Dr. Francis Crosbie Roles (1901-1982)
About Our Founder
“It doesn’t matter how lonely you are; it doesn’t matter how bad the situation is, or how hopeless the outlook; it’s just that lesser values have to be broken down until one finds this thing in all our hearts which is God and truth and one’s Self all at the same time”
Francis C. Roles
Dr. Roles was a consultant paediatrician and leading pupil of the Russian philosopher P.D. Ouspensky, succeeding him as head of Ouspensky’s ‘Fourth Way’ school at Colet House in London. He was born in Colombo in 1901, the only child of Margaretta Nichols (American) and Francis C. Roles Sr., an adventurous English journalist and Editor of The Times of Ceylon. The family returned to the U.K. in 1909 but years later Dr. Roles told a friend that he felt his childhood in Ceylon was a preparation for his introduction to the tradition of Advaita (non duality) in India.
From an early age Francis was passionate about the study of consciousness in all of its forms. At Rugby he chose to study Classics, Plato and Pythagoras while immersing himself in natural history, poetry and painting. He went on to read Natural Sciences at Cambridge University. While there, he was introduced to the world of music through his future wife Joan Grace-Calvert, a gifted pianist. Both loved to dance, play cricket and were keen tennis players. They married in 1927 and were devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. Dr. Roles became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1929. His daughter Penelope was born that year and Nicholas arrived in 1933.
While working at Bart’s Hospital in the early 30ies a surgeon and friend called Kenneth Walker introduced Francis to P.D. Ouspensky. Dr. Roles was riveted and knew immediately that he was in the presence of a man who embodied the awareness reflected in the statue of the charioteer at Delphi.
Ouspensky was dedicated to the search for Truth, Higher Consciousness and the True Self. He had just finished writing ‘A New Model of the Universe’. The book was about the development of a psychological system based on the study of both self and objective (cosmic) consciousness: “a state of greater consciousness than our ordinary waking state. We have no control over this state but we have a control over the way in which we think about it (…). By giving to our thoughts a direction which they would have in a moment of consciousness we can induce consciousness. This practice we call self-remembering.”
Dr. Roles became Ouspensky’s most valued student and shared his belief in the potential evolution of human beings based on the development of consciousness. All sorts of attention exercises were explored to help people ‘self-remember’ their inner divinity or true nature, but many of them were quite challenging and some didn’t quite go to plan. Ouspensky acknowledged this with good humour: ‘Before the war, when people went to Paris, I told them to remember themselves at the Gare du Nord. Nobody could. Once a friend was to meet me at the Gard du Nord and I asked him to remember himself when he got there. But he only came with a very worried face saying “I have forgotten something you asked me to do; was it something I had to buy for you?”
Before Ouspensky died in 1947 he asked Dr. Roles to continue the search for the source of the system he taught which he called ‘Fragments of an unknown teaching’. In 1951 Dr. Roles founded The Study Society as a member based organisation and acquired the freehold for Colet House in 1957 with the contribution of all members who made it possible. Many activities were organised at Colet to support the process of self-remembering and facilitate the practice of Attention such as fencing, art classes, putting on plays and bookbinding. It wasn’t all about study however. Dr. Roles encouraged fun and loved parties. Summer balls for over 200 people were held in the top studio and four course sit down dinners with appropriate wines were popular occurrences!
Fourteen years after Ouspensky’s death Francis found the source of the system through a form of mantra Meditation which, as he said ‘can train the creative mind to keep still and exercise its right function of discrimination between truth and illusion’. He was instrumental in introducing Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his system of transcendental meditation to London society. In 1961 the Maharishi introduced Dr. Roles to his own teacher in India. H.H. Shantanand Saraswati (then Shankaracharya of the North) taught the Perennial Philosophy of non-dualism that lies behind all major religions. It holds that the divine Self is eternally present in every human being as Dr. Roles said “Your own Self that lives in the hearts of all is exactly the same as the Consciousness that reigns throughout the universe”
The Shankaracharya became Dr. Roles’ second greatest teacher and both men enjoyed a close relationship for almost 20 years thereafter. Francis was given special knowledge to share with members of The Study Society to deepen their experience of non-duality.
Dr. Roles wrote extensively about his experiences with the Shankaracharya and his many audiences with H.H. were published by The Study Society in ‘The Record’. He wrote an introduction to meditation in his book ‘A Lasting Freedom’. Many of his sayings and teachings were collected by his son Nicholas and published in ‘Voyage of Discovery’.
Dr. Roles knew that there are many different paths that lead to unity of consciousness which is why multidisciplinary practices across science and the arts were always encouraged and taught. In 1963 Sheikh Reshui Baykara of the sufi Mevlevi Order of Dervishes was invited to Colet House to teach Self Remembering in the form of the Mukabele. This whirling dervish ceremony originated in the C13th with the great poet and mystic Rumi. Mr. Reshui recognized Dr. Roles as a kindred spirit through ‘the light in his eyes’. Colet became and remains one of the few places outside of Turkey where authentic Mevlevi Turning is taught to this day.
Dr. Roles was an inspirational teacher and renaissance man who was well ahead of his time. Dr. Roles once told members of The Study Society that we are all on a train, that the train is going somewhere and ‘don’t get off the train’. He described Colet as a place where one could find some rest and refreshment along the way. Many visitors to the house tell us that they feel a deep sense of peace upon entering.
If you wish to know more about his life and work, “The Bridge No. 14“ is a wonderful tribute and representation of how his teachings relate to the worlds of music, science, art, poetry, theatre, business, and philosophy. When he died in 1982, H.H. Shantanand Saraswati asked us to sustain and provide growth for the spiritual tree he left for humanity. Whether we meet you at Colet House or on-line, we hope to create space for the experience of the rest and refreshment Dr. Roles wished for us all.