Commentaries on Living Series 3
Commentaries on Living Series III Chapter 15 'Deterioration of The Mind'
ALONG THE TOP of the long, wide bend in the river was the town, very holy and very dirty. The river made a big sweep here, and its main force struck the edge of the town, often washing away the steps leading down to the water, and some of the old houses. But whatever damage it did in its fury, the river still remained holy and beautiful. It was particularly beautiful that evening, with the sun setting below the dark town, and behind the single minaret, which seemed to be the reaching up of the whole town towards the heavens. The clouds were golden-red, aflame with the brilliance of a sun that had travelled over a land of intense beauty and sadness. And as the brilliance faded, there, over the dark town was the new moon, tender and delicate. From the opposite shore, some distance down the river, the whole enchanting sight seemed magical, yet perfectly natural, without a touch of artificiality. Slowly the young moon went down behind the dark mass of the town, and lights began to appear; but the river still held the light of the evening sky, a golden splendour of incredible softness. On this light, which was the river, there were hundreds of small fishing boats. All afternoon thin, dark men with long poles had been laboriously poling their way upstream against the current, in single file close to the bank; starting at the fishing village below the town, each man in his boat, sometimes with a child or two had pushed slowly up the river past the long, heavy bridge, and now they were coming down by the hundreds, carried by the strong current. They would be flashing all night, catching big, heavy fish, ten to fifteen inches long, which would afterwards be dumped, some of them still writhing, into larger boats tied up along the bank, to be sold the next day.
The streets of the town were crowded with bullock carts, buses, cycles, and pedestrians, with here and there a cow or two. Narrow lanes, lined with dimly-lit shops and winding endlessly in and out, were muddy with the recent rains, and filthy with the dirt of man and beast. One of the lanes led to the wide steps which descended to the very edge of the river, and on these steps everything was going on. Some people were sitting close to the water, with eyes shut, in silent meditation; next to them a man was chanting in front of an enthusiastic crowd, which extended far up the steps; further on, a leprous beggar held out his withered hand, while a man with ashes on his forehead and matted hair was instructing the people. Nearby a sannyasi, clean of face and skin, with newly - washed robes, sat motionless, his eyes closed his mind intent with long and easy practice. A man with cupped hand was silently begging the heavens to fill it; and a mother, her left breast bare, was suckling her baby, oblivious of everything. Further down the river, dead bodies, brought from the neighboring villages and from the sprawling, dirty town, were being burnt in great, roaring fires. Here everything was going on, for this was the most holy and sacred of towns. But the beauty of the still-flowing river seemed to wipe away all the chaos of man, while the heavens above him looked down with love and wonder.
There were several of us, two women and four men. One of the women, with a good head and sharp eyes, had been very well educated at home and abroad; the other was more modest with a sorrowful, begging look. One of the men, an ex-Communist who had left the party several years ago, was forceful and demanding; another was an artist, shy and retiring, but bold enough to assert himself when the occasion demanded; the third was an official in the governmental bureaucracy; and the fourth was a teacher, very gentle, with a swift smile, and eager to learn.
Everyone was silent for a while, and presently the former Communist spoke.
"Why is there so much deterioration in every department of life? I can understand how power, even in the name of the people, is essentially evil and corrupting, as you have pointed out. One sees this fact demonstrated in history. The seed of evil and corruption is inher- ent in all political and religious organizations, as has been shown in the church through the centuries, and in modern Communism, which promised so much but which has itself become corrupt and tyrannical. Why does everything have to deteriorate in this way?"
"We know so much about so many things," added the well educated lady, "but knowledge does not seem to arrest the dry-rot that is in man. I write a little, and have had a book or two published, but I see how easily the mind can go to pieces when once it has caught the knack of a thing. Learn the technique of good expression, dig up a few interesting or exciting themes, get into the habit of writing, and you are set for life; you become popular, and you are done for. I am not saying this out of any malice or bitterness because I am a failure, or only an indifferent success, but because I see this process operating in others and in myself. We don't seem to get away from the corrosion of routine and capacity. To get something started demands energy and initiative, but once started the seed of corruption is inherent in it. Can one ever escape from this corruptive process?"
"I too," said the bureaucrat, "am caught in the routine of decay. We plan for the future of five or ten years from now, we build dams and encourage new industries, all of which is good and necessary; but even though the dams may be beautifully built and perfectly maintained, and the machines made to function with a minimum of inefficiency, our thinking, on the other hand, becomes more and more inefficient, stupid and lazy. The computers and other complex electronic gadgets outdo man at every turn, yet without man they could not exist. The plain fact is, a few brains are active, creative and the rest of us live on them, rotting and often rejoicing in our rot."
"I am only a teacher but I am interested in a different kind of education - an education which will prevent the setting-in of this dry-rot of the mind. At present we `educate' a living human being to become some stupid bureaucrat - forgive me - with a big job and a handsome salary, or with a clerk's pay and a still more miserable existence. I know what I am talking about, because I am caught in it. But apparently this is the kind of education the governments want, for they are pouring money into it, and every so-called educator, including myself, is aiding and abetting this rapid deterioration of man. Will a better method or technique put an end to this deterioration? please believe me, sir, I am very serious in asking this question, I am not asking it just for the sake of talking. I have read recent books on edu- cation, and invariably they deal with some method or other; and since hearing you, I have begun to question the whole thing."
"I am an artist of sorts, and one or two museums have bought my things. Unfortunately, I shall have to be personal which I hope the others won't mind, for their problem is also mine. I may paint for a time, then turn to pottery, and then do some sculpturing. It is the same urge expressing itself in different ways. Genius is this force, this extraordinary feeling that must be given form, not the man or the medium through which it expresses itself. I may not be putting it properly, but you know what I mean. It is this creative power that has to be kept alive potent, under tremendous pressure, like steam in a boiler. There are periods when one feels this power; and having once tasted it, nothing on earth can prevent one from wanting to recapture it. From then on, one is in torture, ever dissatisfied, because that flame is never constant, never there completely. Therefore it has to be fed, nourished; and every feeding makes it more feeble, less and less complete. So the flame gradually dies, though the flair and technique carry on, and one may become famous. The gesture remains, but love has gone the heart is dead; and so deterioration sets in."
Deterioration is the central factor - is it not? - whatever may be the way of our life. The artist may feel it in one way, and the teacher in another; but if we are at all aware of others, and of our own mental processes, it is fairly obvious with the old and with the young, that deterioration of the mind does take place. Deterioration seems to be inherent in the very activities of the mind itself. As a machine wears itself out through use, so the mind seems to worsen through its own action.
"We all know this," said the educated lady. "The fire the creative force fades away after one or two spurts, but the capacity remains, and this ersatz creativity becomes in time a substitute for the real thing. We know this only too well. My question is, how can that creative something remain without losing its beauty and force?"
What are the factors of deterioration? If one knew them, perhaps it might be possible to put an end to them.
"Are there any specific factors clearly to be pointed out?" asked the former party member. "Deterioration may be inherent in the very nature of the mind."
The mind is a product of the society, of the culture in which it has been brought up; and as society is always in a state of corruption, al- ways destroying itself from within, a mind that continues to be influenced by society must also be in a state of corruption or deterioration. Isn't that so?
"Of course; and it is because we perceived this fact," explained the ex-Communist, "that some of us worked hard and rather brutally, I'm afraid, to create a new and rigid pattern according to which we felt society should function. Unfortunately a few corrupt individuals seized power, and we all know the result."
May it not be, sir, that deterioration is inevitable when a pattern is created for the individual and collective life of man? By what authority, other than the cunning authority of power, has any individual or group the right to create the all-knowing pattern for man? The church has done it, by the power of fear, flattery and promise, and has made a prisoner of man.
"I thought I knew, as the priest thinks he knows, what is the right manner of life for man; but now, along with many others, I see what stupid arrogance that is. The fact remains, however that deterioration is our lot; and can anyone escape from it?"
"Can we not educate the young," asked the teacher, "to be so aware of the factors of corruption and deterioration, that they will instinctively avoid them, as they would avoid the plague?"
Aren't we going round and round the subject without getting at it? Let us consider it together. We know that our minds deteriorate in different ways, according to our individual temperaments. Now, can one put an end to this process? And what do we mean by the word `deterioration'? Let us go slowly into it. Is deterioration a state of mind that's known through comparison with an incorruptible state which the mind has momentarily experienced and is now living in the memory of, hoping by some means to revive it? Is it the state of a mind that is frustrated in its desire for success, self-fulfilment, and so on? Has the mind tried and failed to become something, and does it therefore feel itself to be deteriorating?
"It's all of that," said the educated lady. "At least, I seem to be in one, if not all, of the states you have just described."
When did that flame of which you were speaking earlier come into being?
"It came unexpectedly, without my seeking it, and when it went away, I was unable to get it back. Why do you ask?"
It came when you were not seeking it; it came neither through your desire for success, nor through the longing for that intoxicating sense of elation. Now that it has gone, you are pursuing it, because it gave momentary meaning to a life that otherwise had no meaning; and as you cannot recapture it, you feel that deterioration has set in. Isn't that so?
"I think it is - not only with me, but with most of us. The clever ones build a philosophy round the memory of that experience, and thereby catch innocent people in their net."
Doesn't all this point to something which may be the central and dominant factor of deterioration?
"Do you mean ambition?"
That's only one facet of the accumulating core: this purposive, self-centred focus of energy which is the `me' the ego, the censor, the experiencer who judges the experience. May it not be that this is the central the only factor of deterioration?
"Is it a self-centred, egotistic activity," asked the artist, "to realize what one's life is without that creative intoxication? I can hardly believe it."
It's not a matter of credulity or belief. Let's consider it further. That creative state came into being without your invitation, it was there without your seeking it. Now that it has faded away and become a thing remembered, you want to revive it, which you have tried to do through various forms of stimulation. You may occasionally have touched the hem of it, the outer edges of it, but that's not enough, and you are ever hungering after it, Now, is not all craving, even for the highest, an activity of the self? Is it not self-concern?
"It seems so, when you put it that way," conceded the artist. "But it is craving in one form or another that motivates us all, from the austere saint to the lowly peasant."
"Do you mean," asked the teacher, "that all self-improvement is egotistic? Is every effort to improve society a self-centred activity? Is not education a matter of self-expansive improvement, of making progress in the right direction? Is it selfish to conform to a better pattern of society?"
Society is always in a state of degeneration. There is no perfect society. The perfect society may exist in theory, but not in actuality. Society is based on human relationship motivated by greed, envy, acquisitiveness, fleeting joy, the pursuit of power, and so on. You can't improve envy; envy has to cease. To put a civilized coating on violence through the double talk of ideals, is not to bring violence to an end. To educate a student to conform to society is only to encourage in him the deteriorating urge to be secure. Climbing the ladder of success, becoming somebody gaining recognition - this is the very substance of our degenerating social structure and to be part of it is to deteriorate.
"Are you suggesting," inquired the teacher rather anxiously, "that one must renounce the world and become a hermit, a sannyasi?"
It's comparatively easy, and in its way profitable, to renounce the outward world of home, family, name, property; but it's quite another matter to put an end - without any motive, without the promise of a happy future - to the inner world of ambition, power, achievement, and really to be as nothing. Man begins at the wrong end with things, and so ever remains in confusion. Begin at the right end; start near to go far.
"Must not a definite practice be adopted to put an end to this deterioration, this inefficiency and laziness of the mind?" asked the government official."
Practice or discipline implies an incentive, the gaining of an end; and isn't this a self-centred activity? Becoming virtuous is a process of self-interest, leading to respectability. When you cultivate in yourself a state of non-violence, you are still violent under a different name. Besides all this, there is another degenerating factor: effort, in all its subtle forms. This doesn't mean that one is advocating laziness.
"Good heavens, sir, you are certainly taking everything away from us!" exclaimed the official. "And when you take everything away, what's left of us? Nothing!"
Creativeness is not a process of becoming or achieving, but a state of being in which self-seeking effort is totally absent. When the self makes an effort to be absent, the self is present. All effort on the part of this complex thing called the mind must cease, without any motive or inducement.
"That means death doesn't it?"
Death to all that's known which is the `me'. It is only when the totality of the mind is still, that the creative, the nameless, comes into being.
"What do you mean by the mind?" asked the artist.
The conscious as well as the unconscious; the hidden recesses of the heart as well as the educated bits of the mind.
"I have listened," said the silent lady, "and my heart understands."
Commentaries on Living Series 3
Commentaries on Living Series III Chapter 15 'Deterioration of The Mind'
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