Selfishness Is the Essential Problem in Life


Most human beings are selfish. They are not conscious of their own selfishness; it is the way of their life. And if one is aware that one is selfish, one hides it very carefully and conforms to the pattern of society which is essentially selfish. The selfish mind is very cunning. Either it is brutally and openly selfish or it takes many forms. If you are a politician the selfishness seeks power, status and popularity; it identifies itself with an idea, a mission and all for the public good. If you are a tyrant it expresses itself in brutal domination. If you are inclined to be religious it takes the form of adoration, devotion, adherence to some belief, some dogma. It also expresses itself in the family; the father pursues his own selfishness in all the ways of his life and so does the mother. Fame, prosperity, good looks form a basis for this hidden creeping movement of the self. It is in the hierarchical structure of the priesthood, however much they may proclaim their love of God, their adherence to the self-created image of their particular deity. The captains of industry and the poor clerk have this expanding and benumbing sensuality of the self. The monk who has renounced the ways of the world may wander the face of the world or may be locked away in some monastery but has not left this unending movement of the self. They may change their names, put on robes or take vows of celibacy or silence, but they burn with some ideal, with some image, some symbol.

It is the same with the scientists, with the philosophers and the professors in the university. The doer of good works, the saints and gurus, the man or the woman who works endlessly for the poor – they all attempt to lose themselves in their work but the work is part of it. They have transferred the egotism to their labours. It begins in childhood and continues to old age. The conceit of knowledge, the practised humility of the leader, the submitting wife and dominating man, all have this disease. The self identifies with the State, with endless groups, with endless ideas and causes but it remains what it was at the beginning.

Human beings have tried various practices, methods, meditations to be free of this centre which causes so much misery and confusion, but like a shadow it is never captured. It is always there and it slips through your fingers, through your mind. Sometimes it is strengthened or becomes weak according to circumstances. You corner it here, it turns up there.

One wonders if the educator, who is so responsible for a new generation, understands non-verbally what a mischievous thing the self is, how corrupting, distorting, how dangerous it is in our lives. He may not know how to be free of it, he may not even be aware it is there but once he sees the nature of the movement of the self can he or she convey its subtleties to the student? And is it not his responsibility to do this? The insight into the working of the self is greater than academic learning. Knowledge can be used by the self for its own expansion, its aggressiveness, its innate cruelty.

Selfishness is the essential problem of our life. Conforming and imitation are part of the self, as is competition and the ruthlessness of talent. If the educator in these schools takes this question to his heart seriously, which I hope he does, then how will he help the student to be selfless? You might say it is a gift of the strange gods or brush it aside as being impossible. But if you are serious, as one must be, and are totally responsible for the student, how will you set about freeing the mind from this ageless binding energy? – the self which has caused so much sorrow? Would you not, with great care – which implies affection – explain in simple words what the consequences are when he speaks in anger, or when he hits somebody, or when he is thinking of his own importance? Is it not possible to explain to him that when he insists ‘this is mine’ or boasts ‘I did it’ or avoids through fear a certain action, he is building a wall, brick by brick, around himself? Is it not possible when his desires, his sensations overpower his rational thinking, to point out that the shadow of self is growing? Is it not possible to say to him that where the self is, in any guise, there is no love?

But the student might ask the educator, ‘Have you realized all this or are you just playing with words’? That very question might awaken your own intelligence and that very intelligence will give you the right feeling and the right words as answer.

As an educator you have no status; you are a human being with all the problems of life like a student. The moment you speak from status you are actually destroying the human relation. Status implies power and when you are seeking this, consciously or unconsciously, you enter a world of cruelty. You have a great responsibility, my friend, and if you take this total responsibility which is love, then the roots of the self are gone. This is not said as an encouragement or to make you feel that you must do this, but as we are all human beings, representing the whole of mankind, we are totally and wholly responsible whether we choose to be or not. You may try to evade it but that very movement is the action of the self. Clarity of perception is freedom from the self.