A Forerunner to Eckhart Tolle, Andrew Cohen, Byron Katie, Adyashanti, et al.
In the late 20th century and early 21st century the Western world has seen a number of people, mostly laypeople wearing normal street clothing, who claim to be, or are claimed by their followers to be, Fully Enlightened.
Whether any of these people really are enlightened or not, I don't know. Whether "Fully Enlightened" even really means anything or not, as touched upon in a previous blog post ("Notes on Nirvana," 26 Oct 13), I don't know. But—setting aside the numerous and inevitable frauds and crackpots—some of them apparently are functioning at a significantly higher, more conscious, more blissful level than are most human beings.
People like Eckhart Tolle are not an innovation of the past few decades. Even Jiddu Krishnamurti back in the mid 20th century was nowhere near to being the first layperson living a relatively worldly life to be considered Fully Enlightened. It may be that there have always been a few people, here and there, who have found "Bliss" even without having renounced the world to find it. They may have existed way back in the Stone Age even, maybe even before the Stone Age. And I consider their existence, at least in theory—the very possibility of their existence—to be extremely important for the rest of us. We are like them. We have the same potential as them. If they can attain it, maybe we can attain it too.
Long ago I read about Horace Fletcher (1849-1919) in William James's classic book The Varieties of Religious Experience (which, by the way, I would recommend to anyone wishing to better understand religion and spirituality), and Horace's personal testimony with regard to his "Emancipation" very much reminded me of the much better known story of how Eckhart Tolle became enlightened essentially by accident, without having done any formal meditative practice to speak of. It also reminds me of Eckhart by his assertions that practically anybody, living practically any kind of lifestyle, can experience this kind of Emancipation.
Ironically, if one does a search on Horace Fletcher on the Internet, one will find that his primary claim to fame is not his wisdom, nor his teaching of "menticulture" for the sake of Emancipation, but is in fact a dietary system he invented called "Fletcherism," which emphasizes the importance of chewing all food at least 32 times before swallowing it. He even went so far as to say that liquids should be chewed. He eventually disagreed with his friend John Kellogg, the inventor of high-fiber breakfast cereal, over the benefits of dietary fiber: Fletcher maintained that since fiber couldn't be chewed enough to thoroughly liquify it before swallowing, it should be avoided.
Another claim to fame is that at the age of 58, Mr. Fletcher challenged a number of Yale University athletes to a test of physical strength and stamina, and allegedly outperformed all of them under laboratory conditions at Yale. This story reminds me of a wall mural I once saw at the SeaTac International Airport: Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual advisor to the United Nations and a rather old man, lifting 700 pounds (317.5 kg) straight-arm in front of him. On the other hand, Horace Fletcher died of bronchitis, or heart failure, at the age of 69, so he wasn't immune to human illness.
Because I consider the firsthand testimonies of such people to be extremely valuable, potentially at least, I include here chapter two of a little booklet Mr. Fletcher published in 1896: Menticulture: or the A-B-C of True Living.
The chapter ends with the optimistic and rather naive prophecy that Japan would become the spiritual civilizer of the Western world in the 20th century. It must have happened to some significant extent, but Mr. Fletcher did not realize that, even as he was writing his prophecy, the Japanese government was scrambling to abandon much of what was most spiritual and valuable in its society for the sake of imitating the West and becoming an industrialized, capitalistic, materialistic, military colonial superpower. Within a few decades of Fletcher's booklet the Japanese "establishment" allowed Buddhist monks to marry (largely to secularize and weaken the religion), drafted monks into the Imperial Army, melted down temple bells to make weapons, and invaded Korea, then China, then Southeast Asia, and even part of Alaska.
I considered deleting the prophecy, but decided to keep it. After all, it seems that all prophets and psychics, no matter how spiritually advanced, make inaccurate predictions. Jesus of Nazareth himself apparently claimed that the world would end within a few decades of his own lifetime. In fact, one accurate (and cynical) method of dating prophetic religious texts is to locate the point where the prophecies stop being 100% correct and start being wildly inaccurate. That point is when the text was most probably composed.
Enlightened beings, assuming that they exist, are not necessarily omniscient, or infallible.
But enough digressing. Here is Horace Fletcher's own testimony. (I've corrected a few typos and added a few clarifications in brackets, but otherwise it is as I found it.)
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
It was my privilege one evening to be with Prof. Fenollosa in his Japan-esque apartment in Boston. Almost every article in view was the product of some Japanese artist who had been the friend of Prof. Fenollosa in Japan. The odor of incense added perceptibly to the calming influence of the environment.
Many years ago we had met in far-off Japan amid similar surroundings, and had discussed theories of true living that had been a source of great pleasure to me, and whose influence had been with me to many countries and climes, helping me to enjoy more fully than I otherwise could, the beauties of nature, and of art, and of life.
We were exchanging the experiences of the intervening years, and I became acutely interested in his account of the wonderful degree of culture and self-control attained by some of his Japanese friends through the practice of the Buddhist discipline.
It was all so interesting and beautiful, that under the spell of the recital and the surroundings, I longed to taste some of the sweets of the calm he pictured, and begged him to tell me the process of the discipline, so that perchance I might follow it and reap some of the benefits.
The philosopher saw that I was serious in my desire, and his face lit up with approval as he said, "It is not easy to communicate at a sitting what took me years of study to learn, but I can at least put you in the way of a start. I can tell you where to begin to grow. You must first get rid of anger and worry." "But," said I, "is that possible?" "Yes," replied he, "it is possible to the Japanese, and ought to be possible to us."
I was startled at the suggestion of the possibility of the entire repression of anger and worry. I knew that their repression was counselled by Christianity and Buddhism, and presumably by all codes of religion and ethics; but I had never considered getting, rid of them as a human possibility, except under conditions of health and wealth and ease, to which few, if any, ever attain.
On my walk back to the Parker House, a distance of fully two miles, I could not think of anything else but the words, "get rid," ''get rid;'' and the idea must have continued to possess me during my sleeping hours, for the first consciousness in the morning brought back the same thought, with the revelation of a discovery, which framed itself into the reasoning, "If it is possible to get rid of anger and worry, why is it necessary to have them at all?" I felt the strength of the argument and at once accepted the reasoning. The baby had discovered that it could walk. It would scorn to creep any longer.
From the instant I realized that these cancer spots of worry and anger were removable, they left me. With the discovery of their weakness they were exorcised. From that time life has had an entirely changed aspect.
Although from that moment the possibility and desirability of freedom from the depressing passions has been a reality to me, it took me some months to feel absolute security in my new position; but, as the usual occasions for worry and anger have presented themselves over and over again, and I have been unable to feel them in the slightest degree, I no longer dread or guard against them, and I am amazed at my increased energy and vigor of mind;—at my strength to meet situations of all kinds, and at my disposition to love and appreciate everything.
I have had occasion to travel more than ten thousand miles by rail since that morning; North, South, East and West, with the varying comforts and discomforts, as they used to be. The same Pullman porter, conductor, hotel waiter, peddler, book-agent, cabman, and others, who were formerly a source of annoyance and irritation have been met, but I am not conscious of a single incivility. All at once the whole world has turned good to me. I am sure the change is not so much in the world as in me. I have become, as it were, sensitive only to the rays of good, as some photographic films of recent invention are sensitive only to certain single colored rays of light.
If we are wise we never leave school. When the academy and the college have put us through their curriculum, we have still before us the example of Nature, and the walks of Science, and Art, and Brotherhood, in which to search for suggestions to be applied in menticulture. May we not learn a lesson from the newly discovered film?
Should not the chemical condition of selection be more difficult than a similar voluntary mental accomplishment? In comparison with a similar process in physics the more pliable material of the mind ought to be fashioned with greater ease.
I could recount many experiences which prove a brand new condition of mind, but one more will be sufficient. Without the slightest feeling of annoyance or impatience I have seen a train that I had planned to take with a good deal of interested and pleasurable anticipation, move out of a station without me, because my baggage did not arrive. The porter from the hotel came running and panting into the station just as the train pulled out of sight. When he saw me he looked as if he feared a scolding, and began to tell of being blocked in a crowded street and unable to get out. When he had finished, I said to him, "It doesn't matter at all, you couldn't help it, so we will try it again tomorrow. Here is your fee, I am sorry you had all this trouble in earning it." The look of surprise that came over his face was so filled with pleasure that I was repaid on the spot for the delay in my departure. Next day he would not accept a cent for the service, and he and I are friends for life. The sequence of this incident has no bearing on its value, but it has a significance. Had I taken the train I missed, I would have been caught in a wreck in which two persons were killed and several wounded, while my stay over in Cleveland proved to be both pleasant and profitable.
During the first weeks of my experience I was on guard only against worry and anger; but, in the meantime, having noticed the absence of the other depressing and dwarfing passions, I began to trace a relationship, until I was convinced that they are all growths from the two roots [anger and worry] I have specified.
I have felt the freedom now for so long a time that I am sure of my relations toward it; and I could no more harbor any of the depressing and thieving influences that once I nursed as a heritage of humanity than a fop would voluntarily wallow in a filthy gutter: and the strength of the position is reinforced by the experience of others.
There is no doubt in my mind that pure Christianity, and pure Buddhism, and the Mental Sciences, and all Religions, fundamentally teach what has been a discovery to me; but none of them have presented it in the light of a simple and easy process of absolute elimination. All of the religions seemed to me to hinge principally on some other life, with the usual features of punishment and reward, and with incidental satisfaction or fear in this life. But as life reveals itself to me in my present condition of mind, this world, these fellow men, the blush of Spring, the blossom of Summer, the flame of Autumn, the sparkle of Winter, and the violet-softened refulgence of every waking moment yield a never failing succession of delights.
At one time I wondered if elimination of the passions would not lead to indifference and sloth. In my experience the contrary is the result. I feel such an increased desire to do something useful that it seems as if I were a boy again and the energy for play had returned. I could fight as readily as, (and better than) ever, if there were occasion for it. It does not make one a coward. It can't, since fear is one of the things eliminated.
That fear is gotten rid of with worry is proven in many ways. I notice the absence of timidity in the presence of any audience I am called on to face, whereas I had never before conquered a tendency to partial paralysis on such occasions. Timidity resulting from a shock has been cured also. When I was a boy I was standing under a tree which was struck by lightning and received a shock, from the effects of which I never knew exemption until I had dissolved partnership with worry. Since then lightning, and thunder, and storm clouds, with wind-swept torrents of rain have been encountered under conditions which formerly would have caused great depression and discomfort, without experiencing a trace of either. Surprise is also greatly modified, and one is less liable to become startled by unexpected sights or noises. Temperaments may differ, but Emancipation strengthens all.
It has been suggested to me, in argument, that in Nature there is sunshine and shadow, and that every height must have a corresponding depression, and that immunity from the black or shadowy passions is an unnatural condition. This is not true. In the process of growth and evolution, conditions that once were natural, are changed to other conditions equally natural. Weeds are pulled up by the roots to clear the fields for the growing grain. Why should not mental weeds be pulled up by the roots also, and the mind cleared for growth?
My experience teaches me that the natural evolution of the emancipated mind is dominant calm, varied by seasons of exaltation, but never of depression. It is a healthful succession of energy and rest, all blessed with loving appreciation, which finds expression in ever-present gratitude.
One morning recently I heard myself audibly thank the clock for striking the time for me, and each awakening is as if on a much desired holiday, no matter what the conditions of the weather or the comforts of life at hand.
Contentment and happiness and gratitude and Heaven are generally accepted as synonymous terms; but Emancipation embraces them all, and in it only can they all be found.
As far as I am individually concerned I am not bothering myself at present as to what the result of this emancipated condition may be. I have no doubt that the perfect health aimed at by Christian Science may be one of the possibilities, for I note a marked improvement in the way my stomach does its duty in assimilating the food I give it to handle, and I am sure it works better to the sound of a song than under the friction of a frown. Neither am I wasting any of this precious time formulating an idea of a future existence or a future Heaven. The Heaven that I have found within myself is as attractive as any that has been promised or that I can imagine; and I am willing to let the growth lead where it will, as long as anger and worry and their brood have no part in misguiding it; but I feel the value of Mental Emancipation to be so great that I long to spread the news of the discovery of an easy and immediate means of attaining it.
The practical benefit of the emancipated mind to the individual, and of the emancipated individual to the community, can not be over-estimated. In every walk in life Emancipation is invaluable to the worker, and the most potent aid to success. The emancipated peanut vender will have more customers than his worm-eaten neighbor. The emancipated merchant will find that trade will pass the door of his calamity-howling rival and come to him. The emancipated writer will find writing an easy and pleasant task as compared with that of his moody confrere, and that if he has occasion to dip his pen in vinegar he can wield it better under the influence of judicial calm than he can between the gulps of rebellious indigestion. To woman Emancipation means everything. Any other condition to her is like an ill fitting garment, and every lapse from it is like adding a blotch to her complexion which succeeding smiles can never entirely efface. Each expression of a shadowy passion leaves a scar. The Emancipation of woman would mean the Emancipation of the race. The adoption of the germ cure [i.e., eradication of the germs of anger and worry] will be woman's means to that end, and Emancipation will be her Heaven and man's Heaven at the same time.
The influence of emancipated individuals in a community could be made so great that if there were only one in ten, and they should organize in clubs for the purpose, they would attract or rule the rest for good, and something better than the social Utopia pictured by Edward Bellamy in "Looking Backward" would follow as a natural sequence, and save us from the threatened battle between capital and labor, which otherwise seems inevitable. The horrors of such a conflict cannot be imagined; and, unless the germ cure is sought to avert it, it is sure to come.
The germ cure of the evil passions in the individual, followed by the germ cure of social clumsiness in the body politic, form the only hope of Emancipation from the evils which beset the social structure. For these there is no real necessity. There is already such a surplus of mechanical energy, such a surplus of creature comforts, and such a surplus of luxuries on our planet, that a moderately sensible distribution of them, would render every inhabitant comfortable and happy. Among the Emancipated the desire to make a generous distribution of these surplus stores would be as natural as is the habit of recognizing "the rule of the road" among us all today. So also, the vast amount of surplus energy born of Emancipation would find a natural outlet in the arts.
In suggesting the possibility of a Social Paradise or Community Heaven, it is presupposed that education along the lines of both intellectual and manual training will have become universal, and that every one shall render service to his fellows according to his strength; also that idleness, when one should work, and deception in trade, will have come to be classed as crimes, and not as evidences of "shrewdness."
It has been my good fortune to travel to and fro over the earth's surface for thirty years, years of experience passed among the people of many different nations. I have made quick comparisons of the habits and customs of them all; and I have observed how easily some do things that others perform clumsily. The standard measure of my comparison has always been Japan. I could not help observing there less crime, better appreciation of art and nature, more physical dexterity and skill, fewer notes out of harmony, and more general happiness, gentleness, and consideration for fellows and animals; less (almost no) religious or sectional prejudice; a universal patriotism and respect for authority (as good children are respectful of the authority of beloved parents); a love of life, but no fear of death; and many other qualities that have commanded the respect of the world under the bright light of recent events.
Brave, gentle, artistic, lovable little Japan, which, thirty odd years ago, was nursing in quiet seclusion a beautiful flower of artistic civilization, has been rudely but providentially forced into the community of nations to teach the rest of the world a great lesson in the art of true living. By the exercise of judicious but resistless courage she has laid the Oriental Colossus who attacked her [China] at her feet; and if the bulldog and buzzard nations of the West, do not unite their forces to obstruct her inclination, she will lift her fallen foe from a condition of slavery to barbarous aliens to a condition of tranquillity and happiness. She will do this through the introduction of reforms in government and administration which she has gathered from the best experience of all the world. What a missionary Japan is! A missionary of the art of true living. A missionary of harmony. The contact of Japan with the other nations made the World's Congress of Religions possible; and what this means to the advancement of man on the road to harmony and happiness, was recently stated by Prof. Max Muller, when he prophesied that this event would come to be appreciated as the greatest civilizing influence of the Nineteenth century.
May the example of Japan set the boors of the world to thinking, cause them to take their fore feet out of the trough, look up to the sun and the light of dawning civilization, accept the simple teachings of Christ and Buddha and common sense, and start a Heaven here on earth. Steam and electricity have brought the extremes of our earth together; the telescope has let us into the secrets of the neighboring worlds, and logic and common sense may find in the possibility of Emancipation a means of bringing Heaven to us in this life.