Sylvia Rutherford had met Sarmananda in London. At that time she was dabbling in ceremonial magic and the Kabbalah. She had been suddenly frightened by the strange and seemingly related deaths of two of the men who seemed to have attained proficiency in the weird operations. In each case doctors had diagnosed a sudden rupture of the heart. On one of the bodies autopsy had been performed, since the man had had a strong physique and there had been no hint of heart disease. It was discovered that the heart had been suddenly torn or rather pierced as if with a sharp sword. Yet there had been no bodily injury. The case had somewhat puzzled the physicians. Overstrain, they declared. But Sylvia had been lucid enough to connect these deaths with occult practices and the use of ceremonial swords. Stricken with a sort of panic, she had looked around almost frantically for help and salvation.
Sarmananda was introduced to her. He was supposed to be an exponent of Buddhism. He claimed that officially known Buddhism was but the shell of the living doctrine of Gautama. He was expounding teachings which, in their practical as well as metaphysical aspects, were supposed to effect the regeneration of the individual and lead to a harmonized state of perfection and identification with the world-energy. In fact his doctrine was a queer mixture of subtle psychology, of metaphysical Buddhism as taught in some North Indian schools, and of more or less disguised Tantrik practices. He had, of course, "esoteric" as well as exoteric teachings. The former dealt definitely with the arousal of bodily energies. The body, he said, was the microcosm. It was so linked with the macrocosm or universal being that by acting on the former the latter could be reached. Nirvana was a condition of equilibrium. If it could be induced in the body through proper contemplation, objectification and harmonization of energies, then it would free the individual consciousness linked with that body, and cosmic consciousness would follow.
Cosmic consciousness, fourth dimension, equilibration were magical words for many. Weary of their own selfhood and of their own body, they sought release in the promised land of a mysticism, the entrance to which seemed within easy reach of those complying with certain rules and performing exercises which, at first, seemed healthy and attractive. The sudden death of American relatives had, however, forced Sylvia to leave London and her teacher after a few weeks of contact. Circumstances had so shaped themselves that she remained in America. Having heard that Sarmananda was touring the States, delivering lectures to crowded halls in many big cities, she had written him urging him to come for at least a few days to Carmel. He had come.
Rumors of his San Francisco lectures were exciting. He seemed to have a great sway over his public. He spoke in abrupt, forceful tones. The regenerate consciousness: that was his great theme. "Make your body cosmic and you become the Infinite Mind." A subtle dialectic cemented his entire doctrine into a fascinating whole for men who wanted to find God here and now. He knew American psychology, its trend toward behaviorism, toward practical efficiency, its craving for health, bliss, optimism. "Why be ill, why be limited?" he thundered forth. "You are the whole here and now. Why don't you know it? Because you are polarized; only half of your own self. Equilibrate yourself, develop your other hidden self. Contemplate the hidden face of the moon in yourself. Then eternity will be yours. No one can help you but yourself. Free your consciousness from this half-body of yours. If you watch all your actions, all your functions with intense awareness, as Buddha bid his disciples do," he claimed, quoting texts, "if you examine your own chemicalizations and rhythms of living, then little by little the hidden half of yourself will begin to appear to you. Do not be afraid of it. It may seem a strange and fantastic shape. But keep watching and you will see its shadows complement your known highlights. And you will grow into wholeness."
Sarmananda was tall and powerfully built. His dark eyes glowed with a strange yellowish light. They were half-veiled save in moments of vehemence, when the eyelids would suddenly open and an uncanny energy would flow from the spotted globes underneath a protruding forehead. There was power in him, but a sort of tense sinister power. When Rania saw and heard him she shivered and said to Nadia, who recoiled instinctively from the man: "He may be whole, but it must be from eating up the rest of the world!"
Nadia assented and nicknamed him "the Ogre."
However Carmel flocked to his lectures. He had a keen psychological sense and transformed his teachings to suit the needs and prejudices of his audiences. He was very intellectual, logical, psychological. He portrayed the many functions of the body, showed where they set traps for the consciousness which always longed to be active and to flow into the very organs it should only use as instruments. The task was to set this consciousness, this "I," free by creating balancing counter-rhythms. He was not very explicit as to how it was to be done. The processes had to be watched carefully. A teacher was necessary in most cases; personal directions for practical work were required.
The inference was clear. He could but promulgate the philosophy to a large audience; the practice of contemplation, self-watchfulness and bodily analysis was relatively a simple one. But the deliberate attempt to set counter-rhythms required the guidance of one who knew. Besides, it necessitated group work in order to be fully worked out. The process of equilibration had to be stimulated by an interplay of magnetisms of different types.
To Rania it was evident that the latter theory would lead to some form of sex magic. But at first when asked to give her opinion on Sarmananda, she answered evasively. To her, he was not sympathetic, but it might be only a personal reaction. She was in passionate eagerness to see Boris and talk to him about the Hindu. She wrote him letters entreating him to come at once. She felt some sinister influence whirling around poor frantic souls who were sincerely, but oh! how foolishly and hectically, searching for some peaceful haven. Now a powerful man had come and they rushed toward him in excited worship.
Rania was not well yet. Darkness seemed to have become positive and taken anchorage. It was grinning silently, as if saying: "I am waiting. My time will come. I shall have you all." At night it took form almost; a grimacing, monstrous shape that hovered over Carmel. The huge column of blackness rose from the Point, close to Lobos. It stood. It watched. Rania saw it grow toward the sky. She was helpless. She was a puny thing in front of the huge mass. But the horror of the face she could sense within the mass froze her heart; and she would wake up shivering yet perspiring.
Days passed like nightmares. Nadia ran to her as often as she could. She, too, felt nearly lost, frightened to be alone. Her brother seemed much interested in Sarmananda. He liked the keen psychological analysis of the teacher, his objectivity and impassibility. Nadia had tried to contradict him and got furious telling him what a fool he was making of himself being taken in by "the Ogre." Peter had sneered at her, asking her sharply to stop her childish pranks. She had bitten her lips not to answer. But she felt dreadfully unhappy. Something would have to happen. Thank God, she would be eighteen in a few weeks and no one had better try to boss her then.
Hilda and Robert, more inseparable than ever, had become, with Sylvia and a few others, assiduous worshipers at the Hindu's shrine. They were beginning to form a group for private instruction. Mrs. Falkner was hesitating. Her mind seemed suddenly to reel. A terrible bitterness possessed her. She distrusted everybody. She hardly saw Rania any more. She hardly saw anyone. She looked ghastly, aged almost beyond recognition.
March storms had come. They tore through the trees. They lashed. They spread a bitter taste of foam over alI living things. Point Lobos was shaken by the furious impacts of the sea. Peter drove Rania to the peninsula's end where the sea tides clash in vertical thunder. A raw, biting wind forced its way through clothes, walls, bedsheets. It claimed domination. It froze one to the marrow. Rania shivered. Her legs and arms were nearly paralyzed with neuritis. She tucked herself in woolens; electric pads hardly could warm her thin blood. Her eyes seemed to have sunk into rigidity and forced silence. She came back from the drive worse than ever. She had felt a change in Peter. He was getting more excitable. She thought he had heard more stories about herself. Or was it Sarmananda's influence? She had been but two or three times to the lectures. But when drawn into an unwelcome introduction to him and forced to shake his hand, she had felt an awful repulsion and had withdrawn precipitately. She had seen a disconcerted, then penetrating, then angry and sarcastic look in his eyes. When she had come to the other lectures, she had felt his glance heavy upon her. She had shuddered, had tried to compose herself and to send him as much love and gentle compassion as she could marshal. But disgust had overwhelmed her. She had left hurriedly while people pressed around the great man, gathering into his orb as fascinated moths.
Sarmananda left to fill engagements in the south. But he promised to come back the following year and gave fuller instructions to Sylvia who, mainly with the help of Hilda and Robert, was to hold a small group together. They were to meet twice a week in the evening. What they actually did was meant to be secret. They were growing into "wholeness" through their bodies! Soon after, a curious look began to creep over their faces, a strained look. Hilda especially appeared almost haggard. She hardly spoke to Rania, even when she met her in public; or else she greeted her with ostensible affection.
Boris, who had been fully informed by Rania's letters of the situation, was to come back a couple of days later. He had met Sarmananda once or twice in the east, and a few weeks before, in San Francisco. He did not hesitate in denouncing his teachings to Rania as a dangerous perversion of what he thought the true doctrine; doubly dangerous they were, since Sarmananda used terms and ideas which outwardly and in the context he gave them sounded exactly like the true spiritual ones, thus misleading people, confusing their minds and at the same time discrediting the true philosophy in the eyes of those who had tasted of the Hindu's practical teachings and had realized their eventual consequences.
In the evening Boris arrived.
Peter rode to Monterey and brought him from the station to the Lincoln Inn where he took a room; then to Rania. No, he would not stay. They would want to talk alone and he was very busy. Rania was lying on her sofa, still in great pain. But her arms flew to the beloved as desert winds at night to the sea. How she had longed for him! He bowed over her, gently, lovingly he kissed her forehead. She had suffered so much. He had felt it beating upon him from afar. Many a time he came near leaving everything and rushing to her. He had to fulfill his destiny. Now, he was free. Nothing could take him from the work he wanted to accomplish in Carmel. Was she not in this work? She had fought bravely, he knew. They must work together, make a record of truth; yes, even here, where so much falsehood and dismal darkness was being concentrated. It was always from the deepest pits that the flame must rise. They would live and record the great cosmic truth of which Carmel was the planetary altar, where the shadow of this truth was most somber. Were there not small cottages near Lobos, or in the Highlands where he could work quietly — where perhaps she would come also and stay?
She looked at him with big, solemn eyes.
That would be another scandal . . . if they were to live together. Who would understand? No, he shook his head, not necessarily scandal. He knew the whole situation. Rania had written him enough already, and Mrs. Falkner had said in her two or three letters all that was needed to complete the story. He would not add one more disturbance to an already complex situation. He had thought it all out. She needed protection. And if she was willing to consider it in the spirit in which he was contemplating the action, he saw no reason why they should not give to their sacred companionship, as co-devotees of the same ideal, as communicants in the same dedication to the selfless service of humanity, the social appearance of a legalized union. It would not, could not, be obviously what men call a marriage. His life no longer belonged to him. Perhaps her own life also was no longer her own. But behind the useless social form they would be sheltered; the work would be sheltered. It might mean sacrifice on her part. He had practically nothing but himself to offer — in a sense, not even that — only a new opportunity for service, a further consecration, a deeper abnegation. Yet he had to ask her. She need not answer now.
She looked at him with big solemn eyes.
She took his hands, pressed them into acquiescence.
No, she did not need to think it over. It was all thought over, long ago. She had dreamt he would come and ask her. She had dreamt they would both fight as soldiers in the great struggle, hand in hand — as she now pressed his hands; a chain of power. She had seen the darkness crowd up on her, not being able to reach her, for the time had not come yet. There was work to be done. She knew herself necessary. What was she to bring to it? She did not know — a renunciation perhaps. Her broken helpless body might not stand the strain much longer. But while it would keep up, she would be game, would do her work — with him. She understood now what work meant, and utter loyalty to that work in complete self-denial. She realized that here on this plane there was one thing needed: activity.
To fulfill one's function in activity, in dispassionate selfless activity; that was all. But not being attached to the fruits of action. Not being attached, not binding others either.
Being free because refusing to be a master of slaves. Being free. Two free beings, many free beings, many companions. Oh! how could she hesitate? She was ready for all sacrifices, for all deepest consecrations — if need be alone, in sorrow and distress; but happily, joyously, in great boundless love, with him.
Her hands pressed his hands in affirmation.
Affirmation of purpose, of a truth.
There was nothing in her he could not see; she would lay herself open and bare, transparent. She had struggled. She had failed many times perhaps. But she had clung to one central faith, to one ultimate reality within. Now that she was able to see her past unfolding in cyclic tides, she could better grasp the sense of it all, the sense of the realization which was to be hers, in death or rebirth. She had been surrounded by deaths. She had caused them unwillingly. She was a power that seemed to have the fatality of burning many. She had not known how to wield that power, how to attenuate the flame in compassion for the weak. That had been her selfishness. It had become clear to her. She had burned herself up, in burning others. But out of that fatality something had to grow. She had to bequeath a trust, a legacy. To whom? To what? She began to perceive it all. But words were of little use in such matters. He would know. He knew perhaps already. She had craved nobility of soul. She had yearned for noble men and women who could sound forth the great tone of this heroic strenuous age of spiritual wars. She had longed to mother a little body into such a consummation. But she was not to be a mother of bodies. Yet she might have herself to bequeath. One can truly give in sacrifice only what one is. Well, she was ready. Affirmation of a will, of a truth.
The following day Nadia met Boris.
She had come to Rania to bring her flowers, eager to know the outcome of her meeting with Boris. She had heard so much about him that she was almost afraid to see him. Rania did not say much; she wanted her to know Boris before she would announce their contemplated union. She phoned him to come if he could. As he entered the room Nadia rose, nervously. She withdrew a little. She knew already so strongly from within that all she could say or do was meaningless — that all was implicitly done and said, and that this meeting of bodies was a mere formality — that it almost frightened her. She could but draw very close to Rania and stand, silent. "Boris, this is Nadia"; she heard the words. She sensed herself stretching a hand that met a stronger one. Then she was no more. Something happened that annihilated her. Words were exchanged; they seemed meaningless. She stood helplessly trying to be a self again. As Rania called her, she moved toward the couch. Rania drew her close, pressed her into her arms. She saw Boris smile; with deep poignant tenderness something leaped forth in her breast that made her cry. She kissed Rania foolishly, childishly. She laughed. There was someone else in her. It felt so strange. She was all distended; not open, but distended almost infinitely. She tasted the sun and the ocean inside of her. All things around looked funny, transparent. What had happened?
That day Nadia met Boris.
Rania told her she would live with him.
Nadia looked at her, questioning . . . at Boris who was watching her intently.
Yes, they had decided that for the sake of the work and of their very friends, they would go through the usual marriage ceremony as simplified as possible, and so establish a social basis for their activities which otherwise might suffer from all that obviously would be said. Nadia seemed a little puzzled. It all came at once; and her world seemed suddenly so upset that she could not place things where she was accustomed to seeing them. They extended now so far beyond their old boundaries, disconcertingly far. Still, yes, of course, she was happy for it. She would always be glad of what made Rania happy. And, too, it seemed a logical thing to do. Then she burst out laughing. Oh! if she could only see Hilda's face when she would hear it! Rania frowned sadly. Hilda! poor Hilda. Nadia ought not to laugh about her. She was so miserable. Perhaps she would feel still more jealous, still more bitter. Boris said he would go himself that day to the Falkners.
He would announce his future marriage.
In a few hours all Carmel knew.
Reactions were varied. Undermeanings were attributed. Some spoke in hushed voice of occult work that both had to do, with no idea at all of what this work might be, just babbling words to show off the depth of their own knowledge. Others laughed; well, after all Boris was a man just like any other! One or two insinuated that Rania had a good income, which might explain things a little. Hilda sneered contemptuously when her mother told her, after Boris had come to the house: "She has gotten him, at last! Well, I wonder what kind of a wife she will be! She was pretty helpless when I was not around." Mrs. Falkner shook her head sadly. "I think it is fine of Boris. The poor girl is suffering very much. It will be a blessing to her. She probably will be happy. After all she has passed through, she needs a little peace."
"Oh! yes, she needed peace indeed!" retorted Hilda. Boris would have a hard time to give it to her! She was selfish, that was all. She made everyone serve her. Now she had Boris in her net. And it would be interesting to watch the results. She could swear Boris would be ruined, like she was nearly ruined slaving for her . . . Her bitter words went on and on, to everyone who cared to hear her.
In a few hours all Carmel knew.
Legal procedures were soon over.
They bought a new car. Nadia drove them around to find a cottage. She was happy. She had accepted the situation joyfully. Bitterly she fought back depreciating comments which the Sarmananda group circulated. She even had a fight with her brother. Peter admired Boris. He thought the marriage was engineered as a way of clearing Rania's reputation, yet he could not help having suspicions. He wanted to know whether Rania and his sister had really not been guilty of too close an intimacy. He tried to say a few words here and there as soundings. Somehow Nadia felt he was driving at her. She was a child no longer. She flew into a rage, and swore she would leave the room instantly if he did not apologize. Taken aback, he withdrew. He was not convinced. Nadia began to hate him. Outside of her work hours she fled to Rania and Boris as to a refuge. There she glowed forth with joyous affirmation. Great happiness. A seed into the decaying humus.
In a few days they found a house.
Huge cliffs, rock edges sharpened by the impact of the sea. Pines with sturdy roots clamped in stone crevices. Where there was soil, grass and wildflowers by myriads; lupines bepurpled the strained outlines of the earth. Small creeks, with mystery hung around, trying to tell secrets, unfolding dreams of strange adventures; a few grottos. On the farther rocks, immersed in ever-churning waves, sea lions moved in pathetic incessant contortions. Huge sea worms, they seemed like grotesque attempts of life to glide slimily out of the waters. The first birth toward light; a tragic helpless struggle. The things of the sea were stunned by the sun and winds. They barked; they laughed monstrously. They clamored with the impotency of being at the mad sea gulls shrieking demonic sneers at the sloth of the things below. Toward the north, Lobos spearing the waves; south, the hills rose, majestic and solemn, heaving flowers and scented earth.
The cottage was spacious, comfortable.
Rania loved it so much she made up her mind to buy it with the money that had come to her from the settlement with her father-in-law. It was a good bargain. Land values were increasing. It would be a place where no one could dispute their right to live as they pleased, isolated enough, yet, with a car, only ten minutes from Carmel. She was feeling stronger now. The rains had stopped. They drove to San Francisco, bought furniture, rugs, batiks. Soon everything was ready. Richard's many books, which had been stored, and other things she loved, arrived. It just came about that they moved into the new home on Nadia's birthday. They stayed together all day, sitting on the sun porch, taking in sea and soil and the light washed clean now, scintillating on every leaf, after the rains. Three humans together and the earth . . . beside the clangor of useless words, the whirring of uncentered minds, and all the confusion of an age prurient with ugliness, sloppy with meaningless activities, cancerous with monstrous selfishness. Beside all these things, yet within — ready to face it, accept it, absorb it if need be, that purification might be accomplished.
Three humans in the cottage.
Nadia begged to stay.
She felt miserable with her brother in their small crowded rooms. She sensed him going headlong into the claws of "the Ogre," as she said. The Hindu had left, but, however quickly Carmel usually forgot her many mind-lovers, that one had struck solid, greedy roots in the soil of a few dissatisfied beings. Peter had resisted long. He hated groups and talks; but his very self-centeredness was leading him insensibly into the thing one would think was the most remote from his nature. His apparent moral sturdiness was mostly fear, Nadia thought. He carried locked within his silences many Russian ghosts. Someday they would rush out. She could feel them peeping through the keyhole. No thanks, she was not eager to be near when they would parade out. Besides, did not Rania need her to keep the house? She was not able to attend to cleaning, cooking. It would wear her out. Boris had his work and Rania might just as well help him and leave all the material cares to her. Was it not the only sensible thing to do? She would not bother them, and as long as she would get room and board and some pieces of clothing, she would feel so happy.
Nadia begged to stay.
Three souls indrawn as one.
Against the world they stood. Peter had violently opposed his sister's going. He thought that after all that had been said it was disgraceful for Boris to condone such close intimacy. Perhaps he did not care! Perhaps he was happy to have his wife busy with a young girl! Boris became very pale. His answer was short, cutting. What kind of a foul mind must one have to throw such accusations at one's sister and friend? If that was his way, all right. There was room for all kinds in this world. But he might as well beware, lest he sink deeper into the astral mire with which he was surrounding himself. Nadia was of age. She was free. She had made her application the day before to become an American citizen, as he himself had done. Besides he was planning to adopt her legally, if it could be arranged. Peter sneered. That was the last stroke! A fine family they were making. Well, good luck to them! He would have nothing more to do with the whole business. But he was free to say what he thought. And he did. The Sarmananda group sucked him in still more powerfully. The cleavage accentuated itself. Something dark and heavy pressed upon the little town. It made individual egos feel more helpless, more chaotic, more frantically drawn toward any kind of wreckage to which they might hold on, desperately, like drowning men. It hung heavily, shattering every effort at unification, at communal cooperation. The little clans that constantly were forming withdrew more into stony isolation. Yet little wars raged, with bitterness on both sides, for this or that unimportant possession — newspapers, theaters, shops, societies.
Against it, three souls indrawn as one.
Not defeated, not withdrawing.
Boris opened the house to weekly receptions and discussions at which all willing ones were accepted, known or unknown, friend or foe. His car called on those unable to come otherwise; Nadia being active as a chauffeur as well as cook, help and maid. During the evenings he usually took some paragraphs from great spiritual books, ancient or modern, and developed the ideas recorded in the pregnant words. Few came at first. Mrs. Falkner, torn between her daughter and her own intuitive recognitions, was there, trying to cling to something stable on which she might perchance hang her shattered peace. Others appeared more or less regularly, drawn in by curiosity or genuine interest. Boris rented the theater and gave a series of three free public lectures on "What is Wholeness?" He did not mention any names. But it was clear to every one that his words were aiming powerfully at the doctrines spread by Sarmananda. First, he gave a philosophical interpretation of the last five thousand years, delineating the great periods subdividing this era, elucidating the meaning of each. He uncovered the significance of Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and more recent great Teachers; why they came, the keynote of their teachings, the perversions which befell these teachings. Then he discussed the fundamental bases of all great philosophies; the unity of all lives, the cyclic unfolding of the tide of being, the essential identity of all individualized selves with the universal Self. Lastly he analyzed methods of living, correcting misconceptions, stimulating his hearers into renewed effort at self-realization through fulfillment of congenital duties, through impersonal action. He showed the dangers facing all true spiritual search, the pitfalls confronting would-be occultists. He ended with a plea for common sense, for purity, for selflessness.
Not defeated, but a powerful affirmation.
A few rallied. With them, he and Rania worked in utter devotion.