You are here

Series I - Chapter 44 - 'Action and Idea'

Series I - Chapter 44 - 'Action and Idea'

Facebook iconTwitter icon
Commentaries on Living

HE WAS MILD and gentle, with a ready and pleasant smile. He was dressed very simply, and his manner was quiet and unobtrusive. He said that he had practised non-violence for many years and was well aware of its power and spiritual significance. He had written several books concerning it and had brought one of them along. He explained that he had not voluntarily killed anything for many years, and was a strict vegetarian. He went into the details of his vegetarianism, and said that his shoes and sandals were made from the hides of animals that had died naturally. He had made his life as simple as possible, had studied dietetics and ate only what was essential. He asserted that he had not been angry for several years now, though he was on occasions impatient, which was merely the response of his nerves.

His speech was controlled and gentle. The power of non-violence would transform the world, he said, and he had dedicated his life to it. He was not the kind of man who talked about himself easily, but on the subject of non-violence he was quite eloquent and words seemed to flow without effort. He had come, he added, to go more deeply into his favourite subject.

Across the way, the large pool was tranquil. Its waters had been very agitated, as there had been a strong breeze; but now it was quite still and was reflecting the large leaves of a tree. One or two lilies floated quietly on its surface, and a bud was just showing itself above the water. Birds began to come, and several frogs came out and jumped into the pool. The ripples soon died away, and once more the waters were still. On the very top of a tall tree sat a bird, preening itself and singing; it would fly in a curve and come back to its high and solitary perch; it was so delighted with the world and with itself. Nearby sat a fat man with a book, but his mind was far away; he would try to read, but his mind raced off again and again. Ultimately he gave up the struggle and let the mind have its way. A lorry was coming up the hill slowly and wearily, and again the gears had to be changed.

We are so concerned with the reconciliation of effects, with the outward gesture and appearance. We seek first to bring about outward order; outwardly we regulate our life according to our resolutions, the inner principles that we have established. Why do we force the outer to conform to the inner? Why do we act according to an idea? Is idea stronger, more powerful than action ?

The idea is first established, reasoned out or intuitively felt, and then we try to approximate action to the idea; we try to live up to it, put it into practice, discipline ourselves in the light of it - the everlasting struggle to bring action within the limits of idea. Why is there this incessant and painful struggle to shape action according to idea? What is the urge to make the outer conform to the inner? Is it to strengthen the inner, or to gain assurance from the outer when the inner is uncertain? In deriving comfort from the outer, does not the outer assume greater significance and importance ? The outer reality has significance; but when it is looked upon as a gesture of sincerity, does it not indicate more than ever that idea is dominant? Why has idea become all-powerful? To make us act? Does idea help us to act, or does it hinder action?

Surely, idea limits action; it is the fear of action that brings forth idea. In idea there is safety, in action there is danger. To control action, which is limitless, idea is cultivated; to put a brake on action, idea comes into being. Think what would happen if you were really generous in action ! So you have the generosity of the heart opposed by the generosity of the mind; you go so far only, for you do not know what will happen to you tomorrow. Idea governs action. Action is full, open, extensive; and fear, as idea, steps in and takes charge. So idea becomes all-important, and not action.

We try to make action conform to idea. The idea or ideal if non-violence, and our actions, gestures, thoughts are moulded according to that pattern of the mind; what we eat, what we wear, what we say, becomes very significant, for by it we judge our sincerity. Sincerity becomes important, and not being non-violent; your sandals and what you eat become consumingly interesting, and being non-violent is forgotten. Idea is always secondary, and the secondary issues dominate the primary. You can write, lecture, gossip about idea; there is great scope in idea for self-expansion, but there is no self-expansive gratification in being non-violent. Idea, being self-projected, is stimulating and gratifying, positively or negatively; but being non-violent has no glamour. Non-violence is a result, a by-product, and not an end in itself. It is an end in itself only when idea predominates. Idea is always a conclusion, an end, a self-projected goal. Idea is movement within the known; but thought cannot formulate what it is to be non-violent. Thought can ponder over non-violence, but it cannot be non-violent. Non-violence is not an idea; it cannot be made into a pattern of action.