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Series III - Chapter 50 - ‘Freedom From The Known’
IT WAS A very clear, starry night. There was not a cloud in the sky. The dull roar of the neighbouring city had subsided, and there was a great stillness, unbroken even by the hoot of an owl. The waning moon was just above the tall palms, which were very still, bewitched by the silence. Orion was well up in the western sky, and the Southern Cross was over the hills. Not a house had a light in it, and the narrow road was deserted and dark.
Suddenly, from somewhere among the trees, there came the sound of wailing. At first it was muted, and produced a strange impression of mystery and fear. As it drew nearer, the wailing became sharp and noisy, and it sounded artificial; the sadness didn’t ring quite true. Into the open at last came a procession of people with lamps, and the wailing went on louder than ever. They were carrying on their shoulders what appeared, in the pale moonlight to be a dead body. Going slowly along a path that crossed the open ground and turned to the right, the procession disappeared again among the trees. The wailing grew fainter, and finally stopped. Again there was complete silence – that strange silence which comes when the world is asleep, and which has a quality of its own. It wasn’t the silence of the forest, of the desert, of far, isolated places; nor was it the silence of a fully awakened mind. It was the silence of toil and weariness, of sorrow and the surface flutter of joy. This silence would pass with the coming dawn, and would return with the coming again of the night.
The next morning our host inquired, “Did that procession last night disturb you?”
What was it? “When someone is seriously ill, they call an M.D., but to be on the safe side, they also bring in a man who is supposed to be able to drive away the evil of death. After chanting over the sick man and doing all kinds of fantastic things, the exorcist himself lies down and gives every appearance of going through the pangs of death. Then he is tied on a litter, carried in a procession with much wailing to the burial or burning place, and left there. presently his assistant unties the cords and he comes back to life; the chanting over the sick man is resumed, and then they all quietly go back to their homes. If the patient recovers, the magic has worked; if he does not, then the evil has been too strong.”
The elderly man who had come was a sannyasi, a religious ascetic who had given up the world. His head was shaven, his only garment a newly-washed loincloth of saffron, and he carried a long staff, which he laid beside him as he sat on the floor with the ease of long practice. His body was slim and well-disciplined, and he leaned slightly forward as though he were listening, but his back was perfectly straight. He was very clean, his face was clear and fresh, and he had about him the dignity of otherworldliness. When he spoke he looked up, but other wise he kept his eyes down. There was something very pleasant and friendly about him. He had travelled on foot all over the land going from village to village and from town to town. He walked only in the mornings, and towards evening, not when the sun was hot. Being a sannyasi and a member of the highest caste he had no trouble in getting food, for he was received with respect and fed with care. When, on rare occasions, he travelled by train, it was always without a ticket, for he was a holy man, and he had the air of one whose thoughts were not of this world.
“From one’s youth the world has had little attraction, and when one left the family, the house, the property, it was for always. One has never returned. It has been an arduous life, and the mind is now well-disciplined. One has listened to spiritual teachers in the north and in the south; one has gone on pilgrimages to different shrines and temples, where there was holiness and right teaching. One has searched in the silence of secluded places, far from the haunts of men, and one knows the beneficial effects of solitude and meditation. One has witnessed the upheavals this country has passed through in recent years – the turning of man against man, of sect against sect, the killing, and the coming and going of the political leaders, with their schemes and promised benefits. The cunning and the innocent the powerful and the weak, the wealthy and the poor – they have always coexisted, and always will; for that is the way of the world.”
He was silent for a minute or two, and then continued. “In the talk of the other evening, it was said that the mind must be free from ideas, formulations, conclusions. Why?”
Can search begin from a conclusion, from that which is already known? Must not search begin in freedom? “When there’s freedom, is there any need to search? Freedom is the end of search.”
Surely freedom from the known is only the beginning of search. Unless the mind is free from knowledge as experience and conclusion, there is no discovery, but only a continuance, however modified, of what has been. The past dictates and interprets further experience, thereby strengthening itself. To think from a conclusion, from a belief, is not to think at all.
“The past is what one is now and it is made up of the things that one has put together through desire and its activities. Is there a possibility of being free of the past?”
Isn’t there? Neither the past nor the present is ever static, fixed, finally determined. The past is the result of many pressures, influences and conflicting experiences, and it becomes the moving present, which is also changing, being transformed under the ceaseless pressure of many different influences. The mind is the result of the past, it is put together by time, by circumstances, by incidents and experiences based on the past. But everything that happens to it, outwardly and inwardly, affects it. It does not continue as it was, nor will it be as it is.
“Is this always so?”
Only a specialized thing is set forever in a mould. The seed of rice will never, under any circumstances, become wheat, and the rose can never become the palm. But fortunately the human mind is not specialized, and it can always break away from what has been; it needn’t be a slave to tradition. “But karma is not so easily disposed of; that which has been built up through many lives cannot quickly be broken.”
Why not? What has been put together through centuries or only yesterday, can be undone immediately.
“In what manner?”
Through the understanding of this chain of cause-effect. Neither cause nor effect is ever final, unchangeable – that would be everlasting enslavement and decay. Each effect of a cause is undergoing many influences from within and from without, it is constantly changing, and it becomes in its turn the cause of still another effect. Through the understanding of what is actually taking place, this process can be stopped instantaneously, and there is freedom from that which has been. Karma is not an ever-enduring chain; it’s a chain that can be broken at any time. What was done yesterday can be undone today; there’s no permanent continuance of anything. Continuance can and must be dissipated through the understanding of its process.
“All this is clearly seen, but there’s another problem which must be clarified. It is this. Attachment to family and to property ceased long ago; but the mind is still attached to ideas, to beliefs, to visions.” “It was easy to shake off attachment to worldly things, but with the things of the mind, it’s a different matter. The mind is made up of thought, and thought exists in the form of ideas and beliefs. The mind dare not be empty, for if it were empty, it would cease to be; therefore it is attached to ideas, to hopes, and to its belief in the things that lie beyond itself.”
You say it was easy to shake off attachment to family and property. Why then is it not easy to be free of attachment to ideas and beliefs? Are not the same factors involved in each case? A man clings to family and property because without them he feels lost, empty, alone; and it is for the same reason that the mind is attached to ideas, visions, beliefs. “That is so. Being physically alone, in solitary places, causes one no concern, for one is alone even among the multitude; but the mind shrinks from being without the things of the mind.”
This shrinking is fear, is it not? Fear is caused, not by the fact of being outwardly or inwardly alone, but by anticipation of the feeling of being alone. We are afraid not of the fact, but of the anticipated effect of the fact. The mind foresees and is afraid of what might be.
“Then is fear always of the anticipated future and never of the fact?”
Isn’t it? When there is fear of what has been, that fear is not of the fact itself, but of its being discovered, shown up, which again is in the future. The mind is afraid, not of the unknown, but of losing the known. There is no fear of the past; but fear is caused by the thought of what the effects of that past might be. One is afraid of the inner aloneness, the sense of emptiness, that might arise if the mind no longer had something to cling to; so there is attachment to an ideology, a belief, which prevents the understanding of what is.
“This also is clearly seen.”
And must not the mind be alone, empty? Must it not be untouched by the past, by the collective, and by the influence of one’s own desire? “That is yet to be discovered.”