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Series III - Chapter 17 - 'Outward Modification And Inward Disintegration'
THE TRAIN SOUTH was very crowded, but more people were squeezing in, with their bundles and their trunks. They were dressed in every kind of way. Some wore heavy overcoats, while others had hardly anything on, even though it was quite cold. There were long coats and tight chudidars, sloppily tied turbans and turbans that were neatly tied and of different colours. When everybody had more or less settled down, the shouts could be heard of the vendors on the station platform. They were selling almost everything: soda water, cigarettes, magazines, peanuts, tea and coffee, sweets and cooked things, toys, rugs - and, strangely enough, a flute, made of polished bamboo. Its vendor was playing upon a similar one, and it had a sweet tone. It was an excited and noisy crowd. Many people had come to see off a man who must have been a fairly important person, for he was weighed down with garlands, which had a goodly smell amidst the acrid smoke of the engine and the other unpleasant odors associated with railroad stations. Two or three people were helping an old woman get into a compartment, for she was rather stout and insisted on carrying her own heavy bundle. An infant was screaming at the top of its voice, while the mother was trying to hold it to her breast. A bell rang, the engine whistle screeched, and the train began to move, not to stop again for several hours.
It was beautiful country, and the dew was still on the fields and on the leaves of the spreading trees. We ran for some distance beside a full-flowing river and the countryside seemed to open out into endless beauty and life. Here and there were small, smoky villages, with cattle roaming about the fields, or pulling water from a well. A boy clad in dirty rags was driving two or three cows before him along a path; he waved, smiling, as the train roared by. On that morning the sky was intensely blue, the trees were washed and the fields well-watered by the recent rains and the people were going about their work; but it wasn't for this reason that heaven was very close to the earth. There was in the air a feeling of something sacred, to which one's whole being responded. The quality of the blessing was strange and healing; the solitary man walking along that road, and the hovel by the wayside, were bathed in it. You would never find it in churches, temples or mosques, for these are handmade and their gods hand-wrought. But there in the open country, and in that rattling train, was the inexhaustible life, a blessing that can neither be sought nor given. It was there for the taking, like that small yellow flower springing up so close to the rails. The people in the train were chatting and laughing, or reading their morning paper, but it was there among them, and among the tender, growing things of the early spring. It was there, immense and simple, the love which no book can reveal, and which the mind cannot touch. It was there on that wondrous morning, the very life of life.
There were eight of us in the room, which was pleasantly dark, but only two or three took part in the conversation. Just outside they were cutting the grass; someone was sharpening a scythe and the children's voices came into the room. Those who had come were very much in earnest. They all worked hard in various ways for the betterment of society, and not for outward, personal gain; but vanity is a strange thing, it hides under the cloak of virtue and respectability.
"The institution we represent is disintegrating," began the oldest one; "it has been sinking for the past several years, and we must do something to stop this disintegration. It is so easy to destroy an organization, but so very difficult to build it up and maintain it. We have faced many crises, and somehow we have always managed to survive them, bruised, but still able to function. Now, however, we have reached a point where we have to do something drastic; but what? That is our problem."
What needs to be done depends on the symptoms of the patient, and upon those who are responsible for the patient. "We know very well the symptoms of disintegration, they are all too obvious. Though outwardly the institution is recognized and flourishing, inwardly it is rotting. Our workers are what they are; we have had our differences, but have managed to pull along together for more years than I care to remember. If we were satisfied with mere outward appearances, we would consider all to be well; but those of us who are on the inside, know there is a decline."
You and others who have built up and are responsible for this institution, have made it what it is; you are the institution. And disintegration is inherent in every institution, in every society or culture, is it not? "That is so," agreed another. "As you say, the world is of our own making; the world is us, and we are the world. To change the world, we must change ourselves. This institution is part of the world; as we rot, so do the world and the institution. Regeneration must therefore begin with ourselves. The trouble is, sir, that life to us is not a total process; we act at different levels, each in contradiction with the others. This institution is one thing, and we are another. We are managers, presidents, secretaries, the top officials by whom the institution is run. We don't regard it as our own life; it is something apart from us, something to be managed and reformed. When you say that the organization is what we are we admit it verbally, but not inwardly; we are concerned with operating upon the institution, and not upon ourselves."
Do you see that you are in need of an operation? "I see that we are in need of a drastic operation," said the oldest one; "but who is to be the surgeon?"
Each one of us is the surgeon and the patient; there is no outside authority who is going to wield the knife. The very perception of the fact that an operation is necessary sets in motion an action which will in itself be the operation. But if there's to be an operation, it means considerable disturbance, disharmony, for the patient has to stop living in a routine manner. Disturbance is inevitable. To avoid all disturbance of things as they are is to have the harmony of the graveyard, which is well-kept and orderly, but full of buried putrefaction.
"But is it possible, being constituted as we are, to operate upon ourselves?"
Sir, by asking that question, are you not building a wall of resistance which prevents the operation from taking place? Thus you are unconsciously allowing deterioration to continue. "I want to operate upon myself, but I don't seem able to do it."
When you try to operate upon yourself, there is no operation at all. Making an effort to stop deterioration is another way of avoiding the fact; it is to allow deterioration to go on. Sir, you don't really want an operation; you want to tinker, to improve outward appearances with little changes here and there. You want to reform, to cover the rot with gold in order that you may have the world and the institution you desire. But we are all getting old, and we are going to die. I am not foisting this on you; but why don't you remove your hand and let there be an operation? Clean, healthy blood will flow if you don't hinder it.