There is Nothing for Me
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 26th February 1972
It is very difficult even for the serious-minded and devoted person to appreciate in any deep measure one of the profoundest implications of living the holy life, the religious life. Superficially of course one can go through all sorts of procedures which are considered religious living, but religious living in the depths, in its reality, the supreme reality that Man can ever realize, is something of which we can have no conceptions, no specific ideas. We here are quite serious, we are earnest, but I sometimes wonder whether we appreciate, even in sufficient measure, the fact that for oneself there is nothing whatsoever to be gained, solved, achieved or attained, in terms of the religious life, nothing to be gained by the self.
We subscribe to this easily enough intellectually, but that is very superficial. In our daily life we live as unto the self, the narrow, circumscribed self. If we develop the ability to look into our own thought processes and our feelings as they arise from moment to moment, we will find that they are the complete evidence of this. I am not saying this in order to depress or to criticise. This is how it is and it is better if we can perceive this in its inner depths as it affects our effort, our attempt to live the religious life. There is nothing for me, here now or in a hereafter, a mythical hereafter. I deliberately say a mythical hereafter because the hereafter is a thing of wishful thinking, of conditioned belief and so on. Any one being who is a living pattern of the energies, the forces, the powers, call them what you like, which are universal and which operate universally all the time, consummates ultimately into non-being which is universal, non-descript, unidentifiable. The self-consciousness, which makes us feel and live in terms of I-am-I, a self isolated from the Totality, this consciousness is an illusion, it is an abstraction. The I-am-I consciousness does not survive. It persists only because of memory from moment to moment, a memory which is implanted in the very cells of the body. When that pattern disintegrates, every psychical phenomenon which is specifically tied up with the existence of that pattern also disintegrates.
This is extremely hard, it is a shattering fact. It is because we find it extremely difficult to understand that fact that we cling to the ego. Because we cling to the ego, we are unable to appreciate to the full, or anywhere near to the full, that there is nothing for me whatsoever.
In actual fact what I am saying about living the religious life applies to the totality of life. We all imagine that there is something for me here, there and everywhere, honours, gain, fame, security, comfort, pleasure, the fulfilment of desire and so forth. All these appearances come into life and usually they disappear more easily than in the way in which they have come. Be very careful about this. The individual being consummates into the One Universal Non-Being. The One Universal Non-Being throws up individual appearances, you and I. Does it actually throw up separate appearances? We may well ask that question because it is a very important one. The Totality, which is the universal All, does not throw up of its own will and accord individual appearances. You and I, as individual appearances, as individual beings, are conscious of ourselves and other selves and Totality in terms of separateness. It is in our consciousness, in our awareness, that the separation, the isolation, the whole process of beginning, proceeding, ending, birth and death, lie, because we are incapable as individuals of being aware in terms of Totality. We are aware in terms of separateness. This is our fundamental state of unenlightenment, of delusion. And so we believe in the actual separate existence of the I, and wishfully we believe in the continuity of that I.
Let us understand this very deeply and very clearly, and let us understand this not through the process of explanation by one person. Let us all try and become aware of the reality of it right now. This Totality which is the Universe, as far as you and I, being what we are, can see and experience and be aware of, consists of particulars, limited, finite particulars — not that the particulars are limited, finite, mortal. We don’t know actually. They appear so to us. We are enclosed in this state of unawakedness, of unenlightenment. We are enclosed in it. We are not able to function otherwise as we are. We human beings on this planet, as far as I know anyway, are the only creatures who have the capacity of looking within. That is how we became aware of ourselves in terms of separate ego, because we can look within. We get the “I” sense. As it is put in the Saṁkhya philosophy, the ahamkāra, the I-maker is there at work. And this I-maker, entering into the process of trying to climb out of his darkness, thinks in terms of isolation only. He is unaware of the fullness of relationships between Self and the so-called not-Self. If and when one really sees (that is, not merely holds it as an intellectual thought but is actually livingly aware of all the relationships which exist between what seems a separate being, oneself, and what seems separate beings, other selves and separate objects throughout the universe), then, if one actually becomes aware of that, the isolative functioning of one’s self is out. One is in the state of complete and total relationship with everything within the One Totality. Then what has happened is that the One Totality has come to full self-awareness through the apparently individual particular. This is the mystery, the magic, the marvel of the process. But in that coming to full self-awareness through each individual being, the individual being has gained nothing, achieved nothing, attained nothing. What has happened is that all obstruction within the individual being to the emergence of that Transcendent consciousness has been removed. All the dirt is out. All the fog has been cleared out, and the light which shines is not your light or my light, but it is the light of the Total, of Divinity itself, of Transcendence itself untrammelled, as far as that human being is concerned. This is what has happened.
If I could put it in a sentence I would put it like this: I, the separate being, the psycho-physical organism, completely perish as far as my awareness of myself as a separate being is concerned, in order that the Transcendent Reality may triumph. So you see what it means. There is nothing for me. If I really see that, I will completely cease to seek for myself. I will completely cease to grasp at anything. I will not obstruct the universal becoming process, because the universal becoming process receives its light, the light of Transcendence, only insofar as I, by virtue of being a human being, have the power to see that, by removing the obstructions within myself, this object, the living person, becomes a focus through which that Transcendent energy, power, light, love, wisdom, call it what you like, can radiate upon the world.
This may sound very fine and lovely and exalted and all the rest of it. Don’t get carried away by the words. All the words are false insofar as no words can contain Totality, can be the living Totality. They can only make a picture, and the picture after all has only a very limited suggestiveness. For example, here am I, the living being as we say, Phiroz Mehta, here. There is a portrait of him. One looks at the portrait, and because one’s sense of sight has been trained and one knows how to recognise portraits, one says, “That’s a portrait of Phiroz Mehta.” But that is not the living Phiroz Mehta. The contents of that portrait, some oil paint and canvas and some wood which surrounds the portrait, consider now those contents in relationship to the living person, bodily, psychically. There is no comparison between the two. So, the words are like that portrait, that is all. The thought is like that portrait, the thought is of poor value. All too often the thought is useless, it is an obstruction, because it comes out of a consciousness, a mind, that is tainted. It is tainted with its illusions and its delusions, it is tainted with its fears, its grasping, its ambitions, its lusts, its greed and all the rest of it. So the thoughts are quite useless, they are deluders. Thought coming from outside to you may indicate something of value to you if you yourself were in that state of intense attention, which is like a purifying fire, and which is able to perform the alchemy of getting rid of all the dross which is associated with that thought, and to realize the pure Truth embodied, or supposed to be embodied, in that thought. So you see, this is another implication of living the religious life. One has to stand entirely and absolutely upon one’s own feet. There is nothing that one can gain from another. The spirit cannot walk with the aid of crutches, only the mortal body can do so.
How and why is it that we are in this spiritually poverty-stricken condition, this psychologically somewhat impotent state, incapable? Let us look at one or two of the factors involved in this. We have been considering the elements during the last two meetings, and of course the elements for us in modern times are the chemical elements. We know all that. The old meaning of the word elements, both in the East and in the West, was summed up in the words Earth, Water, Fire or Light, Air and some added Ether, the elements. I think I mentioned last time that the particular value of using those terms is just this, that although in modern times (because we study chemistry and science and so forth) we are aware of the chemical elements and all the rest of it intellectually, we are not conscious of them as the individual elements. We are actually conscious only in terms of solids, liquids, gases, earth, water, air, temperatures, heat (that has remaining constant more or less). That is how we are actually conscious and we behave accordingly. So for us it is useful to consider these elements as just Earth, Water and so on. The body is made up of just these elements. We start our existence in this world in terms of body-consciousness fundamentally, and on the whole if we are quite honest with ourselves we remain body-conscious through our lives, mainly body-conscious, not partially. The body is everything to us. Consider all our physical reactions when anything unpleasant or dangerous is presented to us, or when we are ill, when we are in pain physically. We are immediately concerned with getting rid of this which I don’t like, which is unpleasant or which is rather frightening and all the rest of it. So you see how we cling to the elements.
Why do we cling to the elements? Because, contrary to all that we may say with our superficial conscious minds, we actually accept the fact and live by the fact that the body, the elements, is this wonderful thing “Me”. Actually it is a perishing thing. We as bodies are perishers. But we do not see that. As and when we really do see that, then we completely cease to grasp at the body or want to preserve it unnecessarily. Our approach to the body and our attitude to the body become altogether different. We see it exactly for what it is, something which is continuously undergoing change, transformation, but the transformation, because of our ignorance, is towards a meaningless, unintelligent death, a mere going to the grave. But if we are awake, it is a transformation process which we can see and realize as a process of perfecting and consummating as far as our awareness of Reality is concerned. Then we will realize that this perishing thing, the body, is in fact something altogether indispensable for Transcendent Realization to take place. There is no Transcendent Realization through “Me” when this body is dead, finished, that’s the end of it. What we commonly call the material of the body has gone back to the universal storehouse of matter. What we are pleased to call in separative terms the mind is once more the original universal characterless energy, which we may call Pure Mind or Mind Only. There is no manifestation for Mind Only excepting through the limitation, the making finite which brings individual human beings into existence.
So now, look at the body. The body is a very good example simply because all the elements are there together, Earth, Water, Air, everything is there in the living body. We have already touched upon our clinging to it, our delusion regarding it, that this is “Me”. I have just been saying that it is a delusion, it is also not a delusion. The word “Me” as an objective fact, limited and separate, is of course this body. It is not that body or that body or dog’s body! It is not that at all. It is precisely this, Phiroz Mehta, and nothing else. This is “Me”. Where then comes the delusion? In associating the idea of permanent entity, some mysterious permanent entity, in connection with the body. It is because of this delusion that the doctrine of resurrection, for example, has been so hopelessly misunderstood and wrongly presented. People have talked of the resurrection of the body despite St. Paul’s straightforward statement that it is the spiritual which is resurrected, which rises up. There is no such thing as a spiritual body, although some of the great ones themselves have fallen into the trap of using those words.
All these elements are in here, and because the body is what it is, with its brain and nervous system, its continued existence through whatever span of life it has, it is dependent upon the efficient functioning of the pleasure-pain mechanism of that nervous system.
This pleasure-pain mechanism has its correspondent psychically in terms of joy-sorrow. But whereas with the pure physical mechanism of pleasure-pain, nothing else can be tied round it, added to it, where the psychical joy-sorrow is concerned a whole heap of imaginative thinking and feeling and desiring all gets tied up with the particular joy and the particular sorrow which is the psychical counterpart of the physical pleasure-pain. This is where the whole of the psyche gets muddled up. It is an awful ragbag! There is no question of finding fault with anybody. Our parents, our friends, everybody around us, condition us, all the books that we read, the stories that we tell, the stories that we invent — we are urged to use our imaginative faculty! And how do we use our imaginative faculty? This is the question. Purely or impurely? As a creative power or as something which confines us, which deludes us and binds us and therefore hurts us? Insofar as we are hurt and distorted, what goes out of us into the psychical atmosphere of the world is of the nature of greed and cruelty and hate and violence and so on. You see, all this springs from the body, it is rooted in the pleasure-pain mechanism of the body.
The religions of the world, in their orthodox formulation, have misformulated the art of releasing ourselves. They have all taught in terms of Fighting the Good Fight, of getting rid of evil states, of cultivating virtues and good states and so forth. I am confused, passionate, violent, ambitious, envious, as I am. Is it possible for me to conceive virtue? Won’t I inevitably misconceive it? So, if I strive for the conceived virtue, I, a deluded incapable being, am striving for an illusory inefficient virtue. I cannot conceive it truly.
What then does one do? How does one live the religious life if that is the case? All the past religions of the world (at least the conventional, orthodox presentation in the scriptures) are in terms of this conflict between virtue and vice. They have fixated the idea of virtue, the idea of vice. They have pictures of what is virtuous action and what is vicious action, and they are in conflict. All conflict breeds more conflict and usually worse conflict. So obviously that way salvation does not lie. Salvation is a making whole, a healing. But consider, has any one of us the ability to heal, leave alone the knowledge? You and I can’t heal. Healing takes place on its own, it is a mystery. This power, this process is something completely beyond petty little me. If I see that such and such are the mistakes that I am making and I just become quiet and cease to make those mistakes, the healing process takes place, the whole-making process takes place. When I shut up, God speaks. When I am quiet, Transcendence works its magic. This is the point. But why don’t I shut up? Why don’t I keep quiet? Because basically I cling to the elements as embodied in this physical constitution which bears my name. That is why.
The cells which compose our bodies have some wonderful powers. They are self-reproductive, self-motivated, self-healing. Physiology has revealed that to us in a marvellous way. If the cell is not hurt beyond repair, smashed up or something like that, it will heal itself. I can only assist it to heal itself by refraining from interfering with its life process, or, if I have discovered some ways and means by which I can help that life process, all right, I can do that and help the life process. But I do not do the healing, although I may do some helping. The healing is the prerogative of the Eternal, the Absolute, the Void, that which is non-moving, non-active, according to my conceptions of movement and activity. The living of the religious life is the complete reversal of the human condition and the human process. It is not a negation, it is not affirmation, it is not a contradiction. It is a reversal of it, but a reversal so extraordinary that it brings about the integration of all the parts to make up the whole and subsumes them into its own profounder Transcendent Reality. This is quite extraordinary. This is the marvel — I don’t know what words to use — the mystery which is God or the Absolute or Pure Mind, or call it what you like.
Supposing we start ceasing to cling to the elements, objects, property, instruments of pleasure, instruments of everyday use, professional activity and so forth. Yes, use them, use them with reverence, use them with skill, with understanding, with love, but unpossessively. For if there is clinging there is taint. One of the most important aspects of this release from clinging, grasping, greed, lust (all this is involved with it) is in relation to something which the whole human race does every day of its life. It eats and it drinks. See what we do with eating and drinking. Look into it very deeply, don’t look at it superficially. You might say, “Come, come, you are not suggesting now that we have all got to eat one blade of grass per day and lick the dew in the morning from the grass!” Of course not! Eat an ox, a whole ox at a time if that is the right thing. The Buddha used to say, “Do what you think fit to do.” But you have to have the capacity to see what is the fit thing and the still subtler and more wonderful capacity to do it naturally, harmoniously, without any conflict involved in it, without any lurking reservation inside oneself, “Yes, I’m doing this but I wish I could do the other.” One might say, “Aren’t you making mountains out of molehills?” But do remember, if you get a sufficiently large number of molehills, they make the mountain. This is the point. It adds up, it is a cumulative effect.
I am not quite certain of this, but I believe it has been discovered in modern times, that when a cumulative effect has gone on and on and reached a certain critical point, it no longer remains an additive process (simply increasing the degree of the thing) but there is a change and there is a transformation of the whole thing, so that there is a difference in kind, not only in degree. This is most extraordinary. In the physical universe we do know now scientifically that the processes which go on at the atomic scale, within the atom, on the micro scale, and all the laws which apply to those processes, are different from the laws which apply on the macro scale. Our very comfortable laws of Nature, the immutable laws which are never broken and all the rest of it, they don’t apply in that micro scale. Modern physics is something which should remain esoteric, hidden from the multitude. It should be studied by a person who has inward stability and poise to a remarkable degree, because it is mentally shattering to learn what modern physics puts out. Or of course one just has to be a blockhead, insensitive, then one is all right, one won’t be upset by it!
Ordinary eating and drinking are only two things, mind you, two very important things for our life. These are only two aspects of what emerges out of clinging to the elements and the wrong approach, the wrong attitude to them. Food is Earth, drink is Water, beer is a little bit of Water and Air, anything that froths up. But the thing is this, we have to learn to be very sensitive to it all, which means to be awake, alert, watchful — not watchful in the sense of being on guard against this, that and the other, because that implies prejudice to start with, and that’s no use, you are in the state of conflict. But with the mind completely open, totally open, putting aside all previous knowledge and experience, remain attentive and watchful, and that way we learn. We learn in the real sense, that is, in the religious sense, and this learning is the liberation of our own awareness of existence, the liberation from the confined, deluded state which throws up illusions, which brings into being all the terrible things that we think, feel, say and do throughout our daily life, the liberation out of that into a state of peace, of harmony, of inward purity which remains unshaken, which can never be sullied, of poise and above all of complete unselfness.
This is living the holy life, the religious life, and this is the life which is the natural condition for a human being. The world lives sub-humanly, bestially. This is human living. Why do I say this is human living? Because this is the potentiality which is embodied in us. To give the theistic name to this potentiality — it is God. Man who was able and is able to have the vision which he names God is giving a name to that which he himself is, in innermost Transcendent Reality.