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The Meaning of Attention

The Dilkusha Talks

Phiroz Mehta outside Dilkusha
Phiroz Mehta outside Dilkusha

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A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 9th February 1974

Confusion of mind is inevitable, due to the animal descent of the body. We have to keep awake, mindful, attentive. Attention undergoes distortion because of our conditioning. It is conditioned attention, not pure attention. Attention in the pure sense is being that of which we are conscious. The mind is empty, not obstructing truth.

Catalogue number D171
Duration 52 minutes
Recording quality Excellent - speech is very clear with little or no background noise


You all know, theoretically at least, that we meet here because our concernis religion, the living of the Holy Life, in its practical aspect, the bringingto fruition of the religiousness which is our supreme characteristic as humanbeings, distinguishing us from all the rest of the animal world.Thisperhaps we believe sincerely enough.Is that belief a fact? Do we really understand what it means to be concerned with living thereligious life, with bringing to fruition this extraordinary characteristic ofreligiousness, which shows us up in our unique aspect, (there are so many otheraspects which we share with the animals, we all know that), this religiousnesswithin us, this capacity for the awareness of Transcendence, this possibilityfor realizing harmonious egohood here and now, as many have realized, (manypeople who do not claim to be religious realize in the world), and thentranscending that egohood, becoming the egoless being whilst living as aseparate ego, and being completely unified with totality, with the TranscendentReal in consciousness?

Is that a fact with us?Do we understand the enormity of it? This is where all of us, however sincere we may be, fall short in someway or another, perhaps in many ways.Inevitably there is a confusion inthe mind because of, first and foremost, our animal descent.The bodycomes from an animal ancestor, and therefore we inherit the instincts anddrives and some of the outstanding characteristics of the animal, likeaggression, fear and so forth.Partly because of that, and partly becauseof the fact that the mind in us, which is aware of that which is quite beyondconflict and confusion and the ill state, lives by a law which is contrary, apparentlycontrary, to the law of the animal.The law of the animal is that itdraws unto itself from the world in order that it may survive, and that it maylive for the purpose also of the propagation of its own species.That isthe law of the animal, but Man is a social animal, not being confined togregariousness as the animals are, and he has an intelligent understanding ofthe worth and value of individuality, living in co-operation, voluntaryco-operation and harmony, with other members of society who are also individualand unique.So there is that great difference, it is not a meregregariousness.The law of this sort of living, and of so growing in one’smind and heart through purification, through freedom from all that clutters upthe mind, is that one realizes Transcendence itself.That is ourspeciality, if we may so call it, what the theistic mystics have called the uniomystica, what in the Upaniṣads (and Hinduism generally) is presented asrealizing the Ātma, or, which is an exact equivalent of it, becoming Brahman,what is presented in other terms as entering the Kingdom of Heaven or realizing Nirvana.

Now all that is for us.We are the vehicles, the instruments, throughwhich that phenomenon comes into being.If we look at it that way, we canlook at it in a manner which is a little more free of the shackles ofself-orientedness, of self-centredness.Never do I enter Nirvana,there is no such thing, absolutely none.This is one of the wonderfulthings you will find, for instance, in one of the Discourses of the Buddha,where he is talking about Sāriputta (his great disciple, “the son of his mouth”,as he called him).He is talking of Sāriputta realizing the deep statesof consciousness, right up to the depth of Nirvana, and he says, “Butwhilst he is entering these states and emerging out of them, Sāriputta is neverconscious in terms of I am entering, or I am emerging.” A mostsignificant statement.

God is the All, the Absolute All.Brahman is the Absolute All. The Reality, the Totality, is the Absolute All, and the Absolute All isthe One and Only Reality, the One and Only Whole, the One and Only because ofwhich we use the word Universe.And it is this Universe that throws upinnumerable phenomena, absolutely countless, and one of these phenomena is thephenomenon of the human being realizing that state of being and awareness whichis named Transcendence, or Brahman, or Nirvana, or whatever youlike. This realization process means that it comes into beingbecause, although living in the animal body as such, we have completely freedourselves from all the shackles of animal nature.This is not to suggestfor a moment that there is anything wrong with the animal or animal nature. The good animals of the world (and there are innumerable millions)compare extremely well with the innumerable millions of the human race, who arestill very subhuman, and not even particularly interested in growing into truehumans, you must bear that in mind.So that when I talk, or when we talk,of the shackles of our animal nature, we are regarding the situation only fromthis point of view, that the actual organism, the living instrument, theexistential me, which is here, has to manifest a phenomenon which is quitebeyond the phenomenon of the good animal; the pure human, the Son of Man, the Manasyaputra. This is what we have to do, and this naturally therefore necessitates aconflict in the beginning.When there is understanding, when real visiondawns, there is no longer any conflict. This animal body remains asthe permanent challenge to the mind to keep awake and to be totally attentiveto that which is emerging in terms of Mind and Consciousness out of the animalbody.To keep totally attentive to it, that is the challenge that the physicalbody continuously presents us with, right to the day of our death, the momentof our death.And if this challenge were not there we would not summon upthat energy which is required.(Let me put it in a somewhat better form. Instead of saying “summoning up energy”, let us say that we would not letthat transcendent energy find free and easy expression through the animal bodywhich ordinarily obstructs that energy.This is the point).So now we have to keep awake, to be mindful, to be attentive in the perfectway.We believe that we are capable of paying attention.We deludeourselves that we can pay attention.Our faculty of attentivenessundergoes considerable restriction and distortion when we, as we ordinarilyaffirm, are attending.

Now let us realize that we, as we are, are conditioned from birth onwards. It is impossible to avoid it, and in fact one’s aim should not be tototally avoid being conditioned.If you try to grow a human being who istotally unconditioned, you will have a senseless mass there.This is veryimportant.We often ask, “Oh!Why were we made imperfect?”, and soforth.God in Heaven!If we weren’t made imperfect, there’d benothing for us to do!We would just be gobbled up by the next strongeranimal! Now let us think carefully.We are conditioned frombirth onwards by our parents, by the environment, our teachers, by theprevailing circumstances as they come, as they go, and so on. Weare also conditioned by the way in which our own life-energy from within naturallyreacts with the external environment.I say “naturally” in this sense:everyone of us has a blueprint laid down from the moment of conception, thebrain, the nervous system, the ductless glands particularly.What theywill be is our blueprint, so to say, and they are a very powerful determiningfactor, perhaps the most powerful determining factor in our lives,though within.I know a great many scientists will disagree and say, “Oh,no, it is the environment which is all important.” I maintain that weourselves, the blueprint inside us, is of fundamental importance!

So this is our natural interaction with the external situation.Theresult is that we collect a heap of beliefs, conceptions, ideas and so on, aswe grow, as we grow physically.Most of these conceptions and ideas arehanded over to us because of our social-cultural heritage.They are notour original conceptions or ideas. “Mum and Dad told me so,” andimplanted these beliefs in me.Then all that I studied, all that waspresented to me via religion, via history or geography, or literature, orscience, or mathematics, or whatever it is, all these ideas, these pictures arestuffed into me.When I use my senses, sight, hearing, touch, etc., allthese pictures are at play interpreting what is coming to me through thesenses.That is why no two people looking at an elephant will see thatelephant and describe it identically, it is always different.What we are seeing, or what we are hearing, or what we imagine we areunderstanding is our particular mental construct of that which is coming to us.

I am speaking certain words in the English language at the moment.Youare all hearing the words.You know the dictionary meanings of the words,but your knowing the meanings and your interpretation of the sentences andthought as a whole, in every single case is different from everyone else’s. This is the meaning of the conditioning.We say that we areattending, we are paying attention to what the speaker is saying, but what sortof an attention is this?It is a conditioned attention, and it invariablyknocks out of shape, slightly at least, that which is coming to you, presentedto you.Take for example the act of looking at a flower.How do youlook at the flower?Do you know the flower in itself as you look at it? Not at all.What you know is the description that your mind isgiving, that your brain is giving to the experience through your sense of sightof that flower.And the description that is being given is conditionedall the time by all your concepts, your ideas, your beliefs, your desires, yourstate of health, everything.So you see we are not really payingattention to it.These are the obstructions to paying attention in thefull sense, the true, deep sense.

Then there is the other aspect, we all have our particular tastes and likesand our aesthetic sense, and so forth.We look at something which makesus say, “Oh, isn’t that interesting,” or we read a book and say, “Oh, isn’tthis marvellous thought.” What has happened?What is happening? That object which you are seeing or the thought which you are lookinginto has fascinated you, it has absorbed your attention.It has takenover your mind like an amoeba putting out a pseudopod and grasping the foodwhich it is going to take into itself.We are “gobbled up”, so to say, bythe thought or by the object which we see.The result is that as long asthat fascination lasts we can pay attention, as we miscall it.(This isnot really paying attention, but let us use the phrase for the moment). We are paying attention in the wrong way, caught up by the fascination ofthe thing.This is not paying attention.You might say, “But surelyeverybody in the world is in the same boat?” Yes, everybody in the world, practically everybody in the world, is in the same boat, excepting the one, two or threeliberated ones, the utterly freed ones.In this state, what I see or hearor touch does not enable me to know the thing seen, heard or touched in itself,it is only the outward appearance, the impression on the brain, the thing initself remains a mystery.If the thing in itself could be totally knownby us, that would be the end, it would be the totality of knowledge with regardto that particular thing.Can any of us claim totality of knowledge? Is it not a fact, a real fact, of our existence through themillennia, through the ages, that we are constantly discovering new thingsabout the same object, or the same set of ideas which are put inwords? The finest example of that is the great scriptural writing. Another marvellous example is great art.Your great artist, let ussay a concert artist, gives you a magnificent performance when he is twenty,wonderful interpretation and so on, and when he is sixty the interpretation iseven more wonderful, he has conveyed an even profounder depth to you. How?Why? What has happened?I don’t know.

There is no end to knowledge which you can acquire.You do not knowthe thing in itself.And another thing of which we are ignorant is thatwe do not know, that we can never know the thing in itself, in our sense of theword “knowing” and “to know”, because our knowing inevitably entailed theseparation of the person, the subject and the object which he is trying toknow.There’s the everlasting separation.In this state ofseparation, this gap between them, this space which divides them, attention cannever be total and complete in the pure and the profound sense.In thepure and the profound sense, complete, total attention means being thatof which you are conscious.That is to say, you do not physically becomethe flower that you are looking at or the tree you are looking at.You donot yourself become the thought of the philosopher which you are reading in abook, but in consciousness, in awareness, there is no gap whatsoever. Self-consciousness in other words is completely out.But have youever tried to examine what happens in the process of looking, or hearing, ortouching, or studying, or reading, or meditating or praying?There isalways the self-consciousness there, and associated with thatself-consciousness is the whole heap of desires, ambitions, the sense offrustration or of achievement, as the case may be, because that word the “self”,the separate “self”, involves the totality of all that is ill, all thatobstructs life in its wholeness from manifesting the fullness which it wants tomanifest through the creature called the individual man.It is ourresponsibility to get free of this obstruction, to push it out.

Now I am putting it in terms that are obviously wrong terms, it cannot be “pushedout” because that which obstructs is just me, myself, so I cannot push me,myself, out.Go out into the sunlight and see if you can get rid of yourshadow — you can’t.You can’t transmute the situation.How do youget rid of the shadow? By ceasing to be an opaque substance. If you, yourself, if the opaque substance that is this, the person, I,me, myself, is completely transmuted, the light is not out there, but this is the light.On what, where, does the sun cast its own shadow?Itcan’t, it doesn’t, and In that state, and this is an extremely good analogy,you are totally unaware that you are the light, and that there is no shadowcast by you.You are pure light, emanating light all the time, nothingobstructing life from manifesting the perfection that it wants to manifestthrough you, the person.And the sun of course is just blankly ignorantof its own power and wonder and beauty, and so on.And in what manner isit non-obstructive? What is one of the distinguishingcharacteristics of that manner? It is continuously “dying”, as weday.Immense hydrogen explosions take place on the sun all the time. Two hundred and fifty million tons of its substance just explode away andradiate light and heat throughout the solar system every minute.Ofcourse none of us is two hundred and fifty tons to start with!Trueenough, which is a good thing!

But in our way we do the same thing if we are awakened and ifwe really understand.In this state there is total attention, and thereis no knowledge in our ordinary sense of the world “knowledge”, because ourknowledge is entirely in terms of finitude, of limitation, of measurement, ofthat which can be controlled, which can be restricted, which is not absolutelycreative. This state of consciousness which can manifest throughthe individual, this state of the mind which is entirely empty, transparent,itself the source of light, itself the focus point into which transcendent lifeenters and moves out, quite freely, without obstruction, this state is themeaning of the wholly attentive condition.

How many of you have looked into the Upaniṣads for instance?You allknow the words: Braham is sat-cit-ānanda.We gabble it offbeautifully, just as we gabble off: “Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowedbe Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come,” and what not.”Brahman is sat-cit-ānanda.”We think ourselves wonderfully learned when we gabble those words.We haven’t the faintest conception of their meaning. We have amarvellous heap of misconceptions about it.Take the middle part, cit. Cit is attentiveness, it also means consciousness and it is used inconnection with Brahman, and Brahman is supposed to mean theAbsolute All, the Totality, the One and Only, without differentiation, withoutcontradiction, the Absolutely All.Now what can be the meaning of theAbsolutely All being attentive? Attentive to what? Ifthere is only One, what are you attending to?There’s nothing to attendto.For us the word attention means the existence of separation, andwhere there is separation there must necessarily be limitation and finitude,and therefore death, as we ordinarily experience and apprehend it.Notdeath in its transcendent sense, which is Other-Life, which is thetransformation of the Totality, which is Life/Other-Life, Life/Other-Life, notLife/Death, Life/Death.In Life/Other-Life, Life/Other-Life there is nocontradiction, there is no conflict.

So now you see, if cit means consciousness, means attentiveness inthe supreme sense, it is that cit which is coming into manifestationthrough you, through me, if we are really concerned with religion, thereligious life, holy living, etc., and are not concerned with ourselves, with ourescape from pain, difficulty, problems, frustrations and all the rest of it. When this intense awareness permeates my whole being, then I am naturallyreligious.When I am truly and naturally concerned with religion, thenonly can I consider in the true and full sense religious teaching, or thereligious presentation of things.You know (I have said it time andagain) that the spiritual life begins with saintship, and also that the wordsof Scripture come to life for me only when I have gone beyond the need of thewords of Scripture.Because it is cit, pure consciousness withinme, myself, this pure attentiveness within me, myself, which enlightens theword of Scripture.Otherwise I am only seeing and understanding the wordsin terms of my limitations, of my conditioning.

It is necessary to try and understand these things in their profundity, intheir wholeness, because then we will be free of misdirecting our energies andmeeting only with dejection, frustration, disappointment, disaster.Howoften have we felt, you and I, “I’ve tried year after year, it’s the same oldthing, I think I’m getting somewhere and then, lo and behold, this happens, andthe whole structure comes crashing down like a house of cards.” Why? Because, when we thought we were building on sound foundations, we wereactually playing with a pack of cards, our concepts, our ideas and above allour desires and our longings for the self.Without intellectually forcingourselves to do so — the grand gesture — what are we really prepared to let gofreely, naturally, easily, for the sake of truth, love, beauty, goodness? We will go to meetings, we will devour all the books (as I have donethrough the years, with all these books that you see here), we will study anddo this and that.We will practise meditation, we will give lectures, wewill give out a little bit of money in charity, we’ll do this, that and theother, and all the rest of it.Then there’s always a but, thus farand no further. “I really can’t, you know, I’ve got a wife, I’vegot five children.You see, really I can’t do that, it just isn’tsensible.” Meaning that this foolish fellow has come to the end of his tether. And if I look at that, what do I learn? That all my searchingfor God, for Truth, for the Ultimate Real, all my service of God, giving myselfand so forth, was overshadowed by this devil at the back of me who is waitingto hold out his hand and receive the filthy lucre which is his due — happiness,security, everlasting golden harps twanging and all that stuff and nonsense. You know, the selfness in us is a wonderful Mephistopheles and also awonderful comic fellow — rather a pathetic comic!

We are all caught in this trap.If you like to put it another way, weare all tarred with the same brush. So you see that our task is toknow that I am this sort of fellow.So when I try to pay attention towhat is happening, I must be very, very sensitive and very much awake to allthe reactions that take place immediately in my own mind.The Buddhasaid, “Sammā-sati”, (Perfect Mindfulness).Jesus said, “Watch,watch.” (Not the traffic in Oxford Street or all the people lounging round thestatue of Eros, not that.Well, you can watch that also and watch whathappens in your own brain when you see it.Is there anger?Is thereviolence?Is there disgust?).Watch it all, but particularly lookwithin.Look within at the reactions that spring up, really understandthem, this is what I am like, this is the phenomenon that istaking place through me.But this is not the phenomenon which manifeststhat perfect harmony of the mind which has transcended all ill, the mind whichis the very embodiment of perfect love and wisdom and beauty and truth, and allthe rest of it. So when you become really aware of it in the rightway, then the transformation of the mind does take place. Yourender yourself clean, you become emptied of the dirt.Time and again Ihave fallen into the trap and said over and over again at these meetings, “Thenyou will find marvellous peace”, and this, that and the other.But yousee, that is the carrot to say that then you will find peace.Whois going to strive for heaven, for Nirvana? If the meaningof heaven and Nirvana is everything that is most distasteful, painful,horrible to you and will just crush you out of existence, are you going to workfor Nirvana, if that’s what working for Nirvana means? But if you can be free of any such anxiety or conceptions orideas, if you can become unconscious of all that side of the process, you willbecome awake and totally attentive to Reality, to Truth, whatever that Realityand Truth may be, because then you no longer predetermine that the Reality andTruth shall be such and such.Look into your own minds.Every timeyou predetermine any such thing, you predetermine it in the shape that isagreeable to you, pleasant to you.Am I a wise fellow if I demand thatthe great Creative Power that brings everything into being brings it, or shouldbring it, according to a pattern that is agreeable to me?Even a littleexperience in the world shows that the pattern that is agreeable to me isdisagreeable for the other fellow.Steelworkers are out of a job becauseminers are on strike.One lot wants to bring about a certain pattern ofaffairs, and another lot of people suffer in consequence of this.Youknow the good old joke, this one said this, this one said that, saying, “God,do this, God, do the other.” And finally, having heard the millions of contrarycries, “Good God!” said God, “What?I’ve got my work cut out for me!” It’svery true, isn’t it?

Let our concern with religion, with religiousness, come to flower.Itis Life which brings everything to fruition, not you, not I.The you, theI, is composed, each of these, of beliefs, ideas, conceptions, all that is ofthe nature of limitation, of mortality, of death, of the ill state.It isLife which does it.If you want any evidence for that, look at the waypeople do all the wrong things and still survive and live up to eighty andninety.Life is greater than all their evil doing.Isn’t itextraordinary?Isn’t it wonderful, isn’t this the graciousness, theinfinite generosity of Life, of God, of Transcendence, use what word you like?

So our intelligence is shown if we let Life do this, and we let Life do thisby being awake to all that we put out to obstruct it.Because of this weare very conscious, because this is the little thing that is the me. Life itself is the infinite thing — I cannot do anything, it deals untome, I cannot do anything to it.So let us think of these things,think in the right way, that is to say, not in a particular form, but let themind be quiet, let it dwell at ease in its own immeasurable nature and realm,and let it function through this living organism in peace and inquiet. And if you can practise that way, you will realize, you willmake real in your own life and being, that wonderful saying in the TejobinḍuUpaniṣad where Śiva, the third person of the Trinity (who in fact doescorrespond to what we call the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost in Christianterminology) says, “I am the I which has given up I.” Try and go into the depthof that, because the “I” which is given up is just precisely all that in uswhich obstructs the free creative activity of Transcendence itself.


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