Commentaries on Living Series 3
Commentaries on Living Series III Chapter 30 'Self-interest Decays the Mind'
WINDING FROM ONE side of the valley to the other, the path crossed over a small bridge where the swiftly-running water was brown from the recent rains. Turning north, it led on over gentle slopes to a secluded village. That village and its people were very poor. The dogs were mangy, and they would bark from a distance never venturing near, their tails down, their heads held high, ready to run. Many goats were scattered about on the hillside, bleating, and eating the wild bushes. It was beautiful country, green, with blue hills. The bare granite projecting from the tops of the hills had been washed by the rains of countless centuries. These hills were not high, but they were very old, and against the blue sky they had a fantastic beauty, that strange loveliness of measureless time. They were like the temples that man builds to resemble them, in his longing to reach the heavens. But that evening, with the setting sun on them, these hills seemed very close. Far to the south a storm was gathering, and the lightning among the clouds gave a strange feeling to the land. The storm would break during the night; but the hills had stood through the storms of untold ages, and they would always be there, beyond all the toil and sorrow of man.
The villagers were returning to their homes, weary after a day's work in the fields. Soon you would see smoke rising from their huts as they prepared the evening meal. It wouldn't be much; and the children, waiting for their meal, would smile as you went by. They were large-eyed and shy of strangers, but they were friendly. Two little girls held small babies on their hips while their mothers were cooking; the babies would slip down, and get jerked up onto the hips again. Though only ten or twelve years old, these little girls were already used to holding babies; and they both smiled. The evening breeze was among the trees, and the cattle were being brought in for the night.
On that path there was now no other person, not even a lonely villagers The earth seemed suddenly empty, strangely quiet. The new, young moon was just over the dark hills. The breeze had stopped, not a leaf was stirring; everything was still, and the mind was completely alone. It wasn't lonely, isolated, enclosed within its own thought, but alone, untouched, uncontaminated. It wasn't aloof and distant, apart from the things of the earth. It was alone, and yet with everything; because it was alone, everything was of it. That which is separate knows itself as being separated; but this aloneness knew no separation, no division. The trees, the stream, the villager calling in the distance, were all within this aloneness. It was not an identification with man, with the earth, for all identification had utterly vanished. In this aloneness, the sense of the passing of time had ceased.
There were three of them, a father, his son and a friends The father must have been in his late fifties, the son in his thirties, and the friend was of uncertain age. The two older men were bald, but the son still had plenty of hair. He had a well-shaped head, a rather short nose and wide-set eyes. His lips were restless, though he sat quietly enough. The father had seated himself behind his son and the friend, saying that he would take part in the talk if necessary, but otherwise would just watch and listen. A sparrow came to the open window and flew away again, frightened by so many people in the room. It knew that room, and would often perch on the window-sill, chirping softly, without fear.
"Though my father may not take part in the conversation," the son began, "he wants to be in on it, for the problem is one that concerns us all. My mother would have come had she not been feeling so unwell, and she is looking forward to the report we shall make to her. We have read some of the things you have said and my father particularly has followed your talks from afar; but it is only within the last year or so that I have myself taken a real interest in what you are saying. Until recently, politics have absorbed the greater part of my interest and enthusiasm; but I have begun to see the immaturity of politics. The religious life is only for the maturing mind, and not for politicians and lawyers. I have been a fairly successful lawyer, but am a lawyer no longer, as I want to spend the remaining years of my life in something vastly more significant and worth whiles I am speaking also for my friend, who wanted to accompany us when he heard we were coming here. You see, sir, our problem is the fact that we are all growing old. Even I, though still comparatively young, am coming to that period of life when time seems to fly, when one's days seem so short and death so near. Death, for the moment at least, is not a problem; but old age is."
What do you mean by old age? Are you referring to the aging of the physical organism, or of the mind?
"The aging of the body is of course inevitable, it wears out through use and disease. But need the mind age and deteriorate?"
To think speculatively is futile and a waste of time. Is the deterioration of the mind a supposition, or an actual fact?
"It is a fact, sir. I am aware that my mind is growing old, tired; slow deterioration is taking place."
Is this not also a problem with the young, though they may still be unaware of it? Their minds are even now set in a mould; their thought is already enclosed within a narrow pattern. But what do you mean when you say that your mind is growing old?
"It is not as pliable, as alert as sensitive as it used to be. Its awareness is shrinking; its responses to the many challenges of life are increasingly from the storage of the past. It's deteriorating, functioning more and more within the limits of its own setting."
Then what makes the mind deteriorate? It is self-protectiveness and resistance to change, is it not? Each one has a vested interest which he is consciously or unconsciously protecting, watching over, and not allowing anything to disturb.
"Do you mean a vested interest in property?"
Not only in property, but in relationships of every kind. Nothing can exist in isolation. Life is relationship; and the mind has a vested interest in its relationship to people, to ideas, and to things. This self-interest, and the refusal to bring about a fundamental revolution within itself, is the beginning of the mind's deterioration. Most minds are conservative, they resist changes Even the so-called revolutionary mind is conservative, for once it has gained its revolutionary success, it also resists change; the revolution itself becomes its vested interest. Even though the mind, whether it be conservative or so-called revolutionary, may permit certain modifications on the fringes of its activities, it resists all change at the centre. Circumstances may compel it to yield, to adapt itself, with pain or with ease, to a different pattern; but the centre remains hard, and it's this centre that causes the deterioration of the minds.
"What do you mean by the centre?"
Don't you know? Are you seeking a description of it?
"No, sir, but through the description I may touch it, get the feeling of it."
"Sir," put in the father, "we may intellectually be aware of that centre, but actually most of us have never come face to face with its I have myself seen it cunningly and subtly described in various books, but I have never really confronted it; and when you ask if we know it, I for one can only say that I don't. I only know the descriptions of it."
"It is again our vested interest," added the friend, "our deep-rooted desire for security, that prevents us from knowing that centres I don't know my own son, though I have lived with him from infancy, and I know even less that which is much closer than my son. To know it one must look at it, observe it, listen to it, but I never do. I am always in a hurry; and when occasionally I do look at it, I am at odds with it."
We are talking of the aging, the deteriorating mind. The mind is ever building the pattern of its own certainty, the security of its own interests; the words, the form, the expression may vary from time to time, from culture to culture, but the centre of self-interest remains. It is this centre that causes the mind to deteriorate, however outwardly alert and active it may be. This centre is not a fixed point, but various points within the mind, and so it's the mind itself. Improvement of the mind, or moving from one centre to another, does not banish these centres; discipline, suppression or sublimation of one centre only establishes another in its place.
Now, what do we mean when we say we are alive?
"Ordinarily," replied the son, "we consider ourselves alive when we talk, when we laugh, when there's sensation, when there's thought, activity, conflict, joy."
So what we call living is acceptance or `revolt' within the social pattern; it's a movement within the cage of the mind. Our life is an endless series of pains and pleasures, fears and frustrations, wanting and graspings; and when we do consider the mind's deterioration, and ask whether it's possible to put an end to it, our inquiry is also within the cage of the mind. Is this living?
"I'm afraid we know no other life," said the father. "As we grow older, pleasures shrink while sorrows seem to increase; and if one is at all thoughtful, one is aware that one's mind is gradually deteriorating. The body inevitably grows old and knows decay; but how is one to prevent this aging of the mind?"
We lead a thoughtless life, and towards the end of it we begin to wonder why the mind decays, and how to arrest the process. Surely, what matters is how we live our days, not only when we are young, but also in middle life, and during the declining years. The right kind of life demands of us far more intelligence than any vocation for earning a livelihood. Right thinking is essential for right living.
"What do you mean by right thinking?" asked the friend.
There's a vast difference, surely, between right thinking and right thought. Right thinking is constant awareness; right thought, on the other hand, is either conformity to a pattern set by society, or a reaction against society. Right thought is static, it is a process of grouping together certain concepts, called ideals, and following them. Right thought inevitably builds up the authoritarian, hierarchical outlook and engenders respectability; whereas right thinking is awareness of the whole process of conformity, imitation acceptance, revolt. Right thinking, unlike right thought, is not a thing to be achieved; it arises spontaneously with self-knowledge, which is the perception of the ways of the self. Right thinking cannot be learnt from books, or from another; it comes through the mind's awareness of itself in the action of relationship. But there can be no understanding of this action as long as the mind justifies or condemns it. So, right thinking eliminates conflict and self-contradiction, which are the fundamental causes of the mind's deterioration.
"Is not conflict an essential part of life?" asked the son. "If we did not struggle, we would merely vegetate."
We think we are alive when we are caught up in the conflict of ambition, when we are driven by the compulsion of envy, when desire pushes us into action; but all this only leads to greater misery and confusion. Conflict increases self-centred activity, but the understanding of conflict comes about through right thinking.
"Unfortunately this process of struggle and misery, with some joy, is the only life we know," said the father. "There are intimations of another kind of life, but they are few and far between. To go beyond this mess and find that other life is ever the object of our search."
To search for what is beyond the actual is to be caught in illusion. Everyday existence, with its ambitions, envies, and so on, must be understood; but to understand it demands awareness right thinking. There's no right thinking when thought starts with an assumption, a bias. Setting out with a conclusion, or looking for a preconceived answer, puts an end to right thinking; in fact, there is then no thinking at all. So, right thinking is the foundation of righteousness.
"It seems to me," put in the son, "that at least one of the factors in this whole problem of the mind's deterioration is the question of right occupation."
What do you mean by right occupation?
"I have noticed, sir, that those who become wholly absorbed in some activity or profession soon forget themselves; they are too busy to think about themselves, which is a good thing."
But isn't such absorption an escape from oneself? And to escape from oneself is wrong occupation; it is corrupting, it breeds enmity, division, and so on. Right occupation comes through the right kind of education, and with the understanding of oneself. Haven't you noticed that whatever the activity or profession, the self consciously or unconsciously uses it as a means for its own gratification, for the fulfilment of its ambition, or for the achievement of success in terms of power?
"That is so, unfortunately. We seem to use everything we touch for our own advancement."
It is this self-interest, this constant self-advancement, that makes the mind petty; and though its activity be extensive, though it be occupied with politics science, art, research, or what you will, there is a narrowing down of thinking, a shallowness that brings about deterioration, decay. Only when there's understanding of the totality of the mind, the unconscious as well as the conscious, is there a possibility of the mind's regeneration.
"Worldliness is the curse of the modern generation," said the father. "It is carried away by the things of the world, and does not give thought to serious things."
This generation is like other generations. Worldly things are not merely refrigerators, silk shirts, airplanes, television sets, and so on; they include ideals, the seeking of power, whether personal or collective, and the desire to be secure, either in this world or the next. All this corrupts the mind and brings about its decay. The problem of deterioration is to be understood at the beginning, in one's youth, not at the period of physical decline.
"Does that mean there's no hope for us?"
Not at all. It's more arduous to stop the mind's deterioration at our age, that's all. To bring about a radical change in the ways of our life, there must be expanding awareness, and a great depth of feeling which is love. With love everything is possible.
Commentaries on Living Series 3
Commentaries on Living Series III Chapter 30 'Self-interest Decays the Mind'
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