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Series III - Chapter 9 - 'The Void Within'

SHE WAS CARRYING a large basket on her head, holding it in place with one hand; it must have been quite heavy, but the swing of her walk was not altered by the weight. She was beautifully poised, her walk easy and rhythmical. On her arm were large metal bangles which made a slight tinkling sound, and on her feet were old, worn-out sandals. Her sari was torn and dirty with long use. She generally had several companions with her, all of them carrying baskets, but that morning she was alone on the rough road. The sun wasn't too hot yet, and high up in the blue sky some vultures were moving in wide circles without a flutter of their wings. The river ran silently by the road. It was a very peaceful morning, and that solitary woman with the large basket on her head seemed to be the focus of beauty and grace; all things seemed to be pointing to her and accepting her as part of there own being. She was not a separate entity but part of you and me, and of that tamarind tree. She wasn't walking in front of me, but I was walking with that basket on my head. It wasn't an illusion, a thought-out, wished-for, and cultivated identification, which would be ugly beyond measure, but an experience that was natural and immediate. The few steps that separated us had vanished; time, memory, and the wide distance that thought breeds, had totally disappeared. There was only that woman, not I looking at her. And it was a long way to the town, where she would sell the contents of her basket. Towards evening she would come back along that road and cross the little bamboo bridge on her way to her village, only to appear again the next morning with her basket full.

He was very serious, and no longer young, but he had a pleasant smile and was in good health. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he explained in somewhat halting English, of which he was rather shy, that he had been to college and taken his M.A., but had not spoken English for so many years that he had almost forgotten it. He had read a great deal of Sanskrit literature and Sanskrit words were frequently on his lips. He had come, he said, to ask several questions about the inward void, the emptiness of the mind. Then he began to chant in Sanskrit, and the room was instantly filled with a deep resonance, pure and penetrating. He went on chanting for some time, and it was a delight to listen. His face shone with the meaning he was giving to each word, and with the love he felt for what the word contained. He was devoid of any artifice, and was much too serious to put on a pose.

"I am very happy to have chanted those shlokas in your presence. To me they have great significance and beauty; I have meditated upon them for many years, and they have been to me a source of guidance and strength. I have trained myself not to be easily moved, but these shlokas bring tears to my eyes. The very sound of the words, with their rich meaning, fills my heart, and then life is not a travail and a misery. Like every other human being, I have known sorrow; there has been death and the ache of life. I had a wife who died before I left the comforts of my father's house, and now I know the meaning of voluntary poverty. I am telling you all this merely by way of explanation. I am not frustrated, lonely, or anything of that kind. My heart takes delight in many things; but my father used to tell me something about your talks, and an acquaintance has urged me to see you; and so here I am.

"I want you to speak to me of the immeasurable void," he went on. "I have had a feeling of that void, and I think I have touched the hem of it in my wanderings and meditations." Then he quoted a shloka to explain and to support his experience.

If it may be pointed out, the authority of another, however great, is no proof of the truth of your experience. Truth needs no proof by action, nor does it depend on any authority; so let's put aside all authority and tradition, and try to find out the truth of this matter for ourselves. "That would be very difficult for me, for I am steeped in tradition - not in the tradition of the world, but in the teachings of the Gita, the Upanishads, and so on. Is it right for me to let all that go? Would that not be ingratitude on my part?"

Neither gratitude nor ingratitude are in any way involved; we are concerned with discovering the truth or the falseness of that void of which you have spoken. If you walk on the path of authority and tradition, which is knowledge you will experience only what you desire to experience, helped on by authority and tradition. It will not be a discovery; it will already be known a thing to be recognized and experienced. Authority and tradition may be wrong, they may be a comforting illusion. To discover whether that void is true or false, whether it exists or is merely another invention of the mind, the mind must be free from the net of authority and tradition.

"Can the mind ever free itself from this net?"

The mind cannot free itself, for any effort on its part to be free only weaves another net in which it will again be caught. Freedom is not an opposite; to be free is not to be free from something, it's not a state of release from bondage. The urge to be free breeds its own bondage. Freedom is a state of being which is not the outcome of the desire to be free. When the mind understands this, and sees the falseness of authority and tradition, then only does the false wither away.

"It may be that I have been induced to feel certain things by my reading, and by the thoughts based on such reading; but apart from all that, I have vaguely felt from childhood, as in a dream, the existence of this void. There has always been an intimation of it, a nostalgic feeling for it; and as I grew older, my reading of various religious books only strengthened this feeling, giving it more vitality and purpose. But I begin to realize what you mean. I have depended almost entirely on the description of the experiences of others, as given in the sacred Scriptures. This dependence I can throw off, since I now see the necessity of doing so; but can I revive that original, uncontaminated feeling for that which is beyond words?"

What is revived is not the living, the new; it is a memory, a dead thing, and you cannot put life into the dead. To revive and live on memory is to be a slave to stimulation, and a mind that depends on stimulation, conscious or unconscious, will inevitably become dull and insensitive. Revival is the perpetuation of confusion; to turn to the dead past in the moment of a living crisis is to seek a pattern of life which has its roots in decay. What you experienced as a youth, or only yesterday, is over and gone; and if you cling to the past, you prevent the quickening experience of the new.

"As I think you will realize, sir, I am really in earnest, and for me it has become an urgent necessity to understand and to be of that void. What am I to do?"

One has to empty the mind of the known; all the knowledge that one has gathered must cease to have any influence on the living mind. Knowledge is ever of the past, it is the very process of the past, and the mind must be free from this process. Recognition is part of the process of knowledge, isn't it? "How is that?"

To recognize something, you must have known or experienced it previously, and this experience is stored up as knowledge, memory. Recognition comes out of the past. You may have experienced, once upon a time, this void, and having once experienced it, you now crave for it. The original experience came about without your pursuing it; but now you are pursuing it, and the thing that you are seeking is not the void, but the renewal of an old memory. If it is to happen again, all remembrance of it, all knowledge of it, must disappear. All search for it must cease, for search is based on the desire to experience.

"Do you really mean that I must not search it out? This seems incredible!"

The motive of search is of greater significance than the search itself. The motive pervades, guides and shapes the search. The motive of your search is the desire to experience the unknowable to know the bliss and the immensity of it. This desire has brought into being the experiencer who craves for experience. The experiencer is searching for greater, wider and more significant experience. All other experiences having lost their taste, the experiencer now longs for the void; so there is the experiencer, and the thing to be experienced. Thus conflict is set going between the two, between the pursuer and the pursued.

"This I understand very well, because it is exactly the state I am in. I now see that I am caught in a net of my own making."

As every seeker is, and not just the seeker after truth, God, the void, and so on. Every ambitious or covetous man who is pursuing power, position, prestige, every idealist, every worshipper of the State, every builder of a perfect Utopia - they are all caught in the same net. But if once you understand the total significance of search, will you continue to seek the void? "I perceive the inward meaning of your question and I have already stopped seeking."

If this be a fact, then what is the state of the mind that is not seeking? "I do not know; the whole thing is so new to me that I shall have to gather myself and observe. May I have a few minutes before we go any further?"

After a pause, he continued. "I perceive how extraordinarily subtle it is; how difficult it is for the experiencer, the watcher, not to step in. It seems almost impossible for thought not to create the thinker; but as long as there is a thinker, an experiencer, there must obviously be separation from, and conflict with, that which is to be experienced. And you are asking, aren't you, what is the state of the mind when there is no conflict?"

Conflict exists when desire assumes the form of the experiencer and pursues that which is to be experienced; for that which is to be experienced is also put together by desire. "Please be patient with me, and let me understand what you are saying. Desire not only builds the experiencer, the watcher, but also brings into being that which is to be experienced, the watched. So desire is the cause of the division between the experiencer and the thing to be experienced, and it is this division that sustains conflict. Now, you are asking, what is the state of the mind which is no longer in conflict, which is not driven by desire? But can this question be answered without the watcher who is watching the experience of desirelessness?"

When you are conscious of your humility, has not humility ceased? Is there virtue when you deliberately practise virtue? Such practice is the strengthening of self-centred activity, which puts an end to virtue.

The moment you are aware that you are happy, you cease to be happy. What is the state of the mind which is not caught in the conflict of desire? The urge to find out is part of the desire which has brought into being the experiencer and the thing to be experienced, is it not? "That's so. Your question was a trap for me, but I am thankful you asked it. I am seeing more of the intricate subtleties of desire."

It was not a trap, but a natural and inevitable question which you would have asked yourself in the course of your inquiry. If the mind is not extremely alert, aware, it is soon caught again in the net of its own desire. "One final question: is it really possible for the mind to be totally free of the desire for experience, which sustains this division between the experiencer and the thing to be experienced?"

Find out, sir. When the mind is entirely free of this structure of desire, is the mind then different from the void?