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Series III - Chapter 26 - 'Why Have I No Insight?'
IT HAD BEEN raining continuously for a week; the earth was soggy, and there were large puddles all along the path. The water level had risen in the wells, and the frogs were having a splendid time, croaking tirelessly all night long. The swollen river was endangering the bridge; but the rains were welcome, even though great damage was being done. Now, however, it was slowly clearing up; there were patches of blue sky just overhead, and the morning sun was scattering the clouds. It would be months before the leaves of the newly-washed trees would again be covered with fine, red dust. The blue of the sky was so intense that it made you stop and wonder. The air had been purified, and in one short week the earth had suddenly become green. In that morning light, peace lay upon the land.
A single parrot was perched on a dead branch of a nearby tree; it wasn't preening itself, and it sat very still, but its eyes were moving and alert. It was of a delicate green, with a brilliant red beak and a long tail of paler green. You wanted to touch it, to feel the colour of it; but if you moved, it would fly away. Though it was completely still, a frozen green light, you could feel it was intensely alive, and it seemed to give life to the dead branch on which it sat. It was so astonishingly beautiful, it took your breath away; you hardly dared take your eyes off it, lest in a flash it be gone. You had seen parrots by the dozen, moving in their crazy flight, sitting along the wires, or scattered over the red fields of young, green corn. But this single bird seemed to be the focus of all life, of all beauty and perfection. There was nothing but this vivid spot of green on a dark branch against the blue sky. There were no words, no thoughts in your mind; you weren't even conscious that you weren't thinking. The intensity of it brought tears to your eyes and made you blink - and the very blinking might frighten the bird away! But it remained there unmoving, so sleek, so slender, with every feather in place. Only a few minutes must have passed, but those few minutes covered the day, the year and all time; in those few minutes all life was, without an end or a beginning. It is not an experience to be stored up in memory, a dead thing to be kept alive by thought, which is also dying; it is totally alive, and so cannot be found among the dead.
Someone called from the house beyond the garden, and the dead branch was suddenly bare.
There were three of them, a woman and two men, and they were all quite young, probably in their middle thirties. They had come early, freshly bathed and clothed, and were obviously not of those who have money. Their faces shone with thought; their eyes were clear and simple, without that veiled look that comes with much learning. The woman was a sister of the oldest of them, and the other man was her husband. We all sat on a mat with a red border at each end. The traffic made an awful noise, and one window had to be closed, but the other opened upon a secluded garden in which there was a wide-spreading tree. They were a bit shy, but soon would be talking freely.
"Although our families are well-to-do, all three of us have chosen to lead a very simple life, without pretensions," began the brother. "We live near a small village, read a little, and are given to meditation. We have no desire to be rich, and have just enough to get by. I know a certain amount of Sanskrit, but hesitate to quote the Scriptures authoritatively. My brother-in-law is more studious than I, but we are both too young to be learned. By itself, knowledge has very little meaning; it is helpful only in that it can guide us, keep us on the straight road."
I wonder if knowledge is helpful; may it not be a hindrance? "How can knowledge ever be a hindrance?" he asked rather anxiously. "Surely, knowledge is always helpful."
Helpful in what way? "Helpful in finding God, in leading a righteous life."
Is it? An engineer must have knowledge to build a bridge, to design machines, and so on. Knowledge is essential to those who are concerned with the order of things. The physicist must have knowledge, it's part of his education, part of his very existence, and without it he cannot go forward. But does knowledge set the mind free to discover? Though knowledge is necessary to put to use what has already been discovered, surely the actual state of discovery is free from knowledge.
"Without knowledge, I might wander off the path that leads to God."
Why shouldn't you wander off the path? Is the path so clearly marked, and the end so definite? And what do you mean by knowledge? "By knowledge I mean all that one has experienced, read, or been taught of God, and of the things one must do, the virtues one must practise, and so on, in order to find Him. I am not, of course, referring to engineering knowledge."
Is there so much difference between the two? The engineer has been taught how to achieve certain physical results by the application of knowledge which man has gathered through the centuries; whereas, you have been taught how to achieve certain inner results by controlling your thoughts, cultivating virtue, doing good works, and so on, all of which is equally a matter of knowledge gathered through the centuries. The engineer has his books and teachers, as you have yours. Both of you have been taught a technique, and both of you desire to achieve an end, you in your way, and he in his. You are both after results. And is God, or truth, a result? If it is, then it's put together by the mind; and what is put together can be rent asunder. So, is knowledge helpful in discovering reality?
"I'm not at all sure that it's not sir, in spite of what you say," replied the husband. "Without knowledge, how can the path be trodden?"
If the end is static, if it is a dead thing, without movement, then one or many paths can lead to it; but is reality, God, or whatever name you may give it, a fixed abode with a permanent address? "Of course not," said the brother eagerly.
Then how can there be a path to it? Surely, truth has no path.
"In that case, what's the function of knowledge?" asked the husband.
You are the result of what you have been taught, and on that conditioning your experiences are based; and your experiences, in turn, strengthen or modify your conditioning. You are like a gramophone, playing different records, perhaps, but still a gramophone; and the records you play are made up of what you have been taught, whether by others or by your own experiences. That is so, isn't it?
"Yes, sir," replied the brother, "but is there not a part of me which has not been taught?"
Is there? Surely, that which you call the Atman, the soul, the higher self, and so on, is still within the realm of what you have read or been taught. "Your statements are so clear and meaningful, one is convinced in spite of oneself," said the brother.
If you are merely convinced, then you do not see the truth of it. Truth is not a matter of conviction or agreement. You can agree or disagree about opinions or conclusions, but a fact needs no agreement; it's so. If once you see for yourself that what has been said is a fact, then you are not merely convinced: your mind has undergone a fundamental transformation. It no longer looks at the fact through a screen of conviction or belief; it approaches truth, or God, without knowledge, without any record. The record is the 'me', the ego, the conceited one, the one who knows, the one who has been taught, who has practised virtue - and who is in conflict with the fact.
"Then why do we struggle to acquire knowledge?" asked the husband. "Isn't knowledge an essential part of our existence?"
When there's an understanding of the self, then knowledge has its rightful place; but without this understanding, the pursuit of self-knowledge gives a feeling of achievement, of getting somewhere; it is as exciting and pleasurable as success in the world. One may renounce the outward things of existence, but in the struggle to acquire self-knowledge there is the sensation of accomplishment, of the hunter catching the hunted, which is similar to the satisfaction of worldly gain. There is no understanding of the self, of the 'me', the ego, through accumulating knowledge of what has been or what is. Accumulation distorts perception, and it is not possible to understand the self in its daily activities, its swift and cunning reactions, when the mind is weighed down by knowledge. As long as the mind is burdened with knowledge, and is itself the result of knowledge, it can never be new, uncorrupted.
"May I be permitted to ask a question?" inquired the lady, rather nervously. She had been quietly listening, hesitant to ask questions out of respect for her husband; but now that the other two were reluctantly silent, she spoke up. "I would like to ask, if I may, why it is that one person has insight, total perception, while others see only the various details and are incapable of grasping the whole. Why can't we all have this insight, this capacity to see the whole, which you seem to have? Why is it that one has it, and another has not?"
Do you think it's a gift? "It would seem so," she replied. "Yet that would mean that divinity, is partial, and then there would be very little chance for the rest of us. I hope it's not like that."
Let us inquire into it. Now why are you asking this question? "For the simple and obvious reason that I want that deep insight."
She had lost her shyness now, and was as eager to talk as the other two.
So your inquiry is motivated by a desire to gain something. Gaining, achieving, or becoming something, implies a process of accumulation, and identification with what has been accumulated. Isn't this true? "Yes, sir."
Gaining also implies comparison, does it not? You, who have not that insight, are comparing yourself with someone who has. "That is so."
But all such comparison is obviously the outcome of envy; and is insight to be awakened through envy? "No, I suppose not."
The world is full of envy, ambition, which can be seen in the everlasting pursuit of success, in the relation of the disciple to the Master, of the Master to the higher Master, and so on endlessly; and it does develop certain capacities. But is total perception, total awareness, such a capacity? Is it based on envy, ambition? Or does it come into being only when all desire to gain has ceased? Do you understand?
"I don't think I do."
The desire to gain is based on conceit, is it not?
She hesitated, and then said slowly, "Now that you point it out, I see that fundamentally it is."
So it is your conceit, in the large as well as in the petty sense, that is making you ask this question. "I'm afraid that's also true."
In other words, you are asking this question out of the desire to be successful. Now, can this same question - Why is it that I have no deep insight? - be asked without envy, without giving any emphasis to the 'I'? "I don't know."
Can there be any inquiry at all as long as the mind is tethered to a motive? As long as thought is centred in envy, in conceit, in the desire to be successful, can it wander far and freely? Really to inquire, must not the centre cease?
"Do you mean that envy, or ambition, which is the desire to be or to become something, must wholly disappear, if one is to have deep insight?"
Again, if it may be pointed out, you want to possess that capacity, so you will set about disciplining yourself in order to acquire it. You, the would-be possessor, are still important, not the capacity itself. This capacity arises only when the mind has no motive of any kind. "But you said earlier sir, that the mind is the result of time, of knowledge, of motive; and how can such a mind be without any motive whatsoever?"
Put that question to yourself, not just verbally, superficially, but as seriously as a hungry man wants food. When you are asking, inquiring, it is important to find out for yourself the cause of your inquiry. You can ask out of envy, or you can ask without any motive. The state of the mind which is really inquiring into the capacity of total perception is one of complete humility, complete stillness; and this very humility, this stillness, is that capacity itself. It is not something to be gained.