In the Hot Unconscious by Charles Foster
Westerners in India, in search of the meaning of life, ashram hopping, jostling with the crowds, taking notes and most of the times still lost is something that is not uncommon. There is something about the East that the West find mystical. A lot of them come trying to figure it out. The difference lies in the basic ethos, in the belief where simultaneous realities co-exist in our minds versus the singular reality they are conditioned to. Our multitude often gets expressed metaphorically in our sea of myths and Gods. In the Hot Unconscious by Charles Foster is his India travel observations.
The author traveled to India to do research on Leeches. But after getting lost in the red tape roams around the country. From the Himalayas in Uttaranchal to all the way down in Kanyakumari. He visits ashrams that are flocked by the foreigners. And how I wish I could tell him that these ashrams have now become an economy run by the seekers like him. He meets people in the villages, on the road, on a train who set him thinking on various spiritual thoughts. He goes to a Shantivanam, in search of a convergence between the eastern and western thought. The problem is he tries to understand Hinduism from the reference point of Christianity, I am not sure if that works.
To understand philosophies, you have to empty yourself completely, absorb what is there on the platter and then may be at some later point in time two different philosophies that you have studied.
However, across his travels, he comes across some gems of thoughts. And here is some of which I found interesting:
- Troops deployed in the east to assassinate the ego are the fathers and the children of the ego itself – True
- India is a vast, wild temple where unconsciousness is consciously worshipped.
- India loves paradox. Paradox is elegant but it has an ugly child called Contradiction.
- The lonely cross-legged men in a za-zen trance aren’t doing the ego to death, but rather worshipping it in a new language. Ego is clever, multilingual and catholic in its tastes. It is happy to receive compliments in all tongues.
- What could anything on paper ever tell you that the tree, which was destroyed to make it, could not? Nothing. Nothing at all. – Loved this one.
- Finding, in fact, is the business of being found. And to do that it helps to be utterly lost.
- He just knows, better than most, the vocabulary of enlightenment.
- Something’s true if it creates or transforms, and untrue if it shifts with time or circumstance.
- Self – must have two qualities – Unity & it must be timeless
To me throughout the book In the Hot Unconscious author comes across as confused and unconvinced. At no point was he satisfied or relaxed. I am not sure if he traveled to write the book, or traveled and the book just happened. But I see a purposelessness in his travel. An attitude of where my feet take me, but still, his itinerary indicates a planned route that he has spoken about. After the first couple of chapters, he forgot all about his research. Or he chooses not to mention his tryst with the Indian bureaucracy in detail.
But the reader does keep wondering about his original objective to be in India. Again he travels to all the Ashrams that are not really known to Indians. And most of the times run by foreigners settled here, indicating that someone somewhere was pointing him to these places, a detail that he lets pass.
In his conversations with Indians, who can be and who are contradicting for a rational mind, he has a tinge of doubt always. But when he speaks to western travelers we suddenly find him on the Indian side, explaining the thought sometimes in his own mind like explaining a Shiva Linga. Is it a paradox or a contradiction?
Read In the Hot Unconscious if you want to understand a western quest for the elusive east.