A talk given by Eileen Benson at the Phiroz Mehta Trust Spring School on 4th March 1995
Most of us have been very fortunate in life in that we have know Phiroz. We have sat and listened to him dozens upon dozens of times, listened again and again to his tapes, read his books, marvelled at him. What have we done with that privilege? Are we any different? Have we understood? Have we lived the teaching? Or, has it all gone by as nothing — and now we are busy doing other things, finding new teachers, etc?
Through all Phiroz’s words there is a very strong golden thread. Every talk, every tape, every book quietly but firmly points this out. It is that we are all asleep, unawakened, self-oriented, imprisoned in a body, totally unaware, suffering, confused, conditioned automatons. In seeing our mechanicalness and in awakening to its control over us, we may then see what it is we have to do.
We go through life like Daleks. Daleks are programmed, just like us. They play their old records over and over again. We also are machines, doing the same things, saying the same things, day in and day out, yet we actually believe we are fully conscious beings. Unfortunately we are not. We think we are in control of our lives, and that we have free will, we even think that we can “Do”. Little do we know that, as we are, we can do nothing. Everything just happens — it happens as a result of all that has happened before, a long chain of cause and effect — the effect being the cause of the next event. We make up our minds to do this … and finish up doing that. Just watch it, and you will see.
As Phiroz so often said, everything revolves around our sense of “I”. ”I” comes into everything we say and think — we are self—oriented. Here I am also pointing out that there is not just a single “I” in us, there are dozens of “I’s” in us. It is not until we are aware of all these different characters that live through us that there is any hope of escape from our prison house.
If you cannot see this, think of the “I” that makes a New Year’s resolution, i.e. “Tomorrow I shall get up at 6.30 a.m. and exercise.” Three days later a different “I” says, “I’m tired, or it’s cold — I won’t exercise today, the sleep will do me far more good”. Or on dieting … Need I say any more? There is the “I” that loved someone yesterday, and another who can’t stand that same person today. There is even an “I” who thinks it loves the whole world — until it meets X, Y or Z. We don’t seem to see how fragmented we are.
In The Heart of Religion, page 342, Phiroz writes:
When sense-functionings are pacified, the mind is unified, not fragmentary. Thereupon the multitude of “I’s” which plague me by their clamour, roguery, folly and many other ills in everyday life, become a crystal clear unit.
On page 220, he says:
From childhood I am conditioned to use the word ‘I’, or the word ‘myself’, when referring to the living organism that bears my name. In practical everyday life such use is sensible and not misleading. Other people, traditional doctrines and beliefs, my own feelings, my fear of losing self or my unwillingness to be deprived of my separate individuality or ego, condition me still further. So I think of, believe in and passionately cling to, an intellectual abstraction, namely, an arbitrarily postulated immortal soul or spark of God which is the ‘I’, a separate eternal entity which survives bodily death. As long as this concept and belief that a finite but eternal entity is the real ‘I’ is obstinately upheld by me, it exercises a dominant influence for ill over my whole life and environment.
Now there are two aspects of ourselves, one I shall call Personality and the other Essence. We need to feel the difference. When we are born, we are pure Essence — no Personality has formed. That Essence is active.
As we grow up, Personality is formed. This is due to our conditioning, our parents, our environment, other people, teachers, etc. We are programmed. If we are lucky, we grow up with a pleasing Personality, if we were rejected or abused, we grow up unhappy, violent and sad. In either case, gradually Essence is covered over, made passive and the acquired Personality becomes active. This is as it should be. We do have to form Personality.
On Page 317 of The Heart of Religion, Phiroz says:
Nature brings the body to maturity in a couple of decades or so.
Then what? Nature then hands over the task to us. And this is where we get stuck. Our life task then is to return by our own efforts to Essence. Instead we go into overdrive and cruise helplessly through life with no direction, no goal and no help. Between the ages of twenty and thirty there should start a second education. Sadly this is missing. The real task starts here. The inner development of ourselves depends on the growth of Essence. We are barely even aware that Essence can grow. It is what Phiroz called the growth of Being, or the growth of Consciousness. We sincerely believe that we are already conscious — we are not. Our Personality has developed habitual ways of reacting to circumstances and events, and to others, and also all the contradictory “I’s”, negative emotions and attitudes, the fantasies one has about oneself, the protective “buffers” we have, imagination, pictures of oneself, playacting, cheating, lying and so forth. In truth we are not really very nice people.
What we have to do is to see the two-way mental traffic that goes on, not just to see what (in our opinion) others are doing wrong, but what our true thoughts and feelings are about that action or event. We must make ourselves passive to our reaction, not to the people we are reacting to. There is a great freedom in not reacting at all.
This of course is a very difficult task. It needs constant mindfulness, vigilance, complete self-honesty and a willingness to see with unerring insight. We have to make real effort if we want to escape from life as it is, this prison we are in. In a group like this, we have a chance of awakening. We could use the understanding that Phiroz has given us to work together, to help one another towards enlightenment, by being in communion with ourselves and with one another.
Phiroz says in The Heart of Religion, page 348:
In my fallen or ignorant or unredeemed state I am not in communion. I am aware of existence in the mode of mortality, that is, of uprising-proceeding-ending in constant succession. This endless, unbidden and uncontrollable stream of births and deaths in my own consciousness during my single lifetime is the real meaning of rebirth for me the individual, for with every uprising (be it of a thought or thing or event or whatever it may be) I associated myself in consciousness with it. ‘I’ am born in it. When it is over ‘I’ am dead, and am born again with the very next feeling or event that has uprisen in consciousness.
Let us stop here to take the above short passage in the light of what has been said. “In my fallen or ignorant or unredeemed state I am not in communion.” Could my fallen state be Essence covered over by Personality? He says:
This endless, unbidden and uncontrollable stream of births and deaths in my own consciousness.
As I said earlier, I am unable to do anything, things just happen and my Personality reacts (identified, lives it and moves on). As Phiroz says:
‘I’ am born again with the very next feeling or event.
That is to say, that particular “I” in me dies and a different aspect of “I” arises and identifies with the next thing.
All these “I’s” are just different “people” that live in and through me. They are not the Real I, which is Essence.
What we have to escape from is not life, but ourselves. Our juggernaut keeps rolling, we are it, it controls us. We may have flashes of consciousness, a few marvellous experiences, a few moments of seeing with clarity, and then our streets paved with gold turn to dust. These moments are moments of awakening, moments when we are free of the juggernaut of Personality, free of this monster which is ourselves. At these times we may catch a glimpse of what it is we have to Do. Then we fall asleep again.
How many times did Phiroz use that word “Mindfulness”? On page 302 of The Heart of Religion, he writes:
Mindfulness which glows with the intensity necessary for revelation means that there is no intrusion by memories or images to disturb the effortless silence of the mind.
There is no uprising of any desire or thoughts or feelings common to the ambivalent state. The mind is void of all ill — a meaning of the empty mind. In this state I can look, listen, touch and use all my senses without being sullied by memories, images or any conditioning.
The Buddha declares that “mindfulness is the one way to release oneself from sorrow, to set oneself on the right road.” Krishnamurti emphasises intense, choiceless awareness or complete attentiveness.
The dragon of mythology, i.e. the Personality, is what has to be overcome. We cannot run away — that will not free us. We must turn about and face ourselves as we are — and it is not a pretty sight.
In making Personality passive, in uncovering that light that we were born with — that is the Task — that is the Way — the Only Way.
So relevant and true.
Karuna, 25th November 2006