Grant Duf



Grant Duf (Douglas Ainslie.)

I had first become interested in India on perusing my grandfather’s History of the Mahrattas, which is still read by many and is regarded as a classic of its kind. Though not actually, I believe, styled Governor, he practically ruled that part of the ancient land for some years and became very much attached to the Mahrattas and to the Indian tradition in general. In the early days of the ‘eighties of last century, my uncle, the late Sir Mountstaurt Grant Duff, who was then Governor of Madras, asked me to come out to his place and stay there as long as I liked. This was just what I should have wished to do. But when I had read my uncle’s letter triumphantly to my parents, after a brief consultation my father told me, to my amazement, that they could not allow me to go to India, owing to the climate of that country!

I mention these facts as they may serve to explain to some extent my curious mental position as regards India. I was on the one hand surrounded with the usual crowd of materialists and followers of Herbert Spencer when I was eighteen, and on the other I felt an obscure longing for something else which I knew existing somewhere else, but where I was not sure precisely, owing to the influences of Oxford teaching. There, at Oxford, I wasted my time taking a degree and doing little else but play about as I had done the previous four years at Eton with groups of shallow-minded youths one would often find in the higher classes in a school. Soon after I commenced my studies at Oxford, I felt the urge to write down some of the poetry that was surging within me, and published several volumes of verse besides sending poems to the magazines of the day. In the matter of attending social parties, etc., I was not quite as bad as Robert Browning, though I wasted lots of time that way.

  • Though the torch be inverted the flame
  • Will burn upward the same
  • Though the name no longer be flame
  • But just man-in-the-mire,
  • He too will burn upward aspire
  • To the place whence he came:
  • For he too is fire Of a quenchless desire.
  • Though the torch be inverted the flame
  • Will burn upward the same.

A good deal later there occurred an episode which has some bearing on the present subject of my quest for the Tr uth, how and where I ultimately found IT. I was a member of the aristocratic Union Club at Naples, where for the first time I came into contact with Benedetto Croce’s writings. His philosophy of art and of the practical as also his logical studies interested me intensely. Unacquainted with anyone who could introduce me to the philosopher, I called upon him myself, to see what would happen next! Ever ything went splendidly when I had explained who I was and my love for philosophy of the idealistic sort which he practised. In the course of a few weeks I was already at work on his Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic This intercourse, though verbal and intellectual, with a great thinker did stimulate my interest in the things of the spirit, and I was always looking about for someone with a definite solution to the problem of the universe.

While I was in this state of mind, a thirst for a deeper understanding about life, the world and what they mean, I came to know of the Sage of the Hill of the Holy Beacon. It was the good Mr. Raphael Hurst who told me of the Holy One and the Ashram at Tiruvannamalai.

Eventually I found my way out there and had the greatest adventure of my life. Mark my words. I do not know what happened when I saw Maharshi for the first time, but the moment he looked at me, I felt he was the Truth and the Light. There could be no doubt about it, and all the doubts and speculations I had accumulated during the past many years disappeared in the Radiance of the Holy One. It is very difficult to describe in words the unanticipated change that came over me. Suffice it to say that, though my visits to the Ashram were brief, I felt that every moment I was there I was building up within me what could never be destroyed. Whatever may happen to this body and mind. A careful reading of the admirable biography of Sri Ramana Maharshi by B. V. Narasimhaswami revealed to me what I could never hope to know otherwise. I will only mention here just a very few of the points in which the Maharshi has particularly appealed to me. One of these is the extreme politeness and gentleness which always surrounds his least act. It is as though he is actually conscious of the frail beings whom he is addressing and avoiding the words that may cause them to be ashamed or to regret something that they had done. All the incidents in the above mentioned biography seem to me to illustrate this fact in relation to Maharshi, - his extraordinary insight into other beings combined with his marvellous gentleness. He sees and knows everything about all those who come before him but he is gentle to a degree that surpasses gentleness, whereby he reaches his end with perfect ease and to the utmost benefit of the visitor.

The visit of Humphreys to the Maharshi is one of the most interesting incidents for us Europeans. It occurred over thirty-five years ago, yet the account he left of his visits to the Sage supplies all the details that are necessary. His concluding words are highly significant, - It is wonderful what a difference it makes to have been in his Presence! I must say the same from my personal experience. My visit to the Sage of Arunachala has been the greatest event in my life. Any of those of the West who are still waiting and wondering would do well to pack their sack as quickly as possible and be off to India while there is yet time. What I feel personally is that so much has been done during the last ten years in the way of making known the Saviour of mankind that further comment is simply otiose.