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Series II - Chapter 28 - 'The Purpose Of Life'
THE ROAD IN front of the house went down to the sea, weaving its way past many small shops, great flats, garages, temples, and a dusty, neglected garden. When it reached the sea, the road became a big thoroughfare, with taxis, rattling buses, and all the noise of a modem city. Leading off this thoroughfare there was a peaceful, sheltered avenue overhung with huge rain-trees, but in the morning and evening it was busy with cars on their way to a smart club, with its golf course and lovely gardens. As I walked along this avenue there were various types of beggars lying on the pavement; they were not noisy, and did not even stretch out their hands to the passer-by. A girl about ten years old was lying with her head on a tin can, resting with wide open eyes; she was dirty, with matted hair, but she smiled as I smiled at her. Further along, a little girl, hardly three, came forward with outstretched hand and an enchanting smile. The mother was watching from behind a nearby tree. I took the outstretched hand and we walked together for a few paces, returning her to her mother. As I had no coin, I returned with one the next day, but the little girl would not take it, she wanted to play; so we played, and the coin was given to the mother. Whenever I walked along that avenue the little girl was always there, with a shy smile and bright eyes.
Opposite the entrance to the fashionable club a beggar was seated on the ground; he was covered with a filthy gunnysack, and his matted hair was full of dust. Some days, as I went by, he would be lying down, his head in the dust, his naked body covered with the gunnysack; on other days he would be sitting up, perfectly still, looking without seeing, with the massive rain-tree over him. One evening there was gaiety at the club; it was all lit up, and sparkling cars full of laughing people were driving in, tooting their horns. From the clubhouse came light music loud and air-filling. Many policemen were at the entrance, where a large crowd had gathered to watch the smartly-dressed and well fed people pass by in their cars. The beggar had turned his back on all this. One man was offering him something to eat, and another a cigarette but he silently refused both without making a movement. He was slowly dying, day by day, and the people passed by.
Those rain-trees were massive against the darkening sky, and of fantastic shape. They had very small leaves, but their branches seemed huge, and they had a strange majesty and aloofness in that overcrowded city of noise and pain. But the sea was there, everlastingly in motion, restless and infinite. There were white sails, mere specks in that infinitude, and on the dancing waters the moon made a path of silver. The rich beauty of the earth, the distant stars, and deathless humanity. Immeasurable vastness seemed to cover all things.
He was a youngish man, and had come from the other side of the country, a tiresome journey. He had taken a vow not to marry till he had found the meaning and purpose of life. Determined and aggressive, he worked in some office from which he had taken leave for a certain period to try to find the answer to his search. He had a busy and argumentative mind, and was so taken up with his own and other people's answers that he would hardly listen. His words could not come fast enough, and he quoted endlessly what the philosophers and teachers had said concerning the purpose of life. He was tormented and deeply anxious.
"Without knowing the purpose of life, my very existence has no meaning, and all my action is destructive. I earn a livelihood just to carry on; I suffer, and death awaits me. This is the way of life but what is the purpose of it all? I do not know. I have been to the learned, and to the various gurus; some say one thing, some another. What do you say?"
Are you asking in order to compare what is said here with what has been said elsewhere? "Yes. Then I can choose, and my choice will depend on what I consider to be true."
Do you think that the understanding of what is true is a matter of personal opinion and dependent on choice? Through choice will you discover what is true? "How else can one find the real if not through discrimination, through choice? I shall listen to you very carefully, and if what you say appeals to me, I shall reject what the others have said and pattern my life after the goal you have set. I am most earnest in my desire to find out what is the true purpose of life."
Sir, before going any further, is it not important to ask your- self if you are capable of seeking out the true? This is suggested with respect, and not in a derogatory spirit. Is truth a matter of opinion, of pleasure, of gratification? You say that you will accept what appeals to you, which means that you are not interested in truth, but are after that which you find most gratifying. You are prepared to go through pain, through compulsion, in order to gain that which in the end is pleasurable. You are seeking pleasure, not truth. Truth must be something beyond like and dislike, must it not? Humility must be the beginning of all search.
"That is why I have come to you, sir. I am really seeking; I look to the teachers to tell me what is true, and I shall follow them in a humble and contrite spirit."
To follow is to deny humility. You follow because you desire to succeed, to gain an end. An ambitious man however subtle and hidden his ambition, is never humble. To pursue authority and set it up as a guide is to destroy insight, understanding. The pursuit of an ideal prevents humility, for the ideal is the glorification of the self, the ego. How can he who in different ways gives importance to the 'me', ever be humble? Without humility, reality can never be.
"But my whole concern in coming here is to find out what is the true purpose of life."
If one may be permitted to say so, you are just caught up in an idea, and it is becoming a fixation. This is something of which one has to be constantly watchful. Wanting to know the true purpose of life, you have read many philosophers and sought out many teachers. Some say this, some say that, and you want to know the truth. Now, do you want to know the truth of what they say, or the truth of your own inquiry?
"When you ask a straight question like that, I feel rather hesitant in my reply. There are people who have studied and experienced more than I ever can, and it would be absurd conceit on my part to discard what they say, which may help me to uncover the significance of life. But each one speaks according to his own experience and understanding, and they sometimes contradict each other. The Marxists say one thing, and the religious people say something quite different. Please help me to find the truth in all this."
To see the false as the false, and the truth in the false, and the true as the true, is not easy. To perceive clearly, there must be freedom from desire, which twists and conditions the mind. You are so eager to find the true significance of life that your very eagerness becomes a hindrance to the understanding of your own inquiry. You want to know the truth of what you have read and of what your teachers have said, do you not?
"Yes, most definitely."
Then you must be able to find out for yourself what is true in all these statements. Your mind must be capable of direct perception; if it is not, it will be lost in the jungle of ideas, opinions and beliefs. If your mind has not the capacity to see what is true, you will be like a driven leaf. So what is important is not the conclusions and assertions of others, whoever they be, but for you to have insight into what is true. Is this not most essential?
"I think it is, but how am I going to have this gift?"
Understanding is not a gift reserved for the few, but it comes to those who are earnest in their self-knowledge. Comparison does not bring about understanding; comparison is another form of distraction, as judgment is evasion. For the truth to be, the mind must be without comparison, without evaluation. When the mind is comparing, evaluating, it is not quiet, it is occupied. An occupied mind is incapable of clear and simple perception.
"Does it mean, then, that I must strip myself of all the values that I have built up, the knowledge that I have gathered?"
Must not the mind be free to discover? Does knowledge, information - the conclusions and experiences of oneself and others, this vast accumulated burden of memory - bring freedom? Is there freedom as long as there is the censor who is judging, condemning, comparing? The mind is never quiet if it is always acquiring and calculating; and must not the mind be still for truth to be? "I see that, but aren't you asking too much of a simple and ignorant mind like mine?"
Are you simple and ignorant? If you really were, it would be a great delight to begin with true inquiry; but unfortunately you are not. Wisdom and truth come to a man who truly says, "I am ignorant I do not know". The simple, the innocent, not those who are burdened with knowledge, will see the light, for they are humble. "I want only one thing, to know the true purpose of life, and you shower me with things that are beyond me. Can you not please tell me in simple words what is the true significance of life?"
Sir, you must begin very near to go far. You want the immense without seeing what is close by. You want to know the significance of life. Life has no beginning and no end; it is both death and life; it is the green leaf, and the withered leaf that is driven by the wind; it is love and its immeasurable beauty, the sorrow of solitude and the bliss of aloneness. It cannot be measured, nor can the mind discover it.