In Search of the Unitive Vision: Letters of Sri Madhava Ashish to an American Businessman 1978-1997

In Search of the Unitive Vision: Letters of Sri Madhava Ashish to an American Businessman 1978-1997

Comp. Seymour B. Ginsburg
 Boca Raton, FL: New Paradigm Books, 2001. Paperback, x + 292 pages.

This book should engage anyone interested in the spirituality of Advaita or the Gurdjieff Work or Theosophy; and if one is interested in more than one of these, then the book is required reading.

Seymour Ginsburg is a successful businessman who in 1978 went on a private visit to India, a visit that became a spiritual journey for him. There he met Sri Madhava Ashish (born as Alexander Phipps in Scotland), who had taken over the direction of the Mirtola ashram near Almora in 1965, after the death of Sri Krishna Prem (born as Ronald Nixon in England), whom he had adopted as his guru in 1946. Madhava Ashish was a very wise man, often speaking from the level of consciousness established in a unitive vision:

In the unitive vision the identity of the individual with the universal is experienced, and it is perceived that this identity encompasses all beings as an eternally valid fact. It has not come into being with the seer's attainment to the vision, but simply is. What comes into being, or, more truly, is developed in the seer, is the seer's capacity to perceive the identity. In this context it seems meaningless to say that any individual man ever attains anything. (165)

Madhava Ashish told Ginsburg, "If you want to pursue in a Western way the path that we follow here at Mirtola, you need to study and work with the Gurdjieffian teaching" (13-14). Ginsburg did exactly that and cofounded the Gurdjicff Institute of Florida. Ginsburg visited Madhava Ashish regularly until the latter's death in 1997. It was the persistence and tenacity of Ginsburg that elicited a lot of letters from Madhava Ashish in response to his questions. Those are the letters presented in this volume, along with a few splendid and wonderful articles written by Madhava Ashish, two of them originally published in the American Theosophist.

Since both the authors—Madhava Ashish in particular and Seymour Ginsburg to some extent--are culturally and psychologically attuned to an integration of both the Eastern and the Western sensibilities in spiritual matters, it is good to recall a relevant aphorism of Gurdjieff "Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West- and then seek." This advice seems simple on the surface, but I wonder how the pupils of the Gurdjieff Work, who are almost exclusively Westerners, would "take" the understanding of the East? From books? By apprenticeship with Eastern gurus? By imbibing the Eastern attitude by living in the East? Madhava Ashish certainly represents a striking example of a person who combined the understanding of the East and knowledge of the West. We need to be grateful to Ginsburg for persisting in his questioning, for gathering and sorting through the responses of Madhava Ashish, and for publishing them. These responses, always full of insight and sometimes wry humor, throw an impartial light on Theosophy, the Gurdjieff Work, and Indian spirituality.


May/June 2003