By Sylvia Swain
During the hundred year period since the birth of Phiroz Mehta, accelerated changes have taken place in the life, though not the structure, of the psyche of man, but at the time no-one could have seen the terrible and wonderful things which were then in the pipe-line. We all know the outward events that did take place. But that time span also produced a new awareness of the underlying causes of the best and worst of which mankind is still capable and culpable. The nature of the very best and the very worst things that are compounded are always enshrouded in a sense of incomprehensibility and puzzlement at how such things could occur in the minds of people to lead to such deeds.
In an age when greed and hatred continue to create great suffering and when the hubris of man is even producing mad dreams of deserting a ravaged earth for other as yet unpolluted worlds to contaminate, again there has come one who, in compassion and humility, has renewed the message of that Holy One the Buddha in a language of love and hope, bringing once again the example of the Enlightened One. Sitting, as he did, teaching only as a fellow student, denying any higher status for himself while living a life of exemplitude, Phiroz Mehta, in the context of morality, mindfulness, meditation and good common-sense, rekindled the ideal of Brahma-faring on behalf of us, the many folk, under the simple title of the living of the Religious Life. And so we question once again how such wonderful things can come from such humble, unpretentious people.
Jung once confirmed, ‘There is a treasure in the field’. Buried treasure does no-one any good; we need to know where to look.
Phiroz Mehta has left a legacy in the form of a guide to a hidden treasure which can be accessed only from the heart, as many of us, who have taken him up on it, are finding by doing what we can to prove the affirmation which he made his own and tried to bring within reach of all his legatees. The early development of psyche took the way of duality and developed religions based only on projection, which by its nature, forever separates man from his gods. As a consequence we have become a virtually godless society. That, added to a science based on objective materialism driven by desire rather than love, and the worship of surrogate popular idols, has led to an ethical breakdown in the collective arena.
Only a minority of people throughout the world has remained steadfast, true and unbroken and it is from such as they that the holistic wisdom has been passed on intact. Wisdom is not preserved by being buried or pickled, by which at best it becomes just words. If it is not lived out spiritually and psychologically, it does not remain entire. As Phiroz used to say, it must be presented anew from time to time in terms accessible to the changing generations, otherwise it is in danger of stagnation and becoming “The Devil’s Fortress”.
It is very interesting that, during the same 100 years, Jung had the dream which led him to unearth, after much effort and suffering, the all but lost wisdom of the alchemists, and that brought up a wealth of understanding of the importance and relevance of the symbolism in the deep unconscious, which is the field in which psychological treasures are buried. Through the understanding of that symbolism, Jung was able to interpret otherwise incomprehensible dreams and was also helped to rediscover the process which he was to name the individuation process. It is a process which sometimes travels underground in bad times and then later comes to the surface as a fresh stream of the water of life or an Ariadne thread of gold.
Two and a half millennia ago it arose, through the travails, of Gautama Buddha, as a brilliant light and he called it the ‘way to an ancient city’. At an eleventh hour, in the last century this great light, preserved by the active, unburied devotion of the Buddhist Sangha, was introduced to the Western countries. Then, wonderfully, it was also accompanied by a meaningful synchronicity, in the person of Phiroz Mehta, who presented a unique psychological combination of Eastern and Western perception in which the twain could meet seamlessly and in complete harmony. In a Western domesticity, he lived according to the values of the Brahma — farer. By the very living out of this unity he presented the eternal wisdom to a rapidly changing world, naming it holistic consciousness, the way to the unification of the riven psyche.
Once again the eternal dilemma arose of how to present the psyche in its pure form as guide and example to worldly mortals in their ill state. He saw this ill-conditioned state of conflict as the suffering of those who are caught in that ‘sub-human’ condition, that is, under developed as truly aware and awakened human beings, trapped in conflict, misery and sickness, until the time comes when, in the words of Lao Tsu (verse 71 Tao Te Ching), they become ‘sick of sickness’, and thus able to attend to the true source of healing which is to be found within the mind itself, and it is this enabling wisdom which Phiroz Mehta conveyed in great detail and compassion with his unique use of language. He used every linguistic device and approach, the scholarly, the symbolic, historic and the religious, laced with delightful touches of humour, in order to teach all types of heart and mind as, with endless patience and creativity, he presented a listener to himself or herself in a new light.
He taught us to question all preconceptions and assumptions and then to let them go, including any religion which imposes rigid systematization on to that living spirit which in its essence is unique, for systematization is in danger of conditioning and pre-empting the natural process of flowering and so preventing the enlightenment which it purports to offer. Such indoctrination produces only stagnation and automata, but even then, once the ‘automaton’ begins to question such doctrine, the right by which it is imposed and the motivation behind it, then the true intelligence begins to flow freely once more and the false and towering edifice begins to collapse.
Such questioning was the strength and integrity of the Way of the Buddha, who said, ‘Do not believe what I say simply because I say it. Test it out for yourselves’. With those words, the Buddha demonstrated his own integrity.
Phiroz Mehta, too, was right to deny the title of teacher — he was a spiritual enabler in his time for all who truly attended to his words. It is this spirit of penetrating but deeply respectful and compassionate questioning, of the condition of religion per se in modern times, which has informed, with total and devoted integrity the investigations and interpretations of Phiroz Mehta, characterising an approach and style, which have become his enduring hallmark.
A centenary is more than an opportunity to look back. The future, too, will celebrate his genius. In that pipeline there was, not only the coming of Buddhism to the West, but the man who was to play an indispensable part in those early days at the Buddhist Society to ensure that the interpretation and presentation of Buddhism had an authentic voice, both in the Oak Room talks he gave and on religion, a word to which he gave an enhanced meaning, in all his other talks and publications.
Phiroz Mehta’s whole life can now been seen as a preparation for the development and later flowering of holistic consciousness in him, and when, in future ages, all the partial philosophies and narrow religious organisation have faded away, his so comprehensive treatment of the complex spiritual neediness of sick and suffering humanity will continue to point the way to the healing power of the Heart of Religion, which holds the seeds of creative renewal for all the world and for all time.