No one country can claim to have a monopoly of saints, but when it comes to “holy men” there is no doubting that India has cornered the market.

Gurus, Swamis, babas, Maharishis, yogis or Mahatmas – our modern age has seen an apparently endless flow of sweetly smiling, bearded figures arriving on these shores, their hands clasped as if in prayer, their colourful robes flowing above their sandalled feet.

And those “holy men” who have journeyed westward have always been guaranteed a respectful audience in this country: intelligent, well-educated men and women looking for a religion that promises serenity without the burdensome demands of orthodox beliefs.

Such a man was Major General JFC Fuller, an expert on tank warfare and a prominent member of the British Union of Fascists, who played a major role in the introduction of yoga to Britain in the 1930s. “Stop thinking,” the general urged – “and get beyond or behind consciousness and you will discover the meaning of Reality in superconsciousness.”

Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, who record these details in their book The Long Weekend, advise: “The advantage of yoga over the Catholic Church, for men at least, was that not only did it forbid the devotee to think, but he remained his own confessor, Pope and deity.”

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