Paul Antoine Richard was born on 17 June 1874 at Marsillargues, in the department of Hérault, in Languedoc (southern France). After finishing school, he enlisted in the army, and in October 1892 was sent to North Africa, where he served for four years. Returning to his homeland in 1897, he settled in Montauban (in the South-West of France), where he took up the study of theology. He preached in Montauban for two years, and in 1900 published a book-length “metaphysical essay”, Le corps du Christ après sa resurrection. Later in 1900 he became a member of the Reformed Church of France in Lille (in the North-East of France, near the Belgian border). Around this time he married Wilhelmine van Oostveen, a young lady of Amsterdam. Richard received his law degree from the Académie de Lille in July 1908. Before long he became a barrister at the Paris Court of Appeals. But his eagerness to enter into the world of politics was very much alive and therefore in February 1910 he joined the Ligue de Défense et de Propagande Républicaine Radicale et Radicale-Socialiste. In 1910 he visited Pondicherry and met Sri Aurobindo. On 5 May 1911 he married Mirra Alfassa alias the Mother. He returned to Europe after his divorce from the Mother; later he went to the United States of America where he taught as a university professor. His published works include To the Nations, The Lord of the Nations, The Scourge of Christ, The Dawn Over Asia, The Challenge of the Future, To India: The Messages of the Himalayas, New Asia, Messages from the Future, The Eternal Wisdom and The Seven Steps to the New Age. In 1967 Paul Richard breathed his last.
On 19 February 1951 an interview of Paul Richard conducted by Prof. Bhagwat Sharan Upadhaya was published in the Amrita Bazar Patrika. This interview has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation. We are immensely thankful and grateful to Shri Suresh Tyagi for tracing this interview and sharing it with us.
With warm regards,
I Meet Paul Richard
(By Prof. B.S. Upadhaya, New York)
Prof. B.S. Upadhaya, an eminent Indian scholar who is at present touring the United States on unofficial cultural mission, has been meeting distinguished personalities there. The following is an illuminating account of his interview with Paul Richard, the celebrated author, thinker and mystic. The writer who has very ably covered the whole range of modern problems philosophical, social and political and all the human issues at stake, in his questions to the great philosopher, has elicited striking answers. “The U.N.O. is a mixture of nations and super-national unions—sheep and their rival shepherds leading them to be slaughtered”, observed the philosopher replying to the query about U.N.O.’s future. Besides, the interview is a re-avowal of Paul Richard’s abiding love for India and Asia and reiteration of his theory of Asiatic Monroe doctrine.
This is the first of a series of articles by Prof. Upadhaya.
On the 24th November 1950, exactly at 10 a.m., I walked from the Elephant House into the single-chambered, neat little Chalet of Mr. Richard. He was already up despite the cold severity of the morning, and leaving his bed on which he sat meditating on human problems, he moved to his chair and smiled at me. The smile accorded me a warm welcome although I felt it had a mocking significance for he hates interviews, is difficult to interview, and he knew the purpose of my visit.
“Well then, you have come!”
“To trouble you—”. I agreed.
“To trouble me, ah, yes, to distress me. However, come, here I am. Let us begin at once if we must.”
I took out my pen and paper and asked him the first question:
“Dr. Richard, you are a great traveller. May I know if it was the wander-lust that carried you across the countries, or something else?”
Answer: “I always felt that the whole world was my home, and that I had everywhere unknown friends that I might meet. I was also believing that somewhere in this world were the great wise men that are the real masters and rulers. And I was hoping to find them. So, when opportunities came I was always ready to start.”
Q. And did you find wise men when you went East?
A. I found all sorts of men, some wise, some fools—or looking so to the unwise.
Q. May I ask who they were?
A. Oh, what is the use of naming them? Great names are known to all. But as Romain Rolland once wrote to me, “There are those as much perfected and perhaps still more divine, having remained unknown to fame, more intimate with God”… The greatest ones are the humblest.
Q. Do you think the West is decaying culturally and politically?
A. When a civilisation reaches its period of decline, all its aspects are affected.
Q. How do you view the machine age?
A. The machine is the outcome of what has been named the industrial revolution. As all great creative forces, it accelerates the downfall of those cultures which refuse to be renewed, and the ascendance of the rising ones build on new foundations. The machine enslaves or liberates man. It can create in feudal and individualistic systems, unemployment and starvation for the many; and in new progressive ones, increasing leisure and possible culture for all.
Q. Can Asia and India give anything to the West? (When I put this question Dr. Richard became animated, and trying to overcome his emotion replied:)
A. Asia and India? They have already given all that they had, all that their great past has produced—and the rest since then has been plundered. They have been robbed while they slept. Now they have to create again so that they can once more enrich others and give to the world what it needs most: the wisdom of new seers. It is what Asia and India are prepared to do as they awake in this great dawn of their new civilisations.
Culture is One
Q. What is the fundamental difference between the Eastern and Western culture?
A. Human culture is one. It is the spirit of man throwing great waves of light from East to West and from West again toward East. And all cultures in succession hand to each other the flaming torch of human advance some, as the old Indian one, mustering the inner, spiritual world, and others, as the present European one acquiring the outer knowledge for the conquest of the hidden forces of nature. Our great hope and endeavour is for a future world culture, unifying mankind, integrating in a transcendental realism the science of the universe around us and the wisdom of the Infinite within us.
Q. What part can the past play in shaping the present and the future?
A. Past and future are one, and the present is made of both. Nothing is more ancient than the future: before there were any past the future was. And nothing is more present than the past. For the present is but the past in a new form. The living past is present in us, and there is no need to save its dead forms—the empty shells left on the shore, which can never be revived. History of the past is useful only when it throws its light on the shapes of the future. It is the lack of faith, the fear of the future, which makes people turn toward the past—the grossest form of impiety. Running after the setting sun is the most foolish enterprise. Its rays are lost forever in the empty space. But the same sun which set yesterday will rise to-morrow. And it is towards its new rays—the only real ones—in the opposite direction, that we must turn to be wise.
Belief in God
Q. Do you believe in God or in any equivalent of the God idea?
A. I believe as Thales that “all is full of God”. There are principles and prototypes of every kind of potential existences in the infinite: group soul, gods of species, of tribes, nations, of religions, civilisations, ad infinitum. But none of them is the Supreme. There is no Supreme in the infinite—no Supreme but the infinite. Even the greatest god is infinitesimal in the Infinite. The greatest means the most humble, the most in-existent. It is human ignorance which identifies its own god with the Infinite origin, which makes its god ignore the Infinite. For, the species and its group-soul, its god, have the same relation as a periphery and its centre: they create each other. And the god shares in the self-limitation of its worshipper. The gods share in the sin of man: his exclusive self-assertion, his denial of the infinite. That is why as men themselves they become mortal. To worship a god is to participate in its final doom. To deny is to save him, to restore him to the infinite.
Q. Does it mean that you side with the atheist against the religious believers?
A. I would not say that. For there are two kinds of atheists: the infra-religious one who does not know the gods. And the super-religious one for whom the idea of the Supreme God is a blasphemy against the Infinite. For instead of fear they have faith. They trust the unknown, they contemplate, explore, enjoy within themselves “That” which is beyond the gods. “Men are cattle for the gods” said the Upanishads. “Therefore they do not want man to know “That!”
Q. What do you think is the solution of the erstwhile ailing humanity?
[Following part is mutilated]
…not transcended itself. He is still supreme, having not yet, as all other species, produced above himself a higher form of being to which he can ascend. As long as he will thus remain supreme he will remain tormented, in the throes and travail of inner super creation. The only salvation for man is—the superman, the supramental ecstatic being. Those who are conscious of that make the inner torment creative and refuse to take part in the mad fury and blind destructiveness of the race.
Q. What is the purpose of philosophy?
A. The same purpose as lighting a lamp in darkness.
Must Marriage Continue?
Q. What is your idea about conjugal relationship? Must marriage continue?
A. I cannot see why or how it should or could be stopped. My idea is that all forms of union which have been sanctioned and sanctified by any human community should be respected and accepted by and within all. Man sums up all nature. Monogamy, polygamy, polyandry have an equal right among animals (curiously, the most ferocious animals—lions, tigers, bears, are monogamous and the most peaceful ones—deer, elephants, cows—are polygamous. The most common—cat, dog are promiscuous). But among human beings, the conjugal relationship, whatever may be its social form, can become a holy conscious participation in the universal rite of union of the opposites, whose oneness in the infinite becomes bipolarity in the worlds of form. And through each other man and woman can worship thus the Infinite One in its dual aspect. This is the essence of true marriage.
Q. Do you believe in the saying “Art for art’s sake?”
A. This means in reality “art for the artist’s sake”, and so becomes the selfish, anarchical, exhibitionist art of decaying cultures. True art is individual art for the sake of public service—an intelligible expression of the collective ideal and inspiration: a living art in opposition to the dead art of galleries and museums—which are its mausoleum.
Q. What should be the function of those who think and create?—the philosopher, historian, scientist, artist and litterateur?
A. Those who think and create, in whatever sphere and country, are rare. Their function is the same in the social organism as the function of what thinks, creates, imagines in the individual body. They are the brain of the collective being—at its head in growing cultures, at a loss in the dying ones.
Q. Do you believe in international culture and world political organisation? How will you arrange the world of to-day politically?
A. I wish I could forget for a little while about those big problems. For I have just sent to my old friend Ganesh & Co., in Madras, a book to be soon published: “The Seven Steps to the New Age”, answering fully those questions. It includes as an appendix a project of an International League of World Culture.
Q. What is your opinion are the good points of the Soviet culture? What is desirable? What do you think of modern democracy?
A. All cultures are welcome. They must not be judged on their first appearances. As long as they remain dynamic their forms change and progress. I like their daring faith which makes them discard the past, sacrifice the present, in order to gain the future. Their destructiveness is proportional to their will and capacity to create. They are the dark mountain behind which the new sun rises. I like also the way in which they give cultural autonomy to their backward tribes in central Asia, encouraging them to develop their own language and traditions. “Modern” democracies are anything but modern. They refuse to become so through deep renewals. To a world desperately in need of change, their forceful stand for status quo gives no other alternative than the acceptance of what they have tried to destroy.
Future of U.N.O.
Q. We have a world organisation—“The United Nations”. Are you satisfied with its structure and working? Do you think it will meet the fate of the League of Nations?
A. Who is satisfied with the U.N.O.? All organisations around it are a success, but their center at Lake Success is a failure. The League of Nations was a league of empires and would-be empires among the nations—a gathering of foxes and fowl. The U.N.O. is a mixture of nations and supernational unions—sheep and their rival shepherds leading them to be slaughtered. For both organisations beautiful “Taj Mahals” have been built, one in Geneva, the other in New York—in memorial.
Q. You are a world citizen and humanist, above petty national profiteering; but tell me your reaction to the French conduct in Indo-China.
A. All my life I have condemned colonialism as the mortal sin of nations. I have commented on World War I in my old book “To the Nations”, as a direct result and punishment of colonial imperialism. Going back from Japan to India in 1920, I sent from the boat which passed Indo-China a wire to the French Governor who was one of my friends…
[Following part is mutilated.]
…pity on these oppressed people). And I persuaded Mahatma Gandhi to make the National Congress at Ahmedabad adopt my plan for a League of Asia, with this motto: “Freedom and Unity of Asia”.
I rejoiced when the first Asian Conference met in Delhi to back Indonesia in her fight. I wish another conference could do the same for Indo-China. And I hope that some day a Pan Asian union will declare the equivalent of a Monroe Doctrine for Asia.
Q. Is Great Britain still a force in Europe? What game is she up to?
A. The case of England is still uncertain in many respects—except one: since she has ceased to “rule the waves” several of her colonies have begun to waive the rule. She will therefore gladly change her colonial for a continental empire. But being unable to do so she has only this alternative: either to become a province of Europe or an appendage of America. Her diplomacy consists mainly in avoiding as long as possible the choice.
Q. Which aspect of Indian life and what Indians have influenced you?
A. One thing only influences me, my deep inner link with things and people. Many things link me with India: the Brahmin motto for “plain living and high thinking”, the respect for all life, and above all the deep philosophical and spiritual sense of the Infinite. And many people—all of them now gone, some recently: Aurobindo, Dwijendranath Tagore and his younger brother Rabindranath, Gandhiji and Jagadish Bose—others long ago, the Rishis of the Upanishads, and among them the Buddha and Mahavira. But none of them is dead. They live forever. They will always have new things to teach us.
Q. What kind of writing do you value? Philosophy, mathematics, science, literature? Which writers have you liked?
A. I value all writings which are creative. And the kind of style which condenses the maximum of thought in the minimum of words: the equivalent in philosophy of the mathematical equation in physics, embodying in a few symbols universal constants, laws and harmonies of nature. My preferred form of expression is an epigrammatic equivalent of the old “sutra”. (My last books are made of thoughts in twelve words.) The writers I have liked are those who deal with the riddle of the universe, the destiny of man, the progress and peace of mankind. The enumeration would be too long of the authors, ancient and modern, that I have admired: all those dealing with the three great problems—misery below, mystery beyond, mastery within.
Love Of The Himalayas
Q. Which country do you like best and why?
A. The Himalayas, aloof and pure above the world, linking in Central Asia the three Asian giants: India, China, Russia and their new rising cultures.
Q. What do you think of Japan, her resuscitation and future?
A. I like Japan. I have spent four years, which are unforgettable, in close association with the true Japanese soul. It is a soul of great refinement and heroism, of endurance and fortitude, self-control and nobility. It has several cultures, the Chinese, the Hindu and the European. It will also digest the forcible feeding of the American—and reject what of it can not be refined. It has fallen, trying to imitate the West and to conquer Asia instead of liberating her. It pays now the price of this fault. It will someday repair it.
Q. You are old now. You can look back and tell the stages you have covered. Do you think you have realised your goal? What is your wish regarding yourself? Have you any particular desire remaining unfulfilled?
A. I do not feel old. I am still but a growing child. The stages I have covered are two: I spent the first part of my life in religious research and I have achieved for myself a synthesis of religions, so that now I belong to none but they all belong to me. I have spent the second part of my life trying to find in a philosophy of new physics a material basis for my thoughts and a common root between science and religion. In the deep communion with the Infinite, beyond and within, is this common root, linking the external with the eternal. To probe there within the hard shell of matter and beyond the horizons of the mind, a discipline is necessary which through integration of the opposites changes mental concepts into supramental “trancepts”.
In these, glimpses of the infinite oneness can be seen. Did I thus realise my goal? Certainly not. For it recedes while I advance, opening new magnitudes to penetrate. Have I a wish for myself? To be nearer and nearer to the radiant heart of things. A desire unfulfilled? That of fulfilling my unfinished work. And perhaps also to see a new world take shape—for the new man.
I Like India.
Q. Do you like India? Would you like to go out to India? What would you do there?
A. I like India—the India of the past and that of the future, the India which was and will again be. I go there very often in thought and spirit. What would I do there? What I always did and will do: serving through India, Asia, and through Asia, the world—a new Asia and a new World.
Q. Have you any message that you would like to communicate to the East or any warning to the West?
A. If the West does not listen to the warning of circumstances, how can it care for that of the man? And what message could the East need that it has not heard in its own heart: the message of its great future already present in its inner self.
To India I can only repeat what I said thirty years ago: “The most dreadful tyrannies is that of dead creeds, and the worst autocracy that of theocrats”.
“You have fought the foreign master, the spoiler from without. Fight also that from within.”
“The spell of the Brahmin, the scourge of the Zamindar, the sword of the Sarkar—such is the trinity which the past created and which the future will destroy.”
PAUL RICHARD: A BRIEF LIFE-SKETCH
Paul Richard is a great thinker, mystic, philosopher and humanist. He has been a friend of Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland and Sri Aurobindo. He has always believed in the Asian leadership of the world and in the wisdom of the Indian rishis. He is one of the greatest writers of the age and his style is pithy and sententious, very akin to the structure of the Sanskrit ‘sutras.’ Indians are familiar with his works—To the Nations, Au Japan, The Dawn over Asia, The Lord of the Nations (translated by Sri Aurobindo into English from the French original), To India, The Message of the Himalayas, To the Women, Messages from the Future, New Asia.
The great author is constantly writing and it is for this reason that he has moved now from the city of New York to the solitude of Nyack which he calls “Benares on the Hudson.” He is tall and handsome and bears himself erect at his age of seventy-six. His grey hair and beard become his sharp features and make his mien very distinguished looking. He wears a perpetual benevolent smile which beams across the well-trimmed beard on his visitor. He has the most acute mind whose brilliant and ruthless logic has not been affected by age. His humour is scintillating and satire sharp and deep.
Paul Richard has been a great traveller and has been almost all over the world in search of wisdom. The following is a brief record of his travels, mostly gleaned from his talk. He chose military service that he might be drafted to distant lands and he was sent to North Africa. There he became a real Arab and spoke and wrote Arabic. He was commissioned in 1905 to go to French Guiana and stayed in South America studying the life of the convicts. He was given two murderers for servants whom he made his friends. In 1910 he went to India and met at Pondicherry a kindred soul, Sri Aurobindo, who had just escaped from Calcutta. He visited India a second time in 1914 with his wife and in collaboration with Sri Aurobindo started the “Arya”. The Pondicherry Ashrama of Sri Aurobindo coming into being, his wife became its ruling spirit and kind Mother.
He had already met Tagore in Japan and now Dr. Besant and Gandhi invited him. He met the former at Adyar and the latter at the Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress, addressed Ahmedabad Congress in 1922. Mahatma Gandhi took him to the Sabarmati Ashrama where they conversed before prayer. Their ideas were in considerable agreement in principle though not in detail. After touring Sindh and Kathiawad, Mr. Richard took a boat at Bombay and sailed to Basra, visited Baghdad and Ur, the ancient capital of the Chaldeans. He then crossed the Syrian desert to Haifa in Palestine and stayed for a month in the room of the Persian prophet Abdul Baha. He then spent some time at Cairo writing editorials for the French paper “La Bourse du Caire” and reached France via Greece and Italy. The impending doom over Europe was becoming more urgent every day and finding that there was nothing to do in France, he crossed to America in 1929 which, he thought, although had no past would perhaps have a future. He returned to France in 1930 but on arriving he could not stay in Paris longer than twelve days, and finally bidding goodbye to France left for America again. And since then he has stayed in America twenty years working on philosophy of new physics and integrating philosophy with science. But finding America preparing for war, he wishes to go out again to India, the land of his dreams and one country really given to peace.