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.