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Series III - Chapter 3 - 'The Escape From What Is'
IT WAS A RATHER nice garden, with open, green lawns and flowering bushes, completely enclosed by wide-spreading trees. There was a road running along one side of it, and one often overheard loud talk, especially in the evenings, when people were making their way home. Otherwise it was very quiet in the garden. The grass was watered morning and evening, and at both times there were a great many birds running up and down the lawn in search of worms. They were so eager in their search, that they would come quite close without any fear when one remained seated under a tree. Two birds, green and gold, with square tails and a long, delicate feather sticking out, came regularly to perch among the rose - bushes. They were exactly the same colour as the tender leaves and it was almost impossible to see them. They had flat heads and long, narrow eyes, with dark beaks. They would swoop in a curve close to the ground, catch an insect, and return to the swaying branch of a rosebush. It was a most lovely sight, full of freedom and beauty. One couldn't get near them, they were too shy; but if one sat under the tree without moving too much, one would see them disporting themselves, with the sun on their transparent golden wings.
Often a big mongoose would emerge from the thick bushes, its red nose high in the air and its sharp eyes watching every movement around it. The first day it seemed very disturbed to see a person sitting under the tree, but it soon got used to the human presence. It would cross the whole length of the garden, unhurriedly, its long tail flat on the ground. Sometimes it would go along the edge of the lawn, close to the bushes, and then it would be much more alert, its nose vibrant and twitching. Once the whole family came out the big mongoose leading, followed by his smaller wife, and behind her, two little ones, all in a line. The babies stopped once or twice to play; but when the mother, feeling that they weren't immediately behind her, turned her head sharply, they raced forward and fell in line again.
In the moonlight the garden became an enchanted place, the motionless, silent trees casting long, dark shadows across the lawn and among the still bushes. After a great deal of bustle and chatter, the birds had settled down for the night in the dark foliage. There was now hardly anyone on the road, but occasionally one would hear a song in the distance, or the notes of a flute being played by someone on his way to the village. Otherwise the garden was very quiet, full of soft whispers. Not a leaf stirred, and the trees gave shape to the hazy, silver sky.
Imagination has no place in meditation; it must be completely set aside, for the mind caught in imagination can only breed delusions. The mind must be clear, without movement, and in the light of that clarity the timeless is revealed.
He was a very old man with a white beard, and his lean body was scarcely covered by the saffron robe of a sannyasi. He was gentle in manner and speech, but his eyes were full of sorrow - the sorrow of vain search. At the age of fifteen he had left his family and renounced the world, and for many years he had wandered all over India visiting ashramas, studying, meditating, endlessly searching. He had lived for a time at the ashrama of the religious-political leader who had worked so strenuously for the freedom of India and had stayed at another in the south, where the chanting was pleasant. In the hall where a saint lived silently, he too, amongst many others, had remained silently searching. There were ashramas on the east coast and on the west coast where he had stayed, probing, questioning discussing. In the far north, among the snows and in the cold caves, he had also been; and he had meditated by the gurgling waters of the sacred river. Living among the ascetics, he had physically suffered, and he had made long pilgrimages to sacred temples. He was well versed in Sanskrit, and it had delighted him to chant as he walked from place to place.
"I have searched for God in every possible way from the age of fifteen, but I have not found Him, and now I am past seventy. I have come to you as I have gone to others, hoping to find God. I must find Him before I die - unless, indeed, He is just another of the many myths of man."
If one may ask, sir, do you think that the immeasurable can be found by searching for it? By following different paths, through discipline and self-torture, through sacrifice and dedicated service, will the seeker come upon the eternal? Surely, sir, whether the eternal exists or not is unimportant, and the truth of it may be uncovered later; but what is important is to understand why we seek, and what it is that we are seeking. Why do we seek?
"I seek because, without God, life has very little meaning. I seek Him out of sorrow and pain. I seek Him because I want peace. I seek Him because He is the permanent the changeless; because there is death, and He is deathless. He is order, beauty and goodness, and for this reason I seek Him."
That is, being in agony over the impermanent we hopefully pursue what we call the permanent. The motive of our search is to find comfort in the ideal of the permanent, and this ideal is born of impermanency, it has grown out of the pain of constant change. The ideal is unreal, whereas the pain is real; but we do not seem to understand the fact of pain, and so we cling to the ideal, to the hope of painlessness. Thus there is born in us the dual state of fact and ideal, with its endless conflict between what is and what should be. The motive of our search is to escape from impermanency, from sorrow, into what the mind thinks is the state of permanency, of everlasting bliss. But that very thought is impermanent, for it is born of sorrow. The opposite, however exalted, holds the seed of its own opposite. Our search, then, is merely the urge to escape from what is.
"Do you mean to say that we must cease to search?"
If we give our undivided attention to the understanding of what is, then search, as we know it, may not be necessary at all. When the mind is free from sorrow, what need is there to search for happiness? "Can the mind ever be free from sorrow?"
To conclude that it can or that it cannot be free is to put an end to all inquiry and understanding. We must give our complete attention to the understanding of sorrow and we cannot do this if we are trying to escape from sorrow, or if our minds are occupied in seeking the cause of it. There must be total attention, and not oblique concern.
When the mind is no longer seeking, no longer breeding conflict through its wants and cravings, when it is silent with understanding, only then can the immeasurable come into being.