New Delhi 1960
New Delhi 7th Public Talk 6th March 1960
I would like this evening to talk about time and death; but it seems to me that it is important, first of all, to understand what we mean by listening. You are listening to what is being said, obviously; and what is being said is a challenge. But are you listening in order to find an answer, or are you listening to the challenge itself? I think there is a difference between listening to the challenge, and trying to find out how to respond to the challenge. Most of us, when we are confronted with a challenge, with a problem, immediately start looking for an answer, for a way out of the problem; so the problem is never important. For most of us, what is important is the solution; but the solution is in the problem, it is not away from the problem.
So, we must be very clear that live are not merely trying to find an answer, a solution, but are listening to the challenge, to the issues involved in time and death. If you are merely concerned with finding an answer, then I am afraid you will go away disappointed, because it is not the purpose of these talks to provide answers. But what we are trying to do is to explore the problem together; and in any exploration, how one explores is of the highest importance. If you explore in order to find an answer, then your exploration becomes merely a means to an end, and therefore exploration has no value in itself. The moment your attention is diverted to finding a solution for the problem, exploration and discovery cease to have very much significance.
Please do listen to this a little attentively, if you will. When we are faced with a problem, the immediate reaction of most of us is to try to slip out of it; we want to find an answer, and we say, "What shall I do?" But time and death are an immense problem, are they not? They are an extraordinarily complex problem, in which there is a sense of magnificence, a certain splendour and beauty. But if we do not appreciate, or are not sensitive to the problem, merely to seek a solution is so empty, a routine matter that has very little significance.
So, it matters very much how you are listening. As I said, there is a great difference between listening to find an answer, and listening to the problem, to the challenge itself. If you are looking for an answer, your mind is distracted; but if you are trying to understand the problem, then your whole mind is giving attention to it; and surely that is the way you must inquire into time and death, because these two factors play an extraordinarily important part in our lives. But whether you seek a solution, or give your full attention to the challenge, depends entirely on yourself.
When someone whom you love dies and you are enveloped in a cloud of sorrow, your only concern is to find a way of being free from this grief, from this burden of tears; you are generally not interested in understanding the extraordinary thing called death. Isn't that so? And there is this problem of time, in which each one of us is involved - not only chronological time, but also inward time, the psychological sense of time that is developed by a mind which says, "I was, I am, and I shall be". All of us are concerned with time in one way or another. There is the necessity of catching a train, of arranging for what one will do or where one will go tomorrow. Time is also involved in the cultivation of a virtue - which of course is totally absurd - , in fulfilling an ambition, in trying to think out a problem, and so on.
Now, to understand time, you have to understand the operations of the mind as a whole; and in that understanding you will perceive the altogetherness of time.
Sirs, may I point out that you are not only listening to my words. Words are mere symbols, they have very little meaning in themselves. You are also observing your own mind - or rather, the mind is observing itself, which means that it is aware of how it is listening to what is being said. Please, I am labouring this point because, if we do not lay the right foundation our structure will be superficial and very shoddy. But if we know how to lay the foundation deeply, rightly, then we can build truly. What we are trying to do now is to lay the right foundation, so that the process of inquiry will be right; and that inquiry depends on you, not on me. In listening to these words, you have to be aware of all the operations of your own mind. I am using words to describe the operations of the mind; but if you hear only the words and do not listen to the mind itself in operation, then the words will convey very little.
The altogetherness of time is the active present. A verb is in its essence the active present, is it not? The verb `to be' includes `has been', `being', and `will be' - that which was, that which is, and that which is to be. But most of us are concerned with the progression of what has been, through what is, to what will be. That is our life, and we are functioning, acting in those terms: the past flowering in and being modified by the present, thereby creating the future. Our action, which is already determined by yesterday, is modified by today and shapes what will be tomorrow. In other words, for most of us the cause and the effect are separated by an interval, a gap in which the cause inexorably becomes the effect, and which by Indians is generally called karma.
Now, if you examine very closely this chain of cause-and effect, you will find that our action is not so completely dependent on the original cause, but may arise from something entirely different. That is, a mango seed will always produce a mango tree, never a palm or a tamarind. The cause is fixed in the very nature of the mango seed, and it produces a fixed effect. It cannot do otherwise than produce a mango tree. But with us the situation is quite different, because what was an effect becomes a cause which is constantly being modified in the present through various influences, and may therefore produce an effect entirely different from the original cause. So, with human beings the cause is never fixed, it is always undergoing a change, and that change is reflected in future action. The understanding of this fact is the total comprehension of action.
Time, for most of us, is this progression of the past through the present to the future, the feeling that I have been and that I am; and because I have been and I am, I shall be. In this field of time we function.
Now, time is knowledge, is it not? Yesterday I did, or thought, or experienced such and such a thing, and with the knowledge of what I did, or thought, or experienced I meet the present challenge: the anger of my wife or husband, the condemnation of the political bosses, or whatever it is. I live in the present with what I have known; and the known in response to the present challenge, creates the future. So the mind is always working within the field of time, within the field of the modified known. The possibility of functioning beyond time is merely a theory, a matter of faith or belief, which is itself a projection of the known within the field of time. That is one aspect of it.
Then there is the aspect of time which the mind creates as memory. Every experience that you have, however small or great, however petty or magnificent, takes root in the soil of the mind as memory, does it not? The mind becomes the soil in which experience takes root.
I do hope you are following all this so that, at the end of the talk or even now, we can all feel the extraordinary quality of time and death. To a mind that understands, that is not afraid, death must be something astonishing, colossal; it must be as magnificent, as beautiful as life is. But, you see, we do not know what death is; it is the unknown, and therefore it becomes something to be thought about, to be speculated upon. Sirs, as long as the mind does not understand its own operations, death will have very little meaning.
So it is very important for each one of us to go through this process of inquiry, not theoretically, but actually, so that the mind comes out of it with a clarity of perception. Most of us are asleep and tortured by the nightmare of our own demands, urges, compulsions, ambitions. We are always functioning within that field of tyranny, of conflict, which is the field of all the things that we go through every day. And the problem, the challenge is: can the mind really disentangle itself from the known and be in a state to receive the unknown, which is death? Do you understand, sirs?
For most of us, death is despair. Death is finality, which is a terrible thing for a man who is full of vitality, who is ambitious, creative, who is working, acquiring, doing. At the end of all this - death. What for? And being full of despair, such a man invents a philosophy or turns to a belief - belief in resurrection, or in reincarnation - that satisfies him, gives him hope.
As I was saying, every experience that you have takes root in the mind as memory. If I flatter you, or insult you, that experience takes root in your mind, does it not? You never forget it. So the mind has become the soil in which experiences, thoughts continually take root - the mind being the unconscious as well as the conscious - , and from that background of memory, of accumulated thought and experience, we act, we think, we are. That background is the factor of the known, it is the creator of the known. I wonder if you are following this?
Look, sirs: you go to the office every day because you have learnt a certain technique by which you earn your livelihood. That technique has become a mechanical memory. You know what to do and how to do it, and from that background you act, from that background you are. So what you are and what you do is essentially mechanical, repetitious, with little modifications here and there. It is the same with almost all of us. Experience as knowledge has taken root in the mind, and we function always within the field of the known; or from the known we create the opposite and act from that opposite, which is still within the field of the known, the field of time.
So, there is time as yesterday, today and tomorrow; and time as memory, which is the factor of the known. Time is the verb `to be: that which has been, that which is, and that which will be. Now, if you consider that verb, you will see that the state it represents, while embracing what has been, what is and what will be, is always actively present. Similarly, there is only a state of mind which is actively present, though we translate it as yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Now, the problem, the challenge is this: is it possible for the mind which is aware of this whole process of time, which has explored and understood it, to grasp the significance of death? Death is the unknown, it is not merely the disintegration of the body; and our fear of death is the fear of there being no continuity, which is naturally the psychological reaction of memory, whose urge is to continue in time. Let me put it differently.
What is it about death we are afraid of? Essentially it is fear of not being, isn't it? I have been, and I am; but when death comes, I may cease to be. That is what I am afraid of, because I want to continue. Though different names are given to it by different people, to continue in one form or another is the urge of everyone; and continuity is always within the field of time. Without time, without memory, there is no continuity as `I was' and `I will be'. But the factor of fear comes in when there is any doubt about this continuity of being, and so the mind begins to invent or cling to comforting theories, which it then tries to bolster up by saying, "There is a great deal of evidence for human continuity after death", and so on and so on.
Thought is continuity; thought is time. There is no thinking, no verbalizing without memory. Memory functions essentially within the field of time, and therefore memory is mechanical. If I ask you something with which you are thoroughly familiar, you respond immediately. But if the question is more complex, you take a little more time; there is an interval between the challenge and the response. In that interval the mind is in operation, searching the corridors of memory, or thinking out what the answer should be. So, thinking has continuity.
Sirs, this is really important, and if you will, please go into it a little bit with me. Let us take the journey into it together; because, if we do not understand the process of thinking, we shall not know what it is to die. To most of us, death is a finality to be feared, because we want to continue. But if we can investigate and understand the whole process of thinking, then death is not a fearsome finality because there is no longer any sense of wanting to continue. We will go into it, think it out together.
Factually, what are you? Please do not respond theoretically, saying that you are the Atman, that you are a son of God, and all the rest of it. Factually, what are you? You are the result of your environmental influences, are you not? You are the result of the culture, the education, the social environment in which you were brought up. I know you don't like to think that, but it is a fact. You like to think of yourself as an extraordinary spiritual entity who is not influenceable. But the fact is that you are what you have been taught. You are the embodiment of tradition, of superstition. You are the entity who has learnt a technique and who functions like a machine in a certain pattern of action. You are sorrowful, you are lustful, you are seeking power. All that is what you actually are, and on top of it you superimpose the concept of an extraordinary spiritual state which is still the result of the culture in which you were brought up, whether it be Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem, Christian, or what you will.
Now, essentially you want that bundle of conditioning to continue, with little modifications here and there. You don't want too much sorrow, you don't want to be in a constant battle with yourself, you would like to have a little more peace; but you want to continue in essence as you are. What you are is thought - thought being the result of accumulated experiences, which is memory. You function from the background of the known, and that background is what you want to continue. Therefore death is to you a finality, a fearful door to go through, so you say to yourself, "There must be some form of continuity".
Now, that which has continuity is mechanical. Sirs, do please listen to this. That which has continuity is mechanical. If you know how to oil it properly, a machine will continue running for a very long time. If you can create a machine without friction, it will continue to function indefinitely, as the satellites are doing. But it will be entirely mechanical. And you are frightened of not continuing to function in this mechanical sense. I think you are frightened because that is all you know: how to function mechanically in time. The idea of ceasing to function mechanically, in a world you do not know, which is death, is frightening to you; and being frightened, you say that there must be reincarnation, or some other form of continuity - you know all the speculative, hopeful theories which the mind invents.
Please bear in mind that we are not discussing whether there is a form of continuity or not. That is totally irrelevant. It is a stupid mind that says, "I must continue", and it will remain stupid. It may continue, but it will still be mechanical.
So, our problem, surely, is this: is it inevitable that we function within the field of time, within the field of the known? And is it possible to die to the known? Is it possible to die to one's pleasure? We all want to die to our pains. But is it possible to die to one's pleasure? Is it possible to die to everything that one has known, so that the mind is not merely a machine? Do you follow?
That which has continuity functions in time as yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is being modified each minute, but it has a continuity; and whatever has a continuity is mechanical, therefore it cannot be creative. A machine can never be creative. These electronic brains can function with incredible speed, but they cannot invent, they can never be in a state of creation. For most of us, life is machine-like, one long series of mechanical actions, and therefore we are bored with it; and from this terrible routine of existence we seek to escape through God, through going to temples, churches, through turning on the radio and pursuing every other form of distraction.
As I said at the beginning of the talk, we are not seeking an answer, because in serious matters life has no answer. Life, which is vast and profound, has little ripples which cause disturbances, and from these superficial disturbances we try to escape through an answer. If you are seeking an answer because you are disturbed, you may think about God, you may play games with the idea of truth, eternity; but your mind will still be shallow, stupid, petty. So, is it possible to die to the things one has known, the things the mind is rooted in? If one can, then there is only a state of dying, and not the finality of death.
Sirs, through human endeavour, human continuity, the mind has become mechanical. We are not even fully operative machines, but half-dead machines; our brains are functioning at only twenty-five per cent of capacity, or not even that. We are not functioning totally, wholly. We are caught between the Communist with his Marxist theories, and the so-called religious person, with his beliefs, with his dogmas, and we are creating a monstrous world. Though every politician has on his tongue that word `peace', his actions and his very existence deny it. We are living in a terrible world, and we need a new mind - not an old mind modified, but a totally new mind. And you cannot have a new mind, a mind that is young, innocent, fresh, as long as there is any desire for continuity.
So, is it possible to die to the whole of yesterday? Please listen to this. It is not my problem, it is your problem. Can you die to the whole of yesterday? Now, that is a challenge, isn't it? And are you listening to the challenge - or listening to find out how to die to yesterday? The miseries, the pleasures, the fleeting joys, the routine, the ugly brutality of your existence, the appalling shallowness of your thinking - can you die to all that? If you are listening to find out how to die, trying to decide how much to keep and how much to discard, then you won't find an answer. But if you are listening to the challenge, then that very listening is the experiencing of dying.
As I said, we need a new mind, because the old mind has created terrible problems for which it has no answers. Whatever it reforms creates another misery; whatever it builds produces another shadow, a further conflict. So, a fresh mind is essential if we are to create a new generation, a different world.
Now, can your mind die to everything it has known - known in terms of continuity, or ambition? Can you die to all that - and not ask what will happen if you die to it? To ask what will happen, is not to listen to the challenge, but only to seek an answer to the problem with which you are confronted. The challenge is: can you die to your ambition, to your corruption, to your envy, to your acquisitiveness? And if you listen to the challenge, then that very act of listening is the experiencing of dying to that which has continuity.
Don't you see, sirs? You need an innocent mind, a fresh mind, a mind which is not cluttered up with the known. An innocent mind is a mind which functions in the unknown; and dying to the known is the door to the unknown. The unknown is not measurable by the known. Time cannot measure the timeless, the eternal, that immensity which has no beginning and no end. But our minds are bound to the yardstick of yesterday, today and tomorrow, and with that yardstick we try to inquire into the unknown, to measure that which is not measurable. And when we try to measure something which is not measurable, we only get caught in words.
So it is only a mind that has listened to and understood the challenge of death - it is only such a mind that can die to its own miseries, and therefore be in a state of innocency; and from that state of innocency there is a totally different action altogether. Such action is always in the present; it is the active present. An innocent mind does not think in terms of having been something yesterday, which it is modifying today in order to gain something tomorrow. I feel it is urgently important for each one of us to find this out for himself. Because, as we are now, we are creating a dreadful world for the generations to come. We cannot bring into being a new generation unless we ourselves die to the old. As long as the mind lives and functions within the field of time, do what it will - go to innumerable temples, worship strange gods, repeat every kind of prayer, perform sacrifices, mumble a lot of words - , it can never know that which is eternal, immeasurable. Only the mind that lives completely in the silence of the active present, is open to receive the unknowable; and it is only such a mind that can bring about a new world, because only such a mind is in a state of creation.
March 6, 1960
New Delhi 1960
New Delhi 7th Public Talk 6th March 1960
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