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Series I - Chapter 1 - ‘Three Pious Egoists’
THE OTHER DAY three pious egoists came to see me. The first was a sannyasi, a man who had renounced the world; the second was an orientalist and a great believer in brotherhood; and the third was a confirmed worker for a marvellous Utopia. Each of the three was strenuous in his own work and looked down on the others’ attitudes and activities, and each was strengthened by his own conviction. Each was ardently attached to his particular form of belief, and all were in a strange way ruthless.
They told me, especially the Utopian, that they were ready to deny or sacrifice themselves and their friends for what they believed. They appeared meek and gentle, particularly the man of brotherhood, but there was a hardness of heart and that peculiar intolerance which is characteristic of the superior. They were the chosen, the interpreters; they knew and were certain.
The sannyasi said, in the course of a serious talk, that he was preparing himself for his next life. This life, he declared, had very little to offer him, for he had seen through all the illusions of worldliness and had forsaken worldly ways. He had some personal weaknesses and certain difficulties in concentration, he added, but in his next life he would be the ideal which he had set for himself.
His whole interest and vitality lay in his conviction that he was to be something in his next life. We talked at some length, and his emphasis was always on the tomorrow, on the future. The past existed, he said, but always in relation to the future; the present was merely a passage to the future, and today was interesting only because of tomorrow. If there were no tomorrow, he asked, then why make an effort? One might just as well vegetate or be like the pacific cow.
The whole of life was one continuous movement from the past through the momentary present to the future. We should use the present, he said, to be something in the future: to be wise, to be strong, to be compassionate. Both the present and the future were transient, but tomorrow ripened the fruit. He insisted that today is but a steppingstone, and that we should not be too anxious or too particular about it; we should keep clear the ideal of tomorrow and make the journey successfully. Altogether, he was impatient of the present.
The man of brotherhood was more learned, and his language more poetic; he was expert in handling words, and was altogether suave and convincing. He too had carved a divine niche for himself in the future. He was to be something. This idea filled his heart, and he had gathered his disciples for that future. Death, he said, was a beautiful thing, for it brought one nearer to that divine niche which was making it possible for him to live in this sorrowful and ugly world.
He was all for changing and beautifying the world, and was working ardently for the brotherhood of man. He considered that ambition, with its attendant cruelties and corruption, was inevitable in a world where you had to get things done; and unfortunately, if you wanted certain organizational activities carried on, you had to be a little bit on the hard side. The work was important because it was helping mankind, and anyone who opposed it had to be put aside – gently, of course. The organization for that work was of the utmost value and must not be hindered. “Others have their paths,” he said, “but ours is essential, and anyone who interferes is not one of us.”
The Utopian was a strange mixture of the idealist and the practical man. His Bible was not the old but the new. He believed in the new implicitly. He knew the outcome of the future, for the new book foretold what it was to be. His plan was to confuse, organize and carry out. The present, he said, was corrupt, it must be destroyed, and out of this destruction the new would be built. The present was to be sacrificed for the future. The future man was all-important, not the present man.
“We know how to create that future man,” he said, “we can shape his mind and heart; but we must get into power to do any good. We will sacrifice ourselves and others to bring about a new state. Anyone who stands in the way we will kill, for the means is of no consequence; the end justifies any means.’,
For ultimate peace, any form of violence could be used; for ultimate individual freedom, tyranny in the present was inevitable. “When we have the power in our hands,” he declared, “we will use every form of compulsion to bring about a new world without class distinctions, without priests. From our central thesis we will never move; we are fixed there, but our strategy and tactics will vary depending upon changing circumstances. We plan, organize and act to destroy the present man for the future man.”
The sannyasi, the man of brotherhood and the Utopian all live for tomorrow, for the future. They are not ambitious in the worldly sense, they do not want high honours, wealth or recognition; but they are ambitious in a much more subtle way. The Utopian has identified himself with a group which he thinks will have the power to reorient the world; the man of brotherhood aspires to be exalted, and the sannyasi to attain his goal. All are consumed with their own becoming, with their own achievement and expansion. They do not see that this desire denies peace, brotherhood and supreme happiness.
Ambition in any form – for the group, for individual salvation, or for spiritual achievement – is action postponed. Desire is ever of the future; the desire to become is inaction in the present. The now has greater significance than the tomorrow. In the now is all time, and to understand the now is to be free of time. Becoming is the continuation of time, of sorrow. Becoming does not contain being. Being is always in the present, and being is the highest form of transformation. Becoming is merely modified continuity, and there is radical transformation only in the present, in being.