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With Tutankhamen began for the Western World an era of spiritual regression which is lasting still.

Sincere and serious as it is, this opinion of ours may at first sight appear as a mere paradox. But it is not so.

Whatever one may think of Akhnaton’s Teaching, one has to concede at least three points concerning it. First, the Religion of the Disk was a universal religion, as opposed to the former local or national religions of the ancient world. The supreme Reality round which it centred — call it the Soul of the Sun, the Energy within the Disk, or give it any other name — was not only Something worthy of the adoration of all men, but also Something actually worshipped, knowingly or unknowingly, by all creatures, including plants. And all creatures, brought forth and sustained by the One Source of life — the Sun — were one in Him. Never in the world west of India had the idea of universal Godhead been so emphatically stressed, and the brotherhood of all living beings more deeply felt. And never were those truths to be stressed again more boldly in the future.

Secondly, it was a rational and natural religion1 — not a dogmatic one. It was neither a creed nor a code of human laws. It did not pretend to reveal the Unknowable, or to regulate in details the behaviour of man, or to offer means to escape the visible world and its links. It simply invited us to draw our religious inspiration from the beauty of things as

1 “Its strength” (of Akhnaton’s religion) “lay in its nearness to obvious truth and obvious blessings. It compromised happily between crude material idolatry and a mysticism which had no connection with life. Its deity was so supermundane that no taint of earth or materialism clung to it, and yet so visibly the creative and regulative Power of all that is mundane that its worship was in touch with the most insistent realities. . . . It achieved a happy success in a direction where most of them (i.e., the great religious systems) have signally failed — a basis in reality instead of speculation, and a natural rather than induced piety.” — Norman de Garis Davies, The Rock Tombs of El Amarna, p. 47.


they are: to worship life, in feeling and in deed; or, to put it as an outstanding nineteenth-century thinker1 has done, to be “true to the earth.” Based as it was, not upon any mythology, nor any metaphysics, but upon a broad intuition of scientific truth, its appeal would have increased with the progress of accurate knowledge — instead of decreasing, like that of many a better-known religion.

Finally — and this was perhaps its most original feature — it was, from the very start, a Teaching that exalted the individual perfection (life in truth) as the supreme goal, and at the same time a State-religion. Not only the religion of a State, but a religion for the State — for any and every State — no less than for the individual. It was a Teaching in which (if we may judge by the example of its Founder) the same idea of “truth” that was to inspire personal behaviour through and through was also to determine the attitude of a monarch towards the friends and foes of his realm, to guide his decisions regarding peace and war; in one word, to dominate international relations. It implied, not the separation of private and public life, but their identity — their subjection to the same rational and aesthetic principles; their common source of inspiration; their common goal.

Such was the message of Akhnaton, the only great religious Teacher, west of India, who was at the same time a king; and perhaps the only undoubtedly historic originator of a religion on earth,2 who, being a king, did not renounce kingship but tried to tackle the problems of State — particularly the problem of war — in the light of religious truth.

* * *

The thirteen years of Akhnaton’s personal rule were but a minute in history. But that minute marks a level of perfection

1 Nietzsche.
2 Many will rightly remark that the deified Indian hero, Krishna, was a king, and that he not only put forth the doctrine of warrior-like action performed in a spirit of complete detachment (as expressed in the Bhagavad-Gîta), but applied it himself to politics, throughout the Kurukshetra War. However, such an enormous amount of legend now surrounds the person of Krishna, that it is practically impossible to assign him a place in history — to say nothing of giving him even an approximate date.


hardly ever approached in subsequent years (save perhaps in India, during the latter part of the reign of Asoka, or under Harshavardhana, or again, after many centuries, in the latter part of the reign of Akbar).

From the far-gone days of Tutankhamen down to the time in which we live, the history of the Western world — that is to say, roughly, of the world west of India — presents an ever-broadening gap between the recognised religions and rational thought; a more and more complete divorce, also, between the same recognised religions and life, especially public life.

When, under the pressure of his masters, the priests of Amon, Tutankhaton, renamed Tutankhamon, signed the decree reinstalling the national gods of Egypt in their former glory, he opened an era of intellectual conflict and moral unrest which has not yet to-day come to an end. Before Akhnaton, the world — the Western world at least — had worshipped national gods, and had been satisfied. After him, it continued to worship national gods, but was no longer fully content with them. For a minute, a new light had shone; great truths — the universality of the supreme Essence; the oneness of all life; the unity of religious and rational thought — had been proclaimed in words, in song and in deeds, by one of those men who appear once in history. The man had been cursed, and it was henceforth a crime even to utter his name. He was soon forgotten. But there was no way to suppress the fact that he had come. The old order of blissful ignorance was gone for ever. Against its will, the world dimly remembered the light that the priests had sought to put out; and age after age, inspired men of various lands set out in search of the lost treasure; some caught a glimpse of it, but none were able to regain it in its integrity. The Western world is still seeking it — in vain.

* * *

To make our thought clear to all, let us follow the evolution of the West from the overthrow of Akhnaton’s work to the present day. By “West” we mean Europe, Europeanised


America (and Australia), and the countries that stand at the background of European civilisation — that is to say, Greece and a great part of the Middle East.

With the earliest “physiologoi” of Ionia — eight hundred years after Akhnaton — rational thought made its second appearance in the West. And this time it did not wither away after the death of one man, but found its mouthpieces in many. Generations of thinkers whose ambition was intellectual knowledge — the logical deduction of ideas and the rational explanation of facts — succeeded one another. Among them were such men as Pythagoras and Plato, who united the light of mystic insight to the clear knowledge of mathematics, and who transcended the narrow religious conceptions of their times. But the Greek world could never transcend them; and Socrates died “for not believing in the gods in whom the city believed” — the national gods — though there had been no more faithful citizen than he. Those gods, adorned as they were with all the graces that Hellenic imagination could give them, were jealous and revengeful in their way. They would have been out of date (and harmless) had men accepted, a thousand years before, the worship of the One Essence of all things, with all it implied. But they had not; and the conflict between the better individuals and the religion of the State had begun. Rational thought was left to thrive; but not so the broad religious outlook that was linked with it. Theoretically — intellectually — any universal God (First Principle, supreme Idea of Goodness, or whatever it be) was acceptable. But the conception of Something to be loved more than the State and worshipped before the national gods was alien to Greece, to Rome, and in general to all the city-minded people of the Mediterranean. Seen from our modern angle of vision, there was a strange disparity between the high intellectual standard of the Hellenes of classical times — those creators of scientific reasoning — and their all-too-human local gods, in no way different from those of the other nations of the Near East.

There appears, also, to have been in their outlook a certain lack of tenderness. One can find, it is true, in the Greek


tragedies, magnificent passages exalting such feelings as filial piety or fraternal love. But the other love — that between man and woman — they seem to have conceived as little more than a mainly physical affair, a “sickness,” as Phaedra says in Euripides’ Hippolytus. And their relation to living nature, outside man, seems to have been confined to an aesthetic interest. Bulls being led to the sacrifice and horses carrying their youthful cavaliers in the Panathenaic procession are admirably sculptured on the frieze of the Parthenon. But apart from some really touching verses in Homer (such as those which refer to Ulysses’ faithful old dog, who recognises him after twenty years’ absence) there is hardly an instance, in classical Greek literature, in which a friendly feeling for animals is expressed — not to speak of attributing to them yearnings akin to ours.

Christianity is the next great wave in the history of Western consciousness. And one can hardly conceive a sharper contrast than that which exists between the clear Hellenic genius and the spirit of the creed destined to overrun Hellas, Europe, and finally America and Australia. It was originally — as preached by Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle of the Gentiles — an irrational and unaesthetic creed, fed on miracles, bent on asceticism, strongly stressing the power of evil, ashamed of the body and afraid of life. But its God was a universal God and a God of love. Not as universal, it is true, as might have been expected from a supreme Being proposed to the adoration of a rationally-trained people; nor as impartially loving as a follower of the long-forgotten Religion of the Disk would have imagined his God to be. It was a God who, in fact, never shook off entirely some of the crude attributes which he possessed when worshipped by the Jews as their tribal deity; a God who, of all living creatures, gave man alone an immortal soul, infinitely precious in his eyes, for he loved man in the same childishly partial way as old Jehovah loved the Jewish nation; a democratic God who hated the well-to-do, the high-born, and also those who put their confidence in human intellect instead of submitting to the authority of his Gospel; who hid his truth “from the wise and the learned, but revealed it to the children.”


Still, with all its shortcomings, the mere fact of Christianity’s being a creed to be preached “to all nations,” in the name of a God who was the Father of all men, was an immense advantage over the older popular religions. The element of love and mercy that the new worship undoubtedly contained — however poor it might be, compared, for instance, to that truly universal love preached in India by Buddhism and Jainism — was sufficient to bring it, in one way at least, nearer to the lost religious ideal of the West even than the different philosophies of the Hellenes (if we except from them Pythagorism and Neo-Pythagorism).

And it had over them all — and over the antique Teaching of Akhnaton himself — the practical advantage of appealing both to the intellectually uncritical, to the emotionally unbalanced, and to the socially oppressed or neglected — to barbarians, to women, to slaves — that is to say, to the majority of mankind. That advantage, combined with the genuine appeal of a gospel of love and with the imperial patronage of Constantine, determined its final triumph. From the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean, it slowly but steadily spread, as one knows, to the whole of Europe and to all lands that European civilisation has conquered.

But the Western world could not definitely forget centuries of rational thought. Nor could it renounce for ever that avowed ideal of visible beauty, of strength, of cleanliness — of healthy earthly life — that had been connected with the various religions of the ancients. As far as it was possible — and many more things are possible than one can imagine — it soon re-installed Greek metaphysics and polytheism under a new form in the very midst of Christianity. And later on, the Greek love of song and pleasure, and the deification of the human body, in the plastic arts as well as in life, prevailed in the spiritual capital of Christendom and throughout most Christian countries. The Western man gradually came to realise what an amount of inconsistency there was in that mixture of Hellenic and Hebrew thought (and remnants of popular myths, much older than Greece and Moses) which composed his traditional religion. He then grew increasingly sceptical, and Christianity remained for him


little more than a poetic but obsolete mythology, in some ways less attractive than that of Greece and Rome. The tardy reaction of the bold critical spirit of classical Hellas against judeo-scholastic authority had come; and modern Free Thought — the triumph of Euclid over Moses — had made its way.

* * *

Eight hundred years before the Renaissance, and twelve hundred years before Darwin, a very different, but equally important reaction had taken place in the eastern and most ancient portion of the Western world. And that had given birth to Islam, which one could roughly describe, we believe, without any serious misinterpretation, as Christianity stripped of its acquired Pagan elements — especially of its Greek elements — and brought back to the rigorous purity of Semitic monotheism.

The fact that Islam appeared and thrived long before the rebirth of critical thought (and of classical taste) in Europe, and that its whole political history seems to run quite apart from that of most European countries, must not deceive us. If we consider the Western world as a whole (Europe and its background), and not only the small portion of it which one generally has in mind when speaking of “the West,” then we have to include in it the countries of the Bible — Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Iraq — no less than Greece; for they are the geographical and cultural background of Christianity, the religion of Europe for centuries. And if this be so, we have, in this outsketch of the history of culture, to take account of Islam as one of the most important religious upheavals of the West, however paradoxical this coupling of words may seem.

Like Free Thought — its latter European parallel — Islam (at least, as we understand it; we may be mistaken) was a broad movement brought about by the incapacity of Christianity to fully satisfy the exigencies of the human mind. But the weaknesses of the Christian faith that the two reactions were destined to make up for were not the same ones. Free Thought was essentially an intellectual reaction against the


dogmatism of the Christian Church and the puerility of the stories (of whatever origin) that go to make up the Christian mythology. Its growth was naturally slow, for man takes time to question the value of his cherished beliefs on intellectual grounds. Only in the nineteenth century did it begin to affect the bulk of the people, and still to-day its influence remains confined to those countries in which elementary scientific education is granted to many individuals.

Islam, on the contrary, was a definitely religious movement — a wild outcry against every form of polytheism under whatever disguise; a reassertion of the continuity of revealed monotheism through Abraham, Moses, and Jesus of Nazareth; a reaffirmation of the brotherhood of all men, that basic truth taught already by Christ to the Jews, but less and less remembered by the Christians. It appeared more rapidly and more suddenly, for the evils against which it rose were more shocking to the simple sincere man in search of the One God, and therefore easier to detect than logical fallacies or historical inaccuracies — even than physical impossibilities. It was easier — not perhaps, recently, for us, but then, for a man of strong beliefs, fed on Jewish tradition — to detect idolatry under every form of image-worship than to feel, for instance, how ridiculous is such a tale as that of Joshua causing the Sun to stand still.

* * *

But the two reactions — the early medieval and the modern, the religious and the intellectual, the one of Semitic origin and the other started by thinkers mostly of Aryan blood and speech — failed to give the world west of India the feeling that a goal had been reached. They failed even to give it, for more than a century or two, the impression that it was on its way to reach a state of intellectual and emotional equilibrium preferable to that attained in a relatively recent past.

True, for many generations, the Islamic portion of what we have broadly called “the West” seems to have enjoyed through all the vicissitudes of its political history, the mental


peace that a few definite, simple, overwhelming religious convictions bring to people in whose life religion holds the first place. True, the problem of religion and State — that the Free-thinkers of Europe never had the opportunity (or the power) to tackle in a practical manner — was for a short time solved, to some extent, under the early Khalifs. But rationalism, strengthened by the fact of modern science, even when it has not altogether shaken the basis of their faith, seems to be influencing more and more many an educated Muslim of the present day in a sense similar to that in which it influenced so many Christians, from the sixteenth century onwards. The result of that influence upon the most liberal of the contemporary Turks, Persians, Egyptians, and even some of the Muslims of India, is obvious. On the other hand, the solution of the problem of religion and State as put forward by the Khalifs, in the early days of Islam, is too closely linked with a particular religious faith to be extended, at the present day, to all countries. It rests upon a somewhat strictly theocratic conception of the State, and upon a rigid line of demarcation between all men who have accepted the revelation of the Prophet — the faithful — and the others. And, rightly or wrongly, the modern world seems evolving in the sense of the separation of the State from religious questions of purely dogmatic interest.

* * *

Now, if we turn to the latter reaction against the shortcomings of Christianity — namely, Free Thought — we find that it has left the people who have matured under its influence in a state of moral unrest far greater than that of those Mussulmans whom their inherited medieval outlook on life no longer satisfies.

Thanks to the undeniable influence of Free Thought, the conclusions of intellectual investigation are not to-day subordinate to Christian theology as they once were. When a scientific hypothesis concerning the texture of atoms or the origin of man is put forward, it matters little whether it tallies or not with the narrative of the Genesis. Even good


Christians are ready to accept it, provided it explains facts. Moral questions, too, have been nearly completely freed from the overshadowing idea of a supernatural imperative. Right behaviour is valued because it is thought to be right — no longer because it is the behaviour ordained by God.

But that is about all the difference between the modern “rationalist” outlook and the Christian outlook before the Renaissance. Theoretically, it may seem considerable. In life, it is hardly felt. Important as it is, the fact that, in the field of pure knowledge, thought is now independent from clerical or scriptural authority, plays little part in the formation of the spirit of our times. Thoughts, opinions, intellectual conclusions are, indeed, constructive only to the extent they determine our reactions in the field of behaviour. And there we fail to see how the old authorities have ceased to hold their sway. Except for sexual morality — in regard to which the modern man has become more and more lenient because it suits his fancy, but has not yet, however, outdone the magnificent toleration of many a cardinal of the sixteenth century — the behaviour styled as “right” is precisely that which is in accordance with Christian standards; that which approaches the charitable, democratic, and somewhat narrow ideal of the Christian Gospel; that which obeys the Commandment: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” The builders of the Parthenon had not gone even as far as that, it is true. But modern rationalism has never gone further than that. It may have, to some extent, taught the present-day Westerner to think in terms of Cosmic Realities. But it has not yet taught him to feel in terms of cosmic values. It has denounced Christian metaphysics as obsolete; but it still clings to the no less obsolete man-centred conception of right and wrong. It no longer maintains that man alone has an immortal soul, and it has forsaken the naïve idea that the world and all it contains was purposely created for man. But it seems to see no harm in man’s exploiting, destroying, or even torturing for his own ends the beautiful innocent creatures, animals and plants, nourished by the same sunshine as himself in the womb of the same mother earth. For all practical purposes, it seems to consider them no more


worthy of attention than if they were, indeed, created for him — by that very God who caused the fig-tree in the Gospel to wither in order to teach a lesson to Christ’s disciples, and who allowed the evil spirits to enter the Gadarene swine in order to relieve a human being from their grip.

There are, of course, free-thinkers who have personally gone beyond the limits of Christian love and embraced all life in their sympathy. Many a broad-hearted Mohammedan saint, also (such as Abu-Hurairah, the “Father-of-cats”), has shared the same conception of truly universal brotherhood. But these individual cases cannot blind us to the fact that neither of the two great movements that sprang up, so as to say, to supersede Christianity, has actually emphasised that fundamental truth of the unity of all life (with its practical implications) which the Christian Scriptures had omitted to express. There are, no doubt, remarkable Christians — for instance, Saint Francis of Assisi — who have grasped that truth and lived up to it. Still, in the omission of the Gospel to put the slightest stress upon it lies, in our eyes at least, the main weakness of Christianity compared with the great living religions of the East — Vedantism, Buddhism, Jainism — and also, nearer its birthplace, with the lost Religion of the Disk. The only two large-scale attempts ever made west of India to restore to men the consciousness of that all-important truth were Pythagorism (and, later on, Neo-Pythagorism) in Antiquity, and nowadays Theosophy — both movements that owe much to direct or indirect Indian influence. The interest shown for the latter by many of our educated contemporaries points out how much ordinary Free Thought — a scientific conception of the world, plus a merely Christian-like ideal of love and charity — is insufficient to meet the moral needs of the most sensitive among us.

* * *

There is more to say. Modern Free Thought has completely dissociated, in the minds of most educated people, the idea of positive knowledge — of science — from that of


worship. Not that a man of science cannot be, at the same time, a man of faith — he often is — but he considers the two domains as separate from each other. Their objects, he thinks, cannot be interchanged any more than their aims. One does not know God as one knows the data of sensuous experience or the logical conclusions of an induction; and however much one may admire the supremely beautiful picture of visible reality that modern science gives us, one cannot worship the objects of scientific investigation — the forms of energy, the ninety-two elements, or such.

And the tragedy is that, once a rational picture of the world has imposed itself upon our mind, the usual objects of faith appear more and more as poetic fictions, as hidden allegories, or as deified moral entities. We do not want to do away with them altogether; yet we cannot help regretting the absence, in them, of that character of intellectual certitude that makes us cling so strongly to science. We feel more and more that moral certitude is not enough to justify our wholehearted adoration of any supreme Principle; in other words, that religion without a solid scientific background is insufficient.

On the other hand, there are moments when we regret the lost capacity of enjoying the blessings of faith with the simplicity of a child — without the slightest mental reservation, without strain, without thought. We wonder, at times, if the men who built the Gothic cathedrals were not, after all, happier and better men than our contemporaries; if the tremendous inspiration they drew from childish legends was not worth all our barren “rational” beliefs. We would like to experience, in the exaltation of the “realities” which we value, the same religious fervour which they used to feel in the worship of a God who was perhaps an illusion. But that seems impossible. Men have tried it and failed. The cult of the Goddess Reason put forward by the dreamers of the French Revolution, and the cult of Humanity, which Auguste Comte wished to popularise, could never make the Western man forget the long-loved sweetness of his Christian festivals, interwoven with all the associations of childhood. How could one even think of replacing the tradition of


Christmas and Easter by such dry stuff as that? Science, without the advantages of religion, is no more able to satisfy us than religion without a basis of scientific certitude. Prominent as some of them may be, the men who nowadays remain content with Free Thought are already out of date. The twentieth century is growing more and more aware of its craving for some all-embracing truth, intellectual and spiritual, in the light of which the revelations of experience and faith, the dictates of reason and of intuition — of science and religion — would find their place as partial aspects of a harmoniously organic whole. The evolution that one can follow in the outlook of such a man as Aldous Huxley is most remarkable as a sign of the times.

* * *

Along with the divorce of religion from science, we must note the divorce of religion from private and public life. As Aldous Huxley timely points out in one of his recent books,1 the saints proposed to our veneration as paragons of godliness are rarely intellectual geniuses; and the intellectual geniuses — scientists, philosophers, statesmen — and the artists, poets, writers who have won an immortal name are hardly ever equally remarkable as embodiments of the virtues which religion teaches us to value. So much so that we have ceased to expect extraordinary intelligence in a saint, or extraordinary goodness in a genius according to the world, and least of all in a political genius. For nowhere is the separation of religion from life more prominent (and more shocking) than in the domain of international relations.

The much-quoted injunction of Christ to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s” illustrates — as it is generally interpreted — a division of duties which has survived the belief in dogmatic Christianity. Whether he be a Christian or a Free Thinker — or a Mussulman, in one of the modern Islamic States that have undergone the influence of European ideas — the Western man, as a man, is guided, in life, by certain principles different

1 In Ends and Means (Chapter on Education).


from, and sometimes in contradiction with those that lie at the basis of his outlook as a citizen. Caesar and God are more often than not in conflict with each other. And when this happens — when there is no way of serving both — then the Western man generally serves Caesar first, and offers God, in compensation, some scraps of private piety. But more and more numerous are growing those who denounce this duality of ideals as a sinister product of deceitful casuistry.

In the ancient world, as long as religion was a national concern, and connected with practices rather than with beliefs, its actual separation from life was impossible. In one way, that may seem better than what we see now. And the bold ideologists who, in recent years, in Europe, have endeavoured to wipe out altogether the spirit if not the name of Christianity and to raise the Nation — based on the precise physiological idea of race — as the object of man’s ultimate devotion, those ideologists, we say, may seem wiser and more honest than their humanitarian antagonists. If religion indeed, does not, as it is, respond any longer to the needs of life, it is better to change it. It is far better to openly brush aside two thousand years of errors (if errors they be) and to come back to the national gods of old, and to be true to them to the bitter end, than to keep on rendering divine honours to the Man who said: “Love thy neighbour,” and to wage a war of extermination upon men of rival nations whom one has not even the excuse of considering as “infidels” or “heretics.” There is no hypocrisy in the votaries of the religion of Race, as in those of the religion of man. The only weakness one could point out in their creed — if the latter be artificially separated from the Religion of Life, of which it is, fundamentally, and remains, in the minds of its best exponents, the true expression — is that it has been transcended, and that therefore it is difficult to go back to it, even if one wishes to. The religion of man itself has been transcended long before its birth. The truth is that both are too narrow, too passionately one-sided, too ignorant of great realities that surpass their scope, to satisfy any longer men who think rationally and who feel the beauty


and the seriousness of life, unless they be integrated into the Religion of Life.

To frankly acknowledge a moral ideal still narrower than that of Christianity or humanitarian Free Thought will not ultimately serve the purpose of filling the gap between life and religion. The higher aspirations of the spirit cannot entirely be suppressed. The gap will soon reappear — this time between the religion of race, nation or class, and the life of the better individuals; a sad result. That gap will always exist, under some form or another, as long as a religion of integral truth, transcending man, and of truly universal love is not acknowledged, in theory and in practice, by individuals and groups of individuals.

Moreover, the mystic of race (or of nation, or of any entity with a narrower denotation than that of “man”) is, nay, under its narrowest and least enlightened aspect, unassailable, unless and until the ideology of man, inherited by Free Thought from Christianity, is once and for ever pushed into the background in favour of an ideology of life. For if, indeed, one is to believe that living Nature, with all its loveliness, is made for man to use for his profit, then why should not one admit, with equal consistency, that the bulk of mankind is made for the few superior races, classes or even individuals to exploit at will?

Ultimately, one has to go to the limit, and acknowledge cosmic values as the essence of religion, if religion is to have any universal meaning at all. And if it is to be something more than an individual ideal; if it is no longer to remain separated from the life of States; if truth, in one word, is ever to govern international relations as well as personal dealings, then one has to strive to put power into the hands of an intellectual and moral elite — to come back to Plato’s idea of wise men managing public affairs, makers of laws and rulers of men, uncontested guides of reverentially obedient nations.

* * *

We have just seen how, in the world west of India, one great thought-current has succeeded another from the days


of Tutankhamen onwards, without defining the relation of religion to science and to politics; without giving birth to a creed that all of us, including the most rational-minded and the kindest, could look up to and admire without reservation; without suggesting to us an ideal approach to such questions as that of imperialism and war by the example of any exalted “precedent.”

And there is, at the same time, all through the history of that vast area, an underlying yearning for such a perfect creed as would fulfil all the aspirations of its successive cultures — a yearning for rationality in religion, for love extended to all living things, and for a conception of international relations based on the same principles as those which should guide individual behaviour.

Expressed more or less emphatically in the lives of the best individuals of each epoch, that craving for an all-round perfection has never found its mouthpiece in any of the great historic thought-currents of the West themselves. Each of the successive waves of consciousness that we call Hellenic thought, Christianity, Islam, and modern Free Thought, has put stress upon one or another point — on logical reasoning and on beauty; on the love of man; on the oneness of God; on scientific certitude — striving to realise one side of an ideal Teaching which none of them could conceive in its whole.

One or two schools of Hellenic philosophy, such as Pythagorism and Neo-Pythagorism, strongly influenced by the East, have probably come nearer to that lost ideal of total truth than any other expression of Western thought. What we know of the life and teachings of Apollonius of Tyana — that “god among men,” as a modern author1 has called him — is sufficient to support this statement. But it is doubtful whether the doctrine of his sect, or that of any other remarkable Greek school, could be revived to-day in its integrity. No doctrine which is too precise concerning questions about which knowledge is not definite can be “a possession for ever.” And the Pythagorean theory of numbers, for instance, many not appear satisfactory to the

1 Mario Meunier: Apollonius de Tyane, ou le séjour d’un dieu parmi les hommes, Paris, 1936.


modern mind as it did to the disciples of old. For, if it has not been disproved, as the cosmogony of the Stoics or so many other particular theories linked with ancient philosophies — if it even be irrevocable in some of its aspects, as the mathematical side of Plato’s philosophy is said to be by some writers1 — it has at least been surpassed in an ever-broadening mathematical outlook, and cannot, therefore, be considered to-day as sufficient.

Apart from that, there is one point which none of the great doctrines of the past three thousand years have touched, and that is the question of the application of their own principles to the practical life of nations, and to international relations. The reason for this is probably that, with the one exception of Akhnaton, none of the initiators of new thought in the West were kings, like some of the most popular Indian teachers; none even ministers of state, like Confucius. Plato himself, for whom the best government is that in which the ruler is a lover of wisdom, had personally no voice in the direction of Athenian policy.

* * *

Let us now look back to Akhnaton’s Teaching, of which we have recalled the main features at the beginning of this chapter. The more we examine it, in the light of thirty-three hundred years of history, the more we are convinced that it is the perfect religion in search of which the Western world is still groping without being able to re-imagine it.

It has, over whatever other creed has been invented, west of India, as an answer to the higher aspirations of man, the advantage of being simple and complete. It is perhaps indeed the simplest among the lofty teachings of the whole world; a framework, suggesting an attitude towards the possible problems of individual and public life, rather than a system offering solutions of those problems once and for all. It is not only free from all mythology, from all metaphysics, from affirmations of any sort about things that are not known for certain, but it has hardly any tenets. To call it a creed is

1 D. Néroman: La Leçon de Platon (Niclaus Edit., Paris, 1943).


nearly a misuse of the word. It comprises no “theory,” even about the world of facts. It is not a doctrine concerning science — which could grow out of date. Yet, it is based upon a bold scientific intuition which has not only been proved correct, but is broad enough to contain and sum up, after so many centuries, the essential of man’s positive knowledge of the universe, and which thus confers upon the whole of it the permanent strength of intellectual certitude. It has no catalogue of imperatives, and makes no mention of right and wrong. Yet, the fervent love expressed in Akhnaton’s hymns implies the noblest behaviour towards all living things — even towards one’s enemies — and historic events have shown that the implication was not an empty one.

Finally, the fact that the promoter of the Teaching was the ruler of a first-rate military power, with foreign possessions and vassal States — colonies and protectorates, as we would call them nowadays — and that he put the spirit of his religion in action on an international scale, is of great importance. For the time has come when the world feels that religion cannot remain foreign to burning questions of international interest such as that of war. No teaching which ignores those questions can therefore really appeal to modern consciousness. If God and Caesar are in conflict with each other — as we see they so often are — then they cannot both claim our allegiance. If we do not deify the Nation and sacrifice God, renouncing all values beyond the national ones, then we must consider the problem of war and conquest in the light of the highest religious values and, if necessary, sacrifice the interest of the Nation. No great Western teacher has done so, save Akhnaton. None could do so, for none had the power to make peace and war. And the few among our modern pacifists who boast of doing so now, put forward their claims from an armchair, for none of them has any say in the decisions of his country’s government.

If, by taking the unusual course which he did, Akhnaton lost an empire, he at least left the world an example for ever which was worth its while. In all simplicity, without theorising on right and wrong, he showed us in what direction is to be sought the solution of the war problem, if one does not


want to sacrifice truth (that is to say, God) to the State.

Sir Flinders Petrie was already aware of the undying value of the Religion of the Disk when he wrote in his History of Egypt, at the dawn of the present century: “If this were a new religion invented to satisfy our modern scientific conceptions, we could not find a flaw in the correctness of his (i.e., Akhnaton’s) view of the energy of the solar system. . . .” “He (Akhnaton) had certainly bounded forward in his views and symbolism to a position which we cannot logically improve upon at the present day. Not a rag of superstition or falsity can be found clinging to this new worship, evolved out of the old Aton of Heliopolis, the sole Lord of the Universe.”1

Petrie puts special stress upon the scientific accuracy of the Teaching and upon its rational value. We add that the truly universal love it implies is equalled only in the religions originated in or borrowed from India. So much so that — putting together the kindred seers of the East, sons of one same civilisation, and taking them as a whole — the great idea of the unity of all life and brotherhood of all creatures seems to have had two parallel exponents in antiquity, and the world two everlasting teachers: India and Akhnaton.

* * *

There is still more to say. Since the discovery of Eastern thought by the Europeans, in the eighteenth century — that second Renaissance, less dazzling, but no less if not more important than the sixteenth century one — the world has been increasingly craving for something in which the East and West could meet and feel themselves one in spite of all their differences.

We are living now in a period of transition between an old and a new spiritual order, bearing to the world of yesterday a relation somewhat similar to that of the Hellenistic period to classical antiquity; an epoch in which, for the second time, the East and the West — India and Greece, to take the two countries that have had the greatest influence

1 Sir Flinders Petrie: History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 214.


upon the culture of man as a symbol of the two halves of mankind — have come in contact with each other, and are trying to know and understand each other and to create together, if they can (this time on a world-wide scale), a work of truth and beauty unparalleled in the history of their separate achievements.

They feel the need of a common faith that would become the basis of their future collaboration, the foundation of a really universal fraternity of souls, and perhaps also, one day (if men grow less foolish, and less numerous, too), of a world-wide commonwealth of free nations, at peace with one another.

None of the living creeds professed west of India to-day is sufficiently comprehensive for a thoughtful Hindu to look upon it as fit to be ranked with his own religion or with any of those that sprang from it. None can match Buddhism and Jainism in the preaching of universal kindness; none can match Vedantism, in the conception of divine Reality. That is probably why there are people who suggest to reverse the out-dated activities of the Christian and other missionaries, and to preach to the West the main general tenets of Indian religion. And it is to be noted that, contrarily to the crowds of ignorant Easterners converted to the religions of the West, mostly for purely social reasons, the few Euro-Americans who have adhered to Eastern creeds are mainly men above the average, who have done so for religious or moral reasons alone.

Still, we believe that the attempt, successful as it may be in individual cases, and infinitely more justified than that of the Western missionaries, cannot easily be generalised. The faith of the world cannot be any particular faith linked up with a definite tradition, a given theology (or given metaphysics) to be found in a more or less elaborate literature of sacred texts and learned commentaries. Races differ in their genius. If any creed is to unite them all to some extent, that must be an extremely broad one, with which none of man’s deeper aspirations will clash, and which will need, on the part of each individual, no difficult adaptation to a trend of thought alien to his own.

The religions of India, apart from the intricate metaphysical


speculations intertwined with them (and which it is difficult to detach from them without altering them profoundly) seem to have in common a more or less marked tendency to ascetic renunciation. It would, of course, be easy to find texts in which the importance of life and action in the world is stressed to the utmost. But the ultimate goal remains to transcend individuality; to drown personal consciousness in the realisation of an unnameable Infinite, beyond all imaginable thought or even feeling. If not ascetic life, at least an ascetic outlook on life, an awareness of the transience and therefore of the inanity of the visible world, is commended at every stage of man’s evolution. And it is this, perhaps, above all, that makes it so difficult for most Westerners to grasp the essence of Indian religion. They understand the Hindu (or Buddhist) point of view, intellectually; they cannot really make it theirs, for their outlook on life and on the visible world is quite different. They may, for instance, accept the doctrine of reincarnation — that basic belief of the East. But they will find it hard, in general, to desire not to be reborn as individuals. It is perhaps only in the higher stages of mystic experience that the two ideals of salvation in eternal life and of “deliverance” from all individual existence meet and merge into each other. But that experience is beyond most people’s reach.

We therefore think that it is difficult to make the East — namely, the spiritual sons of India — and the West — the spiritual sons of West Asia and Greece — meet on purely Eastern religious grounds. The common faith in which the two can walk hand in hand is to be sought elsewhere.

Why not try to revive the forsaken Religion of the Disk among the elite of all countries, and make it the basis of the new spiritual order uniting East and West?

If one takes “the West” in the broad sense that we have given to that word, then Akhnaton’s Teaching seems, as we have stated above, the one product of the Western mind that can stand in parallel with the great teachings of India, both for its lofty conception of the Energy-within-the-Disk — hardly different from the central idea of the Gayatri mantra of the Hindus — and for the love of all living creatures which it implies.


Far from looking upon it as anything alien to her own religious genius, India could therefore see in it another proof of that essential oneness in man’s highest inspiration, which she has never ceased to proclaim through the mouth of her greatest sons; something so akin, indeed, to her own oldest recorded contribution to religious thought that some authors1 have hastily supposed it to be a result of Indo-Aryan influences upon its Promoter.

On the other hand, it differs from the great Eastern teachings of world-wide scope precisely in that it is not a teaching of renunciation. It emphasises the joy of life, the sweetness of sunshine to all beings, the loveliness of the visible world. And the only few lines through which we can hope to form an idea of its Founder’s own conception of the hereafter express a joyous confidence in the coming of a new individual life, presupposing even, perhaps, some sort of subtle corporeality. In this attitude of his to personal existence and to the beautiful world of forms and colours which he transcends without ceasing to feel their infinite value, Akhnaton remains a child of the West, whom the West can understand.

It seems difficult indeed to find a historic figure uniting, to the same degree as he, the complementary qualities of what we may call the two poles of human perfection: uncompromising logic, and boundless love; rationality, and the intuition of the divine; the smiling serenity of Greek wisdom, and the fiery earnestness of the East; the love of glorious life in flesh and blood and, at the same time, the tranquil indifference of the saint to every form of worldly success. No man deserves more than he the double homage of the two great sections of mankind: the undivided admiration of the West; the respect of the East.

And the one powerful country of the world in which dynastic Sun-worship is still to-day the State-religion — Japan — could hardly fail to recognise the supreme beauty of a nature-loving, Sun-centred Teaching, preached by a king of one of the oldest solar dynasties of the past. Among the Western cults, old and new, the Religion of the Disk

1 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), pp. 113, and following.


might perhaps be the one which, if only better known, would appeal to the heart of that proud nation, stirring in it, beyond and above its age-long devotion to symbols of national Godhead, a holy fervour towards the truly universal Sun, God of all life.

* * *

In January, 1907, a skeleton — all that remained of the world’s first rationalist and oldest Prince of Peace — was discovered by Arthur Weigall and Ayrton in a tomb in the royal necropolis near the ruins of Thebes. At the foot of the coffin was inscribed the prayer, previously quoted, most probably composed by the dead king himself, in praise of the One God for the sake of Whom he had lost everything.1

On the top of the coffin were the name and titles of the Pharaoh:

“The beautiful Prince, the Chosen-son of the Sun, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Living in Truth, Lord of the Two Lands. Akhnaton, the beautiful Child of the living Aton, whose name shall live for ever and ever.”

The name had been erased, but the titles were sufficient to reconstruct the inscription in its whole.

The tomb had once been that of Akhnaton’s mother; and the body of the young Pharaoh had been brought there from Akhetaton, after the desertion of the sacred City by the Egyptian court, under Tutankhamen, and laid next to the remains of the deceased queen. But soon after, the priests of Amon, restored to power, had found it proper to remove Queen Tiy’s mummy to another place; and Akhnaton’s body, wrapped in its double sheets of pure gold, had been left alone in the sepulchre. Century after century it had remained there, forgotten. And as the priests had not cared to seal the entrance of the lonely chamber properly, the

1 “I breathe the sweet breath that comes forth from Thy mouth; I behold Thy beauty every day. It is my desire that I may hear Thy sweet voice, even in the North wind, that my limbs may be rejuvenated with life, through love of Thee. Give me Thy hands holding Thy spirit, that I may receive it and live by it. Call Thou upon my name unto eternity, and it shall never fail.” (Quoted in Chapter V, p. 132)


dampness of the air had penetrated it and had slowly caused the embalmed flesh to decay. So that, after three thousand and three hundred years, when human eyes once more beheld the young king who had sung the glory of life, nothing was left of his mortal form but dry bones.

The discovery was a subject of discussion among scholars for some time. Apart from that, it remained unnoticed. After examining the skeleton, Professor Elliot Smith declared that the Pharaoh could not have been more than twenty-eight or twenty-nine when he died. A learned German scholar, Professor Sethe, supposing him to have been older, doubted that the bones were actually his. A great deal was written about the matter, until it was practically proved that they were.1 Arthur Weigall, a few years later, published his beautiful book, The Life and Times of Akhnaton, in which he asserts himself as a genuine admirer of the Pharaoh and of his Teaching.

But no such interest as was roused, in 1922, by Lord Carnarvon’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen, was stirred among the public at large. There were no articles written for lay people in the Sunday editions of the daily papers about the most perfect man whom the Western world had produced; no romantic history for popular consumption came forth overnight; no lectures were given in literary and semi-literary circles; no tea-table talk took place around the Pharaoh’s name. For little had been found of those treasures which impress the imagination of crowds: no jewels (save a beautiful golden vulture, with wings outstretched); no gems; no gilded furniture; nothing but the skeleton of a god-like man who had died, rejected and cursed thirty-three hundred years before.

Yet that man was the one the world had been unconsciously seeking all the time, through centuries of moral unrest, disillusionment and failure.

1 J. D. S. Pendlebury (Tell-el-Amarna, Edit. 1935, pp. 31-32) still maintains, however, that Akhnaton’s mummy was probably destroyed by his enemies, and that the remains found by Arthur Weigall in 1907 were therefore not his.


* * *

Confident in their suddenly re-acquired power, and maddened by the joy of revenge, the priests of Amon had decided to wipe out every trace of Akhnaton’s memory for ever. The temples of the various gods were restored and their cult reinstalled in all its former splendour. And a curse was proclaimed throughout the land against him who had dared to forsake the traditional path and preach the Way of the One God.

Let us remember the hour of his defeat. Let us think of the national cult; let us picture to ourselves the huge affluence of pilgrims from all parts of the empire, assembled there to see the old order begin again; to hear, as before, the old prayers and the old songs in honour of the god of Thebes — of the god of Egypt — who had made Egypt great, and who would have helped her to remain so, had it not been for the “apostate” king, who had risen against him; let us imagine the smoke and fragrance of incense, the music of the holy instruments amplified through the successive halls of granite; the flame of the sacrifice, reflected upon the dusky faces, and upon the golden hieroglyphics shining in the darkness in praise of Amon, king of gods. And in the midst of all this, echoing from hall to hall, telling the world of that day and the world to come that the “criminal of Akhetaton” had been vanquished, and that Egypt was herself once more, the song of triumph and of hate:

“Woe to him who assails thee!
Thy city endures,
but he who assailed thee falls.”

the song of the victorious crowd led by its cunning shepherds — of the Nation, of all nations; of the average man, walking in the footprints of his fathers — over the dead body of Him Who, being one with the Sun, walked in His own light; of the divine Individual:

“The abode of him who assailed thee is in darkness,
but the rest of the earth is in light. . . .”

In that crowd from all parts of the empire, there were men who had known King Akhnaton in the days of his glory; men


who had received from him gifts in gold and silver, and to whom he had spoken kind words, and on whom he had relied, believing them to be faithful. But not one of them stirred as he heard the frenzied hymn of hate. The priests of Amon had what they wanted. The world obeyed them — not Him. And it has continued obeying them ever since, cherishing its manifold superstitions and paying homage to its tribal gods. To the present day, no man has yet raised his voice and openly challenged their triumph in the name of the Child of Light whom they persecuted beyond death.

But there is one thing that the priests could not do, and that was to keep the world from groping in search of the dream — or the reality — for which he had lived. They could not stop the evolution of the spirit, nor put an end to the quest of truth.

While Akhnaton’s memory was rapidly being effaced, the quasi-universality of Sun-worship was a fact. However wanting were the different conceptions of the Sun held in different countries, still it was to the fiery Disk that all men rendered praise, in some way or the other, justifying the words of the inspired king. And no force on earth could keep that unanimity from meaning what it did.

And as time passed, the better men of the Western world began to feel the limitations of their man-made religions; to crave for a faith that should be founded solely upon the facts of existence; a faith that should include the whole scheme of life, and not man alone, within its scope; a faith that should also find its practical application in questions of international interest (mainly in the question of conquest and war) no less than in the private behaviour of individuals; and at the same time, a faith that should be simple, extremely simple — the world is tired of intricate metaphysics, of sterile mental play centred around ideas that correspond to nothing important in living life. In other words, as one imperfect creed after another rose and thrived, and decayed in its turn, leaving behind it disillusionment and doubt and moral sickness, the better men have been unknowingly seeking for the lost truth preached by King Akhnaton.

Deprived of name and fame and of the love of men, the


royal youth lay in the desecrated tomb in which his enemies had put his body, while centuries rolled on. And no one knew that the light that the best ones were still seeking was his light. The discovery of his bones was no more noticed than any other archaeological discovery. In all appearance, his persecutors still held their sway. Only they could not silence the yearning of Western consciousness for a truly rational religion in tune with life, uniting the scientific spirit to all-embracing love. Nor could they suppress the need of the whole world for a permanent understanding of East and West, on the basis of an extremely simple faith in which the two could recognise the expression of their complementary ideals.

The discovery of Akhnaton’s remains, thirty-seven years ago, was hardly spoken of, save in very restricted scholarly circles. But times were already beginning to ripen for the recognition of his Teaching as the Gospel of a new and better world — for his long-delayed triumph. Sir Flinders Petrie had proclaimed the eternal actuality of the Religion of the Disk in the early eighteen-nineties. Less than ten years later,1 one of the greatest artists of the modern West, the Greek poet, Kostis Palamas, referring to the unending conflict between the Pagan and the Christian spirit — the conflict at the centre of European culture — had written:

A day will come when you will walk hand in hand,
Pagans and Christians, with your eyes open,
nourished with the herb of Life.
Fantasies will appear to you as fantasies,
and you will stretch out your hands so that, of all that is vital,
you, too, might hold something. . . .”2

1 The poem was composed, as the author himself says in his preface, between 1899 and 1906.
2 From The Twelve Discourses of the Gypsy, 2nd Edition, Athens, 1921, p. 84.


He did not suggest what particular Teaching could supersede the conflicting wisdoms, and make them appear as “fantasies,” as “illusions” to their followers. And we do not know if he was at all acquainted with Akhnaton’s religion. But his verses are none the less prophetic. They express the increasing awareness of the Western world that the time has come for the triumph of some true faith of life which will give it, in one whole, all that the Athenian miracle — the miracle of reason and beauty — and the equally beautiful “folly of the Cross” — the miracle of love as the West knows it — have given it separately, and still more.

We believe that no faith could respond to this expectation better than Akhnaton’s worship of Cosmic Energy, Essence of Life, through the beautiful Disk of our Parent Star in which It radiates as light and heat.

After killing the Religion of the Disk and thrusting their country back into the path that was to lead it to slow decay, the priests of Egypt believed that Akhnaton and his Teaching were dead for ever. They were sure no man would ever rise in favour of him whom they had condemned, and they departed content from the great temple where his doom had been solemnised. And we have seen that, for three thousand three hundred years, their unholy verdict held good. One can think of no other historic instance of hatred being successful for such a long time.

But the hour has come for the age-old injustice to end. It is the duty of the modern man to challenge the judgement of the priests of the outdated local deity, and to undo what they have done; to answer their hymn of hate, and to proclaim the glory of the most lovable of men; to teach the children that are growing up to hold his name sacred, to look up to him as to their own beloved King and, above all, to live in accordance with his Teaching of life.

May we consider that duty also as a privilege — perhaps the greatest privilege of our troubled times — and may we feel proud to accomplish it without failure. And then, even as the Sun reappears in the East after a long night, Akhnaton, His High-priest and Son, “who came forth from His substance,” shall rise again from the dust of dead history, in


youth and beauty, and live in the consciousness of our times and of all times to come, and rule the hearts and lives of the elite of the world, “till the swan shall turn black and the crow turn white, till the hills rise up to travel and the deeps rush into the rivers.”

Calcutta, May 1942 — New Delhi, 24th January, 1945.