A Hermit in the Himalayas by Paul Brunton

This book is an easy read as compared to other spiritual books that I have read so far. The book claims to give the reader a profound spiritual experience but it falls short of its claim.

There is no denying that the reader gets a peep into the spiritualistic life of the author and the other ascetics whom the reader encounters while in the retreat into the magnificent Himalayas and recounts them in the book. It merely touches upon spiritualism or one can perceive that since the author is from the East he may have found the experience in Himalayas immensely spiritual; though as an Indian Hindu and lately a Buddhist practitioner, I find narrative devoid of depth.

Apart from this, I fully enjoyed reading the book. The description of the snow clad mountains, the thick forest and the view at Pratapgarh are beautifully narrated. One gets carried away by the tea-drinking experience of the author.

This book helped me to empathise with the holy men, hermits and yogis who took upon themselves the arduous journey to Kenarnath, Badrinath and Kailas Mansarovar, to find the purpose their life. When this book was written in 1938, it took them 4-6 months to reach their destinations, if they were lucky enough not to be struck by exhaustion or some other natural calamity.

He explains that the retreat from our everyday lives for a while is not weakness but strength. By taking the trouble to discover the deep silence within us we will find the benefits of being linked to the ‘infinite power’.

I liked the sincere advice given by the author that any individual should go into retreat (stillness) to an extent which doesn’t disconnect him from the world. Ultimately the person has to dwell amongst the other people. If the stillness within after the spiritual retreat creates disharmony when the individual returns to the hustle-bustle of the daily life, then the purpose of months of meditation is lost.

Paul Brunton was a fan of Charlie Chaplin because the latter made him laugh. In the words of the author, ‘After all, it is better to jest and joke about this ephemeral life of ours than to imitate the undertaker. Life without its sprinkling of humour is soup without salt – it lacks savour. We must laugh if life has to be made endurable.’ I totally agree with him. One can never have a spiritual experience till he can remove the cobwebs of sadness, hate, remorse, from the inner crevices of the mind with the splash of laughter.

I was especially amused by the comparison he draws between the Buddha and Lord Krishna. I have always been drawn to the Buddha and find Krishna to be frivolous and indulgent. The author felt the same but he put forward another perspective to both these Gods. He finds Krishna’s teaching superbly elevating when he asks Arjun to place his entire life fearlessly and unreservedly in the hands of the Higher Power; whereas, the Buddha becomes coldly rational, too dependent on human effort alone ignoring the help which God bestows, and harsh when he preaches about sincere asceticism.

The author sums up his book by passing on the message of the Nature which he learned in the mountains. He gained wisdom to surrender to the supreme Power. To discover it every individual needs to go into Silence everyday for a while, retiring from the outer world to enter the inner world wherein It resides.

Lastly, he says, “I have found that stillness is strength”. Also, “Be still, and know the I Am – God!”

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