Trying to understand U.G. or his teachings is like trying to grasp the wind in the palm of your hand. Yet they are as refreshing and fragrant as a fresh breeze, but they can also be as devastating as a wild fire! They are as nourishing as the earth and water, if only we can just listen to them and then "forget all about them!" U.G.'s teachings can certainly bring us down to the earth from the lofty but cloudy skies of illusion, so that we can come back and live a "simple and ordinary life" of peace without struggle or conflict!
I am writing the following in the spirit of revealing a progression in the consciousness of someone who is exposed to U.G. and/or his teachings and who tries to integrate them into his own living. My conclusion will also perhaps reveal the limitation of the conscious mind when trying to resolve the questions and paradoxes it finds. In writing this, I feel that I am probably speaking for a number of others who are in the same boat as I am.
It's difficult to assess U.G.'s teachings without discussing his person and his living, for the possibilities he presents would remain vague without a living example to refer to. In fact, U.G. himself connects his teachings with what has happened to him and how he lives. It's also difficult to talk about U.G.'s teachings or study them without being affected by them, without relating them to oneself. Add to this the fact that people who have been acquainted with U.G. personally cannot but relate his teaching to what they observe of him, to their relationship with him, and to how that has affected them.
Even then the teachings leave the reader wondering about some questions. Maybe there is never a resolution of these questions. Maybe life, as U.G. might say, can never be understood. And maybe, again as U.G. would put it, all attempts to understand life are only expressions of the one and only theme of human thinking: to protect and maintain the self.
One thing I can say personally after being acquainted with U.G. and his teachings for more than a decade is this: I am in no position to accept or reject his teachings. They can neither be proven nor disproven; and in what follows I shall try to explain why it does not matter that one cannot do so. Let me first present in a few paragraphs what a reader or listener might glean as to the basics of the philosophy in U.G.'s teachings.
U.G. presents the problems generated by what he calls the `stranglehold of thought' (or of culture) on the human being; that is, by creating the self and separating the individual from the world around him or her, thought or culture is responsible for a duplicate life of the individual, a life not intimately connected with, but in fact far removed from the actual world of the body or the living organism and its environment. This duplicate life in turn results in man's self-centeredness and destructiveness.
While the only interest of the living organism is to survive (for the moment) and reproduce itself (or as U.G. would say, to produce one like itself), the interest of the thought world is to maintain itself. Thought maintains itself by translating each experience in terms of past experiences, interpreting it as pleasant or painful, and pursuing it if it finds it pleasant and avoiding it if it finds it painful. Each experience creates a fictitious idea of the self in us by seeking continuity of itself, by demanding to be repeated through what U. G. calls "the pleasure movement." For instance, when a past experience presents itself in the present moment as desirable, it also simultaneously creates the idea of the self for which the experience is desirable.
The self, however, is not a real entity, nor is there any entity called the mind, which is really another name for the self, nor is there something called pure consciousness, for there is no consciousness which does not involve a translation or interpretation of what it is conscious of, and hence which does not involve a self.
In fact the experience which is seen as pleasant and which tries to perpetuate itself is the self. The division between the self and the experience is one of the mischievous creations of thought. Thought `builds' on experiences and creates the desire for `ultimate happiness', or, as U.G. would say, "a desire for permanent happiness without a moment of pain." The resulting duplicate life creates a self-centeredness and a self-protectiveness.
U.G. says that the self-centeredness created by thought will do everything to maintain itself, even at the expense of the destruction of the world, and the destruction of the very living organism on which thought is based, as witnessed by people who wage wars, and who kill others or themselves for the sake of an idea.
All this seems to be logical until we come to what U.G. has to say about how we can get out of this situation: U.G. says there is no way out! All attempts on our part to become free from the stranglehold of thought only perpetuate the self, entrench us more deeply in it. All attempts at improving the self, at detachment or renunciation, positive or negative thinking, understanding, knowledge, meditation, religious or spiritual pursuits, social reform or revolution - all of these, being initiated by thought, can only maintain and strengthen the self. Thus, they do not free us. "The only freedom there is is to be free from the very idea of freedom."
U.G., however, does say that when somehow (but how, U.G.?) this realization sinks into us, when the whole field (of the self?) is exhausted, then a physiological mutation can take place. When this occurs the living organism is freed from the stranglehold of thought and returns to its naturally peaceful condition. Thought then "falls into its natural rhythm" by coming into active function only when it is needed in a situation. But this is not something that can be caused by any `effort or volition' on your or my part. In fact the necessary condition for it to happen is for all effort to cease.
How do we understand this sort of teaching? If there is nothing one can do after listening to U.G., if the whole problem of our existence arose out of our desire structure, can we at least give up the whole enterprise of seeking fulfillment and "go home"? Of course, we realize the paradox of trying to abandon seeking is itself based on the motive of becoming free from our problems, which is in the first place a self-centered concern. But we see no choice; and we try to let go of the concern and return to our normal routine life. We, in the process, even try to "drop" U.G. from our consciousness, for U.G. is only a symbol for all that we have been seeking to fulfill ourselves. And when U.G. is gone, the rest is gone too. All the things we seek for our fulfillment, including U.G., are nothing but ourselves. That is why, when they (and U.G.) are gone, the self is gone too.
Let me recall, in this context, a conversation I recently had with U.G: I said to U.G., "I have always been open to you; I feel that as far as I am concerned, if anything has to go (meaning taken away from me, as a result of my knowing U.G.), including myself, in the process, that's fine with me. It does not matter. That's why I have no resistance to you." Then U.G. said in reply, "If you go, then I go, Sir!" Meaning, that when I can let myself go, then U.G. would lose all significance in my consciousness.
But before we ever try this approach, we normally go through many questions, and raise criticisms and objections to U.G.'s teachings in our attempts to integrate U.G.'s teachings into our lives. I will mention a few of questions which occurred to me.
1) When U.G. says that for him thought comes into action only when a given situation demands it, where is the demarcating line between what the situation itself demands, and what I (assuming that I am U.G. for the moment) demand of the situation? When someone, for instance, asks me a question, or makes a request, I say something to him in response (my response, as U.G. would say, coming from my conditioning). Suppose he is not satisfied with my response, but later comes back with the same question or demand. Now, do I have a situation to respond to, or is it my own need (coming perhaps from my conditioning, say, of proving myself, or not parting with my money easily), which somehow presses me to further reply to him? Is my second response just a response elicited by the situation or is it my previous response demanding to repeat itself? How can I tell the difference?
Or, to put the same difficulty in other words, it is not clear how one could make sense of U.G.'s idea that there is no "build-up" (of responses to situations) with him. U.G. himself says that there is a wish or desire in him only where he sees the means to satisfy it. But the question is, how can he (or I in his place) know that there are means unless I have a desire to satisfy in the first place? How is such a situation different from my desiring things, and being flexible enough to change the desire or let go of it when things don't go my way?
2) Again, U.G. calls his state a state of unknowing. How can he himself make any statements about it without knowing something about it? U.G. would say that he does not know it, but rather that he is only speaking conventionally or metaphorically, or that he is merely denying that his is a state of knowing; that is why he makes such statements, not that he actually knows anything about it. Or, he says that with him both knowing and not knowing occur `in the same frame'. Or sometimes he says that it is life expressing itself (through this sort of language?), and he does not know. And he has no desire to know or make any sense out of anything. He would in fact claim that it is our urge to know, and make sense of things, that is the problem, because it is that that is building the self. He is certain, as far as he is concerned, that there is nothing to know, nothing to understand. Except he can't communicate that certainty to us. But how does he know that he does not know? How does he know that his is (or was) not a state of knowing?
3) In our normal daily life many activities we undertake are initiated in our consciousness by the thought of what we ought to do or are going to do. When U.G. says that the situation brings about the thought, does that mean that he is just a victim of the situation, and that so as far as he is concerned anything can happen? Or, in him too, is there a consciousness of the situation, and a deliberation as to what is appropriate to it? If the latter is the case, then how is he different from us?
Of course, it is also true that we often spontaneously respond to situations without prior deliberation or forethought, even if the response happens to be just saying something. We don't always think first and then act. Is U.G. the same always, i.e., spontaneous?
4) Or again, when a thought occurs, there is also an accompanying consciousness of ourselves within us, even if it is only momentary and not connected to a previous consciousness (or experiences) through memory. If a thought occurs in U.G.'s consciousness in a certain situation, how can it not bring about a consciousness of himself, and hence an image of himself, however momentary it may be? U.G. might say that "there is knowing and there is not knowing in the same frame;" but how are we to understand that? If there is that self-consciousness in him, then it seems that the difference between us and U.G. is only a matter of degree, that degree (which seems to be great) being determined by how much we are able let go of the past, or accept the present. Then, couldn't we just practice this letting go or acceptance either through meditation or some other process and thereby approximate to U.G.'s condition? If it is possible, this seems to be in direct contradiction to what U.G.'s says about how there is nothing we can do - either this condition just happens, or it doesn't. But again, we don't know the facts of the matter, because we are not there.
5) Further, we have no way of making sense of U.G.'s assertions that "it never occurs to me that you are separate or different from me," for in his speech and in his day-to-day dealings he has to be making those distinctions.
Now, I am aware, after I raise the above sort of difficulties with U.G.'s teachings, that the problems may not be with U.G. or his teachings. The problem may be that I am trying to understand what is to me unknown from my own point of view, and perhaps there is no way I can do that unless and until I give it up! All these difficulties may simply disappear in the face of the reality of U.G., and his actual living, if it happens to be otherwise. Somehow it may all `fit'. We just don't know how. Thus we can neither prove nor disprove (nor can U.G.) U.G.'s teachings. We are not in any position to confirm or deny what he says. Even the language he speaks leaves us baffled. There is nothing in our background or mental equipment to relate to it. Sometime you even wonder if you are speaking the same language. Even the very possibility of any communication is in question.
A new dialectic builds up in this context: the reader or listener asks for coherence in and explanation of U.G.'s statements, and U.G. retorts that the urge to know, to seek explanations or coherence (from him) is how thought is building the self. This is how, he would say, the intellect is strengthening itself. And he would add that the intellect is the only instrument of understanding, and there is no other instrument. Furthermore, another part of U.G.'s `certainty' is that there is really nothing to understand! To the seeker the concern about the self seems irrelevant; but U.G. maintains that it is the seeker's main interest. He says there are no disinterested pursuits. In this controversy, I personally agree with U.G. position. How can I not do so, if I understand and see the analysis he presents of human problems?
Turning to the subject of U.G.'s person and his living, things are just as ambiguous: it is not clear to what extent his living reflects his teachings. Again, here too, the urge to verify, to make sense out of his life, is, as U.G. would point out, expressive of our concern for the self. U.G.'s living, just as his statements, does not fit any fixed pattern. On the one hand, he seems to be living in a discontinuous state of consciousness, where what happens one moment is disconnected, or `disjointed' as U.G. himself would put it, from the next; on the other hand, he can not only remember an infinite number of details of his own past (and endlessly talk about them), but also is able to plan his trips or meetings with people, which all seems to indicate a process of stringing various events sequentially in a single consciousness. This is, as far as we know, indicative of the process of self-making.
This same paradox is also evident in at least some of the dialogues included in this book. On the one hand, the conversations proceed in a free-association style, as U.G. goes from one topic to another and answers questions without any rule or rhyme, sometimes without directly answering the questions posed to him. However this may appear, the main themes of U.G.'s teachings seem to come out of the conversations anyway, although it would appear to the listener that U.G. is more interested in trying to `grind his axe' rather than answering the questions. On the other hand, U.G. is quite capable of a sustained conversation on a single topic, as can be evidenced in his interview with a scientist in Chapter 10 of this book. He can go in depth and focus on a problem and bring it to a conclusion, usually by cornering his listener in some fashion on other (by making remarks such as, in the above example, "What will you do, Sir?").
U.G.'s personal life is quite casual and informal. There is usually a party-like atmosphere around him. Wherever one sees him, he is generally surrounded by one or more of his friends whom he constantly jokes with and teases and who in turn do the same to him. When a stranger walks in, U.G. instantly cuts out all the jocularity, becomes serious and sits quietly, and waits for the visitor to start talking, after a few courtesies. Pretty soon, the visitor is dragged into the network of U.G.'s thought. It is very hard to escape the effects of U.G.'s conversations. You may end up joking around with him, or you may get upset with the result that both you and U.G. yell back and forth at each other, or you can't stand it anymore and leave the scene! There is no set pattern as to how a visitor would react to U.G. Of course, there are also those who think that U.G. and his teachings are phony.
But you do know that when you talk to U.G. your very existence is in question. That is probably the reason why some people feel quite threatened in U.G.'s presence. U.G. not only exposes all sorts of hidden motivations in what you have said, but he also negates most of what people say, thereby trying to dislodge their belief structure, using whatever means he has at his disposal. He knows that all beliefs are relative, and uses the relativity of belief to combat belief. In other words, he uses one belief to counter another belief, and then in another context he uses the second belief to counter the first. He does not hold to rules of consistency. Nothing is so sacrosanct for him that it has to be protected at all costs!
U.G.'s personal relationships (if that's what one can call them) are no exception to the above rule (or rather the absence of it.) Sometimes he would seem to personally want to see you and would seem to care for you. (How many times one hasn't heard the remark from different people that no one cared for them as much as U.G. did?) He may call you or come to see you; he chats or jokes with you, eats with you, and so on. Yet, it looks like after he leaves, he rarely thinks about you again, (except when people talk about you, or in conversation, he would remember you). On the one side, he seems not to care how you live, whom you see, and so on, yet, on the other side, you will find him meddling with people's lives, teasing them and attacking them.
How does U.G. the person tally with U.G.'s teachings; does he live up to them? Of course, it's not a problem for U.G. You never hear him complaining about his life. (That's for sure.) He says that the thought never occurs to him that he should be in a different state than the state he is in. When he is sick, he does not complain. Again, on the other hand, there are exceptions to this. Although he does not normally go to a doctor on his own, he does consult doctors, (maybe only because there is a doctor on hand) to find out what they have to say about his condition. Not that he carries out their advice. U.G. says he does not have to live up to anyone's image of him (including the image of an enlightened man).
Many times he gives you the impression he is the most disinterested man in the world. He does not wish to change or convert anyone. Then why is he so concerned about some teachers like J. Krishnamurti? Why does he involve himself in controversies, or put down "everyone and everything"? Of course, he would say that he is only responding to you, coming to him and asking him all these questions. He by himself has no desire to say anything. You cannot but think of attributing various motives to him, such as seeking popularity, trying to succeed in competition, and so forth. At the same time, when you look at a picture of him looking at you, those eyes full of love, all your doubts and questions disappear. How does one deal with a person like U.G.?
All this ultimately boils down to an ambivalence which in fact hides a fundamental contradiction in the reader or listener (the present writer including): You can't take U.G., for you don't know how to take him; for, as U.G. would put it, if you really understand what he says you would instantly drop dead, that would mean `clinical death' (to your self, at any rate); and that you cannot afford. And you can't leave him alone, because all your thinking will eventually bring him into the picture, because he and his teaching represent the limits or end of seeking.
Since we cannot truly `understand' and accept what he says, we end up with the following
contradiction instead. Inasmuch as U.G. represents the end of seeking, we would like to make him
and his teaching the object of our interest. But the only way we can relate to him and his teaching
is in a self-centered fashion, trying to possess him (wish you luck in that!), patronizing him, bragging
about him and his teaching, trying to get his approval and confirmation of what we say or write or
do, and so on. If that does not work, we go to the opposite extreme of trying to be independent of
him, criticizing him, attacking him, and so forth. Both sides of this ambivalence are movements of
our own thought. Both represent ways of grasping something, of seeking. We are trying to get
somewhere, to change ourselves into something we are not. When we are free from the seeking, then
U.G. and his teachings do not matter. Then we can drop them. Perhaps later in another context we
will talk to him or to someone else about him or his teachings, and then we will think about him and
his teachings again. Then we may fall headlong into a pattern of ambivalence again, not realizing until
later that we have. Then we may drop him again. If that "falling and rising" of our concern with U.G.
doesn't matter, then it does not matter if we ourselves are related to U.G. or not, and then it does not
matter whether U.G.'s teachings are true or not. You merely return to your normal daily routine,
whatever it consists of. The routine may include the movement back and forth, say, of being
concerned and not so concerned with U.G. and his teachings, just as, when we are not conscious of
ourselves, there may be a movement back and forth between being involved in things and being bored.
When we become conscious of ourselves, we may let everything (even our concern for our
fulfillment or freedom) go, or accept our condition, or merely return to the present moment, which
is one and the same thing. This indeed is our "condition" and as far as we know there may no escape
from it. But then if we are conscious of all this, we realize that this too is born of the need to become
free and when we let that need go, we return to our normal routine, at least for the moment. Then
as U.G. would say, "You can just as well take a walk." And there is nothing more to say....
A major portion of this work consists of various recorded dialogues between U.G. and different individuals. The first chapter is an essay written by Dr. T.R. Raghunath to present and critically evaluate U.G.'s thought. The last chapter is an account written by an anonymous lady in which she relates her rather dramatic encounter with U.G. We thought that this would give the reader at least one example of the many possible impressions U.G. might leave with his audience. The dialogues are transcribed and minimally edited to ensure readability. Where we thought it might be helpful to make passages more intelligible, we have supplied some missing links in square brackets, as for example, a noun for a pronoun whose reference is not clear, or an explanation of what U.G. in a given context is either referring or pointing to.
Thanks to Wendy Moorty for her help in reading the manuscript and suggesting innumerable corrections and changes.
|Seaside, California, U.S.A.|
|August 19, 1991|