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memoirs of a citizen philosopher 


Kevin R. D. Shepherd, 2004


1.         Family  Background  and  Hunger  Marches

2.         My  Father

3.         Leaving  School

4.         Beauty  Without  Cruelty

5.         Early Studies

6.         The  Professor  of  German

7.         New  Age  Reverse

8.         India  and  Doing  Philosophy

9.         Sectarian  Authority  Figures

10.       Second  Renunciation      

11.       Cambridge  Library  Phase

12.       The  Brain  Question

13.       Citizen  Philosophy

14.       Dispute  with  the  New  Age 

15.       Scotland  and  the  Findhorn  Foundation

16.       The Scottish Mountains

17.       Crafts Versus Contemporary Tastes  

18.       Citizen  Initiative 

19.       Shirdi  Sai  Baba  Issues       

20.       Global  Warming  and  Climate  Crisis


1.   Family  Background  and  Hunger  Marches

My father, born in Middlesbrough, was only twelve when the last hunger marches occurred in 1936. He was too young to participate, but relayed events concerning my grandfather, an enthusiastic marcher, one of the many ex-servicemen in the ranks of protesters converging upon London. During the 1950s, my father’s conversation often included the words “poverty…bailiffs…the workhouse.” This inventory reflected common fears of the unemployed during the 1920s and 1930s. The workhouse was dreaded in a way that is difficult for most people to understand today. Commenced in Elizabethan times, the workhouse system was officially closed in 1930, surviving in variants for nearly twenty years.

In September 1921, unemployed protesters in Leicester converged upon the Poor Law Offices in Rupert Street. Policemen wielding truncheons quickly appeared, vigorously quelling the protesters, many of whom received serious injuries from the onslaught. An indignant crowd afterwards besieged the police station. Numerous men who had returned from military service on the Continent, in World War One, were dismayed at the conditions in their own country.

On one side there were those who believed that society had a responsibility to those out of work through no fault of their own. On the other, there were those who believed that poverty was simply the consequence of indolence and drunkenness. (Newitt, The Rupert Street Revolt, 2016, preface)

The contested Poor Law “abolished the system of outdoor relief and decreed that such relief should only be given in the workhouse; this was disliked as much in 1921 as in the 1840s” (ibid:8). Workhouse conditions did vary in different towns, but were frequently oppressive and exacting. The regime inside the Leicester workhouse was designed to discourage all but the most desperate persons from seeking aid. Homeless vagrants could be temporarily sentenced to stonebreaking. The working cells at the Swain Street Institution were only six feet by four feet, more restricted than the sleeping cells (which were smaller than local prison cells). A sixty-nine year old man reacted violently after being sentenced to breaking granite with a hammer (ibid:8-10).

In 1922, the first national hunger march of the unemployed was launched from cities as far apart as Glasgow and Plymouth. The press wildly exaggerated this event, wrongly describing the marchers as bearing firearms. The leaders were supposedly scoundrels paid by Bolshevik Russia.

Here I must interpose the instance of my paternal grandfather, Patrick Murphy, whose forbears were Irish Catholic working class. The ancestral memories of my grandfather were coloured by resentments against the British rule in Ireland. He was heir to stark reminiscences of oppression and injustice. His family had been peasant farmers for generations, knowing little else but hard work. His father fled from the poverty to live in Yorkshire, where my grandfather was born.

That family was one of the many who departed from their home country. Affluent people today can scarcely imagine the situation existing in Ireland during the nineteenth century. A searing memory for many emigres was the Great Famine of 1845-52, in which a million Irish died. About one third of the population were then dependent upon the potato for survival. This crucial crop caught blight.

While Victorian England grew prosperous, the subject Irish people reaped a poverty that is almost unbelievable. A basic problem was the system of landlordism created by British rule. There were other aspects of this oppression, in occurrence since the time of Cromwell. During the eighteenth century, British proscriptions against Irish Catholics were severe. The victims were then prevented from gaining education. During the "reformed" nineteenth century, the afflicted majority still comprised about 80 percent of the Irish population, mainly illiterate tenant serfs.

"Views of the Irish as racially inferior, and for this reason significantly responsible for their circumstances, gained purchase in Great Britain during and immediately after the famine" (Great Famine, accessed 03/02/2011).

Survivors of the famine and eviction emigrated to England, America, and other countries, in large numbers. Many were ill and dying during voyages. The subsequent Irish Land War, featuring commonplace eviction of tenants by English landlords, was another factor of displacement. One immediate problem for the emigrants to England was how to educate themselves, a prospect preferably not to be accomplished in accordance with British colonial standards. In some directions, self-taught education became an ideal. In practice however, very few could achieve this. Most illiterate Irish needed tuition, resorting to English schools.

My Irish grandfather lived in Yorkshire, where he was born circa 1890. Startlng life as a navvy, he worked in an iron foundry and joined the navy, in which he served during the First World War. After the war, he found that poverty was impossible to avoid. In Middlesbrough, like many others (both English and Irish), he discovered that employment was scarce. The output of British industry fell by a third during the early 1930s. Soup queues and allotments were a common resort of the depressed working class during the 1930s. Patrick Murphy grew vegetables to sustain his family. He had numerous mouths to feed during a lengthy period of unemployment.

His wife was another Roman Catholic, this time of Irish-Scots descent. A complication occurred when Patrick became very disillusioned with religion, developing a conflict with the local priests. Like many others of his background, he was at first illiterate. During his thirties he taught himself to read and write. He was then able to read the Bible extensively. His conclusion was negative. To the consternation of his wife and friends, Patrick became a marxist radical. He was now reading the Das Kapital of Karl Marx (in translation), and this he regarded as his new bible (I do not follow on from this persuasion; my father did, though eventually grasping that something had gone wrong with Stalinism; Patrick himself later became an independent thinker).

My grandfather was in friction with the local Roman Catholic priests in Middlesbrough. He made no secret of his changed views, being bold in declaring what he believed. The prestigious priests had no sympathy with poverty or dissidents. One of their leaders was so wrathful that he visited the home of my grandfather and enacted a ceremony of excommunication, cursing all inmates of the house. My grandmother was still a loyal Catholic, but her feelings did not count. This event occurred circa 1930.

Patrick loathed the upper class and detested aristocracy. He was very critical of politicians. He said the British government had betrayed the working men conscripted in the 1914-18 war against Germany, leaving so many in a dire economic predicament of unemployment, while the privileged members of society lived in surfeit and luxury. He and other marchers strongly resented the means test enforced in 1931 by the National Government (a predominantly Conservative coalition). This measure has been called callous, leading to abuses. Rather more was involved than a reduction of unemployment benefits by ten percent.

If a family could not afford to pay rent, their furniture and other assets were seized. Initially, 180,000 married women were effectively targeted by the Anomalies Act. Those women were denied benefit, even though they had paid contributions while working. Many British people lived in fear of insensitive officials. The Anomalies regulations restricted some worker categories from claiming unemployment benefit; married women were badly hit in this respect. By the end of 1936, a total of 320,000 women were penalised by the government regulations.

National Hunger March to London, 1932. Courtesy Getty Images

My grandfather Patrick was a determined participant in "national hunger marches" to London. The largest march occurred in 1932. There is a need to ascertain precise details. Over two thousand marchers moved from different directions, primarily North England, Scotland, and Wales, in protest at their plight. Contingents from towns on the south and east coasts were also involved. The participants were not actually starving, but they were in a predicament. Too many Northerners were suffering from malnutrition. The general disconsolate mood was a tragic factor (Socialism and Sociology).

In 1930, a thousand walkers participated in the NUWM national hunger march to London. They were degraded by Labour to the status of vagrants, a workhouse stigma. This was probably because the NUWM denounced Labour as an inferior lobby.

The organising agent of these marches was the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM). In 1922, unemployment statistics had exceeded a million, increasing to three million by 1932, over twenty percent of the national workforce. The Labour Party failed to support victims. The TUC (Trades Union Congress) tended to ignore the unemployed. In contrast, the versatile NUWM urged a call to action. By 1933, the NUWM were claiming 100,000 members in 349 branches. This activity imparted a sense of discipline and purpose, giving the unemployed a factor of hope otherwise denied them.

The NUWM nurtured acute grievances against the aloof Labour Party and the TUC. In 1933, this pioneering body was accused by the TUC of being a subsidiary of the Communist Party. The NUWM was not actually Communist, “never formally committed to the [Communist] Party in any way” (Hayburn 1983:288). Communist revolutionary doctrine was in abeyance. However, there was a strong degree of Communist influence, facilitated by some NUWM leaders being members of the Communist Party. In 1934, the NUWM repudiated any affiliation with the Communist Party, which surely did wish to gain control of their movement.  “Very few of the tens of thousands of unemployed” joined the Communist Party (ibid:291).

National Hunger March, Stockton branch, 1932. Courtesy TUC Library Collections

The activities of the independent NUWM were financed solely by weekly member subscriptions and occasional street collections. They had a low bank balance, rarely exceeding £100. The return rail fare of exhausted marchers was paid for by money collected en route to London, and in the capital. Nevertheless, the pedantic and affluent leaders of the Labour Party complacently assumed that the unemployed were disguised Communists and militants. This was a gravely flawed judgment. Many NUWM members had no other means of expressing discontent “with the conditions in which they were expected to live” (Hayburn 1983:295).

Source: Ralph Hayburn, "The National Unemployed Workers Movement, 1921-36: A Reappraisal," International Review of Social History (1983) 28(3):279-295. See also the NUWM collection, online.

In October 1932, the diverse contingents of marchers arrived at Hyde Park, intending to present a petition (with a million signatures) to Parliament. That document demanded abolition of the means test, and also the Anomalies Act (1931) restricting access to benefit for particular classes of workers, particularly married women (Susan Pedersen, Family, Dependence, and the Origins of the Welfare State, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 296). A large crowd of sympathetic London workers welcomed the marchers. These supporters are variously numbered in the sources between 50,000 and 150,000. Heads were not closely counted; exaggerations evidently occurred. Speeches were made at this juncture in Hyde Park. Demonstrations also occurred at Trafalgar Square.

National Hunger March at London, October 1932, including a Women's Contingent.

Oscar de Lacy was leader of the Brighton contingent. In a speech at Hyde Park, he commented that the Daily Mail had stigmatised the marchers as “dupes of the Communist Party.” This accusation made the marchers very indignant. “Coming through from Brighton to London, right to Hyde Park, the rank and file of the police have acted as toffs. I must be honest. We have no fight with the men in blue” (Hunger March Speeches).

The peaceful petitioners were constantly harassed by the police under orders from the National Government, effectively led by Earl Stanley Baldwin. Those in power depicted the marchers as criminals, an allegation magnified by the belligerent press. The petitioners were blocked from reaching Westminster. Lord Trenchard was the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, under whose supervision police confiscated the crucial petition, now rendered useless. Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) was not feeling generous, despite his Labour affiliation.

Lord Trenchard was controversial for militarising the police system. The police used batons against the protesters. Agitation was in evidence at Trafalgar Square. Mounted police were employed to end the demonstrations. Many protesters were seriously injured. The strife continued for days. Several leaders of the NUWM were sent to prison.

The protest leader Walter Hannington (1896-1966) was quickly arrested and refused bail. He spent several months in jail. This Londoner was a member of the British Communist Party. Hit by a police truncheon, he prosecuted Lord Trenchard for wrongfully breaking into the London NUWM offices. Those offices were raided and destroyed at this period.

A protester in trouble, London 1932

Some reports of police numbers are exaggerated. One version says 70,000. More reliable is the figure of 2,600, including 136 mounted police and 750 “special constables.” The special constables hit marchers and supporters with batons. They were soon assisted by a formidable mounted baton (or stave) charge. Victims now “had to run for their lives in order to escape being trampled upon by the police horses or beaten by staves” (Iain Channery, The Police and the Expansion of Public Order Law in Britain 1829-2014, Routledge 2015, p. 67). Even the Police Review stated that the special constables were an irritant at hunger marches, not an “antiseptic” (ibid:68).

The protesters had only booed the police, not attacked them. According to the sympathetic trade unionist and MP Bob Edwards (1905-1990), batons were drawn when a police helmet was knocked off in a scuffle at Hyde Park. Many people were injured by the batons. Edwards greatly exaggerates the number of police and London workers, who also became involved in the clashes. A baton charge occurred when marchers in Trafalgar Square tried to mount a red flag on the cenotaph.

Sid Elias (1897-1990) was sentenced to two years imprisonment for inciting Hannington and another colleague to create public disturbances. Elias sent a letter from the Comintern at Moscow; this well known epistle was printed in The Times (November 1932). Media reports mention stones, mud, and coal being thrown by some of the crowd in London, smashing shop windows (Channery 2015:70). The extent of such activism is uncertain.

In December 1932, the NUWM discarded their former Communist slogan of “Class Against Class.” Any element of activism now ceased. Instead they promoted a “People’s Front” opposing the rise of Fascism, which infiltrated Britain (ibid:72). The Fascists were known as Blackshirts, gaining a repute for violence, an aggressive anti-Communist policy, and a notorious anti-Semitic policy. The Blackshirts were formed in 1932, imitating the European followers of Mussolini.

Wealthy Parliamentarians were viewed as ogres. My grandfather spoke in later years of their superiority complex, their addiction to gold watches and silver ornaments, part of their luxury lifestyle screening out the underprivileged. There was no possibility of fair negotiation, because the protesters were dismissed outright, their demands derided and totally ignored. The underdogs knew what the contemporary natives in India felt like when they opposed the colonial rule. Not everyone can achieve the satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi; some British protesters fought back at the aggression in London. The only weapon they had against truncheons and staves  was their fists.

The journalist Ronald Kidd (1889-1942) was deeply shocked at witnessing the strife in Trafalgar Square. Kidd “was angered by the actions of police agent provocateurs who, dressed as ordinary workmen, attempted to incite violence among the peaceful protesters.” This despicable trick, designed to justify suppression, was ultimately a resort of the Lords.

Two years later, the indignant Ronald Kidd founded the Council for Civil Liberties, a project which attracted intellectual support from Bertrand Russell and others. This was the first human rights group in Britain. In 1933, Kidd put Lord Trenchard on the defensive. The Lord’s flimsy denial of excessive policing was accompanied by a face-saving statement that if some policemen really were agents-provocateurs, they could expect to be severely confronted (Mark Lilly, National Council for Civil Liberties: The First Fifty years, London 1984, pp. 3-4).

Kidd and his supporters now closely observed events when the February 1934 national hunger march occurred. The authorities were predicting trouble, telling London shopkeepers to barricade their windows. Thousands of protesters again assembled in Hyde Park. Kidd and his colleagues confirmed the alarming presence of police agent provocateurs. Fortunately, the episode proved peaceful. The marchers maintained a faultless behaviour, impressing many onlookers.

The 1934 event at Hyde Park was accompanied by the drums and bagpipes of Scottish marchers. The protesters patiently endured the rain and wet grass on which they sat. “Many of them were thin and haggard,” reported MP Bob Edwards. Sympathisers gave them sandwiches. Hot meals were elusive. They came from South Wales, Scotland, Northumberland, Durham, Jarrow, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Coventry, Lowestoft, and other places.

They were still opposing the government cut in unemployment benefit. They tried to meet politicians at the House of Commons. The police were under orders to turn them away. Earl Baldwin adroitly provided them with some money for their rail fare home. After a few months, Neville Chamberlain and other politicians created the Unemployment Act 1934, which jettisoned the cut. A reason given was reduction in the number of unemployed.

In February 1934, The Times printed a letter from Ronald Kidd and fourteen other persons of note. That epistle included the words: “All reports bear witness to the excellent discipline of the marchers. From their own leaders they have received repeated instructions of the strictest character, warning them against any breach of the peace” (Lilly 1984:7).

The different statistics supplied in sources have received some critical analysis. According to historian Peter Kingsford, only ten thousand men ever took part in the marches, which included 25 women. There were definitely more women involved. Kingsford has been accused of ignoring the local dimensions of NUWM branch activity, a significant extension of the more well known national marches to London (cf. Kingsford, The Hunger Marchers in Britain, 1920-1940, London 1982).

The national marches could last over a month, in the face of bitter winter conditions. Discipline was rigorous, extending to thirty miles a day through snow. After every hour of walking, the marchers stopped for about ten minutes. When they passed through towns, well wishers (and even children) would accompany them for a short distance. If they could not find lodging in town halls or similar venues, a reluctant resort to workhouses could occur. They depended upon sympathisers for food en route. They marched in worn boots. In the worst conditions, their rain-soaked clothes could freeze solid.

The marcher discipline “was intended to challenge the insinuation, propagated in much of the press, that the unemployed were physically and morally dissolute, that they were the lazy, apathetic, and irredeemable” (James Vernon, Hunger: A Modern History, Harvard University Press, 2007, p. 244).

Hunger March to London, April 1930. Courtesy Daily Herald Archive, Science Museum Group Collection

A female extension to the NUWM occurred in 1929, when Maud Brown gained profile. She came from a working class family in North London. Unlike some other NUWM leaders, she had no Communist background. This resourceful lady, as the national organiser for women, was successful with many new recruits in the north. There were “women only” local branch marches addressing problems facing women; no less than thirty-four women’s sections resulted around the country, at diverse NUWM branches.

In October 1932, a contingent of some forty or fifty women marched from Burnley to London, to participate in the famous national event. The age variation was here 16-63; most of them were skilled cotton weavers who were expected to work cheap as domestic servants. Their demanding protest walk, lasting over two weeks, occurred during an era when many young men were not fit for military service because of malnutrition.

What really brought women into the fold was the hated effects of the means test on family life, and the disqualification of 179,888 married women from unemployment relief under the Anomalies Act of June 1931. (Vernon 2007:246)

Another unusual woman was Ellen Wilkinson (1891-1947), strongly associated with the famous Jarrow March in October 1936. “Red Ellen” was originally a founding member of the Communist Party in 1920; she soon transferred to the Labour Party, while berating their indolence. She masterminded the Jarrow project as a local MP. A petition gained nearly 12,000 signatures. Two hundred jobless men were selected for the march south, including many veterans of World War One. The shipbuilding industry at Jarrow went into a nosedive when the shipyard closed. Eighty percent of workers were unemployed here.

The Jarrow march to London was independent of the NUWM national march that same year (received by a larger demonstration in London). The Jarrow initiative was initially in collaboration with NUWM, but subsequently approved by Jarrow Town Council, who imposed convention. The marchers were obliged to wear respectable ties. Communists were banned. The only female participant was Wilkinson, on an intermittent basis only; she joined whenever her diverse commitments allowed. This march, lasting for 26 days, covered 290 miles. The objective was to confront Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

Hunger March from Jarrow, October 1936

En route the Jarrow marchers were welcomed by Conservatives, while being shunned by Labour supporters. The upgrade, from commoners to Town Council auspices, made all the difference. At Leicester, the worn out boots of Jarrow marchers were repaired by well-wishers, a facility unknown to NUWM marchers with blistered feet (Paula Bartley, Ellen Wilkinson: From Red Suffragist to Government Minister, 2014).

Within the space of a few years the politics of hunger marching had shifted from demonising the NUWM marchers as a dangerous rabble led by Communists to denigrating the cruel indifferences of London's high society toward the honest men from Jarrow. (Vernon 2007:251)

Even the resistant Lord Trenchard stated that the conduct of marchers in 1936 was beyond reproach (Channery 2015:72). However, Prime Minister Baldwin refused to meet the Jarrow contingent. The petition was received by the House of Commons, but not debated. When the marchers returned to Jarrow, they found their unemployment benefit reduced because they had been unavailable for prospective work. Ellen Wilkinson compensated in her book The Town that was Murdered (1939), ensuring that the Tyneside contingent would not be forgotten. She was not only dissatisfied with British politics. Her admiration for Soviet Communism ceased with the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939, involving an agreement for a ten year truce between Hitler and Stalin.

In contrast, my English mother (born 1928) was never attracted to Communism. At Cambridge, her education was curtailed by her father, who prevented her from pursuing entry to Girton College as her schoolteachers wished. She was instead expected to become a wage-earning clerk. This event occurred during the early 1940s. When Jean was very young, some of the Cambridge undergraduates were shocked and impressed by the gaunt participants from the north in the 1934 hunger march. This detail filtered through to public awareness. From her husband Richard (Patrick’s son), she later learned more about the marches. During the 1950s, Jean was invited to stay for a week in Middlesbrough at the home of her father-in-law Patrick, the veteran marcher. She was daunted by the prospect of meeting the political firebrand. Jean feared to say anything Patrick might consider to be wrong.

Patrick proved benign and welcoming. He sanctioned Jean’s entry into his Irish family. She afterwards described him as a most unusual working class man, being exceptionally mentally active for a person of his background. Patrick had the stamina of a navvy plus a strong intellect rarely associated with that manual category.

Patrick had the verbal ability to argue and describe in detail. He was not concerned to preach Marxism, though he evidently believed in a form of socialism. He was a mine of information about Labour, the Conservatives, and the British Communists during the “roaring twenties” and the depression years. My grandfather loathed the Fascist “Blackshirts” who had emerged in 1930s Britain as a violent rival to NUWM, which had long since disappeared. Patrick was now in his sixties, an independent thinker, keenly observing political and social events. He no longer had to go hungry, but continued to dig allotments into his old age, remaining vigorous to the end. 

2.  My  Father

My father, Richard Patrick Murphy, was born in 1924. He lost his chance of college education when he was obliged to work in a steel foundry at Middlesbrough to assist the family income. The Second World War started. After Japan entered that conflict, he was old enough to volunteer for military service, along with many others influenced by the new patriotic spirit (furthered by the media then existing). The working class had survived the afflicted interim to save the nation once again. In retrospect, my father viewed his conscription as a term in hell. He was sent to India and Burma as a member of the RAF (Royal Air Force), acquiring war memories that could make the hearer flinch if he chose to divulge details. Very often, he just wanted to forget.

My father, 1945, just after the war. Copyright Kevin R. D. Shepherd

When he returned to England, becoming a civilian again in the late 1940s, he entered the employment of my maternal grandfather, who lived in Cambridge. My English grandfather was also working class, but had gained a substantial degree of economic success, effectively achieving a version of middle class prosperity. He had started his career as a plumber with a handcart, in the simple way that tradesmen lived during the 1920s and 30s. Thrifty and abstemious, he became an employer of labourers and plasterers, who built the houses he planned. My father gained the role of his foreman, as a skilled bricklayer and roofer. My father later achieved independence, building his own houses in Cambridgeshire.

My English grandfather was not religious, unlike his wife (of middle class origin, she was consigned to an orphanage and became a committed Christian). One of his ancestors was a coachman to the Duke of Connaught, so closely associated with Queen Victoria. His early handcart was a less resplendent mode of travel. Later in his life, he acquired some of the much desired new motor vehicles, including a lorry used by his employees. In contrast, my father could never afford a lorry, although he was eventually successful.

I was born in 1950, while my parents still lived in the Cambridge home of my English grandfather. There were workshops attached to the house, where employees laboured. The smell of blowlamps, copper pipes, putty, paint, and timber was much in evidence. I was only three years old when I started to watch the workmen; on one occasion I became a nuisance, and a workman cheerfully threatened to paint my nose red. I retreated in dismay, and complained to my amused grandfather.

My father was more manually skilled than many other artisans. He was a bricklayer, plasterer, carpenter, plumber, and roofer. He occasionally took an interest in the contents of local Cambridge museums, and once took me on an excursion to the stately home at Audley End. I was about thirteen at that time, and noticed his responses to the impressive property, which dated back to the Jacobean era ( with some later decorations). My father was offput by the splendour, and disliked the associations of aristocracy. He identified with the working men who had constructed the grand house. I remember him gazing up at the ornate ceilings with astonishment. He himself had created many ceilings, though of the standard contemporary type devoid of the lavish ornament favoured in earlier centuries. He emphasised that the craftsmen involved would have received too little in payment for their work. Details of their lives had vanished; only the lords and status owners were commemorated.

In later years, I made a study of antique crafts. There was such a clear division between how the employers lived, and how the artisans lived. The output of craftsmen so often becomes an economic fetish of the wealthy, as it does today from America to China. The recent preference for minimalism is also supported by leisured wealth. The web memo On Art and Craftsmanship (2008) is a brief indicator of my own views.

My father eventually moved to London, gaining a very responsible job as Building Inspector for London Transport. In the 1970s, he was dismayed by activities of the IRA, whose bombings in London caused outrage. Irish people who were totally innocent of any connection with the IRA could nevertheless be ostracised by English people. My father accordingly changed his name from Murphy to Alan. He endorsed my own change of name to Shepherd, a name selected from my English mother's side of the family.

3.   Leaving  School

Because of my father's building projects, my family moved house repeatedly, and I attended several schools in my early years. I learned to read at the age of seven, when many others in my class were still struggling. From that date I developed a strong habit of independent reading in leisure hours. I was surprised to find that my friends did not follow the same pattern. My literary diet varied from the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs to Homer and Greek mythology. At school, I found essays quite easy to accomplish, frequently obtaining high marks in English classes.

I attended Arbury junior school for two years, and there passed the eleven-plus examination. Only a handful of children graduated that year in the school, and my friends did not. Those acquaintances were now allocated to "secondary" schools, considered inferior in the educational system. However, my transition to a new "status" grammar school involved much homework, some of which I considered needless.

During the early 1960s, I attended one of the best grammar schools in Cambridge (officially ranked as the third in priority after the "County" and the more elite Perse). Unhappily, I found that I learned more through homework than from the class tutors. The science teachers were monotonously boring, in the general estimation of the class. The maths master was a bullying tyrant feared by some pupils. The English literature teacher was occasionally known to sit immobile through an entire class (his head placed on his desk), with an alcoholic hangover from the night before; otherwise, he relied heavily upon pupils (including myself) reading aloud passages from Dickens.

The highlight of the week was the history teacher, who contributed enlivening accounts of some events in India, as part of the otherwise formal course in eighteenth century British political history. In my own private reading at that period, I studied a book on the Indian Mutiny, and started to ask myself critical questions about this event, which was still generally viewed from the British perspective. The school course did very little to give realistic context to the East India Company, a very exploitive body.

I was keen on learning French, achieving a place in the top three class results. However, a decision was taken by the headmaster to limit this aspect of the curriculum, the sciences being considered a priority. After the first few years, I was no longer able to take French lessons. Anomalously, my class was allocated more woodwork lessons. No other languages were available. French was taught in many British schools. German was not envisaged at my grammar school. Latin was often regarded by science enthusiasts as a dead language.

Science was taught in a manner that left me asking dissident questions. Physics and chemistry were administered in a form that I considered to be punishment. I sometimes achieved good marks in physics, though I could not feel much interest in the course. There was no relation to humanity, or to history. At a later period in my life, I discovered a subject known as the history of science, which really did interest me. However, this study was not taught at grammar schools.

As for biology, I reacted to some classes in which the focus was an unpleasant confrontation with the dissected bodies of rats. I was an early convert to the anti-vivisection campaign, then relatively obscure and confined to literature that was difficult to obtain. Biology and medical science have been major predators in the laboratory abuse and torture of animals, a widespread phenomenon. See Animal Ethics, Animal Rights, Anti-Vivisection.

The maths master was a particular problem. He had transferred from an elite public school, being accustomed to total subservience. He made no allowance for pupils who could not understand the tuition, discouraging questions by his overbearing attitude. Boys in my class were scared to ask him a question, his readiness to belittle "backwardness" being all too obvious. His rather menacing attitude towards other studies was expressed in his unofficial celebration of mathematics as the leading subject in the school curriculum. The sciences could be tolerated as being of practical use. However, English was only just acceptable, in that everyone had to learn at least some language. History was despised. I was shocked when this pedantic tutor strongly implied that history was no use at all. The bullying paragon of mathematics was probably the most unpopular teacher in the school.

In the spring of 1965, I contracted chronic eyestrain, to such an extent that I had to stop reading for more than very brief periods. My new spectacles did not alleviate the problem. I was obliged to see a psychologist recommended by the school, as this was the only means of avoiding compulsory attendance. The eminent psychiatrist related to the Freudian category. After a circuitous method of analysis, he eventually diagnosed me as suffering from strong reactions to the erratic school curriculum. He was in sympathy, and advised my transition to a different school, perceiving that my wish was to cease school altogether. I was still fourteen, but when I became fifteen, I would legitimately be able to leave school at the close of the summer term.

So I briefly transferred to another school, of less repute than the former, but with a headmaster noted for progressive ideas and sympathy with pupils. This was a mixed school, with both girls and boys in the classes, unlike the all-male componency of the grammar school. The new school was much preferable to the earlier one, and my eyestrain eased. None of the teachers I encountered there were tyrannical like the former maths master, and nor lax like the former English tutor. I found that religious education was here taken seriously, unlike the nil status afforded elsewhere. I was easily able to write essays on the New Testament, the problem being that I did not agree with orthodox Biblical exegesis.

I remained unhappy with the general curriculum, and also the markedly non-intellectual aptitude of many pupils, who were prone to numerous juvenile distractions. I became irritated by the trivial conversations occurring between classes. Pop music, television, and parties were the sole horizons of my classmates. I realised by now that I was inwardly committed to moving in a different educational direction, one in which I could find autonomy.

The author, aged 14, Cambridge 1965. Copyright Kevin R. D. Shepherd.

In 1965, I left school at the age of fifteen, still in conflict with the curriculum, and before taking any GCE exams. Not long after, the emerging new fad for drugs was to claim many victims amongst schoolchildren influenced by pop stars and "parties." I was fortunately immune to that fad, having escaped the media promoting it (which included lax schoolmasters susceptible to cannabis). I had ceased my former interest in pop music, which now seemed to me a bizarre digression so uncritically glorified by millions.

Cannabis was already a resort of young people who followed the example of celebrities. LSD became very famous in 1967, being strongly associated with the Beatles. Reports at first differed, causing some uncertainty. Now well known is the detail that John Lennon and George Harrison were involuntarily dosed with LSD, via sugar in their coffee, in 1965. They soon became voluntary users of the psychedelic drug, followed by Ringo Starr, and later Paul McCartney. Lennon was a more regular user than the other Beatles, and transited to heroin. In 1968, Lennon asserted that he was Jesus Christ, desiring a press release to that effect.

LSD became an extensive indulgence in Western society at that period. I did meet a few persons who had taken LSD, but refused any access to that substance myself. I did not believe that LSD bestowed a spiritual experience, but merely a synthetic chemical substitute, however intense this could be in the minds of users. Many experimenters experienced very serious LSD after-effects that made them feel desperate. Some vowed not to take the psychedelic drug again. The lore of spiritual enlightenment gained via LSD was not confirmed by critical reports of complexities.

I personally observed one LSD user in a serious predicament. He was a young man, quite strong in physique, who experienced total withdrawal symptoms while engaged in a manual job. He could not coordinate properly, becoming sullen and unresponsive to others. However, he subsequently admitted the nature of his problem, emphasising the potency of LSD and lingering after-effects.

Over the years, I learned the extent to which teachers in art colleges (and elsewhere) were advocating promiscuity. This neo-hippy trend went largely unquestioned by the victims. When I eventually recontacted a former friend (two years younger than me), he told me of his sexual exploits during the late 1960s, at a time when he attended a Technical College. I was amazed to discover that he could not remember all his girlfriends. His numerical assessment of his sexual encounters at that period was high; he conceded that he had been too promiscuous, like many others. He favoured psychedelic art, believing that other forms of art were inferior and outdated. He was not a drug addict, but instead one of the many young men influenced by contemporary cliche and presumed "progressiveness."

From the late 1960s onward, British society lost connection with earlier codes of restraint. Delinquent fashions easily overcame what was now considered to be hopelessly outdated. There was an escalation in one-parent families, pornography, and sordid occultism. Aleister Crowley became elevated to the status of an anti-cultural hero. The truth was rarely welcome.

Meanwhile, in 1965 I had been reading avidly at home about the history of India, not remaining content with the British colonial phase. I discovered that native Indian religion and philosophy had an interest of their own. However, the details could not be learned at a British grammar school. I also grasped that the Islamic heritage was far more complex than the events of annexation by the British Raj. During the next two years, I became familiar with Vedanta (and Hinduism), Buddhism, and Sufism. I was fascinated by both Sanskrit and Arabic-Persian vocabularies. I also gave some attention to Christian mysticism, and started to read Plato at the age of sixteen.

My parents warned me that if I ceased school, my career prospects would be limited. I did not wish to go back to conventional education, and decided that I would take the route which afforded more of the studies I wanted rather than any curtailment of those.

I believed that one must renounce career securities in the pursuit of what was more instructive. It is difficult to convey the immediacy of this belief, although much easier to describe my reasoning that, as I had learned how homework could overcome the deficiencies in the class mode of teaching at school, then I could similarly apply "homework" to subjects missing from the school curriculum. I had often gained first place in the class results for English and History, but the ethnocentric nature of those subjects did not inspire me to further commitments. Shakespeare and Dickens are still not my favourite authors. British political history requires social history as a complement, to say the least. Inheriting a self-taught tradition on the Irish side of my family, I was not greatly disposed to the imposition of residual "British Empire" criteria.

My tendency to "renunciation" requires clarification. From certain sources I acquired the theme "Be in the world but not of the world." This was chiefly associated with Sufism. In my case, no religious affiliation was existent. The means of rendering this guideline efficient required due thought. On visits to London, I encountered both Buddhist and Vedanta monks. I could have joined either party (more particularly the latter), but this was not my route. However, I sympathised with the monks, understanding why they chose the lifestyle they did.

I did not at first register my commitment in terms of the philosophical life. There were various other associations which I worked through. Eventually I grasped that the strongest link to my own ethnic and social environment was the obscured event of Greek philosophy. I tried to decode the pursuit of a wisdom since devalued by diverse sceptics. However, I did not opt for the elevation of Greek and Roman culture that is often found in academic commentaries. I early read Plato, but continued to study various traditions in combination. In fact, I was a strong critic of the Roman Empire, being acutely averse to some of the social customs in Greece (e.g., slavery). I did not agree with the tendency of Edward Gibbon to glorify Rome, and was more interested in the contrasting Egyptian phenomenon signified by the Desert Fathers.

One feature of my early "renunciation" was a belief that distractions can interfere with a quest for reality. My conclusion was that an experiential application is involved in the quest, not just the theoretical/study angle. The factor of distraction is, moreover, extensive. For instance, there is currently a field of expression concerning "inner experiences," which in my view are subjective in too many cases, and accordingly deceptive. There is so much "new age" nonsense written on this subject that silence is obligatory here.

4.   Beauty  Without  Cruelty

Living in Cambridge, I heard unpleasant things about what happened to animals in some laboratories. Students of biology were taught to dissect animals. I wanted nothing to do with any such career. I obtained some anti-vivisection literature, and was horrified at some of the pictures and descriptions I found. Only a minority of people took the trouble to investigate such matters at that time. The evil convenience of abused animals generally passed unnoticed, carefully concealed by science and commerce.

In those days, it was more difficult to find out exactly what happened in university laboratories. However, the commercial sector had been exposed by informed persons. Details were available to those who sought hard enough. The cosmetics industry was a predatory racket, using animals to test products in disgraceful conditions of abuse and suffering.

My mother gained contact with Lady Muriel Dowding (1908-1993), who had inaugurated some years previously a rival form of manufacture that did not involve any animal testing. The name given to this innovation was Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC). That project (originally a charity) was then just a small British company, engaged in an almost hopeless struggle against giant rivals who controlled the media. My mother was a convert to this project. In 1966, she opened a shop in Cambridge to promote the Beauty Without Cruelty cosmetics. A formidable problem was communicating relevant details to the public.

The BWC shop at Lensfield Road, Cambridge, in 1966. The innovative brand name shows top right.

I opted to assist my mother with the new shop, and in so doing, gained a close-up view of public responses, which were frequently incredulous. The subject of natural cosmetics was so new to most people that some mocked the name "beauty without cruelty," assuming that this was just another commercial gimmick, of the type associated with more well known brand names. The general incomprehension was daunting. The consumers were led to believe that the established brands were impeccably justified by national and global advertising.

I came to my own conclusions as a result of due observations. The public were helpless consumers, unable to see that they were the constant target of commercial predators, a situation assisted by politicians concerned only with salary, and whose deceptive catchphrases were "science" and "progress." The influential and affluent Royal Society still endorsed animal torture.

My mother had acquired a large double-fronted shop in Lensfield Road, which she called the Cambridge Health Centre. The economics of this situation dictated a compromised agenda, mixing the cosmetics with health foods, which were more saleable. A minority of people understood health foods, but here again, so many did not. Brown bread and barbados sugar could not compete with the junk foods like white bread and white sugar sold by the giant firms. Learning what those commercial agencies did, with their refining and additives, caused me to permanently avoid their products. Now I ate and sold honeycomb, "live" yoghurt, fruit juices, dried fruits, sea salt, and many other related products.

A setback for our shop was the competition from a well-established health foods store in the city centre, far more accessible than our outlying location, and with far more capital. The wealthy rival did not sell natural cosmetics. My mother had to close after a year or so, not being able to attract sufficient custom in such a difficult enterprise.

A few years later, health foods became a craze, but natural cosmetics almost floundered. A rejuvenation occurred, and the alternative cosmetics gradually became better known, if to a much lesser extent than health foods. BWC gained a branch in India during the 1970s, and eventually became one of the most successful brands in Britain during the 1980s; further success was achieved in America. My mother was one of those who were twenty years in advance of the BWC ascendancy. In 1973, an initial public breakthrough occurred on the subject of cosmetics animal testing, achieved by BUAV. However, animal testing was not banned in Britain until 1997-8. See The Cosmetic Pain.

Muriel  Dowding, Jean  Shepherd

BWC has been described as the first animal rights movement, occurring well before the "animal liberation" drive that became popular in the wake of Peter Singer's famous book of 1975. BWC was certainly the first movement to oppose the cruelties inflicted upon animals by the luxury trades purveying furs and skins, cosmetics and perfumes. Lady Dowding also revealed the largely unknown use of animal ingredients in cosmetics, for instance, whale oil in lipsticks. Furthermore, for many years she chaired the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) in Britain, and became President of that significant body, founded in 1875. On behalf of NAVS, she led demonstrations and presented petitions to Parliament.

Motif and motto associated with the Indian branch of BWC

There are now extensive listings available of natural cosmetics. Even today however, there is still a widespread ignorance about animal testing for cosmetics (including soap) and many household products sold by unscrupulous capitalist giants. Innumerable animals have suffered and died while the millionaires became ever more wealthy. Names like Procter and Gamble are nauseating to the critics of billionaire industries who sell without conscience (the P & G brands include Ariel, Daz, Fairy, and Max Factor). Never buy the products of torture.

My early analysis of the food and cosmetics industries also extended to the clothing and fashion industry. At her shop, my mother stocked BWC handbags; imitation leather, and so forth, and for low prices. Today, the tycoons of fashion sell so many shoddy goods for high prices; the consumers never seem to tire of superfluity. Just go to a charity shop and buy secondhand.

5.   Early  Studies

At the age of seventeen, I read Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. To me, this book of Russell was very disappointing in many respects, though forming my basic introduction to modern Western philosophy. I also read at that time the Principia Ethica of G. E. Moore and the Enneads of Plotinus, which I obtained in the MacKenna translation.

Plotinus impressed me for his evident commitment to philosophy; however, I did not view the Enneads as being a comprehensive guide. In contrast, I did not believe that Russell was a genuine philosopher, and certainly not in the Plotinian sense. Bertrand Russell was a skilled mathematician, a lucid writer, and a famous sceptic. Yet he was not a wise man or even a prudent one, as his private life demonstrated.

My first real introduction to science occurred when I looked through an astronomer's telescope one night at the age of eighteen. I had spent four years at grammar school with relative indifference to the rote lecturing on physics, chemistry, and biology. Astronomy did not figure in those peremptory classes. Yet now, via the telescope of an amateur astronomer acquaintance, I began to understand something more tangible about matters which pedagogues had obscured. Subsequently, I studied science in a way that linked with philosophy, or rather citizen philosophy, as I did not follow any academic curriculum.

I started to read Western philosophy more intensively at the age of nineteen, especially Kant and Hegel, though in some respects preferring Leibniz and Schopenhauer. However, Leibniz was a difficult subject, and I was not sure how to interpret some of his themes as represented in readily available books on this figure. I found the British empirical tradition far less appealing; nevertheless, I did study John Locke with some interest. I always wanted to know how the diverse philosophers had lived, and was not content merely to read their works.

In another direction, I read some books of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the academic commentator on Vedanta and Hinduism. At a time when I had little money to spend on books, I borrowed from my grandmother Radhakrishnan's Indian Philosophy. I wrote out substantial portions of this well known text as part of my early independent syllabus. I was fascinated by many of the arguments, and found this a welcome respite from Leibniz and Locke. Much later, I read S. N. Dasgupta's multi-volume epic on Indian philosophy, and also many other academic works on Hinduism.

I was never a Kantian. Nevertheless, I early read every page of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (in translation). I had to create an improvised lexicon of the antiquated words and difficult terminology. The elaborate reasoning involved did not convince me that the metaphysical realm was unknowable. Kant's famous theme of the phenomenal and noumenal appeared to me as being very much an opinion rather than a reality.

Another book I read throughout was Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. I was not a convert, and merely found the contents interesting. Later, I grew more critical when becoming familiar with the overall context. The output of Hegel is notoriously difficult to read. German Idealism requires the study of background details. Hegel's "pantheistic" version of Christianity is so abstract that different interpretations have arisen amongst academic analysts.

Nor did I believe that Schopenhauer had achieved the perfect philosophy, despite his familiarity with Buddhism and Hinduism in the versions known to him. However, Schopenhauer was in a different category to the academic professors Kant and Hegel. Though he graduated at university, he opted for an independent career of private study and writing, a role facilitated by his inheritance from a wealthy mercantile family. Schopenhauer was indeed fortunate in this respect. His lifestyle reflected the leisured characteristics of the affluent middle and upper classes; there was no manual or artisan work in his schedule.

As a citizen of a different background, I believed that some manual work was necessary for purposes of "grounding" an active intellectual orientation, which can easily become too abstract and impractical. The essential "renunciation" involved an extension in the experience of ordinary life situations, without status role, and without succumbing to the peculiarities of contemporary thinking. I particularly disliked newspapers, and likewise avoided television. Such characteristics are seldom understood in the affluent society. There is no room for distractions in a seven day week version of "doing philosophy," to re-deploy an academic phrase. Defective politics, crime, fashion, and sordid entertainment are not the most commendable or healthy diet.

I continued to study Eastern philosophies in an independent manner, and composed a preliminary manuscript (at the age of nineteen) on Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism. This reflected my enthusiasm for what had supposedly been superseded by Hegelian Idealism. Many years later (and after gaining further extensive data), I destroyed the inchoate manuscript when I concluded that some details were unreliable, and because of the sources to which I was restricted at the time of composition. Getting to grips with the history of those Eastern traditions is not easy, despite the rather fluent portrayals often found. I always wanted the history, not just the doctrinal exercises that survived to view. Some parties have glorified the doctrine while neglecting the history, an unrealistic option creating so many confusions, and visible in large quantities of commercial literature.

I early visited the Vedanta Centre and the Buddhist Society, both in London, and afterwards the specialised library at Downing College (Cambridge), which included many books on Buddhism. The study of Buddhism, in my case, escaped the sectarian confines and gave attention to all the main geographical zones involved. That meant not merely India and Ceylon, but also South-East Asia, Central Asia, Tibet, China, and Japan. Public libraries did not hold all the books I wanted.

In the ethnographic sense, Buddhism is a bigger study than Hinduism; the popular Western interest in both of these subjects tended very much to ignore the analytical contributions of specialist scholars. Fortunately, I early grasped that this exclusion was a mistake, an attitude which I later adapted to a similar study of the Islamic Sufism countries, the sweep here meaning basically from India to medieval Spain.

"As a result of my earlier experiences with sectarian psychologies, I had formed a habit of a critical approach to available materials. This critical attitude did not prevent me from experiencing various empathies with subject matter, but it did preclude conversion to sectarian agendas" (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005, p. 45).

During my teens I became familiar with several of the now well known Eastern mystics such as Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj, Hazrat Babajan, Meher Baba, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Vivekananda, and Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar (only in later years did I read Aurobindo Ghose, and with some reservations). At an early age I commenced to write biographies for my own instruction, and in this way came to grapple with problems posed by variant accounts and standard interpretations. The first of these "private manuscripts" concerned Sheriar Mundegar Irani, who in later years was a subject of my book From Oppression to Freedom.

Another early manuscript concerned Hazrat Babajan (d.1931), a very unusual figure and the subject of two books I later wrote. This elderly female faqir was at the margins of Sufism, a male-dominated tradition. She eventually lived at Poona (Pune), a city closely associated with the British Raj. Her outdoor life under a tree is better documented than her early years; this demanding lifestyle of renunciation contrasts with that of many modern gurus, including the controversial Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (d.1990), associated with the Poona of a later era.

Also strongly identified with Poona is Meher Baba (d.1969), of Zoroastrian birth, a complex and disciplined figure reduced by Western devotees (in the 1960s) to the sloganism of "Don't worry be happy." The erratic career of Pete Townshend, who in 1976 created Meher Baba Oceanic, is one symptom of deficiency demonstrated by the Meher Baba movement.

Study of mysticism and religion led me to investigate the life of Mahatma Gandhi when I was nineteen. This was long before the well known film which celebrated confrontation between the British Raj and the Indian independence movement. Afterwards, I gave attention to the history of Europe and America. Later, and in a very different direction, I developed an interest in ancient Mesopotamia, which became an ingredient of my subsequent (unpublished) manuscript Ancient Cultures in Flux, referred to in some of my early books. Indeed, archaeology gained favour with me; I believed that this subject should have been taught at grammar school.

My first serious encounter with archaeology surfaced in the English class at grammar school, when the rather lazy teacher conveniently gave his pupils a project: any subject of their wish to investigate (in their leisure time) and give a talk about, as clearly as possible. This meant that he could just sit and listen to the talks. I was determined to get away from anything British, instead choosing the pyramids of ancient Egypt, having already read (at my own volition) several works by archaeologists that I obtained from the school library and a public library. The talk I gave (at the age of fourteen) was quite long and did actually interest the class, who asked an unusual number of questions.

6.  The  Professor of  German

At the age of 23, I was temporarily in the employment of Professor Joseph Peter Stern (1920-1991), who lived in Cambridge, and who taught German Studies at University College, London. Born at Prague to a Catholic-Jewish family, he escaped to England from the Nazi regime in 1939. He was an expert on German literature, with strong interests in philosophy. He would courteously invite me to his study on occasion, as he knew of my own interest in philosophy. He made plain that he was not very amenable to the Eastern religions. We talked mainly about Kant, Wittgenstein, and Nietzsche. These were his favoured topics, not mine.

Joseph Peter Stern

I agreed that Kant was exceptional for certain formulations (though I was not a Kantian), and consented to read more of Wittgenstein, who was becoming almost legendary in Cambridge. I was resistant to Nietzsche, whose books I found objectionable for certain doctrines often disputed. However, Professor Stern was an expert on Nietzsche, whom he read in fastidious German, and so I decided to listen rather than argue. He freely acknowledged the non-democratic aspect of Nietzsche, and also other drawbacks. This seemed to confirm my own diagnosis; I remained cautious about the controversial advocate of "will to power." Professor Stern tended to validate some aspects of Nietzsche.

The irony in this situation was pronounced; the Professor himself was very democratic. He did not reflect in his own thinking the disconcerting "strong against the weak" psychology of Nietzsche. Indeed, I will always remember Professor Stern with affection for his democratic latitude. When I entered his study, he treated me as an equal, not as an employee. I remember the long shelves of books in his study, a room which had a very attractive view of the extensive garden. He would sometimes ask me questions, as though he really wanted to know what I thought about a particular subject. Yet I was a nobody, with no status whatever. He responded to my intellectual activity, not to my social background. Not everybody in his position would bother to do that.

I concluded that the Professor desired a citizen reaction, as a change from his discussions with academic colleagues. He sometimes hinted that academics did not get everything right; on some points there was such scope for disagreement that the ultimate answer was strangely elusive.

Professor Stern was very critical of Hitler and also Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), whom he viewed as abetting the intellectual validation for the rise of Nazism. He was also critical of Karl Jaspers, Freud, and C. G. Jung in what he deemed a tragic neglect of liberal principles in the face of Nazism. He did associate Nietzsche with Nazi ideology in certain respects; he was critical of some Nietzschean themes and conceded a strong link with the Fascism of Mussolini. His knowledge of the literary background was acute. He later contributed books on these subjects (and in 1987 appeared in the BBC television series on Western philosophers that was arranged by Bryan Magee; see Magee, The Great Philosophers, Oxford 1988, pp. 232ff.). See also Stern, Hitler: The Fuhrer and the People (University of California Press, 1975; rev. edn, 1992); idem, A Study of Nietzsche (Cambridge University Press, 1979).

The author, Cambridge 1973. Copyright Kevin R. D. Shepherd

There was a humorous episode in 1973 when I mentioned that I had undertaken some independent meditation. Professor Stern reacted with courteous aversion, considering this interest to be anti-rational. More to the point, he clearly associated meditation with the recent popular enthusiasm for TM (Transcendental Meditation). I had to explain the difference in my case, and to assure him that I viewed TM in much the same light that he did. I was a critic of TM and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

In Cambridge at that period, there were many sectarian manifestations, with diverse undergraduates and the local Technical College being conspicuous in some of the enthusiasms. In a road adjoining my home, there was a house prominently displaying the auspices of Guru Maharaji (later Prem Rawat). The Hare Krishna partisans were well known on Cambridge streets. TM was advertised in the local newspapers. I once attended a public TM talk to find out what the Transcendentalists were saying, with the consequence that I did not attend a second time.

My interest in Eastern religions predated the popular fads which started in 1967, largely because of the trend typified by the Beatles in their attraction to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. That phase of "hip" meditation caused many confusions. I should clarify the situation here from my own angle of experience.

7.   New  Age  Reverse

I left school in 1965. In Britain, there was virtually no interest in Oriental religion at that time save amongst academic scholars. The trigger for the popular craze was the 1967 "summer of love," a hippy indulgence centred in California. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (d.2008) gained celebrity at that time. In Britain, during 1967 the superstars John Lennon and George Harrison became vocal supporters of Transcendental Meditation (TM). The following year, the Beatles visited the Maharishi at Rishikesh, increasingly a tourist scenario of commercial significance. A strong degree of disillusionment followed.

Transition in Pop Fashion, l to r: the early Beatles, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols

I was totally removed from these developments. I had been a fan of the Beatles at the age of thirteen, but when I was fourteen, I ceased all interest in pop music. I had actually seen the Beatles perform at Cambridge in 1963, when they appeared at the Regal cinema while I was still at school. The music was almost completely obscured by the frenzied screaming of the females in the audience. This teenage hysteria had become notorious at pop music concerts by 1964.

The phenomenon of 1960s beat music is associated with a British working class activity (although some of the performers came from a middle class background, e. g., Mick Jagger). The routine cinema venues were replaced by high profile concerts, a big money attraction spreading to America.

The Beatles became pervasively popular in Britain by 1964. Beatlemania became a national indulgence, endorsed by many of the older generation. The clean-cut, amiable image sported suits and ties. Subsequent developments proved disconcerting to critics. The Beatles were soon influenced by Bob Dylan, the American celebrity addicted to marijuana (cannabis). In 1964, the Beatles fell victim to the Dylan drug habit (Howard Sounes, Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, New York 2001, pp. 161-2). However, this was not obvious to many fans at the time. Afterwards, John Lennon (1940-1980) became an intensive LSD user during 1966, later falling prey to heroin in 1968. "The times they are a changin' " was a well known Dylan theme, transpiring to have an underside of disastrous recklessness producing innumerable candidates for rehabilitation.

John Lennon, 1968

John Lennon was reportedly earning about £100,000 a month in 1967, when he advocated Transcendental Meditation. Some working class people, such as my father, reacted strongly to the amount of money that pop stars like the Beatles were acquiring. The monetary figures were high even when substantially understated. Many fans continued to regard the Beatles as irreproachable music icons, the super-rich involvement with drugs being glossed or ignored by commercial sentiments.

In 1966, Lennon was influenced by The Psychedelic Experience (1964), a book by American drug advocates Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. That fashionable text provided a caricature of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, opting to view LSD experiences in terms of "ego-death" and personality reintegration. This was what Buddhism meant to many Westerners. Lennon fell completely for the deception, facilitating resort to heroin in his case.

The popular trends were glorified by undiscerning commentators. In contrast, I was strongly critical. I had formerly reacted to the British Empire mentality and the conventional straitjacket of education. However, the "new age" of supposed "progress" was far worse in too many respects. This conclusion arose not merely because numerous pop music icons became drug victims. Nor merely because the famous Woodstock concert in 1969 gained the repute of being an LSD event attended by the most unrealistic conceptions of social evolution.

The American "new age," beginning in hippy California, was the death of public health for many subscribers and those influenced by them. In Britain, promiscuity became rife, while law and order suffered hitherto unknown breaches. A new breed of adolescent gained notoriety for an aversion to customary civilities. In Britain during 1967-8, many of these rebels were observed to neglect the expression of "thank you" in elementary social exchanges. The new liberated humanity considered themselves to be set free from cumbersome conventions. Why should they express thanks for anything, when all was theirs by right ? Everything should be freely available; everybody should be able to do just what they wanted. That was the basic gist of their attitude. Free love became a new convention. One parent families mushroomed. In just a few years, too many British streets became dangerous after dark.

There are different versions of how the violence started. In 1969, the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont (in California) became notorious as a scene of violence. The Californian Hells Angels were hired as a security factor; alcohol, LSD, and amephetamines were closely involved in the outbursts of aggression.

In Britain, some people blamed the mounting problem of social aggression on the skinhead population, an explanation which others said was reductionist. I can speak here from my own experience. In 1973, I found myself under attack one night from a group of six thugs, none of whom were skinheads. All of them had hair over their collars. I was physically fit, having taken up judo, jogging, and manual work; I dodged the first assault, and then decided to run from the rest of the menacing pack, who were unable to keep pace.

Those thugs had been drinking alcohol. Many molesters were also users of various drugs, including amphetamines. When the "punk" craze arrived in the late 70s, the bad example of Sid Vicious gained notoriety. The Sex Pistols guitarist acquired a reputation for violence, and overdosed on heroin in 1979. Sid is known to have cut graffiti on his chest with a razor. Knives menacingly appeared in London pubs at this period. Violence was an accompaniment to pervasive burglaries and muggings in the provinces. Cambridge streets of the 1980s became a milieu of fear for too many people of all ages.

I never took LSD or amphetamines, and disliked the smell of cannabis sometimes encountered in public places. Fashionable ideology was so often objectionable. One of my friends in Cambridge, who proved averse to drugs, had nevertheless fallen prey to the notion that psychedelic and related contemporary art was the height of aesthetic perfection. This meant, to him and many others, that earlier forms of art were simply old hat to be dismissed. My attempts to persuade him differently were to no avail. The "progressives" were frequently domineering; they knew better than anyone else what counted most.

During the 1970s, British art colleges became notorious venues for cannabis and promiscuity. Pornography escalated to record levels. All such developments were generally pardoned as progressive by the new wave of indulgents. In matters of "mysticism," the occult vogue for Aleister Crowley was too often a reminder of the extreme confusions which had become ascendant. Backward novelists were praised for depraved fiction, including the four letter word variety.

By the end of that critical decade [the 1960s], pornographic films were being imported into Britain from Scandinavia which depicted young girls having intercourse with donkeys and dogs. That is Crowleyan taste, or rather perverse taste. (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005, p. 110)

American cinema increasingly opted for bad language and violence. British television gradually followed the damaging example. The unrestrained appetites of affluent hedonists should meet with resistance from those who exercise the unfashionable intellect. Standards of media decency, serving to restrain crime, were initially undermined by the late 1960s wave of subcortical barbarians.

8.    India  and  Doing  Philosophy

The British attitude to India underwent changes from the late 1960s, primarily because of the alternative vogue associated with the Beatles. Many of the older generation were puzzled by enthusiasms. I was in a different category, being one of the younger generation, but not identifying myself with the fashionable reception of Eastern religion. I had been studying that subject of religion (and Indian philosophy) for longer than the new wave of enthusiasts, and in quite a different way. This factor was difficult to convey in some interchanges.

From 1967 onwards, a large number of young British tourists travelled to India, along with those from other countries. All sorts of bizarre notions and beliefs were attendant upon these expeditions and pilgrimages. Some visitors drove to famous places in a jeep, while the more hardy ones travelled on foot. Sometimes a two week holiday, and sometimes a sojourn of a year or more. A proportion of the visitors came back disillusioned, while others became fervent supporters of diverse gurus and/or doctrines.

During the early 1970s, I happened to encounter one of my former acquaintances in Cambridge, whom I had not seen for several years. He told me that he had decided to make the journey to India, believing that "it must be very peaceful out there," unlike England. I tried to introduce a note of caution into this romantic theory, but rather unsuccessfully. The prospective traveller was convinced that he must be right. He appeared to have read virtually nothing about India, having taken his directions from the popular media. I doubt whether he knew the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism. Some while later, I heard from others that he had encountered problems in India and much regretted the difficulties he experienced.

Many enthusiasts did not appear to read much about the historical and religious background of the country they were visiting. They took their cues primarily from acquaintances with similar inclinations, from pop stars and other celebrities, and not least from television. Some were influenced by the controversial Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, without understanding very much about meditation. Others believed the popular American book Be Here Now, a fantasy which declared "the Transformation: Dr. Richard Alpert, Ph.D into Baba Ram Dass." That overture of the drugs lobby gained many reprints and numerous subscribers to superficial Western Hinduism.

Some visitors to India were in the habit of taking drugs, a factor which may have prevented due perception of what was occurring. Details emerged that Richard Alpert (alias Ram Dass) had travelled to the desired country in 1967 with a supply of LSD pills. Alpert there encountered one of the more doubtful gurus, subsequently becoming a teacher of Yoga and "present-centredness," a theme evident in his book Be Here Now (Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. 1, 1996, pp. 63-4). The Now could be a very disconcerting phenomenon. I preferred the historical past, and the realistic present.

A very critical assessor of the Asiatic scene was my father, an atheist who eventually admitted a more relaxed agnostic identity. A hard-working builder and beer drinker, he reacted strongly to the contemporary drug culture. He said that the younger generation were too often seeking an escape route from the realities of life. My father could be relied upon to give a gloomy picture of India. He had been a volunteer in the RAF during the Second World War, being posted to Burma in the struggle against the Japanese. He travelled across India in circumstances of illness induced by the climate. He saw many corpses (British, Burmese, and Japanese). His war experiences left him with nightmares for several years afterwards.

My father depicted India adversely in terms of the heat, the flies, the disease, the snakes, the poverty, and the superstition. He could not understand why there was so much new interest in Hinduism. He regarded the Beatles as superfluous superstars who had too much spare time to indulge their imagination. He understood well enough the pre-war situations in northern England; he was reared in Yorkshire poverty at Middlesbrough. The increasingly super-rich Beatles grew up in post-war Liverpool.

During the 1930s, when a young boy, my father witnessed his own father (my grandfather) being subjected to a ritual excommunication by an irate Roman Catholic priest, who cursed the house and inmates (including several children). This act of severity occurred despite the fact that his mother (my grandmother) was a loyal Roman Catholic. The female did not count; she was cursed as well. My grandfather was a very independent and self-taught Irishman who had become a marxist under the pressures of poverty (section 1 above). My father himself inclined strongly to marxism; however, he was not an activist and merely held private views.

In his later years, at one period my father read a few books on Indian saints. He then conceded that he had ignored some dimensions of Indian religion, which he did not profess to understand. He could be refreshingly honest in his disclosures, contrasting with the tendency elsewhere to assume knowledge. However, he allowed his temper to upset his domestic life, berating my mother for her religious views (she had become a follower of Meher Baba in 1962). His attitude created grounds for a divorce. Ironically, my father acknowledged that Meher Baba (1894-1969) was the only contemporary Eastern mystic to make an open dismissal of LSD, the others appearing lazy in this respect.

With the divorce, there was danger of an estrangement between myself and my father, who moved to London. I had been considered (by him) a threat to his outlook, having supported my mother. I therefore made efforts to bridge the gap between my own temperament and his, even visiting public houses in his company, despite my strong aversion to those places (an aversion for which he had resented me). My father insisted that it was necessary for me to see "how the other half [of the population] live," meaning the working class. He tended to think of my "half" as intellectual.

However, I was working class in basic ways, taking manual jobs in addition to working at Cambridge bookshops. Indeed, when I met Professor J. P. Stern (section 5 above), I worked as a gardener at his spendid home in Newnham. This academic seemed very surprised to learn of my interest in philosophy and religion. I believe that he associated me in certain ways with Wittgenstein, even though I tended to resist the latter on some ideological grounds. Many academic philosophers could not easily come to terms with aspects of Wittgenstein's early career, during which he lived outside academe and worked (though briefly) as an assistant gardener with the monks at Hutteldorf, near Vienna. Professor Stern admired that trajectory. His wife, an academic translator, said that she did not believe I would remain a gardener. Her intuition, or reasoning, was quite soon proven correct.

A philosophical issue emerged in my conversations with Professor Stern. He was a supporter of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921). He soon grasped that I was cool in my reception of this work. In contrast, many Cambridge academics and undergraduates were becoming enthusiastic about that early treatise of the "language philosophy" exponent.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

I am prepared to credit Wittgenstein with a degree of originality, plus the influence of Schopenhauer. However, my criticism was (and is) that his way of "doing philosophy" is constricting, and ultimately evasive. So much of the subsequent academic talk he inspired about "language and reality" has ignored the metaphysics often implied by the vague term "reality," and also the social issues enveloping modernity.

Professor Stern deemed the conceptualism of "Eastern religions" to be irrelevant. He and his colleagues also veered well away from discussion of such pressing social problems as drug ingestion. He was brilliant in the field of German literature, and commendably tackled Nazism. However, he would not venture into other areas, including the contemporary. Of course, he was circumscribed by his specialist discipline, which was German literature rather than philosophy.

India did not exist in the predominantly Eurocentric world of the philosophy professors, apart from scathing references to Transcendental Meditation in private conversation. China was a communist country of no effective interest. I remember once mentioning Zen Buddhism to Professor Stern; he dismissed that subject as being irrational. This seemed ironic in that he was committed to expounding Nietzsche, the anti-rationalist whose mood of anarchy and "will to power" can be strongly disputed (however, Stern's version is not typical of Nietzsche commentators, and he was in some respects a critic).

Citizen philosophy can, in my case at least, press for a different way of "doing philosophy," one that can hope to encompass more subjects rather than less subjects, and one in which the boundaries are not defined by European "language and logic." The format of philosophy does not have to be restricted by "linguistic" aphorisms or by Nietzschean themes, and nor even by Kantian categories.

See further Philosophy, Richard Tarnas, and Postmodernism.

9.  Sectarian  Authority  Figures

My youthful interest in Meher Baba rapidly became one of ascertaining the facts of occurrence. Such a pursuit was difficult to find in milieux governed by devotional sentiment, and also by the dogmatism and opinion of diverse authority figures. I remain independent of all movements and sects.

In the early 1970s, I visited the Meher Baba Association in London, curious to learn about the situation of Pete Townshend, who was giving a low profile talk about his recent visit to India. Townshend was a "rock" superstar, the energetic guitarist of The Who. In 1968, he surprised many people by his professed allegiance to Meher Baba (1894-1969), whom he had never met.


Pete Townshend

In his London talk, given to the small audience who turned up for the occasion, Townshend eulogised the tomb of Meher Baba at Meherabad (the ashram in Maharashtra commencing in the early 1920s). Using a film projector, he showed scenes of Meherabad, and talked very enthusiastically of his pilgrimage. I concluded that he was genuine in this interest. I did not ask for his autograph, and there was no personal encounter. I merely observed the event, though I stood quite close to him. I do not remember there being more than about twenty people present, and perhaps less.

I remained wary of the megastar Pete Townshend. He had a reputation for former drug usage and onstage violence, frequently smashing his guitar, a gimmick to which he attached artistic significance. However, he was unusually articulate for a rock musician, as I found on the sole occasion that I saw him. There were no four letter words of the type which so often accompanied "music celebrity" expression, and to which I was averse.

At a later date, in 1977, my mother (Jean Shepherd, alias Kate Thomas) gained a private meeting with Townshend in London, to discuss matters relating to former years. She was less reserved than myself, being prepared to believe that Townshend could resolve some outstanding misconceptions on the part of devotees. She had been a follower of Meher Baba during the 1960s, and was still sympathetic towards that deceased figure (without being a devotee). She had recently visited Meher Baba Oceanic, the new centre at Twickenham established by Townshend in 1976.

A prominent visiting devotee from India, namely Adi K. Irani (alias Adi Senior), met her for the first time at Oceanic, but afterwards maintained his former mistaken assumptions about 1960s events relating to her (a confusion in which she was partly identified with another woman, an old acquaintance of hers). The authority figure received adulation from the other guests at Oceanic. However, his mode of speech did not impress my mother, who wrote much later: "Adi Snr was like some high priest, zealous for converts to the faith and highly disapproving of the slightest departures from the orthodox thought of the surviving mandali  [ashram devotees]" (Thomas, The Destiny Challenge, Forres 1992, p. 714).

The same apostle from India tried to have her banned from Oceanic after the occasion mentioned above, although she had not said anything against him. She accordingly contacted another senior authority figure, namely Meher Baba's brother Adi S. Irani (known as Adi Jnr). The latter was resident in London and knew far more about her than the dogmatic visitor. Adi Jnr intervened on her behalf, but unfortunately, he was now an invalid. Townshend ignored the informed party, instead supporting the inflexible Adi Snr, who was prominently active at an international level amongst devotees in these final years of his life.

At the private meeting with my mother, Townshend was something of an ogre, rejecting her early autobiographical record of 1960s events, and maintaining that she should be banned from his new centre. Townshend was himself now an authority figure in this movement, being lionised by young British and American devotees, discernibly because he was a rock celebrity. He tipped the scales in the Adi Snr versus Adi Jnr issue. "He [Townshend] concluded that my reconnection with the movement was undesirable, and that he would have to ban me from other than the briefest of visits to his Centre, which he did. Needless to say, I made no attempt to go there again" (ibid., p. 715).

Townshend was rather emphatic on that occasion about his cordon against supposedly undesirable influences. "He said he had trouble enough on his hands already" (ibid.) He spoke of problems caused by ex-drug addict devotees who attended Oceanic, people who were subject to hallucinations. His rationale of the confrontation was that he had to shield the hallucinators from any further trouble. The point is that my mother had no drug problem whatever, never having resorted to drugs; she was a mystical type whose experiences and outlook did not converge with the rather narrow orthodoxy upheld by Townshend. She had been opposed to drug use years before Townshend's decision in 1968 to cease taking marijuana (earlier, he had ingested LSD several times). She was also opposed to the intake of alcohol, herself being a teetotaller. There are some who think that she set a much better example, both in the 1960s and later, than the Oceanic authority figure (for instance, in the Grof controversy, she emphasised that LSD hallucinations do not equate with spiritual experiences).

Not long after the episode of suppression in 1977, Pete Townshend relapsed into drug problems. This was soon after the death of the eccentric Who drummer Keith Moon, who in 1978 killed himself with "a potent sedative used both to curb his appetite for alcohol and control the epileptic fits the drummer experienced during his various institutionalised dry-outs" (Geoffrey Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes: A Life of Pete Townshend, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996, p. 174). Townshend was then consuming excessive alcohol (in the form of brandy). During 1980-81, he resorted to cocaine, and also became an addict of heroin. He is reported to have said in his more lucid moments: "I'm very heavily into Meher Baba, but I also drink like a fish; I'm not the most honest person in the world" (ibid., pp. 189-90).

In London, Townshend supplied about fifty hangers-on with cocaine (ibid., p. 188). He added amphetamine to his unhealthy diet. Amyl nitrate and cannabis were supplements. His activity at nightclubs included an episode in which he stopped breathing; in hospital, he had to be connected to a life-support system (ibid., p. 195). In early 1982, his rehabilitation in America broke the lethal pattern of addiction. Several years of psychotherapy followed. Townshend emerged to mount an anti-drug crusade in the mid-1980s, even liaising with the British Conservative party, turning round on his earlier theme of ("My Generation") rebellion. Townshend said at this time: "It's only by becoming part of the establishment [that] you can actually do anything" (ibid., p. 222).

Meanwhile, he had receded completely from the Meher Baba movement. Meher Baba Oceanic had ceased to function. Many people thought that Pete Townshend no longer credited his spiritual hero. However, there is some evidence to the contrary. Wikipedia (accessed 03/01/2013) states: "His discipleship continues to the current day." The same article asserts: "His stardom quickly made him the world's most notable follower of [Meher] Baba." In 1970, as a consequence of Meher Baba's inspiration, Townshend declared himself "opposed to the use of all psychedelic drugs, making him one of the first rock stars with counterculture credibility to turn against their use" (ibid.)

As a commentator with no countercultural orientation, I can here note my affiliation to the Meher Baba movement during the years 1965-66, when I was in the mid-teens. I was then familiar with Meher Baba's anti-drug message. This was, however, a secondary feature for my own psychological landscape, as I never used drugs and felt no inclination to do so. Further, the anti-drug emphasis of Meher Baba amounted to only a fraction of his varied communications, which in general were never assimilated.

I grew out of the "devotee" phase in a recognition of the difference between Meher Baba and authoritarian devotees who claimed to speak for him. The growth of "Meher Baba Centres" never meant anything to me, especially in view of the figurehead's own rather critical remarks on that subject. I never visited Oceanic or Meherabad. To repeat: I remain independent of all movements and sects.

Authority figures often transpire to be less authoritative than they believe. Adi K. Irani became invested with great importance in the eyes of devotees, because of his role as secretary to Meher Baba. However, the latter openly stated in 1954: "Advice you can have from Adi, but not as from Baba through Adi" (Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, 1988, p. 53). The figurehead clearly recognised that the secretary was not infallible, and obviously wished to distance himself from third party exegesis.

"I have not understood what work you are doing for me" is another statement from Meher Baba's repudiation of "Baba Centre" activity in 1954 (ibid., p. 52). At this time he made clear to devotees that he wanted all the new "Baba Centres" in Andhra to be dissolved. What he would have said about the posthumous Meher Baba Oceanic in London, is anybody's guess. Certainly, his austere code of living, in India, did not equate with the route to self-destruction exemplified by Pete Townshend in the permissive London nightclub scene.

See further Pete Townshend, Rock Star and Meher Baba Devotee.

10.  Second  Renunciation

My occupation as a gardener transited into a sole trader business activity during the mid-1970s. I became part of the antiques trade, an incentive initially involving much hard work. I operated as a wholesale merchant without a shop, earning enough to be completely independent. That situation enabled me to give only a part-time attention to the business activity, while other days of the working week I devoted to study and writing. This contrasted with the orientation of other dealers, who viewed their business as a compulsory full-time career, with profit as the sole objective.

A disadvantage was the transient nature of the demand for merchandise. I sold furniture, mainly of the Victorian variety, which very often became an export commodity, being in more demand abroad than in England. Eventually I grew exasperated with the fluctuations, and decided to terminate my business. I sold my Luton van successfully in Bury St. Edmunds, and came back to my home in Cambridge via the railway. On the return journey, I grasped to what extent I had committed myself in this “second renunciation.” For instance, I did not have a car, and thereafter walked everywhere or used public transport.

The decision to retreat was made in 1977. I continued my private studies, interspersed with occasional visits to London museums, as I now had a sideline project in the study of arts and crafts. I was content to live very simply, on the funds I had saved from my ex-business, in the hope that somehow I would be able to survive in the pursuit of my intellectual interests.

A relative suggested to me that, in view of my studious temperament, I might obtain an academic qualification, to make my life easier.  I declined the prospect. For one thing,  this recourse would have involved a narrowing down of my independent syllabus to the straitjacket of official career requirements. I regarded the official career mode in the same way I viewed the compulsive business activity of the dealers. The ultimate ends were the same: a comfortable and secure career. In my perspective, the career role amounted to a distraction.

In Cambridge there were several large  bookshops, to which I was no stranger (I had formerly worked as an assistant in two of them). Heffers of Trinity Street expanded at this time to become a major university bookshop, nevertheless continuing to sell some of the trivia found elsewhere, meaning commercial novels and “fad” literature. I disliked especially the burgeoning “alternative” genre which included promotion of such topics as therapy, occultism, and almost anything bizarre.

As a consequence of the commercial “new age” trends, extensive confusions were in evidence by that time. I still do not believe that "workshop" sessions produce "transformation." I still do not believe in the Jungian archetypes, and nor in many other supports for a superficial "spirituality." Some consumers were content to watch videos featuring new age celebrities expounding the presumed arcana. A tendency of contemporary commerce is to fog blanket the attention of customers, to provide clientele for the latest gimmick, craze, or lunacy.

Philosophy is an unpopular subject, therefore deserving some credence, even though innovations might be legitimate. In 1977, then as now, I was unable to see that academic philosophy had improved thinking habits of the majority. Bertrand Russell’s fashionable (and hedonistic) liberalism was only one of the prototypal new age drawbacks. In strong reaction to such trends, I resolved to focus in areas that are customarily considered too difficult or too obscure by new age indexing, and which are treated as no man’s land by academic philosophy.

The history of Western philosophy extends into the Islamic sector, now so unwelcome to mentalities which work by association of ideas (i.e., current religious fundamentalism, originating in relatively recent times). Selecting the Islamic sector as a priority, I attempted a map of what had actually happened over the centuries, at first in the traditions of “Sufism,” which is a blanket term for diverse phenomena (three separate manuscripts were the eventual outcome, the second being Sufis, Batinis, Scientists and Philosophers of the Early Islamic Era). By 1980, I had moved into anthropology and archaeology, commencing a study of ancient civilisations, including Mesopotamia and Egypt. The third manuscript involved was entitled Ancient Cultures in Flux, rapidly assimilating more events and cultures than originally anticipated.

The Ancient Cultures ms was the original location of some basic data later incorporated in my book Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One (1995). This volume was subtitled Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions. Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and Jainism are still living religions, and hence my decision to detach these from the “dead religions” encompassed in the parent manuscript.

In the Preface to Minds and Sociocultures, I commented:

I could hope that the present work might at least contribute to the recognition that not all non-professionals are unstudious clods helplessly moulded by the video boom and commercial novelism, trends which flourish in deteriorating socioculture.... My non-academic philosophy includes the role of a revisionism which jettisons any assumption of being incapable of error. The aim is to constantly improve one's existing level of performance and knowledge.... [the present book] merely represents the attempt of a philosophical man in the street to compress within one volume what cannot generally be found in such compact form.... I have no credentials, and do not aspire to importance, for which I am unsuited. (Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One, 1995, p. vii)

That book was annotated, and comprised a thousand pages. The lengthy introduction afforded a critique of various contemporary theories and trends, including the new age counterculture.

11.   Cambridge  Library  Phase

In 1980, I formulated a programme of study that was more intensive than my earlier readings. I was now interested in social science, in addition to philosophy and world religion. This project took me into a 12 year phase of private research at CUL (Cambridge University Library), initially assisted by Dr. Robert Thouless, a Fellow of Corpus Christi College who had come to know of my interests, and who supplied me with a reference. Dr. Thouless (a psychologist) thought my study schedule was unusual. He felt concerned that I lacked funding.

Cambridge  University  Library

My unofficial and independent research project encompassed philosophy, history of religion, psychology, anthropology, sociology, archaeology, and the history of science. My incentive was confronted and encouraged by the vast number of books and learned journals available at CUL. Surprises were in store from the start. The history of religion gained substantial detail. I had read a fair number of basic works, but the scholastic background was now overpowering. For every book I had read in earlier years, there were now so many more. Plus the journals, which were a necessary commitment. I accumulated notebooks by the dozen, eventually totalling over seventy. Nevertheless, many areas of sparse information and questioning remained.

The archives on philosophy similarly revealed extensive data generally beyond public reach, including the debates and disagreements which attend the academic discussions. Though perhaps the biggest surprises were in the direction of science, where well known themes were endlessly argued and contradicted by the experts. At first I was dizzy with all the variations, but afterwards I became accustomed to tracking the minefield.

One of the many philosophers I studied in CUL was Spinoza. I had not formerly been able to locate the more detailed academic studies of Spinoza, and certainly not at journal level. However, I am still not a Spinozan (or Spinozist), recognising some limitations in the approach of Spinoza. The enigmatic aspect of his writings has prompted divergent interpretations (e.g., the "atheist" versus "pantheist" inflections).

Getting various figures into due context is not easy, as with (Friar) Roger Bacon, Eriugena, Farabi, Ibn Rushd, Suhrawardi Maqtul, Descartes, Plotinus, and Plato. Aristotle basically amounted to an archive of the sciences, with some metaphysics; I found his political theory very disconcerting in some respects. The early Neoplatonists varied substantially.

Other philosophical traditions were also in prospect. I had formerly made a preliminary acquaintance with Chinese philosophy, but CUL holdings quite eclipsed my early studies. There were many shelves of books in the Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Japanese languages. Fortunately for me, there were also numerous English and French publications bearing on this Far Eastern heritage. Confucius, Mencius, and many other ancients gained fresh profile, as did neo-Confucians such as Chu Hsi. The study of Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism was also an advantage. Taoism was likewise no stranger on those extensive shelves.

In my citizen perspective, the focus had to include Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, Japanese, Indian, Islamic, and other mentation heritages, not just the British and American acquisitions in analytical philosophy.

In 1984 I wrote Meaning in Anthropos. The sub-title was: Anthropography as an interdisciplinary science of culture. This manuscript was self-published seven years later. I was here concerned to counter various intellectual trends, including the cultural materialism of Marvin Harris and the philosophical relativism of Paul Feyerabend. My citizen projection of anthropography was a strong commitment, encompassing the social sciences, philosophy, and the history of religions.

12.  The  Brain  Question

Scientific extensions are always advisable in philosophy. The problem is finding out which version of science is accurate or viable. To give one illustration here. During the 1970s, at citizen level I encountered some available books on brain studies, varying from Robert Ornstein's The Psychology of Consciousness (1972) to the materialist verdict of Colin Blakemore entitled Mechanics of the Mind (1977). There were obviously differences of opinion amongst academics about brain function.

Transiting to CUL, I found that the brain debates were interminable. Decipherment required learning a new terminology converging with the substance of medical dictionaries. Anglo-American neuroscience jargon was on the increase. Cognitivist and other theories about the brain left scope for prodigious disagreement in scientific journals. That was forty years ago; the situation is rather more complex today. The subject has caused much confusion at both academic and public level. My option is to abstain from the confusion.

Dubious brain lore exists in commercial media. For instance, there are technological allurements of how the brain creates God. The subject of hemispheric synchronisation is currently so facile that virtually anything can be sold in capitalist countries by entrepreneurs.

"Altered states" and "alien abduction" fantasies were included in "neuromagnetics." An alternative is the malaise of "technoshamanism." Other reductionists promote psychedelic experiences, which remain at the 1960s level of LSD obsession. See Grof transpersonalism and the Bache controversy. Some psychedelic enthusiasts portray themselves as advanced mystics, while some disillusioned psychedelic subjects become atheists railing at all forms of religion. One may conclude that "God" has nothing to do with the numerous contemporary states of acute mental subjectivity.

The "self-help and enlightenment" trend has favoured short-cut options, e. g., "yogatronics," resorting to a CD and headphones. Of this alluring sidetrack, one American sponsor stated: "You may not become immediately enlightened, but hemispheric synchronisation helps with a whole host of problems." Big business creates an excess of problems rather than solving them. Several commercial companies have promoted "self-regulation technology," exhibiting elaborately trademarked auspices. The dustbin is the best place for so much exploitive technology.

13.  Citizen  Philosophy

After nearly three years of study at CUL (Cambridge University Library), I self-published a book relating to the history of science. One of the persons who read this work (Psychology in Science, 1983) was Professor Glen Schaefer, a Canadian physicist working in Britain. Having strong interests in ecology, he was also an expert on bird flight. He worked at Cranfield University, establishing the department of Ecological Physics. He pioneered the use of vertical radar for tracking insect pests such as desert locusts, and also researched alternatives to chemical crop spraying.

Professor Schaefer liked my book, and offered to arrange a Ph.D syllabus on the basis of content. I grasped that he was quite serious, and pointed out that I had no academic background. He waved this factor aside, saying he had many international contacts, and could easily arrange something for me that would make me an academic. I then objected that I would have to cease my interdisciplinary project for the purposes he was urging, and so declined the offer, as courteously as I could.

The benevolent academic warned that I would encounter financial difficulties if I did not adjust my project in a more advantageous economic context. I emphasised that my book was self-published. The Professor dismissed this factor, saying what really mattered was the content, reflecting the commitment demonstrated. I had used annotations, and cited serious works and journals not generally available. "You can build on that in an academic vocation, and get paid for it," he stressed.

I remained an interdisciplinary private researcher at CUL. Funding was indeed a problem, as the professor had rightly said. I avoided resort to any official funding or academic programme, my temperament instead inclining to the self-taught tendency of my Irish grandfather and others. To quote another of my websites: "I am an Irish-English citizen philosopher with a primary interest in history, also other subjects, including the critical study of religion. Ethnically, I am midway between the Irish and English nationalities (my Yorkshire grandmother was Irish-Scots; she married an Irish Catholic who became an independent thinker)." The related international issues are pronounced (British Imperial Era), extending outside Europe.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd, Scotland 1990s, after CUL phase

Eventually, I emerged with the publishing logo of Citizen Initiative. In 2005, I described myself in print as a "citizen philosopher." Let me here apply some of the reasoning underlying that description, which was worded twenty-five years after entering CUL, and twelve years after terminating my library phase.

I do not claim to be a scholar. I chose not to be an academic, or an academic philosopher. A citizen who is interested in philosophy, and who studies that subject (with extensions, and some published output) for 25 years and more, could conceivably be called a citizen philosopher. No status is implied by that description, but rather the reverse.

Neither deductive or inductive method, and nor the diverse combinations, is necessarily dependent upon an academic degree in philosophy. Strangely enough, modern Western philosophy was founded by citizen philosophers, especially Descartes, whose project (exhibiting some drawbacks) ran counter to the prevailing academic curriculum of his time.

In the twentieth century, philosophy tended very much to be identified with the academic sector. The subject was almost exclusively tied to an academic profession, admitting very few points of contact with the population at large. See also Aspects of Citizen Philosophy.

My intellectual tendency has always been universalist. My cultivation of philosophy never did amount to the confining "European Enlightenment" paradigm which arose in the eighteenth century. The phase of modern Western philosophy has not arrived at all the answers.

Some of the ancient Greek philosophers (including Plato) are now associated with a form of ideological elitism. The class system in Greece was quite pronounced, and may be considered a serious drawback. See Aristotle and the Class System in Britain. "Greek philosophers belonged to, or were employed by, the landowning class" (Russell, History of Western Philosophy, 1946, p. 198). The well known critics of Plato are academics, themselves a major elite factor in current society. The modern insignia of elitism range from the credentials of Earl Bertrand Russell to Sir Karl Popper.

Many years ago, in Cambridge I sometimes watched the decorous academic ceremonies in which the young initiates were given decorative hats and gowns as an emblem of their new prestige. The elite uniform was also a sign of distinction from the town. The gap between the gown and town is still vast; the gulf is indeed so great that much of the academic talk about democracy is meaningless.

14.   Dispute  with  the  New  Age

The claim of being "holistic" has often been made by contemporaries. The true holistic paradigm will attempt a more thorough research than the nominal parties have done, without the complicating trends to "new age workshop" entrepreneurialism.

My resistance to "new age" trends goes back to a published disagreement with the academic philosopher Paul Feyerabend (d.1994), the "against method" exponent who was influenced by Californian alternative ideas of the 1960s. In Psychology in Science (1983), I closed with a support of method against the relativism of Feyerabend, who argued for alternative medicine and voodoo in the same context as science. Relativism gave further scope to entrepreneurs in therapy and occultism. Moving very much in the opposite direction, I formulated philosophical anthropography.

My mother, Jean Shepherd (Kate Thomas), 2002. Copyright Kevin R. D. Shepherd

The fate of a dissident relative has served to justify a critical angle with the trends under discussion here. See Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation and Letter to Robert Walter MP (2009). See also Findhorn Foundation. Direct and firsthand information has contradicted what elsewhere passes as "spiritual education."

My mother Jean Shepherd (1928-2017), alias Kate Thomas, moved to Moray, where she witnessed events at the Findhorn Foundation. She found a hierarchy of American, Canadian, and German "focalisers" favouring commercial therapy "workshops" at high prices, along with an accompanying sales drive in "shamanism" and "channelling." A major attraction was Grof holotropic breathwork, meaning hyperventilation, an exercise considered dangerous by medical authorities. The focalisers crushed all opposition to their lucrative strategies, while continually gaining donations as a consequence of disputed charity status. Dissidents were unwelcome; they were the victims of suppression. My mother became a major target for vindictive tactics involved in new age "unconditional love."

In 2005, I penned the Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer. An alternative organisation called the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN) was here involved. The SMN demonstrated the same form of evasion associated with the Findhorn Foundation. See also The Issue of Critical Faculties. The psychedelic problem was pardoned and obscured by so-called "new world values" preached by Lorimer and others. See Lorimer and New World Values.

15.   Scotland  and  the  Findhorn  Foundation

While still researching at CUL (though now more relaxedly), I moved to the far north of Scotland in 1989, escaping the congested urban conditions in Cambridge. Accommodation was made available to me by a relative; I found myself in the village of Findhorn, from where I moved to Forres. I settled in this area because of the scenery and outdoor activities, whereas others came because of the Findhorn Foundation. Many things about that organisation disconcerted me. I declined to become a member, remaining a complete outsider from Foundation activities. The local Scots were often very critical of the Foundation, notably including Sir Michael Joughin (d. 1996).

Clunybank, Forres

In 1991, my mother (Jean Shepherd, alias Kate Thomas) acquired a large house in Forres, known as Clunybank (subsequently a hotel). This dwelling was set on Cluny Hill. I was able to live at this property, where I heard a great deal about events in the Findhorn Foundation. My mother had become an associate member, thereafter encountering problems. We were neighbours to the Cluny Hill College nearby (later renamed Findhorn Foundation College). This was not a conventional college, but a place devoted to alternative therapy and related activities such as "channelling." The priorities were completely alien to me. The firsthand reports I heard were not favourable. The Findhorn Foundation maintained a glowing promotionalism, presenting their agenda in terms of a spiritual community and flawless spiritual education. Their courses and workshops were notoriously expensive; the content could evoke strong criticism.

My mother made objections to a controversial therapy that was being sold at the Foundation, one which created traumas and other setbacks amongst clients. This was the Holotropic Breathwork "workshop" launched at Esalen (in California) by Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. The favoured charge for a week was £415. The Foundation director Craig Gibsone chose to patronise this creation of Stanislav Grof, himself becoming a practitioner in the lucrative activity.

The Foundation management proved dictatorial, lacking all sense of democracy or ethics. Any criticism was regarded as a punishable offence. All errors were elaborately covered up, thus preserving the client donations and workshop income. Foundation "history" is artificial, relying upon exclusion of unwanted details. These tactics are part of "new age spirituality."

After several years, the Holotropic workshops were suspended. In 1993, the reluctant management were obliged to heed a cautionary recommendation of the Scottish Charities Office, after a medical report had been commissioned. Edinburgh University gave a warning about the Breathwork "therapy," which amounted to hyperventilation, capable of producing very unpleasant symptoms of stress. Even then, Gibsone and others continued the Breathwork in private sessions, nurturing a mood of defiance.

The leader of Cluny Hill College was a therapy fan and a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. Eric Franciscus resented criticism of alternative therapy; he spread defamation of my mother, without even bothering to meet her. That defamation was perpetuated by the Foundation management, assisted by the trustees who took no due action after complaint. There followed the almost incredible episode when the new Foundation director (Judy McAllister) engaged with a solicitor to deny any membership, even though membership was a well known fact. The purpose was to prevent my mother from gaining a fair hearing within the Foundation. They were now saying she had not been a member, therefore she could be ignored. This revealing ploy was recorded in a dissident book by Stephen Castro (Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation, Forres 1996, chapter 7).

Meanwhile, the BBC were deceived by Findhorn Foundation promotionalism. The BBC made an error in relation to my mother that amounted to a form of intimidation. I happen to know because the BBC camera team visited Clunybank while I was living there, their assignment being to include my mother. This derisive team were pro-Foundation, causing my mother to refuse her filming slot. When informed of this problem (by me), the BBC management adopted an evasive attitude, seeking to offset any blame. The "official" BBC story of the Foundation is a travesty of the facts. The media is a hopeless guide to events in this direction. In contrast, the BBC did get to grips with Sathya Sai Baba in The Secret Swami documentary, which I found impressive. They nevertheless botched what should have been the "secret Findhorn" revelation.

Perhaps the kindest thing a critic can say about Foundation courses and workshops is that these are not as exorbitant as some other events in this category. In Hawaii, a workshop on "sex magick" (a practice associated with Aleister Crowley) was part of an event for which clients paid 5,000 dollars. Several hundred people attended. The scene is described in terms of a huge hotel auditorium in Hawaii, complete with a "massive sound system and several video cameras." The week-long event was arranged by an entrepreneur described as a "New Age Self-Help Guru." This man also conducted a multi-day "spiritual warrior" workshop in Arizona, the price being between 9,000 and 10,000 dollars. This workshop culminated in a "sweat lodge," in which 64 clients participated.

Two hours after the sweat began, paramedics were called. Two people were dead. Nineteen were hospitalised, 'suffering from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest, kidney failure or elevated body temperature.' (Occult and New Age Workshops)

The vogue for "shamanist" sweat lodges is known to have caused other deaths and injuries, variously associated with dehydration, smoke inhalation, and poor construction of the lodge. Underlying health problems can easily become aggravated by participation in such events. Holotropic Breathwork was another unwise practice, producing drastic symptoms that were ignored and covered up at the Findhorn Foundation. Private sweat lodges were popular at one Foundation venue in Forres while I was living in that town, the venue (Newbold House) being considered a lunatic asylum by local Scottish inhabitants. The BBC folly of patronage served to mask all the excesses.

I have never forgotten the episode when the distressed ex-partner of a Foundation official arrived at Clunybank desperate to see my mother; when I opened the front door, this victim of mistreatment looked to me like the survivor from a concentration camp.

The fact is that my mother was able to comfort victims of the "spiritual community" excesses, varying from hyperventilation casualties to the discarded sexual partner. She was rewarded for these mercies by constant harassment and defamation from officious representatives of "unconditional love" and "love myself," two of the preferred New Age slogans. At one stage of this drama, I wished to enlist police support against the Foundation, but my relative was not in agreement, saying this resort would make things worse.

16.  The  Scottish  Mountains

Clunybank was the base for my expeditions to the Munro mountains in the Highlands. I liked the solitude and the arduous exercise afforded by those locations, not to mention the challenges sometimes encountered. The mountains were free of charge, unlike the courses and workshops of the Findhorn Foundation.

Aviemore, Cairngorms National Park

Every week I visited Aviemore, not far from Forres. This gave access to the Cairngorms and many walks at high altitude. I also travelled all over the Highlands, visiting many mountains, both Munros and Corbetts. I was impressed by Torridon and Loch Maree, both situated in the north-west Highlands. The most strenuous days involved virtually non-stop 10-12 hour walks plus several hours of driving time. I maintained fitness on other days through the use of a "mountain bike," which is a separate activity.

Two summers in the 1990s were unusually dry and sunny, affording excellent visibility; I made the most of such favourable conditions. The Scottish mountains are often afflicted by rain and mist, conditions requiring extra care. The Munros have claimed many lives, often because of reckless behaviour. There was some snowfall in winters; extra equipment was then useful, meaning crampons and ice axe. Conditions could become very dangerous in snow and ice.

Slioch at Loch Maree

I was a solitary walker from choice. I met people inclined to talk for much of the time on a mountain walk, before they got out of breath. There are commercial holidays for hillwalking, but my angle was very different. I tended to avoid the mountains near cities, where the inflow of tourists was pronounced. My first Munro was Ben Nevis, where many visitors thronged. I preferred the more remote mountains, where solitude could be found, especially on weekdays. I often walked for miles without seeing anybody, or perhaps one or two figures in the far distance. I learned how to cope with mist. The notorious midges were a problem on some outings in the heat; I remember that one time I was desperate to get back to my car to avoid this insect pestilence.

On one of my early expeditions, I encountered a few walkers who were discussing a corpse found on the path at the base of a Munro. The dead man seemed in his twenties, at the most thirty; he had probably expired after coming down from the summit. A policeman was summoned to the grim scene. Speculation was aroused about the cause of death. Possibly the victim had a weak heart, or perhaps he had complicated matters with a drug intake. Those still alive continued the ascent. I moved ahead of the rest, who continued to talk. Coming down from the summit, I found that the "drop down" could be accomplished at speed. Reaching the flat, I was well ahead of the others, and moved quickly back some distance to my car, with no adverse effects after the exertion. I never saw a corpse again on the mountains.

Beinn Alligin, Torridon

On another expedition, I was disconcerted by a large number of other walkers in steep terrain. The more famous Munros could attract a lot of people, especially on weekends. This time a very talkative and assertive young man led his group to the summit, where he recounted his exploits on the mountains. I preferred absolute silence in these locations, and learned how to avoid the packs. To me, these outings were a discipline and awareness exercise rather than a form of leisure.

Many enthusiasts tend to "bag" Munros in a routine manner. I adopted a policy of returning to the mountains I liked best, again and again, viewing superb scenery that never lost appeal. I counted meticulously the "first fifty" Munros. After that, I did not care about the numeration. I traversed about a hundred Munros. There are nearly 300 of these mountains, and over 200 Corbetts. I saw enough of these locations to know that nature is far bigger than man, a phenomenon still largely unrecognised by city dwellers and industrialists who ruin the environment.

17.  Crafts  Versus  Contemporary  Tastes

At the end of the 1990s, my mother became ill from hostilities generated by the Findhorn Foundation staff. I strongly advised her to go back to England, and myself departed from Forres in 1998, the year before she did. By that time, aided by Pierre Weil (and indirectly by the negligent BBC), the Foundation management had secured NGO status, despite their severe economic crisis involving a heavy debt. Scottish locals were baffled as to how they achieved this status. The concerned politician Dr. Winifred Ewing MSP was unable to evoke a response from the relevant UN office in America dispensing the upgrade.

My  workshop  in  Dorset,  2001. Copyright  Kevin R. D. Shepherd

Moving back to England, I chose to reside in Dorset, grateful to be far away from the New Age. The setting was now a rented house in the secluded grounds of a country estate possessing seventy acres. I missed the mountains, but there were consolations. My lifestyle here included a workshop of the Old Age variety, devoted to the care and repair of antique furniture and other artefacts from the past. This activity was not advertised and not open to the public, unlike the New Age workshops which can cause damage to clients. Traditional crafts were high on my agenda at this period. Those crafts were dying in the avalanche of shoddy manufacture and contemporary fads. A decade later, British antiques in wood became celebrated as a "green" commodity. However, plastic and chrome are preferred by contemporary tastes in "progress."

18.  Citizen  Initiative

In 2004-5, I self-published three books under the logo of Citizen Initiative. A total of over a thousand pages was involved here. These were hardback editions featuring good quality paper. All three books were annotated, with Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals having over 800 notes. There were no author images. I was interested to observe the reactions, which were diverse. Briefly, the aim was to show that citizens can be literate, that research can be undertaken by the unprivileged, that self-publishing can rise above the novelistic level to which it so often gravitates. I am not a novelist, and dislike science fiction, which has achieved an influence contributing to widespread fantasy.

The incentive on the part of citizens to dispute or query official and public matters, and to extend educational horizons, might be described as a democratic prerogative. That incentive may involve supplying information frequently neglected. (Pointed Observations, 2005, page 343)

The same book of mine gave information about philosophers, religious traditions, alternative therapy, the countercultural "workshop" commerce, the drugs problem, and ecology.

Citizen initiative moved into a series of websites from 2007. My online output is noted for an information format avoiding the commercial adverts now so ubiqitous. Much of Google is a commercial trap. The elaborate accomodation of cookies on many sites frankly deters me. The online bait so frequently consists of identifying potential customers. There are so many willing consumers for distractions and surfeit.

19. Shirdi  Sai  Baba  Issues

Shirdi  Sai  Baba

Three new books of mine were published in New Delhi, all concerning Indian subjects. Two of these books focus on Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918), while another concerns Hazrat Babajan (d.1931) of Poona. Both figures were distinctive and unorthodox Muslim faqirs, a category often misrepresented. Neither of these ascetics were doctrinaire, instead cultivating an inter-religious following of Hindus, Muslims, and Zoroastrians.

The tomb of Shirdi Sai Baba, in Maharashtra, is now one of the most famous in India. The literature on this figure, in different languages, includes hagiology. Miracle stories are accompanied by other data permitting more leeway to historical profile. The issues involved here include the religious identity of the subject and obscurities relating to his early life.


Amazon book reviews are noted for featuring both serious and superficial entries. The flippancies have included forms of author defamation. A serious and accurate Amazon review of Sai Baba: Faqir of Shirdi (2017) relayed that the Hindu publishers had celebrated the earlier companion book of mine with a very unusual and generous complement of photographs. The book described is Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (2015). The format included images of many Hindu devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba who are sympathetically covered in the text. In total, nearly forty images of Hindu devotees and saints were incorporated in both plates and text. The selection extended to six images of Muslims, four of Zoroastrians, two of British authors, plus several images of Sai Baba himself.

A misleading Amazon review (by an American), of the same liberal book, stated that the contents were “unintentional autobiography,” in what was here interpreted as an explicitly “anti-Hindu” portrayal. I was said to proudly display “anti-Vedanta” credentials. Compare my web article Vedanta Philosophy, disproving the imagined opposition. See also my Upanishads and Vedanta, likewise Shankara and Advaita. Sterling (of New Delhi) would never have published my book if it were anti-Hindu. My biography of the Hindu sage Upasani Maharaj (d.1941) was several years in the writing. That work is too lengthy for a single volume, being divided into four parts for internet assimilation.

The American reviewer was clearly reacting to the issue of a Muslim identity for Shirdi Sai, but omitted to state this key factor in his confusing commentary of a few lines. Some Americans cannot understand how any writer can extend empathy to both Muslims and Hindus. The narrow reasoning basically amounts to: If a Muslim is portrayed, the attendant themes are anti-Hindu, and the author is merely displaying his own erroneous preferences in an autobiographical exercise.

I am not a Muslim, nor a Sufi, and nor a faqir. Nor do I live in India. In contradiction to the American bias, I am a non-denominational citizen living in Britain. My non-Muslim background does not prevent me from investigating religious factors generally neglected in popular reports. Those factors are obligatory to mention in any attempted assessment of the Shirdi faqir. For instance, Sai Baba lived in a mosque, and frequently chanted Allah Malik. He spoke Deccani Urdu, a Muslim language. An early Urdu document by a disciple, reporting his statements, reveals the strong familiarity of Sai Baba with Islam and Sufism. That document was neglected for eighty years, obscured by the widely preferred attribution of a Hindu identity for Shirdi Sai. To some extent, I was modifying contentions of Dr. Marianne Warren in her book Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (1999). Furthermore, I employed over 700 annotations relating to the literature available on the Shirdi faqir.

My affinity with Hinduism was evident in my first book, where I mention Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi with evident sympathy (Psychology in Science 1983:45-51). An online article mentions my early and amenable contact with Swami Ghanananda of the London Vedanta Centre, part of the Ramakrishna Order. I have always respected Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharshi, and Upasani Maharaj. I devoted half of a very lengthy book to Vedanta, Yoga, and other Indian philosophies (Minds and Sociocultures 1995:389-825). Some informed academics have commented that no other citizen writer produced such a lengthy annotated book on Zoroastrianism and Hinduism (plus Jainism) during the entire twentieth century.

I have also supported the Vedanta monks who fasted to death in the cause of saving the Ganges. This does not mean that I should find Vedanta in the allusive speech of Shirdi Sai Baba, especially in view of the fact that certain of his Hindu devotees reported that he did not teach Vedanta. The pursuit of history requires to negotiate layers of hagiography and assumptions of religious content.

Many Americans currently discriminate against Muslims, on the basis of association with terrorism. Only a relatively small proportion of Muslims are terrorists. It is not a crime for a British author to find an unorthodox Muslim Sufi background in the case history of an Indian faqir living in a mosque and chanting Islamic phrases. Some of Sai Baba's early Hindu followers are known to have regarded him as a Muslim, and likewise many resisting Hindu opponents. The prominent Hindu disciple, Upasani Maharaj (d.1941), identified Shirdi Sai Baba as a Muslim in early published discourses of the 1920s. Upasani was remarkable for his objective discernment and liberal attitude. Also relevant is a significant and very early British official report, dating to 1911, which relays the key identity phrase "said to be a Mahomedan."

Anti-Muslim religious bias has since tragically occurred in India. For instance, shocking atrocities were perpetrated by militant Hindus in the notorious Gujarat pogrom of 2002 (accessed 10/06/2019). Savage attacks on minority Muslims were then carried out. Hindu terrorists gang raped and burned to death at least 250 Muslim girls and women. Muslim children were force-fed with petrol and then set on fire by violent Hindus. Muslim children and infants were speared and held in the air before being thrown into fires. Pregnant Muslim women were slit open so that their unborn child could be shown to them in zealous triumph. Other acts of violence against Muslim women included acid attacks, beatings, mutilation, the cutting of breasts, slitting the stomach and reproductive organs, the carving of Hindu religious symbols on female body parts, and the murder of pregnant women. Muslim women were cruelly quartered before being burnt. Leaders of Hindu mobs raped eleven year old Muslim girls before burning them alive. When a Muslim begged the Hindu crowd to spare the women, he was decapitated for not converting to Hinduism. An additional punishment was administered to his family, including two small boys, who were burned to death. The diggers of mass graves described the bodies of Muslim victims as "burned and butchered beyond recognition."

The violence in Gujarat was subsequently described by commentators in terms of genocide and political pogrom. According to one report, the rapes were part of a deliberate and pre-planned strategy. An international fact-finding committee of female experts concluded that sexual violence was used to terrorise women belonging to a religious minority in Gujarat state.

20.  Global  Warming  and  Climate  Crisis

The situation in ecology has been misrepresented for many years by the “denialist” faction. One of their arguments was that a cold winter means global heating is a myth.  

During the 1980s, there were people in Britain who admitted an ignorance of what the word ecology signified. One citizen actually told me that he had never heard of the word. Fortunately, I had registered this word during the 1970s, though I did not begin to study the subject in any depth until I started my project at Cambridge University Library in 1981. In addition, Professor Glen Schaefer relayed to me, in the early 1980s, various discoveries familiar to him in his research role as an ecological physicist; his contacts extended from China to America. He said that some of the resistances encountered were formidable, especially in his own part of the world (meaning America and Canada).

Global warming was discussed by scientists during the 1970s, being predicted to increase substantially by 2000. In my first book, as a commentator on the Club of Rome outlook, I remarked: "Such an alteration [global heating] is theoretically sufficient to reduce the ice masses at the poles - with the consequence, remorselessly enough, of raising the level of the oceans and creating climatic disturbances at all latitudes" (Psychology in Science, 1983, p. 153).

Such themes were widely dismissed as ridiculous. Affluent consumers did not want realistic data. Denialists found an easy target in the technological mindset of complacent millions. Nothing could ever go wrong in their progressive world. Ecologists were viewed as alarmists creating fantasies. The pace of glacier melt was a joke. The rise of sea level was a novel theory. Antarctica is thawing with unpredictable consequences. A leisurely British response was in the idiom of: “You don’t seriously believe all that nonsense, do you?”

Polar ice melt is now extensive

I have been observing the dead end situation for forty years. The increasing array of disturbing scientific data simply meant contrivance to the hundreds of millions of believers in technology. Antarctic ice melt could threaten coastal cities from Beijing to London and New York. A preposterous notion, said the denialists and their multitude of supporters, especially in America. Warming seas were a myth; the oceans were just as cold as they had ever been. Troll bloggers (many of them American) chanted the slogans of denialism. Some experts in statistics estimate that almost half of the current American population are denialists.

For many years, American denialists depicted the Club of Rome manifesto as hopelessly wrong. Energy economists were here the judges. In the year 2000, a reassessment by Simmons and Company International soberly concluded: "The Club of Rome got the whole picture right; it was the rest of us who missed the mark" (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005:315).

Energy economists created a fiction that the Club had predicted oil supplies would run out by 1990. Simmons at first relied upon hearsay, dismissing the Club literature. He afterwards decided to check the data. The Club of Rome had actually feared "severe constraints on all known global resources by 2050 to 2070" (ibid:314). The investigator "was surprised at how accurate many of the basic extrapolations and warnings [of the Club] actually were" (ibid).

A new target of denialists was the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). This UN body of climate scientists published a report in 2000 that global warming had increased significantly since 1950, and could dangerously increase by almost six degrees Celsius by 2100. The pending scenario was rising sea levels, severe storms, and harsh droughts. The opponents expressed manic repudiation, diversely implying that the IPCC were guilty of exaggeration, error, and even subterfuge. The denialist obstruction to climate knowledge was mediated via the internet, leading journals and newspapers, and books. Many of the public were completely deceived by the avalanche of contradiction.

In 2008, a British denialist sent me a list of sources designed to prove that global warming is not man-made. He was disappointed that I did not agree with him. At the top of his approved list appeared a controversial book by the Danish denialist Bjorn Lomborg. This deceptive thesis was entitled The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001). The list-maker cited another book by Lord Nigel Lawson, one DVD, and three misleading websites. The DVD did not gain scientific validation. The arguments of both Lomborg and Lawson were revealed as erroneous by climate scientists and other critical analysts.

Lomborg was disastrously influential in misleading an international readership. He gained notoriety for attacking climate scientists and citizen campaigners. He alleged that global warming was an exaggerated issue; funding was best diverted elsewhere via his cost-effective suggestions. Many people now grasp that Lomborg denialist arguments were far more costly than the climate science effort to mitigate global heating. A well known ecology monitor describes Lomborg as a fossil fuel advocate who wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal "arguing climate change was not the urgent problem that many thought." Lomborg is strongly associated with funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Some ecologists say that it was already too late, a decade ago, to rectify the overall global damage created by denialists. I myself converged with this judgment, after many years of reflection. That reluctant conclusion occurred when I composed one of the longest online analyses of the climate crisis. There is now a mood amongst other ecologists that rectification can still occur in time. I admire their optimism. The odds against are appalling, to an extent that can numb the sensitive mind. The possibility of due modifications is wrecked by politicians active from Brazil to Russia and Australia. The fossil fuel companies are still drilling with the full cooperation of governments.

In 2019, there is a far more widespread resentment of ecological deficit than was formerly in evidence until very recently. Greta Thunberg inspired many schoolchildren who demonstrated in 150 countries against the incompetence of politicians. Reliance upon oil and coal is fatal in the long term. The IPCC have at last become accepted experts rather than despised fantasists. This United Nations body has duly warned that global heating will destroy agriculture and force huge populations to flee an impoverished plight.

Britain is in a more fortunate position than many other countries facing desolation. However, the British Chancellor Philip Hammond warned Prime Minister Theresa May against adopting the strict targets on greenhouse gas emissions recommended by advisers to the government (Fiona Harvey, “It is absurd to question whether we can afford to keep our planet liveable”). Economics dictate the outlook for afflicted living conditions. The absurd and deadly joke continues against humanity, wildlife, and the oceans.

Climate deniers, linked to fossil fuel economic interests, are still attacking the scientific consensus (now estimated at 99 per cent or more) that humans are causing global heating. The unwelcome facts are that the heating is caused by motor car exhausts, factory chimneys, forest clearance, and other sources of greenhouse gases (including aviation). Denialist theories of a "natural climate cycle" are shredded by scientific data revealing how temperature changes during the past two decades were unprecedented during the past two thousand years (Jonathan Watts, Scientific Consensus that humans are causing global warming, 2019).

The ecology crisis is continuing day by day, week by week. According to Climate Action Tracker, "the Trump administration has spent 2018 systematically gutting US federal climate policy." Donald Trump is an apologist for the American fossil fuel industry, now seeking new avenues of exploitation, including the wilderness of Alaska. The closely associated fracking boom in America has been draining some areas dry of water. Pollutants found near fracking sites include chemicals that can disrupt hormones, with damaging effects to humans (Fiona Harvey, “Eight reasons Trump’s ‘clean climate’ claims fail to stack up”).

The American economic claims of redemption by fracking were offset by many bankrupt companies slashing their budgets, resulting in half a million redundancies (Fracking Boom Almost Fell Apart). Hundreds of earthquakes in Oklahoma were caused by fracking, creating the provocative theme: “A millennium of earthquakes in two years” (Fracking Shakes the American West).

China is now the leading global polluter, with America in second place. Vast numbers of children are being born in Asian countries that cannot control the consequences of global heating. Millions of people are likely to die when conditions worsen in some overheated zones. Meanwhile, China has savagely suppressed Tibetan monks, nuns, and others in barbaric detention centres imposing torture. Elsewhere, committed Indian monks have died in the ecological cause of saving the Ganges. There can never be too many of such outstanding people. Celibacy is commendable, and much needed for reduced birth-rate. The population in India is 1.3 billion, and still rising.

Kevin  R. D. Shepherd

Copyright © 2022 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved. Page uploaded May 2010, last modified January 2022.