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Series II - Chapter 19 - ‘The Individual And The Ideal’
Series II - Chapter 19 - ‘The Individual And The Ideal’
“OUR LIFE HERE in India is more or less shattered; we want to make something of it again, but we don’t know where to begin. I can see the importance of mass action, and also its dangers. I have pursued the ideal of non-violence, but there has been bloodshed and misery. Since the Partition, this country has had blood on its hands, and now we are building up the armed forces. We talk of non-violence and yet prepare for war. I am as confused as the political leaders. In prison I used to read a great deal, but it has not helped me to clarify my own position.”
“Can we take one thing at a time and somewhat go into it? First, you lay a great deal of emphasis on the individual; but is not collective action necessary?”
The individual is essentially the collective, and society is the creation of the individual. The individual and society are interrelated, are they not? They are not separate. The individual builds the structure of society, and society or environment shapes the individual. Though environment conditions the individual, he can always free himself, break away from his background. The individual is the maker of the very environment to which he becomes a slave; but he has also the power to break away from it and create an environment that will not dull his mind or spirit. The individual is important only in the sense that he has the capacity to free himself from his conditioning and understand reality. Individuality that is merely ruthless in its own conditioning builds a society whose foundations are based on violence and antagonism. The individual exists only in relationship, otherwise he is not; and it is the lack of understanding of this relationship that is breeding conflict and confusion. If the individual does not understand his relationship to people, to property, and to ideas or beliefs, merely to impose upon him a collective or any other pattern only defeats its own end. To bring about the imposition of a new pattern will require so-called mass action; but the new pattern is the invention of a few individuals, and the mass is mesmerized by the latest slogans, the promises of a new Utopia. The mass is the same as before, only now it has new rulers, new phrases, new priests, new doctrines. This mass is made up of you and me, it is composed of individuals; the mass is fictitious, it is a convenient term for the exploiter and the politician to play with. The many are pushed into action, into war, and so on, by the few; and the few represent the desires and urges of the many. It is the transformation of the individual that is of the highest importance, but not in terms of any pattern. Patterns always condition, and a conditioned entity is always in conflict within himself and so with society. It is comparatively easy to substitute a new pattern of conditioning for the old; but for the individual to free himself from all conditioning is quite another matter.
“This requires careful and detailed thought, but I think I am beginning to understand it. You lay emphasis on the individual, but not as a separate and antagonistic force within society. “Now the second point. I have always worked for an ideal, and I don’t understand your denial of it. Would you mind going into this problem?”
Our present morality is based on the past or the future on the traditional or the what ought to be. The what ought to be is the ideal in opposition to what has been, the future in conflict with the past. Non-violence is the ideal, the what should be; and the what has been is violence. The what has been projects the what should be; the ideal is homemade, it is projected by its own opposite, the actual. The antithesis is an extension of the thesis; the opposite contains the element of its own opposite. Being violent, the mind projects its opposite, the ideal of non-violence. It is said that the ideal helps to overcome its own opposite; but does it? Is not the ideal an avoidance, an escape from the what has been, or from what is? The conflict between the actual and the ideal is obviously a means of postponing the understanding of the actual, and this conflict only introduces another problem which helps to cover up the immediate problem. The ideal is a marvellous and respectable escape from the actual. The ideal of non-violence, like the collective Utopia, is fictitious; the ideal, the what should be, helps us to cover up and avoid what is. The pursuit of the ideal is the search for reward. You may shun the worldly rewards as being stupid and barbarous, which they are; but your pursuit of the ideal is the search for reward at a different level, which is also stupid. The ideal is a compensation, a fictitious state which the mind has conjured up. Being violent, separative and out for itself, the mind projects the gratifying compensation, the fiction which it calls the ideal, the Utopia, the future, and vainly pursues it. That very pursuit is conflict, but it is also a pleasurable postponement of the actual. The ideal, the what should be, does not help in understanding what is; on the contrary, it prevents understanding.
“Do you mean to say that our leaders and teachers have been wrong in advocating and maintaining the ideal?”
What do you think? “If I understand correctly what you say...”
Please, it is not a matter of understanding what another may say, but of finding out what is true. Truth is not opinion; truth is not dependent on any leader or teacher. The weighing of opinions only prevents the perception of truth. Either the ideal is a homemade fiction which contains its own opposite, or it is not. There are no two ways about it. This does not depend on any teacher, you must perceive the truth of it for yourself.
“If the ideal is fictitious, it revolutionizes all my thinking. Do you mean to say that our pursuit of the ideal is utterly futile?,”
It is a vain struggle, a gratifying self-deception is it not? “This is very disturbing, but I am forced to admit that it is. We have taken so many things for granted that we have never allowed ourselves to observe closely what is in our hand. We have deceived ourselves, and what you point out upsets completely the structure of my thought and action. It will revolutionize education, our whole way of living and working. I think I see the implications of a mind that is free from the ideal, from the what should be. To such a mind, action has a significance quite different from that which we give it now. Compensatory action is not action at all, but only a reaction – and we boast of action!...But without the ideal, how is one to deal with the actual, or with the what has been?”
The understanding of the actual is possible only when the ideal, the what should be, is erased from the mind; that is only when the false is seen as the false. The what should be is also the what should not be. As long as the mind approaches the actual with either positive or negative compensation, there can be no understanding of the actual. To understand the actual you must be indirect communion with it; your relationship with it cannot be through the screen of the ideal, or through the screen of the past, of tradition, of experience. To be free from the wrong approach is the only problem. This means, really, the understanding of conditioning, which is the mind. The problem is the mind itself, and not the problems it breeds; the resolution of the problems bred by the mind is merely the reconciliation of effects, and that only leads to further confusion and illusion.
“How is one to understand the mind?”
The way of the mind is the way of life – not the ideal life, but the actual life of sorrow and pleasure, of deception and clarity, of conceit and the pose of humility. To understand the mind is to be aware of desire and fear. “Please, this is getting a bit too much for me. How am I to understand my mind?”
To know the mind, must you not be aware of its activities? The mind is only experience, not just the immediate but also the accumulated. The mind is the past in response to the present, which makes for the future. The total process of the mind has to be understood.
“Where am I to begin?”
From the only beginning: relationship. Relationship is life; to be is to be related. Only in the mirror of relationship is the mind to be understood, and you have to begin to see yourself in that mirror. “Do you mean in my relationship with my wife with my neighbour, and so on? Is that not a very limited process?”
What may appear to be small, limited, if approached rightly, reveals the fathomless. It is like a funnel, the narrow opens into the wide. When observed with passive watchfulness, the limited reveals the limitless. After all, at its source the river is small, hardly worth noticing.
“So I must begin with myself and my immediate relationships.”
Surely. Relationship is never narrow or small. With the one or with the many, relationship is a complex process, and you can approach it pettily, or freely and openly. Again, the approach is dependent on the state of the mind. If you do not begin with yourself, where else will you begin? Even if you begin with some peripheral activity, you are in relationship with it, the mind is the centre of it. Whether you begin near or far, you are there. Without understanding yourself, whatever you do will inevitably bring about confusion and sorrow. The beginning is the ending.
“I have wandered far afield, I have seen and done many things, I have suffered and laughed like so many others, and yet I have had to come back to myself. I am like that sannyasi who set out in search of truth. He spent many years going from teacher to teacher, and each pointed out a different way. At last he wearily returned to his home, and in his own house was the jewel! I see how foolish we are, searching the universe for that bliss which is to be found only in our own hearts when the mind is purged of its activities. You are perfectly right. I begin from where I started. I begin with what I am.”