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Series I - Chapter 23 - 'Belief'

Series I - Chapter 23 - 'Belief'

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Commentaries on Living

WE WERE HIGH up in the mountains and it was very dry. There had been no rain for many months, and the little streams were silent. The pine trees were turning brown, and some were already dead, but the wind was among them. The mountains stretched out, fold after fold, to the horizon. Most of the wild life had gone away to cooler and better pastures; only the squirrels and a few jays remained. There were other smaller birds, but they were silent during the day. A dead pine was bleached white after many summers. It was beautiful even in death, graceful and strong without the blur of sentiment. The earth was hard and the paths were rocky and dusty.

She said that she had belonged to several religious societies, but had finally settled down in one. She had worked for it, as a lecturer and propagandist, practically all over the world. She said she had given up family, comfort and a great many other things for the sake of this organization; she had accepted its beliefs, its doctrines and precepts, had followed its leaders, and tried to meditate. She was regarded highly by the members as well as by the leaders. Now, she continued, having heard what I had said about beliefs, organizations, the dangers of self-deception, and so on, she had withdrawn from this organization and its activities. She was no longer interested in saving the world, but was occupying herself with her small family and its troubles, and took only a distant interest in the troubled world. She was inclined to be bitter, though outwardly kind and generous, for she said her life seemed so wasted. After all her past enthusiasm and work, where was she? What had happened to her? Why was she so dull and weary, and at her age so concerned with trivial things?

How easily we destroy the delicate sensitivity of our being. The incessant strife and struggle, the anxious escapes and fears, soon dull the mind and the heart; and the cunning mind quickly finds substitutes for the sensitivity of life. Amusements, family, politics, beliefs and gods take the place of clarity and love. Clarity is lost by knowledge and belief and love by sensations. Does belief bring clarity? Does the tightly enclosing wall of belief bring understanding? What is the necessity of beliefs, and do they not darken the already crowded mind? The understanding of what is does not demand beliefs, but direct perception, which is to be directly aware without the interference of desire. It is desire that makes for confusion, and belief is the extension of desire. The ways of desire are subtle, and without understanding them belief only increases conflict, confusion and antagonism. The other name for belief is faith, and faith is also the refuge of desire.

We turn to belief as a means of action. Belief gives us that peculiar strength which comes from exclusion; and as most of us are concerned with doing, belief becomes a necessity. We feel we cannot act without belief, because it is belief that gives us something to live for, to work for. To most of us, life has no meaning but that which belief gives it; belief has greater significance than life, We think that life must be lived in the pattern of belief; for without a pattern of some kind, how can there be action? So our action is based on idea, or is the outcome of an idea; and action, then, is not as important as idea.

Can the things of the mind, however brilliant and subtle, ever bring about the completeness of action, a radical transformation in one's being and so in the social order? Is idea the means of action? Idea may bring about a certain series of actions, but that is mere activity; and activity is wholly different from action. It is in this activity that one is caught; and when for some reason or other activity stops, then one feels lost and life becomes meaningless, empty. We are aware of this emptiness, consciously or unconsciously, and so idea and activity become all-important. We fill this emptiness with belief, and activity becomes an intoxicating necessity. For the sake of this activity, we will renounce; we will adjust ourselves to any inconvenience, to any illusion.

The activity of belief is confusing and destructive; it may at first seem orderly and constructive, but in its wake there is conflict and misery. Every kind of belief, religious or political, prevents the understanding of relationship, and there can be no action without this understanding.