In my youth, Aubrey Menen was one of the best known Indian writers in English. One of his books that made a deep impression on me was “ The Space within the Heart”, published, I think, for the first time in 1970. Editions were repeated more than once and I see that Penguin has published another edition in 1991. I have not been able to locate it in Kindle and I have been scouring net libraries to read it once more.
This book is an autobiography of sorts, wherein the author peels layer after layer of his personality, going back into the past and the incidents that made up his life in a non- judgmental manner to finally arrive at “the space within his heart”, which, in Advaita, is the abode of Consciousness, which is all that exists.
Aubrey Menen lived the last few years of his life in Trivandrum, the place where I presently live. Born of Malayali-Irish parents, Menen’s writings are imbued with a sense of wonder and of curiosity about the human being and how he relates to nature and the universe. “Men of all races”, he said, “have always sought for a convincing explanation for their own astonishing excellence and they have frequently found what they were looking for.” “ The Space within the Heart”, arguably his best work and a major contribution to the world of Indian English literature, is his personal quest into the source of his excellence.
Aubrey Menen, like many other distinguished seekers of their spiritual roots, was deeply influenced by a mystic philosopher of the time, Atmananda Krishna Menon, who left an imprint not merely on the earnest seekers of his times, but is considered today by non-dual philosophers in the West, as one of the three great masters of the 21st century, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj being the others.
While the Ramana Ashram continues to attract thousands from across the world and while Nisargadatta Maharaj was introduced to the world by Paul Brunton first and then by banker turned writer,Ramesh Balsekar, Atmananda Krishna Menon is little known in his home State, even though he continues to be venerated in the West. I have asked a few prominent persons in Trivandrum, including the local MP, but all of them, without exception, expressed ignorance about him. Still, he is recognised widely as a guru who rose above the narrow limitations of religion, like the other two. As Philip Reynard, in his book “ ‘I’ is a Door”, written in Dutch, says of the three, “All three teachers…are free from whatever religious scheme, therefore making them in particular suitable as a source of teaching for Westerners.I consider these three, Ramana Maharshi, Atmananda and Nisargadatta Maharaj as the ‘Big Three’ of the twentieth century Advaita Vedanta. To me, they are the ones that reduced Vedanta to the heart of the matter: direct recognition of your true nature.”
Paul Brunton, British writer of spiritual books, was the author of best seller “A Search in Secret India” and also “The Secret Path” based on his travels across the length and breadth of India and his encounters with spiritual masters. Paul Brunton (pseudonym of Raphael Hurst), came and stayed in Trivandrum in 1952 to meet Krishna Menon and then again met him in 1953 at Bangalore. He wrote, “ Only in Krishna Menon, I find full satisfaction. It took me, however, four years from the time of meeting him, to be absolutely certain that he was the perfect guru I sought ….Instead of enjoining celibacy, Krishna Menon rejects it. Moreover, he counsels disciples to become married, for love can be a means of helping spiritual growth, since it leads to self- forgetfulness in the happiness of the other person. If rightly used, passion gets transcended, like and affection replacing it. That in time leads to pure love which no longer requires physical contact or sight.”
Another visitor was Joseph Campbell, famous mythologist, celebrated author of “ A Hero with a Thousand Faces” and the brain behind the famous documentary, “ The Power of Myth”, produced by George Lucas of “Star Wars” fame. Campbell met Krishna Menon in 1955. In his words, “ Once in India I thought I would like to meet a major guru or teacher face to face. So I went to see a celebrated teacher named Sri Krishna Menon…” Campbell’s question to him was why there was so much bestiality, vulgarity, brutality in the world if the universe is itself a manifestation of divinity. Would it not mean that even the base elements in the world are manifesting divinity? Atmananda replied, “ For you and me, the way is to say yes”. We then had a wonderful talk on this theme of affirmation of all things he said. “And it confirmed me in the feeling I had that who are we to judge? It seems to me that this is one of the great teachings also of Jesus.” He describes his conversation with Krishna Menon in greater detail in his book “Baksheesh and Brahman: Indian Journal 1945-1955”.
Krishna Menon was an outstanding student. He passed matriculation
examination, standing first in the State of Travancore, then completed his FA examination, appeared for the BA degree examination as a private candidate even while working as a schoolteacher. He was drafted into the Police as the then Police Commissioner wanted promising new entrants into the force. He later acquired the degree of Bachelor of Law, which resulted in his being made a Prosecuting Inspector from where he was promoted as ASP, Kottayam. He was devoted to his work and revised and codified the Police Manual. He retired from the Police in1939 as the District Superintendent of Police in erstwhile Quilon. He had married Parukutty Amma, who understood her husband’s spiritual quest and supported him until the end of her life in 1952.
Unlike Ramana Maharshi, Atmananda was not one who renounced the life of a householder right from childhood. In this respect, he resembles the other great luminary of Advaita, Nisargadatta, who was a small trader and in four years with his guru, realised that consciousness was one, that the true path lies in self-enquiry and in penetrating the depths of one’s own personality. All three, expounded similar philosophies, based on non-dualism and the I -principle underlying all form. This philosophy is not new, it was first enunciated in the Upanishads. The Isha Upanishad says,:
Om Purnamadah Purnamidam
Purnasya purnamaadaaya purnamevaavasishyate
(Om, That is Wholeness, This is Wholeness
From Wholeness comes Wholeness
If Wholeness is taken from Wholeness
The universe is seen as one, indivisible, indestructible, eternal. The Buddha, after many years of arduous penance, came to the same conclusion, but he called it “Shunyata”, “nothingness”. Moses, too, seemed to convey a similar thought in Exodus 3.14 in which God told him“ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh”, “ I am that I am”, which is very similar to the Mahavakyas in the Upanishads like “Aham Brahmasmi” ( I am Brahman”), “ Tattvam Asi”( You are That), “Ishavasyamidam Sarvam”( All this is pervaded by one Isha). These concepts are agnostic of all religions. They could apply as much to Islam( as Rumi and the Sufi saints revealed) or Christianity and Buddhism as to Hinduism.
As physics progresses, as cosmology evolves, similar thoughts are developing in the scientific world too. The connectedness of the universe, the existence of a single force in the form of energy, the free convertibility of matter into energy and energy into matter, the fact that space and time are interrelated and together, form the fabric of the universe, that time and space began only at the point of origin, the Big Bang, that the limits of scientific knowledge stops as of now at the Big Bang - these are all concepts that evolved through the late nineteenth and the twentieth century. The advent of quantum mechanics opened a whole new world of physics. The double slit experiment, Schrodinger’s cat and the Copenhagen equation created new mysteries; the particle may no longer be a particle, but shows the characteristics of waves when not observed and the position of a particle cannot be defined except in the form of a probability wave. The search for a Unified Force that brings together gravity, the electromagnetic force, the strong and the weak nuclear force continues. From our 3D perspective, from the limitations of language that can often mislead, it is difficult for us to comprehend a single force from which all is derived and in which all manifests. We are like waves searching for water, having forgotten that we are water.
Atmananda Krishna Menon’s “Atma Nirvriti” is a brief but clear exposition of the basic principles of Advaita. Consciousness pervades all and can be discovered as the entity that unifies the waking state, the dream state and deep sleep. It is the entity that can be perceived as the little gap between successive thoughts. By relentlessly going inwards, the seeker can understand, and later, comprehend consciousness.This concept is not difficult to understand, although it is far more difficult to comprehend . If the human body had been a sum of its parts and each part had the power to function by itself, a dead body should have been able to see, to hear, to feel. The fact that it cannot is indicative of the fact that something else exists to create awareness. Death is the cessation of awareness and it is awareness or consciousness or whatever one may call it that powers the body. To be aware of consciousness as a constant substratum of all human functions is the objective of self enquiry.
Happiness is the essence of consciousness. Happiness is not derived from objects. If that were so, the same object must generate the same joy at all times, whether one is a baby, an adolescent or an adult. It is not derived from the mind. If that were so, we should be able to summon happiness from inside our mind at will. This is the “Direct Path” to consciousness, as distinguished from the progressive path, which consists of rituals, meditation, penance and the like. This path is more akin to the principles expounded by the Upanishads, rediscovered and preached by the inimitable Sankaracharya, carried to all parts of the world by Vivekananda and other philosophers and teachers. This is the same concept that is now catching the attention of all thinking people through the efforts of new age gurus like Greg Goode, Rupert Spira, Mooji, Sarvapriyananda. In literature and fiction, these thoughts are reflected in the writings of Richard Bach, Paulo Coelho and others. As we become more informed, as knowledge grows, the path of self enquiry becomes more and more appealing.
As intolerance sweeps across the world, as parts of our national capital are bathed in blood, it is time for a renaissance in spiritual thinking that transcends all religions, that enables us to rediscover “the space within our hearts”.
The facts and views expressed in the article are that of the author