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Series II - Chapter 26 - ‘The ‘I’’
Series II - Chapter 26 - ‘The ‘I’’
“MEDITATION IS OF the greatest importance to me; I have been meditating very regularly twice a day for more than twenty-five years. At the beginning it was all very difficult, I had no control over my thoughts and there were far too many distractions; but I gradually cut them out pretty thoroughly. More and more I gave my time and energy to the final end. I have been to various teachers and have followed several different systems of meditation, but somehow I was never satisfied with any of them – perhaps ‘satisfaction’ is not the right word. They all led to a certain point, depending on the particular system, and I found myself becoming a mere result of the system, which was not the final end. But from all these experimentations I have learned to master my thoughts completely, and my emotions also are entirely under control. I have practiced deep breathing to quiet the body and the mind. I have repeated the sacred word and fasted for long periods; morally I have been upright, and worldly things have no attraction for me. But after all these years of struggle and effort, of discipline and denial, there is not the peace, the bliss of which the Great Ones speak. On rare occasions there have been enlightening moments of deep ecstasy, the intuitive promise of greater things; but I seem unable to pierce the illusion of my own mind, and I am endlessly caught in it. A cloud of confusing despair is descending upon me and there is increasing sorrow.”
We were sitting on the bank of a wide river, close to the water. The town was up the river, some distance away. A boy was singing on the other bank. The sun was setting behind us and there were heavy shadows on the water. It was a beautiful still evening with masses of clouds towards the east, and the deep river seemed hardly to be flowing. To all this expanding beauty he was completely oblivious; he was wholly absorbed in his problem. We were silent, and he had closed his eyes; his stern face was calm, but inwardly there was an intense struggle going on. A flock of birds settled down at the water’s edge; their cries must have carried across the river, for presently another flock came from the other shore and joined them. There was a timeless silence covering the earth.
During all these years, have you ever stopped striving after the final end? Do not will and effort make up the ‘I’, and can the process of time lead to the eternal? “I have never consciously stopped striving after that for which my heart, my whole being longs. I dare not stop; if I did, I would fall back, I would deteriorate. It is the very nature of all things to struggle ever upwards, and without will and effort there would be stagnation; without this purposive striving, I could never go beyond and above myself.”
Can the ‘I’ ever free itself from its own bondage and illusions? Must not the ‘I’ cease for the nameless to be? And does not this constant striving after the final end only strengthen the self, however concentrated its desire may be? You struggle after the final end, and another pursues worldly things; your effort may be more ennobling, but it is still the desire to gain, is it not?
“I have overcome all passion, all desire, except this one, which is more than desire; it is the only thing for which I live.”
Then you must die to this too, as you are dead to other longings and desires. Through all these years of struggle and constant limitation, you have strengthened yourself in this one purpose, but it is still within the field of the ‘I’. And you want to experience the unnameable – that is your longing, is it not? “Of course. Beyond a shadow of doubt I want to know the final end, I want to experience God.”
The experiencer is ever being conditioned by his experience. If the experiencer is aware that he is experiencing, then the experience is the outcome of his self-projected desires. If you know you are experiencing God, then that God is the projection of your hopes and illusions. There is no freedom for the experiencer, he is forever caught in his own experiences; he is the maker of time and he can never experience the eternal.
“Do you mean to say that that which I have diligently built up, with considerable effort and through wise choice, must be destroyed? And must I be the instrument of its destruction?”
Can the ‘I’ positively set about abnegating itself? If it does, its motive, its intention is to gain that which is not to be possessed. Whatever its activity, however noble its aim, any effort on the part of the ‘I’ is still within the field of its own memories, idiosyncrasies and projections, whether conscious or unconscious. The ‘I’ may divide itself into the organic ‘I’, and the ‘non-I’ or transcendental self; but this dualistic separation is an illusion in which the mind is caught. Whatever may be the movement of the mind, of the ‘I’, it can never free itself; it may go from level to level, from stupid to more intelligent choice, but its movement will always be within the sphere of its own making.
“You seem to cut off all hope. What is one to do?”
You must be completely denuded, without the weight of the past or the enticement of a hopeful future – which does not mean despair. If you are in despair, there is no emptiness, no nakedness. You cannot ‘do’ anything. You can and must be still, without any hope, longing, or desire; but you cannot determine to be still, suppressing all noise, for in that very effort there is noise. Silence is not the opposite of noise.
“But in my present state, what is to be done?”
If it may be pointed out, you are so eager to get on, so impatient to have some positive direction, that you are not really listening.
The evening star was reflected in the peaceful river.
* * *
Early next morning he came back. The sun was just showing itself above the treetops, and there was a mist over the river. A boat with wide sails, heavily laden with firewood, was lazily floating down the river; except for the one at the rudder, the men were all asleep on different parts of the boat. It was very still, and the daily human activities along the river had not yet begun.
“In spite of my outward impatience and anxiety, inwardly I must have been alert to what you were saying yesterday, for when I woke up this morning there was a certain sense of freedom and a clarity that comes with understanding. I did my usual morning meditation for an hour before sunrise, and I am not at all sure that my mind isn’t caught in a number of widening illusions. May we proceed from where we left off?”
We cannot begin exactly where we left off, but we can look at our problem afresh. The outward and inward mind is ceaselessly active receiving impressions; caught in its memories and reactions; it is an aggregate of many desires and conflicts. It functions only within the field of time, and in that field there is contradiction, the opposition of will or desire, which is effort. This psychological activity of the ‘I’, of the ‘me’ and the ‘mine’, must cease, for such activity causes problems and brings about various forms of agitation and disorder. But any effort to stop this activity only makes for greater activity and agitation.
“That is true, I have noticed it. The more one tries to make the mind still, the more resistance there is, and one’s effort is spent in overcoming this resistance; so it becomes a vicious and unbreakable circle.”
If you are aware of the viciousness of this circle and realize that you cannot break it, then with this realization the censor, the observer, ceases to be. “That seems to be the most difficult thing to do: to suppress the observer. I have tried, but so far I have never been able to succeed. How is one to do it?”
Are you not still thinking in terms of the ‘I’ and the ‘non-I’? Are you not maintaining this dualism within the mind by word, by the constant repetition of experience and habit? After all, the thinker and his thought are not two different processes, but we make them so in order to attain a desired end. The censor comes into being with desire. Our problem is not how to suppress the censor, but to understand desire.
“There must be an entity which is capable of understanding, a state which is apart from ignorance.”
The entity which says, ‘I understand’ is still within the field of the mind; it is still the observer, the censor, is it not? “Of course it is; but I do not see how this observer can be eradicated. And can it be?”
Let us see. We were saying that it is essential to understand desire. Desire can and does divide itself into pleasure and pain, wisdom and ignorance; one desire opposes another, the more profitable conflicts with the less profitable, and so on. Though for various reasons it may separate itself, desire is in fact an invisible process, is it not?
“This is a difficult thing to grasp. I am so used to opposing one desire by another, to suppressing and transforming desire, that I cannot as yet be fully aware of desire as a single, unitary process; but now that you have pointed it out, I am beginning to feel that it is so.”
Desire may break itself up into many opposing and conflicting urges, but it is still desire. These many urges go to make up the ‘I’, with its memories, anxieties, fears, and so on, and the entire activity of this ‘I’ is within the field of desire; it has no other field of activity. That is so, is it not?
“Please go on. I am listening with my whole being, trying to go beyond the words, deeply and without effort.”
Our problem, then, is this: is it possible for the activity of desire to come to an end voluntarily, freely, without any form of compulsion? It is only when this happens that the mind can be still. If you are aware of this as a fact, does not the activity of desire come to an end? “Only for a very brief period; then once again the habitual activity begins. How can this be stopped?.. But as I ask, I see the absurdity of asking!”
You see how greedy we are; we want ever more and more. The demand for the cessation of the ‘I’ becomes the new activity of the ‘I; but it is not new, it is merely another form of desire. Only when the mind is spontaneously still can the other, that which is not of the mind, come into being.