Sunday, October 5, 2008

First do no harm

It sounds nice, doesn't it? As an organising principle, as a guiding moral beacon in this murky world. But of course its a fiction for from the first. "We" - that is, all of us who are bodies or take ourselves to be bodies - do nothing but destroy so that those bodies may live. Even being born we cause pain to our mothers, and from the moment we are out of the womb we begin to voraciously consume resources. Even if, from the moment we begin eating solids, we live our whole lives as vegetarians or vegans, the land that was cleared to grow those vegetables meant the destruction of whatever indigenous flaura or fauna lived on it, and all the cloth we wear, the chemicals and medicines we use and consume, the technology with which "I" write and disseminate what I write, all of these condemm us to be agents of destruction with every act of creation.

These are not original ideas, I'm sure they have been often articulated, and as usual, the voice which I hear most clearly is that of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, who says in "I am That" ( see post earlier today - Sunday - the US centric blogging software says Saturday, but I don't usually turn on the computer on shabat/saturday )

Q: If you do not mind my asking a personal question...?

M: Yes, go ahead.

Q: I see you sitting on an antelope skin. How does it tally with non-violence?

M: All my working life I was a cigarette maker, helping people to spoil their health. And in front of my door the municipality has put up a public lavatory, spoiling my health. In this violent world how can one keep away from violence of some kind or another?

Q: Surely all avoidable violence should be avoided. And yet in India every holy man has his tiger, lion, leopard or antelope skin to sit on.

M: Maybe because no plastics were available in ancient times and a skin was best to keep the damp away. Rheumatism has no charm, even for a saint! Thus the tradition arose that for lengthy meditations a skin is needed. Just like the drum-hide in a temple, so is the antelope skin of a Yogi. We hardly notice it.

Q: But the animal had to be killed.

M: I have never heard of a Yogi killing a tiger for his hide. The killers are not Yogis and the Yogis are not killers.

Q: Should you not express your disaproval by refusing to sit on a skin?

M: What an idea? I disapprove of the entire universe, why only a skin?

Q: What is wrong with the universe?

M: Forgetting yourself is the greatest injury; all the calamities flow from it. Take care of the most important, the lesser will take care of itself. You do not tidy up a dark room. You open the windows first. Letting in the light makes everything easy. So, let us wait wait with improving others until we have seen ourselves as we are - and have changed. There is no need to turn round and round in endless questioning; find yourself and everything will fall into its proper place.

Q: The urge to return to the source is very rare. Is it at all natural?

M: Outgoing is natural in the beginning, ingoing - in the end. But in reality the two are one, just like breathing in and out are one.

Q: In the same way are not the body and the dweller in the body one?

M: Events in time and space - birth and death, cause and effect - these may be taken as one; but the body and the embodied are not of the same order of reality. The body exists in time and space, transient and limited, while the dweller is timelessand spaceless, eternal and all-pervading. To identify the two is a grievous mistake and the cause of endless suffering. You can speak of the mind and body as one, but the body-mind is not the underlying reality.

Q: Whoever he may be, the dweller is in control of the body and therefore, responsible for it.

M: There is a universal power which is in control and is responsible.

Q: And so, I can do as I like and put the blame on some universal power? How easy!

M: Yes, very easy. Just realise the One Mover behind all that moves and leave all to Him. If you do not hesitate, or cheat, this is the shortest way to reality. Stand without desire or fear, relinquishing all control and responsibility.

Q: What madness!

M: Yes, divine madness. What is wrong in letting go the illusion of personal control and personal responsibility? Both are in the mind only. Of course, as long as you imagine yourself to be in control, you should also imagine yourself to be responsible. One implies the other.
(pg 150 I Am That)

Later on, in another interaction entitled "Killing hurts the killer, not the killed" this 'thread' as it were, continues:

Q:The other day there was a talk about the use by the gnani of animal skins for mediation etc. I was not convinced. It is easy to justify everything by referring to custom and tradition. Customs may be cruel and tradition corrupt. They explain, but do not justify.

M: I never meant to say that lawlessness follows self-realization. A liberated man is extremely law abiding. But his laws' are the laws of his real self, not of his society. These he observes, or breaks according to circumstances and necessity. But he will never be fancifiul and disorderly.

Q: What I cannot accept is justification by custom and habit.

M: The difficulty lies in our differing points of view. You speak from the body-mind's. Mine is of the witness. The difference is basic.

Q: Still, cruelty is cruelty

M: None compels you to be cruel.

Q: Taking advantage of other people's cruelty is cruelty by proxy.

M: If you look into living process closely, you will find cruelty everywhere, for life feeds on life. This is a fact, but it does not make you feel guilty of (for?) being alive. You begin a life of cruelty by giving your mother endless trouble. To the last day of your life you will compete for food, clothing, shelter, holding on to your body, fighting for its needs, wanting it to be secure, in a world of insecurity and death. From the animal's point of view being killed is not the worst form of dying; surely preferable to sickness and senile decay. The cruelty lies in the motive, not in the fact. Killing hurts the killer, not the killed.

Q: Agreed; then one must not accept the services of hunters and butchers

M: Who wants you to accept?

Q: You accept.

M: That is how you see me! How quickly you accuse, condemn, sentence and execute! Why begin with me and not with yourself?

Q: A man like you should set an example

M: Are you ready to follow my example? I am dead to the world, I want nothing, not even to live. Be as I am, do as I do. You are judging me by my clothes and food; while I only look at your motives; if you believe [yourself? my - Immanuel's - insertion] to be the body and mind and act on it, you are guilty of the greatest cruelty - cruelty to your own real being. Compared to it all other cruelties do not count.

Q: You are taking refuge in the claim that you are not the body. But you are in control of the body and responsible for all it does. To allow the body full autonomy would be imbecility, madness!

M: Cool down. I am also against all killing of animals for flesh or fur, but I refuse to give it first place. Vegetarianism is a worthy cause, but not the most urgent; all causes are served best by the man who has returned to his source.

Q: When I was at Sri Ramanaashram, I felt Bhagwan all over the place, all pervading, all-perceiving.

M: You had the necessary faith. Those who have true faith in him will see him everywhere and at all times (Eyn od milvado - Hebrew: 'There is nothing other than He (i.e. G-d) - my note.) All happens according to your faith and your faith is the shape of your desire.

Q: The faith you have in yourself, is not that too a shape of a desire?

M: When I say 'I am', I do not mean a separate entity with a body as its nucleus. I mean the totality of being, the ocean of consciousness, the entire universe of all that is and knows. I have nothing to desire for I am complete forever (echoes of Walt Whitman here - Immanuel's note).

Q: Can you touch the inner life of other people?

M: I am the people."

P157 -159 of I Am That, translated by Maurice Frydman

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