A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Elmau, Bavaria on 20th September 1975
During the last few days we have had thunderstorms. How magnificent is the thunder of the heavens and the great flashes of lightning and then the pouring rain! What an extraordinary spectacle it is for us! Some feel fear and others enjoy it. What does the thunderstorm do? It purifies the atmosphere, and the rain as it falls lays the dust which is in the air onto the ground, dissolves away various gases which otherwise are poisonous, but when dissolved fertilise the soil. And this is what happens with a thunderstorm in nature. And sometimes it is destructive; there are great winds, and trees perhaps which are old, which are ready to fall, which are pushed down. So there is an element of danger to it as well as the outstanding feature of purification. And after that purification and the fall of the waters, the earth gives of its fruit, its produce, and everything is rich and beautiful around, gladdening the heart of man. And this purification and fruition is associated with a storm, This is something very, very significant from which we can learn a lot.
Yesterday we stopped at the point where we considered where it is that sorrow and joy, good and evil arise, where it is that they function, they proceed, and where it is that these opposites find their final dissolution. And if it is the true sort of dissolution which is a transformation altogether, then man is left, not left perhaps, but lifted up into an awareness of something which transcends all his ordinary limitations. He is not any longer in a subhuman state but in a fully human state. And we saw that they arise and have their ending in the mind. Now if the arising and ending is of the true nature of purification, (remember the analogy of the storm, the thunder, the lightning), if it is of that nature, then there never is any further conflict in the mind. There is no confusion, there is no fear, there is real vision and understanding.
But note carefully, the thunderstorm is the work of nature, nature which I like to call often the bride of God, the instrument of this divine creative power which is unknown to us and remains unknown in its own transcendent realm.
Now, in our life can we bring about purification purely by ourselves? Let me turn it the other way around. Can you picture me taking a watering can and going up in an aeroplane and pouring that water around all over the air in order to purify it? It would be a funny sight, wouldn’t it? And do you think I could do anything that way? No, it is something immensely greater than myself which does all this, and so too it is something immensely greater than myself which is evoked by my little efforts, which affects the purification, which is a true transformation, not an attempt at counteracting what I, as an imperfect human being, see as evil or undesirable. It is very important to bear this in mind. Not one of us is alone in this task of purification. And I emphasize purification over and over again because it is the indispensable groundwork for religious living, which means living everyday life in the truly human and perfect way, and not as a subhuman. That is why I emphasize purification so much.
So, in this task of purification, if we attempt it in our name, for our sakes, to produce a result, whether it be only for us or for our society and community, for mankind if you like, if we do it in our name, then we are like this man with a watering can pouring water out of an aeroplane up above in order to purify the air, and it cannot be done that way. But if my effort is made in the spirit of complete self-surrender to the Total Reality, if I see that it is that One Total Reality with its infinite power which responds to my little call, so to say (my efforts to purify is my little call), then there is this immense Infinite Transcendent response . It is that which brings the purification without destroying me. He who tries to purify himself simply by austerities or by what he calls the control of the mind, the rigid control of the mind, and so forth, or in terms of some laid down picture of what he ought to do and ought to be, he will meet usually with disappointment and failure. This has to be borne in mind very carefully. The effort of the individual, awake to his relationship with the Totality, is a pure effort. Cut off from the Totality in his mind, self-oriented, self-centred, his effort will always bring him pain and sorrow and probably harm.
This is rather a terrible thing to say. We fail to realize that every effort that we make in our dualistic state, our ambivalent state in which we oscillate between love, hate, cruelty, kindness, stinginess, generosity, and so forth, every effort we make for our sake whilst we are confined in this ambivalence, energizes both aspects. So there is no real purification. If I try to cultivate love by a technique, (one of the techniques which is employed is that you sit down and let the body and mind be a little bit calm and then, as we say, send out loving thoughts to others, wishes for their welfare and so forth), then the psychical energy which that liberates inside yourself is one which intensifies, on the one hand, this ambivalent love aspect, as well as its opposite, hate, which comes as a reaction when the circumstance is provocative. We send out love, we feel very loving, and then some little thing happens or is said or is done and immediately we are in a rage, we are angry, we call it righteous indignation sometimes. But is there any righteousness in anger or hate? You see, the whole psyche in its ambivalent state is energized so that the opposite qualities are energized simultaneously. This is what we fail to see, and this is what produces the tremendous problem of the true art of purification. But there is a way, there are ways. Let us look at the early stages first. It is one of the very interesting facts that all the religions are at one in teaching simple morality. They all teach harmlessness, truthfulness, to abstain from stealing, self-indulgence in any shape or form. That does not mean not using your senses in the right way, the right way, to enjoy all the beauty and loveliness that nature is constantly pouring into our lives, but not self-indulgence, the deliberate pursuit of pleasure as such in order to glut oneself with sensational delight. The result is illness of body, the loss of your moral backbone, and you are a spineless, useless creature, a liability to society.
The religions have also taught above all to observe good conduct in action, in speech and in thought and feeling. They have laid all these things down. Perhaps the shortest presentation of this teaching comes in the Zarathushtrian religion in three words, humata, hukhta, huvarshta. Hu– means good, pure, happy, –mata, thought, –ukhta, the word, –warshta, the deed. That is about the shortest summary of the whole system of morality, and if this can be observed in the right way, then the opposites in our psyche are not simultaneously energized, but they are completely transcended, whichever dual you start with, whether it be the feeling of benevolence towards your neighbour or whether it be the feeling of anger and hate towards somebody. We will deal with that a little more in detail later on. And then if it is rightly carried out you realize the state which in Zarathushtrian teaching is called the vohu mano, the good mind, the pure mind. In this connection, if you like, recall the words of Jesus, when the man comes and says, “Good Master.” And Jesus says, “Why callest thou me good? There is only one that is good and that is God.” What is one of the deep significances of this teaching? That goodness in its reality is not a something which is confined to a dualistic realm, but actually constitutes a transcendent state where the duals are transcended altogether. Then there is the harmony which cannot be destroyed, that is always there, naturally and spontaneously. Then it is not there naturally and spontaneously, we try to be good, we are constantly struggling to be good, we are not naturally good. But the true human is naturally good, and that’s that. That is the meaning of being human. This is the health of the soul, the health of the mind and the heart. This is the maturity of the mind and the heart, this natural goodness, the natural truthfulness, the natural beauty, the natural wisdom and love. And these are transcendent in their nature. So the vohu mano, the good mind, comes into being if the teaching of good thought, good word, good deed (I am just giving the simplest formulation of it) is observed.
Let us look a little more in detail into this, a very important detail. There are many details but we cannot go through all of them. One important detail is that you will find in all the great religions that it has been emphasized that each single virtue, as we call it, is to be observed in thought, in speech and in action, all three ways. It must be a total expression, thought, speech and action. Notice for instance in ordinary everyday social living how easily we say to somebody, “I am pleased to see you.” Well, often that is true, I am pleased to see you. And sometimes, is it really true? What do I say after he has gone? What is the language I use, I who am the good man, the pure man? You see, this is how it is. But if, in my thought, in my feeling, in my innermost heart, there is no enmity towards that man, then I am saying the truth in saying, “I am pleased to see you.”
Now we see that simple morality is by no means easy to fulfil, it is a very difficult task. But then anything that is worthwhile, anything that is really good and fine, is very difficult. Can I write a Bach fugue or a Beethoven Missa Solemnis? I can’t. It is very, very difficult. If I were a genius and had been through a lifetime’s discipline of producing beautiful music, I could produce something perhaps of that quality, but not otherwise.
So, the religious life is a very difficult task, there is no doubt about that. We have to see for ourselves, we have to have the vision of what is the purpose of our existence here, the vision of the Transcendent Real actually manifesting practically every day through our lives, nothing less than that. Consider how in our ordinary cultural life we insist upon perfection. A pianist gives a recital. If he gave a bad recital that’s the last time he’ll ever be asked to play there. It has to be perfection, nothing else. Not that we ever attain perfection, it can always become more beautiful, more wonderful, more perfect, true enough. But there has to be a standard, a standard which comes into being if the person has totally given himself to it and is not restricted to self-concernedness, to self-centredness. And it is the same with the religious life. We give ourselves totally entirely to the universal reality in which we are all contained. Use the word God if you like, use the word Brahman or any word you like, it all means the same thing.
So, in thought, in word and in deed, the moralities are observed.
Those of us who have in any sort of serious measure tried to observe this find ourselves constantly in conflict within ourselves. The evil comes up and we feel so miserable, “Here am I, I’ve tried for ten years, twenty years, forty years, sixty years I’ve tried, and I am still just the same old…” (whatever you like to call yourself). And you feel, “What is the use of all this, it’s just a failure. I thought I had progressed like this and now, there am I, after fifty years of effort, I fall down so easily.” Consider carefully again. In which way have I tried to live the pure life, for my own sake, in order to bring about a pleasant result? Look very carefully. Am I trying to live the good life because life has been so cruel to me that I am running away from it? I am frightened of it, I don’t like it, it is too painful, so let me go to religion, let me go to an ashram or monastery or to some teacher or guru or some system which will give me comfort. And why do I do that? Because I want to continue to live happily. I am holding on to my life, I am grasping at my life, why should I?
You know how often, when we are discussing worldly problems, especially economic problems, and two friends are talking together, one says, “Yes, that’s all very well, but I’ve got to live, you know!” Have I got to live? What is the warrant for saying that I have got to live? Why should I be alive? If I am alive, all right I am alive, but where is this imperative necessity of “got to live?” Why do I demand from the world, from the universe, that I shall live? The world owes me no living whatsoever, absolutely none. The world can produce thousands of millions of human beings, why should I demand from life that I have got to live? I forget when I am caught up in that attitude that what I call I lives only by virtue of the fact that there is you, that there is the whole situation, a whole earth, a whole planet, a whole solar system, a whole universe. And we now know today as a scientific fact that every single little thing, howsoever little, even an atom, depends upon and is in relationship with the total universe all the time. Now, I exist because of the not-I, the not-self, so called. This I call the self, all the rest I call the not-self. And you see my attitude? I demand from the not-self that I shall be preserved, and preserved as I would like to be preserved, comfortable, happy, healthy, not paying the penalty for my follies and so forth, but of course always getting the rewards for what I think I have done well! Now, isn’t that true of the human race? You see how absurd it is. And the whole human race practically with rare exceptions does not see that the fundamental source of conflict is this separation between the self and the not-self.
How are you conscious of yourself? How am I, as an ordinary man of the world, conscious of myself? I am intensely, vividly conscious of “Oh, I, I know all about me” (I think). And as regards the not-self, which is the rest of the universe, “Oh, well, that’s the not-self,” just like that. It is the cow which I must milk and enjoy. You see, this fundamental selfishness which separates me from the rest of the universe is the fundamental state of sin, of evil. This evil, this conflict, begins here right in the deeps of my consciousness. I am not aware of it even. But it is right inside the depths, sunk right down to the bottom of the well of the unconscious, if you like. And this is the fundamental source of conflict. Now, supposing you say, “Oh, yes, now that you’ve said it, I can see that that is true, and now I know it.” Do I? Just to know with the brain is not knowing. The surface brain, the surface layer of brain cells, get a little quiver, a little titillation, and they are pleased with the idea and within a few seconds I am living in the same old way, in conflict with the not-self.
Plato said that no man knows in the true sense unless he can do it. We in India have always said that no man knows anything in reality unless he is that reality. That is a step perhaps even more inclusive than Plato’s statement.
So now, we start with the brain knowledge, the word, the thought, just a concept, “Ah, the self and the not-self, there should be no separation between us.” No separation in mind and consciousness; in physical fact of course there is a separation. Here is this physical object which is limited in time and space and all the rest of it, and there are millions and millions of other physical objects. So physically of course there is the distinction. But in mind and consciousness you can transcend that distinction, not by merely accepting the idea, the thought, but by slowly feeling it out, feeling it out. Let the psyche, let the mind absorb the fact that there is only One Total Reality of which all the innumerable, apparently separate things are part and parcel, all in perfect and complete inter-relationship with each other. It is the inter-relationship that we are unconscious of. That is why, when somebody else suffers whom we don’t know, we say, “Oh, poor man,’’ or we say, “Serve him right, he did that and therefore that’s what should happen to him.” But you see, that man about whom I say, “Serve him right,” is me myself in another form. If I am limitedly self-conscious I don’t know myself. The one and only real meaning to the self, to the word I, is the Totality. Only the Totality is the I.
Do you want the evidence of this in the great religions? What does Yahweh-Elohim say to Moses when Moses goes and says to God, “What shall I say to the Israelites when they ask me who has sent you to take us out of bondage, out of Egypt?”. And the Lord God answers, “Say unto the Israelites ‘Ehyeh asher Ehyeh’.” I AM (that is, Moses the Man, the One Man) I AM THAT I AM, Ehyeh asher (that) Ehyeh, the other Ehyeh, the total Ehyeh, the total I AM. That is one evidence of it.
Look at the Upaniṣads of India. They postulated Ultimate Reality in two separate words, Brahman and Ātma, and then made one of the most marvellous conceptual statements that it has been possible for the race of man ever to make. They said, “They are an identity.” Brahman was the word which was the endpoint of the search for the answer to the question, “What is Ultimate Reality?”, the objective question. The word Ātma was the endpoint of the search for the answer to the question “Who am I?” And you see what happened. In transcending the limited I and in awakening completely and fully in mind and consciousness, they realized that what is called the I is the one and only I, the Total Reality, Brahman itself. And therefore Brahman and Ātma were declared to be an identity, this is the important point, an identity, not merely a non-duality. This is the wonderful thing about it. That is what you are, that is what I am in actual fact, but I am ignorant of it. And this is the fundamental ignorance, now do remember again, not ignorance in terms of not possessing the thought. The thought is impotent; the thought does not do anything. When your insight grows and grows in power, your whole psyche and even your body undergoes transformation. We have this symbolically represented in the Transfiguration of Jesus, in the Transfiguration of the Buddha. It is the same with Sri Kṛṣṇa and so forth. It is an identity.
When one realizes that in consciousness your whole mind is lighted up with it, when you are naturally and normally in your everyday life conscious in terms of the One Total Reality, then the distinction between self and not-self is out. The separation between man and God, to use theistic language, is out. Man and God are in perpetual communion. You see what I mean by the word communion. But it is a state of awareness, it is a state of consciousness. Why is this state of consciousness so very important? I’ll repeat again and again, please be patient with me. It is not just a thought, it is not an idea which you believe in, and say, “I believe in this.” That’s no use at all. It is a state, an actual state of consciousness, an unlimited state. Why is this so important? Here is something which the world at large does not really know. Modern psychologists and investigators and everybody talk in terms of mind-states. So many have regarded mind as the endpoint. That is not the case. My mental states one after another throughout the day, all my mental processes, my thoughts, my feelings, all my speech, all my physical actions, they have their ultimate origin in this consciousness within me, this mystery, consciousness. You cannot describe it, you cannot picture it, you cannot imagine it. The very word consciousness is a mysterious word. When you, sitting there, looking at me and listening to me, you are paying attention to me, and then we say that you are conscious of me here. That is perfectly correct.
But what is this thing consciousness, the noun? The verb, “You are conscious, I am conscious”, yes, that is all right, we understand that. A relationship has been formed, you are looking at me and your attention is given, therefore there is a relationship, therefore you know that there is somebody here talking. All right, you are conscious. But what is this thing consciousness? You might as well ask, what is God? What is Ultimate Reality. And it is beyond answering. Is consciousness comparable to a brain, a liver, a kidney, a heart, an organ? Is it an organ? It isn’t, it’s a mystery. But we all know what we mean by being conscious, but we don’t know consciousness in this sense. I can perhaps suggest just one thing here. Consciousness is identical with the Total Reality, the one whole complete Total Reality. Now if that is the case, the Total Reality cannot be self-conscious in relationship to another, because the Total Reality is already the total thing. There is no other to form a relationship with. In the deep states of consciousness, which you can enter if the whole being is utterly purified, you realize that state where there is no otherness, Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. God or Yahweh is not a separate entity. If God is ever postulated as a separate entity, then God dies, he is born and he dies. The God of our conceptions, the God of our thinking, the God of our desiring is projected out of our brains. He is our creation, not we his creation. Therefore, where God is concerned, or Brahman or the Ultimate Real or the Transcendent is concerned, stop thinking, stop words, say nothing about God. It is too Transcendent, too wonderful and it is I not an other to you or to me. And that is why the religions have taught that we are upheld by the everlasting arms. We have to use limited language, there is no way out of that if language is used. We are totally contained in that.
Now, consciousness may be imagined, but don’t cling to that imaginary picture, that’s a mistake, don’t cling to it. But it may be imagined as being the same as the Total Reality. Now if this sensitivity within us, which is the real religiousness in our being, begins to be awake to this fact, then all our mental states as they come and go, all our feelings, our words, our actions, will naturally tend to become, to be, pure. You see what purity means? If there is this complete self-surrender, this total giving of the self and this awakening to the Total Reality, then whatsoever effort you make has the power of the Infinite behind it, and the knowledge and the skill and the wisdom which always does things with perfection, functioning through you, and there is purification going on all the time.
Now, I have tried to present the situation in as complete terms as possible. Where religion is concerned, where living the religious life is concerned, don’t start from Chapter I and go to Chapter 2 and go to Chapter 3. Start at the end. You see what I mean? Don’t say, “I will do this, and after all I’m an ordinary human, but I’ll enjoy that a little bit, you see.” You remember that statement of St. Augustine in his Confessions, “Dear God, please make me chaste, but not just yet.” So let’s start with God himself, with the Ultimate, whatever that Reality may be, don’t try to define it. “Yes, that is the Reality. Let it be. It can take the whole of me.” Start like that and then step 1, step 2, step 3 will all naturally emerge. You know why? Because that Total Reality takes charge of you. You don’t have to plan, you have no responsibility. Responsibility rests with the Transcendent, and the Transcendent does not make mistakes. There is no such thing as mistakes where God is concerned. No such thing as evil therefore, and no such thing as good as defined by us. This is a very important point to bear in mind.
Now you see why I talked about the danger which comes when the thunderstorm bursts over us. Because if you can give yourself like this there will be a constant thunderstorm, constant flashes of lightning, enlightenment, the enlightenment which burns away some of the gases of the atmosphere, and produces other gases which with the rain come and fertilise the ground, the soil. It’s like that.
When eyes are lifted unto the hills from whence cometh our help, then you will be able to exercise the right attentiveness. That is the key secret as far as our actual practice is concerned. We are conscious beings, we have this extraordinary instrument of our salvation within us, our power to pay attention, to give our attention and to be mindful, to observe everything. Now, this power of attending, this power of mindfulness is the power which diagnoses all our psychical or mental ills and is at the same time the medicine for the illness.
This is where the mind is quite different from the body. If the body is ill, you go to another person who is a qualified doctor, he gives you some physical object, an external physical object, whether it be a pill or a bottle of some liquid, and you take it and it is supposed to bring about healing, and time and again it does. But in this case the process is always within the microcosm, yourself. You have given yourself to the macrocosm which contains the microcosm. So the relationship is there. The microcosm pays attention, complete attention to every single thought, word, feeling and action. You are mindful.
As I am speaking to you, I know that I am doing this with my hands, I am fully aware of it. I don’t do it deliberately for the sake of effect, it happens naturally, all right, but I am aware of it. This is the point, you are simply aware without judgement, without preference. You don’t say, “This is good, I’d like to have it and I’ll keep it with me”. You don’t say, “This is bad, I dislike it, I’ll get rid of it.” This produces greed and attachment, bondage and limitation. That produces aversion, hatred, conflict, destruction, death.
This is how you transcend the duals and release yourself from bondage to duality, because no longer is it my conception of virtue, the meaning of love or truth or goodness, which I, with my little brain put to it. But the Total Truth comes into being out of the whole universe and enlightens me. This is the point. I do nothing, I can’t do anything. It is Totality, it is Transcendence which does everything all the time. I am not the doer, it is the Transcendent which is the doer. My whole task is to be attentive, totally attentive, without criticisms, without judgements, that is to say without condemnatory judgements or approving judgements. You judge and see a thing for exactly what it is. If you see a man you don’t say that that is a tree or a motorcar. You see the fact as the fact, and if you see a motorcar you can see, “Ah, this is a lovely Mercedes, a perfect car, or it is a rotten old broken down engine.” You see the fact as the fact, but you neither get attached to it nor do you experience aversion to it. That is how the psyche is set free of conflict. And you do the right thing, not merely because you are capable of right judgement, but because you are inspired by this Transcendent Reality which functions permanently through you.