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Series III - Chapter 33 - ‘To Be Intelligent Is To Be Simple’
Series III - Chapter 33 - ‘To Be Intelligent Is To Be Simple’
THE SEA WAS very blue, and the setting sun was just touching the tops of the low-lying clouds. A boy of thirteen or fourteen, in a wet cloth, was standing by a car, shivering and pretending to be dumb; he was begging, and was putting on a very good act. Having got a few coins, he was off, sprinting across the sands. The waves were coming in very gently, and they didn’t completely obliterate the footprints in passing over them. The crabs were racing with the waves, and dodging one’s feet; they would let themselves be caught by a wave, and by the shifting sands, but they would come up again, ready for the next wave. Seated on a few logs tied together, a man had been right out to sea, and he was now coming in with two large fish; he was dark, burnt by many suns. Coming ashore with skill and ease, he drew his raft far up onto the dry sands, out of reach of the waves. Further along there was a grove of palm trees, bending towards the sea, and beyond them the town. A steamer on the horizon stood as if motionless, and a gentle breeze was blowing from the north. It was an hour of great beauty and stillness, in which the earth and the heavens met. You could sit on the sand and watch the waves come in and go out, endlessly, and their rhythmic movement seemed to pass over the land. Your mind was alive, but not as the restless sea; it was alive, and it reached from one horizon to the other. It had no height or depth, it was neither far nor near; there was no centre from which to measure or encircle the whole. The sea, the sky and the land were all there, but there was no observer. It was vast space and measureless light. The light of the setting sun was on the trees, it bathed the village and could be seen beyond the river; but this was a light that never set, a light that was ever shining. And strangely, there were no shadows in it; you did not cast your shadow across any part of it. You were not asleep, you had not closed your eyes, for now the stars were becoming visible; but whether you closed your eyes or kept them open, the light was always there. It was not to be caught and put in a shrine.
A mother of three children, she seemed simple, quiet and unassuming, but her eyes were alive and observant; they took in many things. As she talked, her rather nervous shyness disappeared, but she remained quietly watchful. Her eldest son had been educated abroad and was now working as an electronic engineer; the second one had a good job in a textile factory, and the youngest was just finishing college. They were all good boys, she said, and you could see she was proud of them. They had lost their father some years ago, but he had seen to it that they would have a good education and be self-supporting. What little else he had, he had left to her, and she was not in need of anything, for her wants were few. At this point she stopped talking, and was evidently finding it difficult to come out with something that was on her mind. Sensing what she wanted to talk about, I hesitantly questioned her.
Do you love your children? “Of course I do,” she answered quickly, glad of the opening. “Who doesn’t love their children? I have brought them up with loving care, and have been occupied all these years with their comings and goings, their sorrows and joys, and with all the other things that a mother cares about. They have been very good children, and have been very good to me. They all did well in their studies, and they will make their way in life; they may not leave their mark upon the world, but after all, so few do. We are all now living together, and when they get married I shall stay, if I am wanted, with one or other of them. Of course, I have my own house too, and I am not economically dependent on them. But it is strange that you should ask me that question.”
Is it? “Well, I have never before talked about myself to anyone, not even to my sister, or to my late husband, and suddenly to be asked that question seemed rather strange – though I do want to talk it over with you. It took a lot of courage to come to see you, but now I am glad I came, and that you have made it so easy for me to talk. I have always been a listener, but not in your sense of the word. I used to listen to my husband, and to his business associates whenever they dropped in. I have listened to my children and to my friends. But no one ever seemed to care to listen to me, and for the most part I was silent. In listening to others, one learns, but most of what one hears is nothing that one doesn’t already know. The men gossiped as much as the women, besides complaining about their jobs and their bad pay; some talked about their hoped-for promotion, others about social reform, village work or what the guru had said. I listened to them all, and never opened my heart to anybody. Some were more clever, and others more stupid than I, but in most things they were not very different from me. I enjoy music, but I listen to it with a different ear. I seem to be listening to somebody or other most of the time; but there is also something else to which I listen, something which always eludes me. May I talk about it?”
Isn’t that why you are here? “Yes, I suppose it is. You see, I am approaching forty-five, and most of those years I have been occupied with others; I have been busy with a thousand and one things, all day and every day. My husband died five years ago, and since then I have been more than occupied with the children; and now, in a strange way, I am coming upon myself all the time. With my sister-in-law I attended your talk the other day, and something stirred in my heart, something which I always knew was there. I can’t express it very well, and I hope you will understand what it is I want to say.”
May I help you? “I wish you would.”
It is difficult to be simple right to the end of anything, isn’t it? We experience something that is simple in itself, but it soon becomes complicated; it is hard to keep it within the bounds of its original simplicity. Don’t you feel this is so? “In a way, yes. There is a simple thing in my heart, but I don’t know what it all means.”
You said that you loved your children. What is the meaning of that word ‘love’? “I told you what it means. To love one’s children is to look after them, to see that they don’t get hurt, that they don’t make too many mistakes; it is to help them prepare for a good job, to see them happily married, and so on.”
Is that all? “What more can a mother do?”
If one may ask, does your love for your children fill your whole life, and not just a part of it? “No,” she admitted. “I love them, but it has never filled my whole life. The relationship with my husband was different. He might have filled my life, but not the children; and now that they have grown to young men, they have their own lives to live. They love me, and I love them; but the relationship between a man and his wife is different, and they will find their fullness of life in marrying the right woman.”
Have you never wanted your children to be rightly educated, so that they would help to prevent wars, and not be killed for some idea or to satisfy some politician’s craving for power? Doesn’t your love make you want to help them to bring about a different kind of society, a society in which hatred, antagonism, envy, will have ceased to exist? “But what can I do about it? I myself haven’t been properly educated, so how can I possibly help to create a new social order?”
Don’t you feel strongly about it?
“I’m afraid not. Do we feel strongly about anything?”
Then is love not something strong, vital, urgent? “It should be, but with most of us it is not. I love my sons, and pray that nothing bad will happen to them. If it does, what can I do but shed bitter tears over it? “If you have love, isn’t it strong enough to make you act? Jealousy, like hate, is strong and it does bring about forceful, vigorous action; but jealousy is not love. Then do we really know what love is?
“I have always thought that I loved my children, even though it hasn’t been the greatest thing in my life.”
Is there then a greater love in your life than your love for your children?
It had not been easy to come to this point, and she felt awkward and embarrassed as we came to it. For some time she wouldn’t talk, and we sat there without saying a word. “I have never really loved,” she began gently. “I have never felt very deeply about anything. I used to be very jealous, and it was a very strong feeling. It bit into my heart and made me violent; I cried, made scenes, and once, God forgive me, I struck. But that’s all over and gone. Sexual desire was also very strong, but with each baby it diminished, and now it has completely disappeared. My feeling for my children isn’t what it should be. I have never felt anything very strongly except jealousy and sex; and that doesn’t go very far, does it?”
Not very far. “Then what is love? Attachment, jealousy, even hate, is what I used to consider to be love; and of course sexual relationship. But I see now that sexual relationship is only a very small part of a much greater thing. The greater thing I have never known, and that is why sex became so consumingly important, at least for a time. When that faded away, I thought I loved my sons; but the fact is that I have loved them, if I may use that word at all, only in a very small way; and although they are good boys, they are just like thousands of others. I suppose we are all mediocre, satisfied with petty things: with ambition, prosperity, envy. Our lives are small, whether we live in palaces or huts. This is all very clear to me now, which it has never been before; but as you must know, I am not an educated person.”
Education has nothing to do with it; mediocrity is not a monopoly of the uneducated, The scholar, the scientist, the very clever, may also be mediocre. Freedom from mediocrity, from pettiness, is not a matter of class or learning. “But I have not thought much, I have not felt much; my life has been a sorry thing.”
Even when we do feel strongly, it’s generally about such petty things: about personal and family security, about the flag, about some religious or political leader. Our feeling is always for or against something; it isn’t like a fire that burns brightly, without smoke.
“But who is to give us that fire?”
To depend on another, to look to a guru, a leader, is to take away the aloneness, the purity of the fire; it makes for smoke. “Then, if we are not to ask for help, we must have the fire to begin with.”
Not at all. At the beginning, the fire is not there. It has to be nurtured; there must be care, a wise putting away, with understanding, of those things that dampen the fire, that destroy the clarity of the flame. Then only is there the fire that nothing can extinguish.
“But that needs intelligence, which I haven’t got.”
Yes you have. In seeing for yourself how little your life is, how little you love; in perceiving the nature of jealousy; in beginning to be aware of yourself in everyday relationship, there is already the movement of intelligence. Intelligence is a matter of hard work, quick perception of the subtle tricks of the mind, facing the fact, and clear thinking, without assumptions or conclusions. To kindle the fire of intelligence, and to keep it alive, demands alertness and great simplicity.
“It is kind of you to say that I have intelligence; but have I?” she insisted.
It’s good to inquire, but not to assert that you have or have not. To inquire rightly is in itself the beginning of intelligence. You hinder intelligence in yourself by your own convictions, opinions, assertions and denials. Simplicity is the way of intelligence – not the mere show of simplicity in outward things and behaviour, but the simplicity of inward non-being. When you say “I know”, you are on the path of non-intelligence; but when you say “I don’t know”, and really mean it, you have already started on the path of intelligence. When a man doesn’t know, he looks, listens, inquires. ‘To know’ is to accumulate, and he who accumulates will never know; he is not intelligent.
“If I am on the path of intelligence because I am simple and don’t know much...”
To think in terms of ‘much’ is to be unintelligent. ‘Much’ is a comparative word, and comparison is based on accumulation. “Yes, I see that. But, as I was saying, if one is on the path of intelligence because one is simple and really doesn’t know anything then intelligence would seem to be tantamount to ignorance.”
Ignorance is one thing, and the state of not knowing is quite another; the two are in no way connected. You may be very learned, clever, efficient, talented, and yet be ignorant. There is ignorance when there is no self-knowledge. The ignorant man is he who is unaware of himself, who does not know his own deceits, vanities, envies, and so on. Self-knowledge is freedom. You may know all about the wonders of the earth and of the heavens, and still not be free from envy, sorrow. But when you say “I don’t know”, you are learning. To learn is not to accumulate, either knowledge, things or relationships. To be intelligent is to be simple; but to be simple is extraordinarily arduous.