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A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood

December 20, 2015

AMBTRI wonder how much of this book covers similar ground to Isherwood’s book ‘My Guru And His Disciple ‘ but it’s so long ago that I read it that I am not sure. I became suspicious when Ollie mentioned his ‘Mahanta’ – the title of the leader of an American spiritual group (regarded by some as a cult) called Eckankar

I am not sure why such a fuss is made of the brother becoming Brahmacharya. This is simply the first of four stages which any high-caste Hindu takes below the age of 25 and doesn’t automatically lead on to the other, more ascetic stages.

AMBTR 2.jpgThe Sanskrit title maharaja was originally used only for rulers who ruled a considerably large region with minor tributary rulers under them. Since the mediaeval times the title was used even by rulers of smaller states since they claimed to be the descendants of the ancient maharajas. In this book it is used of a chief monk – as it was when the Beatles went to India. The title seems to be used mainly for Hindus who spread their ideas outside India.

AMBTR 3The shraddha ceremony seems to be limited to certain branches of Hinduism – the again, ‘Hinduism’ is a Western term and it doesn’t fit the huge variety of religious practices which it claims to label.

Yes, in an interview with the Paris review, he claims that “two monks from the Vedanta monastery here were coming out to India to take their final vows, sannyas, and I was in close contact with their feelings and the whole predicament of being about to take sannyas. For a long time I’d wanted to write a confrontation story where the representative of something meets the representative of something else, and quite suddenly it came to me that this was the way to do it. I talked a great deal with the monks afterward while I was writing it and checked up immensely on the details.”

Two people who know more about India and its vast array of religious practices, however, tell me that scepticism about the monastic details are unfounded. I admit that leaning about Hinduism in a white, Western university isn’t the whole story.

AMBTR 6There are autobiographical bits: “Not long after I met Swami Prabhavananda, the war began, and I went to work with the Quakers at a hostel for refugees in Philadelphia, and after 1940 and Pearl Harbor I volunteered to join a Quaker ambulance corps going to China.”


Tom, when I refer above to your future lover, I seem to take it for granted that the lover will be a he. That’s an impression I want to correct. Look—are you absolutely sure you can’t have a relationship with a girl? I know you told me you’d tried it two or three times, but that was back in high-school, wasn’t it, and they may merely have been the wrong ones for you. I think you do at least know me well enough to know that I’d never dream of suggesting you should go against your nature. But when someone is—as you must admit you are such a militant standard-bearer in the ranks of the man-lovers, isn’t it just possible that his sexual inclinations may be partly prejudice? Steady now, don’t start denying this right away! First ask yourself frankly, am I against heterosexual love simply because it’s respectable and legal and approved of by the churches and the newspapers and all those other vested interests I hate?

Sometimes I’ve worried about you, Tommy, fearing that you’ll waste much of your wonderful vitality in defying organized Society—such a hopeless fruitless occu­pation! Society itself couldn’t care less, and that kind of defiance only hardens and embitters the defier in the long run and makes him old before his time. We can’t have that happening to you, can we? If you honestly don’t like girls, you don’t. All I’m urging is that you should give them a few more tries. They do have their advantages, you know, the chief of which is that they can provide you with children. You of all people, with so much love to give, ought not to miss the marvellous experience of being a father. I can promise you that becoming a husband is a very small price to pay for it!

Being married does make a lot of things easier, because the world accepts marriage at its face value, without asking what goes on behind the scenes—whereas it’s always a bit suspicious of bachelors! The unmarried are apt to regard marriage as a prison—actually it gives you much greater freedom. And you’d be amazed how many of the married men I know personally swing both ways. Some of them will even admit that they feel more at ease making love with other married men, rather than with out-and-out homosexuals, whom they’re inclined to look on as some­what wilful freaks.

May I also call to your attention that one of your best­seller American psychologists—I forget his name, but I once came across a paperback of his at your place, it must have enraged you if you ever read it—maintains that man is bisexual by nature and that the homosexual who rigidly rejects women under all circumstances is being just as unnatural and square as the heterosexual who rejects men!

Enough said! Now, Tommy dear, do try to keep an open mind toward whatever the future may bring you and don’t dismiss it out of hand if it happens to be wearing a skirt!

Do we really care what they think of us? No, of course we don’t

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