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Series II - Chapter 47 - ‘Contentment’
THE PLANE WAS crowded. It was flying at twenty-odd thousand feet over the Atlantic and there was a thick carpet of clouds below. The sky above was intensely blue, the sun was behind us, and we were flying due west. The children had been playing, running up and down the aisle and now tired out, they were sleeping. After the long night everyone else was awake, smoking and drinking. A man in front was telling another about his business, and a woman in the seat behind was describing in a pleased voice the things she had bought and speculating on the amount of duty she would have to pay. At that altitude the flight was smooth, there wasn’t a bump, though there were rough winds below us. The wings of the plane were bright in the clear sunlight and the propellers were turning over smoothly, biting into the air at fantastic speed; the wind was behind us and we were doing over three hundred miles an hour.
Two men just across the narrow aisle were talking rather loudly, and it was difficult not to overhear what they were saying. They were big men, and one had a red, weather-beaten face. He was explaining the business of killing whales, how risky it was, what profits there were in it, and how frightfully rough the seas were. Some whales weighed hundreds of tons. The mothers with calves were not supposed to be killed, nor were they permitted to kill more than a certain number of whales within a specified time. Killing these great monsters had apparently been worked out most scientifically, each group having a special job to do for which it was technically trained. The smell of the factory ship was almost unbearable, but one got used to it, as one can to almost anything. But there was lots of money in it if all went well. He began to explain the strange fascination of killing, but at that moment drinks were brought and the subject of conversation changed.
Human beings like to kill, whether it be each other, or a harmless, bright-eyed deer in the deep forest, or a tiger that has preyed upon cattle. A snake is deliberately run over on the road; a trap is set and a wolf or a coyote is caught. Well dressed, laughing people go out with their precious guns and kill birds that were lately calling to each other. A boy kills a chattering blue jay with his air gun, and the elders around him say never a word of pity, or scold him; on the contrary, they say what a good shot he is. Killing for so-called sport, for food, for one’s country, for peace – there is not much difference in all this. Justification is not the answer. There is only: do not kill. In the West we think that animals exist for the sake of our stomachs, or for the pleasure of killing, or for their fur. In the East it has been taught for centuries and repeated by every parent: do not kill be pitiful, be compassionate. Here animals have no souls, so they can be killed with impunity; there animals have souls, so consider and let your heart know love. To eat animals, birds, is regarded here as a normal natural thing, sanctioned by church and advertisements; there it is not, and the thoughtful, the religious, by tradition and culture, never do. But this too is rapidly breaking down. Here we have always killed in the name of God and country, and now it is everywhere. Killing is spreading; almost overnight the ancient cultures are being swept aside, and efficiency, ruthlessness and the means of destruction are being carefully nurtured and strengthened.
Peace is not with the politician or the priest, neither is it with the lawyer or the policeman. Peace is a state of mind when there is love.
He was a man of small business, struggling but able to make ends meet. “I haven’t come to talk about my work,” he said. “It gives me what I need, and as my needs are few, I get along. Not being over ambitious, I am not in the game of dog eat dog. One day, as I was passing by, I saw a crowd under the trees, and I stopped to listen to you. That was a couple of years ago and what you said set something stirring in me. I am not too well educated, but I now read your talks, and here I am. I used to be content with my life, with my thoughts, and with the few scattered beliefs which lay lightly on my mind. But ever since that Sunday morning when I wandered into this valley in my car and came by chance to hear you, I have been discontented. It is not so much with my work that I am discontented, but discontent has taken hold of my whole being. I used to pity the people who were discontented. They were so miserable, nothing satisfied them – and now I have joined their ranks. I was once satisfied with my life, with my friends, and with the things I was doing, but now I am discontented and unhappy.”
If one may ask, what do you mean by that word ‘discontent’? “Before that Sunday morning when I heard you, I was a contented person, and I suppose rather a bore to others; now I see how stupid I was, and I am trying to be intelligent and alert to everything about me. I want to amount to something, get somewhere, and this urge naturally makes for discontent. I used to be asleep if I may put it that way, but now I am waking up.”
Are you waking up, or are you trying to put yourself to sleep again through the desire to become something? You say you were asleep, and that now you are awake; but this awakened state makes you discontented, which displeases you, gives you pain, and to escape from this pain you are attempting to become something, to follow an ideal, and so on. This imitation is putting you back to sleep again, is it not?
“But I don’t want to go back to my old state, and I do want to be awake.”
Isn’t it very strange how the mind deceives itself? The mind doesn’t like to be disturbed, it doesn’t like to be shaken out of its old patterns, its comfortable habits of thought and action; being disturbed, it seeks ways and means to establish new boundaries and pastures in which it can live safely. It is this zone of safety that most of us are seeking, and it is the desire to be safe, to be secure, that puts us to sleep. Circumstances, a word, a gesture, an experience, may awaken us, disturb us, but we want to be put to sleep again. This is happening to most of us all the time, and it is not an awakened state. What we have to understand are the ways in which the mind puts itself to sleep. This is so, is it not?
“But there must be a great many ways in which the mind puts itself to sleep. Is it possible to know and avoid them all?”
Several could be pointed out; but this would not solve the problem, would it? “Why not?”
Merely to learn the ways in which the mind puts itself to sleep is again to find a means, perhaps different, of being undisturbed, secure. The important thing is to keep awake, and not ask how to keep awake; the pursuit of the ‘how’ is the urge to be safe.
“Then what is one to do?”
Stay with discontent without desiring to pacify it. It is the desire to be undisturbed that must be understood. This desire, which takes many forms, is the urge to escape from what is. When this urge drops away – but not through any form of compulsion, either conscious or unconscious – only then does the pain of discontent cease. Comparison of what is with what should be brings pain. The cessation of comparison is not a state of contentment; it is a state of wakefulness without the activities of the self.
“All this is rather new to me. It seems to me that you give to words quite a different significance but communication is possible only when both of us give the same meaning to the same word at the same time.”
Communication is relationship, is it not? “You jump to wider significance than I am now capable of grasping. I must go more deeply into all this, and then perhaps I shall understand.”