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Series II - Chapter 48 - 'The Actor'
THE ROAD CURVED in and out through the low hills, mile after endless mile. The burning rays of the afternoon sun lay on the golden hills, and there were deep shadows under the scattered trees, which spoke of their solitary existence. For miles around there was no habitation of any kind; here and there were a few lonely cattle, and only occasionally another car would appear on the smooth, well-kept road. The sky was very blue to the north and glare to the west. The country was strangely alive, though barren and isolated, and far away from human joy and pain. There were no birds, and you saw no wild animals apart from the few ground squirrels that scurried across the road. No water was visible except in one or two places where the cattle were. With the rains the hills would turn green, soft and welcoming, but now they were harsh, austere, with the beauty of great stillness.
It was a strange evening, full and intense, but as the road wove in and out among the rolling hills, time had come to an end. The sign said it was eighteen miles to the main road leading north. It would take half an hour or so to get there: time and distance. Yet at that moment, looking at that sign on the roadside, time and distance had ceased. It was not a measurable moment, it had no beginning and no end. The blue sky and the rolling, golden hills were there, vast and everlasting, but they were part of this timelessness. The eyes and the mind were watchful of the road; the dark and lonely trees were vivid and intense, and each separate blade of hay on the curving hills stood out, simple and clear. The light of that late afternoon was very still around the trees and among the hills, and the only moving thing was the car, going so fast. The silence between words was of that measureless stillness. This road would come to an end joining another, and that too would peter out somewhere; those still, dark trees would fall and their dust would be scattered and lost; tender green grass would come up with the rains, and it too would wither away.
Life and death are inseparable, and in their separation lies everlasting fear. Separation is the beginning of time; the fear of an end gives birth to the pain of a beginning. In this wheel the mind is caught and spins out the web of time. Thought is the process and the result of time, and thought cannot cultivate love.
He was an actor of some repute who was making a name for himself, but he was still young enough to inquire and suffer. "Why does one act?" he asked. "To some the stage is merely a means of livelihood, to others it offers a means for the expression of their own vanity, and to still others, playing various roles is a great stimulations. The stage also offers a marvellous escape from the realities of life. I act for all these reasons, and perhaps also because - I say this with hesitancy - I hope to do some good through the stage."
Does not acting give strength to the self, to the ego? We pose, we put on masks, and gradually the pose, the mask becomes the daily habit, covering the many selves of contradiction, greed, hate, and so on. The ideal is a pose, a mask covering the fact, the actual. Can one do good through the stage? "Do you mean that one cannot?"
No, it is a question, not a judgment. In writing a play the author has certain ideas and intentions which he wants to put across; the actor is the medium, the mask, and the public is entertained or educated. Is this education doing good? Or is it merely conditioning the mind to a pattern, good or bad, intelligent or stupid, devised by the author?
"Good Lord, I never thought about all this. You see, I can become a fairly successful actor, and before I get lost in it completely, I am asking myself if acting is to be my way of life. It has a curious fascination of its own, sometimes very destructive, and at other times very pleasant. You can take acting seriously, but in itself it is not very serious. As I am inclined to be rather serious, I have wondered if I should make the stage my career.
There is something in me that rebels against the absurd superficiality of it all, and yet I am greatly attracted to it; so I am disturbed, to put it mildly. Through all this runs the thread of seriousness.
Can another decide what should be one's way of life? "No, but in talking the matter over with another, things sometimes become clear."
If one may point out, any activity that gives emphasis to the self, to the ego, is destructive; it brings sorrow. This is the principal issue, is it not? You said earlier that you wanted to do good; but surely the good is not possible when, consciously or unconsciously, the self is being nourished and sustained through any career or activity.
"Is not all action based on the survival of the self?"
Perhaps not always. Outwardly it may appear that an action is self-protective, but inwardly it may not be at all. What others say or think in this regard is not of great importance, but one should not deceive oneself. And self-deception is very easy in psychological matters. "It seems to me that if I am really concerned with the abnegation of the self, I shall have to withdraw into a monastery or lead a hermit's life."
Is it necessary to lead a hermit's life in order to abnegate the self? You see, we have a concept of the selfless life, and it is this concept which prevents the understanding of a life in which the self is not. The concept is another form of the self. Without escaping to monasteries and so on, is it not possible to be passively alert to the activities of the self? This awareness may bring about a totally different activity which does not breed sorrow and misery. "Then there are certain professions that are obviously detrimental to a sane life, and I include mine among them. I am still quite young. I can give up the stage, and after going into all this, I am pretty sure I will; but then what am I to do? I have certain talents which may ripen and be useful."
Talent may become a curse. The self may use and entrench itself in capacities, and then talent becomes the way and the glory of the self. The gifted man may offer his gifts to God, knowing the danger of them; but he is conscious of his gifts, otherwise he would not offer them, and it is this consciousness of being or having something, that must be understood. The offering up of what one is or has in order to be humble, is vanities.
"I am beginning to get a glimpse of all this, but it is still very complex."
Perhaps; but what is important is choiceless awareness of the obvious and the subtle activities of the self.