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Series III - Chapter 53 - ‘Asceticism And Total Being’
WE WERE FLYING very high, over fifteen thousand feet. The plane was crowded, without an empty seat. people from all over the world were in it. Far below, the sea was the colour of new spring grass, delicate and enchanting. The island from which we had taken off was dark green; the black roads and the red paths, winding through the palm groves and the thick, green vegetation, were clear and sharp, and the red-roofed houses were pleasant to look upon. The sea gradually became grey-green, and then blue. Now we were above the clouds, and they hid the earth, stretching mile upon mile as far as the eye could see. Overhead the sky was pale blue vast and all-enclosing. A slight wind was behind us, and we were flying fast, better than three hundred and fifty miles an hour. Suddenly the clouds parted, and there, far below, was the barren, red earth, with but little vegetation. Its red was like the glow of a forest on fire. There was no forest, but the earth itself was aflame, not with fire, but with colour; it was intense and startling. Soon we were flying over fertile land, with villages and hamlets scattered among the green fields. The earth was now divided after man’s heart, and each cultivated section was held, possessed. It was like an endless multicoloured carpet, but each colour belonged to somebody. A river wound its way through it all, and along its banks there were trees, casting the long shadows of the morning. Far away were the mountains, stretching right across the land. It was beautiful country; there was space and age.
Beyond the noise of the propellers and the chattering of the people, and beyond its own chattering, the mind was in movement. It was a completely silent journey, not in time and space, but into itself. This inward movement was not the outward journeying of the mind within the narrow or extensive field of its own making, of its own clamorous past. It was not a journey undertaken by the mind; it was an altogether different movement. The totality of the mind, not just a part of it, the hidden as well as the open, was completely still. The recording of this fact, here, is not the fact; the fact is wholly different from the words which record it. That stillness was not in the measure of time. Becoming and being have no relationship with each other; they move in entirely different directions; the one does not lead to the other. In the stillness of being, the past as the watcher, as the experiencer, is not. There is no activity of time. It’s not a remembrance that is communicating, but the actual movement itself – the movement of silence into the measureless. It’s a movement that does not start from a centre, that does not go from one point to another; it has no centre, no observer. It’s a journey of the total being, and the total being has no contradiction of desire. In this journey of the whole, there is no point of departure and no point of arrival. The whole mind is still, and this stillness is a movement which is not the journeying of the mind.
The drenching rain had come and gone, but there was still the sound of falling water everywhere. In the room it was very damp, and it would take several days for things to dry out. The man who had come had deep-set eyes, and a good body. He had renounced the world and its ways; and while he did not wear the robes of that renunciation, there was stamped on his face the thought of other things. He had not shaved recently, for he had been travelling, but he was freshly washed, and so were his clothes. pleasant and friendly of manner, with expressive hands, he sat gravely silent for a considerable time, testing out the atmosphere, feeling his way. presently he explained.
“I heard you many years ago, quite by chance, and something of what you said has always remained with me: that reality is not come by through discipline, or through any form of self-torture. Since that time I have been all over the land, seeing and hearing many things. I have rigidly disciplined myself. To overcome physical passion has not been too difficult, but other forms of desire have not been so easy to put away. I have practiced meditation every day for many years, without being able to get beyond a certain point. But what I want to discuss with you is self-discipline. Control of the body and the mind is essential – and to a great extent they have been controlled. But in talking over with a fellow-pilgrim the process of self-discipline, I have perceived the dangers of it. He has hurt himself physically in overcoming his sexual passion. One can go too far in that direction. But moderation in self-discipline is not easy. Achievement of any kind brings a sense of power. There is an exhilarating excitement in conquering others, but much more so in dominating oneself.”
Asceticism has its delights, just as worldliness has. “That is perfectly true. I know the pleasures of asceticism, and the sense of power it gives. As all ascetics and saints have always done, I have suppressed the bodily urges in order to make the mind sharp and quiescent. I have subjected the senses, and the desires that arise from them, to rigorous discipline, so that the spirit might be liberated. I have denied every form of comfort to the body, and slept in every kind of place; I have eaten any kind of food, except meat, and have fasted for days at. a time. I have meditated long hours with one-pointed endeavour; yet in spite of all this struggle and pain with its sense of power and inward joy, the mind does not seem to have gone beyond a certain point. It’s as though one came up against a wall, and do what one may, it will not be broken down.”
On this side of the wall are the visions, the good acts, the cultivated virtues, the worship, the prayers, the self-denial, the gods; and all these things have only the significance that the mind gives to them. The mind is still the dominant factor, is it not? And is the mind capable of going beyond its own barriers, beyond itself? Isn’t that the question? “Yes. After thirty strenuously purposeful and disciplined years devoted to meditation and complete self-denial, why has this enclosing wall not been broken down? I have talked to many other ascetics who have had the same experience. There are, of course, those who exert that one must be still more arduous in self-denial, more purposeful in meditation, and so on; but I know I can do no more. All my efforts have only led to this present state of frustration.”
No amount of toil and effort can break down this seemingly impenetrable wall; but perhaps we shall be able to understand the problem if we can look at it differently. Is it possible to approach the problems of life totally, with the whole of one’s being? “I don’t think I know what you mean.”
Are you at any moment aware of your whole being, the totality of it? The totality is not realized by bringing together the many conflicting parts, is it? Can there be the feeling of the whole of your being – not the speculative whole, not what you think of or formulate as the whole, but the actual feeling of the whole?
“Such a feeling may be possible, but I have never experienced it.”
At present, a part of the mind is trying to capture the whole, is it not? One part is struggling against another part, one desire against another desire. The hidden mind is in conflict with the open; violence is attempting to become non-violent. Frustration is followed by hope, fulfilment and another frustration. That is all we know. There is the ceaseless pursuit of fulfilment, in whose very shadow is frustration; so we never know or experience wholeness of being. The body is against feeling; feeling is against thought; thought is pursuing the what should be, the ideal. We are broken up into fragments, and by bringing the various fragments together, we hope to make the whole. Is it ever possible to do this?
“But what else is there to do?”
For the moment, let’s not be concerned with action; perhaps we shall come to that later. This feeling of the totality of your being, of your body, mind and heart is not the bringing together of all these fragments. You cannot make contradictory desires into a harmonious whole. To attempt to do so is an act of the mind, and the mind itself is only a part. A part cannot create the whole. “I see this; but then what?”
Our inquiry is not to find out what to do, but to discover this feeling of the whole of one’s being – actually to experience it. This feeling has its own action. When there is action without this feeling, then the problem arises of how to bridge the gulf between the fact and what should be, the ideal. Then we never feel completely, there is always a withholding; we never think totally, there is always fear; we never act freely, there is always a motive, something to be gained or avoided. Our living is always partial, never whole, and thereby we make ourselves insensitive. Through suppression of desire, through mere control of the mind, through denial of his bodily needs, the ascetic makes himself insensitive.
“Must not our desires be tamed?”
When they are tamed by suppressing them, they lose their vigour, and in this process the perceptions are dulled the mind is made insensitive; though freedom is sought, one has not the energy to find it. One needs abundant energy to find truth, and this energy is dissipated through the conflict which results from suppression, conformity, compulsion. But yielding to desire also breeds self-contradiction, which again dissipates energy.
“Then how is one to conserve energy?”
The desire to conserve energy is greed. This essential energy cannot be conserved or accumulated; it comes into being with the cessation of contradiction within oneself. By its very nature, desire brings about contradiction and conflict. Desire is energy, and it has to be understood; it cannot merely be suppressed, or made to conform. Any effort to coerce or discipline desire makes for conflict, which brings with it insensitivity. All the intricate ways of desire must be known and understood. You cannot be taught and you cannot learn the ways of desire. To understand desire is to be choicelessly aware of its movements. If you destroy desire, you destroy sensitivity, as well as the intensity that is essential for the understanding of truth.
“Is there not intensity when the mind is one-pointed?”
Such intensity is a hindrance to reality, because it is the result of limiting, narrowing down the mind through the action of will; and will is desire. There is an intensity which is wholly different: the strange intensity which comes with total being, that is, when one’s whole being is integrated, not put together through the desire for a result. “Will you say something more about this total being?”
It is the feeling of being whole undivided, not fragmented – an intensity in which there is no tension no pull of desire with its contradictions. It is this intensity, this deep, unpremeditated impulse, that will break down the wall which the mind has built around itself. That wall is the ego, the ‘me’, the self. All activity of the self is separative, enclosing, and the more it struggles to break through its own barriers, the stronger those barriers become. The efforts of the self to be free only build up its own energy, its own sorrow. When the truth of this is perceived, only then is there the movement of the whole. This movement has no centre, as it has no beginning and no end; it’s a movement beyond the measure of the mind – the mind that is put together through time. The understanding of the activities of the conflicting parts of the mind, which make up the self, the ego, is meditation.
“I see what I have been doing all these years. It has always been a movement from the centre – and it’s this very centre that must be broken up. But how?”
There is no method, for any method or system becomes the centre. The realization of the truth that this centre must be broken up is the breaking up of it. “My life has been an incessant struggle but now I see the possibility of ending this conflict.”