I have just arrived from the West—Paris—where I had heard about you and read some of your books. They touched me very deeply and one question arose in me:
How is your spiritual dimension and the work you do on a spiritual level capable of conducting and enlightening the behavior of a man involved in action on a materialistic level, for instance, urbanism, struggle against hunger, thirst and all other distresses?
Jacques Daumal, I do not divide existence into these old dichotomies, the materialistic plane and the spiritual plane. There is only one reality: matter is its visible form and spirit its invisible form. Just like your body and your soul— your body cannot be without your soul and your soul cannot be without your body.
In fact, the whole split of the past has been a heavy burden on the human heart — the split between body and soul. It has created a schizophrenic humanity. As I see it, schizophrenia is not a disease that happens once in a while to a person. The whole humanity up to now has been schizophrenic. It is very rarely, only once in a while, that a man like Jesus, or Buddha, or Mahavira, or Socrates, or Pythagoras, or Lao Tzu, has been able to escape from this schizophrenic pattern of our living.
To divide reality into antagonistic, inimical realism is dangerous because it is dividing man. Man is a miniature universe; if you divide the universe the man is divided, if you divide the man the universe is divided. And I believe in the undivided, organic unity of existence.
To me there is no distinction between the spiritual and the material. You can be spiritual and function on the materialistic plane—and your functioning will be more joyous, your functioning will be more aesthetic, more sensitive. Your functioning on the materialistic plane will not be tense, will not be full of anguish and anxiety.
Once a man came to Buddha and asked, “The world is in such a distress, people are in so much misery — how can you manage to sit silently and so joyously?”
Buddha said, “If somebody is suffering from fever, has the doctor also to lie down by his side and suffer? Has the doctor out of compassion to get the infection and lie down by the side of the patient and be feverish? Is that going to help the patient? In fact, whereas there was only one person ill, now there are two persons ill — the world is doubly ill! The doctor need not be ill to help the patient; the doctor has to be healthy to help the patient. The healthier he is, the better; the healthier he is, the more help is possible through him.”
I am not against working on the material plane. Whatsoever work you are doing — urbanism, struggle against hunger, struggle for ecological balance, struggle against poverty, exploitation, oppression, struggle for freedom — whatsoever your work on the material plane; it is going to be benefited, tremendously benefited, if you become more spiritually rooted, centered, calm, quiet, cool, because then the whole quality of your work will be changed. Then you will be able to think in a more cool manner, and you will be able to act more gracefully. Your understanding of your own inner being will be of tremendous help to help others.
I am not a spiritualist in the old sense and I am not a materialist either in the old sense. The Charvakas in India, Epicurus in Greece, Karl Marx and others, they are materialists. They say only matter is true and consciousness is only an epiphenomenon, a by-product; it has no reality of its own. And then there are people like Shankara, Nagarjuna, who say just the same thing in a reverse manner. They say the soul is real and the body is unreal, maya, illusion, an epiphenomenon, a by-product; it has no reality of its own.
To me, both are half right, half wrong. And a half-truth is far more dangerous than a whole lie — at least it is whole. A whole lie has a certain beauty, but a half-truth is ugly — ugly and dangerous too — ugly because it is half. It is like cutting a man into two parts.
Just the other day I was reading a story:
It was very hot, and a man with his young daughter was passing by the side of a swimming pool of an intercontinental hotel. It was so hot, the girl said, “I would like to go in the pool and cool myself.”
The father said, “Okay, I will sit underneath the tree, and you go ahead.”
But she was stopped immediately by the guard and he said, “This pool is restricted. It is not allowed here for Jews… and you look Jewish.”
The father said, “Listen: I am Jewish. My daughter’s mother is not Jewish, she is a Christian, so my daughter is half Jew, half Christian. Can you allow her to take a bath only up to the waist?”
Dividing man is dangerous, because man is an organic unity. But this is how down the ages it has been done, and now it has become almost a routine thinking, a conditioning.
Daumal, you are still thinking in the old categories. I don’t belong to any school — the school of the materialists or the school of the so-called spiritualists. My approach is total, it is holistic. I believe that man is both together, spiritual and material. In fact, I have to use the words ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’ just because they have always been used. In fact man is psychosomatic, not material and spiritual, because that ‘and’ creates duality. There is no ‘and’ between the material and the spiritual, not even a hyphen. Man is material-spiritual — I use it as one word, material-spiritual. And both the sides….
Spiritual means the center of your being and the material means the circumference of your being. The circumference cannot be there if there is no center, and the center cannot be there if there is no circumference.
My work here is to help your center become a clarity, a purity. Then that purity will be reflected on the circumference too. If your center is beautiful your circumference is bound to become beautiful, and if your circumference is beautiful your center is bound to be affected by that beauty.
My sannyasin is a total man, he is a new man. The effort is that he will be beautiful from both the sides. […]
We are trying to create a harmony, a new synthesis.
From The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, V.3, Discourse #2
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