Towards total transformation

Posted on August 29, 2011

A talk Vimala Thakar at Stiles Hall, University of California, October 22, 1968

As one wanders through various part of the world, one finds that the whole human life is in a state of turmoil. Politically, socially, economically, and even culturally, human life seems to be going through a very grave crisis. Long cherished ideas, theories, concepts, and notions in every field of activity are collapsing – one after another. The values of life are getting unrelated to the day-to-day facts of life. The symbols that man has evolved through many centuries for communication are also being reduced to fictitious symbols and the context of life is changing practically every day.

This seems to be a very congenial and favorable situation for the young generation. They may turn in any direction and they are faced with innumerable challenges. To be faced with challenges is a favorable condition, because every challenge probes into the depth of the psyche, does not allow anyone to relapse into laziness or sluggishness, and brings out all hidden and latent energies, talents, and gifts. If there are no challenges, life will become meaningless, tasteless and flavorless. So living in these explosive times seems to be a great blessing for the young people.

Particularly in the last twenty years we find that the context of human life has changed with tremendous speed. Politically, the great part of humanity which was not liberated in Asia and Africa became free after 1945. One after another the Asian and African countries won their independence. That fact by itself caused a very rude shaking of power pressures in the world. People in Europe and America could no longer determine the destinies of the people in Africa and Asia. Even in international institutions the voice of the colored started to be counted, to be listened to, with a kind of awe – and, if not respect, a kind of compulsion which the sheer number, the majority of the people there, created in the minds of the alert statesmen of the world.

Economically, science and technology brought about tremendous material and economic progress in the Occidental world; and the starvation and poverty of the underdeveloped countries which had recently become free, contrasted with the affluence in the other part of the world, became a very big economic factor. How this factor caused trade and commerce throughout the world to change its nature, how that determined the foreign policy of big countries like Russia, America, China, and so on – is something very interesting – the competition in providing aid to these countries, the motivating forces working behind that, and so on.

In the field of religion and spirituality also we are going through explosive times. Man has seen the cultural starvation in affluent society; man has seen the limitations of sensual pleasure, has seen that even after providing all of the needs of the body and the mind there is something missing. So the material progress, the physical comfort which was being worshiped even a decade ago, is not being worshiped by the young people today. They have seen the limitations of the sensual pleasures; they have seen the limitations of money, power, and prestige. So, on the one hand, they do not have – and rightly so – faith in organized churches and religions of the world, and on the other hand the myth and illusion, the fiction of economic and material progress providing peace to the human mind, love to the human heart, and society based on equality and fraternity coming into existence on that – has been exploded. The young man of today does not know where to turn; He is groping; He is searching with all the enthusiasm, the vehemence and passionate nature of youth. He wants to find out the truth.

There was a phase for taking drugs, trying to expand consciousness, and indulging in transcendental experiences, and visions. There was phase for some ten or fifteen years in the Western world when people thought: “Ah, this is the way out of the boredom, this is the way out of the industrial and mechanized life!” But now, now in the late 6o’s, they discover that heightening the sensitivity and enriching the capacity for acquiring experiences is not the essence of religion. It does not constitute the discovery of truth and it does not lead one to the total transformation of life. In religion and spirituality the whole world is passing through a very grave crisis.

The revolt that we come across in the student world in various countries seem to be set off by some small fragmentary or partial causes, some immediate problems; but if one studies the psychology of young people in the East and West, one would not look upon these revolts as the fancies and whims of irresponsible, immature young minds. One would see be-hind it deep-rooted causes in the total way of life which man has been pursuing for some centuries. These student revolts are coming up not only in Europe and America, but even in India one witnesses these revolts whenever the youth find an opportunity to express their discontent, dissatisfaction, and the lack of faith in the older generation: lake of faith statesmen and religious leaders which manifested through strong protest.

These revolts are localized eruptions of a deep-rooted malady which is limited not only to the young people but seems to be permeating the total way that man has been living. It will be beneficial for all of us to find out for ourselves where the malady lies, how it is related to the total way of life and ask ourselves how it can be uprooted completely from the psyche. It is necessary to go into this. A person who feels concerned about life, both the individual and the collective life, feels the urgency of going into basic issues. If he does not do so, it is quite likely that localized revolts may in the end prevent a total revolution, a total revolution in the individual psyche as well as in the texture of collective relation-ships.

Revolution can not be related only to the inner life of an individual or to the outer life of people as expressed socially, economically, or politically. There is no dichotomy between the inner and the outer. We do use these words but they are not only tentative. The inner and the outer are complementary to each other. If we try to bring about to revolution in the inner, the psycho-logical or psychic world, neglecting the so-called outer-the social, the economic or political-we may isolate ourselves from the mainstream of life and may create certain escapes; even weave a whole network of escapes, comfortable for us.

That has been done in the East. If you want to transform the psyche, you retire from life, go to some monastery, some ashram, and the dive deep into your thoughts, feelings, sentiments, your involuntary reflexes and try to transform them. If the mind listen to you, succumbs to your persuasion and gives up the old patterns, well and good. If the mind does not yield to your persuasion, you even use violence in the name of asceticism and austerity. It doesn’t matter if you have to mutilate the mind. In the name of suppressing and repressing desires and urges all that has been done. In the name of discovery of truth, man has use violence against his own body and mind. Man has use suppression and repression, dictatorship of ideas and theories, standards and values; and thus you get a cult of people, a privileged class of monks and sannyasis. When you retire from life, you have no social responsibility, no civic responsibility. That have been tried – it doesn’t work. I could go into all the details how the East has suffered from this fragmentary approach and what it has done to the life of the multitude in those countries.

Suffice it to say, this fragmentation of life into inner and outer, this division of life into individual and collective, thinking them to be entirely independent of each other, is the fertile soil in which all suffering and misery breeds. People in the Occidental world have focused their attention on the so-called outer, engaging themselves in providing better and still better means of physical and psychological comfort, raising the standard of living, changing the social, economic and political pat-terns both in the so-called free and democratic countries as well as the communist countries. They have been focusing all attention and energy on this. And yet we find that all these communist and no-communist countries, man is not at peace with his fellow-men.

So it seems that the time is now ripe to see the vital necessity of perceiving life as one indivisible whole, not fragmenting it, not dividing it, not creating different patterns pf behavior and codes of conduct for the individual and the collective, but looking upon life as one indivisible whole, trying to discover what can be done to live in that totality of life, sanely, scientifically, with peace in one’s heart and peace in mutual relationships. That seems to be the basic issue today. That is why I say the basic need is of a total revolution. Nothing less than a total revolution would really satisfy hungry humanity – the hunger of the body, as well as of the heart. So revolution will have to be total.

As far as the collective relationships are concerned, they are extensions – as well as to some extent even projections – of what are inside. What a person is in his inner life, without his being aware of it, gets reflected into his relationships. You may build any social, economic or political setup but the human relationships between individuals are determined by the quality of mind that each man has. You may have the best ideologies, you may have the best of theories, ideas, and yet, when man is driven by ambition, jealousy, envy, greed, anger, his behavior is dictated by these. The drives and passions stored and twist the perception of the individual, create compulsions for him, psychological compulsions which force him to behave in certain ways.

So I do feel that one will have to begin with this human psyche as it is today and discover if something can be done to the total psyche – find out if man can transcend the content of this psyche through which he is living and functioning today or whether he is doomed to live as its prisoner.

Now, what do we mean by the word “psyche”? The human consciousness, for the convenience of verbal communication and intellectual study, is generally divided into the conscious, the subconscious, and the unconscious. Not that there are three such divisions in the consciousness; not that these are watertight compartments in the consciousness; not that they exist by themselves independent of one another. They seem to be layers of one indivisible whole. Man has been studying it. His analysis of consciousness into conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious mind does not indicate in any way that the totally of consciousness is exhausted by these three layers. For all we know, there may be other layers of consciousness. There may be an area not explored by man as yet. The part of consciousness which we are using, through which we are functioning may be but a tiny fragment of total human consciousness. There may be much more to our life and awareness than these three layers which have, up to now, been tapped and explored and mapped by man in bygone centuries. So, when we say “psyche” or we refer to human consciousness, we imply – do we not? – the so-called conscious, subconscious and the unconscious.

The surface consciousness, or the conscious mind, is that part which is cultivates by the individual. His parents help him to cultivate it, his education helps him, and all of society helps him. From childhood on, the surface consciousness is cultivated and enriched. So man knows how to acquire information, how to store it in the memory, and how to use it when necessary. Thus, the surface consciousness seems to be full of information and experience stored by the individual.

Deeper still, in the subconscious, are the experience, the knowledge, the memory perhaps of family, the community in which the person has been born, the religious denomination into which he may have been born, the religious denomination into which he may have been born, the country in which one might have been brought up, the race to which one belongs – all these experiences get stored into the subconscious.

And deeper still, in the unconscious, are the experiences of the total humanity. The visions and experiences, the intimations thrown out by the unconscious cannot be analyzed by the surface consciousness. It has no access and it does not understand what the intimations are, as the conscious mind is simply incapable of analyzing the experience of total humanity. As a Hindu, if you get an intimation which can be explained and interpreted in the Hindu terminology, then the mind, the brain tries to analyze it, tries to interpret it. But if a Hindu gets some intimation from his conscious which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Hindu religion of the Aryan race, but has something to do with the Mongolian race or with people living in South America, then he says: “I do not understand. I have such and such intimation; but I do not know what it is.” And there are certain visions and experiences which can not even be communicated in any language.

This is the stuff of our consciousness through which we are living: acquiring information; obtaining experiences; interpreting them according to our conditioning; according to the memories stored up in the subconscious; reacting on the basic of all that. That is how we live today. We talk of ourselves as rational human beings, but we have little balance between reason and feeling.

Let us look at another aspect of the mind. Through centuries man has been developing what is called the mind, the brain, the memory. He has been trying to sharpen the intellect. He has been trying very hard to make the emotions more and more sensitive; and he has been using the capacity at the disposal of the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious mind, to the best of his ability. You know, man has the capacity to communicate – to create symbols. That is how man created languages. That is how man developed music, art and sculpture – creating symbols, using them for communication. He has the capacity to be self-conscious. He knows that he knows. When he acts, he can simultaneously understands why he is acting in a specific way, recognize the motives behind his action, and know what the roots of those motives are. If man wants to utilize this capacity for self-consciousness, and is alert, he can do it.

Now, man has been using this capacity of self-consciousness and the talent for creating symbols through-out these bygone centuries, and where have we arrived today? We have arrived at a saturation point. We have been using this human consciousness, this cerebral activity at our disposal; we have arrived at a point where it no longer gives us many happiness or peace. This is not a dogmatic statement, please. Man, through the use of his capacities, has come to a point where he sees very clearly that all the movement of this structure, this psychological edifice, is owned and possessed by the ego, the self, the me, and the I. The I-consciousness sits at the centre, creates a defense mechanism around itself out of the information and experiences that it acquires, then identifies itself with those experiences, tries to own them and impose them on others.

That is how the I-consciousness works. Some people may have very little knowledge and very little experience. It means that the I-consciousness has a very short rope with which to move about. Those who have a wider range of experiences, their I-consciousness have a longer rope which permits a greater movement. But the content of consciousness – the knowledge and experience – become by itself the frontier of this structure. Mind moves from the center to the periphery and from the periphery to the center. Mind can not move in any other way. Mind can not move without a motive. Mind can not move without a direction. Mind can not move except to gain something out of experience, either to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. Man has seen this limitation of action, very clearly.

Secondly, man has seen – has he not – that all knowledge and experience that we acquire, gets reduced to certain chemicals which are stored in the brain cells, and we respond to situations and challenges according to that conditioning in the brain cells. No thought is my original thought. No emotion is my personal emotion. It is the production of collective human activity through centuries. These feelings, thoughts and patterns of action have been fed into my brain, like into an electronic brain, and I respond mechanically. So we discover that mental action is a mechanistic action. Although the mind is very beautiful, very complex and intricate instrument at our disposal, it is nevertheless a machine, nothing more, and nothing less. It has its own utility; it has its own field of relevance. But mind is a machine which acquires impressions through the senses; the nervous system carries the sensation to the brain, and the brain interprets it according to the conditioning in which it has been brought up. Otherwise, why should the word “God” evoke one set of feeling and thoughts in a person brought up in a Catholic family or a communist country? The associations of ideas and emotions fed into these two brains, one belonging to individual brought up in a so-called religious family, the other to an individual brought up in a so-called atheistic society, are absolutely different; and therefore their responses are diametrically opposed. Whether one believes or whether one disbelieves, the quality of the mind in the believer and the disbeliever is just the same. There is no bravery in saying, “I do not believe God.” Believing in God and not believing in god, they are the obverse and converse of the same process.

When man sees that all mental action is a mechanistic action, then all the glory and glamour of thoughts and ideas which are organized thought, ideologies, conclusions and values – all the glamour and glory around this – fades away in no time. One feels no satisfaction in identifying oneself with one ideology and trying to oppose another ideology. One sees the futility of indulging in the mechanistic activity of thinking.

Our relationships today are based on our identification with our thought and feelings. I say I am related to you, but all the while I am trying to judge you on the basis of my likes and dislikes, my opinions, preferences, and prejudices. I judge you on the basis of that. I react to you on the basis of that. We react on the basis of acquisition of certain patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting. It is these patterns that come into relationship with one another, not human beings. As soon as I look at you, all the likes, dislikes, opinions and conclusions stored in me, surge up. Before you have spent ten minutes with me I have placed a label on you: This person is moral or immoral – I like him; I don’t like him – ugly, beautiful, cultured, and uncouth – you know, we have judged the whole human being by outer manifestations and then our judgments dictate our response. So these responses come from the judgments and images that two persons have created about one another. Persons do not get related. Images meet. If there is friction, the images shatter and we say the relationship is broken. But there was no relationship to be broken in the first place! (Laughter)

It sounds strange and unusual, but this image-making factory – Lord Ego and Lady Vanity – carry on inside our consciousness all the time. It’s a constant image-making factory. That’s what it is. As we are busy creating images and judging others, we are not able to live totally any one moment of life. We pass through moments half-lived; we pass through actions half-heartedly done; we come across people whom we have absent-mindedly met. The segment of every experience transmitted by the conscious mind to the subconscious mind becomes the burden of the subconscious.

You know when you live totally and pass through an experience totally; it does not leave the scar of memory behind. You have lived, and that is the end of it. If there was a joyful situation, you enjoyed it, and that’s the end of it. Thought does not give it continuity and say “Oh, it was beautiful, I must find another part of the nifty to experience it again!” The acquisitive part of the ego is not functioning. The moment you allow that distraction to work – enjoying the experience and at the same time a part of the consciousness saying, “Oh, how wonderful, I must come back!” – You are away from the fact of experience, you can not enjoy it totally, and your experience is only half-lived. The other half goes back to the subconscious, and adding one segment after another, day and night, we are making the subconscious very heavy. No wonder at night we can not sleep, because all those segments crop up and come in the form of dreams and intimations.

If man only knew how to learn the greatest art of living! If he only knew how to live; to pass through various experiences without allowing any experience, pleasurable or painful, to leave a scratch on the consciousness! After all, every memory is a scratch on the consciousness. Consciousness gets mutilated. It’s a bleeding and mutilated consciousness that we are carrying. There are scratches and scars of pleasurable and painful experiences, the memory of which we are carrying from one day to another. Through untold centuries, man has been carrying this burden. Now is the time to throw it off.

If we want real relationship as far as human beings are concerned, if man wants to learn the art of getting related to his fellows he will have to leave the prison house that ego has created for him. He will have to step out of this vicious circle of responding through memory. That, for me, is the crux of the whole issue. That is the nature of the challenge. When we say that we have to find out if there is anything beyond the present consciousness, that we must step out of the psyche, it is nothing mysterious or mystical. There is nothing every difficult or extraordinary about it. A scientific approach to the human mind tells me very vividly that this is a mechanistic activity. So if anger comes up, I do not identify myself with the ambition and say “I am ambitious”, or “I am angry, I am jealous.” I do not act out of that identification, but I take a distance from the reaction that is coming up, knowing that it is the product of collective humanity. We have to fight not only the outer symptoms of vested interests and structures; the real structure to be fought is inside.

It seems to me that one has to realize it as a fact of life that mental action is not going to help is in creating a new society. I wonder if you have noticed how people in the communist world tried to create a classless society, a society without exploitation. There was a noble dream of wiping out the state boundaries, and so on. And, very frankly, what does one find? One finds that the petty human mind is just the same there, as it is here. The relationship to money is the same. The ambition to acquire more and more money and store it is the same. Not for providing the basic needs – for providing the needs money is necessary – but one earns much more, out of greed than for the need. Thus the relationship to money, property, the lust for ownership, the competition for power, fame, prestige, social emulation – everything is just the same as it is in other countries.

So altering the old structure can not logically or naturally bring about a real change. One has to work on both fronts simultaneously. And in order to work simultaneously on both fronts, one has to begin with ones own psyche and try to explore a totally new dimension where the touch of the past will not pollute the living present. Each one must see this as the nature of the challenge – not seeing it while sitting in a quiet corner of the house, but seeing it while one is moving and working in the office, traveling in a bus, cooking a meal at home or talking to children in the school. One has to observe the movement of one’s psyche in day-to-day life, see the mechanistic nature there, not treating the mechanistic nature as a new acquisition and storing it in the memory again – not that! One has to see it as a fact in daily relationships. That’s the beauty of human relationships – they are the mirrors in which we can find out the quality of our inner life. We may indulge in wishful thinking and have very noble images of ourselves, but when we are exposed to a variety of temperamental idiosyncrasies, the vagaries of the human mind, we will see very clearly for ourselves how our actions are regulated, controlled and directed by the impulses, the passions – you know, the whole momentum of the subconscious.

So meditation for such a revolutionary person is the most revolutionary action in life. It is the only total action. Everything else is fragmentary. Meditation is a way of life and not an act of the will. Not that one sits down and meditates in a corner! The revolutionary person will live the meditative way. He will watch and observe the movement of the psyche in him and try to find out how one can step out of it now and here. Not in isolation. There is no life in isolation. Life is in relationship. Relationships are inevitable for human beings. When the momentum comes up, one does not identify with it, but allows it to be exposed to the light of awareness. We have not done it. As soon as anger, or jealousy come up, we either identify ourselves with it and act out of that identification, or we try to condemn it, suppress it, push it back, hide it or cover it up. These are the two ways we live. And then outwardly we try to be so called courteous, polite with one another. Politeness becomes the mask – concealing the hypocrisy. Of course we do not like to call it ‘hypocrisy; we are civilized people. We do not like to confess it even to ourselves. That is how it goes. Either people condemn it outright and try to suppress and mutilate the mind and thereby become hypocrites; or we identify us with it and in the name of so-called spontaneity, act out of that.

To me, meditation is the third way out. The other two are only escapes from the act. The meditative way is the way to understand the nature of mental action, i.e., the movement of the ego, and not to identify one-self with it. You and I cannot destroy it; we cannot wish it away. We cannot fight it out. It is going to be there. If we allowed it to be exposed to light of awareness, that momentum loses its grip on our consciousness; it loses its grips on us. It loses its hold because we see the objective and the subjective simultaneously, and in that perception of totality the consciousness has already taken off to a different plane altogether.

Thus we do not have to make an effort to transcend the content of psyche. The very understanding, the very perception, results in an effortless transcendence. This has been witnessed in the lives of even ordinary human beings. This is not being advocated as a theory to you. It would be presumptuous on my part to waste your time in advocating or propagating theories. Transcendence of the psyche is a by-product of under-standing of the psyche. The understanding of its nature is real action, if it is not theoretical. You know what academic knowledge does, don’t you? When I was at the university, I must have read and studied books on so many subject – philosophy, psychology, logic, ethics and metaphysics, and what not. But all my acquisition was related to the motive of passing the examination. And as soon as the examination was over I forgot everything. After a few weeks when I was asked a question about my studies, I said: “Oh? That’s all over!” (Laughter) it just fell through the sieve of my memory because my acquisition of the sieve of the knowledge was riding on the motive. The motive was providing the momentum of my acquisition.

So, if we know, if we understand the mechanistic nature of brain and cerebral activity as a fact, then obviously there is no more identification with anything that mind brings up, except for the realm of engineering science, or technology, where you are dealing with certain static data. My information about a chair is valid today, it will be valid tomorrow, and it will be valid after a year. But my knowledge about you or my experience with you maybe not valid even after a week, because you may have changed in that week, you may have even changed in twenty-four hours. Human beings are extremely unpredictable. So if I try to store into memory my experience with you today and regard it as valid for my relationship with you tomorrow, I have an unscientific, outmoded method of functioning in human relationship. Meditation is the way of getting free of memory in human relationships and having a consciousness which is ever innocent, ever fresh, i.e., of living in a dimension of humility.

I know this is going to be very difficult, as then there will be no scope for the luxury of gossiping. There will be no indulgence in scandalizing. Human beings are ever-changing. And, yet, the time wasted in gossiping, in scandalizing, formulating opinion, and passing them on to others! Of course, newspapers will lose many of their sensational and thrilling items, because man will not pay attention to all that! If we see the implications of setting oneself free from this infatuation with the mind, getting beyond this phase of worshiping the mind, the implications are going to be very far-reaching. They are going to be far-reaching not only in space and time, but they will go deeper and deeper and percolate to the deepest layer of being. So transcendence of the psyche is not a result of human effort. It is a logical and natural consequence of understanding the truth.

After all, what is liberation? Understanding the nature of bondage results in liberation. If someone says that you have to understand what bondage is and then make an independent effort to get free, that person is talking in a rather light vein. He has not experimented. Spirituality is an experimental science. It is not a speculative game. If a person experiments and sees the movement, understands the nature of bondage as a fact, all the identification with it drops away gracefully like an autumn leaf falling down from a tree without causing any injury or damage to the tree – just floating down, giving place to the new leaf to come up. I really fail to understand why people treat meditation as something extremely difficult; why they think this transcending the human psyche is some extraordinarily complicated business. It’s as simple as simplicity can be.

In the last fifty minutes we have covered a vast area. We began by saying that humanity is passing through a grave crisis and that man is living in the most explosive times when all symbols are irrelevant to facts of life today. They no longer have any relevance in a time when all ideologies and theories are proving to be outmoded; when social, economic, political pressures are moving and changing; when religious and spiritual theories are also tumbling down, collapsing like a house of cards.

And, on the other hand, man has been the limitations of sensual pleasures. He wants to be released from the burden of the repetitive action of mind and brain. So he tries to experience transcendental states, he tries to enter the occult world. He wants to find an escape, but he is cornered. There is no scope for escaping now. We have to look the problem squarely in the face and meet it adequately. The problem is: What does one do with this mind which is the creation of illusion and mischief which is the breeding ground for misery, sorrow, conflict and contradictions – what does one do with it?

We went into the mechanistic nature of mind and brain, how the content of knowledge becomes the periphery and frontier of mental movement. How understanding its nature and observing it result in an instantaneous freedom from the slavery of the ego. We went into all this as far as it was verbally possible to go.

When I was told there would be talk in Berkeley, I had not anticipated that so many would grace the occasion and would come to listen to an absolutely anonymous stranger who comes to talk to you. Not out of any authority; not as a Yogi or a Sannyasi; not as a spiritual teacher or preacher; but who comes to you in a very friendly way, to share with you the concerns about the need of a total revolution. I feel much honored by your presence. I would like to thank you and the friends who have arranged this meeting.