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Jean Bies - Returning to the Essential

Jean Bies - Returning to the Essential

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What have we come looking for? Everything we have lost or forgot-
ten, everything that has been hidden or stolen from us.
First of all, the way to be less unhappy. You’re thinking that I am
alluding to the concentration of misery and illnesses that transform
India into a 1,269,346 square mile esplanade similar to the one in
Lourdes. It is true that in the game of comparison the whining
Westerner is instantaneously overjoyed with his lot in life. But the
spectacle is so familiar to us that soon we won’t even notice it. It is
the weight, the shackles of our cerebral activity that I am thinking
of. We have realized that overly intellectual activity only leads to the
barren juggling of ideas, inexorable desiccation and disenchant-
ment, and does not resolve any problems but incites new ones, mul-
tiplies and sharpens them, embrangles the approach to truth,
excludes all certitudes and condemns to torment. So, some of us, at
least, have decided to get out of this vicious circle of dichotomies
and dialectics, tried to throw much of the cumbersome learning
overboard, to crack the mental ceiling that separates the worlds
where crucifixions are founded.
In India, we learn how to unlearn.
She teaches us a form of archaic synthetic thinking where each
symbol, each myth conceals an overlapping of meanings that unveil
their richness to the extent of each individual’s maturation, where-
as the mind of platitude desperately collides with the panes of glass
of literalism. This thought includes man in the visible and invisible,
personal and cosmic totality, makes him see the inside of things and
makes him see things from the inside. The traditional Easterner has
not cut himself off from his gods, his genies, his ancestors, that is to
say, he has not cut himself off from nature nor from himself: a
happy man because he is connected.
She also reveals to us that the options and opinions that we
believed to be opposites and for which we were capable of fighting
for to death are in reality the additional or successive aspects of a
diversified whole, the facets of one diamond seen from different



From The Pathways of Passion, 29.

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but equally admirable angles. With the same stroke, she opens the
oasis of tolerance.
She shows us that real life and practical experience should pre-
cede abstract speculations, seductive theories with their flashy style
and demonstration, but that destroy themselves mutually in heroic
scuffling in the empyrean of reason; and that, instead of striving in
vain to prove, for example, the existence or inexistence of God, it is
much better to realize the Self at the core of oneself. The “atheists”
then discover that, indeed, God does exist, the “believers,” that he
is not at all what they imagined. Thus, in India, we are also in quest
of the techniques of interiorization.
Interiorization does not eliminate the sensory or thinking activi-
ty of the manas, of the physical brain; it is happy to suspend it or
replace it in a more intricate ensemble, by bringing it to the limits
of its attributions, which make it inept at apprehending
Transcendence. It works in parallel at developing a special organ,
powerful in every man, known to every tradition, but that our edu-
cational system has abandoned to atrophy: buddhi, the seat of supe-
rior intuition, whose lightning burns antinomies, illuminates the
dens of “mysteries,” grants access to the planes of these subtle real-
ities that the manas, which fails at this, finds easier to deny. For thou-
sands of years, myriads of men have absorbed an intemporal
Wisdom that concerns the eternal human and whose main princi-
ple suggests above all the awakening of this organ of superior per-
ception, opening wide the Eye of Shiva.
We have also come here to look for the feminine and oriental
side of our being, to frolic among the irrational elements excluded
from decorum by planned training deliberately indifferent to the
arts and culture of the imponderable; training whose only goal is to
create docile citizens, conform them to bureaucratic rigidity, pro-
ductivity and consumerism, partial and divided against themselves,
therefore among themselves, and coached to kill the poet because
he is unlike them. India, on the contrary, throws us into the world
of a “fantastic realism,” the depths of which, in spite of the ratio-
nalist influences that stealthily invade it, she does not abandon. I am
not overly surprised that not so long ago, people still prosecuted so
called inanimate objects. Science has palpated the absence of water-
tightness between the existing conglomerates of solidary molecules,
traversed by the same fluids of a multi-degree conscious. On an
extremely fine level, the same complicity comes into play between a

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stone teeming with internal whirlwinds and the murderer who
flings it, and an equestrian and his mount. I am also not surprised
that in a country where no barriers have been erected between bor-
dering continents of drifting spaces, time is not more tightly
restricted in its common categories. It is poured over undifferenti-
ated layers, escapes dials, has secret rendezvous with eternity: each
one of the clocks on the four towers of New Delhi’s train station
indicates a different time.
India is a place of interferences selected among the officially
recorded and the unexplainable. Mischievous, elusive, the cosmic
Game steals the robes from Reason, while it basks in the crystal of
an Apollonian rigor, in a reassuring clarity that thinks it has fore-
seen everything. It exchanges weird winks with logicians who will
not admit that the framework of the universe, carved by divine
hands, chafes on their syllogisms or can escape the planes of their
system, which would like to square off mystery. In the south of
Ceylon—“the best island in the world,” Marco Polo said, because
Adam came from there—rises the peak that sports his name, that
can only be ascended with the help of chains. No one has ever been
able to explain why its shadow is always projected parallel to itself
instead of spreading over the surrounding valleys. Geometricians
do not get into Heaven.
We still see peasants who, by wiping their brow, rid themselves of
their woes by flinging them off the back of their hand onto the
wings of some charm destined for the neighboring land. That is why
the hills in India have terrible migraines. What is to be said of the
one who sleeps, gently lying on a bed of nails, like the Sybarites on
rose petals, and for whom d’Aubigné seems to have written the
verse: “The feathers of his bed, some sharp needles”? What is to be
said of these great hypnotic manipulators, capable of walking bare-
foot across burning embers, of renewing the freshness of a wilted
flower, of bringing a dead bird back to life, or of reiterating the mul-
tiplication of loaves of bread? What could the famous rope-trick be,
where the fakir, having thrown a rope into the air on which a young
boy climbs, joins him there, disappears into thin air, and as the
celestial butcher, drops the bloody limbs of his victim to the ground,
before finally setting the poor dismembered boy back on his feet
again? “Memory of a mystical ascent,” commented Mircea Eliade, of
a “magic flight” marking a rupture in the levels, followed by a dis-
membering and a resurrection whose shamanic origin has been

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proven. But this is hardly the dissection of the phenomenon, it is
only the paraphrase. Perhaps, as a figurative illusion in the univer-
sal Illusion, it does not exist any more than the reflected mirrors in
a hall of mirrors.

Magic? Marvelous? Naïvety? This is what we are hungry for.
Everything is too good to be true. We would like to fly along the for-
bidden edges of the miraculous, revive the unusual around us and
within us. Thus, we do not go to India just for finding the profile of
a mentality, which is equally a full face, or for reaching out to our
dejected affectivity; we are starting out in search of our uncon-
scious, of the one who knows what we do not know, and to whom we
can ask the most indiscrete questions about ourselves. India renews
our awareness of the mysterious signs that, invisibly connected to
one another, design in our inner firmaments figures that are as
strange as the lines joining the stars together; she hands us over to
the premonitory blinkings, stark synchronicities, everything that
parapsychology has patiently rediscovered and recognized as its
own; a parapsychology where the Greek prefix denoting marginali-
ty fades away to be replaced by the paraSanskrit that translates the
“uppermost” of things: a psychology that is no longer parallel to
admitted knowledge, but goes beyond official psychology—a
With one finger, India lifts the flagstone concealing the spiraled
pits of fantasizing, where dreams, the fluid statues of our anima,
open their seaweed mouths, speechlessly sending their messages,
back and forth between our own riverbanks. Not only does she use
dreams as introspective gondolas, she also knows the secret of prop-
erly traveling in complete lucidity in the land of satin, using the
mastery of self-controlled breathing articulated with the gong of the
OM to render the dreamer active in the bosom of passivity.
India takes us back to the instincts, including liberating us before
attempting to go any farther, to daydreaming, delirium—fantasia of
the imaginary—to the moving improvisations challenged by our
society with a scowl of principle. So, having just barely arrived, over
the hullabaloo of antitheses and the ditch of differences that never
completely die, we feel at home here. Not only does India give free-
dom to freedoms, but in the kaleidoscope of her images, of her fig-
ures, there are always several that correspond to us. The Holi
festival, where the crowd sprays itself with colored liquid, is the bur-
lesque projection of our concave carnivals. Amidst all these heads
dripping wet with paint, we recognize our own through the confet-

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ti of the conscious, and discover that the masks they are wearing
resemble us even more than our own faces.

That’s why more and more of us visit India—this vast underbelly
under an open sky; an ever more irresistible India as one gets
acquainted with her, because still more surprising; an India against
which, I concede, the weak risk being shattered. They say that the
Temple of the Sun, in Konarak, was built by a magician who impris-
oned a demon there; a demon who called the ships to him only to
be smashed there. The iron poles seen there are still considered to
be magnets creating a fake magnetic pole. When approaching the
Indian Sun, be careful not to lose your witsby sinking into the temp-
tations from which you cannot resurface. Once these obstacles have
been overcome, India enthralls, astonishes, exasperates as well;
India exhausts, inspires, disconcerts, but over all, more and more,
she seduces, circumvents, bewitches: India is an enveloping country.
I know: the real treasure is hidden in the house, “behind the
stove,” explains an old Hassidic tale; it is always nearby, in the inti-
macy of our heart: what good is it to run all over the world? You will
quote the Tao te Ching: “Without ever leaving the house, one knows
the universe”; and yet: “The farther one goes, the less one knows.”
However, it is only at the end of a long and pious journey that you
will know the way and where the treasure lies; and it is frequently a
stranger, a man of a different tongue, of another tradition, who
reveals the exact topography to us.
Traveling in India is therefore the greatest favor you can do for
yourself; it requires nothing except a bit of English, a little bit of
money, the least amount of luggage, but demands a sound interior
attitude, which is neither that of a mocking tourist nor a laughable
conqueror, but that of the pilgrim or supplicant. It is not about
coming here to judge from above, compare, condemn, curse the
food, the din, the disorder, the waste of time and energy, curse the
climate or the castes, deplore the administrative stiffness, the lack of
reaction to physical suffering, denounce the filth and corruption; it
is about becoming a beggar in the land of beggars. If we progress
with an unhampered spirit, are ready for the ordeals, equal in joy
and sorrow, India will give us much more than anything promised
in travel agency brochures, more than everything we dared or not
to expect from her. India only reveals herself to us when we leave
our arrogance at the doorstep with our sandals.

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Will so many pilgrimages to the source end up transforming the
European’s intelligence, his approach to problems, his sensitivity,
his behavior? Will the water he brings home with him completely
leak out of his suitcases when he opens them? Of all the thousands
of pilgrims, it seems unbelievable that none of them have brought
to the march of the West anything that is susceptible to slowly mod-
ifying the aspect of certain fields. These annual stampedes tend to
remind us of the Greeks’ visits to the initiates from Egypt, orRome’s
sojourns among the Athenian philosophers to acquire the wisdom
he lacked. As a matter of fact, the East has already penetrated us
everywhere—a possibility for us to re-become what we were in our
highest moments, to recover an identity: our civilization has forgot-
ten that it, too, was eastern. Prepare for a lot of waste, enormous
deviations; but I am sure that a few seeds, a few possibilities will dig
their way through to us. So, it is likely that a new civilization will be
inaugurated, one capable of harmonizing masculine and feminine,
reason and intuition, conscious and unconscious, reconciling by the
highest and thus regenerating the two halves of the planet.
You have read in the Svetashvatara Upanishadthe parable about
the two birds: in a tree, image of the world, one is eating fruit and
the other one is watching him eat. Numerous commentaries gar-
land this parable. But it appears to me that if the two birds repre-
sent the migrating soul and the liberated soul, it can be said—since
these texts apply to all levels—that they also symbolize the two
halves of ourselves, and consequently, the two parts of the world:
the West dedicated to Action, Having and Becoming, the East, open
to Contemplation and the Being. Classic and succinct distinction
whose appropriateness only imperfectly follows the details of the
two profiles, but is not any less significant at the level of respective
“vocations.” “East is East,” said Kipling, who had not yet pierced the
common core of humanity. That reminds me of the Gospels in
Latin: Est est, “That which is, is.” Not only have I relished the pleas-
ure of aloes wood; I have found a confirmation, taken precisely
from the “language of the birds.” L’Est is.L’Est (in the English sense
of the East) is the country of Being. This is undoubtedly why it can
be said without any clinking of words that the Occident is interest-
ed in the “accident” and that Asia obviously favors “Aseity.”1

Returning to the Essential: Selected Writings of Jean Biès



Translator’s Note: The play on words in this passage stems from est, third person
present of the Latin verb sum(to be), and est, third person present of the French
verb être(to be). L’Estis French for the East.

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