The Root Delusion
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 23rd April 1972
Last time we considered the very last words of the Buddha, usually translated as “Strive on with diligence.” In the last century those words used to be translated as “Work out your own salvation.” This is not really an accurate translation. “Strive on with diligence” is fairly accurate. But last time when we were considering these words it was suggested that, if we translate those words as “Keep on, keep going without flagging”, we will get nearer to the heart of the Buddha’s teaching. “Keep going without flagging.”
Now remember that those are his last words and it is more than likely therefore that for the Buddha these words had very very deep significance. What did the Buddha point out as the objective of living the religious life, the Brahmacarya as he called it and as it was always called in India, whether it was Buddhist India or Brahmanical India? The objective was what the Buddha called Nirvana, Nirvana which emerges as a living realization through the individual person if and when he tread the Brahma path, the Brahmacarya in perfection. But this word Brahma coming from Brahmā means in the English language a walking in God. Brahmā is God the Creator, God the Father, it is of Brahmanical origin. And just as the Christian mystics or the Sufi mystics and other great theistic devotees have said, one walks in God. There is no to God for the very simple reason that God is everywhere, is the Omnipresent Reality. The word God in this context means that which is the incomprehensible, the undefinable, the Absolute, the more than human, the beyond the human and yet within its own being completely subsuming the human. If one really goes deeply into the meaning of that, not merely intellectually but with the whole of one’s being perceiving or trying to perceive its innermost significance, one will realize that this is no other than what the Buddha called the Brahmacarya, what the Hindus also have called the Brahmacarya. As the result of treading this path there is Nirvana present. Note very carefully — there is Nirvana present, it is not something which the individual attains as a goal, as a prize, a reward for himself at the end of a particular routine or a particular path which he treads. When one tries to deal with the Infinite, the Transcendent, the Absolute, one has first to clear out of one’s mind all human criteria and standards of judgement. Why? Because all human criteria and standards have meaning only in terms of the limited and the finite. They have no meaning, no significance in terms of the unlimited, the Absolute, the Transcendent. How can they? If they had meaning in the context of Transcendence, then what is called Transcendence would certainly not be Transcendent. That is the whole point about it.
Nirvana is there and its realization is not by the individual for the sake of the individual, but its realization is there simply because the individual has become completely free of all limitations imposed by his isolative self-consciousness. The isolative self-consciousness is the root source of the basic duality, self, that is myself, and all the rest which is the not-self. But this is not the fact. We use the word Universe but do we mean Universe when we say Universe? A Universe is a One Total Reality, a one thing in which there is no conflicting duality or conflicting multiplicity. It is we who introduce the element of conflict in our own inward consciousness by making this separation between self and not-self. This is the root illusion, the root trouble, that I-am-I separate from all the rest which is dumped under You. Three thousand five hundred millions on this planet alone (and God knows how many millions of planets bear human beings who might be labouring under the same error), three thousand five hundred millions of us all labour under that same delusion. What happens in consequence? What we rightly call an experience, such as greed, as ambition, as lust, violence, enmity, ill will, anger jealousy, hatred, all the illusions and delusions that we suffer from, all those emerge from this fundamental separation between self and not-self.
This is something which can take a whole lifetime really to penetrate and understand. But if one does really penetrate and understand this fundamental illusion, this great delusion of the separate self, then the whole task is done, because in the understanding, the complete understanding, our self-consciousness has ceased to be isolative. When you really understand you cannot be aware, conscious of yourself as something separate from, unrelated to the Totality. We are separate as separate physical manifestations. Therefore each physical manifestation, that is to say as a human being, is identifiable and can be distinguished from another unique human being, a physical manifestation. Otherwise there would not be any distinction possible. So to that extent our self-consciousness is essential and useful. But when we proceed to be completely wrapped up in the self and put all the rest into one heap called the not-self, then we have done evil, irremediable evil, because, as I said, all that we call greed and delusion and so forth stems from this fundamental delusion. When you consider that the thousands of millions of the world suffer from this delusion and all the consequences in terms of what the Buddha so aptly called defilements of the mind, what chance is there for human beings to be in any state but that of conflict with each other?
This which is presented usually as the objective of the living of the holy life, Nirvana, means the extinction, the complete disappearance out of that particular individual who treads the Brahma path, of all the defilements of the mind. If the defilements of the mind are out we can present it in its positive form and say that that mind at last is a pure mind, purity has come into its own at last.
You know how the Upaniṣads present it. The body is the Temple of the Lord. When this Temple is completely pure, completely cleansed, then the Dweller in that Temple is the Lord. Who is the Lord? Śiva Sadāśiva as he is called, Śiva the destroyer-regenerator, the Third Person of the Hindu Trinity, Sadāśiva, everlastingly Śiva. The word Śiva itself essentially means the Auspicious One, the Benign One, the Happy One. Śiva in his negative aspect as embodied in the Consorts of Śiva is the Bestower of Bliss in Eternity. This is why he is called the Ever-Auspicious One. If one can penetrate into it, one begins to see the tremendous significance for us human beings hidden in these teachings. This Transcendent Reality is the power, the invincible, the ineluctable power which is slowly but surely emerging into actual manifestation through human beings. The real meaning of the human being is that this psycho-physical organism which it is in the ordinary way, is sub-human, shall become so utterly purified of all defilements that that Transcendent Reality, which is enshrined in man’s concepts of God, of the Eternal Real, shall come to full fruition through the living human being.
That is the real — shall I put it in these terms? — evolutionary objective of our existence on the face of the globe. That is our real destiny – to be the living chalice, the Holy Grail if you like, of that Transcendent Reality. But look at its implications. The chalice has to be utterly pure. One of the simplest and the earliest of the Zarathushtrian prayers, which is taught to a little Zarathushtrian child right in the beginning, is a prayer which runs (this is the old Avestan language):
Ashēm vohu; vahishtēm asti; ushtā asti; ushtā ahmāi hvat ashāi vahishtāi ashēm.
Purity is the supreme righteousness, purity is happiness, happiness is unto him who is perfect in purity.
Of course one must have the intelligence not to mis-define the word happiness but truly to understand what happiness means, happiness the Divine Bliss, the Bliss in Eternity of Śiva Sadāśiva, which is a completely different thing from our human ideas and conceptions of happiness. All that we humans in our deluded state do, grasping after happiness, chasing sensational delights and pleasures and indulging the senses, and not only the senses, but our aesthetic and intellectual faculties and so forth, all that has nothing to do whatsoever with this Divine happiness which is our birthright right from the beginning and which is to emerge in Man if Man will cease to obstruct it from emerging. Again and again the same task, the so-called negative task, to see, to be awake, to be alert, to wholly understand all that happens inside our own minds from moment to moment every day of our lives, from moment to moment every day of our lives. Now you see the significance of the Buddha’s saying, “Keep going without flagging.” Why? Because the mind, like the body, is a living reality. If the bloodstream in the body or the heart or something said, “I am going for a holiday for six hours, I am knocking off work for six hours,” then that would be the end of the body, wouldn’t it? It just can’t. It is a continuous process, it is non-stop, no flagging, the heart has to beat all one’s life, the breath rhythm has to go on all one’s life, the bloodstream goes through the body all one’s life. Similarly with our attentiveness, our mindfulness, with being awake, with being alert, not slacking, not backsliding all the time. We have to keep going, keep going without flagging, with perpetual mindfulness and attentiveness. What is one attentive to? Any particular thing? No, because particularity in attention narrows down your awakedness, narrows down your state of observation, and in that there is division created between the observed and what is outside the realm of observation, an outside brought about by one’s own determined efforts to be confined to the particular. That is what introduces the trouble. It is a case of being awake to the whole, to the Totality, all the time. Our Totality after all is a limited Totality, just our little environment in which we may be, our particular activity in which we are engaged. But be awake to it as far as the external aspect is concerned.
But there is another aspect, the disciplinary aspect, the aspect which determines whether we are treading the Brahmacarya, whether it is a case of walking in God or not, and that is the process which goes on in our own minds all the time. It is extremely important to be alive to every single response or inevitable reaction which comes out of our own being to the stimulus that comes to us either externally or arises from within. This is what we have to awake to, far more importantly than just to the external stimulus. Then one is growing in the faculty of being truly mindful in the true sense of the term. As Jesus said, “Watch and pray,” watch fully, and as the Buddha pointed out, “Sammā Sati,” perfect mindfulness, is whole and perfect, and its effect upon my own psyche becomes perfect and whole. What happens? The psychical reactions which, in the ordinary way, would be reactions of anger or violence or whatever they are, whether they be vicious or virtuous in the ambivalent worldly sphere, whatever they be, they all get purified. My so-called virtuous responses also get purified, freed of all selfness, freed of all ulterior motives, freed of all impositions from within myself that I ought to be virtuous and so forth. Of course with those reactions which are vicious, which belong towards the obvious ill qualities that we all know of, they also get transformed. It is not the quality that gets transformed, the quality is merely the name we give to the actual way in which our psychical energies act. If our psychical energies act thus, assume this shape, then we call it a vicious shape. If they act producing this shape, then we call it a virtuous shape. But this virtue-vice lies within this ambivalent sphere of duality and conflict. That is not real virtue, that is an illusory vice. The Reality transcends both and the Reality is Pure Virtue, the natural life energy in its purity of the mind, this Transcendent Energy which is immeasurable, which is indefinable.
One cannot prove this kind of thing, one can only investigate for oneself, practise mindfulness and experience that extraordinary state of awareness which slowly and surely emerges, by which you know, “Yes, this is it, this is what it means.” And when you know that meaning you will discover that it completely defies words. There is no means whatsoever of expressing that knowing, that realising, that making real in terms of thought forms or verbal forms. We have gone right beyond that, and the meaning of that is the experiencing of Transcendence itself. When this happens the change in one’s own psyche, the transformation of one’s own psyche has become a permanent real with the person. That is the purification of the individual, the Temple has been made pure. When the Temple has been made pure, the Transcendent (we may use the word the Lord) is present there. The Lord is present there not as an entity who has walked into this particular psycho-physical organism and stays there comfortably for the rest of his days. It does not mean that. What it does mean as a real fact is something like this, that your innermost consciousness which in the ordinary way is always a discriminative consciousness which makes for duality, has become transformed into that pure awareness which has finished with duality. The sense perceptions will of course distinguish this, that and the other. There the discriminatory activity of perception has to be present. Note very carefully, the discriminatory activity of sense perceptions has to be present there. But this which is ordinarily dualistic consciousness is confined to that only, whereas this pure awareness, which puts you into complete harmony with the Totality, is the overriding factor. Your consciousness has changed altogether. Your mode of awareness of existence is now the purely human mode, which is no other than the Divine mode. You are conscious of existence of the world in the same way God, as postulated by the theologian, is conscious of the world. Do not try to interpret this and fit it into logical terms or into so-called factual objective terms, because if you try to do that you will just get lost in a maze. By all means get lost in the maze. When you come out of the maze, as undoubtedly you will, because circumstances will compel you to do so, then you will see that it is impossible to formulate it, and to try to formulate it is a mistake. All that one can do with words and the presentation of ideas is so to stimulate that this awakening process can come into being. It is a quickening of ourselves out of the dead condition into the live condition in the religious sense of the word. When this transformation takes place, Man has fulfilled his destiny in this world. But you see, “Keep going without flagging.”
In the fullness of Purity is the emergence of Nirvana. Nirvana is there all the time, just as space is there all the time, you can’t get out of space, you can’t get into space, space is absolutely universal. It is the same with Nirvana. If you like to put it into a sort of scientific jargon, the immeasurable energy which is Transcendence and the measurable energy which we know of and can handle, they are both universal and one can escape neither of them. One is everlastingly in them. But to become freed of the limitations of discriminative consciousness, which makes one aware in terms of duality and to flower out into pure awareness, means that the separation between the immeasurable and the measurable is over. Then through you, the person, this Totality has come to full flower. Why do the theistic religions state that the glory is unto God? Mine is the task, the work, the toil and the sweat and the tears and all the rest of it. But God’s is the glory, the bliss and the delight. Your man of the world with a worldly consciousness will say, “Good gracious, nothing for me for all my job? Well, I’ll get along as I see fit and leave God to mind his own business.” God always is minding his own business which includes my business anyway. The man of the world says that simply because he is the prisoner of his fundamental delusions, self, not-self. That is why he says that, that is why he approaches everything in the spirit of obtaining a result, getting a reward, not only the wages, but the bonus also for being good, as he calls it! You can’t bargain with God. God never bargains with you, because the goods that God gives to the individual is the Totality, the Infinite, the Absolute, the All. Those are the goods he gives and all that we give is our tiny little insignificant self. So for specie, oneself, which is just worthless, comparatively speaking, what is given for that specie is the Infinite All, the Absolute. That Absolute is pure happiness, is fulfilment, is Transcendent Love and Wisdom. It is the bliss which really passes all understanding. When one is so purified that that Pure Awareness absolutely fills one’s whole being, when this body living in the world goes through pleasure or goes through pain, is in the state of well-being and health or is tortured by illness or disease or by the cruelty of evil men upon oneself, whatever one is going through, then that Transcendent Reality remains unshakeable, in utter peace.
Nothing alters that inward peace. Such a person dies as the consumption of his whole psycho-physical life, not as the cutting off, the extinction, not as the wages of sin, but as the gift of God which is eternal life. In that gift of God which is eternal life this individual person, who as an individual person is the very root of separation, has ceased to be and has become the All. Therefore there is no more any I-am-I consciousness in that ultimate beatitude. One is truly free then of all grasping, of all greed, of all seeking for a reward for a separate I. If one understands such things whilst we are here and alive, the whole course of our life is altered, because that which animates us in our innermost depths and produces our thoughts, our feelings, our speech, our action is the Eternal Reality itself in which there is no evil whatsoever. Through that individual self whilst being in manifestation there manifests the Eternal Total Whole (which is an extraordinary thing) the Infinite comes to full flower through the finite and shows its beauty.
Look at a lovely flower in your garden, look at it carefully, unanalytically, look at it with all the buzzing of the intellect absolutely quiet, just look. Let this channel of communion be unobstructed, so as to see the flower as the flower, the pure flower. And what will you be seeing? You will see the One Total Reality giving forth its everlasting message of Love and Wisdom and Beauty and Truth and Goodness, call it what you like, to you all the time, unconsciously, asking nothing at all, not even knowing that it is giving all this, just being the Absolute Reality. All of you who have been interested in the Buddhist scriptures know that famous statement that before one enters into Buddhism mountains are mountains and trees are trees and stones are stones etc. When one has first entered into Buddhism mountains and trees and stones cease to be mountains and trees and stones, they become all sorts of things according to the philosophies spun out by the mind. “It is the Void, it is Emptiness, it is anything but the mountain and the tree.” And when one is enlightened once again mountains are mountains and flowers are flowers and rivers are rivers. But how? As I have suggested, look at the flower with the buzzing and the disturbance of the mind and the heart absolutely still. If you can look that way and be in communion you are in the state which is the Enlightened state, the Transcendent state. So your mountain is just a mountain but a Transcendent mountain, and your flower is a Transcendent flower. Mountain-hood and flower-ness have come to life in you yourself, in your innermost awareness, an awareness in which there is no separation, there is no division, there is no disharmony whatsoever. There is perfect activity, the perfect activity of Creation by the Immeasurable. Being in this state of pure awareness is the meaning of Nirvana in manifestation.
This is the Kingdom of Heaven which is among you, within you, as Jesus said. This is the Garodemana of Zarathushtra, the House of Song. What is the Song? It is the Song of Eternal Life, the Song which never began, which never ceases. These are not just thoughts. When one speaks naturally one uses words and in order that the words may convey something to anyone, to oneself as well as to others, there must be some degree of logical structure and patterning to the words, to convey what we call a thought. But penetrate right through the words and the thought to the reality, don’t get caught with the thought and the words, because then the reality will be missed. When you listen, listen with the buzzing of the intellect at peace, no longer stepping in and hearing. Don’t think you will miss anything that way, you won’t miss anything, because in the state of communion there is a living interaction taking place, so that the two who are in communion are a one reality and not two separate trying to communicate.
So now, it’s a living process. Keep going without flagging.