You are here

Series III - Chapter 27 - 'Reform, Revolution And The Search For God'

Series III - Chapter 27 - 'Reform, Revolution And The Search For God'

Facebook iconTwitter icon
Commentaries on Living

THE RIVER THAT morning was grey, like molten lead. The sun rose out of the sleeping woods, big, with burning radiance, but the clouds just over the horizon soon hid it; and all day long the sun and the clouds were at war with each other for final victory. Generally there were fisherman on the river, in their gondola-shaped boats; but that morning they were absent, and the river was alone. The bloated carcass of some large animal came floating by, and several vultures were on it, screeching and tearing at the flesh, Others wanted their share, but they were driven off with huge, flapping wings, till those already on the body had had their fill. The crows, furiously cawing, tried to get in between the larger, clumsier birds, but they had no chance. Except for this noise and flutter around the dead body, the wide, curving river was peaceful. The village on the other bank had been awake for an hour or two. The villagers were shouting to each other, and their strong voices came clearly over the water. That shouting had some- thing pleasant about it; it was warm and friendly. A voice would call from across the river, rolling along in the clear air, and another would answer it from somewhere up-stream, or from the opposite bank. None of this seemed to disturb the quietness of the morning, in which there was a sense of great, abiding peace.

The car went along a rough, neglected road, raising a cloud of dust which settled on the trees and on the few villagers who were making their way to and from the filthy, sprawling town. School children also used that road, but they didn't seem to mind the dust; they were too engrossed in their laughter and their play. Entering the main road, the car passed through the town, crossed the railway, and soon was again in the clean, open country. It was beautiful here; there were cows and goats in the green fields and under the huge, old trees, and it was as though you had never seen them before. passing through the town, with its filth and squalor, seemed to have taken away the beauty of the earth; but now it was given back to you again, and you were surprised to see the goodness of the earth, and of the things of the earth. There were camels, big and well-fed, each carrying a great bundle of jute. They never hurried, but kept a steady gait, with their heads held straight up in the air; and on top of each bundle sat a man, urging the awkward beast forward. With a shock of astonishment you saw on that road two huge, slow-swinging elephants, gaily covered with gold-embroidered red cloth, their tusks decorated with silver bands. They were being taken to some religious affair, and were dressed for the occasion; but they were stopped, and there was a conversation. Their huge bulk towered above you; but they were gentle, all enmity and anger were gone. You stroked their rough skin; the tip of a trunk touched your palm softly, curiously, and moved away. The man shouted to get them going again, and the earth seemed to move with them. A small, two-wheeled carriage came along, drawn by a thin, worn-out horse; it had no top, and was carrying a dead human body, wrapped in white cloth. The body was loosely tied to the floor of the unsprung vehicle, and as the horse trotted along over the uneven road, both driver and corpse were bouncing up and down.

The plane from the north had arrived, and the passengers were alighting to take the half-hour rest before starting again. Three were politicians, and by the look of them, they must have been very important people - cabinet ministers, it was said. They came down the cement walk like a ship passing through a narrow channel, all-powerful and altogether above the common herd. The other passengers kept several paces behind them. Everybody knew who they were; if anybody didn't, he was soon told, and the crowd became silent, watching the big men in their glory. But the earth was still green, a dog was barking, and on the horizon were the snow-covered mountains, an astonishing sight to behold.

A small group had gathered in that large, bare room, but only four of them spoke, and somehow these four seemed to speak for them all. It was not a prearranged thing, but it happened quite naturally, and the others were evidently glad that it was so. One of the four, a large man with an assured air, was given to quick and easy statements. The second was not quite so big physically, but he had sharp eyes and a certain ease of manner. The other two were smaller men; but all of them must have been well-read, and words came easily to them. They appeared to be in their forties, and they had all seen something of life, they said, working at the various things in which they were interested.

"I want to talk about frustration," said the large man. "It's the curse of my generation. We all seem to be frustrated in one way or another, and some of us become bitter and cynical, always criticizing others and eager to tear them down. Thousands have been liquidated in political purges; but we should remember that we can also kill others by word and gesture. personally, I am not cynical, though I have given a great part of my life to social work and the improvement of society. Like so many other people, I have played with Communism, and have found nothing in it; if anything, it's a retrogressive movement, and is certainly not of the future. I have been in the government, and somehow it hasn't meant much to me. I have read fairly widely, but reading doesn't make one's heart any lighter. Though I am quick at argument, my intellect says one thing, and my heart says another. I have been at war with myself for years, and there seems to be no way out of this inner conflict. I am a mass of contradictions, and inwardly I am slowly dying... I didn't mean to talk about all this but somehow I am talking. Why do we inwardly die and wither away? It's not only happening to me, but also to the great of the land."

What do you mean by dying, withering away? "One may hold a responsible position, one may work hard and come to the top, but inwardly one is dead. If you told the so-called great among us - those whose names appear every day in the papers over a report of their doings and speeches - that they are essentially dull and stupid, they would be horrified; but like the rest of us, they too are withering away, inwardly deteriorating. Why? We lead moral, respectable lives, yet behind the eyes there's no flame. Some of us are not out for ourselves - at least I don't think so - and yet our inner life is ebbing away; whether we know it or not, and whether we live in ministerial houses or in the bare rooms of devoted workers, spiritually we have one foot in the grave. Why?"

May it not be that we are choked by our conceits, by the pride of success and achievement, by the things that have great value for the mind? When the mind is weighed down by the things it has gathered, the heart withers. Isn't it very strange that everybody wants to climb the ladder of success and recognition? "We are brought up on it. And I suppose that as long as one is climbing the ladder, or sitting at the top of it, frustration is inevitable. But how is one to get over this sense of frustration?"

Very simply, by not climbing. If you see the ladder and know where it leads, if you understand its deeper implications and do not set foot even on its first rung, you can never be frustrated.

"But I can't just sit still and decay!"

You are decaying now, in the midst of your ceaseless activity; and if like the self-disciplining hermit, you merely sit still while inwardly burning with desire, with all the fears of ambition and envy, you will continue to wither away. Isn't it true, sir, that decay comes with respectability? This does not mean that one must become disreputable. But you are very virtuous, are you not? "I try to be."

The virtue of society leads to death. To be conscious of one's virtue is to die respectably. Outwardly and inwardly you are conforming to the rules of social morality, aren't you?

"Unless most of us did, the whole structure of society would crumble. Are you preaching moral anarchy?"

Am I? Social morality is mere respectability. Ambition, greed, the conceit of achievement and its recognition, the brutality of power and position, killing in the name of an ideology or a country - this is the morality of society. "Nevertheless, our social and religious leaders do preach against at least some of these things."

The fact is one thing, and preaching is another. To kill for an ideology or a country is very respectable, and the killer, the general who organizes mass murder, is highly regarded and decorated. The man of power has the important place in the land. The preacher and the preached-at are in the same boat, are they not?

"All of us are in the same boat," put in the second one, "and we are struggling to do something about it."

If you see that the boat has many holes and is sinking fast, won't you jump out? "The boat is not as bad as all that. We must patch it up, and everybody should lend a hand. If everybody did, the boat would stay afloat on the river of life."

You are a social worker, are you not?

"Yes, sir, I am, and I have had the privilege of being closely associated with some of our greatest reformers. I believe that reform, not revolution, is the only way out of this chaos. Look what the Russian revolution has come to! No, sir, the really great men have always been reformers."

What do you mean by reform? "To reform is gradually to improve the social and economic conditions of the people through the various schemes that we have formulated; it is to lessen poverty, to remove superstition, to get rid of class divisions, and so on."

Such reformation is always within the existing social pattern. A different group of people may come out on top, new legislation may be enacted, there may be the nationalization of certain industries, and all the rest of it; but it is always within the present framework of society. That is what's called reform, isn't it? "If you object to that, then you can only be advocating revolution; and we all know that the great revolution following the first world war has since proved itself to be a retrogressive movement, as my friend pointed out, guilty of every kind of horror and suppression. Industrially the Communists may advance, they may equal or surpass other nations; but man doesn't live by bread alone, and we certainly don't want to follow that pattern."

A revolution within the pattern, within the framework of society, is no revolution at all; it may be progressive or retrogressive, but like reform, it is only a modified continuation of what has been. However good and necessary the reform, it can only bring about a superficial change, which will again require further reform. There is no end to this process, because society is ever disintegrating within the pattern of its own existence.

"Do you then maintain, sir, that all reform, however beneficial, is just so much patchwork, and that no amount of reform can bring about a total transformation of society?"

Total transformation can never take place within the pattern of any society, whether that society be tyrannical or so-called democratic. "Is not a democratic society more significant and worth while than a police or tyrannical State?"

Of course.

"Then what do you mean by the pattern of society?"

The pattern of society is human relationship based on ambition, envy, on the personal or collective desire for power, on the hierarchical attitude, on ideologies, dogmas, beliefs. Such a society may and generally does profess to believe in love, in goodness; but it is always ready to kill, to go to war. Within the pattern, change is no change at all, however revolutionary it may appear. When the patient needs a major operation, it's foolish merely to alleviate the symptoms.

"But who's to be the surgeon?"

You have to operate on yourself, and not rely on another, however good a specialist you may think him to be. You have to step out of the pattern of society, the pattern of greed, of acquisitiveness, of conflict. "Will my stepping out of the pattern affect society?"

First step out of it, and see what happens. To stay within the pattern and ask what will happen if you step out of it is a form of escape, a perverted and useless inquiry.

"Unlike these two gentlemen," said the third one in a mild and pleasant voice, "I know none of the eminent people; I move in a different circle altogether. I have never thought of becoming famous, but have remained in the background, anonymously doing my part. I gave up my wife, put away the joys of having a home and children, and devoted myself completely to the work of liberating our country. I did all this most earnestly and with great diligence. I sought no power for myself; I only wanted our country to be free, to grow into a holy nation, to have again the glory and the grace that was India. But I have seen all the things that have been going on; I have watched the conceit, the pomp, the corruption, the favouritism, and have heard the double talk of the various politicians, including the leaders of the party to which I belonged. I didn't sacrifice my life, my pleasures, my wife, my money, in order that corrupt men might rule the land. I eschewed power for the good of the country - only to see these ambitious politicians rise to positions of power. I now realize that I have spent vainly the best years of my life, and I feel like committing suicide."

The others were silent, appalled by what had been said; for they were all politicians, in fact and at heart.

Sir, most people do give a perverted twist to their lives, and perhaps discover it too late, or never at all. If they attain position and power, they do damage in the name of the country; they become mischief makers in the name of peace, or of God. Conceit and ambition rule the land everywhere, with varying degrees of barbarity and ruthlessness. political activity is concerned with only a very small part of life; it has its importance, but when it usurps the whole field of existence, as it is doing now, it becomes monstrous, corrupting thought and action. We glorify and respect the man in power, the leader, because in us there is the same craving for power and position, the same desire to control and to dictate. It is every individual who brings into being the leader; it is out of every man's confusion, envy, ambition, that the leader is made, and to follow the leader is to follow one's own demands, urges and frustrations. The leader and the follower are both responsible for the sorrow and the confusion of man.

"I recognize the truth of what you are saying, though it is hard for me to acknowledge it. And now, after all these years, I really do not know what to do. I have wept with the tears of my heart, but what's the good of all that? I cannot undo what is done. I have encouraged thousands, by word and action, to accept and to follow. Many of them are like me, though not in my extreme plight; they have changed their allegiance from one leader to another, from one party to another, from one set of catch-words to another. But I am out of it all, and I don't want to go near any of the leaders again. I have striven in vain all these years; the garden I so carefully cultivated has turned to rubble and stone. My wife is dead, and I have no companion. I see now that I have followed man-made gods: the State, the authority of the leader and the subtle vanities of one's own importance. I have been blind and foolish."

But if you really perceive that all you have worked for is foolish and vain, that it only leads to further misery, then there is already the beginning of clarity. When your intention is to go north, and you discover that you have actually been moving south, that very discovery is a turning to the north. Isn't that so? "It's not quite as simple as that. I see now that the path I have been following leads only to the misery and destruction of man; but I do not know any other path to take."

There is no path to that which is beyond all the paths that men have made and trodden. To find that pathless reality, you have to see the truth in the false, or the false as the false. If you perceive that the path you have trodden is false - not in comparison with something else, not through the judgment of disappointment, nor through the evaluation of social morality, but false in itself - then that very perception of the false is awareness of the true. You do not have to follow the true: the true sets you free from the false.

"But I still feel impelled to take my own life and end it all."

The desire to end it all is the outcome of bitterness, of deep frustration. If the path you were following, even though utterly false in itself, had led to that which you had thought of as the goal; if, in a word, you had been successful, there would have been no sense of frustration, no bitter disappointment. Until you met with this final frustration, you never questioned what you were doing, you never inquired to find out if it were true or false in itself. If you had, things might have been very different. You were swept along by the current of self-fulfilment; and now it has left you isolated frustrated, disappointed.

"I think I see what you mean. You are saying that any form of self-fulfilment - in the State, in good works, in some utopian dream - must inevitably lead to frustration, to this barren state of mind. I am now aware of that very clearly."

The rich flowering of goodness in the mind - which is very different from being 'good' in order to achieve an end, or to become something - is in itself right action. Love is its own action, its own eternity. "Though it is late," said the fourth one, "may I ask a question? Will belief in God help one to find Him?"

To find truth, or God, there must be neither belief nor disbelief. The believer is as the non-believer; neither will find the truth, for their thought is shaped by their education, by their environment, by their culture, and by their own hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. A mind that is not free from all these conditioning influences can never find the truth, do what it will.

"Then to seek God is not important?"

How can a mind that is fearful, envious, acquisitive, discover that which is beyond itself? It will find only its own projections, the images, beliefs and conclusions in which it is caught. To find out what is true, or what is false, the mind must be free. To seek God without understanding oneself has very little meaning. Search with a motive is no search at all. "Can there ever be search without a motive?"

When there's a motive for search, the end of the search is already known. Being unhappy, you seek happiness; therefore you have ceased to seek, for you think you already know what happiness is. 25 "Then is search an illusion?"

One among many. When the mind has no motive, when it is free and not urged on by any craving, when it is totally still, then truth is. You do not have to seek it; you cannot pursue or invite it. It must come.