The tops of the mountains beyond the lake were in dark, heavy clouds, but the shores of the lake were in the sun. It was early spring, and the sun wasn’t warm. The trees were still bare, their branches naked against the blue sky; but they were beautiful in their nakedness. They could wait with patience and certainty, for the sun was upon them, and in a few weeks more they would be covered with tender green leaves. A little path by the lake turned off through the woods, which were mostly evergreens; they extended for miles, and if you went far enough along that path you came to an open meadow, with trees all around it. It was a beautiful spot, secluded and far away. A few cows were sometimes grazing in the meadow, but the tinkling of their bells never seemed to disturb the solitude or take away the feeling of distance, of loneliness and familiar seclusion. A thousand people might come to that enchanted place, and when they had left, with their noise and litter, it would have remained unspoiled, alone and friendly.
That afternoon the sun was on the meadow, and on the tall, dark trees that stood around it, carved in green, stately, without movement. With your preoccupations and inward chatter, with your mind and eyes all over the place, restlessly wondering if the rain would catch you on your way back, you felt as though you were trespassing, not wanted there; but soon you were part of it, part of that enchanted solitude. There were no birds of any kind; the air was completely still, and the tops of the trees were motionless against the blue sky. The lush green meadow was the centre of this world, and as you sat on a rock, you were part of that centre. It wasn’t imagination; imagination is silly. It wasn’t that you were trying to identify yourself with what was so splendidly open and beautiful; identification is vanity. It wasn’t that you were trying to forget or abnegate yourself in this unspoiled solitude of nature; all self-forgetful abnegation is arrogance. It wasn’t the shock or the compulsion of so much purity; all compulsion is a denial of the true. You could do nothing to make yourself, or help yourself to be, part of that wholeness. But you were part of it, part of the green meadow, the hard rock, the blue sky and the stately trees. It was so. You might remember it, but then you would not be of it; and if you went back to it, you would never find it.
Suddenly you heard the clear notes of a flute; and along the path you met the player, a mere boy. He was never going to be a professional, but there was joy in his playing. He was looking after the cows. He was too shy to talk, so he played on his flute as you went down the path together. He would have come all the way down, but it was too far, and presently he turned back; but the notes of the flute were still in the air.
They were husband and wife, without children, and comparatively young. Short and well-built, they were a strong, healthy-looking couple. She looked straight at you, but he would look at you only when you weren’t looking at him. They had come once or twice before, and there was a change in them. physically they were about the same, but there was something different in their look, in the way they sat, and in the set of their heads; they had the air of people who were becoming, or had already become, important. Being out of their usual element, they were feeling a little awkward, constrained, and appeared not to be quite sure why they had come, or what to say; so they began by talking about their travels, and about other matters that were not of great interest to them under the present circumstances.
‘Of course,’ said the husband at last, ‘we do believe in the Masters, but at the moment we are not giving emphasis to all that. people don’t understand, and make the Masters into saviours, supergurus and what you say about gurus is perfectly right. To us, the Masters are our own higher selves; they exist, not just as a matter of belief, but as an everyday occurrence in our daily living. They guide our lives; they instruct and point the way.’
To what, sir, if one may ask?
‘To the evolutionary and nobler processes of life. We have pictures of the Masters, but they are merely symbols, images for the mind to dwell on, in order to bring something greater into our petty lives. Otherwise life becomes tawdry, empty and very superficial. As there are leaders in the political and economic fields, so these symbols act as guides in the realm of higher thought. They are as necessary as light in darkness. We are not intolerant of other guides, other symbols; we welcome them all, for in these troubled times, man needs all the help he can get. So we are not intolerant; but you appear to be both intolerant and rather dogmatic when you deny the Masters as guides, and reject every other form of authority. Why do you insist that man must be free from authority? How could we exist in this world if there were not some kind of law and order, which after all is based on authority? Man is sorely tried, and he needs those who can help and deeply comfort him.’
‘Man in general. There may be exceptions, but the common man needs some kind of authority, a guide who will lead him from a sensate life to the life of the spirit. Why are you against authority?’
There are many kinds of authority, are there not? There is the authority of the State for the so-called common good. There is the authority of the church, of dogma and belief, which is called religion, to save man from evil and help him to be civilized. There is the authority of society, which is the authority of tradition, of greed, envy, ambition; and the authority of personal knowledge or experience, which is the result of our conditioning, of our education. There is also the authority of the specialist, the authority of talent, and the authority of brute force, whether of a government or an individual. Why do we seek authority?
‘That’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? As I said, man needs something to guide himself by; being confused, he naturally seeks an authority to lead him out of his confusion.’
Sir, aren’t you speaking of man as though he were a being, different from yourself? Don’t you also seek authority?
‘Yes, I do.’
‘The physicist knows more than I about the structure of matter, and if I want to learn the facts in that field, I go to him. If I have a toothache, I go to a dentist. If I am inwardly confused, which often happens, I seek the guidance of the higher self, the Master, and so on. What’s wrong with that?’
It is one thing to go to the dentist, or to keep to the right or the left side of the road, or to pay taxes; but is this the same as accepting authority in order to be free from sorrow? The two are entirely different, are they not? Is psychological pain to be understood and eliminated by following the authority of another?
‘The psychologist or the analyst can frequently help the disordered mind to resolve its problem. Authority in such cases is obviously beneficial.’
But why do you look to the authority of what you call the higher self, or the Master?
‘Because I am confused.’
Can a confused mind ever seek out what is true?
Do what it will, a confused mind can only find further confusion; its search for the higher self, and the response it receives, will be according to its confused state. When there’s clarity, there’s an end to authority.
‘There are moments when my mind is clear.’
You are saying, in effect, that you are not totally confused, that there is a part of you which is clear; and this supposedly clear part is what you call the higher self, the Master, and so on. I am not saying this in any derogatory manner. But can there be one part of the mind which is confused and another part which is not? Or is this just wishful thinking?
‘I only know there are moments when I am not confused.’
Can clarity know itself as being non-confused? Can confusion recognize clarity? If confusion recognizes clarity, then what is recognized is still part of confusion. If clarity knows itself as a state of non-confusion, then it is the result of comparison; it is comparing itself with confusion, and so it’s part of confusion.
‘You are telling me that I am totally confused, aren’t you, sir? But that just isn’t so,’ he insisted.
Are you aware first of confusion or of clarity?
‘Isn’t that like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg?’
Not quite. When you are happy, you are not aware of it; it is only when happiness is not there that you search for it. When you are aware that you are happy, at that very moment happiness ceases. In looking to the Atman – the supra-mind, the Master, or whatever else you may name it – to clear up your confusion, you are acting from confusion; your action is the outcome of a conditioned mind, isn’t it.
Being confused, you are seeking or establishing an authority so as to clear up that confusion, which only makes matters worse.
‘Yes,’ he agreed reluctantly.
If you see the truth of this, then your only concern is with the clearing up of your confusion, and not with the establishing of authority, which has no meaning.
‘But how am I to clear up my confusion?’
By really being honest in your confusion. To admit to oneself that one is totally confused is the beginning of understanding.
‘But I have a position to maintain,’ he said impulsively.
That’s just it. You have a position of leadership – and the leader is as confused as those that are led. It is the same all over the world. Out of his confusion, the follower or the disciple chooses the leader, the teacher, the guru; so confusion prevails. If you really wish to be free of confusion, then that is your primary concern, and maintaining a position has no longer any importance. But you have been playing this game of hide-and-seek with yourself for some time, haven’t you, sir?
‘I suppose I have.’
Everyone wants to be somebody, and so we bring more confusion and sorrow upon ourselves and upon others; and yet we talk about saving the world! One must first clarify one’s own mind, and not be concerned with the confusion of others. There was a long pause. Then the wife, who had been silently listening, spoke in a rather hurt voice.
‘But we want to help others, and we have given our lives to it. You can’t take away from us this desire, after all the good work we have done. You are too destructive, too negative. You take away, but what do you give? You may have found the truth, but we haven’t; we are seekers, and we have a right to our convictions.’
Her husband was looking at her rather anxiously, wondering what was going to come out, but she went right on.
‘After working all these years, we have built up for ourselves a position in our organization; for the first time we have an opportunity to be leaders, and it is our duty to take it.’
Do you think so?
‘I most certainly do.’ Then there is no problem. I am not trying to convince you of anything, or to convert you to a particular point of view. To think from a conclusion or a conviction is not to think at all; and living is then a form of death is it not?
‘Without our convictions, life for us would be empty. Our convictions have made us what we are; we believe in certain things, and they have become part of our very make-up.’
Whether they have validity or not? Has a belief any validity.
‘We have given a great deal of consideration to our beliefs, and have found that they have truth behind them.’
How do you find out the truth of a belief?
‘We know whether there’s an underlying truth in a belief or not,’ she replied vehemently.
But how do you know?
‘Through our intelligence, our experience, and the test of our daily living, of course.’
Your beliefs are based on your education, on your culture; they are the outcome of your background, of social, parental, religious or traditional influence, are they not?
‘What’s wrong with that?’
When the mind is already conditioned by a set of beliefs, how can it ever find out the truth about them? Surely, the mind must first free itself from its beliefs, and only then can the truth concerning them be perceived. It is as absurd for a Christian to scoff at the beliefs and dogmas of Hinduism, as it is for a Hindu to deride the Christian dogma which asserts that only through a certain belief can you be saved, for they are both in the same boat. To understand the truth with regard to belief, conviction, dogma, there must first be freedom from all conditioning as a Christian, a Communist, a Hindu, a Muslim, or what you will. Otherwise you are merely repeating what you have been told.
‘But belief based on experience is a different matter,’ she asserted.
Is it? Belief projects experience, and such experience then strengthens the belief. Our visions are the outcome of our conditioning, the religious as well as the non-religious. This is so, isn’t it?
‘Sir, what you say is too devastating,’ she remonstrated. ‘We are weak, we cannot stand on our own feet, and we need the support of our beliefs.’
By insisting that you cannot stand on your own feet, you are obviously making yourself weak; and then you allow yourself to be exploited by the exploiter whom you have created.
‘But we need help.’
When you do not seek it, help comes. It may come from a leaf, from a smile, from the gesture of a child, or from any book. But if you make the book, the leaf, the image, all-important, then you are lost, for you are caught in the prison of your own making. She had become quieter now, but was still worried about something. The husband too was on the point of speaking, but restrained himself. We all waited in silence, and presently she spoke.
‘From everything you have said, it seems that you regard power as evil. Why? What’s wrong with exercising power?’
What do you mean by power? The dominance of a State, of a group, of a guru, of a leader, of an ideology; the pressure of propaganda, through which the clever and the cunning exert their influence over the so-called mass – is this what you mean by power?
‘Somewhat, yes. But there’s the power to do good as well as the power to do evil.’
Power in the sense of ascendancy, dominance, forceful influence over another, is evil at all times; there is no ‘good’ power.
‘But there are people who seek power for the good of their country, or in the name of God, peace or brotherhood, aren’t there?’
There are, unfortunately. If one may ask, are you seeking power?
‘We are,’ she replied defiantly. ‘But only in order to do good to others.’
That’s what they all say, from the most cruel tyrant to the so-called democratic politician, from the guru to the irritated parent.
‘But we are different. Having suffered so much ourselves, we want to help others to avoid the pitfalls that we have been through. people are children, and they must be helped for their own well-being. We really mean to do good.’
Do you know what is the good?
‘I think most of us know what is the good: not to do harm, to be kind, to be generous, to abstain from killing, and not to be concerned about oneself.’
In other words, you want to tell people to be generous of heart and hand; but does this require a vast, landed organization, with the possibility that one of you may become the head of it?
‘Our becoming the head of it is only to keep the organization moving along the right lines, and not for the sake of personal power.’
Is having power in an organization so very different from personal power? You both want to enjoy the prestige of it, the opportunities for travel which it affords, the feeling of being important, and so on. Why not be simple about it? Why clothe all this with respectability? Why use a lot of noble words to cover up your desire for success and the recognition of it, which is what most human beings want?
‘We only want to help people,’ she insisted.
Is it not strange that one refuses to see things as they are?
‘Sir,’ chimed in the husband, ‘I don’t think you understand our situation. We are ordinary people, and we don’t pretend to be anything else; we have our faults, and we honestly admit our ambition. But those whom we respect, and who have been wise in many ways, have asked us to take this position, and if we didn’t take it, it would fall into far worse hands – into the hands of people who are wholly concerned with themselves. So we feel that we must accept our responsibility, though we are not really worthy of it. I sincerely hope you understand.’
Is it not rather for you to understand what you are doing? You are concerned with reform, are you not?
‘Who isn’t? The great leaders and teachers, past and present, have always been concerned with reform. Isolated hermits, sannyasi, are of little use to society.’
Reform, though necessary, is not of much significance unless the whole of man is considered. Cutting down a few dead branches does not make the tree healthy if the roots are unsound. Mere reforms always need further reform. What is necessary is a total revolution in our thinking.
‘But most of us are not capable of such a revolution, and fundamental change must be brought about gradually, through the evolutionary processes. It is our aspiration to aid in this gradual change, and we have dedicated our lives to the service of man. Shouldn’t you be more tolerant of human weakness?’
Tolerance is not compassion, it’s a thing put together by the cunning mind. Tolerance is the reaction from intolerance; but neither the tolerant nor the intolerant will ever be compassionate. Without love, all so-called good action can only lead to further mischief and misery. A mind that’s ambitious, seeking power, does not know love, and it will never be compassionate. Love is not reform, but total action.