Tài liệu Selected letters

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^/\nanda Coomaraswamy SELE C T E D LET T ER S OF Ananda K. Coomaraswamy Edited by A l v in M o o r e , J r . and R am a P o o na m bulam C oom arasw am y IN DIRA G A N D H I N A TIO N A L C EN TR E FOR TH E ARTS O X FO R D U N IV ERSITY PRESS DELHI BOMBAY CALCUTTA MADRAS 19 8 8 ILLUSTRATIONS 1. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy at 52 years frontispiece facing page 2. “Progress” by Denis Tegetmcier, in Eric Gill, Unholy Trinity, London, Dent, 1942 3. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy at 58 years 4. An example o f Coom araswam y’s manuscripts—letter to Eric Gill 5. Coom araswam y’s study in his home at Needham, Massachusetts 6 . A room in N orm an Chapel, Coom araswam y’s home at Broad Cam pton, Gloucestershire, about. 1908 7. Albrecht Diirer’s ‘Virgin on the Crescent’ from his Life o f the Virgin (1511) 8 . Ananda K. Coomaraswamy at 70 years 32 108 208 258 328 362 440 FOREWORD In the wake o f Ananda Coom araswam y’s extensive writings, volumes o f accolades have come forth in praise o f his enormous erudition. But here in these letters for the first time we sec the man writing intimately about himself; not in an autobio­ graphical sense, which he detested, considering such portrai­ ture “a vulgar catering to illegitimate curiosity” (p 25), “a rather ghoulish and despicable trade” (p 25). This attitude was with him, moreover, “not a matter of ‘modesty’, but one o f principle” (p 25). His writing of himself was rather in the sense of establishing a personal contact with each correspondent through the painstaking effort o f getting a questioner to see the why and wherefore o f his thought processes. Reading these letters is like looking over his shoulder and watching how his perceptions and ideas flow. Eric Gill said it all when he wrote to the Doctor: “You hit bloody straight, bloody hard, and bloody often.” For Coomaraswamy was uncompromisingly honest; thus in a letter to Albert Schweitzer on this missionary’s Christianity and the Religions o f the World : “ [I] would like to let you know that I regard it as a fundamentally dishonest w ork.” Uncompromisingly charitable, as in a six-page letter to a psychiatrist: “Your letter. . .brought tears to my eyes. Yours is a personal instance of the whole modern world of impover­ ished reality. . . You caught the very sickness you were treating. . . You did not shake off the effluvium from your fingers after laying on your hands.” Pages of appropriate counsel follow. And uncompromisingly generous, instanced for example in his long answers to letters from the Gandhian Richard Gregg who was seeking clarification on such matters as realism and nominalism, being and knowing, knowledge and opinion, being and becoming, rcincarnationist theories, and the question ° f “psychic residues” . Rama Coomaraswamy had first considered calling this collection of his father’s correspondence Letters from a Hindu to His Christian Friends. But although the young Ananda received the investiture o f the Sacred Thread in Ceylon in 1897, he was cducatcd in England and later lived as a Westerner, and was Platonist and a Medievalist as much as a Vedantist. And his correspondents were with few exceptions not religious by vocation but academicians, albeit of Christian heritage. He situated his own position as “ a follower o f the Philosophia Perennis, or if required to be more specific, a Vcdandn.” We sec from these letters that Coomaraswamy was totally realistic in his assessment of Eastern and Western values. To Professor F. S. C. N orthrup, he says that he tells Western inquirers: “Why seek wisdom in India? The value of the Eastern tradition for you is not that of a difference, but that it can remind you o f what you have forgotten,” adding that “the notion o f a com mon humanity is not enough for peace; what is needed is our common divinity.” Elsewhere he writes that “ East and West have a common problem .” And he complains to the German art historian, Herman Goetz, that the great majority o f Indian students in the West arc really “disorganized barbarians” and “ cultural illiterates.” “The modern young Indian (with exceptions) is in no position to meet the really cultured and spiritual European.” Again to N orthrup, he says, “ I am still fully convinced that the metaphysics of East and West are essentially the same until the time o f the Western deviation from the common norm s,” when Western thought shifted (ca 1300) from realism to nominalism. N ow he writes to the New English Weekly, “the ‘civilization’ that men are supposed to be fighting for is already a museum piece.” Elsewhere: “The magnitude of our means and the multiplicity o f our ideas arc in fact the measure o f our decadence.” And near the close of his life, in his address (included here) on “the Renaissance of Indian Culture” , given at Harvard on August 15, 1947, he says: “our problem is not so much one o f the rebirth of an Indian eulture, as it is one of preserving what remains o f it. This culture is valid for us not so much bccausc it is Indian as because it is culture.” In a letter addressing the need for a realistic ground of understanding, he writes that he can “sec no basis for such a common understand­ ing other than that of the common universe of discourse of the Philosophia Perennis, which was the lingua franca of all cultures before the ‘confusion of tongues’.” And he reiterates time and again in his letters the necessity for people to turn to the traditional authorities of our age in order to get their metaphysical bearings: men like Frithjof Schuon, Rene Guenon and Marco Pallis. As foremost heir to Medieval wisdom the Catholic Church in Coom araswam y’s eyes bore a priceless legacy coupled with an enormous responsibility; and although continually inviting Christians to share with him in the rediscovery o f this treasure, the Doctor was with few exceptions thwarted by their incapacity for adequate response. Conversion, they exclaimed, not reciprocal comprehension, was the only way to salvation. “ Please do not pray that I may become a Christian,” replied Coomaraswamy to a nun’s entreaties; “pray only that I may know God better every day.” And he foresaw what was coming to the Church when he wrote to another Catholic: “The humanisation, ie, secularisation of scripture accompanies the humanisation of C hrist.” His attitude on an esoteric aspect o f Christianity is disclosed in his words to Eric Gill about a “wonderful Mary legend” he has read, saying that “there is a Vedic parallel too, where Wisdom is said to reveal her very body to some. Perhaps you can print this legend someday, and I could write a few words of introduction. On the other hand, perhaps the world does not deserve such things nowadays!” Regarding his own path, Coomaraswamy wrote, “ I fully hold that labore est orare and do regard my work as a vocation.” But “when I go to India,” he said in a letter to Marco Pallis, “it will be to drop writing . . . my object in ‘retiring’ being to verify what I already ‘know ’.” Meanwhile, in his seventieth year he wrote, “the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads are daily reading for m e.” These letters convey a constant tone of the D octor’s own self-effacement. He puts forth his principles unflaggingly, while never putting forth himself, saying he is only an exponent for the ideas o f others: “ [I] try to say nothing that can properly be attributed to me individually.” To the traditional Catholic, Bernard Kelley, he wrote: “It can only be said that the mystic is acting ‘selfishly’ when there really remains in him a ‘se lf.” The word idiot, he reminds another correspondent, means “virtually ‘one who thinks for him self.” And in another place: “Satan was the first to think of himself as a genius.” All this touches on the axis around which Coomaraswamy’s later exposition revolved, namely, the postulate of the two selves or “ minds”— duo sunt in homine—and its ineluctable corollary, on the necessity for self-naughting. With incredible thoroughness he pursued parallels from Western and Eastern sources, to Sankara’s presentation of Advaita Vedanta, the doctrine o f monism or non-duality. And Coom araswam y’s intransigence regarding the sole true reality of our Higher Self—“the O ne and Only Transm igrant” , St Paul’s “not I, but [the] Christ [that] livcth in me”— was compounded by his insistence on the infallibility of immutable archetype and myth over mutable accident and history, to the point even of permitting him self an expression of doubt concerning the historicity o f Christ and the Buddha. In order to situate the paradox o f this tendency to excess at the expense of fact, we have to remind ourselves that Coomaraswamy found himself confronting a blind generation with timeless truths, in an age of “impoverished reality” wherein most people no longer “see” what is beyond their senses. In a world where religion for the multitude has become equated with moral precepts on the level o f “Be good, dear child” , the metaphysician felt the need to repost with the thunder o f ultimates on the level o f “Every­ thing will perish save God’s Countenance” (Q u ’ran xxviii, 88). To reply that the Doctor could better have struck a happy medium in these matters is to ask that Coomaraswamy not be Coomaraswamy. He admits the Plotinian concept of “distinction without difference” in the Noumenal Sphere where “all souls are one” , yet in actual exegesis he virtually reduces the human soul to a “process” o f becoming, without final reality. In part his emphasis on this point was to refute the popular notion of reincarnation, currently a dogm a in India and one particularly vexing to him as it lends an exaggerated im port­ ance to the accidental ego o f this man so-and-so, and also because his insistence on the fallacy o f the belief invited criticism from erudite Hindus who otherwise admired his writings. It may be well to state here that reincarnationism derives from misconceptions of basic Eastern teachings having to do with the Round o f Existence or samsara, this being the transmigration o f souls to other states of existence insofar as the impurities o f ignorance have not been wholly eradicated in them, that purification which alone leads to enlightenment and final deliverance from the meshes of existence and becoming. But this teaching has to be situated in terms of the limitless modalities and immensities of cosmic time and space (in which “God does not repeat H im self’), whereas reincarnationism credulously reduces transmigration through the multiple states o f the being to a kind o f garden-variety genealogy played out on the scale o f this w orld’s stage. To a question about a prominent Indian put by S. Durai Raja Singam, the man who was to become the indefatigable compiler o f Coomaraswamy memorabilia, the Doctor replied in 1946: [He] is a saint, not an intellectual giant; I am neither but I do say that those whose authority I rely on when I speak have often been both.” People may think what they like about whether he was cither, neither, or the two concurrently, but it cannot be denied that he certainly vehicled an aura o f both. He was fond o f quoting St Paul to the effect that God has never left Him self w ithout a witness. In the traditional patrimony that Coomaraswamy has handed on we have an eloquent testimony to this. W hitall N. P erry PREFACE It is both a great privilege and an extraordinary experience to have selected, and along with Alvin Moore, to have edited the letters of Ananda Coomaraswamy. One wonders, in the face of his enormous literary output, how he was able to carry on such a fruitful correspondence. The num ber o f letters probably runs to several thousand and one would hope, that over the course of time many more will turn up. These can, almost without exception, be divided into four categories: those dealing with inquiries about works of art— either requests for identification, evaluation or possible purchase by the Boston Museum; those responding to or dealing with philosophical or metaphysical issues; those written to the N ew England Weekly; and lastly a handful o f brief personal notes to his mother, wife, or children. There are various reasons why the letters of famous men are published. In the case of some, they reflect the times they lived in. Others give insights into the personal life of the author, or clues as to what induced him to enter the public forum. Still others are examples o f literary art—so called “belle lettrcs” . Those o f D r Coomaraswamy are none of these. Indeed, what is extraordinary about them is that they contain nothing personal, even when written to close friends and associates. He had said once, in response to a request for an autobiography, that “portraiture o f human beings is aswarga”, and that such an attitude was a matter, not of modesty, but o f principle. His letters reflect this attitude. I have said that there are several thousand letters. U nfortu­ nately, not all of these have been collected or collated. Many have undoubtedly been lost. Thus for example, his own files show perhaps a hundred letters from Marco Pallis. U nfortu­ nately, none o f his to Mr. Pallis survive as the latter consistently destroyed all mail after reading. Again, there are a targe num ber o f letters to him from Rene Guenon. However, the Guenon archives have revealed or at least, produced none from him. Several European and American libraries have letters from him dispersed in collections of other notables such as Yeates or Sorokin. Still other letters are archived in private collections such as T. S. Eliott. Hopefully one response to the publication of these carefully selected examples will be a more complete collation, with hitherto unknown examples becom­ ing available. The selection process was fairly simple. All the available letters— cither originals or carbon copies— were read and classified as to major topics of discussion. These sub groups were then weeded out so as to avoid excessive length and repetition. The end result is some 400 letters which can truly be said to be characteristic. The remarkable thing about these letters is that each o f them is a sort o f “mini-essay” put forth in relatively easy language. Despite this, they cover almost every major line o f thought that is developed in his published works. Those who would seek an introduction to the writings o f Ananda Coomaraswamy could do no better than to start with this book. It is both fitting and wonderful, that the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts should select this work as the first publication in its planned collected works of Ananda Coomara­ swamy. If he was a universalist in principle, he was above all an Indian in his origins and ways of thinking. It had been his plan to return to India where he intended to continue his works, produce a translation o f the Upanishads, and then take Sanyasa. God willed otherwise and only his ashes were returned to the land he loved. Hcnce it is—one says it again—both fitting and wonderful that India should undertake to make available to the world, not only his letters, but the entire corpus of his works. A CKNOW LEDGEM EN TS Wc wish to acknowledge the co-opcration o f all who have assisted in making this volume possible by providing copies o f Dr Coom arasw am y’s letters which have been included in this collection. We thank the University o f Minnesota for permis­ sion to use the lines from Ray Livingston’s The Traditional Theory o f Literature which arc placed in exergue to this volume; the heirs o f Devin-Adair publishers for permission to quote in the Introduction the paragraph from Eric Gill’s Autobiography. O ur thanks are due also to Sri Keshavram N . Icngar o f Bangalore, India; M r and Mrs Eric H. Hansen, Emory Univeristy, Atlanta, Georgia; D r Rene Imelee, West Georgia College, Carrollton, Georgia; and to the librarians and staff members o f the Em ory University library and the library o f West Georgia College. And certainly not least, we thank our respective spouses for their encouragement, patience and practical help. A l v in M o o r e , J r . R am a P oona m bulam C oom arasw am y In the late half o f the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century scholars from all parts o f the world were drawn to the Asian heritage. Some excavated, others brought to light primary textual material, and a third group dwelled upon fundamental concepts, identified perennial sources, and created bridges o f communication by juxtaposing diverse traditions. They were the pathfinders: they drew attention to the unity and wholeness o f life behind manifestation and process. Cutting across sectarian concerns, religious dogma and conventional notions o f the spiritual East and materialist West, o f monothe­ ism and polytheism, they were responsible for laying the foundations o f a new approach to Indian and Asian art. Their work is o f contem porary relevance and validity for the East and the West. Restless and unsatisfied with fragmentation, there is a search for roots and comprehension, perception and experience o f the whole. Seminars on renewal, regeneration and begin­ nings have been held. The time is ripe to bring the work of these early torch bearers to the attention o f future generations. The name o f Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy is foremost among these pathfinders— for the expanse o f his grasp, the depth o f his insights, and for their validity today. To fulfil the need for renewed search for the whole, as also to stimulate further work with this free and catholic approach which is not imprisoned in the walls o f ideology, the Kala Kosa Division o f the IGNCA has initiated a program me o f publica­ tion o f works o f critical scholarship, reprints and translations. The criterion o f identification is the value o f the w ork for its cross-cultural perception, multi-disciplinary approach and in­ accessibility for reasons o f language or on account o f being out o f print. The Collected Works o f A. K. Coomaraswamy, thematical­ ly rearranged with the author’s own revisions, is central to the IG N C A ’s third program m e in its division o f Textual Research and Publication, Kala Kosa. The present volume of the Selected Letters o f Ananda K. Coomaraswamy commences this series. The IGNCA is grateful to D r Rama P. Coomaraswamy for agreeing to allow the IGNCA to republish the collected works, and for his generosity in relinquishing claims on royalties. Alvin Moore, an old associate of Coomaraswamy, has pains­ takingly edited the present volume along with D r Rama P. Coomaraswamy. We are grateful to both of them. M r Keshav Ram Iengar has to be thanked for his life-time devotion, his interest, and his assistance in proof-reading and preparing the index. We also thank M r Jyotish Dutta Gupta for rendering invaluable help in the production, M r K. L. Khosa for designing the jacket and M r K. V. Srinivasan for ably assisting in this project. K apila V atsy ay an I n d ir a G a n d h i N a t i o n a l C e ntre F o r T he A rts IN T R O D U C T IO N It seems fitting to introduce these letters selected from the extensive correspondence o f Ananda Kentish Coom araswam y with a paragraph from his close friend Eric Gill, Catholic, artisan, artist and author o f distinguished reputation. Gill wrote, in his Autobiography : . . . T here was one person, to w hom I think William Rothcnstein introduced me, w hom I m ight not have met otherwise and for whose influence I am deeply grateful. I mean the philosopher and theologian Ananda Coomara­ swam y. O thers have w ritten the truth about life and religion and m an’s w ork. O thers have written good clear English. O thers have had the gift o f w itty expression. Others have understood the metaphysics o f Christianity, and others have understood the metaphysics o f Hinduism and Buddhism. Others have understood the true significance o f erotic drawings and sculptures. O thers have seen the relationships of the good, the true and the beautiful. Others have had apparently unlim ited learning. Others have loved; others have been kind and generous. But I know of no one else in whom all these gifts and all these powers have been combined. I dare not confess m yself his disciple; that would only embarass him. I can only say that no other living writer has written the truth in matters o f art and life and religion and piety with such wisdom and understanding. This citation gives a very discerning insight into the character of the mature Coom araswam y. But one may, quite properly, want to know som ething more of the life and circumstances of this son o f East and West who corresponded so widely and who left so many letters that are deemed w orthy o f publication even after so many years. M oreover, what could a non-Christian have to say that could be o f any possible interest to the serious Christian? The w riter o f these letters was born in 1877 in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), o f a Tamil father and an English mother. The father, Sir M utu Coomaraswamy, was a particu­ larly able member o f an outstanding Tamil, Hindu family that had been long settled in Ceylon but which had retained its ties, especially religious ties, with India. Sir M utu was the first Asian and the first Hindu to be called to the bar in Britain, in 1863, and a man whose personal presence and achievement gained for him an entrance into upper social circles in England. He counted Disraeli among his friends, eg, and Disraeli even took him as model for one o f his fictional characters. The m other was Elizabeth Clay Beeby, o f a Kent family prominent in the India and Ceylon trade. The couple had been married in 1875 by no less an ecclesiastic than the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was certainly no casual miscegenation, such as had been all too com mon and even encouraged in colonial India; on the contrary, it was the purposeful union o f two strong minds and independent spirits. But an interracial marriage is not likely to be easy; and, over a hundred years ago, the couple must have faced distinct difficulties both among the Victorian English and in the East among orthodox Hindus. The young Ananda, however, was to combine in him self the better qualities o f both races. He was himself to become ritually one o f the twice-born among the Hindus, and he was to grow into an apostle o f the traditional East (now no longer identifiable geographically) to men hungering and thirsting for spiritual and intellectual sustenance in the meaningless wastes o f the modern world. Remarkably, and only to a slightly lesser degree, he was an apostle of the traditional West as well; for he was intimately familiar with the corpus o f Medieval Christian philosophy, theology, literature and art, as well as with Platonism and Neoplatonism. In 1877, after two years in Ceylon and the birth o f her son, Lady Coomaraswamy, not yet thirty, returned to England for a visit. Sir M utu was to follow but, tragically, died on the very day he was to have sailed from Colombo. It was thus that the young m other and her child remained in Britain. The young Ananda was educated in England, first at home, then at a public school (Wycliffe, in Gloucestershire), and finally at the Uni­ versity o f London which he entered at eighteen. He graduated from the latter in 1900 with' honors in botony (gardening was a lifelong interest) and geology. Later, his university was to award him its doctorate in science (1906) for his work in the mineralogy o f Ceylon; for between 1902 and 1906 the young
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