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Series III - Chapter 52 - 'Can God Be Sought Through Organized Religion?'
Series III - Chapter 52 - 'Can God Be Sought Through Organized Religion?'
THE EVENING SUN was on the green rice fields and on the tall palms. The fields curved around the palm groves and a stream, running through the fields and the groves, caught the golden glow and became alive. The earth was very rich. It had rained a great deal, and the vegetation was thick; even the fence-posts were putting out green leaves. The sea was full of fish, and there was no starvation in the land; the people were well-fed, the cattle fat and indolent. There were children everywhere, with little on, and the sun had made them dark.
It was a lovely evening, cool after the hot, sunny day. A breeze was coming across the hills, and the waving palms gave shape and beauty to the sky. The little car was chugging up a hill, and the small child sharing the front seat had made herself comfortable. She was too shy to say a word, but she was all eyes, taking everything in. There were many people on the road, some well-covered and others almost naked. A man wearing only a string and a piece of cloth was standing in the stream near the bank. He ducked under the water several times, rubbed himself, ducked some more, and came out. Soon it was quite dark, and the headlights of the car lighted up the people and the trees.
It's strange how the mind is always occupied with its own thoughts, with watching and listening. It is never really empty; and if by chance it seems so, it's only blank, or day-dreaming. It may be occupied with wanting to be empty, but it's never empty; and being so completely full, no other movement is possible. Becoming aware of its state of constant occupation, it tries to be unoccupied empty. The method, the practice, which promises peace, becomes the new occupation of the mind. Some thought - of the office, of the family, of the future - perpetually fills the mind. It's always crowded, cluttered up with the things of its own or another's making; there is a ceaseless movement which has little significance.
An occupied mind is a petty mind, whether its occupation is with God, with envy, or with sex. Loneliness, the self-centred movement of the mind, is a deeper occupation, and this is covered over with activity. The mind is never rich in complete emptiness; there is always a corner which is active, planning, chattering, busy.
The total emptiness of the mind, when even its darkest recesses are exposed, has an intensity which is not the fury of being occupied, and it is not diminished by the resistance which occupation brings. There being nothing to resist or overcome, this intensity is effortless silence. The occupied mind does not know this silence. Even those moments when it is not occupied are only breaks in the activity of its occupation, which are soon mended. This silence of emptiness is not the opposite of occupation. All opposites are within the pattern of struggle. It is not a result, an effect, for it has no motive, no cause. All cause-effect is within the sphere of self-centred activity. The self, with its occupation, can never know this intensity of silence, nor what is in it and beyond it.
Three men had come from the distant town by train and bus. One, considerably older than the other two, with a well-kept beard, was the spokesman, though the others were in no way subservient to him. Slow and deliberate in speech, he was able to quote freely from the well-established authorities. He was never impatient, and there was an air of tolerance about him. Of the two younger men, one was nearly bald, and the other had heavy hair. The balding one seemed not yet to have made up his mind about serious matters and was willing to examine what was said; but here and there definite patterns of thought could be noticed. He smiled widely as he talked, but did not gesticulate. The other was rather shy, and spoke very little.
"Is it not possible to find God through the established religious organizations?" inquired the older man.
If one may ask, why are you putting this question? Is it a serious problem in itself, or merely an opening to a serious problem? If there's a more serious problem behind it, wouldn't it be simpler to proceed directly to that? "For the present this question is quite a serious one, at least for us. We all heard you two years ago, when last you were here, and it then seemed to us that you were far too drastic in your reasoning about organized religions. My two friends and I belong to one; but it has slowly dawned upon us that you may be right, and we want to talk it over with you seriously."
First of all, what does it mean to be serious? We are serious, in a passing way, about so many things. Since you have all taken the trouble to come here, wouldn't it be well to begin by understanding what we mean by seriousness? "Perhaps we are not as serious as you would want us to be, but we do give as much time as possible to the search for God."
Is time spent in doing something an indication of seriousness? The business man, the office worker, the scientist, the carpenter - they all give a great deal of time to their respective occupations. You would consider them serious, would you not?
"In a way, yes. But the seriousness with which we carry on the search for God is entirely different. It's difficult to put into words."
Seriousness in the one case is outer, superficial, whereas in the other, it is inner, deeper, requiring far greater insight, and so on; is that it? "That's more or less what he means," put in the balding one. "We devote as much time as possible to meditation, to reading the sacred books and attending religious gatherings. In short, we are very serious in our search for God."
Again, is time the factor of seriousness? Or does seriousness depend on the state of the mind? "I don't quite understand what you mean by 'the state of the mind'."
However serious a petty or immature mind may be, it is ever limited, shallow dependent, subject to influence. To be concerned with only a part of life is to be only partially serious; but the mind that is concerned with the totality of life will approach all things with serious intent. Such a mind is totally serious, earnest.
"I think you mean that we never approach life as a whole," said the older one, "and I'm afraid you're right."
The partial approach finds a partial answer, and however serious one may be, one's seriousness will always be fragmentary. Such a mind cannot find the truth of anything. "Then how is one to have this total seriousness?"
The 'how' is not at all important. There is no method or practice that can awaken this feeling - the feeling of the mind intent upon understanding the totality of its own being. We will come upon this hope, as we proceed with our talk. But you began by asking if God can be found through organized religion.
"Yes, that was our question," the balding one replied. "All we know of religion is what has been drilled into us from childhood. Throughout the centuries, organized religions have taught us to believe in this or that. practically every saint we know of has followed the religion of his fathers and depended on the authority of its sacred books. The three of us here belong to one of the traditional religious organizations, but since listening to you, we have come to doubt - or at least, I have come to doubt - the point of belonging to any religious organization at all. This is what we would like to talk about."
What does organization imply? We organize in order to co-operate in doing something. Organization is necessary for effective action if you and I wish to do something together. We have to organize, put ourselves in right relationship, if we are to carry out effectively some political, social, or economic plan. Are religious organizations on the same or a similar footing? And what do you mean by religion?
"To me, religion is the way of life," replied the third one. "The way of life is laid down for us by our spiritual teachers and the sacred books, and the following of it in our daily life constitutes religion."
Is religion a matter of following a pattern laid down by another, however great? To follow is merely to conform, to imitate, in the hope of receiving a comforting reward; and surely that is not religion. The releasing of the individual from envy, greed and violence, from the desire for success and power, so that his mind is freed from self-contradictions, conflicts, frustrations - is not this the way of religion? And only such a mind can discover the true, the real. Such a mind is in no way influenced, it is not under any pressure, and so it is able to be still; and it is only when the mind is totally still that there is a possibility of the coming into being of that which is beyond the measure of the mind. But organized religions merely condition the mind to a particular pattern of thought.
"But we were brought up to think within the pattern with its code of morality," said the balding one. "The temple or the church, with its worship, its ceremonies, its beliefs and dogmas - to us, this has always been religion, and you are destroying it without putting anything in its place."
What is false must be put away if what is true is to be. The aloneness of the mind is essential; and the way of religion is the disentanglement of the mind from the pattern which is put together by the collective, by the past. At present the mind is caught in the collective morality, with its acquisitiveness, its ambition, its respectability and pursuit of power. The understanding of all this has its own action, which frees the mind-feeling from the collective, and then it is capable of love, compassion. Only then is there the sublime.
"But we are not yet capable of such immense understanding," said the older one. "We still need the cooperation and guidance of others to help us along in the right direction. This cooperation and guidance is provided by what we call organized religion."
Do you actually need the help of another to be free from envy, ambition? And when you do have the help of another, is there freedom? Or does freedom come only with self-knowledge? Is self-knowledge a matter of guidance, of organized help? Or are the ways of the self to be discovered from moment to moment in our daily relationships? Dependence on another, or on an organization, breeds fear, does it not?
"There may be a few who are strong enough to stand alone and combat the world, but the vast majority of us need the comforting supports of organized religion. Our lives, on the whole, are empty, dull, without much significance, and it seems better to fill this emptiness with religious beliefs, rather than to fill it with stupid amusements, or with the sophistication of worldly thoughts and desires."
In filling that emptiness with religious beliefs, you have filled it with words, haven't you? "We are supposed to be educated people," said the balding one. "We have been to college, we have fairly good jobs, and all the rest of it. Moreover religion has always been of the deepest interest to us. But I see now that what we considered to be religion is not religion at all. On the other hand, to break out of this prison of the collective requires more energy and understanding than most of us possess; so what are we to do? If we left the religious organization to which we belong, we would feel lost, and sooner or later we would pick up another belief with which to deceive ourselves and fill our own emptiness. The attraction of the old way is strong, and we lazily follow it. But in talking all this over, certain things have become clear to me as never before; and perhaps that very clarity will produce its own action."