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Letter XXV[1]

The peoples of India do not do anything by half: they are either great fanatics, or absolute atheists. Their love, like their hatred, is limitless, and when a Hindu calls you, without being forced, a “brother” or “friend,” it is not an empty phrase. All of our companions were “reformers” (as they are called here) and long ago broke all ties with the Brahmins and sects, but on the other hand, all of them were mystics, believing in the higher spiritual development of a man, convinced that such a development could put the latter almost on a level with deity, if he is really worthy. But along with the pure fanatics and well-educated, highly exalted (like Narayan) mystics new recruits from the ranks of the students of Charles Bradlaugh[2] and Lewes[3] school are added to the crowd of “free thinkers” (as they call themselves) every year. Over the past decade, something phenomenal has been happening due to the “beneficent” influence of (rather purely English rather than Western) upbringing: all the students in urban schools and colleges graduate from them being irrevocably atheistic. Exceptions are extremely rare.

The policy of Britain is never and under any pretext to interfere in the purely religious issues of the conquered country. One might, of course, suspect that such a rule is the result of cowardice rather than liberalism of the Government; but in one respect it turns out to be very reasonable: it serves as a kind of “balm” to some extent for the country’s sore political wounds. In various ways, the Anglo-Indian newspapers, headed by “The Pioneer,” constantly remind their readers that “the British government is completely incapable of ever introducing an element of religious hypocrisy into the sphere of its firmly outlined policy.”

Following the golden rule, and also, perhaps, in order not to offend the “Christian feelings” of their dignitaries, all the positions of presidents, directors and “principals” of native colleges are given to inveterate materialists carefully chosen for this purpose. For their great responsibility, such positions are always both honourable and profitable, and it is clear that they are reserved solely for the English; for a native, were he a thousand times more learned than his principal, such a position is inaccessible.

On the other hand, missionaries of various sects, whose name is legion, are not allowed to enter any college. As a result of the above policy, they associate with the very slums of society, the pariahs and mangs not admitted to the Brahmin sects. In constant struggle and quarrels among themselves, in order to annoy each other, they literally buy their converts: the pariahs and mangs, devil worshipers or people without any religion, will all convert to any religion for money, and often for a piece of bread. We can probably say that there is not a single Hindu converted to Christianity who would not be a thief, a swindler, a bitter drunkard, and sometimes a murderer. Missionary work in India is the greatest profanation of Christianity. No European family will hire such converts on any account. Missionaries open their own schools, but these schools, as well as their results, are nothing but a farce. Avid for free teaching, the Hindus send their children to the padre only from five to seven, at the most up to eight years of age; after this, children who have barely learned to read are usually married; once married young spouses are, of course, difficult to lure back to school. All further hopes for voluntary conversion are dashed...

The organization of this business is even more disheartening with the Catholics. The rich Jesuit college of St. Xavier in Bombay having their own funds, instead of enlightening the people, dispelling the darkness of ignorance and teaching young pagans, merely confuses them completely. Students of the notorious college graduate from it, really having a complete contempt for the faith and customs of their ancestors – an ordinary system and a well-known trick of the sons of Loyola; but on the other hand, they harbor an even stronger, if possible, hatred for the Roman Catholic, if not for the Christian faith in general. Not finding the opportunity in English India to resort to violent conversions so beloved by them, the Jesuit fathers appear here under such a cynical, disgusting shell, so grossly perverting the already shaky notions of the native boys about truth and honour, that under their supposedly Christian rule they end up with worse results than under the free-thinking direction of such atheist scholars as the principals, for example, of the Bombay and Lahore colleges. Last year one of them constantly instilled in his students, who had long gone mad with Huxley and Tyndale, the famous dictum of Professor Clifford: “If it is fair to call any doctrine immoral, then it is more just to point to the one that recognizes that providence or fate beyond ourselves can overcome a person as the most immoral”[4] or, in other words, the doctrine recognizing any power above that of the person himself. Some critics, more discerning than others, tried to explain the professor's insistence on this phrase as a political goal. “The English (one young man told me, smiling venomously) have conceived a cunning trick; they, apparently, want to instill in us the idea that they and they alone are providence and the omnipotent, all-destructive, as well as the re-creating, hand that governs the destinies of our people. From our gods, as well as from the God of the padre, we, apparently, have nothing to expect...”

Therefore, from a psychological point of view, India is an unusually curious spectacle. With the exception of a handful of “reformers,” it is divided into two opposing camps: fanatics and ultra-skeptics. The first, full of religious superstition, see the deity in everything: in a tiger, in a cow and its tail, in a tree, a raven and in every reptile; the latter, no less full of what I permit myself to call scientific superstition, deny everything except matter. What their ancestors considered an immortal soul, “young India” sees only the result of the interaction of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, something that exists only as a result of combinations of these elements and disappears with the disappearance of the causes, that is, gases. Man is a child of cosmic gas, a “fiery cloud,” they repeat after Tyndall; there are “not only coarser images of being, not only the delightful and wonderful mechanism of the human body in the gas, but even the very human mind, intellect, will and all their manifestations ... all our philosophy, all our poetry, all our science and all our art, Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Raphael – all this is in it in a latent and potential state...”

“Wonderful are your creations, oh, Tyndale!” – exclaim the young Hindus in chorus, worshiping this luminary of science.

In spite of all this, both parties, orthodox and atheistic, are very hostile to their rulers. The party of the ardent fanatics, madly exalted by the Brahmins, of course, will never reconcile at their heart with the Government, which gives them in their own country only negative advantages over the missionaries of the religion they hate. The camp of the materialists, annually enlarged with a number of Hindus graduate who have brilliantly finished their studies, thrown into the ocean of life by these universities and colleges literally without a boat and a compass, without hopes in this life – as a result of the politics that removes them from any participation in governing the country and without hopes for a future life, in which our Asian admirers of the European “apostles of reason” are ashamed to believe (as their foolish ancestors did). All that is left for them in life is zero. That is why we find them in the last quarter of the 19th century paraphrasing in every way the well-known saying of the Epicureans: “Let's eat, drink and have fun ... for tomorrow we will all turn into carbonic acid, water and ammonia!”

Allowing myself this preface, I do not deviate from my story. I only wish to present to the Russian readers the kind of India Britain has made of it, and prepare them thereby for the clearest understanding of discussions, which we had more than once with the learned Pandits[5]. Upon learning of our arrival, these Pandits and native philosophers began visiting us in whole parties; some of them came on purpose to visit us from Benares. They all spoke excellent English; everyone, like our friend Shamrao, have read Moleschott and Buchner, knew and, most importantly, understood Herbert Spencer, Lewes and John Stuart Mill; raved about Huxley and Tyndall and worshiped Darwin in the person of his prophet Haeckel. They failed, like our naive Shamrao, to choose from this scholarly muddle the ideas most suitable for the ancient philosophies of their homeland, to discard everything else and reserve one's own opinion. They did not even preserve a spark of that inextinguishable and indestructible faith, which cannot be extinguished by any Buchners: faith in the supreme power and the afterlife. No matter how distorted this belief is sometimes, no matter how ridiculous a poor, half-educated and at the same time over-educated Shamrao is, who calls his medley of Manu and Haeckel “the latest religious philosophy,” but listening to the learned ravings of the Allahabad and Benares Pandits, we made comparisons between them, certainly not in favour of the latter.

When we returned from the Baba Sandasi, we found a huge company of Pandits at Professor Batacharya’s place. They stayed with us in the garden long after midnight. We came from America to study the philosophy of their ancient and modern religions, and they came to oggle with genuine amazement at the “Westerners” who have stupidity and madness preferring Kapila and Patanjali to Huxley and Tyndall, the philosophy of Manu and Buddhism to the positivism of Auguste Comte. Having renounced all faith, they nevertheless did not dare to abandon the caste and its demands. Ashamed to carry even the hidden image of any deity in the depths of their hearts, they shamelessly exposed the sexual symbols of Shiva and Vishnu in red and white paint on their foreheads. They laughed at everything divine and at the same time feared the people and public opinion. Doesn't the same often happen with us in Europe?

The conversation, of course, turned to their ancient philosophy, to Rishis, Yogis and Ascetics. The Pandits threw aside all restraint and, with pride deserving of a better cause, began to reveal to us all the moral sores inflicted on them and then constantly aggravated by the same skillful hand of their English “principals”. “Could we really be interested in the nonsense of ancient metaphysicians and theologians?” they asked. “Who, except prudes, fakirs, and crazy ascetics can still see any meaning, for example, in a triple deity? The Baba Sandasi is an old fool, and the fakirs who get into the Ganges for purifying from sins and remain under water until they recite the mantras three times, risking drowning in it, should be placed in the working house by the Government...”

Our arguments and contradictions irritated some of them terribly. One stately Hindu draped in a white and gold shawl, with gold rings on all toes, a huge Vishnu sign on his forehead and in gold pince-nez (!), finally turned to me with a direct question:

“Do you, having lived so long in America, the homeland of Thomas Paine, still believe in any deity?”

“I confess, I do, and I do not at all hide such an ignorant weakness,” followed my answer.

“And in the "soul" of a person?” asked he with a restrained grin.

“Yes, in the soul; and surprisingly, even in an immortal spirit...”

The young master, nervously playing with the rings on his toes, asked a new question, quite original this time.

“So, in your opinion, Huxley is a charlatan and a fool, isn’t he?”

In turn, I had to oggle.

“Why is that?” I asked the pince-nez.

“Because either he is an authority recognized by everyone, and he knows what he is talking about, or he is a charlatan who talks about what he does not understand...”

“I do not only recognize Huxley,” I said, “as a naturalist, physiologist and scientist, but also acknowledge his learning, respecting him as one of the greatest authorities of our time, that is, in everything concerning the purely physical sciences; but as a philosopher I have a rather low opinion of him.”

“But it is difficult to contradict logical conclusions based on facts ... Have you read his article in the Fortnightly Review about “human automatism?”

“I think I have ... and I remember some of his amazing sophisms ... But what about it?”

“Now look here! In it the professor undeniably proved that man is no more than a conscious and self-conscious automatic machine,[6] adding to this in his Lay Sermons that man is “the most cunning clock device of nature,”[7] but no more.”

I was getting a little tired of this arguing; I looked at Gulab Lal Singh. He was sitting, frowning, not interfering with the conversation until that time. Knowing his contempt for modern materialism, I wanted to make him join the discussion. As if understanding my idea, he immediately rushed to help me.

“Let me answer you for our guest, Pandit-sahib. I have read the article you are referring to very recently, and I, perhaps, have preserved in my memory the learned sophisms of Huxley; I am ready to give you the sharpest of them. Indeed, Huxley calls man an “automatic machine” and “a clock device of nature” ... But the point is not in the expression itself, but in whether he managed to prove what he said? I say and prove that not only did he fail to do so, but that he contradicts his own words in the most childish way...”

The “pince-nez”[8] simply jumped at such blasphemy against science.

“How? Where does the great Huxley contradict himself?.. Will you point out and explain?”

“If you will, I will explain and point out, and, really, nor will it be very difficult. You forget that, having crushed the dignity of a person with the epithet “automatic machine,” perhaps out of regret for the public that is not yet mature enough for his great ideas, for the small weaknesses of the minor and not learned fraternity, that is, those who (in Herbert Spencer's language) “cannot keep up with the modern rapid movement of conquerors on the basis of natural history and therefore lagging behind the physical sciences,” – Huxley immediately and condescendingly adds something very strange. Calling a person an “automatic machine,” he, meanwhile, generously admits that this machine “is gifted to a certain extent with free will, since in many cases a person is able to act in accordance with his own desires...[9] Isn't that so, if you remember?”

“It seems so ...” the pince-nez declared embarrassedly.

“And if so, then we must think that this slip of the tongue is only for the sake of general prejudice and is offered by the professor to the public in the form of sugar on a bitter pill; because otherwise it turns out that our Huxley, the greatest of modern scientists, simply contradicts himself ... And yet even you have to agree that man is gifted with free will, haven’t you?..”

“Of course I have. But where do you see here such a great contradiction?”

“Is it really not completely clear to you that by this addition, by this just apparently slip of the tongue, Huxley, like the Japanese suicide, is laying violent hands on himself, as well as on his theory, and that the expression “automaton” so cleverly invented by him is through this unfortunate for him slip of the tongue, sheer absurdity?.. At first, according to him, a man in the literal sense, and no less than a frog and a rabbit, is nothing more than an “automation machine” who has no will of his own; then it is assumed that this automation machine in certain cases can act at its own discretion and, finally, that its “will should be accepted as a condition influencing the course of affa thinking and free-willed being irs (Physical Basis of Life). As a result, it turns out that a person, after this learned explanation, remains the same as he always was, that is, a. This free-willed “automation machine” is interesting and certainly unexpected news in the physical sciences, as his opponent Dr. Elam has observed. Because neither a skeptic nor a believer can ever think that free will is anything other than the simple property of acting on one's own will!.. Thus, the “automation machine” crumbles to dust, and we see that it would not be a bad idea for Huxley to learn logic from our Kanada and other philosophers whom you so despise.”

“Fine ... let's assume that you are right in this ...” muttered the dumbfounded scholar. “But let's take another example ... Tyndall, who says essentially the same thing: "Matter and matter alone contains all the promises, all the power of earthly existence!" – announced he in 1874 to the most selective and learned public in the world, at the Belfast meeting. This happy expression: "In matter I discern the promise and potency of all terrestrial life," having aroused the anger of all backward dreamers at Tyndall, has now spread all over the world ... it has become the real slogan of physics!..”

“You can add that it was in vain that the whole believing world was in awe. Like Huxley, Tyndall himself in another lecture refutes his “happy expression.” Would you like to have a glimpse at his Scientific Materialism, a reply to (Dr. Martino's) criticism of this very expression that made the world bristle up? There he quite clearly recognizes that our inner “consciousness” belongs “to a completely different class of phenomena, of which the relationship with physical science is inconceivable,” (?!) and right there, dividing the phenomena of nature into two, not one class, the venerable materialist begins to talk about that (between both classes) abyss, which cannot be crossed and which will “remain forever intellectually impossible ...” Alas! Where is it now? Where has this notorious omnipotence of his matter disappeared?

The Pandits exchanged glances. They were seemingly stunned. It was sad and insulting to hear how two patriarchs of science, such as Huxley and Tyndall, are accused of not knowing what they want to teach others, and not being able to intercede for these prophets of positive sciences. Our party felt triumphant...

“And now,” Thakur continued, “let me, in turn, quote the words of another no less scientist and just as famous as those two scientists, a naturalist, in confirmation of the fragility of their theories. Remember what Dubois-Reymond says about the phenomenon of consciousness: “It remains completely and forever incomprehensible that a given number of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen could be to science otherwise than unconditionally passive (indifferent) to their position and movements, and this is in the past, the present, as well as in the future.” These words, in addition, are quoted by Tyndall himself.[10] And to them, already in his own words, he adds the following: “Continuity between molecular processes and phenomena of consciousness ... is a rock on which materialism is destined to inevitably break with each of its claims to be considered the complete philosophy of human mind” ... And despite this full confession in one article, in another article On Scientific Materialism (p. 419) he without hesitation talks about “relationship of physics to consciousness” as something “unchanging” and positive...”

“In this he is supported by all other authorities of science ...” the Pandits have already timidly put the word in, “and Virchow too ...”

“Far from all,” the colonel interrupted the disputants, “but only a few, and they are not numerous.”

“And, really, no more than the most superficial acquaintance with physiology and pathology is required,” added Gulab Lal Singh, “in order to come to the conviction that not only “unchanging”, but even exceptional relations hardly could be found in pure physics or even in physiology, less in purely psychological phenomena ... As for Virchow, he, having blown up Haeckel's Anthropogeny, at the same time (albeit indirectly) also blew up those who so ardently supported that work when it appeared.”

“It’s a pity,” muttered the Pandit in the pince-nez, “because in this case Virchow runs counter the authority of one of the greatest thinkers of his homeland, namely Büchner. But Büchner himself says in Kraft und Stoff (p. XXVII. Preface): "Naturalists have long proved that, with the exception of physical, chemical and mechanical forces, there are no other forces in nature".”

“I have no doubt that Büchner says this, as well as that you have an excellent memory,” replied Thakur mockingly. “Yes, he tells a lot! For example, he seems to be repeating the words of our Manu: "Matter is the beginning of everything that exists; all the natural and mental forces of nature are inherent in it (p. 32). Nature, all-generating and all-devouring, is its own beginning and end, birth and death. It produced man by its own power and takes him back to itself…" (p. 88). But Manu, saying the same,[11] with one simple statement that everything visible originates from an invisible but conscious force, stands in relation to logic, like philosophy, a hundredfold higher than all past and future Büchners. Everyone knows what some natural scientists and so-called philosophers assure us saying that apart from this triple material force there are no other forces in nature. But I positively reject that they have ever proved their hypotheses by real facts of science...

“But really, in the 19th century, do we prefer Büchner and Huxley to Manu?”

“Why don’t we, if Manu essentially teaches the same thing as Western modern scholars? You cannot but agree that Manu anticipates in his teaching almost everything that Messrs. evolutionists – “the apostles of reason” – preach in the world, presenting their theories as something completely new. If Manu also succeeds in what these apostles of matter break off at, and therefore deny it, that is, if he logically proves the need for a connection between spirit and matter and through the mouth of Patanjali[12] confirms this connection by experimental demonstrations of the very dual nature of man – of this highest secret of spirit and matter – then I positively affirm that Manu is incomparably higher than modern science, at least in everything concerning both purely spiritual nature and human physiology.”

“Do you really advise us to return to idolatry?” followed an ironic question.

“Not at all. Our ancient philosophers never taught us to worship idols. In addition, it would be in vain to advise you this, when you are already paying honour to Vishnu and Shiva and other gods, still not erasing their signs from your face ... If you have already decided to discard all the customs of antiquity, then why don't you part with these pagan signs?”

“This ... this is the custom of the caste ... and has nothing to do with belief in idols,” muttered very confused Pandits.

“Why does it not? Have you forgotten or never knew that castes, according to the teachings of the Brahmins, were founded by the gods themselves; that the gods are the first to obey the caste, and the faces of the idols are adorned every day with the signs of their particular sect?” Thakur importuned them.

“But our best philosophers,” argued the Pandits, “probably wore those signs ... If we believe Darwin and Haeckel, then perhaps only because these scientists supplement and fully develop the materialistic views of Kapila and Manu. Kapila’s Sankya, for example, is no less atheistic philosophy than Haeckel's Anthropogeny.”

“You probably forgot the teachings of Kapila ... Where Haeckel sees power and creativity in matter alone, Kapila considers it unthinkable to attribute anything to prakriti[13] without the assistance of purusha[14]. He compares them – prakriti with a man with healthy legs, but eyeless and headless, and purusha with a creature with eyes and a brain, but without legs and unable to move. In order for the world to be able to develop and finally produce man, purusha (spirit) had to sit on the shoulders of the headless prakriti (matter), and only then it became endowed with the consciousness of life and thought, and purusha received the ability to move prakriti’s legs and declare its own existence. If purusha is powerless in its statements and is, as it were, a non-existent abstraction not supported by an objective form of prakriti, then the latter is even worse. Without the assistance of spirit and its informing action, prakriti is just a heap of lifeless manure...”

“We have heard that you are also interested in ancient Zoroastrianism,” another Pandit pestered me. “What is your opinion about the Sun as a deity – Surya?”

“It is better, in my opinion, to believe even in Surya than in nothing. The Sun, which warms and feeds us, giving life to all earthly nature, is much better than Büchner and the members of the Royal Society, to whom you perform “puja,” as to some deities...”

“But if you believe in Surya, why not return at once to belief in all thirty-three million of our ancient gods – in Kali, Krishna and even Hanuman?”

“But I do not advise you to believe in this or that at all,” I defended myself. “I say in comparison and repeat that, in my opinion, it is better to believe even in Hanuman than, for example, in Bathybius Haeckelii or in the mythical tailless anthropoid that Haeckel grants us as our ancestors...”

“He proves what he says ... Haeckel begins the evolution of being from the first atoms and logically develops a gradual transformation from the original protoplasm...”

“So let him develop. And in my opinion mucus and all the protoplasm of Messrs. Okena and Haeckel are no smarter than the primitive mud and monsters with which Berosius populates this mud in his ancient tale of the world creation...”

The Pandits finally left, being completely assured that we were ignorant retrogrades.

“Well, what sweet learned “young India” you’ve got!” said the colonel. “I have a positive headache from their nonsense...”

“For this, you should be grateful to the English,” replied the Thakur, “but it is unfair to call us to account for the sins of others.



  1. Moscow News, No. 179, 30.06.1880, pp. 2-3; Russian Herald, January 1883, Supplement, vol. 165, pp. 305-318.
  2. Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891) was an English political activist and atheist, who founded in 1866 the National Secular Society, that promotes secularism and the separation of church and state. – Ed.
  3. George Henry Lewes (1817-1878) was a British writer, philosopher, who spoke from the positions of positivism, Darwinism and religious skepticism. – Ed.
  4. Fortnightly Review, December, 1874, p. 730.
  5. Pandit is a Ph.D. degree in India.
  6. Fortnightly Review, November 1874, p. 577.
  7. Lay Sermons, p. 164.
  8. H. P. Blavatsky ironically calls the pundit not “a man in pince-nez”, but simply “pince-nez” as if making him an inanimate object, that is, someone who does not have free will and his own opinion. – Ed.
  9. Fortnightly Review, ibid., p. 577.
  10. Fortnightly Review, November 1875, p. 585.
  11. “From his own (Brahma) essence, the world ether is condensed – the materialization of his will, visible and invisible, tangible and intangible matter, decomposing by his breath into fire, water, earth and air. From the vapours of the earth (breath of Brahma) arise all creatures and substances, organic and inorganic, from a seed thrown into the ground, fertilized by the divine spirit and born from his own infinite and eternal substance – the universal seed” (sloka XV) … “Giving the world time to develop according to the laws of rebirth (evolution), the Supreme Lord, fertilizing after each pralaya (periodic world destruction, or, more correctly, the disappearance of the world from the objective to the subjective) the radiant egg of nature, at the end of its rebirths (transformations) again plunges into the soul of the universe – Parabrahm” (Manu, Book I). Brahma is the universal embodiment of Parabrahm, god in the form of nature. Spirit, invisible and without any image, informs only the radiant womb (egg), from which the bisexual Brahma, or the creative power of Parabrahm, appears at the beginning of each new cycle.
  12. Patanjali is the founder of the system of yogism and psychological development of a person through a gradual change in his physical nature.
  13. Prakriti is the plastic matter, nature in its chaotic and latent state.
  14. Purusha is the intangible spirit and does not manifest itself in nature, except through prakriti or matter, which it informs.