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Series I - Chapter 36 - 'Words'

Series I - Chapter 36 - 'Words'

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Commentaries on Living

HE HAD READ intensively; and though he was poor, he considered himself rich in knowledge, which gave him a certain happiness. He spent many hours with his books and a great deal of time by himself. His wife was dead, and his two children were with some relatives; and he was rather glad to be out of the mess of all relationship, he added. He was oddly self-contained, independent and quietly assertive. He had come a long way, he said, to go into the question of meditation, and especially to consider the use of certain chants and phrases, whose constant repetition was highly conducive to the pacification of the mind. Also, in the words themselves there was a certain magic; the words must be pronounced rightly and chanted correctly. These words were handed down from ancient times; and the very beauty of the words, with their rhythmic cadence, brought about an atmosphere that was helpful to concentration. And forthwith he began to chant. He had a pleasant voice, and there was a mellowness born of the love of the words and their meaning; he chanted with the ease of long practice and devotion. The moment he began to chant, he was lost to everything.

From across the field came the sound of a flute; it was haltingly played, but the tone was clear and pure. The player was sitting in the rich shadow of a large tree, and beyond him in the distance were the mountains. The silent mountains, the chant, and the sound of the flute seemed to meet and disappear, to begin again. The noisy parrots flashed by; and once again there were the notes of the flute, and the deep, powerful chant. It was early in the morning, and the sun was coming over the trees. People were going from their villages to the town, chatting and laughing. The flute and the chant were insistent, and a few passers-by stopped to listen; they sat down on the path and were caught up in the beauty of the chant and the glory of the morning, which were not in any way disturbed by the whistle of a distant train; on the contrary, all sounds seemed to mingle and fill the earth. Even the loud calling of a crow was not jarring.

How strangely we are caught in the sound of words, and how important the words themselves have become to us: country, God, priest, democracy, revolution. We live on words and delight in the sensations they produce; and it is these sensations that have become so important. Words are satisfying because their sounds reawaken forgotten sensations; and their satisfaction is greater when words are substituted for the actual, for what is. We try to fill our inward emptiness with words, with sound, with noise, with activity; music and the chant are a happy escape from ourselves, from our pettiness and boredom. Words fill our libraries; and how incessantly we talk! We hardly dare to be without a book, to be unoccupied, to be alone. When we are alone, the mind is restless, wandering all over the place, worrying, remembering, struggling; so there is never an aloneness, the mind is never still.

Obviously, the mind can be made still by the repetition of a word, of a chant, of a prayer. The mind can be drugged, put to sleep; it can be put to sleep pleasantly or violently, and during this sleep there may be dreams. But a mind that is made quiet by discipline, by ritual, by repetition, can never be alert, sensitive and free. This bludgeoning of the mind, subtly or crudely, is not meditation. It is pleasant to chant and to listen to one who can do it well; but sensation lives only on further sensation, and sensation leads to illusion. Most of us like to live on illusions, there is pleasure in finding deeper and wider illusions; but it is fear of losing our illusions that makes us deny or cover up the real, the actual. It is not that we are incapable of understanding the actual; what makes us fearful is that we reject the actual and cling to the illusion. Getting caught deeper and deeper in illusion is not meditation, nor is decorating the cage which holds us. Awareness, without any choice, of the ways of the mind, which is the breeder of illusion, is the beginning of meditation.

It is odd how easily we find substitutes for the real thing, and how contented we are with them. The symbol, the word, the image, becomes all-important, and around this symbol we build the structure of self-deception, using knowledge to strengthen it; and so experience becomes a hindrance to the understanding of the real. We name, not only to communicate, but to strengthen experience; this strengthening of experience is self-consciousness, and once caught in its process, it is extremely difficult to let go, that is, to go beyond self-consciousness. It is essential to die to the experience of yesterday and to the sensations of today, otherwise there is repetition; and the repetition of an act, of a ritual, of a word, is vain. In repetition there can be no renewal. The death of experience is creation.