Commentaries on Living 
Chapter - 8
Conditioning and the Urge to Be Free
IT WAS AN enchanting walk. The path from the house lay through the vineyard, and the grapes were just beginning to ripen; they were rich and full, and would yield a great deal of red wine. The vineyard was well-tended, and there were no weeds. Next came the beautifully-kept tobacco patch, long and wide. After the rain, the plants were beginning to blossom with pink flowers, neat and tidy; their faint smell of fresh tobacco, so different from the sickening smell of burnt tobacco, would become stronger in the hot sun. The long stem on which the flowers grew would presently be cut off to make the pale, silvery-green tobacco leaves, already quite large, grow still larger and richer by the time they were picked. Then they would be gathered together, classified, tied on long strings, and strung up in the long building behind the house, to dry evenly where the sun wouldn't touch them, but where there would be the evening breeze. Men with oxen were working in that tobacco patch even then, drawing a furrow between the long, straight rows of plants, to destroy the weeds. The soil had been carefully prepared and heavily manured, and weeds grew in it as richly as did the tobacco plants; but after all those weeks, there was not a single weed to be seen.
The path went on through an orchard of peach, pear, plum, greengage, nectarine and other trees, all laden with ripening fruit. In the evening there was a sweet scent in the air, and during the day, the hum of many bees. Beyond the orchard, the path led down a long slope, deep into thick, sheltering woods. Here the earth was soft under the feet with the dead leaves of many summers. It was very cool under the trees, for the sun had little chance to penetrate their thick foliage; the soil was always damp and sweet smelling, giving off the scent of rich humus. There were quantities of mushrooms, most of them the inedible variety. Here and there could be found the kind that can be eaten, but you had to look for them; they were more retiring, generally hidden under a leaf of the same colour. The peasants would come early to pick them for the market, or for their own use.
There were hardly any birds in those woods, which spread for miles over the gently rolling hills. It was very quiet; there was not even the stirring of a breeze among the leaves. But there was always a movement of some kind in those woods, and that movement was part of the immense silence; it was not disturbing, and it seemed to add to the stillness of the mind. The trees, the insects, the spreading ferns, were not separate, something seen from the outside; they were part of that quietude, within and without. Even the muffled roar of a distant train was contained in that quietness. There was complete absence of resistance, and the bark of a dog, insistent and penetrating, seemed to heighten the stillness.
Beyond the woods was the lovely, curving river. It was not too wide or impressive, but wide enough to give space for the keen eye to see people on the opposite bank. All along both banks there were trees, mostly poplars, tall and stately, with their leaves aquiver in the breeze. The water was deep and cool, and always flowing. It was a beautiful thing to watch, so alive and rich. A lonely fisherman was sitting on a stool with a picnic basket beside him and a newspaper on his knee. The river brought contentment and peace, though the fish seemed to avoid the bait. The river would always be there, though there would be wars and men would die; it would always be nourishing the earth and men. Far away were the snow-covered mountains, and on a clear evening, when the setting sun was upon them, their lofty peaks could be seen like sunlit clouds.
Three or four of us were in the room, and just beyond the window was a wide, sparkling lawn. The sky was pale blue, with heavy, billowy clouds.
"Is it ever really possible," asked the man, "for the mind to free itself from its conditioning? If so, what is the state of a mind that has unconditioned itself? I have heard your talks over a period of several years, and have given a great deal of thought to the matter, yet my mind doesn't seem able to break away from the traditions and ideas that were implanted during childhood. I know that I am as conditioned as any other person. From childhood we are taught to conform - taught brutally, or with affection and gentle suggestions - until conforming becomes instinctive, and the mind is afraid of the insecurity of not conforming.
"I have a friend who grew up in a Catholic environment," he went on, "and of course she was told of sin, hell fire, the comforting joys of heaven, and all the rest of it. Upon reaching maturity, and after a great deal of reflection, she threw off the Catholic structure of thought; yet even now, in middle life, she finds herself influenced by the idea of hell, with its contagious fears. Though my background is superficially quite different, I, like her, am also afraid of not conforming. I see the absurdity of conforming, but I can't shake it off; and even if I could, I should probably be doing the same thing in another way - merely comforting to a new pattern."
"That's also my difficulty," added one of the ladies. "I see very clearly the many ways in which I am bound by tradition; but can I break away from my present bondage without being caught in a new one? There are people who drift from one religious organization to another, always seeking, never satisfied; and when at last they are satisfied, they become frightful bores. That's probably what will happen to me if I try to break away from my present conditioning: without knowing it, I shall be dragged into another pattern of life."
"As a matter of fact," went on the man, "most of us have never thought very deeply about how our mind is almost entirely shaped by the society and the culture in which we have grown up. We are unaware of our conditioning and just carry on, struggling, achieving, or being frustrated within the pattern of a given society. That's the lot of almost all of us, including the political and religious leaders. Unfortunately for me, perhaps, I came to hear several of your talks, and then the pain of questioning began. For some time I did not think about this matter very deeply, but suddenly I find myself becoming serious. I have been experimenting, and am now aware of many things in myself which I had never noticed before. If I may continue without everyone feeling that I am talking too much, I would like to go into this question of conditioning a little further."
When the others had assured him that they too were deeply interested in this subject, he went on.
"After having heard or read most of the things you have said, I realized how conditioned I am; and I likewise saw that one must be free from conditioning - not only from the conditioning of the superficial mind, but also from that of the unconscious. I perceived the absolute necessity of it. But what is actually taking place is this: the conditioning I received in my youth continues, and at the same time there is a strong desire to un-condition myself. So my mind is caught in this conflict between the conditioning of which I am aware, and the urge to be free from it. That's my actual position right now. How shall I proceed from there?" Does not the urge of the mind to free itself from its conditioning set going another pattern of resistance and conditioning? Having become aware of the pattern or mould in which you have grown up, you want to be free from it; but will not this desire to be free condition the mind again in a different manner? The old pattern insists that you conform to authority, and now you are developing a new one which maintains that you must not conform; so you have two patterns, one in conflict with the other. As long as there is this inner contradiction, further conditioning takes place.
"I know that the old pattern is quite absurd and dead, and that there must be freedom from it, otherwise my mind will go on in the same stupid way."
Let's be patient and go into it more. The old pattern has told you to conform, and for various reasons - fear of insecurity, and so on - you have conformed. Now, for reasons of a different kind, but in which there is still fear and the desire for security, you feel you must not conform. That's so, isn't it?
"Yes, that's so more or less. But the old is stupid, and I must be free from stupidity."
May I point out, sir, that you are not listening. You go on insisting that the old is bad, and you must have the new. But having the new is not the problem at all.
"That's my problem, sir."
Is it? You think so, but let's see. Please don't carry on with your own thoughts about the problem, but just listen, will you?
"I will try."
One conforms instinctively for various reasons: out of attachment, fear, the desire for reward, and so on. That is one's first response. Then somebody comes along and says that one must be free from conditioning, and there arises the urge not to conform. Do you follow?
"Yes sir, that's clear."
Now, is there any essential difference between the desire to conform, and the craving to be free of conformity?
"It seems as if there should be, but I really don't know. What do you say, sir?"
It is not for me to tell you, and for you to accept. Must you not find out for yourself whether there is any fundamental difference between these two seemingly opposing desires?
"How am I to find out?" By neither condemning the one nor eagerly pursuing the other. What is the state of the mind that is hungering after freedom from conformity, and rejecting conformity? Please don't answer me, but feel it out, actually experience that state. Words are necessary for communication, but the word is not the actual experience. Unless you really experience and understand that state, your efforts to be free will only bring about the formation of other patterns. Isn't that so?
"I don't quite understand."
Surely, not to put an end completely to the mechanism that produces patterns, moulds, whether positive or negative, is to continue in a modified pattern or conditioning.
"I can understand this verbally, but I don't really feel it."
To a hungry man, the mere description of food is valueless; he wants to eat.
There is the urge that makes for conformity, and the urge to be free. However dissimilar these two urges may seem to be, are they not fundamentally similar? And if they are fundamentally similar, then your pursuit of freedom is vain for you will only move from one pattern to another, endlessly. There is no noble or better conditioning; all conditioning is pain. The desire to be, or not to be, breeds conditioning, and it is this desire that has to be understood.
Chapter - 9
The Void Within
SHE WAS CARRYING a large basket on her head, holding it in place with one hand; it must have been quite heavy, but the swing of her walk was not altered by the weight. She was beautifully poised, her walk easy and rhythmical. On her arm were large metal bangles which made a slight tinkling sound, and on her feet were old, worn-out sandals. Her sari was torn and dirty with long use. She generally had several companions with her, all of them carrying baskets, but that morning she was alone on the rough road. The sun wasn't too hot yet and high up in the blue sky some vultures were moving in wide circles without a flutter of their wings. The river ran silently by the road. It was a very peaceful morning, and that solitary woman with the large basket on her head seemed to be the focus of beauty and grace; all things seemed to be pointing to her and accepting her as part of their own being. She was not a separate entity but part of you and me, and of that tamarind tree. She wasn't walking in front of me, but I was walking with that basket on my head. It wasn't an illusion, a thought-out, wished-for, and cultivated identification, which would be ugly beyond measure, but an experience that was natural and immediate. The few steps that separated us had vanished; time, memory, and the wide distance that thought breeds, had totally disappeared. There was only that woman, not I looking at her. And it was a long way to the town, where she would sell the contents of her basket. Towards evening she would come back along that road and cross the little bamboo bridge on her way to her village, only to appear again the next morning with her basket full.
He was very serious, and no longer young, but he had a pleasant smile and was in good health. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he explained in somewhat halting English, of which he was rather shy, that he had been to college and taken his M.A., but had not spoken English for so many years that he had almost forgotten it. He had read a great deal of Sanskrit literature and Sanskrit words were frequently on his lips. He had come, he said, to ask several questions about the inward void, the emptiness of the mind. Then he began to chant in Sanskrit, and the room was instantly filled with a deep resonance, pure and penetrating. He went on chanting for some time, and it was a delight to listen. His face shone with the meaning he was giving to each word, and with the love he felt for what the word contained. He was devoid of any artifice, and was much too serious to put on a pose.
"I am very happy to have chanted those shlokas in your presence. To me they have great significance and beauty; I have meditated upon them for many years, and they have been to me a source of guidance and strength. I have trained myself not to be easily moved, but these shlokas bring tears to my eyes. The very sound of the words, with their rich meaning, fills my heart, and then life is not a travail and a misery. Like every other human being, I have known sorrow; there has been death and the ache of life. I had a wife who died before I left the comforts of my father's house, and now I know the meaning of voluntary poverty. I am telling you all this merely by way of explanation. I am not frustrated, lonely, or anything of that kind. My heart takes delight in many things; but my father used to tell me something about your talks and an acquaintance has urged me to see you; and so here I am. "I want you to speak to me of the immeasurable void," he went on. "I have had a feeling of that void, and I think I have touched the hem of it in my wanderings and meditations." Then he quoted a shloka to explain and to support his experience.
If it may be pointed out, the authority of another, however great, is no proof of the truth of your experience. Truth needs no proof by action, nor does it depend on any authority; so let's put aside all authority and tradition, and try to find out the truth of this matter for ourselves.
"That would be very difficult for me, for I am steeped in tradition - not in the tradition of the world, but in the teachings of the Gita, the Upanishads, and so on. Is it right for me to let all that go? Would that not be ingratitude on my part?"
Neither gratitude nor ingratitude are in any way involved; we are concerned with discovering the truth or the falseness of that void of which you have spoken. If you walk on the path of authority and tradition, which is knowledge you will experience only what you desire to experience, helped on by authority and tradition. It will not be a discovery; it will already be known a thing to be recognized and experienced. Authority and tradition may be wrong, they may be a comforting illusion. To discover whether that void is true or false, whether it exists or is merely another invention of the mind, the mind must be free from the net of authority and tradition.
"Can the mind ever free itself from this net?"
The mind cannot free itself, for any effort on its part to be free only weaves another net in which it will again be caught. Freedom is not an opposite; to be free is not to be free from something, it's not a state of release from bondage. The urge to be free breeds its own bondage. Freedom is a state of being which is not the outcome of the desire to be free. When the mind understands this, and sees the falseness of authority and tradition, then only does the false wither away.
"It may be that I have been induced to feel certain things by my reading and by the thoughts based on such reading; but apart from all that, I have vaguely felt from childhood, as in a dream, the existence of this void. There has always been an intimation of it, a nostalgic feeling for it; and as I grew older, my reading of various religious books only strengthened this feeling, giving it more vitality and purpose. But I begin to realize what you mean. I have depended almost entirely on the description of the experiences of others, as given in the sacred Scriptures. This dependence I can throw off, since I now see the necessity of doing so; but can I revive that original, uncontaminated feeling for that which is beyond words?"
What is revived is not the living, the new; it is a memory, a dead thing, and you cannot put life into the dead. To revive and live on memory is to be a slave to stimulation, and a mind that depends on stimulation, conscious or unconscious, will inevitably become dull and insensitive. Revival is the perpetuation of confusion; to turn to the dead past in the moment of a living crisis is to seek a pattern of life which has its roots in decay. What you experienced as a youth, or only yesterday, is over and gone; and if you cling to the past, you prevent the quickening experience of the new.
"As I think you will realize, sir, I am really in earnest, and for me it has become an urgent necessity to understand and to be of that void. What am I to do?"
One has to empty the mind of the known; all the knowledge that one has gathered must cease to have any influence on the living mind. Knowledge is ever of the past, it is the very process of the past, and the mind must be free from this process. Recognition is part of the process of knowledge, isn't it?
"How is that?"
To recognize something, you must have known or experienced it previously, and this experience is stored up as knowledge, memory. Recognition comes out of the past. You may have experienced, once upon a time, this void, and having once experienced it, you now crave for it. The original experience came about without your pursuing it; but now you are pursuing it, and the thing that you are seeking is not the void, but the renewal of an old memory. If it is to happen again, all remembrance of it, all knowledge of it, must disappear. All search for it must cease, for search is based on the desire to experience.
"Do you really mean that I must not search it out? This seems incredible!"
The motive of search is of greater significance than the search itself. The motive pervades, guides and shapes the search. The motive of your search is the desire to experience the un-knowable to know the bliss and the immensity of it. This desire has brought into being the experiencer who craves for experience. The experiencer is searching for greater, wider and more significant experience. All other experiences having lost their taste, the experiencer now longs for the void; so there is the experiencer, and the thing to be experienced. Thus conflict is set going between the two, between the pursuer and the pursued.
"This I understand very well, because it is exactly the state I am in. I now see that I am caught in a net of my own making."
As every seeker is, and not just the seeker after truth, God, the void, and so on. Every ambitious or covetous man who is pursuing power, position, prestige, every idealist, every worshipper of the State, every builder of a perfect Utopia - they are all caught in the same net. But if once you understand the total significance of search, will you continue to seek the void?
"I perceive the inward meaning of your question and I have already stopped seeking."
If this be a fact, then what is the state of the mind that is not seeking?
"I do not know; the whole thing is so new to me that I shall have to gather myself and observe. May I have a few minutes before we go any further?"
After a pause, he continued.
"I perceive how extraordinarily subtle it is; how difficult it is for the experiencer, the watcher, not to step in. It seems almost impossible for thought not to create the thinker; but as long as there is a thinker, an experiencer, there must obviously be separation from, and conflict with, that which is to be experienced. And you are asking, aren't you, what is the state of the mind when there is no conflict?"
Conflict exists when desire assumes the form of the experiencer and pursues that which is to be experienced; for that which is to be experienced is also put together by desire.
"Please be patient with me, and let me understand what you are saying. Desire not only builds the experiencer, the watcher, but also brings into being that which is to be experienced, the watched. So desire is the cause of the division between the experiencer and the thing to be experienced, and it is this division that sustains conflict. Now, you are asking, what is the state of the mind which is no longer in conflict, which is not driven by desire? But can this question be answered without the watcher who is watching the experience of desirelessness?"
When you are conscious of your humility, has not humility ceased? Is there virtue when you deliberately practise virtue? Such practice is the strengthening of self-centred activity, which puts an end to virtue. The moment you are aware that you are happy, you cease to be happy. What is the state of the mind which is not caught in the conflict of desire? The urge to find out is part of the desire which has brought into being the experiencer and the thing to be experienced, is it not?
"That's so. Your question was a trap for me, but I am thankful you asked it. I am seeing more of the intricate subtleties of desire."
It was not a trap, but a natural and inevitable question which you would have asked yourself in the course of your inquiry. If the mind is not extremely alert, aware, it is soon caught again in the net of its own desire.
"One final question: is it really possible for the mind to be totally free of the desire for experience, which sustains this division between the experiencer and the thing to be experienced?"
Find out, sir. When the mind is entirely free of this structure of desire, is the mind then different from the void?
Chapter - 10
The Problem of Search
IT WAS VERY early in the morning of a sunlit day, limpid and clear, and the restless sea was quiet, gently lapping the white shore. There was hardly any movement of the vast waters which were intensely blue as though some artificial colour had been added. There was a sparkle in the sea, and a gaiety; it was bluer than the blue sky, and it was old and full of joy. Last week the waters had been violent and threatening, with a strong current that would have carried one far out; but now they were all but still, with only a whisper of movement. The wind had exhausted itself after days of heavy blowing, and there wasn't even a breeze. The smoke of a steamer far out at sea was going almost straight up in the cloudless sky. It was so quiet that one could hear the sound of a train, still several miles away, as it came along the low cliff overlooking the sea. The faint rumble grew into a roar, and soon the earth shook as the long freight train, a hundred steel cars pulled by a spanking new diesel, passed swiftly overhead. The driver waved his hand and smiled. Soon the train was out of sight, and once again there was quiet by the blue sea. Miles to the north, one could just see rows of carefully-planted palm trees, with green lawns, where the town came down to the edge of the sea; but here it was very peaceful. There were hundreds of seagulls on the beach. One evidently had a broken wing, for it was standing apart its wing hanging down; further along, a dead gull was almost covered by the shifting sands. A large dog came along, a lovely creature in the sun, and the whole flock of birds flew out to sea, made a wide half-circle, and landed on the sand again, some distance behind the dog. With a frightened cry, the injured gull moved towards the water, dragging its wing; the dog saw it, but paying no attention, went on its way, chasing the small crabs that came out of the wet sands.
A clerk in some office, he was grave and very earnest, with bright, serious eyes and a ready smile. Prices had gone up he said, and living had become so expensive that it was difficult to make ends meet. Although still quite young, in his thirties, he was anxious about the future, for he had responsibilities - no children, he explained, but a wife and an old mother to provide for.
"What is the purpose of life, of this monotonous, routine existence?" he suddenly asked. "I have always been seeking something or other: seeking a job when I got through college, seeking pleasure with my wife, seeking to bring about a better world by joining the Communist party - which I soon left, incidentally, because it's just an organized religion, like any other; and now I am seeking God. By nature I am not a pessimist, but everything in life has saddened me. We seek and seek, and we never seem to find. I have read the books that most educated people read, but intellectual stimulation soon becomes wearisome. I must find, and my life is beginning to shorten. I want to talk most seriously with you, for I feel that you may be of help in my search"
Can we go slowly and patiently into this movement called search? There are those who assert that they have sought and found, and being satisfied with what they have found, they have their reward. You say you are seeking. Do you know why you are seeking, and what it is you seek?
"Like everyone else, I have sought many things, most of which have passed away; but, like some disease that has no cure, the search goes on."
Before we go into the whole question of what it is we seek, let's find out what we mean by that word `seeking'. What is the state of the mind that is seeking?
"It is a state of effort in which the mind is trying to get away from a painful or conflicting situation, and to find a pleasurable, comforting one."
Is such a mind really seeking? What the mind seeks it will find, but what it finds will be its own projection. Is there true search, if search is the outcome of a motive? Must all search have a motive, or is there a search which has no motive whatsoever? Can the mind exist without the movement of search? Is search as we know it merely another means by which the mind escapes from itself? If so what is it that is driving the mind to escape? Without understanding the full content of the mind that is seeking search has little significance.
"I am afraid, sir, all this is a bit too much for me. Could you make it simpler?"
Let's begin with the process we know. Why do you seek, and what are you seeking?
"One is seeking so many things: happiness, security, comfort, permanency, God, a society which is not everlastingly at war with itself, and so on."
The state you are actually in, and the end you are seeking, are both creations of the mind, are they not?
"Please, sir, don't make it too difficult. I know I suffer, and I want to find a way out of it I want to move towards a state in which there will be no sorrow."
But the end you are seeking is still the projection of a mind that doesn't want to be disturbed; isn't that so? And there may be no such thing, it may be a myth.
"If that is a myth, then there must be something else which is real, and which I must find."
We are trying to understand, aren't we? The total significance of search, not how to find the real. We may come upon that presently. For the moment we are concerned with what we mean when we say we are seeking, so let's inquire into the whole implication of that word.
Being unhappy, you are seeking happiness, are you not? One man sees happiness in power, position prestige, another in wealth or knowledge, another in God, another in the ideal State, the perfect Utopia, and so on. As a man who is ambitious in the worldly sense pursues the path of his fulfilment, in which there is ruthlessness, frustration, fear, perhaps covered over with sweet-sounding words, so you also are seeking to fulfil your desire, even though it be for the highest; and when you already know what the end is, is there search? "Surely sir, God or bliss cannot be known beforehand; it must be sought out."
How can you seek out that which you do not know? You know, or think you know, what God is, and you know according to your conditioning, or according to your own experience, which is based on your conditioning; so, having formulated what God is, you proceed to `discover' that which your mind has projected. This is obviously not search; you are merely pursuing what you already know. Search ceases when you know, because knowing is a process of recognition, and to recognize is an action of the past, of the known.
"But I am really seeking God, by whatever name He may be called."
You are seeking God, as others are seeking happiness through drink, through the acquisition of power, and so on. These are all well-known and well-established motives. Motive brings about the desired end. But is there search when there is a motive?
"I think I am beginning to see what you mean. Please go on, sir."
If you are really earnest, the moment you perceive that in this whole pattern of so-called search, there is no search at all, you abandon it. But the cause of your search still remains. You may set aside pattern A, which is the search after that which the mind has projected; but then you will turn to pattern B, which is the idea that you must not pursue pattern A; and if it is not pattern B it will be pattern C, N, or Z. The core of your mind has not understood the whole problem of seeking, and that is why it moves from one pattern to another, from one ideal to another, from one guru or leader to another. It is ever moving in the net of the known.
Now, can the mind remain without seeking? Is there the mind, the seeker, when this movement of search is not? The mind swing from one movement of search to another, ever groping, ever seeking, ever caught in the net of experience. This movement is always towards the `more: more stimulation, more experience, wider and deeper knowledge. The hunter is ever projecting the hunted. Does the mind seek, once it is aware of the significance of this whole process of seeking? And when the mind is not seeking, is there an experiencer to experience?
"What do you mean by the experiencer?"
As long as there is a seeker and a thing sought, there must be the experiencer, the one who recognizes, and this is the core of the mind's self-centred movement. From this centre, all activities take place, whether noble or ignoble: the desire for wealth and power, the compulsion to be content with what is, the urge to seek God, to bring about reforms, and so on.
"I see in myself the truth of what you are saying. I have approached the whole thing wrongly."
Does this mean you are going to approach it `rightly'? Or are you aware that any approach to the problem, `right' or `wrong', is self-centred activity, which only strengthens, subtly or grossly, the experiencer?
"How cunning the mind is, how quick and subtle in its movement to maintain itself! I see that very clearly."
When the mind ceases to seek because it has understood the total significance of search, do not the limitations which it has imposed upon itself fall away? And is the mind not then the immeasurable, the unknown?
Chapter - 11
THERE WAS A great bustle and ado before the train started. The long carriages were very crowded full of people and full of smoke, every face hidden behind a newspaper; but luckily there were still one or two seats vacant. The train was electric, and soon it was out of the suburbs and gathering speed in the open country, passing the cars and buses on the highway which ran parallel to the tracks. It was beautiful country, green, rolling hills and ancient, historic towns. The sun was bright and gentle, for it was early spring, and the fruit trees were just beginning to show pink and white blossoms. The whole countryside was green, fresh and young, with tender leaves sparkling and dancing in the sun. It was a heavenly day, but the carriage was full of weary people, and the air was thick with tobacco smoke. A little girl and her mother sat just across the aisle and the mother was explaining to her that she must not stare at strangers; but the child paid no attention, and presently we smiled at each other. From then on she was at ease, looking up often to see if she was being looked at and smiling when our eyes met. Presently she fell asleep, curled up on the seat, and the mother covered her with a coat.
It must be lovely to walk along that path through the fields, amidst so much beauty and clarity. People waved as we roared along beside the well-paved road. Big white bullocks were slowly pulling carts laden with manure, and some of the men who were driving them must have been singing, for their mouths were open, and one could see by their faces that they were enjoying themselves in that fresh morning air. There were men and women in the fields, digging, planting, sowing.
I wandered up the long aisle, with seats on both sides, towards the head of the train. Walking through the dining car and past the kitchen, I pushed open a door and entered the luggage van. No one stopped me. The many pieces of luggage were neatly arranged in racks, their labels fluttering in the draught. I went through another door, and there were the two engine-drivers, completely surrounded by large, wide windows which gave an unobstructed view all-around of the lovely countryside. One of the men was manipulating the handle which controlled the current, and in front of him were the various meters. The other, who was watching and leisurely smoking, offered his seat, and taking a stool, sat directly behind me. He was very insistent that I sit there, and began to ask innumerable questions. In the middle of his questioning he would stop to point out the castles on the hill-tops, some of them in ruins, and others still well-preserved. He explained what those brilliant red and green lights meant, and would pull out his watch to see if we were on schedule at each station. We were doing between 100 and 110 kilometres, round the curves, up the gentle slopes, over the bridges, and on the long, straight runs; but we never went beyond 110. "If you got off at the station we just passed and took another train," he said, "you would go to the town named after a famous saint." Crashing over the switches, we went hurtling past stations with names that came down from ancient days. We were now running along the shores of a blue, misty lake, and could just see the towns on the other side. There had been a famous battle in this area on whose outcome the fate of a whole people had depended. Soon we had passed the lake, and climbing out of the valley, and around the curving hills, we left behind us the olive and the cypress, and found ourselves in a more rugged country. The man behind me announced the name of the muddy river as we ran beside it, and it looked so small and gentle for such a famous stream. The other man, who had removed his hand from the throttle only once or twice during the two-and-a-half-hour journey, apologized on behalf of them both for not being able to speak English. "But what does it matter," he said, "since you understand our beautiful language?" We were coming now to the outskirts of the big town, and the blue sky was obscured by its smoke.
There were several of us in that small room overlooking the beautiful lake, and it was quiet, though the birds were pleasantly noisy. Among the group was a big man, full of health and vigour, with sharp but gentle eyes, and slow, deliberate speech. As he was eager to talk, the others remained silent, but they would join in when they felt it to be necessary.
"I have been in politics for many years, and have really worked for what I genuinely thought was the good of the country. That doesn't mean that I didn't seek power and position. I did seek it; I fought others for it, and as you may know, I have achieved it. I first heard you many years ago, and though some of the things you said hit home, your whole approach to life was for me only of momentary interest; it never took deep root. However, through the passing years, with all their struggle and pain, something has been maturing in me, and recently I have been attending your talks and discussions whenever I could. I now fully realize that what you are saying is the only way out of our confusing difficulties. I have been all over Europe and America, and for a time looked to Russia for a solution. I was an active worker in the Communist party, and with good and serious intent cooperated with its religious-political leaders. But now I am resigning from everything. It has all become corrupt and ineffectual, though in certain directions good progress was made. Having thought a great deal about these matters, I now want to examine the whole thing afresh, and I feel I am ready for something new and clear."
To examine, one must not start with a conclusion, with a party loyalty or a bias; there must be no desire for success no demand for immediate action. If one is involved in any of these things, true examination is utterly impossible. To examine afresh the whole issue of existence the mind must be stripped clean of any personal motive, of any sense of frustration, of any seeking of power, whether for oneself of for one's group, which is the same thing. That is so, isn't it, sir?
"Please don't call me `sir'! Of course, that is the only way to examine and to understand anything, but I don't know if I am capable of it."
Capacity comes with direct and immediate application. To examine the many complex issues of existence, we must start without being committed to any philosophy, to any ideology, to any system of thought or pattern of action. The capacity to comprehend is not a matter of time; it is an immediate perception is it not?
"If I perceive something to be poisonous, to avoid it is no problem, I simply don't touch it. Similarly if I see that any kind of conclusion prevents the complete examination of the problems of life, then all conclusions, personal and collective, fall away; I don't have to struggle to be free of them. Is that it?"
Yes but a clear statement of fact is not the actual fact. To be really free from conclusions is quiet another matter. Once we perceive that bias of any kind hinders complete examination, we may proceed to look without bias. But out of habit, the mind tends to fall back on authority, on deep-rooted tradition; and to be so aware of this tendency that it does not interfere with the process of examination is also necessary. With this understanding, shall we proceed?
Now, what is man's most fundamental need?
"Food, clothing and shelter; but to bring about an equitable distribution of these basic necessities becomes a problem, because man is by nature greedy and exclusive."
You mean that he is encouraged and educated by society to be what he is? Now, another kind of society, through legislation and other forms of compulsion, may be able to force him not to be greedy and exclusive; but this only sets up a counter-reaction, and so there is a conflict between the individual, and the ideal established by the State, or by a powerful religious-political group. To bring about an equitable distribution of food, clothing, shelter, a totally different kind of social organization is necessary, is it not? Separate nationalities and there sovereign governments, power blocks and conflicting economic structures, as well as the cast system and organized religious - each of proclaims its way to be the only true way. All these must cease to be, which means that the whole hierarchical, authoritarian attitude towards life must come to an end.
"I can see that this is the only real revolution."
It is a complete psychological revolution, and such a revolution is essential if man throughout the world is not to be in want of the basic physical necessities. The earth is ours, it is not English, Russian or American, nor does it belong to any ideological group. We are human beings, not Hindus, Buddhists, Christens or Muslims. All these divisions have to go, including the latest, Communist, if we are to bring about a totally different economic-social structure. It must start with you and me.
"Can I act politically to help bring about such a revolution?"
If one may ask, what do you mean when you talk about acting politically? Is political action, whatever that may be, separate from the total action of man, or is it part of it?
"By political action, I mean action at the governmental level: legislative, economic administrative, and so on."
Surely, if political action is separate from the total action of man, if it does not take into consideration his whole being, his psychological as well as his physical state, then it is mischievous, bringing further confusion and misery; and this is exactly what is taking place in the world at the present time. Cannot man, with all his problems, act as a complete human being, and not as a political entity, separated from his psychological or `spiritual' state? A tree is the root, the trunk, the branch, the leaf and the flower. Any action which is not comprehensive, total, must inevitably lead to sorrow. There is only total human action, not political action, religious action, or Indian action. Action which is separative, fragmentary, always leads to conflict both within and without.
"This means that political action is impossible, doesn't it?"
Not at all. The comprehension of total action surely does not prevent political, educational or religious activity. These are not separate activities, they are all part of a unitary process which will express itself in different directions. What is important is this unitary process, and not a separate political action, however apparently beneficial.
"I think I see what you mean. If I have this total understanding of man, or of myself, my attention may be turned in different directions, as necessary, but all my actions will be in direct relation to the whole. Action which is separative, departmentalized can only produce chaotic results, as I am beginning to realize. Seeing all this, not as a politician, but as a human being, my outlook on life utterly changes; I am no longer of any country, of any party, of any particular religion. I need to know God, as I need to have food, clothing and shelter; but if I seek the one apart from the other, my search will only lead to various forms of disaster and confusion. Yes, I see this is so. Politics, religion and education are all intimately related to each other.
"All right, sir, I am no longer a politician, with a political bias in action. As a human being, not as a Communist, a Hindu or a Christian, I want to educate my son. Can we consider this problem?"
Integrated life and action is education. Integration does not come about through conformity to a pattern, either one's own, or that of another. It comes into being through understanding the many influences that impinge on the mind; through being aware of them without being caught in them. The parents and society are conditioning the child by suggestion, by subtle, unexpressed desires and compulsions, and by the constant reiteration of certain dogmas and beliefs. To help the child to be aware of all these influences, with their inward, psychological significance, to help him understand the ways of authority and not be caught in the net of society is education.
Education is not merely a matter of imparting a technique which will equip the boy to get a job, but it is to help him discover what it is he loves to do. This love cannot exist if he is seeking success, fame or power; and to help the child understand this is education.
Self-knowledge is education. In education there is neither the teacher nor the taught, there is only learning; the educator is learning, as the student is. Freedom has no beginning and no ending; to understand this is education.
Each of these points has to be carefully gone into, and we haven't the time now to consider too many details.
"I think I understand, in a general sense, what you mean by education. But where are the people who will teach in this new way? Such educators simply don't exist."
For how many years did you say you worked in the political field?
"For more years than I care to remember. I am afraid it was well over twenty."
Surely, to educate the educator, one must work for it as arduously as you worked in politics - only it is a much more strenuous task which demands deep psychological insight. Unfortunately, no one seems to care about right education, yet it is far more important than any other single factor in bringing about a fundamental social transformation.
"Most of us, especially the politicians, are so concerned with immediate results, that we think only in short terms, and have no long-range view of things.
"Now, may I ask one more question? In all that we have been talking about, where does inheritance come in?" What do you mean by inheritance? Are you referring to the inheritance of property, or to psychological inheritance?
"I was thinking of the inheritance of property. To tell you the truth, I have never thought about the other."
Psychological inheritance is as conditioning as the inheritance of property; both limit and hold the mind in a particular pattern of society, which prevents a fundamental transformation of society. If our concern is to bring about a wholly different culture, a culture not based on ambition and acquisitiveness then psychological inheritance becomes a hindrance.
"What exactly do you mean by psychological inheritance?"
The imprint of the past on the young mind; the conscious and unconscious conditioning of the student to obey, to conform. The Communists are now doing this very efficiently, as the Catholics have for generations. Other religious sects are also doing it, but not so purposefully or effectively. Parents and society are shaping the minds of the children through tradition, belief, dogma, conclusion, opinion, and this psychological inheritance prevents the coming into being of a new social order.
"I can see that; but to put a stop to this form of inheritance is almost an impossibility, isn't it?"
If you really see the necessity of putting a stop to this form of inheritance, then will you not give immense attention to bringing about the right kind of education for your son?
"Again, most of us are so caught up in our own preoccupations and fears that we don't go into these matters very deeply, if at all. We are a generation of double-talkers and word-slingers. The inheritance of property is another difficult problem. We all want to own something, a piece of earth, however small, or another human being; and if it is not that, then we want to own ideologies or beliefs. We are incorrigible in our pursuit of possessions."
But when you realize very deeply that inheriting property is as destructive as psychological inheritance, then you will set about helping your children to be free from both forms of inheritance. You will educate them to be completely self-sufficient, not to depend on your own or other people's favour, to love their work, and to have confidence in their capacity to work without ambition, without worshipping success; you will teach them to have the feeling of cooperative responsibility, and therefore to know when not to cooperate. Then there is no need for your children to inherit your property. They are free human beings from the very beginning, and not slaves either to the family or to society.
"This is an ideal which I am afraid can never be realized."
It is not an ideal, it is not something to be achieved in the never-never land of some far-distant Utopia. Understanding is now not in the future. Understanding is action. Understanding doesn't come first, and action later; action and realization are inseparable. In the very moment of seeing a cobra, there is action. If the truth of all that we have been talking about this morning is seen, then action is inherent in that perception. But we are so caught up in words, in the stimulating things of the intellect, that words and intellect become a hindrance to action. So-called intellectual understanding is only the hearing of verbal explanations, or the listening to ideas, and such understanding has no significance, as the mere description of food has no point to a hungry man. Either you understand, or you don't. Understanding is a total process; it is not separated from action, nor is it the result of time.
Chapter - 12
There Is No Thinker, Only Conditioned Thinking
THE RAINS HAD washed the skies clean; the haze that had hung about was gone, and the sky was clear and intensely blue. The shadows were sharp and deep, and high on the hill a column of smoke was going straight up. They were burning something up there, and you could hear their voices. The little house was on a slope, but well-sheltered, with a small garden of its own to which loving care had been given. But this morning it was part of the whole of existence, and the wall around the garden seemed so unnecessary. Creepers grew on that wall, hiding the rocks, but here and there they were exposed; they were beautiful rocks, washed by many rains, and they had a growth of green-grey moss on them. Beyond the wall was a bit of wilderness, and somehow that wilderness was part of the garden. From the garden gate a path led to the village, where there was a dilapidated old church with a graveyard behind it. Very few came to the church, even on Sundays, mostly the old; and during the week no one came, for the village had other amusements. A small diesel locomotive with two carriages, cream and red, went to the larger town twice a day. The train was almost always filled with a cheerful, chattering crowd. Beyond the village another path led round to the right, gently going up the hill. On that path you would meet an occasional peasant carrying something, and with a grunt he would pass you by. On the other side of the hill, the path led down into a dense wood where the sun never penetrated; and going from the brilliant sunlight into the cool shadow of the wood was like a secret blessing. Nobody seemed to pass that way, and the wood was deserted. The dark green of the thick foliage was refreshing to the eyes and to the mind. One sat there in complete silence. Even the breeze was still; not a leaf moved, and there was that strange quietness which comes in places not frequented by human beings. A dog barked in the distance, and a brown deer crossed the path with easy leisure.
He was an elderly man, pious, and eager for sympathy and blessing. He explained that he had been going regularly for several years to a certain teacher in the north to listen to his explanatory discourses on the Scriptures, and was now on his way to join his family in the south.
"A friend told me that you were giving a series of talks here, and I stayed over to attend them. I have been listening with close attention to all that you have been saying, and I am aware of what you think of guides and of authority. I do not entirely agree with you, for we human beings need help from those who can offer it, and the fact that one eagerly accepts such help does not make one a follower."
Surely, the desire for guidance makes for conformity, and a mind that conforms is incapable of finding the true.
"But I am not conforming. I am not credulous, nor do I follow blindly; on the contrary, I use my mind, I question all that's said by this teacher I go to."
To look for light from another, without self-knowledge, is to follow blindly. All following is blind.
"I do not think I am capable of penetrating the deeper layers of the self, and so I seek help. My coming to you for help does not make me your follower."
If it may be pointed out, sir, the setting up of authority is a complex affair. Following another is merely an effect of a deeper cause, and without understanding that cause, whether one outwardly follows or not has very little meaning. The desire to arrive to reach the other shore is the beginning of our human search. We crave success, permanency, comfort, love, an enduring state of peace, and unless the mind is free of this desire, there must be following in direct or devious ways. Following is merely a symptom of a deep longing for security.
"I do want to reach the other shore, as you put it, and I will take any boat that will carry me across the river. To me the boat is not important, but the other shore is."
It is not the other shore that is important, but the river, and the bank you are on. The river is life; it is everyday living with its extraordinary beauty, its joy and delight, its ugliness, pain and sorrow. Life is a vast complex of all these things, it is not just a passage to be got through somehow, and you must understand it, and not have your eyes on the other shore. You are this life of envy, violence, passing love, ambition, frustration, fear; and you are also the longing to escape from it all to what you call the other shore, the permanent the soul, the Atman, God, and so on. Without understanding this life, without being free of envy, with its pleasures and pains, the other shore is only a myth, an illusion, an ideal invented by a frightened mind in its search for security. A right foundation must be laid, otherwise the house, however noble, will not stand.
"I am already frightened, and you add to my fear, you do not take it away. My friend told me that you are not easy to understand, and I can see why you are not. But I think I'm in earnest, and I do want something more than mere illusion. I quite agree that one must lay the right foundation; but to perceive for oneself what is true and what is false is another matter."
Not at all, sir. The conflict of envy, with its pleasure and pain, inevitably breeds confusion, both outwardly and within. It is only when there is freedom from this confusion that the mind can discover what is true. All the activities of a confused mind only lead to further confusion.
"How am I to be free from confusion?"
The `how' implies gradual freedom; but confusion cannot be cleared up bit by bit, while the rest of the mind remains confused, for that part which is cleared up soon becomes confused again. The question of how to clear up this confusion arises only when your mind is still concerned with the other shore. You do not see the full significance of greed, or violence, or whatever it is; you only want to get rid of it in order to arrive at something else. If you were wholly concerned with envy, and its resultant misery, you would never ask how to get rid of it. The understanding of envy is a total action, whereas the `how' implies a gradual achievement of freedom, which is only the action of confusion.
"What do you mean by total action?"
To understand total action, we must explore the division between the thinker and his thought.
"Is there not a watcher who is above both the thinker and his thought? I feel there is. For one blissful moment, I have experienced that state."
Such experiences are the result of a mind that has been shaped by tradition, by a thousand influences. The religious visions of a Christian will be quite different from those of a Hindu or a Moslem, since all are essentially based on the mind's particular conditioning. The criterion of truth is not experience, but that state in which neither the experiencer nor the experience any longer exists.
"You mean the state of samadhi?"
No, sir; in using that word, you are merely quoting the description of another's experience.
"But is there not a watcher beyond and above the thinker and his thought? I most definitely feel that there is."
To start with a conclusion puts a stop to all thinking, doesn't it?
"But this is not a conclusion, sir. I know, I have felt the truth of it."
He who says he knows does not know. What you know or feel to be true is what you have been taught; another, who happens to have been taught differently by his society, by his culture, will assert with equal confidence that his knowledge and experience show him that there is no ultimate watcher. Both of you, the believer and the non-believer, are in the same category, are you not? You both start with a conclusion, and with experiences based on your conditioning, don't you?
"When you put it that way, it does seem to put me in the wrong, but I am still not convinced."
I am not trying to put you in the wrong, or to convince you of anything; I am only pointing out certain things for you to examine.
"After considerable reading and study, I imagined I had thought out pretty thoroughly this question of the watcher and the watched. It seems to me that as the eye sees the flower, and the mind watches through the eye, so, behind the mind, there must be an entity who is aware of the whole process, that is of the mind, the eye, and the flower."
Let us inquire into it without assertiveness, without haste or dogmatism. How does thinking arise? There is perception, contact, sensation, and then thought, based on memory, says, "That is a rose." Thought creates the thinker; it is the thinking process that brings the thinker into being. Thought comes first, and later the thinker; it is not the other way round. If we do not see this to be a fact, we shall be led into all kinds of confusion.
"But there is a division, a gap, narrow or wide, between the thinker and his thought; and does this not indicate that the thinker came into being first?"
Let's see. Perceiving itself to be impermanent, insecure, and desiring permanency, security, thought brings into being the thinker, and then pushes the thinker on to higher and higher levels of permanency. So there is seemingly an unbridgeable gap between the thinker and his thought, between the watcher and the watched; but this whole process is still within the area of thought, is it not?
"Do you mean to say, sir, that the watcher has no reality, that he is as impermanent as thought? I can hardly believe this."
You may call him the soul, the Atman, or by what name you will, but the watcher is still the product of thought. As long as thought is related in some way to the watcher, or the watcher is controlling, shaping thought, he is still within the field of thought, within the process of time.
"How my mind objects to this! Yet, in spite of myself, I am beginning to see it to be a fact; and if it is a fact then there's only a process of thinking, and no thinker."
That is so, isn't it? Thought has bred the watcher the thinker, the conscious or unconscious censor who is everlastingly judging, condemning, comparing. It is this watcher who is ever in conflict with his thoughts, ever making an effort to guide them.
"Please go a little slower; I really want to feel my way through this. You are indicating - aren't you? - that every form of effort, noble or ignoble, is the result of this artificial, illusory division between the thinker and his thoughts. But are you trying to eliminate effort? Isn't effort necessary to all change?"
We shall go into that presently. We have seen that there's only thinking, which has put together the thinker, the watcher, the censor, the controller. Between the watcher and the watched there is the conflict of effort made by the one to overcome or at least to change the other. This effort is vain, it can never produce a fundamental change in thought, because the thinker, the censor, is himself part of that which he wishes to change. One part of the mind cannot possibly transform another part, which is but a continuity of itself. One desire may, and often does, overcome another desire. But the desire that is dominant breeds still another desire, which in its turn becomes the loser or the gainer, and so the conflict of duality is set going. There's no end to this process.
"It seems to me you are saying that only through the elimination of conflict is there a possibility of fundamental change. I don't quite follow this. Would you kindly go into it a little further?"
The thinker and his thought are a unitary process, neither has an independent continuance; the watcher and the watched are inseparable. All the qualities of the watcher are contained in his thinking; if there's no thinking, there's no watcher, no thinker. This is a fact, is it not?
"Yes, so far I have understood."
If understanding is merely verbal, intellectual, it is of little significance. There must be an actual experiencing of the thinker and his thought as one, an integration of the two. Then there's only the process of thinking.
"What do you mean by the process of thinking?"
The way or direction in which thought has been set going: personal or impersonal, individualistic or collective, religious or worldly, Hindu or Christian, Buddhist or Moslem, and so on. There is no thinker who is a Moslem, but only thinking which has been given a Moslem conditioning. Thinking is the outcome of its own conditioning. The process or way of thinking must inevitably create conflict, and when effort is made to overcome this conflict through various means, it only builds up other forms of resistance and conflict.
"That's clear, at least I think so."
This way of thinking must wholly cease, for it breeds confusion and misery. There's no better or nobler way of thinking. All thinking is conditioned.
"You seem to imply that only when thought ceases is there a radical change. But is this so?"
Thought is conditioned. The mind, being the storehouse of experiences, memories, from which thought arises, is itself conditioned; and any movement of the mind, in any direction, produces its own limited results. When the mind makes an effort to transform itself, it merely builds another pattern, different perhaps, but still a pattern. Every effort of the mind to free itself is the continuance of thought; it may be at a higher level, but it is still within its own circle, the circle of thought, of time.
"Yes, sir, I am beginning to understand. Please proceed."
Any movement of any kind on the part of the mind only gives strength to the continuance of thought, with its envious, ambitious, acquisitive pursuits. When the mind is totally aware of this fact, as it is totally aware of a poisonous snake, then you will see that the movement of thought comes to an end. Then only is there a total revolution, not the continuance of the old in a different form. This state is not to be described; he who describes it is not aware of it.
"I really feel that I have understood, not just your words, but the total implication of what you have been saying. Whether I have understood or not will show in my daily life."
Chapter - 13
Why Should It Happen to Us?
SOMETHING WENT OFF with an explosive bang. It was half-past four in the morning, and still very dark. It wouldn't be dawn for an hour or more. The birds were still asleep in the trees, and the violent noise didn't seem to have disturbed them, but they would commence their quarrelsome chatter just as soon as it began to get light. There was a slight ground mist, but the stars were very clear. After the first explosion, several others followed in the distance; there was a period of quiet and then fireworks began going off all over the place. The festive day had begun. That morning, the birds didn't carry on with their chatter as long as usual, but cut it short and rapidly scattered, for those violent sounds were frightening; but towards evening they would assemble again in the same trees, to tell each other noisily of their daily doings. The sun was now touching the treetops, and they were aglow with soft light; lovely in their quietude, they were giving shape to the sky. The single rose in the garden was heavy with dew. Though it was already noisy with fireworks, the town was slow and leisurely about waking up, for it was one of the great holidays of the year; there would be feasting and rejoicing, and both rich and poor would be giving things to each other.
As it grew dark that evening, the people began to assemble on the banks of the river. They were gently setting afloat on the water small, blunt-clay saucers full of oil, with a wick burning. They would say a prayer and let the lights go floating off down the river. Soon there were thousands of these points of light on the dark, still water. It was an astonishing sight to behold, the eager faces lit by the little flames, and the river a miracle of light. The heavens with their myriad stars looked down on this river of light, and the earth was silent with the love of the people.
There were five of us in that sunlit room: a man and his wife, and two other men. All of them were young. The wife seemed sad and forlorn, and the husband also was grave not given to smiles. The two young men sat shyly silent and let the others begin, but they would doubtless speak when the occasion arose and when their shyness had worn off a bit.
"But why should it happen to us?" she asked. There was resentment and anger in her voice, but tears were beginning to fill her eyes and trickle down her cheeks. "We had been good to our son; he was so gay and mischievous, always ready to laugh, and we loved him. We had brought him up so carefully, and had planned a rich life for him..." Unable to go on talking, she stopped and waited till she was a little calmer. "Excuse me for being so upset in front of you," she presently continued, "but it has all been too much for me. He was playing and shouting, and a few days later he was gone forever. It is very cruel, and why should it happen to us? We have led a decent life; we love each other, and we loved our boy even more. But he is gone now, and our life has become an empty thing - my husband in his office, and I in my house. It has all become so ugly and meaningless." She would have gone on and on in her bitterness, but her husband gently stopped her. She was sobbing now, without any restraint, and presently was silent."
This happens to all of us, doesn't it? When you ask why it should happen to you, you really don't mean that it should happen only to others and not to you. You share sorrow with the rest.
"But what have we done to deserve it? What is our karma? Why didn't he live? I would gladly have given my life for him."
Will any explanation, any cunning argument or rationalized belief, fill that aching void?
"I naturally want to be comforted, but not by mere words and not by some future hope. As a result I just can't find any comfort. My husband has tried to comfort me with the belief in reincarnation, but to no avail. And he too is suffering; even though he believes in reincarnation, sorrow is there. We are both caught up in it and twisted by it. It's like some frightening, hideous nightmare." Again her husband interfered to calm her rising feelings.
"I will be quiet and thoughtful, and I am sorry."
"Sir, we know so little of life, of death, so little of our own sorrow," said her husband. "Since this event I seem to have suddenly matured, and can now ask serious questions. Before, life was gay, and we were constantly laughing; but most of the things that made us happy seem now so silly, so trivial. It has been like a wind-storm that uproots trees and puts sand in one's food. Nothing will ever be the same again. Suddenly I find myself being dreadfully serious, wanting to know what it is all about and since our son's death I have read more religious and philosophical books than I read in all my earlier life; but when there's pain, mere words are not easy to accept. I know how easily belief becomes a slow poison. Belief dulls the sharp edge of thought, but it also dulls the pain, and without it the mind would become an open, sensitive wound. We came to hear you last evening. You gave us no comfort, which I see is right; but we still want to heal our wounds. Can you help us?"
"The wound we all have," put in one of the other two, "is not to be healed by words, by a comforting phrase. We have come here, not to collect another belief, but to search out the cause of our pain."
Do you think that merely knowing the cause will free you from pain?
"If once I know what causes my inward pain, I can put an end to it. I won't eat something when I know it will poison me."
Do you think it is such an easy matter to wipe away the inward wound? Let's go into it patiently, carefully. What is our problem?
"My problem," the wife replied "is simple and clear. Why was my son taken away from me? What was the cause of it?"
Will any explanation satisfy you, however comforting it may be for the moment? Haven't you to find out the truth of the matter for yourself?
"How am I to set about it?" demanded the wife.
"That's also one of my problems," said one of the other two. "How am I to find out what's true in this bewildering confusion which is the `me'?" "Was it our karma to suffer, to lose the one we most loved?" asked the husband.
"Perhaps I might be able to bear the pain of my son's death," added the wife, "if I could just have the comfort of knowing why he was taken away."
Comfort is one thing, and truth another; they lead away from each other. If you seek comfort, you may find it in an explanation, a drug or a belief; but it will be temporary, and sooner or later you will have to begin over again. And is there such a thing as comfort? It may be that you will first have to see this fact: that a mind which seeks comfort, security, will always be in sorrow. A satisfactory explanation, or a comforting belief, can put you soothingly to sleep; but is that what you want? Will that wipe away your sorrow? Is sorrow to be got rid of by inducing sleep?
"I suppose what I really want," went on the wife, "is to get back into the happy state I once knew - to have again the joy and the pleasure of it. As I can't do that, I am torn with sorrow, and therefore seek comfort."
Do you mean that you don't want to face the fact which you think causes sorrow and so you try to escape from it?
"Why shouldn't I be comforted?"
But can you find lasting comfort? There may be no such thing. In seeking comfort, what we want is a state in which there will be no psychological disturbance whatsoever. And is there such a state? One may put together, by various means, a state of comfort, but life soon comes knocking at the door. This knocking at the door, this awakening, is called sorrow.
"As you point this out, I see that it is so. But what am I to do?" insisted the wife.
There is nothing to do but realize the truth of this fact, that a mind which seeks comfort security, will always be subject to sorrow. This realization is its own action. When a man realizes he's a prisoner, he doesn't ask what to do, but a whole series of actions, or inactions, come into being. From realization itself there is action.
"But, sir," put in the husband, "our wounds are real, and can we not heal them? Is there no healing process at all, but only a state of bitter hopelessness?"
The mind can cultivate any state it desires, but to find out the truth of this whole situation is quite another matter. Now, what is it that you are after?
"No man in his senses would want to cultivate bitterness. There is certainly a philosophy of hopelessness, but I have no intention of pursuing that path. I do want to find out; however, what is the cause, the karma of our sorrow."
Do you two also wish to go into this matter?
"We most certainly do, sir. We have our own problems pertaining to the whole process of karma, and it would help us too if we could all consider it together."
What is the root meaning of the word `karma'?
"The root meaning of that word is `to act'," replied the husband, and the others nodded in agreement. "Karma, as it is generally - and I think wrongly - understood, is action as a determining cause. The future is fixed by past action; as you sow, so shall you reap. I have done something in the past for which I shall pay, or from which I shall gain. If my son dies young, it is due to some cause hidden in a past life. There are many variations on this one general formula."
All things arise and have their being through the chain of causes and effects, do they not?
"That seems to be a fact," replied one of the other two. "I am here in this world because of my father and mother and through other previous causes. I am a result of causes which stretch back infinitely into the past. Both thought and action are the result of various causes."
Is effect separate from cause? Is there a gap, short or long, an interval of time between them? Is the cause fixed as well as the effect? If cause and effect are static, then the future is already established; and if this is so, there's no freedom for man, he's ever caught in a predetermined groove. But this is not so, as you can observe in everyday happenings, where circumstances are continuously influencing the course of actions. There is always a movement of change going on, whether immediate or gradual.
"Yes, sir, I see that; and it is an immense relief to me, who have been brought up in the one-cause and one-effect conditioning, to realize that we need not be slaves to the past."
The mind need not be held by its conditioning. The effect of a cause is not bound to follow the cause, it may be wiped away. There's no everlasting hell. Cause and effect are not static, fixed; what was the effect becomes the cause of still another effect. Today is shaped by yesterday, and tomorrow by today. That is true, is it not? So cause and effect are not separate, they are a unitary process. A wrong means cannot be used to a right end, because the means is the end; the one contains the other. The seed contains the total tree. If one really feels the truth of this, then thought is action, there is no thinking first followed by action, with the inevitable problem of how to build a bridge between them. The total awareness of cause and effect as an indivisible unit puts an end to the maker of effort, the `I' who's everlastingly becoming something through some means.
"Are you not giving your own meaning to karma?" asked the husband.
Either it is true, or it is false. What is true needs no interpretation, and what is interpreted is not true. The interpreter becomes a traitor, for he is merely offering his opinion, and opinion is not truth.
"The books say that each one of us starts this life with a certain amount of accumulated karma which has to be worked out," went on the husband. "We are told that it is in the working out of this accumulated karma, whether in one life or through several lives, that there is the operation of free will. Is this so?"
What do you think, apart from the authority of the books?
"I don't feel able to think it out for myself."
Let's consider the matter together. One's life in this present existence does start with a certain amount of conditioning, karma; every child is influenced by his environment to think within a certain pattern, and his future tends to be determined by this pattern. Either he follows, with a certain latitude, the dictates of the pattern, or he totally breaks away from it. In the latter case, that part of the mind which makes the effort to break away is also a result of conditioning, of karma; so in breaking away from one pattern, the mind creates another, in which it is again caught.
"In that case, how can the mind ever be free? I see very clearly that the part of the mind that wishes to be free from the pattern, and the part that is caught in it, are both held, as it were, in a frame; the former thinks it is different from the latter, but essentially they have the same quality in that neither is totally free. Then what is freedom?"
"Most people," put in one of the young men, "assert that there is a super-soul, the Atman, which will act upon our conditioning and wipe it away through devotion and good works, and through concentration on the Supreme." But the entity who is devoted, who does good works, is himself conditioned; and the Supreme on which he concentrates is a projection of his conditioning, is it not?
"I see that," said the husband eagerly. "Our gods, our religious concepts our ideals, are all within the pattern of our conditioning. Now that you point it out, it seems so obvious and factual. But then there's no hope for man."
To jump to a conclusion, and to start thinking from that conclusion, prevents understanding and any further discovery.
When the totality of the mind realizes that it's held within a pattern, what takes place?
"I don't quite understand your question, sir."
Do you realize that the totality of your mind is conditioned, including the part that is supposed to be the super-soul, the Atman? Do you feel it, know it to be a fact, or are you merely accepting a verbal explanation? What is actually taking place?
"I cannot definitely say, for I have never thought out this matter to the end."
When the mind realizes the totality of its own conditioning - which it cannot do as long as it is merely pursuing its own comfort, or lazily taking the easy course - then all its movements come to an end; it is completely still, without any desire, without any compulsion, without any motive. Only then is there freedom.
"But we have to live in this world, and whatever we do, from earning a livelihood to the most subtle inquiry of the mind, has some motive or other. Is there ever action without motive?"
Don't you think there is? The action of love has no motive, and every other action has.