THE SUN HAD just set behind the trees and the clouds, and the golden glow came through a window of the large room, which was filled with people listening to the music of an eight-stringed instrument accompanied by a small drum. Almost everyone in that audience was following the music with complete absorption, especially a girl in a bright dress, who sat like a statue, her hand keeping perfect time as it gently beat out the rhythm on her thigh. That was the only movement she made; with head erect and eyes glued on the man with the instrument, she was oblivious to everything else about her. Several others in the audience were keeping time with their hands or their heads. They were all in raptures, and the world of wars, politicians, worries, had ceased to exist.
Outside the light was fading, and the flowers that shone with bright colours only a few minutes before had disappeared in the gathering darkness. The birds were quiet now, and one of those small owls was beginning to call. Someone was shouting from a house across the way; through the trees one or two stars could be seen, and a lizard on the white garden wall was just visible as it stealthily crawled towards an insect. But the music held the audience. It was pure and subtle music, with great depth of beauty and feeling. Suddenly the stringed instrument stopped, and the little drum took over; it spoke with a clarity and precision that were really quite incredible. The hands were astonishingly gentle and swift as they struck both sides of the little drum, whose sound said more than the wild chattering of men. That drum, if asked, could send out passionate messages with vigour and emphasis; but now it was speaking quietly of many things, and the mind rode upon the waves of its sound.
When the mind is on the flight of discovery, imagination is a dangerous thing. Imagination has no place in understanding; it destroys understanding as surely as does speculation. Speculation and imagination are the enemies of attentions But the mind was aware of this, and so there was no flight from which it had to be recalled. The mind was perfectly still – yet how rapid it was! It had moved to the ends of the earth and was back again even before it had started on its journey. It was faster than the fastest, and yet it could be slow – so slow that no detail escaped it. The music, the audience, the lizard, were only a brief movement within it. It was perfectly still, and because it was still, it was alone. Its stillness was not the stillness of death, nor was it a thing put together by thought, coerced and brought into being by the vanity of man. It was a movement beyond the measure of man, a movement which was not of time, which had no going and coming, but which was still with the unknown depths of creation.
In his late forties, and rather plump, he had been educated abroad; and quietly, in a roundabout way, he conveyed that he knew all the important people. He made his living by writing for the newspapers about serious subjects, and giving talks all over the country; and he also had some other source of income. He appeared to be well-read, and was interested in religion – as most people are, he added.
“I have a guru of my own and I go to him as regularly as possible, but I am not one of those blind followers. As I travel a good bit, I have met many teachers, from the far north to the southernmost tip of the country. Some are obviously fakes, with a smattering of book knowledge cleverly disguised as their own experience. There are others who have done years of meditation, who practise various forms of yoga, and so on. A few of these are very advanced, but the majority of them are as superficial as any other set of specialists. They know their limited subject, and are satisfied with it. There are ashramas whose spiritual teachers are efficient, capable, assertive and completely autocratic, full of their own sublimated ego. I am telling you all this, not as gossip, but to indicate that I am serious in my search for truth, and that I am capable of discernment. I have attended some of your talks, when time has allowed; and while I have to write for a living, and can’t give all my time to the religious life, I am entirely serious about it.”
If one may ask, what significance do you give to that word `serious’?
“I do not trifle with religious matters, and I really want to lead a religious life. I set apart a certain hour of the day to meditate, and I give as much time as I can to deepening my inner life. I am very serious about it.”
Most people are serious about something, are they not? They are serious about their problems, about the fulfilment of their desires, about their position in society, about their looks, their amusements, their money, and so on.
“Why do you compare me with others?” he asked, rather offended.
I am not belittling your seriousness, but each one of us is serious where his particular interests are concerned. A vain man is serious in his self-esteem; the powerful are serious about their importance and influence.
“But I am sober in my activities, and very earnest in my endeavour to lead a religious life.”
Does the desire for something make for seriousness? If it does, then practically everyone is serious, from the cunning politician to the most exalted saint. The object of desire may be worldly or otherwise; but everyone is serious who is after something, isn’t he?
“Surely there is a difference,” he replied with some irritation, “between the seriousness of the politician or the moneymaker, and that of a religious man. The seriousness of a religious man has a quality which is wholly different.”
Has it? What do you mean by a religious man?
“The man who is seeking God. The hermit or sannyasi who has renounced the world in order to find God, I would call truly serious. The seriousness of the others, including the artist and the reformer, is in a different category altogether.”
Is the man who is seeking God really religious? How can he seek God if he does not know Him? And if he knows the God he seeks, what he knows is only what he has been told, or what he has read; or else it is based on his personal experience, which again is shaped by tradition, and by his own desire to find security in another world.
“Aren’t you being a little too logical?”
Surely one must understand the myth-making mechanism of the mind before there can be the experiencing of that which is beyond the measure of the mind. There must be freedom from the known for the unknown to be. The unknown is not to be pursued or sought after. Is he serious who pursues a projection of his own mind, even when that projection is called God?
“If you put it that way, none of us are serious.”
We are serious in pursuing what is pleasant, satisfying.
“What’s wrong with that?”
It’s neither right nor wrong, but simply a matter of fact. Is this not what is actually taking place with each one of us?
“I can only speak for myself, and I do not think that I am seeking God for my own gratification. I am denying myself many things, which isn’t exactly a pleasure.”
You deny yourself certain things for the sake of a greater satisfaction, don’t you?
“But to seek God is not a matter of gratification,” he insisted.
One may see the foolishness of pursuing worldly things, or be frustrated in the effort to achieve them, or be put off by the pain and strife which such achievement involves; and so one’s mind turns to otherworldliness, to the pursuit of a joy or a bliss which is called God. In the very process of self-denial is its gratification. After all, you are seeking some form of permanency, aren’t you?
“We all are; that’s the nature of man.”
So you are not seeking God, or the unknown, that which is above and beyond the transient, beyond strife and sorrow. What you are really seeking is a permanent state of undisturbed satisfaction.
“To put it so baldly sounds terrible.”
But that is the actual fact, is it not? It is in the hope of attaining total gratification that we go from one teacher to another, from one religion to another, from one system to another. About that we are very serious.
“Conceded,” he said without conviction.
Sir, this is not a matter of concession, or of verbal agreement. It is a fact that we are all serious in our search for contentment, deep satisfaction, however much the manner of achieving it may vary. You may discipline yourself in order to acquire power and position in this world, whereas I may rigorously practise certain methods in the hope of attaining a so-called spiritual state, but the motivation in each case is essentially the same. One pursuit may not be as socially harmful as the other, but both of us are seeking gratification, the continuation of that centre which is ever wanting to succeed, to be or become something.
“Am I really seeking to be something?”
“I don’t care about being known as a writer, but I do want the ideas or principles of which I write to be accepted by the important people.”
Aren’t you identifying yourself with those ideas?
“I suppose I am. One tends, in spite of oneself, to use ideas as a means to fame.”
That’s just it sir. If we can think simply and directly about it, the situation will be clarified. Most of us are concerned, both outwardly and inwardly, with our own advancement. But to perceive the facts about oneself as they are, and not as one would like them to be, is quite arduous; it demands an unbiased perception, without the recognizing memory of right and wrong.
“You are surely not totally condemning ambition, are you?”
To examine what is, is neither to condemn nor to justify. Self-fulfilment in any form is obviously the perpetuation of this centre that is striving to be or become something. You may want to become famous through your writing, and I may want to achieve what I call God or reality, which has its own conscious or unconscious benefits. Your pursuit is called worldly, and mine is called religious or spiritual; but apart from the labels is there so very much difference between them? The aim of desire may vary but the underlying motive is the same. Ambition to fulfil, or to become something, has always within it the seed of frustration, fear and sorrow. This self-centred activity is the very nature of egotism, is it not?
“Good heavens, you are stripping me of everything: of my vanities, my desire to be famous, even of my drive to put across some worthwhile ideas. What shall I do when all this is gone?”
Your question indicates that nothing is gone, doesn’t it? No one can take away from you, inwardly, what you don’t want to give up. You will continue on your way to fame, which is the way of sorrow, frustration, fear.
“Sometimes I do want to chuck the whole rotten business, but the pull is strong.” His tone had become anxious and earnest. “What will stop me from taking that path?”
Are you asking this question seriously?
“I think I am. Sorrow, I suppose?”
Is sorrow the way of understanding? Or does sorrow exist because there’s no understanding? If you examined the whole urge to become something, and the path of fulfilment, not just intellectually, but deeply, then intelligence, understanding, would come into being and destroy the root of sorrow. But sorrow does not bring understanding.
“How is that, sir?”
Sorrow is the result of a shock, it is the temporary shaking up of a mind that has settled down, that has accepted the routine of life. Something happens – a death, the loss of a job, the questioning of a cherished belief – and the mind is disturbed. But what does a disturbed mind do? It finds a way to be undisturbed again; it takes refuge in another belief, in a more secure job, in a new relationship. Again the wave of life comes along and shatters its safeguards, but the mind soon finds still further defence; and so it goes on. This is not the way of intelligence, is it?
“Then what is the way of intelligence?”
Why are you asking another? Don’t you want to find out for yourself? If I were to give you an answer, you would either refute or accept it, which again would impede intelligence, understanding.
“I see what you have said about sorrow to be perfectly true. That’s exactly what we all do. But how is one to get out of this trap?”
No form of external or inward compulsion will help, will it? All compulsion, however subtle, is the outcome of ignorance; it is born of the desire for reward or the fear of punishment. To understand the whole nature of the trap is to be free of it; no person, no system, no belief, can set you free. The truth of this is the only liberating factor – but you have to see it for yourself, and not merely be persuaded. You have to take the voyage on an uncharted sea.
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