|LOSING THE RAT RACE|
Lets get back to that marvelous sentence in the gospel about losing oneself in order to find oneself. One finds it in most religious literature and in all religious and spiritual and mystical literature. How does one lose oneself? Did you ever try to lose something? That's right, the harder you try, the harder it gets. It's when you're not trying that you lose things. You lose something when you're not aware. Well, how does one die to oneself? We're talking about death now, we're not talking about suicide. We're not told to kill the self, but to die. Causing pain to the self, causing suffering to the self would be self-defeating. It would be counterproductive. You're never so full of yourself as when you're in pain.
You're never so centered on yourself as when you're depressed. You're never so ready to forget yourself as when you are happy. Happiness releases you from self. It is suffering and pain and misery and depression that tie you to the self. Look how conscious you are of your tooth when you have a toothache. When you don't have a toothache, you're not even aware you have a tooth, or that you have a head, for that matter, when you don't have a headache. But it's so different when you have a splitting headache.
So it's quite false, quite erroneous, to think that the way to deny the self is to cause pain to the self, to go in for abnegation, mortification, as these were traditionally understood. To deny the self, to die to it, to lose it, is to understand its true nature. When you do that, it will disappear; it will vanish. Suppose somebody walks into my room one day. I say, "Come right in. May I know who you are"? And he says, "I am Napoleon". And I say, "Not the Napoleon . . ". And he says, "Precisely. Bonaparte, Emperor of France". "What do you know"! I say, even while I'm thinking to myself, "I better handle this guy with care". "Sit down, Your Majesty", I say. He says, "Well, they tell me you're a pretty good spiritual director. I have a spiritual problem. I'm anxious, I'm finding it hard to trust in God. I have my armies in Russia, see, and I'm spending sleepless nights wondering how it's going to turn out". So I say, "Well, Your Majesty, I could certainly prescribe something for that. What I suggest is that you read chapter 6 of Matthew: "Consider the lilies of the field . . . they neither toil nor spin".
By this point I'm wondering who is crazier, this guy or me. But I go along with this lunatic. That's what the wise guru does with you in the beginning. He goes along with you; he takes your troubles seriously. He'll wipe a tear or two from your eye. You're crazy, but you don't know it yet. The time has to come soon when he'll pull the rug out from under your feet and tell you, "Get off it, you're not Napoleon". In those famous dialogues of St. Catherine of Siena, God is reported to have said to her, "I am He who is; you are she who is not". Have you ever experienced your is-not-ness?
In the East we have an image for this. It is the image of the dancer and the dance. God is viewed as the dancer and creation as God's dance. It isn't as if God is the big dancer and you are the little dancer. Oh no. You're not a dancer at all. You are being danced! Did you ever experience that? So when the man comes to his senses and realizes that he is not Napoleon, he does not cease to be. He continues to be, but he suddenly realizes that he is something other than what he thought he was.
To lose the self is to suddenly realize that you are something other than what you thought you were. You thought you were at the center; now you experience yourself as satellite. You thought you were the dancer; you now experience yourself as the dance. These are just analogies, images, so you cannot take them literally. They just give you a clue, a hint; they're only pointers, don't forget. So you cannot press them too much. Don't take them too literally.
To move on to another idea, there is the whole matter of one's personal worth. Personal worth doesn't mean self-worth. Where do you get self-worth from? Do you get it from success in your work? Do you get it from having a lot of money? Do you get it from attracting a lot of men (if you're a woman) or a lot of women (if you're a man)? How fragile all that is, how transitory. When we talk about self-worth, are we not talking, really, about how we are reflected in the mirrors of other people's minds? But do we need to depend on that? One understands one's personal worth when one no longer identifies or defines one's self in terms of these transient things. I'm not beautiful because everyone says I'm beautiful. I'm really neither beautiful nor ugly.
These are things that come and go. I could be suddenly transformed into a very ugly creature tomorrow, but it is still "I". Then, say, I get plastic surgery and I become beautiful again. Does the "I" really become beautiful? You need to give a lot of time to reflect on these things. I've thrown them at you in rapid succession, but if you would take the time to understand what I have been saying, to dwell on it, you'll have a gold mine there. I know, because when I stumbled upon these things for the first time, what a treasure I discovered.
Pleasant experiences make life delightful. Painful experiences lead to growth. Pleasant experiences make life delightful, but they don't lead to growth in themselves. What leads to growth is painful experiences. Suffering points up an area in you where you have not yet grown, where you need to grow and be transformed and change. If you knew how to use that suffering, oh, how you would grow. Let's limit ourselves, for the time being, to psychological suffering, to all those negative emotions we have. Don't waste your time on a single one of them. I've already told you what you could do with those emotions. The disappointment you experience when things don't turn out as you wanted them to, watch that! Look at what it says about you. I say this without condemnation (otherwise you're going to get caught up in self-hatred). Observe it as you would observe it in another person. Look at that disappointment, that depression you experience when you are criticized. What does that say about you?
Have you heard about the fellow who said, "Who says that worry doesn't help? It certainly does help. Every time I worry about something it doesn't happen"! Well, it certainly helped him. Or the other fellow who says, "The neurotic is a person who worries about something that did not happen in the past. He's not like us normal people who worry about things that will not happen in the future". That's the issue. That worry, that anxiety, what does it say about you? Negative feelings, every negative feeling is useful for awareness, for understanding. They give you the opportunity to feel it, to watch it from the outside. In the beginning, the depression will still be there, but you will have cut your connection with it.
Gradually you will understand the depression. As you understand it, it will occur less frequently, and will disappear altogether. Maybe, but by that time it won't matter too much. Before enlightenment I used to be depressed. After enlightenment I continue to be depressed. But gradually, or rapidly, or suddenly, you get the state of wakefulness. This is the state where you drop desires. But remember what I meant by desire and cravings. I meant: "Unless I get what I desire, I refuse to be happy". I mean cases where happiness depends on the fulfillment of desire.
DESIRE, NOT PREFERENCE
Do not suppress desire, because then you would become lifeless. You'd be without energy and that would be terrible. Desire in the healthy sense of the word is energy, and the more energy we have, the better. But don't suppress desire, understand it. Understand it. Don't seek to fulfill desire so much as to understand desire. And don't just renounce the objects of your desire, understand them; see them in their true light. See them for what they are really worth. Because if you just suppress your desire, and you attempt to renounce the object of your desire, you are likely to be tied to it. Whereas if you look at it and see it for what it is really worth, if you understand how you are preparing the grounds for misery and disappointment and depression, your desire will then be transformed into what I call a preference.
When you go through life with preferences but don't let your happiness depend on any one of them, then you're awake. You're moving toward wakefulness. Wakefulness, happiness - call it what you wish - is the state of nondelusion, where you see things not as you are but as they are, insofar as this is possible for a human being. To drop illusions, to see things, to see reality. Every time you are unhappy, you have added something to reality. It is that addition that makes you unhappy. I repeat: You have added something . . . a negative reaction in you. Reality provides the stimulus, you provide the reaction. You have added something by your reaction. And if you examine what you have added, there is always an illusion there, there's a demand, an expectation, a craving. Always. Examples of illusions abound. But as you begin to move ahead on this path, you'll discover them for yourself.
For instance, the illusion, the error of thinking that, by changing the exterior world, you will change. You do not change if you merely change your exterior world. If you get yourself a new job or a new spouse or a new home or a new guru or a new spirituality, that does not change you. It's like imagining that you change your handwriting by changing your pen. Or that you change your capacity to think by changing your hat. That doesn't change you really, but most people spend all their energies trying to rearrange their exterior world to suit their tastes. Sometimes they succeed - for about five minutes they get a little respite, but they are tense even during that respite, because life is always flowing, life-is always changing.
So if you want to live, you must have no permanent abode. You must have no place to rest your head. You have to flow with it. As the great Confucius said, "The one who would be constant in happiness must frequently change". Flow. But we keep looking back, don't we? We cling to things in the past and cling to things in the present. "When you set your hand to the plow, you cannot look back". Do you want to enjoy a melody? Do you want to enjoy a symphony? Don't hold on to a few bars of the music. Don't hold on to a couple of notes. Let them pass, let them flow.
The whole enjoyment of a symphony lies in your readiness to allow the notes to pass. Whereas if a particular bar took your fancy and you shouted to the orchestra, "Keep playing it again and again and again", that wouldn't be a symphony anymore. Are you familiar with those tales of Nasr-ed-Din, the old mullah? He's a legendary figure whom the Greeks, Turks, and Persians all claim for themselves. He would give his mystical teachings in the form of stories, generally funny stories. And the butt of the story was always old Nasr-ed-Din himself.
One day Nasr-ed-Din was strumming a guitar, playing just one note. After a while a crowd collected around him (this was in a marketplace) and one of the men sitting on the ground there said, "That's a nice note you're playing, Mullah, but why don't you vary it a bit the way other musicians do"? "Those fools", Nasr-ed-Din said, "they're searching for the right note. I've found it.
CLINGING TO ILLUSION
When you cling, life is destroyed; when you hold on to anything, you cease to live. It's all over the gospel pages. And one attains this by understanding. Understand. Understand another illusion, too, that happiness is not the same as excitement, it's not the same as thrills. That's another illusion, that a thrill comes from living a desire fulfilled. Desire breeds anxiety and sooner or later it brings its hangover. When you've suffered sufficiently, then you are ready to see it. You're feeding yourself with thrills. This is like feeding a racehorse with delicacies. You're giving it cakes and wine. You don't feed a racehorse like that. It's like feeding human beings with drugs. You don't fill your stomach with drugs. You need good, solid, nutritious food and drink. You need to understand all this for yourself.
Another illusion is that someone else can do this for you, that some savior or guru or teacher can do this for you. Not even the greatest guru in the world can take a single step for you. You've got to take it yourself. St. Augustine said it so marvelously "Jesus Christ himself could do nothing for many of his hearers". Or to repeat that lovely Arab saying "The nature of the rain is the same and yet it produces thorns in the marsh and flowers in the garden". It is you who have to do it. No one else can help you. It is you who have to digest your food, it is you who have to understand. No one else can understand for you. It is you who have to seek. Nobody can seek for you. And if what you seek is truth, then you must do this. You can lean on no one.
There is yet another illusion, that is it important to be respectable, to be loved and appreciated, to be important. Many say we have a natural urge to be loved and appreciated, to belong. That's false. Drop this illusion and you will find happiness. We have a natural urge to be free, a natural urge to love, but not to be loved. Sometimes in my psychotherapy sessions I encounter a very common problem - Nobody loves me; how, then, can I be happy? I explain to him or her "You mean you never have any moments when you forget you're not loved and you let go and are happy"? Of course they have.
A woman, for example, is absorbed in a movie. It's a comedy and she's roaring with laughter and in that blessed moment she's forgotten to remind herself that nobody loves her, nobody loves her, nobody loves her. She's happy! Then she comes out of the theater and her friend whom she saw the movie with goes off with a boyfriend, leaving the woman all alone. So she starts thinking, "All my friends have boyfriends and I have no one. I'm so unhappy. Nobody loves me"!
In India, many of our poor people are starting to get transistor radios, which are quite a luxury. "Everybody has a transistor", you hear, "but I don't have a transistor; I'm so unhappy". Until everyone started getting transistors, they were perfectly happy without one. That's the way it is with you. Until somebody told you that you wouldn't be happy unless you were loved, you were perfectly happy. You can become happy not being loved, not being desired by or attractive to someone. You become happy by contact with reality. That's what brings happiness, a moment-by-moment contact with reality. That's where you'll find God; that's where you'll find happiness. But most people are not ready to hear that.
Another illusion is that external events have the power to hurt you, that other people have the power to hurt you. They don't. It's you who give this power to them.
Another illusion You are all those labels that people have put on you, or that you have put on yourself. You're not, you're not! So you don't have to cling to them. The day that somebody tells me I'm a genius and I take that seriously, I'm in big trouble. Can you understand why? Because now I'm going to start getting tense. I've got to live up to it, I've got to maintain it. I've got to find out after every lecture "Did you like the lecture? Do you still think I'm a genius"? See? So what you need to do is smash the label! Smash it, and you're free! Don't identify with those labels.
That's what someone else thinks. That's how he experienced you at that moment. Are you in fact a genius? Are you a nut? Are you a mystic? Are you crazy? What does it really matter? Provided you continue to be aware, to live life from moment to moment. How marvelously it is described in those words of the gospel "Look at the birds of the air they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns . . . Consider the lilies of the field . . . they neither toil nor spin". That's the real mystic speaking, the awakened person.
So why are you anxious? Can you, for all your anxieties, add a single moment to your life? Why bother about tomorrow? Is there a life after death? Will I survive after death? Why bother about tomorrow? Get into today. Someone said, "Life is something that happens to us while we're busy making other plans". That's pathetic. Live in the present moment. This is one of the things you will notice happening to you as you come awake. You find yourself living in the present, tasting every moment as you live it. Another fairly good sign is when you hear the symphony one note after the other without wanting to stop it.
That brings me to another theme, another topic. But this new topic ties in very much with what I've been saying and with my suggestion of becoming aware of all the things we add to reality. Let's take this one step at a time.
A Jesuit was telling me the other day how years ago he gave a talk in New York, where Puerto Ricans were very unpopular at the time because of some incident. Everybody was saying all kinds of things against them. So in his talk he said, "Let me read to you some of the things that the people in New York were saying about certain immigrants". What he read to them was actually what people had said about the Irish, and about the Germans, and about every other wave of emigrants that had come to New York years before!
He put it very well when he said, "These people don't bring delinquency with them; they become delinquent when they're faced with certain situations here. We've got to understand them. If you want to cure the situation, it's useless reacting from prejudice. You need understanding, not condemnation". That is how you bring about change in yourself. Not by condemnation, not by calling yourself names, but by understanding what's going on. Not by calling yourself a dirty old sinner. No, no, no, no!
In order to get awareness, you've got to see, and you can't see if you're prejudiced. Almost everything and every person we look at, we look at in a prejudiced way. It's almost enough to dishearten anybody.
Like meeting a long-lost friend. "Hey, Tom", I say, "It's good to see you", and I give him a big hug. Whom am I hugging, Tom or my memory of him? A living human being or a corpse? I'm assuming that he's still the attractive guy I thought he was. I'm assuming he still fits in with the idea I have of him and with my memories and associations. So I give him a hug. Five minutes later I find that he's changed and I have no more interest in him. I hugged the wrong person. If you want to see how true this is, listen: A religious sister from India goes out to make a retreat. Everybody in the community is saying, "Oh, we know, that's part of her charisma; she's always attending workshops and going to retreats; nothing will ever change her". Now, it so happens that the sister does change at this particular workshop, or therapy group, or whatever it is.
She changes; everyone notices the difference. Everyone says, "My, you've really come to some insights, haven't you"? She has, and they can see the difference in her behavior, in her body, in her face. You always do when there's an inner change. It always registers in your face, in your eyes, in your body. Well, the sister goes back to her community, and since the community has a prejudiced, fixed idea about her, they're going to continue to look at her through the eyes of that prejudice.
They're the only ones who don't see any change in her. They say, "Oh well, she seems a little more spirited, but just wait, she'll be depressed again". And within a few weeks she is depressed again; she's reacting to their reaction. And they all say, "See, we told you so; she hadn't changed". But the tragedy is that she had, only they didn't see it. Perception has devastating consequences in the matter of love and human relationships.
Whatever a relationship may be, it certainly entails two things clarity of perception (inasmuch as we're capable of it; some people would dispute to what extent we can attain clarity of perception, but I don't think anyone would dispute that it is desirable that we move toward it) and accuracy of response. You're more likely to respond accurately when you perceive clearly. When your perception is distorted, you're not likely to respond accurately. How can you love someone whom you do not even see? Do you really see someone you are attached to? Do you really see someone you're afraid of and therefore dislike? We always hate what we fear.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", people say to me sometimes. But wait a minute. I hope they understand what they're saying, because we always hate what we fear. We always want to destroy and get rid of and avoid what we fear. When you fear somebody, you dislike that person. You dislike that person insofar as you fear that person. And you don't see that person either, because your emotion gets in the way. Now, that's just as true when you are attracted to someone. When true love enters, you no longer like or even dislike people in the ordinary sense of the word.
You see them clearly and you respond accurately. But at this human level, your likes and dislikes and preferences and attractions, etc., continue to get in the way. So you have to be aware of your prejudices, your likes, your dislikes, your attractions. They're all there, they come from your conditioning. How come you like things that I don't like? Because your culture is different from mine. Your upbringing is different from mine. If I gave you some of the things to eat that I relish, you'd turn away in disgust.
There are people in certain parts of India who love dog flesh. Yet others, if they were told they were being served dog steak, would feel sick. Why? Different conditioning, different programming. Hindus would feel sick if they knew they had eaten beef, but Americans enjoy it. You ask, "But why won't they eat beef"? For the same reason you won't eat your pet dog. The same reason. The cow, to the Indian peasant, is what your pet dog is to you. He doesn't want to eat it. There is a built-in cultural prejudice against it which saves an animal that's needed so much for farming, etc.
So why do I fall in love with a person really? Why is it that I fall in love with one kind of person and not another? Because I'm conditioned. I've got an image, subconsciously, that this particular type of person appeals to me, attracts me. So when I meet this person, I fall head over heels in love. But have I seen her? No! I'll see her after I marry her; that's when the awakening comes! And that's when love may begin.
But falling in love has nothing to do with love at all. It isn't love, it's desire, burning desire. You want, with all your heart, to be told by this adorable creature that you're attractive to her. That gives you a tremendous sensation. Meanwhile, everybody else is saying, "What the hell does he see in her"? But it's his conditioning - he's not seeing. They say that love is blind. Believe me, there's nothing so clear-sighted as true love, nothing. It's the most clear-sighted thing in the world. Addiction is blind, attachments are blind.
Clinging, craving, and desire are blind. But not true love. Don't call them love. But, of course, the word has been desecrated in most modern languages. People talk about making love and falling in love. Like the little boy who says to the little girl, "Have you ever fallen in love"? And she answers, "No, but I've fallen in like".
So what are people talking about when they fall in love? The first thing we need is clarity of perception. One reason we don't perceive people clearly is evident - our emotions get in the way, our conditioning, our likes and dislikes. We've got to grapple with that fact. But we've got to grapple with something much more fundamental - with our ideas, with our conclusions, with our concepts.
Believe it or not, every concept that was meant to help us get in touch with reality ends up by being a barrier to getting in touch with reality, because sooner or later we forget that the words are not the thing. The concept is not the same as the reality. They're different. That's why I said to you earlier that the final barrier to finding God is the word "God" itself and the concept of God. It gets in the way if you're not careful. It was meant to be a help; it can be a help, but it can also be a barrier.
Every time I have a concept, it is something that I could apply to a number of individuals. We're not talking about a concrete, particular name like Mary or John, which doesn't have a conceptual meaning. A concept applies to any number of individuals, countless individuals. Concepts are universal. For instance, the word "leaf" could be applied to every single leaf on a tree; the same word applies to all those individual leaves. Moreover, the same word applies to all the leaves on all trees, big ones, small ones, tender ones, dried ones, yellow ones, green ones, banana leaves. So if I say to you that I saw a leaf this morning, you really don't have an idea of what I saw.
Let's see if you can understand that. You do have an idea of what I did not see. I did not see an animal. I did not see a dog. I did not see a human being. I did not see a shoe. So you have some kind of a vague idea of what I saw, but it isn't particularized, it isn't concrete. "Human being" refers not to primitive man, not to civilized man, not to grownup man, not to a child, not to a male or a female, not to this particular age or another, not to this culture or the other, but to the concept. The human being is found concrete; you never find a universal human being like your concept. So your concept points, but it is never entirely accurate; it misses uniqueness, concreteness. The concept is universal.
When I give you a concept, I give you something, and yet how little I have given you. The concept is so valuable, so useful for science. For instance, if I say that everyone here is an animal, that would be perfectly accurate from a scientific viewpoint. But we're something more than animals. If I say that Mary Jane is an animal, that's true; but because I've omitted something essential about her, it's false; it does her an injustice. When I call a person a woman, that's true; but there are lots of things in that person that don't fit into the concept "woman". She is always this particular, concrete, unique woman, who can only be experienced, not conceptualized. The concrete person I've got to see for myself, to experience for myself, to intuit for myself. The individual can be intuited but cannot be conceptualized.
A person is beyond the thinking mind. Many of you would probably be proud to be called Americans, as many Indians would probably be proud to be called Indians. But what is "American", what is "Indian"? It's a convention; it's not part of your nature. All you've got is a label. You really don't know the person. The concept always misses or omits something extremely important, something precious that is only found in reality, which is concrete uniqueness.
The great Krishnamurti put it so well when he said, "The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again". How true! The first time the child sees that fluffy, alive, moving object, and you say to him, "Sparrow", then tomorrow when the child sees another fluffy, moving object similar to it he says, "Oh, sparrows. I've seen sparrows. I'm bored by sparrows".
If you don't look at things through your concepts, you'll never be bored. Every single thing is unique. Every sparrow is unlike every other sparrow despite the similarities. It's a great help to have similarities, so we can abstract, so that we can have a concept. It's a great help, from the point of view of communication, education, science. But it's also very misleading and a great hindrance to seeing this concrete individual. If all you experience is your concept, you're not experiencing reality, because reality is concrete. The concept is a help, to lead you to reality, but when you get there, you've got to intuit or experience it directly.
A second quality of a concept is that it is static whereas reality is in flux. We use the same name for Niagara Falls, but that body of water is constantly changing. You've got the word "river", but the water there is constantly flowing. You've got one word for your "body", but the cells in your body are constantly being renewed. Let's suppose, for example, there is an enormous wind outside and I want the people in my country to get an idea of what an American gale or hurricane is like.
So I capture it in a cigar box and I go back home and say, "Look at this". Naturally, it isn't a gale anymore, is it? Once it's captured. Or if I want you to get the feel of what the flow of a river is like and I bring it to you in a bucket. The moment I put into a bucket it has stopped flowing. The moment you put things into a concept, they stop flowing; they become static, dead. A frozen wave is not a wave. A wave is essentially movement, action; when you freeze it, it is not a wave. Concepts are always frozen. Reality flows.
Finally, if we are to believe the mystics (and it doesn't take too much of an effort to understand this, or even believe it, but no one can see it at once), reality is whole, but words and concepts fragment reality. That is why it is so difficult to translate from one language to another, because each language cuts reality up differently. The English word "home" is impossible to translate into French or Spanish. "Casa" is not quite "home"; "home" has associations that are peculiar to the English language.
Every language has untranslatable words and expressions, because we're cutting reality up and adding something or subtracting something and usage keeps changing. Reality is a whole and we cut it up to make concepts and we use words to indicate different parts. If you had never seen an animal in your life, for example, and one day you found a tail -- just a tail -- and somebody told you, "That's a tail", would you have any idea of what it was if you had no idea what an animal was?
Ideas actually fragment the vision, intuition, or experience of reality as a whole. This is what the mystics are perpetually telling us. Words cannot give you reality. They only point, they only indicate. You use them as pointers to get to reality. But once you get there, your concepts are useless. A Hindu priest once had a dispute with a philosopher who claimed that the final barrier to God was the word "God", the concept of God.
The priest was quite shocked by this, but the philosopher said, "The ass that you mount and that you use to travel to a house is not the means by which you enter the house. You use the concept to get there; then you dismount, you go beyond it". You don't need to be a mystic to understand that reality is something that cannot be captured by words or concepts. To know reality you have to know beyond knowing.
Do those words ring a bell? Those of you who are familiar with The Cloud of Unknowing would recognize the expression. Poets, painters, mystics, and the great philosophers all have intimations of its truth. Let's suppose that one day I'm watching a tree. Until now, every time I saw a tree, I said, "Well, it's a tree", But today when I'm looking at the tree, I don't see a tree. At least I don't see what I'm accustomed to seeing. I see something with the freshness of a child's vision. I have no word for it. I see something unique, whole, flowing, not fragmented. And I'm in awe. If you were to ask me, "What did you see"? what do you think I'd answer? I have no word for it. There is no word for reality. Because as soon as I put a word to it, we're back into concepts again.
And if I cannot express this reality that is visible to my senses, how does one express what cannot be seen by the eye or heard by the ear? How does one find a word for the reality of God? Are you beginning to understand what Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and all the rest were saying and what the Church teaches constantly when she says that God is mystery, is unintelligible to the human mind?
The great Karl Rahner, in one of his last letters, wrote to a young German drug addict who had asked him for help. The addict had said, "You theologians talk about God, but how could this God be relevant in my life? How could this God get me off drugs? Rahner said to him, "I must confess to you in all honesty that for me God is and has always been absolute mystery. I do not understand what God is; no one can. We have intimations, inklings; we make faltering, inadequate attempts to put mystery into words. But there is no word for it, no sentence for it". And talking to a group of theologians in London, Rahner said, "The task of the theologian is to explain everything through God, and to explain God as unexplainable". Unexplainable mystery. One does not know, one cannot say. One says, "Ah. . . Ah . . ".
Words are pointers, they're not descriptions. Tragically, people fall into idolatry because they think that where God is concerned, the word is the thing. How could you get so crazy? Can you be crazier than that? Even where human beings are concerned, or trees and leaves and animals, the word is not the thing. And you would say that, where God is concerned, the word is one thing? What are you talking about? An internationally famous scripture scholar attended this course in San Francisco, and he said to me, "My God, after listening to you, I understand that I've been an idol worshipper all my life!" He said this openly. "It never struck me that I had been an idol worshipper. My idol was not made of wood or metal; it was a mental idol". These are the more dangerous idol worshippers. They use a very subtle substance, the mind, to produce their God.
What I'm leading you to is the following awareness of reality around you. Awareness means to watch, to observe what is going on within you and around you. "Going on" is pretty accurate Trees, grass, flowers, animals, rock, all of reality is moving. One observes it, one watches it. How essential it is for the human being not just to observe himself or herself, but to watch all of reality. Are you imprisoned by your concepts? Do you want to break out of your prison? Then look; observe; spend hours observing. Watching what? Anything.
The faces of people, the shapes of trees, a bird in flight, a pile of stones, watch the grass grow. Get in touch with things, look at them. Hopefully you will then break out of these rigid patterns we have all developed, out of what our thoughts and our words have imposed on us. Hopefully we will see. What will we see? This thing that we choose to call reality, whatever is beyond words and concepts. This is a spiritual exercise connected with spirituality connected with breaking out of your cage, out of the imprisonment of the concepts and words.
How sad if we pass through life and never see it with the eyes of a child. This doesn't mean you should drop your concepts totally; they're very precious. Though we begin without them, concepts have a very positive function. Thanks to them we develop our intelligence. We're invited, not to become children, but to become like children. We do have to fall from a stage of innocence and be thrown out of paradise; we do have to develop an "I" and a "me" through these concepts. But then we need to return to paradise.
We need to be redeemed again. We need to put off the old man, the old nature, the conditioned self, and return to the state of the child but without being a child. When we start off in life, we look at reality with wonder, but it isn't the intelligent wonder of the mystics; it's the formless wonder of the child. Then wonder dies and is replaced by boredom, as we develop language and words and concepts. Then hopefully, if we're lucky, we'll return to wonder again.
AT A LOSS FOR WORDS
Dag Hammarskjold, the former UN Secretary-General, put it so beautifully "God does not die on the day we cease to believe in a personal deity. But we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance of wonder renewed daily, the source of which is beyond all reason". We don't have to quarrel about a word, because "God" is only a word, a concept. One never quarrels about reality; we only quarrel about opinions, about concepts, about judgments. Drop your concepts, drop your opinions, drop your prejudices, drop your judgments, and you will see that.
"Quia de deo scire non possumus quid sit, sed quid non sit, non possumus considerare de deo, quomodo sit sed quomodo non sit". This is St. Thomas Aquinas' introduction to his whole Summa Theologica "Since we cannot know what God is, but only what God is not, we cannot consider how God is but only how He is not". I have already mentioned Thomas' commentary on Boethius' De Sancta Trinitate, where he says that the loftiest degree of the knowledge of God is to know God as the unknown, tamquam ignotum. And in his Questio Disputata de Potentia Dei, Thomas says, "This is what is ultimate in the human knowledge of God - to know that we do not know God". This gentleman was considered the prince of theologians. He was a mystic, and is a canonized saint today. We're standing on pretty good ground.
In India, we have a Sanskrit saying for this kind of thing "neti, neti". It means "not that, not that". Thomas' own method was referred to as the via negativa, the negative way. C. S. Lewis wrote a diary while his wife was dying. It's called A Grief Observed. He had married an American woman whom he loved dearly. He told his friends, "God gave me in my sixties what He denied me in my twenties". He hardly had married her when she died a painful death of cancer. Lewis said that his whole faith crumbled, like a house of cards. Here he was the great Christian apologist, but when disaster struck home, he asked himself, "Is God a loving Father or is God the great vivisectionist"?
There's pretty good evidence for both! I remember that when my own mother got cancer, my sister said to me, "Tony, why did God allow this to happen to Mother"? I said to her, "My dear, last year a million people died of starvation in China because of the drought, and you never raised a question". Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is to be awakened to reality, for calamity to strike, for then we come to faith, as C. S. Lewis did. He said that he never had any doubts before about people surviving death, but when his wife died, he was no longer certain. Why? Because it was so important to him that she be living. Lewis, as you know, is the master of comparisons and analogies.
He says, "It's like a rope. Someone says to you, 'Would this bear the weight of a hundred twenty pounds?' You answer, 'Yes.' 'Well, we're going to let down your best friend on this rope.' Then you say, 'Wait a minute, let me test that rope again.' You're not so sure now". Lewis also said in his diary that we cannot know anything about God and even our questions about God are absurd. Why? It's as though a person born blind asks you, "The color green, is it hot or cold"? Neti, neti, not that. "Is it long or is it short"? Not that. "Is it sweet or is it sour"? Not that. "Is it round or oval or square"? Not that, not that.
The blind person has no words, no concepts, for a color of which he has no idea, no intuition, no experience. You can only speak to him in analogies. No matter what he asks, you can only say, "Not that". C.S. Lewis says somewhere that it's like asking how many minutes are in the color yellow. Everybody could be taking the question very seriously, discussing it, fighting about it. One person suggests there are twenty-five carrots in the color yellow, the other person says, "No, seventeen potatoes", and they're suddenly fighting. Not that, not that!
This is what is ultimate in our human knowledge of God, to know that we do not know. Our great tragedy is that we know too much. We think we know, that is our tragedy; so we never discover. In fact, Thomas Aquinas (he's not only a theologian but also a great philosopher) says repeatedly, "All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly".
Something more about words.
I said to you earlier that words are limited. There is more I have to add. There are some words that correspond to nothing. For instance, I'm an Indian. Now, let's suppose that I'm a prisoner of war in Pakistan, and they say to me, "Well, today we're going to take you to the frontier, and you're going to take a look at your country".
So they bring me to the frontier, and I look across the border, and I think, "Oh, my country, my beautiful country. I see villages and trees and hills. This is my own, my native land!" After a while one of the guards says, "Excuse me, we've made a mistake here. We have to move up another ten miles". What was I reacting to? Nothing. I kept focusing on a word, India. But trees are not India; trees are trees.
In fact, there are no frontiers or boundaries. They were put there by the human mind; generally by stupid, avaricious politicians. My country was one country once upon a time; it's four now. If we don't watch out it might be six. Then we'll have six flags, six armies. That's why you'll never catch me saluting a flag. I abhor all national flags because they are idols. What are we saluting? I salute humanity, not a flag with an army around it.
Flags are in the heads of people. In any case, there are thousands of words in our vocabulary that do not correspond to reality at all. But do they trigger emotions in us! So we begin to see things that are not there. We actually see Indian mountains when they don't exist, and we actually see Indian people who also don't exist. Your American conditioning exists. My Indian conditioning exists.
But that's not a very happy thing. Nowadays, in Third World countries, we talk a great deal about "inculturation". What is this thing called "culture"? I'm not very happy with the word. Does it mean you'd like to do something because you were conditioned to do it? That you'd like to feel something because you were conditioned to feel it? Isn't that being mechanical? Imagine an American baby that is adopted by a Russian couple and taken to Russia. It has no notion that it was born American. It's brought up talking Russian; it lives and dies for Mother Russia; it hates Americans.
The child is stamped with his own culture; it's steeped in its own literature. It looks at the world through the eyes of its culture. Now, if you want to wear your culture the way you wear your clothes, that's fine. The Indian woman would wear a sari and the American woman would wear something else, the Japanese woman would wear her kimono. But nobody identifies herself with the clothes. But you do want to wear your culture more intently. You become proud of your culture. They teach you to be proud of it.
Let me put this as forcefully as possible. There's this Jesuit friend of mine who said to me, "Anytime I see a beggar or a poor person, I cannot not give this person alms. I got that from my mother". His mother would offer a meal to any poor person who passed by. I said to him, "Joe, what you have is not a virtue; what you have is a compulsion, a good one from the point of view of the beggar, but a compulsion nonetheless". I remember another Jesuit who said to us once at an intimate gathering of the men of our Jesuit province in Bombay, "I'm eighty years old; I've been a Jesuit for sixty-five years.
I have never once missed my hour of meditation -- never once". Now, that could be very admirable, or it could also be a compulsion. No great merit in it if it's mechanical. The beauty of an action comes not from its having become a habit but from its sensitivity, consciousness, clarity of perception, and accuracy of response. I can say yes to one beggar and no to another. I am not compelled by any conditioning or programming from my past experiences or from my culture. Nobody has stamped anything on me, or if they have, I'm no longer reacting on the basis of that.
If you had a bad experience with an American or were bitten by a dog or had a bad experience with a certain type of food, for the rest of your life you'd be influenced by that experience. And that's bad! You need to be liberated from that. Don't carry over experiences from the past. In fact, don't carry over good experiences from the past either. Learn what it means to experience something fully, then drop it and move on to the next moment, uninfluenced by the previous one. You'd be traveling with such little baggage that you could pass through the eye of a needle.
You'd know what eternal is, because eternal life is now, in the timeless now. Only thus will you enter into eternal life. But how many things we carry along with us. We never set about the task of freeing ourselves, of dropping the baggage, of being ourselves. I'm sorry to say that everywhere I go I find Muslims who use their religion, their worship, and their Koran to distract themselves from this task. And the same applies to Hindus and Christians.
Can you imagine the human being who is no longer influenced by words? You can give him any number of words and he'll still give you a fair deal. You can say, "I'm Cardinal Archbishop So-and-so",
but he'll still give you a fair deal; he'll see you as you are. He's uninfluenced by the label.
I want to say one more thing about our perception of reality. Let me put it in the form of an analogy. The President of the United States has to get feedback from the citizens. The Pope in Rome has to get feedback from the whole Church. There are literally millions of items that could be fed to them, but they could hardly take all of them in, much less digest them. So they have people whom they trust to make abstracts, summarize things, monitor, filter; in the end, some of it gets to their desk. Now, this is what's happening to us. From every pore or living cell of our bodies and from all our senses we are getting feedback from reality. But we are filtering things out constantly. Who's doing the filtering? Our conditioning? Our culture? Our programming?
The way we were taught to see things and to experience them? Even our language can be a filter. There is so much filtering going on that sometimes you won't see things that are there. You only have to look at a paranoid person who's always feeling threatened by something that isn't there, who's constantly interpreting reality in terms of certain experiences of the past or certain conditioning that he or she has had.
But there's another demon, too, who's doing the filtering. It's called attachment, desire, craving. The root of sorrow is craving. Craving distorts and destroys perception. Fears and desires haunt us. Samuel Johnson said, "The knowledge that he is to swing from a scaffold within a week wonderfully concentrates a man's mind". You blot out everything else and concentrate only on the fear, or desire, or craving. In many ways we were drugged when we were young.
We were brought up to need people. For what? For acceptance, approval, appreciation, applause - for what they called success. Those are words that do not correspond to reality. They are conventions, things that are invented, but we don't realize that they don't correspond to reality. What is success? It is what one group decided is a good thing. Another group will decide the same thing is bad. What is good in Washington might be considered bad in a Carthusian monastery. Success in a political circle might be considered failure in some other circles. These are conventions.
But we treat them like realities, don't we? When we were young, we were programmed to unhappiness. They taught us that in order to be happy you need money, success, a beautiful or handsome partner in life, a good job, friendship, spirituality, God - you name it. Unless you get these things, you're not going to be happy, we were told. Now, that is what I call an attachment. An attachment is a belief that without something you are not going to be happy. Once you get convinced of that - and it gets into our subconscious, it gets stamped into the roots of our being - you are finished. "How could I be happy unless I have good health"? you say.
But I'll tell you something. I have met people dying of cancer who were happy. But how could they be happy if they knew they were going to die? But they were. "How could I be happy if I don't have money"? One person has a million dollars in the bank, and he feels insecure; the other person has practically no money, but he doesn't seem to feel any insecurity at all. He was programmed differently, that's all. Useless to exhort the first person about what to do; he needs understanding. Exhortations are of no great help. You need to understand that you've been programmed; it's a false belief. See it as false, see it as a fantasy.
What are people doing all through their lives? They're busy fighting; fight, fight, fight. That's what they call survival. When the average American says he or she is making a living, it isn't a living they're making, oh no! They have much more than they need to live. Come to my country and you'll see that. You don't need all those cars to live. You don't need a television set to live. You don't need makeup to live. You don't need all those clothes to live. But try to convince the average American of this. They've been brainwashed; they've been programmed.
So they work and strive to get the desired object that will make them happy. Listen to this pathetic story — your story, my story, everybody's story: "Until I get this object (money, friendship, anything) I'm not going to be happy; I've got to strive to get it and then when I've got it, I've got to strive to keep it. I get a temporary thrill. Oh, I'm so thrilled, I've got it"! But how long does that last? A few minutes, a few days at the most. When you get your brand-new car, how long does the thrill last? Until your next attachment is threatened!
The truth about a thrill is that I get tired of it after a while. They told me prayer was the big thing; they told me God was the big thing; they told me friendship was the big thing. And not knowing what prayer really was or not knowing what God really was, not knowing what friendship really was, we made much out of them. But after a while we got bored with them - bored with prayer, with God, with friendship. Isn't that pathetic? And there's no way out, there's simply no way out. It's the only model we were given - to be happy. We weren't given any other model.
Our culture, our society, and, I'm sorry to say, even our religion gave us no other model. You've been appointed a cardinal. What a great honor that is! Honor? Did you say honor? You used the wrong word. Now others are going to aspire to it. You lapsed into what the gospels call "the world" and you're going to lose your soul. The world, power, prestige, winning, success, honor, etc., are nonexistent things. You gain the world but you lose your soul. Your whole life has been empty and soulless. There is nothing there. There's only one way out and that is to get de-programmed! How do you do that? You become aware of the programming.
You cannot change by an effort of the will; you cannot change through ideals; you cannot change through building up new habits. Your behavior may change, but you don't. You only change through awareness and understanding. When you see a stone as a stone and a scrap of paper as a scrap of paper, you don't think that the stone is a precious diamond anymore and you don't think that that scrap of paper is a check for a billion dollars. When you see that, you change. There's no violence anymore in your attempt to change yourself. Otherwise, what you call change is simply moving the furniture around. Your behavior is changed, but not you.
The only way to change is by changing your understanding. But what does it mean to understand? How do we go about it? Consider how we're enslaved by various attachments; we're striving to rearrange the world so that we can keep these attachments, because the world is a constant threat to them. I fear that a friend may stop loving me; he or she may turn to somebody else.
I have to keep making myself attractive because I have to get this other person. Somebody brainwashed me into thinking I need his or her love. But I really don't. I don't need anybody's love; I just need to get in touch with reality. I need to break out of this prison of mine, this programming, this conditioning, these false beliefs, these fantasies; I need to break out into reality. Reality is lovely; it is an absolute delight.
Eternal life is now. We're surrounded by it, like the fish in the ocean, but we have no notion about it at all. We're too distracted with this attachment. Temporarily, the world rearranges itself to suit our attachment, so we say, "Yeah, great! My team won"! But hang on; it'll change; you'll be depressed tomorrow. Why do we keep doing this?
Do this little exercise for a few minutes. Think of something or someone you are attached to; in other words, something or someone without which or without whom you think you are not going to be happy. It could be your job, your career, your profession, your friend, your money, whatever. And say to this object or person, "I really do not need you to be happy. I'm only deluding myself in the belief that without you I will not be happy. But I really don't need you for my happiness; I can be happy without you. You are not my happiness, you are not my joy". If your attachment is a person, he or she is not going to be very happy to hear you say this, but go ahead anyway. You can say it in the secrecy of your heart. In any case, you'll be making contact with the truth; you'll be smashing through a fantasy. Happiness is a state of non-illusion, of dropping the illusion.
Or you could try another exercise. Think of a time when you were heartbroken and thought you would never be happy again (your husband died, your wife died, your best friend deserted you, you lost your money). What happened? Time went on, and if you managed to pick up another attachment or managed to find somebody else you were attracted to or something else you were attracted to, what happened to the old attachment?
You didn't really need it to be happy, did you? That should have taught you, but we never learn. We're programmed; we're conditioned. How liberating it is not to depend emotionally on anything. If you could get one second's experience of that, you'd be breaking through your prison and getting a glimpse of the sky. Someday, maybe, you will even fly.
I was afraid to say this, but I talked to God, and I told Him that I don't need Him. My initial reaction was "This is so contrary to everything that I've been brought up with". Now, some people want to make an exception of their attachment to God. They say, "If God is the God that I think He ought to be, He's not going to like it when I give up my attachment to Him"! All right, if you think that unless you get God you're not going to be happy, then this "God" you're thinking of has nothing to do with the real God. You're thinking of a dream state; you're thinking of your concept. Sometimes you have to get rid of "God" in order to find God. Lots of mystics tell us that.
We've been so blinded by everything that we have not discovered the basic truth that attachments hurt rather than help relationships. I remember how frightened I was to say to an intimate friend of mine, "I really don't need you. I can be perfectly happy without you. And by telling you this I find I can enjoy your company thoroughly - no more anxieties, no more jealousies, no more possessiveness, no more clinging. It is a delight to be with you when I am enjoying you on a non-clinging basis.
You're free; so am I". But to many of you I'm sure this is like talking a foreign language. It took me many, many months to fully understand this, and mind you, I'm a Jesuit, whose spiritual exercises are all about exactly this, although I missed the point because my culture and my society in general had taught me to view people in terms of my attachments. I'm quite amused, sometimes, to see even seemingly objective people like therapists and spiritual directors say of someone, "He's a great guy, great guy, I really like him". I find out later that it's because he likes me that I like him.
I look into myself, and I find the same thing coming up now and again. If you're attached to appreciation and praise, you're going to view people in terms of their threat to your attachment or their fostering of your attachment. If you're a politician and you want to be elected, how do you think you're going to look at people, how will your interest in people be guided? You will be concerned for the person who's going to get you the vote. If what you're interested in is sex, how do you think you're going to look at men and women?
If you're attached to power, that colors your view of human beings. An attachment destroys your capacity to love. What is love? Love is sensitivity, love is consciousness. To give you an example I'm listening to a symphony, but if all I hear is the sound of the drums I don't hear the symphony. What is a loving heart? A loving heart is sensitive to the whole of life, to all persons; a loving heart doesn't harden itself to any person or thing.
But the moment you become attached in my sense of the word, then you're blocking out many other things. You've got eyes only for the object of your attachment; you've got ears only for the drums; the heart has hardened. Moreover, it's blinded, because it no longer sees the object of its attachment objectively. Love entails clarity of perception, objectivity; there is nothing so clear-sighted as love.