A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 12th March 1972
Today let us complete our considerations regarding what we call the Elements; Earth, Air, Fire, Water. As you all know all objects are made up of these Elements. Let us bear in mind that I am using the term in the old-fashioned way, instead of talking in terms of oxygen and nitrogen and phosphorus and all the rest of it, simply because it is more convenient, for one thing, to talk of the constituents of the world in terms of the old-fashioned terms, and also, which is more important, because of the fact that we are actually conscious in ordinary, everyday life only in terms of solids, liquids, gases, temperatures, pressures and so on. So it comes to the same thing, Earth and solids, Water and any substance which is liquid, etc., together also with their psychological counterparts.
The whole world is made up of these Elements. Not only India but Greece and other countries have also talked in those terms. We talked in those terms right up to recent times, until in fact the advent of modern experimental science and the re-establishment of the old speculative atomic theory with a new atomic theory. Out of this grew all that knowledge which enabled us actually to deal with the atoms themselves and bend them to our will, which we could not do in the days of pure speculation. Our modern knowledge of course quite dispossesses the old knowledge, and whilst the old speculations were interesting they are from the ordinary, factual, material point of view wrong in most particulars. Nevertheless we are actually conscious in terms of solids, liquids, gases and so on. So it is convenient to continue to use the terms Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
All the world is made up of these Elements, and not only the external world but also the internal world, the world of our minds, the world of consciousness itself. It would be worth while pausing a little to investigate that point. We look at something and we say, “There is a rock” or “There is a lake.” Are we seeing the rock itself, are we actually directly conscious of the rock? Or is this what happens? Rays of light reflected from that rock enter our retina and create an electrical disturbance registered at the back of our brain which makes us say “I see a rock.” There is no connection which has as yet been scientifically discovered between the electrical disturbances which register at the back of the brain and the psychical act of saying “I see a rock,” or “I see a sunset” or a lake, or a man or a woman or whatever it might be. A better example is, “I see the sky.” We know that the sky is not there as a material object, but we can put our hands on our hearts and say in absolute good faith, “I see the sky, it is blue.” What is it that actually happens? There is this gap between the so far discovered scientific fact of rays of light entering a retina, causing these electrical disturbances which have their own pattern, and all the rest of it. But this psychical statement “I see so-and-so” is something which is different. So when I say that I see that rock or that lake I am not seeing a rock or a lake in its own essential is-ness. I am conscious of my own mental percept. I am conscious of the picture in my mind which I say is a rock or a sunset. A sunset is a very good example because here the next point is better illustrated. If all of us, if ten thousand people looked at the sunset, they would all give different descriptions of it. If all ten thousand of us are directly conscious of the sunset as sunset and we describe it, why should our descriptions be different? And you know that everybody gives a different description. What are we actually seeing, the sunset or the picture in the mind, this mysterious thing the mind? We are conscious really of our own thought-form, our mental photograph of what we experience in what we call the external world.
You can see how the Hindu doctrine of māyā came into being. Buddhism also has the same teaching. That is why we have in Buddhism “All is Mind.” The actual forms in which we are conscious of things, which makes us say, “This is a solid, this is a liquid, etc.”, are due to the nature of our own mind and consciousness at work. I say that an object is solid, that wall is a solid wall. If I walk towards it I can’t go through it, I probably would get hurt if I walk fast enough. But supposing I were a neutrino. Let us grant that I am a neutrino and also possess the ability to be conscious like a human being is conscious. What happens to me? Nothing stops my progress, I just walk absolutely freely with the speed of light through space. What’s more I don’t have any electrical charge, I have no mass. What an extraordinary phenomenon! I, as a neutrino, how would I see, touch, taste, hear (of course I wouldn’t!), how would I be conscious? (We are granting consciousness to the neutrino). How would I be conscious of this world which is made up of what I as a human being constituted like this, called Earth, Air, Fire, Water and so forth? The importance of this lies here. We are so prone to say, “This is the truth.” Yes, this can be the truth only within a very limited context and only because such-and-such conditions prevail. It is if you like a conditioned reality. It is very real for us. For example, as I say, if I walk into the wall I should be more than half insane to say that there is no wall there. My experience at once should tell me that there is a wall! So there is a conditioned reality for us. But we human beings are never awake to the fact that there is this conditioned reality. We take it as reality and we think, feel and behave towards it, in relation to it, as reality. This is one of the basic reasons why we cannot be poised under all circumstances. We get upset, we get hurt, we get elated, we get depressed and so forth. This weekend was a wonderful instance of it. How many faces did you see yesterday, for instance, on which the corners of the mouth were turned up and not down? Look at it today, the corners of the mouth are turned up! Why? Just the difference between what we call a horrible day and a lovely day. But (let me use a horrible-sounding word) the horribility of yesterday and the loveliness of today are — where? — in my mind.
When we consider this matter together like this, intellectually we can see it. Perhaps we might not agree, we might argue “No, I don’t agree with you” and so forth. I won’t argue with anybody, I’ll say, “Whatever you say, all right, I’ll be prepared to listen and hear the point of view, and grant its validity just as much as you on your part will grant the validity of what I have just said myself.” But if we look deeply into it and if we are concerned with the flowering out of intelligence and awareness of existence in its reality, then we will know that, underlying and profounder than our two opposing relative viewpoints, is a profounder truth. That is that our mind-pictures are just ephemeral forms which are sometimes attractive and sometimes unattractive, but in all cases they deceive our consciousness into accepting them as truth.
To see this intellectually with sufficient intensity is a very important step. It helps us to remain poised, balanced, truly poised and balanced, not by repression, under most circumstances in which we find ourselves. There will be some however which will be so provocative, so hurtful or so overpoweringly pleasant that we are bowled over, as we say. If our concern is religion in the real sense (that means that our concern is Transcendence itself), then our concern practically is the release of our consciousness from delusion, the freedom of our consciousness from being imposed upon and misleading us through illusory mental pictures. The psyche is not an ultimate. The modern world knows and in the olden days some philosophers knew too, that all that we say with regard to matter, with regard to things, events, circumstance, situations, persons and all the rest of it, are only our mental constructs, they are not the thing in itself. The thing in itself we do not know, that they recognize, they recognise that these are mental constructs. But most of the western world has stopped short at that. In India they penetrated more easily into the fact that the mental constructs are no finality, they are delusive and illusory too. They recognised that they are more powerful and troublesome illusions than our childlike illusion that a stone is a stone and that water is water, as an absolute. You know how a child says absolutely that this is a stone, that’s the final fact about it, the final truth, there is nothing further to know or investigate. It is the same with the mind.
We must try and really get hold of this. You see its tremendous significance and importance. We cling to ideas, to doctrines, to dogmas. As a result of that we let our psyche get converted into a limited restricted thing. But the essential nature of the mind is absolute freedom, absolute openness, absolute resilience. The body has not got that and never will have, that is why it is the body. But with the mind it is different. Instead of which, what happens to our minds? Our minds get imposed upon, get distorted and they are continuously misleading us. And what do they mislead us into? Dukkha, sorrow, suffering, evil, and worst of all this very mind makes us the bond slaves of those very forces which never allow us to know freedom, namely everything which has to do with pleasure and taking sides with pleasure against what is disagreeable to us. This is not to suggest that we must all be glum and miserable and throw aside pleasure, not the least bit. That is again going to the other extreme. There is no middle way there in the true sense, that’s a false way. The point is that we shall so understand and be so awake that as pleasure comes we shall go through the experience and never hold it back, let it pass. We shall learn out of it. And as pain comes, as sorrow comes, we shall go through the experience and let it pass away and never hold it back. But in actual fact we store it all up in our memory, both the pleasure and the pain. We trot it out every time the new experience, the new situation produces pain, suffering, or produces pleasure and this ephemeral thing which we mistake for real happiness. All that sort of actual living we associate with our so-called religious pursuit and our religious life. We are irreligious all the time in fact. The greater part of our impulse towards the religious life is certainly a good impulse, a right impulse in all of us. (I am not suggesting for a moment that it is all bad, far from it.) We do our best and we are earnest, we are sincere about it. But this awful Mephistopheles, who holds court at the back of our heads instead of the front, he comes in and spoils everything all the time. Very subtly he utilizes our religious drive as a subtle and super means of seeking pleasure, the realization of Nirvana, for finishing with the series of lives, the reincarnations and all the rubbish that they talk about. This is very true. We practise according to a set disciple, the living of the good life. We don’t kill somebody, we don’t steal from our next door neighbour or someone else, we don’t go running away with anybody else’s wife or husband, we don’t drink ourselves to death or indulge in cannabis. Why? “Oh, well of course this is observing the moralities, you know, this is the first step which is necessary for meditation and finally there will come one day the final samādhi and there will be the passing away to utter Nirvana.” Infinite reward for potty little finite actions! And the Lord God smiles and says, “To hell with you, my darling.” And that’s all there is in it.
All this is the illusory cloud palace that the mind sets up, all sorts of pictures. But to see into the nature of the mind means seeing not mainly an objective external philosophical pursuit but an actual perception of what is continuously happening in the psyche, continuously happening as a flow of a stream of thought and feeling, of emotion, of desire, of passion, of elation, of depression and all the rest of it. If I see it that way I become aware, I become really conscious of the nature of the functioning of the mind. And it is that real awareness which transforms this psyche. That transformation of the psyche means its utter purification. Remember, Psyche in the grand old myth of Psyche and Eros is a mortal, and only in finality, when the whole story is completed and she is united with Eros in eternity, is her mortality transformed into immortality, because no mortal can be in permanent union with the Immortal, quite impossible. This mortal is your psyche and my psyche, whether one be male or female. This is the mortal, this psyche. And this psyche is transformed through its complete and utter purification into the Immortal Creative Power which is pure Mind, which is absolute Mind. That is Eros. But we must see these things, we must really see them.
If I were gifted with the tongues of angels and were to tell you the Absolute Truth as God Almighty sees Truth, it would be no use to you. It may please you, it may give you a sensation, it may give you an uplift, something sublime, something marvellous, an unforgettable experience and all that sort of thing. But it is of no use to you in reality. Why? Because whilst my words may produce all sorts of sensational effects, your mind will make its own pictures. Your mind is not capable of doing anything else, just as my mind is not capable of doing anything else than making the pictures that are the expression of the nature of my mind. Our basic illusion starts with the Elements, our experiences of the Elements, and we do not know that we are interpreting reality in this way, solids, liquids, gases, Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and all the rest of it, because we are constituted as we are. So we can’t escape that. Because we are bodily constituted as we are, we will of course experience resistance with the physical object, we will experience less resistance with the liquid object, still less with the gaseous, and, as we believe, none with what we call empty space, Ākāśa or Ether or whatever you like to call it. We know that because of our bodily constitution. If in addition we awaken fully to the fact that these are experiences and observations which are true only within the limited context and they are not absolute truth, then our whole set of values, our activities, the way we express and direct our life energy will be entirely changed. It will change itself. If I am stupid enough to attempt to change it according to a preconception, then there will be nothing but failure. Why? Because all my assumptions or preconceptions are tainted by my present existing prejudices and biases. My limited power of conceiving produces only distorted conceptions all the time. In the presence of the Absolute, in those moments of stillness and silence when the whole mind is utterly quiet, utterly pure, utterly empty, you will find that the mind has met its Sabbath, it has ceased to preconceive, to make thought-forms, thought-shapes. They do not belong to the realm of Transcendence, they do not belong even to the realm of our mental life, they belong only to that realm which is concerned with our activity in the physical sphere as such, in the sphere in which we are conscious in terms of solids, liquids, gases. The moment we take it into the sphere of the mind itself and the moment we apply it in the sphere of human inter-relationships, then woe betides us inevitably.
This is something which we never wake up to. We go to our priests and our bhikkhus and our philosophers and our lecturers and our teachers and all the rest of it, and what happens? Haven’t you noticed? A carrot is held in front of you to draw you on. To what? To a desirable end. But I tell you that in the presence of the Absolute, in the presence of Transcendence, all our desirables and undesirables are utterly non-existent, they have no meaning, they have no value. So, will you wait until you get into the presence of Transcendence? You will never get into the presence of Transcendence whilst you have the desire to be there, because the desire is self-oriented. Howsoever exalted, beautiful, wonderful, so-called unselfish the desire may be, your desire is always self-oriented, and by virtue of that fact it is a binding thing. You and I are the makers of our own prison. We cannot act in terms of “I will break my prison.” Not I will break my prison… I will be caught by authority, by higher powers, stronger powers, always once more to be brought back into prison, and those higher powers are in my own soul! Not that way. Never the way of violence, never the way of trickery, of being one too clever. The Eternal, the Absolute, the Divine, God, use what word you like, is always there forestalling me, the separate, limited, petty little me, always, inevitably. Why? Because God and the Absolute are not outside you. They are bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh, utterly inside our very being. We cannot escape that. We cannot seek that out. The Absolute, the Totality, the Transcendent, Pure Mind, use any word you like, can never be sought out. I can cease to obstruct. That is what I, the limited, the finite, the particular can do in relationship to the Infinite, the Unlimited, the Absolute. I can cease to obstruct.
The beginning of that process is to recognize the Elements as Elements. They are what they are, and they are what they are to me because I am constituted thus, and my consciousness therefore under such restriction inevitably functions restrictively. When I really see that then quite naturally, without attempting to force myself, I will never grasp at Earth, money, possessions, property and all the rest of it. I will never grasp at Water, all that you classify under the heading Water. I will never try to grasp at Fire, light, ideas, knowledge, brilliant things, fame, authority. I will cease to grasp it. When it comes to me I will not shirk my responsibility. When the stream of life itself presents it here, then I will pay full attention to it, do my uttermost best and let it flow past from moment to moment. Otherwise if I grasp at it in any shape or form I have made inside my own psyche a little dark place, a dark power which will one day in my lifetime here and now demand repayment, demand resolution. This is the unworked out karma, the substrate for a reappearance of the conditioned state of mind here and now. It is nothing to do with reincarnation or anything like that. So I cease to obstruct, and the ceasing to obstruct takes place because consciousness is flowering out, consciousness, the Ātma, if you like to use really the best word for it. It is really conventional orthodox Buddhism’s loss that it has dropped the word Ātma. Ātma is pure consciousness, pure awareness. The Buddha presents it in the series of jhānas and samāpattis, and in the ultimate stage with the cessation of all feeling and perception. Then he says, “You touch Nirvana with your body itself.” It is like that, he says. If you take the trouble to study enough the deep teachings of the Upaniṣads they use the word Ātma. And it was a better thing to do than to stick to the word mind, either manas or citta, for the simple reason that the mind and all the mind-shapes have been discovered to be illusory and not final Ultimate Reality. The Ultimate Reality possible for man is that state of consciousness, of awareness which the Hindus called Ātma, one single word. The Buddha used the phrase viññānaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃ; viññānaṃ, which is infinite, invisible, characterless, anidassanaṃ, to which all those meanings apply, anantaṃ, endless, not born, not dying, sabbato, everywhere, pabhaṃ, accessible or shining (the two have been taught as the identical thing).
To be non-obstructive — and one is non-obstructive by seeing what obstructs, that is all. Supposing there is a great road, all you do is remove the barricades, and there is the road, free road, open road. You cannot sort of build an open road where there are barricades, there is nothing to build, there is only the act of removing that which obstructs. What is it that removes that which obstructs? It is awakening. How do you awaken, you will ask? By paying attention, mindfulness, this sammā sati is the final key and the only key. It is this attentiveness which is the whole story. There is nothing else to do. The practice of a routine procedure only makes different mind-shapes. “I went to such-and-such a retreat, I went to such-and-such a vihara, I went to such-and-such an ashram.” I myself have done all these things, so I know a little bit about them! “I went through this, I went through the other, it all felt very nice and wonderful, I can’t tell you what a lovely experience it was!” Don’t try to tell me, I know, it is a lovely experience. What does a lovely experience mean? Pleasant sensations. “I got what I wanted, I progressed.” But we never see that we have progressed from Holloway to Brixton or Pentonville! You see the subtlety of the self, of selfness. So we invent doctrines. “Oh, I’ll go on like this, arrive at this stage, that stage, now I am almost nearing arahatship or moksha or whatever it is! Only one more life to come back to this earth.” And then? “Oh, Nirvana.” “And what is Nirvana?” “Hmm, it’s a wonderful place.” “When you get there can you buy a ticket for me there, can you transport me there, do you know where this is, is it north, south, east, west, heaven, hell, what?” It is like that lovely story the Buddha used to tell sometimes to his disciples. “But, friend, you are talking like this, you say that you know a most beautiful and wonderful girl in the village with whom you are in love. Is she tall, is she short, is she dark, is she fair, is she this, that and the other?” No, he doesn’t know. Then the Buddha suggests, “Do you think you might be under some illusion?” It is like this.
We awaken by paying attention, and we pay attention without expectation, without hope, without desire, but just attend, just as we actually just breathe here all through the day. It is a natural thing, the bloodstream just flows through the body naturally all through the day. If you just attend that way with all your energy, the transformation process, the purifying process, the enlightening process takes place by itself. Life lives by itself, not because you or I do anything to make life live through us. We have no power to do that. So Enlightenment takes place by itself and after the event, so to say, this Enlightenment naturally finds its expression in your thought, in your feeling, your speech, your actions and most important of all the activity of your senses through which you perceive. And the psyche behind those sense activities ceases to misinterpret, mis-evaluate all that the senses convey to you. When that happens you naturally do not grasp. When you naturally do not grasp, this is the healthy, happy state of renunciation.
Isn’t this something quite different from what we are usually led to believe? We are merely led to believe, and that is all. But we are all muddlemakers otherwise in the ordinary way! If for example there was a big audience here, a thousand people, do you know one of the questions which would of course come up at once in the minds of perhaps nine hundred of them? “But how will this help us to solve our present day problems?” You know the real answer to that question? You or I will never solve our problems. You know what I mean by that? What I mean is this — I, as I am, attempting to solve my problem or your problem or the world problem (we all rush about trying to solve the world problem!) will only produce one and in all likelihood ten or a hundred new problems in my flounderings. That is what I do. The longer I live and the more energy I spend in solving these problems, the worse the situation becomes. You know the good old English statement, no fool like an old fool! — the worst fool of the lot! I have gone on being a fool, so I am the grand fool now, as compared with the youngsters! This is what happens. What is the fundamental reason for that? I want to solve the problem, the limited, isolative, self-conscious person who, out of his foolish mind produces this abstraction which has no reality, called the I. It is to this mythical point that our activities are oriented. How can we produce that resolution, that true resolving, which is harmony? We are desire-driven, we don’t know the meaning of desire.
Stop going to lectures and this, that and the other. Don’t come here. But do come here, because love brings you here. Not love for me, because that is as absurd and stupid as being in love with the bottle which you drink, or something like that! Not that. But just love, the love that you don’t know and won’t know. The brain, the mind will never know that which is Transcendent, because wisdom moves your feet towards those pastures which spell the fruition of life and of human beings. Come because of that. But anything that is self-oriented will inevitably fail, and it will go into the maw of Death devoid of fruition and fulfilment. The maw of Death eats up the ripe as well as the unripe. So whether you and I are the ripened fruit or the unripened fruit, the maw of Death takes in everything in any case. But if you are the ripened fruit, the maw of Death takes that ripe fruit in and it is transformed into a light which adds in some mysterious way to the Light of Transcendence itself. Thereby Transcendence has found fruition and fulfilment through you, the finite, particular being. It is this fruition of Transcendence through you, the limited one, which is the real meaning of Nirvana.
So you see, of the Elements we are made, our cells, the body and the whole psycho-physical organism are made of the Elements. Of these same Elements is the world made, the world of phenomena, the world of what we commonly call the mind. Everything that is is made of the Elements in some form or degree. As we free ourselves from all the illusions which arise in our minds through our interaction with the Elements, and as we continue to pay our entire attention with all our energy to the immediate Now, there will come Enlightenment, there will come intelligent perception, true perception, not mis-perception. You will find that all greed and hate and delusion and so forth will fall away altogether from you, the purified focus of the Transcendent Reality.
And that is your Liberation.