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Series III - Chapter 1 - ‘Does Thinking Begin With Conclusions?’
Series III - Chapter 1 - ‘Does Thinking Begin With Conclusions?’
THE HILLS ACROSS the lake were very beautiful, and beyond them rose the snow-covered mountains. It had been raining all day; but now, like an unexpected miracle, the skies had suddenly cleared, and everything became alive, joyous and serene. The flowers were intense in their yellow, red and deep purple, and the raindrops on them were like precious jewels. It was a most lovely evening, full of light and splendour. The people came out into the streets, and along the lake, children were shouting with laughter. Through all this movement and bustle there was enchanting beauty, and a strange, all-pervading peace.
There were several of us on the long bench facing the lake. A man was talking in rather a high voice and it was impossible not to overhear what he was saying to a neighbour. “On an evening like this I wish I were far away from this noise and confusion, but my job keeps me here, and I loathe it.” People were feeding the swans, the ducks and a few stray seagulls. The swans were pure white and very graceful. There wasn’t a ripple on the water now, and the hills across the lake were almost black; but the mountains beyond the hills were aglow with the setting sun, and the vivid clouds behind them seemed passionately alive.
“I am not sure I understand you,” my visitor began, “when you say that knowledge must be set aside to understand truth.” He was an elderly man, much travelled and well-read. He had spent a year or so in a monastery, he explained, and had wandered all over the world, from port to port, working on ships, saving money and gathering knowledge. “I don’t mean mere book knowledge,” he went on; “I mean the knowledge that men have gathered but have not put down on paper, the mysterious tradition that’s beyond scrolls and sacred books. I have dabbled in occultism, but that has always seemed to me rather stupid and superficial. A good microscope is vastly more beneficial than the clairvoyance of a man who sees super-physical things. I have read some of the great historians with their theories and their visions, but... Given a first-rate mind and the capacity to accumulate knowledge, a man should be able to do immense good. I know it isn’t the fashion, but I have a sneaking compulsion to reform the world, and knowledge is my passion. I have always been a passionate person in many ways, and now I am consumed with this urge to know. The other day I read something of yours which intrigued me, and when you said that there must be freedom from knowledge, I decided to come and see you – not as a follower, but as an inquirer.”
To follow another, however learned or noble, is to block all understanding, isn’t it? “Then we can talk freely and with mutual respect.”
If I may ask, what do you mean by knowledge? “Yes, that’s a good question to begin with. Knowledge is everything that man has learnt through experience; it is what he has gathered by study, through centuries of struggle and pain, in the many fields of endeavour, both scientific and psychological. As even the greatest historian interprets history according to his learning and mood so an ordinary scholar like me may translate knowledge into action, either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Though we are not concerned with action at the moment, it is inevitably related to knowledge, which is what man has experienced or learnt through thought, through meditation, through sorrow. Knowledge is vast; it is not only written down in books, but it exists in the individual as well as in the collective or racial consciousness of man. Scientific and medical information, the technical ‘know-how’ of the material world, is rooted principally in the consciousness of western man, just as in the consciousness of eastern man there is the greater sensitivity of unworldliness. All this is knowledge, embracing not only what is already known, but what is being discovered from day to day. Knowledge is an additive, deathless process, there is no end to it, and it may therefore be the immortal that man is after. So I can’t understand why you say that all knowledge must be set aside if there is to be the understanding of truth.”
The division between knowledge and understanding is artificial, it really doesn’t exist; but to be free of this division, which is to perceive the difference between them we must find out what is the highest form of thinking, otherwise there will be confusion.
Does thinking begin with a conclusion? Is thinking a movement from one conclusion to another? Can there be thinking, if thinking is positive? Is not the highest form of thinking negative? Is not all knowledge an accumulation of definitions, conclusions and positive assertions? positive thought, which is based on experience, is always the outcome of the past, and such thought can never uncover the new.
“You are stating that knowledge is ever in the past, and that thought originating from the past must inevitably cloud the perception of that which may be called truth. However, without the past as memory, we could not recognize this object which we have agreed to call a chair. The word ‘chair’ reflects a conclusion reached by common consent, and all communication would cease if such conclusions were not taken for granted. Most of our thinking is based on conclusions, on traditions, on the experiences of others, and life would be impossible without the more obvious and inevitable of these conclusions. Surely you don’t mean that we should put aside all conclusions, all memories and traditions?”
The ways of tradition inevitably lead to mediocrity, and a mind caught in tradition cannot perceive what is true. Tradition may be one day old, or it may go back for a thousand years. Obviously it would be absurd for an engineer to set aside the engineering knowledge he has gained through the experience of a thousand others; and if one were to try to set aside the memory of where one lived it would only indicate a neurotic state. But the gathering of facts does not make for the understanding of life. Knowledge is one thing and understanding another. Knowledge does not lead to understanding; but understanding may enrich knowledge, and knowledge may implement understanding.
“Knowledge is essential and not to be despised. Without knowledge, modern surgery and a hundred other marvels could not exist.”
We are not attacking or defending knowledge, but trying to understand the whole problem. Knowledge is only a part of life, not the totality, and when that part assumes all-consuming importance, as it is threatening to do now, then life becomes superficial, a dull routine from which man seeks to escape through every form of diversion and superstition, with disastrous consequences. Mere knowledge, however wide and cunningly put together, will not resolve our human problems; to assume that it will is to invite frustration and misery. Something much more profound is needed. One may know that hate is futile, but to be free of hate is quite another matter. Love is not a question of knowledge.
To go back, positive thinking is no thinking at all; it is merely a modified continuity of what has been thought. The outward shape of it may change from time to time, depending on compulsions and pressures, but the core of positive thinking is always tradition. positive thinking is the process of conformity and the mind that conforms can never be in a state of discovery.
“But can positive thinking be discarded? Is it not necessary at a certain level of human existence?”
Of course, but that’s not the whole issue. We are trying to find out if knowledge may become a hindrance to the understanding of truth. Knowledge is essential, for without it we should have to begin all over again in certain areas of our existence. This is fairly simple and clear. But will accumulated knowledge, however vast, help us to understand truth? “What is truth? Is it a common ground to be trodden by all? Or is it a subjective, individual experience?”
By whatever name it may be called, truth must ever be new, living; but the words ‘new’ and ‘living’ are used only to convey a state that is not static, not dead, not a fixed point within the mind of man. Truth must be discovered anew from moment to moment, it is not an experience that can be repeated; it has no continuity, it is a timeless state. The division between the many and the one must cease for truth to be. It is not a state to be achieved, nor a point towards which the mind can evolve, grow. If truth is conceived as a thing to be gained, then the cultivation of knowledge and the accumulations of memory become necessary, giving rise to the guru and the follower, the one who knows and the one who does not know.
“Then you are against gurus and followers?” It’s not a matter of being against something but of perceiving that conformity, which is the desire for security, with its fears, prevents the experiencing of the timeless. “I think I understand what you mean. But is it not immensely difficult to renounce all that one has gathered? Indeed, is it possible?”
To give up in order to gain is no renunciation at all. To see the false as the false, to see the true in the false, and to see the true as the true – it is this that sets the mind free.