The Basis of Purity
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 13th February 1971
You may recall that last time we went through the list of what the Upaniṣads call the yamas, which form the indispensible basis for further steps in Yoga. The yamas are what they call the forbearances or mortifications. You remember that we considered the meaning of mortification in this context. There is one noticeable feature about these yamas as presented in the Upaniṣads (and this is more or less characteristic of all the major religions with the interesting exception of Buddhism). They are all stated in positive terms, occasionally there is a negative term. I will just repeat what we had last time, harmlessness, truthfulness, non-covetousness (there is the only negative, non-covetousness), continence, kindliness, equanimity, patient endurance, steadiness of mind in gain or loss, eating in moderation, cleanliness of body and mind.
By contrast with that, let us look at the way the Pali Canon presents a similar situation. In the first volume of the Majjhima, Sāriputta talks about what is evil and what we must try and get rid of. He declares all these things as evil, and the Buddha in another discourse has the same list with just one little change. The list goes: greed, ill-will, anger, malevolence, hypocrisy, spite, envy, stinginess, deceit, treachery, obstinacy, impetuosity, arrogance, pride, conceit, indolence.
You might say that that’s a long list. Actually it does not include everything. For instance you may notice that there is no mention of ambition, vanity, jealousy, egoism, dishonesty, self-orientedness, villainy, cruelty. So many things are not mentioned. Of course some of them may be implied in those which are actually mentioned, but I have been looking carefully at it and there is not very much implication. What is particularly interesting is the difference in approach and how much that difference in approach reveals to us our own psychology. Hinduism, like Zarathustrianism, Christianity, presents things positively. “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” Buddhism will say, “Get free of ill-will, anger, malevolence, hatred,” and so forth, the negative approach. What is the deep significance of this? What is the special value of the Buddhist approach? These things which are evil we know in our actual living experience. We are constantly up against problems of anger, hate, ill-will, impetuosity, indolence, deceit, hypocrisy, all these things. They are words in the language which have a very practical and a very real meaning for us. There are opposites which we ordinarily call the virtues, which also have a meaning for us, but they are limited meanings within an ambivalent context. The intelligent man in the world thinks of love as the opposite of hate, of honesty as the opposite of dishonesty, of kindness as the opposite of cruelty, and so forth. If we are to remain confined to the realm of duality, then these two opposites undoubtedly have significance for us and play their part in our lives, as we know. But consider, just what is the real content of the values and the virtues as mere opposites of the corresponding so-called vices? What is, say, love which is one of the commonest words on people’s lips? What is the meaning of love for the man in the world? An emotion, a strong feeling, a passion associated with possessiveness, with the anticipation of pleasure and so forth. Moreover that love is conditional. Produce the necessary provocation, and where does that love vanish?
Take a simple thing that happens in our school days for instance. John and Bill are very fond of each other, very good friends. Two months or two years later another fellow comes along and John forsakes Bill and takes to Derek or whoever it is. What has happened to this tremendous affection between those two? Just how valuable is that love? Take it in its more serious aspect in the life of adults, the man-woman relationship, the husband-wife relationship and so forth. Is this love then, which we experience and believe in, about which thought makes a picture, a rigid picture, a conditional picture? What happens to that love then? Or is there something else, something over and above, utterly beyond this limited thing which is confined conditionally in the ambivalent sphere? Do I know that Transcendent Reality? This is the important thing. I don’t. Can I know it, until I have freed myself of all the binding factors, the condition-making factors, which are represented in the words of the language, which represent the vices which are against the virtues? When I am free of these, it may be that in my purified state that Transcendent Reality will emerge unhindered. What happens therefore? When that Transcendent Reality emerges unhindered, it means that this living person, this existential being has indeed flowered out into true manhood. Until then I am a sub-man, I am bestial man. When that Transcendent Reality emerges and can emerge freely, then I am true man and cannot sink, I cannot regress into any sort of bestiality. Life has flowered out, not that I have attained. All that I have done is to sweep this vessel, this existent being clean, I have swept it clean and it has become the Temple of the Lord, to use a theistic phrase.
The Buddha saw this extremely clearly. His presentation is psychologically oriented, and the psychology of the Buddha is a perfect psychology. It is the one who lives the life and realizes this fruition into simple, pure manhood. It is he alone who truly appreciates the Buddha’s presentation and mode of presentation. Your ordinary intellectual and critic will talk about the pessimism of the Buddha’s presentation, the pessimism of his approach, the denial of what the man in the world calls so much happiness and beauty and loveliness. Your critic does this because he has a little trouble with his eyes, he is not able to see clearly! When one can see really clearly, all the happiness and beauty which we experience in a shadowy, somewhat distorted manner in the world, are freed of that shadowiness and distortion, and we know happiness and beauty in this world in its reality.
Now the Buddha was not the only teacher who was concerned with the happiness of man; every one of them was. It only happens that certain presentations have their own specific value and beauty. Other presentations have their own specific value and beauty. Also the different presentations come into being because the teachers lived in a different milieu, in a different age and circumstance. No one can totally discard his socio-cultural heritage, because the terms of reference and the terms of expression in his milieu are determined by his socio-cultural heritage. The analogies which a great teacher uses are very much determined by what is happening in his time and day. The Buddha couldn’t possibly have talked of motorcars or jet planes or anything like that. He talks in terms of the things and the animals and the flowers and the people who lived in his day around him, the same with Jesus, the same with Zarathustra and so forth. They all do that, we have to appreciate that fact. But for us today the psychological has a special value. Today in the modern world psychology has been approached and is developing along what we call experimental scientific lines. This investigation into the psyche has its own special value and is necessary for our own times. I am not suggesting for a moment that their findings even approach in perfection, in lucidity or exposition, the psychology as expressed and taught by the great spiritual teachers. They were the perfect psychologists, they were the omniscient ones in the sense that they knew all about the mind and heart of man. If the healing of the soul is really sought, then religion is the real medicine. There is no escaping that fact, only people don’t know how to take this medicine, and therefore they fall into traps. They want it in a manner analogous to medicine in the physical world, a bottle of some liquid or a pill or something, something external which will wipe out or eradicate the symptoms of pain. But they continue to live and act in a manner which reproduces those symptoms. Everything is reproductive in the universe, you can’t get away from that. But go to the deeps of religion and then you will get rid of the dis-ease itself, not the symptoms, not merely the symptoms. This is very important. The doctor of the body, the professional doctor of the mind, does a job. It is a commerce. This is very different from the Holy One who is a healer by virtue of the transmutative power of his personal realization and his very being. His very being radiates healing. You know how it is in ordinary life too, in the presence of certain people we always sort of feel happy, we feel inspired. In the presence of other people it is not quite that, a bit different. We know that from our personal experience, don’t we? Do not imagine therefore that the Holy One heals us just like that and we can carry on with wine, women and song as before. We can’t. In fact the Holy One will not have any influence upon our dis-ease unless we live the holy life. This is tremendously important.
Fairly and squarely upon our own shoulders rests the total responsibility. This is what mankind does not wake up to, not because it is totally ignorant of it, not because it is incapable of seeing it, but because of what Sāriputta and the Buddha rather gently called indolence. We want an eight hours wage for two hours of work! That’s our trouble. The holy life means holy living, and living is a total thing. The bloodstream flows all twenty four hours of the day, the brain, the heart, they all work twenty four hours of the day. There is no cessation from it. And for the healthy body it is work which is the ecstasy, the zest of life. It is not hard work, it is not labour, a toil, if the body is healthy. This is wholeness, creative activity continuously. So too with the holy life.
Now one may say, as some people have said to me quite openly, quite honestly (that is their viewpoint), “I am quite content with the pleasures and pains, the joys and the sorrows of everyday life as they come, I can take them in my stride, I am not particularly impressed by all this fanciful transcendental stuff, airy-fairy.” Well, of course, that person, those people, are like that and they constitute the majority of the world. But if anyone does get interested in something other than that, if one is not content to remain a cabbage and perhaps a rotting cabbage at that (which is not exactly a source of delightful perfume!), then one tries to waken up to the deeper reality within our own selves. And if this is really sincere, if one’s whole being is given up to this, then one is truly interested in religion. Otherwise not. All the acquisition of the knowledge of the doctrines and the dogmas and all the postures of piety and all the rest of it, that’s all pleasant, little, as we call it in India, tamāsha, a play, just having a good time. It doesn’t mean that at all. It means living wholly in this new dimension of being and consciousness, just as the body lives wholly, all twenty four hours of the day, creatively active in this way. And it all hinges round one’s attentiveness, one’s mindfulness, one’s state of being awake. There can be no compromises. In the Transcendental sense, no compromise does not mean rigidity at all, nor does it allow of any looseness, any weakness, because Transcendence means being free of bondage to one or both of the duals which constitute duality.
Life is moving us towards the emergence of the true man, the whole, perfect human, not just me, the sub-human, the bestial man. In this movement Transcendence sleeps in me, the existent, the existent being, as imminence. And this imminence has to come awake and release the psycho-physical organism in such a way that Transcendence manifests through the perfected psycho-physical being. The psycho-physical being is a temporal expression. It comes to birth, it will inevitably die, but it could die in one of two ways. It could become the perfect flame, the perfect light or it could be like a smoky fire and fizzle out. In one of two ways it will die. The existent being can choose which way he will die, the existent being which is the appearance, the picture (a living picture, true enough), which emerges out of the Transcendence Reality, the unknown, and unknowable by the existent. That existent being will inevitably be brought to death. This is something we must remember.
Do try! If you can in the quiet, by yourself, anywhere, really meditate upon this and come fully awake to this, you will experience the reality of Transcendence in you. Revelation will be yours and you will be freed of fear. I can refuse to face the fear that is inside me. I can cheat the imminence in me by continuing to wallow in the mire of duality and its petty little conflicts. But for me the result is the wages of sin, a fruitless existence, an unworthy existence. But if one wakes up and the light emerges, then the dying of this will be the perfect expression of life itself. It will be fearless, it will be blissful, and this particular existent being will have left an influence in the world, the ramifications of which cannot be foreseen. This is beautifully exemplified in the ordinary presentation of Christian teaching, the death of Jesus.
Look at it from the worldly point of view. Supposing that we are there, now. Here was this one who set out as a teacher, who was going to bring the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth, and see what has happened, complete and utter failure. What have twenty centuries shown? Something quite different. That is just one example, there are several. But how did that happen? He lived the holy life completely, and in the dying was the supreme and ultimate fulfilment of life, this extraordinary thing. Take the case of the Buddha. How did he die? They say, “Oh, he died a very peaceful death, like you and I might die,” and so forth. Did he? The presentation in the case of Jesus is that of stark tragedy, the tragedy which is divine glorification. In the case of the Buddha, what does he do? He enters into the jhānas, the deep states of consciousness. Deliberately he goes right to the realm of Nirvana, he comes right back here and then half way up there, in what they call the fourth jhāna, the body dies. What are the implications of this journey at the moment of death? If you have the ability, the discipline or the experience of going into these deep states, you will see that in this journey one goes through the entire realm of dukkha, suffering, the far-from-the-Infinite, the not Transcendent, with all that that entails in our existence, our total existence. He goes right through it, which means that he goes through that, which in Christian terms would be called crucifixion, the agony of death. That is what it is.
Have you ever even tried to imagine what it is like to enter upon and abide in the place of Infinite ākāśa, of Infinite vijñāna, the plane of No Thing whilst the body is alive and you are awake, not asleep? Look, go up into outer space and step out, or say to yourself that you are going to step out, and then what happens to you? Fear, uncertainty, a pain of the mind which was never known whilst your two feet were safely planted on Earth? (I don’t mean the physical thing, but in mind). You see, we read the words, we have no conceptions of what they mean. When we try to form conceptions in our little, limited, comfortable way, then of course they are all misconceptions. But in the living of the holy life, all those forces in us, all those conditions in us which produce the misconceptions, are out. And then one truly begins to see the significance of all this. If one does that in Buddhist terms, one will perfectly understand just what the Buddha was trying to teach when he said that the existential being, the being here, roughly body, mind, or in the Pali terms the shape or appearance (rūpa), the sensations, the perceptions, the volitional activities and consciousness itself, were all perishing. Nothing survives. What is the significance of this? Where did this appearance come out of? That which is without appearance, that which is the totally indescribable, unborn, unformed, unmade, unknowable here as such. This appearance has no means whatsoever of knowing the Transcendent in that sense. Therefore the significance of it in existential terms is annihilation. If you really penetrate into this you will appreciate the real meaning of punabbhava, the again-becoming. The again-becoming is within the realm of the deathful. But the Buddha said, “Opened are the doors of the deathless.” How does one go through the doors which lead to the deathless but by the complete dying here? With the disappearance, the absolute end of the deathful, there is only the deathless, the non-mortal.
Don’t just look at this intellectually because you will make a shape, a form, an entity. There is no entity. We out of our unhappy ignorance make all these shapes and cling to them for safety, fear at the root. You see what I am trying to persuade you into? To be willing to die. But if ones dies this way, as the world would say, one really comes to life here-now. And you know how you will feel the effects of that real coming to life? There will be no clinging for safety anywhere. You will be able to take everything in your stride. That which, to use ordinary language, one comes up against will not be fought by you. It will just be absorbed by you. All the battalions of the world, the battalions of fate will charge at you, and you will just take them in and absorb them inside and say, “Ah, that was a lovely meal!” That is all there is to it. Rather a big meal! But that is how it is. You look at the lives of the Holy Ones, their extraordinarily absorptive faculty. In the light of this sort of thing, reconsider the meaning of Viṣṇu or Śiva, according to whether you are a follower of Viṣṇu or Śiva. Viṣṇu or Śiva drinks of the world’s poisoned cup of sorrow to the dregs and transmutes that in his own being. This is the holy life, this is living the religious life. But start with recognising that here in this sub-human that I am, there is greed, there is ill-will, anger, malevolence, hypocrisy, spite, envy, etc. If this being, the existent being, the temporal shade of the eternal Real, becomes free of all these things and becomes the true human, he has become, as the theist would say, God. St. Bernard for instance was one of those who bluntly said that he who realizes this Transcendence, or through whom this Transcendence is realized, has become deified, which is identical with the statement in the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, “He who knows Brahman becomes very Brahman”, (knows, not in the common or garden intellectualist sense but knows in the true sense of vidyā, the seeing, the knowing which is the actually having become that which he sees, which he knows.) He becomes Brahman.
One of the supreme mystics of Christendom was Dionysius the Areopagite, (not the actual Dionysius who lived with Timothy at the time of Paul, but the so-called pseudo-Dionysius). This man was a Syrian monk, as far as we know, who flourished somewhere in the 5th or 6th century AD, and he wrote a few treatises which have had the profoundest influence upon the whole course of Christian mysticism. This is what he himself has said in a little treatise called The Divine Names. He has presented the Names of God, and God for him is Godhead, the Absolute in the Eckhartian sense of Godhead. One name is goodness, others are light, beauty, love, being, (he doesn’t say existence which is very interesting), life, wisdom, reason (reason not in the sense of the exercise of logic, but in the sense of the Greek nous, as used by Plotinus), power, righteousness, great-and-small. I’ll just make a gesture to illustrate the great-and-small. I breathe completely out and there is just the geometrical point there – all gone – no length, no breadth, no depth, the Infinity of the small. Then I breathe in and right out into the boundless space (despite what Einstein said about space being limited and all that!). Now – the great-and-small, the sense of omnipresence, omnipotence, peace, holiness, perfection, unity. Sixteen names of God Dionysius gives. In the same way you will find that Islam presents the hundred and one names of God. The person who has gone into it not merely as a student but who is trying to live the life, will appreciate what these names mean, that that inexpressible Reality finds its perfect expression within our human sphere in these terms in their fullness. But this which is the perfection is the flower, the final flower, of the seed which is planted when all these ills are got rid out. But the process means a continual dying, and the continual dying means precisely a continual transforming, not a disrupting, not destruction and certainly not annihilation. The mind must first of all be quiet and look at all these things in the quiet state. And in the looking at all this in the quiet state, there is an absorptive process going on first, an ingestion. Then it works up inside and becomes transformed into faculty, into the reality of your own being.
Now perhaps we’ll confine ourselves to this list here, the Buddhist one. You pick out any one thing, any one of these, which you would like to meditate upon, and we will spend just ten minutes quite quietly looking at the particular thing. Listen carefully. Greed, ill-will, anger, malevolence, hypocrisy, spite, envy, stinginess, deceit, treachery, obstinacy, impetuosity, arrogance, pride, conceit, indolence, You can if you like add fear, ambition. Pick out any one of those because it is specially profitable for you to look into that. We will spend just about ten minutes…