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Series III - Chapter 47 - ‘Desire And The Pain Of Contradiction’
Series III - Chapter 47 - ‘Desire And The Pain Of Contradiction’
TWO MEN WERE engaged in digging a long, narrow grave. It was fine, sandy soil, without too much clay, and the digging was easy. Now they were trimming the corners and making it neat all round. Some palm trees overhung the grave, and they had big bunches of golden coconuts. The men wore only loincloths, and their bare bodies were shining in the early morning sun. The light soil was still damp from the recent rains, and the leaves of the trees, stirred by a gentle breeze, were sparkling in the clear morning air. It was a lovely day, and as the sun had only just come over the treetops it still wasn’t too hot. The sea was pale blue and very calm, and the white waves were coming in lazily. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the waning moon was in mid-heaven. The grass was very green, and the birds were everywhere, calling to each other in different notes. There was great peace over the land.
Across the narrow ditch the men placed two long planks, and across these in turn a solid rope. Their bright loincloths and dark, sunburnt bodies had given life to the empty grave; but now they were gone, and the soil was quickly drying in the sun. It was quite a big cemetery, without much order, but well-kept. The rows of white slabs with names carved upon them had been discoloured by the many rains. Two gardeners worked there all day long, watering, trimming, planting and weeding. One was tall, and the other was short and plump. Except for a cloth on their heads against the burning sun, they too wore only loincloths, and their skin was nearly black. On rainy days the soiled cloth around their loins was still their only garment, and the rains washed their dark bodies. The tall one was now watering a flowering bush which he had just planted. From a large round, earthenware pot with a narrow neck, he was sprinkling the water over the leaves and flowers. The pot glistened in the sun as the muscles in his dark body moved with ease, and the way he stood had grace and dignity. It was a beautiful thing to watch. The shadows were long in the morning sun.
Attention is a strange thing. We never look but through a screen of words, explanations and prejudices; we never listen save through judgments, comparisons and remembrances. The very naming of the flower, or the bird, is a distraction. The mind is never still to look, to listen. The moment it looks, it is off on its restless wanderings; in the very act of listening there is an interpretation, a recollection, an enjoyment, and attention is denied. The mind may be absorbed by the thing it sees or listens to, as a child is by a toy, but this is not attention. Nor is concentration attention, for concentration is the way of exclusion and resistance. There is attention only when the mind is not absorbed by an inward or outward idea or object. Attention is the complete good.
He was a middle-aged man, nearly bald, with clear observant eyes, and his face was lined with worry and anxiety. The father of several children, he explained that his wife had died with the birth of the last child, and now they were all living with some relative. Although he was still employed, his salary was small, and it was difficult to make ends meet, but somehow they got through each month without too much strain. The eldest son was earning his own way, and the second was in college. He himself came of a family that had the austere traditions of many centuries, and this background now stood him in good stead. But for the coming generation, things were going to be very different; the world was changing rapidly, and the old traditions were crumbling. In any case, life would have its own way, and it was futile to grumble. He hadn’t come to talk about his family, or the future, but about himself.
“Ever since I can remember, I seem to have been in a state of contradiction. I have always had ideals, and have always fallen far short of them. From my earliest years I have felt a pull towards the monastic life, the life of solitude and meditation, and I have ended up with a family. I once thought that I would like to be a scholar, but instead I have become an office drudge. My whole life has been a series of disturbing contrasts, and even now I am in the midst of self-contradictions which bother me greatly; for I want to be at peace with myself, and I don’t seem able to harmonize these conflicting desires. What am I to do?”
Surely, there can never be a harmony or integration of opposing desires. Can you harmonize hate and love? Can ambition and the desire for peace ever be brought together? Mustn’t they always be contradictory? “But cannot conflicting desires be brought under control? Cannot these wild horses be tamed?”
You have tried, haven’t you? “Yes, for many years.”
And have you succeeded? “No, but that is because I haven’t properly disciplined desire, I haven’t tried hard enough. The fault is not with discipline, but with him who fails in discipline.”
Is not this very disciplining of desire the breeder of contradiction? To discipline is to resist, to suppress; and is not resistance or suppression the way of conflict? When you discipline desire, who is the ‘you’ that is doing the disciplining?
“It’s the higher self.”
Is it? Or is it merely one part of the mind trying to dominate the other, one desire suppressing another desire? This suppression of one part of the mind, by another which you call the ‘higher self’, can only lead to conflict. All resistance is productive of strife. However much one desire may suppress or discipline another, that so-called higher desire breeds other desires which soon are in revolt. Desire multiplies itself; there isn’t just one desire. Haven’t you noticed this?
“Yes, I have noticed that in disciplining a particular desire, other desires spring up around it. You have to go after them one by one.”
And so spend a lifetime pursuing and holding down one desire after another – only to find at the end that desire still remains. Will is desire, and it can tyrannically dominate all other desires; but what is thus conquered has to be conquered again and again. Will can become a habit; and a mind that functions in the groove of habit is mechanical, dead. “I’m not sure I understand all the finer points of what you are explaining, but I am aware of the entanglements and contradictions of desire. If there were only one contradiction in me, I could put up with its strife, but there are several of them. How am I to be at peace?”
To understand is one thing, and to desire to be at peace is another. With understanding there does come peace, but the mere desire to be at peace only strengthens desire, which is the source of all conflict. A strong, dominant desire never brings peace but only builds an imprisoning wall around itself. “Then how is one to get out of this net of self-contradictory desires?”
Is the ‘how’ an inquiry, or the demand for a method by which to put an end to contradiction?
“I suppose I am asking for a method. But isn’t it only through the patient and rigorous practice of a proper method that one can end this strife?”
Again, any method implies an effort to control, suppress or sublimate desire, and in this effort, resistance in different forms, subtle or brutal, is built up. It’s like living in a narrow passage that shuts you away from the vastness of life. “You seem to be very much against discipline.”
I am only pointing out that a disciplined moulded mind is not a free mind. With the understanding of desire, discipline loses its significance. The understanding of desire is of far greater significance than discipline, which is mere conformity to a pattern.
“If there’s to be no discipline, then how is the mind to be free from desire, which brings all these contradictions?”
Desire does not bring contradictions. Desire is contradiction. That is why it’s important to understand desire. “What do you mean by understanding desire?”
It is to be aware of desire, without naming it, without rejecting or accepting it. It is to be simply aware of desire, as you would be of a child. If you would understand a child you must observe it, and such observation is not possible if there’s any sense of condemnation, justification or comparison. Similarly, to understand desire, there must be this simple awareness of it.
“Will there then be the cessation of self-contradiction?”
Is it possible to guarantee anything in these matters? And this very urge to be sure, safe – is it not another form of desire?
Sir, have you ever known a moment when there has been no self-contradiction? “Perhaps in sleep, but not otherwise.”
Sleep is not necessarily a state of peace, or of freedom from self-contradiction – but that’s another matter.
Why have you never known such a moment? Haven’t you experienced total action – an action involving your mind and your heart well as your body, the totality of your whole being? “Unfortunately, I have never known such a pure moment. Complete self-forgetfulness must be a great bliss, but it has never happened to me, and I think very few are ever blessed in that manner.”
Sir, when the self is absent, do we not know love – not the love that is called personal or impersonal, worldly or divine, but love without the interpreting mind?
“Sometimes, when I am sitting at my desk in the office, a strange feeling of ‘otherness’ does come over me – but it’s such a rare thing. If only it would last and not fade away.”
How acquisitive we are! We want to hold that which cannot be held; we want to remember that which is not the stuff of memory. All this wanting, pursuing, reaching, which is the desire to be, to become, makes for contradiction, the building up of the self. The self can never know love; it can only know desire, with its contradictions and miseries. Love is not a thing to be pursued, to be gained; it is not to be bought through the practice of virtue. All such pursuits are the ways of the self, of desire; and with desire there is always the pain of contradiction.