In India and Ceylon I had personal instances of this force which develops itself in powers that transcend the senses. In Benares a wandering fortune-teller came into the veranda of the little hotel where I had just arrived, unknown. Liking something about the man's face I consented that he should read my hand. It was a strange experience in more ways than one. He did not touch it; it lay, palm upward, on my knee, and he stooped and read it with unblinking black eyes.
"This mem-sahib writing."
I said: "All mem-sahibs write."
"Yes--knowing that. This mem-sahib write book."
I had never written a book in my life and had no more expectation of writing one than he had. Articles on health subjects had been my only contribution to the gaiety of nations. So I shook my head. He doggedly repeated the assertion, "This mem-sahib write book," and went on with
the most singularly accurate description of the events of my past life. I do not mean the intimate thoughts but the events. One can scarcely imagine anything stranger than in a place so foreign (until one has grown to love it) to see the past unrolling before one, touched into life by the hand of a wandering fortune-teller. And again I thought, "How is it that they get in touch?" for by this time I knew very well that discounting all frauds and fakes and guesses there are persons who can undoubtedly read events quite otherwise than by the senses. At the time I was watching with some interest for the failure of a prediction made to me by a Western seer before I had left London on my journey to India. Its failure, because, though he had predicted it as a certainty, humanly speaking it was impossible it should take place. We had met on a business matter before I left London, and suddenly, sweeping beyond material matters as was his strange power occasionally, and fixed in gazing on the unseen, he said in that voice which seems to come from very far behind the Mirror of the Passing Show:
"Things will not be as you think in India. I see a very important change in your intentions.
[paragraph continues] The event which will determine them will take place at Christmas time. I see the exact circumstances which will enable you to continue your explorations in the Orient for a very much longer time than you have arranged."
I said it was impossible. I asked for the description of the unknown events and it was given without hesitation. In my heart I set the whole matter down as one of those incalculable errors of the clear-sight which I had noted before, giving them the effect of a scientific communication ignorantly understood. But again the agencies of the World behind the Looking Glass knew their business better than I. Without my own agency the plan I had made for India was swept out of being, and on the succeeding Christmas Day events culminated in the possibility of my continuing what had become my work in Asia without any obstacle. And this was the more singular because I had clearly realized by that time that if one wanted to understand the thought of Asia in these esoteric matters it must be studied in Burma, Ceylon, Java, China, and Japan as well as in India, and of this there had seemed no possibility. Now the way lay straight before me to all this exploration and long after,
though I did not dream it then, to my writing the books which the fortune-teller foresaw, nominally by looking in my hand, really by a force tuning the vibrations between himself and me until each responded to the same stimulus. In other words, that event which I had believed impossible made me a student of the innermost side of occult science and also made me a writer every one of whose books, whether as L. Adams Beck or E. Barrington, is engaged with the Mirror of the Passing Show and leading up to the perception of what lies behind it; the irony of life as it presents itself to those who have no psychic perception and its understanding by those who have.
I pause here for a moment to note the effect on my mind and daily life of the certitude that a very different world from the one which our senses propose to us really lies about us and that we move in it in ignorance as complete as that of cats or dogs in a library, surrounded by all the wisdom of the ages yet unable not only to taste it but even to guess that it exists. I had not reasoned this belief out as yet. I did not see in the least how it could be, though I felt blindly that it must certainly be so. There was no other way of accounting for the phenomena I had
myself observed. So I resolved that I would devote myself to collecting and studying by the light of my own experience all possible evidence. It is of no use to cling only to one's own experiences, for they are very apt to run in one channel and to blind one to other real experiences. But I realized what a jungle of fraud, folly and mirage lay before me and was determined it should not be my only preoccupation, and that a healthy natural life, with what are called "outside interests," must be the accompaniment of this study. I thought it peculiarly necessary that there should be no fanaticism, no eagerness to believe. Our wishes, however ardent, are no guarantee of truth or even of hope. "Nor does our being weary prove that there is rest." I can truly say my wish was only to ascertain the facts in a difficult problem and not to deduce any moralities from it. That latter desire is an almost inescapable trap in the path of truth-seeking. But I saw that one must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest with keen alertness of brain and a something beyond, which as yet I did not understand. Thus I had no axe to grind. I did not wish at all to assure myself of immortality or to console anyone else by promising
it to him. I was by no means sure from Western teachings as to immortality that any sensible person need desire it, and though I believe in it now it is on very different grounds.
Thus my attitude was much the same as when, a child, I studied Euclidean geometry. It was a fascinating game. It could not appear on the surface to matter very much that the sum of three angles of a triangle was equal to two right angles, yet I was taught if it were otherwise the world as we conceive it would be quite other than it is. Might not something of the same be argued of what interested me now? I still think this was a fortunate attitude for beginning my investigation though I now know that more is needed at a later stage. But I certainly thought that if I could trace these facts to their source some conclusions as to life and death would need revision and that the logical conclusions accepted as basic facts might be thrown seriously out of gear, though how I could not tell. It was clear that many people who possess these powers in a small way use them quite carelessly and indeed unconsciously; and this seemed both interesting and encouraging for it was exactly the same spirit in which many years ago people watched
the magnet and other natural forces at work and drew no conclusions whatever. Probably it was chance, they thought--but anyhow a trifle. That was sufficient. But to me these small manifestations seemed indicative of something vast, not terrifying in the least, but with surprising possibilities if one could get the hang of it. Such had been the result these earlier people scorned.
So I began to collect evidence from the people with whom I came in contact in India and resolved that this should be my special study, little foreseeing to what conclusions it would lead me.
And here I must mention another factor which I believe has a most important bearing on these problems though many people will laugh the suggestion to scorn.
Early in life instinct had pushed me to the relinquishing of many foods in common use--among them, meat of all sorts, fish, soups, puddings, cakes, richly flavored foods and such drinks as tea, coffee, cocoa, and of course anything alcoholic. I find it difficult to say whether this instinct is a cause or effect of what I will call the psychic temperament. It may be a little of both. I believe now that the tendency occurs at a certain stage of development in psychic
evolution and has some strongly marked results. Be that as it may it will be found that in India, which may be regarded as the very fountainhead of the siddhis or occult powers, it is thought a necessity for the serious student that the foods should consist of the simplest and the most natural things that can be had, and the less cooking the better. For myself for many years I have lived upon fruit, salads, cheese, eggs, and milk or water with or without fruit juice as drinks and I sincerely believe that this simplicity of life has helped me enormously physically, intellectually, and in spiritual perception; and I may say this with more courage because to bring the body to heel is the counsel of all the highest forms of religious belief. I own I am a little inclined to doubt the perception of those who profess to be authorities in matters psychic and spiritual and yet drug themselves with substances which cloud the brain and body. The subconscious self is independent of brainsight, I know, but yet the body and brain are instruments through which we are obliged to register the conclusions of the subconscious and for excellent reasons, and if those instruments are not kept in the best working order there is as much
loss as if one attempted to see through a clouded telescope. I regard the simplest forms of living as being undoubtedly best for the health of the body and therefore necessary for the brain, which is the registering instrument of the psyche in us. It has also been recognized by all the faiths and by the medical science of the present day and others as an aid to morality and to the self-control without which it is most dangerous to have anything to do with what is called the occult. But I shall discuss this side of the question in more detail later.
So it seemed to me that all the circumstances of my life had fitted me for attacking this problem in a level-headed way--neither credulous nor taking experiences on trust nor as a rabid opponent. I may say I have had experiences put before me very imposingly backed which I felt obliged to reject because I believed that the percipients were fitted neither to see nor to record their sights.
Having said this I will return to the evidence I have collected, touched here and there by my own psychic adventures.