Interviews with Phiroz Mehta
Transcripts of a week-long series of nightly television interviews with Phiroz Mehta (PM) by Tony Cashman (TC), broadcast in July 1979
TC: Now a few weeks ago a lady came to me and she said, “How do you see it - God coming to us, or we going to God?” You know the idea that God came to us in Jesus Christ and the incarnation; or we go towards God going to heaven and so on. Now obviously, of course, I would look at it from a Christian point of view as a priest and probably even from the point of view of the Western world, and I thought that this week it would be interesting to look at it from the point of view of those in the East, and so I’ve brought along a man from India, Phiroz Mehta, who not only has asked himself these questions, but who has made a life study of it as well. Phiroz, perhaps we could begin by looking at this word ‘meditation’ which is bandied about a lot really. What’s your understanding of this word?
PM: ‘Samādhi’, the word used in India by Hindus and Buddhists alike, is usually translated as ‘meditation’ or ‘concentration’. It is more accurate, however, and more helpful to regard Samādhi as Perfect Communion.
TC: Now when you speak of Perfect Communion, what are you talking about, because we tend to think of it in terms of Holy Communion, you know, as a unity, as a bond. What do you say?
PM: Well, we do not look upon it from the ritualistic point of view only, although that plays its part in India, but if we go deeper into the matter and we want to get at the reality, underlying reality, then we have to think of it in terms of living the religious life in thought and word and deed.
TC: Now how does one begin to do this?
PM: Well, the indispensable basis is living the moral life to start with, the Commandments or, as they say in India, the Advices. That is the basis. The next point is the use of all our senses in the right way. For example, if we are looking at a tree, let us look with sole attention, an attentiveness, however, which does not exclude other impressions from reaching us, such as, say, falling rain-drops touching us, or the sound of the traffic passing by. Now, when we give our full attention in this manner, we are giving ourselves to that to which we are attending, and this giving of ourselves is an acknowledgement of the validity of what we are looking at; we do not dismiss it at all. This purifies the psyche, it enables us gradually to know our own selves, because whilst we are looking or listening, we are also fully aware of the reactions from our own brain - our thoughts and feelings and the silent chatter. Now, as this purification of the psyche proceeds, the senses become calmed, pacified, and what is more important, with examination they become the cords of communion between ourself and all around us. Now this is the real beginning of meditation, we have begun to enter the meditative state wherein, with this giving of ourselves with full attention and mindful observation, there is a link of compassion as well as wisdom between what we call ourself and the outside world.
TC: Yes, of course, this is only something that can come gradually, and perhaps we will look tomorrow night at the stages at which it grows, okay. Thank you very much, Phiroz.
TC: Phiroz, last night you said to me that meditation arrives at a point of Perfect Communion, you said this was a stage at which one arrives at where there is a complete laying aside of the here-and-now, of the conscious self, of the various needs of the person, and so on. Now, how would you develop that, you know, for a normal person who was looking in and was interested in meditation, how would you say that they should begin and proceed?
PM: With the purification of the psyche and the pacification of the sense functions, the mind becomes calmer and steadier, it becomes poised within and, what is most important, in culmination it becomes a unified whole. We are so accustomed to think of mind in terms of ‘the conscious mind’ and ‘the unconscious mind’ and so forth; all that undergoes a remarkable transformation. The mind becomes a whole organism, a healthy mature organism, and that means that it is in the state to apprehend holiness in its full sense.
TC: But does this mean that a person just needs to be quiet?
PM: Not it doesn’t mean just that, there is a lot more. The constant observation of one’s self has to go on, this watchfulness. As the watchfulness goes on, a very important change takes place in this way — we are conscious usually in terms of ourselves as separate persons conscious of other persons. Now, when the attentiveness and the giving of one’s whole self reaches its climax, then this separate-ness disappears and we give ourselves wholly; and it is a fusion between, not only one’s self and the outer world, but between one’s self and the Transcendent World, the Divine World.
TC: Yes, but you see the difficulty that I have with that is that when I begin to be conscious of myself, inner self, I get a whole lot of guilt feeling, unworthiness, you know, which is very much basic to the Christian tradition as a means of salvation and so on. Now what would you say overcomes our lack in this Perfect Communion you were talking about?
PM: By observation, the observation which does not utilise any limited criteria, does not pass judgement for or against the guilt feelings, or the feelings of elation that one is on the right lines, etc. All that undergoes a tremendous transformation. It’s very difficult to describe it, but this whole consciousness, this unitary wholeness supervenes and in that state the psyche and the mind are utterly purified, utterly clean, and therefore there is peace, peace in the sense of ‘the peace of God which passes understanding’, and that is real Samādhi, the Perfect Communion.
TC: Yes, and I can understand that very very well and of course that is very much part of the Christian tradition as you say. I remember in France, there was a French peasant priest and he once went into his church and there was a man in there just sitting quietly looking at the blessed sacrament, just looking at the altar, and he said: ‘What are you doing?’ And he said: ‘He watches me and I watch Him’. And I can understand that. Thank you for that, Phiroz, tonight, tomorrow night we look at God in Transcendence.
TC: Good evening. Well, have you ever asked yourself the question: “If only I could see God and then perhaps I’d be all right, you know, I’d be okay, I’d know where I was headed then, and I’d know if He liked me too really.” They asked that of Jesus, you see, they said, “Show us the Father and it will be enough for us”. And do you know what his answer was? — “He who sees Me, sees the Father”. Now I wonder, what does an Indian think of that; you know, when he sort of thinks of God, does he think of It as a person? So I want to ask Phiroz this. Phiroz, what would you say about that?
PM: Now in India the Hindus have the term, and/or they use the term Brahman, and/or Atma, to represent the One Total Reality. They also use words to express the God idea as a person — Iśvara, Nārāyaṇa, and of course they have a Trinity - Brahmā, Viśnu, Śiva and so forth. Now the Buddhists have a different phraseology. For the Absolute, the One Total Reality, they say it is the unborn, the unmade, the unbecome, and the Buddha also said that if there were not the unborn, the unbecome, the unmade, there would be no release from bondage here, which is the born, the become, the made.
TC: Of course when I began to study philosophy, we were given the five ways of Thomas Aquinas, you see, the Prime Mover and the First Cause, and so on. The difficulty with that was that God was not a person, and I wanted a person. Now, what is your own personal understanding and experience and awareness of what I would call God?
PM: I like to use the word ‘Transcendence’, a word which is not commonly used, for the simple reason that it is less loaded than the words which have been known for centuries like God, in the West, Nārāyaṇa in India, and so forth. So I use the word Transcendence to include everything, exclude nothing whatsoever.
TC: When I hear the word Transcendence I immediately think of One, the Other, the Beyond, but you don’t mean it like that?
PM: I appreciate that the word ‘the transcendent’ is used complementing the immanent, but I use Transcendence in order to include the immanent as well as the transcendent, so that every single concept which we can form, and they’re all limited, gets included in this overall sound (after all it is only a sound) ‘Transcendence’. That is how I like to use the word Transcendence.
TC: What would you say to a chap who came to me recently and he said: ‘What would you say, would you say good morning, God, or would you say good God morning?’
PM: Well, that situation has never struck me, but in that connection I was very interested when I visited Germany and walked in the mountains some years back to hear all those who passed by, the strangers, saying ‘Grüsse Gott’, and when I enquired what the meaning was, they said that ‘God is with you’. And of course in the Christian tradition we use that an awful lot, we say: ‘The Lord be with you and also with you’. Thank you, Phiroz, we will take it up again tomorrow night.
TC: Now, Phiroz, first when you speak of Transcendence and I speak of God, we are not really talking about the same thing, the same sort of reality are we? We tend as Christians to focus it on God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but you are looking at an overall embracing sort of reality, isn’t that right? Would you agree that ‘in Him we live and move and have our being’ is the closest that Christianity would get to your understanding of it?
PM: Yes, we would agree completely with that.
TC: And what about man then, I mean we say, ‘What is man that you should be mindful of him, O God, that he is insignificant and so on, but yet he is a creature you have made; he is made in your image and likeness’, to quote the scripture from Genesis. Now how would you react to that?
PM: Well, take this word man, its root, the Sanskrit root, is man. Ordinarily in the dictionary you will find that man means to think, but it is not thinking in our sense of the term, which is just a string of words, and words are limited, finite, and they belong to the mortal realm as such. This thinking of God, or the thought in the mind of God, is actually a creative power and, rather than saying, ‘And God said let there be and there was’, if we said, ‘God minded’, then it refers to this creative power which produces everything. Now man created in the likeness of this power is really potentially like God. You know Eckhart said, ‘Man verily is God and God verily is man’. Now we completely agree with that outlook, therefore man really is a creative power, it is potential within him. As and when he comes to complete fruition, he can be creative. In association with this, there is the significance of the word ‘person’. In the Upaniṣads you will find a very useful hint showing that the word ‘person’ means: ‘He in whom all evil mindedness is burnt out’ and in that state he is one with the Divine.
TC: All right, but now man is, as we say, human and mortal, and finite, he’s got free will and he makes mistakes and so on, right? Man today has achieved an awful lot in technology and in science, and lots of people today say that man is reducing God to his image and likeness and not the other way around. I know we haven’t much time but what would your reaction be to that?
PM: That is true in the limited sense, with regards to man as he is at the moment, but he is growing and through the ages to come as he grows and develops, this potentiality within him will come to fruition because his sensitivity to the Divine, which is embodied in him, will gradually increase and he will awaken in full consciousness to the knowledge and love and worship of the Total Reality, God.
TC: Which of course is outside of himself and yet somehow is within him as well; it is in Him we live and move and have our being. Perhaps we will leave it there tonight.
TC: Phiroz, we say that God is the source of all goodness and life and so on, and that man finds his meaning and so on in that understanding. Yet we meet a lot of people who may begin to look at themselves and, you know, try to answer the question: ‘What is man?’, being conscious only of inadequacies — depravation, hardship, physical pain, and worries, and so on. Can you say something to me about the whole question of suffering?
PM: Well now, suffering is of various forms. There is physical suffering with illness, bodily illness, and both the Buddhists and the Hindus say that the first practical sensible thing to do is to call in the doctor. In addition to that, let the patient examine himself and take this as an opportunity for learning deep lessons about the nature of existence, his own nature, and what he is looking forward to in life, and so on, and through that to treat the suffering as a very valuable opportunity, a heaven-sent opportunity if you like, for growing into his true humanhood and realising the state of communion ultimately.
TC: Now, of course in my work as a priest I will frequently get what I will call a sick call, say a person who is ill or sick will ask for me to call and see them. Now what they are looking for, it seems to me, is that I bring God to them, bring to them God-life, and God’s grace and blessing, as won for us by Jesus Christ who overcame suffering. I have not got the complete answer to it, but I am helping them to come to terms with it, to be healed perhaps physically, but at least to have all the fear removed and so on. Now if you came to them, what would you bring?
PM: I would bring the same thing, the same sort of thing, as you try to do, that’s what I would try to do myself.
TC: Yes, so what would you be bringing to them in the sense, you know, what would you say to the person in the bed?
PM: Well, that depends upon the person in the first instance, upon what he is suffering from, what his actual condition and stage is, and what he can receive profitably. It’s difficult to say that I would say precisely this, that, or the other.
TC: I can think in my own case personally at the moment of something that’s affected our family a lot. My mother was suffering from cancer and had six weeks to live in Easter last year, and the biggest thing that was worrying her was fear, just fear, uncertainty, Now we all prayed and tremendous people came and helped and so on. Now once the fear had been removed the healing began and, thank God, she is quite well now, you know. I can see that as being divine intervention, God sort of, you know, helping us, not because we are special or anything but just because we turned to Him and put Him in. Now with you, I was just wondering, it’s being aware of reality, is that all?
PM: Well, isn’t that everything in a sense, because the reality, the profound truth is an all-inclusive truth and that all-inclusive truth is sure to remove the fear if the patient has the ability to respond to it there and then. Sometimes he hasn’t, he’s too far gone beyond the point of no return, then it’s very difficult.
TC: And in a word would you say that a person can achieve that by himself, or do they need the help of another?
PM: Oh, there is constant help from others and that must be clearly understood, we cannot live unto ourselves as separate creatures, we are completely interrelated.
TC: Very good, and of course in the other comes the compassion and love of God as in Christ. Thank you very much, Phiroz.
TC: Good evening. Do you pray? That was a question asked of me by some person who knocked on the door the other night, (surely as people have probably called to your door and asked you the same question), and I said ‘yes’, but it made me think afterwards you know about how; how do I pray? A lot of my life really in the church is in the formalised prayer, you see, with ritual, with mass and sacraments and with prayer in words, as in the office, but it seemed to me that prayer is something much deeper, prayer is a whole relationship, a communion with God and that I should allow God to express Himself through me. A lot of people of course make the long pilgrimage to the East you know, not just to Outer Mongolia and so on, but to various temples in Tibet and other places. I have an Indian here, Phiroz Mehta, and I want to ask Phiroz this evening, well, how do you pray, Phiroz, and what would you say to people, you know, what sort of methods, and developments, and how they should pray?
PM: Now, prayer can be a really effective instrument of producing full relationship with the Transcendent, it depends on how we pray. Let me take an example with a Christian prayer, the paternoster - ‘Our Father which art in heaven’. Now in the ordinary way we repeat the words pretty quickly and go through the prayer, but supposing we let our body and mind become quiet and composed first, and then direct our full attention upon the words as such, avoiding our meanings of the words and letting the words tell us what they mean. We say ‘Our Father’, of course that means to start with ‘my Father’, and if I pay full attention to that and pour all my energy into realising that power of Fatherhood in the word itself, I will get quite a different impression of Father. And then ‘Our Father, my Father, your Father, the Father of other people, of the whole world’ and so on, and this intensity of devotion, this intensity of concentrated attention upon the significance of that, produces a completely different result from merely going through the words with our minds wandering.
TC: What would you say is the first prayer of a person? The sort of first prayer I am just thinking of is, how should they express themselves first of all?
PM: I don’t quite understand the question.
TC: I am thinking that the first prayer for me as a Christian would be, ‘I thank you, Lord, I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth’. What would you say?
PM: Well, there are different prayers for different stages and different people. This prayer of thanksgiving has its particular place. One is naturally grateful, one pours out one’s adoration and happiness, an inward quiet happiness in the act of adoration, and therefore it’s a thanksgiving as such. Yes, that is one aspect of prayer and then one goes deeper and deeper with prayer into the real contemplative prayer where the union between the Transcendent and one’s self comes into being, the Unio Mystica as the Christians would call it, you see, just like our Samādhi.
TC: So we come back to the Perfect Communion with God and allowing Him to express Himself in our lives.
PM: Exactly, and what we must always remember is that it is not I who achieve anything, what happens with me is that the self is completely un-selfed and it is God or Transcendence which comes to fruition as man, as perfect man, through this person who is the unresisting medium, the holy grail through which the divine benediction falls.
TC: Yes, very good, thank you very much, Phiroz, thank you.
TC: Phiroz, one day a young man came to Jesus and said to Him, ‘Lord what must I do to inherit the Kingdom?’. I might put it saying, ‘Lord what must I do to become holy?’ Well, when asked that I suppose most Christians would say that they should pray and go to church and observe the rules of their religion and love God and love their neighbour and look forward to the Lord saying, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant’, you know. What would your reaction to that be?
PM: Now, those are the ordinary religious observances. We have just the same sort of thing in Hindu teachings as well as in Buddhist teachings, but in addition to those which are the external instruments of grace, there is this great emphasis upon living the pure moral life as the indispensable basis to start with, and the training of the mind in such a manner that one easily, and naturally and spontaneously thinks and turns attention to the Total Reality. The presence of the Divine is taken for granted. I am using the word Divine, but you may have a different word.
TC: Yes, can I ask you this then, is this presence of the Divine, this Perfect Communion that you spoke of, is it something that we can achieve?
PM: We cannot achieve it. What we can do is to free ourselves from all the obstructions to the Divine, to grace. Who prevents grace? I myself, and it is my business to clear the obstructions out of my being which are mainly, of course, psychological.
TC: So my response then consists basically in making myself available to the influence of God?
PM: Of the infinite.
TC: Of the infinite.
TC: So, today is Sunday, and lots of people go to church today, and lots of them I am sure have been to church today in order to get to heaven, and that’s not quite right, is it, as something that they can achieve? They should go rather in order to allow God to express Himself more and more in their lives?
PM: The fact is one cannot buy and sell the spirit. One cannot reserve seats in heaven for oneself.
PM: And if anybody lives the good life for the sake of obtaining a reward, that completely defeats the attempt to live the good life. It has to be done out of complete compassion, complete love, and complete wisdom, then the light of goodness comes through.
TC: Okay, well then, finally what is the difference between holiness and quietism?
PM: A very great difference because the Holy One, the truly Holy One is the active one, who spreads goodness, who conveys truth by his very presence and by the mode of his actual daily life to those around him, inspires them.
TC: Phiroz, thank you very much for this week, and I have received an awful lot from listening to you, and there is so much more that I can learn, and I am sure those who have been with us throughout the week will feel it. If you feel like that at home, sharing with us this week, Phiroz has written this book in which you have put everything in here, your whole life’s work and study and so on. It’s called The Heart of Religion by Phiroz Mehta and it’s published by Compton Russell and it’s a big, big book. I have read most of it, and it links together both the Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian approaches as indeed you have done in your life. Thank you very much, Phiroz, and may God bless you all.