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Series III - Chapter 29 - ‘Where There Is Attention, Reality Is’
Series III - Chapter 29 - ‘Where There Is Attention, Reality Is’
THE CLOUDS WERE against the hills, hiding them and the mountains beyond. It had been raining all day, a soft drizzle which didn’t wash away the earth, and there was in the air the pleasant smell of the jasmine and the rose. The grain was ripening in the fields; among the rocks, where the goats fed, were low bushes, with here and there a gnarled old tree. There was a spring high up on the hillside that was always flowing, summer and winter, and the water made a pleasant sound as it ran down the hill, past a grove of trees, and disappeared among the open fields beyond the village. A small bridge of cut stone was being built over the stream by the villagers, under the supervision of a local engineer. He was a friendly old man, and they worked in a leisurely manner when he was about. But when he was not there, only one or two carried on; the rest of them, putting down their tools and their baskets, sat around and talked.
Along the path by the stream came a villager with a dozen donkeys. They were returning from the nearby town with empty sacks. These donkeys had thin, graceful legs, and they were trotting along quite fast, pausing now and then to nibble the green grass on each side of the path. They were going home, and had not to be driven. All along the path there were little plots of cultivated land, and a gentle breeze wag stirring among the young corn. In a small house, a woman with a clear voice was singing; it brought tears to your eyes, not from some nostalgic remembrance, but from the sheer beauty of the sound. You sat under a tree, and the earth and the heavens entered your being. Beyond the song and the red earth was the silence, the total silence, in which all life is in movement. There were now fireflies among the trees and bushes, and in the gathering darkness they were bright and clear; the amount of light they gave was surprising. On a dark rock, the soft, flashing light of a single firefly held the light of the world.
He was young and very earnest, with clear, sharp eyes. Although in his thirties, he was not yet married; but sex and marriage were not a serious problem, he added. A well-built man, he had vigour in his gestures and in his walk. He was not given to much reading, but he had read a certain number of serious books, and had thought about things. Employed in some governmental office, he said his pay was good enough. He liked outdoor games, especially tennis, at which he was evidently quite good. He didn’t care for cinemas, and had but few friends. It was his practice, he explained, to meditate morning and evening for about an hour; and after hearing the previous evening’s talk, he had decided to come along to discuss the meaning and significance of meditation. As a boy, he often used to go with his father into a small room to meditate; he could bring himself to stay there for only ten minutes or so, and his father didn’t seem to mind. That room had a single picture on the wall, and no member of the family went into it except for the purpose of meditation. While his father had neither encouraged nor discouraged him in the matter, and had never told him how to meditate, or what it was all about, somehow, ever since he was a boy, he had liked to meditate. While he was in college, it had been difficult for him to keep regular hours; but later, once he got a job, he had meditated for an hour every morning and every evening, and now he wouldn’t miss those two hours of meditation for anything in the world.
“I have come, sir, not to argue, or to defend anything, but to learn. Although I have read about the various types of meditation for different temperaments, and have evolved a way of controlling my thoughts I am not foolish enough to imagine that what I am doing is really meditation. However, if I am not mistaken, most authorities on meditation do advocate control of thought; that seems to be the essence of it. I have also practised a little yoga as a means of quieting the mind: special breathing exercises, repeating certain words and chants, and so on. All this is merely by way of introducing myself, and it may not be important. The point is, I am really interested in practising meditation, it has become vital to me, and I want to know more about it.”
Meditation has significance only when there’s an understanding of the meditator. In practising what you call meditation, the meditator is apart from the meditation, isn’t he? Why is there this difference, this gap between them? Is it inevitable, or must the gap be bridged? Without really understanding the truth or the falseness of this apparent division, the results of so-called meditation are similar to those which can be brought about by any tranquillizer that is taken to quiet the mind. If one’s purpose is to bring thought under domination, then any system or drug that produces the desired effect will do.
“But you wipe away at one stroke all the yogic exercises, the traditional systems of meditation that have been practised and advocated through the centuries by the many saints and ascetics. How can they all be wrong?”
Why shouldn’t they all be wrong? Why this gullibility? Is not a tempered scepticism helpful in understanding this whole problem of meditation? You accept because you are eager for results, for success; you want to ‘arrive’. To understand what meditation is, there must be questioning, inquiry; and mere acceptance destroys inquiry. You have to see for yourself the false as the false, and the truth in the false and the truth as the truth; for none can instruct you concerning it. Meditation is the way of life, it is part of daily existence, and the fullness and beauty of life can only be understood through meditation. Without understanding the whole complexity of life, and the everyday reactions from moment to moment, meditation becomes a process of self-hypnosis. Meditation of the heart is the understanding of daily problems. You can’t go very far if you don’t begin very near.
“I can understand that. One cannot climb the mountain without first going through the valley. I have endeavoured in my daily life to remove the obvious barriers, like greed, envy, and so on, and somewhat to my own surprise I have managed to put aside the things of the world. I quite see and appreciate that a right foundation must be laid, otherwise no building can stand. But meditation isn’t merely a matter of taming the burning desires and passions. The passions must be subjugated, brought under control; but surely, sir, meditation is something more than this, isn’t it? I am not quoting any authority, but I do feel that meditation is something far greater than merely laying the right foundation.”
That may be; but at the very beginning is the totality. It is not that one must first lay the right foundation, and then build, or first be free from envy, and then ‘arrive’. In the very beginning is the ending. There’s no distance to be covered, no climbing, no point of arrival. Meditation itself is timeless, it’s not a way of arriving at a timeless state. It is, without a beginning and without an ending. But these are mere words, and they will remain as such as long as you don’t inquire into and understand for yourself the truth and the falseness of the meditator.
“Why is that so important?”
The meditator is the censor, the watcher, the maker of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ effort. He’s the centre, and from there he weaves the net of thought; but thought itself has made him; thought has brought about this gap between the thinker and the thought. Unless this division ceases, so-called meditation only strengthens the centre, the experiencer who thinks of himself as apart from the experience. The experiencer always craving more experience; each experience strengthens the accumulation of past experiences, which in turn dictates, shapes the present experience. Thus the mind is ever conditioning itself. So experience and knowledge are not the liberating factors that they are supposed to be.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand all this,” he said, rather bewildered.
The mind is free only when it is no longer conditioned by its own experiences, by knowledge, by vanity, envy; and meditation is the freeing of the mind from all these things, from all self-centred activities and influences. “I realize that the mind must be free from all self-centred activities, but I do not quite follow what you mean by influences.”
Your mind is the result of influence, isn’t it? From childhood your mind is influenced by the food you eat, by the climate you live in, by your parents, by the books you read, by the cultural environment in which you are educated, and so on. You are taught what to believe and what not to believe; your mind is a result of time, which is memory, knowledge. All experiencing is a process of interpreting in terms of the past, of the known, and so there’s no freedom from the known; there is only a modified continuity of what has been. The mind is free only when this continuity comes to an end.
“But how does one know that one’s mind is free?”
This very desire to be certain, to be secure, is the beginning of bondage. It’s only when the mind is not caught in the net of certainty, and is not seeking certainty, that it is in a state of discovery. “The mind does want to be certain about everything, and I see now how this desire can be a hindrance.”
What is important is to die to everything that one has accumulated, for this accumulation is the self, the ego, the ‘me’. Without the ending of this accumulation there is the continuity of the desire to be certain, as there is the continuation of the past.
“Meditation, I am beginning to see, is not simple. Just to control thought is comparatively easy, and to worship an image, or to repeat certain words and chants, is merely to put the mind to sleep; but real meditation seems to be much more complex and arduous than I ever imagined.”
It is really not complex, though it may be arduous. You see, we don’t start with the actual, with the fact, with what we are thinking, doing, desiring; we start with assumptions or with ideals, which are not actualities, and so we are led astray. To start with facts, and not with assumptions, we need close attention; and every form of thinking not originating from the actual is a distraction. That’s why it is so important to understand what is actually taking place both within and around one.
“Are not visions actualities?”
Are they? Let’s find out. If you are a Christian, your visions follow a certain pattern; if you are a Hindu, a Buddhist, or a Moslem, they follow a different pattern. You see Christ or Krishna, according to your conditioning; your education, the culture in which you have been brought up, determines your visions. Which is the actuality: the vision, or the mind which has been shaped in a certain mould? The vision is the projection of the particular tradition which happens to form the background of the mind. This conditioning, not the vision which it projects, is the actuality, the fact. To understand the fact is simple; but it is made difficult by our likes and dislikes, by of the fact, by the opinions or judgments we have about the fact. To be free of these various forms of evaluation is to understand the actual, the what is.
“You are saying that we never look at a fact directly, but always through our prejudices and memories, through our traditions and our experiences based upon these traditions. To use your word, we are never aware of ourselves as we actually are. Again, I see that you are right, sir. The fact is the one thing that matters.”
Let us look at the whole problem differently. What is attention? When are you attentive? And do you ever really pay attention to anything? “I pay attention when I am interested in something.”
Is interest attention? When you are interested in something, what’s actually happening to the mind? You are evidently interested in watching those cattle go by; what is this interest? “I am attracted by their movement, their colour, their form, against the green background.”
Is there attention in this interest? “I think there is.”
A child is absorbed in a toy. Would you call that attention?
The toy absorbs the interest of the child, it takes over his mind, and he’s quiet, no longer restless; but take away the toy, and he again becomes restless, he cries, and so on. Toys become important because they keep him quiet. It is the same with grownups. Take away their toys – activity, belief, ambition, the desire for power, the worshipping of gods or of the state, the championing of a cause – and they too become restless, lost, confused; so the toys of the grownups also become important. Is there attention when the toy absorbs the mind? The toy is a distraction, is it not? The toy becomes all-important, and not the mind which is taken over by the toy. To understand what attention is, we must be concerned with the mind, not with the toys of the mind.
“Our toys, as you call them, hold the mind’s interest.”
The toy which holds the mind’s interest may be the Master, a picture, or any other image made by the hand or by the mind; and this holding of the mind’s interest by a toy is called concentration. Is such concentration attention? When you are concentrated in this manner and the mind is absorbed in a toy, is there attention? Is not such concentration a narrowing down of the mind? And is this attention?
“As I have practised concentration, it is a struggle to keep the mind fixed upon a particular point to the exclusion of all other thoughts, all distractions.”
Is there attention when there is resistance against distractions? Surely, distractions arise only when the mind has lost interest in the toy; and then there’s a conflict, isn’t there? “Certainly, there’s a conflict to overcome the distractions.”
Can you pay attention when there’s a conflict going on in the mind?
“I am beginning to see what you are driving at, sir. Please proceed.”
When the toy absorbs the mind, there’s no attention; neither is there attention when the mind is struggling to concentrate by excluding distractions. As long as there’s an object of attention, is there attention? “Aren’t you saying the same thing, only using the word ‘object’ instead of ‘toy’?”
The object, or toy, may be external; but there are also inward toys, are there not?
“Yes, sir, you have enumerated some of them. I am aware of this.”
A more complex toy is motive. Is there attention when there’s a motive to be attentive? “What do you mean by a motive?”
A compulsion to action; an urge towards self-improvement, based on fear, greed, ambition; a cause that drives you to seek; suffering that makes you want to escape, and so on. Is there attention when some hidden motive is in operation?
“When I am compelled to be attentive by pain or pleasure, by fear or the hope of reward, then there’s no attention. Yes, I see what you mean. This is very clear, sir, and I am following you.”
So there’s no attention when we approach anything in that manner. And does not the word, the name, interfere with attention? For example, do we ever look at the moon without verbalization, or does the word ‘moon’ always interfere with our looking? Do we ever listen to anything with attention, or do our thoughts, our interpretations, and so on, interfere with our listening? Do we ever really pay attention to anything? Surely attention has no motive, no object, no toy; no struggle, no verbalization. This is true attention, is it not? Where there is attention, reality is.
“But it’s impossible to pay such full attention to anything!” he exclaimed. “If one could, there wouldn’t be any problems.”
Every other form of ‘attention’ only increases the problems, doesn’t it? “I see that it does, but what is one to do?”
When you see that any concentration on toys, any action based on motive, whatever it be, only furthers mischief and misery, then in this seeing of the false there’s the perception of the true; and truth has its own action. All this is meditation.
“If I may say so, sir, I have rightly listened, and have really understood many of the things you have explained. What is understood will have its own effect, without my interfering with its I hope I may come again.”