The Interdependence of Realization and Discipline
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 8th April 1973
The great teachers of the past, concerned with discovering the nature of ultimate reality and the destiny and fulfilment of man in relation to that ultimate reality, completely understood the human mind and heart, in that process of discovery. They knew fully what the mind and heart of the ‘man of the world’, with his difficulties, his confusions and his troubles was like, and through their own purification, and through freeing themselves completely from all illusions and delusions, they realized the state of the absolutely pure mind within themselves. They were the purified, perfected Holy Ones. So, they were masters of both psychologies: the psychology of the imperfect ‘man of the world’, the ‘man of sin’, if we may use such a phrase, and they also knew all about the psychology of the perfected Holy One and how the mind functioned. Therefore they also knew all about what we commonly call ‘consciousness’. They summed up their realization of ultimate reality in terms of ‘consciousness’, and they said that the ultimate reality, which they named Ātma or Brahman was absolute consciousness — utterly pure, the all-full, the blissful. They used phrases like that to describe this state, and they said that that was the total reality, the ultimate reality.
It is necessary for us to understand this a little clearly because it is so easy to think atamystically, pseudo-scientifically, and say that the universe which we experience through our senses is ultimately ‘consciousness’. There are those who would like not to use the word ‘consciousness’ , but say it is pure ‘mind’, ‘absolute mind’. Now what do we mean when we say that the ultimate reality is ‘consciousness’? I’ll use the word ‘consciousness’ because it applies more to the Upaniṣadic presentation, and we are considering the Upaniṣads at present. What do we mean by saying that ‘consciousness’ is the totality? Obviously, your ‘consciousness’ or my ‘consciousness’ is not that piano or those books or the flowers in the field or anything like that. In observing the totality of the world, in observing ourselves and what happens to us all through our life, the mind is the important factor involved in sensing, in cognizing that which is conveyed to us. And the mind used instrumentally in this way makes its own picture of the world. There is an image produced in the mind, an image due to the impingement of stimuli, from outside or from within, as the case may be, an impingement which produces an impress on the mind, and the nature of that impress, and perhaps even the shape of that impress, depends not only on the stimulus but upon oneself. The mind — supposing we compare it to a sensitive photographic plate or film — according to the quality of the film, there will be differences in the picture. Now, in the case of the human mind, everyone’s mind is a different kind of film, different from anyone else’s mind. There is this individual uniqueness, something which we cannot tabulate. There is no means of comparing the particular sensitivity of any one mind with another mind. We get general impressions, we try to compare, but it is a mistake to attempt to compare. Now, this impress upon the mind conditions the mind and in searching for the ultimate essence of it all, what the sage, the Holy One has to do, is to recognize all the conditioning that is present, all the impressions that have been made, and realize that any particular impression or conditioning is not the ultimate ‘real’. You can let all of them go until one arrives at the state in which the mind is utterly empty of all particular pictures, thoughts, ideas, feelings and so on. All our knowledge of nature, science, history, geography or anything whatsoever, is something which is particular and conditioned. We drop all that and yet remain awake. Unless one has practised assiduously one has no idea of what it means to become free of all these pictures and conditioning. When that freedom from all pictures and conditioning is realized, then the mind is in that state which is the void, which is identical with the plenitude. The paradox is because, out of this very void, which is the plenitude, when you come back to your ordinary state of sense-mind functioning that all the pictures will start up again. The world as we know it — as so many particulars — comes into being again, with sense-mind functioning. The world in its absoluteness, in its totality is present, when all these pictures are out. You are not unconscious — do remember. Many an experimental psychologist of modern times has stumbled there. He says this is a state of vacuity; it is of secondary importance; that the active stage in which the sense impressions are strongly, powerfully at work, is the primary important advanced state. Well, it’s like the person who’s trying to tell you exactly what a banana tastes like without ever in his life actually having tasted a banana. So one need not listen to him really.
So you see, there are these two: the state of the void which is the plenitude, and the state where the particulars are all present as separate particulars. Now, it was this condition, this state of the void which is the plenitude, which they refer to when they use the word Ātma, and said it is the ‘all-full’, the ‘blissful’. Now here we must be very careful not to associate pleasure, the concept of pleasure, with the blissful. The blissful has nothing whatsoever to do with pleasure, the pleasant, the agreeable, the what we may intellectually postulate as the most worthwhile and so forth. We don’t know what bliss means. It is the transcendent experiencing, and yet we enter into the blissful state every night in sleep, in that part of sleep which is dreamless slumber. That is why in the Upaniṣads you will find this peculiar statement — that in dreamless slumber the Ātma goes back fully into its own realm. These are extremely difficult things to understand. It is only through practice, through some sort of realization which emerges in you yourself that you really awake to the inner meaning, the meaning which transcends all verbal expression of this word Ātma or the word ‘spirit’ or ‘God’ or any such word that you like to use. But this much we can talk about analytically. I have tried to suggest what it means when we use the phrase ‘realizing the Ātma’, and that the Ātma or, to use the other word Brahman, is the ultimate reality. But don’t think of it pseudo-scientifically in terms of the objects of the universe. It all applies fundamentally to you yourself, to me myself and my mind process and the nature of my awareness in the state when the void — plenitude is the one and only reality pervading my whole being, and in the ordinary worldly state, when all the sense impressions are present. Is that reasonably clear?
Now we can go on. All the religious disciplines of the world, whatever they are, have this as the final, culminating point. Having entered into that supreme state — the Buddha called it the ‘Cessation’; the Upaniṣads called it ‘Realizing the Ātma’; Jesus referred to it as ‘The Kingdom of Heaven within you’; the Buddha also called it ‘Nirvana’ — having realized that state then you come back to ordinary everyday life. People say, ‘And, well, what about it? What’s the use of it? ‘The question is the question asked by an ignorant person. There is no possibility of applying the criterion of utility to human fulfilment in any shape or form. What is the use of the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven or Shakespeare or Dante or Michelangelo? None at all. But this is the point to bear in mind: that to realize the fulfilment of Man in the religious context so completely transforms and purifies him, that he has ceased to be a producer of evil, of confusion, of sorrow and misery in the world. He is the one who can be rightly called the practical, hard-headed, clear-seeing one. All the others who claim to be practical are the most impractical people in the world. Look at the state of the world with all these wonderful, practical people!
He is the one who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that what he himself, the living person is, is the root cause of the state of the world. If there was a sufficiently large minority of people who were purified and holy, our entire political, economic, social condition and management of affairs would be different. It would at last enter the human state instead of being in this bestial sub-human state that it has been in throughout the ages. This is the one and only solution. All political or economic systems, whatever they are, are the result of all of us, with our desires, our outlooks, our ambitions, greeds and all our pleasant aspects too at work. And we see what the result is. It is a vast confusion. So now, the religious discipline, whatever it was, was directed towards the perfecting, the purifying of the human mind and heart. That is why this purification process, the moralities, are the absolute indispensable basis for any sort of human living, let alone religious living in any very profound sense. So now, if we understand this, then we can really appreciate the teachings of all the great religions. Otherwise they are closed books to us.
Now I am saying all this because, as you know, in our own world today there is this great religious upsurge side-by-side with the other upsurge which is throwing religion overboard. Put it in another form. We get the two extremes: the pursuit of pleasure, a reckless, licentious self-indulgence on the one hand rampant; and we get at the other end people like ourselves who are striving for the supreme, the perfect, the beautiful, the worthwhile, the human. So there are these two conflicting elements at play. And in the purification process we must bear in mind very very clearly that we do this not for ourselves, not in order to solve our personal problems or to obtain some consolation or to achieve peace of mind or gain psychic powers or success or anything like that in life. Be very careful about this, because if we have the least element of self-orientation, we are worldlings only, not religious, because the religious state is the complete reversal of the worldling state. It is no longer a directing of energy towards producing something which is most worthwhile for oneself, the individual, nor is it a utilization of energy in any and every shape for producing the worthwhile for others, as we call them. Do try and get this. It’s not very easy to see. One does it quite impersonally as a matter of course. It is the natural thing, that is all. It is natural to be religious, to be human. It is unnatural to be self-indulgent. It is unnatural to impose an idealistic unselfishness upon oneself, to devote one’s life for the welfare of others, because, you see, if I devote my life to the welfare of others, I’m a conceited person… thoroughly conceited.
I assume that I am capable of promoting another person’s welfare. Am I? It’s extremely doubtful. Now, supposing I do have the capacity to promote another person’s welfare, then the question which arises is, have I any right to intrude upon his personal life, to promote his welfare? Look at the extraordinary nuisance all the do-gooders of the world are. The bulk of them deplete your bank balance, if only by a few pence, for good causes. This is not the religious life at all. The religious life is the complete transformation, the complete turning inside-out of one’s awareness of existence and one’s relationship to the totality, not just to oneself or the not-self, the outside oneself, but to totality which includes oneself. Now, if that transformation takes place, then oneself just lives that sort of life naturally. You see, there is no motive involved - no personal motive involved — however unselfish it may sound, however exalted it may be, and all the rest of it. And when we talk of human welfare and helping the world and so forth, just precisely what do we mean by it?
What have we in mind, that a person shall not be hungry, that he shall not be devoid of a home, of a job, of his comforts, his television, he can do what he likes? All illusions. You see, we, the religious people are very worldly-minded. Look deeply. We direct our energies towards the goods of the earth, whether they be physical goods or cultural goods. And you see, the sad part of the story is that this is so deeply ingrained in us it works largely unconsciously. Whatever the conscious mind may say, the unconscious just laughs at us. Therefore it becomes imperative that we should really understand and become fully acquainted with our psychical life, our mental life as such, and our mind processes. And this is where the great religious teachings come in. But unless we understand all this as the background, we will invariably and inevitably misapply ourselves where the religious life is concerned. When you go home, or whenever you have the opportunity, sit quietly and look into yourself, ‘What precisely do I mean?’ Say to yourself ‘What precisely do I mean by practising the religious disciplines? What for? Why? How do I set about it?’ You watch it and you see how utterly self-centred, egoistic it is. It’s a terrible discovery. Look, it took me something like half a century practically; fifty years to wake up to the fact that this is what I do when I go for the religious life. It’s not easy to discover because it is so subtle and so deeply ingrained. You will naturally want to know why it is like that with us. The answer in fact is extremely simple. There are — if we may put it in that form just for convenience — there are two lives in us; the one life of body and mind which is influenced by the fact that the body has evolved out of some primordial, animal ancestor, and because of that, every cell of the body has the forces, essentially of greed, of fear, and of aggression in it. Every cell has this. And, overriding it all, every cell is concerned with self-preservation, which it achieves through self-reproduction. The cells multiply in order to keep the whole business going. But you see, here is this tremendous natural force which, integrated by the brain as so much knowledge, makes us unconsciously work for ourselves. So the body and the mind work for the self because the body, which is the indispensable source of our existence and our processes, is derived from the animal, and it has all this absolutely ingrained in it. Don’t just listen to this as words, as thoughts, as ideas. Become really sensitive to it from within, because if you don’t become totally sensitive to it from within, you will never have the power or the strength to free yourselves from this devilish domination.
Now, there is the other side, our experience through the ages. We’ve had a million, two million years that we have been human, and in that period, this thing called mind has awakened to itself and its potentialities sufficiently to have the vision of transcendence towards which the whole of the human being is evolving. That is why the great religious teachings say that God, the Divine, the Perfect, the Buddha, is imminent in us. So, you see, one aspect of us is this completely enclosed, self-oriented thing, and this other aspect, because of this transcendent reality imminent in us, is striving to move out of its limitations, that is to say, not move out of or deny the body, far from it, but to transform the whole psycho-physical being, so that this psycho-physical being is now no longer under the domination of its animal ancestry, or shall I say, of nature’s evolutionary heritage, but is now the medium through which transcendence functions freely and fully. When that happens, this self-enclosing ‘I-ness’, egohood, has completely disappeared. It has ceased to obstruct the true man. As I say again and again, we must be extremely sensitive to it. According to the intensity of that sensitivity the freedom is there. We don’t purify our living being in the way that we sweep the dust out of a room — the analogy doesn’t apply. Our purification is not a process of getting rid of the unwanted. Our purification is a process of moment to moment growing (in the living sense), in such a way that that which was not really healthy becomes completely healthy. But in order that it may become completely healthy, there must be the absolute freedom from any desire to achieve, to attain, etc., etc., because that is always self-oriented, and that is the source of poison in our being. When you really begin to thrill to that, you will find that, when you read the word of scripture it will come to life and not be just black carbon print upon white paper. This is the great thing, this tremendous sensitivity which is not a desire to be religious and attain perfection, not at all. Desire is personal. My desire is the thing that obstructs ‘Thy will’. Let the Universal Will operate. It does operate all the time, but I have the power to obstruct it by my desire. Hence the teaching in all the great religions to be completely free of all desire, what we call good desire as well as bad desires, evil desires, because whatever my desire is, it is always self-oriented. I cannot have a desire without its being self-oriented in some way or another. And that is the obstruction.
Now, I’ll quote some passages out of the Upaniṣads dealing with the discipline and the coming-to-fruition of ourselves as human beings. Remember the truly fulfilled human being, to use a Christian phrase ‘the Son of Man’, is no other than the Son of God. They are an identity. So now, here it is from the Kaṭa Upaniṣad:
He who has understanding
Who is mindful and ever pure
Reaches the goal
From which he is born no more.
‘He who has understanding’ is ‘mindful and ever pure’. Note the emphasis.
‘Reaches the goal from which he is born no more’. Now just because the Upaniṣads belong to India, everybody misinterprets the last line by saying, ‘Ah, all his reincarnations cease’. Now, be very careful. In my ordinary life, in my ordinary way, how am I born again and again? Every moment or every hour or every day — how am I born? By self-identification with all my ordinary life processes, my desires, my pursuits. Something happens and I feel, ‘Ah, I’ll go and do that’, and because I identify myself with that I am born at that moment in that. I cling to it, I want to develop it, I want to bring it to fruition in the way that is agreeable to me, remember. It can never be otherwise unless I’m ripe for the mental home. Isn’t that so? That is how we live. So I am born in that moment. When the thing has come to the end, it is out of my awareness, my self-identification with that has ceased, I am dead. And the very next stimulus, the very next situation or event is the thing or person or whatever it is, with which I identify myself. I am reborn. My consciousness, my attention in fact, flicks from here to there just like a monkey jumping from one place to another. And in each particular situation I am born and I die… I am born and I die. And this is the fundamental meaning of Saṁsāra, the cycle of births and deaths. The Maitri Upaniṣad says quite unequivocally Saṁsāra is just one’s own thought process, one’s attention process. But he who has understanding, who is mindful and ever pure, reaches the goal. Now what is the implication there? If I am mindful, truly mindful, and ever pure, I do not identify myself with the ordinary becoming process as it throws up situation after situation, event after event. I am not attached to it, nor am I averse to it. Both attachment and aversion are involved in self-identification.
Take human life all the world over. Take the relationship of man and wife, which is one of the best examples of it. They are either attached to each other or, if they don’t get along together, then there is aversion instead of attachment. Usually it is a mixture of both. But what happens with attachment? There is bondage. What happens with aversion, you’re equally bound by aversion? Haven’t you seen human lives bound to each other, they can’t get away from each other although they live a cat and a dog life together. It’s an extraordinary thing that the opposites equally bind. There is no freedom. Freedom is the transcendence of the opposites, and the transcending of the opposites takes place when the opposites are fully understood. And in that full understanding one is neither attached nor averse to either of the opposites. And in that is freedom. Pursue your desire, pursue what you like, pursue what the intellect says: ‘Oh, this is the right and the proper thing to do. I’ll do it at any cost, even if I have to die for it’. All those things are illusions. That’s the wrong way. Observe completely without taking sides. Be mindful in the profound sense, the true sense and you will find that freedom will be present. We don’t know at all what freedom is. What we do know is licence, that’s all. We are not a free people anywhere in the world. We are a licentious people. These are terrible facts to wake up to but, we have to wake up to them whatever intellectual and emotional distress it may cause us. So, if and when that state of freedom is present, it is no longer a case of ‘I am free’ or ‘you are free’, it is a case of ‘there is freedom,’ the overriding situation in which you or I live and function as free people. I have sometimes put it in this form: freedom begins at the peak point of self-restraint. But the drawback of that expression is that self-restraint is understood as a forcible prevention of oneself. There is no forcible prevention. If there is the purification, if there is the real mindfulness, the real attentiveness, then you are just naturally neither attached nor averse, and you are free. And that is all there is to it. If you haven’t got a cold or a headache or a bellyache or anything, you are just naturally healthy, aren’t you? So, if you haven’t the attachment or the aversion, but you are completely observant without taking sides, then you are free. That is freedom, and in that state there is no question of being born or dying in every changing situation into which one enters day after day of one’s life. This is the end of the cycle of births and deaths.
Then the same Upaniṣad has this:
An intelligent man should suppress (the word ‘suppress’ is a correct literal translation of the original Sanskrit)
An intelligent man should repress his speech and his mind
The latter he should suppress in his understanding
The understanding he should suppress
In unerring insight
That unerring insight he should suppress
In the tranquil Ātma, the ever-blissful Ātma
Now, with regard to this word ‘suppress’; ‘control’ would be another word but both words fail to convey the actual meaning of the original teaching. When I am awake, and when I am in the state of dreaming-sleep there is a continuous chatter going on in my mind. I’m chattering either silently, and I then call it ‘thinking’ , or I’m talking aloud, and other people call it ‘talking’ , but the two phenomena are the one identical phenomenon, the movement of speech in your consciousness, without cessation, speech which is associated with sight, images, sounds, tastes, smells, your memory of them, and so forth. But every one of these others is associated with words, because if you say, ‘Oh, I was playing this particular tune in my mind’, the recognition of that tune is described and recognized — re—cognized — through the instrumentality of the word, the name, speech. So, there is this speech process going on constantly in the mind. This is the superficial mind at work, just the discursive mind, the surface layer. If one really observes that continuous speech process, you will find that with complete attentiveness that stream of speech will calm down.
You may find that it will stop altogether. The sense functions will be completely pacified, in other words. The sense activities will cease to obtrude themselves upon the deeper layers of the mind, or, to put it in another way, to shut out the activity of the deeper layers of the mind. When that happens the understanding Ātma, the understanding self comes into operation. I have used the word ‘sensitivity’, this inner sensitivity, and the understanding means inner sensitivity. It does not mean ‘understanding’ in the ordinary sense, in which whatever we understand we can talk about perfectly lucidly. This is still all in the speech realm, but when that speech realm, which is for convenience’s sake called the surface of the mind, when that is quietened, then the sensitivity inside, the next layer (so to say) within, which is this deep sensitivity, begins to operate, and you understand ‘speechlessly’, ‘thoughtlessly’. You get it? And it is this understanding which comes into play through any sort of real meditative or contemplative discipline. Now, this understanding works without the instrumentality of speech; without the instrumentality of all sense-impressions and sense-forms. It is a power of the mind. Then you go still deeper, and that too is calmed down, the suppressing means to let it calm down. This ‘suppress’ is a bad word to use, but it is the literal translation of the original Sanskrit. You must let it calm down by just being completely attentive, that’s all, and then is this deeper layer of insight, which is called Buddhi. Buddhi has been translated by great scholars even as ‘intellect’ which is a hopeless translation. So many like to say ‘intuition’. Intuition is also a hopeless word, because intuition can make any number of mistakes, and intuition is very much tied to our animal, organic life. Animals have intuition of the sort we have. This is unerring insight; an awareness of the true nature of the thing or the event or the person or the situation as you actually live through it. It is the most extraordinary thing. That is Buddhi, and when you let the operation of that insight also calm down completely, then the innermost core of the mind and mind processes comes to life, and this state of peace, of Śānti, the Śānt Ātma, the innermost, essential nature, which is of the nature of peace, bliss, freedom, is actually in operation in your own psycho-physical being without let or hindrance. You see these are the things which are not explained or put into writing. So when one reads the old scriptures, one reads in accordance with the darkness of one’s own conditioned mind, of one’s own disturbed, confused, impure state. So we don’t get the essence of the scripture, but the scripture in a literal sense is indeed the word of God, but I can’t read the Godhood in the word as long as I am confused, disturbed, impure and so forth. I read it only as the unhappy animals struggling in this world. That is how I read it. You see, religion is not a light task. Supposing you are musical, don’t say, ‘Oh well, I’ll produce greater symphonies than Beethoven or greater music dramas than Wagner’s straight off’. You can’t do it. This is conceit. If you’re born that way you will hardly know that you are born that way but it will emerge despite any difficulties and oppositions. Look at the lives of all the great creative geniuses of the world. Despite all that which obstructed them, transcendent beauty found material expression, and isn’t this the marvel of art? It’s like that. It’s the same with the religious life, with the Holy One. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I think I’ll follow this profession. I’ll become the Holy One’. It’s not a professional activity. It’s not even underpaid. It’s very richly paid in trouble and difficulty put in your path by others.
Well now, those few lines of the Kaṭa Upaniṣad, what a lot there is in them. The field of religion is not a particular field of life. It is the totality of life. This is why religion is utterly different from philosophy, science, art… utterly different. Those three stem from, and are intimately related to and bound up with, each individual human being as he is, whatever his condition may be. But religion is concerned with each and every individual human being, not merely as he is, but in his complete and ultimate fulfilment and fruition, which means that he is no longer just Mr John Smith any more, but he is the whole of humanity. When the Son of Man realizes that he is the Son of God he is no longer just the one person. He is the totality. The totality has come to life through the individual. The in-finite has come into complete manifestation and expression through the finite particular. This is the awesome, majestic part. And only man can realize this. And only through man can this extraordinary thing come to fruition and fulfillment, and that is your divine destiny if you like to put it that way.