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India's Religions and Man's Fulfilment

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By Phiroz Mehta

A talk given at the World Congress of Faiths, Cambridge on 25th July 1953. This talk was not recorded

It is only fitting that one like myself who is not a distinguished scholar should pay tribute to the distinguished scholars who have delivered the previous addresses. They have given us the benefit of their study and scholarship, the fruit of their wisdom and realization. I am deeply grateful to them. I am also deeply grateful to all of you for giving me this opportunity to speak here tonight, Without you I am only a cipher. With you, there is the fullness of the boundless sphere. Let us create together, during this coming hour, and realize something of the eternal truth as embodied in India’s religions.

Uniquely characterizing India is the fact that, with the exception of Zarathushtrianism and Judaism, most of the great religions of the world have millions of followers living in the subcontinent. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and Sikhism are amongst India’s own creations, whilst Judaism and Zarathushtrianism, Christianity and Islam are migrants into, or impacts upon that land. And this India, as if she were a spiritual mother of the world, enfolds them all in her ample embrace. There do these religions snuggle, like members of one great family, even if at times their intercourse with each other is boisterously affectionate. But in truth, they all stem from one parent, and only one parent — the One Single Reality which is called Brahman or Allah, Jah-weh or Ahura-Mazda, God or Father, Rāma or Kṛṣṇa, Viṣṇu or Śiva or Mahādeva or whatever you will. The different religions are the varying expressions of the realizations of the Supreme Reality by the unique Sons of God.

From the outset, let us stand unsullied by all false approaches to Religion, such as: this is superior, that is inferior; this is revelation by the incarnate Lord himself, that is heathenish doctrine; or that this is the final Word of God which displaces or supersedes all other words. Let us also be wholly clean of that lamentable inadequacy which makes some men think of this religion as pessimistic and world and life negating, and that religion as optimistic and world and life affirming. For religion, at its heart, is the way God lives His Life, the way in which the Brahmaputras, the great Sons of God, manifest in their own persons the living truth. Religion is of the Eternal. It is the expression of him who has realized the Immortal, here-now. And as such, Religion can never be approached in terms of the dualistic criteria of our temporal world, never be evaluated by the bemusing judgements which apply and belong to, and are entirely restricted within the circle of mortality. Can a rude mechanic pass judgement on the Ninth Symphony! Away, then, with these befuddling biases of pessimistic and optimistic, world and life negating and affirming. Realize the integration of the duals — an integration and not an ignoring — and you will be consciously centred in the eternal, and you will know, by yourself being it, the changeless perfection which is the essence of all Religion, a changeless perfection which manifests as continuous change, in terms of infinitely varied beauty in our sense-mind world of space and time. Here and now, in our sense-mind world, of course there is the pleasant and painful, the joyous and sorrowful, world and life affirming and negating. But here-now, immortally, there is only the absoluteness of “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”

So we can see that he who is caught in the toils of sense-mind mortality will inevitably flounder about as he churns the ocean of words. He is the mere scholar and critic — to be distinguished from the true scholar — the argumentative man, the man who spins fascinating, spell-binding webs of words, which, wonderful and admiration-compelling as they may be, are nevertheless not the pure and simple truth. The word-spinner colours the truth fantastically.

Let us listen, then, to the wisdom of the Buddha when he says in the disciples:

Bhikkhus, there are those things, profound, difficult to realize, hard to understand, tranquillizing, sweet, not to be grasped by mere mortals, subtle, comprehensible by the wise. These things the Tathāgata hath set forth, having himself realized them by his own superknowing.

Brahmajala Sutta

And a little later he adds:

When a Bhikkhu understands, as they really are, the origin and end, the attraction, the danger, and the escape from the six realms of contact (namely, the five senses and discursively thinking mind), only then he comes to know what is above and beyond them all.

Let us relate to this a teaching from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad:

A wise Brahman should not meditate upon many words, for that is a weariness of speech.

This weariness of speech is like a strange parti-coloured skin covering the body of Religion. And yet, it would be unwise, indeed untrue, to deny the skin is integral part and parcel of the living body. So let us not discard this skin, but let us look at it with a steady eye. Or to change the metaphor, let us dive into this ocean of words at the right point, and with skilled discernment, bring up the pearl of Truth.

Now the right diving point into this ocean is the word which exhorts men to live the good life. Moral development is the indispensable preliminary. All religions are at one here. All teach that man must abstain from evil in thought, word and deed, do good in thought, word and deed, and cultivate the virtues. Intimately bound up with this is the control of the senses, for, as the Bhagavad Gītā says:

The excited senses of even a wise man, though he be striving, impetuously carry away his mind.

The importance of the control of the senses is pointedly shown by the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad:

The whole of men’s thinking is interwoven with the senses; when that is purified, the Ātman shines forth.

As long as the senses are not under proper control, as long as they are not skilfully used, like perfect tools in the hands of a practised craftsman, so long will a man sow the wind and reap the whirlwind, so long will his mind be a seething sea of confusion.

What, then, shall a man do about it? Here are the words of Jesus:

If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish than that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Jesus puts the teaching in a somewhat terrifying form! But five and a half centuries before him, the Buddha gave the same teaching in a different form. In his Third Noble Truth, he teaches us that:

The end of Ill is brought about by the utter cessation of craving, by putting away material things, the objects of sense, and, (where necessary) the use of the senses (pluck out thy right eye, etc. of Jesus), and by putting away thoughts, stimuli, feelings, perceptions, intentions, memories, preoccupations and deliberation arising out of the senses and the objects of sense.

Clearly, the discipline is strenuous. But rest assured that this discipline is not a rigid conditioning, but a true freeing of mind and faculty, of heart and spirit. This practice is not a formalized mode of behaviour. It culminates in the realized presence of God, in Brahman realization. This discipline is not a repudiation of this world, not a retreat into other-worldliness, not an escape or a cowardly flight from reality. For note a certain Buddhist teaching:

The eye is not a fetter to material forms, nor are material forms a fetter to the eye; but that excited desire which arises there in consequence of both, that is the fetter.

This discipline rejects, unequivocally rejects, all extremist self-indulgence or self-torturing. For this discipline is not other than the Perfect Way.

Now the Kaṭha Upaniṣad says:

He who has understanding, is mindful and ever pure, reaches the goal, from which he is born no more.

From which he is born no more! The end of rebirth, of saṃsāra, the miserable round of births and deaths! What is this doctrine of rebirth, so hopelessly misconceived everywhere? Recall the Buddhist teaching:

The eye is not a fetter to material forms, nor are material forms a fetter to the eye; but that excited desire which arises there in consequence of both, that is the fetter.

In the moment of uprising of excited desire, because the mind is in a state of confusion, an association is made between the self and the object of desire through the desiring. This self-association or self-identification with the object of desire in the moment of uprising of excited desire, is the meaning of the phrase “I am born”, the meaning of jāti (birth or rebirth) in the Buddha’s explanation of the origin and end of all Ill. This uprising desire runs through its existence cycle, either in fantasy alone, or in thought leading to action also. But, whatsoever is born, inevitably dies. When the desire-action cycle is over, “I am dead”, as it is said. This desire-action cycle is endlessly repeated in one’s lifetime. This is the series of births and deaths which one goes through, the self being associated, through being ignorant, sinful, with ephemeral desire and objects. This is the stream of saṃsāra, the cycle of existences from which release is sought. Now one can begin to understand what the Buddha meant by saying, Existence is Ill, is the suffering state”. For this cycle of existences in which all goes round and round during the lifetime of the individual, is the encircling cage of mortality from which “escape” is sought, from which freedom into immortality is longed for, and immortality here-now whilst we live on this earth, in this world.

The mind in turmoil is thus the domain of the Lord of Death. Whilst the mind is in this state, all discursive thinking is largely a distorter of the truth, a slayer of the Real. But for him who is mindful and ever pure, it is possible to begin to see the light, to have true understanding.

Now, moral purity and a clear intellect are necessary prerequisites but by themselves they are not enough. They do not take one to the supreme fulfilment. They may enable one to see the Promised Land from a distance, as Moses did, but not actually enter it. The Supreme Reality, as in the words of the Taittirīya Upaniṣad, is:

That wherefrom words turn back, together with the mind, not having attained.

The Kena Upaniṣad says:

There the eye goes not, speech goes not, nor the mind.

In order words, the Supreme Reality cannot be structured by discursive thought. It is indescribable and un-analyzable.

Speech-thought is limited to the sphere of sense-consciousness, in which there is continuous uprising-processing-deceasing, continuous birth-life-death. Speech-thought is confined to the sphere of mortality. All our mental and spiritual life, even in its profound, exalted, near to God moments, is held within the sphere of mortality, subject to the Lord of Death.

And yet, the Supreme Reality can be fully experienced. Do you ever try to attain the Silence? And trying, how far do you get? Try, try and try again. You will experience feelings, or pictures will pass through your mind, or you will have thoughts or a single thought, words or a single word, or even, just God, as you might say, and yourself adoring God. But all these are caught in that mortal cage which is your own discursive thought, your own speech words, your own mental chatter, however exalted and reverential that chatter might be. But in that holy moment then, fully awake, in complete control of that manifested form which is called yourself, in full self-possession, all mental chatter completely ceases, all discursive thought is utterly stopped by you, then, in that holy moment you have realized, made real, the Silence. Now you are the Awakened One, the Enlightened One, the Anointed One. This is super-consciousness. This is the meaning of “And Enoch walked with God; and Enoch was not, for God took him”; the meaning of Elijah being transported to heaven in a chariot of fire; the meaning of “Be still, and know that I am God”. In the Mystery cults of ancient civilizations, this was the ultimate Mystery, imparted in absolute secrecy, to him who was fit, worthy to receive it. This is the meaning of that sentence in the Ṛg-veda, “We have drunk Soma and become immortal”; the meaning of that statement about the Vedic and Upaniṣadic seers that “Vāmadeva ascended aloft and became immortal”. For in this super-consciousness there is no uprising-processing-deceasing, no birth-death. Well might you triumphantly exclaim, “O Death, where is thy sting, O Grave, where is thy victory?”, for now you have transcended death, won victory over Satan, over Māra, and you experience immortality. This is the eternal world, the world of “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.” This is Nirvana, this is the Kingdom of Heaven, here-now. This is union with God, this is Braham realization, this is the meaning of the Upaniṣadic phrase “knowing Brahman”. The stream of consciousness as we ordinarily experience it, the stream of saṃsāra, the round of births and deaths, has ceased to flow, and ordinary consciousness has flowed into super-consciousness. This is Eternal Life, the God-being, the “I am Brahman” of the Upani ṣ ads, which is the supreme fulfilment of man. This, as the Buddha said, is the utter end of Ill, this is the supreme Nirvana. Here, there is no question of whether “I am lost in Brahman” or whether “I retain my individuality in everlasting fellowship with God.” “Lost in Brahman” and “retaining my individuality” do not apply in this super-consciousness, in which “I and my Father in heaven are one” holds true — or in terms of the age-old Hindu teaching, Pratyagātman and Paramātman are eternally one. But if you stoop to attempt to construct a theological or philosophical framework for this, you will be unwise enough to try to trap God in the pit of Satan, for no speech-thought, everlastingly bound within the circle or mortality, can ever contain the immortal. The Eternal is the un-containable. Understand this and you will understand what Yājñavalkya meant in his great discourse on the Imperishable — one of the sublime passages in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad— when he used these words:

IT consumes nothing soever,
No one soever consumes IT.

You see, there is no intercourse between man and God when you attain the Silence. Intercourse uprises and passes away, is born and dies as long as you are not one with the Father. And this lack of oneness is pain. This was the dukkha, the suffering, the Ill which the Buddha talked of, the great Ill which is manifest not only through the incidental ills such as the pain and sorrow of sickness and death and so on, but also as the ephemeral pleasures of spatio-temporal mortality. And this great Ill, this being divorced from Nirvana, is the fundamental meaning of sin, of being in a state of mortal sin, a state in which one is not permanently Brahman-aware, God-conscious.

The achieved Silence is the uttermost, realized meaning of Jesus’ praying to the Father in secret. The secrecy is absolute. In Gethsemane, before the striking of the fateful hour, Jesus enters the Silence of God-union. But some of his disciples, to whom he had taught these things, to whom he had shown the way to attain the ultimate samādhi, were unable to make the grade. They were unable to go beyond certain deep levels of consciousness, and so, as often happens in such cases, they fell asleep. The great yogi of Palestine stood alone in that stark eternity, victor over the Prince of Darkness. Now we can understand why it is said that the great yogis, the Brahman-become as they are called in India, the great Sons of God, never sleep.

With the achieved Silence, the Immortal is gained. Here are the first words of the Buddha in his very first sermon after the Enlightenment:

Hearken, the Immortal has been gained.

This gaining of the Immortal, this super-consciousness, is the profound meaning of resurrection. In this super-consciousness, this resurrection, there is realized the identity of the within-the-self-Infinite and God the Universal Transcendent. He who has realized Nirvana, realized God-union, knows that all the terms of description of God are merely tattered rags.

Let no one say, “This Indian teaching is all self-centred. It is a doctrine of one’s selfish salvation, unconcerned with one’s fellows”. Whoso says that has not even begun to understand.

Here let us repeat two points. The first is that moral perfection is indispensable. The second is that the final God-union is attained by completely stopping all mental chatter, all discursive thought. Without moral perfection, the Silence cannot be fully realized. And then, to bear the power and glory of Brahman-realization (and realization is quite other than learned knowing, than the process of discursive thinking), to be the fit, activated centre for radiating the divine energy, it is absolutely necessary to be the utterly purified one. Hence the discipline of the Perfect Way, as taught by Zarathushtra, Jesus, Kṛṣṇa, the Buddha, as laid down in the Upaniṣads, in Yoga and elsewhere. For if a man is not the utterly purified one, then in the ineluctable evil situation which will confront him, the stress of difficult circumstance will drive him to bestow the kiss of Judas. And the wages of sin, in every sense, is death.

Not unnaturally, some may feel perplexed, even repelled, by this teaching of the Silence. You may feel it is sheer vacuity, absurdity, annihilation or nothingness. No, it is not annihilation, not nothingness. But of course, there is no thing here. This, the eternal, the immortal, is not subject to time-space process, and cannot be invaded by all that belongs to the evil, painful circle of mortality. And so it renders futile all sciences and philosophies where Itself is concerned, although sciences and philosophies are indispensable where our manifestation here is concerned. Now we can understand why the great Brahmapuras — Prajāpati Parameṣṭhin, author of that remarkable Creation Hymn in the Ṛg-veda. Vāmadeva, Enoch, Elijah, Aruni, Yājñavalkya, Jesus, Kṛṣṇa, the Buddha, and others — why these great Sons of God cannot be analysed, examined and assessed by our methods, our tools, our standards and values. Which cock, even if owned by an Asclepios, could crow an eloquent discourse on Socrates?

Some may feel impatient and say, “Do come down to earth and let us have something concrete.” But it is one of the charming facts of our existence that we are fast bound to this delightful green earth, that we are embedded in the bone of the concrete, and it is our very business to rise up and realize that transcendental Reality of which this whole concrete is only a fragment.

I said earlier, that in the Silence there is realized the identity of the within-the-self-Infinite and God the Universal Transcendent. I am using words, hoping they may convey something of that ineffable experience. The attainment of the Silence unites the individual with God. God Immanent and God Transcendent are then a realized identity. What the Silence holds then becomes “known”. The Silence contains the Power, because of which the universe becomes. In words, it is as much true to say that God creates the universe out of no thing as to say that Brahman becomes this-All. Thus has come into being the teaching of the omnipotence of God. Without acting, without moving — as we would use those terms — the Divine Power manifests the universe. Because it is so other than everything that we ordinarily understand by power, God’s omnipotence never interferes with the universal process. There never is any intervention, however often we see manifest that which we interpret as dispensation through grace.

Again, in the Silence, there is attained the true all-knowing, the super-knowing which the Buddha talked of. The super-consciousness is the fount of inspiration leading to the emergence of all mental awakening and knowledge. This is the meaning of omniscience. It is therefore not encyclopædic knowledge in our worldly sense. The Buddhi, the enlightenment of omniscience is far other than the mortality-bound, discursive, speech-thought knowledge of the most learned man.

In the Silence there is realized God as infinite love, as creative whole-making activity, as an integrative principle operative throughout the universe. The Silence is the Peace that passes understanding, the Nirvana which is the ultimate happiness, non-sensational, never coming into birth and never dying, eternal, perfect.

Such, then, is the essence of India’s great religions, of all great religion, and of man’s fulfilment. This central, creative core of Religion is of the world of Eternal God, the Holy of Holies which everlastingly remains unsullied, though embodied in all the passing forms of our ever-changing universe. This creative core of Religion directly touches, awakens and inspires only the individual who has made himself fit — remember the story of the wise and the unwise virgins. Through his awakening, it is changed into forms of expression which affect and are affected by the world at large, the world of human society and human affairs. And it is these forms of expression which are the organized religions of the world, which become concerned with man’s activities in the world.

Each single man’s fulfilment is an individual responsibility. It calls for an individual effort, an effort which is the supreme peacemaking — the peacemaking between body and spirit; hence the teaching of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be recognized as the children of God.” No man is a true individual until he has understood and discharged this responsibility. The true individual is the full human, the perfected man, the full-fledged Son of God. He is the Ṛṣi, the Muni. He is the Redeemer, the Saviour, the All-Enlightened One. He is one of the many mansions in my Father’s house.

You who are the children of the New Dawn are the heirs of the universe. You, and all the men, women and children living in the world, are the Chosen People, the Beloved of God, for you are the inheritors of Eternal God.

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