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Letter XXIII[1]

Leaving Malwa and the “independent” (?) Holkar territory, we soon found ourselves again in strictly British possessions, going by railway to Jabbalpore[2] and Allahabad. In the former we stayed – just for a few hours to look at the famous “marble rocks”. Having no desire to lose a whole day, we set out by boat, leaving at two in the morning, thus avoiding the heat and taking a magnificent row along the river ten miles [16.09 km] from the town.

Jabbalpore (in the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories, 222 miles [357.27 km] from Allahabad) is a town that was once on the Maratha territory, and now on the British one, was taken by the British from the Marathas in 1817. As always, they got it by cunning rather than by force. Although they boast in their History of India, that on December 19, 1817, General Hastings, at the head of only 1,000 English soldiers, utterly defeated 10,000 Marathas – the army of the Rajah of Nagpur, killing seven thousand soldiers, taking nine cannons and capturing the entire camp, while the English had only two killed and ten wounded;[3] but tradition tells the story differently. Under the pretext of negotiations, the Maratha leaders were invited by the English to a feast; their officers gave them some kind of potion to drink, while the soldiers performed the same operation among the enemy's rank and file. Thus, they managed to kill them half asleep and took possession of the city. This story, for which I cannot vouch for its veracity, since it is already too implausible and disgusting, was conveyed to us by a half-caste-Portuguese (Eurasian), whose father, according to him, was an eyewitness to it. It was narrated to us not to heap abuse on the English, but even with some pride, as if in the form of a praise hymn to his compatriots, “Europeans” who, as I have already mentioned more than once, despise the semi-castes even more than the Hindus, and the latter return their contempt with Jewish percentages..

The surroundings of Jabbalpore are charming and of the greatest interest to lovers of natural history. For the geologist and mineralogist, there is an abundant field for scientific research in the extraordinary variety of mountain formations, delivering all kinds of granite, and a long mountain range can keep busy a hundred Cuviers, giving them work for a lifetime. The limestone caves of Jabbalpore are a real ossuary of antediluvian India: they are overfilled with skeletons of monstrous, now extinct beasts.

But far away from other mountain ridges and completely apart stand the “marble rocks” – a caprice of nature, of which there are many in India. On the rather flat bank of the Nerbudda, overgrown with dense bushes, for no reason, like a wart on the smooth cheek of Mother Nature, there suddenly appears a strangely shaped long range of snow-white rocks. But what rocks!.. White and pure, as if polished by human hand to have their capricious shape, they fancifully pile one on top of the other, rather like a colossal paperweight from a Titan's desk, rather than rocks. Already half way, at the winding bends of the river, they began to appear to us for minutes, now looking out, now hiding again, they were trembling in the predawn fog, like a distant deceptive mirage in the desert sky, until finally they completely disappeared. But just before sunrise, they again and unexpectedly appeared to our enchanted eyes, appeared twice, on the bank and in the river. Like an enchanted castle, summoned by the wave of the magician's wand, they suddenly rose as if out of the ground on the green bank of the Nerbudda, reflecting, as in a mirror, all their virgin beauty on the calm surface of the lazy, sleepy waters of the river, promising us a shadow, and coolness ... And how precious every moment of pre-dawn coolness in India can only be appreciated by those who have stayed and lived in this fiery country.

Alas! no matter how early we set off, but upon arrival at the rocks we did not have to enjoy their coolness for long. No sooner had we moored to the magical shore, expecting to have a prosaic tea in the midst of this poetic setting, when the sun rose and at once began to shoot its rays of fire both at the boat and at our unfortunate heads; persecuting us from one place to another, it finally drove us out even from under the cliff overhanging the water. Marble beauties from the snow-white turned into the golden-purple ones, showering the river with fiery spray, heating the coastal sand and blinding our eyes ... It is not without reason that legend supposes and the people see in them either the dwelling or the incarnation of Kali herself, the cruelest of the Hindu pantheon goddesses. For many yugas, the evil spouse of Shiva has been waging a desperate contest with her lawful husband, who, under the guise of Trikutishvara (three-headed lingam), claims illegal rights to the rocks and the river, whose patroness is his goddess Kali.

That is why, probably, every time the daring hand of the innocent coolie (Hindus) working in the government quarries cuts off a piece of the goddess's white thigh, as if underground cries can be heard from somewhere. And now the ill-fated stone-breaker trembles and hesitates between the fear of the overseer and the expectation of the revenge of the bloodthirsty deity. Kali is the patroness of not only the rocks, but also of the ex-Thugs – stranglers, who until recently terrified all lonely travellers. Many bloodless sacrifices were made by these Thugs on the marble altar of Kali; the country is full of blood-curdling stories about their terrible exploits, supposedly performed in honour of the goddess. These stories, which are still too fresh in human memory to pass into ornate legends, are completely true, especially since they are fully confirmed by official documents of judicial and investigative commissions.

If England ever leaves this land (and it will not do this before the bone is completely gnawed), then among the few services it has rendered to the country the complete suppression of Thugism should be put in the foreground. Under this name, the craftiest and the worst form of homicide had been practiced in India for over 200 years as it is still probably remembered. As it was finally found out in the forties, it was simply robbery and brigandage. Perverted notions of the meaning of Kali were only a clever excuse: in this case, the goddess served as a screen for the villains. How else could the presence of so many Muslims among her Hindu devotees be explained? The majority of the “knights of rumal” or the sacred kerchief, with which the victims were strangled, appeared to be Mohammedans when they were caught; the most famous among their leaders were not Hindus, but the sons of the prophet, such as Ahmed, so that among the last thirty-seven caught by the police twenty-two were Muslims. It is clear that the religion of the latter, having nothing to do with the gods of India, did not play any role in this case: the motive was simply robbery. It is true that the final rite of initiation into Thugism[4] was performed in the woods in front of the terrible idol of Bhavani wearing a rosary of human skulls[5]. Until that time, a Thug was taking a course of study, which consisted in teaching a particularly difficult technique to throw a rumal around the neck of an unsuspecting and pre-marked victim and strangle a person so that he died instantly, without letting out the slightest groan. In this rite of initiation, the role attributed to the goddess was indicated by well-known symbols, such as those in common use among Freemasons: for example, an unsheathed dagger, a skull, and even the corpse of the murdered Hiram-Abiff, the “widow's son,”[6] resurrected by the Grand Master of the Lodge. Kali served no more than a stage setting for other purposes. Thugism was the same Freemasonry, with special signs of mutual recognition, a password and its own incomprehensible uninitiated jargon – only with a criminal purpose. Meanwhile, Freemasonry in our age is a completely harmless (except perhaps for the pockets of the Freemasons themselves) pastime. Just as the Masonic lodges receive as their members indifferently atheists and Christians, so the Thugs received thieves and robbers of all nations, and they even say that there were some English and Portuguese among them.

Poor poetic Shiva, wretched Bhavani! What vile role the people's ignorance has invented for these deeply philosophical types, full of poetry and knowledge of nature! Shiva, in its primordial meaning, is at the same time the all-crushing and all-regenerating force of nature. The Hindu Trinity is an allegorical representation of the main elements: fire, earth and water. All three: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, in their various phases, alternately depict these elements; but Shiva is much more the god of fire than Vishnu: he burns and at the same time purifies, reviving, like a phoenix from the ashes, new forms full of fresh life. Shiva-Sankara is the destroyer and Shiva-Rakshaka is the reviver. He is represented with flames on his left palm and with a staff of mortification and resurrection (sulayutham) in his right hand. His worshipers wear on their foreheads, between the eyebrows, his sign: three parallel, horizontal lines, traced with wet ashes (remnants of substances burnt out in fire), which they call vibuthi (purified substance). Shiva's skin color is yellow-pink, turning into fiery red, and his neck, head and arms are entwined with snakes – emblems of eternity and constant rebirth. “As a snake crawls out of an old skin and appears in a new one, so a person, dying, appears in another, purer body,” say the Puranas... In her turn, his spouse, Kali, is an allegorical representation of the land of Shiva, fertilized by the flame of the sun ... If her worshipers allowed themselves to be convinced that she should love human sacrifice, then this is only because the earth loves organic decay, which fertilizes it and helps it to revive new and fresh forces from the old, obsolete ashes. The Shivaites, burning their dead, put the idol of Shiva at the head of the pyre; but, having collected the ashes and scattering them over water and earth, they invoke Kali, crowned with skulls, so that the goddess would receive the ashes purified by the sacred fire into her bowels and develop new embryos of life in it. But what truth is not at last distorted by the gross superstition of ignorance! And in this way, the perverted emblem fell into the hands of the Thug-robbers. But, according to them, the goddess, demanding human sacrifice, at the same time hates blood: they decided to kill without soiling their hands with blood.

We visited a very aged man, a former Thug. After serving his sentence on the Andaman Islands, he was forgiven due to sincere repentance and some services rendered by him to the government. Having returned to his native village, he now serenely ends his days, weaving ropes, a profession he chose, probably due to pleasant memories of the boldness of his youth. He initiated us into the skills of “Thugism,” first in theory, and then kindly suggested that if we buy him a ram, he could show us his dexterity in practice. He wanted to prove to us how easily, in less than three seconds, a living creature can be sent to the next world: the whole secret consists in dexterous and quick play with the finger joints of the right hand. After agreeing, a fateful cry of an owl (a bird dedicated to Bhavani-Kali) would be heard, even if there were even twenty travellers cleverly lured into a trap – there was already a Thug behind the shoulders of each of them. One second more, and the rumal is already on the victim's neck, and the practiced iron fingers of a Thug firmly hold both ends of the “sacred kerchief”; a moment later – the finger joints, squeezing the cervical vertebrae, make the famous artistic twist – and the victim falls breathless! Not a moan, not a cry ... The Thugs worked as swiftly as lightning. The strangled one was immediately carried away to a deep hole prepared in advance in the forest, often under the bed of streams or temporarily drying rivers, and buried. Not a trace remained. And thirty years ago, when there were no regular railway communication or regular Government system, who knew or worried about the disappearance of a Muslim or Hindu who set out on a journey, except perhaps his family and friends? In addition, the country is full of tigers, as you can see, destined to be responsible for their own and others' sins. Whoever used to disappear one can hear all the same answer: “tigers ate!”

It was an amazingly cleverly organized system! Dexterous accomplices, Brahmins, prowled all over India, stopping mainly in big towns, inquiring at the bazaars – these social clubs of the Asians – when and where someone set off; they frightened travellers with the Thugs and advised them to go with one or the other party – with disguised Thugs, of course. Having managed to lure the unfortunate, they warned the robbers and received a commission for this depending on the total profit. For a long time these elusive, invisible gangs, scattered throughout the country and working in parties from 10 to 60 people, enjoyed perfect freedom, but finally they were caught. The investigation revealed terrible, disgusting secrets: these gangs included wealthy bankers, officiating Brahmin, Rajahs having small estates, and even a few English officials. For this service, the East India Company truly deserves the people's thanks in India.

We did not buy a ram for the old robber, but gave him money. Out of gratitude, he suggested the colonel show, on his own American neck, all the preliminary sensations of a rumal, promising, of course, to save him from the last, famous “twist.” But our president generously refused...

On the way back, we stopped near the “Muddun Mahal” – another mysterious curiosity: this is a house built by no one knows who and for what, on a huge rounded boulder. This stone (must be akin to the cromlechs of the Celtic druids) at the slightest touch sways in all directions, along with the house and those who are curious to climb into it. We, of course, were curious, and only thanks to the vigilance of those who followed us like gentle nannies, Narayan, the Babu and the Thakur kept our noses intact...

These natives are amazing people! I don’t think there has been such a thing in nature on which they could not sit with the greatest comfort, only by preliminary and slightly balancing. A Hindu will jump on a peg, on an iron crossbar a little thicker than a telegraph wire, twist around it all ten toes, tenacious and long, like monkey legs, squat down, and sit for hours...

“Salam, sahib!” I said once to a respectable naked old man who was sitting like a crow on some perch by the seaside. “Are you comfortable, uncle?.. And aren't you afraid to fall off?..”

“Why should I?” – the “uncle” answered seriously, spitting a bloody fountain of chewed betel aside. “I'm not breathing, ma'am sahib...”

“Are you really not? How can a person not breathe?” I asked, a little stunned by such information.

“Well... I'm not breathing now. But in about five minutes, as I begin to draw air into my lungs again, then I will hold on to the post ... And then I will again sit quietly and not breathing...”

After this extraordinary physiological statement, we parted. We have achieved no more explanation from the venerable old man, but only left with the inner conviction that he could earn big money at any theater in Europe, like an acrobat. And this incident at once confused all our “scientific” considerations.

We recently heard that yogis and other practitioners of Gupta Vidya (secret sacred science) in India are famous for having discovered the secret of holding their breathe for 21 to 43 minutes in a row and – still be alive! Some of them, after years of daily, constant practice, acquire, so to speak, the property of hibernation: they hibernate, like some animals, and, remaining in this position without breathing and even the slightest signs of life, allow themselves to be buried in the ground for several weeks, even months, and then – come to life!.. At last we saw a similar thing ourselves; but in the days of the curious reply received by me from the old man, we were familiar with this phenomenon only from the books and stories of eyewitnesses, travellers, and some of our native acquaintances. True, according to the testimony of one English surgeon Coathope, who for a long time did not believe this ability to stop breathing for a while, but finally surrendered, as he puts it, “to the fact,” one such yogi personally known to him could remain without breathing from seven to twelve minutes. But physiology positively teaches that even with healthy Arab and Sinhalese divers, suffocation occurs no later than after one and a half, many two minutes of complete stay of the body under water. Then, although some of us believed in the existence of natural forces latent in man, caused only as a result of a special “mode,” about which science, having hitherto extremely superficial acquaintance with yogis and Hindu “charmers,” could not yet know; others, as Miss B***, believed in spiritualism, and still others, as W***, did not believe in anything – but all of us, believers and non-believers alike, protested against such a strange statement. Do we really believe in such nonsense? – we argued. Until now, we naively imagined that only sturgeons and Co[7] were clever enough to learn how to fill up their insides with air in order to become lighter, and to rise to the surface of the water. It is possible for a sturgeon, but for a man!.. Well, if, for example, for a man there is in exceptional cases such an opportunity to make air supplies, it is still a rare and difficult to acquire gift: to use it for sitting on poles like a bird is simply an absurd foolishness!.. We decided that the elder boasted to laugh at the “white sahibs.” But the necessary process for such an original seating, as we learned later, he described correctly.

In those days, however, we were actually a little offended by such explanations, taking them for ridicule. But here again, and this time in Jabbalpore, we saw even much greater wonders. Passing along the river bank, the so-called Fakirs’ Avenue, the Thakur suggested that we turn into the courtyard of the pagoda. This place is sacred and Europeans are not allowed there; as well as Muslims. But Gulab Singh spoke to the head Brahmin and we entered. The courtyard was full of devotees and ascetics, and among other things we noticed three completely naked and very ancient fakirs. Black, wrinkled, thin as skeletons, with gray chignons on their heads, they sat or, rather, stood in the most, as it seemed to us, impossible postures. One of them, leaning literally with only his right palm on the ground, stood, stretched out perpendicularly, head downwards and feet upwards: his body was as motionless as if instead of a living person he was a dry tree branch. His head did not touch the ground, but, rising a little upward in the most abnormal position, with eyes staring right at the sun. I don’t know whether the talkative inhabitants who came to our company spoke the truth or not, assuring us that this ascetic spends all the days of his life from noon to sunset in a similar position. But I know one thing: we spent exactly an hour and twenty minutes among the fakirs, and during all this time the fakir did not move a single muscle!..

The other stood on one leg on a round stone, three vershoks [13.34 cm, 5.25 in] in diameter, which they called “the sacred stone of Shiva,” tucking the other leg under the belly and arching the whole body back in an arc; he also gazed at the midday sun. Both hands were folded with palms together and lifted up as if in prayer ... He seemed glued to his stone. It was almost impossible to imagine how a person could come to be master of such equilibration...

Finally, the third was sitting with his legs tucked under him; but how he could sit was equally incomprehensible. His seat was a stone lingam, as high as an ordinary street stone, but no wider than the “stone of Shiva,” that is, three, maybe four, vershoks [13-18 cm, 5-7 in] in diameter. The seated man's hands were intertwined behind his neck, and his nails had deeply grown into the flesh of his upper arms.

“This one never changes his posture,” we were told. “He has been sitting in this position for seven years...”

“But how does he eat?” asked we in perplexity. They brought him to eat – or rather drink – milk, once every 48 hours, from the pagoda, pouring it down his throat with a bamboo. His disciples (every such ascetic has his own voluntary servants, candidates for holiness) take him off at midnight and wash him in a tank; and after washing, they put him back on the stone, like an inanimate thing, for he can no longer unbend.

“Well, and what about those?” we asked, pointing at the other two. “After all, they should be constantly falling down? The slightest push would overturn them wouldn’t it?..”

“Try!” advised the Thakur us. “While a person is in a state of samadhi (religious trance), he can be broken into pieces, like a clay idol, but he cannot be removed from his place...”

To touch an ascetic during trance is considered by Hindus as sacrilege; but apparently the Thakur was well acquainted with exceptions “unlike others.” He again entered into negotiations with the frowning Brahmin accompanying us and, ending a quick consultation, announced that no one of us was allowed to touch the fakir, but that he personally had received permission, and would show us something that would surprise us even more. With these words, approaching the fakir on the little stone and carefully taking him by the bony hips with both hands, he lifted him up and put him on the ground a little aside. Not a single joint moved in the body of the ascetic, as if instead of a living person it was a bronze or stone statue. Then he picked up the stone and showed it to us, asking, however, not to touch it, so as not to offend those present. The stone was, as already mentioned, round, flattish, having rather uneven surface. Lying on the ground, it swayed at the touch of a finger...

“Can you see how unsteady this pedestal chosen by the fakir is? And yet, under the weight of the ascetic, the stone remains motionless, as if being planted into the ground.

And, taking the fakir in his arms again, he moved him to his original place. In spite of the law of gravitation, which, in all evidence, should have attracted his torso and head, bending far back in an arc, he as if instantly and together with the stone became rooted to the spot, without changing his posture by any line. How they manage to achieve such art, only they know. I am stating a fact, but I don’t undertake too much to explain anything.

At the gates of the pagoda, we put on our shoes again, which we were told to take off at the entrance, and left this sanctuary of age-old mysteries, more embarrassed, even before the entrance. In the "Alley of fakirs" we found Narayan, Mulji and Babu waiting for us, they were not allowed in with us. All three escaped from the iron claws of the caste long ago and openly ate and drank with us, for which crime they were considered "excommunicated", being despised much more than the Europeans. Their presence in the pagoda would forever desecrate its sanctity, while the desecration made by us was only temporary: it evaporated like a drop of dirty water under a ray of the sun, in the stench of cow dung burnt after our leaving – this is the usual "incense of purification" among Brahmins.

India is a country of surprises; even from the point of view of an ordinary European observer, everything in it is topsy-turvy: from shaking one’s head, which is everywhere understood as a gesture of denial, but here it means a complete affirmation, to the owner's duty to show the most pleasant guest the door, who would otherwise stay for a whole week at his place and perhaps even die of hunger, rather than leave without an invitation – everything here contradicts our Western ideas. Asking a Hindu, for example, about his wife health, even if you are acquainted with her, or how many children he has, and whether he has sisters, is a gross insult. Here, when you find that it is time for your guest to leave, you sprinkle him with rose water and, hanging a garland of flowers around his neck, kindly point to the door, saying: “Now I say goodbye to you ... Come again!” The Hindus are strange and original in general; but their religion is even stranger and more incomprehensible ... With the exception of some disgusting rituals of certain sects, and abuses by the Brahmins, the religion of the Hindus must have something deeply and incomprehensibly attractive in itself, if it is capable of seducing even the English from the path of truth. For example, this is what happened here a few years ago.

An interesting and extremely scholarly brochure appeared, although in terms of its content it turned all modern science upside down. It was written in English and printed in a small edition by the regimental doctor of medicine and surgery, N. C. Paul, in Benares. Paul's fame as a learned specialist in physiology was great among his compatriots, the British: at one time he was considered an authority in the medical world. The brochure dealt with the examples of “hibernation” seen by the doctor among ascetics, lasting in one case for eight months, with samadhi and other phenomena produced by yogis. Appearing under the title A Treatise on the Yoga-Vidya Philosophy, this brochure immediately produced a sensation among the representatives of European medicine in India and aroused a furious controversy between Anglo-Indian and native journalists. Dr. Paul spent 35 years studying the incredible, but for him completely certain, facts of “yogism.” He could never get to the raja-yogis, and with great straightforwardness and apparent regret he confesses this; but he became friends with fakirs and secular yogis, that is, those who do not hide their rank and sometimes agree to make a European a witness of certain phenomena. Dr. Paul not only described the strangest facts that happened in front of him, but even explained them. Levitation, for example, which contradicts the recognized laws of gravitation and against which the astronomer Babinet so rebelled, is explained by him scientifically. But the main thing that helped him penetrate some mysteries considered hitherto impenetrable is his ardent friendship with Captain Seymour. The latter, 25 years ago, caused an unprecedented scandal in India, especially in the army: Captain Seymour, a wealthy and educated man, accepted the Brahmin faith and became a yogi! He, of course, was declared insane and, after being caught, was forcibly sent to England. Seymour fled England and returned to India, dressed as a sannyasi. They seized him a second time, put him on a steamer, brought him to London and locked him up in a lunatic asylum. Three days later, despite bolts and sentries, he disappeared from the establishment. He was then met again by acquaintances in Benares, and the governor received a letter from him from the Himalayas. In the letter, he announced that he had never been mad, despite the fact that he was taken to the hospital; he advised the general not to interfere with his private affairs anymore and said that he would never return to civilized society. “I am a yogi (he wrote) and I hope to die no earlier than having achieved the goal of my life: to become a raja-yogi.” The general did not understand, but waved his hand. Since then, no Europeans have seen him, no one except Dr. Paul, who, they say, corresponded with him until his death and even went to the Himalayas twice to botanize. The chief inspector of the Medical Department, considering Dr. Paul's essay as “a direct slap in the face of the science of physiology and pathology,” ordered to buy up at a high price from private individuals all the copies that were published and sacrifice them to this science, committing them to the flames. As a result, the brochure has become a rarity. Of the several books saved, one is in the library of the Maharaja of Benares, and another was given to me by the Thakur.

The train to Allahabad was to leave at 8 pm, and we were to spend the whole night until 6 am in the railway carriage. Although we had ten reserved seats in a first-class carriage, in which no strange passengers could travel, however, for various reasons, I was sure that I would not fall asleep all night. Therefore, having stocked up with candles for a reading lamp in advance, I prepared to break the railroad rules that night by reading Dr. Paul's brochure, as it interested me.

An hour and a half before the departure, we all went to have lunch in the Refreshment Rooms, that is, in the buffet of the railway station. Our appearance caused an evident sensation: with four Indians we occupied the entire edge of the table, at which there were about fifty first-class passengers, staring at us with astonished eyes full of undisguised contempt. Europeans fraternizing with Hindus!.. Hindus dining with Europeans!.. Restrained whispering began to turn into loud exclamations, and one grand lady could not even bear it: she got up from the table and left. If it were not for the imposing presence, undoubtedly, of the native type: the British W*** and Miss B***, and the colonel, whom everyone took for an English officer, there would probably have been a scandal. Two Englishmen approached the Thakur and, shaking hands with him – also a rare occurrence – took him aside, as if for business, but essentially to satisfy curiosity: they turned out to be old acquaintances of his. No one paid the slightest attention to the other Hindus. Here we learned for the first time that the police were keeping an eye on us. The Thakur, pointing to a captain with a very fresh complexion and a long blond moustache in a white tunic, quickly whispered to me: “beware...” It was a secret police agent from the Political Department, sent after us from Bombay. Hearing this good news for us, the colonel burst out laughing loudly, which made the natives of Albion, who were eating, even more excited. We learned later that all hotel servants are required to spy. But in India, they have the custom to take their servants everywhere, even to dinner parties: therefore, a Hindu stood behind each chair of ours, and behind the Thakur, there were his four shield-bearers and two servants. The enemy was thus completely cut off by this army of bare-legged defenders, and the hotel spies had little chance of overhearing our conversations; besides, we had nothing to hide. But, I confess, this news had a very bad effect on me. Finally, this unpleasant dinner ended. Having settled down for the night in the carriage, I began to study my brochure...

Among other interesting things, Dr. Paul explains in detail and very scientifically the secret of periodical suspension of breathing and some other, apparently completely impossible phenomena practiced by yogis, which he personally observed many times. His theory of “breathing” is summarized as follows:

Yogis have discovered the secret and acquired the ability of a chameleon to assume the appearance of plumpness or of leanness. This animal, as you know, having filled its lungs with air, is very fat, then suddenly, freed from the air that fills it, it is extremely puny. Many of the reptiles, by the same method of inflating the body, get the opportunity, if necessary, to swim across large rivers, and by means of the excess air remaining, after the oxidation of blood, gives them excessive liveliness, both on land and on water. The ability to store more air than is necessary is a characteristic feature of all animals undergoing hibernation. The ancient Hindu philosophers, noticing this ability, used it and improved it. The technique used by yogis, known as bhastrika kumbhala, is as follows:

Yogis wishing to acquire this gift retire to underground caves, where the atmosphere is more uniform and humid than on the earth's surface, and where, therefore, the appetite is less. A person's appetite is proportional to the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled in a certain period of time. Therefore, yogis never use salt, but live on milk alone, drinking it once a day at night, and spending days in a semi-cataleptic state. They move very slowly in order to breathe as little as possible: movement increases the amount of exhaled carbon dioxide; and the philosophy of the yogis prescribes them to avoid movement.

The amount of exhaled carbon dioxide increases with loud and lively conversation and decreases with quiet one: the yogi is taught to speak slowly and quietly, and is often forced to take a vow of silence. With physical labour, the amount of carbon dioxide also increases, and with mental labour, it decreases: therefore, the yogi spends his life in contemplation and reflection. Yogis practice two methods, padmasana and siddhasana, for as little breathing as possible. This is what Shukadeva says:[8]

“Cross your legs; firmly straighten the neck and back; rest the palms of the hands on the knees; shut the mouth and begin to expire forcibly through both nostrils. Next inhale and exhale as rapidly as possible until you are fatigued. Then inhale through the right nostril, and filling the abdomen with the inspired air, suspend the breathing and fix the sight on the tip of the nose. Then exhale through the left nostril, and inhale through the right one. Suspend the breathing again and then begin the process all over again, starting with the right nostril,” etc.

“When the yogis are able to practise the above quiescent postures for the period of two hours,” – says Paul, “they commence to practise pranayama, a stage of self-trance which is characterised by profuse perspiration, tremblings of all limbs, and a sense of extraordinary lightness in whole body. They next practise pratyahara, a stage of self trance in which they have the functions of all five senses suspended. They then practise dharana, a stage of self-trance in which not only their physical senses, but even all mental abilities freeze: a person plunges into complete catalepsy of mind and body. This technique, so abundant in physical suffering and requiring the most firm determination, brings yogis to dhyana – a state of "complete unspeakable bliss." According to them, they swim in the ocean of eternal light or electricity of akasa (Ananta Jyoti, which they point to as the "Soul of the Universe"). The yogis in a state of dhyana are said to be clairvoyant. The dhyana of the yogis is the turya avastha of the Vedantists, to which raj-yogis bolong.

Samadhi is the last stage,” continues Paul. “In this state the yogis, like the bat, the hedgehog, the marmot, the hamster, and the dormouse, acquire the power of supporting the abstraction of atmospheric air, and the privation of food and drink. Of samadhi or human hybernation there have been three cases within the last 25 years, which I observed personaly. The first case occurred in Calcutta, the second in Jesselmere and the third in the Punjab. All three yogis sank into a state of seeming death, hermetically plugging their throats with their tongues. How the Punjabi fakir (about whom Dr. McGregor writes, vouching for the authenticity of the incident he was himself an eyewitness) could live without food for 40 days and nights, buried in a glass box in the ground, is a question that surprised many learned people in Europe, but I witnessed even stranger cases. On the basis of laghima[9] and garima[10] perfections (air supply in the lungs, in the manner of a chameleon), one Madras Brahmin in my presence floated in the air five times from 4 ? to 12 minutes ... But all these are only physical phenomena produced by hatha-yogis. Each of them is subject to the study of natural or physical sciences, and always interested me much less than phenomena from the field of psychology. And with all this I was not lucky in this respect in India. Of the three raj-yogis I met during my 35-year career in India, not a single one dared to reveal to me the slightest of the great secrets of nature attributed to them, despite their affection for me. One bluntly refused the power attributed to him; the other frankly admitted that he possessed such power and even proved it to me more than once in practice, but refused any explanation on this matter. Finally, the third agreed to explain something to me, if I swear to him never to announce to anyone what I learned from him, even on my deathbed. Since in this case my only goal was to enlighten the world steeped in ignorance and atheism, then, I confess, I refused. And the gift of raj-yogis is incomparably more interesting and a thousand times more important for the world than the phenomena of hatha-yogis. This gift is purely psychic: raj-yogis add the whole scale of mental phenomena to the knowledge of hatha-yogis. The gifts attributed to them, at least in the sacred books, are as follows: (1) the gift of prophecy and foresight of future events; (2) understanding all languages they do not know; (3) the healing of ailments; (4) the art of reading other people's thoughts; (5) Hearing conversations and everything that happens several thousand miles away; (6) understanding the language of animals and birds; (7) prakamya – the ability to stop the hand of time, maintaining a youthful appearance for a long, almost incredible period of time; (8) the ability to leave own body and move into another one; (9) vashitva – the gift to tame and even kill wild animals with one glance; and finally, the most terrible thing is the mesmeric force, which completely subjugates people and, with will power alone, makes them unconsciously obey the unexpressed orders of the yogis.”

Dr. Paul witnessed several of the mentioned phenomena and became convinced of their objective reality; the reality of other phenomena, “having seen so much that is equally incomprehensible,” in his words, he neither believes nor denys. But what he fully vouches for is that a yogi can, at will, suspend his breath for up to 43 minutes and 12 seconds...

Oh science!.. Are you, like everything else, only vanity of vanities? Physiology, represented by Dr. Lefebvre M.D., Fellow of the Royal Society and additionally Vice President of the Royal Society of Medicine, and citing him, the scientist Swaine Taylor, assures us that “no diver, whoever he is, endured complete sinking of the body for more than two minutes in a row.” And the author himself adds that as long as a person is not a fish, it is absolutely unthinkable that he could withstand in water even half a minute longer[11].

Therefore, there is nothing to argue: science has decided, and it is not for us, credulous profanes, to contradict it. But there is no doubt that in Europe absolutely nothing is yet known either about the methods of yogis, or about the means used since ancient times by the philosophers of India for the gradual, so to speak, “regeneration” of the entire human body. Therefore, at least in this case, everything that our physiologists have the right to say is limited to approximately the following: “The phenomena of life that we studied, investigating them under the so-called normal and abnormal conditions known to us, we have studied well and we vouch for the correctness of our conclusions ...” However, why shouldn't they immediately add: “But, having no pretense to assure the world of our complete acquaintance with the unknown, as well as the known forces of nature, existing or capable of developing under conditions still unknown to us, we therefore do not have the right to bar anyone from striving for more daring research in an area to which we ourselves, due to our great caution (and sometimes even our moral cowardice), have not yet reached, striving for the discovery of higher, albeit rare, phenomena in human nature. Not daring to assert that the human body is completely incapable of developing transcendental abilities, which are manifested only under special, often unknown conditions for science, we do not want to limit our researchers to our scientific discoveries...”

Uttering such a noble and at the same time modest speech, Messrs. physiologists (not excluding our quarrelsome Dr. Carpenter) would immediately deserve the gratitude of posterity. Their scientific colleagues, no longer fearing to pass (in spite of all their previous great achievements in science) as insane, gullible subjects who fell into dotage, would begin to investigate all such phenomena seriously and impartially, and not “on the sly,” as is now done by others, for fear that they could be caught red-handed. All the phenomena of “spiritualism” would then have passed from the realm of materializing “aunties” and “grannies,” and old wives’ fortune-telling, into the realm of purely psycho-physiological sciences, and the much talked-about “spirits,” in all likelihood, would disappear. But in their stead the living spirit, which “belongeth not to this world,” would become both more accessible and comprehensible to mankind. It would only then understand the harmony of the whole, seeing how closely, inextricably linked the visible world with the invisible one. Here are a few deep words of one of the esteemed Russian scientists, Professor Butleroff:

“All this belongs to knowledge; an increase in the mass of knowledge can only enrich, and not abolish science. It is necessary that this be accomplished by virtue of strict observation, study, verification by experience, so that they come to it guided by a positive scientific method, just as they come to the recognition of each natural phenomenon. We are calling not to blind belief, following the example of the years gone by, but to knowledge; not to renunciation of science, but to expanding its scope...”

Then Haeckel with the evolutionists, and Alfred Russel Wallace with the spiritualists, would both express complete pleasure. For what really prevents a person from having two principles in his essence: one purely spiritual, the other purely animal? Indeed, it is not even for you, great scientists, to try to stop the “influence of the Pleiades” by offering yourself even “Arcturus with his sons” as a guide. Has it never happened to you to apply to your own mental pride the questions that were once offered by a “voice from the whirlwind” to the long-suffering Job? Although you managed to catch the Leviathan in the depths of the sea by pulling a hook through his nose, nevertheless, in the words of the Book of Job, “where were you when were laid the foundations of the earth? and have the gates of death been opened unto you?”[12] so as to confidently assert, what is here and not there ... “the abode of eternal light?..”

“Allahabad!.. Alla-ha-bad!..” there was a cry of conductors. It was six o'clock in the morning, when our train, hissing and stamping, with a roar approached the gorgeous platform of the East India railway, and this at once dispelled my thoughts. All my companions awoke and began to fuss, all except the Thakur, who was wont to disappear at the stations, as if vanished into thin air. But we have become accustomed to his strange behaviour and did not even enquire about him. At the station we were waited for by a Professor of the Sanskrit language Pandit Sender-Lall-Battacharya to whose house we were invited. A handsome, portly man, with muscular bare legs, proudly draped in a red gold embroidered cashmere shawl with a bright pagari[13] on his long black hair, such was our host. Here the styles are quite different. You can’t see the Marathi shaved heads anymore, topped by the helmet turbans. Long hair, black beard and expensive shawls, draped like Roman togas; the scarves without any particular form on the heads of Benares Pundits are mixed with black caftans a la François I[14] of the bareheaded Babu and the white caps of the Northern Hindus. A captain-spy who took us in his turn for Russian spies was scurrying along the platform and probably thinking that by wearing dark blue glasses, he was unrecognizable. But we didn't pay attention to him and immediately went home by the carriages prepared for us.

In the heart of the native or “black”[15] Allahabad, among the maze of streets, alleys and gardens, there is the house of Pundit Sender-Lall-Bhattacharya, to which he invited us all. It was only eight o'clock in the morning. The house was sinking in the dense lush greenery of the teak trees and a ray of sunshine seemed never to reach its spacious and dark rooms. In spite of all this we again became unbearably hot. In early April, before noon, the temperature was 120 degrees (Fahrenheit [49° С]) in the shade! The heat in the North-Western provinces, such as Rajasthan, was completely different from the heat of Bombay; in Central India one drips with sweat in the humid warm atmosphere like in Russian baths; but in Allahabad one doesn’t sweat, and this city seems to be made by nature itself as the world dryer, you can find there from mummy-like ascetics, dotting the banks of the Ganges and Yamuna, to enormous feather grass, incinerating at the slightest touch of the hand. For eight months of the year it is dry like fire, heat, burning you from inside your throat with each inhalation, searing the man to the marrow of his Kanpur bones, like the scorching desert wind; during such heat one can only sit still and avoid any movement. All the doors and windows on the veranda are covered with shutters made of the strongly odorous grass of khus-khus[16], abundantly watered outside every five or ten minutes. The rooms are darkened till sunset, and it is unthinkable for a European to do anything during the day.[17] Immediately upon arrival, we took seats on the carpets reclining on soft pillows of palm leaf, being afraid to move. From time to time a breeze breaking through the wet fabric of khus-khus blew aromatic coolness in our faces, and punkahs[18], swinging nonstop above our heads, cut the stuffy air, allowing us to inhale, for at least some minutes, artificial air instead of the hot atmosphere ...

We spent three days in Allahabad. At exactly three in the morning we went to explore the city and surrounding area, and returned at seven o'clock in the morning for breakfast; then we threw ourselves on the carpet in a total dark room under the punkahs, and slept until four o'clock in the afternoon. After the tea “with ice,” we were off again to scour around, studying antiquity and returning home only at ten o'clock in the evening for dinner. At night we didn’t go to bed, staying in the garden to breathe until dawn...

The city is located in the South-Eastern part of the Doab region – “the land of two rivers,” the track of sand land, formed by the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna. The Yamuna has its source from the group of mountains known as the Yamunotri, from a spring seeping through crowned with eternal snows cliffs at a height of 10,849 feet [3,306 m] above the sea. Here in Allahabad, both rivers are almost the same width, but the Ganga is deeper and her water is larger[19] than that of the Yamuna. Together they flow in one direction, merging but not mixing, so that the waves of the latter float as a dark blue ribbon in the yellow waters of the Ganga. The natives call this place Triveni (three rivers), because there flows an underground river of Sarasvati – a lost fugitive, suddenly disappearing from the Sirhind desert. Having watered the roots of the sacred tree, growing in the underground caves (in “the Catacombs of the Fort”), it suddenly erupts into the daylight from under the tower of the fortress of Allahabad, and, as if ashamed of such behavior, quickly flows away aside; then, forming an island, it merges with two of her sisters already far outside the city. A legend in one of the oldest books of the Puranas[20], telling the biography of the river, says that she is the wife of Brahma, Sarasvati and “the goddess of knowledge and secret Sciences” who had to blush because it was really due to her own negligence. One day, slowly strolling in the desert with a book in hand, she got so completely absorbed in her reading that didn't notice the noise and boom of a crowd of demons surrounding her. Being ashamed of her negligence, the goddess sank into the sandy depths of the desert, and disappeared from the earth's surface, emerging only at Prayag (the ancient name of Allahabad), where it flowed near her more worldly sisters.

The “white city” (the residence of the Europeans) is far and away from the “black” city of the natives. It is formed of enormous, wide, alleys, crossing each other, lined with magnificent trees, where many squirrels are like to jump. In large courtyards, completely enclosed by garden walls, English bungalows are located, which are more like rich country villas than urban houses. The “white city,” thus, is not a city. With the exception of several fine squares, Allahabad is just a giant park having 32 miles [51.5 km] in circumference, dotted symmetrically with country villas at a distance of a quarter of a mile [402 m] one from another. Here a prim English colony, sighing over its misty homeland, is trying to create around itself an artificial London. Here etiquette reigns as an inexorable despot. In the morning corseted ladies spend their time making ceremonious visits to each other; twice a week Grand “Puja” – the official reception – is appointed. Ceremonial dinners between close friends are called dinners “without ceremonies”; but to these friendly meals the men come in tail coats and white ties, and ladies in ball gowns and diamonds. And all this at the heat of 120° F [49° С]!.. They have dinner at 8 o’clock and leave around ten at night, as all here get up at 5 o'clock in the morning. What an intellectual life in all respects... During our first visit to Allahabad none of us found it necessary to leave a card at the local goddess-patroness of the province – Lady Cooper; therefore, our party began to be looked upon with more suspicion. Who besides “Russian spies” would dare to show such disrespect for the representative of the Indian Empress herself in the North-Western provinces?..

The first day (getting with great difficulty a permission from the authorities), we went to see the fortress. Probably fearing that we would draw the plan of the fortress, the English sent a half a dozen of spies after us: we were being followed by policemen (Muslims) like shadows, and in the distance our friend – the blond spy en chef[21] captain Lang – was spying out. He need not have been so concerned: in presence of these remains of ancient, once magnificent Prayag, the capital of India, Brahmanic, then Buddhistic and finally Muslim – we fully sank into the past and completely forgot about the present…

Prayag-Allahabad is one of the most ancient places of India, which is closely associated with its past hazy history. Here the Rishis of the Vedic period – the great patriarchs of India, inspired by the poetry, for the first time put forth their Brahmanic interpretations. Inspired with religious zeal, which in its consequences is always dangerous for the descendants, carefully protecting philosophical truths from indiscreet eye of the ignorant masses, they removed them from the people, letting them to be satisfied with their own speculations, – these Rishis were the first sowers of malignant seeds of paganism in India. By hiding under the poetic shell of allegory and emblems abstract quality of the deity, perceived by them alone in the contemplation of the boundless world, they, in their efforts to make these abstract qualities available to the masses, while not profaning them, soon turned each attribute into a separate god and goddess. As a result, the people “created idols.” And they started ever since to see the truth in lies and only deception in the truth; the latter was left entirely in the hands of the jealous and learned ancient clergy. The same happened in ancient times in Egypt, in Greece, in Chaldea – everywhere. No wonder that Saraswati, the goddess of the secret sciences of nature, hides herself in her deep underground stream from the eyes of the demons of materialism: she appears only to those who tirelessly and relentlessly pursue her, going deep to pure sources of her living waters; on the earth and in the sight of the superstitious masses she rides a peacock, whose tail of one hundred eyes is spread out in the sun, but whose real eyes are blind to the light of day... And only the former, thirsting for her teachings, she caresses and waters quenching the burning thirst of her loyal admires, calming their eternal longing for the unknown and is out of reach for all others. But alas! There are few direct heirs of the Rishis of India and the hierophants of ancient Egypt; and the name of the unworthy and allegedly “initiated” is Legion.

Rajasthan traditions indicate Prayag as an ancient fortress of the Rajput. The Aryan Kshatriyas with pure military instinct built here a fortification which became a center for all their subsequent conquests in the upper valleys of the Ganges and Yamuna and through the long centuries kept trembling the whole of lower Bengal. In the days of the Macedonian Empire Prayag stood on this very spot, at the confluence of two rivers. “The Prasii[22] are descendants of Puru of Puruayg (Prayag) – received the Ambassador of Seleucus, Megasena sent to conclude a treaty with Sandrocottus,[23] king of the Prasii, in its ancient capital,” according to an old chronicle of the princely Jaisalmer family of Yadu. More than a thousand years after this incident, in VII century, the history refers to the feast, given by Syladitya[24] for a Chinese traveller and Buddhist devotee, Hven Thsang[25]. In those days, Buddhism having banished all gods from India, was already in full decline, and soon the feast was followed by a general revival of modern Brahmanism, or rather, Hinduism. But since the very day of the period of the Vedas and before the era when the pious Chinese traveller mourned the rapid fall of Buddhism, Prayag has never ceased to be the sacred place of India, after Benares, the “field of happiness,” where a widow's copper mite in the form of alms was considered just as good as the sacrifice of a whole lakka[26] of gold. The famous obelisk or lath of the king Ashoka that was built over 250 years BC, is hitherto in the midst of the fortress. There, about two hundred steps from it, one can see the dark entrance to the underground caves, in one of which a thick tree, rather a tree stump, with a few dried branches, is still growing. “These branches bloom only once a year, at the feast of Vishnu,” – assured the Hindu augurs.

When we were coming up to the glacis[27] of the fortress, our attention was directed to a pile of rubble. This place was once the Jama Masjid, famous in the whole of India, built under Shah Jahan. Forcibly taken from the Muslims, for no very clear reason, the English turned it first into barracks, then made it into a commissary, and when the regiment had left, they completely leveled it to the ground due to some mysterious strategic reasons. “By the most shameful, undeserved way we robbed our Mohammedan subjects of shrines dear to them, not offering them even one rupee remuneration for them,” writes Colonel Kean in his essay “The Mogul Empire.” Allahabad was made the capital of the North-Western provinces only after the suppression of the rebellion of 1857. It became the residence of the authorities after the English were slaughtered in Agra.

Further to the North of the fortress lie the ruins of the old so-called “white city.” There on the 5th of June 1857 the sepoys of the 6th Bengal native infantry regiment raised a mutiny. Hearing the screams and wild threats, officers having breakfast in the common dining room jumped out on the parade ground. Here all of them were shot, probably, 23 men. Then the rebels ransacked the regimental treasury, broke into the jail and released all the criminals, burned all the houses in the “white city” and slaughtered about 100 Europeans. The rest managed to escape to the fortress, where 400 Sikhs always faithful to their word protected them against their own people and saved the garrison, women and children from certain death. Recognizing the Sikhs as the bravest people of India (besides the Rajpoots), the English, have, probably out of gratitude, been trying ever since to disarm them, but do not dare do so outright. They can't accept the fact that someone could be more honest than themselves, and that there are people who keep their word of honour...

The Allahabad Fort and a fortified castle within were built by the great Emperor Akbar, about the year 1575 BC, on the ruins of the ancient Buddhist town of the Hindus. As said above, Prayag was an ancient capital of the Lunar (or Samavansi) dynasty of the Kshatriyas. From the architectural beauty of the times of Akbar, from the high towers of the majestic dome on openwork galleries, from arcades and painted walls and balconies, seen and described by Geber[28], and from all of what the Bishop was so impressed with barely sixty years ago – nothing is left. The hands of regular vandals – Englishmen in the service of the East India Company – demolished balconies, closed up, smeared and ruined the Moorish carvings on the interior and exterior walls, and hid it all under the ugliest layer of common plaster. In the fortress there is an object compensating all this and has been standing already for a little over two thousand years, that is the pillar of Ashoka. There are pillars more magnificent, higher and more beautiful than this, at least in Egypt, but there is not one more interesting for the archaeologist and philologist. The inscriptions on it, to the patient cryptographer and linguist, open a whole panorama of the ancient world, so little known to us. From these inscriptions, we can study the most sincere thoughts of royal architects, monitor the gradual change of ideas and concepts, and for over twenty centuries be present in the struggle of peoples of various confessions, fighting brother against brother and pouring blood on the globe from the beginning of their history – and each confession doing thus in the name of what seemed to it as a holy truth, and to its brother – a sinful error.

The height of this pillar is only 42 feet [12.8 m], excluding the base; it has a conical form, gradually tapering to the apex: three feet and four vershoks [1.09 m] in diameter at the base and two feet with a vershok [61.41 cm] at the pointed end. Three of the numerous inscriptions belong to the kings of three different eras – Ashoka, Samudra Gupta, and Jahangir, that is, to the Buddhist, semi-Brahmin and Muslim. Ashoka erected it to perpetuate the decrees issued by him to spread Buddhism. Samudra Gupta took advantage of it in the second century of our era, to inscribe on the pillar the record of his extensive possessions in India, stretching from Nepal to Deccan and from Gujarat to Assam. Finally, the fallen and forgotten pillar was cleaned of age-old rubbish and restored by the Mogul Emperor Jahangir, who commanded to inscribe on it the year of his accession to the throne (1605). In addition to these inscriptions, there are hundreds of other names of nobles, pilgrims, converted to Buddhism Brahmins and a wide variety of travelers, ranging from the first century of Christianity until the last one.

The inscriptions of king Ashoka differ from other inscriptions on the pillar, firstly, because there are frequent repetitions of them on other sites, and secondly, due to the fact that they all start with the stereotyped phrase: “devanamapiye piyadasi laja hevam-aha ...” or “The beloved of the gods-rajas Piyadasi-king...” According to history, the King – Devana Piyadasi – inherited the throne of his father in Ceylon 236 years after the birth of Gautama (Buddha). An ardent Buddhist, he persuaded the Indian king Dharmasoka, father of our king Ashoka, an ardent Buddhist like himself, to send his second son Mahinda and daughter Sangamitta, in the company of other monks and nuns, as pilgrims all over India for the teaching of Buddhism. According to Mahavansa[29], zeal for the new doctrine captured the old king and his sons to such an extent that even the main and beloved wife of Dharmasoka, queen Anula went, on the advice of the king to preach the religion of truth, together with her subjects, bhikshus (mendicant friars), and she finally became a bhikshuni (a nun). Ashoka, seeing, probably, the king Piyadasi as the Apostle of the Buddha, constantly brings his name in the inscriptions: “So speaketh the king Devanampiya Piyadasi...” – a kind of sacramental introductory sentence in each paragraph.

Here are a few extracts of the most remarkable ones among these inscriptions on the pillar:

“… In the 27th year of my anointment[30] (sic) I have ordered, that this religious edict to be issued in writing. I am confessing and repenting of sins hitherto nestling in my heart in front of my (people?). The thought of the religion and the love of the religion should (since this time) increase constantly ... and my people, as well as grihastas (clergy) – in short, all mortals will become closely connected by it (the religion), and, defeating their earthly passions and sins, all of them will achieve great wisdom. For in religion alone dwells true wisdom. The main virtue is in religion; and the religion is all made of praiseworthy deeds: refraining from evil deeds, charity, meekness, love of neighbour, moral purity and chastity. For me all this is the anointment of consecration.[31] To the poor and grieving, the two-legged and four-legged, the birds of heaven and the creatures moving in the waters were dedicated then (since the time of initiation?) all my plentiful deeds ... For this alone this decree was proclaimed. May everyone hearken to it. May it abide in full force for ages to come, and whosoever will only follow it, will certainly attain eternal bliss and be joined with Sugata (Buddha) ...”

Then comes a list presenting nine sins. These nine sins known as asinave (azinave) and, according to the teachings of Gautama Buddha, should be avoided: “anger, cruelty, stealing, pride, envy, despondency, drunkenness, adultery, murder.” On the west side of the pillar different rules about the relationship between ascetics and the laity were inscribed, as well as about “the universal remission in the Buddha's name of penalties and forgiveness of criminals on three special days.” The days exactly are not said. On the south side of the pillar there are names of the animals and birds, the depriving of whose life is considered a sin; then, the most interesting inscription as shedding a bright light on the life of this Royal Apostle of Buddhism reads as follows:

“In the twelfth year of my anointment I ordered to publish the decree for the pleasure and benefit of the peoples. Having destroyed this (decree?) and looking at my former religion (idolatry) as at a great sin, I now, for the sake of the whole world, proclaim this fact (i.e., repeal of the law). At the same time, I pray various prayers for those who differ from me in my faith, that they all following my example, should be made worthy to attain eternal salvation ... But how to act in order for the religion of truth and light to be constantly spread among the human race? Verily, only by converting all of the low birth (out-caste), the poor and the indigent our religion may become universal ... But if as a result of such converting (of the low birth) it will grow, how much faster our religion will spread through converting the ones of high birth, those among whom dwells the name of God ...[32] This religion is true (i. e. Buddhism) and virtues multiply through it alone.”

In this case, the “name of God” is synonymous with “Nirvana,” the meaning of which (despite Burnouff, Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire and K°, and even Professor Max Müller) constantly elude the Sanskritists and interpreters of Buddhism. No one hitherto had understood it correctly, and judged about it according the dead letter alone.

The most learned Buddhist priests of Ceylon, Burma and Siam rise against these diverse theories. God as a person separate from the universe, as something individual, Buddhists do not believe in. But their summum bonum[33], or nirvana, is the same as moksha of the Brahmins. It's the final uniting of an infinitesimal and disunited particle, a limited one, with the infinite and limitless whole; it is the eternal conscious life of the soul in the quintessence of the divine spirit; the soul is a temporarily separated spark, attracted again and sinking into the vast ocean of the World Soul flame – the primal source of everything. But the final absorption of the individual soul, purified from all that is earthly and the sinful by “the Universal Soul” (Anima Mundi) does not mean the disappearance or “complete destruction” of the human soul. Explaining this theory, a young Sinhalese, Dammapadjoti, a very learned monk, crushed a mercury-filled glass bulb, and, spilling it all over a silver saucer, began to shake it. The living drops of silver were separated, scattered and barely touching each other, again melded together. “Here are Nirvana and souls,” he told us.

“So why is it considered so hard to achieve Nirvana?” asked one of us. “With the existing mutual attraction any soul, because of its one-sidedness with the World Soul must, once freed from the shackles of the earth, merge with Nirvana.”

“Of course; but that mutual attraction exists only when particles are perfectly pure. Look what is happening now!..”

And after sprinkling another saucer with ash and dust, he rolled mercury drops in the dirt, adding a drop of oil in it... until then living drops, covered now with a thick layer of dirt, are lying still at the bottom of the saucer. It was in vain to roll them to the main drop of pure mercury they could not merge already with the native drop...

“That's a consequence of the earthly dirt,” Dammapadjoti explained to us. “Until the soul is purified from the last earthly atom it cannot obtain Nirvana, or live life eternal, among the divine essence...”

“So, do you believe in an afterlife?”

Dammapadjoti laughed and, as it seemed, a little contemptuous.

“Yes, we do, of course, but we try to avoid its duration, as the greatest, although fair misery, as a punishment for our sins. To live means to feel and to suffer; not to live and be in Nirvana is the synonym of eternal bliss...”

“But thus it turns out that you seek the destruction of the soul.”

“Not at all; we only seek the destruction of suffering that is inseparable from personal life; we seek to achieve absolute bliss in union with the World Soul. The One Whole is infinite and perfect; in fragmentation every particle becomes finite, full of imperfections and flaws...”

Further explanation is left to metaphysicians. My goal is to prove one thing: our greatest authorities play with the philosophy of Buddhism in the dark. Here's the proof. In the first volume of his lectures Chips from a German workshop (1857, p. 276 et seq.), Professor Max Müller in an angry response to his opponent in the article “On the meaning of Nirvana” based on the fact that the word Nirvana means something which is disappearing, fading like the flame of a candle, is trying to prove that the expression alone undoubtedly explains the faith of the Buddhists. “They believe in the destruction of the individual soul,” he says, “and seek only one thing: to cease to ever exist.” In this article by M. Müller the Buddha is either an “atheist” or an “egoist” (in the metaphysical sense of the word). “He taught about bliss – to sink forever in something that is nothing but oneself.” But to the great surprise and even dismay of his followers, who already got used to the avec le mot d'ordre[34] of their eminent teacher, that all Buddhists were “atheists and nihilists,” the venerable scholar suddenly made a sudden volte-face. In 1869, at a public lecture in Kiel, at one of the meetings of the “Association of the Berlin philologists,” in front of large audience Max Müller announced his “long expressed opinion” that atheism had nothing to do with the teachings of the Buddha and that was positively a grave mistake to think that Nirvana meant the annihilation of the individual soul.[35]

Who then will not agree with us that the “great scientists” very often abuse their authority? But Professor Max Müller in 1857 was the same authority on the part of philology and ancient religions, as in 1869. To dogmatically assert that the ancients believed such and such and not otherwise, one should, above all, delve into the depth of thought of these ancients, to understand not only their language, but also their peculiar metaphysics; achieving this is possible only by comparison of all the ancient philosophies, as being isolated from one another, these philosophies are completely incomprehensible... “So our linguists (we'll be told) do the same, with Professor M. Müller as a head”. Yes, but unfortunately, they have still successfully compared only the dead letter; the life-giving spirit constantly eludes them in that dim, stuffy atmosphere of modern materialism... Only the careful study of sûtras – speeches of Gautama Buddha (book I of the Tripitaka, or “Three baskets”), and then 3 books of the same work, “System of metaphysics” by Kashyapa, a friend and disciple of the Buddha (the work sheds light on the teachings of the Buddha and as if to complement it), is able to illuminate the darkness known under the name of Buddhism, or the “philosophy of the Buddha.” In sutras the reality of the objective world is called delusion; the reality of form, and all substances are exhibited as a dangerous illusion; even the reality of the individual or Ego is rejected. But it is, against the existence of which arise all our modern materialists, that they are trying to erase from the face of the earth, saying that all this is mere nonsense, speculations based on nothing, the Sutras recognize “the only reality in a world of illusions” and “the metaphysics of Kashyapa” explains why it is so. This reality is the spiritual self of man, Ego, quite separate and distinct from matter, even the most sublimated. Causality alone is the reality, because this causality, which is without a beginning and without end, has neither past nor future, but always exists in the present, and all its actions are only temporary and minor phenomena, “a flash of lightning in the ocean of electricity.” Everything passes, everything changes, in its objective form, and, yielding to the division of time and numeration, everything is an illusion; but causality is just as limitless as the infinite, and cannot be numerated; therefore it is the only reality.

Nirvana is naught, because it is all. Parabrahm is without consciousness and will, for Parabrahm is the absolute “world consciousness” and unconditioned will. The endless, beginningless and uncaused monad of Pythagoras is the primal cause of all; after creating the triad, the monad “dwelling in the darkness and silence” returns to its intangible and invisible abode. And yet, according to Proclus, it is the “eternal God,” and the entire universe gravitates around the monad. Jewish Kabbalists also point to their En-Sof, as something unconscious and not having will, for En- or Ain-Sof is self-causality, and the word Ain literally means the negation of the following word or nothing. “Spirit has no image and therefore it cannot be said that it exists,” teaches the Buddhist work, Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom).

“What is Nirvana?” asks the King Milinda of the arhat (the saint) Nagasena. “Why do the fruits of the four paths of virtue lead to Nirvana? What is the cause of its existence?”

“The path leading to Nirvana can be indicated, but its cause is unknown,” answers the sage.


“Because it is causality itself. That which constitutes Nirvana is beyond all formulation... Outside of itself, it is a mystery beyond reach by the human mind. It is not seen with eyes, or heard with ears, or smelled with nose, or tasted with tongue, or felt with body.”

“Therefore, Nirvana does not exist, o, Nagasena, does it?”

“Great king! It does not exist, but Nirvana is...”

But it's time to return to the world of “illusion” and go back to the pillar of Ashoka…



  1. Moscow News, No. 154, 05.06.1880, pp. 4-5; Russian Herald, January 1883, Supplement, vol 165, pp. 262-298. In V. Johnston edition here starts the chapter “Jabalpur” and the letter was translated partly, so from this letter and until the end of the book text translated by O. Fyodorova.
  2. Now Jabalpur. – Tr.
  3. See History of territories acquired by the East India Company, Ed. Thornton.
  4. The word “thug” simply means a thief or a robber.
  5. Another name of the same goddess: the Thugs called her Bhavani.
  6. The widow's sons are Freemasons; the self–designation of the Brotherhood of Freemasons, derived from the words from the Book of Kings III (7:14): "Нe was the son of a widow from the tribe of Naphtali," referring to Master Hiram, the builder of the first Jerusalem temple. – Ed.
  7. And company = and alike. – Ed.
  8. A famous yogi and miracle worker of the 2nd century BC.
  9. The ability to become weightless or lighter than air. – Tr.
  10. The ability to become infinitely heavy and be immovable by anyone or anything. – Tr.
  11. The Principles and Practices of Medical Jurisprudence by A. Swaine Taylor, M.D. F.R.S. etc., vol. II, 1873, p. 5.
  12. Job 38:4,17. – Ed.
  13. Turban. – Tr.
  14. In the style of Francis I (Fr.). Francis I (1494-1547) was a king of France sicnce 1515. – Ed.
  15. All towns of India, where only the British live, are divided into black and white ones. In the latter, Indians are not allowed to live.
  16. Vetiver, a perennial bunchgrass of the family Poaceae. – Tr.
  17. The British are imbued with the dead letter of the formalism of their national centuries-old customs to such an extent, that from the very first days of their establishment in India until 1869, they did not even think, regarding the climatic conditions, to adapt to the latter, although in the external environment of the proceedings, judges and lawyers were forced to wear huge powdered wigs in this scorching atmosphere! Finally, once in the summer of 1869, the head judge in Allahabad, feeling that he was passing out, impulsively threw off his wig ... In one second all the other wigs flew off after the judge’s. No word was spoken. Knowing that changing the age-old order is unthinkable, they, as if conspiring, were silent and are still silent. The law on wigs is not repealed; but when they enter the courtroom, at the opening of the meeting, everyone silently takes off their wigs, and after prescription, the innovation is in turn made a law.
  18. Punkah is a large fan. They are arranged in every room, especially in the bedrooms, otherwise you can suffocate. These are thick, quilted panels, stretched over the entire width of the room under the ceiling, sometimes in several rows; they are driven by ropes threaded through the wall onto the veranda. Behind the wall, pankavalli (coolies) sit day and night tirelessly swinging these punkahs, they are replaced every two hours. It is impossible to write during their movement: everything flies around the room, punkahs produce a constant hurricane in miniature and sometimes one can catch a cold due to perspiration.
  19. The word “здоровее” which HPB had used here have several meanings: more healthy, larger, stronger, bigger. – Ed.
  20. Purana means in itself “ancient” or “old.” This is a collection of the most ancient religious legends of the country, highly revered by the natives.
  21. As a chief (Fr.). – Ed.
  22. From Ancient Greek Πράσιοι (Prásioi). An ancient tribe of India, whose capital was Palimbothra. – Tr.
  23. Chandragupta Maurya (Sandrocottus in Greek) was the founder of the Maurya Empire in ancient India; he reigned in 322-298 BCE. – Tr.
  24. Adhering to the phonetic system, I write the names as they are pronounced, not spelled.
  25. Hiuen Tsang, Xuanzang (602-664) is known for his epoch-making contribution to Chinese Buddhism, for traveling to India in 629-645, bringing to China more than 657 texts of the Buddhist canon of Tripitaka in Sanskrit and translating 1330 works into Chinese. – Ed.
  26. A lakka – 100,000 rupees.
  27. Glacis is the front slope of the defensive embankment. – Ed.
  28. Reginald Heber (1783-1826) was an English Anglican bishop of Calcutta (1807-1826). After graduation from Oxford University he made an extended tour of Scandinavia, Russia and Central Europe. – Ed.
  29. Turnour is a Pali translator of this undoubtedly oldest of all Ceylon manuscripts – “the history of Buddhism, Mahavanza”.
  30. For verification, please compare my translation with the translation in The Journal of The Asiatic Society, vol. 6, part 2, 1837. The difference is small.
  31. The Journal of the Asiatic Society also translates: “anointment of consecration.” The Buddhist high priest in Ceylon, Sumangala, explains to me in a letter the phrase that Piyadasi was the first to order anointing himself again when adopting Buddhism in the name of these seven main virtues.
  32. The presence of the name of God in the Buddhist inscription gave sanskritists plentiful material for debate. “Buddhists are atheists; they do not believe in either God or the immortality of the human soul,” many of them say. “This expression of Piyadasi is a memory of the old religion, and is wrong.” I allow myself to express full confidence that this opinion is completely erroneous. A Buddhist, if he is only educated and familiar with the Sutras, the pure philosophy of the Buddha, believes both in a deity – true, impersonal – and in the afterlife. My conviction is not based on my own speculation, but on a five-year constant correspondence with learned Buddhists of Ceylon and Burma, members of the Theosophical Society. The fault is not Buddhism, if until now our scientists could not understand either its subtle metaphysics, or the abstractions of the latter.
  33. Greatest good (Lat.). – Ed.
  34. With the watchword (Fr.). – Ed.
  35. See Trubner’s American and Oriental Literary Record (October 16, 1869).