Can thought reveal the meaning of life?
A mind that seeks truth must be free of the observer
4th Public Talk, Saanen
July 22, 1973
I'm sorry the weather is so bad.
We have been talking about the need of a deep psychological change. We have considered, during the last three talks here, how immensely important it is that there should be, in each one, this fundamental revolution in the whole nature of our minds. Because we see what the world is, of which we are, and we have made this world what it is, and we have considered together the manner of this revolution. I would like, if I may this morning, to approach the problem differently.
We said that all the structure of thought, whether it is religious, economic or social, is based on time, and the nature and the structure of the mind is time. And when we last met here we talked about it. And this morning, to come upon it from a different approach, I think we ought to consider what is the meaning of life, and whether we can live in this world, though we are not of it. We talked about it considerably during the last three talks.
Now what is the meaning of life? Because I think if we could understand that, not verbally, not merely intellectually, structurally, linguistically, but seriously go into it and find out for ourselves what is the meaning of life. And then perhaps we shall be able to find out for ourselves how to live in this world, though we may, at least some of us, being serious, have turned away from it.
I think there is a difference between the purpose of life and the meaning of life. One can project a purpose, a goal, an end, depending on one's environment, the culture in which one has been brought up, or one's own idiosyncrasy, temperament, out of one's own background one can project a purpose of life. The intellectuals have done it, the religious authorities have done it, and our own desire to have a purpose.
Now, I think the meaning of existence is different. You can't invent a meaning. You can deceive yourself, you can say to yourself, 'This is the meaning of my life' - again depending on your economic, social, religious background, depending on your tendency, the cultural depth. To me both are utterly meaningless because they do not reveal the real significance, meaning of life. And when we ask what is the meaning of life, is it a reaction, because we find that life as we live now has no meaning whatsoever - the daily routine, the office, the factory, the labour, endless travail, struggle in our relationship with each other, the sense of lack of love, loneliness, weary years, and then ultimately die. This existence of life, as it is now, has very little meaning, or none at all.
The religious people throughout the world have tried to give a meaning - saints, saviours, the various gurus - apparently they are springing like mushrooms in this country, in the world, and don't eat these mushrooms, they are dangerous! They have invented according to their particular experience, according to their conditioning, a purpose and a meaning to life. Again based on their rationalisation, if you are intellectual, and if you are religiously inclined, on their conditioning according to their particular sect, religious belief and so on. As we said, they are essentially based on the whole movement of thought. Thought is knowledge, experience, memory. And whatever the culture in which one has been brought up, and according to that culture and background one can project, invent, imagine, linguistically, emotionally, intellectually a meaning to life. And without finding it out for ourselves, not according to any 'philosopher' - I really don't like to use that word 'philosopher' because the word means the love of truth in daily life, not a clever, cunning, highly educated mind that invents a theory. And such people are called philosophers. Intellectually they may invent, or by their very clever reasoning project or give a meaning to life. And we generally accept such meaning, because we have no meaning to our life, and if there is somebody who says, 'This is the meaning of life', we are only too eager, delighted to accept what others have said.
And it is important now to find out, if you are serious at all, and if you have rejected completely the purposes, the meaning which others have given, or you have given out of your own suffering, out of your own loneliness, out of your own feeling that life has no meaning, therefore you have to invent a meaning, if you can reject all that, put aside all that - which is quite an arduous thing to do because we like to cling to our own particular beliefs, to our own particular experiences, to our own desire to find something that has a meaning. Now if one can put aside all that, because they are all illusions, they have no meaning. Verbally they may have a meaning, ideologically, but in substance, in reality, as an actual fact in daily life they have no meaning whatsoever.
Now if you and the speaker together share this question in all seriousness, committing ourselves totally to find out: what is the meaning of life? Has it any meaning at all? And if you are putting that question: has it any meaning? - are you putting it as a reaction because you find it has no meaning? Or are you putting it to find out, to enquire, to investigate? Then if you are investigating, enquiring, then we can share that together. But if you have a purpose, a meaning, and the speaker or another has no purpose or a meaning, then we cannot possibly share. We can only share that which both of us are aware, know the significance and the intention of.
So that being clear, let's proceed to find out if there is a meaning to life because it is necessary, absolutely necessary because modern culture, or ancient culture have imposed on us certain values, certain moralities. The religious structure has given us a background of a purpose - heaven and hell - you know, all that. Now a mind that is really very serious, and we are here for that purpose, we are serious, at least some of us, I hope so. As we said, this in not an entertainment, intellectual, verbal, or religious entertainment. The speaker is very serious, and if you are also very serious then we can meet together, we can talk over together, share together.
Now how are you going to find out what is the purpose of life? Because once you discover it as a reality, not as an idea, as something somebody else has projected, or you yourself have projected, but if you can discover for yourself the purpose, the meaning of life - the meaning, the significance, the depth, the beauty - then it has a relationship with regard to your actions, with regard to your relationship with another, with regard to your whole living. So how do we begin to enquire: what is the meaning of life? Will thought reveal it - thinking about it, rationalising, discussing and trying to find out the truth through opinions, which is dialectic? You may have an opinion of what the meaning of life is, and another may have another meaning, and through exchange of opinions, reason, can you come upon the truth of what is the meaning of life? You are following? We are taking a journey together into this matter. You are not merely listening to a speaker, to a lot of words, or ideas or imagination. We are actually together sharing this problem, seriously. So through opinions you cannot find it. So you have to discard opinions. Right? Can you discard actually? If you have, then can you find it through very careful analysis? Analysis, as we explained the other day, is a process of paralysis - right? - paralysis through analysis! We went into that the other day. And can you discover it through the movement of time, as thought? Please, are you following all this? Am I making Right.
Is it a matter of time? That is, investigating through the process of thinking what others have said, or through careful rationalisation - which thought can do excellently, objectively. So can thought reveal the meaning of life? Thought, as we said, is the movement within the area of time. Thought is time. And our brain, and the whole structure of our mind is based on time.
So we have these problems, opinion, what others have said, whether it is Mao, Lenin, various saviours, gurus, intellectuals, you accept them or reject them, or through the capacity of a mind that can think very clearly and logically and say to itself, 'This is the meaning of life' - can thought do that? Thought being the response of memory, knowledge, experience, which is the past. So can the past reveal the full meaning of life? You understand this? We have got these three things, which are really one, but it doesn't matter. For the moment we will look at them separately. Opinion; what others have said, the saints, the saviours, the teachers, the books; and your own thought. So can you depend on your thought? And you may not be perfectly balanced, most of us are slightly neurotic. And can you depend on what others have said, it doesn't matter who it is? - the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Indian books and so on and so on. And also can you depend on your own thinking? Have you sufficient confidence - that isn't the word - have you sufficient knowledge which you have put to the test to find out. You have understood?
So we can reject opinion, what others say, what the meaning of life is to you, what others have said. It is only the fools who advise! So we can reject that without too much thought.
Then can you look at your culture, of which you are a part, the culture that says, 'The meaning of life is this, work endlessly, in the office, in the factory and bear the responsibility of a family' - and your culture says, whether it is this culture, western culture or culture, it doesn't matter, all cultures are more or less the same, says that you will live in heaven if you are good on earth. And that is the meaning of life, going to heaven! And also your culture says, 'Why bother what the meaning of life is, just live, put up with the ugliness, the beastly existence, the sorrow, the pain, the anxiety, the pleasures, the fears, the utter boredom, the loneliness, put up with it - that is part of your life, you can't go beyond it, therefore enjoy, therefore make pleasure as the main thing of your life'. Right? And that is what you are doing.
So we are asking: is pleasure the full meaning of life? And that is what you want, that is what you are seeking, a permanent, enduring, continuous pleasure - right? - not only sexually, but also in your relationship with others. The pleasure, which you derive in work, in fulfilment, in becoming ambitious, achievement, success, in possession, either of ideas or of things - right? - so the principle of pleasure is for most people the meaning of life. Right? Please let's be terribly honest. We can so easily deceive ourselves. And in the pursuit of pleasure fulfilment becomes extraordinarily important - sexually, fulfilment of your desires, fulfilment to be somebody important, famous, successful - all that. Now is pleasure the full deep meaning of life? Which is what you want. Right? Is that the meaning of life? If you accept that, as you do, that is the meaning of life - the fulfilment, the self aggrandisement, the sexual pleasures, the pleasure of competition, success, wanting to be known, self-importance, self-centred activity, all that gives pleasure. If that is the meaning of life then life becomes terribly superficial - doesn't it? And that is what we have done. Follow this. That is what we have done actually. We have made life, in the pursuit of pleasure, very superficial. Haven't you noticed it? You may be very clever, you may be a great artist, pianist, or whatever you are, expert, a good or swindling politician, whatever it is, but it is all on the surface.
So knowing that it is superficial life, then you ask: is there not a deeper meaning? You follow? After having made life superficial in the pursuit of pleasure, then as a reaction to that we say that life must have a much deeper meaning. So we begin to investigate the deeper meaning. Which is, joining sects - follow all this - joining groups, investigating into occultism, into telepathy, extra sensory perception - you know, all the things - hoping to give life a deeper meaning. Right? Look at yourself in your mirror. And when you are doing that, naturally gurus spring up like mushrooms, and that indicates degeneracy. Then if you are a Catholic, you drop that and become a Hindu, if you are a Hindu you drop that and become something else, and play this game endlessly, thinking you are digging very, very deeply, but your intention is the pursuit of pleasure.
So is pleasure, in different forms, you understand, not one form, the whole content of pleasure, which expresses itself in different ways, the quality of it, is that the meaning of life? If it is then you will depend on others. Right? Sexually you are attached to others, you cannot possibly stand alone. Intellectually you must be stimulated, entertained, you must have companionship, you are afraid of your loneliness; so property, things become extraordinarily important, your houses, your furniture, the property, land. And if you have no land, property, things, then you have things of the mind. I hope you are following all this - your beliefs, your ideals, your experiences, the visions that you have. So where pleasure is the principle, is the full meaning of life, then you must depend on things and therefore from that comes fear. I don't know if you are following all this. If I depend on you for my pleasure, physically, psychologically, intellectually, or so-called spiritually, in that dependence there is anxiety, there is fear, there is incessant sense of insecurity. Right? Do look at it, for god's sake look at it. And that is your life - fear, the sense of loneliness because you depend on others, which you have covered up through dependence, and when that dependence is shaken you become anxious, jealous, furious, hateful, antagonistic, violent, those are all the issues of the pursuit of pleasure. That is your culture, of which you are, and you are the world and the world is you.
And there is the fear of death, obviously, which we will discuss at another meeting.
So is that the meaning of life, the life that you are leading? Then if it is not, or if it is, what are we going to do? You can't discard pleasure, you can't say like the monks did of former days, 'I won't have pleasure, and in that place of having pleasure I'll put the image which I have created by my mind in its place', whether it is Jesus or Krishna or Buddha - you follow? Oh wake up! For god's sake wake up!
I was once walking behind a group of priests and monks, high up in the mountains. It was the most beautiful country, the lakes, the water and the trees, in the spring time, the birds were full of enchantment, the sky was clear bright blue, everything was singing. The waters were playing, dreaming, rushing over rocks. And these monks and priests, about a dozen of them, never looked at the sky, never looked at the beauty of the land. They were so immersed in the image of their own salvation, of their own ideas, of their own meditation, they never looked. And it was their pleasure. And because they were monks they had given up the world, sacrificed, they were respected people, but essentially they were pursuing pleasure. And remove their image, take away from them their ideas, their sense of what enlightenment is, they are lost, they are frightened, therefore they cling, as we do.
So can pleasure be discarded and say, 'I won't have pleasure', as the monks do and because they have said it, and because they want it, they are breaking all that up, getting married and you know all the games they are playing. But holding on to their own particular ideas of salvation, saviours and all that.
So pleasure cannot be denied. When you look at a mountain, a lovely tree, when you listen to the waters, or when you see a beautiful face, you can't deny pleasure, there is beauty. But the demand for it, the pursuit of it, the desire to continue, there begins the mischief. You are following all this?
Audience: We can't hear.
K: You can't hear? Why tell me after nearly an hour that you can't hear? Isn't it very strange? I have been talking for nearly an hour and you are telling me at the end of an hour that you can't hear. You are a rummy crowd! I'll speak a little louder and keep near the microphone. Can you hear better now sir?
So we have to understand, one has to understand how pleasure arises, what place it has in life, and why the mind pursues, demands, insists on pleasure. If you understand that, really, not verbally, but in your heart, in your brain, in your whole structure, then all the complex results of the pursuit of pleasure come to an end. That is, how does desire, which becomes pleasure, how does it arise? Right? I hope you are asking the same question. I want to find out why the mind, and of course the brain and all the rest of it, why does the mind insist and pursue pleasure? Why? We know it is part of our culture, it is part of our background. We are educated from childhood to pursue pleasure, in schools, competition, copy, imitation, we are educated to the pursuit of pleasure. And what is pleasure? Why does the mind insist on this? Right?
So I have to ask what is desire? Because desire is closely related to pleasure. Right? I hope you are following this. So we are enquiring what is desire. We are not saying that desire must be killed, or that pleasure must be denied, and replaced by something else. We are enquiring into the nature of pleasure and into the nature of desire. If the mind can understand it - I'm sorry I have to compete with the rain - if the mind can understand it non-verbally but actually, then I will see the meaning of pleasure. So what is desire? How does it come about? And can it be controlled? And why should it be controlled? You are following? So I am going to find out, we are enquiring together, sharing together, what is the movement of desire which turns into pleasure. Right? Are we going together?
First of all there is visual perception, the seeing with the eyes: you see something, a beautiful object, the perception creates in one, it stimulates, from that stimulation there is sensation - watch it in yourself, I don't have to tell you if you watch it - you see something beautiful, there is sensation, then you want to touch it, then you want to own it, then you want to possess it, take it. Right? So there is perception, sensation, contact, desire. You see this? The seeing stimulates sensation, sensation then becomes the desire; sensation, contact, desire. Now can the mind stop there, not say, 'I must possess it, I must have it' - I wonder if you are understanding this? The moment the mind says, 'I must have it', it has become pleasure. Are you following this? I see a beautiful picture, a lovely statue - I have seen so many lovely statues in the world, in the Louvre, in India, in all the various dead museums - you see it, sensation, the lines, the shape and the movement, and the depth and the quality of it. Then you want to hold it in your hands, you want to feel it. Then you want to take it home, put it in your room and look at it. So can the mind observe, see, the sensation, the contact, desire, and end there? You understand what I am saying? The moment it goes beyond it has turned into pleasure. I wonder if you get this? If you see this, not verbally, but actually feel this then there is no control of pleasure. I see the beautiful sunset, or the lovely moonlight, clear, a tropical moonlight, stars so close you can almost touch them. And - listen to this - you see it, that very experience has left a mark on the mind, then the mind says, 'The next day I must have it'. And the demand for that experience for the next day is the pursuit of pleasure. Whereas to see that moonlight, or the clear evening star, see it and observe it totally, and completely end it so that it has no movement as pleasure, as tomorrow. You understand all this? That requires tremendous attention, an awareness of the whole movement of desire. The movement of desire as pleasure is the movement of thought, which is time.
So if you can have this complete attention, when you observe, then you will see for yourself that fear, which dogs most of us, which is part of our culture, part of our consciousness, then you may be able to investigate fear in terms of pleasure. And without understanding pleasure you will never be free of fear. I wonder if you get this.
So is pleasure, we haven't finished the whole problem of it yet, perhaps we will do it on Tuesday, is pleasure the meaning of life? Because we must settle that, you follow? We must find out for ourselves what is the meaning of life, because when one has found that the whole meaning of relationship, which is love, has quite a different meaning.
So if you have put away opinion; what others have said the meaning of life is, it doesn't matter who it is, your saviours, your gods, your priests, your books; and also you have put away all the imaginations, contrivances, the cunning speculative thoughts, then you come to the basic issue, which is pleasure. And is pleasure the meaning of life? And if it is then you will make the world what it is now, a monstrous superficial meaningless existence, a commercial consuming society destroying the world. Then what is the meaning of life - knowing that you are not discarding pleasure? How can you discard the beauty of the earth, the seeing of it, the beauty of a bough, a tree, or the beauty of a line? So if you understand really the full meaning of that, then what is the meaning of life? You have understood? Are we together so far? If you are not, sorry, I am awfully sorry if you are not. What am I to do, I have talked enough about it.
Then what is the quality of your mind when opinion has no place in it, belief has no place in it, when what others or the culture says has no place in it? And also you have seen the meaning, the structure and the nature of pleasure and desire, what is the quality of the mind - the quality of that mind that has seen this, seen the whole movement of this, not just one particular part of it, but the whole structure, the nature, the inwardness of all that? What is the quality of that mind?
You know when you empty any vessel, then the vessel becomes extraordinarily important because it can contain something new. You understand? Are you following? Please just listen to this for a moment. What we have said is really the emptying of the mind of its content. The content is the past, the past is knowledge, experience, memory, out of which comes, as a reaction, thought, which is movement in time. All that is the content. What we have done this morning and previous talks, is to see the content and the very observation of that content is the emptying of that.
Now the mind is always seeking something permanent - permanent in your relationship with another, permanency of your position, of your character, of your status, permanency of your house. And is the pursuit of permanency the meaning of life? Permanency in your relationship with another, wife, husband, boy, girl, all the rest of it. Again based on pleasure. Attachment in the hope of having a complete permanency. Right?
So can the mind realise that there is nothing absolutely permanent? Which doesn't mean irresponsibility in relationship, which is what you are doing now. I have lived with a woman for the last two years, I get bored and so we get divorced and go off with somebody else. And if that doesn't come off, go off to something else - permanency as pleasure. And is there anything permanent? Your very cells are changing, every seven years or so the cells of your body are changing. There is nothing permanent. But the mind keeps on wanting something permanent. And that is why property becomes extraordinarily important, money, at least there is permanency. That is why knowledge becomes extraordinarily important, books. So can the mind see this? The very perceiving of that which is false releases it from the false. So.
And the mind also wants something sacred in life. I used to know a man. One day he was walking in the woods and he picked up a piece of branch, shaped like a human face. He said it was really the most beautiful thing he had seen, carved by sun, rains, winds and friction. He took it home and put it on a mantelpiece. And it became more and more beautiful. He saw more things in it. And one day he picked up a flower, and put it beside it. And every day he used to put a new flower, a fresh flower, with greater perfume. Until gradually at the end of time it became the most sacred thing in his life. That is what we are doing. That is part of our culture. The image created by the mind or by the hand. All your churches are filled with it, temples. And that is what we call sacred. Sacred books, sacred people - you follow? - images. And to find out, apart from all this rubbish, to find out if there is something really sacred, not imagined, not put together by thought, or what some saint or somebody else says is sacred - put aside all that totally, and to find out for oneself if there is anything sacred - anything. That required a mind that is fresh, empty of everything that people have said of what is sacred.
So if you can do all this, and you have to do it if you are serious, if you want to live a different kind of life, a different kind of existence, a real revolution in one's own actions, then one has to empty the mind the mind must empty itself of all its content. Then what is the purpose of existence? Then what is the meaning of living? Is it suffering? Is it this constant battle within oneself and with another, this competition, this success, this desire to fulfil, this desire to identify oneself with something, or with oneself? Then if you can be empty of all this, then you will find out. That is real that demands real attention, great perception, subtlety, real denial, not verbal denial. Then you will find out - which is not a verbal statement of a fact but the actuality without the description. Right sir.