Habitual likers and dislikers of illusion
We can become habitual likers and dislikers of something which is quite illusory. For instance, people in this country, and in Europe generally, appreciate cheese, especially in France. I think De Gaulle made the remark, “How can you govern a country that’s got 173 different kinds of cheeses?” They admire cheese and the different varieties of it but, to a traditional Japanese, cheese is food that’s gone bad – it is rotten. They are getting used to it now, but they were absolutely revolted by these Westerners stuffing this rotten food into their mouth, food that has gone bad – putting it in and then claiming to enjoy it. Towards the beginning of the century anything foreign used to be called ‘cheesy’ and it was claimed that foreigners tended to smell of cheese. We think, “Oh, how ridiculous. Cheese is very nice.” We, in turn, might be offered, in a very expensive Chinese restaurant, eggs which are a year old. They are purple – hard boiled eggs a year old and taken out of their shells, they are purple and grey – and somehow, you don’t much care for it. The Chinese head chef says, “Go on. Go on, it’s lovely.” If you can bring yourself to eat it, a little bit, it is not bad at all, but we are rather revolted by this idea of an egg a year old. These likes and dislikes are something which are simply illusory. We can see, in a sense, that they are illusory but nevertheless, they are quite strong.
Shankara makes the point about the world. He says, “The achievements and the gains of the world, and the successes of the world, are like food mixed with poison.” You eat the food and it’s sweet – it’s a word for an Indian sweet, which is mostly honey. It is sweet but there is poison in it. You enjoy the sweetness and then later on the poison hits you. He says, quoting the verse from the Gita, that “desire for an indulgence in the objects of the senses is the enemy, the constant enemy of the wise man; but it is only the final enemy of the ignorant man.” The ignorant man first thinks, “This is a friend,” and he gulps down the sweet food, but later on, he knows it was an enemy. The wise man, the man who knows, although eating the food, he knows it contains poison. So, although it is sweet and he tastes the sweetness of it, that sweetness is contaminated by the knowledge that he is poisoning himself.
Well, this rather far-fetched example from India has come to life now for a large number of people who, when eating food that they like, are aware that it is full of cholesterol, or whatever their particular allergy happens to be, and they are, in fact, eating something that is poisoning them – but nevertheless, sometimes they go on eating it. Shri Dada says there are symptoms of this poison. He said, “The mind goes to a low ebb.” He says, “If we engage our mind in property, bricks and stones, or in personal conversation, then the level of the mind ebbs low, the vitality of the mind is sapped.” He says, “You must make your whole life a yajna, a sacrifice, to bring about Yoga”.
One can think, “Oh well, yes, some parts, some things, ought to be given up, but not everything. You have to be a bit practical.” People are quite strong on particular points, and not so strong on other points. For instance, if one has made quite a lot of money by working extremely hard for it, then one thinks, “Well, I’m entitled to have this, I’ve worked for this. I’ve given the world, exchanged value, for this money. This has been honestly earned. People who have just inherited money, well, that really they ought to give up. They have done nothing for it and that should be given up.” Whereas the people who have inherited perhaps fame, a famous name, they feel, “No, people who have worked for fame, all that fame and all that wealth is based on egoism, and consequently, the very success is a reinforcement of their egoism. Therefore, that should be given up. Something that simply drops, as it were, from heaven without any planning or effort at all, that is clearly a gift from heaven and as such, it should be accepted”.
Well, in this way, what the other people have is clearly a candidate for being given up; whereas what we ourselves have “doesn’t seem the right candidate for renunciation” said a master in meditation in the East. He said, “While we are full of desire and ambition, we are volcanoes and nothing can live in a volcano.” Our teacher made this point. A country like New Zealand, which is extremely fertile is and was volcanic. When the volcanoes have finally subsided, the land is extremely fertile. Our teacher said this is also a yogic truth – that people of very strong passions, when those passions are finally pacified, the soil is extremely fertile for yogic inspiration. He made this point. He said, “They have got to be pacified and the life has got to become one-pointed, but that when it does, it will be a very fertile field and the yogic plants will grow there.
“We are marionettes,” Shankara says, “but we can free ourselves from being marionettes, from being whirled by the Maya of the Lord, by a method which the Lord himself gives us.” What happens then? The actions of the marionette – which are fixed and determined and repetitive, so that our lives become simply a repetition again and again and again, of the same thing – can become free and creative and reflect the will of God, instead of reflecting our personal will.
Nobody likes to be told they are marionettes. When, after a meeting somebody says, “Oh well, of course, once he said that, you were bound to do that.” You say, “What?” “Oh, yes, every time he puts something up, you always oppose it, don’t you? We all know that. We had bets on it.” You say, “What, no!” He says, “Yes. There was this and this and this, wasn’t there? It’s always vigorously opposed.” And you say, “But everything he put up was very unsound”. Then, they sometimes produce the ace of trumps. They say, “Do you remember that time when he put up something and you raised an objection?” You say, ‘No, on the contrary, it’s the other way round,’” and then he thinks and says, “Do you know, I believe you are right,” – and you immediately say, “I’m wrong”.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 1: Marionettes are referred to in the Gita
Part 2: We are whirled by Maya like marionettes
Part 3: Habitual likers and dislikers of illusion
See also: Marionettes and Free Agents