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Sensitive Watchfulness

A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 22nd September 1972


You may all recall that saying of Eckhart that Man verily is God, God verily is Man. Eckhart, as you know, flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries in a very remarkable age, the age which saw St. Thomas Aquinas, which saw Dante, which saw Tauler and many other great people, including Moses de Leon who compiled the Zohar. All this activity was taking place in western Europe. It was a time when to make statements of that type, “Man verily is God, God verily is Man”, was a very bold and dangerous thing to do, because there was the domination by the Catholic Church as to what a man may say or not say in such matters.

What sort of man had Eckhart in mind when he made that statement? It is something which needs very deep contemplation, with the mind very very quiet. When I say with mind very very quiet, I mean essentially with a mind that is free of all its store of preconceptions and assumptions. We all have our own definitions — this is the perfect Man, that is such and such a type of Man, and so forth. All these definitions have an extremely limited validity because the context in which these definitions arise is itself a very limited context. Applied to that limited context the definition holds good. But here is a statement which has the character of universality about it, “Man verily is God.” We men and women not only have our own definitions and conceptions of Man and different types of Men, we also have our conceptions about God. Those conceptions invariably are limited by all our deficiencies, by all our ignorance. In fact to try to define God is a confession of ignorance. To define God is to try to define the indefinable, because it is the illimitable, it is the unknown to the discursive mind, to all logical propositions, to all logical processes, to all sense observations. All our definitions arise only out of sense observations. But if an Eckhart then said “Man verily is God, God verily is Man,” there must have been in Eckhart himself some extraordinary liberations from all that restricts Man’s mind and mental processes. There must have been inward realization of the nature of that which transcends our ordinary experience of Man, of the sublime, of the beautiful, the perfect and all the rest of it. In the light of that it was possible for him to make such a tremendous assertion despite the dangers of persecution and so forth as a result of making such an assertion.

It is true of all real mystics, of all religieux who do get free of the shackles of limited personality, that universality comes to life through them. The Universal manifests and shines freely though the particular. This is something which we must consider very carefully. The Infinite lives through the finite unhindered, fully, the Universal through the particular. The particular and the finite place no obstruction in the path of the Universal and the Infinite, the Transcendent. If we, as ordinary men and women, look at life and at the world in its wholeness, we see it in terms of the duals, of kindness and cruelty, of violence and gentleness and so forth. In Totality as such everything is included. However from our point of view and our limited criteria, however stressful it may be or however easy it may be, everything is included. If the word God is to mean the Universal, that which has no beginning, no end, that which has no boundaries, no limitations and so forth, then it must of necessity include everything that we as limited human beings experience and know and describe. All that which to us is conflicting, stressful duality is actually integrated into one great whole in the Universal, Infinite, Transcendent Reality. If this remains on the plane of just a logical comprehension, a cold logical comprehension, it will in all probability do harm to human beings and through us, because it is very hard, almost impossible to avoid callousness to human suffering. And the bulk of human suffering comes though violence, fear, ignorance — these are some of the principle factors involved in it. In this situation by ignorance I include the absence of this deep, intense sensitivity to each and every creature, to each and every situation and event. I include the absence of that sensitivity in the word ignorance.

The aspect of mere intellectual perception does not bring any solution, and resolution of this horrible disharmony which is manifest in violence throughout the world. This other aspect of intense sensitivity has to come in. If we like to use a word which is used all over the world, this is the complete Love which takes into oneself everything, and this taking into oneself happens only when oneself is intensely sensitive to everything and everybody. This is what we are not. It is not that we do not have the faculty to be sensitive like that. We all have this faculty to be sensitive like that, this heart of Love which will absorb everything. But what prevents that sensitivity from functioning is our own preoccupation with ourself. We are too prone to react to any and every stimulus in the self-centred way, when something unpleasant comes. “This hurts.” But I don’t just say “This hurts” or “This is hurtful.” I say, “This hurts me.” You see the implication there. If it hurts me I become very conscious of it. But if it hurts the other fellow, I am not conscious of it, I am not so sensitive to it, unless it happens to be some friend of mine or someone of whom I have some appreciation or whatever it is. We are self-conscious in this very enclosed limited way, we are shut within ourselves, in what I have always called this isolative self-consciousness which we have. This is where the difficulty arises. Again, when I say, “This hurts me”, I fail to be sensitively intelligent of the fact that this is hurtfulness. I particularise it. This particular thing hurts me, the particular person. Having particularised it, the effect of hurtfulness as a world phenomenon escapes me. If I am sensitive to hurtfulness as a world phenomenon, then the separative selfness does not interfere with my taking everything into myself, and thereby transformation can go on. It is because I am self-enclosed that there is no change, no real growth.

This is one of the deep meanings of being awake, of being aware. Being awake and being aware has been taught by all the great teachers. So many groups of people today in the world, so many societies, they point this out. But we have to penetrate into the real meaning of this wakefulness, this watchfulness, and that is not easy. Do not watch it merely as a separate object, but in the qualitive aspect as world phenomena. “This is hurtfulness, this is violence.” If oneself becomes sufficiently sensitive to that fact, then violence changes, it disappears out of one’s nature, one ceases to be violent. When the situation happens to be one in which the stimuli coming to oneself are such as to provoke the reaction of violence, because of this extreme sensitivity one is awake and oneself does not react with violence. Instead of violence from oneself, because of that sensitivity one is only compassionate, truly compassionate, not just carried away by a sort of an emotional, slushy feeling. “Poor this, poor that, poor little chap, how awful.” All that nonsense is out of it. But some other serious, real power, psychical power emerges and takes the form of compassion which heals. That compassion first and foremost heals oneself, because it is you yourself who are in that beatific state of compassion. This is the actual job, the actual task of living the religious life. Merely being awake in this cold objective way is not enough. If we impose a morality on ourselves through this cold objective watchfulness, we will say to ourselves, “I must not, I ought not.” But it is always an “I” to start with, which is one mistake, and every “ought” is another mistake. In the living process things happen, and if the living process is not obstructed, they happen sweetly and beautifully and happily always. Look at the way a flower grows, unless there is something which is obstructing it or breaking it down. Sweetly, beautifully, happily the thing happens. So the “I” and the “ought” being out, then life flowers out naturally, which means divinely.

Eckhart said, “Man verily is God.” A good many theologies have unfortunately separated God from Nature, but I would say that Nature verily is God, God verily is Nature, the Whole, the Totality, the Completeness is there. If this sensitivity is allowed free play in us and goes out, what is likely to happen with respect to what we call violence and evil in the limited context of human life? This is a very important point because we have no means of knowing the consequences of what happens in the pure and the beautiful way within ourselves. But what we can perceive is this, that what happens in any one person’s psyche is not restricted to that person. This outward bodily appearance, this solid, physical appearance of bones, flesh, blood, all neatly held in by the skin, is separate from another such manifestation, which is called another man or another woman. But where the psyche is concerned, whilst we undoubtedly have our own distinctive psyches, the psychical process within the psycho-physical organism is not restricted to that organism. It is an influence which affects the world psychical organism. Wars, violence, the precipitation of all the evil things are due to this collective force emanating from individual psyches. As a collective force they affect the individual psyche in the harmful way.

If we try to see it (just for the time being) in terms of an opposition of good and evil, then any one psyche is against the world psyche where evil is concerned and is with the world psyche where good is concerned. If there is evil in my psyche, then the world psyche is going to suffer from me. Because there is evil in the world psyche, my psyche is going to suffer from it. If there is good in the world psyche, my psyche is benefiting by it. If there is good in my psyche, the world is benefiting by it. This of course is a process, an activity, which is quite immeasurable. We cannot measure it. But we have to understand it for ourselves. But that does not mean that we have to believe what has been said just now. It is not a question of believing it. It is a question of so clearly understanding it, so fully seeing “Yes, of course this is so,” that we have no problem of a conflict within our own psyche, within our own mind, of “Is this so, or is this not so?” When a conflicting state like that afflicts us what happens is that we talk to ourselves in this manner. “If this were the truth and the fact, then I ought to act like this, that and the other, but if that were the truth and the fact, then I ought to act in another manner.” Both statements are the result of the confused mind, the mind which is ignorant, which is groping.

So, we have to see the thing for ourselves. By all means listen to another’s words, read somebody’s book. We cannot avoid all these things. It is impossible to get rid of interaction with all other human beings around us. And even if there is not a spoken word or the written word, silently these psychical energies are all the time interacting, and the messages are coming to us and we are sending messages out. All the time this activity is going on, we cannot stop it. We remain watchful, sensitively watchful, because we care for this. We cannot force ourselves to be watchful. We cannot say, “I ought to be watchful.” The moment I say, “I ought to be watchful,” I have expelled myself from the heavenly society! If we are watchful because we care for this, because we are really religious-natured, and religion means something to us, then we will see in this sense. It is this seeing which is the enlightening of the mind.

You see one of the very important implications of this. This seeing is not a one act, a single act or a single event, and then “Ah, I have seen now for ever and ever.” It is not the case. I have to see continuously. Why? Because I am living continuously, and the living being has to see continuously. We have to hear continuously. (I am using the words not merely physically but psychologically, mentally.) Consider for instance, when you and I are walking in the street. We cannot take sort of one look at the whole length of Oxford Street and then shut our eyes and try to walk. Something will happen! We have to use our eyes continuously. It is precisely like that where this inner life is concerned. This Eye of the soul, this Eye of the spirit, this divine Eye, has to be consistently open.

You know how they say, “The Yogi never sleeps.” This is one of the meanings of that statement. We have to be constantly watchful. Just as when we are walking in a crowded street, we use our eyes and our good sense and avoid all the hazards (sometimes we brush against somebody or some little thing like that happens, but that is all right), and we get to the end of the journey, and we are safe all the way through. So too inwardly we have to use our mental eye, our spiritual eye and keep it open all the time and avoid the hazards, which are the evil things of the world. We will know the evil things of the world if our spiritual eye is open this way without needing to define them. We all know how the body has its pleasure-pain mechanism, inbuilt in the living body. It tells us, “This is all right, this won’t harm the body.” The body just responds in these sensible, intelligent ways and comes to no harm therefore. It does not have to define every sensation which it receives. It does not have to sort of feed it into a computer and then depend on what the computer answers; saying, “Is this going to be an ill sensation which will destroy me or one which will promote my healthy life?” It does not have to do that. It is the same with the spiritual eye, you just know, and all the fiddle-faddle of definition is out But it has to be this sort of intense sensitivity which enables one to be free of the limitation in terms of the isolative I self-conscious I, the ego. This is quite different from fighting against selfishness, from striving to be unselfish and so forth. Apply this to the whole situation which we call violence in life. Violence is a destructive act which expresses hate, revenge, ignorance, stupidity and all sorts of things. But if one is sensitive to the reality of violence throughout the world as such, in that intense sensitivity, with the eye of the spirit open and seeing it for what it is, one moves through life and avoids that hazard of violence. Because oneself moves that way harmoniously, therefore one is spreading harmony in one’s environment as one moves through the situation.

I am putting it in sort of general philosophical terms for consideration. In everyday life we come up against specific situations and specific actions and so on which involve the phenomenon of violence. But it is necessary to understand the basic reality, the basic nature of this whole phenomenon in order to help our watchfulness, our mindfulness, to be effective, otherwise it is not effective. Have we not often and often come across people who say, “I have been practising this mindfulness for the last twenty years, sixty years, and I am in the same old place for ever!” Well, there is no alternative, go on practising violence for the next hundred and twenty years!

What is lacking in the mindfulness is the intensity and the intelligence. “This is such-and-such a phenomenon,” not “I am violent” or “He is violent.” But “This is the thing in itself.” And then there is freedom within oneself, and one can be quiet. Then too when one sees violence around one, or one hears of violence perpetrated all over the world, one never reacts in terms of violence in one’s mind. If one does not react in terms of violence within one’s own mind, then one is not throwing out the energy which is violence into the psychical atmosphere in the world. One is not contributing to the world violence. One has ceased to contribute to it. If violence has ceased inside oneself, then there is harmlessness inside one.

For some months I avoided using my famous old statement, “Get rid of the dirt and the room is clean. You cannot put cleanness into it.” If there is violence in my psyche, I can’t sprinkle harmlessness in the psyche, and say, “Open sesame” or something, and, lo and behold, I have ceased to be violent! I have to see the violence and in that seeing the violence disappears, and the psyche is now harmless. Such a person can contribute in so many practical ways in the councils of the world and so forth, to bring about the harmless state. It may be that men like U Thant for instance had that something about them. He seems to me to have been a person who had that something about him, he understood this and did not contribute to the violence in the world. He was an influence of peace in his own way. Dag Hammarskjöld too was another example. These two just happen to come into my mind in the political sphere because that affects large masses of people in the world.

This matter is so closely tied up with the question of one’s own peace of mind, one’s own real happiness. We try to chase happiness in various social forms which are not productive of real happiness at all. We are conditioned by our society to do this and to do the other and so forth, “Oh, we’ll all have a happy time.” The result is dust and ashes. Why? Because these contrived ways to try to obtain happiness are more often than not acts of violence upon our own psychophysical constitution. We all have heard of this wonderful phrase the morning after the night before feeling, which is an ache. It must be a curious person who associates happiness with aches! Why the ache? Because we have done a violence upon the psychophysical organism. Take that into the psychological sphere, into the sphere of human relationships and so forth. We are all the time committing some sort of violence because of this insensitivity, the contrived ways to produce happiness. It is quite a mistake. Let us just not do that which makes us ill, and then we are well! That’s our natural state.

A question from a student about unhappiness and rejection.

Out of hand rejection is a violent act. We do it again and again throughout the day. This is why it is so necessary to remain wide awake and sensitive. Then there is no rejection out of hand, of blind acceptance, whichever it may be. There has to be understanding and when the understanding is there there is poise, there is balance, there is the state of compassion. In that state of compassion, which is only the other aspect of understanding, there is happiness, the real happiness, although the external event, the actual immediate situation, may be one of pain and difficulty, danger and all the rest of it. The intellect can see this logically, simply because we have fairly well-trained intellects. We have been educated and we can see the logic of the whole thing, and we say, “Yes, of course, that is true.” But saying it merely logically, coldly, intellectually does not mean that we have actually seen the truth of the matter so intensely that we are that truth now. The logical, intellectual seeing is seeing at a distance. I am not it, but when the sensitivity is also functions, then I am that truth. You get Śrī Kṛṣṇa as well as Jesus saying the identical thing, “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.” “I am the Truth.”

A question from another student about Fear.

That is perfectly true, that fear plays a very important part, a very dominant part in the whole situation. But that is what it is. We can bring in all sorts of particular things like fear and so forth. But if we just see that this watchfulness has to be total, complete. Then all these elements which prevent us from being at peace and really happy all disappear simultaneously. There is no sense in trying to tackle them one by one, because it is not one part of the psyche which is concerned with fear and another part which is concerned with cruelty or hate or delusion or anything. The whole psyche is like that. Where the body is concerned, we have separate organs for separate purposes. But the psyche unlike the body does not have separate organs whose function produces cruelty or gentleness or violence or kindness or whatever it is. It is not like that. You cannot separate out the parts. So, do not get too concerned with the parts. Use any one part like violence or fear or anything else as the starting point for the total understanding. You see the whole thing. If you have really freed yourself, say, from fear, you will also have freed yourself from violence and many other things. Either the psyche is wholly ill or it is wholly well, the whole of it functions that way, the body which can have one organ which is in trouble and the rest of the body is all right.

This is something which we must see very clearly, because you know we say, “I understand it a little bit and tomorrow I will understand it a little bit more and next year I shall have fully understood it.” That is quite a mistaken notion. Understanding as such is a complete understanding. The acquisition of knowledge is a process in bits. Today you have gained this much knowledge or have developed this much skill, and next year you have grown in your knowledge or your skill. That’s all right. This is where measurement comes in. But as regards this matter of the mind which has clarity in it or an absence of clarity, that is an instantaneous thing. One has to appreciate that. That is why this way of presenting the spiritual life as steps on the path to enlightenment or liberation or freedom, or whatever it is, is a mistaken presentation. So we have to be careful about all that.


Tim Surtell
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