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Series I - Chapter 55 - 'Challenge and Response'

Series I - Chapter 55 - 'Challenge and Response'

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Commentaries on Living

THE RIVER WAS full and sweeping, in some places several miles wide, and to see so much water was a delight. To the north were the green hills, fresh after the storm. It was splendid to see the great curve of the river with the white sails on it. The sails were large and triangular, and in the early morning light there was an enchantment about them, they seemed to come out of the water. The noise of the day had not yet begun, and the song of a boatman almost on the other side of the river came floating across the waters. At that hour his song seemed to fill the earth, and all other sounds were silenced; even the whistle of a train became soft and bearable.

Gradually the noise of the village began: the loud quarrels at the water fountain, the bleating of goats, the cows asking to be milked, the heavy carts on the road, the shrill call of the crows, the cries and laughter of children. And so another day was born. The sun was over the palm trees, and the monkeys were sitting on the wall, their long tails almost touching the earth. They were large, but very timid; you called to them, and they jumped to the ground and ran to a big tree in the field. They were black faced and black pawed, and they looked intelligent, but they were not as clever and mischievous as the little ones.

"Why is thought so persistent? It seems so restless, so exasperatingly insistent. Do what you will, it is always active, like those monkeys, and its very activity is exhausting. You cannot escape from it, it pursues you relentlessly. You try to suppress it, and a few seconds later it pops up again. It is never quiet, never in repose; it is always pursuing, always analysing, always torturing itself. Sleeping or waking, thought is in constant turmoil, and it seems to have no peace, no rest."

Can thought ever be at peace? It can think about peace and attempt to be peaceful, forcing itself to be still; but can thought in itself be tranquil? Is not thought in its very nature restless? Is not thought the constant response to constant challenge? There can be no cessation to challenge, because every movement of life is a challenge; and if there is no awareness of challenge, then there is decay, death. Challenge-and-response is the very way of life. Response can be adequate or inadequate; and it is inadequacy of response to challenge that provokes thought, with its restlessness. Challenge demands action, not verbalization. Verbalization is thought. The word, the symbol, retards action; and idea is the word, as memory is the word. There is no memory without the symbol, without the word. Memory is word, thought, and can thought be the true response to challenge? Is challenge an idea? Challenge is always new, fresh; and can thought, idea, ever be new? When thought meets the challenge, which is ever new, is not that response the outcome of the old, the past?

When the old meets the new, inevitably the meeting is incomplete; and this incompleteness is thought in its restless search for completeness. Can thought, idea, ever be complete? Thought, idea, is the response of memory; and memory is ever incomplete. Experience is the response to challenge. This response is conditioned by the past, by memory; such response only strengthens the conditioning. Experience does not liberate, it strengthens belief, memory, and it is this memory that responds to challenge; so experience is the conditioner.

"But what place has thought?"

Do you mean what place has thought in action? Has idea any function in action? Idea becomes a factor in action in order to modify it, to control it, to shape it; but idea is not action. Idea, belief, is a safeguard against action; it has a place as a controller, modifying and shaping action. Idea is the pattern for action. "Can there be action without the pattern?"

Not if one is seeking a result. Action towards a predetermined goal is not action at all, but conformity to belief, to idea. If one is seeking conformity, then thought, idea, has a place. The function of thought is to create a pattern for so-called action, and thereby to kill action. Most of us are concerned with the killing of action; and idea, belief, dogma, help to destroy it. Action implies insecurity, vulnerability to the unknown; and thought, belief, which is the known, is an effective barrier to the unknown. Thought can never penetrate into the unknown; it must cease for the unknown to be. The action of the unknown is beyond the action of thought; and thought, being aware of this, consciously or unconsciously clings to the known. The known is ever responding to the unknown, to the challenge; and from this inadequate response arise conflict, confusion and misery. It is only when the known, the idea, ceases that there can be the action of the unknown, which is measureless.