Sherlock Holmes, as is well known, was a person who was subject to violent fluctuations of mood. When he had a case on hand, ‘when the game was afoot’, he was a whipcord of tensile energy which raised his reasoning powers to their greatest height, and enabled him to perform prodigious feats of physical endurance in tracking down criminals. He thrived on his cases and the energy they gave him. However, when it happened, not infrequently, that no case presented itself, when, as he said, ‘The British criminal had lost his nerve or suffered from a lack of imagination’, Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in the doldrums, and he was a person whose ‘occupation’s gone’. He suffered from a sense of hopeless ennui, of incredible boredom and lassitude of spirit. All day long he lay supine on his couch wrapped in his dressing gown. Though he loved music and could play the violin with more than ordinary skill, in such moods he could not bring himself to play more than a few snatches. Finally he would give up the struggle against ennui and would reach for the hypodermic syringe and needle with its dose of cocaine, much to the despair of Dr. Watson. Such is Sherlock Holmes’ unbearable ennui of Being.
Sherlock Holmes, whom in our adolescence we loved so much, whom we still love for his extraordinary reasoning capacity (even though some of the naïve simplicities of his ‘chains of reasoning’ may now make us smile), for his ‘scientific, objective’ spirit, his absolute physical fearlessness, his uncanny sense for the relevant clue, and also for the ‘feeling’ side of his character such as his unfailing courtesy to women, his loyalty in friendships and his human sympathy for those who had committed crimes under unbearable provocation, had two sides to his character. First, there was the ‘rational, scientific’ side in which he was the ‘reasoning machine’, coldly, inexorably, proceeding from evidence to conclusion on the principle that ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever hypothesis remains, however improbable, must be the truth’, etc. Second, there was the ‘feeling’, emotional side of his being, from which his moods and feelings, his motivation to act or not to act, proceeded.
Here we come to the crucial point. While in the ‘rational’ side of his personality Sherlock Holmes is perfect, flawless—the reasoning machine—in the second, affective side, we see that he is a flawed hero of the type who is quite familiar in literature, namely the hero who is a supreme example of mental and physical energy, but is also given to moods of melancholy and despondency. Sherlock needs the stimulus of a problem or an external challenge, to bring him to life, to make him respond to life. Without the resourcefulness of the Victorian and Edwardian criminals, Sherlock Holmes would have lapsed into life-long melancholy and possibly have committed suicide. Another much-liked hero is Hamlet who alternates between frenzied bursts of destructive energy and moods of suicidal melancholy. These are flawed heroes, but all the world loves a flawed hero. They are well-loved in spite of, or rather because of, the negative quality of melancholy and despondency they have.
Why is this so? Is it because, buried in our hearts is this lethargy, this melancholy which turns us away from life, and which needs an external stimulus, challenge or conflict to make us come to life, to emerge from the depths and to respond positively to life? Why do we admire the coherence of Sherlock’s rational ‘scientific’ thinking, but at the same time have affection for the incoherent melancholic side of his personality, which can only be exorcised by the existence of criminality in society? Why do we love the asymmetric personality of Arjuna more than the perfect, whole and coherent personality of Yudhishtra who never spoke an untruth (except on one memorable occasion)? Why do we prefer the conflict-ridden turbulent rush of the Mahabharata to the more placid waters of the Ramayana? Is it because the characters in the Mahabharata are ambiguous, asymmetric, a mixture of good and evil, whereas in the Ramayana, all is symmetric, with Good clearly separated from Evil? Milton invoked his Muse to justify the ways of God to Man, but many critics consider him to have been subconsciously on the side of Satan, who according to them is the real hero of the epic. If this is true, is it because Satan is the Arch Rebel, the originator of all conflict, and Milton’s genius needed conflict for inspiration? Why is it that of his two epics Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, it is Paradise Lost that is much better known? Is it because Paradise Regained may be an endless vista of felicity which may also be an endless vista of boredom and ennui ‘without a blot, without a flaw, without a tear?’, whereas it is only after Paradise is lost that history unfolds for humanity—history which is adventure, challenge and response, variety, ever growing knowledge, struggle, progress and growth?
Is it wrong to suspect then that our need for stimulation, challenge and conflict is much stronger than any need we may feel for clarity? The desire to be stimulated into action by a challenge or conflict is, we suspect, much stronger than the desire to‘wipe the dust from our eyes’ and see things as they are, of which we have heard distant rumours.
Apart from the termites and the chimpanzees, human beings are the only species of beings that indulge in internecine warfare. Medical research has revealed that deep in the human brain, in the amygdala, is embedded the phylogenetic memory, the survival mechanism of all the forms of life that have preceded the human. Thus, embedded in us are the survival and combative instincts of the shark, the alligator and the lemur.
The manifestation in human history of this biological inheritance is there for all to see. ‘History, ’ said Krishnamurti, ‘is the story of Man, which is the story of you.’ But as Gibbon said long ago, history is also ‘the record of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind’, and this was two millennia before he had the evidence of the 20th century to confirm this verdict. We may be inclined to think that, for instance, the vast demonic energies mobilized by Attila, Genghis Khan, Timur and Hitler – even if we exempt Alexander, Julius Caesar and Napoleon as Men of Destiny (‘History on horseback’ as Hegel said of Napoleon) – are the eruptions of the violent, irrational aspects of human nature, whereas Science and Art are expressions of its creative side. But then, we have only to reflect that the technology of nuclear energy, one of the greatest projects of scientific, engineering and managerial skills ever undertaken, was triggered by the need to forestall Hitler in building the atom bomb, to realize how closely conflict and the channeling of human energies are linked together. NASA in the USA, from where are launched the space probes, had its origin in the rocket launching researches of Hitler’s military engineers. The invention of the stirrup made possible both speedier travel and the better mobility and organization of cavalry in war. The interest in the study of projectile motions (which of course lies at the base of the Newtonian Revolution on which the whole of modern science is founded) was stimulated by the need for an accurate science of military ballistics. The ‘spin-offs’ from the war research done in the 20th century are too numerous to enumerate. As I write this, I have just read, serendipitously, in the London Economist (the modern Delphic oracle!) that the computer which lies at the base of the world economy was invented in Britain in the course of breaking the German secret warcodes during the second world war. (Q.E.D).
The industrial world economy of the 20th century rests firmly on the foundations of the ‘war-efforts’ of the two world wars. War and ‘human progress’, it seems, have always walked hand in hand. Saraswathi bears nothing more dangerous than a veena, but Pallas Athene sprang at birth fully armed from the head of Zeus.
Moving from the ‘arts of war’ to the‘arts of peace’, let us ask, which politician in the world could survive without the existence of opposition politicians to point the accusing finger at? Where would most of the ecological and environmental evangelists be without the monstrous regiment of greedy contractors and callous industrial barons despoiling the forests and polluting the air, earth and water, to pour their moral scorn on? On whom would the secular humanists shed the sweet light of reason, if they had not the purveyors of dark fundamentalism to put to flight?
William James, an American philosopher of a century ago, understood the deeply embedded need for conflict in the human psyche when he called for a ‘moral equivalent of war’, which could direct congenital human belligerence into moral channels. And was it not such a moral equivalent of war that Gandhiji launched when he started the non-violent struggle of satyagraha? For his followers, if not for him, satyagraha was a gauntlet thrown down to the British Empire daring it to destroy the mass movement that satyagraha had launched. And when this ‘moral war’ had been won, and the British Empire packed up and left, the physical law of increasing Entropy—the law that all ordered systems of energy are bound to dissipate and merge into the surrounding disorder unless continually supplied with fresh energy from outside the system—was verified in the moral field also, as India collapsed into moral anarchy once the tension of conflict with the Raj had been removed.
Conflict, opposition and struggle have been the locomotives of civilization throughout history, but it is in modern times that conflict and competition have been accepted and proclaimed as philosophical principles.‘Force is the mid-wife ofevery new society’, said Marx (who himself had got the seed of this principle from Hegel’s doctrine that both thought and reality proceed by contradiction). For half a century, half the world was organized and governed with this philosophy as its basis. After the collapse, at least for now, of this doctrine, the rival one– according to which the energy of‘enlightened self-interest’ of millions of atomized individuals competing against each other under the guidance of Adam Smith’s‘invisible hand’ will automatically result in‘the greatest happiness of the greatestnumber’ (in short, the philosophy of theglobal competitive market economy)– reigns supreme. Here the nucleated and isolated individual is defined in terms of competitive power with other such individuals. This is conflict bowdlerized, but it is conflict nevertheless, and provides the energy that drives society. This is most palpable in the sense of isolation and atomization that is felt in advanced societies the world over, especially in the faceless‘lonely crowds’ of modern megalopolises of the world.
Who then devised the torment? Adam and Eve. They, our spiritual ancestors, in eating
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal
Brought death into the world
initiated us into self-consciousness, the consciousness of being conscious. For us, as for Tennyson, Nature may be red in tooth and claw but neither the hunted antelope nor the hunting panther is aware of that. Alone among all ‘sentient beings’ we are self-aware, aware of being separate from the world. The self-conscious ego is born. Time and Death have opened their trap doors. The abyss of Being has opened under our feet and we have become ‘a question unto ourselves’. ‘Who am I?’ is a question we have to answer, in default of which we tumble into the abyss. Hence our savage self-definitions and identifications, individual or collective, our desperate grasp of the meanings we attribute to our lives and to the world. From that nucleated centre of a self-definition – ego, self-image – we hope to operate in a world that is separate from us, wishing to
...grasp this sorry state of thing entire
And remake the World to our heart’s desire.
That the world has not been devised to suit anyone’s grasp or to gratify anyone’s desire is no deterrent to the ego in its relentless efforts to remake it to its heart’s desire.
We are aware that though we are a part of Nature, we have no given nature. There is a hole in the heart of human existence inducing the human ‘horror vacuui’, the terror at the sight of our nothingness, which has to be filled at any cost and by whatever means that are at hand. And so, according to our individual temperaments and bodily, emotional and mental constituents, we proceed to do so.
The different personality types and the characteristic ways in which each type tries to fill up the vacuum, are well documented in religious, philosophical and psychological literature. Thus we have the orthodox classification in Indian philosophy of the tamasic, rajasic and sattvic types, the greed, hatred and delusion types (Buddhist, each type having both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ aspects), the somatatonic, viscerotonic and cerebretonic types (Sheldon), the introvert and extrovert types (Jung) and so on. Each type has its own way of grasping and appropriation—by addiction to physical sensations and pleasures (the tamasic, somatatonic and greed types), to expansion of the ego sense through the ‘will to power’ (the rajasic and hatred types) or to that more subtle temptation of fanatical attachment to ideological and metaphysical doctrines (the cerebretonic, delusion types given to‘dhrishtis’ or ‘views’ in Buddhist terms). The teachings of Krishnamurti, from one point of view, are a vast encyclopaedia of the myriad ways in which grasping and appropriation take place.
Thus while the world rolls on in indifference, a million meta-worlds of our own making spring into existence, each with its own frame of reference and each with its own project of appropriating the world — including other persons — for its own safety, pleasure or expansion, and thus clashing with all the others. No knowledge of Einsteinian relativity is needed to know that there is no single privileged frame of reference from which we can view the world. But the self-image, fraught with its own life-energies, is blind to such truisms. Thus from these proliferating frames of reference spring a hundred world-views (totemistic, fetishistic, religious, philosophical, scientific) and a million identities, and thus unfold the great dramas of history with their ideological clashes and wars, internecine or international, tribal or civilizational.
Is this picture overdrawn? Even if it is, even if the major clashes and upheavals of history take a long time to build up with tectonic shifts deep underground, before the explosion, the fact remains that ideology, temperament and self-image breed a sense of isolation, and a lack of communication. There have been various strategies to meet this sense of a lack of communication—the liberal strategy of saying that a diversity of views is required to create a healthy society, or the religious formula of saying that in spite of differences we shall all ultimately meet in God (‘all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well’), or the other religious formula of saying that some (ie. we, the sayers) shall be saved and all the others shall be damned. In spite of all the subtleties of all the religious and social philosophies, these have been the variations on the theme of isolation.
World-views and philosophies seem inevitable, intrinsic parts of our being. Suffering from the sense of separation from the world, we build these golden bridges of ideas to cross over and restore us to unity with the world. Beautifully cantilevered, these marvels of conceptual architecture are our means of reaching the ‘really real’ (Plato’s term). However, do they enable us to do so, or do they soar so far above the ground on which we stand, that we soon lose touch with reality? Plato’s Ideal Forms of the Good and the Beautiful, Descartes’ clear distinct Ideas, Kant’s Categorical Imperative—each in its turn offering a clear world-vision, do these philosophies restore us to unity with the world, or only to worlds of their own making? Do they illuminate the quotidian randomness of events or help us to respond to them?
So the vital question is, without swinging from lethargy to stimulation, without the conflict of personalities and world-views, without grasping and appropriation and without soaring high above the ground, can our life energies flow easily and naturally towards the world, can we look at the world with fresh eyes, and can we learn to enjoy for their own sakes the varied aspects of ‘the world and all that therein is’, including the achievements of the human mind and heart in the Arts and the Sciences? Can we be rooted in ourselves and also be at one with the world?
‘Yes’, you will say, ‘it can be done. Cease to grasp, drop the self-image and see things as they are. Wipe the dust from your eyes. Cultivate awareness.’
But what is awareness? Is there such a thing? Here we must be silent, for we see the Sage approaching. Let us stand aside and listen.
‘You ask about awareness, ’ says the Sage, ‘but do you really want to be aware? You have talked about being rooted in yourself and about life energies flowing naturally towards the world. Do you really want all this to happen? Ponder and think well. You have made out a case about the perils of lethargy and stimulation, grasping and conflict, but are you sure you really desire to burn your boats and leave all these behind? After all, there are many quiet nooks and corners in the by-ways of History and Time where one can cultivate one’s own garden of Intellect and Art and contemplate on the‘monuments of unageing Intellect’ created by the geniuses of history. Or you could just unobtrusively fulfil the roles given to you in life and quietly slip away.’
O God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky
That I may fold it round me and in comfort
‘You should also ask’, the Sage continues, ‘how much of what you have said has really entered your being. Or is all this merely one more theory, one more shake of the intellectual kaleidoscope revealing another beautiful conceptual pattern? Why, after all, should there be one single guiding Ariadne’s thread running through the bewildering maze of life? It has been said that we are non-dualists in philosophy, qualified non-dualists in religion, and dualists in daily life. And why not? Do you not conduct your life in that manner? Can you ‘go beyond’ that? Remember what Walt Whitman said: ‘Do I contradict myself? Yes, I contradict myself. I contain multitudes.’ Again, why not? Is life a matter of logic only?’
‘So, ponder well again. If you still feel that you are weary of alternating between lethargy and stimulation, ennui and tension, grasping and conflict, if you have enough‘taste for the truth, for seeing things as theyare’, then let me say something about thenature of awareness.’
‘You, with your intellectualist prejudice engendered by the hypertrophy of the abstract intellect in your education, and by living in urban environments built by the abstracting intellect, will first have to realize that ‘pure abstract’ thought does not exist in a disembodied state. All thought is embodied thought, as we are embodied beings and our minds are embodied minds. By that we mean that we are sensing, breathing, digesting human beings. We are psychosomatic organisms, and our being is a flow of embodied sensations, feelings, volitional impulses, thoughts and actions. Awareness then means awareness of all these activities; it means getting in touch with them. Krishnamurti once asked, ‘Sir, are you in touch with anything at all?’ Most of the time you are not, for most of the time ‘life is elsewhere’. If you see without looking, or hear without listening, you are not aware or present. Awareness is above all presence of mind. But mostly your mind is elsewhere, avoiding the ‘goading contingency of events’ (from which Whitehead said Mathematics was an escape). Almost all your thinking, all your activity is intended to take the sting out of the immediacy of your bodily sensations, feelings and thoughts, so that you can deal with them on your own terms. ‘Anywhere, anywhere out of the world. Any activity, thought, feeling or sensation to enhance or defend the self-image, or any identification with power, or roles, or ideologies (sacred or secular), or morality, or relationship, or groups and so on and so on, to preserve the fragile ego. Anything to avoid the abyss, the groundlessness.’
‘Or if you are more philosophically inclined, there is the urge to search for the ‘meaning of life’ and to ground yourself in that. But you do not have to understand Nagarjuna’s four-fold negation to know that the moment you define the ‘meaning of life’, a hundred arguments against it spring up, hydra-headed or like the rakshasas who spring up from the drops of Kumbhakarana’s blood shed in battle. You cannot prove that the structure of the universe is a plenum of meaning. ‘How wonderful, awe inspiring the design of the human eye, how delicate and perfectly suited for its purpose! Can you deny that there is purpose in the energy shaping this design?’ ‘But look at the horrible and painful diseases the human eye, indeed the whole body is subject to, as are the wonderfully designed structures of all sentient beings. Is that also part of the design?’ So, is it purposeful and meaningful necessity that holds the elements of the Universe together or just randomness? Is the structure teleological or contingent? The Buddha said, ‘I am not caught in either of the two hooks‘Is’ and ‘Is not’. Krishnamurti simply asked, ‘Sir, why do you want to find a meaning in life?’ And to a lady who was bitten by the metaphysical bug and wanted to know what Reality is, he said, ‘Madam, you are eating cabbage. That is reality’.’
‘The reality lies precisely in your embodied nature. You are part of that vast, living, breathing manifestation of energy we call Nature. We say that we have bodies and that we have psyches. Consider the possibility that your body and your psyche have you, and try to be aware of that. Just to be aware of this whole dimension of your being which lies like the iceberg with nine tenths of its bulk submerged is itself a beginning. It will give you a sense of being in touch with reality, as you are part of Nature and thus of reality, whatever that is. Try and live with that.’
‘Just as you are a node through which the energies of Nature pass, you are also a node through which the consciousness of humanity passes. All the meanings, the sensory stimuli, the emotional responses, all the common assumptions and attitudes as embodied in manners, rituals, gestures, all the thoughts, from the most commonplace to the most subtle—all these which are the common property of the culture in which you live—all are absorbed by you in a process of sub-conscious osmosis. They occupy you and they form you. Thus all persons in your circle form part of you and you a part of them, willy-nilly. You inherit all the great achievements of the human mind and heart in History, but along with them you inherit the shadow side of History also.‘Nothing human is alien to me’, said Terence in ancient Rome. That is the ground on which you stand, though mired. You are not au dessus de melee.’
‘‘Truth’, say the philosophers, ‘is coherence. It is the coherence among thoughts themselves, and between the thoughts and what thought is about.’ But you are an embodied being, and thought alone does not define you; and if truth is coherence, it has to be the coherence of this whole movement of sensations, feelings, volitions, thoughts and actions. It cannot be coherent if the intellectual part of it alone is coherent and the rest of it incoherent (which basically means it is grasping). If your body is lethargic from want of exercise or is clogged by over-eating, this clogs both your feeling and your thinking. It is said that God needs to be worshipped through body, speech and mind (kayena, vacha, manasa). Grasping too can, and does, take place through sensation, body, feelings, volition and mind, and awareness has to be an awareness of all these elements in the totality of your being.’
‘Let me put it in a different way. Conceptual grasp involves cognition, but awareness involves realization. Thus you cognize and understand Newton’s laws of motion or the differential calculus, but you are aware of your grasping or your insincerity, you realize these truths about yourself. Awareness and realization cut closer to the bone than cognition; they are at the core of your being. In the conceptual mode you have truth as correspondence or coherence ‘with reality’; in the awareness mode you have the openness of your whole being ‘to reality’. Conceptually you can be in error (‘wrong hypothesis’); in awareness you realize that you are being inauthentic. In Science, for a major breakthrough to take place – a paradigm change — you need to be totally open to abandoning all your conceptual assumptions (for example Newton’s abandoning the centuries’ old notion that‘heavenly motion’ was intrinsically different from‘terrestrial motion’). But in existential awareness you may have to abandon not just concepts, but bodily habits, and automatic responses in feeling and thought.’
‘Thus, existential awareness is a perception which is also an action. If you see that your physical lethargy prevents you from exercising your insight and intelligence, you take steps immediately to end it. That is realization, and that involves a change in your being.’
‘But the abstract, hyper-intellectual attitude separates thought and action, theory and praxis. Bertrand Russell agonized over his inability to ‘prove’ that Hitler’s ethics were wrong. This agony was the result of taking ethics to be an abstract subject in the sphere of the ‘Ought’, as distinct from the sphere of the ‘Is’, of ‘Facts’. Having assumed that truth can be found only in the sphere of the ‘Is’ (in logic, mathematics, science and to a certain extent in our daily commonsense ‘factual’ judgements), philosophy searches in vain for‘truth’ in ethics which it has already relegatedto the sphere of the ‘merely emotional, subjective’ side of our being. Thought and action cannot be separated in this fashion; they form a single movement. In fact, thought itself is an action—it can be grasping, indifferent, or in love with its objects. ‘In the beginning was the deed’, said Goethe. Without ever having heard of Hume’s Law which separates the‘Is’ from the ‘Ought’, or ofMoore’s Naturalistic Fallacy which forbids inferring one from the other, Krishnamurti said that it was the greatest mistake to separate the ‘Is’ from the ‘Ought’. If you master a subject or read a book with a view to impress others, there is one type of action. If you do the same out of real interest in the subject or book, the action is totally different, though the concepts learnt may be the same in both cases. One is a case of grasping, the other of real interest. Think of nuclear science, which has been praised for its ‘technical sweetness’, and of the uses to which it has been put in the production of armaments. You need to hold in your awareness the coherence or incoherence of the whole movement of thought itself as an action.’
‘What your culture needs, above all, is a metanoia, a turning around, from being a cognition-oriented to an awareness-oriented one. The teaching of the Buddha and in modern times, of Krishnamurti, can be guides for you to do this. In total awareness alone can all the incoherence, standing in the way of clear seeing, be dissolved, and the dust wiped from the eyes. Then you will see with fresh eyes and enjoy the beauty of ‘the world and all that therein is’, so that, as the Vedas say, you are satisfied ‘with the essence of things’ (rasena tripta) and ‘enjoy the world after renouncing it’ (tyaktena bhunjita).’
So saying, the Sage departs, leaving us to watch his retreating figure in the gloaming, and to ponder over his words.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is the father of Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.