THE SUN WAS behind the hills, the town was afire with the evening glow, and the sky was full of light and splendour. In the lingering twilight, the children were shouting and playing; there was still plenty of time before their dinner. A discordant temple bell was ringing in the distance, and from the nearby mosque a voice was calling for evening prayers. The parrots were coming back from the outlying woods and fields to the dense trees with their heavy foliage, all along the road. They were making an awful noise before settling down for the night. The crows joined them, with their raucous calling and there were other birds, all scolding and noisy. It was a secluded part of the town, and the sound of the traffic was drowned by the loud chatter of the birds; but with the coming of darkness they became quieter, and within a few minutes they were silent and ready for the night.

A man came along with what looked like a thick rope around his neck. He was holding one end of it. A group of people were chatting and laughing under a tree, where there were patches of light from an electric lamp above; and the man, walking up to the group, put his rope on the ground. There were frightened screams as everyone started running; for the `rope’ was a big cobra, hissing and swaying its hood. Laughing, the man pushed it with his naked toes, and presently picked it up again, holding it just behind the head. Of course, its fangs had been removed; it was really harmless, but frightening. The man offered to put the snake around my neck, but he was satisfied when I stroked it. It was scaly and cold, with strong rippling muscles, and eyes that were black and staring – for snakes have no eyelids. We walked a few steps together, and the cobra around his neck was never still, but all movement.

The street-lights made the stars seem dim and far away, but Mars was red and clear. A beggar was walking along with slow, weary steps, hardly moving; he was covered with rags, and his feet were wrapped in torn pieces of canvas, tied together with heavy string. He had a long stick, and was muttering to himself, and he did not look up as we passed. Further along the street there was a smart and expensive hotel, with cars of almost every make drawn up in front of it.

A young professor from one of the universities, rather nervous and with a high-pitched voice and bright eyes, said that he had come a long way to ask a question which was most important to him.

“I have known various joys: the joy of conjugal love, the joy of health, of interest, and of good companionship. Being a professor of literature, I have read widely, and delight in books. But I have found that every joy is fleeting in nature; from the smallest to the greatest, they all pass away in time. Nothing I touch seems to have any permanency, and even literature, the greatest love of my life, is beginning to lose its perennial joy. I feel there must be a permanent source of all joy, but though I have sought for it intensely, I have not found it.”

Search is an extraordinarily deceptive phenomenon is it not? Being dissatisfied with the present, we seek something beyond it. Aching with the present, we probe into the future or the past; and even that which we find is consumed in the present. We never stop to inquire into the full content of the present, but are always pursuing the dreams of the future; or from among the dead memories of the past we select the richest, and give life to it. We cling to that which has been, or reject it in the light of tomorrow, and so the present is slurred over; it is merely a passage to be gone through as quickly as possible.

“Whether it’s in the past or in the future, I want to find the source of joy,” he went on. “You know what I mean, sir. I no longer seek the objects from which joy is derived – ideas, books, people, nature – but the source of joy itself, beyond all transiency. If one doesn’t find that source, one is everlastingly caught in the sorrow of the impermanent.”

Don’t you think, sir, that we must understand the significance of that word `search’? Otherwise we shall be talking at cross purposes. Why is there this urge to seek, this anxiety to find, this compulsion to attain? perhaps if we can uncover the motive and see its implications, we shall be able to understand the significance of search.

“My motive is simple and direct: I want to find the permanent source of joy, for every joy I have known has been a passing thing. The urge that is making me seek is the misery of not having anything enduring. I want to get away from this sorrow of uncertainty, and I don’t think there’s anything abnormal about it. Anyone who is at all thoughtful must be seeking the joy I am seeking. Others may call it by a different name – God, truth, bliss, freedom, Moksha, and so on – but it’s essentially the same thing.”

Being caught in the pain of impermanency, the mind is driven to seek the permanent, under whatever name; and its very craving for the permanent creates the permanent, which is the opposite of what is. So really there is no search, but only the desire to find the comforting satisfaction of the permanent. When the mind becomes aware of being in a constant state of flux, it proceeds to build the opposite of that state, thereby getting caught in the conflict of duality; and then, wanting to escape from this conflict, it pursues still another opposite. So the mind is bound to the wheel of opposites.

“I am aware of this reactionary process of the mind, as you explain it; but should one not seek at all? Life would be a pretty poor thing if there were no discovering.”

Do we discover anything new through search? The new is not the opposite of the old, it is not the antithesis of what is. If the new is a projection of the old, then it is only a modified continuation of the old. All recognition is based on the past, and what is recognizable is not the new. Search arises from the pain of the present, therefore what is sought is already known. You are seeking comfort, and probably you will find it; but that also will be transient, for the very urge to find is impermanent. All desire for something – for joy for God, or whatever it be – is transient.

“Do I understand you to mean that, since my search is the outcome of desire, and desire is transient, therefore my search is in vain?”

If you realize the truth of this, then transience itself is joy.

“How am I to realize the truth of it?”

There is no `how’, no method. The method breeds the idea of the permanent. As long as the mind desires to arrive, to gain, to attain it will be in conflict. Conflict is insensitivity. It is only the sensitive mind that realizes the true. Search is born of conflict, and with the cessation of conflict there is no need to seek. Then there is bliss.

THERE WERE SEVERAL of us in the room. Two had been in prison for many years for political reasons; they had suffered and sacrificed in gaining freedom for the country, and were well-known. Their names were often in the papers, and while they were modest that peculiar arrogance of achievement and fame was still in their eyes. They were well-read, and they spoke with the facility that comes from public speaking. Another was a politician, a big man with a sharp glance, who was full of schemes and had an eye on self-advancement. He too had been in prison for the same reason, but now he was in a position of power, and his look was assured and purposeful; he could manipulate ideas and men. There was another who had renounced worldly possessions, and who hungered for the power to do good. Very learned and full of apt quotations, he had a smile that was genuinely kind and pleasant, and he was currently travelling all over the country talking, persuading, and fasting. There were three or four others who also aspired to climb the political or spiritual ladder of recognition or humility.

“I cannot understand,” one of them began, “why you are so much against action. Living is action; without action, life is a process of stagnation. We need dedicated people of action to change the social and religious conditions of this unfortunate country. Surely you are not against reform: the landed people voluntarily giving some of their land to the landless, the educating of the villager, the improving of the village, the breaking up of caste divisions, and so on.”

Reform, however necessary, only breeds the need for further reform, and there is no end to it. What is essential is a revolution in man’s thinking, not patchwork reform. Without a fundamental change in the mind and heart of man, reform merely puts him to sleep by helping him to be further satisfied. This is fairly obvious, isn’t it?

“You mean that we must have no reforms?” another asked, with an intensity that was surprising.

“I think you are misunderstanding him,” explained one of the older men.”He means that reform will never bring about the total transformation of man. In fact, reform impedes that total transformation, because it puts man to sleep by giving him temporary satisfaction. By multiplying these gratifying reforms, you will slowly drug your neighbour into contentment.”

“But if we strictly limit ourselves to one essential reform – the voluntary giving of land to the landless, let’s say – until it is brought about, will that not be beneficial?”

Can you separate one part from the whole field of existence? Can you put a fence around it, concentrate upon it, without affecting the rest of the field?

“To affect the whole field of existence is exactly what we plan to do. When we have achieved one reform, we shall turn to another.”

Is the totality of life to be understood through the part? Or is it that the whole must first be perceived and understood, and that only then the parts can be examined and reshaped in relation to the whole? Without comprehending the whole, mere concentration on the part only breeds further confusion and misery.

“Do you mean to say,” demanded the intense one, “that we must not act or bring about reforms without first studying the whole process of existence?”

“That’s absurd, of course,” put in the politician. “We simply haven’t time to search out the full meaning of life. That will have to be left to the dreamers, to the gurus, to the philosophers. We have to deal with everyday existence; we have to act, we have to legislate, we have to govern and bring order out of chaos. We are concerned with dams, with irrigation, with better agriculture; we are occupied with trade, with economics, and we must deal with foreign powers. It is sufficient for us if we can manage to carry on from day to day without some major calamity taking place. We are practical men in positions of responsibility, and we have to act to the best of our ability for the good of the people.”

If it may be asked, how do you know what’s good for the people? You assume so much. You start with so many conclusions; and when you start with a conclusion, whether your own or that of another, all thinking ceases. The calm assumption that you know, and that the other does not, leads to greater misery than the misery of having only one meal a day; for it is the vanity of conclusions that brings about the exploitation of man. In our eagerness to act for the good of others, we seem to do a great deal of harm.

“Some of us think we really do know what’s good for the country and its people,” explained the politician. “Of course, the opposition also thinks it knows; but the opposition is not very strong in this country, fortunately for us, so we shall win and be in a position to try out what we think is good and beneficial.”

Every party knows, or thinks it knows, what’s good for the people. But what is truly good will not create antagonism, either at home or abroad; it will bring about unity between man and man; what is truly good will be concerned with the totality of man, and not with some superficial benefit that may lead only to greater calamity and misery; it will put an end to the division and the enmity that nationalism and organized religions have created. And is the good so easily found?

“If we have to take into consideration all the implications of what is good, we shall get nowhere; we shall not be able to act. Immediate necessities demand immediate action, though that action may bring marginal confusion,” replied the politician. “We just haven’t time to ponder, to philosophize. Some of us are busy from early in the morning till late at night, and we can’t sit back to consider the full meaning of each and every action that we must take. We literally cannot afford the pleasure of deep consideration, and we leave that pleasure to others.”

“Sir, you appear to be suggesting,” said one of those who had thus far remained silent, “that before we perform what we assume to be a good act, we should think out fully the significance of that act, since, even though seemingly beneficial, such an act may produce greater misery in the future. But is it possible to have such profound insight into our own actions? At the moment of action we may think we have that insight, but later on we may discover our blindness.”

At the moment of action we are enthusiastic, impetuous, we are carried away by an idea, or by the personality and the fire of a leader. All leaders, from the most brutal tyrant to the most religious politician, state that they are acting for the good of man, and they all lead to the grave; but nevertheless we succumb to their influence, and follow them. Haven’t you, sir, been influenced by such a leader? He may no longer be living, but you still think and act according to his sanctions, his formulas, his pattern of life; or else you are influenced by a more recent leader. So we go from one leader to another, dropping them when it suits our convenience, or when a better leader turns up with greater promise of some `good’. In our enthusiasm we bring others into the net of our convictions, and they often remain in that net when we ourselves have moved on to other leaders and other convictions. But what is good is free of influence, compulsion and convenience and any act which is not good in this sense is bound to breed confusion and misery.

“I think we can all plead guilty to being influenced by a leader, directly or indirectly,” acquiesced the last speaker, “but our problem is this. Realizing that we receive many benefits from society and give very little in return, and seeing so much misery everywhere, we feel that we have a responsibility towards society, that we must do something to relieve this unending misery. Most of us, however, feel rather lost, and so we follow someone with a strong personality. His dedicated life, his obvious sincerity, his vital thoughts and acts, influence us greatly, and in various ways we become his followers; under his influence we are soon caught up in action, whether it be for the liberation of the country, or for the betterment of social conditions. The acceptance of authority is ingrained in us, and from this acceptance of authority flows action. What you are telling us is so contrary to all we are accustomed to that it leaves us no measure by which to judge and to act. I hope you see our difficulty.”

Surely, sir, any act based on the authority of a book, however sacred, or on the authority of a person, however noble and saintly, is a thoughtless act which must inevitably bring confusion and sorrow. In this and other countries the leader derives his authority from the interpretation of the so-called sacred books, which he liberally quotes, or from his own experiences, which are conditioned by the past, or from his austere life, which again is based on the pattern of saintly records. So the leader’s life is as bound by authority as the life of the follower; both are slaves to the book, and to the experience or knowledge of another. With this background, you want to remake the world. Is that possible? Or must you put aside this whole authoritarian, hierarchical outlook on life, and approach the many problems with a fresh, eager mind? Living and action are not separate, they are an interrelated, unitary process; but now you have separated them, have you not? You regard daily living, with its thoughts and acts, as different from the action which is going to change the world.

“Again, this is so,” went on the last speaker. “But how are we to throw off this yoke of authority and tradition, which we have willingly and happily accepted from childhood? It is part of our immemorial tradition, and you come along and tell us to set it all aside and rely on ourselves! From what I have heard and read, you say that the very Atman itself is without permanency. So you can see why we are confused.”

May it not be that you have never really inquired into the authoritarian way of existence? The very questioning of authority is the end of authority. There is no method or system by which the mind can be set free from authority and tradition; if there were, then the system would become the dominating factor.

Why do you accept authority, in the deeper sense of that word? You accept authority, as the guru also does, in order to be safe, to be certain, in order to be comforted, to succeed, to reach the other shore. You and the guru are worshippers of success; you are both driven by ambition. Where there is ambition, there is no love; and action without love has no meaning.

“Intellectually I see that what you say is true, but inwardly, emotionally, I don’t feel the authenticity of it.”

There is no intellectual understanding; either we understand, or we don’t. This dividing of ourselves into watertight compartments is another of our absurdities. It is better to admit to ourselves that we do not understand, than to maintain that there is an intellectual understanding, which only breeds arrogance and self-imposed conflict.

“We have taken too much of your time, but perhaps you will allow us to come again.”

IT WAS A RATHER nice garden, with open, green lawns and flowering bushes, completely enclosed by wide-spreading trees. There was a road running along one side of it, and one often overheard loud talk, especially in the evenings, when people were making their way home. Otherwise it was very quiet in the garden. The grass was watered morning and evening, and at both times there were a great many birds running up and down the lawn in search of worms. They were so eager in their search, that they would come quite close without any fear when one remained seated under a tree. Two birds, green and gold, with square tails and a long, delicate feather sticking out, came regularly to perch among the rose – bushes. They were exactly the same colour as the tender leaves and it was almost impossible to see them. They had flat heads and long, narrow eyes, with dark beaks. They would swoop in a curve close to the ground, catch an insect, and return to the swaying branch of a rosebush. It was a most lovely sight, full of freedom and beauty. One couldn’t get near them, they were too shy; but if one sat under the tree without moving too much, one would see them disporting themselves, with the sun on their transparent golden wings.

Often a big mongoose would emerge from the thick bushes, its red nose high in the air and its sharp eyes watching every movement around it. The first day it seemed very disturbed to see a person sitting under the tree, but it soon got used to the human presence. It would cross the whole length of the garden, unhurriedly, its long tail flat on the ground. Sometimes it would go along the edge of the lawn, close to the bushes, and then it would be much more alert, its nose vibrant and twitching. Once the whole family came out the big mongoose leading, followed by his smaller wife, and behind her, two little ones, all in a line. The babies stopped once or twice to play; but when the mother, feeling that they weren’t immediately behind her, turned her head sharply, they raced forward and fell in line again.

In the moonlight the garden became an enchanted place, the motionless, silent trees casting long, dark shadows across the lawn and among the still bushes. After a great deal of bustle and chatter, the birds had settled down for the night in the dark foliage. There was now hardly anyone on the road, but occasionally one would hear a song in the distance, or the notes of a flute being played by someone on his way to the village. Otherwise the garden was very quiet, full of soft whispers. Not a leaf stirred, and the trees gave shape to the hazy, silver sky.

Imagination has no place in meditation; it must be completely set aside, for the mind caught in imagination can only breed delusions. The mind must be clear, without movement, and in the light of that clarity the timeless is revealed.

He was a very old man with a white beard, and his lean body was scarcely covered by the saffron robe of a sannyasi. He was gentle in manner and speech, but his eyes were full of sorrow – the sorrow of vain search. At the age of fifteen he had left his family and renounced the world, and for many years he had wandered all over India visiting ashramas, studying, meditating, endlessly searching. He had lived for a time at the ashrama of the religious-political leader who had worked so strenuously for the freedom of India and had stayed at another in the south, where the chanting was pleasant. In the hall where a saint lived silently, he too, amongst many others, had remained silently searching. There were ashramas on the east coast and on the west coast where he had stayed, probing, questioning discussing. In the far north, among the snows and in the cold caves, he had also been; and he had meditated by the gurgling waters of the sacred river. Living among the ascetics, he had physically suffered, and he had made long pilgrimages to sacred temples. He was well versed in Sanskrit, and it had delighted him to chant as he walked from place to place.

“I have searched for God in every possible way from the age of fifteen, but I have not found Him, and now I am past seventy. I have come to you as I have gone to others, hoping to find God. I must find Him before I die – unless, indeed, He is just another of the many myths of man.” If one may ask, sir, do you think that the immeasurable can be found by searching for it? By following different paths, through discipline and self-torture, through sacrifice and dedicated service, will the seeker come upon the eternal? Surely, sir, whether the eternal exists or not is unimportant, and the truth of it may be uncovered later; but what is important is to understand why we seek, and what it is that we are seeking. Why do we seek?

“I seek because, without God, life has very little meaning. I seek Him out of sorrow and pain. I seek Him because I want peace. I seek Him because He is the permanent the changeless; because there is death, and He is deathless. He is order, beauty and goodness, and for this reason I seek Him.”

That is, being in agony over the impermanent we hopefully pursue what we call the permanent. The motive of our search is to find comfort in the ideal of the permanent, and this ideal is born of impermanency, it has grown out of the pain of constant change. The ideal is unreal, whereas the pain is real; but we do not seem to understand the fact of pain, and so we cling to the ideal, to the hope of painlessness. Thus there is born in us the dual state of fact and ideal, with its endless conflict between what is and what should be. The motive of our search is to escape from impermanency, from sorrow, into what the mind thinks is the state of permanency, of everlasting bliss. But that very thought is impermanent, for it is born of sorrow. The opposite, however exalted, holds the seed of its own opposite. Our search, then, is merely the urge to escape from what is.

“Do you mean to say that we must cease to search?”

If we give our undivided attention to the understanding of what is, then search, as we know it, may not be necessary at all. When the mind is free from sorrow, what need is there to search for happiness?

“Can the mind ever be free from sorrow?”

To conclude that it can or that it cannot be free is to put an end to all inquiry and understanding. We must give our complete attention to the understanding of sorrow and we cannot do this if we are trying to escape from sorrow, or if our minds are occupied in seeking the cause of it. There must be total attention, and not oblique concern.

When the mind is no longer seeking, no longer breeding conflict through its wants and cravings, when it is silent with understanding, only then can the immeasurable come into being.