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Series II - Chapter 41 - ‘Cleansed Of The Past’
A WELL-KEPT ROAD led up to the foot of the hill, and a path continued from there. On top of the hill were the ruins of a very ancient stronghold. Thousands of years ago it was a formidable place, a fortress of gigantic rocks, of proud pillared halls with mosaic floors, of marble baths and chambers. The closer one approached this citadel, the higher and thicker its walls became, and the more vigorously it must have been defended; yet it was conquered, destroyed, and built again. The outer walls were made of enormous blocks of rock placed one on top of the other without any mortar to bind them. Within the walls there was an ancient well, many feet deep, with steps leading down to it. The steps were smooth and slippery, and the sides of the well were glistening with moisture. It was all in ruins now, but the marvellous view from the top of the hill remained. Away to the left was the sparkling sea, bordering wide open plains with hills behind them. In the near distance there were two smaller hills which in those far off days had also been fortresses, but nothing comparable to this lofty citadel that looked down on these neighbouring hills and on the plains. It was a lovely morning, with the breeze from the sea stirring the bright flowers among the ruins. These flowers were very beautiful, their colours rich and deep and they grew in extraordinary places, on rocks, in the crevices of broken walls, and in the courtyards. They had grown there, wild and free, for untold centuries, and it seemed a sacrilege to tread on them, for they crowded the path; it was their world, and we were strangers, but they did not make one feel that way.
The view from this hilltop was not breath taking, like those which are seen occasionally, and which obliterate consciousness with grandeur and silence. Here it was not like that. Here there was peaceful enchantment, gentle and expansive; here you could live timelessly, without a past and a future, for you were one with this whole rapturous world. You were not a human being, a stranger from a different land, but you were those hills, those goats, and the goatherd. You were the sky and the blossoming earth; you were not apart from it, you were of it. But you were not conscious that you were of it, any more than those flowers were. You were those smiling fields, the blue sea, and the distant train with its passengers. You didn’t exist, you who choose, compare, act and seek; you were with everything.
Someone said that it was late and we must be going, so we went down the path on the other side of the hill, and then along the road leading to the sea.
We were sitting under a tree, and he was telling how, as a young and middle aged man, he had worked in different parts of Europe throughout the two world wars. During the last one he had no home, often went hungry, and was nearly shot for something or other by this or that conquering army. He had spent sleepless and tortured nights in prison, for in his wanderings he had lost his passport, and none would believe his simple statement as to where he was born and to what country he belonged. He spoke several languages, had been an engineer, then in some sort of business, and was now painting. He now had a passport, he said with a smile, and a place to live.
“There are many like me, people who were destroyed and have come back to life again,” he went on. “I don’t regret it, but somehow I have lost the intimate contact with life at least with what one calls life. I am fed up with armies and kings, flags and politics. They have caused as much mischief and sorrow as our official religion, which has shed more blood than any other; not even the Moslem world can compete with us in violence and horror, and now we are all at it again. I used to be very cynical, but that too has passed. I live alone, for my wife and child died during the war, and any country, as long as it is warm, is good enough for me. I don’t care much one way or the other, but I sell my paintings now and then, which keeps me going. At times it is rather difficult to make ends meet, but something always turns up, and as my wants are very simple I am not greatly bothered about money. I am a monk at heart, but outside the prison of a monastery. I am telling you all this, not just to ramble on about myself, but to give you a sketch of my background, for in talking things over with you I may get to understand something which has become very vital to me. Nothing else interests me, not even my painting.
“One day I set out for those hills with my painting things, for I had seen something over there which I wanted to paint. It was fairly early in the morning when I got to the place, and there were a few clouds in the sky. From where I was I could see across the valley to the bright sea. I was enchanted to be alone, and began to paint. I must have been painting for some time, and it was coming along beautifully, without any strain or effort when I became aware that something was taking place inside my head, if I can put it that way. I was so absorbed in my painting that for a while I did not notice what was happening to me, and then suddenly I was aware of it. I could not go on with my painting, but I sat very still.” After a moment’s pause, he continued.
“Don’t think me crazy, for I am not, but sitting there I was aware of an extraordinarily creative energy. It wasn’t I that was creative, but something in me, something that was also in those ants and in that restless squirrel. I don’t think I am explaining this very well, but surely you understand what I mean. It was not the creativeness of some Tom, Dick or Harry writing a poem, or of myself painting a silly picture; it was just creation, pure and simple, and the things produced by the mind or by the hand were on the outer fringes of this creation, with little significance. I seemed to be bathed in it; there was a sacredness about it, a benediction. If I were to put it in religious words, I would say... But I won’t. Those religious words stick in my mouth, they no longer have any meaning. It was the centre of Creation, God himself.... Again these words! But I tell you, it was holy, not the man-made holiness of churches, incense and hymns, which is all immature nonsense. This was something uncontaminated, unthought of, and tears were rolling down my cheeks; I was being washed clean of all my past. The squirrel had stopped fretting about its next meal, and there was an astonishing silence – not the silence of the night when all things sleep, but a silence in which everything was awake.
“I must have sat there, motionless, for a very long time, for the sun was in the west; I was a little stiff, one leg had gone to sleep, and I could stand up only with difficulty. I am not exaggerating, sir, but time seemed to have stopped – or rather, there was no time. I had no watch, but several hours must have passed from the moment I put my brush down to the moment I got up. I was not hysterical, nor had I been unconscious, as some might conclude; on the contrary, I was fully alert, aware of everything that was happening around me. Picking up all my things and carefully putting them in my knapsack, I left, and in that extraordinary state I walked back to my house. All the noises of a small town did not in any way disturb that state, and it lasted for several hours after I got home. When I awoke the next morning, it was completely gone. I looked at my painting; it was good, but nothing outstanding.
“Sorry to have talked so long,” he concluded, “but it has been bottled up in me, and I could not have talked to anyone else. If I did, they would call in a priest, or suggest one of those analysts. Now I am not asking for an explanation, but how does this thing come into being? What are the circumstances necessary for it to be?”
You are asking this question because you want to experience it again, are you not? “I suppose that is the motive behind my question, but...”
Please, let us go on from there. What is important is not that it happened, but that you should not go after it. Greed breeds arrogance, and what is necessary is humility. You cannot cultivate humility; if you do, it is no longer humility but another acquisition. It is important, not that you should have another such experience, but that there should be innocence, freedom from the memory of experience, good or bad, pleasant or painful.
“Good Lord, you are telling me to forget something which has become of total importance to me. You are asking the impossible. I cannot forget it, nor do I want to.”
Yes, sir, that is the difficulty. please listen with patience and insight. What have you now? A dead memory. While it was happening it was a living thing and there was no ‘me’ to experience that living thing, no memory clinging to what had been. Your mind was then in a state of innocency, without seeking, asking, or holding; it was free. But now you are seeking and clinging to the dead past. Oh, yes, it is dead; your remembrance has destroyed it and is creating the conflict of duality, the conflict between what has been and what you hope for. Conflict is death, and you are living with darkness. This thing does happen when the self is absent; but the memory of it, the craving for more, strengthens the self and prevents the living reality.
“Then how am I to wipe away this exciting memory?”
Again, your very question indicates the desire to recapture that state, does it not? You want to wipe away the memory of that state in order to experience it further, so craving still remains, though you are willing to forget what has been. Your craving for that extraordinary state is similar to that of a man who is addicted to drink or to a drug. What is all-important is not the further experiencing of that reality, but that this craving should be understood and should voluntarily dissolve without resistance, without the action of will.
“Do you mean that the very remembering of that state, and my intense urge to experience it again, are preventing something of a similar or perhaps a different nature from happening? Must I do nothing, consciously or unconsciously, to bring it about?”
If you really understand that is so. “You are asking an almost impossible thing, but one never knows.”