Seated on a raised platform, he was playing a seven-stringed instrument to a small audience of people who were familiar with this type of classical music. They were sitting on the floor in front of him; while from a position behind him another instrument, with only four strings, was being played. He was a young man, but completely the master of the seven strings and of the complex music. He would improvise before each song; then would come the song, in which there would be more improvisation. You would never hear any song played twice in the same way. The words were retained, but within a certain frame there was great latitude, and the musician could improvise to his heart’s content; and the more the variations and combinations the greater the musician. On the strings, words were not possible; but all who sat there knew the words, and they went into ecstasies over them. With nodding heads and gracefully gesturing hands, they kept perfect time, and there would be a gentle slap on the thigh at the end of the rhythm. The musician had closed his eyes and was completely absorbed in his creative freedom, and in the beauty of the sound; his mind and his fingers were in perfect coordination. And what fingers! Delicate and rapid, they seemed to have a life of their own. They would be still only at the end of the song in that particular frame, and then they would be quiet and reposed; but with incredible rapidity they would begin another song within a different frame. They almost mesmerized you with their grace and swiftness of movement. And those strings, what melodious sounds they gave! They were pressed by the fingers of the left hand to the proper tension, while the fingers of the right hand plucked them with masterly ease and control.

The moon was bright outside, and the dark shadows were motionless; through the window, the river was just visible, a flow of silver against the dark, silent trees on the other bank. A strange thing was going on in the space which is the mind. It had been watching the graceful movements of the fingers, listening to the sweet sounds, observing the nodding heads and the rhythmical hands of the silent people. Suddenly the watcher, the listener, disappeared; he had not been lulled into abeyance by the melodious strings, but was totally absent. There was only the vast space which is the mind. All the things of the earth and of man were in it, but they were at the extreme outer edges, dim and far off. Within the space where nothing was, there was a movement, and the movement was stillness. It was a deep, vast movement, without direction, without motive, which began from the outer edges, and with incredible strength was coming towards the centre – a centre that is everywhere within the stillness, within the motion which is space. This centre is total aloneness, uncontaminated, unknowable, a solitude which is not isolation, which has no end and no beginning. It is complete in itself, and not made; the outer edges are in it but not of it. It is there, but not within the scope of man’s mind. It is the whole, the totality, but not approachable.

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It was quite early; the sun wouldn’t be up for an hour or so. The Southern Cross was very clear and strangely beautiful over the palm trees. Everything was very still; the trees were motionless and dark, and even the little creatures of the earth were silent. There was a purity and a blessing over the sleeping world.

The road led through a cluster of palms, past a large pond, and beyond, to where the houses began. Each house had a garden, some well-kept, and others neglected. There was a scent of jasmine in the air, and the dew made the perfume richer. There weren’t any lights in the houses yet, and the stars were still clear, but there was an awakening in the eastern sky. A cyclist came along yawning, and went by without turning his head. Someone had started a car and was gently warming it up, and there was an impatient honk. Beyond these houses, the road went past a rice field and turned left, towards the sprawling town.

A path branched off the road and followed a water-way. The palm trees along its banks were reflected on the still, clear water, and a large white bird was already at work, trying to catch fish. There was still no one else on that path, but soon there would be many, for it was used by the local people as a short cut to the main road. Beyond the water-way there was a secluded house, with a large tree in a rather nice garden. The dawn had now fully come, and the morning star was barely visible over the tree; but the night still held back the day. A woman was sitting on a mat under the tree, tuning a stringed instrument which rested on her lap. presently she sang something in Sanskrit; it was deeply religious, and as the words filled the morning air, the whole atmosphere of the place seemed to change, becoming charged with a strange fullness and meaning. Then she began to sing a song that is sung only at that hour of the morning. It was enchanting. She was utterly unaware that anyone was listening to her, nor did she care if anyone did, for she was wholly absorbed in that song. She had a good, clear voice, and was thoroughly enjoying herself in a grave and serious manner. One could hardly hear the stringed instrument, but her voice came across the water clear and strong. The words and the sound filled one’s whole being, and there was the joy of great purity.

It had been raining continuously for a week; the earth was soggy, and there were large puddles all along the path. The water level had risen in the wells, and the frogs were having a splendid time, croaking tirelessly all night long. The swollen river was endangering the bridge; but the rains were welcome, even though great damage was being done. Now, however, it was slowly clearing up; there were patches of blue sky just overhead, and the morning sun was scattering the clouds. It would be months before the leaves of the newly-washed trees would again be covered with fine, red dust. The blue of the sky was so intense that it made you stop and wonder. The air had been purified, and in one short week the earth had suddenly become green. In that morning light, peace lay upon the land.

A single parrot was perched on a dead branch of a nearby tree; it wasn’t preening itself, and it sat very still, but its eyes were moving and alert. It was of a delicate green, with a brilliant red beak and a long tail of paler green. You wanted to touch it, to feel the colour of it; but if you moved, it would fly away. Though it was completely still, a frozen green light, you could feel it was intensely alive, and it seemed to give life to the dead branch on which it sat. It was so astonishingly beautiful, it took your breath away; you hardly dared take your eyes off it, lest in a flash it be gone. You had seen parrots by the dozen, moving in their crazy flight, sitting along the wires, or scattered over the red fields of young, green corn. But this single bird seemed to be the focus of all life, of all beauty and perfection. There was nothing but this vivid spot of green on a dark branch against the blue sky. There were no words, no thoughts in your mind; you weren’t even conscious that you weren’t thinking. The intensity of it brought tears to your eyes and made you blink – and the very blinking might frighten the bird away! But it remained there unmoving, so sleek, so slender, with every feather in place. Only a few minutes must have passed, but those few minutes covered the day, the year and all time; in those few minutes all life was, without an end or a beginning. It is not an experience to be stored up in memory, a dead thing to be kept alive by thought, which is also dying; it is totally alive, and so cannot be found among the dead.

Someone called from the house beyond the garden, and the dead branch was suddenly bare.