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Madras 1959

Madras 3rd Public Talk 29th November 1959

It would perhaps be worthwhile to talk over together the rather complex problem of action - not a specialized action in relation to a particular problem, but action as a whole. We are not here concerned with political action, or with whether you should choose a particular job, or with what you should do under certain circumstances. I think such an approach to the problem of action is invalid, because we always seem to get lost in the part and are therefore incapable of tackling the problem as a whole. So if it is possible, I would like to consider, rather hesitantly, this question of action, of what to do.

Are we not faced with this problem, all of us, in different ways? But we unfortunately translate it in terms of what to do in a particular set of circumstances, what to do when a challenge arises, and so on. Surely, action born of choice is partial, it is never total; and our problem is how to capture the significance, the meaning of total action, and not be caught in a particular form of action demanded by society. If we can be very clear in our approach to this problem, then I think we shall find the right answer. But most of us invariably put wrong questions and get wrong answers, which only creates further problems.

So, what is total action? If one understands the totality of action, one will respond rightly to a particular demand; but to respond to a particular demand without this understanding, only creates further confusion. If I act merely politically, without completely understanding the totality of action, such partial activity itself breeds contradiction. That is the case with most of us. Being caught in a network of special ideas, we try to solve our problems through partial action, which only increases and expands our problems.

Then what is total action? It is action in which there is no contradiction, is it not? And such action must obviously come about without effort, because effort is the result of contradiction. I would like to go into this problem and understand it as much as possible within this given hour.

But before we go into the question of total action, must we not inquire into the present action of the individual in relation to society, in relation to an organized political group, in relation to everything that is going on about us? What is the action of the individual at present, and what can he do when society is crushing him, perverting his thinking, so that he has no freedom? The more society is organized, the more ruthless it is with the individual. We see this happening in different parts of the world. The Communists have no place for the individual; though they talk about his ultimate freedom, the individual is completely destroyed. It is essentially the same with the organized religions. Though they talk about the individual attaining salvation, the individual is conditioned according to a particular creed, whether it be Catholic, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, or what you will.

So the encroachment of society upon the individual is constantly increasing, and his margin of freedom, his clarity of thinking, is becoming very narrow. I do not know if you are aware of this. You must be. And being aware of it, what are you to do? I am merely putting this question so that we shall begin to think it out together. What is the individual to do, under present circumstances, in his relationship with the family, with society? What is he to do with regard to religion? Should he join the overwhelmingly organized Communist society? Surely, the moment you join an organization, you are already a slave to that organization. To fight a Hitler, or to fight the Communists, you have to employ the same methods which they use. We all know this. And what is the position of the individual who is confronted with all these things? Most of us are just swallowed up, because to struggle against the pressure of society would involve a great deal of discomfort and uncertainty; it would mean a revolution in the life of the individual. To break away from the habit of belonging to something, requires immense clarity in thinking, because clarity in thinking is character. Without such clarity, there is no character, no individuality.

Now, what is the nature of total action? I think, tentatively, that there are two ways of action, One is action from a centre, and the other is action which has no centre. Most of us act from a centre - the centre which is made up of knowledge, of experience, the centre which is conditioned according to the culture, the religion, the economic status in which we have lived. When you go to the factory or to the office, when you carry on your business, when you perform ceremonies, rituals, when you worship what you call God - in all this you are consciously or unconsciously acting from the centre of knowledge, of tradition, of experience. That centre can be controlled, it can be strengthened or weakened by a carefully organized society. I may leave Hinduism and become a Catholic or a Communist, but whatever I do, that centre will always remain; only the technique, the coating, has changed.

I am not saying anything very strange. This process is obviously taking place in each one of us. As a Hindu, you think in a certain way. If you become a Communist, you will think in a different way, but your thinking is always from the centre of conditioning. All self-conscious exertion to achieve arises from that centre, which is also made up of ambition, fear, envy, hate, of the desire to do good, and the desire to be good. So we are functioning from that centre all the time - or rather, that centre is functioning all the time, because the mind is not different from that centre. The thinker is the thought; the thought is not apart from the thinker. The centre is the process of thinking according to a certain pattern, thinking according to our conditioning as Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Communists, or what you will. As long as that centre is functioning, obviously there must be innumerable contradictions, conflicts, there must be fear, hope, despair. Out of the desire to fulfil ourselves, and to avoid frustrations, we invent many illusions, myths, which we dignify with such words as `God', `truth'.

There is, I feel, an action which is not the outcome of a centre. But that action can be known only when one does not belong to any society, to any nationality, to any organized religion - which means that one is capable of withstanding all the influences of the group, of society. This, it seems to me, is the only hope for the individual in a world where Communism is spreading, and where organized religion, which is fighting Communism, is also spreading. After all, the Roman Catholic Church is a highly organized religious body, and it is fighting Communism, which is also highly organized, and which is its own religion. These two - Communism, and organized resistance to Communism - are spreading. So what is the individual to do? To belong to any group, to any religious or political organization, implies the functioning of a centre, of a conditioned mind.

I do not know, sirs, if I am making myself clear. If not, we can discuss this point again later on.

That centre, from which most of us function, is made up of knowledge in different forms - knowledge as technique, knowledge as experience, knowledge as tradition, knowledge as memory of the things we have been told. It is essentially a centre of habit, a centre of authority. That centre is authority itself. So I think we should examine the whole process of knowledge and authority.

A mind that is a slave to knowledge, is bound by authority. Please think it over as I am talking to you, and do not wait until you go home. The mind that has accumulated knowledge of what to do, what to think, or how to think; the mind that has merely acquired the technique of a professor, of a mechanic, of a priest, of a bureaucrat - such a mind is obviously a slavish mind, bound to its own knowledge. It is never free. The mind is free only when it is aware of its authoritarian knowledge, and puts it aside. Then it can use knowledge without being enslaved by knowledge.

But this is an extremely difficult thing to do. Knowledge gives us a sense of functioning in society with stability, with clarity; it gives us a feeling of certainty, a sense of security; so knowledge breeds authority, and we worship authority. We worship the man who knows, the professor, the guru, the writer of books, and so on. But the mind that is inquiring, that is seeking to understand what is freedom, cannot be a slave to knowledge.

If you observe your own mind in operation, you will see how extraordinarily difficult it is to be free of past experiences, previous thoughts, established habits. I do not know if you have observed and have tried to understand yourselves in this way; but if you have, then you will know how arduous it is to free the mind from the pattern of yesterday. Yesterday may be tradition, it may be your own experience, it may be what you have read, what you have gathered, what you have listened to, what you have learnt. Essentially it is based on the opinions, the ideas of others - on what Shankara, Buddha, Christ, Marx, or Stalin has said. This yesterday has already set going a momentum, it has established a pattern which has become your authority; and unless this momentum of yesterday, which has created in your mind a pattern of authority, is understood, you are blocked in the pursuit of self-knowledge. You cannot proceed further, because authority, whether political or so-called religious, makes the mind a slave; it cannot think freely, it cannot be totally aware.

When knowledge becomes the core of authority, it is very difficult for the mind to be free of authority. The electronic brain can perform certain functions much faster and far more efficiently than the human mind, but it is not free. It cannot think of something new, it can only function in accordance with what it has been taught to do - and that is exactly the situation with the human mind, except that in the case of the human mind there is hope of freedom, of freshness, of newness. But the freshness, the newness cannot come into being as long as the mind is unaware of and does not understand the binding quality of authority, of knowledge.

Knowledge is a peculiar thing, is it not? We not only know the past, but we also know the future, or think we do, because the past projects itself through the present into the future. The Communists, like the organized religious people, claim to know the future, and they are willing to sacrifice the present generation to achieve that future, the ultimate and perfect Utopia. They are slaves, not only to the past, but also to their projected future.

Now, realizing that our minds are crippled, that we are not free either from the past or from the projected future, should we not ask ourselves whether there is action which has no centre? But first of all, is it possible for one to communicate to another the significance of such action? I am speaking English, and you understand the English words, which have a certain meaning, so we understand each other to some extent at the verbal level. But surely the significance of total action is communicable only when you and I go beyond the verbal level. Mere description cannot bring about understanding; on the contrary, description perverts understanding if your mind clings to words, because you give a certain interpretation to the words, which creates a blockage between us. The moment we try to communicate with each other merely at the verbal level, there is agreement or denial. You say "I am of the same opinion" or "You are wrong, I do not agree with you", and so on. I think this approach is completely false. Understanding is not a matter of agreement and disagreement. Either you understand, or you do not understand. The mind that approaches the problem with a set of opinions, conclusions, will agree or disagree, and so there is no perception of the actual.

I would like to talk about action which is not partial, which is not the outcome of knowledge, which is not the product of authority, but something entirely different - which means, really, action without a centre, It must have happened to you that you have done something without calculation, without argumentation, without the cunning machinations of thought, without thinking of what has been or what may be, without choice. You must have done something in your life without this whole process taking place. But to understand this kind of action requires a great deal of self-knowledge, which is comprehension of the workings of one's own mind; because it is so easy to deceive oneself and say, "I have acted without a centre, I have joined such and such a group without the process of thought" - which is idiotic and immature, for what is functioning is one's own hidden desire. Whereas, action which is total, and which has no centre, requires exploration into oneself - and this means, really, going into the whole process of thinking, into the whole mechanism of the mind, without a limit, without an end in view.

I do not know if any of you have ever seriously gone into yourselves with complete willingness, with wholeheartedness, with joy, without any sense of compulsion, and have tried to discover what you are. Merely to say "I am this" or "I am not that", is again immature, it has no meaning. To explore, to discover, there must be joy, there must be enthusiasm, vitality, especially when going into this complex thing called the mind. But most of us explore either out of despair, or to find something which will give us nourishment, which will give us stability, an assurance of continuity. Real inquiry must be without any of these things. One inquires just to find out what is actually taking place. I do not know if you have ever done that, if you have ever studied yourself as a woman studies her face in a mirror. There is nothing wrong with studying your face in a mirror, which is to see it exactly as it is - straight hair, crooked nose, and so on. You can embellish it, colour it, try to make it more beautiful, but that is another matter. Similarly, to study yourself is to see what is actually the state of your mind - why you think and do certain things, why you go to the office, or to the temple, why you talk in a certain way to your wife, to your servant, why you read the sacred books, why you attend these talks. You have to know all this from moment to moment, not as accumulated knowledge on the basis of which you function. Learning is a movement of the mind in which there is no accumulation. You can learn only when knowledge is not being gathered from the movement of learning. The moment you gather knowledge, add to what you have learnt, you have ceased to learn. A mind that gathers knowledge through learning, is driven by the desire for safety, security, or is out for some profit. Whereas, in the movement of learning there is no accumulation - and that is the beauty of learning. To learn is just to see what you are - the hate, the calumny, the vulgarity, the fears, the hopes, the anxieties, the ambitions - without judging, without evaluating, without condemning or accepting.

Understanding or perception comes when there is a movement of learning which is not additive. If the mind can observe and comprehend itself in this way, you will find that out of such observation and comprehension there is an action which is total, which has no centre as the `I', the self.

Sirs, do try it. Do not attempt to cultivate a particular kind of action, but inquire into the whole problem of action - which you cannot do as long as you are merely seeking an answer to the problem. It is because we give so little thought to these things that our lives are miserable, petty, narrow, sorrow-laden. What most of us want is respectability.

A man who would really inquire, must first understand his own mind. Without understanding your own mind, you will understand nothing. You may go to church, perform rituals, you may repeat like a gramophone record what you have read in the Scriptures; but that does not make for religion. A religious mind is one that has understood its own processes, its hidden motives, its untrodden paths. It has delved into the profound depths of itself; because it is living, moving, functioning, and never coming to a conclusion, it is discovering all the time what is truth. Truth is not static; it is moving, dynamic, it has no abode, and the mind that is incapable of following it swiftly can never understand the quality, the immeasurable nature of truth. That is why self-knowledge is essential - not knowledge of the higher self, the Atman, and all that immature stuff, but knowledge of yourself, which is to see how your own mind is conditioned.

Without perceiving the significance of knowledge and authority, it is impossible to know the totality of action in which there is no contradiction. Total action is action without the sense of compulsion, and therefore without regret. Surely, such action is wisdom. Wisdom is not to be taught. There can be no school of wisdom. Wisdom is not something that you buy, or that comes to you through service, self-sacrifice, and all the rest of it. Wisdom does not come from reading books, or through having many experiences, or through doing what your father, or your grandmother, or your leaders tell you to do. Wisdom comes only to the mind that perceives what is true, and when perception is total. There is no perception without self-knowledge. Wisdom comes only when there is no conflict. You will understand what is total action only when you begin to inquire into the whole process of the mind; and then you will also know how to act in a particular situation, what to do today, or any day. Through the part you can never understand the whole; but when you perceive the significance of the whole, out of that comprehension you can understand the part.

To go into all this requires an understanding of the process of one's own thinking. And the beauty of this inquiry lies, not in what is achieved, in what is learnt or gained, but in the complete innocence of a mind that is free to see anew the skies, the many faces, the rivers and the rich land. Only a mind that has understood itself is capable of receiving the benediction which has no ending.

November 29, 1959.


Madras 1959

Madras 3rd Public Talk 29th November 1959

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