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English fortnightly, devoted to life, literature and culture.

Vol: 28  No: 02


16 August 1981

What India Means to Me

John Spiers

We have great pleasure in presenting to our discerning readers an insight-filled article of John Spiers who preferred to be away from limelight and strived throughout his life to understand and experience the contemplative and numinous way of life.

"Surely," says the author, "it is not because India is a secular state that there is toleration of all faiths here; Indians have always been tolerant, not because they were secular, but because they were truly non-secular truly spiritual.’


Born in Perth, Scotland, John Spiers joined the local Theosophical Society at the age of 14 and this was his first contact with the Eastern Culture. At the age of 17 he went to London where he continued his association with the Theosophists. His meeting with Indians, mostly students, created in him tin interest in the Indian Independence Movement.

In 1930 he left the shores of England for India; when the ship touched Suez he changed to Gandhian attire. After reaching India he quietly worked for the Independence Movement in Bombay.

During the years of the World War II he worked in Madras for the British, editing the English monthly Madras War Review.

The War ended and John Spiers having decided to devote his life to the contemplative way, became a disciple of Nataraja Guru, the well-known disciple of the celebrated Shri Narayana Guru of Kerala, in 1948, though he that met him in Ooty in 1934.

John Spiers established his ashram at Kaggalipura, 13 miles south of Bangalore, in 1952. He edited and published an English monthly, Values, between 1955 and 1974.

He attained Samadhi in November 1979.

Swami Shaktidhara, a disciple of John Spiers, intends to publish the writings of his Guru in book form.

I CAME to this country more than 35 years ago. I was 23, and an idealist in full accord with India’s aspirations for self-government. I was brought up in a working class family in cold mountainous Scotland, a country physically as different from India as you can imagine. I remember as a child crying because of the bitterness of the freezing weather, the ice and snow. The very thought of a land of sunshine made me try my hardest to get there as soon as I could, somehow.

But why India? You may ask. There are so many warm countries under the sun — Mexico, Malaya, the South Sea Islands, Africa, Brazil, and so on. Well, India has always endeared itself as a name of wonder to the European.

My father had been a soldier for years in India, and so had his friends. So as a child I heard much about India. And then during my schooldays, when I began to explore the books that interested me on ancient civilizations, like those of ancient Egypt and Babylon and Greece, I found myself drawn to the source-land of the Orient, to India.

And so, at the age of fourteen or so, I was reading all I could find on India. I remember well first reading the Bhagavad Gita and I remember too, reading the poetry of Mrs. Sarojini Naidu. I wonder how many Indians themselves at that age take such an interest in these things. I wonder whether they know at all about Mrs. Naidu. I was stirred to read her verses on India.

It is strange how little one sees of. Mrs. Naidu’s poetry on the book-stalls. She is in oblivion like many other great stalwarts of the India of my time. The book-shops seem either to have just sexy paper-backs on the one side and stodgy technical stuff about mechanics and business management and mathematics on the other.

To continue: there was a very active branch of the Theosophical Society in my home-town, Perth. When I found that their main interest was India, both in regard to their doctrines as well as politically, through Mrs. Annie Besant’s activities - another undeservedly forgotten heroine of those days — I joined the Society and had a great enlargement of contact through their version of India.

Bhavan's Journal

16 August 1981

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Language: English
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