What is Right Action?
NEW YORK CITY 1ST PUBLIC TALK 11TH MARCH, 1935
Most of us are trying to solve our many difficulties and problems
within the artificial distinction which we have created between the
group and the individual. Now, to me such a distinction as the
individual, opposed to the group perverts and destroys clarity of
thought, and such perversion will lead, naturally, to many repressions
and exaggerations between the individual and the group.
As we search for ways and means out of this chaos, clever and complicated methods and solutions are offered, and each individual chooses the solution according to his particular idiosyncrasy, depending on his social upbringing and religious fancies.
I do not want to add, to those already existing, any new theories or explanations. To me, the real solution of our problems is through intelligence, which must be direct, simple; when there is such intelligence we can then understand life as a whole.
Now, this intelligence is not to be awakened by following any group or any system or by obeying one's own particular idiosyncrasies and fancies. To awaken true intelligence we must first inquire into the many stupidities which cripple the mind and heart, and not seek a definition of intelligence; because, when we find out what the stupidities are and free the mind from them through constant awareness, we shall then be able to know for ourselves what true intelligence is.
In finding out for ourselves the limitations environment has placed about us and in discerning its true significance and thus sloughing off the stupidities, we shall begin to realize what is true intelligence. The expression of that intelligence in action is immortality; it is the blessedness of living in the present.
You have many ideas concerning completeness of life and immortality. But, to me, this immortality, this richness, this completeness of life can only be understood and lived when the mind is wholly free from the limitations, the stupidities, that environment, past and present, inherited or acquired, is continually placing about us.
So please do not, if I may suggest, look to me for new explanations during this talk, or for a set of formulas, or definitions. Such explanations and formulas offer only means of escape from conflict. Most minds desire to copy, imitate, follow, because they cannot think for themselves, or else the conflict is so intense that they would rather escape through systems, through definitions, through explanations. It is only by continually being aware of the environment and the imposition of its ever increasing stupidities, it is only by constantly questioning these, that we stop the escapes, and come face to face with conflict, which gives us the capacity to understand environment intelligently.
What I want to explain during this talk is how we
create stupidities; without understanding this continual, unconscious
creation, the mere inquiry into what is intelligence gives us but
another escape. So, our whole inquiry should be directed towards what
is stupidity and its cause, rather than towards what is intelligence.
As I said, until we try to free the mind from those stupidities which environment, past and present, has created about us, and by which it is crippling our action, until we perceive them and understand their true significance, until then our inquiry into intelligence is but futile.
The purpose of my talk is to help you to find out what are the stupidities and how you can be free of them.
Now, each expert, each authority, each sect, each party, offers a way out of this increasing conflict which we know exists. Each puts forward an idea, a theory, a method for the solution of this terrifying tangle. We can divide, I think, these theorists, or the people who give explanations, into two kinds: those who are turned outward, and those turned inward.
The man who is turned outward says that all human problems can be solved by controlling environment. That is, he says human thought can be changed, altered, controlled, through organization, whether of work or of the means of production and distribution, and so forth. He regards man as clay, to be conditioned by environment, and so by the controlling of that environment and in the perfecting of the group, the individual will have an opportunity to express himself. That is, he will no longer be antisocial because, being mere clay to be conditioned, his environment can be controlled and so his ambitions, his outlook, his desires will never be opposed to the group and be antisocial. Man then will be conditioned according to a new set of ideas and theories so that he can never come, as an individual, into conflict with the group or with society.
If you think that man is nothing else than matter to be conditioned, to be shaped, to be controlled, then there is nothing more to be said. Then life is very simple. Let us all, then, work for the mere perfection of environment, following a certain set of theories and ideas, and be conditioned by them.
Now, I am not against or for this point of view. I want to go into it more fully. If man is merely a social entity and if altering circumstances and environment and creating in him the habit of seeking the well-being of the group alone so that he shall not be antisocial - if that is all, then, it seems to me, life becomes very shallow, a series of unfulfilled, superficial actions.
Also, you have the man turned inward, who says that life is nothing but spirit. Leave it, he says, to the highest in man and let him follow that highest, as shown by the teachers, by the various philosophical systems; let him become more religious, let him follow the great leaders, let him have discipline, enter spiritual organizations and obey spiritual authority, and be guided through fear, so that he will eventually conquer circumstances, environment.
Thus you have the exaggerations of the man who is turned outward and the exaggerations of the man who is turned inward: the person who says that man is nothing more than clay and therefore to be ever conditioned; and the other, the man turned inward, the so-called spiritual man who insists first on the change of heart.
So you have these two types. Emphasis or exaggeration of the one or the other destroys its own end. The man who says environment first and the man who says spirit first, each through his exaggerations and his false emphasis, will destroy his own ends. Whereas to me the solution, or rather the manner of thought, the true awakening of intelligence which alone can resolve the innumerable conflicts and problems, social and individual, lies in the perfect equilibrium between the two, beyond and above the two, and that equilibrium is the simple and the direct way.
To study the various systems, philosophic as well as economic, to study them all thoroughly so as to be able to compare, requires great effort, and few have the time, the capacity, or the inclination, to penetrate through their complicated reasoning and theories. And what happens when you haven't time to inquire into the explanations of innumerable competing experts? You choose one whom you like, who you think is reasonable; and as you haven't the time to go into his system thoroughly, you merely accept his authority. Greater the expert, greater the authority, greater the following.
So, gradually the followers became blind and merely accept dogmas, and the leaders destroy the followers and the followers in turn destroy the leaders. Gradually we create another set of stupidities based on a new set of dogmas which were originally theories and we become slaves to them.
Now, to me, theories are of very little value; because a man who is constantly in conflict with environment, both the past and the present, is continually discerning, penetrating, trying to understand, and therefore he is living completely in the present. To such a man there is no need for theories or explanations. But that requires great persistency of thought, great awareness, great penetration into the true significance of ever changing environment. As the majority of people cannot do that, they accept theories which become their masters, facts, realities.
Naturally, this also applies to religious experts whom we regard as our spiritual guides. Now take religion, that is, religion as an organized belief, and you will see that the authority of the expert is supreme. The pattern is set out and you are forced through the pressure of public opinion, through fear, and so forth, to follow. This worship of authority, this worship of the expert without knowing his limitations is, to me, the very root of exploitation.
So, the whole process of living, which should be a continual fulfillment and therefore a continual penetration into reality, into what is true, is completely destroyed through this worship of authority, of specialists, of creeds, of theories. The whole process is to make the individual subservient, to make him obey and follow. Thus he gradually becomes unconscious of everything but the pattern, and he exists as much as he can within the edicts of that pattern, and he calls that living. Environment becomes only the mould to shape him. So, then, the individual, as he is now, is nothing else than the exaggerated expression of environment, environment being the past and the present, the inherited and the acquired.
To me, this is not true individuality. Through the understanding of the significance of environment, past and present, and therefore being free from it, intelligence is awakened, and the expression of that intelligence is true individuality.
Now, you are conditioned by environment. You are the result of your past and present environment, and what you express, calling it individuality or self-expression, is nothing but the expression of that conditioning environment. To me, the true expression of individuality is that intelligence which is awakened through freeing the mind from the conditioning environment of the past and the present.
The next thing we have to find out is whether any system can help to awaken this intelligence. Or does it merely impose another set of stupidities, further limitations? Because, if we can find a perfect system, then we can give ourselves over to it and become intelligent.
To me, systems are but the crystallization of thought, and the group is but the expression of that thought. Can they, these crystallized thoughts, by your following them, awaken intelligence? Or have you to begin, not considering yourself as an individual, or as a group, to discern for yourself the stupidities created through the false division of the group and the individual; that is, not considering yourself as an individual, or as a group, to think anew, to think from the very beginning so as to be able to grasp the true significance of each environment, each limitation? Because, if we cannot be so active emotionally and mentally, apart from a system, the mere following of a system and being active in it does not awaken intelligence.
Now, such intelligence, when it is awakened, can truly co-operate, not with stupidities but with other intelligences.
Take, for instance, what is happening with regard to war. To understand the whole question of war we must think from the very beginning, not from the nationalistic, racial, class point of view. Inherently, war is wrong. There is no excuse for war as long as there is intelligence functioning. But, as we are mostly ruled by politicians, exploiters, and by such kind, we are forced into one war after another, and many reasons are given for the unavoidability and the necessity of wars.
As long as you do not think clearly, fundamentally, from the very beginning, with regard to this question, one day you will be for peace and the next day you will be for war, because you have not discovered for yourself fundamentally the appalling cruelties, the racial hatreds, the exploitations which create war. Only when there is an awakened intelligence, not only on your part but on the part of politicians, the rulers, will there be peace.
To discover what is true one requires great intelligence. Intelligence, to me, is not book knowledge. You may be very learned and yet be stupid. You may read many philosophies and yet not know the bliss of creative thinking, which can exist only when the mind and heart begin to free themselves through conflict, through constant awareness, from the stupidities of the past and from those that are being built up. Then only is there the ecstasy of that which is true.
Can anyone else tell you what is true? Can anyone tell you what is God? No one can; you have to discover it for yourself. So, to find out what is true, what is the significance of life, what is immortality, without which life becomes a chaotic triviality, a senseless, blind suffering, you must have intelligence; and to awaken that intelligence you must strip the mind and heart of stupidities.
The first cause of stupidity is that consciousness which clings to the particular and therefore creates the distinction between the group and itself, that consciousness whose very essence is the thought of acquisitiveness, of "mine". This limited consciousness is the very root and cause of stupidity, suffering.
One of its manifestations is the constant craving for security, security in the realm of one's entire being, physically, emotionally, and mentally. In search of that security there is bound to be conflict between what we call the individual and the group, the exaggerations of the individual as against the group, leading to constant friction, struggle, and suffering.
You can see that this search for physical security expresses itself in possessions, with all its cruelties, exploitations, and the rather terrifying stupidities such as nationalism, class wars, racial hatred.
Also, emotionally, love has become but possessiveness. It has lost its creative ecstasy. It is a series of possessive conflicts. Its tenderness, its great depths, its eternal quality, its profound ecstasy are destroyed through this desire to hold.
Then there is the mental craving for certainty. That is why there is the worship of authority, the worship of teachers. That is why the incessant demand for the ultimate, so that your mind can cling to it. That is why your constant inquiry into truth, into God; and the man who assures you of the certainty of God, of truth, of immortality, you worship, as it gives you comfort, security.
Gradually this demand for security destroys intelligence. Mind, through experience, accumulates carefully guarded and self-defensive securities, memories, which prevent constant adjustment to the eternal movement of life.
Experience is most of the time creating securities, self-defensive memories, and with this barrier you meet life, which must inevitably bring conflict and suffering. This does not mean that you must forget the past. What I want to explain is that, as physically we seek security, so mentally we seek to move from uncertainty to certainty, which in turn becomes uncertain, in which there is never a moment of complete, inescapable aloneness.
I assure you, when there is complete nakedness, utter hopelessness, then in that moment of vital insecurity there is born the flame of supreme intelligence, the bliss of truth.
In the search for security there arises fear, which begets many illusions, false disciplines, repressions, perversions, the fear of death and the inquiry into the hereafter.
Why are so many interested in the hereafter? Because life here is so superficial, so conditioned by environment, so conflicting, chaotic, unreasonable, without joy, without ecstasy; hence they look to the future, and from this arises the inquiry into the hereafter.
Immortality is a continual becoming, not of that consciousness which we call the "I", but of that intelligence which is freed from the particular as well as from the group, from that consciousness which creates distinctions. That is, when the mind is stripped of all illusion or ignorance it is able to discern the infinite present. It is a thing which you cannot explain, you cannot reason about. It is beyond all argument. It has to be experienced. It has to be lived. It demands great persistency and constant purposefulness.
Now this seems to me to be the state of the world. The chaos caused by the conflict of many theories leads to stupid practices and divisions; and, as time passes, we are merely accumulating knowledge of theories, increasing bitter divisions, creating mass movements for conflicting experiments, and in this conflict in which we are immersed, intelligence, which is the true expression and mode of life, is wholly forgotten.
This is the state of the world about us. What should be our action? What should be our attitude, our thought? Are you going to wait for the perfection of environment through revolution, through economic changes, through political upheaval? This waiting is but an escape, this looking to the future is but another escape through hope, it is but a postponement. Or, will you, not considering yourselves as individuals or as groups, begin to think anew, from the very beginning, thus shaking off the many stupidities that have become virtues, the many things you have taken for granted, accepted, so that in the true simplicity and directness of thought, which is supreme intelligence, there may come the fruition of action? Which are you going to do: wait for the future, hoping that environment will be perfected through some miracle, through someone else's action; or become so intensely aware, through your own conflict with environment in which there is no possibility of escape, that there is completeness of action?
For most people this is the problem: merely to wait, marking time; or to be able to discern the true significance of life with its conflicts and sorrows, and not create a new set of stupidities, a new set of illusions, and therefore to live directly and simply. The one leads to utter disorder, superficiality, boredom, to such superficial lives as most people lead, whether in the intensity of work or in the lack of work. The other, to the ecstasy of immortality.
Everywhere there is a despair, waiting for some action, waiting for governments to change conditions. And, in the meantime, your own lives are becoming more and more superficial, shallow, with all the inanities of modern society and the inanities of the so-called spiritual people.
As I said in the very beginning of my talk, intelligence is the only solution that will bring about harmony in this world of conflict, harmony between mind and heart in action. No system, the mere alteration of environment, is ever going to free man from ignorance and illusion, which are the cause of suffering. You yourself, through your own awareness, in your own completeness, can discern the true significance of these many limiting barriers. This alone will bring about lasting intelligence, which shall reveal immortality.