8. The Change of Vision
This change of vision is not spectacular or immediate; it is produced by small drops of a new outlook one hardly knows is a new outlook. One walks right past it, perhaps not unlike the caveman who walks past a gold nugget, glances at it because it glitters, and throws it away. Gold? What use is gold? We have to walk by the same futile point again and again, which does glitter a little and has a special something about it, before we understand that gold is gold - we have to invent gold; we have to invent the whole world and find what is already there. The difficulty is not in discovering hidden secrets but in discovering the visible, and that unsuspected gold in the midst of banality - actually, there is no banality; there is only unconsciousness. There is an age-old habit of looking at the world in relation to our needs and with respect to ourselves, like the logger in the forest who sees rosewood and only rosewood. Some measure of "eccentricity" is necessary to make the discovery. And in the end we realize that that eccentricity is the first step to a truer centricity and the key to a whole new set of relations. Our forest becomes stocked with a variety of unknown trees, and everything is a discovery.
We have also been biased by what we could call the "visionary's tradition." It has always seemed that the privileged among men were the ones who had "visions," who could see our everyday grayness in pink and green and blue, see apparitions and supernatural phenomena - a sort of supercinema one enjoys free of charge in the privacy of one's own room by pressing the psychic button. And that is all very well, there's nothing to say, but experience shows that this sort of vision changes absolutely nothing. Tomorrow millions of men could be given the power of vision by a stroke of grace, and they would turn on their little psychic television again and again; they would see gods laden with gold (and perhaps a few hells more in accord with their natural affinities), flowers more magnificent than any rose (and a scattering of awesome serpents), flying or haloed beings (but devils imitate halos very well, they are more showy than the gods, they like tinsel), landscapes of "dream," sumptuous fruits, crystal dwellings - but in the end, after the hundredth time, they would be as bored as before and leap avidly at the six-o'clock news. Something is sorely wanting in all that supernatural fireworks. And, to tell the truth, that something is everything. If our natural does not become truer, no amount of supernatural will remedy it; if our inner dwelling is ugly, no miraculous crystal will ever brighten our day, no fruit will ever quench our thirst. Unless Paradise is established on earth, it will never be anywhere. For we take ourselves everywhere we go, even into death, and so long as this "stupid" second is not filled with heaven, no eternity will ever be lit with any star. The transmutation must take place in the body and in everyday life; otherwise no gold will ever glitter, here or anywhere else, for ages of ages. What matters is not to see in pink or green or gold, but to see the truth of the world, which is so much more marvelous than any paradise, artificial or not, because the earth, this very small earth among millions of planets, is the experimental site where the supreme Truth of all the worlds has chosen to incarnate in what seems to be its very contradiction, and, by virtue of this very contradiction, to become all-light in darkness, all-breadth in narrowness, immortality in death, and living plenitude in each atom at each instant.
But we have to collaborate.
The seeker of the truth of the earth constantly encounters this "contradiction." And that is the key to the new vision. He encounters it in himself, in others, in circumstances: nothing "works" as it should. Where is the truth in this chaos, confusion, falsehood? Not here, to be sure; we must struggle, reject, correct circumstances, strive towards a something that is out there, in the distance, tomorrow or the day after. And truth keeps eluding us completely. Others before us have "corrected circumstances" - in Babylon, in Thebes, in Kapilavastu. For the past ten thousand years we have gone through one civilization after another, and it is certainly an illusion to believe that ours will not go, and that the Western world, with all its scientific and cultural truths, will forever remain the center of the world. For, actually, tomorrow or the day after never comes. If truth is not right here now, it will never be. That is the simple mathematics of the world.
Truth is totally natural, which is why we do not see it. It is even the most natural thing in the world. It was there from the very first blast of atoms, otherwise when would it have ever appeared, at what period of Andromeda, the Crab or the local galaxy we live in, brought by what prophet, what discovery, what miracle? Prophets have come and gone; discovery is added to discovery and today's miracles will form archeological strata for the citizens of another era. We aren't there yet, and yet we have always been there, in the midst of the miracle. Only, there is a moment when one opens one's eyes to the miracle. And that is the only moment in the world, the Great Moment of all ages and all earths - for everything is tied together, there is but one body in the world and but one look for all the universes. We cannot change one point of the world without changing everything, open our eyes here without opening them all, instantly, regardless of distance, because there is but one Truth and one center.
Is this to say that nobody has ever touched this Truth? Of course it has been touched, but on the mental heights, in rare illuminations that left a trace here or there, on a Buddha's face in Indonesia, an Athena in the Parthenon, a smile in Rheims, in some marvelous Upanishads, a few words of grace that have survived as a golden and adorable anachronism, hardly real amidst our concrete structures and civilized savagery; it has been touched in the depths of the heart, stammered out by Saint Francis of Assisi or Sri Ramakrishna. But then the world goes on, and we all know that the last word belongs to the bomb and to the triumph of the latest democratic hero, who will soon join another one under the same layer of inanity. But it has never been touched in matter; it has never been touched there. And so long as it is not touched there, it will remain what it has always been, a brilliant dream over the chaos of the ages, and the world will go on whirling vainly, adding its discoveries that discover nothing and its pseudo-knowledge that always ends up stifling us. Indeed, we labor under a bizarre delusion: we right a wrong here only to cause another one to sprout there; we seal a crack here only to see the wound open wider somewhere else. And it is always the same wound; there is only one wound in the world, and so long as we do not want to be cured of that ill, our millions of drugs and parliaments and systems and laws - millions of laws, on every street corner and right in our mailbox - will never cure us or the world's illness. We philanthropize and altruize, we distribute and share and equalize; but our good deeds seem to go hand in hand with our misdeeds, and the misery, the great misery of the world, infiltrates everything and gnaws surreptitiously at our functional homes and empty hearts; our equalizations are the huge, gray uniformity that descends upon the earth, smothering equally the good and the less good, the rich and the poor, the crowds from here or there - the great mechanized human crowd, disincarnate, manipulated by a thousand radios and newspapers that scream and rumble all the way up to Himalayan villages. And no news at all. Not a single bit of news in those billions of novelties! Not an iota of novelty under the stars: men suffer and die in cities teeming with mental disorders. But tomorrow will be better, we think, with more machines, more drugs, more red or blue or green crosses, more laws and still more laws to remedy the world's cancer. And we seem to hear, from far, far away in the past, six thousand years in the past, the moving little voice of Lopamudra, the wife of Rishi Agastya: "Many autumns have I toiled night and day; the dawns age me, age dims the glory of our bodies . . .,"(15) and that of Maitreya echoing her: "What shall I do with that by which the nectar of Immortality is not attained?"(16)
Does this mean that we have not progressed? We certainly have not progressed as we imagine. We are not any more human than the Theban or the Athenian, no more "advanced" than they despite all our machines. As Sri Aurobindo put it, "Machinery is necessary to modernhumanity because of our incurable barbarism."(17) We think we have mastered, but we have mastered nothing at all! Our machines are a testimony to our impotence, a huge prosthesis to correct our incapacity to see far, hear far, penetrate the heart of things and understand instantly and directly. We do not know any better now than ten thousand years ago how to modify matter through willpower (perhaps we even knew it better then), how to illuminate with consciousness and understand through vision. Under all our apparatus, we are less advanced than the animal with its sixth sense and the pygmy of Central Africa. Our machines see better than we, feel better than we, count better than we, and perhaps they will end up living better than we. Matter escapes us completely. It takes a simple power failure for us to revert to the caveman. For progress is not improving the existing world or discovering new procedures: it is a change of consciousness and vision.
But at least we have progressed in one direction, which is not the one we think. We have completed the cycle of the ape; we have pushed to its ultimate consequence the simple little gesture that tied a vine to a branch to make a bow; we have inflated and overinflated the mental balloon to its breaking point. And Nature's design is accomplished, which was not just to take stock of the world, but to lead the whole species to the zero point, to that supreme juncture where there is not a single jungle left to explore, not one sea to plumb, not one Himalaya, when soon not even an acre of ground will be left for our concrete and steel structures, when even the gods have been squeezed dry of all their juices and collect dust on the shelves of our libraries, when life collapses under its own weight and leaves us again, like ancient man under the stars, alone, face to face with the mystery of the earth, to find the name of things, their power of being, the true vibration that dwells in us and links us to the world: the naked mystery of this unsullied moment, the original music of things, which is perhaps their ultimate truth and ultimate power, an original vision that is a new birth of the world, and perhaps the promise of its transformation. This is the end of the mental world. We are before naked matter. We are at the time of the great Invention.
And we are almost ridiculously inadequate for such a fabulous adventure. What do we have? A little fire inside, whose goal we do not even know, but which burns with us, accompanies our steps, our thousands of steps in the great vain machine; a little clearing that sometimes seems so lovely and light, and so fragile in the midst of the huge empty chaos - that's all we have. It is childlike and transparent and almost ridiculous amid the strides of the caparisoned colossi of the mind. And what do we discover? A breath, a nothing, a speck of gold glittering for a moment and then vanishing. There is nothing sensational. It is the opposite of sensational; it is unassuming minuteness; it is perhaps nothing, and it is everything. It is as fluid as the man bending for the first time over the first river in the world and looking at a blade of grass pass by, and then another (come from where, carried away where?), a fugitive reflection of the sky, and that other little cascade in his heart. But it all makes a single whole, and for a fraction of a second, a sort of look opens up and pervades that drop of water and the blade of grass with infinity, and the over there it comes from and the other there it goes to, as if everything had already happened, as if nothing ever happened, nothing ever passed: an eternal meeting between that pink in the sky, this heartbeat and this frail blade of grass. And other blades of grass may come, other pinks or blues or blacks go by, but it is always the same thing meeting itself, at the same point, with other faces and other names. So, something begins to take root in this meeting point of the worlds, as if one and the same look were looking at one and the same story. And everything is tranquil, identical and clear; there is no need to strain toward tomorrow, to grasp at that pink or blue, this blade of grass or that one; there are no other points out there, or else it is the same one and the same things meeting each other; there is only one point at each instant, and the whole world passes through it, along with Sagittarius and Betelgeuse and that twig. All is contained there, for ages upon ages. We just have to listen to the music of that point to hear all other music, we just have to be there to be with all other beings, past, present and future - there is but one story in the world and one moment and one being. It is right there; we are in it. There will be nothing more, nothing else, in three thousand years or a hundred thousand.
From then on, each thing is, simply and absolutely. We are at that meeting point of being, and we look at the great world, brand new. There is no hope for anything else, no expectation, no regret or desire - if it is not there at that moment, it will never be there! Everything is there, the total totality of all possible futures. Water may flow, and the faces and thunder of the world, the costume of the moment, the cry of the passerby, the flying seed. The great kaleidoscope turns and strews beings, events, countries and their kings, and this fleeting second, colors them blue, red or gold, but there is still the same look at the meeting point, the same second and the same thing in different colors, the same beings with their sorrows, with white skin or dark, in this century or another. There is nothing new under the sun, nothing to expect! There is that one little second to delve into, delve into and deepen, to live totally, as if forever and ever; there is that unique thing that passes, that unique being, that speck of pollen or dust, that unique happening in the world. Then everything begins to be filled with such total meaning, to extend and branch out to the four corners of the world, to vibrate with total significance, as if this face, that chance encounter, that passing blue or black hue, this unexpected stumbling or bird feather floating in the wind brought us a message - each thing is a message, a sign of our position and the position of the whole. Nothing exists in relation to this little shadow anymore, to its needs, its desires, its expectation of things or people - everything is without plus or minus, good or evil, rejection or choice or preference or will of any kind. What could we possibly want? We already have everything, forever. What else is there! Each passing circumstance divulges its keynote, its pure music, its innermost meaning, without addition or subtraction, without false visual color - through things and beings we watch one and the same tranquil eternity unfolding. We are in our point of eternity, in a look of truth. We are at that crossroads of being, which, for a moment, seems to open innumerably upon everything. One full little second. Where is the lack, the vain, the missing? Where is the big, the infinite, the useful or useless? We have arrived; we are right in the Thing. There is no more "quest for rosewood" in the forest of the great world; everything is rosewood and each thing is the one essence. A kind of warm gold begins to glow everywhere.
And the seeker has put his finger on the fourth golden rule of the passage: Each second totally and clearly.
But how do those clear little seconds help change the world? Perhaps exactly the way the brief distracted second of the ape - distracted from its immediate interests - helped give birth to the first thought. For a whole world starts pouring into that transparency, but in imperceptible little breaths, in little drops of nothing - to be sure, the "uselessness" of things is a terrible snare, an ever-present trap, the old mistake that engulfs the world in its dark false vision. At every moment the seeker must struggle against the old way of looking, correct himself, catch himself in the act. The new vision demands a long apprenticeship. One knows neither where it leads nor its use. What was the use of the ape's reflection, except to disturb its immediate acrobatics? And yet, the seeker comes back to it, as if drawn in spite of himself; he receives little signs, demonstrations in the flesh. It is as if somebody or something were there, watching over everything and taking advantage of the least crack in the old machinery to slip in a drop of light - a hole is needed, a crack in the shell, a lapse in the old habit of being, for the new world to get in! Little by little the seeker yields. He lets himself go, he turns his look on the thousands of everyday useless things, the meaningless incidents, the senseless encounters, the multitude of microscopic "unconnected" events. He is in his fire of being and he looks; he looks at each thing as a would-be revelation, a truth concealed; and if nothing is revealed, he still persists, he observes everything, records everything: the futile steps, the useless detours, the closed faces, the accidents without reason. Instead of jumping at the desirable, he watches its movement, how it follows its course and attains its goal; instead of rejecting an unpleasant encounter, he watches it come, welcomes it, lets it give out its little drop of truth, its message beneath the falsehood or confusion; instead of running away from the darkness, evil or negation flung at him, he waits calmly for the darkness to disclose its lesson for him, the evil its drop of good beneath its venom, the negation, its vaster yes awaiting its hour. And finally he discovers a YES everywhere, a good everywhere, a meaning everywhere, and that everything is ascending, moving in the Great Direction, beneath the good and the evil, the black and the white, the useful and the harmful. Gradually, the world teems with a thousand little truths twinkling here and there, filling this vacuum, plugging that useless hole, connecting things to one another, dropping the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle into place, and everything ties together as one continuous message - every moment things whisper in our ear and destiny speaks in a dove feather lifted by the wind.
But once more we are struck by the same peculiarity. What we discover are not eternal and sublime truths, not triumphs of the geometrical mind that confines the world in an equation, not seeds of dogma or revelations atop the Sinais of the world, but minuscule little truths, vivid and light, smiles of truth along the path and in everyday commonplaceness - a minuscule, contagious truth which seems to spread from place to place and light up even the rocks: a truth of the earth, a truth of matter. And when we can trap a single one of these little whimsical smiles, we are richer than if the illuminations of all the sages put together were bestowed on us, because we have touched the truth with our eyes wide open and with our body - maybe because the Supreme Truth is also there, in an infinitesimal wisp of straw as much as in the totality of all the ages.
But, beyond all meanings being released from their hiding place, the seeker touches upon an even greater mystery, something so elusive and so strong, which makes his heart flutter every time he thinks he has caught a glimpse of it - oh, something that is well hidden, that will not let itself be caught and put into thoughts or mental ciphers: a supreme Cipher that deciphers all and is like the true key to the new world. Behind all his gropings and stumblings and dozens of wrong turns every day, his cries in the dark, he senses a sort of Help - something is answering. . . . One must have walked long in the dark to appreciate the marvel of that particular answer. Something answers, moves, hears, knows where we are going! As if the new world were all here, already done, innumerably mapped under our steps and under each step of each being at each instant - and we gradually enter its geography. This is really the sign of the new world: it is here; there is no distance to travel, no waiting in prayer, no cry to echo across empty spaces in order to seduce the godhead veiled in the clouds, no intensity of concentration, no long-drawn-out years or protracted efforts or arduous repetitions to try to move a deaf Force - it is here, the instantaneous answer, the boon in the flesh, the vital sign, the living demonstration. It takes but a simple call. It takes but a little cry of pure truth. Actually, we do not seek; we are sought. We do not call; we are called. We grope about only as long as we want to do everything by ourselves. There is nothing to do! There is everything to undo, and let the new world flow freely, let its unexpected rivers and paths run under our steps. One brief second of abandon, and it comes in; it is there, smiling. Everything is already there! When the ape felt he was exerting himself so much to capture a subtle little vibration, when he caught hold of a thought by chance, without knowing how or why, at the moment when his simian machinery was not working as usual, he, too, perhaps was walking in a new mental geography that was waiting for his lapses of apehood and a brief second of abandon to the mystery of the new world. We think that everything comes out of our wonderful brains, but we are the tools of a greater self, the translators of an approaching marvel, the transmitters of a growing music. But the music must be allowed to flow freely; the instrument must be clear.
And it is conceivable that if the world turned its instruments to this other music, it would find itself radically changed.
(15)Rig Veda, I.179.1.
(16)Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV.5.4.
(17)Thoughts and Aphorisms, no. 383.
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