The Sparkle of Doubt

There is a cabin high among the hills, somewhat isolated although there are other cabins there. The cabin was among those gigantic marvellous old trees, the sequoias. Some of them are said to have existed from the time of the ancient Egyptians, perhaps from Rameses the Second. They are really marvellous trees. Their bark is rose-coloured and bright in the morning sunlight. These trees cannot be burnt; their bark resists fire and I you can see where the old Indians built a fire round the tree; the dark mark of fire is still there. They are really quite gigantic in size, their trunks are enormous and if you sit very still under them in the morning light, with the sun among the tree tops, all the squirrels there will come up quite close to you. They are very inquisitive like the blue-jays, for there are jays too, blue, blue birds, always ready to scold you, asking why you are there, telling you that you are disturbing their area and should go away as quickly as possible. But if you remain quiet, watching, looking at the beauty of the sunlight among the leaves in the still air, then they will leave you alone, accept you as the squirrels do.

It was not the season, so the cabins were empty and you were alone, and at night it was so silent. And occasionally the bears would come and you could hear their heavy bodies against the cabin. It could have been quite a savage place, for modern civilization had not quite destroyed it. You have to climb from the planes, in and out, up and up and up, until you reach this sequoia forest. There were streams rushing down the slope. It was so extraordinarily beautiful to be alone among these vast, very tall great trees, ancient beyond the memory and so utterly unconcerned with what was going on in the world, silent in their ancient dignity and strength. And in this cabin, surrounded by these old ageless trees, you were alone day after day, watching, taking long walks, hardly meeting anyone. From such a height you could see the planes, sunlit, busy; you could see the cars like small insects chasing one another. And up here only the real insects were busy about their day. There were a great many ants. The red ones crawled over your legs but they never seemed to pay much attention to you.

From this cabin you fed the squirrels. There was one particular squirrel that would come every morning and you had a bag of peanuts and you would give them to it one by one: it would stuff it in its mouth, cross over the window-sill and come to the table with its bushy tail curled up, almost touching its head. It would take many of these shelled peanuts, or sometimes even the unshelled ones, and jump back across the window-sill down to the veranda and along the open space into a dead tree with a hollow in it which was its home. It would come perhaps for an hour or more wanting these peanuts, back and forth, back and forth. And it was quite tame by then, you could stroke it, it was so soft, so gentle, it looked with eyes of surprise and then friendship. It knew you wouldn’t hurt it. One day, closing all the windows when it was inside and the bag of peanuts was on the table, it took the usual mouthful and then went to the windows and the door, which were all closed, and realized it was a prisoner. It came hopping along to the table, jumped on to it, looked at one and began to scold. After all, you couldn’t keep that lively beautiful thing as a prisoner, so you opened the windows. It jumped down to the floor, climbed over the window-sill, went back to the dead trunk and came right back asking for more. From then on we were really great friends. After it had stuffed that hole full of peanuts, probably for the winter, it would go along up the trunks of the trees chasing other squirrels and would always come back to its dead trunk. Then sometimes of an evening it would come to the window-sill and sit there and would chatter, looking at me, telling me something of the day’s work, and as it grew darker it said goodnight and jumped back to its home in the hole in the dead old tree. And the next morning early it would be there on the window-sill calling, chattering, and the day would begin.

Every animal in that forest, every little thing, was doing the same – gathering food, chasing others in fun and in anger, and the big animals like the deer were curious and looked at you. And as you climbed to a moderate height and went along a rocky path, you turned and there was a big bear, black with four cubs, as large as large cats. It pushed them up a tree, the four of them, and they climbed up to safety, and then the mother turned round and looked at me. Strangely we weren’t afraid. We looked at each other for perhaps two or three seconds or more and then you turned your back and went down the same path. Only then, when you were safe in your cabin, did you realize how dangerous had been this encounter with a mother bear with four cubs.

Life is an endless process of becoming and ending. This great country was still unsophisticated in those days; it was not so terribly advanced technologically and there was not too much vulgarity, as there is now. Sitting on the steps of that cabin you watched and everything was active – the trees, the ants, the rabbits, the deer, the bear and the squirrel. Life is action. Life is a series of continuous, endless action until you die. Action born of desire is distorted, is limited, and this limited action must invariably, do what you will, bring about endless conflict. Anything that is limited must in its very nature breed many problems, crises. It is like a man, like a human being, who is all the time thinking about himself, his problems, his experiences, his joys and pleasures, his business affairs – completely self-centred. The activity of such a person is naturally very limited. One never realizes the limitation of this self-centredness. They call it fulfilment, expressing oneself, achieving success, the pursuit of pleasure and becoming something inwardly, the urge, the desire to be. All such activity must not only be limited and distorted but its successive actions in whatever direction must inevitably breed fragmentation, as is seen in this world. Desire is very strong; the monks and the sannyasis of the world have tried to suppress it, tried to identify that burning flame with some noble symbols or some image – identifying the desire with something greater – but it is still desire. Whatever action comes out of desire, may it be called noble or ignoble, is still limited, distorted.

Now the blue jay has come back; it is there after its morning meal, scolding to be noticed. And you threw it a few peanuts. It scolded first, then hopped down to the ground, caught a few of them in its beak, flew back on to the branch, flew off, came back scolding. And it too, day by day, became gradually tame. It came quite close with bright eyes, its tail up, the blue shining with such brightness and clarity – a blue that no painter can catch. And it scolded other birds. Probably that was its domain and it didn’t want any intruders. But there are always intruders. Other birds soon came. They all seemed to like raisins and peanuts. The whole activity of existence was there.

The sun now was high in the heaven and there were very few shadows, but towards the evening there will be long shadows, shapely, sculptured, dark with a smile.

Is there an action not of desire? If we ask such a question, and we rarely do, one can probe, without any motive, to find an action which is of intelligence. The action of desire is not intelligent; it leads to all kinds of problems and issues. Is there an action of intelligence? One must always be somewhat sceptical in these matters; doubt is an extraordinary factor of purification of the brain, of the heart. Doubt, carefully measured out, brings great clarity, freedom. In the Eastern religions, to doubt, to question, is one of the necessities for finding truth, but in the religious culture of Western civilization, doubt is an abomination of the devil. But in freedom, in an action that is not of desire, there must be the sparkle of doubt. When one actually sees, not theoretically nor verbally, that the action of desire is corrupt, distorted, the very perception is the beginning of that intelligence from which action is totally different. That is, to see the false as the false, the truth in the false, and truth as truth. Such perception is that quality of intelligence which is neither yours nor mine, which then acts. That action has no distortion, no remorse. It doesn’t leave a mark, a footprint on the sands of time. That intelligence cannot be unless there is great compassion, love, if you will. There cannot be compassion if the activities of thought are anchored in any one particular ideology or faith, or attached to a symbol or to a person. There must be freedom to be compassionate. And where there is that flame, that very flame is the movement of intelligence.