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Series II - Chapter 13 - ‘Chastity’
THE RICE WAS ripening, the green had a golden tinge, and the evening sun was upon it. There were long, narrow ditches filled with water, and the water caught the darkening light. The palm trees hung over the rice fields all along their edge, and among the palms there were little houses, dark and secluded. The lane meandered lazily through the rice fields and palm groves. It was a very musical lane. A boy was playing the flute, with the rice field before him. He had a clean, healthy body, well-proportioned and delicate, and he wore only a clean white cloth around his loins; the setting sun had just caught his face, and his eyes were smiling. He was practicing the scale, and when he got tired of that, he would play a song. He was really enjoying it, and his enjoyment was contagious. Though I sat down only a little distance away from him, he never stopped playing. The evening light, the green-golden sea of the field, the sun among the palms, and this boy playing his flute, seemed to give to the evening an enchantment that is rarely felt. Presently he stopped playing and came over and sat beside me; neither of us said a word, but he smiled and it seemed to fill the heavens. His mother called from some house hidden among the palms; he did not respond immediately, but at the third call he got up, smiled, and went away. Further along the path a girl was singing to some stringed instrument, and she had a fairly nice voice. Across the field someone picked up the song and sang with full-throated ease, and the girl stopped and listened till the male voice had finished it. It was getting, dark now. The evening star was over the field, and the frogs began to call.
How we want to possess the coconut, the woman, and the heavens! We want to monopolize, and things seem to acquire greater value through possession. When we say, ‘It is mine’ the picture seems to become more beautiful, more worthwhile; it seems to acquire greater delicacy, greater depth and fullness. There is a strange quality of violence in possession. The moment one says, ‘It is mine’, it becomes a thing to be cared for, defended, and in this very act there is a resistance which breeds violence. Violence is ever seeking success; violence is self-fulfilment. To succeed is always to fail. Arrival is death and travelling is eternal. To gain, to be victorious in this world, is to lose life. How eagerly we pursue an end! But the end is everlasting, and so is the conflict of its pursuit. Conflict is constant overcoming, and what is conquered has to be conquered again and again. The victor is ever in fear, and possession is his darkness. The defeated, craving victory, loses what is gained, and so he is as the victor. To have the bowl empty is to have life that is deathless.
They had been married for only a short time and were still without a child. They seemed so young, so distant from the marketplace, so timid. They wanted to talk things over quietly, without being rushed and without the feeling that they were keeping others waiting. They were a nice looking couple, but there was strain in their eyes; their smiles were easy, but behind the smile was a certain anxiety. They were clean and fresh, but there was a whisper of inner struggle. Love is a strange thing, and how soon it withers, how soon the smoke smothers the flame! The flame is neither yours nor mine; it is just flame, clear and sufficient; it is neither personal nor impersonal; it is not of yesterday or tomorrow. It has healing warmth and a perfume that is never constant. It cannot be possessed, monopolized, or kept in one’s hand. If it is held, it burns and destroys, and smoke fills our being; and then there is no room for the flame.
He was saying that they had been married for two years, and were now living quietly not far from a biggish town. They had a small farm, twenty or thirty acres of rice and fruit, and some cattle. He was interested in improving the breed, and she in some local hospital work. Their days were full, but it was not the fullness of escape. They had never tried to run away from anything – except from their relations, who were very traditional and rather tiresome. They had married in spite of family opposition, and were living alone with very little help. Before they married they had talked things over and decided not to have children.
Why? “We both realized what a frightful mess the world is in, and to produce more babies seemed a sort of crime. The children would almost inevitably become mere bureaucratic officials, or slaves to some kind of religious-economic system. Environment would make them stupid, or clever and cynical. Besides, we had not enough money to educate children properly.”
What do you mean by properly? “To educate children properly we would have to send them to school not only here but abroad. We would have to cultivate their intelligence, their sense of value and beauty, and help them to take life richly and happily so that they would have peace in themselves; and of course they would have to be taught some kind of technique which wouldn’t destroy their souls. Besides all this, considering how stupid we ourselves were, we both felt that we should not pass on our own reactions and conditioning to our children. We didn’t want to propagate modified examples of ourselves.”
Do you mean to say you both thought all this out so logically and brutally before you got married? You drew up a good contract; but can it be fulfilled as easily as it was drawn up? Life is a little more complex than a verbal contract, is it not? “That is what we are finding out. Neither of us has talked about all this to anyone else either before or since our marriage, and that has been one of our difficulties. We didn’t know anybody with whom we could talk freely, for most older people take such arrogant pleasure in disapproving or patting us on the back. We heard one of your talks, and we both wanted to come and discuss our problem with you. Another thing is that, before our marriage, we vowed never to have any sexual relationship with each other.”
Again, why? “We are both very religiously inclined and we wanted to lead a spiritual life. Ever since I was a boy I have longed to be un- worldly, to live the life of a sannyasi. I used to read a great many religious books, which only strengthened my desire. As a matter of fact, I wore the saffron robe for nearly a year.”
And you too? “I am not as clever or as learned as he is, but I have a strong religious background. My grandfather had a fairly good job, but he left his wife and children to become a sannyasi, and now my father wants to do the same; so far my mother has won out, but one day he too may disappear, and I have the same impulse to lead a religious life.”
Then, if I may ask, why did you marry? “We wanted each other’s companionship,” he replied; “we loved each other and had something in common. We had felt this ever since our very young days together, and we didn’t see any reason for not getting officially married. We thought of not marrying and living together without sex, but this would have created unnecessary trouble. After our marriage everything was all right for about a year, but our longing for each other became almost intolerable. At last it was so unbearable that I used to go away; I couldn’t do my work, I couldn’t think of anything else, and I would have wild dreams. I became moody and irritable, though not a harsh word passed between us. We loved and could not hurt each other in word or act; but we were burning for each other like the midday sun, and we decided at last to come and talk it over with you. I literally cannot carry on with the vow that she and I have taken. You have no idea what it has been like.”
And what about you? “What woman doesn’t want a child by the man she loves? I didn’t know I was capable of such love, and I too have had days of torture and nights of agony. I became hysterical and would weep at the least thing, and during certain times of the month it became a nightmare. I was hoping something would happen, but even though we talked things over, it was no good. Then they started a hospital nearby and asked my help, and I was delighted to get away from it all. But it was still no good. To see him so close every day...” She was crying now with her heart.” So we have come to talk it all over. What do you say?”
Is it a religious life to punish oneself? Is mortification of the body or of the mind a sign of understanding? Is self-torture a way to reality? Is chastity denial? Do you think you can go far through renunciation? Do you really think there can be peace through conflict? Does not the means matter infinitely more than the end? The end may be, but the means is. The actual, the what is, must be understood and not smothered by determinations, ideals and clever rationalizations. Sorrow is not the way of happiness. The thing called passion has to be understood and not suppressed or sublimated, and it is no good finding a substitute for it. Whatever you may do, any device that you invent, will only strengthen that which has not been loved and understood. To love what we call passion is to understand it. To love is to be indirect communion; and you cannot love something if you resent it, if you have ideas, conclusions about it. How can you love and understand passion if you have taken a vow against it? A vow is a form of resistance, and what you resist ultimately conquers you. Truth is not to be conquered; you cannot storm it; it will slip through your hands if you try to grasp it. Truth comes silently, without your knowing. What you know is not truth, it is only an idea, a symbol. The shadow is not the real.
Surely, our problem is to understand ourselves and not to destroy ourselves. To destroy is comparatively easy. You have a pattern of action which you hope will lead to truth. The pattern is always of your own making, it is according to your own conditioning, as the end also is. You make the pattern and then take a vow to carry it out. This is an ultimate escape from yourself. You are not that self-projected pattern and its process; you are what you actually are, the desire, the craving. If you really want to transcend and be free of craving, you have to understand it completely, neither condemning nor accepting it; but that is an art which comes only through watchfulness tempered with deep passivity.
“I have read some of your talks and can follow what you mean. But what actually are we to do?”
It is your life, your misery, your happiness, and dare another tell you what you should or should not do? Have not others already told you? Others are the past, the tradition, the conditioning of which you also are a part. You have listened to others, to yourself, and you are in this predicament; and do you still seek advice from others, which is from yourself? You will listen, but you will accept what is pleasing and reject what is painful, and both are binding. Your taking a vow against passion is the beginning of misery, just as the indulgence of it is; but what is important is to understand this whole process of the ideal, the taking of a vow, the discipline, the pain, all of which is a deep escape from inward poverty, from the ache of inward insufficiency, loneliness. This total process is yourself.
“But what about children?” Again, there is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The search for an answer through the mind leads nowhere. We use children as pawns in the game of our conceit, and we pile up misery; we use them as another means of escape from ourselves. When children are not used as a means, they have a significance which is not the significance that you, or society, or the State may give them. Chastity is not a thing of the mind; chastity is the very nature of love. Without love, do what you will, there can be no chastity. If there is love, your question will find the true answer.
They remained in that room, completely silent, for a long time. Word and gesture had come to an end.