By Grasping We Obstruct the Absolute
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 15th January 1972
During this century, and especially after the Second World War, the Western world has become more and more interested in the religions and the religious teachings and the practices and the methods of the East, particularly of India. This is not an unusual phenomenon. Extraordinary changes have taken place in the outlook of the peoples of Europe and America particularly, through experience and through the utterly different conception of the nature of things which has emerged with the phenomenal developments in science. The old philosophies and ways of life as laid down in the religions have been challenged, quite justifiably challenged, but people have gone to the extreme and thrown them away without taking the trouble to look sufficiently deeply into those teachings. And the outstanding reason why they have not been able (that is to say that they have not had the ability) to look deeply into their own culture, the Judaeo-Christian culture and tradition, is simply this, that they have not taken the trouble to understand themselves. There is no chance of penetrating into the deeps of religion unless one penetrates into the nature of oneself and understands the ways of the Self. The psyche is the key to the living of the good life in the religious sense of the word. Be that as it may, they have turned to the old continent of Asia and particularly to what may quite rightly be called the home of religions, India. Now in India many changes have taken place through the centuries. The old teachings date from as long ago as thirty-five to forty centuries and they have all undergone an extraordinary change in formulation since they were first given out, and this formulation misleads people today. When they study the word of the Scripture and with their present conditioned intellects interpret that word, that word is all too often misinterpreted, misunderstood and very unfortunately misapplied in the living of the religious life.
We have to appreciate these facts very, very clearly. So what is happening is something like this; that garbled versions of the old teachings have spread through India itself and are being brought over here and still further misinterpreted inevitably by our present conditioned minds. I say inevitably more misinterpreted here for the very simple reason that we ourselves who are born and bred here have it in our very bodies, in our very bones, so to say, to see life in the way which belongs to our own heritage of at least twenty-four or twenty-five centuries. For our heritage, the Judaeo-Christian heritage (and the Judaic part of it goes back several centuries before that too) has been so strongly influenced by the Greeks and Greek teachings, by Gnosticism, by the Egyptian teachings which have come through their Greek form particularly to us, that naturally when we read the word of Scripture of India or of China we are bound to misinterpret it.
There is another thing. The approach to these versions of Indian philosophy and teaching is the old mistaken approach — something for my good, for my fulfilment, for my benefit, something which will bring me comfort in order to compensate me for my frustrations, my sorrows, my difficulties. “Life has treated me unfairly, unjustly”, and so forth. Such is the attitude, the approach.
So you see, there are many difficulties in the way. The approach itself is tainted from the very start. For religion and religious fulfilment belongs to the realm of the Transcendent. Its containing space, if I may say so, is Eternity, not time. It is concerned with the realm of Creation, of the Absolute, not with the limited and the finite, that which begins and proceeds and comes to an end. We always forget these things when we approach religion and the deeps of religion. At the back of our minds, deep down in our sub-conscious is the little “I-am-I”, the little self who is always seeking for himself, however much the conscious mind may fool one that, “Oh no, it is for the greater glory of God, it is to serve the country, it is to help suffering human beings”, and all the rest of it. This is because we do not look intently enough into ourselves.
I am concerned with cutting the ground under your feet, taking away everything that you have learned, achieved, thought, felt, etc. Not for a moment am I saying that you are wrong and I am right. I would be a super fool, at my age particularly, if I looked at it that way! It is not because you are wrong. But there is something to grow into, a growing which is not like a biological growing in time and space, but a growing which is an emergence into the realm of Transcendent Realization, a phrase which it is almost impossible to describe adequately in words. But that emergence into Transcendent Realization implies the complete and total negation of all that is here. Why? Because all that is here is restricted and limited, and we have to emerge out of this restricted, this limited awareness of existence into the unrestricted, the unconditioned freedom of a Transcendent Realization, the Realization, that is to say, a making real.
Now making real is quite different from holding thoughts, ideas, beliefs, practising particular systems and so forth. It is quite different, quite other than all this. How will you get into outer space and make a winged flight through the aerial realms unless you leave the earth? It is something like that. This does not mean just getting lost in some airy muddlement of a half-witted intelligence. It doesn’t mean that at all. We leave the earth in this case by being in the earth. Now, what does earth symbolise for the individual? His own psycho-physical being. In the ordinary way we are all trying to get away from this. Don’t we say constantly, “Oh, I want to get away from it all, it’s all so awful?” Where shall I get away? What I am really trying to get away from is myself, my muddlement, my confusion, my fear, anxiety, my violence, hate, rebellion against life and people and all the rest of it. I am trying to get away from my own sorrow which I don’t understand, my own illness, my own pettiness, my own stupid ambitions and envies and jealousies and all the rest of it. But all these things are this living organism Where shall it go to get away from itself? Neither in heaven nor in hell will you get away from yourself. You’re in it. You are it. We can’t turn tail and flee from ourselves. Let that be perfectly clear.
Now, you see what lies at the heart of our difficulty. We do not know how to look, how to listen. Take our own case here at our meetings. When we are gathered together and the speaker speaks, what’s happening in the mind of the listener? He of course understands the dictionary meaning of the words, but the dictionary meaning of words exists in his mind predominately as a set of concepts which he accepts and holds onto, and when he hears the words spoken in the meeting, he is not only translating them in terms of the dictionary meaning, but he is fitting them into his already accepted beliefs and convictions. That is the way which defeats the whole purpose of listening. One may agree logically with it, but the living mind inside the organism is not resilient enough to respond to this in the right way. So whatever is said is reinterpreted to fit into what we already know and believe. If we are fundamentalist Christians, it has got to be fitted into the literal word of the Bible. If we are Theosophists, it has got to fit into Theosophical doctrines, if we are Steinerites, if we are followers of Aurobindo or Billy Graham or anybody you like. This is the trick of the mind. Now this mind is the rascal. Sometimes he is rascal enough to be an Iago, and you know what a villain Iago was. This is what we have to deal with at the very start. We have to awake to the fact that when we read anything, when we hear anything, the mind is immediately chattering back at what is read or heard, saying, “Yes, I agree, I don’t agree, no, this, that, etc. etc.” It just will not listen afresh, and if we don’t listen afresh we are wasting our time.
Now, consider carefully, all these garbled versions which have come from India and have been taken up and rehashed in all kinds of forms, are presented to the people who come as, “This is the truth, we have had it direct from the great spiritual head in Rampur or wherever it is, and this is Gospel truth.” It isn’t. The statement is utterly false, that this is the truth. If anybody says that what Phiroz Mehta has said is the truth, he is making a false statement. The Truth in the religious sense can never be put into words, never. There is no yardstick to measure Transcendence. There is no sound, no sight, no touch, no taste, no thought, no feeling, no mood which is a form which will contain the Infinitude of Transcendence, none at all.
You will ask then, “Why on earth do you speak? What do we come here for?” A very pertinent question. Why? Have you ever tried to answer it yourselves? I will make just a little suggestion. We meet because we care, care for this unspeakable, unimaginable wonder, this matter-of-fact reality which is Transcendence. So we meet. We are drawn by love which is non-possessive, non-demanding, which is not exclusive of anything at all, by love which we do not know and cannot see and cannot formulate in words. That is why we are drawn together.
This is one aspect of it. When people are drawn together that way, if any one amongst us were to speak out of what personal realization he has had and if he is listened to with a completely open, quiet and still mind and heart, then there is a stimulus which, if one is sensitive enough, will awaken one and put one in something of a right relationship with Transcendent Reality. Don’t look now for this right relationship as a result which you are going to achieve. You will never achieve it as a result. It will be there. You see, the deeps of religion, the deeps of the spirit are like the living process of life. Every one of us was born out of his or her mother’s body and every one of us grew up and is still alive, that is how we are here. In the growing up were we able to watch each little bit of actual growing as a result of anything that we knew or said or did or thought or felt? Can you watch the process of life? Can you watch the uprising of love? Can you watch the manufacturing, the fabricating of the wonder and the beauty of a sunset or a night of stars? You can’t do anything of the sort. If we were greedy enough to want to try, want to be able to do it, we would ruin our own happiness, our true happiness which is like the gift of grace, there, not because we deserved it or undeserved it, but because it is there. If the world’s worst sinner stepped out of ghastly fog into lovely sunlight and smiling green fields, his sense of ecstasy would be there, just as much as that of a saint. It is not something we can grab at or control or engineer. We must really learn this with our hearts, don’t try to learn it with the head. Once we have learnt it with our hearts, the head will formulate it least misleadingly, if the occasion demands formulation. Don’t try to fit this in into what has already been learnt.
Notice another point in this connection. What one learns from all these groups and societies and practices and set ways is acquired knowledge. It is an acquisition of knowledge. “This is the system, these are the words of the Master, the Guru, the fully Self-Realized Being,” and all the rest of it. What on earth do we know about fully Self-Realized and Realized and Masters and Gurus? Nothing at all. We delude ourselves. We are grown up overgrown children still carrying on with pretending. But the adult carrying on with pretending hasn’t anything like the charm and the sweetness of the little child pretending, the freshness, the spontaneity, the loveliness and the inner awareness, complete awareness, “This is only a game.” So you see, we cut loveliness out of our lives that way.
So don’t go that way. Wake up to the fact that the system, the method, the play acting of a laid down way of life in order to obtain a desired end is a mistake. All that happens that way is to acquire a burden of knowledge, and from what I said earlier you would quite rightly deduce that this knowledge is very largely false knowledge which is put in garbled forms. I have been through this sort of thing through my life, with all the different systems and so forth and so forth. I have books here with me actually in which these things are presented. “This comes from this holy quarter and this comes from that holy quarter.” Be careful about this.
I have sometimes said that my deep concern is your happiness. You that have come here again and again know very well what we mean by happiness. It has nothing to do with pleasure, nothing to do with the avoidance of pain, nothing to do with the manipulation of circumstances and conditions and the process of daily life, the manipulation of all this, so that we will be “all right”. This is one of the profoundest errors. So you know what we mean by happiness. Happiness is the natural condition of the healthy mind, just as the healthy body is naturally a happy body. It is at ease. So it is not only for happiness, I am concerned for freedom, complete freedom. Now, this does not mean freedom from this, that or the other particular difficulty or circumstance or annoyance or release from a restrictive condition into another circumstance or situation where we can do what we like, express ourselves, fulfil what we believe is our faculty and ability and destiny in life! Transcendence teaches us both ways. It allows us to find what we call fruition and fulfilment, it also tries to teach us by withholding what we call fulfilment and freedom. If we really learn, if we really see into that, then Transcendence is not obstructed by our obstreperousness, our shouting and screaming at fate and what not, and fighting against fate. All this is human stupidity. There is no freedom in that. But if I am in difficulty, if I am in pain and sorrow and misery, in prison, or whatever it is, if I am in any of these circumstances, and I understand the circumstance, understand the circumstance so deeply, so intently, not merely intellectually, analytically, but so deeply and intensely that nothing prevents Transcendent love from making the relationship between me and my circumstance, then my awareness, my consciousness, is in the state of complete freedom.
That is the freedom that man, the human, not the sub-human (and the bulk of the human population is sub-human) can realize. In that Realization, and the process of that Realization, which may involve the most awful pain and difficulty and disruption and death, there is freedom, there is everlasting life.
You see, we don’t know the meaning of life. Why? Because, quite naturally, our biological condition imprisons the mind. We know life almost entirely in biological terms. A creature is born, lives and dies. That much we understand about life. But that is an infinitesimally small fragment of the Totality which is Life. When you read in the Chandōgya Upaniṣad for instance, “Brahman is Prāna (Life)”, how is that statement translated, interpreted by the mind of the devotee, the disciple, especially the miserable, clever fellow amongst the disciples? How is that interpreted? As life in the Transcendent sense? Not at all. Can he ever interpret Life in the Transcendent sense? Never, because Transcendence will not bear interpretation. Take your foot-rule and measure Infinity, go ahead and see if you can do it! And yet the inner depths of awareness awaken to this Reality, they are sensitive and respond, they get in tune with this Reality without the brain ever knowing it, if the limited psycho-physical being has ceased to obstruct such a flowering out of Consciousness. The flowering out of Consciousness is not in terms of “I know this, I have discovered that.” The supreme flowering out, this real turning about in the deepest seat of Consciousness, is a turning of such a nature that there never is any more turning about to do. There is Realization. And it is never your Realization or my Realization, it is the Realization of the Totality through you, the individual. Understand this and you will understand one of the profoundest meanings of the Grace of God.
Does the Christian world know anything about it to that extent? Its great mystics did, they knew, they understood. So, if in this way one responds, then there is no more isolative self-consciousness, “I-am-I.” As long as there is an isolative self-consciousness, this “I” goes outwards into the world in order to acquire. So what we may have learnt from all our -sophies and -ologies and all our little monkey tricks which the mind goes through, and the horrible exploitation of man by man involved in it, all that is out, and you are free. What would you have, this or that system which brings this or that astonishing, wonderful, marvellous result? “Do you know that Jimmy Brown has now learnt how to walk across the water or flap his spiritual wings and fly off to another planet?” Are we so sub-normal that we must necessarily indulge in these things? The Reality of Life, the Truth of Religion, is something which is a flowering out, a Realization in which all selfness is out, all separation is out.
When I say that selfness is out, do not think therefore that I am saying that the Self is out. No, the particular Self is there; through whom else can such Realization come in members of the human kingdom? This unhappy, sorrowful, divorce between Self and not-self, Being and non-being and all the rest of it, that is out. One must not harm oneself, one must not harm others. Harmlessness applies universally, which includes oneself. Go very, very deeply into this, go into it quietly, calmly, go into it free from the grasping, the intensely grasping desire to achieve this. No, don’t try to achieve. You are competing with nobody. Your real race to Heaven and back never begins, never ends, it is here. You are in Heaven right now.
So you see, there are certain deep things to understand in this connection. What has happened to the systems, the doctrines before about six or seven thousand years ago? They have vanished and left not a trace behind. What we have in the Scriptures of the world is only of the last about six thousand years, that’s all. And we have been on the globe for about four million years, don’t forget that. What happens in the great process of Life, Life in its Totality? Creative Power, pure energy resisting itself makes its own container and throws out an appearance, the universe and the whole of universal evolution. The One and Only, the Absolute, becomes manifest, so to say, wears a body (I am speaking metaphorically).
The connecting link between body and the Absolute is the psyche. In this process of manifestation there is the masculine and the feminine element in interplay, and one of the characteristics of the feminine element is preservation, to preserve what has been produced. It is the feminine in us (whether we be male or female human beings) which is concerned with conservation. The Primordial Energy, Primordial Creative Power, brooks no restraint, and when this tendency obstructs it, it simply disrupts what’s in the way. All things must die. Only the Unimaginable, the Absolute is the Immortal. At the same time all things and all people are part and parcel of this Absolute, Ultimate Creative Power. But the Creative Power, manifesting Itself to Itself, produces the cycle of birth-death. You and I are the manifestation of that Transcendence, but being a manifestation, a limitation of the Unlimited, we must of necessity move in harmony, we must dance in rhythm with that Life movement of origination, uprising, proceeding, decaying and dying. Our whole life is a movement towards death, and where that movement is a harmonious movement death is not the wages of sin, not a disruption, but it is a perfection and a consummation. You and I are Beings. Being consummates a Non-Being if the psyche is utterly pure. If the psyche is utterly pure, psyche is no longer a mortal, as in the myth of Eros and Psyche, ignorant, struggling, confused, in sorrow and so forth. Your psyche grows into the soul of the world because of utter purity, and in that there is no death, not for your psyche but for Psyche. That is why at the end of the myth Psyche is immortalised because she is in timeless union with Eros, the Creative Power.
This is one way of seeing our human destiny. But you see what has happened? Your psyche, my psyche, is responsible for throwing up this illusory misconception that “I-am-I”, and clinging to that. Because we cling to that, Death comes and snaps Life as far as we are concerned, at the end, whatever we do. But if the psyche becomes utterly purified then every moment which is a Life/Death pulsation is seen and realized actually as a Life/Other Life pulsation, this Other Life being Non-Being into which Being has consummated. It is not an individual Non-Being, the Being is individual, the Non-Being is the Totality, the Absolute, and when the Being consummates into the Totality Death as we understand it is seen for what it is. It is a misconception that Death is the end of all things. In a sense it is. But in Reality there is only that Immortal Totality. But what do we do in Life? We resist Death, instead of dying wholly to the immediate moment as it moves into the past. The past is a corpse and we cling to a hundred million corpses which we have accumulated since we were born, our memories, our beliefs, our ambitions, our efforts for ourselves and all the rest of it. Brahman is Life, Transcendence is Life. Now what sort of Life is that?
So, don’t resist this pulse of Creative Power. As long as we seek things, as long as we grasp at things, as long as we are under the illusions that if we do this, that and the other some wonderful fulfilment and fruition will come according to heart’s desire, as long as we do that, we are against the Absolute. We are the dark shadow cast on the path of Light, or what should be the path of Light.
Try and feel this out, and feel it out in peace, not in perplexity. It might perplex you because you hear words and the brain must of necessity interpret them in order to begin to understand at all, but let every interpretation drop away. And if you can’t remember a single word that has been said, all the better. You’ll be free of the restricting power of words. But if you have listened with the heart and allowed Love in its Transcendence to permeate the entire situation, the purposes of Life (Life not just in the biological sense, Life in the sense that Brahman is Life), can go on and take place. If something of that has emerged in awareness and suffused your whole being, you are in the state of happiness, in the state of freedom. And it is that happiness which is man’s birthright, the crown of his physical existence, and this freedom is the crown of his spiritual nature, which is his universal side. Don’t ask for it. Just remain attentive in the pure sense of the term attentive. Look, listen, touch, taste, smell, all the time being fully awake to the reactions from within. The brain will keep chattering back and the psychical nature will pick and choose, attach itself to or reject the pleasurable and the unpleasurable. Watch all that process and let that foolishness subside by the sheer watching. When you see that the mind is playing monkey tricks, the monkey which is the mind stops jumping about. It says, “Oh no, my Lord is looking, I am going to be quiet now.” And in that quietness and stillness through you the purposes (if one may use such a word) of the Transcendent Real will come to fruition and affect the whole world through you. Then you won’t need to go after systems and doctrines and interpret all the time everything that is conveyed to you through the senses, in the confused light, in the darkness almost of fossilized old systems of thought and ideas, which originally were given out as the actual realizations of the Holy Ones, but which through the centuries have become almost useless fossils. You live now, not in 1500 BC when the Ṛg-vedic Aryan-speaking people first rode upon their horses with their iron swords and established dominion over the whole of the Indo-Gangetic plains and gave forth the teachings which are embodied in the Ṛg-veda, the Brāhmaṇas, the Āraṇyakas, the Upaniṣads. The presentation today of all those things is so garbled, so spoilt. Leave all that alone. You live now.
Bearing that in mind, let all the senses be awake. Don’t decry the senses. What else have we but our senses? How else could we be sensitive apart from the senses? How else could this, the limited, particular, finite, mortal psycho-physical organism be in touch with, open itself out to Transcendence excepting through the avenues of the senses? And if the senses are to be fully awake, fully alive, your indispensable tools of communion with the whole universe, with eternal God, if your senses are to be that, then you will see that there must be neither indulgence nor conflict with whatsoever is apprehended through the senses. That is right attentiveness, right mindfulness, that is the state of prayer, of communion. That is the state of blessedness too.