Living Religiously (I)
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 15th October 1988
Questions and Answers
A transcript of the questions arising after this talk was given
Student A: You started the discussion with the Buddha and one or two others going into meditation for days on end and going into very deep states of consciousness which have come down to us since that time, what one should aim for. But in this day and age, as we are, that’s just a dream, isn’t it? It’s just so far away. When we do our meditation daily for twenty minutes, one does not even consider a state of consciousness like that. All we can do is just be quiet in ourselves for a time and just try and be at peace with everything. The relevance of these deep states, what are we supposed to make of them? Are they just to stay in the books, just as something to read?
Phiroz: Yes, I get your point and I quite appreciate and understand the difficulty for most people in the world in this connection. Now we must remember that the Buddha, like all the great Holy Ones who were the true spiritual teachers of the world and were themselves the Perfected Holy Ones, spoke from the deepest possible level of their own personal realization. They first knew that the mass of people were not capable of living up to this to any considerable degree or even in a minor degree, because they simply had not the capacity, the will, the understanding, the inner urge to live the holy life as such. The mass of people are tied up in worldliness and the worldly life, so as to have a merry time, a happy time, to enjoy life as they call it, which means to them experiencing one pleasure after another. There is that, and then there is the passion for success, the fulfilment of their ambitions, if they have any at all. Worthy ambitions are the hallmark of very few, very intelligent people. But apart from that, the rest of the world is consumed by its foolish ambitions. Of course the Holy Ones knew that there would be all this difficulty, but they, being what they were, had of necessity to fulfil their destiny as teachers of the holy life to those who cared to live the holy life, to those who were interested. Now, we can come across many people in our modern world who are interested in human welfare and wellbeing. But the problem is, how many people really know the meaning of human welfare and human wellbeing? In fact, how many people to start with know the meaning of the word human? They are aware if they have had any education at all that they are members of an animal species. We are one animal species and we have the conceit, in some cases rightly, that we are the most advanced animal species. But the bulk of human beings merely have foolish self-conceit that they are the masters of the world, the lords of creation and all that nonsense. Their ambitions are directed only towards a way of life which enhances and perhaps brings to fruition all their worldliness. But the bringing to fruition of worldliness allows no release from the very difficult problems, the miseries, the sorrows which human beings suffer from. What people like ourselves have to bear in mind is that it is necessary to know the meaning of the word human and what human welfare and wellbeing mean, because they derive directly from the meaning of the word human. You have heard me say a hundred times by now at least that that word human means the Happy Creator, and to say that the human is a Happy Creator is almost tantamount to saying that Man is God. He has at least come to the stage where, merely as a matter of saying something, he believes that he is the Child of God. But if he is truly the Child of God, he is like God. If I am the child of a human man and woman, then I am like the human man and woman. I am not like a beast, but my behaviour in life has all too often been that of a beast. That is the case with humanity as a whole, for century after century. We must understand these things very very deeply, and then if we can live up to that to some extent or other, and if we can at least uphold that sort of conception in some degree, then our whole environment is affected by it, and we can be helping others in the true way, the right way, the healthy way.
Student B: Wouldn’t you say, Phiroz, that even short periods of meditation, as the previous questioner mentioned, twenty minutes once or twice a day, are cumulative? You may not need such long periods but it will build up.
Phiroz: Every little thing that we do, in thought and feeling, in word and deed, helps towards building up an energy, a force, which not only benefits ourselves and brings us closer towards a true human fulfilment, but affects the environment also. Then we have power which is of the right sort, otherwise power is always misused. The human race has suffered from this crazy pursuit of wealth and power in the wrong way. In order to utilize wealth and power rightly, we must have at least a modicum of harmony in terms of love and wisdom, otherwise we don’t know how to use our wealth and power. And we need both aspects, love and wisdom, wisdom for the intellectual knowing part and love for the human relationship part. If I don’t love my neighbour, I am not going to help him. And the question arises, who is my neighbour? Not only anybody sitting near me or related to me in terms of family, not merely somebody who belongs to my community, but the man on the other side of the globe whom I have never seen is my neighbour. Not only is a human being my neighbour but the whole of the animal world, the plant world, they are all my neighbours, a steam engine is my neighbour, a motor car is my neighbour, and if I treat it with love and wisdom, then I shall treat it in the right way. So, every attempt, in terms of meditation, as you say, is cumulative. And when it has come to fruition, you will find that the real meditation then begins, because in the fruition of the meditative process which one practises you culminate in that state of consciousness where you are no longer separate from anything and everything in the cosmos. And this is the real secret and lies at the heart of the whole thing, and in that divine state of complete unity with the totality then your meditation truly begins. And that meditation is a constant creative action in eternity, not this, that or the other good action in time and space, which is finite and temporal. It becomes infinite and eternal, and this is a tremendous thing to see and to understand and to do.
Student C: It seems in a way that observation is a key. If one trains oneself to think when one needs to think and does not think when one does not need to think, then one becomes observant within and without. Then you learn to let circumstances tell you what they want to do. So your awareness increases, so it becomes quite easy to see another’s need. And all the time one is doing this of course the ego, the part of our mind which jumps up and down and makes such a nuisance of itself, becomes quiescent. The wonderful thing is that, when doing that, one becomes possessed of a quiet but intense joy. Now there is no logic or reason in this, it is just a thing that is. And when I am faced with a task or a difficult person to deal with, in my mind I say, “Let it tell me.” Keeping my mind quiet, then, it is done. One is refreshed and the other is helped. The power of being is truly immense. And I must say, women are awfully lucky, because I think you will agree that they have the power of being more developed than a man. A man has to work at it very hard!
Phiroz: Men being too extraverted?
Student C: Yes.
Phiroz: All the ladies have bowed to you!
Student C: I’m not going to bow back!
Student A: Just another thing. When we try to practise our virtuous living and think we are doing this and that right and we are bombarded with all these cruelties and wars and famines that come into our lives every day by the news, it is very difficult to be calm and not attached and just say, “Leave me alone, I want to be nice, just go away.” You can’t say that to these things, you can’t do anything to make the situation better. How should you sort of be at that time?
Phiroz: Invite the Devil right into your own heart. Don’t say, “Go away and leave me alone.” Leaving me alone is the last thing to be done. One has to be completely open to anything and everything that goes on. Because it does go on, it characterizes the whole of the living process of mankind all over the globe, all these wars and strikes and the cruelties and the horrors that we see. Don’t try to push them aside or stand apart from them. You can’t do it, for the very simple reason that each and everything is completely and totally inter-related with and interactive with the universe. You can’t shut yourself up in an ivory tower, it’s impossible. So one has to be open to it, but all you have to do is not react for or against it. Supposing you see some very kind deed done, don’t react for it, observe it. Observe it carefully, don’t shut any part of it out of your consciousness, be wholly conscious of what is going oe and let it influence your whole psycho-physical being. It will purify the whole psycho-physical being and give you inward peace too by itself. If you react against it, then you are in a state of conflict, you are adding to the conflict. This is very difficult of course, everybody says that it is so difficult to do this and live the virtuous life. But of course it is difficult to live the virtuous life. To live the human life means to live the life of creative action in eternity. An easy job? It’s a devilishly difficult job, devilishly meaning merely a superlatively difficult job, but it has to be done. We must let it happen by not reacting either for or against. If you don’t react for what is good, the good will become better. If you don’t react against what is bad, the bad will be converted into the good, because you are quiet. This quietness, this inner silence, is the most difficult thing to bring into being.
Student D: Can you respond to it as opposed to reacting for or against it?
Phiroz: If you don’t react for or against, then you will be in a state where you can make the right response to it, that means that your action in relation to it will be the right action, will be the right view, the right thought, the right feeling. You see, we in the modern world have made a colossal blunder in suppressing feelings. “Keep a stiff upper lip”, and all that nonsense!
Student E: Is not response a kind of reaction?
Phiroz: A true response is not a re-action. The meaning of the word reaction is very much associated with Newton’s Third Law of Motion. The Third Law was that action and reaction are equal and opposite. That means if I press down on this stool with my thumb, with a force say of ten pounds, then that stool is reacting against my thumb with a force of ten pounds. That is reaction in the real meaning of the word reaction. But that is no way of dealing where human beings are concerned.
Student E: In a sense the reaction is part of the past, habitual, a part of the habit that we are used to, whereas an action is something which can be very fresh and appropriate to the moment. So reactions are the habit of behaviour and action is a chosen way of behaving.
Phiroz: The right response will always have the quality of love and wisdom and goodness in it, but a reaction will not have that.
Student F: How do I turn all these feelings of pain and anger and aggression and despair into these good feelings you were talking about?
Phiroz: The usual question of how to do it, the know-how! There is only one way of doing it, look at it. Look at it, don’t reject it, don’t say “no” to it, don’t say, “Aggression, you are bad, you are evil, out with you!” That will never do. Just watch it and see how it manifests itself, how did it arise and then how did it proceed, and how is it working out in this, that or the other situation. When there is real understanding, because you are examining with love, not critically in the judgmatical way, in that examination with love which is the real meaning of the word understanding, the healing takes place. Then there is a healing. “All right, my dear, I understand now,” and so my dear aggression or anger begins to be a sweet little dear. You see, it is my own physical energy, isn’t it? I am dealing with my own physical energy.
Student G: There is always the saying of Jesus on the Cross, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” If people are doing things which we can see as being evil or cruel, they do not know what they are doing, because if they really were looking and observing, then they would know what they were doing and would not do it. If we observe the participants in these horrendous situations with those principles in mind, then we can observe and, as it were, learn, we can find out if we are doing anything like that ourselves. If we see somebody who has been making a bomb to kill innocent people, then I need to find out if I in my own emotional life am manufacturing a psychological bomb which I turn on people that I find upset me. There’s a Buddhist meditational practice in which you first of all practise loving kindness towards yourself, then you have to focus that loving kindness on somebody that you do not like, and that is a real challenge. “They know not what they do.” Because, if they really found out by observation what they were doing, they would be helped by the loving kindness principle to cease from doing what they are doing. So, when you turn loving kindness on them, the perpetrators of these things, you are helping them to see for themselves what they are doing. Then they can stop and you help them to stop. It’s a struggle of course but that seems to me a way of trying.
Student H: How can you turn loving kindness onto all those people whose atrocities you see through television and through the news? How can your loving kindness, if you can feel loving kindness, be effective to the bomb perpetrators, or the kidnappers or the child beaters or whatever? It’s the wider aspect. I can perhaps turn loving kindness onto my neighbour whom I tend to dislike perhaps, but it’s the wider aspect that I find difficult to cope with.
Phiroz: The wider aspect meaning what happens in the country as a whole? Like the IRA’s activities?
Student H: Yes.
Phiroz: Well, what can you or I do with respect to the IRA? We can’t do anything about things on the big scale like that, we just can’t. What we can deal with is first and foremost ourselves. If we deal rightly with ourselves and bring peace and harmony inside ourselves, then, if one directs the energy of loving kindness and compassion towards anybody else, it may have some little effect, but only some little effect.
Student H: So is it best then not to discuss these atrocities that we hear so much about, not to talk about them and say how dreadful this is and how dreadful that is, to keep quiet and just concentrate on our own development towards loving kindness?
Phiroz: You see, one’s own inner quietness is a tremendous power, it is a tremendous force. Leave the IRA alone for the moment because you and I can’t do anything about it. We can deal with ourselves, and, as we grow in this power of healing that which needs healing, then there may come a time when the collective activity of so many people will bear fruit. After all, isn’t it an extraordinary thing that in all the religious teachings of the world, Satan or the Devil or Māra, or Ariman, or whoever you like to name, he is never slain, he is never destroyed. Why? All these things, all these are forces within ourselves personified. God and the Devil are personified aspects of our own being. All the pantheons, the Greek, the Scandinavian, the Indian, the Chinese, all these express their own psychological teachings. They tell us what we ourselves are. We can only deal with ourselves. Supposing I had a tummy ache, well, I have to take the medicine which the doctor gives me for my tummy ache! I can’t do anything else. Supposing you had a tummy ache, I couldn’t cure it by loving kindness, unless that loving kindness is embodied in the medicine that I, as a good doctor, would prescribe for you, isn’t that so? I know how difficult these problems are. I have been through them myself and known hell, intellectual distress of the highest order, over all this. But it is no good being distressed. If I am distressed, then I exude a distressed atmosphere, but if I can remain quiet and calm, I exude a healthy and a peaceful atmosphere, a healing atmosphere. Making whole is not easy.
Student I: And this is why great teachers draw people to them, because people do in fact feel this when they’re close, Jesus, the Buddha… Because there’s something incredibly attractive about goodness, and people feel it and they want to be there, so that they can participate and perhaps become like it themselves. And that is how the person who is good is changing others around him, not by actually saying, “Thou shalt do this, that and not do the other”, but just by being what they are, and other people want to be the same.
Phiroz: It is so important for each one to be himself or herself and to let everyone else be themselves. This is the difficulty, and, especially if they are strongly related to us family-wise, it becomes extremely, extremely difficult.
Student C: What you were saying about the Devil just now reminded me of a parable told by Ṣri Rāma Kṛṣṇa. He said a man was walking along a road and he came across the Devil, and the Devil was going about picking up things. The man said, “What are you picking up, Devil?” The Devil said, “I’m picking truth.” The man said, “But, Devil, what have you got to do with truth?” “Ah,” said the Devil, “I’m organising them!”
Phiroz: The Devil doesn’t leave others alone!