Read more from the Being Truly Human September 2009 Newsletter
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Attingham Park on 2nd December 1956. This talk was not recorded
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.”
This, like that Creation Hymn of the Ṛg-veda which I recited yesterday, is the truth which is Revelation. And we noticed yesterday that in this context the pure milk of the word of the Great Teachers is called the truth. How different is the truth of science, using this instrument of speech for conveying truth!
In our own day, even as in ancient days, man is caught between the nutcracker jaws of the truths of Revelation and Science, of Faith and Reason. To remain whole and secure, man must realize himself.
In India, as in China or Greece or the Western World, we see various approaches to truth through the heart of Religion on the one hand, and on the other hand through theology, philosophy and science. The approach having been made, the attempt to communicate and spread what is called the truth leads, in each case, to conflict. Science progresses by the addition of new observations and new experimental verifications of theoretically deduced and rationally postulated hypotheses. Philosophy progresses often by the negation of some thesis in an already existing system of thought, and the emergence of a new synthesis through the rigorous application of reason to the interaction of the new thesis and its antithesis. Science and philosophy are characterized by movement and change. The heart of Religion remains the heart of Religion without being either changeless or changing, static or moving.
Broadly speaking, the conflict lies between the heart of Religion on the one hand, and theology, philosophy and science on the other. We may state the position in slightly different terms. The conflict lies between the seer on the one hand, and the theologian, the philosopher and the scientist on the other. It lies mainly in the sphere of speech-thought. It is due to the different degrees of realization, and to the differences in the nature of the realization, by seer, philosopher and scientist, and to the use of speech as the medium of communication between man and man.
From our earliest days, our sense impressions, our desires, thoughts and actions are categorized for us in that system of symbolical sounds called words. Our ordinary awareness of existence is formulated in words. All the ordinary objects and experiences of our daily life have their own specific forms. To distinguish each form, it is given a name or a verbal description. Discrete awareness or recognition is in terms of name-form. And so throughout our waking life there is a continuous flow of words, a flow made up of the audible speech of ordinary conversation, and, when we are not talking aloud, of the silent speech of thought-feeling. All discursive thought is simply a ceaseless flow of silent chatter. This flow is largely unbidden and uncontrollable, and constitutes the major part of mental life.
Speech-thought is the formal expression of our awareness of the process which is our daily life. All speech-thought has its roots in, and emerges out of, our experience of the material world, the substantial universe. The eternal that-which-is, in manifestation, as apprehended by us, is represented by speech-thought in different manner at different times and in different places, by different people. Each person at any moment is a distinct, unique pattern. From the very beginning, each person undergoes a conditioning which makes him different from every other person. At any moment, the sense activities and discursive mind of each person form an image of that person’s world. In course of time, certain ideas abstracted out of these continuously passing images constitute that person’s conceptions of life or of the world. These conceptions are a collection of silent word-patterns. When a man conveys these silent word-patterns, he speaks or writes. His instrument of communication is words, which are symbolical sounds.
Not only symbolical sounds, but also colours, shapes, gestures and so on are used as media of communication, singly, or in combination. But it is probably true to say that speech-thought is the main medium.
Each man forms conceptions in various contexts: religious, scientific, aesthetic, social, etc. He uses the same words in each context, with different shades of meaning where necessary. However different the shade, there will usually be an essential or unchanging core, a core which preserves a unity of meaning of the word, whatever the context. Thus when he uses the word power, he means one thing in the scientific context, another in the legal, another in the political, another in the social, another in the psychical and another in the religious. Nevertheless, the power of a steam engine, the power of the law, of the state, of social custom, of thought and of God, will all have a unity of meaning for him. Take another word like made: I made a cup of tea; I made a chair; I made good; I made a success; I made a fortune; I made a man of him; I made him happy; God made two great lights; God made the beasts of the earth. Here again, the word made will have a certain unity of meaning.
But how far is it legitimate, or accurate, to hold such a unity? For whereas words which are applicable in one context may be applicable in another, it more often happens that they are only partially applicable, and at times quite inapplicable. For instance, the power of a spontaneous feeling or thought motivating us to undertake a course of action is only a distant relation of the power expended by us in riding a bicycle. And the “power” of God is of a dimension and nature so transcending any experience or knowledge of power which we as mortals have, that our meaning of power is, in reality, inapplicable in relation to God. So we see that where the ability to handle words, the medium of communication, is imperfect, there, inevitably, confusion arises.
Next, the meaning of a word for one person is different in some way or other from the meaning of that same word for another person. The content in one mind in relation to a word is different from the content in another mind. Further, the contexts represented by the terms religious, scientific, practical, aesthetic, etc., for any one person show differences from the contexts for another person. Moreover different people use different contexts, or a mixture of contexts, in which to express the same or a similar realization. For instance, the idea of God will be expressed differently according as to whether the person is a mystic, a poet, a philosopher, a scientist, a humanitarian, a parson, a soldier, or whatever he may be. Thus St. John of the Cross wrote as a poet-mystic, Prajāpati Parameṣṭhin as a philosophic seer, Sir James Jeans as a religious mathematician, Eddington as a scientific philosopher. Precisely what they tried to convey can never be exactly grasped by anyone else. Only up to a point is there a true communication.
(The above remarks do not apply to all those communications which are of a precise nature, such as, “This bicycle costs £20”, or “Dinner is served”.)
Now although all our experience is whole experience, we pigeon-hole it for convenience into various spheres such as religious or scientific or aesthetic. This pigeon-holing is done by our analytical perception, by our speech-thought instrument. But although we make separate compartments of religion and science and art and so on, we do not invent exclusive vocabularies for them. In fact, up to a point at least, we need not, for our experience is whole experience, and if and when we do dismember it analytically it happens that words do have utility in more than one department. But we see certain consequences of this. Let us recall what we touched upon yesterday. During the first millennium before Christ arise philosophers desiring to understand the nature of the world as we see it, and to relate this to the religious formulation of the supreme reality which they inherited from previous millennia. They invent an atomic theory of matter. Then some philosophers conceive of souls in atomistic terms. They try to make a unity of matter, mind and God, and thus produce various speech-thought structures, showing certain points of agreement and other points of disagreement. Later on, Christian saint-scholars formulate Catholic theologies purporting to be scientifically grounded, and hence to be satisfactory to our sense observation of the material world, to our intellectual perception of man’s psycho-physical nature and behaviour, and to the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. Later still, come various philosophers, theologians and scientists, all trying to present a picture of the true nature of things, a unified construct of the whole Reality. And every one of them imperfectly uses this imperfect tool of speech-thought. Is it any wonder that reason and revelation, scientist and seer, are not yet happily wedded?
Here we must carefully note that any speech-thought structure, in fact all our thinking, feeling, speaking and doing, express the mode or manner in which we are aware of existence. In the Brahmajāla Sutta, the Buddha shows how philosophies and theologies emerge. Some recluse or Brahman, by means of ardour, of exertion, of careful thought, reaches to a state of rapture or inspiration, in which he grasps or receives some key idea. Gradually he gets enamoured of the idea. In course of time the idea gets hold of him. Thereafter, because he is addicted to logic and reasoning, he gives utterance to some final conclusion of his own, beaten out by his argumentations and based on his own sophistry. Thus arises the conception of the Great Brahmā, Supreme, Mighty, All-seeing, Ruler, Creator, Father of all, Ancient of Days; thus arise various speculations on ultimate beginnings and endings, on the soul and survival or annihilation, on universal and evolutionary processes. In such rapt states there arise the visions of angels, gods, great teachers like Kṛṣṇa, Jesus, the Buddha, and of various bodiless entities. Thus too arise hosts of psychic phenomena. What happens is that the person’s mode of awareness of existence is translated by him into all these speech-thought structures. The Buddha points out that all these are based on personal sensations, on the worry and writhing consequent thereon , of those who have not reached enlightenment and therefore do not know the Supreme Reality. But when the seeker of the summum bonum understands as they really are the origin and end, the attraction and danger, and the escape from the six realms of contact — that is, from the five senses and the discursive mind — then he gets to know what is above, beyond them all. As to this above, this beyond, the Buddha unequivocally bears witness to the Transcendent by his great affirmation: “O Bhikkhus, there are things profound, difficult to realize, hard to understand, tranquillizing, sweet, not to be grasped by mere logic, subtle, comprehensible by the wise. It is these things which the Tathāgata (the Buddha) hath set forth, having himself realized them by his own super-knowing.”
Therefore, there is a mode of awareness, of plane of consciousness if you like, which is profounder than all those other deep states of consciousness out of which emerge all our constructs of the nature of things, or because of which we have our deep psychic experiences. The Buddha details all these states of consciousness in one way, the yoga systems and all the great mystics of the world detail them in similar ways. And all those who experienced the Transcendent have affirmed their personal realization.
Let us try to glimpse this realization.
Ordinary awareness is characterized by succession. In the usual way, we are aware of every experience, thought or mood as some thing which begins, proceeds and comes to an end. Uprising-proceeding-ending, or birth-death, in constant succession, distinguishes the nature of our ordinary awareness of our whole existence. In other words, as we are at present, we are usually conscious in the mode of mortality of a space-time world. This constant, unbidden uprising-proceeding-ending, this endless, uncontrollable stream of births and deaths which flows on as our own day to day consciousness during the single lifetime of our own psycho-physical organism, is a real meaning of the doctrine of rebirth, a doctrine so misconceived all over the world, The Maitri Upanishad (VI, 34) says: “Saṁsāra is just one’s own thought.” The Sāṇḍilya Upanishad says: “When the fluctuations of the mind cease, this cycle of births and deaths comes to an end.” As long as all that makes up our existence is apprehended by us in the mode of mortality, we regard the whole process as saṁsāra where entity, every speech-thought structure, is an item of our mortality.
What keeps us within this prison-house of mortality awareness? Ignorance and craving, mainly. We are ignorant of our goal. Most people are frankly not interested in it. Some are even repelled by the Transcendent. They are content to remain in the sphere of the deathful, following their conceptions of happiness and fulfilment, of goodness and truth, of love and service. They cling to their kaleidoscopes of Art, Science, Philosophy, Social Service, orthodox religion and the good life. But no criticism should be levelled against them, for if a person wishes to make earth or hell or heaven his domicile, he is free to do so, although he is not free to say “nay” to the inevitable consequences of treading the path of his choice.
Those who experienced Revelation taught that in addition to our ignorance, our unawakened state, our craving for this very condition of mortality securely attaches us to it. So our first step is to become disinterested in worldliness; that is, disinterested not in the world or the affairs of the world but in our cravings in relation to the world. This is the true mortification. So we establish a state of non-attachment, because of which we become positively and creatively active in our daily duties, instead of pursuing the senseless gratification of greeds and passions. Regarding this self-purification, Jesus teaches: “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 perish and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5, 29). Five and a half centuries previously, the Buddha presents Jesus’ somewhat drastic advice in gentler 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) even the use of the senses (…“pluck out thy right eye” etc.), and by putting away thoughts, stimuli, feelings, perceptions, intentions, memories, preoccupations and deliberations arising out of the senses and the objects of sense.” But in connection with this let us carefully note another 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 putting away of craving is an essential part of moral discipline, which is not so much an effort to acquire virtues as to abstain from evil, for when a man is a true individual, fully human, he is effortlessly virtuous. This moral discipline is one indispensable basis for fulfilment, because it leads to self-less-ness through the development of sympathetic at-one-ment with our fellow beings, and in the further stages with all creation; and because it will save a man from bestowing the kiss of Judas under the stress of difficult circumstance in the hour of his trial.
Together with the purification of the heart goes an intellectual discipline. This is not a conditioning of the mind so that we think or believe as determined by some authority. It is a process of becoming free of all bias, of all prejudices, preconceptions and assumptions. It entails a process of coming to know oneself through the constant observation of one’s own actions, feelings and thoughts throughout the day. This observation is purely dispassionate. We observe the action or feeling or thought without reacting to it, without praising or censuring oneself. Because of the absence of praise or censure, we are spared on the one hand from becoming conceited or complacent, and on the other hand from suffering from guilt complexes. At the same time we bring to light our hidden assumptions and prejudices, for most or all of which there is no warrant in truth, and all of which are inadequate, and are in fact hindrances, in the light of the supreme truth. Thus we come to know this psycho-physical pattern which goes under our individual name. As we observe it, we see how one state of being becomes the next state through the operation of all the forces at play, and thus we understand what are called karma and rebirth, in a profound way.
The purification of the self, its betterment, proceeds not by way of compulsively fashioning it in accordance with a preconceived ideal — for that would only be painting our prison walls with a new colour — but by the mere process of looking. It is as if a beloved king appears, and immediately the hearts of all who see him are harmonized and made happy in the act of acclamation. When you examine without praise or censure, you see with loving clear-sightedness, and you have complete acceptance. Under these conditions your very act of looking transforms what you see. You see as God sees, and you see it is good, for when the eyes of God grace us poor mortals with their immortal light, we immediately partake of that supernal perfection. How different is this seeing ourselves in the process of our God-becoming from morbid introspection, from unholy self-preoccupation!
Very significantly, the Buddha called his truly austere ethical code just the minor details of mere morality, a raft only for crossing over to the other shore. So, too, the Franco-Flemish mystic who wrote The Mirror of Simple Souls startles timid piety with the statement “Virtues, I take leave of you for evermore!” And Jacopone da Todi wrote, “The war is at an end; in the battle of virtues, in travail of mind, there is no more striving.” For him who seeks Revelation, relative ethic has to be transformed into transcendental ethic, beyond good and evil, an ethic which is fulfilled by the God-realizer.
The near object of this preliminary discipline is to win freedom from the fetters of the senses and the flitting mind. Afterwards, when enlightenment has been experienced, this discipline will have prepared the ground for the emergence of the best form in which to couch the truth, and this form is always marked by telling originality.
The pacification of the sense functions and the discursive mind is the indispensable prerequisite for what follows. For it is at this point that the mystic or seer, the seeker of the truth which is Revelation, begins to part company with the theologian, the philosopher and the scientist. The latter three remain in the sphere of mortality awareness. Their divine discontent is an urge which operates within the world of speech-thought, of stimulus-response, of good and evil, of duality. The mystic or the yogi, on the other hand, considers himself to be in a state of suffering, of ill, so long as he is hemmed within this necessitous circle of birth and death. He is in anguish because of this mortality, however beautiful, noble and worthy the transient forms of the becoming-process may appear to be. For does not even the finest art or the sublimest system of philosophy, the most wonderful science or the profoundest theology, although darkly holding within itself that creative source which is infinite and immortal, remain the product of finite and mortal sense functioning and discursive thought?
So the yogi or mystic feels that if only he could break the thorny bounds of the unawakened state, fling away the fetters of mortality and triumph over the Lord of Death, he would assuredly win the beatific experience of the Immortal, here-now, and realize that freedom and serenity which is ineffable bliss. That indeed would be fulfilment.
So he now learns to hold himself in a state of perfect attention, but an attention not to any limited object, nor to a definite subject of discursive thought. He learns to hold himself in a positive state of attention receptive to the Revelation which will take place. In the Sāṇḍilya and other Upanishads, in the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali, and in other Hindu writings, this act of focusing attention, and the whole process of meditation as we call it, is described as pratyāhāra which is the gradual disentangling of consciousness from the sphere of sense and discursive mind activity, as dhāraṇa, which is the growing and continual awareness of the unity of the verse, of the supreme Brahman underlying, permeating and transcending this-All. As Śrī Kṛṣṇa says in the Gita: “He who seeth the Supreme Lord, unperishing within the perishing, seeing indeed everywhere the same Lord equally dwelling, he verily treads the highest path” (13. 28 & 29). There is also dhyāna, or contemplation, and the final condition, samādhi. In that remarkable English mystical work The Cloud of Unknowing there is a passage by its anonymous author which owes much to the teaching of Dionysius the Areopagite. Says the Master to the disciple: “When thou comest by thyself, think not beforehand what thou shalt do after: but forsake both good thoughts and evil thoughts… And look that nothing live in thy working mind but a naked intent stretching unto God, not clothed in any special thought of God in thyself, how He is in Himself or in any of His works, but only that He is as He is. Let Him be so I pray thee…” This emptying of the mind, this stripping of the self of all desire and thought and its wayward will, in Christian terms the sinking into one’s nothingness (no-thing-ness), is a sine qua non for the realization of the Supreme. In his Dialogues of the Supersensual Life, Boehme said: “Behold, if thou desirest to see God’s Light in the soul, and be divinely illuminated and conducted, this is the short way that thou are to take, namely, not to let the eye of thy Spirit enter into Matter, or fill itself with any Thing whatsoever, either in heaven or Earth, but to let it enter by a naked faith into the Light of the Majesty.’’
Thus, reduced to one’s own nothingness, one is enabled through love and peace of a transcendental nature to “meet God without intermediary”. This state of consciousness the Buddha calls the Sixth Deliverance, the previous two being the conscious realization of the unitary infinity of what we call matter, or energy, and mind — ākāśa and viññāṇa. The seventh is called the plane of neither-consciousness-nor-unconsciousness. Here the distinction between Thou and I in the Thou-I relationship is dissolving. It is, perhaps, as Eckhart put it, the orison of Quiet, in which man begins to be united with his final ground, pure Being. In Hindu terms this is one of the deep levels of dhyāna.
But not yet does the mystic experience immortality here-now in full consciousness. For even in those moments when he is rapt beyond the senses into creative play with the eternal, he is still bound within the confines of the Logos, the śabda Brahman. Though he may seem to pierce the midmost heaven, or to gong the depth of profundity, his consciousness undergoes a birth-death process, and he does not transcend the Thou-and-I duality.
Now, just as Adam falls from grace according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, so too Yima falls according to the Iranian tradition. Adam’s fall is redeemed, successively, by Enoch, Elijah and Jesus, Yima’s fall by Zarathushtra, But in the Ṛg-vedic tradition about Yama there is no fall. Yama, it is taught, chooses death, abandons his body and passes to the inner world, and is given lordship over the highest of the three heavens. Yama becomes the Master of Death, not to be confused with Mṛtyu or Māra, the death-dealer. Yama chooses death — that is, he frees himself from all bondage to the sense-life and worldly values. He grows to understand that the cycle of births and deaths is the stream of saṁsāra in his own moment to moment consciousness, the stream which flows unbidden. He learns through discipline to master the unbidden flow of discursive thought, and, in meditation or prayer, to enter and abide in the profounder states of consciousness. At last he is able, in full self-possession, to die altogether to mortal consciousness, that is, whilst fully awake, to completely stop the flow of feeling and discursive thought. In other words, he transcends the awareness of existence in terms of entity, which is limitation and mortality. This is the meaning of Yama abandoning his body and passing to the inner world. This inner world is not the world of exalted feelings, or of discursive thought however profound, nor of trances, nor of any of the visions and ecstasies of the saints. All these latter belong to the sphere of mortality, for in all of them one is aware in the mode of uprising-proceeding-dying. But when, fully awake, the flow of discursive thought is deliberately stopped, then there Is no uprising-proceeding-dying in one’s consciousness. This is the full asaṁprajñāta samādhi of the Hindus, the Eighth or final Deliverance of the Buddha. It is the actual condition of Revelation. It is superconsciousness, the transcendent awareness in terms of “As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be”, all in simultaneity, in wholeness. And this, wherein all discursive thought is completely stilled, and all birth and death is overleaped, is the full experience and meaning of immortality. Time and space, the precondition for bodily being, pain and pleasure or stimulus-response, the touchstone of our psycho-physical life, and good and evil as we know them here, are all transcended, and you eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life which stands in the self-same garden in which is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And that garden of Eden is your own bodily being; and the two Trees — of Life, and of the Knowledge of Good and Evil — are no other than your brain and spinal column and nerves, and all that is associated with them.
This attainment of superconsciousness is the meaning of Yama being granted lordship over the highest of the three heavens, and of his becoming the Master of Death.
When you realize superconsciousness you have made real the Silence, for all the noise of the mental chatter which is the expression of your mortal awareness of an entity universe is stilled. Now you are the fully Self-awakened one, the Enlightened one, the Anointed one. You have transformed your mortal awareness of a space-time world into the immortal superconsciousness of eternal existence. Well may you triumphantly cry, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” This entry into superconsciousness is the meaning of “And Enoch was not, for God took him”, before the death of the person called Enoch; the meaning of Elijah being transported to heaven in a chariot of fire; the meaning of “Be still, and know that I am God.” The entry into superconsciousness is the meaning of both the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus; the meaning of his words (St. John, 17, 11), “And now I am no more in the world… and I come to thee”, and of his great affirmation, “I and my Father are one”, which the Hindus before him expressed as “Pratyagātman and Paramātman are one.” This superconsciousness is the meaning of that sentence from the Ṛg-veda I quoted yesterday, “We have drunk Soma and become immortal”; the meaning of those phrases in the Upanishads — realizing the Ātman; knowing Brahman; becoming Brahman.
It is the meaning of the words in the Aitareya Upanishad of the 8th Century B.C. (5, 6), “So he, Vāmadeva, having ascended aloft from this world, became immortal, yea, became immortal” — the ascension is indeed a very ancient symbolic doctrine. This superconsciousness was known to the Egyptian initiates; it was the supreme mystery which was kept secret in the mystery cults of ancient civilizations; it was experienced four times by Plotinus and once by Porphyry. This superconsciousness is the very heart of the enlightenment of the Buddha; it is the true meaning of Nirvana, here-now; it is the kingdom of heaven within you. This is the meaning of eternal life, of immortality, of God-realization or of union with God. It is the supreme religious experience.
Continued in part 2
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