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Series III - Chapter 18 - ‘To Change Society You Must Break Away From It’
Series III - Chapter 18 - ‘To Change Society You Must Break Away From It’
THE SEA WAS very calm that morning, more so than usual, for the wind from the south had ceased blowing, and before the north-easterly winds began, the sea was taking a rest. The sands were bleached by the sun and salt water, and there was a strong smell of ozone, mixed with that of seaweed. There wasn’t anyone yet on the beach, and one had the sea to oneself. Large crabs, with one claw much bigger than the other, moved slowly about, watching, with the large claw waving in the air. There were also smaller crabs, the usual kind, that raced to the lapping water, or darted into round holes in the wet sand. Hundreds of seagulls stood about, resting and preening themselves. The rim of the sun was just coming out of the sea, and it made a golden path on the still waters. Everything seemed to be waiting for this moment – and how quickly it would pass! The sun continued to climb out of the sea, which was as quiet as a sheltered lake in some deep woods. No woods could contain these waters, they were too restless, too strong and vast; but that morning they were mild, friendly and inviting.
Under a tree above the sands and the blue water, there was going on a life independent of the crabs, the salt water and the seagulls. Large, black ants darted about, not making up their minds where to go. They would go up the tree, then suddenly scurry down for no apparent reason. Two or three would impatiently stop, move their heads about, and then, with a fierce burst of energy, go all over a piece of wood which they must have examined hundreds of times before; they would investigate it again with eager curiosity, and lose interest in it a second later. It was very quiet under the tree, though everything about one was very much alive. There was not a breath of air stirring among the leaves but every leaf was abundant with the beauty and light of the morning. There was an intensity about the tree – not the terrible intensity of reaching, of succeeding, but the intensity of being complete, simple, alone and yet part of the earth. The colours of the leaves, of the few flowers, of the dark trunk, were intensified a thousandfold, and the branches seemed to sustain the heavens. It was incredibly clear, bright and alive in the shade of that single tree.
Meditation is an intensification of the mind which is in the fullness of silence. The mind is not still like some tamed, frightened or disciplined animal; it is still as the waters are still many fathoms down. The stillness there is not like that on the surface when the winds die. This stillness has a life and a movement of its own which is related to the outer flow of life, but is untouched by it. Its intensity is not that of some powerful machine which has been put together by cunning, capable hands; it is as simple and natural as love, as lightning, as a full-flowing river.
He said he had been in politics up to his ears. He had done the usual things to climb the ladder of success – cultivated the right people, got on familiar terms with the leaders who had themselves climbed the very same ladder – and his climbed had been rapid. He had been sent abroad on many of the important committees, and was regarded with respect by those who count; for he was sincere and incorruptible albeit as ambitious as the rest of them. Added to all this he was well-read, and words came easily to him. But now, by some fortunate chance, he was tired of this game of helping the country by boosting himself and becoming a very important person. He was tired of it, not because he couldn’t climb any higher, but because, through a natural process of intelligence, he had come to see that man’s deep betterment does not lie entirely in planning, in efficiency, in the scramble for power. So he had thrown it all overboard, and was beginning to consider anew the whole of life.
What do you mean by the whole of life? “I have spent many years on a branch of the river, as it were, and I want to spend the remaining years of my life on the river itself. Although I enjoyed every minute of the political struggle, I am not leaving politics regretfully; and now I wish to contribute to the betterment of society from my heart and not from the ever-calculating mind. What I take from society must be returned to it at least tenfold.”
If one may ask, why are you thinking in terms of giving and taking? “I have taken so much from society; and all that it has given me I must give back to it many times.”
What do you owe to society? “Everything I have: my bank account, my education my name-Oh, so many things!”
In actuality, you have not taken anything from society, because you are part of it. If you were a separate entity, unconnected with society, then you could give back what you have taken. But you are part of society, part of the culture which has put you together. You can return borrowed money; but what can you give back to society as long as you are part of society?
“Because of society I have money, food, clothing, shelter, and I must do something in return. I have profited by my gathering within the framework of society, and it would be ungrateful of me to turn my back on it. I must do some good work for society – good work in the large sense, and not as a ‘do-gooder’.”
I understand what you mean; but even if you returned all you have gathered, would that absolve you from your debt? What society has yielded through your efforts is comparatively easy to return; you can give it to the poor, or to the State. And then what? You still have your ‘duty’ to society, for you are still part of it; you are one of its citizens. As long as you belong to society identify yourself with it, you are both the giver and the taker. You maintain it; you support its structure, do you not?
“I do. I am, as you say, an integral part of society; without it, I am not. Since I am both the good and the bad of society, I must remove the bad and uphold the good.”
In any given culture or society, the ‘good’ is the accepted, the respectable. You want to maintain that which is noble within the structure of society; is that it? “What I want to do is to change the social pattern in which man is caught. I mean this most earnestly.”
The social pattern is set up by man; it is not independent of man, though it has a life of its own, and man is not independent of it; they are interrelated. Change within the pattern is no change at all; it is mere modification, reformation. Only by breaking away from the social pattern without building another can you ‘help’ society. As long as you belong to society, you are only helping it to deteriorate. All societies including the most marvellously utopian, have within them the seeds of their own corruption. To change society, you must break away from it. You must cease to be what society is: acquisitive, ambitious, envious, power-seeking, and so on.
“Do you mean I must become a monk, a sannyasi?”
Certainly not. the sannyasi has merely renounced the outer show of the world, of society, but inwardly he is still a part of it; he is still burning with the desire to achieve, to gain, to become. “Yes, I see that.”
Surely, since you have burnt yourself in politics, your problem is not only to break away from society, but to come totally to life again, to love and be simple. Without love, do what you may, you will not know the total action which alone can save man.
“That is true, sir: we don’t love, we aren’t really simple.”
Why? Because you are so concerned with reforms, with duties, with respectability with becoming something with breaking through to the other side. In the name of another, you are concerned with yourself; you are caught in your own cockle-shell. You think you are the centre of this beautiful earth. You never pause to look at a tree, at a flower, at the flowing river; and if by some chance you do look, your eyes are filled with the things of the mind, and not with beauty and love.
“Again, that is true; but what is one to do?”
Look and be simple.