Commentaries on Living 
Chapter - 21
The Vanity of Knowledge
THERE WERE FOUR who were chanting, and it was pure sound. They were quiet, elderly men, uninterested in worldly things, but not by way of renunciation; they were simply not drawn to the world. Wearing old but clean clothes, and with solemn faces, they would hardly have been noticed if they had passed you on the street. But the moment they began to chant, their faces were transformed and became radiant, ageless, and they created, with the sound of the words and the powerful intonation, that extraordinary atmosphere of a very ancient language. They were the words, the sound and the meaning. The sound of the words had great depth. It was not the depth of a stringed instrument, or of a drum, but the depth of a human voice alive to the significance of words made holy by time and usage. The chant was in the language that has been polished and made perfect, and its sound filled the big room, and penetrated the walls, the garden, the mind and the heart. It wasn't the sound of a singer on the stage, but there was the silence that exists between two movements of sound. You felt your body being uncontrollably shaken by the sound of the words, which was in the marrow of your bones; you sat completely still, and it held you in its movement; it was living, dancing, vibrant, and your mind was of it. It wasn't a sound that lulled you to sleep, but one that shook and almost hurt you. It was the depth and the beauty of pure tone, untouched by applause, by fame, and by the world; it was the tone from which all sound, all music comes.
A boy of three or so was sitting up in front without moving his back straight, his eyes closed; he wasn't asleep. After an hour he quickly got up and went away, without any awkward shyness. He was equal to all, for the sound of the words was in his heart.
You never got tired during those two hours; you didn't want to move, and the world, with all its noise, didn't exist. Presently the chanting stopped, and the sound came to an end; but it went on inside you, and it would go on for many a day. The four bowed and saluted, and became once more the men of every day. They said they had practised that form of chanting for over ten years, and it had called for great patience and a dedicated life. It was a dying art, for there was hardly anyone nowadays willing to devote his life to that kind of chanting; there was no money in it, no fame, and who wanted to enter that kind of world? They were delighted, they said, to chant before people who really appreciated their effort. Then they went their way, poor and lost in a world of noise, cruelty and greed. But the river had listened, and was silent.
He was a well-known scholar, and had come with some of his friends and a disciple or two. He had a large head, and his small eyes peered through thick glasses. He knew Sanskrit as others know their own languages and spoke it as easily; and he also knew Greek and English. He was as familiar with the major oriental philosophies, including their various branches, as you are with addition and subtraction, and he had studied western philosophers as well, both the ancient and the modem. Rigorous in his self-discipline, he had days of silence and fasting, and had practised, he said, various forms of meditation. For all this, he was quite a youngish man, probably in his late forties, simply attired and eager. His friends and disciples sat around him and waited with that devout expectancy which precludes any questioning. They were all of that world of scholars who possess encyclopedic knowledge, have visions and psychic experiences, and are certain of their own understanding. They took no part in the conversation, but listened, or rather heard what was going on. Later they would ardently discuss it among themselves, but now they must maintain a reverential silence in the presence of higher authority. There was a period of silence, and presently he began. There was no arrogance or pride of knowledge about him.
"I have come as an inquirer, not to flaunt what I know. What do I know beyond what I have read and experienced? To learn is a great virtue, but to be content with what one knows is stupid. I have not come in the spirit of argumentation, though argument is necessary when doubt arises. I have come to seek, and not to refute. As I said, I have for many years practised meditation, not only the Hindu and Buddhist forms of it, but western types as well. I am saying this so that you may know to what extent I have sought to find that which transcends the mind."
Can a mind which practises a system ever discover that which is beyond the mind? Is a mind which is held within the framework of its own discipline capable of search? Must there not be freedom to discover? "Surely, to seek and to observe there must be a certain discipline; there must be the regular practice of some method if one is to find, and to understand that which one finds."
Sir, we all seek a way out of our misery and trials; but search comes to an end when a method is adopted by means of which we hope to put an end to sorrow. Only in the understanding of sorrow is there an ending of it, and not in the practice of a method.
"But how can there be an ending of sorrow if the mind is not well-controlled, one-pointed and purposive? Do you mean to say that discipline is unnecessary for understanding?"
Does one understand when, through discipline, through various practices, one's mind is shaped by desire? Must not the mind be free for understanding to take place?
"Freedom, surely, comes at the end of the journey; at the beginning, one is a slave to desire and the things of desire. To free oneself from attachment to the pleasures of the senses, there must be discipline, the practice of various sadhanas; otherwise the mind yields to desire and is caught in its net. Unless the groundwork of righteousness is well laid, the house will tumble."
Freedom is at the beginning, and not at the end. The understanding of greed, of the whole content of it - its nature, its implications, and its effects both pleasurable and painful - must be at the beginning. Then there is no need for the mind to build a wall to discipline itself against greed. When the totality of that which in enviably leads to misery and confusion is perceived, discipline against it has no meaning. If he who now spends much time and energy in the practice of a discipline, with all its conflicts, were to give the same thought and attention to the understanding of the total significance of sorrow, there would be a complete ending of sorrow. But we are caught in the tradition of resistance, discipline, and so there is no understanding of the ways of sorrow.
"I am listening, but I do not understand."
Can there be listening as long as the mind clings to conclusions based on its assumptions and experiences? Surely, one listens only when the mind is not translating what it hears in terms of what it knows. Knowledge prevents listening. One may know a great deal; but to listen to something which may be totally different from what one knows, one must put aside one's knowledge. Isn't that so, sir?
"Then how can one tell whether what's being said is true or false?" The true and the false are not based on opinion or judgment, however wise and old. To perceive the true in the false, and the false in what is said to be true, and to see the truth as truth, demands a mind that is not held in its own conditioning. How can one see whether a statement is true or false, if one's mind is prejudiced, caught in the framework of its own or another's conclusions and experiences? For such a mind, what is important is to be aware of its own limitations.
"How is a mind that's enmeshed in the net of its own making to disentangle itself?"
Does this question reflect the search for a new method, or is it put to discover for oneself the whole significance of seeking and practising a method? After all, when one practises a method a discipline, the intention is to achieve a result, to gain certain qualities, and so on. Instead of worldly things, one hopes to gain so-called spiritual things; but gain is the purpose in both cases. There is no difference, except in words, between the man who meditates and practises a discipline in order to attain the other shore, and the man who works hard to fulfil his worldly ambition. Both are ambitious, both are greedy, both are concerned with themselves.
"That being the fact, sir, how are envy, ambition, greed, and so on, to be put aside?"
Again, if it may be pointed out, the `how', the method that will seemingly bring about freedom, only puts an end to one's inquiry into the problem, and arrests the understanding of it. To grasp fully the significance of the problem, one has to consider the whole question of effort. A petty mind making an effort not to be petty remains petty; a greedy mind disciplining itself to be generous is still greedy. Effort to be or not to be something is the continuance of the self. This effort may identify itself with the Atman, the soul, the indwelling God, and so on, but the core of it is still greed, ambition, which is the self, with all its conscious and unconscious attributes.
"You are maintaining, then, that all effort to achieve an end, worldly or spiritual, is essentially the same, in that selfishness is the basis of it. Such effort only sustains the ego."
That is so, isn't it? The mind that practises virtue ceases to be virtuous. Humility cannot be cultivated; when it is, it is no longer humility.
"That is clear and to the point. Now, since you cannot be advocating indolence, what is the nature of true effort?" When we are aware of the full significance of effort, with all its implications, is there then any effort at all of which we are conscious?
"You have pointed out that any becoming, positive or negative, is the perpetuation of this `me', which is the result of identification with desire and the objects of desire. When once this fact is understood, you are asking, is there then any effort as we know it now? I can perceive the possibility of a state of being in which all such effort has ceased."
Merely to perceive the possibility of that state is not to understand the total meaning of effort in everyday existence. As long as there's an observer who is trying to change, or to gain, or to put aside that which he observes, there must be effort; for after all, effort is the conflict between what is and what should be, the ideal. When this fact is understood, not merely verbally or intellectually, but deeply, then the mind has entered that state of being in which all effort, as we know it, is not.
"To experience that state is the ardent desire of every seeker, including myself."
It cannot be sought; it comes uninvited. The desire for it drives the mind to gather knowledge and practise discipline as a means of gaining it - which is again to conform to a pattern in order to be successful. Knowledge is an impediment to the experiencing of that state.
"How can knowledge be an impediment?" he asked in rather a shocked voice.
The problem of knowledge is complex, is it not? Knowledge is a movement of the past. To know is to assert that which has been. He who asserts that he knows ceases to understand reality. After all, sir, what is it that we know?
"I know certain scientific and ethical facts. Without such knowledge, the civilized world would revert to savagery - and you are obviously not advocating that. Apart from these facts, what do I know? I know there is the infinitely compassionate, the Supreme."
That's not a fact; it is a psychological assumption on the part of a mind that has been conditioned to believe in the existence of the Supreme. One who has been conditioned differently will maintain that the Supreme is not. Both are bound by tradition, by knowledge, and so neither will discover the reality of it. Again, what is it that we know? We know only what we have read or experienced, what we have been taught by the ancient teachers and the modern gurus and interpreters.
"Again I am forced to agree with you. We are the product of the past in conjunction with the present. The present is shaped by the past."
And the future is a modified continuity of the present. But this is not a matter of agreement, sir. Either one sees the fact, or one does not. When the fact is seen by both of us, agreement is unnecessary. Agreement exists only where there are opinions.
"You are saying, sir, that we know only what we have been taught; that we are merely the repetition of what has been; that our experiences, visions and aspirations are the responses of our conditioning, and nothing more. But is this entirely so? Is the Atman of our own making? Can it be a mere projection of our own desires and hopes? It is not an invention, but a necessity."
That which is necessary is soon fashioned by the mind, and the mind is then taught to accept what it has fashioned. The minds of a whole people can be trained to accept a given belief, or its contrary, and both are the outcome of necessity, of hope, of fear, of the desire for comfort or power.
"By your very reasoning, you are forcing me to see certain facts, not the least of which is my own state of confusion. But there still remains the question, what is a mind to do that is caught in its own entangling net?"
Let it just be choicelessly aware of the fact that it is confused; for any action born of that confusion can only lead to further confusion. Sir, must not the mind die to all knowledge if it is to discover the reality of the Supreme?
"That is a very hard thing you are asking. Can I die to everything I have learnt, read, experienced? I really don't know."
But is it not necessary for the mind - spontaneously, without any motive or compulsion - to die to the past? A mind that is the result of time, a mind that has read, studied, that has meditated upon what it has been taught, and is in itself a continuance of the past - how can such a mind experience reality, the timeless, the ever-new? How can it ever fathom the unknown? Surely, to know, to be certain, is the way of vanity, arrogance. As long as one knows, there is no dying, there is only continuity; and what has continuity can never be in that state of creation which is the timeless. When the past ceases to contaminate, reality is. There is then no need to seek it out.
With one part of itself the mind knows that there is no permanency, no corner in which it can rest; but with another part, it is ever disciplining itself, seeking openly or surreptitiously to establish an abode of certainty, of permanence, a relationship beyond dispute. So there is an endless contradiction, a struggle to be and yet not to be and we spend our days in conflict and sorrow, prisoners within the walls of our own minds. The walls can be broken down, but knowledge and technique are not the instruments of that freedom.
Chapter - 22
What Is Life All About?
THE SUN WAS beating down on the rough, pebbly road, and it was pleasant in the shade of the big mango tree. People from the villages came along that road carrying on their heads large baskets laden with vegetables, fruit, and other things for the town. They were mostly women, walking with bare-footed ease, chatting and laughing, their dark faces bare to the sun. They would put their burdens down along the edge of the road and rest in the cool shade of the mango tree, sitting on the ground and not talking so much. The baskets were rather heavy, and presently each woman would help another to place her basket on her head, the last one somehow managing by almost kneeling on the ground. Then they would be off, with steady pace and an extraordinary grace of movement that had come with years of toil. It wasn't a thing that had been learnt through choice; it had come about through sheer necessity. There was a little girl among them, not more than ten or so, and she too had a basket on her head, though much smaller than the others. She was full of smiles and play, and wouldn't look straight ahead, as the older women did, but would turn round to see if I were following, and we would smile at each other. She too was barefooted, and she too was on the long journey of life.
It was a lovely country, rich and enchanting. There were mango groves and rolling hills, and the water that was still running in the narrow, sandy beds made a pleasant noise as it wandered through the land. The palm trees seemed to tower over the mangoes which were in bloom and haunted by the murmuring of wild geese. Old banyan trees also grew on either side of the road, which was now busy with the movement of lazy bullock carts, and with chattering people who were walking from one village to another on some trifling business. They were not in a hurry, and would gather to talk of their doings wherever there was deep shade. Few had anything on their thin, worn feet, and fewer still had bicycles. Now and then they would eat a few nuts, or some fried grain. They had an air of gentle kindliness about them, and they had obviously not caught the contagion of the town. On that road there was peace, though an occasional lorry would pass, carrying, perhaps, sacks of charcoal so badly loaded that some seemed ready to fall off at any moment; but they never did. A bus full of people would come along, making threatening noises with its horn. But it too would soon pass by, leaving the road to the villagers - and to the brown monkeys, of which there were dozens, old and young. When a lorry or a bus came rattling along, the babies would cling to their mothers; they would hold on until everything was quiet again, and then scatter on the road, but never going very far away from their mothers. With their large heads, and their eyes bright with curiosity, they would sit scratching themselves and watching the others. The half-grown monkeys would be all over the place, chasing each other across the road and up the trees, always avoiding the older ones, but not wandering too far away from them either. There was a very large male, old but active, who would sit quietly by the road, keeping watch on things. The others kept their distance, but when he moved away, they all would leisurely follow, running and scattering, but always moving in the same general direction. It was a road of a thousand happenings.
He was a young man, and had come accompanied by two others of about the same age. Rather nervous, with a large forehead and long, restless hands, he explained that he was only a clerk, with little pay and very little future. Even though he had passed his college examinations fairly well, he had found this job only with great difficulty, and was glad to have it. He wasn't yet married, and didn't know if he would ever be, for life was difficult, and you needed money to educate children. However, he was content with the little he earned, for he and his mother could live on it and buy the necessary things of life. In any case, he hadn't come about that, he added, but for an entirely different reason. Both of his companions, one of whom was married, had a problem similar to his, and he had persuaded them to come along with him. They too had been to college, and like him, had minor office jobs. They were all clean, serious and somewhat cheerful, with bright eyes and expressive smiles.
"We have come to ask you a very simple question, hoping for a simple answer. Although we are college-educated, we are not yet very well prepared for deep reasoning and extensive analysis; but we shall listen to what you tell us. You see, sir, we don't know what life is all about. We have messed around here and there, belonging to political parties, joining the social `do-gooders', attending labour meetings, and all the rest of it; and as it happens, we are all passionately fond of music. We have been to temples, and have dipped into the sacred books, but not too deeply. I am venturing to tell you all this simply to give you some information about ourselves. We three get together practically every evening to talk things over, and the question we would like to ask you is this: what is the purpose of life, and how can we find it?"
Why are you asking this question? And if someone were to tell you what the purpose of life is, would you accept it and guide your lives by it?
"We are asking this question," explained the married one, "because we are confused; we don't know what all this mess and misery is about. We would like to talk it over with someone who is not confused as we are, and who is not arrogant and authoritarian; someone who will talk to us normally, and not condescendingly, as though they knew everything and we were ignorant school boys who knew nothing. We have heard that you aren't like that, and so we have come to ask you what life is all about."
"It's not only that, sir," added the first one. "We also want to lead a fruitful life, a life with some meaning to it; but at the same time, we don't want to become `ists', or belong to any particular `ism'. Some of our friends belong to various groups of religious and political double-talkers, but we have no desire to join them. The political ones are generally pursuing power for themselves in the name of the State; and as for the religious ones, they are for the most part gullible and superstitious. So here we are, and I don't know if you can help us."
Again, if anyone were foolish enough to tell you what is the purpose of life, would you accept it - provided, of course, it were reasonable, comforting and more or less satisfactory?
"I suppose we would," said the first one. "But he would want to make quite sure that it was true, and not just some clever invention," put in one of his companions.
"I doubt that we are capable of such discernment," added the other.
That's the whole point, isn't it? You have all admitted that you are rather confused. Now, do you think a confused mind can find out what the purpose of life is?
"Why not, sir?" asked the first one. "We are confused, there's no denying that; but if through our confusion we cannot perceive the purpose of life, then there's no hope."
However much it may grope and search, a confused mind can only find that which is further confusing; isn't that so?
"I don't what you are getting at," said the married one.
We are not trying to get at anything. We are proceeding step by step; and the first thing to find out, surely, is whether or not the mind can ever think clearly as long as it is confused.
"Obviously it cannot," replied the first one quickly. "If I am confused, as in fact I am I cannot think clearly. Clear thinking implies the absence of confusion. As I am confused, my thinking is not clear Then what?"
The fact is that whatever a confused mind seeks and finds must also be confused; its leaders, its gurus, its ends, will reflect its own confusion. Isn't that so?
"That's hard to realize," said the married one.
It's hard to realize because of our conceit. We think we are so clever, so capable of solving human problems. Most of us are afraid to acknowledge to ourselves the fact that we are confused, for then we would have to admit our own utter insolvency, our defeat - which would mean either despair, or humility. Despair leads to bitterness, to cynicism, and to grotesque philosophies; but when there is true humility, then we can really begin to seek and to understand.
"I quite see the truth of what you are saying," replied the married one.
Isn't it also a fact that choice indicates confusion?
"I don't understand how that can be," said the second one. "We must choose; without choice, there is no freedom."
When do you choose? Only out of confusion, when you are not quite `certain'. When there's clarity, there's no choice.
"Quite right, sir," put in the married one. "When you love and want to marry a person, there's no choice involved. It is only when there's no love that you shop around. In a way, love is clarity, isn't it?"
That depends on what we mean by love. If `love' is hedged about by fear, jealousy, attachment, then it is not love, and there is no clarity. But for the present we are not talking about love. When the mind is in a state of confusion, its search for the purpose of life, and its choice of purposes, has no significance, has it?
"What do you mean by `choice of purposes'?"
When you all came here, asking what is the purpose of life, you were shopping for a purpose, a goal, were you not? Obviously you had asked others the same question, but their replies must have been unsatisfactory, and so you came here. You were choosing; and as we said, choice is born of confusion. Being confused, you wanted to be certain; and a mind that seeks to be certain when it's confused only maintains confusion, doesn't it? Certainty added to inward confusion only strengthens the confusion.
"That is clear," replied the first one. "I am beginning to see that a confused mind can only find confused answers to confused problems. Then what?"
Let's go into it slowly. Our minds are confused, and that is a fact. Then our minds are also shallow, petty, limited; that's another fact, isn't it?
"But we are not entirely petty, there is a part of us which is not," asserted the married one. "If we can find a way to go beyond this shallowness, we can break it up."
That is a comforting hope, but will it actually so? You have the traditional notion that there is an entity - the Atman, the soul, the spiritual essence - beyond all this pettiness, an entity that can and does pierce through it. But when a petty mind thinks there is a part of itself which is not petty, it is only sustaining its pettiness. In asserting that there's the Atman, the higher self, and so on, a confused, ignorant mind is still held in the bonds of its own confused thought, which is based mostly on tradition, on what it has been taught by others.
"Then what are we to do?"
Isn't this question rather premature? There may be no need to take any particular action. In the very process of understanding the whole issue, there may be a different kind of action altogether.
"You mean that the action to be taken will reveal itself as we go along in our understanding of life," explained the married one. "Now, what do you mean by life?"
Life is beauty sorrow, joy and confusion; it is the tree, the bird, and the light of the moon on the water; it is work, pain and hope; it is death, the search for immortality, the belief in and the denial of the Supreme; it is goodness, hate and envy; it is greed and ambition; it is love and the lack of it; it is inventiveness, and the power to exploit the machine; it is unfathomable ecstasy; it is the mind, the meditator, and the meditation. It is all things. But how do our petty, confused minds approach life? That is important, not the description of what life is. On our approach to life all questions and answers depend.
"I see that this mess which I call life is the outcome of my own mind," said the first one. "I am of it, and it is of me. Can I separate myself from life, and ask myself how I approach it?"
You actually have separated yourself from life, have you not? You do not say, "I am the whole of life", and remain still; you want to change this and improve that, you want to reject and to hold. You, the watcher, continue as an immovable, permanent centre in this vast movement, and so you are caught in conflict, in sorrow. Now, you who are separate, how do you approach the whole? How do you come to this vastness, to the beauty of the earth and the heavens?
"I come to it as I am," replied the married man, "with my pettiness, asking for futile answers."
What we ask for, we receive. Our lives are petty, mean, quite shallow and bound to routine; and the gods of the trivial mind are as silly and stupid as their maker. Whether we live in a palace or a village, whether we are clerks in an office or sit in the seats of the mighty, the fact is that our minds are petty, narrow, ambitious, envious; and it is with such minds that we want to find out if there is God, what truth is, what the perfect government is, and seek answers to the innumerable other questions that pop up.
"Yes, sir, that is our life," acknowledged the first one sadly. "What can we do?"
Die to the whole of our existence not little by little, but totally! It's the petty mind that tries, that struggles, that has ideals and systems, that`s everlastingly improving itself by cultivating virtues. Virtue ceases to be virtuous when it's cultivated. "I can see that we should die to the past," said the first one, "but if I die to the past, what is there then?"
You are saying - aren't you? - that you will die to the past only when you are guaranteed a satisfactory substitute for what you have renounced. That's not renunciation, that's only another gain. A petty mind wanting to know what there is after dying will find its own petty answer. You must die to all of the known for the unknown to be.
"I put that question out of thoughtlessness. I do understand, sir, what you have been saying, and this is not just a polite or merely verbal statement. I think each one of us has felt deeply the truth of it all, and this feeling is the important thing. From this feeling, action can and will take place. May we come again?"
Chapter - 23
Without Goodness and Love, One Is Not Educated
SEATED ON A raised platform, he was playing a seven-stringed instrument to a small audience of people who were familiar with this type of classical music. They were sitting on the floor in front of him; while from a position behind him another instrument, with only four strings, was being played. He was a young man, but completely the master of the seven strings and of the complex music. He would improvise before each song; then would come the song, in which there would be more improvisation. You would never hear any song played twice in the same way. The words were retained, but within a certain frame there was great latitude, and the musician could improvise to his heart's content; and the more the variations and combinations the greater the musician. On the strings, words were not possible; but all who sat there knew the words, and they went into ecstasies over them. With nodding heads and gracefully gesturing hands, they kept perfect time, and there would be a gentle slap on the thigh at the end of the rhythm. The musician had closed his eyes and was completely absorbed in his creative freedom, and in the beauty of the sound; his mind and his fingers were in perfect coordination. And what fingers! Delicate and rapid, they seemed to have a life of their own. They would be still only at the end of the song in that particular frame, and then they would be quiet and reposed; but with incredible rapidity they would begin another song within a different frame. They almost mesmerized you with their grace and swiftness of movement. And those strings, what melodious sounds they gave! They were pressed by the fingers of the left hand to the proper tension, while the fingers of the right hand plucked them with masterly ease and control.
The moon was bright outside, and the dark shadows were motionless; through the window, the river was just visible, a flow of silver against the dark, silent trees on the other bank. A strange thing was going on in the space which is the mind. It had been watching the graceful movements of the fingers, listening to the sweet sounds, observing the nodding heads and the rhythmical hands of the silent people. Suddenly the watcher, the listener, disappeared; he had not been lulled into abeyance by the melodious strings, but was totally absent. There was only the vast space which is the mind. All the things of the earth and of man were in it, but they were at the extreme outer edges, dim and far off. Within the space where nothing was, there was a movement, and the movement was stillness. It was a deep, vast movement, without direction, without motive, which began from the outer edges, and with incredible strength was coming towards the centre - a centre that is everywhere within the stillness, within the motion which is space. This centre is total aloneness, uncontaminated, un-knowable, a solitude which is not isolation, which has no end and no beginning. It is complete in itself, and not made; the outer edges are in it but not of it. It is there, but not within the scope of man's mind. It is the whole, the totality, but not approachable.
There were four of them, all boys of about the same age, sixteen to eighteen. Rather shy, they needed coaxing, but once started, they could hardly stop, and their eager questions came tumbling out. You could see that they had talked it all over among themselves beforehand, and had prepared written questions; but after the first one or two, they forgot what they had written, and their words flowed freely from their own spontaneous thoughts. Though not of well-to-do parents, they were clean and neat in their dress.
"Sir, when you talked to us students two or three days ago," began the nearest one, "you said something about how necessary right education is if we are to be able to face life. I wish you would again explain to us what you mean by right education. We have talked it over amongst ourselves, but we don't quite understand it." What kind of education do you all have now?
"Oh, we are in college, and we are being taught the usual things which are necessary for a given profession," he replied. "I am going to be an engineer; my friends here are variously studying physics, literature and economics. We are taking the prescribed courses and reading the prescribed books, and when we have time we read a novel or two; but except for games, we are at our studies most of the time."
Do you think this is enough to be rightly educated for life?
"From what you have said, sir, it is not enough," replied the second one. "But that's all we get, and ordinarily we think we are being educated."
Just to learn to read and to write, to cultivate memory and pass some examinations, to acquire certain capacities or skills in order to get a job - is that education?
"Is not all this necessary?"
Yes, to prepare for a right means of livelihood is essential; but that's not all of life. There is also sex, ambition, envy, patriotism, violence, war, love, death, God, man's relationship to man, which is society-and so many other things. Are you being educated to meet this vast affair called life?
"Who is to so educate us?" asked the third one. "Our teachers and professors seem so indifferent. Some of them are clever and well-read, but none of them give any thought to this kind of thing. We are pushed through, and we shall consider ourselves lucky if we take our degrees; everything is getting to be so difficult."
"Except for our sexual passions, which are fairly definite," said the first one, "we know nothing about life; all the rest seems so vague and far off. We hear our parents grumbling about not having enough money, and we realize they are stuck in certain grooves for the rest of their days. So who can teach us about life?"
No one can teach you, but you can learn. There's a vast difference between learning and being taught. Learning goes on throughout life, whereas being taught is over in a few hours or years - and then, for the rest of your life, you repeat what you have been taught. What you have been taught soon turns to dead ashes; and then life, which is a living thing, becomes a battleground of vain efforts. You are thrown into life without the ease or the leisure to understand it; before you know anything about life, you are already right in the middle of it, married, tied to a job, with society pitilessly clamouring around you. One has to learn about life from early childhood on, not at the last moment; when one is all but grown up, it is almost too late.
Do you know what life is? It extends from the moment you are born to the moment you die, and perhaps beyond. Life is a vast, complex whole; it's like a house in which everything is happening at once. You love and you hate; you are greedy, envious, and at the same time you feel you shouldn't be. You are ambitious, and there is either frustration or success, following in the wake of anxiety, fear and ruthlessness; and sooner or later there comes a feeling of the futility of it all. Then there are the horrors and brutality of war, and peace through terror; there is nationalism, sovereignty, which supports war; there is death at the end of life's road, or anywhere along it. There is the search for God, with its conflicting beliefs and the quarrels between organized religions. There is the struggle to get and keep a job; there are marriage, children, illness, and the dominance of society and the State. Life is all this, and much more; and you are thrown into this mess. Generally you sink into it, miserable and lost; and if you survive by climbing to the top of the heap, you are still part of the mess. This is what we call life: everlasting struggle and sorrow, with a little joy occasionally thrown in. Who is going to teach you about all this? Or rather, how are you going to learn about it? Even if you have capacity and talent, you are hounded by ambition, by the desire for fame, with its frustrations and sorrows. All this is life, isn't it? And to go beyond all this is also life.
"Fortunately, we still know only very little of that whole struggle," went on the first one, "but what you tell us of it is already in us potentially. I want to be a famous engineer, I want to beat them all; so I must work hard and get to know the right people; I must plan, calculate for the future. I must make my way through life."
That is just it. Everyone says that he must make his way through life; each one is out for himself, whether in the name of business, religion or the country. You want to become famous, and so does your neighbour, and so does his neighbour; and so it is with everyone, from the highest to the lowest in the land. Thus we build a society based on ambition, envy and acquisitiveness, in which each man is the enemy of another; and you are `educated' to conform to this disintegrating society, to fit into its vicious frame.
"But what are we to do?" asked the second one. "It seems to me that we must conform to society, or be destroyed. Is there any way out of it, sir?"
At present you are so-called educated to fit into this society; your capacities are developed to enable you to make a living within the pattern. Your parents, your educators, your government, are all concerned with your efficiency and financial security, are they not?
"I don't know about the government, sir," put in the fourth one, "but our parents spend their hard-earned money to enable us to have a college degree, so that we can earn a livelihood. They love us."
Do they? Let's see. The government wants you to be efficient bureaucrats to run the State, good industrial workers to maintain the economy, and capable soldiers to kill `the enemy; isn't that so?
"I suppose the government does. But our parents are more kind; they think of our welfare and want us to be good citizens."
Yes, they want you to be `good citizens', which means being respectably ambitious, everlastingly acquisitive, and indulging in that socially accepted ruthlessness which is called competition, so that you and they may be secure. This is what constitutes being a so-called good citizen; but is it good, or something very evil? You say that your parents love you; but is it so? I am not being cynical. Love is an extraordinary thing; without it, life is barren. You may have many possessions and sit in the seat of power, but without the beauty and greatness of love, life soon becomes misery and confusion. Love implies - doesn't it? - that those who are loved be left wholly free to grow in their fullness, to be something greater than mere social machines. Love does not compel either openly or through the subtle threat of duties and responsibilities. Where there's any form of compulsion or exertion of authority, there's no love.
"I don't think this is quite the kind of love my friend was talking about," said the third one. "Our parents love us, but not in that way. I know a boy, who wants to be an artist, but his father wants him to be a business man, and he threatens to cut him off if he doesn't do his duty."
What parents call duty is not love, it's a form of compulsion; and society will support the parents, for what they are doing is very respectable. The parents are anxious for the boy to find a secure job and earn some money; but with such an enormous population, there are a thousand candidates for every job, and the parents think the boy can never earn a livelihood through painting; so they try to force him to get over what they regard as his foolish whim. They consider it a necessity for him to conform to society, to be respectable and secure. This is called love. But is it love? Or is it fear, covered over by the word `love'?
"When you put it that way, I don't know what to say," replied the third one.
Is there any other way of putting it? What has just been said may be unpleasant, but it is a fact. The so-called education that you have now obviously does not help you to meet this vast complex of life; you come to it unprepared, and are swallowed up in it.
"But who is there to educate us to understand life? We have no such teachers, sir."
The educator has to be educated also. The older people say that you, the coming generation, must create a different world, but they don't mean it at all. On the contrary, with great thought and care they set about `educating' you to conform to the old pattern with some modification. Though they may talk very differently, teachers and parents, supported by the government and society in general see to it that you are trained to conform to tradition, to accept ambition and envy as the natural way of life. They are not at all concerned with a new way of life, and that is why the educator himself is not being rightly educated. The older generation has brought about this world of war, this world of antagonism and division between man and man; and the newer generation is following sedulously in its footsteps.
"But we want to be rightly educated, sir. What shall we do?"
First of all, see very clearly one simple fact: that neither the government, nor your present teachers, nor your parents, care to educate you rightly; if they did, the world would be entirely different, and there would be no wars. So if you want to be rightly educated, you have to set about it yourself; and when you are grown up, you will then see to it that your own children are rightly educated.
"But how can we rightly educate ourselves? We need someone to teach us."
You have teachers to instruct you in mathematics, in literature, and so on; but education is something deeper and wider than the mere gathering of information. Education is the cultivation of the mind so that action is not self-centred; it is learning throughout life to break down the walls which the mind builds in order to be secure, and from which arises fear with all its complexities. To be rightly educated, you have to study hard and not be lazy. Be good at games, not to beat another, but to amuse yourself. Eat the right food, and keep physically fit. Let the mind be alert and capable of dealing with the problems of life, not as a Hindu, a Communist, or a Christian, but as a human being. To be rightly educated, you have to understand yourself; you have to keep on learning about yourself. When you stop learning, life becomes ugly and sorrowful. Without goodness and love, you are not rightly educated.
Chapter - 24
Hate and Violence
IT WAS QUITE early; the sun wouldn't be up for an hour or so. The Southern Cross was very clear and strangely beautiful over the palm trees. Everything was very still; the trees were motionless and dark and even the little creatures of the earth were silent. There was a purity and a blessing over the sleeping world.
The road led through a cluster of palms, past a large pond, and beyond, to where the houses began. Each house had a garden, some well-kept, and others neglected. There was a scent of jasmine in the air, and the dew made the perfume richer. There weren't any lights in the houses yet, and the stars were still clear, but there was an awakening in the eastern sky. A cyclist came along yawning, and went by without turning his head. Someone had started a car and was gently warming it up, and there was an impatient honk. Beyond these houses, the road went past a rice field and turned left, towards the sprawling town.
A path branched off the road and followed a water-way. The palm trees along its banks were reflected on the still, clear water, and a large white bird was already at work, trying to catch fish. There was still no one else on that path, but soon there would be many, for it was used by the local people as a short cut to the main road. Beyond the water-way there was a secluded house, with a large tree in a rather nice garden. The dawn had now fully come, and the morning star was barely visible over the tree; but the night still held back the day. A woman was sitting on a mat under the tree, tuning a stringed instrument which rested on her lap. Presently she sang something in Sanskrit; it was deeply religious, and as the words filled the morning air, the whole atmosphere of the place seemed to change, becoming charged with a strange fullness and meaning. Then she began to sing a song that is sung only at that hour of the morning. It was enchanting. She was utterly unaware that anyone was listening to her, nor did she care if anyone did, for she was wholly absorbed in that song. She had a good, clear voice, and was thoroughly enjoying herself in a grave and serious manner. One could hardly hear the stringed instrument, but her voice came across the water clear and strong. The words and the sound filled one's whole being, and there was the joy of great purity.
He had come with several of his friends, but some were evidently his followers. A large man, very dark and powerfully built, he seemed vigorous, and he must have been physically very active. He was freshly bathed, and his clothes were spotlessly clean. When he talked, his lips seemed to cover his whole face; some inward fury appeared to be eating him up, and his large head, with heavy hair, was held high with disdain and authority. His smile was forced, and you could see that he laughed with very few. His eyes, direct and without reserve, indicated a complete belief in all that he said. There was something strangely potent about him.
"I hope you will excuse me if I plunge into the subject at once; I do not like to beat about the bush, but prefer to come straight to the point. I am with a large group of people who want to destroy the brahminical tradition and put the Brahmin in his place. He has exploited us ruthlessly, and now it's our turn. He has ruled us, made us feel stupidly inferior and subservient to his gods. We are going to burn his gods. We don't want his words to corrupt our language, which is much older than his. We are planning to drive him out of every prominent position, and we shall make ourselves more clever and cunning than he is. He has deprived us of education, but we shall get even."
Sir, why this hate for other human beings? Do you not exploit? Do you not keep other people down? Do you not prevent others from being rightly educated? Are you not scheming to make others accept your gods and your values? Hate is the same, whether it is in you or in the so-called Brahmin.
"I don't think you understand. People can be kept under only for a certain length of time. This is the day of the downtrodden. We are going to rise up and overthrow the Brahmin rule; we are organized, and we shall work hard to bring this about. We want neither their gods nor their priests; we want to be their equals, or go beyond them."
Wouldn't it be better to talk over more thoughtfully the problem of human relationship? It's so easy to orate about nothing, to fall into slogans, to mesmerize oneself and others with double talk. We are human beings, sir, though we may call ourselves by different names. This earth is ours, it is not the earth of the Brahmin, the Russian or the American. We torture ourselves with these inane divisions. The Brahmin is no more corrupt than any other man who is seeking power and position; his gods are no more false than the ones you and others have. To throw out one image and put another in its place seems so utterly pointless, whether the image be made by the hand or by the mind.
"All this may be so in theory, but in everyday living we have got to face facts. The Brahmins have exploited other people for centuries; they have grown clever and cunning, and now hold all the choice positions. We are out to take their positions away from them, and we are doing it quite successfully."
You can't take away their acumen, and they will continue to use it for their own purposes.
"But we shall educate ourselves, make ourselves cleverer than they are; we shall beat them at their own game, and then we shall create a better world."
The world isn't made better through hate and envy. Aren't you seeking power and position, rather than to bring about a world in which all hate, greed and violence have come to an end? It is this desire for power and position that corrupts man, whether he be a Brahmin, a non-Brahmin or an ardent reformer. If one group which is ambitious, envious, cunningly brutal, is replaced by another with the same trend of thought - surely this leads nowhere.
"You are dealing in ideologies, and we in facts."
Is that so, sir? What do you mean by a fact?
"In everyday living, our conflicts and our hungers are a fact. To us, what is important is to get our rights, to safeguard our interests, and to see that the future is made safe for our children. To this end, we want to get power into our own hands. These are facts."
Do you mean to say that hate and envy are not facts?
"They may be, but we are not concerned with that." He looked around to see what the others were thinking, but they were all respectfully silent. They also were safeguarding their interests.
Does not hate direct the course of outward action? Hate can only breed further hate; and a society based on hate, on envy, a society in which there are competing groups, each safeguarding its own interests - such a society will always be at war within itself, and so with other societies. From what you say, all that you have gained is the prospect that your group may come out on top, thereby being in a position to exploit, to oppress, to cause mischief, as the other group has done in the past. This seems so silly, doesn't it?
"I admit it does; but we have got to take things as they are."
In a way, yes; but we need not continue with them as they are. There must obviously be a change, but not within the same pattern of hate and violence. Don't you feel that this is true?
"Is it possible to bring about a change without hate and violence?"
Again, is there a change at all if the means employed is similar to that used in building up the present society?
"In other words, you are saying that violence can only create an essentially violent society, however new we may think it is. Yes, I can see that." Again he looked around at his friends.
Wouldn't you say that, to build a good social order, the right means is essential? And is the means different from the end? Is not the end contained in the means?
"This is getting a little complicated. I see that hate and violence can only produce a society that is fundamentally violent and oppressive. That much is clear. Now, you say that the right means must be employed to bring about a right society. What is the right means?"
The right means is action which is not the outcome of hate, envy, authority, ambition, fear. The end is not distant from the means. The end is the means.
"But how are we to overcome hate and envy? These feelings unite us against a common enemy. There is a certain pleasure in violence, it brings results, and it can't be got rid of so easily."
Why not? When you perceive for yourself that violence only leads to greater harm, is it difficult to drop violence? When, however superficially pleasurable, something gives you deep pain, don't you put it aside?
"On the physical level that is comparatively easy, but it's more difficult with things that are inward." It is difficult only when the pleasure outweighs the pain. If hate and violence are pleasurable to you, even though they breed untold harm and misery, you will keep on with them; but be clear about it, and don't say that you are creating a new social order, a better way of life, for that is all nonsense.
He who hates, who is acquisitive, who is seeking power or a position of authority, is not a Brahmin, for a true Brahmin is outside the social order that is based upon these things; and if you, on your part, are not free from envy, from antagonism, and from the desire for power, you are no different from the present Brahmin, though you may call yourself by a different name.
"Sir, I am astonished at myself that I am even listening to you. An hour ago I would have been horrified to think that I might listen to such talk; but I have been listening, and I am not ashamed of it. I see now how easily we are carried away by our own words, and by our more sordid urges. Let's hope things will be different."
Chapter - 25
The Cultivation of Sensitivity
IT WAS VERY early in the morning when the plane took off. The passengers were all heavily cloaked, for it was quite cold, and it would be colder still as we gained altitude. The man in the next seat was saying, through the roar of the engines, that these easterners were brilliant, logical, and had behind them the culture of many centuries; but what was their future? On the other hand, the western peoples, while not at all brilliant, except for the few, were very active and produced so much; they were as industrious as ants. Why were they all making so much fuss and killing each other over religious and political differences, and the division of the land? What fools they were! They hadn't learned anything from history. He thanked God that he was a scholar, and not caught up in it all. The man who was now in power had turned out to be a mere politician, not the great statesman one had hoped he would be; but such was the way of the world. It was strange how, centuries ago, one small group had civilized the West, and another had exploded creatively all over the Orient, giving new and deeper significance to life. But where was it all now? Man had become small-minded, miserable, lost.
"After all, when the mind is bound by authority, it shrinks - which is what has happened to the minds of the scholars," he added with a smile. "When bound by tradition, philosophy ceases to be creative, meaningful. Most scholars live in a world of their own, a world into which they escape, and their minds are as shrivelled as last year's fruit dried in the summer sun. But life is like that isn't it? - full of infinite promise, and ending in misery, frustration. All the same, the life of the mind has its own rewards."
The sky had been a clear, soft blue, but now clouds were piling up, dark and heavy with rain. We were flying between an upper and a lower layer of clouds; it was clear where we were, but there was no sun, only space in which there were no clouds. Heavy drops of rain were falling on the silver wings from the upper layer; it was cold and bumpy, but we would be landing soon. The man in the next seat had fallen asleep; his mouth was twitching, and his hands jerked nervously. In a few minutes there would be the long drive from the airport, through woods and green fields.
Like the two who had come with her, she was a teacher, quite young and enthusiastic.
"We have all taken college degrees," she began, "and have been trained as teachers - which may be partly what's wrong with us," she added with a smile. "We teach in a school for young children, up to the age of adolescence, and we would like to talk over with you some of the problems of the adolescent period, when the sexual urges begin. Of course, we have read about it all, but reading is not quite the same as talking things over. We are all married, and looking back, we realize how much better it would have been if someone had talked to us about sexual matters and helped us to understand that difficult adolescent period. But we haven't come to talk about ourselves, though we too have our problems; and who hasn't?"
"For the most part," added the second one, "children come to that difficult period completely unprepared, with very little help or understanding; though they may know something about it, they are caught up and swept along by the sexual urge. We want to help our students to face it, to understand it, and not become virtual slaves to it, but what with all these cinemas, advertising pictures and sexually provocative magazine covers, it is difficult even for adults to think straightly about it. I am not being respectable or prudish, but the problem is there, and one must be able to understand and deal with it in a practical manner."
"That's it," said the third; "we want to be practical, whatever that may mean, but we still don't know too much about it. Films are now available, telling about sex, and showing from beginning to end how children are born, and all the rest of it; but it's such a colossal subject that one hesitates to tackle it. We want to teach the children what they should know about sex, without arousing any morbid curiosity, and without strengthening their already strong feelings to the point of encouraging them to make experiments. It's a kind of tight rope that one has to walk on; and the parents, with some exceptions, of course, are not much help; they are fearful and anxious to be respectable. So it's not just a problem of adolescence; it includes the parents and the whole social environment, and we can't neglect that aspect of it either. Also, there's the problem of delinquency."
Aren't all these problems interrelated? There's no isolated problem, and no problem can be resolved by itself; isn't that so? Then what's the issue that you want to talk over?
"Our immediate problem is how to help the child to understand this period of adolescence, and yet not do anything that might encourage him to go overboard in his relation with the opposite sex."
How do you now meet the problem?
"We hem and haw, we talk vaguely about controlling one's emotions, disciplining one's desires - and of course there are always the examples, the heroes of virtue," ejaculated the first teacher. "We urge on them the importance of following ideals, leading a clean life of moderation, obeying the social order, and all that kind of thing. On some of the children it has a stabilizing effect, on others no effect at all, and a few are frightened; but I suppose the fear soon wears off."
"We talk about the process of reproduction, pointing it out in nature," added the second one, "but on the whole we are conservative and cautious."
Then what's the problem?
"As my friend said, the problem is how to help the student to cope with the sexual urge when he reaches adolescence, and not be bowled over by it."
Does the sexual urge arise only when the boy or girl reaches adolescence, or does it exist in a simpler, freer way throughout the years which precede adolescence? Must not the child be helped to understand it from the earliest possible age, not just at a certain later period of his development?
"I think you are right," said the third one. "The sexual urge does undoubtedly manifest itself in different ways at a much earlier age, but most of us haven't the time or the interest to consider it much before the child reaches adolescence, when the problem tends to become acute."
If one comes to adolescence without having been rightly educated, then obviously the sexual urge takes on an overwhelming importance, and becomes almost uncontrollable.
"What does it mean to be `rightly educated'?"
Right education is through the cultivation of sensitivity; and sensitivity must be cultivated, not just at the particular period of growth called adolescence, but throughout one's life; isn't that so?
"Why this emphasis on sensitivity?" asked the first one.
To be sensitive is to feel affection, it is to be aware of beauty, of ugliness; and is not the cultivation of this sensitivity part of the problem you are speaking of?
"I hadn't thought about it before, but now that you point it out, I see they are related."
To be rightly educated is not just to have studied history or physics; it is also to be sensitive to the things of the earth - to the animals, to the trees, to the streams, to the sky, and to other people. But we neglect all that, or we study it as part of a project, something to be learned and stored up for use when occasion demands. Even if one has this sensitivity in childhood, it is generally destroyed by the noise of so-called civilization. The child's environment soon forces him into a mould of the respectable, the conventional. Gentleness, affection, the feeling for beauty, the sensitivity to ugliness - all this is lost; but of course the biological urge is still there.
"That's true," agreed the third one. "We do seem to neglect all that side of life, don't we? And we excuse ourselves by saying we have no time for it, we have the curriculum to think of, and all that!"
Isn't the cultivation of sensitivity at least as important as books and degrees? But we worship success, and we neglect this sensitivity, which destroys the pursuit of success.
"Isn't success necessary in life?"
Insistence upon success breeds insensitivity, it encourages ruthlessness and self-centred activity. How can an ambitious man be sensitive to other people, or to the things of the earth? They are there for his fulfilment, to be used by him in his climb to the top. And this sensitivity is essential, otherwise you have sexual problems.
"How would you cultivate sensitivity in the young?"
`Cultivation' is an unfortunate word, but since we have used it we will go on with it. Sensitivity is not something to be practised; it is no good merely telling the young to observe nature, or to read the poets, and all the rest of it. But if you yourself are sensitive to the beautiful and to the ugly, if in you there is a sense of gentleness, of love, don't you think you will be able to help your students to have affection, to be considerate, and so on? You see, we stifle or neglect all this, while every form of stimulating diversion is indulged in, so the problem becomes increasingly complex.
"I see what you say to be true, but I don't think you fully appreciate our difficulty. We have classes of thirty or forty boys and girls, and we can't talk to all of them individually, however much we would like to. Moreover, teaching so many at one time is a most exhausting task and we ourselves get tired out and tend to lose whatever sensitivity we have."
So what are you to do? Care, tenderness, affection - these are essential if the sexual urges are to be understood. Surely, by feeling out the problem, by talking about it, by pointing it out in different ways, sensitivity is gathered by the teacher and its significance communicated to the young child; and when that child becomes adolescent, he will then be able to meet the sexual urges with wider and deeper understanding. But to bring about the right kind of education for the child, you have also to educate the parents, who after all form society.
"The problem is complex and really mountainous, and what can we three do in this mess? What can the individual do?"
It is only as individuals that we can do anything at all. It has always been an individual, here and there, who has really affected society and brought about great changes in thought and action. To be really revolutionary, one must step out of the pattern of society, the pattern of acquisitiveness, envy, and so on. Any reform within the pattern will, in the end, only cause more confusion and misery. Delinquency is but a revolt within the pattern; and the function of the educator, surely, is to help the young to break out of the pattern, which is to be free of acquisitiveness and of the search for power. "I can see that we shall be of little value unless we also feel these things intensely. And that's one of our major difficulties: we are all so intellectual that our feelings have become paralysed. It is only when we feel strongly that we can really do something."
Chapter - 26
Why Have I No Insight?
IT HAD BEEN raining continuously for a week; the earth was soggy, and there were large puddles all along the path. The water level had risen in the wells, and the frogs were having a splendid time, croaking tirelessly all night long. The swollen river was endangering the bridge; but the rains were welcome, even though great damage was being done. Now, however, it was slowly clearing up; there were patches of blue sky just overhead, and the morning sun was scattering the clouds. It would be months before the leaves of the newly-washed trees would again be covered with fine, red dust. The blue of the sky was so intense that it made you stop and wonder. The air had been purified, and in one short week the earth had suddenly become green. In that morning light, peace lay upon the land.
A single parrot was perched on a dead branch of a nearby tree; it wasn't preening itself, and it sat very still, but its eyes were moving and alert. It was of a delicate green, with a brilliant red beak and a long tail of paler green. You wanted to touch it, to feel the colour of it; but if you moved, it would fly away. Though it was completely still, a frozen green light, you could feel it was intensely alive, and it seemed to give life to the dead branch on which it sat. It was so astonishingly beautiful, it took your breath away; you hardly dared take your eyes off it, lest in a flash it be gone. You had seen parrots by the dozen, moving in their crazy flight, sitting along the wires, or scattered over the red fields of young, green corn. But this single bird seemed to be the focus of all life, of all beauty and perfection. There was nothing but this vivid spot of green on a dark branch against the blue sky. There were no words, no thoughts in your mind; you weren't even conscious that you weren't thinking. The intensity of it brought tears to your eyes and made you blink - and the very blinking might frighten the bird away! But it remained there unmoving, so sleek, so slender, with every feather in place. Only a few minutes must have passed, but those few minutes covered the day, the year and all time; in those few minutes all life was, without an end or a beginning. It is not an experience to be stored up in memory, a dead thing to be kept alive by thought, which is also dying; it is totally alive, and so cannot be found among the dead.
Someone called from the house beyond the garden, and the dead branch was suddenly bare.
There were three of them, a woman and two men, and they were all quite young, probably in their middle thirties. They had come early, freshly bathed and clothed, and were obviously not of those who have money. Their faces shone with thought; their eyes were clear and simple, without that veiled look that comes with much learning. The woman was a sister of the oldest of them, and the other man was her husband. We all sat on a mat with a red border at each end. The traffic made an awful noise, and one window had to be closed, but the other opened upon a secluded garden in which there was a wide-spreading tree. They were a bit shy, but soon would be talking freely.
"Although our families are well-to-do, all three of us have chosen to lead a very simple life, without pretensions," began the brother. "We live near a small village, read a little, and are given to meditation. We have no desire to be rich, and have just enough to get by. I know a certain amount of Sanskrit, but hesitate to quote the Scriptures authoritatively. My brother-in-law is more studious than I, but we are both too young to be learned. By itself, knowledge has very little meaning; it is helpful only in that it can guide us, keep us on the straight road."
I wonder if knowledge is helpful; may it not be a hindrance?
"How can knowledge ever be a hindrance?" he asked rather anxiously. "Surely, knowledge is always helpful."
Helpful in what way?
"Helpful in finding God, in leading a righteous life."
Is it? An engineer must have knowledge to build a bridge, to design machines, and so on. Knowledge is essential to those who are concerned with the order of things. The physicist must have knowledge, it's part of his education, part of his very existence, and without it he cannot go forward. But does knowledge set the mind free to discover? Though knowledge is necessary to put to use what has already been discovered, surely the actual state of discovery is free from knowledge. "Without knowledge, I might wander off the path that leads to God."
Why shouldn't you wander off the path? Is the path so clearly marked, and the end so definite? And what do you mean by knowledge?
"By knowledge I mean all that one has experienced, read, or been taught of God, and of the things one must do, the virtues one must practise and so on, in order to find Him. I am not, of course, referring to engineering knowledge."
Is there so much difference between the two? The engineer has been taught how to achieve certain physical results by the application of knowledge which man has gathered through the centuries; whereas, you have been taught how to achieve certain inner results by controlling your thoughts, cultivating virtue, doing good works, and so on, all of which is equally a matter of knowledge gathered through the centuries. The engineer has his books and teachers, as you have yours. Both of you have been taught a technique, and both of you desire to achieve an end, you in your way, and he in his. You are both after results. And is God, or truth, a result? If it is, then it's put together by the mind; and what is put together can be rent asunder. So, is knowledge helpful in discovering reality?
"I'm not at all sure that it's not sir, in spite of what you say," replied the husband. "Without knowledge, how can the path be trodden?"
If the end is static, if it is a dead thing, without movement, then one or many paths can lead to it; but is reality, God, or whatever name you may give it, a fixed abode with a permanent address?
"Of course not," said the brother eagerly.
Then how can there be a path to it? Surely, truth has no path.
"In that case, what's the function of knowledge?" asked the husband.
You are the result of what you have been taught, and on that conditioning your experiences are based; and your experiences, in turn, strengthen or modify your conditioning. You are like a gramophone, playing different records, perhaps, but still a gramophone; and the records you play are made up of what you have been taught, whether by others or by your own experiences. That is so, isn't it?
"Yes, sir," replied the brother, "but is there not a part of me which has not been taught?" Is there? Surely, that which you call the Atman, the soul, the higher self, and so on, is still within the realm of what you have read or been taught.
"Your statements are so clear and meaningful, one is convinced in spite of oneself," said the brother.
If you are merely convinced, then you do not see the truth of it. Truth is not a matter of conviction or agreement. You can agree or disagree about opinions or conclusions, but a fact needs no agreement; it's so. If once you see for yourself that what has been said is a fact, then you are not merely convinced: your mind has undergone a fundamental transformation. It no longer looks at the fact through a screen of conviction or belief; it approaches truth, or God, without knowledge, without any record. The record is the `me', the ego, the conceited one, the one who knows, the one who has been taught, who has practised virtue - and who is in conflict with the fact.
"Then why do we struggle to acquire knowledge?" asked the husband. "Isn't knowledge an essential part of our existence?"
When there's an understanding of the self, then knowledge has its rightful place; but without this understanding, the pursuit of self-knowledge gives a feeling of achievement, of getting somewhere; it is as exciting and pleasurable as success in the world. One may renounce the outward things of existence, but in the struggle to acquire self-knowledge there is the sensation of accomplishment, of the hunter catching the hunted, which is similar to the satisfaction of worldly gain. There is no understanding of the self, of the `me', the ego, through accumulating knowledge of what has been or what is. Accumulation distorts perception, and it is not possible to understand the self in its daily activities, its swift and cunning reactions, when the mind is weighed down by knowledge. As long as the mind is burdened with knowledge, and is itself the result of knowledge, it can never be new, uncorrupted.
"May I be permitted to ask a question?" inquired the lady, rather nervously. She had been quietly listening, hesitant to ask questions out of respect for her husband; but now that the other two were reluctantly silent, she spoke up. "I would like to ask, if I may, why it is that one person has insight, total perception, while others see only the various details and are incapable of grasping the whole. Why can't we all have this insight, this capacity to see the whole, which you seem to have? Why is it that one has it, and another has not?" Do you think it's a gift?
"It would seem so," she replied. "Yet that would mean that divinity is partial and then there would be very little chance for the rest of us. I hope it's not like that."
Let us inquire into it. Now why are you asking this question?
"For the simple and obvious reason that I want that deep insight."
She had lost her shyness now, and was as eager to talk as the other two.
So your inquiry is motivated by a desire to gain something. Gaining, achieving, or becoming something, implies a process of accumulation, and identification with what has been accumulated. Isn't this true?
Gaining also implies comparison, does it not? You, who have not that insight, are comparing yourself with someone who has.
"That is so."
But all such comparison is obviously the outcome of envy; and is insight to be awakened through envy?
"No, I suppose not."
The world is full of envy, ambition, which can be seen in the everlasting pursuit of success, in the relation of the disciple to the Master, of the Master to the higher Master, and so on endlessly; and it does develop certain capacities. But is total perception, total awareness, such a capacity? Is it based on envy, ambition? Or does it come into being only when all desire to gain has ceased? Do you understand?
"I don't think I do."
The desire to gain is based on conceit, is it not?
She hesitated, and then said slowly, "Now that you point it out, I see that fundamentally it is."
So it is your conceit, in the large as well as in the petty sense, that is making you ask this question.
"I'm afraid that's also true."
In other words, you are asking this question out of the desire to be successful. Now, can this same question - Why is it that I have no deep insight? - be asked without envy, without giving any emphasis to the `I'?
"I don't know."
Can there be any inquiry at all as long as the mind is tethered to a motive? As long as thought is centred in envy, in conceit, in the desire to be successful, can it wander far and freely? Really to inquire, must not the centre cease?
"Do you mean that envy, or ambition, which is the desire to be or to become something, must wholly disappear, if one is to have deep insight?"
Again, if it may be pointed out, you want to possess that capacity, so you will set about disciplining yourself in order to acquire it. You, the would-be possessor, are still important, not the capacity itself. This capacity arises only when the mind has no motive of any kind.
"But you said earlier sir, that the mind is the result of time, of knowledge, of motive; and how can such a mind be without any motive whatsoever?"
Put that question to yourself, not just verbally, superficially, but as seriously as a hungry man wants food. When you are asking, inquiring, it is important to find out for yourself the cause of your inquiry. You can ask out of envy, or you can ask without any motive. The state of the mind which is really inquiring into the capacity of total perception is one of complete humility, complete stillness; and this very humility, this stillness, is that capacity itself. It is not something to be gained.