Monday, January 28, 2013

Return to the Source



There is a deep irony about reading Lanza del Vasto's 'Return to the Source' whilst on a day trip to Geneva. A committed disciple of Gandhi, he founded communities in France committed to non-violence and a minimalist use of the machine! Indeed the story I finished on, half way through, is of a harrowing pilgrimage on (bare) feet to celebrate Easter Mass - a walk of 48 miles whilst fasting in the Indian sun! This he does admit was a mite fanatical with the endurance dispersing from, rather than focusing the mind on, the dying and resurrecting Christ.

His emphasis on work as in itself meaningful, especially with one's hands, is a a salutary reminder and one that I receive each time I succumb to a 'ready meal', something around which my conscience does not sit well! 

I realised this is my favourite kind of book. It is a beautifully written memoir, a fact that anchors his intellectual and spiritual search in a deeply felt and personalised reality. The fact that it unfolds in India is a happy bonus. I can assimilate both knowledge about place and time, its religious and secular life, as well as being invited to ponder its meaning, and both are offered as an invitation to a personal reformation of my own understanding and life. The content never overwhelms and is always an address (and suffused here with self-depreciating humour).

He is a 'realistic romantic' about India. He sees it very much through a 'Gandhi-an' lens -he stays with Gandhi for a period, learning to weave, and taking long walks with the Mahatma - and it is a good lens to have. He is realistic (and profoundly accurate) both about the inspiration that Gandhi's project will achieve and the diffusion rather than concentration of its lasting influence. The people will admire, take courage but not follow in the main.

He is also strikingly open - a devout Catholic himself - he stands for a genuine inter-religious dialogue and handles aspects of Hinduism with great grace and subtly - though with others his reactions are sharper (and he confesses those of an immature observer).

This is particularly true of his encounter with Sri Ramana Maharishi. He does not respond at all to the 'static' nature of his being and wisdom! Curtly telling us that active charity always trumps metaphysical truisms (even living ones)!

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