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Series I - Chapter 28 - 'Authority'

Series I - Chapter 28 - 'Authority'

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Commentaries on Living

THE SHADOWS WERE dancing on the green lawn; and though the sun was hot, the sky was very blue and soft. From across the fence a cow was looking at the green lawn and at the people. The gathering of people was strange to her, but the green grass was familiar, though the rains were long gone and the earth was burnt brown. A lizard was picking off flies and other insects on the trunk of an oak. The distant mountains were hazy and inviting.

She said, under the trees after the talk, that she had come to listen in case the teacher of teachers spoke. She had been very earnest, but now that earnestness had become obstinacy. This obstinacy was covered over by smiles and by reasonable tolerance, a tolerance that had been very carefully thought out and cultivated; it was a thing of the mind and so could be inflamed into violent, angry intolerance. She was big and soft-spoken; but there lurked condemnation, nourished by her convictions and beliefs. She was suppressed and hard, but had given herself over to brotherhood and to its good cause. She added, after a pause, that she would know when the teacher spoke, for she and her group had some mysterious way of knowing it, which was not even to others. The pleasure of exclusive knowledge was so obvious in the way she said it, in the gesture and the tilt of the head.

Exclusive, private knowledge offers deeply satisfying pleasure. To know something that others do not know is a constant source of satisfaction; it gives one the feeling of being in touch with deeper things which afford prestige and authority. You are directly in contact, you have something which others have not, and so you are important, not only to yourself, but to others. The others look up to you, a little apprehensively, because they want to share what you have; but you give, always knowing more. You are the leader, the authority; and this position comes easily, for people want to be told, to be led. The more we are aware that we are lost and confused, the more eager we are to be guided and told; so authority is built up in the name of the State, in the name of religion, in the name of a Master or a party leader.

The worship of authority, whether in big or little things, is evil, the more so in religious matters. There is no intermediary between you and reality; and if there is one, he is a perverter, a mischief maker, it does not matter who he is, whether the highest saviour or your latest guru or teacher. The one who knows does not know; he can know only his own prejudices, his self-projected beliefs and sensory demands. He cannot know truth, the immeasurable. Position and authority can be built up, cunningly cultivated, but not humility. Virtue gives freedom; but cultivated humility is not virtue, it is mere sensation and therefore harmful and destructive; it is a bondage, to be broken again and again.

It is important to find out, not who is the Master, the saint, the leader, but why you follow. You only follow to become something, to gain, to be clear. Clarity cannot be given by another. Confusion is in us; we have brought it about, and we have to clear it away. We may achieve a gratifying position, an inward security, a place in the hierarchy of organized belief; but all this is self-enclosing activity leading to conflict and misery. You may feel momentarily happy in your achievement, you may persuade yourself that your position is inevitable, that it is your lot; but as long as you want to become something, at whatever level, there is bound to be misery and confusion. Being as nothing is not negation. The positive or negative action of will, which is desire sharpened and heightened, always leads to strife and conflict; it is not the means of understanding. The setting up of authority and the following of it is the denial of understanding. When there is understanding there is freedom, which cannot be bought, or given by another. What is bought can be lost, and what is given can be taken away; and so authority and its fear are bred. Fear is not to be put away by appeasements and candles; it ends with the cessation of the desire to become.