Dr. Francis Crosbie Roles (1901-1982)

Remembering dr roles

“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 

The Doctor – a tribute by the late Alan Caiger Smith

Although we always referred to him as ‘the Doctor’ and in spite of his distinguished medical career, he never seemed to me at all doctor like. It was hard to imagine him in a hospital or consulting – room dealing with the physical facts of a sickness. I could more easily imagine him as an admiral, especially an admiral of an earlier age, quizzing the bo’sun from uner his bushy eyebrows, searching the horizon with his clear blue eyes, or inviting an adversary to dine after a sea-battle. He loved his riverside house and garden at Twickenham and it seemed the only place in a London suburb remotely suitable for him; he seemed ludicrously out of scale everywhere else. But I don’t think he felt this. It was a useful place to be for the work he had to do and therefore it was right and good.

From the first time I met him, in 1951, he remained for me, a slightly unsettling mixture of an establishment figure, accepting conventional attitudes, values, and behaviour, and a man of complete freedom and originality who took every kind of convention with a great many pinches of salt. This tall, courteous, beaky man, with his accent of entre deux guerres, his very English dress, his Cambridge rugger-playing background, his easy acceptance of humdrum normality, was continually belying his appearance by his knowledge and his outlook and often took one by surprise in his actions, though always as unobtrusively as possible.

‘Whatever else happens’ he once said, referring to my possible choice of earning a living, ‘keep out of business. It will kill you, and it would have killed me.’ This was not said against the business world; he admired honest success in that field, and indeed, in any other. It was a simple recognition of the make-up of individuals.

‘No-one can. Blame drug takers’ he said on another occasion. ‘They are simply trying to get free of the grey ordinariness of things. But they are going about it the wrong way.’

When someone said they found their life dull, he replied abruptly, compassionately, ‘Yes, life without higher centres is a bore. It can’t be anything else. That’s where we start from.’

Once when I was a student I had tea with him in Wimpole Street and mentioned the discomfort of long periods of reading in a hunched position. He smiled, imitated what I meant, stooping slightly and letting his head and shoulders slump forward, saying with serious humour, ‘This is the root of what’s wrong with Western civilization. Get rid of this, and the world could be changed overnight!’

In such ways as this he often turned a vague idea into a precise point of practical work: ‘definite effort: definite result.’ Many large ideas, perhaps sound up to a certain degree, but fruitless, became for him intimate pointers to inward efforts. ‘When you see what to do, do it, or you lose it.’ The effort might sound absurdly particular compared with the idea behind it, but he was quite clear about the real scale of these momentary efforts. ‘Waking up is a matter from moment to moment. Anything else is just dreaming.’ He admired mountaineers and others who achieve great feats of physical courage and mental resolve, but he also said ‘There are more people prepared to climb Everest than are willing to pass one single day without negative emotion.’

He had a lovely feeling for people, for what is real in people, when they have as he put it ‘ cool heads and warm hearts’. This is why he could accept no rules for people’s behaviour, however wayward it might seem to be, and no general pattern for inner discipline. ‘That is each individual’s affair. Everyone is different, and thank God they are!’ Often, when answering questions when his hearing became difficult, he used to. Joke seriously by saying, ‘Who asked that? The answer depends on who is asking!’

In 1951 he invited a few friends to his fiftieth birthday party at the Savoy, and I came with his daughter Penelope. It wasn’t a formal party but at first I was ill at ease, feeling I had somehow to be worthy of the occasion, and feeling my dinner-jacket was too big and my black tie was coming loose. Being basically a shy man himself, he was quite used to all kinds of social unease, and he quietly said to me ‘Mr Ouspensky used to say to us, just be yourself. Nothing else matters much.’ It transformed the evening.

He was impatient and uncompromising with anything false in people. He saw through it immediately, and had no interest in any connection which would lead away from the task Mr Ouspensky had given him. Some time shortly before the connection with India he was talking to me privately about the Work and said ‘The teaching coming from Russia got coloured by many people’s false personality and imagination, latching on to half-understood ideas about esotericism and so forth, and a lot of unhelpful things were written. It’s up to us to make it clean and wholesome again so it’s available to all those decent ordinary people who really want it.’

For all his kindness and courtesy, his acceptance of conventions was simply a means to an end, and could easily be abandoned. Someone once began reading solemnly from one of the Psalms at a big meeting at Colet House. ‘No,no,no!’ he exclaimed. ‘Not like that!’ this is poetry. Let me read it!’ on another occasion he said ‘’’ rules exist to be broken when necessary. Sometimes you have to shout at people and slam the door in their faces. If you don’t, you’ll get no peace.’ And once he gave me an invaluable piece of worldly advice: ‘People take you at your own valuation, you know. Try it. You’ll be surprised!’

We all know how over many years he cultivated the inner art of letting go all inessentials, all personal identification, all mental and physical luggage. The effect was sometimes delightfully unsettling. Like many others, I asked on occasions to see him or get help in resolving some problem. Once in his presence, the problem vanished. One couldn’t even remember what it had been. He would laugh as if he had the whole day free. ‘they go as easily as they come.’ Then he would lean back and reach for his pipe. ‘Let’s light up!’

Beyond this, his lack of inner ‘luggage’ could be deeper and creative, and could bring about a special kind of creative unease. You knew that your problem, or success, or enthusiasm about something, was only a point of contact which had no validity in itself. It was a staggering stepping-stone to the inner point of unified clarity of being which he knew was so much better than one did oneself, and what he said really came from there. Then he really was like an admiral scanning the horizon, trying to share with you something you could not grasp firmly enough. But one knew that the horizon was not really ‘over there’; it was within him and part of his whole being.

It was too important to be serious about. An invited speaker to an Annual General Meeting once said there was no evidence of any life after beyond the death of the physical body. Next day he said slyly, ‘What a lovely surprise she’s going to get!’.

As published in The Study Society ‘Bridge No 6’ Spring 1984

Dr Roles – by Terence O’Neill Joyce

When I read Peter Eadie’s paper recently I realised the important platform that Dr Roles had laid down for us in the present and in the future. In fact on the one time I met him many years ago was when there was a problem in New Zealand. I asked Nolan Howitt if I might put a plan in place to visit Colet House and meet the Doctor; and he encouraged me to do just that.

I arrived at Colet, and knocked on the door. Elizabeth opened the door, and invited me in: “It can be a busy pavement.” I asked if it would be possible to meet the Doctor. She smiled and said, “ You are lucky, he is in, I will go and ask him.”

She came back still smiling. He was in the Blue Room, sitting in a large chair in the corner. He stood up and came towards me with a welcoming smile. Immediately I told him I had come from New Zealand he smiled and asked about the journey. He then invited me to sit with him to meditate.

When we finished, he stood up and took me to stand in front of the portraits of Guru Deva, and His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati. We fell silent. He asked me if I needed anything, any support toward the cost of the trip that I had made. I thanked him very much and told him the cost of the trip has been covered as I was also in London as a Council member of the IFPI (International Phonographic Industry) representing New Zealand visiting their head office.

I realised then how valuable this visit to see the Doctor had been. I felt supported by him in an inner way, and had no doubt that the pathway forward was secured. I went out into the busy street. It really was like moving from a Quiet centre into the world, where upon I understood clearly that I had a duty to perform, to meditate, not to express the negative. There was a happiness in my step, this life then took on a real meaning, the basic clues of the journey on had been revealed, not so much with words, but with the strength and the Love of the Doctor, it was all abiding and is still with me now.

Terence O’Neill Joyce
April 2022

Dr Roles – by Philip Jacobs

Dr Francis Roles was a follower of the Russian writer and philosopher P.D.Ouspensky. Ouspensky was interested in the study of Consciousness, by which he meant the awareness we have behind our thoughts and our feelings and our desires. This awareness is universal and common to all and is beyond all suffering and even beyond birth and death. Towards the end of his life Ouspensky said that he abandoned the system of knowledge that he had been teaching and said that it was necessary to “reconstruct everything from the very beginning” and to “Think for yourselves in the language of the future, don`t hang on my soul”. He gave Dr Roles some specific instructions on how to continue his search for ways to access this deeper sense of Self in the midst of daily life and to find the source of the teaching. He said he was to: “Look for a method that involves repeating one word”. He also said that if Dr Roles found the source of the teaching he would also find a man of a very high level of being to guide them after his death.

Dr Roles later explained that in this work no one is actually appointed successor to the teacher, but in due course someone emerges to fill the necessary vacancy. He also said that the next teacher remains in contact with the previous one, so that it is as if he had never really died.
Dr Roles continued with those pupils that were left after Ouspensky`s death. Whenever anyone came to London with a method that he thought might be the one Ouspensky had asked him to look for, meetings would be set up, and a select group of people would often try out the method.

It wasn`t until 1961 that the then very little known Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came to London with his simple method of mantra meditation that Dr Roles realised that he had found the method that Ouspensky had asked him to look for fourteen years earlier. In Rishikesh a short while later the Maharishi introduced Dr Roles to the head of his tradition, Sri Shantananda Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Jyoti Math, one of the four heads of the ancient non-dual “Advaita” tradition. At this meeting the Shankaracharya accepted Dr Roles as a pupil, and Dr Roles realised he had not only found the method that he had been asked to look for, but had also found the teacher that Ouspensky had indicated.

Two years later in 1963 Dr Roles was also to make contact with the non-dual Mevlevi Dervish tradition in Turkey that was founded by the 13th century Persian mystic Jalaluddin Rumi and the whirling dervish ceremony was brought to London as yet another potent method for accessing this deeper sense of Self. Dr Roles was appointed the Sheikh for the London group by Sheikh Resuhi Baykara of Istanbul and Munir Celebi of Afion (a direct descendent of Rumi), because of “the light in his eyes”. Munir Celebi also let Dr Roles wear the destur or green ribbons of a Mevlevi Sheikh. This is the only time that this privilege had been granted to a Christian in the tradition`s long 700 year history. Interestingly when Ouspensky had left England for America early in World War two, his followers asked him what they should do in his absence? Ouspensky simply replied: “Read the Mathnawi”. This was Rumi`s epic poem that expounded the non-dual Mevlevi teachings.

For almost 20 years Dr Roles and some of his associates had regular audiences with the Shankaracharya in India to learn more about the non-dual Advaita tradition. At first Dr Roles would try to gauge the validity of this new teaching by testing it against the system and “crystallizing” the finer energies into “higher” bodies. With this approach Dr Roles said that it was possible to go off down so many wrong avenues and just end up re-enforcing the sense of separation rather than dissolving it. He also said that in the old system the existence of the Self had been denied which caused terrible havoc. and that it was like trying to produce Hamlet, but leaving out the Prince of Denmark. He also said that the importance of happiness had been completely left out in the old system. The Shankaracharya explained that In the Advaita teaching the three qualities of the Self are: Sat, Chit and Ananda – Being, Consciousness and Bliss. Dr Roles explained that any society following these teachings should be providing its members with these three qualities. In this sense a deep unconditional feeling of inner happiness becomes the touchstone by which we recognise that our experience is authentic.

With “top down” you just become a transparent vehicle for Consciousness by developing your talents and the things you love and letting the great light illuminate your particular role on the stage of life. The Shankaracharya sometimes told a story about two groups of ants. One group lived on a salt mountain and the others on a sugar mountain. The ants from the sugar mountain invited the ants from the salt mountain to come and taste their sugar as it was so much nicer. Though when the ants from the salt mountain took up the offer, they kept some salt in their mouths, so that they never really tasted what the sugar was like. To understand any new teaching it is necessary to first “empty our cup” otherwise we never really appreciate what is being offered. As the audiences progressed over the years Dr Roles was learning more and more how to “empty his cup” and really appreciate the difference in the two approaches. Consequently he asked us not to read the books that were published posthumously under Ouspensky`s name about “The System” nor did he allow them in the library at Colet House.

One of the most notable things about Dr Roles quite apart from his wide and varied knowledge was his immense being that manifested itself as great warmth and good humour. It was his being even more than his knowledge that drew people to the society and made them want to stay within his orbit. He also had an “inner smile” that came through his eyes, it was as if he had discovered the great secret and the nature of it was pure joy. When he was taking a meeting he had a presence that filled the whole room as if he himself was the living example of what he was teaching. He had a superb sense of humour and a dislike of any pretension or displays of false holiness and was always quick to show these up. He was also very normal and down to earth and loved to watch the cricket and rugby on television when he was at home and would become upset when someone wanted to come round and discuss “holy matters” with him while the cricket was on.

In his personal advice he could show great insight and compassion, while delivering his advice in the most unobtrusive way when least expected, often just in a passing comment sometime after the initial question, such as: “But you`re saving yourself up for someone very special”, or “Param Atman has looked after you up till now, what makes you think he is going to forget you?” (Param Atman is the Sanskrit term for “Great Spirit”), or “There you go again trying to alter the film”. In his advice he was showing the questioner that the universe is already unfolding exactly as it should, with his or her best interests at heart and that you are never forgotten. He was also not beyond “testing” one with a remark that if taken too personally could have evoked an angry response. But if the test was passed he would go on to explain something extraordinary.
He was also a superb artist, working in a variety of mediums, including, oils, watercolour and pastels, covering a variety of subjects including landscape and portraits. He had developed a method of using chalk pastels with brush and water, so that it created watercolour like washes, then more layers of pastel were added when dry. He said it was a technique he had borrowed from Degas.

As his own life neared its end he was seeing and developing a very different point of view that at times he felt frustrated at his inability to convey. He was now seeing everything as the dance of Oneness. He wanted us to find the truth for and in ourselves, and that once seen it would come out in our own words. In reading through meetings taken in his absence he would say: “But they`re all still quoting” reminiscent perhaps of a Zen master tearing up the sutras, or of Shams of Tabriz throwing Rumi`s learned books down a well. Whilst we may remain grounded in a tradition or teaching, in order to remain alive and grow it has to be reformulated by each generation. In those last few months this had become Dr Roles’ objective. He kept emphasising the need to go all out for liberation, to no longer be content just to study the mechanism, the prison bars or the habits of the warders, but rather to speak from our own deep experience and not to just quote someone else’s words no matter how learned or wise. Like Ouspensky before him, he had discovered something that he found difficult to convey, but urged us to trust him and follow and let go of the past so that we could see this for ourselves.

In outlining the future he desired for his society he said “I want the Colet House of the future to be a cell of Self Knowledge, no longer the image of an esoteric school”, “A place that people can come to for rest and confidence, particularly the young for whom life is very difficult today”.

Just before he died he summed up his new approach in a few simple sentences:

“Everything I had to do has now been done. The need now is for simplicity. We have been habitually complicating everything. It is only necessary to be quiet and to keep things simple. We have had everything upside down and back to front. There is only one Consciousness. The levels are levels of impediment to that Consciousness. Everything is that Consciousness. That is what we have to feel and know”.

Dr Roles once described our work at The Study Society as a drama in three acts. The first act he said was the theory, which was the domain of Mr Ouspensky. The second act was the practice which was his own and the Shankaracharya`s domain. The third act he said would take place on the stage of life, when we took what we had learned and allowed it to become manifest on the stage of life, each in our own individual ways and through our own individual talents. Some in the sciences, some in the arts or just by turning up when needed like the holy man in the market place.

Philip Jacobs

Excerpts from “Recollecting Doctor Francis Roles” by Peter McGregor Eadie

I first met Doctor Francis Crosbie Roles as long ago as 1931. The Doctor was very much a Renaissance man, well versed in Greek philosophy and mythology, painting and different religions, and had studied medicine at Trinity College Cambridge becoming a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1929. While at Bart’s Hospital, Doctor Roles reviewed two books by Kenneth Walker, an eminent surgeon, which led to discussions on the different levels of consciousness and subsequently to an introduction to P.D. Ouspensky. Already deeply attracted to his understanding of Consciousness and the role of mankind in the universe, Ouspensky’s ‘Tertium Organum’ and ‘A New Model of the Universe’ and ‘The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin’ resonated with the Doctor’s own studies, and he felt that he had met the one man he could completely trust and follow. He soon attracted Mr Ouspensky’s special attention and was most useful in the expansion of the latter’s work. Mr Ouspensky found in Doctor Roles a man with a brilliant mind, good Being and with a ‘permanent aim’ to understand ‘Consciousness’.

Lyne Place was acquired in 1936, as a farm in Surrey where people could gather to carry out hard work with full attention while remembering the Self. This was followed in 1938 by the purchase of Colet House as a London centre for Mr Ouspensky. But with the outbreak of WWII Mr and Mrs Ouspensky and family evacuated to the United States, while Dr Roles’ war work here as consultant at the Emergency Medical Centre and in charge of the Woking Transfusion Centre kept him very busy.

In 1946 Mr Ouspensky returned to England and died here in 1947. Mr Ouspensky was very keen to prevent his work from running down mechanically, where important ideas get repeated but their meaning gets lost. The most important point he made when asked about how to proceed was: ‘Start with what you know and seek Doctor Roles’s advice.’ He appointed Doctor Roles to take over, and then gave him one last task: ‘Find a method for Self-remembering and you may find the source of our teaching’.

Now in his mid-forties, in 1948 with a steadfast search for Truth and deep loyalty to Mr Ouspensky, the Doctor had a breadth of insight that won over many of long-standing members of ‘O’s organisation as well as many younger people. Rather than return to going over ‘fragments of an unknown teaching’ it was now time to move forward and find a method of self-remembering and discover the source of our teaching and The Doctor opened meetings at 62 Wimpole Street. By 1951 ‘The Society for the Study of Normal Psychology’, was established as a Friendly Society, and the freehold of Colet House was secured for The Society in 1957. Throughout this period there was an immense growth of understanding that took place that I was fortunate to witness without a break. Dr Roles led meetings and Mrs Roles the Movements to Music classes. In 1963, Dr Roles was introduced to Sheikh (Resuhi Baykara) from Turkey. Mr Resuhi came to London, asking Dr Roles to maintain and nurture the Turning. He taught members of the Study Society to turn and appointed Dr Roles Sheikh. For me, learning to Turn brought great warmth of heart towards others, and a sense of purpose. And the Turning is still taught at Colet House to-day as it was given to us.

A real change had already taken place in when in 1960 Doctor Roles met with mantra meditation brought to the West by the Maharishi. After initiation the Doctor’s weekly papers became powerful, with many new insights. It was clear that a new ‘Do’ in the octave of our understanding was being sounded and it was now recognised we had found the natural method of self-remembering that P D Ouspensky had requested. Doctor Roles and Society members organised a meeting in the Albert Hall for the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga to introduce him and his system of transcendental meditation, to a wider audience.

The Doctor also accepted an invitation to visit the Maharishi’s ashram in India and, as good karma would have it, the head of the Advaita Tradition of Northern India, to which the Maharishi belonged was in the area at that time. This was His Holiness Shankaracharya Shantanand Saraswati , and from the moment Doctor Roles saw the Shankaracharya he knew the source of our tradition had been found and the direction of our aim firmly set.

The Doctor reported: ‘One evening the Shankaracharya completely electrified us when He suddenly said: ‘The whole thing is that we never remember ourselves. All our troubles come from not remembering ourselves, only we can’t talk about this because it is not understood. You have to reach realisation before you can understand it.’

For the rest of the Doctor’s life, some twenty years, His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati became Doctor Roles’ second teacher and hence, ours, with The Shankaracharya sharing his knowledge through a process of question and answer, and the practice of the Meditation.

In September 1975 the Doctor said to the Shankaracharya:

‘I now realise I have nothing of my own’.

To which His Holiness responded:

This realisation that ‘I have nothing of my own’ is the best realisation. This is the greatest achievement of evolution possible, because it signifies that the level of individual consciousness (Vyasthti) has been transcended into the Samashti level, the Universal level of consciousness. In this Universal level, the Universe as a whole gains predominant acceptance, and the importance of the individual is correspondingly reduced, but it also signifies that the whole Universe is yours.

Doctor Roles achieved control over the level of consciousness and positive emotional integration that so many seek – and his teaching and understanding continue to attract interest and gain followers throughout many countries to this day.

The Shankaracharya summed it up in the following way, saying that ‘Doctor Roles can now answer any question which might be put to him’. Just a few days before he died Doctor Roles gave this advice:

The need now is for simplicity. We have been habitually complicating everything. It is only necessary to be quiet and to keep everything simple.

There is only one consciousness. Everything is that consciousness. That is what we have to feel and know.

Doctor Roles expressed his gratitude to the Shankaracharya for all that we had been given over nearly two decades of audiences in India, when at their last face to face meeting he said:

When with Sattva one realises fully for a short while that one has nothing of one’s own, then one is overwhelmed with gratitude to the Shankaracharya and His Holy Tradition, without which one could not have even made a start. May God bless Him and give Him peace now and forever.

To which The Shankaracharya responded:

The Tradition which the Shankaracharya is furthering at this stage and time and to which He belongs, is also the Tradition to which you belonged before meeting and which you are now pursuing and which will be with you ever after.

After the Doctor’s death the Shankaracharya told us Doctor Roles had ‘planted a tree for humanity’, that the achievement of Doctor Roles was exceptional and would be long lasting, adding:

‘The Tree planted by Doctor Roles cannot now be harmed by any turbulence’.

It is the aim of The Study Society to pass on and keep his understanding alive.