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Series II - Chapter 23 - Conformity And Freedom
THE STORM BEGAN early in the morning with thunder and lightning, and now it was raining very steadily; it had not stopped all day, and the red earth was soaking it up. The cattle were taking shelter under a large tree, where there was also a small white temple. The base of the tree was enormous, and the surrounding field was bright green. There was a railway line on the other side of the field, and the trains would labour up the slight incline, giving a triumphant hoot at the top. When one walked along the railway line one would occasionally come upon a large cobra, with beautiful markings, cut in two by a recent train. The birds would soon get at the dead pieces, and in a short time there wouldn't be a sign of the snake.
To live alone needs great intelligence; to live alone and yet be pliable is arduous. To live alone, without the walls of self-enclosing gratifications, needs extreme alertness; for a solitary life encourages sluggishness, habits that are comforting and hard to break. A single life encourages isolation, and only the wise can live alone without harm to themselves and to others. Wisdom is alone, but a lonely path does not lead to wisdom. Isolation is death, and wisdom is not found in withdrawal. There is no path to wisdom, for all paths are separative, exclusive. In their very nature, paths can only lead to isolation, though these isolations are called unity, the whole, the one, and so on. A path is an exclusive process; the means is exclusive, and the end is as the means. The means is not separate from the goal, the what should be. Wisdom comes with the understanding of one's relationship with the field, with the passer-by, with the fleeting thought. To withdraw, to isolate oneself in order to find, is to put an end to discovery. Relationship leads to an aloneness that is not of isolation. There must be an aloneness, not of the enclosing mind, but of freedom. The complete is the alone, and incompleteness seeks the way of isolation.
She had been a writer, and her books had quite a wide circulation. She said she had managed to come to India only after many years. When she first started out she had no idea where she would end up; but now, after all this time, her destination had become clear. Her husband and her whole family were interested in religious matters, not casually but quite seriously; nevertheless she had made up her mind to leave them all, and had come in the hope of finding some peace. She hadn't known a soul in this country when she came, and it was very hard the first year. She went first to a certain ashrama or retreat about which she had read. The guru there was a mild old man who had had certain religious experiences on which he now lived, and who constantly repeated some Sanskrit saying which his disciples understood. She was welcomed at this retreat, and she found it easy to adjust herself to its rules. She remained there for several months, but found no peace, so one day she announced her departure. The disciples were horrified that she could even think of leaving such a master of wisdom; but she left. Then she went to an ashrama among the mountains and stayed there for some time, happily at first, for it was beautiful with trees, streams, and wild life. The discipline was rather rigorous, which she didn't mind; but again the living were the dead. The disciples were worshipping dead knowledge, dead tradition, a dead teacher. When she left they also were shocked, and threatened her with spiritual darkness. She then went to a very well known retreat where they repeated various religious assertions and regularly practiced prescribed meditations; but gradually she found that she was being entrapped and destroyed. Neither the teacher nor the disciples wanted freedom, though they talked about it. They were all concerned with maintaining the centre, with holding the disciples in the name of the guru. Again she broke away and went elsewhere; again the same story with a slightly different pattern.
"I assure you, I have been to most of the serious ashramas, and they all want to hold one, to grind one down to fit the pattern of thought which they call truth. Why do they all want one to conform to a particular discipline, to the mode of life laid down by the teacher? Why is it that they never give freedom but only promise freedom?"
Conformity is gratifying; it assures security to the disciple, and gives power to the disciple as well as to the teacher. Through conformity there is the strengthening of authority, secular or religious; and conformity makes for dullness, which they call peace. If one wants to avoid suffering through some form of resistance, why not pursue that path, though it involves a certain amount of pain? Conformity anaesthetizes the mind to conflict. We want to be made dull, insensitive; we try to shut off the ugly, and there by we also make ourselves dull to the beautiful. Conformity to the authority of the dead or the living gives intense satisfaction. The teacher knows and you don't know. It would be foolish for you to try to find out anything for yourself when your comforting teacher already knows; so you become his slave, and slavery is better than confusion. The teacher and the disciple thrive on mutual exploitation. You really don't go to an ashrama for freedom, do you? You go there to be comforted, to live a life of enclosing discipline and belief, to worship and in turn be worshipped - all of which is called the search for truth. They cannot offer freedom, for it would be their own undoing. Freedom cannot be found in any retreat, in any system or belief, nor through the conformity and fear called discipline. Disciplines cannot offer freedom; they may promise, but hope is not freedom. Imitations a means to freedom is the very denial of freedom, for the means is the end; copy makes for more copy, not for freedom. But we like to deceive ourselves, and that is why compulsion or the promise of reward exists in different and subtle forms. Hope is the denial of life.
"I am now avoiding all ashramas like the very plague. I went to them for peace and I was given compulsions, authoritarian doctrines and vain promises. How eagerly we accept the guru promise! How blind we are! At last, after these many years, I am completely denuded of any desire to pursue their promised rewards. physically I am worn out, as you can see; for very foolishly I really did try their formulas. At one of these places, where the teacher is on the rise and very popular, when I told them that I was coming to see you, they threw up their hands, and some had tears in their eyes. That was the last straw! I have come here because I want to talk over something that is gripping my heart. I hinted at it to one of the teachers, and his reply was that I must control my thought. It is this. The ache of solitude is more than I can bear; not the physical solitude, which is welcome, but the deep inner pain of being alone. What am I to do about it? How am I to regard this void?"
When you ask the way, you become a follower. Because there is this ache of solitude, you want help, and the very demand for guidance opens the door to compulsion, imitation and fear. The 'how' is not at all important, so let us understand the nature of this pain rather than try to overcome it, avoid it, or go beyond it. Till there is complete understanding of this ache of solitude, there can be no peace, no rest, but only incessant struggle; and whether we are aware of it or not, most of us are violently or subtly trying to escape from its fear. This ache is only in relation to the past, and not in relation to what is. What is has to be discovered, not verbally, theoretically, but directly experienced. How can there be discovery of what actually is if you approach it with a sense of pain or fear? To understand it must you not come to it freely, denuded of past knowledge concerning it?
Must you not come with a fresh mind, unclouded by memories, by habitual responses? please do not ask how the mind is to be free to see the new, but listen to the truth of it. Truth alone liberates, and not your desire to be free. The very desire and effort to be free is a hindrance to liberation.
To understand the new, must not the mind, with all its conclusions, safeguards, cease its activities? Must it not be still, without seeking a way of escape from this solitude, a remedy for it? Must not the ache of solitude be observed, with its movement of despair and hope? Is it not this very movement that makes for solitude and its fear? Is not the very activity of the mind a process of isolation, resistance? Is not every form of relationship the mind a way of separation, withdrawal? Is not experience itself a process of self-isolation? So the problem is not the ache of solitude, but the mind which projects the problem. The understanding of the mind is the beginning of freedom. Freedom is not something in the future, it is the very first step. The activity of the mind can be understood only in the process of response to every kind of stimulation. Stimulation and response are relationship at all levels. Accumulation in any form, as knowledge, as experience, as belief, prevents freedom; and it is only when there is freedom that truth can be.
"But is not effort necessary the effort to understand?"
Do we understand anything through struggle, through conflict? Does not understanding come when the mind is utterly still, when the action of effort has ceased? The mind that is made still is not a tranquil mind; it is a dead, insensitive mind. When desire is, the beauty of silence is not.