Arthur Osborne came to Tiruvannamalai in 1945 after the Second World War and, although he knew about him before, he met Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi for the first time and formed a deep devotion to him which inspired the rest of his life. He also attained an understanding of Sri Ramana’s teachings both intellectually and spiritually and in 1964 he was founder/editor of the ashram magazine The Mountain Path, which he carried on until his death in 1970.
Apart from writing about Bhagavan in Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge which is the most accessible of biographies in English and editing and collating The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, Arthur Osborne wrote several other works including Buddhism and Christianity in the Light of Hinduism and The Rhythm of History. During the war he was in a prison camp in Thailand and he said that those books were entirely written in his head by the time he was released. It only remained for him to put them down on paper.
Arthur Osborne carried his considerable scholarship lightly. He never used a long word when a short one was sufficient. He sought and wrote of the essence on whatever topic he explored. A quiet, modest person who generally only spoke when spoken to, he was greatly respected by all who came in contact with him.
Arthur Osborne was a very special person. He was an academic who never used a long word when a short one would do; he had a rich and subtle sense of humour and a deep integrity that permeated his life, both externally and internally. Since he was a young man he had been searching for something... a life of the spirit that transcended the material values.., and this search for the truth was all the more essential for him because he was himself always true, both to others and to himself.
In the early decades of the twentieth century there was far less interest in such ideas and there was not the abundance of literature available to a questing spirit. His travels took him first to Poland where he met his wife and then to Thailand where he was a lecturer at the Chualalongkorn University. He became a great admirer of Rene Guenon and he also was deeply attracted to Sufism. With a group of like-minded people he read all he could on the sort of philosophy that interested him and it was there that he first heard of Ramana Maharshi. ‘When the war came he was interned for four years in a Concentration Camp in Bangkok and so it was only on his release in 1945 that he first came to Tiruvannamalai where his wife and children had been living in his absence.
Shortly after meeting the Maharshi he knew that he
had at last found the answer to the question that had been
haunting him all his life and that there was no need or desire to look any further. Although he had to work in order to support his family, he found employment in India so as to able to be with Bhagavan as much as possible. People often came to him to ask for help in understanding, or rather in learning how to live Bhagavan’s teaching of Advaita. This teaching is so essentially simple and yet there seems to be a human tendency to complicate it with embellishments of theory and ritual. It was then that my father wrote this book... Buddhism and Christianity in the light of Hinduism.
It was, in part, written in response to many questions that were put to him regarding religion for, although it is not so many years since this book was first published, with the rapidity of change in the Kali Yuga it is hard to now remember how seriously many people felt about formal religion so short a time ago. Today there is an increased sense of urgency in the world. We live in the age of instant coffee and instant communication and we also want instant enlightenment almost irrespective of the path we take to get there. Sadly, many of those paths turn out to be blind alleys. Not many people can learn to become musicians without first learning the musical scales, a doctor has to train for many years before he is qualified and so does an engineer or a physicist; but today people haven’t the patience to be still. Religion of some sort or a system of discipline is still the best way of training the mind and the body until one is ready to let go and take the infinite step into eternity Ramana’s teaching was beyond religion and could be followed from any faith, but that too is an aspect of Hinduism.
Also, with his training as a historian coupled with his spirituality my father was interested in tracing the course of Buddhism and Christianity and how they fulfilled the needs of the times in which they were born. Each one broke away from the parent religion and presented a new and more vital format. Most religions as he mentions in his book, are at their peak when they are first founded. It is then that the flame of conviction burns the strongest and the vitality is unquenchable. In a new religion there is also room to adapt and to adjust to situations as they occur. As time passes the original beliefs become obscured and clouded through many interpretations and translations and everything becomes set in concrete. The rigidity of the structure that surrounds it acquires almost more importance than the faith it encloses. But Hinduism, if properly understood, is an umbrella which covers all formulae for worship and the core truth of all religions leads to the same goal.
Arthur Osborne wrote this book to illustrate the point and while doing so he not only reminds us of the often misunderstood or forgotten heart teaching of the world’s great religions but he also wrote a beautifully clear explanation of Advaita. It is set down in a way that makes the reader feel that it is within one’s grasp and that is perhaps the most important message of the book.
Religion is what mankind creates. Advaita is what we
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