.” And the same “little brown brothers” are not quite so dogmatic as they used to be about the eternal Tightness of their traditional ways of life and thought. The West, withal, seems to have suffered the greatest change, Before the World War, the theory of the superiority of Western civilization, and the more or less successful imperialistic policies growing therefrom, rested on the seemingly unassailable twin foundations of the prestige of the white races and the efficiency of western military methods, Since the great war—and perhaps as the most far-reaching consequence of it—the white races have largely lost their prestige: that pillar is rapidly crumbling under the assaults of Chinaman, Hindoo, Turk and Berber Riffian. It he-comes debatable whether the single other pillar—Western military efficiency—will for long be able, if not reinforced by spiritual elements not now discoverable—to sustain the structures of empire. Since 1918, the roles of the adversaries have been changing. The East now maneuvers to put the West on the defensive by charging it with spiritual bankruptcy, religious insincerity, and political hypocrisy, and going a long way toward proving the points.
The four books listed at the beginning of this article set forth, in their diverse manners, certain phases of the profound changes that are occurring along some of the world’s racial frontiers.
Professor Ossendowski’s work on Morocco heads the group because he deals with one of the more materialistic aspects of the struggle: the attempt of France to carry French civilization to the Mohammedan peoples of the north African littoral. The writer of this review has no first hand knowledge of Morocco. He has, however, read all of Ossendowski’s books and he shares the general feeling that the ingenious Pole manages most of the time to tell stories that are on their face incredible. So this book on Morocco—a valuable work, if genuine—was handed over to a former Intelligence Officer of the French Army, who is thoroughly acquainted with the region and its inhabitants, with a request that he pass upon the accuracy of the author and the reasonableness of his opinions concerning the general situation. The officer reported that as far as the facts are concerned, Ossendowski’s work is unusually accurate; and that as far as his opinions and judgments are concerned, they seem to be based upon conservative and well balanced reasoning from the facts. Thus established by undoubted authority, the book takes on considerable weight. The most interesting—and vital—part of it is the author’s careful observation of the deep and silent conflict between the Christian and Mohammedan religions and philosophies; and his conscientious efforts to understand and report accurately upon what seems to be happening as a result of France’s deliberate attempt to “civilize” Morocco without interfering with the spiritual affairs of the people. How can such a thing be possible? Ossendowski does not attempt an answer, but he does present the question in a most interesting way.
The other three books concern India, and they serve to fix attention successively upon three things in which the East believes the West of today to be deficient: political honesty; educational effectiveness; and spiritual power.
“The Other Side of the Medal” is an attempt to rectify the fault of British historians who, in order to “protect” British prestige, have written nothing but falsehoods—or, at most, half-truths—about the causes and events of the Great Mutiny. The Indians are, in the histories, charged with every atrocity; while the British are held up as chivalrous heroes almost pure enough to take leading roles in a series of Rollo books. Being convinced that the British Were as guilty as the Sepoys, and that the deliberate whitewashing of the former and blackening of the latter is one of the deepest and most potent causes of India’s hatred of the West, Mr. Thompson presents what he believes to be a true story of the Mutiny, thinking that by so doing he may accomplish something toward eradicating that hatred and restoring British prestige. The work is a fine gesture of magnanimity, soberly conceived and temperately executed. If it represents any considerable section of British public opinion, it is a sign of a change of heart and an awakening of conscience that ought assuredly to lead to a peaceful and fruitful solution of the Indian question.
“Youth and the East” is an understanding record of what happened to a young man educated in accordance with our “scientific methods,” upon coming into contact with the life of India. It is splendidly written, dispassionate, discerning, frank—and totally disheartening. If the author’s judgment concerning the spiritual value of Western education is even approximately correct—and he makes us believe that it is!—we can not wonder that the East is losing respect for the wisdom and integrity of the West.
At first glance, “The Face of Silence” seems to have no relationship with the other three works under examination. Thjey are records, more or less conscious and more or less successful, of earnest self-examination. They impress one as being gropings after a spiritual essence which has departed out of the reach of men in the Western world. But “The Face of Silence” is a story—simply and convincingly told—of a man who, in the opinion of many of his contemporaries, was God. Rama Krishna was this man’s name. He was the greatest of India’s present day holy men. He spent a lifetime trying to find the true path to God, and he succeeded so well that multitudes believe that God finally incarnated Himself in him.
Rama Krishna himself, however, makes no such claim. He was not interested in what the world might think about such a matter. For him, the only thing that mattered was the true path. His answer to the question implicit in his life—How shall we find God?—is singularly clear and singularly free of the obfuscating mysticism that usually veils such answers. He says: “Religions differ in their appearance but not in their essence. No matter which path you take, it will usher you in the end into His presence: the end of all! As the many-colored rivers tear and claw their way to the ocean and are lost in its steady emerald level, so all the religions, turgid with dogmatism, lose themselves in the serenity of God. Since religions are but means to finding him, why quarrel about their respective merits and defects. That will take you nowhere.”
The book may be considered as being, in a way, the East’s response to the West’s attempt to force western civilization upon it. It is an assertion of the East’s lack of faith in what the West calls progress; for the East—if Rama Krishna is fairly representative of it—holds that the only true progress is that of the soul, and naught else. Rama Krishna, with sublime simplicity, clarity of thought, and all-embracing tolerance, brushes aside as insignificant all our preoccupations with and intellectual theorizing about science, philosophy, and theology, and cuts straight through to the doctrine that every man, if he but give his spirit a chance, can find his way to God, whether aided by a formal religion or not. The true path is open to all men of good heart, who desire sincerely to tread it. While we are held in the spell of this book, Rama Krishna makes us believe that this, after all, is the only thing supremely worth doing in this earthly life.
However, the reader of this day in this Western world will find it difficult to put himself into sympathetic contact with this book—he will find it hard, even for sake of debating its ideas in his own mind, to look upon it as being in any way a normal sort of thing. We are so afraid of yielding to the promptings of the spirit, and so shamefaced about allowing what we are pleased to call our “feelings” to dominate us even for a moment and in the privacy of our equivalent of the old time closet; and our critical faculties have been so warped by the stress laid upon materialistic science in our educations, that we can hardly manage to read and assimilate a passage like this:
“That instant Rama Krishna passed into Samadhi. His breathing stopped. His heart ceased working. And his pnise beat no more. Were it not for the even temperature of his body there was no way of distinguishing him from a corpse. Of course there was nothing alarming about it; his apostles had seen him in that state very often, days at a time . . .”
The writer confesses that the first time he read this passage, there flickered through his mind horrid cinematographic visions of scenes he had witnessed in psychopathic clinics: catelepsy, hysteria, auto-hypnotism, delusions, hallucinations, all the disjecta membra of minds and souls in rnin, swarmed into his memory and mangled the ideas that the author of the book was trying to suggest.
But afterwards, the writer went back to the passage and read it again and again in its proper context, and finally managed to conceive that Samadhi may be a possible thing and a more or less normal thing. Who knows? Perhaps the psychologists of the West, like the physicians of the story of Asa, have not found out all there is to be discovered. At any rate, if the author is telling the truth, Rama Krishna did not “go into a trance” to impress any body, nor to gain an end. It seemed to be a natural spiritual phenomenon, of the sort that we Westerners do not understand, but scoff at, and quite unreasonably fear. Perhaps it would be worth while to try to understand such things a little better. At any rate, it would be a magnificent adventure, if we could carry it out.
Mr. Mukerji has written this story in a most admirable fashion. His style is noteworthy for clearness, simplicity, and an almost miraculous use of words. It has been a long time since the writer has seen anyone use the plain adjectives of our common speech with such finesse as Mr. Mukerji achieves. Maybe it takes a foreigner to learn our language; those of us who speak it from birth are too busy using it to take the time to find out what it really means!