You are here

Series I - Chapter 45 - 'Life in a City'

Series I - Chapter 45 - 'Life in a City'

Facebook iconTwitter icon
Commentaries on Living

IT WAS A well-proportioned room, quiet and restful. The furniture was elegant and in very good taste; the carpet was thick and soft. There was a marble fireplace, with a fire in it. There were old vases from different parts of the world, and on the walls were modern paintings as well as some by the old masters. Considerable thought and care had been spent on the beauty and comfort of the room, which reflected wealth and taste. The room overlooked a small garden, with a lawn that must have been mowed and rolled for many, many years.

Life in a city is strangely cut off from the universe; man-made buildings have taken the place of valleys and mountains, and the roar of traffic has been substituted for that of boisterous streams. At night one hardly ever sees the stars, even if one wishes to, for the city lights are too bright; and during the day the sky is limited and held. Something definitely happens to the city-dwellers; they are brittle and polished, they have churches and museums, drinks and theatres, beautiful clothes and endless shops. There are people everywhere, on the streets, in the buildings, in the rooms. A cloud passes across the sky, and so few look up. There is rush and turmoil.

But in this room there was quiet and sustained dignity. It had that atmosphere peculiar to the rich, the feeling of aloof security and assurance, and the long freedom from want. He was saying that he was interested in philosophy, both of the East and of the West, and how absurd it was to begin with the Greeks, as though nothing existed before them; and presently he began to talk of his problem: how to give, and to whom to give. The problem of having money, with its many responsibilities, was somewhat disturbing him. Why was he making a problem of it? Did it matter to whom he gave, and with what spirit? Why had it become a problem?

His wife came in, smart, bright and curious. Both of them seemed well read, sophisticated and worldly wise; they were clever and interested in many things. They were the product of both town and country, but mostly their hearts were in the town. That one thing, compassion, seemed so far away. The qualities of the mind were deeply cultivated; there was a sharpness, a brutal approach, but it did not go very far. She wrote a little, and he was some kind of politician; and how easily and confidently they spoke. Hesitancy is so essential to discovery, to further understanding; but how can there be hesitancy when you know so much, when the self-protective armour is so highly polished and all the cracks are sealed from within? Line and form become extraordinarily important to those who are in bondage to the sensate; then beauty is sensation, goodness a feeling, and truth a matter of intellection. When sensations dominate, comfort becomes essential, not only to the body, but also to the psyche; and comfort, especially that of the mind, is corroding, leading to illusion.

We are the things we possess, we are that to which we are attached. Attachment has no nobility. Attachment to knowledge is not different from any other gratifying addiction. Attachment is self-absorption, whether at the lowest or at the highest level. Attachment is self-deception, it is an escape from the hollowness of the self. The things to which we are attached - property, people, ideas - become all-important, for without the many things which fill its emptiness, the self is not. The fear of not being makes for possession; and fear breeds illusion, the bondage to conclusions. Conclusions, material or ideational, prevent the fruition of intelligence, the freedom in which alone reality can come into being; and without this freedom, cunning is taken for intelligence. The ways of cunning are always complex and destructive. It is this self-protective cunning that makes for attachment; and when attachment causes pain, it is this same cunning that seeks detachment and finds pleasure in the pride and vanity of renunciation. The understanding of the ways of cunning, the ways of the self, is the beginning of intelligence.