THE ORAL TRADITION
The Advaita Vedanta Tradition is an Oral Tradition. This means the Teaching is passed on from person to person. At face value it is assumed that one person teaches another and this happens by word of mouth, but it is much more than that. Indeed it has a depth that can only be guessed at.
His Holiness Sri Shantanand Saraswati stated at the commencement of the first audience he gave to Leon MacLaren, in 1965:
It is not my desire which has to be carried out. The desire, which has to be helped, is that which arises in people looking for the truth, wishing to acquire the divine life, and to make efforts in that direction; and so far as I can, I will always be ready. My door is always open to anyone, known or unknown, eastern or western, irrespective of his upbringing or culture, because in fact we all come from the same stock. As long as that desire and the decision are strong, permanent and stable, the help will always be available.
Many people over the years have taken great comfort in this statement and presumed they could go at any time to meet with His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati. The statement was taken at the physical level. This is an enormous error.
The following statement by Leon MacLaren of the SES has already been given:
A group is born and school manifests when Man No.4 holds the straight gate. At this moment, it is important that the mind rest occasionally on the position of Man No.4, with such understanding as may by grace be given. He sees in two directions. Under the pull of Truth, his eyes are turned, as it were, to the single purpose of his artificial existence. Seeing causes as he may, he looks towards his function in relation to the outer circle. Restrained by caution, which guards the mind, he admits of no impediments to the universal care which may flow through him.
The “straight gate” referred to by Leon MacLaren is the “door” to which His Holiness Sri Shantanand Saraswati is referring. This is where the influences of the men of the inner circle are passed to the men of the outer circle. The beauty is that the influences are there all the time, but not many people can access them. Maurice Nicoll in Psychological Commentaries (p1364) refers to the fact
This higher Circle of Humanity is constantly sowing onto the earth influences that can awaken Humanity on earth in order to change them by awakening them….. Unfortunately, Conscious Man cannot talk to mechanical man because they use different languages.
The crux of this was summed up by Ouspensky in “In Search of the Miraculous” at page 21 where he quoted Gurdjieff as saying:
“All people think they can do, all people want to do, and the first question all people ask is what they can do. But actually nobody does anything and nobody can do anything. This is the first thing that must be understood. Everything happens….. And it happens in exactly the way rain falls as a result of a change of temperature in the higher regions of the atmosphere or the surrounding clouds, as snow melts under the rays of the sun, as dust rises with the wind.
Man is a machine. All his deeds, actions, words, thoughts, feelings, convictions, opinions, and habits are the results of external influences, external impressions. Out of himself a man cannot produce a single thought, a single action. Everything he says, does, thinks, feels – all this happens…..
But no one will ever believe you if you tell him he can do nothing. This is most offensive and the most unpleasant thing you can tell people. It is particularly unpleasant and offensive because it is the truth, and nobody wants to know the truth”.
The dilemma is that for mechanical man, how does he wake up out of that? The answer is through help and grace. More importantly from a practical point of view, there must be a direct line of connection through. The individual can do little by himself. It must be a true connection.
This is an important point. The Schools being discussed here are preparatory, or exoteric, schools. They are concerned with the outer form of things. Their function is to be concerned with Man 1, 2 and 3 of the Fourth Way System, who are referred to as mechanical man. The aim of the preparatory school is specifically to help Man 2 cross the interval to man 3.
His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati was asked:
Q. Is the main objective of a School of the Fourth Way to help its Leader to become Self Realised?
A. Yes, this is so. The School for its own benefit must help the Leader so that he can experience himself. A Leader must find this before he can pass it on to any else.
His Holiness further stated:
Connection (is) very necessary for both awake and sleeping man.
This is the basis of the Oral Tradition. It depends on the direct connection back to the fully realized man.
At another stage His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati was asked the following:
Q. Is it possible to have that relationship (ie a guru disciple relationship) between a school and a fully realized man?
A No, this type of relationship is only possible through individuals. Only individuals can establish such relations, and pass on teaching. And again, this relationship can’t be aimed at particular person. The realized man has to see whom to choose. There may be many, for very very few find their way to this relationship.
Some people in these Schools are of the view that they have a direct relationship with a fully realized man. Quite simply, they do not, and the schools do not. How could an organization which is an insentient being, have a relationship with a holy man.? It simply does not made sense. The fact that someone has met a particular holy man and corresponds with him does not establish that type of relationship. The establishment of that relationship comes from the Holy man himself. He sees whom to choose. It is a very special relationship.
His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati outlined in brief the seven levels of man under the Nyaya System. Under the Nyaya System, Man 1 is the equivalent of about Man 4 of the Fourth Way Teaching. The Nyaya system, or seven steps of knowledge, begins with access to the men of the inner circle. People in the preparatory schools have a lot of work to do before reaching that stage and commencing on the Way of Knowledge. The preparatory work of these Schools is beautifully set out in the Fourth Way Teaching which was the basis of the work set out and followed by Mr MacLaren in his School.
In answer to another question, His Holiness Shantananda Saraswati stated with respect to those engaged in work in these preparatory Schools:
If they have questions for the Shankaracharya, they can always put them through their Leader and he will write. Very few people really earn, but many people have to be fed on those earnings. Equally, few people can earn, so many must be fed by them. Direct communication requires a certain level, and not everyone comes up to that level. People should reach up to their leader and get what they can.
His Holiness made it quite clear that he did not expect people to turn up on his doorstep at the physical level. People needed to go through their leader. Indeed he also made it clear that very few people in these preparatory schools are capable of real spiritual work and in that process, of nourishing others. He also referred to the School constantly as Mr MacLaren’s school.
If people have read the questions and answers between His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati and Leon MacLaren of the SES, and also read the questions and answers with His Holiness and Dr Roles of the Study Society, they would be forgiven for thinking that the conversations were with two different holy men. The reason is simple. The conversations with each were appropriate to the needs of each. As their Guru, he gave each what they needed for their own work. This was quite personal and specific for each of the two men.
His Holiness spoke of this in a conversation with Leon MacLaren in 1982, and the difference between his relationship with a disciple (who he refers to as a son) and a servant. He made it clear that Leon MacLaren was considered in the former category. He said
Right arises from establishment of relationship. When there is not relationship between the two, there (is) always little hesitation and one has no other recourse apart from request and wait for its fulfillment. A son has right where servant hasn’t. He has right to everything which father possesses, and it is the duty of the father to fulfil them, so that the way of the son is clear for progress.
Whatever has come through this tradition will be made available in the manner and measure you need. It is in fact my duty that all energy and time be used to further the cause and glory of the spirit. This is your right and it is being made plain that whenever any help is needed it will be available.
He then gave a reference to Sri Krishna stating the principle of passing on knowledge and finished the example by saying:
If imparted to the deserving, the transmitting agency (i.e., Mr MacLaren) will unite with me. The same applies for all time for everyone and you will always be welcome to share this knowledge preserved through the ages.
In the quotations from His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati above, there are two very important points, the import of which has generally been overlooked. People in the West are coming to this Teaching with the limitations of a Western standpoint, and so do not appreciate how fundamental they are. These points are:
People should reach up to their leader and get what they can.
If imparted to the deserving, the transmitting agency (i.e., Mr MacLaren) will unite with me.
The leader who people should reach up to was Mr MacLaren, as will be discussed further on. But the important point to note here is that people should “reach up” to their leader.
The question arising from the second quote is, who are “the deserving”? This is a question very few have considered, yet it is fundamental for those wishing to have a connection back through Mr MacLaren, to His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati and access to that Holy Tradition. It has much to do with recognizing the position of the Teacher and the line of authority.
There is a third point which was that at the end of the 1980 Conversations. His Holiness Stated:
I have a Shuddha Sankalpa that through the agency of Mr MacLaren, the School may achieve full development, people should achieve wisdom through proper study and serve their nation through practical and spiritual means.
His Holiness was making very clear the way the Teaching would flow. Now spiritual work is not about learning or becoming erudite in the scriptures. It is about the increase in consciousness. This is the hardest work a man can embark on because it goes directly against the outward thrust of creation. The fact that a man is interested in the law and reads and studies legal books does not make him become a Lord Denning or one of the other great legal minds of our time. Likewise the fact he loves music or art and studies one of those subjects, does not make him a great musician or artist. Yet people in these preparatory Schools have a tendency to think that they are imbued with great philosophical knowledge, they do not realize they are working from a very limited viewpoint and indeed for the most part, have not yet entered the Way of Knowledge.
As Gurdjieff said as reported by Anna Butkovsky p86
“One must know. One has to get off the soft divan and climb that mountain one has seen outside. But not everyone even sees the mountain…. They are the men who sit there on the divan, trying to teach others without themselves seeing the summit, the sacred heights, and then no one makes any progress.”
His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati constantly spoke of the difference between outer knowledge and real knowledge. He continually warned of this. In 1973 ninth day for example:
The information aspect of knowledge is only the outer or physical aspect. The deeper aspects appear only when the information is put into practice. This is known as anubhawa, experience of the knowledge arising from the interaction of vyashti (the individual) and samashti (the universal) under the light of that particular knowledge or information. Only here does the real test of the validity of the knowledge and the sincerity of the individual materialize. Unless the knowledge has been brought into the workings of all three bodies of the individual, the particular knowledge does not become universal and, having fulfilled its purpose of information, returns into useless matter.
He further stated, again in 1976
The real question is of understanding. This understanding is at the level of the Self. The work which you have started is leading towards that goal. If only half a dozen men could be led to real understanding, a new generation could evolve.
The real work is to increase the level of consciousness and in the preparatory school cross the interval from Man 2 to Man 3. This is a huge step. In the statements above, His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati gave the way in which this would be achieved. It would take place through the agency of Leon MacLaren and people should reach up to him. This “reaching up” is the letting go of the identifications and impediments that hold the student. In any Teacher disciple relationship there are very few who find their way into this sort of relationship, and it is not necessary for many to do so. In the school he headed, only a handful at most had that real connection with him.
It requires people of real knowledge to be able to set the example to others. It also requires an emotional connection which is appreciated in the Indian culture, but not so commonly appreciated in the Western approach.
In 1992 Mr MacLaren was asked in a meeting in Wellington in New Zealand when the Sankalpa (undertaking or resolution) given by His Holiness would be fulfilled. He stated that it had already been fulfilled and explained what that meant. Mr MacLaren’s work was to assist in allowing the Tributary of the Holy Ganga to find its way to England. For that to take place a School came into being and the Conversations with His Holiness ensued which are quite remarkable. Many took part in that work world wide and gained benefit to greater or lesser degree. The sound put out by the Rishis in 1855 had its flowering in the work carried out by Mr MacLaren with the blessings and help of his Guru.
The quicker a man grasps the aim of the work which is being executed, the quicker he can become useful to it and the more will he be able to get from it for himself… When the work is done the schools close. The people who began the work leave the stage.
In Search of the Miraculous. P 313.
Mr MacLaren passed away in 1994.