The Heart of the Matter

The mountains, like the sea, remind us of a dimension of greatness which can inspire and uplift us. That same greatness is also in each of us, but we find it difficult to recognize. This is why we’re attracted to mountains. This is why so many men and women over the centuries have come here to the Himalayas, hoping these heights would reveal the answers that eluded them while they were down in the valley. They still come.


Sometimes I wonder if the sense of frustration and powerlessness which many, especially the young, feel when confronted with the world of today is not due to the fact that it seems so complicated and hard to understand. The only possible reaction is to believe it’s the world of someone else, a world you’re not allowed to get your hands on or change. And yet it’s not true. This is everybody’s world.


Faced with the complexity of these inhuman mechanisms operated goodness knows where by goodness knows who, the individual becomes more and more disorientated and feels more and more lost, till he ends up just doing his little job at work, the task he has before him, dissociating himself from all the rest and increasing his sense of isolation and uselessness. This is why I think it’s important to bring every problem back to its essentials. If the basic questions are asked, the answers will come more easily.


Do we want to get rid of weapons? Fine. Then let’s not get lost in discussions about whether closing down factories which manufacture rifles, munitions, anti-personnel mines or atomic bombs will cause unemployment. Let’s resolve the moral issue first. The economic one can come later. Or do we just want to meekly give in to the idea that the economy decides everything, and that all we’re interested in is what can make us a profit?


People object that there have always been wars throughout history, so they’re hardly likely to stop now. “But why does the same old story have to be repeated? Why not try and start a new one?”, Gandhi used to reply to anyone he heard make this tired, clichéd objection.


The idea that man can break with his past and make a qualitative leap in his evolution was common in nineteenth-century Indian thought. The argument is simple: if homo sapiens, the current stage in our development, is the product of our having evolved from the apes, why can we not imagine that man will mutate again and turn into a more spiritual being, one who is less attached to the material realm, more committed to his relationship with his neighbours and less rapacious with regard to the rest of the universe?


Seeing that this evolution is bound up with the question of consciousness, why don’t we consciously try and take the first step in the right direction? There couldn’t be a better time to do so, now that this homo sapiens has reached the peak of his might, including his ability to destroy himself with those weapons he so unwisely created.


Let’s take a look in the mirror. There can be no doubt that we’ve made enormous progress in the previous millennia. We’ve learnt to fly like birds, swim under water like fish, land on the moon and send probes as far as Mars. Now we can even clone life. Yet despite all this, we’re not at peace with ourselves or the world around us. We’ve trampled the earth, polluted rivers and lakes, cut down entire forests and made life hell for the animals, apart from the few we call our friends and pamper till they meet our need of a substitute for human company.


Air, water, earth and fire, which all ancient civilizations saw as the primary elements of life and hence sacred, were once capable of self-regeneration. Not any more, since man succeeded in dominating them and manipulating their power to his own ends. Their sacred unity has been polluted, the balance shattered.


Great material progress has not been matched by great spiritual progress. Quite the opposite. Indeed, from this point of view perhaps man has never been so poor as since he became so rich. This is why man should now consciously reverse this trend and wrest back control of that most extraordinary tool, his mind. Thus far man has used his mind mostly to understand and take possession of the world outside him, as if this were the sole source of our elusive happiness. Now it’s time for him to re-apply his mind to exploring the inner world and the knowledge of the self.


Are these the barmy ideas of some fakir on a bed of nails? No, not at all. They’re ideas which have been gaining ground in the world for some time now. They’ve gained ground in the West, where the systems they are meant to be directed against have already swallowed them back up and turned them into the products of an immense alternative market which ranges from yoga classes to meditation courses, from aromatherapy to spiritual vacations for those who are tired of chasing after the hare of material happiness. These ideas are also gaining ground in the Muslim world, torn between tradition and modernity, where the traditional meaning of jihad is being rediscovered, not just a holy war against an external enemy but an inner holy war, against man’s basest instincts and passions.


Thus we shouldn’t just write off the possibility that man can aspire to higher things in the course of his spiritual development. The point is not to continue blindly on in the same direction we’re taking at the moment. This direction is madness, as are the wars of Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. Both of them use the name of God, but their massacres are not any more divine because of it.


So let’s call a halt. Let’s imagine the present from the point of view of our great-grandchildren. Let’s look at today from the perspective of tomorrow, so we don’t have to regret having missed an opportunity. The chance we now have is to understand once and for all that the world is one, that every part has its meaning, that it’s possible to replace the logic of competition with the ethic of co-existence, that no-one has a monopoly on anything, that the idea that one civilization can be superior to another is the product of ignorance, that harmony, like beauty, lies in the balance of opposites, and that to eliminate one of these opposites is pure sacrilege. What would day be like without night? or life without death?


By the same token, we cannot today imagine that we can keep a large part of the world poor while our bit of the globe gets richer and richer. Sooner or later, in one form or another, the bill will be laid at our feet, whether it’s man or nature herself who’ll bring it to us.

Every one of us can do something. Together we can do thousands of things.

The war against terrorism is being used today to militarize our society, to produce new weapons and increase defence spending. Let’s oppose this, and refuse to vote for anyone who’s behind such policies. Let’s check where we’ve invested our savings, and withdraw them from any company that’s even remotely linked to the arms industry. Let’s say what we know and feel to be the truth, that killing under all circumstances is murder.


Let’s talk about peace, and introduce a culture of peace into our children’s education. Why should we always teach history as if it were an unending sequence of wars and massacres? The causes of war are to be found within us, more than they are outside us. They are to be found in passions such as desire, fear, insecurity, greed and vanity. Gradually we have to rid ourselves of them. We need a change of attitude. Let’s do more of what is right, and less of what’s just convenient. And let’s bring our children up to be honest rather than crafty. Let’s restore certain traditions of good behaviour, even to the point of reclaiming our language from the kind of talk where the word “God” has become a kind of obscenity. Let’s go back to talking about “making love” rather than “having sex”. Even this will make a big difference in the long run. It’s time to move out into the open, time to make a stand for the values we believe in. A society gains much more strength by its moral resolution than it does by acquiring new weapons.


Above all, let’s stop, take time to think, hold our tongues. Often we feel tormented by the life we lead, like the man who flees in terror from his own shadow and the echoes of his own footsteps. The more he runs, the more his shadow seems to stalk him, the more he hears his own footsteps clatter, the more he is frightened. Until he stops and sits in the shade of a tree. Let’s do the same. Viewed from the perspective of the future, these are days in which it’s still possible to do something. So let’s do it, sometimes on our own, sometimes all together. It’s an opportunity. The road is a long one, and in parts still to be invented. But would we rather take the path of brutalization which lies before us, or the even quicker one which leads straight to our extinction?


So have a good journey – outside as well as inside !