What is the most fundamental question in life?
5th Public Talk, Bombay
February 07, 1981
As there are going to be this talk this evening and tomorrow evening, I think we ought to consider what is the most important thing in life. Most of us generally accept things as they are, or revolt against them and join some institution, some organisation, follow somebody. The more amusing, entertaining, the more promising, we accept very easily, thinking that we are going to arrive or get or achieve some kind of ultimate pleasure, and we never consider what is most important in our existence. Our existence is so full of labour, travail, anxiety, every form of problems, both mechanical and psychological, and if we are at all serious, not join any particular group, or organisation or led by some guru - who are really not serious at all -we should ask what does it all mean, the existence that we lead, what is the meaning of all this work, misery, confusion, a sense of meaningless existence. You may go to the office every day for the rest of your life from 9.0 o'clock to whatever it is and labour there or practise some kind of meditation day after day, following a certain system or get lost in the mediocrity of this world, but when we ask ourselves what is the most important thing in our existence, actually not theoretically, not an abstraction but in our daily existence, what is the most essential thing? Is it seeking some kind of comfort, physical or psychological? Is it something to escape from our constant urge with all its pain, to fulfil, to become. Is it that we want somebody to guide us because we are so confused, so uncertain, we want somebody to lead us, to tell us what to do?
So one should I think ask, what is the most fundamental question in our life, which in the understanding of it will reveal the whole psychological structure with its inhibitions, with its restraints, with it traditional discipline or revolt from that discipline. So we should demand of ourselves what is the essential movement which, if one can understand it fully, will go very far. As we said the other day and at every talk we have repeated, we are together investigating, together we are exploring into this question, together, please let us clearly understand that. Most of us are accustomed to be talked at or listen to some kind of theoretical or satisfying issue or translate what you hear to your own particular narrow groove, or one is serious enough to demand of oneself this question. So please, if one may point out again, we are together walking on the same road, on the same path, together examining this question.
Is it not the most important thing to know yourself, whatever you are, because that is the source from which all our action, our ideas, our thoughts, our theories, our longings are based - to know oneself, that is, to have knowledge about oneself. Not who am I, but rather what is the whole structure which makes up the idea of 'me': me, my ego, my demands, my pleasures, all that. Self-knowledge has been, from the ancient of days, asserted. People have said, know yourself first, and apparently it is one of the most difficult things to know oneself, and we join groups, and through various forms of dialogues, experiences, hope to reveal ourselves. There are those psychological philosophers who say, man cannot be changed. He is conditioned and improve that conditioning. And I think we should this evening, if you will, follow this question and enquire, look into ourselves. The speaker can only act as a mirror, the words that he uses are an indication; the words themselves are not the actual reality. They are a means of communication with each other.
So together let us enquire into this whole question of knowing oneself. First of all in that enquiry one must ask: what is knowledge? Knowledge obviously is the accumulation of experiences, accumulation of a million years of man's existence. We are not only talking about the technological knowledge which is so rapidly advancing but also the psychological knowledge. One has read various volumes about oneself: what you are, or what you should be. Various theories have been propagated but if we could put aside what others have said, however professional, however ancient, whatever the tradition may be, if we could put all that aside, that is, the authority of tradition, the authority of your gurus, the authority of the psychologists, the psychoanalysts and so on, so that your mind is free to observe for yourself, not according to somebody else. Can we do that or it is one of the most difficult things to put aside. Please enquire into yourself whether it is possible for you to set aside every form of psychological authority and enquire for yourself. If you don't, you merely remain a second hand human being. That is not an insult. You are merely repeating what others have said, of what you are, in what manner or assert various forms of your psychological existence. If we could put aside all that and come to it afresh, then there is a possibility of enquiring into the nature of oneself very deeply and perhaps one can go very deeply, far in this enquiry.
So as we said, self-knowledge, knowing oneself - what is oneself? What are you? You go to the office every day, earn a livelihood, been educated, so-called educated with a name, and a form, certain attributes, qualities, tendencies, idiosyncrasies, certain urges, sexual, urges for power, position, status and all that. So actually what are you? That is to know what you actually are. How will you enquire into this? You have only one instrument, which is thought. Please see that thought is our only instrument of enquiry, and thought is the result, the outcome, the excrescence of memory stored up in the brain, which is knowledge born out of experience. So thought is the only instrument that we have in our enquiry into the whole psychological structure of each one of us. Right, sir? We are not analysing, analysis does not lead us anywhere. I will make all this very clear. First of all, who is the analyser and the analysed? Please see it for yourself, when you say, I'll analyse my motives, my despairs, anxieties, sorrow, loneliness and so on, when you begin to analyse, as most of us do, who is the analyser and what is analysed? Is there a difference between the analyser and the analysis and that which is analysed? Do you understand? Please follow this a little bit, if you will. The analyser is put together by thought. The analyser is one we think who is separate from that which is analysing. We are talking about the psychological world not the analytical process of science, but only the psychological structure of the 'me', of the 'you'.
We are trained, educated by tradition, by education to analyse ourselves. The whole psychological, psychiatric world is a process of analysis. So we should be very clear with regard to this. Is the analyser different from the analysed? Please ask, question. If one is angry or envious, when you analyse that envy, is the analyser different from the anger, the envy? You are following all this? Or the analyser is the analysed. Right? Because when you are angry or envious you are that envy, you are not different from that reaction called envy. But we have separated anger, envy and the 'me' who is going to analyse envy. Is this clear? Please do not accept anything the speaker says. That is the first thing to understand. We are together examining this.
In the process of analysis, time is required. Right? Time for the analyser to find the cause of the event, or the reaction or the inhibition, and so time, the division between the analyser and the analysed, all that is taking place. So when one realises or perceives the truth that the analyser is the analysed. Right? So we are now going to enquire, or observe rather, a better word than enquire, we are together going to observe the whole psychological structure without analysis. When you observe, do you observe as an outsider looking at something from the outside or do you observe without the outsider interfering in his observation? I will explain this. See, thought has created the observer or the past with all its tradition, the past is observing. The past is the observer, is the thinker, and thought we think is separate from the thinker. The thinker is the thought. There is no thinker apart from thought. There is no experiencer apart from experience. They are both are the same.
So, can you observe yourself not as an outsider looking in but observe yourself as - observe every reaction, every movement of thought, of depression, anxiety, just observe, not analyse? Right? Can we do that? To observe without judgement, without condemnation without any form of thought interfering in your observation. Can we do that? Can you observe a tree without giving it a name but merely observing that which is there? Can you observe yourself in that manner? In observing yourself do you observe every reaction that you have, which is anger, jealousy, despair and so on, so on and so on, do you observe yourself without the previous knowledge which you have acquired about yourself? I wonder if you see this. Sir, let's put it very simply. I want to know myself because, without knowing myself, not from others, actually knowing myself, what I am, how can I find out what is right action, how can I find out what is love, what is meditation? How can I find out if there is any possibility of ending sorrow? How can I find out if there is an end to loneliness, despair, anxiety, all the misery and confusion in which one lives? So it is very important, it is essential that we understand ourselves and to understand ourselves I must look at myself. As you look in the mirror, so can one look at oneself without distorting what you see. You distort the moment you want to change it, that is, if you are envious, to observe it, not say, I must change it, or indulge in it but just to observe it without any motive, for then you are beginning to learn about yourself. Right?
Are we doing this together now, not when you are go home, then it is too late, but here, sitting, having leisure and I hope not too tired, to watch yourself, to observe the nature of your thinking, what is thinking, why you act in a certain way, why you meditate, why you put on these peculiar robes and so on and so on and so on. And we are enquiring into sorrow which is part of man, part of you, which is you. Sorrow is not different from you. Right? You are sorrow. When you feel sorrow, we try to run away, all kinds of things take place. So we are going to enquire together, observe together the nature of sorrow which is man's immemorial burden and see if we can put an end to it, not temporarily but completely because where there is sorrow there is no love, there is no passion, there is no compassion, and without ending sorrow there is no meditation. So it is important if we are at all serious, to enquire whether sorrow can end.
There is not only personal sorrow but also the sorrow of mankind. The sorrow that man has carried with him through all the wars; the sorrow of thousands and millions of people who have cried; the sorrow of millions and millions of people killed because of our nationalism, our tribalism, killed through our beliefs. There have been wars for the last 5,000 years historically, practically every year somewhere or other in the world. There is that tremendous sorrow of the brutality of killing somebody. All that is there. And also one's personal sorrow. You lose somebody; death intervenes; your sorrow of not being loved or loving not finding the right person to love. There is the sorrow of ignorance, perhaps that's the greatest sorrow, not ignorance of books, but the ignorance of oneself, ignorance of the illusions in which we live with all the fanciful day-dreaming and so on, there is this immense sorrow of mankind. Can it ever end?
So we are together enquiring, observing the nature of sorrow. Then there are many factors that bring about sorrow: the factor of death which reveals loneliness, losing somebody whom you have loved, in whom you have put all your hope, all your intimate reactions and that person is gone - brother, wife, husband, son and so on. There is that factor of loneliness which is one of the reasons why this sorrow is. Sorrow is also a form of self indulgence. So as we said, we are not analysing the causes of sorrow. We are only observing sorrow. Please, let's be very clear in this matter. Observing, looking not moving away from that which is, which is sorrow, moving away in the sense, escaping from it, avoiding it, finding reasons, wanting comfort and so on, which are all avoiding the central factor of sorrow. To observe that and not move away from that. Can you so observe the sorrow that one has without any desire to run away, to translate, to escape, to submerge all that without any movement, just to live with that, can you, are you doing it or are you off in some kind of dreamy illusion? Please see the importance that without understanding, without ending sorrow there is no love. And without love life has no meaning. You may be very rich, you may have all your desires fulfilled, because desire and pleasure is not love. And in your relationship with another, whether it is a woman or a man, without that love you merely pursue your own narrow pleasure.
So it is very important, because we have destroyed love in this country, and perhaps also in the other parts of the western world. So it becomes utmost important and urgent to find out for ourselves whether there is an ending to sorrow. There is an ending to sorrow if one remains completely with it, hold it as you hold a precious baby, hold it in your heart, in your brain, remain with it. And you will find it is extraordinarily arduous because we are so conditioned that the instant reaction is to get away from it; but if you can remain with it then you will find that there is an ending to sorrow, totally, which doesn't mean that you become insensitive to sorrow. Please listen to this. You may end sorrow, sorrow may end, but you are not insensitive to sorrow of others. You understand? I am sorry I said that!
And also we ought to ask the question, what is love. Most of us are so embroiled, so caught up in pleasure. And we have translated love into pleasure, sexual pleasure, and there is always this absurd, nonsensical theory that through sex you achieve heaven, which is through pleasure, or going beyond through pleasure. First indulge and then go beyond it. Which is absurd. But if we understand what love is then we will be able to understand the nature of pleasure and desire. So we are asking, what is love. Why doesn't it exist? Is love attachment? Please, we are enquiring together into a most serious thing, because if we are not clear of all this, whatever you meditate has no meaning whatsoever. You may sit by the hour in any posture you like, breathe and all kinds of nonsensical processes one goes through, but without understanding love, without ending fear, without understanding the nature of pleasure and the ending of sorrow, meditation has no meaning whatsoever. If you are frightened, there is fear in you when you meditate, it will inevitably lead to some kind of illusion. So we must be watchful, aware and find out, discover what love is.
Obviously, love is not attachment. If you are attached to your husband, to your wife, or to your family, that attachment leads to corruption. I am sure you may not like to hear all this, but one has to look at it very carefully. As we said, attachment leads to corruption. Corruption is when you are attached you are frightened, you are jealous, you are anxious, you are uncertain, the more you are attached, the more the corruption is, whether you are attached to a belief, to an ideal, to a person, to a concept, to a symbol. Obviously, if you observe it, attachment in any form, of any kind, must inevitably lead to corruption. So love is not attachment. It is not that you search out and cultivate detachment. Detachment is another form of attachment. So is love jealousy? When you love somebody and you are pursuing your own ambition, your own desire, your own particular form of idiosyncrasy, can you love another when you are ambitious, competitive, seeking your own fulfilment? Then in that relationship it is exploitation, it is not love. So can you, hearing all this, hearing the truth of it, it is not an invention of the speaker, these are facts, can you observe that fact without any resistance, see the truth of it? Then the very hearing of that statement, that attachment is corruption, is the ending of that attachment. And when you hear the truth - it is not my truth, or your truth - the truth that where there is love there cannot be any form of desire. Desire is merely the outcome of sensation, thought using that sensation to further pleasure. Desire, pleasure, attachment, jealousy, has no existence where love is. You may have innumerable theories about love, but that is not love. The word is not the thing. Please, explanation is not the actuality.
So without understanding that, life, whatever you do, you may be a great scientist with all the accumulated knowledge of the past, adding to that past new concepts, new inventions, exploring the nature of the atom and so on and so on, without love the scientist is creating misery in the world. He may have the Nobel prize, but if there is no love he is bringing danger to man.
And also we should enquire what is the relationship between love, living, existence and death. One hopes you are not tired and we can go into this question. What is the relationship between the living, the life and death? We are always asking what lies after death, what is beyond, the unknown? That is our constant enquiry. Volumes have been written about it, but we never ask what is before death. Do you understand? Not after death, what is before death, before our brain, our organs, through disease, through accident, through malnutrition, through drink, drugs, smoking, through various forms of self-indulgence and the body withers, dies. Before it dies we ought to ask, what is before death. Please ask yourself that question. That is, what are you doing, what's your life, what are your ways of earning a livelihood, what's your existence now, actually as it is? Whether it is constant conflict, constant strife between yourself and another, constant becoming from what you are to what you should be, through prayer, through meditation, through all kinds of things, your daily life, which is, what's your relationship to another, to your wife, to your husband, to your children, to your neighbour. That is far more important than what lies after death. So can you look at your life without distorting it, without any motive, just to look at it - your going to the office day after day, day after day, for fifty years, your accumulation of money, power, position, your accepting authority of another in the religious world, in the so-called psychological world, in the so-called spiritual world. If you have any form of authority in the spiritual world you are not spiritual, you may struggle for it, but if there is any authority you are not really a religious man. We will go into that another time.
So what's your life? Not after death, but now? If you believe in reincarnation, as most of you do, probably, that is, you will be born next life. Look at it, sirs, what are you? You who hope to meet your son, your wife, your husband next life, what are you? Is there anything permanent in you, which is not put by thought as permanent? Is there anything that is enduring, which is timeless? We can invent that there is something in me which is timeless, which is the atman, you know all that, theories - we are not dealing with theories. Theories are poison. We are dealing with actuality, what is going on in our daily life: the hypocrisy, the deceit, the corruption, yielding to something from which you hope to get profit, psychological or financial. This is your life now. And if you believe in reincarnation, what is most important then is what you do now because that is going to affect your next life, but you don't believe in your next life, that's just a theory, a comforting, hypocritical way of living.
And why do we separate life, living with death? You understand? Living is this colossal mess that we have made for ourselves: the pain, the grief, the sorrow, the uncertainty, the insecurity, searching for security, that's our life. And we are frightened to end this. I know, it is obvious that you will listen to all this but you won't do anything about it. That is the greatest, one of the great sorrows of life, hear the truth and not do a thing, because we are so heavily conditioned, afraid and so on. So if we don't understand our life, the way we live, then we are afraid of death. So can we while living, energetic, alive, aware of all the beauty and the ugliness of existence, invite death? Not jump out of the thirtieth floor, not commit suicide, we don't mean that, invite death, which is to end. Death, when there is death there is no argument - you can't argue with death. So can you end, for example, attachment? Because when death comes, it is out. When the speaker says, invite death, which is to end, end that which is already known. End your attachment to your guru, to all the things that you put on your body in order to be kind of spiritual, end your greed, your envy, your ambition. That's what death is going to do anyhow. So can you invite death? Which means to end that which you have experienced, that which you have gathered, psychologically, so that you become totally inwardly anonymous, so that you are inwardly absolutely nothing. That is what death is going to make of you.
Then the problem is, if you don't do all this, and inevitably you are not going to do all this, one is absolutely certain about it, what happens to you? What happens to your consciousness? Your consciousness is put together by thought. Thought has put together your envy, your greed, your ambition, your conformity - thought is responsible for all this. The content of your consciousness is put together by thought. You may say thought, super consciousness, higher consciousness - it is still within the realm of thought, it is all there in your consciousness. And if thought which has put together all this content which makes your consciousness, which is you, then what happens to you when you die? You are very anxious to learn, aren't you? You are all waiting for the answer! Look what you are doing now. You are not concerned about living, you are concerned about what happens after death to you. See the tragedy of it, sirs, see the immense ignorance which is the cause of sorrow, see it. Which means you don't want to be disturbed; you want to carry on your daily life, the things you are accustomed to: the following, the obeying, the worshipping a person and all that childish stuff.
So as most of us are not going to free our consciousness of the things which thought has put together then what happens to that consciousness, what happens to you as a human being when he dies? To answer that question you must find out for yourself what you are, whether you are an individual human being, separate from all the rest of mankind, that you are totally separate. Individuality means that. Whether you are actually an individual, which is a human being that's totally a whole entity, that's what it means, individual. Or you are not an individual at all, you are like the rest of the human kind, psychologically. You may have a different colour, your face may be different, you may be dark haired, light hair, blonde and so on, but psychologically your consciousness, what you are, your sorrow, your misery, your confusion, your loneliness is like the rest of mankind. Please, enquire into this. You are like the rest of mankind. So our consciousness is the consciousness of man, of the entire humanity, because they suffer, they go through agonies, loneliness, despair, not loved, seeking love, caught in some absurd religious sect and so on and so on, just like you. So you are the rest of mankind. That is the truth, you may not like it but you are that. So please see what happens. You have thought all your life, all your tradition, all your religious books and so on say you are an individual soul, you are separate from mankind, and when you die then you begin to enquire what is after, as an individual, which is an illusion.
So what happens when you die? You, who are the rest of mankind. Please look at it. You know it is very difficult to look serenely, with benevolence, with affection, with care, with love, to observe death, not be frightened of it. You will be frightened inevitably if in living, in our daily living we don't end, not begin something, end, because that is what is going to happen. What will happen is that human consciousness will go on with all the travail, with all the misery, labour, sorrow and the agony of daily existence, that will go on. And so it becomes very important that you, living, invite death. So that there is no longer that river of human consciousness which is the volume of all our misery, insecurity, all that. You are part of that. When you die you are part of that, not you die. Your body will be cremated, or buried, or whatever it is, but your consciousness is the consciousness of the rest of humanity. See the beauty of it. See the truth of it. If you see the truth of it there will be no fear, no fear of death. And because there is no fear of death then there is an acceptance of ending things. And when you end jealousy, anxiety, ambition, then there is love. Therefore love and death go together. They are not two separate things. And where there is ending to sorrow - the ending of it - the ending of sorrow is passion, not lust, then with that passion there is beauty. Beauty is truth, and there is no path to truth. Your guru cannot lead you to truth, nobody can lead you to truth. All the pretence, all the nonsense that goes on that you can be led to truth. Truth is something that comes into being only when you know the art of listening, seeing, where there is love and compassion, which has its own intelligence. So don't follow spiritually anybody. Don't obey. So to have a free mind; where there is freedom there is love, and without freedom one remains in a prison and decorates the prison. Right sirs.