Commentaries on Living 
Chapter - 14
Life, Death and Survival
IT WAS A magnificent old tamarind tree, full of fruit, and with tender new leaves. Growing by a deep river, it was well-watered, and it gave just the right amount of shade for animals and men. There was always some kind of bustle and noise going on under it, loud talking, or a calf calling for its mother. It was beautifully proportioned and against the blue sky its shape was splendid. It had ageless vitality. It must have witnessed many things as through countless summers it watched the river and the goings-on along its banks. It was an interesting river, wide and holy, and pilgrims came from all parts of the country to bathe in its sacred waters. There were boats on it, moving silently, with dark, square sails. When the moon rose full and almost red, making a silvery path on the dancing waters, there would be rejoicing in the neighboring village and in the village across the river. On holy days the villagers came down to the water's edge, singing joyous, lilting songs. Bringing their food, with much chattering and laughter, they would bathe in the river; then they would put a garland at the foot of the great tree and red and yellow ashes around its trunk, for it too was sacred, as all trees are. When at last the chatter and shouting had ceased and everyone had gone home, a lamp or two would remain burning, left by some pious villager; these lamps consisted of a home-made wick in a little terracotta saucer of oil which the villager could ill afford. Then the tree was supreme; all things were of it: the earth, the river, the people and the stars. Presently it would withdraw into itself, to slumber till touched by the first rays of the morning sun.
Often they would bring a dead body to the edge of the river. Sweeping the ground close to the water, they would first put down heavy logs as a foundation for the pyre, and then build it up with lighter wood; and on the top they would place the body, covered with a new white cloth. The nearest relative would then put a burning torch to the pyre, and huge flames would leap up in the darkness, lighting the water and the silent faces of the mourners and friends who sat around the fire. The tree would gather some of the light, and give its peace to the dancing flames. It took several hours for the body to be consumed but they would all sit around till there was nothing left except bright embers and little tongues of flame. In the midst of this enormous silence, a baby would suddenly begin to cry, and a new day would have begun.
He had been a fairly well-known man. He lay dying in the small house behind the wall, and the little garden, once cared for, was now neglected. He was surrounded by his wife and children, and by other near relatives. It might be some months, or even longer, before he passed away, but they were all around him, and the room was heavy with grief. As I came in he asked them all to go away, and they reluctantly left, except a little boy who was playing with some toys on the floor. When they had gone out, he waved me to a chair and we sat for some time without saying a word, while the noises of the household and the street crowded into the room.
He spoke with difficulty. "You know, I have thought a great deal for a number of years about living and even more about dying, for I have had a protracted illness. Death seems such a strange thing. I have read various books dealing with this problem, but they were all rather superficial."
Aren't all conclusions superficial?
"I am not so sure. If one could arrive at certain conclusions that were deeply satisfying, they would have some significance. What's wrong with arriving at conclusions, so long as they are satisfying?"
There's nothing wrong with it, but doesn't it trace a deceptive horizon? The mind has the power to create every form of illusion, and to be caught in it seems so unnecessary and immature.
"I have lived a fairly rich life, and have followed what I thought to be my duty; but of course I am human. Anyway, that life is all over now, and here I am a useless thing; but fortunately my mind has not yet been affected. I have read much, and I am still as eager as ever to know what happens after death. Do I continue, or is there nothing left when the body dies?"
Sir, if one may ask, why are you so concerned to know what happens after death?
"Doesn't everyone want to know?"
Probably they do; but if we don't know what living is, can we ever know what death is? Living and dying may be the same thing, and the fact that we have separated them may be the source of great sorrow.
"I am aware of what you have said about all this in your talks, but still I want to know. Won't you please tell me what happens after death? I won't repeat it to anyone."
Why are you struggling so hard to know? Why don't you allow the whole ocean of life and death to be, without poking a finger into it?
"I don't want to die," he said, his hand holding my wrist. "I have always been afraid of death; and though I have tried to console myself with rationalizations and beliefs, they have only acted as a thin veneer over this deep agony of fear. All my reading about death has been an effort to escape from this fear, to find a way out of it and it is for the same reason that I am begging to know now."
Will any escape free the mind from fear? Does not the very act of escaping breed fear?
"But you can tell me, and what you say will be true. This truth will liberate me..." We sat silently for a while. Presently he spoke again.
"That silence was more healing than all my anxious questioning. I wish I could remain in it and quietly pass away, but my mind won't let me. My mind has become the hunter as well as the hunted; I am tortured. I have acute physical pain, but it's nothing compared to what's going on in my mind. Is there an identified continuity after death? This me which has enjoyed, suffered, known - will it continue?"
What is this `me' that your mind clings to, and that you want to be continued? Please don't answer, but quietly listen, will you? The `me' exists only through identification with property, with a name, with the family, with failures and successes, with all the things you have been and want to be. You are that with which you have identified yourself; you are made up of all that, and without it, you are not. It is this identification with people, property and ideas, that you want to be continued, even beyond death; and is it a living thing? Or is it just a mass of contradictory desires, pursuits, fulfilments and frustrations with sorrow outweighing joy?
"It may be what you suggest, but it's better than not knowing anything at all."
Better the known than the unknown, is that it? But the known is so small, so petty, so confining. The known is sorrow, and yet you crave for its continuance.
"Think of me, be compassionate, don't be so unyielding. If only I knew, I could die happily."
Sir, don't struggle so hard to know. When all effort to know ceases, then there is something which the mind has not put together. The unknown is greater than the known; the known is but as a barque on the ocean of the unknown. Let all things go and be.
His wife came in just then to give him something to drink, and the child got up and ran out of the room without looking at us. He told his wife to close the door as she went out and not to let the boy come in again.
"I am not worried about my family; their future is cared for. It's with my own future that I am concerned. I know in my heart that what you say is true, but my mind is like a galloping horse without a rider. Will you help me, or am I beyond all help?"
Truth is a strange thing; the more you pursue it, the more it will elude you. You cannot capture it by any means, however subtle and cunning; you cannot hold it in the net of your thought. Do realize this, and let everything go. On the journey of life and death, you must walk alone; on this journey there can be no taking of comfort in knowledge, in experience, in memories. The mind must be purged of all the things it has gathered in its urge to be secure; its gods and virtues must be given back to the society that bred them. There must be complete, uncontaminated aloneness.
"My days are numbered my breath is short, and you are asking a very hard thing: that I die without knowing what death is. But I am well instructed. Let be my life, and may there be a blessing upon it."
Chapter - 15
Deterioration of the Mind
ALONG THE TOP of the long, wide bend in the river was the town, very holy and very dirty. The river made a big sweep here, and its main force struck the edge of the town, often washing away the steps leading down to the water, and some of the old houses. But whatever damage it did in its fury, the river still remained holy and beautiful. It was particularly beautiful that evening, with the sun setting below the dark town, and behind the single minaret, which seemed to be the reaching up of the whole town towards the heavens. The clouds were golden-red, aflame with the brilliance of a sun that had travelled over a land of intense beauty and sadness. And as the brilliance faded, there, over the dark town was the new moon, tender and delicate. From the opposite shore, some distance down the river, the whole enchanting sight seemed magical, yet perfectly natural, without a touch of artificiality. Slowly the young moon went down behind the dark mass of the town, and lights began to appear; but the river still held the light of the evening sky, a golden splendour of incredible softness. On this light, which was the river, there were hundreds of small fishing boats. All afternoon thin, dark men with long poles had been laboriously poling their way upstream against the current, in single file close to the bank; starting at the fishing village below the town, each man in his boat, sometimes with a child or two had pushed slowly up the river past the long, heavy bridge, and now they were coming down by the hundreds, carried by the strong current. They would be flashing all night, catching big, heavy fish, ten to fifteen inches long, which would afterwards be dumped, some of them still writhing, into larger boats tied up along the bank, to be sold the next day.
The streets of the town were crowded with bullock carts, buses, cycles, and pedestrians, with here and there a cow or two. Narrow lanes, lined with dimly-lit shops and winding endlessly in and out, were muddy with the recent rains, and filthy with the dirt of man and beast. One of the lanes led to the wide steps which descended to the very edge of the river, and on these steps everything was going on. Some people were sitting close to the water, with eyes shut, in silent meditation; next to them a man was chanting in front of an enthusiastic crowd, which extended far up the steps; further on, a leprous beggar held out his withered hand, while a man with ashes on his forehead and matted hair was instructing the people. Nearby a sannyasi, clean of face and skin, with newly - washed robes, sat motionless, his eyes closed his mind intent with long and easy practice. A man with cupped hand was silently begging the heavens to fill it; and a mother, her left breast bare, was suckling her baby, oblivious of everything. Further down the river, dead bodies, brought from the neighboring villages and from the sprawling, dirty town, were being burnt in great, roaring fires. Here everything was going on, for this was the most holy and sacred of towns. But the beauty of the still-flowing river seemed to wipe away all the chaos of man, while the heavens above him looked down with love and wonder.
There were several of us, two women and four men. One of the women, with a good head and sharp eyes, had been very well educated at home and abroad; the other was more modest with a sorrowful, begging look. One of the men, an ex-Communist who had left the party several years ago, was forceful and demanding; another was an artist, shy and retiring, but bold enough to assert himself when the occasion demanded; the third was an official in the governmental bureaucracy; and the fourth was a teacher, very gentle, with a swift smile, and eager to learn.
Everyone was silent for a while, and presently the former Communist spoke.
"Why is there so much deterioration in every department of life? I can understand how power, even in the name of the people, is essentially evil and corrupting, as you have pointed out. One sees this fact demonstrated in history. The seed of evil and corruption is inherent in all political and religious organizations, as has been shown in the church through the centuries, and in modern Communism, which promised so much but which has itself become corrupt and tyrannical. Why does everything have to deteriorate in this way?"
"We know so much about so many things," added the well-educated lady, "but knowledge does not seem to arrest the dry-rot that is in man. I write a little, and have had a book or two published, but I see how easily the mind can go to pieces when once it has caught the knack of a thing. Learn the technique of good expression, dig up a few interesting or exciting themes, get into the habit of writing, and you are set for life; you become popular, and you are done for. I am not saying this out of any malice or bitterness because I am a failure, or only an indifferent success, but because I see this process operating in others and in myself. We don't seem to get away from the corrosion of routine and capacity. To get something started demands energy and initiative, but once started the seed of corruption is inherent in it. Can one ever escape from this corruptive process?"
"I too," said the bureaucrat, "am caught in the routine of decay. We plan for the future of five or ten years from now, we build dams and encourage new industries, all of which is good and necessary; but even though the dams may be beautifully built and perfectly maintained, and the machines made to function with a minimum of inefficiency, our thinking, on the other hand, becomes more and more inefficient, stupid and lazy. The computers and other complex electronic gadgets outdo man at every turn, yet without man they could not exist. The plain fact is, a few brains are active, creative and the rest of us live on them, rotting and often rejoicing in our rot."
"I am only a teacher but I am interested in a different kind of education - an education which will prevent the setting-in of this dry-rot of the mind. At present we `educate' a living human being to become some stupid bureaucrat - forgive me - with a big job and a handsome salary, or with a clerk's pay and a still more miserable existence. I know what I am talking about, because I am caught in it. But apparently this is the kind of education the governments want, for they are pouring money into it, and every so-called educator, including myself, is aiding and abetting this rapid deterioration of man. Will a better method or technique put an end to this deterioration? Please believe me, sir, I am very serious in asking this question, I am not asking it just for the sake of talking. I have read recent books on education, and invariably they deal with some method or other; and since hearing you, I have begun to question the whole thing."
"I am an artist of sorts, and one or two museums have bought my things. Unfortunately, I shall have to be personal which I hope the others won't mind, for their problem is also mine. I may paint for a time, then turn to pottery, and then do some sculpturing. It is the same urge expressing itself in different ways. Genius is this force, this extraordinary feeling that must be given form, not the man or the medium through which it expresses itself. I may not be putting it properly, but you know what I mean. It is this creative power that has to be kept alive potent, under tremendous pressure, like steam in a boiler. There are periods when one feels this power; and having once tasted it, nothing on earth can prevent one from wanting to recapture it. From then on, one is in torture, ever dissatisfied, because that flame is never constant, never there completely. Therefore it has to be fed, nourished; and every feeding makes it more feeble, less and less complete. So the flame gradually dies, though the flair and technique carry on, and one may become famous. The gesture remains, but love has gone the heart is dead; and so deterioration sets in."
Deterioration is the central factor - is it not? - Whatever may be the way of our life. The artist may feel it in one way and the teacher in another; but if we are at all aware of others, and of our own mental processes, it is fairly obvious with the old and with the young, that deterioration of the mind does take place. Deterioration seems to be inherent in the very activities of the mind itself. As a machine wears itself out through use, so the mind seems to worsen through its own action.
"We all know this," said the educated lady. "The fire the creative force fades away after one or two spurts, but the capacity remains, and this ersatz creativity becomes in time a substitute for the real thing. We know this only too well. My question is, how can that creative something remain without losing its beauty and force?"
What are the factors of deterioration? If one knew them, perhaps it might be possible to put an end to them.
"Are there any specific factors clearly to be pointed out?" asked the former party member. "Deterioration may be inherent in the very nature of the mind."
The mind is a product of the society, of the culture in which it has been brought up; and as society is always in a state of corruption, always destroying itself from within, a mind that continues to be influenced by society must also be in a state of corruption or deterioration. Isn't that so?
"Of course; and it is because we perceived this fact," explained the ex-Communist, "that some of us worked hard and rather brutally, I'm afraid, to create a new and rigid pattern according to which we felt society should function. Unfortunately a few corrupt individuals seized power, and we all know the result."
May it not be, sir, that deterioration is inevitable when a pattern is created for the individual and collective life of man? By what authority, other than the cunning authority of power, has any individual or group the right to create the all-knowing pattern for man? The church has done it, by the power of fear, flattery and promise, and has made a prisoner of man.
"I thought I knew, as the priest thinks he knows, what is the right manner of life for man; but now, along with many others, I see what stupid arrogance that is. The fact remains, however that deterioration is our lot; and can anyone escape from it?"
"Can we not educate the young," asked the teacher, "to be so aware of the factors of corruption and deterioration, that they will instinctively avoid them, as they would avoid the plague?"
Aren't we going round and round the subject without getting at it? Let us consider it together. We know that our minds deteriorate in different ways, according to our individual temperaments. Now, can one put an end to this process? And what do we mean by the word `deterioration'? Let us go slowly into it. Is deterioration a state of mind that's known through comparison with an incorruptible state which the mind has momentarily experienced and is now living in the memory of, hoping by some means to revive it? Is it the state of a mind that is frustrated in its desire for success, self-fulfilment and so on? Has the mind tried and failed to become something, and does it therefore feel itself to be deteriorating?
"It's all of that," said the educated lady. "At least, I seem to be in one, if not all, of the states you have just described."
When did that flame of which you were speaking earlier come into being?
"It came unexpectedly, without my seeking it, and when it went away, I was unable to get it back. Why do you ask?"
It came when you were not seeking it; it came neither through your desire for success, nor through the longing for that intoxicating sense of elation. Now that it has gone, you are pursuing it, because it gave momentary meaning to a life that otherwise had no meaning; and as you cannot recapture it, you feel that deterioration has set in. Isn't that so?
"I think it is - not only with me, but with most of us. The clever ones build a philosophy round the memory of that experience, and thereby catch innocent people in their net."
Doesn't all this point to something which may be the central and dominant factor of deterioration?
"Do you mean ambition?"
That's only one facet of the accumulating core: this purposive, self-centred focus of energy which is the `me' the ego, the censor, the experiencer who judges the experience. May it not be that this is the central the only factor of deterioration?
"Is it a self-centred, egotistic activity," asked the artist, "to realize what one's life is without that creative intoxication? I can hardly believe it."
It's not a matter of credulity or belief. Let's consider it further. That creative state came into being without your invitation, it was there without your seeking it. Now that it has faded away and become a thing remembered, you want to revive it, which you have tried to do through various forms of stimulation. You may occasionally have touched the hem of it, the outer edges of it, but that's not enough, and you are ever hungering after it, Now, is not all craving, even for the highest, an activity of the self? Is it not self-concern?
"It seems so, when you put it that way," conceded the artist. "But it is craving in one form or another that motivates us all, from the austere saint to the lowly peasant."
"Do you mean," asked the teacher, "that all self-improvement is egotistic? Is every effort to improve society a self-centred activity? Is not education a matter of self-expansive improvement, of making progress in the right direction? Is it selfish to conform to a better pattern of society?"
Society is always in a state of degeneration. There is no perfect society. The perfect society may exist in theory, but not in actuality. Society is based on human relationship motivated by greed, envy, acquisitiveness, fleeting joy, the pursuit of power, and so on. You can't improve envy; envy has to cease. To put a civilized coating on violence through the double talk of ideals is not to bring violence to an end. To educate a student to conform to society is only to encourage in him the deteriorating urge to be secure. Climbing the ladder of success, becoming somebody gaining recognition - this is the very substance of our degenerating social structure and to be part of it is to deteriorate.
"Are you suggesting," inquired the teacher rather anxiously, "that one must renounce the world and become a hermit, a sannyasi?"
It's comparatively easy, and in its way profitable, to renounce the outward world of home, family, name, property; but it's quite another matter to put an end - without any motive, without the promise of a happy future - to the inner world of ambition, power, achievement and really to be as nothing. Man begins at the wrong end with things, and so ever remains in confusion. Begin at the right end; start near to go far.
"Must not a definite practice be adopted to put an end to this deterioration, this inefficiency and laziness of the mind?" asked the government official."
Practice or discipline implies an incentive, the gaining of an end; and isn't this a self-centred activity? Becoming virtuous is a process of self-interest, leading to respectability. When you cultivate in yourself a state of non-violence, you are still violent under a different name. Besides all this, there is another degenerating factor: effort, in all its subtle forms. This doesn't mean that one is advocating laziness.
"Good heavens, sir, you are certainly taking everything away from us!" exclaimed the official. "And when you take everything away, what's left of us? Nothing!"
Creativeness is not a process of becoming or achieving, but a state of being in which self-seeking effort is totally absent. When the self makes an effort to be absent, the self is present. All effort on the part of this complex thing called the mind must cease, without any motive or inducement.
"That means death doesn't it?"
Death to all that's known which is the `me'. It is only when the totality of the mind is still, that the creative, the nameless, comes into being.
"What do you mean by the mind?" asked the artist.
The conscious as well as the unconscious; the hidden recesses of the heart as well as the educated bits of the mind.
"I have listened," said the silent lady, "and my heart understands."
Chapter - 16
The Flame of Discontent
IN THE EARLY morning sunlight, the leaves of the tree just outside the window were making dancing shadows on the white wall of the room. There was a gentle breeze, and these shadows were never still; they were as alive as the leaves themselves. One or two moved gently, with grace and ease, but the motion of the others was violent, jerky and restless. The sun had just come up from behind a deep-wooded hill. The day was not going to be hot, for the breeze was blowing from the snowy mountains to the north. At that early hour, there was a strange quietness - the quietness of the slumbering earth before man begins his toil. Within this quietness were the screeches of the parrots flying crazily to the fields and woods; within it were the raucous calls of the crows and the chatter of many birds; within it were the distant hoots of a train, and the blast of a factory whistle announcing the hour. It was the hour when the mind is as open as the heavens and as vulnerable as love.
The road was very crowded, and the people walking on it were paying scant attention to the vehicular traffic; they would smilingly step aside, but first they had to look around to see who was making so much noise behind them. There were cycles, buses and bullock carts, and men drawing lighter carts loaded with sacks of grain. The shops, selling everything that man could want from needles to motorcars, were spilling over with people.
This same road led through the wealthy part of the city, with its usual aloofness and tidiness, into the open country; and not far out was the famous tomb. You left the car at the outer entrance, and went up a few steps, through an open archway, into a well-kept and watered garden. Walking along a sandy path and up more steps, you passed through another archway, blue with tiles, and entered an inner garden with a wall completely around it. It was enormous; there were acres of luscious, green lawns, lovely trees and fountains. It was cool in the shade, and the sound of falling water was pleasant. The circular path that went along the wall on the edge of the lawn had a border of brilliant flowers, and it would have taken quite a while to walk around it. Following the path that cut across the lawn, you wondered how so much space and beauty and work could be given to a tomb. Presently you climbed a long flight of steps, which opened on a vast platform covered with slabs of reddish-brown sandstone. On this platform rose the stately tomb. It was built of smooth, polished marble, and the single marble coffin within it shone with the soft light of the sun that filtered through the intricately latticed marble window. It seemed lonely in its peace, though surrounded with grandeur and beauty.
From the platform you could see where the ancient town, with its domes and gateways, met the new, with its steel pylons for the radio broadcasting station. It was strange to see the coming together of the old and the new, and the impact of it stirred your whole being. It was as though the past and the present of all life lay before you as a simple fact, without the interference of the censor and his choice. The blue horizon stretched far away beyond the city and the woods; it would always remain, while the new became the old.
There were three of them, all quite young, a brother, a sister and a friend. Well dressed and very well educated they spoke several languages easily, and could talk of the latest books. It was strange to see them in that bare room; there were only two chairs, and one of the young men had to sit uncomfortably on the floor, spoiling the crease in his well pressed trousers. A sparrow that had its nest just outside suddenly appeared on the sill of the open window but seeing the new faces, it fluttered and flew away again.
"We have come to talk over a rather personal problem," explained the brother, "and we hope you don't mind. May I plunge into it? You see, my sister is going through a beastly time. She feels shy about explaining it, so I am doing the talking for the moment. We like each other very much, and have been almost inseparable ever since we were youngsters. There is nothing unhealthy about our being together, but she has been twice married and twice divorced. We have been through it all together. The husbands were all right in their way, but I am concerned about my sister. We consulted a well-known psychiatrist, but somehow it didn't work out. We needn't go into all that now. Though I had never met you personally, I had known about you for several years, and had read some of your published talks; so I persuaded my sister and our mutual friend to come along with me, and here we are." He hesitated for a few moments, and then went on. "Our difficulty is that my sister doesn't seem to be satisfied with anything. Literally nothing gives her any sort of satisfaction or contentment. Discontent has become almost a mania with her, and if something isn't done, she's going to crack up completely."
Isn't it a good thing to be discontented?
"To some extent, yes," he replied; "but there are limits to everything, and this is going too far."
What's wrong with being totally discontented? What we generally call discontent is the dissatisfaction which arises when a particular desire is not fulfilled. Isn't that so?
"Perhaps; but my sister has tried so many things, including these two marriages, and she hasn't been happy in either of them. Fortunately, there have been no children, which would have further complicated matters. But I think she can speak for herself now; I only wanted to set the ball rolling."
What is contentment, and what is discontent? Will discontent lead to contentment? Being discontented, can you ever find the other?
"Nothing really satisfies me," said the sister. "We are well off, but the things that money can buy have lost their meaning. I have read a great deal but as I'm sure you know it doesn't lead anywhere. I have dabbled in various religious doctrines, but they all seem so utterly phoney; and what have you left after that? I have thought about it a great deal, and I know it isn't for want of children that I am like this. If I had children, I would give them my love, and all that kind of thing, but this torment of discontent would certainly go on. I can't find a way of directing or channelizing it, as most people seem to do, into some absorbing activity or interest. Then it would be easy sailing; there would be an occasional squall, which is inevitable in life, but one would always be within reach of calm waters. I feel as though I were in a perpetual storm, without any safe port. I want to find some comfort, somewhere; but, as I said what the religions have to offer seems to me so utterly stupid, nothing but a lot of superstitions. Everything else, including worship of the State, is only a rational substitute for the real thing - and I don't know what the real thing is. I have tried various entertaining side issues, including the current philosophy of hopelessness in France, but I am left empty handed. I have even experimented with taking one or two of the latest drugs; but that, of course, is the ultimate act of despair. One might just as well commit suicide. Now you know all about it."
"If I may put in a word," said the friend, "it seems to me that the whole thing would be resolved if she could only find something that really interested her. If she had a vital interest that occupied her mind and her life, then this discontent that is eating her up would disappear. I have known this lady and her brother for many years, and I keep telling her that her misery arises from not having something that will take her mind off herself. But nobody pays much attention to what is said by an old friend."
May I ask, why shouldn't you be discontented? Why shouldn't you be consumed by discontent? And what do you mean by that word?
"It is a pain, an agonizing anxiety, and naturally one wants to get out of it. It would be a form of sadism to want to remain in it. After all, one should be able to live happily, and not be ceaselessly driven by the pain of dissatisfaction."
I am not saying that you should enjoy the pain of it, or merely put up with it; but why should you try to escape from it through an interesting occupation, or through some other form of abiding satisfaction?
"Isn't that a most natural thing to do?" asked the friend. "If you are in pain, you want to get rid of it."
We are not understanding each other. What do we mean by being discontented? We are not inquiring into the mere verbal or explanatory meaning of that word, nor are we seeking the causes of discontent. We shall come to the causes presently. What we are trying to do, is to examine the state of the mind that is caught in the pain of discontent.
"In other words, what is my mind doing when it is discontented? I don't know, I have never before asked myself that question. Let me see. But first of all, have I understood the question?"
"I think I see what you are asking, sir," put in the brother. "What is the feeling of the mind that is in the throes of discontent? Isn't that it?"
Something like that. A feeling is extraordinary in itself - is it not? - Apart from its pleasure or pain.
"But can there be any feeling at all," asked the sister, "if it is not identified with pleasure or pain?"
Does identification bring about feeling? Can there be no feeling without identification, without naming? We may come to that question presently; but again, what do we mean by discontent? Does discontent exist by itself, as an isolated feeling, or is it related to something? "It is always related to some other factor, to some urge, desire or want, isn't it?" said the friend. "There must always be a cause; discontent is only a symptom. We want to be or to acquire something, and if for any reason we cannot we become discontented. I think this is the source of her discontent."
"I don't know, I haven't thought that far," replied the sister.
Don't you know why you are discontented? Is it because you haven't found anything in which you can lose yourself? And if you did find some interest or activity with which you could completely occupy your mind would the pain of discontent go? Is it that you want to be contented?
"God, no!" she exploded. "That would be terrible, that would be stagnation."
But isn't that what you are seeking? You may have a horror of being contented, yet in wanting to be free of discontent; you are pursuing a very superior kind of contentment, aren't you?
"I don't think I want contentment; but I do want to be free from this endless misery of discontent."
Are the two desires different? Most people are discontented, but they generally tame it by finding something which gives them satisfaction, and then they function mechanically and go to seed, or they become bitter, cynical, and so on. Is that what you are after?
"I don't want to become cynical, or just go to seed, that would be too stupid; I only want to find a way to soften the ache of this uncertainty."
The ache exists only when you resist uncertainty, when you want to be free of it.
"Do you mean I must remain in this state?"
Please listen. You condemn the state you are in; your mind is opposing it. Discontent is a flame that must be kept burning brightly, and not be smothered by some interest or activity that is pursued as a reaction from the pain of it. Discontent is painful only when it is resisted. A man, who is merely satisfied, without understanding the full significance of discontent, is asleep; he is not sensitive to the whole movement of life. Satisfaction is a drug, and it is comparatively easy to find. But to understand the full significance of discontent, the search for certainty must cease.
"It is difficult not to want to be certain about something." Apart from mechanical certainties, is there any certainty at all, any psychological permanency? Or is there only impermanency? All relationship is impermanent; all thought, with its symbols, ideals, projections, is impermanent, property is lost, and even life itself ends in death, in the unknown, though man builds a thousand cunning structures of belief to overcome it. We separate life from death, and so both remain unknown. Contentment and discontent are like the two sides of one coin. To be free from the ache of discontent, the mind must cease to seek contentment.
"Then is there no fulfilment?"
Self-fulfilment is a vain pursuit, isn't it? In the very fulfilment of the self, there is fear and disappointment. That which is gained becomes ashes; but we again struggle to gain, and again we are caught in sorrow. If once we are aware of this total process, then self-fulfilment in any direction, at any level, has no significance at all.
"Then to struggle against discontent is to smother the flame of life," she concluded. "I think I understand the meaning of what you have been saying."
Chapter - 17
Outward Modification and Inward Disintegration
THE TRAIN SOUTH was very crowded, but more people were squeezing in, with their bundles and their trunks. They were dressed in every kind of way. Some wore heavy overcoats, while others had hardly anything on, even though it was quite cold. There were long coats and tight chudidars, sloppily tied turbans and turbans that were neatly tied and of different colours. When everybody had more or less settled down, the shouts could be heard of the vendors on the station platform. They were selling almost everything: soda water, cigarettes, magazines, peanuts, tea and coffee, sweets and cooked things, toys, rugs - and, strangely enough, a flute, made of polished bamboo. Its vendor was playing upon a similar one, and it had a sweet tone. It was an excited and noisy crowd. Many people had come to see off a man who must have been a fairly important person, for he was weighed down with garlands, which had a goodly smell amidst the acrid smoke of the engine and the other unpleasant odors associated with rail-road stations. Two or three people were helping an old woman get into a compartment, for she was rather stout and insisted on carrying her own heavy bundle. An infant was screaming at the top of its voice, while the mother was trying to hold it to her breast. A bell rang, the engine whistle screeched, and the train began to move, not to stop again for several hours.
It was beautiful country, and the dew was still on the fields and on the leaves of the spreading trees. We ran for some distance beside a full-flowing river and the countryside seemed to open out into endless beauty and life. Here and there were small, smoky villages, with cattle roaming about the fields, or pulling water from a well. A boy clad in dirty rags was driving two or three cows before him along a path; he waved, smiling, as the train roared by. On that morning the sky was intensely blue, the trees were washed and the fields well-watered by the recent rains and the people were going about their work; but it wasn't for this reason that heaven was very close to the earth. There was in the air a feeling of something sacred, to which one's whole being responded. The quality of the blessing was strange and healing; the solitary man walking along that road, and the hovel by the wayside, were bathed in it. You would never find it in churches, temples or mosques, for these are handmade and their gods hand-wrought. But there in the open country, and in that rattling train, was the inexhaustible life, a blessing that can neither be sought nor given. It was there for the taking, like that small yellow flower springing up so close to the rails. The people in the train were chatting and laughing, or reading their morning paper, but it was there among them, and among the tender, growing things of the early spring. It was there, immense and simple, the love which no book can reveal, and which the mind cannot touch. It was there on that wondrous morning, the very life of life.
There were eight of us in the room, which was pleasantly dark, but only two or three took part in the conversation. Just outside they were cutting the grass; someone was sharpening a scythe and the children's voices came into the room. Those who had come were very much in earnest. They all worked hard in various ways for the betterment of society, and not for outward, personal gain; but vanity is a strange thing, it hides under the cloak of virtue and respectability.
"The institution we represent is disintegrating," began the oldest one; "it has been sinking for the past several years, and we must do something to stop this disintegration. It is so easy to destroy an organization, but so very difficult to build it up and maintain it. We have faced many crises, and somehow we have always managed to survive them, bruised, but still able to function. Now, however, we have reached a point where we have to do something drastic; but what? That is our problem."
What needs to be done depends on the symptoms of the patient, and upon those who are responsible for the patient.
"We know very well the symptoms of disintegration, they are all too obvious. Though outwardly the institution is recognized and flourishing, inwardly it is rotting. Our workers are what they are; we have had our differences, but have managed to pull along together for more years than I care to remember. If we were satisfied with mere outward appearances, we would consider all to be well; but those of us who are on the inside, know there is a decline."
You and others, who have built up and are responsible for this institution, have made it what it is; you are the institution. And disintegration is inherent in every institution, in every society or culture, is it not?
"That is so," agreed another. "As you say, the world is of our own making; the world is us, and we are the world. To change the world, we must change ourselves. This institution is part of the world; as we rot, so do the world and the institution. Regeneration must therefore begin with ourselves. The trouble is, sir, that life to us is not a total process; we act at different levels, each in contradiction with the others. This institution is one thing, and we are another. We are managers, presidents, secretaries, the top officials by whom the institution is run. We don't regard it as our own life; it is something apart from us, something to be managed and reformed. When you say that the organization is what we are we admit it verbally, but not inwardly; we are concerned with operating upon the institution, and not upon ourselves."
Do you see that you are in need of an operation?
"I see that we are in need of a drastic operation," said the oldest one; "but who is to be the surgeon?"
Each one of us is the surgeon and the patient; there is no outside authority who is going to wield the knife. The very perception of the fact that an operation is necessary sets in motion an action which will in itself be the operation. But if there's to be an operation, it means considerable disturbance, disharmony, for the patient has to stop living in a routine manner. Disturbance is inevitable. To avoid all disturbances of things as they are is to have the harmony of the graveyard, which is well-kept and orderly, but full of buried putrefaction.
"But is it possible, being constituted as we are, to operate upon ourselves?"
Sir, by asking that question, are you not building a wall of resistance which prevents the operation from taking place? Thus you are unconsciously allowing deterioration to continue.
"I want to operate upon myself, but I don't seem able to do it."
When you try to operate upon yourself, there is no operation at all. Making an effort to stop deterioration is another way of avoiding the fact; it is to allow deterioration to go on. Sir, you don't really want an operation; you want to tinker, to improve outward appearances with little changes here and there. You want to reform, to cover the rot with gold in order that you may have the world and the institution you desire. But we are all getting old, and we are going to die. I am not foisting this on you; but why don't you remove your hand and let there be an operation? Clean, healthy blood will flow if you don't hinder it.
Chapter - 18
To Change Society You Must Break Away From It
THE SEA WAS very calm that morning, more so than usual, for the wind from the south had ceased blowing, and before the north-easterly winds began, the sea was taking a rest. The sands were bleached by the sun and salt water, and there was a strong smell of ozone, mixed with that of seaweed. There wasn't anyone yet on the beach, and one had the sea to oneself. Large crabs, with one claw much bigger than the other, moved slowly about, watching, with the large claw waving in the air. There were also smaller crabs, the usual kind, that raced to the lapping water, or darted into round holes in the wet sand. Hundreds of seagulls stood about, resting and preening themselves. The rim of the sun was just coming out of the sea, and it made a golden path on the still waters. Everything seemed to be waiting for this moment - and how quickly it would pass! The sun continued to climb out of the sea, which was as quiet as a sheltered lake in some deep woods. No woods could contain these waters, they were too restless, too strong and vast; but that morning they were mild, friendly and inviting.
Under a tree above the sands and the blue water, there was going on a life independent of the crabs, the salt water and the seagulls. Large, black ants darted about, not making up their minds where to go. They would go up the tree, then suddenly scurry down for no apparent reason. Two or three would impatiently stop, move their heads about, and then, with a fierce burst of energy, go all over a piece of wood which they must have examined hundreds of times before; they would investigate it again with eager curiosity, and lose interest in it a second later. It was very quiet under the tree, though everything about one was very much alive. There was not a breath of air stirring among the leaves but every leaf was abundant with the beauty and light of the morning. There was an intensity about the tree - not the terrible intensity of reaching, of succeeding, but the intensity of being complete, simple, alone and yet part of the earth. The colours of the leaves, of the few flowers, of the dark trunk, were intensified a thousand fold, and the branches seemed to sustain the heavens. It was incredibly clear, bright and alive in the shade of that single tree.
Meditation is an intensification of the mind which is in the fullness of silence. The mind is not still like some tamed, frightened or disciplined animal; it is still as the waters are still many fathoms down. The stillness there is not like that on the surface when the winds die. This stillness has a life and a movement of its own which is related to the outer flow of life, but is untouched by it. Its intensity is not that of some powerful machine which has been put together by cunning, capable hands; it is as simple and natural as love, as lightning, as a full-flowing river.
He said he had been in politics up to his ears. He had done the usual things to climb the ladder of success - cultivated the right people, got on familiar terms with the leaders who had themselves climbed the very same ladder - and his climbed had been rapid. He had been sent abroad on many of the important committees, and was regarded with respect by those who count; for he was sincere and incorruptible albeit as ambitious as the rest of them. Added to all this he was well-read, and words came easily to him. But now, by some fortunate chance, he was tired of this game of helping the country by boosting himself and becoming a very important person. He was tired of it, not because he couldn't climb any higher, but because, through a natural process of intelligence, he had come to see that man's deep betterment does not lie entirely in planning, in efficiency, in the scramble for power. So he had thrown it all overboard, and was beginning to consider anew the whole of life.
What do you mean by the whole of life?
"I have spent many years on a branch of the river, as it were, and I want to spend the remaining years of my life on the river itself. Although I enjoyed every minute of the political struggle, I am not leaving politics regretfully; and now I wish to contribute to the betterment of society from my heart and not from the ever-calculating mind. What I take from society must be returned to it at least tenfold."
If one may ask, why are you thinking in terms of giving and taking?
"I have taken so much from society; and all that it has given me I must give back to it many times."
What do you owe to society?
"Everything I have: my bank account, my education my name - Oh, so many things!"
In actuality, you have not taken anything from society, because you are part of it. If you were a separate entity, unconnected with society, then you could give back what you have taken. But you are part of society, part of the culture which has put you together. You can return borrowed money; but what can you give back to society as long as you are part of society?
"Because of society I have money, food, clothing, shelter, and I must do something in return. I have profited by my gathering within the framework of society, and it would be ungrateful of me to turn my back on it. I must do some good work for society - good work in the large sense, and not as a `do-gooder'."
I understand what you mean; but even if you returned all you have gathered, would that absolve you from your debt? What society has yielded through your efforts is comparatively easy to return; you can give it to the poor, or to the State. And then what? You still have your `duty' to society, for you are still part of it; you are one of its citizens. As long as you belong to society identify yourself with it, you are both the giver and the taker. You maintain it; you support its structure, do you not? "I do. I am, as you say, an integral part of society; without it, I am not. Since I am both the good and the bad of society, I must remove the bad and uphold the good."
In any given culture or society, the `good' is the accepted, the respectable. You want to maintain that which is noble within the structure of society; is that it?
"What I want to do is to change the social pattern in which man is caught. I mean this most earnestly."
The social pattern is set up by man; it is not independent of man, though it has a life of its own, and man is not independent of it; they are interrelated. Change within the pattern is no change at all; it is mere modification, reformation. Only by breaking away from the social pattern without building another can you `help' society. As long as you belong to society, you are only helping it to deteriorate. All societies including the most marvellously utopian, have within them the seeds of their own corruption. To change society, you must break away from it. You must cease to be what society is: acquisitive, ambitious, envious, power-seeking, and so on.
"Do you mean I must become a monk, a sannyasi?"
Certainly not. the sannyasi has merely renounced the outer show of the world, of society, but inwardly he is still a part of it; he is still burning with the desire to achieve, to gain, to become.
"Yes, I see that."
Surely, since you have burnt yourself in politics, your problem is not only to break away from society, but to come totally to life again, to love and be simple. Without love, do what you may, you will not know the total action which alone can save man.
"That is true, sir: we don't love, we aren't really simple."
Why? Because you are so concerned with reforms, with duties, with respectability with becoming something with breaking through to the other side. In the name of another, you are concerned with yourself; you are caught in your own cockle-shell. You think you are the centre of this beautiful earth. You never pause to look at a tree, at a flower, at the flowing river; and if by some chance you do look, your eyes are filled with the things of the mind, and not with beauty and love.
"Again, that is true; but what is one to do?"
Look and be simple.
Chapter - 19
Where the Self Is, Love Is Not
THE ROSE BUSHES just inside the gate were covered with bright red roses, heavy with perfume, and butterflies were hovering about them. There were also marigolds and sweet peas in bloom. The garden overlooked the river, and that evening it was full of the golden light of the setting sun. Fishing boats, shaped somewhat like gondolas, were dark on the still surface of the river. The village among the trees on the opposite side was over a mile away, and yet voices came clearly across the water. From the gate there was a path leading down to the river. It joined a rough road which was used by the villagers on their way to and from the town. This road ended abruptly at the bank of a stream that flowed into the big river. It was not a sandy bank, but heavy with damp clay, and the feet sank into it. Across the stream at this point they would presently build a bamboo bridge; but now there was a clumsy barge laden with the quiet villagers who were returning from their day of trading in the town. Two men punted us across, while the villagers sat huddled in the evening cold. There was a small brazier to be lit when it got a little darker, but the moon would give them light. A little girl was carrying a basket of firewood; she had put it down while crossing the stream, and was now having difficulty in lifting it again. It was quite heavy for a little girl, but with some help she got it carefully placed on her small head, and her smile seemed to fill the universe. We all climbed the steep bank with careful steps, and soon the villagers went chattering off down the road.
Here it was open country, and the soil was very rich with the silt of many centuries. The flat, well-cultivated land, dotted with marvellous old trees, stretched out to the horizon. There were fields of sweet smelling peas, white with blossom, as well as winter wheat and other grain. On one side flowed the river, wide and curving, and overlooking the river there was a village, noisy with activity. The path here was very ancient; the Enlightened One was said to have walked on it, and the pilgrims had been using it for many centuries. It was a holy path, and there were small temples here and there along that sacred way. The mango and tamarind trees were also very old, and some were dying, having seen so much. Against the golden evening sky they were stately, their limbs dark and open. A little further along there was a grove of bamboos, yellowing with age, and in a small orchard a goat tied to a fruit tree was bleating for its kid, which was jumping and skipping all over the place. The path led on through another grove of mangoes, and beside a tranquil pond. There was a breathless stillness, and everything knew the blessed hour. The earth and everything upon it became holy. It was not that the mind was aware of this peace as something outside of itself, something to be remembered and communicated, but there was a total absence of any movement of the mind. There was only the immeasurable.
He was a youngish man, in his early forties he said; and though he had faced audiences and spoken with great confidence, he was still rather shy. Like so many others of his generation, he had played with politics, with religion, and with social reform. He was given to writing poetry, and could put colour on canvas. Several of the prominent leaders were his friends, and he could have gone far in politics; but he had chosen otherwise and was content to keep his light covered in a distant mountain town.
"I have been wanting to see you for many years. You may not remember it, but I was once on the same boat with you going to Europe before the second world war. My father was very interested in your teachings, but I drifted away into politics and other things. My desire to talk to you again finally became so persistent that it could not be put off any longer. I want to expose my heart - something I have never done to anyone else, for it isn't easy to discuss oneself with others. For some time I have been attending your talks and discussions in different places, but recently I have had a strong urge to see you privately, because I have come to an impasse."
Of what kind?
"I don't seem to be able to `break through'. I have done some meditation, not the kind that mesmerizes you, but trying to be aware of my own thinking, and so on. In this process I invariably fall asleep. I suppose it is because I am lazy, easygoing. I have fasted, and I have tried various diets, but this lethargy persists."
Is it due to laziness or to something else? Is there a deep, inward frustration? Has your mind been made dull, insensitive, by the events of your life? If one may ask, is it that love is not there?
"I don't know sir; I have vaguely thought about these matters, but have never been able to pin anything down. Perhaps I have been smothered by too many good and evil things. In a way, life has been too easy for me, with family, money, certain capacities, and so on. Nothing has been very difficult, and that may be the trouble. This general feeling of being at ease and having the capacity to find my way out of almost any situation may have made me soft."
Is that it? Is that not just a description of superficial happenings? If those things had affected you deeply, you would have led a different kind of life, you would have followed the easy course. But you have not, so there must be a different process at work that is making your mind sluggish and inept.
"Then what is it? I am not bothered by sex; I have indulged in it, but it has never been a passion with me to the extent that I became a slave to it. It began with love and ended in disappointment, but not in frustration. Of that I am pretty sure. I neither condemn nor pursue sex. It's not a problem to me, anyway."
Has this indifference destroyed sensitivity? After all, love is vulnerable, and a mind that has built defence against life ceases to love.
"I don't think I have built a defence against sex; but love is not necessarily sex, and I really do not know if I love at all."
You see, our minds are so carefully cultivated that we fill the heart with the things of the mind. We give most of our time and energy to the earning of a livelihood, to the gathering of knowledge, to the fire of belief, to patriotism and the worship of the State, to the activities of social reform, to the pursuit of ideals and virtues, and to the many other things with which the mind keeps itself occupied; so the heart is made empty, and the mind becomes rich in its cunningness. This does make for insensitivity, doesn't it?
"It is true that we over-cultivate the mind. We worship knowledge, and the man of intellect is honoured, but few of us love in the sense you are talking about. Speaking for myself, I honestly do not know if I have any love at all. I don't kill to eat. I like nature. I like to go into the woods and feel their silence and beauty; I like to sleep under the open skies. But does all this indicate that I love?"
Sensitivity to nature is part of love; but it isn't love, is it? To be gentle and kind, to do good works, asking nothing in return, is part of love; but it isn't love, is it?
"Then what is love?"
Love is all these parts, but much more. The totality of love is not within the measure of the mind; and to know that totality, the mind must be empty of its occupations however noble or self-centred. To ask how to empty the mind, or how not to be self-centred, is to pursue a method; and the pursuit of a method is another occupation of the mind.
"But is it possible to empty the mind without some kind of effort?"
All effort, the `right' as well as the `wrong', sustains the centre, the core of achievement, the self. Where the self is, love is not. But we were talking of the lethargy of the mind, of its insensitivity. Have you not read a great deal? And may not knowledge be part of this process of insensitivity?
"I am not a scholar, but I read a lot, and I like to browse in libraries. I respect knowledge, and I don't quite see why you think that knowledge necessarily makes for insensitivity."
What do we mean by knowledge? Our life is largely a repetition of what we have been taught, is it not? We may add to our learning, but the repetitive process continues and strengthens the habit of accumulating. What do you know except what you have read or been told, or what you have experienced? That which you experience now is shaped by what you have experienced before. Further experience is what has been experienced already, only enlarged or modified, and so the repetitive process is maintained. Repetition of the good or the bad, of the noble or the trivial, obviously makes for insensitivity, because the mind is moving only within the field of the known. May not this be why your mind is dull?
"But I can't put away all that I know, all that I have accumulated as knowledge."
You are this knowledge, you are the things that you have accumulated; you are the gramophone record that is ever repeating what is impressed on it. You are the song, the noise, the chatter of society, of your culture. Is there an uncorrupted `you', apart from all this chatter? This self-centre is now anxious to free itself from the things it has gathered; but the effort it makes to be free is still part of the accumulative process. You have a new record to play, with new words, but your mind is still dull, insensitive.
"I see that perfectly; you have described very well my state of mind. I have learnt, in my time, the jargons of various ideologies, both religious and political; but, as you point out, my mind has in essence remained the same. I am now very clearly aware of this; and I am also aware that this whole process makes the mind superficially alert clever and outwardly pliable, while below the surface it is still that same old self-centre which is the `me'."
Are you aware of all this as a fact, or do you know it only through another's description? If it is not your own discovery, something that you have found out for yourself, then it is still only the word and not the fact that is important.
"I don't quite follow this. Please go slowly, sir, and explain it again."
Do you know anything, or do you only recognize? Recognition is a process of association, memory, which is knowledge. That is true, isn't it?
"I think I see what you mean. I know that bird is a parrot only because I have been told so. Through association, memory which is knowledge, there is recognition, and then I say: `It is a parrot'."
The word `parrot' has blocked you from looking at the bird, the thing that flies. We almost never look at the fact, but at the word or the symbol that stands for the fact. The fact recedes and the word, the symbol, becomes all-important. Now, can you look at the fact, whatever it may be, dissociated from the word, the symbol?
"It seems to me that perception of the fact, and awareness of the word representing the fact, occur in the mind at the same time."
Can the mind separate the fact from the word?
"I don't think it can."
Perhaps we are making this more difficult than it is. That object is called a tree; the word and the object are two separate things, are they not?
"Actually it is so; but, as you say we always look at the object through the word."
Can you separate the object from the word? The word `love' is not the feeling, the fact of love.
"But, in a way, the word is a fact too, isn't it?"
In a way, yes. Words exist to communicate and also to remember, to fix in the mind a fleeting experience, a thought, a feeling; so the mind itself is the word, the experience, it is the memory of the fact in terms of pleasure and pain, good and bad. This whole process takes place within the field of time, the field of the known; and any revolution within that field is no revolution at all, but only a modification of what has been.
"If I understand you correctly, you are saying that I have made my mind dull, lethargic, insensitive, through traditional or repetitive thinking, of which self-discipline is a part. To bring the repetitive process to an end, the gramophone record, which is the self must be broken; and it can be broken only by seeing the fact, and not through effort. Effort, you say, only keeps the recording machine wound up, so in that there is no hope. Then what?"
See the fact, the what is, and let that fact operate; don't you operate on the fact - the `you' being the repetitive mechanism, with its opinions, judgments, knowledge.
"I will try," he said earnestly.
To try is to oil the repetitive mechanism, not to put an end to it.
"Sir, you are taking everything away from one, and nothing is left. But that may be the new thing."
Chapter - 20
The Fragmentation of Man Is Making Him Sick
IT WAS STILL very early and there was a slight ground mist hiding the bushes and the flowers. A heavy dew had made a circle of dampness around each tree. The sun was just coming up behind a mass of trees, which were quiet now, for the chattering birds had all scattered for the day. The engines of the air-planes were being warmed up, and their roar filled the early morning air; but very soon they would be leaving for different parts of the big continent, and except for the usual daily noises of a town, everything would be quiet again.
A beggar with a nice voice was singing in the street, and the song had that nostalgic quality which is so familiar. His voice had not become raucous, and amidst the rattling of buses and the shouts of people calling across the street, it had a pleasant and welcoming sound. You would hear him every morning if you lived around there. Many beggars do tricks, or have monkeys that do the tricks; they are knowing and sophisticated, with a cunning look and an easy smile. But this beggar was altogether of a different kind. He was a simple beggar, with a long staff and torn, dirty clothes. He had no pretensions, no wheedling ways. The others received more alms than he did, for people like to be flattered, to be called pleasant names, or to be blessed and wished prosperity. But this beggar did none of those things. He begged, and if you gave, he bowed his head and went on; there was no pose, no gesticulation. He would walk the whole length of the long, shady street, always giving way to people; at the end of the street he would turn right into a narrower and quieter street, and begin his singing again, finally wandering off into one of the little lanes. He was quite young, and there was a pleasant feeling about him.
The plane took off at the appointed time and climbed smoothly over the city, with its domes, its ancient tombs and its long blocks of ugly buildings, pretentious and recently constructed. Beyond the city was the river, winding and open, its waters a pale blue-green; and the plane followed it, going mostly south-east. We had levelled off at about six thousand feet, and the country lay below us, all neatly broken up into irregular grey-green patches, each man owning a little piece. The river went meandering past many villages, and from it there were straight, narrow, man-made canals extending into the fields. Hundreds of miles away to the east, the snow-covered mountains began to appear, ethereal and unreal in their rosy glow. They seemed at first to be floating above the horizon, and it was difficult to believe that they were mountains, with sharp peaks and massive formations. From the surface of the earth, at that distance, they couldn't be seen, but from this altitude they were visible and spectacularly beautiful. One could hardly take one's eyes off them, for fear of missing the slightest nuance in their beauty and grandeur. One range slowly gave place to another, one massive peak to another. They covered the north - eastern horizon, and even after we had been flying for two hours, they were still there. It was really incredible: the colour, the immensity and the solitude. One forgot everything else - the passengers, the captain asking questions, and the hostess requesting the tickets. It was not the absorption of a child in a toy, or of the monk in his cell, nor of the sannyasi on the bank of a river. It was a state of total attention in which there was no distraction. There was only the beauty and the glory of the earth. There was no watcher.
A psychologist, an analyst, and an M.D., he was plump, with a large head and serious eyes. He had come, he said, to talk over several points; however, he would not use the jargon of psychology and analysis, but would keep to words with which we were both familiar. Having studied the famous psychologists, and himself been analysed by one of them, he knew the limitations of modern psychology, as well as its therapeutic value. It was not always successful, he explained, but it had great possibilities in the hands of the right people. Of course, there were many quacks, but that was to be expected. He had also studied, although not extensively oriental thought and the oriental idea of consciousness.
"When the subconscious was first discovered and described here in the West, no university had a place for it, and no publisher would undertake to bring out the book; but now, of course, after only two decades, the word is on everybody's lips. We like to think that we are the discoverer of everything and that the Orient is a jungle of mysticism and disappearing-rope tricks; but the fact is that the Orient undertook the exploration of consciousness many centuries ago, only they used different symbols, with more extensive meanings. I am saying this only to indicate that I am eager to learn, and have not the usual bias in this matter. We specialists in the field of psychology do help the maladjusted to return to society, and that seems to be our main concern. But somehow I personally am not satisfied with this - which brings me to one of the points I want to discuss. Is that all we psychologists can do? Can we not do more than just help the maladjusted individual to return to society?"
Is society healthy, that an individual should return to it? Has not society itself helped to make the individual unhealthy? Of course, the unhealthy must be made healthy, that goes without saying; but why should the individual adjust himself to an unhealthy society? If he is healthy, he will not be a part of it. Without first questioning the health of society, what is the good of helping misfits to conform to society?
"I don't think society is healthy; it is run by and for frustrated, power-seeking superstitious people. It is always in a state of convulsion. During the last war I helped in the work of trying to straighten out the misfits in the army who couldn't adjust themselves to the horrors of the battlefield. They were probably right, but there was a war on, and it had to be won. Some of those who fought and survived still need psychiatric help, and to bring them back into society is going to be quite a job."
To help the individual to fit into a society which is ever at war with itself - is this what psychologists and analysts are supposed to do? Is the individual to be healed only in order to kill or be killed? If one is not killed, or driven insane, then must one only fit into the structure of hate, envy, ambition and superstition which can be very scientific? "I admit society is not what it should be, but what can you do? You can't get out of society; you have to work in it, make a living in it, suffer and die in it. You can't become a recluse, or one of those people who withdraw and think only of their own salvation. We must save society in spite of itself."
Society is man's relationship with man; its structure is based on his compulsions, ambitions, hates, vanities envies, on the whole complexity of his urge to dominate and to follow. Unless the individual breaks away from this corruptive structure, what fundamental value can there be in the physician's help? He will only be made corrupt again.
"It is the duty of a physician to heal. We are not reformers of society; that department belongs to the sociologists."
Life is one; it's not to be departmentalized. We have to be concerned with the whole of man: with his work, with his love, with his conduct, with his health, his death and his God - as well as with the atomic bomb. It's this fragmentation of man that's making him sick.
"Some of us realize this, sir, but what can we do? We ourselves are not whole men with an overall outlook, an integrated drive and purpose. We heal one part while the rest disintegrates, only to see that the deep rot is destroying the whole. What is one to do? As a physician, what is my duty?"
To heal, obviously; but isn't it also the responsibility of the physician to heal society as a whole? There can be no reformation of society; there can only be a revolution outside the pattern of society.
"But I come back to my point: as an individual, what can one do?"
Break away from society, of course; be free, not from mere outward things, but from envy, ambition, the worship of success, and so on.
"Such freedom would give one more time for study, and there certainly would be greater tranquillity; but would it not lead to a rather superficial, useless existence?"
On the contrary, freedom from envy and fear would bring to the individual a state of integration, would it not? It would put a stop to the various forms of escape which inevitably cause confusion and self-contradiction, and life would have a deeper, wider significance.
"Aren't some escapes beneficial to a limited intelligence? Religion is a splendid escape for many people; it gives significance, however illusory, to their otherwise drab existence." So do cinemas, romantic novels and some drugs; and would you encourage such forms of escape? The intellectuals also have their escapes, crude or subtle, and almost every person has his blind spots; and when such people are in positions of power, they breed more mischief and misery. Religion is not a matter of dogmas and beliefs, of rituals and superstitions; nor is it the cultivation of personal salvation, which is a self-centred activity. Religion is the total way of life; it is the understanding of truth, which is not a projection of the mind.
"You are asking too much of the average person, who wants his amusements, his escapes, his self-satisfying religion, and someone to follow or to hate. What you are hinting at demands a different education, a different world-society, and neither our politicians nor our average educators are capable of this wider vision. I suppose man has got to go through the long, dark night of misery and pain before he will emerge as an integrated, intelligent human being. For the moment, that is not my concern. My concern is with individual human wrecks, for whom I can and do a great deal; but it seems so little in this vast sea of misery. As you say, I shall have to bring about a state of integration in myself, and that's quite an arduous undertaking.
"There is another thing, personal in nature, which I would like to talk over with you, if I may. You said earlier something about envy. I realize that I am envious; and although I allow myself to be analysed from time to time, as most of us analysts do, I haven't been able to go beyond this thing. I am almost ashamed to admit it, but envy is there, ranging from petty jealousy up to its more complex forms, and I don't seem able to shake it off."
Is the mind capable of being free from envy, not in little bits, but completely? Unless there is total freedom from it, right through one's whole being, envy keeps repeating itself in different forms, at different times.
"Yes, I realize that. Envy must be wholly eliminated from the mind, just as a malignant growth must be totally removed from the body, otherwise it will recur; but how?"
The `how' is another form of envy, isn't it? When one asks for a method, one wants to get rid of envy in order to be something else; so envy is still operating.
"It was a natural question but I see what you mean. This aspect of the matter had never struck me before." We always seem to fall into this trap, and for ever after we are caught in it; we are always trying to be free from envy. Trying to be free gives rise to the method, and so the mind is never free either from envy or from the method. Inquiring into the possibility of total freedom from envy is one thing, and seeking a method to help one to be free is another. In seeking a method, one invariably finds it, however simple or complex it may be. Then all inquiry into the possibility of total freedom ceases, and one is stuck with a method, a practice, a discipline. Thus envy goes on and is subtly sustained.
"Yes, as you point it out, I see that's perfectly true. In effect you are asking me if I am really concerned with total freedom from envy. You know, sir, I have found envy to be stimulating at times; there has been pleasure in it. Do I want to be free from the totality of envy, from both the pleasure and the painful anxiety of it? I confess I have never before asked myself that question, nor have I been asked it by others. My first reaction is, I don't know if I want to or not. I suppose what I would really like, is to keep the stimulating side of envy and get rid of the rest. But it is obviously impossible to retain only the desirable parts of it, and one must accept the whole content of envy, or be free of it completely. I am beginning to see the meaning of your question. The urge is there to be free from envy, and yet I want to hold on to certain parts of it. We human beings are certainly irrational and contradictory! This requires further analysis, sir, and I hope you will have the patience to go through to the end of it. I can see there is fear involved in this. If I were not driven by envy, which is covered over by professional words and requirements, there might be a slipping back; I might not be so successful, so prominent, so financially well-off. There is a subtle fear of losing all this, a fear of insecurity and other fears which it's not worth going into now. This underlying fear is certainly stronger than the urge to be free from even the unpleasant aspects of envy, to say nothing of being totally free from it. I now see the intricate patterns of this problem, and I am not at all sure I want to be free from envy."
As long as the mind thinks in terms of the `more', there must be envy; as long as there's comparison, though through comparison we think we understand, there must be envy; as long as there's an end, a goal to be achieved, there must be envy; as long as the additive process exists which is self-improvement, the gaining of virtue, and so on, there must be envy. The `more' implies time, does it not? It implies time in order to change from what one is to what one should be, the ideal; time as a means of gaining, arriving achieving.
"Of course. To cover distance, to move from one point to another, whether physically or psychologically, time is necessary."
Time as a movement from here to there is a physical, chronological fact. But is time needed to be free from envy? We say, "I am this, and to become that, or to change this quality into that, needs time." But is time the factor of change? Or is any change within the field of time is no change at all?
"I am getting rather confused here. You are suggesting that change in terms of time is no change at all. How is that?"
Such change is a modified continuity of what has been, is it not?
"Let me see if I understand this. To change from the fact, which is envy, to the ideal, which is non-envy, needs time - at least, that's what we think. This gradual change through time, you say, is no change at all, but merely a further wallowing in envy. Yes, I can see that."
As long as the mind thinks in terms of changing through time, of bringing about a revolution in the future, there is no transformation in the present. This is a fact, isn't it?
"All right, sir, we both see this to be a fact. Then what?"
How does the mind react when it is confronted with this fact?
"Either it runs away from the fact, or it stops and looks at it."
Which is your reaction?
"Both, I am afraid. There is an urge to escape from the fact, and at the same time I want to examine it."
Can you examine something when there's fear concerning it? Can you observe a fact about which you have an opinion, a judgment?
"I see what you mean. I am not observing the fact, but evaluating it. My mind is projecting its ideas and fears upon it. Yes, that's right."
In other words, your mind is occupied with itself, and is therefore incapable of being simply aware of the fact. You are operating upon the fact, and not allowing the fact to operate upon your mind. The fact that change within the field of time is no change at all, that there can only be total and not partial, gradual freedom from envy - the very truth of this fact will operate on the mind, setting it free.
"I really think the truth of it is making its way through my blockages."