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Series II - Chapter 37 - ‘A Politician Who Wanted To Do Good’
IT HAD RAINED during the night, and the perfumed earth was still damp. The path led away from the river among ancient trees and mango groves. It was a path of pilgrimage trodden by thousands, for it had been the tradition for over twenty centuries that all good pilgrims must tread that path. But it was not the right time of the year for pilgrims, and on this particular morning only the villagers were walking there. In their gaily-coloured clothes, with the sun behind them and with loads of hay, vegetables and firewood on their heads, they were a beautiful sight; they walked with grace and dignity, laughing and talking over village affairs. On both sides of the path, stretching as far as the eye could see, there were green, cultivated fields of winter wheat, with wide patches of peas and other vegetables for the market. It was a lovely morning, with clear blue skies, and there was a blessing on the land. The earth was a living thing, bountiful rich and sacred. It was not the sacredness of man-made things, of temples, priests and books; it was the beauty of complete peace and complete silence. One was bathed in it; the trees, the grass, and the big bull, were part of it; the children playing in the dust were aware of it, though they knew it not. It was not a passing thing; it was there without a beginning without an ending.
He was a politician and he wanted to do good. He felt himself to be unlike other politicians, he said, for he really was concerned with the welfare of the people, with their needs, their health, and their growth. Of course he was ambitious, but who was not? Ambition helped him to be more active, and without it he would be lazy, incapable of doing much good to others. He wanted to become a member of the cabinet, and was well on his way to it, and when he got there he would see that his ideas were carried out. He had travelled the world over, visiting various countries and studying the schemes of different governments, and after careful thought he had been able to work out a plan that would really benefit his country.
“But now I don’t know if I can put it through,” he said with evident pain. “You see, I have not been at all well lately. The doctors say that I must take it easy, and I may have to undergo a very serious operation; but I cannot bring myself to accept this situation.”
If one may ask, what is preventing you from taking it easy? “I refuse to accept the prospect of being an invalid for the rest of my life and not being able to do what I want to do. I know, verbally at least, that I cannot keep up indefinitely the pace I have been used to, but if I am laid up my plan may never go through. Naturally there are other ambitious people, and it is a matter of dog eat dog. I was at several of your meetings, so I thought I would come and talk things over with you.”
Is your problem, sir, that of frustration? There is a possibility of long illness, with a decline of usefulness and popularity, and you find that you cannot accept this, because life would be utterly barren without the fulfilment of your schemes; is that it? “As I said, I am as ambitious as the next man, but I also want to do good. On the other hand, I am really quite ill, and I simply can’t accept this illness, so there is a bitter conflict going on within me, which I am quite aware is making me still more ill. There is another fear too, not for my family, who are all well provided for, but the fear of something that I have never been able to put into words, even to myself.”
You mean the fear of death? “Yes, I think that is it; or rather, of coming to an end without fulfilling what I have set out to do. probably this is my greatest fear, and I do not know how to assuage it.”
Will this illness totally prevent your political activities? “You know what it is like. Unless I am in the centre of things, I shall be forgotten and my schemes will have no chance. It will virtually mean a withdrawal from politics, and I am loath to do that.”
So, you can either voluntarily and easily accept the fact that you must withdraw, or equally happily go on doing your political work, knowing the serious nature of your illness. Either way, disease may thwart your ambitions. Life is very strange is it not? If I may suggest, why not accept the inevitable without bitterness? If there is cynicism or bitterness, your mind will make the illness worse.
“I am fully aware of all this, and yet I cannot accept – least of all happily, as you suggest – my physical condition. I could perhaps carry on with a bit of my political work, but that is not enough.”
Do you think that the fulfilment of your ambition to do good is the only way of life for you, and that only through you and your schemes will your country be saved? You are the centre of all this supposedly good work, are you not? You are really not deeply concerned with the good of the people, but with good as manifested through you. You are important, and not the good of the people. You have so identified yourself with your schemes and with the so-called good of the people, that you take your own fulfilment to be their happiness. Your schemes may be excellent, and they may, by some happy chance, bring good to the people; but you want your name to be identified with that good. Life is strange; disease has come upon you, and you are thwarted in furthering your name and your importance. This is what is causing conflict in you, and not anxiety lest the people should not be helped. If you loved the people and did not indulge in mere lip service, it would have its own spontaneous effect which would be of significant help; but you do not love the people they are merely the tools of your ambition and your vanity. Doing good is on the way to your own glory. I hope you don’t mind my saying all this?
“I am really happy that you have expressed so openly the things that are deeply concealed in my heart, and it has done me good. I have somehow felt all this, but have never allowed my self to face it directly. It is a great relief to hear it so plainly stated, and I hope I shall now understand and calm my conflict. I shall see how things turn out, but already I feel a little more detached from my anxieties and hopes. But sir, what of death?”
This problem is more complex and it demands deep insight, does it not? You can rationalize death away, saying that all things die, that the fresh green leaf of spring is blown away in the autumn, and so on. You can reason and find explanations for death, or try to conquer by will the fear of death, or find a belief as a substitute for that fear; but all this is still the action of the mind. And the so-called intuition concerning the truth of reincarnation, or life after death, may be merely a wish for survival. All these reasonings, intuitions, explanations, are within the field of the mind, are they not? They are all activities of thought to overcome the fear of death; but the fear of death is not to be so tamely conquered. The individual’s desire to survive through the nation, through the family, through name and idea, or through beliefs, is still the craving for his own continuity is it not? It is this craving, with its complex resistances and hopes, that must voluntarily, effortlessly and happily come to an end. One must die each day to all one’s memories, experiences, knowledge and hopes; the accumulations of pleasure and repentance the gathering of virtue, must cease from moment to moment. These are not just words, but the statement of an actuality. What continues can never know the bliss of the unknown. Not to gather, but to die each day, each minute, is timeless being. As long as there is the urge to fulfil, with its conflicts, there will always be the fear of death.