A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 10th February 1973
This is our eleventh anniversary and, as practically all of you know, these groups were started for the sake of the study of the essence of religion and the nature and practice of meditation, the study of the essence of religion in order particularly that one may understand what was the background against which the Buddha and Buddhism arose. We have tried to look very considerably of course into the Buddhist teachings and also into some of the Brahmanical teachings (mainly therefore the Vedas and Upaniṣads) during these years. Only recently have we started a really serious consideration of the Ṛgveda, and we will be going on from next time, I expect, to the Upaniṣads.
At our last meeting we touched upon something which is the very climax of the whole of the religious life, the meaning of the realization of Immortality. As we all know, whatsoever is born necessarily dies, because whatsoever comes into being as a finite, limited thing or creature is compounded of various elements that make up its or his being. This compounding un-compounds through the passage of time and so there is death. We use lovely phrases sometimes, they are very convenient, they are very inspiring, and they have their significance in their own context. We talk of the eternal hills and the eternal stars and so forth, relatively to us, and in a rough and ready sense they are eternal. But they too are perpetually transforming and un-compounding, because of which they totally lose anything like unchanging identity, so that in fact all our experience, all our knowledge, everything, points to the fact that there is no such thing as this changeless, immortal entity that Man arrogates to himself. None of the other kingdoms of nature carry out any such arrogation to themselves, simply because of course they have not got the ability. We alone, because of our thinking and desiring, and the way our senses and mind function, can make such an assertion.
Last time we looked into this tremendous conflict and found that in actual fact there is no such thing as that sort of spirit or soul being eternal. At the same time all the great religions of the world have unequivocally affirmed Immortality, and shown the ways and means for the realization by the individual, as they say, here-now, of Immortality. With this Immortality they have associated, without wavering at all, the positivity of that affirmation. They have associated bliss and the supreme fulfilment of Man, Man’s happiness in the true sense of the word, not in a mythical heaven hereafter but in the here and now, whilst we live.
So obviously there is a conflict between the two: this very positive affirmation, without any reservation, an unconditional affirmation of Immortality, happiness, bliss on the one hand, for us, here and now, and on the other hand (not in a good many of the theistic religions, true enough, but in all the profound and deep religious teachings and philosophies) the equally unequivocal affirmation that that which is here, the finite, the particular is not an immortal, unchanging, eternally identifiable entity.
Last time we tried to look into this and understand what is the meaning, then, of Immortality. Let me just recall one or two of the essential points. The whole question hinges round the manner in which you and I are aware, are conscious, of our daily existence. We have our various senses, and these senses are the avenues, the windows if you like, through which impressions, sense-impressions, are made upon us. We receive these impressions, the brain co-ordinates them, synthesizes them, makes a thought-structure of them all. This is how we come to know the world. This thought-structure is composed of an endless stream of words, and every single word represents a thing or a person.
It represents actions, relationships, degrees (good, better, best, that sort of thing), and so forth. This is what the words represent, and we are conscious of our existence in terms of words, mainly of words, sometimes of a series of pictures. But the recognizability of those pictures, or a succession of sounds, always get referred back to the word. We say, “I see a series of pictures”, but you can name everything, otherwise you don’t know the picture. The knowing of the picture is the naming of the picture, and that means the words. Since every word represents something which is only finite, limited and particular (therefore something which comes into being, develops or grows, lives and dies), we are therefore conscious of our existence in the mode of mortality. This is due to the fact that we are constituted as we are. This is how we are made. Now the point is that, although this is how it appears to us that we are made, we are not yet sufficiently aware of what lies dormant in us, waiting for development and growth. There are depths of mind, and consciousness associated with mind, which are completely dormant in us, and which only await the urge from within, the interest, the real urge from within, to release these faculties. Also one has to await the suitability of the particular circumstance in which one is. If the circumstances are completely unfavourable, we cannot pursue this, we cannot let these faculties of the mind, which lie within us, develop. Through the ages there have been those who did do this, and what happened was that they became conscious, they became aware of, this same world in which you and I live, in a totally different way.
As I said, we are aware in terms of words, therefore in terms of limitation, finitude, therefore in terms of death. But if the sense functions are allowed to become still, if one penetrates into all the conditioning of the mind, which compels us to interpret all our everyday passing sense-life in terms of mortality, if we get free of that conditioning, this new awareness emerges. The stream of words stops; that does not mean that life stops, far from it, life in its wholeness, its totality goes on, but we now are aware of life and are conscious of existence.
Now, consider that the mode of being conscious in terms of beginning, proceeding, ending, of birth, death as we call it, has been transcended. We are awake, we are conscious, and if the mode of mortality has been transcended and you are fully awake, in what mode are you conscious? Whatever other qualities there may be associated with that mode of consciousness, at least it is the non-mortal mode. It is the im-mortal mode of awareness, and this is what you and I can experience, realize and live in here and now. Here is the meaning, the real living meaning, of Immortality. This is what they experienced, realized, and they lived in consonance with that inward realization, which meant that their life was totally altered.
It was a life wherein confusion, ignorance, conflict, ambivalence, evil, all that suffering, all that dukkha (which is the real dukkha that the Buddha talked of) was out of their lives. We really must penetrate into this because this lies at the very, very heart of the understanding, of the fruition of the religious life, and the emergence into full light of the religious consciousness, the religious awareness, the transcendent awareness of our existence. The affairs of the world went on just the same as before, but they were different, the people were different, and this is how you and I can be different. Physically, of course, pleasure and pain, the pleasant situation, the unpleasant situation, the experience which is physically agreeable and the experience which is physically very disagreeable and painful, all that will come whether you are God Almighty or any old miserable sinner, it makes no difference. That will come physically, as such, but you will be conscious and live totally differently, and this is the important thing to bear in mind, this transformation of oneself. With this transformation of oneself one lives the truly human life, not sub-human. One’s life is pure. What we commonly called the virtues are there in apotheosis, they are transcendentally present. What we call enlightenment, understanding, compassion, they are all operative, fully and completely, without let or hindrance. This is what we mean by the Perfected Holy One; the founders of the religions were people of that nature. They realized from their own living experience, their continuous state of realization, that, as and when human beings changed themselves in this manner, all the ordinary misery and suffering of life would disappear. Why? Because they saw with absolute clarity, with simple clarity, that the conditions of life, apart from those which nature imposes upon up (and we are helpless before those conditions), apart from that, everything that happens in our life is the result of the interaction between the inanimate environment (as well as the animate environment, trees, animals and so forth) and ourselves. If we change, the way we interact, the way we respond to the external world is completely different.
What the world needs is not changing its systems which are already existent, because those systems are ourselves. The evils of society (or whatever it is) are my evils in actual manifestation. If I change, then I do not contribute to greater evil in the world. We do not know for certain precisely what words the Buddha used, but the Buddhist texts constantly talk of the escape from evil, the escape from the ill state. (Escape, I feel, is a bad word to use in the context, I feel that what would be nearer the truth would be to say that one ceases to be a producer, a perpetuator of the ill state). If that is the case, whatsoever comes out of one’s own living and being is something which makes for the well-being in the true sense of the Man, for the fruition, happiness and the fulfilment of the purpose of his existence in this world.
This is why the question of Immortality is so very important, and it is not a question which can be understood, for which we can get an answer, in terms of a philosophical system. Any philosophical system is a thought-structure, a word-structure. So long as thought is the living, immediate expression in the now, here and now, of the functioning of one’s own living intelligence, well and good. The thoughts come out, they are expressed. I will use a word which is not very pleasant, perhaps, but which is very true, we excrete our thoughts out of our minds. Systems of thought are excretions, they are the excreta of the mind. They are a necessary process. Man must necessarily function that way, putting out thought, putting out words, ideas and so forth, because his living process is of that nature. But when he collects what he has excreted and makes a house of it, it is not exactly a very pleasant house to live in, and that is just what we are experiencing in our lives, and have experienced through a couple of million years, or whatever it is.
So you see, the thought-structure, the verbal-structure must be treated as the passing thing. Let it go, don’t be concerned with that. If our living process is one where there is simple, perfect purity, where there is un-selfness, where there is real attentiveness to our whole life, here and now, free of all our false idealisms, our preconceptions, our assumptions, and above all free of our greeds and resentments, and our dreadful, tragic delusions and illusions, then what can life be but perfect and happy? So — this transformation of our mode of awareness of existence. That single sentence, I believe, can sum up the whole of the religious endeavour, the religious life — and I am going to cut out the adjective “religious” and say the whole of human endeavour and human living, this complete transformation of the mode of awareness of existence.
We must get the idea quite clear in our minds, but don’t let the idea become a fixed idea. The letting of the idea become clear means that your living mind, your living intelligence is getting freer of all the illusions, the delusions, the misconcepts with which it is cluttered up. And once that livingness, that quality of livingness, really animates your while mind, your whole being, your whole awareness, you will be the human being. Until then, until I do that, I am just a sub-human being. Do be tremendously sensitive to this.
What do we do in the ordinary way throughout our lives? We pursue pleasure, happiness as we call it, we pursue success as we call it, we pursue love as we call it, all for ourselves. Let us make no mistake about it, we are completely self-oriented. We try to draw or take out of the universe everything that we would like to and want to, which we can compel to come to us, and gorge upon it, under the extraordinary delusion that, “this is good living, real happiness, and what a fine fellow I am!” This is precisely what we do. We rake up memory, our memory of the past, we rake up our acquired knowledge of history, and this, that and the other, and say that in such-and-such a circumstance so-and-so did this, that and the other, and, lo and behold!, what a wonderful time they had, and what success they had, and all the rest of it. And what happens to the whole lot? Into the maw of death.
The Lord of Death swallows us all, and in the being swallowed there is the pain, the terror and the torture of hell, a state of mind, (hell is a state of mind), and it is there with us. We never see that we ourselves (I myself) am the producer of that. I am the one who gives life to the Lord of Death. We do not see it. When we begin to see this sort of thing, to sit back and let go of all our preconceptions, all the ideas that have been put into us, to let go of the dominating influence of our sensations upon the mind, (the mind gets caught up by human fulfilment), if we can let go of greed, of violence, of delusion, of hate, jealousy, envy, ambition, all the misconceptions about Self and Not-Self, if we can get free of this fundamental sorrow in life, the duality between Self and Not-Self, then that which truly constitutes us, (mentally particularly), is free to manifest itself. And what is it that constitutes us? Happiness, health, well-being, purity, wisdom, intelligence, love, truth, beauty, goodness, the whole lot. That is what actually constitutes us, and we spoil our constitution, we make ourselves ill by the misfortune of our ignorance to start with, and the misfortune of the conditioning we must of necessity suffer because of parents, teachers, friends, our society and all the rest of it.
Of course one has to be strong to question everything, and we must question in the right way, not in the destructive spirit, not as mere rebellion against anybody else.
We all see this phenomenon, every generation criticizes its parents, its elders and says, “You’ve made a mess of the world,” and every generation succeeds, very often much better than its parents did, in producing a world which is even worse than ever before and far more terrible and awful. Why? How? Because our rebellion is of the wrong sort. It is not a rebellion “against” that we want, because that is violence, and violence only means that which produces disruption unprofitably, unwise disruption. It is not like the action of the skilled farmer, the skilled gardener, who will weed the meadow, dig up the soil, do all the necessary things, prepare the ground, sow the seed, reap the crop, and so on. That is not violent rebellion against what one feels is not right.
Note the different systems of philosophy which have come up, particularly politically, all those violent reactions against the old order. What do they produce? Even more disorder generally. It is happening in our own lifetime, and has been happening for years, just violence, disorder, it will not do any good. Violence breeds violence. Fear, suspicion, hate breed fear, suspicion, hate, so that is not the way. To question “what is”, we must question, not in the spirit of reaction, but with a completely open mind ready to be able to understand, “Now what is the actual fact of the matter?” If we try to do that, we will make one of the most valuable practical discoveries where our own living process is concerned, namely, who is the person who is examining “what is”? What sort of person is he? Is he capable of such examination? Then I turn around upon myself and say, “Heavens alive, I have been criticizing the situation, and I say that this is so and that is so. I make these magnificent authoritarian statements with regal gestures. But do I know? Am I free from the evil, the conflict, the misery, the confusion which I am criticizing? I myself am like that.” And now one begins to see real light. I say “real light” because now there is a chink in one’s own being, horribly encrusted with evil. Through that chink light comes in, and a transformation process takes place from within. This person is all the evil which he criticizes. I myself am that evil. When I really see this, not as a brilliant, logical, intellectual deduction, but when that inner sensitivity within me is wholly awake to it, then I know it in the manner in which a person, when he really has a flash of true insight, says, “Oh! Of course it’s that!” This “of courseness” comes into the situation from within. It is from there that something pure and clean with the power for perfecting and beautifying begins to emerge and changes oneself, first and foremost, and inevitably the environment feels the effect of it.
When I do that, or when I can do that, I have ceased to invade my environment with my ideas and to impose them violently, inconsiderably, impatiently upon others. It is so easy for us to rush about trying to convince the other person of our viewpoint. Don’t we take an immense delight in doing that? We cannot go about brandishing spears and swords and slaying the enemy physically now, therefore we have turned to this kind of warfare, intellectual warfare, intellectual violence convincing the other fellow. No, leave the other fellow alone! He’s a good chap, perhaps he’s better than I am actually, if I only knew. Let me come to know him, really come to know him, as he actually is, from moment to moment, not as he was twenty years ago, or when he made that particular speech on the platform and made an awful fool of himself, or something like that, but as he is, here and now, the living being. If I am open to him like that, then there is this mystery, and this omnipotent transforming power of true Love comes into being, because where I do not impose the Self upon anybody, I am loving that body. Think this out in connection with love between man and man, between man and wife, parent and child, friend and friend, stranger and stranger. When I have ceased to impose the Self upon anybody then I have ceased to do violence to him.
So you see, all the means by which life can be really beautified and by which the finest and the best can be realized from within ourselves, by ourselves, Immortality itself and that blissful state of perfect poise within (which is unshakeable poise), all this can come into being, and with it a world in which man lives as Man. His every expression, his every action, his every thought and his every feeling is one through which Transcendent Virtue completely expresses itself. It is that Transcendent Virtue which it is Man’s prerogative to call forth, to release from within himself, in response to the universal Transcendent Virtue, and express it in everyday life, remaking this world into a veritable Garden of Eden again.