My parents became interested in practical philosophy through the writings of P.D. Ouspensky. In 1937 they attended a lecture in The Hague by a Mr Foreman. He was one of the senior pupils of Ouspensky, and my parents became most interested in Ouspensky’s complete new way of looking at the reality (or illusory nature) of this world and at the ephemeral nature of our daily life. They decided to start a small reading group to make a further study of Mr Ouspensky’s philosophy and they were invited to attend some residential weekends with the great man himself. There was one strange condition: the name of George Ivanovic Gurdjieff was unmentionable. If anyone dared to utter his name a painful stillness would descend. I was born in 1944 and my parents resumed the connection with the London based group of Mr Ouspensky after his passing away in 1947. I vividly remember the various visits of Dr Roles and others to Amsterdam. Dr Roles had succeeded Mr Ouspensky as head of the London based ‘Study Society’. All this time a small group of interested people gathered together on a monthly basis at our home.
It was, therefore, a little surprising to note that in 1961 Dr Roles suggested to my parents that they should meet a certain Mr Leon MacLaren who was a close associate of the Study Society. My parents naturally obliged and there was a memorable Christmas gathering at our house in Amsterdam in 1961. LM struck me as a man of stature, albeit very English – even though he was born in Scotland! He had a strange and wonderful ability to state the truth simply and emphatically. As a precocious youth I tried very, very hard to floor him in every aspect but he always won and I had to admit defeat in the many, sometimes heated, discussions that took place in our house. His range of knowledge was impressive but above all it was his penetrating ability to explain passages from the bible in a completely new context that reminded me most of Mr Ouspensky who had written similar biblical explanations in his book A new model of the universe. To me it was as if a new Mr Ouspensky had emerged from the then smoggy atmosphere of London. As time passed, the clarity and attraction of LM’s message became more and more intense. My parents were introduced into meditation in 1962 and I was to follow some eight years later, when I was stationed in London as a young international banker. LM suggested that my parents might stop with their Ouspensky reading group and convert the group meetings into a School curriculum for which he would write the material and which would be translated into the Dutch language by my mother.
As from 1962 LM would visit the Amsterdam based School voor Filosofie every term. He really took a strong personal interest in the Dutch operation which he regarded as special and different from the English speaking countries. Whenever he came as many people as possible would attend his meetings. These meetings were valued enormously by everyone and some people would travel very long distances to be able to attend them. It was clear to everyone that here was a special man who had broken with the rather indecisive and sentimental attitudes which marked the sixties and the early seventies. This strange Englishman as I kept regarding him dared to be outspoken and above all dared to address the truth in an uncanny and direct way. He was also a strict disciplinarian as one might expect from imperialistic Albion! But the discipline he expected was very much based on his own example and on the total loving care that he showed whenever someone came to seek his advice and wisdom. It was really startling and strange at the same time to experience this creative polarity between a strictly disciplinarian approach and intimate care and love for the details of a specific situation. LM had a very keen eye for detail even how to use a duster or a cleaning mop or how to clean windows. It seemed he knew all about simple household duties whilst one hardly ever saw him on his knees wiping a floor, although he sometimes did at Stanhill Court. His intimate knowledge of every detail came from his keen powers of observation linked with great intelligence and flexibility of mind. He loved to make these powers creative and available to everyone. It was no surprise either to hear him playing the piano in a way one never heard a piano being played. Any piano would mysteriously come to life with the touch of his sensitive hands. He really loved music and knew all about it. Some whispered that before the war he even played the saxophone in a down town jazz band! It was no surprise at all to see him developing his love for music by taking it a step further and actually composing it. He wrote a number of great orchestral and coral works using Vedic and Biblical texts. Based on the tuning of the natural octave these works are truly exceptional and special having a timeless quality of being both modern and traditional at the same time. When asked about his compositions for choir and orchestra he said: what music does is not enhance the words or magnify them, because they don’t need it, but what the music does is get past not-hearing! It delivers the words to the heart. That is why singers should pronounce their words; usually they don’t so that you haven’t the slightest idea what they are singing about. You hear a’s and u’s and o’s but you do not hear a single word and that is a total waste of time. It may sound very beautiful, but really it’s empty. So, fine words set to beautiful music carry the words to the heart without any interference. That is the quality music has, provided the words are worth hearing and the words are well pronounced. That is what happens. Then the words go to the heart and that is very beautiful, that really is lovely.
LM was in some way a controversial man because he was the living example and proof of how the timeless could be experienced in the present. Formless in the middle of forms, timeless in the middle of time, modern and practical in the middle of tradition. This was the special challenge which he undertook. In the process he inspired countless students and pupils to follow his example and discover how the Absolute, the One without a second, would manifest through the many. Love was the one answer to overcome this challenge. LM was a most astonishing and unexpected example of loving care, indeed a man of love hidden behind a stern face and penetrating eyes. Is the controversy of the relativity of the Absolute not the hallmark of the true Man? Is universality not based on individual detail? Only love will be able to overcome the seeming barrier between those two antipodes.
Whenever he spoke everyone felt as if he or she was personally addressed. His words carried a universal quality. His love of truth was his greatest asset. And love it was indeed. He never succumbed to any of the usual temptations of power, money and lots of devotees but he carried on relentlessly with his search for the ultimate reality, the Absolute, the One without a second. Some people personally experienced the strictness of his disciplined approach. They might even confound it with wrath or anger but a careful listener would know better. The sound of his voice never betrayed the ultimate truth for which he stood: the One without a second, the Absolute. Since he had embarked on this relentless pursuit of the Absolute or ultimate truth he would naturally project an Absolute, unchangeable and uncompromising quality. Surely his whole life was based on it but his wisdom consisted of his uncanny ability to soften and enliven the concreteness of a situation with his loving care and attention to detail. He always came with a flexible and highly intelligent solution in which no one escaped the necessity to work hard for such a solution. In his presence it was impossible to get something for nothing. Not even his wisdom, for one had to work hard to come to real understanding based on actual experience.
A great change occurred in his attitude towards the School and towards the Ouspensky teaching in 1965 when he first met His Holiness Shrî Shântânanda Sarasvatî, Shankarâcârya of Jyotir Math (North India). His Holiness was the successor to the renowned Jagadguru of Jyotir Math Shri Brahmânanda Sarasvatî, also named Shrî Gurudeva. He had come into contact with this man of wisdom and of great stature through self-styled meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Maharishi had originally introduced Dr Roles to His Holiness and when Dr Roles returned to London after meeting His Holiness he was sure he had found – at last – the conscious source which Mr Ouspensky had instructed him to find. No wonder that LM wanted to find out for himself. His desire to meet His Holiness personally caused a great division between Dr Roles and LM which would never be healed. In 1965 the first meeting between His Holiness and LM took place and they would continue over the next thirty years. However, His Holiness, in his wisdom, agreed to these two-yearly meetings on the condition that Dr Roles would also be given the opportunity to meet with His Holiness. In this way a peculiar situation arose whereby both men had to negotiate with each other when they would meet His Holiness again. Either of the two would meet the Holiness first and then the next week or so the other would be received by the Holiness. In fact His Holiness had to make available at least two weeks to satisfy both men separately. It was an astonishing example of practical simplicity and love towards both men who were so different in character as His Holiness has stated several times.
Some people remarked that LM ignored the importance of meditation and that meditation was very much ‘the thing’ of Dr Roles. Nothing is more beside the truth. LM knew all about it and stressed the vital importance of meditation all the time. Great pains and efforts were given to checking meditation and to ensure that meditation ‘worked’. His attitude was totally in line with that of his Guru Shrî Shântânanda Sarasvatî who stressed again and again in the conversations he had with LM, the vital importance of meditation.
As a well trained and practicing barrister LM was very good in asking the right questions and in formulating ideas, concepts, intentions and visions. He had a broad command of the English language and was a great orator. Hearing him deliver a speech to an audience, whether large or small, was always a delight where the sound of his voice passed on much more unspoken information than the actual words that fell from his lips. This makes sheer reading of the transcripts of his speeches such a shallow exercise in comparison to hearing him speak or, indeed, hearing a taped recording in his own voice. The sound of his voice had a distinct sonorous depth and yet an unshakeable and rocklike quality. It conveyed precisely who and what he was and what he stood for. The compassion and patience when answering questions were also very obvious and altogether it was a great experience to listen to him. In a smaller gathering his tone might further mellow down and he might even show the exceptional quality of meekness and yet again this rocklike stability based on discipline and a clear sense of direction and of purpose. Wherever he came and went he spread around him an atmosphere of light and fun. He took a great delight in intelligent jokes, albeit they were usually rather English and not so easy to follow for a Dutchman!
His great ‘thing’ was the prisonlike confinement of our personal lives dominated by an active ego as the usurper of our natural talents and qualities. The ego (ahamkâra) must go he would often tell us and it provoked again and again a flurry of disciplined activity in order to get rid of the ego. Unfortunately very few of us saw that letting go of the ego was also an act of the ego so one was bound to make precious little progress in this way. It was a shame he always resisted any drive towards a devotional attitude linked with rituals. For him the devotion consisted in service and surrender and any ritual would find its ultimate fulfillment in meditation. In 1992 he said: He should be sacked, that is the best thing to do with the ego: fire him! He is a useless lump, so be rid of it. After all, he is not that good looking is he? He has to be different, so you bend your nose differently, you open your mouth differently, you blink differently and this is all a fraud. The mouth opens naturally, the eyes blink naturally and very freely, but when you have a special way of doing it, oh dear, oh me, just to show what a separate genius I am! So I’ll keep one eye shut and the other wide open; that proves I’m different! This is the sort of folly we are engaged in, it really is folly.
….. So remember this simple thing, that everyone and everything is a manifestation of your own Self, showing the infinite variety, the wealth, of your own Self. And once this is realized, then all the talents are available, and this is the beauty of it. Life can get richer and richer and fuller and fuller as soon as we abandon our own particular consciousness. It’s that that causes difficulty, this little world we live in …. By choice. Well, abandon the choice.
…. The idea that you must have ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’ in order to live in society is a great mistake. If you really want to thrive in society leave the ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’ out and you will find other people like you. The less ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ the more they will like you, so you are never short of anything, that is the way it works. The grasping things for myself, or for my wife and children, as the case may be, is the way to lose it all. And the same struggle will start next time: get a little wealth and lose it all. That is not much use when the whole universe is available, in all its splendour.
As mentioned before Leon MacLaren’s idea of devotion, bhakti, was centered around service and surrender. Questioned if bhakti is supposed to arise when the qualities of the Absolute (the Lord) are recognized to be present in others so they seem to be full of light he said: yes, that is simple enough. That light is your own light. It is the light of the Self and it does not differ from one person to another. Some reflect it more brightly and others less brightly but it is the same light and that awakens love if you recognize it. You have to be a bit careful here, because that is also how you get married!… The light is the same, it is your own light and when you recognise it love arises just like that. That is bhakti. But you do need a little reason not to get caught for life! ……. It is done by seeing the reflection of your own light in someone or something else, but it needs intelligence as well; otherwise is could be a terrible trap. So remember the consciousness which is everywhere. Not one of us would exist without it. That is the Self of all, quite literally. That is what one needs to know to escape from this particularized consciousness, which reduces life to a very small circle. It can be larger or smaller, but it is still small compared with the Self.
In the first half of the eighties LM’s health became very poor and it seemed often that he might not last the week. Alarmed by his state of health he was invited to stay in Holland for convalescence and this he did several times. I remember vividly how he stayed with us during the Falklands war and how he couldn’t resist the temptation to watch Mrs Thatcher playing her part in the drama. In the mid-eighties it seemed as if he was regaining some strength but it was clear that he had become a different person altogether. This fundamental change can also be seen from the type of conversations he had with his guru where he was now firmly accepted as a disciple. Some people in India and elsewhere had to weigh heavily on His Holiness to continue the series of visits as usual and when he finally agreed LM seemed to regain a sense of purpose and vitality. Self-realisation was now the only thing that really mattered. He left the running of the School organization very much to the executive and to the various assistants and acolytes that were running the show at that time. The school leaders abroad were given a much freer rein but he still continued his yearly visits to the schools across the world. He also organized a meeting of school leaders around Christmas in 1990 (?) where we were entertained in really grand fashion. We also had to attend study groups and meetings and with the impeccable service of a large service team Waterperry House and grounds gradually transformed into a place belonging to another age, another yuga. It was as if the Silver Age had temporarily been restored as a kind of mini-climate.
This was an important gathering for everyone involved because we new that it might be the last time in his presence. To transform a location and its surroundings into a real grand place belonging to another age is almost like magic and it is the clearest proof of the most remarkable charisma and power he commanded to get everybody involved in the organization of that residential to play his and her part to the full and to allow the guest to come to rest in this almost transcendental atmosphere of serenity. Here is a full man, a master, at work, and not some apprentice who may still try to steal the show. For LM the question of stealing the show did not arise. He was never interested in ‘stealing the show’ but he was interested to watch how things happened, seemingly by themselves. With the School leaders conference in 1990 he had no doubt achieved the highest: to recreate the atmosphere of the silver age in this iron age. A major achievement indeed and a most tangible proof of the kind of mettle he was made of. He was a man of real stature almost like a true magician capable of bringing about a spontaneous transformation in those around him. There was nothing partial about him. He was interested in the full truth only, the ultimate, the One without a second. This every one knew of him and that is why he was so admired and respected by countless people and loved by a few. His love of truth gave him this magical wand by which situations and people who came to see him with faith and devotion were transformed to another level of being altogether. Whether they stayed there or whether they relapsed in their previous surroundings was entirely left to them. He was free and remained free.
In 1993 LM’s health deteriorated again and my sister sent a letter to HH asking for guidance. He answered:
When the physical body begins to loose control due to old age or weakness it is natural that the inner organ of mind (antahkarana) would tend to be agitated and become prone to outburst. A weak and sluggish body cannot perform the necessary or desired actions and therefore the mind gives way to agitated expressions. One usually forgets the real state of the Self, as pure, conscious and free (shuddha, buddha and mukta). It is not necessary but it usually happens. The conflict between gods and demons takes place in one’s own mind. When the consciousness within wants to see the end of physical misery which is overpowering only two ways remain open apart from seeking physical remedy from a doctor. First is to remember that the Self is shuddha, buddha and mukta who is untouched by physical or mental misery. This knowledge will minimize the suffering and pain, so that the situation becomes bearable. The other is to feel helpless and allow the physical suffering to overpower the inner organ of mind. Once this happens the misery multiplies. Since the mind pervades the whole physical body, the suffering also becomes magnified. This is the moment when someone else can remind the pain is only physical but the Self is untouched by pain or suffering because it is shuddha, buddha and mukta. If the sufferer can be made to remember the Self or the Guru or the mantra and keep the mind intent upon any of the three, the inner organ of mind will become disengaged with the suffering and suffering will loose its additional power. Seen from this point, the physical pain becomes bearable and then curable through physical medicine. Ultimately this has to be done by the suffering individual to get relief or suffer till the mind gets tired of misery and stop it by exhaustion for some time and then do it again and again. Mind cannot play with misery for too long at one stretch. This is natural but temporary relief. Better is spiritual relief which is positive and constant by remembering the Self. Spiritual work is effective when it is done by oneself. It cannot be done by proxy but certainly by reminding the shuddha, Buddha and mukta state of the Self. This is why the sages have said that in absence of the true knowledge there is no liberation. ….. Wisdom is the best remedy and the essence of all wisdom is that the Self is shuddha, buddha and mukta, beyond the reach of gods and demons both.
I vividly remember how he left Waterperry House in the early summer of 1994 to start in his world tour of that year. There was a terrible rain storm and Waterperry House looked completely desolated and the Bentley motor car arrived in in a downpour. We carried the luggage to the car and he left with my sister as his p.a.AS they drove off there was thunder and lightning and we sensed somehow that he would not return. And so it happened… LM passed away on 24th June 1994 at the age of 84.
It is said that if love, true knowledge and service are on the increase the idea that the Self alone, Atman, is truth is manifesting. At such a stage the ego or ahamkâra is purified and the light, power and knowledge of the Self, Atman, is made to reflect in one’s inner being and in the outer world, just as a clear glass allows light to shine inside and outside equally. This was the life that LM led and he enjoyed it to the full thanks to the service of those special persons that really loved him and served him fully.
Two days after the passing away of Leon MacLaren His Holiness ShrˆShântânanda Sarasvatî sent the following message:
Free from pride and delusion, with blemish of attachment conquered, ever steady in the Self
With desires completely renounced, liberated from the duality of pleasure and pain,
The unconfounded reaches that Goal Eternal,
Where neither the rays of the sun, nor moon nor fire have access,
That is My supreme abode, having come there, no one returns. (Bh.G. XV, 5-6)
Homage to the work so far,
Blessings for the work entrusted,
Invocation for the peace of the soul
Benediction for the soul gone free.
Shântih, Shântih, Shântih
May peace, and peace and peace be everywhere
Amsterdam, 8th November 2007
Paul G. van Oyen