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Series II - Chapter 29 - ‘Valuing An Experience’

Series II - Chapter 29 - ‘Valuing An Experience’

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Commentaries on Living

ON THE HOT rock in the burning sun the village women were spreading the paddy that had been kept in the storehouse. They had carried large bundles of it to the flat, sloping rock, and the two oxen that were tied to the tree would presently tread on the paddy to release the grain. The valley was far from any town, and the huge tamarind trees gave deep shadows. Through the valley a dusty road made its way to the village and beyond. Cattle and innumerable goats covered the hillsides. The rice fields were deep in water, and the white rice birds flew with lazy wings from one field to another; they seemed without fear, but they were shy and would not let one get near them. The mango trees were beginning to bloom, and the river made a cheerful noise with its clear running water. It was a pleasant land, and yet poverty hung over it like a plague. Voluntary poverty is one thing, but compulsory poverty is quite another. The villagers were poor and diseased, and although there was now a medical dispensary and food was distributed, the damage wrought by centuries of privation could not be wiped away in a few years. Starvation is not the problem of one community or of one country, but of the whole world.

With the setting sun, a gentle breeze came from the east, and from the hills came strength. These hills were not high, but high enough to give to the air a soft coolness, so different from the plains. The stars seemed to hang down very close to the hills, and occasionally one would hear the cough of a leopard. That evening the light behind the darkening hills seemed to give greater meaning and beauty to all the things about one. As one sat on the bridge, the villagers going by on their way home suddenly stopped talking, and only resumed their conversation as they disappeared into the darkness. The visions that the mind can conjure up are so empty and dull; but when the mind does not build out of its own materials – memory and time – , there is that without name.

A bullock cart, with a hurricane lamp burning, was coming up the road; slowly every part of the steel-bound wheel touched the hard ground. The driver was asleep, but the oxen knew their way home; they went by, and then they too were swallowed up in the darkness. It was intensely still now. The evening star was on the hill, but soon she would drop from sight. In the distance an owl was calling, and all about one the insect world of the night was alive and busy; yet the stillness was not broken. It held everything in it, the stars, the lonely owl, the myriad insects. If one listened to it, one lost it; but if one were of it, it welcomed one. The watcher can never be of this stillness; he is an outsider looking in, but he is not of it. The observer only experiences, he is never the experience, the thing itself.

He had travelled all over the world, knew several languages, and had been a professor and a diplomat. In his youth he had been at Oxford, and having made his way through life rather strenuously, he had retired before the usual age. He was familiar with Western music, but liked the music of his own country best. He had studied the different religions, and had been particularly impressed with Buddhism; but after all, he added, stripped of their superstitions, dogmas and rituals, they all essentially said the same thing. Some of the rituals had beauty in them, but finance and romance had taken over most religions, and he himself was free of all rituals and dogmatic accretions. He had played around with thought-transference and hypnosis, and was acquainted with clairvoyance, but he had never looked upon them as an end in themselves. One could develop extended faculties of observation, greater control over matter, and so on, but all this seemed to him rather primitive and obvious. He had taken certain drugs, including the very latest, which for the time being had given him an intensity of perception and experience beyond the superficial sensations; but he had not given great importance to these experiences, for they did not in any way reveal the significance of that which he felt was beyond all ephemeral things.

“I have tried various forms of meditation,” he said, “and for a whole year I withdrew from all activity to be by myself and meditate. At different times I have read what you say about meditation, and was greatly struck by it. Right through from boyhood the very word ‘meditation’, or its Sanskrit equivalent, has had a very strange effect upon me I have always found an extraordinary beauty and delight in meditation, and it is one of the few things that I have really enjoyed in life – if one may use such a word with regard to so profound a thing as meditation. That enjoyment has not gone from me, but has deepened and widened through the years, and what you said about meditation has opened new heavens to me. I don’t want to ask you anything more about meditation, because I have read almost everything that you have so far said about it but I would like to talk over with you, if I may, an event that happened quite recently.” He paused for a moment, and then went on.

“From what I have told you, you can see that I am not the kind of person to create symbolic images and worship them. I have scrupulously avoided any identification with self-projected religious concepts or figures. One has read or heard that some of the saints – or at least some of those whom people have called saints – have had visions of Krishna, Christ, the Mother as Kali, the Virgin Mary, and so on. I can see how easily one could hypnotize oneself through a belief and evoke some vision which might radically alter the conduct of one’s life. But I do not wish to be under any delusion; and having said all this, I want to describe something that took place a few weeks ago.

“A group of us had been meeting fairly often to talk things over seriously, and one evening we were discussing rather heatedly the remarkable similarity between Communism and Catholicism, when suddenly there appeared in the room a seated figure, with yellow robe and shaven head. I was quite startled. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the faces of my friends. They were completely oblivious of the figure, and were so occupied with their discussion that they did not notice my silence. I shook my head coughed, and again rubbed my eyes, but the figure was still there. I cannot convey to you what a beautiful face it had; its beauty was not merely of form, but of something infinitely greater. I could not take my eyes off that face; and as it was getting to be too much for me, and not wanting my friends to notice my silence and my astonished absorption, I got up and went out on the veranda. The night air was fresh and cold. I walked up and down, and presently went in again. They were still talking; but the atmosphere of the room had changed, and the figure was still where it had been before, seated on the floor, with its extraordinary head cleanly shaven. I could not go on with what we had been discussing, and presently all of us left. As I walked home the figure went before me. That was several weeks ago, and it has still not left me though it has lost that forceful immanence. When I close my eyes, it is there, and something very strange has happened to me. But before I go into that, what is this experience? Is it a self-projection from the unconscious past, without my cognizance and conscious volition, or is it something wholly independent of me, without any relation to my consciousness? I have thought a great deal about the matter and I have not been able to find the truth of it.”

Now that you have had this experience, do you value it? Is it important to you, if one may ask, and do you hold on to it? “In a way, I suppose I do, if I am to answer honestly. It has given me a creative release – not that I write poems or paint, but this experience has brought about a deep sense of freedom and peace. I value it because it has caused a profound transformation in myself. It is, indeed, vitally important to me, and I would not lose it at any price.”

Are you not afraid of losing it? Do you consciously pursue that figure, or is it an everliving thing? “I suppose I am apprehensive of losing it, for I do constantly dwell on that figure and am always using it to bring about a desired state. I had never before thought of it in this way, but now that you ask, I see what I am doing.”

Is it a living figure, or the memory of a thing that has come and gone? “I am almost afraid to answer that question. please do not think me sentimental, but this experience has meant a very great deal to me. Although I came here to talk the matter over with you and see the truth of it, I now feel rather hesitant and unwilling to inquire into it; but I must. Sometimes it is a living figure, but more often it is the recollection of a past experience.”

You see how important it is to be aware of what is and not be caught in what one would like it to be. It is easy to create an illusion and live in it. Let us go patiently into the matter. Living in the past, however pleasant, however edifying, prevents the experiencing of what is. The what is is ever new, and the mind finds it extremely arduous and difficult not to live in the thousand yesterdays. Because you are clinging to that memory the living experience is denied. The past has an ending, and the living is the eternal. The memory of that figure is enchanting you, inspiring you, giving you a sense of release; it is the dead that is giving life to the living. Most of us never know what it is to live because we are living with the dead.

May I point out, sir, that apprehension of losing something very precious has crept in. Fear has arisen in you. Out of that one experience you have brought into being several problems: acquisitiveness, fear, the burden of experience, and the emptiness of your own being. If the mind can free itself from all acquisitive urges, experiencing will have quite a different significance, and then fear totally disappears. Fear is a shadow, and not a thing in itself.

“I am really beginning to see what I have been doing. I am not excusing myself, but as the experience was intense, so has been the desire to hold on to it. How difficult it is not to be caught in a deep emotional experience! The memory of an experience is as invitingly forceful as the experience itself.”

It is most difficult to differentiate between experiencing and memory is it not? When does experiencing become memory, a thing of the past? Wherein does the subtle difference lie? Is it a matter of time? Time is not when experiencing is. Every experience becomes a movement into the past; the present, the state of experiencing, is imperceptibly flowing into the past. Every living experience, a second later, has become a memory, a thing of the past. This is the process we all know, and it seems to be inevitable. But is it?

“I am following very keenly what you are unfolding, and I am more than delighted that you are talking of this, because I am aware of myself only as a series of memories, at whatever level of my being. I am memory. Is it possible to be, to exist in the state of experiencing? That is what you are asking is it not?”

Words have subtle meanings to all of us, and if for a moment we can go beyond these references and their reactions, perhaps we shall get at the truth. With most of us, experiencing is always becoming memory. Why? Is it not the constant activity of the mind to take in or absorb, and to push away or deny? Does it not hold on to what is pleasurable, edifying significant, and try to eliminate all that is not useful to itself? And can it ever be without this process? Surely, that is a vain question, as we shall find out in the very asking of it.

Now let us go further. This positive or negative accumulation, this evaluating process of the mind, becomes the censor, the watcher, the experiencer, the thinker, the ego. At the moment of experiencing, the experiencer is not; but the experiencer comes into being when choice begins, that is, when the living is over and there is the beginning of accumulation. The acquisitive urge blots out the living, the experiencing, making of it a thing of the past, of memory. As long as there is the observer, the experiencer, there must inevitably be acquisitiveness, the gathering-in process; as long as there is a separate entity who is watching and choosing experience is always a process of becoming. Being or experiencing is, when the separate entity is not.

“How is the separate entity to cease?”

Why are you asking that question? The ‘how’ is a new way to acquire. We are now concerned with acquisitiveness, and not with how to attain freedom from it. Freedom from something is no freedom at all; it is a reaction, a resistance, which only breeds further opposition.

But let us go back to your original question. Was the figure self-projected, or did it come into being uninfluenced by you? Was it independent of you? Consciousness is a complicated affair, and it would be foolish to give a definite answer, would it not? But one can see that recognition is based on a conditioning of the mind. You had studied Buddhism, and as you said, it had impressed you more than any other religion, so the conditioning process had taken place. That conditioning may have projected the figure, even though the conscious mind was occupied with a wholly different matter. Also, your mind being made acute and sensitive by the way of your life, and by the discussion you were having with your friends perhaps you ‘saw’ thought clothed in a Buddhist form, as another might ‘see’ it in a Christian form. But whether it was self-projected or otherwise, is not of vital importance, is it?

“Perhaps not, but it has shown me a great deal.”

Has it? It did not reveal to you the working of your own mind, and you became a prisoner to that experience. All experience has significance when with it there comes self-knowledge which is the only releasing or integrating factor; but without self-knowledge, experience is a burden leading to every kind of illusion.