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The Phiroz Mehta Trust September 2020 Newsletter

Cover of the Phiroz Mehta Trust September 2020 Newsletter

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The Phiroz Mehta Trust Summer School 2020

By The Editor

Sadly we were unable this year to hold our Summer School at Claridge House, Lingfield, due to COVID-19. However we hope that conditions will be more favourable in 2021, and that we shall meet again then.

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The Goal (II)

A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 21st October 1972

Let us consider this afternoon this subject of the Goal. When we are talking of the Goal we are of course talking of it in the religious sense. As we all know, the Goal has been presented in different terms. The Hindus call it moksha, liberation, the Buddhists call it arahantship or bodhisattvahood or Buddhahood or Nirvana, and so forth. The Christians talk of it as the Kingdom of Heaven or the establishment of the Kingdom of God. The Zarathushtrians similarly visualize it as the realization of Garō-Demāna, in an after-state, the state after death. Garō-Demāna means the House of Song, where one sings praise.

So in these different ways a goal has been presented. This has been the case through the past. Through the past in presenting these goals there has always been the underlying assumption that there is some sort of permanent entity, the individual, who realizes this goal, with the exception perhaps of Buddhism which does not postulate a goal for a permanent entity which we can visualize or accept as a fact. Nevertheless the goal is definitely there. The goal is Nirvana, arahantship. It is the end of all ill, the end of Saṃsāra, Saṃsāra replaced by Nirvana. So there is this idea of a goal. First and foremost there is always a striving to attain the goal, therefore the acceptance of the goal as a defined concept, something to realize, and the necessity for a laid down path to realize this goal.

How true is all this? Is there such a goal? Is there any entity who realizes this? When we ask the question “Is there such as goal?”, I mean a goal in the specific defined sense. The Christian will form his particular concept of Heaven. So does the Zarathushtrian, so does the Moslem. He has this very definite concept of what Paradise is. The Hindu does not make too specific a concept, nevertheless there is a concept of the state of moksha, either as realized there-now whilst one is alive, or as realized devoid of the body. But if it is realized for that person there is the assumption of a manikin soul, a particular ātma which he realizes. It is always associated with the idea of bliss, of fulfilment with the absence of all pain, difficulty, sorrow and all the rest of it. These are our concepts associated with the goal. Are they of any value at all, apart perhaps of the negative value of persuading us not to squander our energy in the unworthy pursuits of life? We must grant that to the idea of a spiritual goal. There is a betterment in certain respects within the relative context, the context in which we talk of the bad and the worse and the good and the better and the best. Within that context there is some value for these concepts of a goal and of a path leading to the realization of that goal. But apart from that, how real is this goal? Is it really a goal or is it really to be spelt gaol? Any concept binds, and this is where the Buddhist presentation is quite remarkable insofar as the Buddha taught unequivocally, “Put aside all concepts, all ideas, all pictures,” because they are not reality, they are not truth. The Buddha also went further and said that the truth, the reality can never be constricted by thought, can never be given a verbal expression which truly represents the Living Truth. It cannot be done, he said again and again, talking about the meditation process of the bhikku. And so with right wisdom, with intuitive insight, we see that any concept, any pattern of thought, is impermanent, anicca, is relative, it is anattā, devoid of ultimate reality, devoid of self-subsistence (which means that it belongs to the realm of the deathful) and is itself a source of dukkha, of the ill state.

This last statement is terrific. Any conceived goal, however wonderful the picture may be, is itself a source of the ill state, of sorrow. It is a curious thing that all of us, with very rare exceptions, seek a goal. If not consciously, we do it unconsciously. What is the significance of this? Does it not mean that, howsoever we may try (and to use one of the Buddha’s own phrases, howsoever we may flounder this way and that way like fish caught in a net), the fact is that we are prisoners, slaves if you like, of our pleasure drive? This is the fundamental fact of our existence, not only our organic existence but all our cultural and spiritual striving. There is no mistaking the fact that our cultural striving is certainly directed towards what we call the happiness of Man, in terms of the happiness of the senses and of the intellect, the aesthetic sense and so forth. But it is a pleasurable thing, it is not a dis-pleasurable thing. If we listen to Mozart and Beethoven, for those who care for Mozart and Beethoven, we are delighted. If we listen to certain other gentlemen or ladies, as the case may be, who are the composers, we are not quite so delighted. We just turn off a switch and omnipotently wipe out the disturbing factor. The pleasure drive underlies everything.

This is something to which we really must awake, that all our conceived goals, that all our disciplinary life is determined by this pleasure drive which holds us prisoner. It is this from which we must become free. We know what the Buddha called it, tanhā, craving. You take the Sanskrit equivalent of the Pali tanhā, tṛṣṇā. It means the thirst for sentient existence. This is the craving, the thirst for sentient existence in pleasurable terms, not in painful terms. All pleasure comes to us via the senses and the sense functions. That is a fact, is it not? This living organism, the psycho-physical organism which goes by our name and which we in common parlance refer to as myself, is definitely controlled by a pleasure-pain mechanism, bodily. Its psychological counterpart is “I like” with respect to pleasure, “I dislike” with respect to pain. The bodily mechanism I use as a tool, just as we use a thermometer and a barometer to tell us the temperature and the pressure. So we use the pleasure-pain mechanism of the body to tell us what is not harmful to our ordinary physical existence and wellbeing, our health, and also what is harmful. If a bodily sensation is too painful, it could hurt badly, it could maim, it could even kill us. So we utilise the physical pleasure-pain mechanism of the body as a tool. We are quite unconsciously sensible in that respect. But where the psychological counterpart is concerned, we have fallen. We like the pleasurable physical sensation, we want more of it, so attachment grows. This is very important. This is something we must really look at and be mindful of all through the day, this growth of attachment. This is the great monster who is going to grip us, first very gently by the hand and finally catch us by the throat and strangle us! This is the growth of craving. On the other hand there is this dis-pleasurable sensation, which has its psychological counterpart in “I dislike, I want to avoid, I want to destroy it.” So the whole complex of fear and violence grows up.

We have discussed this matter more than once before, but it never goes in with sufficient intensity. It gives us a tickling sensation at the top of our heads, we scratch our heads and that’s where we stop! We don’t let it go right deep down, right through the head, into the heart, right into our bowels. There is that famous phrase “moved by the bowels of compassion.” Let us be moved by the bowels of wisdom, not only compassion. When both are there we shall be happy. So this has to be taken into account very, very carefully. All our conceptions, all our so-called ideals are dominated by this pleasure drive. As the Buddha said, let go, don’t hold onto the concept. If I do not hold onto the concept, then the reality of the living process, the growing process, the coming to fulfilment and fruition process goes on unhindered, unspoilt. But you will say, “Now you are talking about a goal, a fulfilment.” Yes, indeed. But it is never my conceived fulfilment. My conception about it is the thing that spoils. Life is the immeasurable, prāṇa. It is everlastingly a mystery. My brain, my concepts, my knowledge are all shadows. They cannot grasp reality. It is like asking, “What is the ultimate Truth?” It can never be put into words for the very simple reason that the Infinite can never be contained within the scope of the finite, howsoever much the finite, because of its utter purity, its unresistingness, may represent the Infinite and let Infinity in all its marvel and wonder flow through it. But this is something we never realize. We always want to grasp the Infinite there. Then the Infinite breaks us. There is no option to it. If I will go and stand in the path of a tornado, well, goodbye! I shall never stand again! So you see these laid down paths and the consequent false mortification, the false asceticism associated with it all. You might ask, “Then how does one proceed with the living of the religious life?” How does one proceed with living that sort of life which releases us as individuals into true human beings? The Buddha called the true human being uttara puruṣa, the further man. By implication the ordinary man, is really a sub-man, he is not a true man. He is still growing into true manhood. Now we may say, simply because we have intelligence and we have logical faculty, “Of course that is right.” We may say that, but we only say it. We act contrarily to it, because this pleasure-drive, all the factors that keep us at the subhuman level, are so very powerful and they function largely in the unconscious. So you cannot catch hold of a devil and finish him off!

But do consider this matter very carefully. We may make a determined effort to get free of forming concepts of goals in the religious context. We have to beware of something here. Without our knowing it, usually, we separate the religious context from the worldly context. Where else can I be religious except in the world? The rather naïve, simpleminded believer in an afterlife in heaven or hell would say, “In heaven I live the perfectly religious life.” But if he investigates where is heaven, if he really investigates, he discovers that heaven is in the world, not outside it. That term the world stands for the Totality. It is not something separate, something different. This is all our cuckooland illusion from which we suffer. It is Here Now. There is nothing other than the Here Now. The total Here Now is here now. The point is that I, being what I am, limited in awareness, in consciousness, in the capacity to respond and to be sensitive to what actually is, am unable to grasp Wholeness in its wholeness. That is why I see only a tiny fraction, I am aware only of a tiny fraction of the Totality, and therefore I make the mistake of thinking that the Totality, the spiritual, the wonderful is out there, somewhere else, not here. It is here right now, the Totality without any equivocation, without any reservation whatsoever.

I have to wake up to that Totality. It does not mean that my poor little conscious mind, like Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders, has got to bear the whole of Totality within it, it is utterly impossible to do so. But I can be sensitive to the fact of Totality here now. That is all I can do. I can be mindful so that I see all that obstructs this sensitivity to Totality, to the Total thing here now. This is Nirvana. This is Saṃsāra here now. Saṃsāra is the continuously changing living body of Nirvana which is its informing life principle, if you like.

What happens when we look at things like this, when we begin to be sensitive to things like this? First and foremost the self centre disappears. If I am really sensitive to the truth of Totality here, that Totality completely holds me within itself as an integral, inextricable part and parcel of itself, but not a separate, unchanging entity, which is me. It is this, which is conveniently called me, myself, which is something which is continually undergoing change, all the time, not for the benefit of me, not for the benefit of a particular not-me. There is no question of benefit where the Totality is concerned. Benefit, growth, fulfilment, fruition all come within the limited context. Never ask the question, “What is the use of it all?” None whatsoever. The Universe does not exist to answer my questions or to be bothered with me, it just doesn’t. That is my conceit, my weakness, fear, stupidity, folly that make me feel and think that way.

Does any one of us as a human being get particularly concerned with the fate of a microbe? Are we concerned that that poor microbe shall evolve and grow and be secure and in a welfare state and so forth and come to some marvellous fruition? I am afraid we are not. If not, why not? I am not asking this question with the implication that we ought to be. Far from it. It is a question of proportion, it is the way of life. The Universe is not concerned with me, nor am I, the separative conceited person, concerned with the Universe. I am concerned with myself, I want to grab out of the Universe all that I can which shall satisfy my pleasure-drive, my lust, to put it violently. Isn’t that so? It is precisely this which prevents the trend of the universal process from working itself out through each one of us. Our conceived goals, born of the pleasure-drive, our attempts to tread a particular path in order to obtain and achieve this goal, get tied up with our craving, our violence, hate and all the rest of it, and at the root of them lies our delusion about oneself fulfilling a goal, realizing a goal. In the becoming process there are great trends, great life movements which inevitably produce these phenomena, the different kingdoms of Nature. Let us confine ourselves to Mother Earth. That is large enough for any one of us to deal with!

Look at the mineral kingdom. Look at the wonderful gems that are produced. A man with his skill of course can cut and polish a gem and make it a thing of wonder and beauty to our senses. Take a diamond, for instance, which is a wonder in itself. We have all heard of atoms and molecules. A molecule is defined in chemistry as the smallest possible mass that can exist by itself, a chemical substance which may be just a single element, like gold or silver or iron or phosphorus or hydrogen or anything, or it may be a combination of some of these elements, which makes a particular chemical substance. You can have a molecule of it; that is the smallest. It takes countless millions of molecules to make a mass of the size of a pinhead, absolutely countless millions of them. But see what Nature has done in the case of a diamond. It consists of innumerable atoms — atoms make up molecules, remember. A diamond is a single molecule, a most extraordinary feat performed by Nature. In the mineral kingdom these marvels are produced, as we humans would say, a coming to fulfilment. And what is a diamond chemically? Carbon, that is all, the same stuff as charcoal, graphite. Would Mrs. T. pay a quarter of a million pounds for a diamond ring if she knew it was just a piece of carbon? Pass an electric current through that thing and it will be charred into just a piece of charcoal, that’s that, carbon.

There is the trend in the mineral kingdom. Look at the trend in the plant kingdom. Look at the marvellous trend in the animal kingdom, and we have to awake to the trend in ourselves as human beings. An exceptional animal species to start with, we are. But in us some extraordinary things come to fruition. They are growing, they are developing. We can help or hinder that. Only a very small bit of this trend we know. We know a tiny bit of it physically, we know a tiny bit of it in intellectual, cultural terms, aesthetic terms, and we know a tiny, tiny bit in terms of the spiritual reality within us, which means the coming to fruition of consciousness, this awareness, this mindful state, this state of complete communion with the whole of Nature. We know just a little bit about it all. But these are the trends. And I emphasize the point about our knowing only a little bit because it spots what we are trying to see, namely that any concepts we form in the light of our petty little knowledge, are invariably largely going to be a vast mistake. So do not form any concepts about goals.

Then the question arises, where does the striving come in? I use the word striving deliberately because it is a word which has been used in all the old religious disciplines. That word is a nuisance, it is hindrance. But I am going to use it temporarily. Where does the striving come in? First of all, let us look at the implication of striving. What does one strive for? Oneself, to achieve or attain. When you or I started life at birth, did we strive for anything? We had no self concept. All our reactions or responses were just practically automatic. When something happened here, in the middle of our bodies, we shouted and Mamma fed us. It is just that sort of thing that happens. It is only as we begin to grow that we begin to be caught up in this isolative self-consciousness of ours. “I am I, different and separate from you, I want this.” And if there is only one of it, “You are not going to have it,” and then we have a fight. This is what we did in childhood, didn’t we? This isolative self-consciousness grows and our whole orientation to our everyday life is one of striving for this and striving for that and so on and so on. And it is always directed towards the self.

All this sounds very simple and elementary but it is the simple, elementary things that we have to master. All the rest just follows. If you know your alphabet thoroughly, you can begin to know your words thoroughly. If you know your words thoroughly and spell them correctly (one must emphasize that in modern times!), then your sentences, your thoughts will be clear and true. It is like that. The fundamental things have to be mastered, fully understood.

So, this striving is all for the self. Surely there is something which puts aside this absurd situation of striving for things. What about letting them happen? All the world rises up and says, “Don’t be so foolish, you’ll never get anything if you don’t work hard for it.” “Never get anything.” But is that not the very opposite of the whole spiritual consciousness, the whole religious consciousness, getting, grasping? What did the Buddha say to Ananda? “Ananda, freedom from all grasping, is indeed the deathless state, is indeed Nirvana.” Freedom from all grasping! In striving we are grasping for the self, we are discriminating between this and that, I will have this, I will push that aside. The life of the religieux has at its centre the life of the mind, the life of understanding out of which emanates that conduct which characterizes holy living, out of the mind. Where the mind is concerned, to see the truth, to see the fact, is to be liberated from all that obstructs the truth.

Our task then is that mindfulness which really sees what is the obstruction, what belongs to bondage, to evil. When you really see it, there is nothing to strive after. But you might say, “But you have to strive to see it.” No, you don’t have to strive to see it. You have to bend all your energies in terms of complete attentiveness to what actually is present. Now you have got right mindfulness, otherwise you have got the wrong mindfulness. It is self-oriented without your knowing it. You bend all your energies to seeing the fact as it is, and in the seeing of the fact the evil is transmuted. Similarly what we commonly call the good, good and evil in the relative sphere, that too is transmuted. Both ways there emerges Nirvana, both ways.

If you see the evil that is there, and you see the good that is there (it is in the relative context I am talking, the good and the evil), you go right out of the relative context and realize the Transcendent good, the Truth. That is to say that I as a separate individual do not realize it. What happens is that there is the realization by the universal trend of this thing which has been named Nirvana or Perfection or Holiness or Purity, or whatever you like to call it. In other words it is not you or I who attain or achieve, but sweetly, naturally, the Totality comes to fruition through you the individual. This is quite different from fixing goals, from defining them, from undertaking a particular discipline in order to achieve that, quite different. The discipline is there. The word discipline really means learning, and learning in this living sense, and especially in the religious sense, is not an acquisition of any sort. It is an awakening to Reality. That awakening is not an acquisition. You can acquire a set of ideas, of thoughts, of beliefs, dogmas, doctrines and the whole host of the rubbish. The Buddha said, “With right wisdom do not grasp it, let it alone.” But those of us who are interested in religion as a whole, whether it be Buddhistic in form or Christian or any form you like, Swedenborgian or Rosicrucian or whatever it may be, we are all the time grasping for the self and waving the banner of unselfishness at the same time! We are a joke!

Where the religious life is concerned, just live. Let life, the great universal trend, work unobstructedly through each one of us. We have to remain awake and see every time that this tendency towards obstructing that universal trend springs up, in terms of personal desire, grasping after pleasure, fame, success, security, love, happiness, the whole host of them, and the obstructions which come up with our fears, our anxieties regarding security and all the rest of it. These are the things to watch, really be awake to them. Don’t do anything about it in the light of a particular idea. Watch the process intensely and respond spontaneously to the best of your ability. That is as much as most of us anyway, certainly I, can possibly do. In that way we may find that there is inward poise, the poise which is perfect alertness, which is utterly peaceful, which is full of all the brahmavihāras, as they are called, loving kindness, compassion, being able to take joy in the happiness and joy of life in its totality, and this extraordinary inward equanimity, which is there because every disturbing element which emanates from its fundamental root, this isolative selfness, is no longer present.

That is Nirvana in manifestation in a very simple, peaceful, beautiful way, very matter of fact. There is Realization.

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Discrimination

By Bob Vivian

Are we all not colours — on the same palette?
Rivers flowing into the same ocean deep?
Birds flying in the same sky?
Born and sustained on the same earth —
to which one day we must take our sleep?

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Zen Meditation

By Ron Martin

Part 8

Efforts have been made by Christian theologians and others to circumvent some of the difficult problems posed by a theistic religion. On a different course Eckhart, through his mystical experiences, arrived at the extreme position, when he stated that Man “must seek nothing, not even God”. (No Zen Patriarch could have put it better). If this view were to become generally accepted then the gap between Christianity and Buddhism would be reduced to vanishing point.

There are, indeed, many instances in Western literature which point to an eventual synthesis along these lines. The works of T.S. Eliot are not widely regarded in this light yet, in his Four Quartets, we find this synthesis emerging. Perhaps his earlier commitment to traditional Christian belief blinded people to the trends that became evident in his later works. That he was greatly influenced by Buddhism and must have studied it in some depth was indicated when he equated the Buddha’s Fire Sermon with the Biblical Sermon on the Mount.

TheFour Quartets, first published as a linked group of poems in 1944, reveal a remarkable similarity to the philosophy of Buddhism. Because Eliot is such a giant among the poets of the 20th century this work deserves deep investigation.

We have seen how concepts not only give rise to false beliefs about experiences, but can falsify the experience itself — as when looking at a lawn our experience seems to be that of looking at grass that is intrinsically green, whereas the colour is actually a mental construction and does not have an objective existence. In the poem, East Coker, Eliot expresses a similar view, and then presents the Buddhist doctrine that the ego (the view of one’s self) arises from the pattern formed by concepts. Here, Eliot clearly uses the word ‘knowledge’ in the sense of conceptual knowledge and not insight:

In the knowledge derived from experience
The knowledge imposes a pattern and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

The Buddha offered us a Path through conceptual thought, and although East Coker does not do this, Eliot warns us in this poem that we should “Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought”. Thinking about experience obscures the source of true knowledge and leads to egotistical desires which, in turn, are the cause of unsatisfactoriness in our lives (Dukkha). The poem, Burnt Norton, has this to say about desire:

Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between unbeing and being.

This introduces the aspect of timelessness (Timeless Reality) which is explored further in the same poem:

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose garden
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future,
Only through time is time conquered.

Pure consciousness (awareness) is not in the dimension of time, and in meditation we experience the timeless quality of Reality, yet without the concept of time we would not seek to escape from it in this way; therefore, “Only through time is time conquered”. This points our minds to the Here and Now, which is always present:

Time present and time past
Are both present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Inheritance from previous lives (Karma) limits our awareness of Ultimate Reality and, in the poem The Dry Salvages, Eliot has this to say about such inheritance:

We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness. I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations…

When Karma has been overcome we have reached the Buddha’s “onepointedness of mind”, which is still and unmoving. This centre point is the source from which all manifestations originate — it is the Mother of Existence, as expressed in the Tao Te Ching.

In Burnt Norton, Eliot approaches this centre point and, perhaps, goes as far as is possible within the limitations of language, even poetic language, to depict its actuality:

Except for the point, the still point
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been; but cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire.
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy.

In the poem Little Gidding, Eliot expresses in his own inimitable way the sheer continuity of life, depicted in the Buddhist scriptures as the Wheel of Life and Death (Samsara):

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

And in the poem East Coker, he even reduces this to six words:

In my end is my beginning.

Finally, what is Enlightenment? Eliot must be allowed the last word on this, too, because in Little Gidding he says, beautifully, all that needs to be said on the matter:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 To be continued...

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