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New Delhi 1959

New Delhi 2nd Public Talk 11th February 1960

I would like, if I may, to talk over with you the problem of action. By action we generally mean what we do or think we should do under given circumstances, the question of what is the right course to take, and whether a particular action is justified or not. Most of our thinking is concerned with what to do. In the political and economic fields, in our personal relationships, and in the world at large, we are all primarily concerned with what is right action. And I would like, if I may, to talk over with you, not what is right and what is wrong action, but the totality of action; for if we can get a feeling of the action that is total, that is not self-contradictory, then perhaps we shall know or be able to feel our way through any particular action.

But it is very difficult, I think, to get a feeling of the totality of something. After all, to get the feeling of a tree, it is no good merely examining a leaf, or a branch, or the trunk. The tree is a totality, the hidden as well as what is shown, and to understand the beauty, the loveliness of a spreading tree, one must have a feeling of the totality of it.

In the same way, I think one must have this feeling, this inward comprehension of total action. If we look at ourselves we will see that in our relationships, in our governments, in every department of our living, there is not a total action, but many separate, unrelated actions. The government does one thing unrelated to our personal existence, the businessman does something else unrelated to the action of the government, and the individual says "I am a communist", "I am a Catholic", and so on. Each one is concerned with action according to a particular system or within a limited sphere, hoping that such action will cover the whole field. So there is always a contradiction, not only in the individual, in you and me, but also in our relationship with society, with the government, and with others.

Now, what is total action? You and I - you as an individual and I as another individual - are talking this over. I am not laying down the law. I am not saying "This is right and that is wrong", but together we are going to find out what is this extraordinary action which is total and therefore not contradictory in itself.

All our responses have their opposite responses, have they not? If you observe you will see that every desire has its own contradictory desire. The moment we desire something, there is the shadow of an opposing desire; so our action always creates a contradiction, an opposite response.

Now, is there an action which is total which does not create a contradiction, and which is not merely the continuance of a particular form of activity? We are going to find out; we are going into it very hesitantly and discover the truth of the matter for ourselves.

After all, the function of a speaker is not merely to give you ideas - at least I do not think so - , because ideas never really change human beings. One idea can be opposed by another idea. The very idea of total action creates an idea opposite to it. But if we can put away mere ideas and think together, feel together, proceed, investigate, question together, then perhaps we shall get the feeling of a total action which is not self-contradictory; because that which is total cannot have within it something opposed to itself.

This is a very complex problem, and like all complex problems, it must be approached very simply, which is the way of learning. To learn, the mind must be in a state of inquiry; and the mind is not inquiring when it makes a decision and starts from there. If I have a conception of what is right and what is wrong action, I have already made a decision, and such a mind is incapable of learning the truth about action. Though it may be very active, it is really a dead mind. There is no movement of learning for the mind that has already learnt; there is no experiencing for the mind that is burdened with past experiences. I do not know if you understand this, or if I am making myself clear.

You see, the difficulty is that most of us are used to similes, examples, illustrations. If I could give you ten examples, you would think you had understood - but really you would not have understood. Examples and illustrations are most deceiving. They prevent you from really thinking, inquiring. An example can be offset by a contradictory example, and in arguing about the examples we shall get lost. Whereas, if we can capture the totality of action, the feeling of it, then we shall be able to work it out in detail in our daily existence. But that requires enormous attention, and a great deal of insight. Most of us are unwilling to give our complete attention to a problem of this kind, and we would rather be excited or amused by discussing examples.

What you and I are trying to find out is whether there is a total action that will cover the whole field of our existence. I say there is - but not dogmatically. I say there is a total action which will cover every department of our existence - governmental, economic, social, and the whole field of human relationships. But you cannot come to it, you cannot comprehend the feeling, the beauty, the subtlety of it, if you approach it from a particular point of view. Therefore there must be a letting go of your Communism, of your Hinduism, of your conception of action according to the Gita, the Bible, the Koran, or your latest guru. All that must be wiped out in order to find the total action which will respond to every challenge.

As I was saying last time, it is very important to know how to listen, because most of us never listen at all. Listening is in itself an action of liberation; it frees the mind. But when you do listen, what actually happens. If you observe your own mind you will see that you are comparing what is be- ing said either with what you know, or with some authority whom you respect. You are always comparing or interpreting, aren't you? Therefore the mind is not in a state of listening at all. To listen you must give your total attention, and total attention is denied when you are comparing or interpreting. When you say that you see a correspondence between what is being said here and the teachings of Shankara or Buddha, that is a lazy man's way of listening. But if you really want to learn the truth about yourself, then you are bound to listen without comparing, without a calculated interest. And I say in that very act of listening without comparison or interpretation you will discover for yourself that in the state of learning the mind is not accumulating. But when the mind has learnt, it obviously ceases to learn, because it is always interpreting the new in terms of the old.

So listening is an extraordinary thing, because if you are really capable of listening, it frees the mind from all influence. Then the mind is clear, sharp - and such a mind is necessary to find out what is true.

This question of action, of what to do, is an enormous problem, and if we merely listen consciously, at the intellectual or verbal level, we shall enter the field of argumentation: I am right, you are wrong, I quote you this, you quote me that, and so on indefinitely. That is why it is important to communicate with each other at a much deeper level, unconsciously. I think fundamental change takes place only at the unconscious level. Change at the conscious level is based on a decision, and decision will always produce its own contradiction.

Please follow this a little bit patiently. Action born of choice is based on a decision, and such action is self-contradictory. I decide to do something. That decision is the outcome of choice, and choice always contains its own opposite. Therefore the action of decision is a contradiction, inwardly as well as outwardly. There is an action which is not of choice, not of decision, and in such action there is no contradiction; but that requires a great deal of inquiry into oneself.

Now, this is not a matter of acceptance or denial. Don't immediately say to me "I disagree with you", or "You are utterly right", because that would have no meaning. What matters is for you to see the truth that action born of choice, of decision, will inevitably produce a self-contradictory reaction. If you decide to do something, your action is born of choice, and that action will invariably create its own opposite; therefore you are caught in contradiction. So what are you to do? I say there is a total action in which there is no contradiction at all. But to understand that, one must go into the unconscious, and it is there that we shall have to commune with each other. Do you understand? I hope I am making myself clear. I see that I am not.

Most of us are concerned with what to do, what kind of legislation to enact, what kind of reform to carry out, and all the rest of it. But I say that is not important; put that aside for the moment and concern yourself with total action which is not self-contradictory. If you can find out what total action is, then you will be able to act truly in a particular direction. Do you understand?

Let us say that I do not know what to do as a governmental official, or in the family, or as a citizen who is not committed to any particular party or system. But before I ask what I am to do, I say to myself: "There must be a total action, an action which is Whole, which does not contain the seed of self-contradiction." To understand the tree, I must look at the whole tree, and not be concerned with a particular leaf. If I want to understand life, I must understand the whole depth, breadth and height of it, and not approach i; through a particular system, belief, or ideology. Similarly, I must put aside for the moment the particular act, and be concerned with the comprehension of total action.

Sirs, life isn't any one particular thing. Life isn't just the bureaucratic system of New Delhi, life isn't just the communist system or the capitalist system, life isn't just tyranny or self. contradiction. Life is all these things, and far more; it is the daily relationship of conflict, of misery, of struggle and travail. Life is birth and death, it is meditation, inquiry, and all the various subtleties which the mind invents. Life is enormous, immeasurable by the mind, and you think you have understood life when you are able to dissect a tiny part of it. You say "Yes, I know life", but you don't know life as long as your whole concentration is given to one section or department of life.

In the same way, what matters is not the immediate act, but the inquiry into the totality of action; so I say, put aside the immediate act. But you are not going to put it aside. The pressure is much too great. You have to do something tomorrow, you have to act.

So the conscious mind is perpetually occupied with immediate action, like a machine that is constantly in motion. You never say "I will put this all side and find out".

So you and I are now inquiring; at the unconscious level; therefore communication is entirely different. It is not verbal, it is not mere analysis, it is not a process of giving examples; it is like feeling your way under water. You can't assume anything, you can't be dogmatic or assertive; you must be negative. That is why negative thinking is tremendously important. Negative thinking is the highest form of thinking - but let us not go into that for the moment.

I hope you are following all this. If not, we will discuss it another time.

You and I are communicating at the unconscious level, where there is only the act of listening and not the listener who says "What shall I do?". Leave the `what to do' to the conscious mind. We are going to inquire unconsciously into the totality of action - which does not mean that one goes to sleep; on the contrary, it is quite an extraordinary state of attention.

Now, let us differentiate between attention and concentration. Concentration, being a focusing of the mind, is limited, but attention is not. The conscious mind can be concentrated at its own level; but the unconscious can only be attentive, not concentrated. Am I making this clear? Sirs, don't immediately say "Yes". I mustn't ask that question, for you are apt to say it is clear because you want to proceed. I can proceed, but you will merely remain on the verbal or conscious level, and therefore you won't be able to proceed. You and I must proceed together, or not at all.

So we are inquiring negatively into the totality of action, which means that the mind is not concerned with decision; it is not for the moment concerned with what to do, the immediate action. Let me put it around the other way.

The conscious mind is always concerned with the immediate question of what to do. All politicians are concerned with what to do; therefore they are not concerned with the totality of action. At the conscious level there are and must be decisions; but those decisions are based on choice, which is the action of will, and therefore they become self-contradictory. Seeing the psychological truth of this, I begin to inquire negatively, which is the only approach to the unconscious. There cannot be a positive approach, because the positive approach belongs to the conscious mind. The unconscious is enormous, it is like a vast sea where there is a perpetual movement; and how can you approach that enormous depth with a positive idea? To learn, there must be a negation of the positive. There is no learning at the conscious level; there is only the acquiring of knowledge.

As I said, sirs, this is a very difficult question. Concentration is exclusion, and what you exclude is always wait, ing to come in. Attention is a negation of concentration, because there is no exclusion, and that is the way one must approach the unconscious. That is the way you and I are going to communicate, which means that we are not concerned with the immediate decision and the activity based on that decision. We are inquiring negatively into the whole field of the unconscious, in which there is an action which is not self-contradictory.

So, what have we done so far? We have seen that to understand something there must be a total feeling, which is love. Love is a total act, it is a feeling of wholeness in which all the senses are fully awake, the mind completely at rest, and in which there is no contradiction. To comprehend the beauty of a tree against the sky, there must be a feeling of the totality of the tree, and that feeling is denied when you merely concern yourself with a leaf. But when you get the feeling of the totality of a tree, then you can be concerned with the leaf, with the branch, with the flower.

As we are concerned this evening with action, we are inquiring into the totality of it; and you can approach it only negatively, not with a desire to know what is the right thing to do. If that much is clear, we can proceed; but I'm afraid it is not clear, because most of us have not thought about this at all. We have only thought about what to do, what is right, what is profitable, what will give us more power, influence - which means that we are always calculating, self-interested, and therefore always self-contradictory. And there we remain, hoping to find a way to integrate our self-contradiction; but we never find it, because at that level there is no end to self-contradiction.

It is very difficult not to be a communist, a socialist, this or that, and to inquire into what is total action, Most of us are committed to something or other, and a man who is committed to something is incapable of learning. Life never stands still, it does not commit itself to anything, it is in eternal movement. And you want to translate this living thing in terms of a particular belief or ideology, which is utterly childish.

So what we are trying to do is to feel out the totality of action. There, is no action without the background of thought, is there? And thought is always choice. Don't just accept this. Please examine it, feel your way into it. Thought is the process of choosing, Without thought you cannot choose. The moment you choose, there is a decision, and that decision creates its own opposite - good and bad, violence and non-violence. The man who pursues non-violence through decision creates a contradiction in himself. Thought is essentially born of choice. I choose to think in a certain way. I examine communism, socialism, Buddhism, I reason logically and decide to think this or that. Such thought is based on memory, on my conditioning, on my pleasure, on my likes and dislikes, and any action born of such thought will inevitably create contradiction in myself and therefore in the world; it will produce sorrow, misery, not only for me, but for others as well.

Now please listen quietly, and don't say "Yes" or "No". Is there an action which is not the result of influence, which is not the result of calculated self-interest, which is not the result of past experience? - and I have explained how the burden of accumulated experience makes the mind incapable of experiencing.

Is there an action which is not the outcome of choice, of ideation, of a decision, but is the total feeling of action? I say there is. As we are living now, the government does one thing, the businessman does another, the religious man, the scholar and the scientist each does something else, and they are all in contradiction. These contradictions can never be overcome, because the overcoming of a contradiction only creates another tension. The essential thing is for the mind to understand the totality of action, that is, to get the feeling of action which is not born of decision, as one might get the feeling of a lovely sunset, of a flower, or a bird on the wing. This requires an inquiry into the unconscious with no positive demand for an answer. And if you are capable of not being caught up in the immediacy of life, of what to do tomorrow, then you will find that the mind begins to discover a state of action in which there is no contradiction, an action which has no opposite. You try it. Try it as you go home, when you are sitting in the bus. Find out for yourself what is this extraordinary thing, an action which is total.

You see, sirs, the earth is not communist or capitalist, it is not Hindu or Christian, it is neither yours nor mine. There is a feeling of the totality of the earth, of the beauty, the richness, the extraordinary potency of the earth; but you can feel that total splendour only when you are not committed to anything. In the same way, you can get the feeling of total action only when you are not committed to any particular activity, when you are not one of the `do-gooders' who are committed to this or that party, belief, or ideology, and whose actions are really a form of self-centred activity. If you are not committed, then you will find that the conscious mind, though involved with immediate action, can put aside that immediate action and inquire negatively into the unconscious where lie the real motives, the hidden contradictions, the traditional bondages and blind urges which create the problems of immediacy. And once you understand all this, then you can go much further. Then you will be able to feel - as you would feel the loveliness, the wholeness of a tree - the totality of action in which there is no opposite response, no contradiction.

This is not the integration of action with its opposite, which is nonsense: on the contrary, it is the understanding of the totality of action which comes which the mind is capable of not being centred in the immediate activity. To be centred in the immediate activity is concentration. Awareness or attention is not centred in the immediate activity, but in that attention the immediate activity is included. So there is a totality of action only when the mind is capable of inquiring from moment to moment, and is not merely concerned with the immediate. Then the mind penetrates, it asks fundamental questions. Because its inquiry is fundamental, its action is anonymous, and being anonymous it has no contradiction, no opposite.

February 11, 1959.


New Delhi 1959

New Delhi 2nd Public Talk 11th February 1960

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