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Series III - Chapter 13 - “Why Should It Happen To Us?”
SOMETHING WENT OFF with an explosive bang. It was half-past four in the morning, and still very dark. It wouldn’t be dawn for an hour or more. The birds were still asleep in the trees, and the violent noise didn’t seem to have disturbed them, but they would commence their quarrelsome chatter just as soon as it began to get light. There was a slight ground mist, but the stars were very clear. After the first explosion, several others followed in the distance; there was a period of quiet and then fireworks began going off all over the place. The festive day had begun. That morning, the birds didn’t carry on with their chatter as long as usual, but cut it short and rapidly scattered, for those violent sounds were frightening; but towards evening they would assemble again in the same trees, to tell each other noisily of their daily doings. The sun was now touching the treetops, and they were aglow with soft light; lovely in their quietude, they were giving shape to the sky. The single rose in the garden was heavy with dew. Though it was already noisy with fireworks, the town was slow and leisurely about waking up, for it was one of the great holidays of the year; there would be feasting and rejoicing, and both rich and poor would be giving things to each other.
As it grew dark that evening, the people began to assemble on the banks of the river. They were gently setting afloat on the water small, blunt-clay saucers full of oil, with a wick burning. They would say a prayer and let the lights go floating off down the river. Soon there were thousands of these points of light on the dark, still water. It was an astonishing sight to behold, the eager faces lit by the little flames, and the river a miracle of light. The heavens with their myriad stars looked down on this river of light, and the earth was silent with the love of the people.
There were five of us in that sunlit room: a man and his wife, and two other men. All of them were young. The wife seemed sad and forlorn, and the husband also was grave not given to smiles. The two young men sat shyly silent and let the others begin, but they would doubtless speak when the occasion arose and when their shyness had worn off a bit. “But why should it happen to us?” she asked. There was resentment and anger in her voice, but tears were beginning to fill her eyes and trickle down her cheeks. “We had been good to our son; he was so gay and mischievous, always ready to laugh, and we loved him. We had brought him up so carefully, and had planned a rich life for him...” Unable to go on talking, she stopped and waited till she was a little calmer. “Excuse me for being so upset in front of you,” she presently continued, “but it has all been too much for me. He was playing and shouting, and a few days later he was gone forever. It is very cruel, and why should it happen to us? We have led a decent life; we love each other, and we loved our boy even more. But he is gone now, and our life has become an empty thing – my husband in his office, and I in my house. It has all become so ugly and meaningless.” She would have gone on and on in her bitterness, but her husband gently stopped her. She was sobbing now, without any restraint, and presently was silent.”
This happens to all of us, doesn’t it? When you ask why it should happen to you, you really don’t mean that it should happen only to others and not to you. You share sorrow with the rest. “But what have we done to deserve it? What is our karma? Why didn’t he live? I would gladly have given my life for him.”
Will any explanation, any cunning argument or rationalized belief, fill that aching void? “I naturally want to be comforted, but not by mere words, and not by some future hope. As a result I just can’t find any comfort. My husband has tried to comfort me with the belief in reincarnation, but to no avail. And he too is suffering; even though he believes in reincarnation, sorrow is there. We are both caught up in it and twisted by it. It’s like some frightening, hideous nightmare.” Again her husband interfered to calm her rising feelings.
“I will be quiet and thoughtful, and I am sorry.” “Sir, we know so little of life, of death, so little of our own sorrow,” said her husband. “Since this event I seem to have suddenly matured, and can now ask serious questions. Before, life was gay, and we were constantly laughing; but most of the things that made us happy seem now so silly, so trivial. It has been like a wind-storm that uproots trees and puts sand in one’s food. Nothing will ever be the same again. Suddenly I find myself being dreadfully serious, wanting to know what it is all about and since our son’s death I have read more religious and philosophical books than I read in all my earlier life; but when there’s pain, mere words are not easy to accept. I know how easily belief becomes a slow poison. Belief dulls the sharp edge of thought, but it also dulls the pain, and without it the mind would become an open, sensitive wound. We came to hear you last evening. You gave us no comfort, which I see is right; but we still want to heal our wounds. Can you help us?”
“The wound we all have,” put in one of the other two, “is not to be healed by words, by a comforting phrase. We have come here, not to collect another belief, but to search out the cause of our pain.”
Do you think that merely knowing the cause will free you from pain? “If once I know what causes my inward pain, I can put an end to it. I won’t eat something when I know it will poison me.”
Do you think it is such an easy matter to wipe away the inward wound? Let’s go into it patiently, carefully. What is our problem?
“My problem,” the wife replied “is simple and clear. Why was my son taken away from me? What was the cause of it?”
Will any explanation satisfy you, however comforting it may be for the moment? Haven’t you to find out the truth of the matter for yourself? “How am I to set about it?” demanded the wife. “That’s also one of my problems,” said one of the other two. “How am I to find out what’s true in this bewildering confusion which is the ‘me’?”
“Was it our karma to suffer, to lose the one we most loved?” asked the husband. “Perhaps I might be able to bear the pain of my son’s death,” added the wife, “if I could just have the comfort of knowing why he was taken away.”
Comfort is one thing, and truth another; they lead away from each other. If you seek comfort, you may find it in an explanation, a drug or a belief; but it will be temporary, and sooner or later you will have to begin over again. And is there such a thing as comfort? It may be that you will first have to see this fact: that a mind which seeks comfort, security, will always be in sorrow. A satisfactory explanation, or a comforting belief, can put you soothingly to sleep; but is that what you want? Will that wipe away your sorrow? Is sorrow to be got rid of by inducing sleep?
“I suppose what I really want,” went on the wife, “is to get back into the happy state I once knew – to have again the joy and the pleasure of it. As I can’t do that, I am torn with sorrow, and therefore seek comfort.”
Do you mean that you don’t want to face the fact which you think causes sorrow, and so you try to escape from it? “Why shouldn’t I be comforted?”
But can you find lasting comfort? There may be no such thing. In seeking comfort, what we want is a state in which there will be no psychological disturbance whatsoever. And is there such a state? One may put together, by various means, a state of comfort, but life soon comes knocking at the door. This knocking at the door, this awakening, is called sorrow.
“As you point this out, I see that it is so. But what am I to do?” insisted the wife.
There is nothing to do but realize the truth of this fact, that a mind which seeks comfort security, will always be subject to sorrow. This realization is its own action. When a man realizes he’s a prisoner, he doesn’t ask what to do, but a whole series of actions, or inactions, come into being. From realization itself there is action. “But, sir,” put in the husband, “our wounds are real, and can we not heal them? Is there no healing process at all, but only a state of bitter hopelessness?”
The mind can cultivate any state it desires, but to find out the truth of this whole situation is quite another matter. Now, what is it that you are after? “No man in his senses would want to cultivate bitterness. There is certainly a philosophy of hopelessness, but I have no intention of pursuing that path. I do want to find out, however, what is the cause, the karma of our sorrow.”
Do you two also wish to go into this matter?
“We most certainly do, sir. We have our own problems pertaining to the whole process of karma, and it would help us too if we could all consider it together.”
What is the root meaning of the word ‘karma’? “The root meaning of that word is ‘to act’,” replied the husband, and the others nodded in agreement. “Karma, as it is generally – and I think wrongly – understood, is action as a determining cause. The future is fixed by past action; as you sow, so shall you reap. I have done something in the past for which I shall pay, or from which I shall gain. If my son dies young, it is due to some cause hidden in a past life. There are many variations on this one general formula.”
All things arise and have their being through the chain of causes and effects, do they not? “That seems to be a fact,” replied one of the other two. “I am here in this world because of my father and mother and through other previous causes. I am a result of causes which stretch back infinitely into the past. Both thought and action are the result of various causes.”
Is effect separate from cause? Is there a gap, short or long, an interval of time between them? Is the cause fixed as well as the effect? If cause and effect are static, then the future is already established; and if this is so, there’s no freedom for man, he’s ever caught in a predetermined groove. But this is not so, as you can observe in everyday happenings, where circumstances are continuously influencing the course of actions. There is always a movement of change going on, whether immediate or gradual.
“Yes, sir, I see that; and it is an immense relief to me, who have been brought up in the one-cause and one-effect conditioning, to realize that we need not be slaves to the past.”
The mind need not be held by its conditioning. The effect of a cause is not bound to follow the cause, it may be wiped away. There’s no everlasting hell. Cause and effect are not static, fixed; what was the effect becomes the cause of still another effect. Today is shaped by yester- day, and tomorrow by today. That is true, is it not? So cause and effect are not separate, they are a unitary process. A wrong means cannot be used to a right end, because the means is the end; the one contains the other. The seed contains the total tree. If one really feels the truth of this, then thought is action, there is no thinking first followed by action, with the inevitable problem of how to build a bridge between them. The total awareness of cause and effect as an indivisible unit puts an end to the maker of effort, the ‘I’ who’s everlastingly becoming something through some means.
“Are you not giving your own meaning to karma?” asked the husband.
Either it is true, or it is false. What is true needs no interpretation, and what is interpreted is not true. The interpreter becomes a traitor, for he is merely offering his opinion, and opinion is not truth. “The books say that each one of us starts this life with a certain amount of accumulated karma which has to be worked out,” went on the husband. “We are told that it is in the working out of this accumulated karma, whether in one life or through several lives, that there is the operation of free will. Is this so?”
What do you think, apart from the authority of the books? “I don’t feel able to think it out for myself.”
Let’s consider the matter together. One’s life in this present existence does start with a certain amount of conditioning, karma; every child is influenced by his environment to think within a certain pattern, and his future tends to be determined by this pattern. Either he follows, with a certain latitude, the dictates of the pattern, or he totally breaks away from it. In the latter case, that part of the mind which makes the effort to break away is also a result of conditioning, of karma; so in breaking away from one pattern, the mind creates another, in which it is again caught.
“In that case, how can the mind ever be free? I see very clearly that the part of the mind that wishes to be free from the pattern, and the part that is caught in it, are both held, as it were, in a frame; the former thinks it is different from the latter, but essentially they have the same quality in that neither is totally free. Then what is freedom?” “Most people,” put in one of the young men, “assert that there is a super-soul, the Atman, which will act upon our conditioning and wipe it away through devotion and good works, and through concentration on the Supreme.”
But the entity who is devoted, who does good works, is himself conditioned; and the Supreme on which he concentrates is a projection of his conditioning, is it not? “I see that,” said the husband eagerly. “Our gods, our religious concepts our ideals, are all within the pattern of our conditioning. Now that you point it out, it seems so obvious and factual. But then there’s no hope for man.”
To jump to a conclusion, and to start thinking from that conclusion, prevents understanding and any further discovery.
When the totality of the mind realizes that it’s held within a pattern, what takes place? “I don’t quite understand your question, sir.”
Do you realize that the totality of your mind is conditioned, including the part that is supposed to be the super-soul, the Atman? Do you feel it, know it to be a fact, or are you merely accepting a verbal explanation? What is actually taking place? “I cannot definitely say, for I have never thought out this matter to the end.”
When the mind realizes the totality of its own conditioning – which it cannot do as long as it is merely pursuing its own comfort, or lazily taking the easy course – then all its movements come to an end; it is completely still, without any desire, without any compulsion, without any motive. Only then is there freedom. “But we have to live in this world, and whatever we do, from earning a livelihood to the most subtle inquiry of the mind, has some motive or other. Is there ever action without motive?”
Don’t you think there is? The action of love has no motive, and every other action has.