A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Elmau, Bavaria on 19th September 1975
Let me make it clear at the start of these afternoon talks on the heart of religion that I am not a master or a teacher. I am a fellow student with you attempting to explore as far as it is possible for me to do so the nature of religion, the meaning and the implications of the meaning of realization, of transcendence which is the real heart of religion. Its consequence, its results, so to say, is that man comes to full fruition as a human being, and through that fruition of the individual man the One Total Reality, which is the universe in which we live, comes to full self-realization as man. It is not I, a person, who achieves or attains anything at all. If I can see the purpose of my existence and the ways in which life is moving me, if I can see that as fully as possible and become wholly pure and simple, intelligent and awake, then Transcendence itself (or if you wish, use the words God or Brahman or the Infinite, or whatever you please) comes to full self-realization of itself through me. For me, this temporal, passing person in this world, born at a certain time and who dies in the course of time, there is nothing whatsoever.
This is rather an austere, even a terrible statement to make. I do not see that there is any reward or punishment for me as a permanent, separate entity through all time. Time is the way in which I, the limited person, am conscious of myself and the world. Similarly space is also that limited way in which I am conscious. For me therefore who pass through time and space there is nothing whatsoever. I exist in order that the Totality may express some fulfilment which is beyond my power of imagination to conceive. It is enough if I do my duty and fulfil my task. And part of that duty and task is to explore the truth of existence, the truth of life. If I look at it from my personal point of view, I will always make mistakes. But if I do not have a personal, limited point of view but give myself wholly to the purposes of life itself in its totality, then I can live through life doing less harm than if I lived from my personal point of view, And this is perhaps one of the simplest and loveliest expressions of love in its reality, of wisdom in its reality, which a man can express.
As I say, this sounds a terrible doctrine and one feels, “What hope is there for me?” Let us put it the other way round. Hope is for Transcendence, not for me, and if the hope of Transcendence is fulfilled through me as the instrument, a hope, which is infinitely beyond my petty little human hope, is fulfilled. Isn’t that enough, isn’t that more than enough? Isn’t your cup of happiness and realization then filled to overflowing? Surely we have lived long enough, we are cultured enough to know that the most marvellous things are other than what our little imaginations can picture. It is very important to see this because, if we see this, really see it, we are free in our souls, we are free of anxiety for self, we are free of all kinds of useless conjectures in the mind as to what is the purpose of existence and how we are to live and so forth. The conjectures disappear, the confusions in the mind, the conflicts in the mind disappear. Instead of them there is present a simple vision of reality, as true a vision as is possible for an individual human being.
Now in relation to this I suggest therefore that we regard our meetings here as an exploration together. Let us find out, as far as we can find out, something of the nature of reality, of truth and how we may live that. The living part of it is the important thing, not a mere intellectual pursuit, because, if it is a mere intellectual pursuit we are selfishly trying to satisfy our intellectual curiosity. It is merely another pleasure hunt, and the end of all mere pleasure hunts is not true happiness, it is merely dust and ashes. We all know that from our own living experience. So, not that way, but another way, not the way starting from self and concerned with self, but starting from the Transcendent Reality, which I don’t know as I am. And if I know that I don’t know, then perhaps that is the first step in the release of Divine wisdom in the individual. Man’s intellect can never penetrate into that which is quite beyond man’s intellect. Therefore let that Total Reality flow into us so that the wisdom and love which are the natural constituents of our own whole being come to fruition. And then perhaps right down in our own simple minds we shall know here and now something at least which is the truth, which is not an illusion, and we ourselves will not be liable to delusions and confusions. There will be peace and here and now you will know the meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven, of Nirvana, of human fulfilment. This is the way I approach it. Therefore please do realize, I am not here to teach anything but to work with you to discover, to discover that which is quite new, because all that we imagine that we know about reality, about God or Transcendence or man’s destiny and its real fulfilment, all that we think we know, is merely our own mental pattern, the patterns of thought which we in our imperfect state spin out, like a spider spins out so many webs. You will sense an experience with your total being, the living truth. But that which you sense and experience in that Transcendent way is something which cannot be put into petty little patterns of thought, howsoever attractive, howsoever majestic and wonderful these patterns may seem. They are like these clouds, they gather, they make all sorts of shapes, there is thunder and lightning and a great noise and they catch our attention and then they vanish away. And when they vanish there is only the utter purity of light, or invisible space, space which is not only invisible, but you cannot hear it, you cannot touch it, you cannot smell it. It is beyond our senses, it is beyond all the thought patterns that we make. So too the spiritual truth of our being and the truth of the nature of the One Total Reality in which we live. It is important to understand this, because then we can perhaps in our little limited context, our small world of ourselves and our thoughts and feelings and so on, approach life in the right way, or in a right way, and understand the trends of life.
So, let me first ask a question: Is the tree or a flower, a horse or a bird or a mountain or a flowing stream, is it happy? Let’s feel this together. Is all that happy? Let us ask another question: Are you and I, all of us, are we happy? I don’t mean that we are going through an experience of mere pleasure. But are we happy? I ask this question, and I want you to consider it, because this is my fundamental concern in practical terms. Are you happy? Feel and think for yourselves. Look at yourselves in the secrecy of your inner being and answer yourself quite truthfully. Are you happy? Can you be unhappy if the world is happy, including other human beings? Put it the other way, can you be happy when the whole world is unhappy? You see, I ask this question in two ways so that we can understand that each human being’s welfare and happiness is completely interrelated with every other human being.
Now look at it this way. Supposing you are a person who has become utterly purified, and because of the pure state of your life and your mind you see the truth, and because of that pure state and seeing the truth, you are always in harmony, in balance inside yourself, whatever the outer circumstance may be. Perhaps we can acknowledge that that is a state of true happiness, a happiness which cannot be shaken, which is not dependent upon anything external, but which naturally wells out from us because we ourselves are complete, we are whole, we are pure. Now, I ask you, if I am happy like that, can I be happy if the rest of the world is unhappy? It is not possible. But I will not be unhappy in the same manner that the rest of the world is unhappy. I will suffer with their suffering through sympathy, through an intense sensitivity which enables me to be wholly compassionate. And in that state of compassion and sensitivity I will feel all the suffering of the world, or your suffering, or his suffering, of everybody’s suffering, far more than I would feel it under other circumstances, and yet this inner poise is not shaken. This inner poise, which is true happiness, which is true well-being, is independent of external conditions.
We must understand this very carefully. Why? Because it is probably quite true to say that every single human being quite naturally seeks happiness, first and foremost. Recall your infancy, your childhood, you always wanted to be happy, to play, to laugh, to dance, to be with your friends, not to be hurt, didn’t you? Perfectly natural, the search for happiness. “Let’s do this, let’s do that, we’ll be happy.” When you are adolescent, happiness takes different shapes. “Let’s do this and that, not the things that we did as children, that’s for the children. But now let’s do this and that in order to be happy.” And when we are adult, have families of our own (let us assume that we are not burdened with too many anxieties about the family), “Let’s do this and that,” we say, “and we’ll be happy.” And in middle age and in old age happiness has different meanings for us. But all these conceptions of happiness are dependent upon external circumstances. There is nothing which is permanent, nothing which is an unshakable reality inside it, a pure unsullied reality in it. It is external.
Consider, then, why it is, how does it come about, that we, earnest and sincere as we are, turn to religion and the religious life? Is it not because we are reaching out towards a happiness which cannot be shaken, that cannot pass away as the years pass away, as circumstances pass away and change, but which will be always there? Is that not perhaps one of the deep reasons why we turn to religion? Is not another reason the fact that we want an inner sense of security? We ask the question, “What will happen to me after death?” We are afraid of death, every one of us. That is the basic fear in life, death, the fear of death. So we ask the question, “What is going to happen to me after death?” Our cultural heritage tells us that after death, if we have lived a good life, whatever that may mean, we may have a happy state, some religions say for ever and ever. Other religions say you come back again into life again and again until you are perfect, and at the end of it all there is the supreme happy state, the blissful state. You see, happiness is presented as the reward for goodness. But you see there are illusions and delusions wrapped up in this. The search is made because we are afraid and because we are ignorant, we don’t know. “Yes, I don’t know but my parents knew and they told me this.” “The Church told me this, the priest told me this, the great philosopher, the wise man told me this, and I believe it.” Would I believe it if I were without fear? Would I have any need to ask the question if I were without fear of any sort? Wotan wielded power because everyone believed in his power and was afraid. When Siegfried with his sword snapped the spear of Wotan, because Siegfried was fearless, what happened to Wotan’s power over Siegfried? It disappeared. But see how wonderfully the story goes. Siegfried then goes up the fiery mountain and wins Brünnhilde, but when he wakes Brünnhilde for a moment he experiences fear at last. He was not afraid of Wotan, the King of the Gods, but he was afraid when this mysterious something happened when he saw Brünnhilde. It is a very significant story. Our longing for this permanent happiness after death is our Brünnhilde, and then fear is associated with it.
So, to present happiness as the reward for goodness is something of an illusion, it is putting it the wrong way round. You will ask me, “Then what is the right way round?” Supposing we look at it this way. Here is the body, as we call it. If the body is perfectly healthy and well, you are not conscious of any illness. You say, “I am well, I am healthy”, and the body is in a happy state, is it not? It is not in an unhappy state, it is not in a painful state, it is not in a distressed state. It is the happy state, the well state. Now what about the mind, can we say that of the mind? Can each of us say quite truthfully, “My mind is perfectly healthy, perfectly well and therefore perfectly happy”? And if it were, would it pursue happiness, would it try to win happiness? If the body is healthy and well it does not pursue health, does it? It is healthy already. There is nothing to pursue. The body is healthy and well, the body is mature and strong and capable and wonderful. All right, what about the mind? Remember, the body is mature, perfectly co-ordinated, rhythmic, poised, skilful, that is the healthy state.
Now, let me ask myself the question, “Is the mind mature, perfectly skilled, is it truly intelligent?” Because the expression of intelligence is a mental phenomenon. Is it truly intelligent, and what do I mean by being truly intelligent? I do not mean having a lot of knowledge. That you can acquire from books, from your experience in life, from your friends, from those around you, and in a hundred and one different ways. But acquired knowledge is something which is external and it is only temporary. You know the history of man and the history of man’s cultural development. It starts with a little knowledge and then further knowledge shows that the previous knowledge was not quite right, and still further knowledge show that this knowledge was not right and so on. So there is nothing permanent and reliable there. But if and when the mind is really pure, then your intelligence sees the truth at once as it actually is. This is something which an ordinary mortal like me does not know. Is my intelligence capable of seeing the truth at once? If it is, then my mind is indeed mature, truly mature, perfect, harmonious, healthy, happy. And this happiness is something which I would not want to pursue. Why should I, because I am happy, what is there to pursue?
I hope you see clearly what I am trying to put before you. It is rather difficult to penetrate into this, but just listen with an open mind, that is all, with a completely open mind. Just feel into my mind as I try to put it before you. I don’t say accept it, I don’t dare to say, “This is the truth”, I don’t say reject it, but just let the mind be open and listen quietly and observe what happens.
So now, this maturity of mind means intelligence which is the power to see the truth of things, the truth of a situation, the truth of a person you meet, or the truth of anything that comes within your immediate experience, immediately, at once. You see the truth of it straightaway, you can’t be deceived. This is intelligence, not just a heap of knowledge which you have acquired, or any mental skills which you have acquired. That’s all part of the story but that is the temporal part, that is the part which just keeps dying. But this intelligence at work of the pure, healthy mind is the living part of the whole thing. It is the immortal part, the part which does not die. And when you awake to that fact, then you do not lead the good life in order to be rewarded with happiness and immortality and bliss in some other mysterious condition for your own self. You see, the world has not done this, except for the few great spiritual teachers, the men who were so concerned with reality, with truth, who so completely purified themselves, that they awoke to this state of awareness, and out of compassion they taught what they did for the sake of those around them who also cared for the truth. It is very important to see this.
Now, we have seen and acknowledged that happiness is what we really naturally seek, and we have seen that happiness is not a mere reward of goodness, because the person who thinks that way neither knows the meaning of goodness nor the meaning of happiness. I’ll put it this way, if you are happy you are bound to be good in the supreme sense, the perfectly good sense. If you are good, you are bound to be happy. The two go together. You can’t have the one without the other. Happiness and goodness are interchangeable, they are in fact one and the same thing. And where is goodness? In the mind and the heart, is it not? Bodily goodness is bodily health and strength, we all know that. But goodness as a virtue, as a transcendent virtue in the sense which Plato presented goodness for instance, is in the mind and the heart. And where is happiness? Also in the mind and the heart, is it not? Supposing I had no mind, I would just be an automaton like a machine. Supposing I am a Rolls Royce or a Mercedes, do I know that I am a Rolls Royce or a Mercedes, a wonderful car? Supposing I were a broken down old, well, another make (we won’t mention names), supposing I were one of those, I would not know that I was one of those because I have no mind. Neither a Mercedes or any other car has a mind. It cannot be happy, it cannot be miserable. So it is in the mind and the heart that all these things arise and they dwell and grow and come to fruition. This is the meaning of man’s growth and evolution which brings about the fulfilment of the meaning of man which we talked about this morning, namely man as the Happy Creator. Creation takes place in that invisible, innermost, unknown Transcendent mind which is a closed book to us. But whilst it is a closed book to my external senses and my intellectual processes, I as a whole person can be totally in it all the time. Being in it all the time, what we call God or the Total Reality is functioning freely through me. Being with this Infinite Reality, you are ruling in harmony with it, ruling not only yourself but the whole world without your knowing it.
You know the meaning of the word Israelite? If you study the Old Testament for instance, Jacob is called Israel after wrestling with God. His name is changed to Israel, and you know what is one of the meanings of the word Israel, and the meaning of the word Israelite? He who rules with God — that is the meaning of Israelite. It does not refer exclusively to a member of the Jewish community. That is the real meaning of the word Israelite, anyone in the world, whoever he be, if he has arrived at this state inwardly and opened out and his mind and heart are pure, he is one who rules with God. Why? Because he is completely in harmony, in tune with this eternal creative process of the universe. Therefore he is an Israelite.
Now, I mentioned a little while ago the trends of life. If we want to be intelligent, if we want to fulfil ourselves as human beings, and fulfil ourselves not for our sakes, but because that is the natural and proper thing to do, if we want to do that, we must try and see the trend of life for us as human beings, the way the stream of life is trying to move us. Life moves the plants in one way, the animals in another way, the birds, the insects, the stones and the forces of nature and everything in their own different ways. In what way is life moving us, human beings? Consider our growth from our primordial animal ancestor. Our ancestor was supposed to be some sort of primate, a primate who diverged along two lines of development. One line, we are told, was orang-utans and chimpanzees and so forth, and the other line became the hominids, man. Now, what have we observed in our evolutionary growth? Increasing sensitivity of the whole psycho-physical organism, the whole psycho-physical being, increasing refinement and complexity and increasing power to look within ourselves and recognise our internal processes mentally, and see that relationship with the outer world and make the right response. Sensitivity, refinement, response, both to ourselves inside and to the outer world, these perhaps are three of the main signs of our development. All of these, increasing sensitivity, responsivity and refinement, all three are associated with the mind. The mind is indispensable there. Man’s development and his growth in harmony with the trend of life is to cultivate his mind, to purify his mind. This is very important. It is very symbolical that in the body the eyes always see outwards. My eyes cannot see my own eyes, they cannot look inside my head, they can only look outwards at the outer world. The tendency therefore is to take for granted that all this is all right, I am all right, I am a good person, I am right always, and so forth. We are all conceited that way, aren’t we? We always think that we’ve got the right thing, the other people are not quite so right if they are different from us! So we have to understand that that is one of the little defects from which we suffer.
Now, it is the same where the mind is concerned. We are not able really to look into the workings of our own mind, because we are prejudiced in our own favour all the time. If we are conditioned in an unfortunate way, by our parents, by our education, by our cultural heritage, then we do the reverse thing. We depreciate ourselves, we say we are miserable sinners, evil things, evil creatures, without knowing the true meaning of the word sinner. So we suffer from a depreciation of our own being, a sense of inferiority. If our cultural heritage is such that we are taught that we belong to the chosen race, to the few who will be saved and all the rest of it (“We are the best in the world, compared with others”), then we suffer from a superiority complex. Both ways we do harm. If you starve, you will die. If you overeat constantly, you will also die, quicker than you would if you ate as a sensible human being, isn’t that so? You want the harmony, the balance. The mind in us has to be cultured, and we do not culture it in the ordinary way in which, say, a gardener tends his plant. Up to a point we do, but not in the same way, for this reason. The gardener is a human being, a member of the human kingdom, the plant is something which belongs to the vegetable kingdom. The gardener is almost like God in relation to the plant, for his knowledge, his skill, his ability, his power to see what the plant needs and supply it and so forth. So there is a difference. The gardener cultures the plant with scientific skill and knowledge and all the rest of it. How do we culture our own minds? Because my mind, being immature, not being quite healthy, being full of confusions and conflicts and difficulties, how is my mind to know what to do with itself? People say, “Follow the teachings of the great Teachers. They laid down the rules.” Well, surely you and I have tried that, haven’t we, for many a long year? But aren’t we labouring under an illusion here? When I read the teachings of the Teachers, when somebody else tells me about them, I say to myself, “Oh yes, now I know what the teaching is.” Do I? What is it that I actually know when I read the teaching or hear somebody else? I don’t know the truth, I don’t know what is actually in the mind of the Teacher. Supposing Jesus Christ were here or Gotama the Buddha or Yājñavalkya or somebody were here and gave the teaching. They were the Holy Ones, the Perfected Ones. And I say, “Ah, I heard the Holy One say this, now I know the truth.” But what happens when he says the truth? The mind forms its own picture of what he is trying to convey. It is like a photographic plate which is an imperfect plate, and it presents a distorted picture. I am under the illusion that I know the truth because the Teacher told me. This is our difficulty.
If we really understood this difficulty and tackle it in the right way, we shall discover one very important thing. Everything has a tendency to put itself right naturally, if I don’t know how to put it right. If I lose my way riding on a horse in the forest, what do I do ultimately? I let the horse go as the horse will, and the horse somehow takes me to safety. Everything has a tendency to put itself right. What has science shown us with regard to the living cell? The body is made up of millions of cells, little cells. If a cell is hurt by some accident, we will say, the cell has a natural tendency to heal itself, to put it right, if I don’t start interfering with it. If it is hurt too much, of course, well, that is the end. But if it is not hurt too much and I leave it, it will heal itself, it will put itself right. So there is a self-righting tendency in the living mind comparable to the self-healing tendency of the cell. Bearing that in mind and not interfering with the process of healing, we have to let the healing take place.