A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 8th September 1972
I think we can all agree that we are living under a cloud which becomes darker and darker as the months pass by. You probably have guessed what is in my mind, this murderous violence which took place in Munich at the Olympic Games. We know that it goes on everywhere in the world now, it goes on in the name of peace, in the name of rights, in the name of all that we hold as values by which to live. The method chosen is the method of death, an extraordinarily cynical reflection upon man’s passion to live as he wishes instead of trying to live in the light of an understanding of what it means to be a human being.
Where does all this violence originate? Is it due to the pressure of conditions, of circumstance, is it only due to the fact that human beings (large numbers of them in some parts of the world), are deprived of their legitimate rights and so forth? Is it only due to that? Or are there some deeper springs of violence in the world as a whole, not only in the human race, which produce this misery, this horror, this mounting horror which will engulf the race before the century is out? Do think about this deeply, do feel it very sensitively. Our concern is the religious life. But the religious life does not mean that it is a life for us as separate individuals. We cannot cut ourselves off from the whole, and it is precisely this which has lain at the root of man’s mistakes and follies and horrible deeds. This ignorance of the unity of the whole species, the human species, as well as the thoughtless callous refusal to look into it deeply by all human beings, is, as far as I can see, perhaps the most powerful cause of all the violence that goes on around. If we really mean business as far as living the religious life is concerned, we have no option but to be exemplars of the realization of this unity. This realization is not a matter merely of accepting the idea. It is not only a matter of engaging in this, that and the other worldly activity which seeks to promote human brotherhood. There are other forces deeper and extraordinarily powerful lying within our own selves, as well as lying within the human race as a whole, which we must understand, and understand so completely, so profoundly, that we become centres of peace. There is no other way.
In this connection recall some of our considerations regarding the nature of the psyche and the way that forces enter into and emanate out of the psyche. First of all we must realize that whilst it is convenient to talk in terms of each person’s psyche (and it is true that each person’s psyche has a reality of its own, it distinguishes that person from other persons), there is this universal psyche of the human race as such. Our psyches interpenetrate, they continuously influence each other. What does that mean in actual terms? Any thought I think, any feeling I feel is not exclusive to me. It is not exclusively my thought or feeling. The psychical energy which expresses itself through me, the person, in the particular form which makes me say, “I think,” or “This is my thought,” or “I feel” or “This is my feeling,” this psychical energy is a universal thing. It belongs to the whole human race. If a thousand other people are in a rage, that rage is invading what I commonly call my psyche, and I cannot shut the doors against it. This is something which we must realize. This is one of the great mistakes the human race has made throughout the ages, to try to shut the doors of the mind and the heart to all the influences that come to us. It is a futile effort, we cannot do it. We have to be sensitive to it. We have to take full cognizance of it. If not, that wave that comes from thousands of other people to us, overwhelms us, catches us out and produces reactions which are no wiser, no kindlier than the forces of violence and stupidity which have invaded our psyche.
I have again and again mentioned a physical analogy here, the air we breathe. What air am I breathing? The same air that you are breathing. And I breathe out just as you breathe out, that very air. It is all mixed up, we cannot say that, “This is John’s air and that is Mary’s air”, and so forth and isolate it. We cannot isolate it. If we cannot isolate something which is actually physical and material, we cannot isolate that which is even subtler and more easily universally spread than air, and that is thought, feeling. It is a real force, a real energy.
So the question arises, how do we deal with this business? Recall again that we tried to see that one’s own psyche (again a convenient phrase only) is the receptacle of what we call in India karma, all the karmic energies and forces, those which come to us, those which go out from us. We cannot say nay to whatsoever comes to us, as I have already said. In fact I go further and say that we have to be fully sensitive to it and fully awake to it, see exactly what is coming and not shut our eyes to it. Now inside ourselves in the ordinary way a reaction emerges. This is where oneself, the individual comes in. This is where we, as individuals, if we are concerned with living the religious life, have to remain so wide awake, not repressed, not suppressed, but so balanced inside and so perceptive that there is no inevitable reaction of anger, violence and so forth in our own psyche, because we inject that into the world atmosphere. This is a very difficult task, but this is one of the most important tasks of the religieux. This is how we work out karma, as the phrase goes, in the right way. Otherwise you are merely pawns in a game, and we are pawns on the side of the forces of destruction and evil.
Note very carefully, it is not that we fight against evil. If we fight against evil, we are still enclosed in the dualistic realm. It is a state of war. We have to cease from all fighting, because fighting, opposing, trying to impose our particular view upon things, is not the way of creative renewal. It is not the way of transformation of the ill into the good. This is something which is really hard to see. Therefore remain so widely awake that there is no reaction of anger or ill will or malevolence or hate or the desire that the evildoer should be punished, receive his deserts and so forth. Those are all forces of hatred.
It is so easy to delude ourselves that our anger is a righteous anger, a righteous indignation, that it rises up in defence of honour, justice, freedom. It rises up in defence of honour, justice, freedom as defined by me, and that definition in the ultimate analysis is always a self-centred definition. If I were a member of the opposite party, I would be saying the same things, wouldn’t I? Who is to decide where is the right? We cannot decide where is the right, but if we are truly unselfed, then the right will naturally, spontaneously be there. If the mind is pure, that rightness will light up in the pure mind and show us what is the course of action for us. To live the holy life is a far more tremendous achievement (if I may use that word) than doing anything else successfully in the sphere of duality.
Let us not think that this violence and so forth is special to our age. Let me read to you what went on in the time of the Buddha. These are punishments which are meted out to a robber or an adulterer. They flog him or they cut off his hand, his foot, or his hand and foot, his ear, or nose, or ear and nose. They torture him with what is called the gruel-pot… Remember that this is in the time of the Buddha which is just about a century later than the golden age of the supreme insights of the Upaniṣadic teachers. It is an extraordinary situation. We have a counterpart of that in the time of Jesus — the horrible things that were perpetrated by man upon man at a time when Jesus and mighty spiritual beings flourished… There are several things described here, but I will not harrow you with a detailed recital of them. What is important for us is to awake to the fact that there has hardly been a period in human history when man has not perpetuated incredible atrocities upon his fellow man.
Now let us look at what the Buddha taught in order to deal with this. He pointed out, more by implication than explicitly, that within ourselves lie all these forces. If we look at our own feelings and thoughts when we hear the news, when something happens to us, when there is any provocation, we will have to admit that we are quite capable of all the evil that we see the so-called actual evildoer perform. It bubbles up inside our feelings violently, widely, madly, and then perhaps we calm down and wonder, “Surely I couldn’t do that kind of thing, could I?” But that is too late, because I have done it in my feeling and thought already. Recall Jesus’s statement, “He that looketh after a woman with lust hath already committed adultery in his heart.” Look at the teachings as regards the simple moralities in Hindu and in Buddhist teachings. To give you one example, in the Śaṇḍilya Upaniṣad, the simple moralities are the indispensable basis for the whole discipline of Yoga. It starts off with the statement, “In thought and word and deed let there be complete refraining from all harming, let there be complete truthfulness, let there be kindliness, continence, charity, firmness of mind under conditions which are painful or pleasant.” “In thought and word and deed” — now there we have, if I may use such a military phrase, our marching orders as regards living the pure life. In the course of living that sort of life there is something which is extraordinarily significant. A person lived in the forest seeking spiritual wisdom. His name was Kaśyapa. He visited the Venerable Bakkula, who was one of the bhikkhus of the Buddha, one of the old ones. “How long is it since you, Reverend Bakkula, went forth?” (That is, left the home life for the homeless life.) “It must eighty years, friend, since I went forth.”
I must interpose a little personal remark here. There must be some mistake as regards the eighty years. This going forth which was instituted by the Buddha was instituted when he was thirty-five. He himself only lived up to eighty. How could Bakkula have gone forth as a follower of the Buddha for eighty years unless the going forth was a practice which was not exclusively for the followers of the Buddha, but was practised by other teachers and their disciples also? That is a possible explanation. And then later on Bakkula may have taken to the Buddha’s fold. I mention this because we have a way of reading the texts and just reading them blindly. No, read them critically, that is to say with eyes completely open, attending to what is there, so that it passes the bar of reason successfully. This is very important.
“Then how many times during those eighty years have you, Reverend Bakkula, indulged in sexual intercourse?” “Friend Kaśyapa, you should not question me thus. But you could question me thus: ‘How many times during those eighty years, Reverend Bakkula, did perceptions of sensual pleasure arise in you?’” If we examine that very carefully you will see how much more inclusive, how much more profound and psychologically sound is the way that question is phrased, because it takes you to the heart of the matter, the psyche. The actual physical expression of it is only the end point; it is not the wellspring of sensuality. The wellspring is in the psyche —the perceptions of sensual pleasure. That phrase includes all the pleasures of the senses. “During the eighty years that I have gone forth, friend Kaśyapa, I am not aware of any perception of sensual pleasure arising in me.” Then again he goes on, “During the eighty years that I have gone forth, I am not aware of any perception of malevolence or perception of harming arising in me.” How many of us could say something remotely approximating to this state? “I am not aware of any thought of sensual pleasure, thought of malevolence or any thought of harming arising in me.” And so he goes on, with the observing of the simple moralities, which means that here is a person whose psyche was utterly pure, not to be shaken, not to be perturbed, upset by all the strives of psychical evil which flow in upon us every day of our lives. No reaction of any sort of evil arose in this monk.
Bear in mind that the Buddha was well aware of all the cruelties and horrible things that were done in his day in the name of justice, to punish the robber, the adulterer, the murderer and so forth. Here is a discourse in which the Buddha ends up by talking about loving kindness, and generally speaking about love. “Herein, monks, you should train yourselves thus. Neither will our minds become perverted, nor will we utter an evil speech, but kindly and compassionately will we dwell with the mind of friendliness, void of hatred, and we will dwell having suffused that man who spoke unkindly, or harshly or rudely to us, we will dwell having suffused the whole world with a mind far reaching, widespread, immeasurable, without enmity, without malevolence. This is how you must train yourselves, monks.” “Monks, even if low-down thieves might carve one limb from another with a double-handled saw, even then whoever sets his mind at enmity, he for this reason is not a doer of my teaching.” We must be tremendously sensitive to the immensity of this and its significance. If we are sensitive then we will wake up to the potency of the individual psyche which will never react with violence or hate, but will in fact be always full of loving kindness, of compassion. This is how Love becomes an absolute value, a spiritual power and does not remain in that petty, dualistic ambivalent realm of the love/hate seesaw. As long as we are capable of hate (and we are capable of hate essentially because we are self-oriented and self-centred), as long as we are like that our love is only a possessive thing, it is sensuous thing. It is not this Transcendent power, this Absolute Reality, this unknown energy which is Pure Mind, the Divine Power, use any phrase you like, but which the brain will not know, cannot know. But that is the Transcendent value which is Love, and that emerges when our own mind, our own psyche is free of any reaction but is always full of this loving-kindness, this friendliness, this compassion which is void of hatred, which is far reaching, widespread, immeasurable, without enmity, without malevolence.
We constantly ask for some system of discipline. We think in terms of steps on the path to perfection. But we must start by first divesting our minds of this dark cloud of self-centredness. What is this perfection which I seek? It is for myself, isn’t it? I want to escape my troubles, my sorrows, my difficulties, I want solutions for my problems and so forth. It is so difficult to break this shell of selfness. But until we have really burst through this shell of selfness, we as Men can never come into being. We shall always remain sub-human inside the shell. When we have broken through this shell then at last we have entered out own proper kingdom, the human state, and the human state is the one in which the Transcendent values, Love, Wisdom, Goodness, Purity, free of all dualistic conflict, express themselves naturally, spontaneously, as a matter of course in our everyday life. It is this which can heal humanity. We cannot say in this instance that “I must get well and strong myself first and them I’ll go and help the others.” If I say that, it means that my consciousness at root is still isolatively self-conscious. I must really see the fact that the only real meaning of thinking that, if I am whole and well then all the world can be made whole and well, only holds good if I can be free of the consciousness of being separate, unrelated. Then there will be no seeking either for the other fellow or the community or the world on the one hand, or for me on the other hand. This fundamental delusion, which makes us think and live in terms of thou and I, goes out. It is as if a tumour in the soul has at last been removed, a poisonous tumour.
There is another Discourse in which the Buddha speaks to three of his disciples who are living by themselves, living the holy life. You know how the Buddha and his disciples always observed the courtesies, it is one of the very charming things about all these accounts. Never in a discourse do you find the statement “and then so-and-so came into the presence of the Blessed One” and then straightaway plunged into a discussion. They both exchange the greetings and compliments of politeness and courtesy. The Buddha always asks his bhikkus, “How are you getting on, are you all right for almsfood, for your robes and for a place to take shelter in the rainy season?” There is no sort of airy-fairy other-worldliness about it. He is down-to-earth, matter-of-fact. “Here is this disciple. Is he all right, has he enough food, has he shelter, has he clothes?” He had the true social sense, he cared for society, for his brother man. When he visits these three, Anuruddha, Nandiya and Kimbila, having asked the preliminary questions he asks them, “Are you able to carry on the discipline living in harmony regarding each other with the eye of affection like milk and water blending?” Now feel this out. “Like milk and water blending, regarding each other with the eye of affection.” Anuruddha who is the eldest of the three answers for all, but the others also say the same thing after Anuruddha has said it. He says, “Yes, Lord, we do live like this, regarding each other with the eye of affection and living like milk and water blending.” The Buddha asks him, “How do you manage to do that?” Anuruddha says (I am just giving the gist of it), “I put aside what is in my own mind and consider the others all the time.” Each one of them does precisely that with respect to the other two. No “I-ness ” and “thou-ness ”, nor “mine ” or “thine ”, there is a unity, a natural unity to which each one of them is fully awake. You see the implications? In the disciplinary rules of the Order the Buddha says to the bhikkhus, “If your preceptor or your pupil is ill, you must attend to him personally and never leave him. He has no father or mother to look after him, he is your responsibility. You must give up your own period of meditation, etc., in order to look after the one who suffers.” He says, “Whosoever has done that unto any bhikku has done it unto me.” It reminds you of the words of Jesus five centuries later.
We here today in our twentieth century, which is working up towards such a horrible climax of violence and the evil things (definitely the evil things, make no mistake about it), how are we facing this situation? The whole discipline has this single root, to be free of isolative self-consciousness, to be constantly wide awake to oneself and to the total environment, to observe all that is happening. Then there is the growth of understanding and love, it just emerges naturally, unobstructed by the psyche which becomes a prison house because of isolative self-consciousness. And then there are nice phrases like “One Total Reality”, “the Unity of Life and all Mankind”, “We are Brothers” and all the rest of it — it is so easy to talk about it or to sing about it quite lustily when we form part of the choir or whatever it is of the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, “O ye millions I embrace you.” Do I, do I embrace even one wholly and completely, meaning that no feeling of anger or impatience or anything goes out towards that person? This is the embracing of mankind in your heart.
You remember the Earth Meditation which we have sometimes practised, I mean, just gone through here. But what we have gone through here is an external ritual after all. We just close our eyes, sit quietly, I say certain words and you try to follow it in thought. But when you are by yourself (and that does not necessarily mean in the absence of others, you can be wholly yourself, the plenitude of your aloneness can function fully here and now in the midst of others), or when you happen to be alone and there are no other human beings about, you are in a quiet room or maybe in some woodland or whatever it is, enter into this state and enter it with intensity, real intensity. Do not let it become just an emotional wallow in “the Brotherhood of Man” or “the Oneness of Humanity”, but a real intense awakening to the fact of it in your inner consciousness. Then you will be sensitive to all that mankind does. And in that state, watch yourself, not with condescending pity, nor superior hatefulness, “I am better than thou, I don’t do such things.” If you do them that is the same as my having done them, and if I do them that is the same as you having done them. This Thou-I separation has to be out.
If in our inner awareness we are to grow into this realization in completeness, then we must transcend all the limitations of our senses and the indulgence of the senses, our cultural abilities and so forth which demand expression, we must transcend the whole lot of them, we must transcend all our beliefs, our ideas, our aspirations, however sublime they may be. We must see that they are all just passing shapes and most of them are just at best charming little illusions. Those must go. And then the Reality, the unknown Reality, this thing which is divine, which is true perfection, which is God if you like, comes to fruition though me who has ceased to be a separate me.