What’s in a name?

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog, The Tranquil Eye for which I do not remember the domain name. I recovered the text from my email. This post appeared on March 2, 2007 as per the time stamp on my email. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

The name, “The Tranquil Eye” comes from Aubrey Menen’s book, The Space Within the Heart. Here’s what the necessary paragraph says:

I was there. I. Not the person weighing 72 kilograms and whom my mother and father named Aubrey Clarence: not the writer of this book: not the person whose life, when he is dead, will be displayed in a glass case one day by Mr. Gottlieb (or so he promises me). Another person.

I gave it a name. I called it the Tranquil Eye. The play on words amused me, and it was near the truth. I found I could retreat into the space within the heart whenever I wished. For a time, I needed the quiet and loneliness of my room to do it. Later, when I gave up my room and returned to normal life, I found that I could retreat into the space anywhere, even in company, for the sheer of pleasure of doing it. The Tranquil Eye had seen an unforgettable sight. It had seen the whole of my life lying around it: and it was comical. For it saw that my life had been the laborious construct of other people, some well-intentioned, some malign, some just interfering.

Aubrey Menen

Aubrey Menen was what I was reading over vacations. He’s actually a guy from the early 20th century with an Irish mother and an Indian father (trying to explain the name). He has some different opinions, which you might just as well read:

The Upanishads are held in awe by many people in the West, a number of whom had the satisfactory, not to say flattering, experience I have just mentioned. I did not. This may have been due to my Indian background. The Upanishads, though reverenced in the West are really not much read in India. The average Indian prefers the Bhagavad-Gita, a beautiful poem in which the Lord Krishna teaches us the noble lesson that we must do our duty to society. The duty under Lord Krishna’s attention in the Gita is to kill, maim or otherwise dispose of the enemy on a field of battle in a petty dynastic war. The Lord Krishna heartily recommends that this be done and done with a will. Indians, I have noted, have a liking for filling their minds with elevated notions which do not interfere with the business in hand. No book has ever been written which does this better than the Gita.

The Upanishads, on the other hand teach no moral lesson whatever. The attitude in them is much like that of the Scottish philosopher David Hume. He wrote a book proving that there was no such thing as cause and effect. At the end of it he remarks that he has no doubt that his reasoning is correct, but as for himself, he has not the slightest intention of letting it affect him or his way of life. In the same way the philosophers of the Upanishads, after having led the reader into the very depths of his being, with shattering results to all his dearest belief, advise him to get up and go and enjoy himself like anybody else, with, they specify, horses, chariots, food and women. The verses in which this is said are as coarse as a hearty laugh and a slap on the back. How people manage to find God in such a book I cannot say, but I think it may be that they have a natural refinement which puts things decently straight.

Liked it till here? Here’s some more:

The Upanishads are, in fact, a supreme monument to the fact that, in matters of religion, the Indians are eccentrics. From the earliest times, the Hindu faith was outlined in the Rig Veda. This described the gods to be revered and how to worship them down to the last detail. For centuries, they were believed to be the last word on the matter, but then some philosophers decided they were not. Having taken due thought, they came to the conclusion that the gods of the Rig Veda were probably fictitious and that to worship them was quite unnecessary. In any decent and ordered society – that of the Christian Middle Ages, for instance – these daring men would have been promptly burnt alive.

The Hindus, instead, studied these teachings, wrote them down, and then bound them up along with the Rig Veda. It is hard to find a parallel to this act in any other religion. It is as though in each copy of the Jewish and Christian Bible, the Pentateuch was followed by some lively chapters saying that Yahweh did not exist, that the Temple was a highly redundant institution and that the Ten Commandments were binding on nobody but Moses, who had probably invented them for his own convenience.

Now the Western world is brought up to believe that black is black and white is white and anybody who attempts to muddle the two is an idiot. This opinion has carried us along the a triumphal way of scientific discoveries which have culminated, for the time being (or forever), in the hydrogen bomb. The Hindu has never thought in this manner. He has always felt that anybody who could prove that black is not black, white is not white, but both are really the same thing, is a very clever fellow and worth listening to. The result is that the Indians have invented nothing at all, except some ideas. One of those ideas is that the only way of meeting violence is to do nothing about it, but to go on minding your own peaceful affairs. I might observe in passing that if the bombs do go off, this will, obviously, be the only way of putting the world together again.

These are lines from Aubrey Menen’s “The Space Within the Heart”, 1970. Read the book, if you can. Although there aren’t many paragraphs like the ones given above, you might find it an interesting read.