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Series III - Chapter 42 - ‘Can Politics Ever Be Spiritualized?’
Series III - Chapter 42 - ‘Can Politics Ever Be Spiritualized?’
BEYOND THE BRIDGE is the sea, blue and distant. There are yellow sands along the curving shore, and spreading palm groves. The city people come here in their cars with their well-dressed children, who shout with the joy of being released from their tight homes and barren streets.
Early in the morning, just before the sun comes out of the sea, when the dew is heavy on the ground and the stars are still visible, this place is very beautiful. You can sit here alone, with the world of intense silence all about you. The sea is restless and dark, made angry by the moon, its waves rolling in with a fury and a roar. But in spite of the deep thunder of the sea, everything is strangely quiet; there is no breeze, and the birds are still asleep. Your mind has lost its impulse to wander the face of the earth, to move among the old, familiar land-marks, to carry on a silent soliloquy. Suddenly and unexpectedly, all that tremendous energy is drawing together, gathering itself, but not to expend itself in movement. There is movement only with the experiencer, who is seeking, gaining, losing. The gathering together of this energy, free of the pressures and influences of desire, however weakened or heightened, has brought complete inward silence. Your mind is fully lighted, without any shadow, and without casting any shadow. The morning star is very clear, steady and unblinking, and there is a glow in the eastern sky. Your mind has not moved one hair’s-breadth; it is not paralysed, but the light of that inward silence has itself become action, without the words and the images of the mind. Its light is without a centre, the maker of shadow; there is only-light.
The morning star is fading away, and soon a golden rim is showing beyond the stirring waters. Across the land, shadows are slowly being cast. Everything is waking up, and a soft breeze is coming from the north. You follow the path that runs by the river and joins the main road. At that hour there are very few people on it, one or two taking their morning stroll; there are almost no cars, and things are fairly quiet. The road goes through a sleepy village, where two small children are using the roadside as their toilet, laughing and talking-away, unaware of the passer-by. A goat is lying down in the middle of the road, and a car goes around it. Some distance beyond the village, you pass through a gate into a well-kept garden, where there are brilliant flowers and a square pond with many lilies in it. The shadows are now deep, but there is still dew on the grass.
He was a middle-aged man from the village, and a lawyer of sorts. He didn’t work very hard, he said, for he had a little property and could give some of his time to other things. At the moment he was writing a book about social conditions in this country. He had met some of the prominent people in the government, and had taken part in the latest movement of land-reform, walking with the others from village to village. His enthusiasm was very marked when he talked about political and social reform, and the whole tone of his voice changed. It became sharp urgent, excited; his head went up, an aggressive look crept into his eyes, and his manner became exertive. Of all this he was entirely unconscious. Words and statistics came to him easily, and he seemed to gather strength as he went along. As one listened without interrupting his flow of explanations and evaluations, he suddenly realized where he was, and awkwardly stopped himself.
“I always get excited when I talk about politics and social reform; I can’t help it. It’s in my blood. It seems to be the same with all of us, at least in this generation: politics are in our blood. Once we have left college, our education continues chiefly through the newspapers, which for the most part are dedicated to politics. I feel that an enormous amount of good can be done through politics, and that’s why I devote a great deal of my time to it. I like it, too; there’s excitement in it.”
As there is in drinking, in sex, in eating, in brutality, and so on. Excitement, in whatever form, gives us a sense of living, and we demand it even in religion. “Do you think it’s wrong?”
What do you think? Hate and war offer great excitement, don’t they? “Personally, I don’t take politics lightly,” he went on, ignoring the question; “to me it is a very serious matter, because I feel it is a marvellous instrument for bringing about essential reforms. political action does produce results, and not in too distant a future, so there is in it a definite hope for the average man. Most religious people don’t seem to realize the importance of political action, which I think is a great pity; for, as one of our leaders has said, politics must be spiritualized. You agree with this, don’t you?”
A truly religious man is not concerned with politics; to him there is only action, a total religious action, and not the fragmentary activities which are called political and social. “Are you opposed to bringing religion into politics?”
Opposition only breeds antagonism, does it not? Let us consider what we mean by religion. But first of all, what do you mean by politics? “The whole legislative procedure: justice, planning for the welfare of the State, guaranteeing equal opportunity for all its citizens, and so on. It is the function of government to rule wisely and to prevent chaos.”
Surely, reform of every kind is also a function of government; it should not be left to the whims and fancies, called ideals, of strong individuals and their groups, for this leads to the fragmentation of the State. In a two-party or multiple-party system, reformers should work either through the government, or as part of the opposition. Why do we need social reformers at all? “Without them, many reforms already achieved would never have come into being. Reformers are necessary because they prod the government. They have greater vision than the average politician and by their example they force the government to bring about needed reforms, or to modify its policy. Fasting is one of the means adopted by the saintly reformers to compel the government to follow their recommendations.”
Which is a sort of blackmail, isn’t it? “Perhaps; but it does force the government to consider and even to carry out necessary reforms.”
The saintly reformer may be mistaken, and often he is when he gets involved in politics. Because he has a certain influence with the public, the government may have to yield to his demands – sometimes with disastrous results, as has recently been shown. Since reform of every kind, through various forms of legislation, is essentially the function of a humane, intelligent government, why don’t these politically-minded saints join the government, or create another political party? Is it that they want to play politics, and yet keep aloof from it?
“I think they want to spiritualize politics.”
Can politics ever be spiritualized? politics are concerned with society, which is always in conflict with itself, always deteriorating. The interrelationship of human beings constitutes society, and that relationship is actually based on ambition, frustration, envy. Society knows no compassion. Compassion is the act of a total and integrated individual.
Now, each of these political-religious reformers asserts that his is the way to salvation, doesn’t he?
“Most of them do, but there are a few who are not so assertive.”
May they not all be greatly mistaken, caught in their own conditioning with strong prejudices and traditional bias? Is there not a tendency for each saintly political leader, with his group of followers, to bring about a further fragmentation and disintegration of the State? “But isn’t that a risk we must take? Can unity be brought about through mere legislation?”
Of course not. There may be a semblance of unity, the outward following of a universal pattern, social or political, but the unity of man can never be brought about through legislation, however enlightened. Where there’s friendship, compassion, the organization of justice is unnecessary; and through the organization of justice, compassion does not necessarily come into being. On the contrary, it may banish compassion. But that’s another matter.
As I was saying, why don’t these saintly politicians join the government, or build up a party to carry out their policies? What’s the need of these reformers, outside of the political field? “They have more power outside of the parliament than they would have within it; they act as moral whips to the government. They do divide the people to some extent, it’s true, but that’s a necessary evil out of which good may come.”
The problem is much deeper than that, isn’t it? Political, economic and social reforms are obviously necessary; but unless we begin to understand the greater issue, which is the totality of man and his total action, such reforms only breed further mischief, necessitating still more reforms, in an endless chain by which man is held.
Now, are there not deeper urges which are compelling these ‘saintly’ political leaders to act as they do? Leadership implies power, the power to influence, to guide, to dominate, and subtly or assertively, these leaders are seekers after power. power in any form is evil, and it will inevitably lead to disaster. Most people want to be led, to be told what to do, and in their confusion they bring into being leaders who are as confused as themselves.
“But why do you say that our leaders are seeking power?” he asked rather sceptically. “They are highly respectable men of good intention and good conduct.”
The respectable are the conventional; they follow tradition, wide or narrow, acknowledged or unacknowledged. The respectable always have the authority of the book, of the past. They may not consciously seek power, but power comes to them through their position, their activities, and so on; and by this power they are driven. Humility is far from them. They are leaders, they have followers. He who follows another, whether it be the greatest saint or the teacher round the corner, is essentially irreligious.
“I see what you mean, sir; but why do these people seek power?” he asked, more earnestly.
Why do you seek power? Having power over one or over thousands, gives an intense possessive pleasure, does it not? There is a pleasurable feeling of self-importance, of being in a position of authority. “Yes, I know it quite well. I feel that pleasurable sense of authority when I am consulted about legal or political matters.”
Why do we seek and try to maintain this exciting sense of power?
“It comes so naturally that it seems to be inbred in us.”
Such an explanation blocks further and deeper inquiry, doesn’t it? If you would find out the truth of the matter, you must not be satisfied by explanations, however plausible and gratifying.
Why do we want to be leaders? There must be recognition in order to feel important; if we are not recognized as such, importance has no meaning. Recognition is part of the whole process of leadership. Not only does the leader acquire importance, but also the follower. By asserting that he belongs to such-and-such a movement, led by so-and-so, the follower becomes somebody. Don’t you find this to be true?
“I’m afraid I do.”
As with the follower, so with the leader. Being insufficient in ourselves, empty, we proceed to fill that emptiness with a sense of possession, power, position, or with knowledge, gratifying ideologies, and so on; we crowd it with the things of the mind. This process of filling, of escaping, of becoming whether it be conscious or otherwise, is the net of the self; it is the ego, the ‘me’, the entity that has identified itself with an ideology, with reform, with a certain pattern of action. In this process of becoming, which is self-fulfilment, there is always the shadow of frustration. Unless this fact is deeply understood, so that the mind is free from the act of self-fulfilment, there will ever be this evil of power, with various labels of respectability attached to it.
“If I may ask, when you yourself refused, many years ago, to continue as the head of a religious organization, had you thought all this out? You were quite young then, and how did it happen that you were able to do this?”
One has an insight, a vague feeling, of what is right, and one does it, without thinking of the consequences. Later comes the reasoned explanation; and because the act is true, the reasons will be adequate and true. But that again is a different matter. We were talking about the inner workings of leaders and followers.
The man who seeks power, or accepts power in any form, is fundamentally irreligious. He may seek power through austerity, through discipline and self-denial, which is called virtue, or through the interpretation of the sacred books; but such a man does not know the immense significance of what may be called religion.
“Then what is religion? I now see clearly that politics cannot be spiritualized, but that it has definite significance in its proper place, which includes the world of reform; and about that world I am still enthusiastic. But I am religious by nature, and I want to know from you what religion means.”
You cannot know it from another; but what does it mean to you? “I was brought up in Hinduism, and what it teaches I accept as religion.”
That’s what the Christian, the Buddhist, the Moslem also does; each accepts as religion the particular pattern of belief, dogma and ritual in which he happens to have been brought up. Acceptance implies choice, doesn’t it? And is there a choice in the matter of religion?
“When I say that I accept what the religion I belong to teaches, I mean that it appeals to my reason. Is there anything wrong in that?”
It’s not a matter of right or wrong, but let’s understand what we’re talking about. From childhood you have been influenced by your parents, and by society, to think in terms of a certain pattern of beliefs and dogmas. Later you may revolt against all that, and take on another pattern of what is called religion; but whether you revolt or not, your reason is based on your desire to be secure, to be ‘spiritually’ safe, and on that urge depends your choice. After all, reason or thought is also the outcome of conditioning, of bias, prejudice, of conscious or unconscious fear, and so on. However logical and efficient one’s reasoning may be, it does not lead to that which is beyond the mind. For that which is beyond the mind to come into being, the mind must be totally still.
“But are you against reason?” he demanded.
Again, it is a matter of understanding, and not of being for or against something. Although one may have the capacity to think efficiently to the very end of a problem, thought is always limited; reason is incapable of going beyond a certain point. Thought can never be free, because all thinking is the response of memory; without memory, there is no thinking. Memory, or knowledge, is mechanical; being rooted in yesterday, it’s always of the past. All inquiry, reasoning or unreasoning, starts from knowledge, the what has been. As thought is not free, it cannot go far; it moves within the limits of its own conditioning, within the boundaries of its knowledge and experience. Each new experience is interpreted according to the past, and thereby strengthens the past, which is tradition, the conditioned state. So thought is not the way to the understanding of reality.
“If one is not to use one’s mind, how is it possible to find out what religion is?”
In the very process of using the mind, of thinking clearly, reasoning critically and sanely, one discovers for oneself the limitation of thought. Thought, the response of the mind in human relationship, is tethered to self-interest, positive or negative; it is bound by ambition, envy, by possessiveness, fear, and so on. Only when the mind has shaken off this bondage, which is the self, is the mind free. The understanding of this bondage is self-knowledge.
“You have not yet said what religion is. To me, religion has always been belief in God, with the whole complex of dogmas, rituals, traditions and ideals that go with it.”
Belief is not the way to reality. Belief and non-belief are a matter of influence, pressure, and a mind that is under pressure, open or hidden, can never fly straight. The mind must be free from influence, from inward compulsions and urges, so that it is alone untrammelled by the past; only then can that which is timeless come into being. There is no path to it. Religion is not a matter of dogma, orthodoxy and ritual; it is not organized belief. Organized belief kills love and friendliness. Religion is the feeling of sacredness, of compassion, of love.
“Must one abandon the beliefs, the ideals, the temple – every thing with which one has been brought up? To do so would be very difficult; one is afraid to stand alone. Is such a thing really possible?”
It is possible the moment you see the urgent necessity of it. But you cannot be compelled; you must see it for yourself. Beliefs and dogmas have very little value – in fact, they are actively harmful, separating man from man and breeding animosity. What matters is for the mind to free itself from envy, from ambition, from the desire for power, because these destroy compassion. To love, to be compassionate, is of the real.
“Deep down, what you say has the ring of truth. Most of us live so much on the surface, we are so immature and subject to influence, that the real thing escapes us. And one wants to reform the world! I must begin with myself; I must cleanse my own heart, and not be carried away with the thought of reforming another. Sir, I hope I may come again.”