The Word Foundation


Harold W. Percival



Section 26

The Eastern Movement. Eastern record of knowledge. Degeneration of the ancient knowledge. The atmosphere of India.

Another movement which affects a considerable number of people in their mental destiny is the Eastern Movement. Over a hundred years ago scholars translated books of Eastern philosophy and religion for the West. Only a few students were interested until toward the end of the nineteenth century the Theosophical Movement made Indian philosophy prominent. Then thoughts to be found in Eastern literature attracted wider attention.

It was seen that the old Eastern nations had a record about knowledge which the West had not. That record concerned a vast chronology based on astronomical cycles, a history of the world divided into ages, information about the structure and functions of the body, the correlation of forces in man and the universe, and the existence of other worlds within and without the visible earth. It dealt with some of the hidden forces by which the life of man and of the earth functions, with some of the elementals, gods and Intelligences. It is likely that ancient Eastern sages had knowledge of the relation of the doer to its body, and of the control of the body through training and through the use of nerve currents. They knew about “the science of the breath,” of states after death, of human hibernation, of mystic trance states, of the possible extension of life, of the virtues of plants, minerals and animal matter in sympathy and antipathy, and of the powers operable by means of the senses of seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling. They were therefore able to change matter from one state to another, to handle forces of nature which are unknown to the West, and to control thinking.

This knowledge was taught to the East by Wise Men in a past age. Nothing remains but a few records and even they are changed. The Wise Men withdrew after the human beings had ceased to follow the teachings. The Wise Men could stay only as long as the people showed a desire to go along right lines. When those to whom the knowledge and the power had been given, used it for worldly advantages or refined selfishness, they were left to themselves. The existence of the Wise Men became a legend except to a few. Some of those who knew the teachings, gradually became priests and developed a priestcraft and religious systems which they supported with the knowledge remaining to them. They transcribed the knowledge into words which required to be read with keys. They omitted parts of the ancient teachings and fabricated additions to meet their ends. They forgot a large part of the ancient knowledge. They suited the philosophy to the environment of the country with its vast mountains, plains, waters and jungles, to hierarchies of gods and devils, mythological monsters and sprites. They fostered superstition and ignorance. They put the four classes of doers into a caste system that holds many persons out of their true class. They restricted the acquisition of knowledge to certain layers of people.

They subverted the philosophy to support their system of priestcraft. The whole course of living and thinking was arranged on a religious foundation, and science, art, agriculture, marriage, cooking, eating, dressing, laws, everything rested on religious observances, which made priests necessary everywhere. The country, India, gradually lost freedom and responsibility. Invasions, internal wars and diseases devastated the land, which was repeopled several times. Each time the people got further away from the enlightened age which had been when the Wise Men moved among men. Today they have only remnants of a past which is greater than they know.

An atmosphere of awe, a pall of mystery, weighs heavily on that land. The people cannot see the real in the unreal. In their effort to escape from the bondage of matter many of them devote their lives to selfish asceticism, which unfits them for their duties in the world. Their customs, observances and traditions hinder their progress. Some doers among them have a knowledge which they do not give out, and they allow the masses to continue in their ignorance and decadence.

However, the philosophy which these Eastern people still have diffused through their sacred books, is more valuable than much of what is in the West. There is much that is erroneous, much that is written in cipher and much that has been warped and a great deal that was inserted to further the policies of the priests; yet many statements may be found in the Upanishads, Shastras, Puranas and other writings, that are of great value. But this information cannot be disentangled from the mass in which it is enmeshed, unless one has knowledge of it in advance. It would be necessary to supply the omissions and to excise the additions that have been made in the course of time. Finally, the information to be of practical use would have to be systematized and conformed to present needs. This would be as necessary for the East as for the West.

The presentation of Eastern knowledge to the West is further made difficult because of the Eastern method of thinking and manner of expression. Aside from the absence of modern words to convey the terminology of ancient tongues, an understanding by Westerners of the Eastern knowledge is impeded by the exaggeration, disproportion, mysteriousness, ciphers, episodes and figurative style of the Eastern writings. The standards of East and West in art and literature are different. The East is weighed down by age, tradition, environment and a declining cycle.

The interest recently created in the West by the revelation of the existence of Eastern treasures of knowledge does not center around the noetic and intellectual features of that philosophy. The West picks out the things that cause wonder, like clairvoyance, the astral phenomena, hidden forces, and the acquisition of power over others. Since the road has been opened by this interest, missionaries have come from the East to convert people of the West. Even if the missionaries come with good intentions they often weaken under the lure of the West. Their appetites and ambitions get the better of them and frequently they succumb to the desire for comfort, praise, influence, money and sensuality which they tell their adherents to overcome. The missionaries have grand titles, like Guru, Mahatma, Swami and Sanyasi, indicating perfection in knowledge, virtue and power. What they and their pupils have done so far does not show that they knew much beyond the letters of their books.

Whatever may be the darshana, one of the six schools of philosophy to which these missionaries belong, they teach what is so foreign to Western thinking that they do not pass the meaning on to Western people. The Western disciples get only a few general and inaccurate notions about purusha or atma as the soul or self, tattwas, saktis, chakras, siddhis, mantrams, purusha, prakriti, karma, and yoga. These notions are in such forms as to be unavailable for good. The missionaries work up enthusiasm among their followers, and after a while they give practical teachings. These relate to their practice of yoga or the use of physical means to acquire psychic powers, “spiritual” enlightenment, union with Brahman and liberation from the bonds of matter. The physical practices hinge on sitting in postures for pranayama, the control of the breath. The wonders of the breath, svara, and the acquisition of psychic powers are the chief attractions of these teachers. However, the importance of the breath merits a consideration in connection with the breath-form and the doer, to facilitate an appreciation of the Eastern doctrines regarding it.