The streets were crowded and the shops were full of things. It was the wealthy part of the town, but in the streets were people of every kind, rich and poor, labourers and office workers. There were men and women from all parts of the world, a few in their native costumes, but most of them dressed in western clothes. There were many cars, new and old, and on that spring morning the expensive ones sparkled with chrome and polish, and the people’s faces were bright and smiling. The shops too were full of people, and very few seemed to be aware of the blue sky. The shop windows attracted them, the dresses, the shoes, the new cars, and the displays of food. Pigeons were everywhere, moving in and out among the many feet and between the endless cars. There was a book shop with all the latest books by innumerable authors. The people seemed to have never a care in the world; the war was far away, on another part of the globe. Money, food and work were plentiful, and there was a vast getting and spending. The streets were like canyons between the tall buildings, and there were no trees. It was noisy; there was the strange restlessness of a people who had everything and yet nothing.
A huge church stood amidst fashionable shops, and opposite it was an equally big bank; both were imposing and apparently necessary. In the vast church a priest in surplice and stole was preaching about the One who suffered for the sake of man. The people knelt in prayer; there were candles, idols and incense. The priest intoned and the congregation responded; at last they rose and went out into the sunlit streets and into the shops with their array of things. Now it was silent in the church; only a few remained, lost in their own thoughts. The decorations, the richly coloured windows, the pulpit, the altar and the candles – everything was there to quiet man’s mind.
Is God to be found in churches, or in our hearts? The urge to be comforted breeds illusion; it is this urge which creates churches, temples and mosques. We get lost in them, or in the illusion of an omnipotent State, and the real thing goes by. The unimportant becomes all-consuming. Truth, or what you will, cannot be found by the mind; thought cannot go after it; there is no path to it; it cannot be bought through worship, prayer or sacrifice. If we want comfort, consolation, we shall have it in one way or another; but with it come further pain and misery. The desire for comfort, for security, has the power to create every form of illusion. It is only when the mind is still that there is a possibility of the coming into being of the real.
There were several of us, and B. began by asking whether it is not necessary to have help if we are to understand this whole messy problem of life. Should there not be a guide, an illumined being who can show us the true path?
“Have we not sufficiently gone into all that during these many years?” asked S. “I for one am not seeking a guru or a teacher.”
“If you are really not seeking help, then why are you here?” insisted B. “Do you mean to say that you have put away all desire for guidance?”
“No, I don’t think I have, and I would like to explore this urge to seek guidance or help. I do not now go window-shopping, as it were, running to the various teachers, ancient and modem, as I once did; but I do need help, and I would like to know why. And will there ever be a time when I shall no longer need help?”
“Personally I would not be here if there were no help available from anyone,” said M. “I have been helped on previous occasions and that is why I am here now. Even though you have pointed out the evils of following, sir, I have been helped by you, and I shall continue to come to your talks and discussions often as I can.”
Are we seeking evidence of whether we are being helped or not? A doctor, the smile of a child or of a passer-by, a relationship, a leaf blown by the wind, a change of climate, even a teacher, a guru – all these things can help. There is help everywhere for a man who is alert; but many of us are asleep to everything about us except to a particular teacher or book, and that is our problem. You pay attention when I say something, do you not? But when someone else says the same thing, perhaps in different words, you become deaf. You listen to one whom you consider to be the authority, and are not alert when others speak.
“But I have found that what you say generally has significance,” replied M. “So I listen to you attentively. When another says something it is often a mere platitude, a dull response – or perhaps I myself am dull. The point is, it helps me to listen to you, so why shouldn’t I? Even if everyone insists that I am merely following you, I shall still come as often as I can manage it.”
Why are we open to help from one particular direction, and closed to every other direction? Consciously or unconsciously you may give me your love, your compassion, you may help me to understand my problems; but why do I insist that you are the only source of help, the only saviour? Why do I build you up as my authority? I listen to you, I am attentive to everything you say, but I am indifferent or deaf to the statement of another. Why? Is this not the issue?
“You are not saying that we should not seek help,” said I. “But you are asking us why we give importance to the one who helps, making of him our authority. Isn’t that it?”
I am also asking why you seek help. When one seeks help, what is the urge behind it? When one consciously, deliberately sets about seeking help, that one wants, or an escape, a consolation? What is it that we are seeking?
“There are many kinds of help,” said B. “From the domestic servant to the most eminent surgeon, from the high school teacher to the greatest scientist, they all give some kind of help. In any civilization help is necessary, not only the ordinary kind, but also the guidance of a spiritual teacher who has attained enlightenment and helps to bring order and peace to man.”
Please let us put aside generalities and consider what guidance or help means to each one of us. Does it not mean the resolving of individual difficulties, pains, sorrows? If you are a spiritual teacher, or a doctor, I come to you in order to be shown a happy way of life, or to be cured of some disease. We seek a way of life from the enlightened man, and knowledge or information from the learned. We want to achieve, we want to be successful, we want to be happy so we look for a pattern of life which will help us to attain what we desire, sacred or profane. After trying many other things, we think of truth as the supreme goal, the ultimate peace and happiness, and we want to attain it; so we are on the lookout to find what we desire. But can desire ever make its way to reality? Does not desire for something, however noble, breed illusion? And as desire acts, does it not set up the structure of authority, imitation and fear? This is the actual psychological process, is it not? And is this help, or self-deception?
“I am having the greatest difficulty not to be persuaded by what you say!” exclaimed B. “I see the reason, the significance of it. But I know you have helped me, and am I to deny that?”
If someone has helped you and you make of him your authority, then are you not preventing all further help, not only from him, but from everything about you? Does not help lie about you everywhere? Why look in only one direction? And when you are so enclosed so bound, can any help reach you? But when you are open, there is unending help in all things, from the song of a bird to the call of a human being, from the blade of grass to the immensity of the heavens. The poison and corruption begin when you look to one person as your authority, your guide, your saviour. This is so, is it not?
“I think I understand what you are saying,” said I. “But my difficulty is this. I have been a follower, a seeker of guidance for many years. When you point out the deeper significance of following, intellectually I agree with you, but there is a part of me that rebels. Now, how can I integrate this inward contradiction so that I shall no longer follow?”
Two opposing desires or impulses cannot be integrated and when you introduce a third element which is the desire for integration, you only complicate the problem, you do not resolve it. But when you see the whole significance of asking help, of following authority, whether it be the authority of another, or of your own self-imposed pattern, then that very perception puts an end to all following.