The Record of Shankaracharya Audiences – History

History of the Record of Audiences & Correspondence
with His Holiness Shantananda Saraswati
Shankaracharya of Jyotish Peeth

The Record of Audiences & Correspondence with HH Shantananda Saraswati is the verbatim account of the journey towards Self-realisation undertaken by Dr Francis Roles and a small group of his followers based in London. From 1961 to 1993 their guide on this journey was the Shankaracharya of Jyotish Peeth, Swami Shantananda Saraswati, one of the four heads of the Advaita school of philosophy, extensively reformed by Adi Shankara around 800 AD, but which had existed as far back as 1500-3000 BC.

Francis Roles, a Consultant Paediatrician at Barts Hospital, London, was a leading pupil of the Russian philosopher P D Ouspensky who had evolved an eclectic system of profoundly practical self knowledge aimed at discovering the truth — a single fundamental truth that will fully answer the perennial questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is the world?’

Ouspensky believed and demonstrated that real answers to such questions could only be found and understood by those who had learnt, in practice, to increase their level of being and consciousness. He was convinced that the original source of his system and the practical methods to ensure its success were to be found in the Indian Vedic tradition. Following Ouspensky’s death in 1947 and after thirteen years of searching for a living exponent of such a tradition, Francis Roles met the Shankaracharya in 1961.

The Shankaracharya described his tradition as a beacon light which was kept always alive to guide all genuine seekers after truth, regardless of race or creed. Every Shankaracharya has demonstrably to be a master of all six systems of Indian philosophy (Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta) in order to be able to answer any question in terms  that the questioner can best understand. These six systems encompass all human means of understanding, intellectual, emotional and physical, and any genuine living exponent will manifest as a human being who has learnt to allow a universal consciousness to  permanently transcend their own limitations. This teaching allows any sincere aspirant to build and establish an effective daily practice perfectly suited to their individual needs and talents.

When Francis Roles met the Shankaracharya in 1961 he had already spent many years establishing the disciplines recommended by Ouspensky: impartial self-observation (self- remembering), consciously directed attention, the abandonment of negative emotions and a constant practice of inner prayer. Added to these was the ancient Raja yoga method of meditation he had more recently learnt from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. But, he said, his efforts had not yet taken him all the way and it was only when he was able to practice meditation under the Shankaracharya’s personal guidance that he began to experience the full benefit of all these methods.

At that visit, his first extended experience of full samadhi, lasting ten hours or so, marked a threshold in his spiritual development that allowed the relationship with the Shankaracharya to develop and prosper for the next twenty years. Not only did it become the lifeblood of his London school, enabling many others to follow on the same practical path, but the knowledge he acquired formed the foundation of a unique synthesis of Eastern and Western understanding. In this synthesis, philosophy and science, medicine and magic, religion and secular culture, become harmoniously aligned and rejoined to reveal their common source as one, single, universal consciousness — in a reunification of the whole human endowment that has not prevailed in western culture since early Greek civilisation.

Visiting the Shankaracharya almost every year, Francis Roles was accompanied by members of the school, firstly Robert Allan (later to become Lord Allan of Kilmahew) and his wife, Maureen, and then by William Whiting, head of the School of Meditation and by Dr David Connell. In later years, Professor Richard and Elizabeth Guyatt, Dr Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick and Roy and Heather Jacob made visits. Members of the school in New Zealand, notably Nolan and Bridget Howitt and Michael and Gillian Harris, made several visits of their own. All these people brought not only their own questions but those from members of the school at home as well.

The Record, consisting of more than a thousand pages, contains the accounts of 28 separate visits to the Shankaracharya, most by Francis Roles accompanied by members of his school, several by representatives of the School of Meditation and several by the New Zealand school, and also a few visits by individuals authorised by Francis Roles. Initially, each visit would last about a fortnight with audiences being given once or twice a day. Over the years the visits became shorter.

The questions and answers cover all aspects of the path of Advaita undertaken by those who may individually need to start their approach by the paths of Jnana, Bhakti, Karma or Yoga. Every page shines with insight into the essential unity of the universe and the individual, of cosmology and psychology, revealing in simple and always practical terms the inner nature and complex mechanism of the human mind and soul and how it may best surmount the personal obstacles that always arise in any genuine search for truth.

The rarity and unique value of the Shankaracharya and his words cannot be adequately conveyed except by becoming familiar with his knowledge and advice and by then applying it to our individual existence. Lord Allan, on first meeting the Shankaracharya, wrote:

Looking at him to-day I suddenly saw that God became Man in Christ.  This was the whole point. There is no object in expecting to find a God amongst men, but one can find a man with the qualities of God, and all men have the qualities of God in varying degrees.

In London, Francis Roles maintained a ‘school of the Fourth Way’ as had Ouspensky before him. In a post-war England, esoteric philosophy and practical spiritual endeavour were still generally regarded with a mixture of suspicion and derision. The Study Society was originally conceived as an unassuming physical footprint in the material world set up to service the mundane requirements of a group of people who wished to come together free of unwanted publicity and interference. It took the form of a Friendly Society, a simple shell, dedicated only to serving the school and the needs of its members, its object simply to pay the bills associated with maintaining a meeting house and to deal with worldly bureaucracy. The inner school and the outward Society were clearly distinguished separate entities in much the same way as the ‘registered office’ of a trading company may have only a specific and limited role in the company’s actual work.

After Francis Roles’s death in 1982 and in response to changing attitudes in the outside world the Society began to develop a new, open and embracing approach. Activities gradually diversified into semi-autonomous streams — classical Advaita in the form of the Shankaracharya’s teaching, Neo-advaita, Francis Roles’s synthesis of the Fourth Way, the Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes, Qi Gong, Yoga and Bharatanatyam — all of which now shelter under the widened umbrella of the Study Society.

Anticipating such diversification, Francis Roles was determined to ensure as far as he was able that the Shankaracharya Record, until then a genuinely esoteric text, should remain freely available in its original form to anyone who wished to benefit from it. He was adamant that no individual or body of people could or should claim to own this source of wisdom. The Shankaracharya’s words came directly from the Absolute and were for the benefit of the whole of humanity. The necessary attitude for maintaining the integrity of the text and its free availability was one of minimal, effective guardianship, not ownership. Consequently, as well as leaving copies of his Record for the use of the Society, he also made copies available to a number of individuals.

In the 80s and 90s the Society produced several digests and compilations from the Record. These include Good Company 1 & 2, The Man Who Wanted to Meet God (a collection of the Shankaracharya’s teaching stories), The Orange Book — A Method of Self-realisation (the teaching on Param-Atman, collected by the New Zealand school) and compilations on the subjects of Life and Death and Prayer. William Anderson, the poet, Dr James Witchalls, Dr Wendy Roles, Alan Caiger-Smith, the potter, and other members collaborated to produce what have proved to be perennially popular publications. During the same period a great deal of work on rationalising and indexing the original texts in order to produce material for the Society’s study groups was carried out by Lady Maureen Allan and other members working under her direction.

In 2000, the first complete collection of the original unedited texts of Audiences and Correspondence comprising a set of four volumes was published in a small limited edition for ‘members, associates and friends of the Society’ by Anthony Kedros and Gerald Beckwith under their imprint of Starnine Media. The Study Society also produced the first digital version of the majority of the audiences in database form on a CD.

In 2009 Richard and Jenny Beal implemented the first online version of the Record based on the work of Maureen Allan. This was made available to members and associates of the Study Society on the Society’s website. In 2010, audiences which had been omitted from the Allan version were added from the Starnine Media version.

In 2016 the complete Starnine Media urtext edition was implemented by Richard Beal as an easily accessible digital archive for the Ouspensky Today website, which represents the continuation of Francis Roles’s stream of the Fourth Way teaching. Jenny Beal then carried out a major project to create a new set of comprehensive indexes, making it easy for anyone to find the particular inspiration and guidance they may seek. For the first time special indexes for different spiritual paths – Ouspensky’s Fourth Way, Devotion, Non-duality, Action – provide direction to the relevant aspects of the Shankaracharya’s teaching.

Return to The Record of Shankaracharya Audiences.