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Series III - Chapter 49 - ‘Fragmentary Activities And Total Action’
TWO CROWS WERE fighting, and they meant business. They were flopping about on the ground with their wings locked, and their sharp, black beaks were tearing at each other. One or two of their companions were cawing at them from a nearby tree, and suddenly the whole neighbourhood of crows was there, making an awful noise and trying to stop the fight. There must have been dozens of them, but in spite of their anxious and angry calls, the fight went on. A shout didn’t stop it; then a loud clap of the hands scared them all away, even the fighters, who continued to fly at each other in and out among the branches of the surrounding trees. But it was all over. A black cow tied to a stake had placidly looked in the direction of the fight, and then gone on with her feeding. She was a small animal, as cows go, and very friendly, with big, limpid eyes.
A procession came along the road. It was a funeral. Half a dozen cars were led by a hearse, in which could be seen the coffin, a highly polished affair with many silver fittings. Arriving at the cemetery, all the people got out of their cars, and the coffin was carried slowly to the grave, which had been dug earlier that morning. Twice around the grave they went, and then carefully laid the coffin on two solid planks which spanned the open trench. All knelt as the priest pronounced his blessing, and the coffin was gently lowered into its final resting place. There was a long pause; then each one threw in a handful of the freshly dug soil, and the diggers, in their bright loincloths, began shovelling it into the grave, which was soon filled. A wreath of white flowers, already withering in the hot sun, was placed upon the grave, and the people then solemnly departed.
It had been raining recently, and the grass in the cemetery was dazzlingly green. All around it were palm and banana trees, and flowering bushes. It was a pleasant place, and children would come to play on the grass under the trees, where there were no graves. Early in the morning, long before the sun was up, there was heavy dew on the grass and the tall palms stood out against the starlit sky. The breeze from the north was fresh and it brought with it the long moan of a distant train. Otherwise it was very quiet; there were no lights in the surrounding houses, and the rattle of lorries on the road had not yet begun.
Meditation is the flowering of goodness; it is not the cultivation of goodness. What is cultivated never endures; it passes away, and has to be started again. Meditation is not for the meditator. The meditator knows how to meditate; he practises, controls, shapes, struggles, but this activity of the mind is not the light of meditation. Meditation is not put together by the mind; it’s the total silence of the mind in which the centre of experience, of knowledge, of thought, is not. Meditation is complete attention without an object in which thought is absorbed. The meditator can never know the goodness of meditation.
No longer young, he was a man well-known for his political idealism and his good works. Deep in his heart there was the hope of finding something far greater than these, but he was one of those to whom righteous action had always been the indication of goodness. He was constantly embroiled in reform, which he regarded as the means to an ultimate end: the goodness of society. An odd mixture of piety and activity, he lived in the shell of his own well-reasoned thought; yet he had heard a whisper of something beyond it. He had come with a friend, who was active with him in social reform. The friend was a short, wiry man, and there was about him an air of aggression held in check. He must have seen that aggression is not the right way to proceed, but he couldn’t quite cover it up; it was behind his eyes, and it showed unknowingly when he smiled. As we sat down together in that room, neither of them seemed to notice the delicate blossom that a passing breeze had brought in through the window. It was lying on the floor, and the sun was upon it.
“My friend and I have not come here to discuss political action,” the first one began. “We are well aware of what you think about it. To you, action is not political reformatory or religious; there is only action, a total action. But most of us do not think like that. We think in compartments, which are sometimes watertight, and sometimes pliable, yielding; but our action is always fragmentary. We just don’t know what total action is. We know only the activities of the part, and we hope by putting these various parts together to make the whole.”
Is it ever possible to make the whole by assembling the parts, except in mechanical things? There you have a blueprint, a design to help you to put the parts together. Have you a similar design by which to bring about the perfection of society? “We have,” the friend replied.
Then you already know what the future will be for man? “We are not so conceited as all that, but we do want certain obvious reforms brought about, to which no one can object.”
Surely, reform will always be fragmentary. To be active in doing ‘good’ without understanding total action is in the long run to do harm, isn’t it? “What is total action?”
It is certainly not a putting together of various separate activities. To understand total action, fragmentary activity must cease. It’s impossible to see at one sweep the whole expanse of the heavens by going from one small window to another. One must abandon all windows, mustn’t one?
“That sounds fine intellectually, but when you see the hungry the miserably poor, you boil inside and want to do something.”
Which is most natural. But mere reform is always in need of further reform, and to carry on these various fragmentary activities, without understanding total action, seems so mischievous and destructive. “How are we to understand this total action of which you speak?” asked the other.
Obviously, one has first to abandon the part, the fragmentary, which is the group, the nation, the ideology. Holding on to these, one hopes to understand the whole, which is impossible. It is like an ambitious man trying to love. To love, the desire for success, for power and position, must cease. One can’t have both. Similarly, the mind, whose very thinking is fragmentary, is incapable of discovering this total action.
“Then how can one ever discover it at all?” demanded the friend.
There is no formula for its discovery. The feeling of being whole, complete, is very different from the intellectual description of it. We don’t feel this total being, and we try to bring together the fragments, hoping thereby to have the whole. Sir, if one may ask, why do you do anything? “I feel and think, and action flows from it.”
Doesn’t this lead to contradiction in your various activities?
“Often it does, but one can avoid that contradiction by sticking to a definite course of action.”
In other words, you shut out all activities which have no relation to the one you have chosen. Sooner or later, won’t this create confusion? “Perhaps. But what is one to do?” he asked rather irritably.
Is that merely a verbal question, or do you begin to feel that sticking to a chosen pattern of action is exclusive and harmful? It is because you don’t feel the necessity for total action that you play around with activities which are contradictory. But to feel the necessity for total action, you must inquire deeply within yourself. There’s no inquiry if there’s no humility. To learn there must be humility; but you already know, and how can a man who knows be humble? When there’s humility you can’t be a reformer, or a politician.
“Then we can’t do anything, and we shall be driven into slavery by those of the extreme left whose ideology promises a paradise on earth! They will take power and liquidate us. But such an eventuality can definitely be avoided through intelligent legislation, through reform, and through the gradual socialization of industry. This is what we are after.” “But what about humility?” asked the first one. “I see its importance, but how is one to come by it?”
Surely, not through a method. To practise humility is to cultivate pride. A method implies success, and success is arrogance. The difficulty is that most of us want to be somebody, and this partial, reformatory activity gives us an opportunity to satisfy that urge. Economic or political revolution is still partial, fragmentary, leading to further tyranny and misery, as has recently been shown. There’s only one total revolution, the religious, and it has nothing to do with organized religion, which is another form of tyranny. But why is there no humility?
“For the simple reason that if one were humble, one would not be able to do anything,” asserted the friend. “Humility is for the recluse, not for the man of action.”
You haven’t moved away from your conclusions, have you? You came with them, and you will leave with them; and to think from conclusions is obviously not to think at all. “What prevents humility?” asked the first one.
Fear. Fear of saying “I don’t know; fear of not being a leader, of not being important; fear of not being in the show, whether it be the traditional show, or the latest ideology.
“Am I afraid?” he asked musingly.
Can another answer that question? Mustn’t one discover the truth of the matter for oneself? “I suppose I have been in the limelight for so long that I have taken it for granted that the activities in which I am engaged are the good and the true. You are perfectly right. There’s a certain amount of modification and adjustment on our part, but we dare not think too deeply, because we want to be among the leaders, or at least with the leaders; we don’t want to be the forgotten men.”
Surely, all this indicates that you are really not interested in the people, but in ideologies, schemes and Utopias. You do not love the people, or feel sympathy for them; you love yourself, through your personal identification with certain theories, ideals and reformatory activities. You remain, clothed in a different respectability. You help the people in the name of something, for the good of something. You are actually concerned, not with helping the people, but with advancing the plan or the organization which you assert will help the people. Isn’t this where your real interest lies?
They remained silent and departed.