What is it that divides us ?

What is it that divides us ?

Rector, Rajghat Education Centre, Krishnamurti Foundation India, Varanasi 221001, India

(Based on a talk delivered at the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden, The Netherlands, on 23rd July, 1992.)

One of the major concerns of Mrs. Annie Besant, as a theosophist, was the creation of a universal brotherhood of man. She tried all through her life to teach that all life is sacred, that all human beings are equal, that different religions are merely different approaches to the same truth, that all life and the entire environment around the earth constitute one whole of which man is an intrinsic part. The greatest threat to the creation of one-world and a universal brotherhood of man is his tendency to identify himself with those who appear to be similar to him. This has divided mankind into a large number of groups – religious groups, national groups, ethnic groups, linguistic groups, caste groups, professional groups, political and ideological groups and family groups – all of which from time to time become antagonistic to other groups when their self-interest needs to be protected. The desire of an individual to belong to a group is born out of a sense of security he feels in belonging to it. Yet, it is obvious, that this very division into groups has created the greatest insecurity for all human beings on this earth, through war, riots, infighting and competition.

In spite of all the ideals of unity, one world and universal brotherhood, it is clear that mankind is moving in the opposite direction. One has witnessed in recent years the splitting up of countries like USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia with much associated violence and cruelty. In India too there are similar separatist tendencies in Kashmir, in Punjab, in Assam, and the Hindu-Muslim division is growing more acute day by day. We must therefore ask ourselves, why after thousands of years of so called culture and civilization, mankind is still so brutal, so badly divided ? What is it that divides us ?

If one examines that seriously, one finds that the division among people arises from a feeling that `we’ are separate from `them’, which in turn arises from the feeling of being different. But are we really different or do we only imagine that we are different ? I would like to examine that very scientifically, objectively and precisely, without taking sides or becoming emotional about either religion or culture.

Let us look at human beings who appear to be divided – we could take Hindus and Muslims or Arabs and Jews or any other set of people – and ask ourselves whether their differences are real or imaginary. By imaginary I mean something which is not factually existing but has been simply constructed by the mind in imagination. A human being has a body and a consciousness. So, are we really different in our bodies and are we very different in our consciousness ? If we go to a doctor or a biologist and ask him whether there are significant differences in the body, he will tell us that they are very superficial – the colour of the skin may be different, the colour of the hair may be different, but inside the skin the blood is the same, the heart, the liver, the lungs, everything is the same. You can exchange the blood of one person with that of another person from any nation, any religion, anywhere. Therefore, obviously, in our bodies we are really not different except in the outer shape and features.

Next, let us consider whether we are really different from each other in our consciousness or we merely differ in our ideas, which are things which we acquire from our particular culture, and therefore, feel we are different from each other when in reality we may not be. If you strip a human being of all his possessions, his house, his property, his knowledge and look at the content of his consciousness, is he really very different from another human being? Is the consciousness very different for the poor man and the rich man, for the Hindu, the Muslim or the Jew, for the American or the Indian ? I am referring to what we really are, not our collections, not what we have accumulated. If we look beyond the superficial we find that every human being has the same feelings – the sense of fear, the sense of insecurity, the sense of loneliness, the desire to succeed in life, to be somebody. Every human being has attachments and consequent suffering when that attachment is broken. Every human being has desires and is struggling to fulfill them or cope with them. In what way do we really differ ? One man may desire this, another man may desire that. One human being may worship in one way, the other human being may worship in a different way, but the need to worship, the psychological needs of the human being, the instincts, are all the same. So I question whether we are really different or we just imagine that we are different ? Is it not like one wave on the surface of the ocean telling another wave, “I am different from you” because it is a little different in height, in shape, in the speed with which it is moving ? If it were aware of the depth of that ocean, it would see that these differences are trivial, are not of any great significance. So it seems to me that because we have given tremendous importance to the superficial therefore, we feel and think we are very different from each other. If we were aware of the depths of our consciousness, of what we are as human beings, not just the superficial ideas and knowledge in the conscious mind, but the whole of our being, it would be exactly like the wave in an ocean. It is made up of water, it has seven miles depth of ocean, in common with all other waves, but it feels different just because on the surface it is a little different.

So it seems to me that whenever we see division, whenever we feel division in ourselves, we must examine whether that difference is not arising because one is looking at the whole thing in a very fragmentary, narrow, limited or superficial manner. The division between science and religion also arises because we give to these two quests rather narrow meanings. In actual fact science is man’s quest for the discovery of the order which manifests itself in the external world of matter and energy and the religious quest is humanity’s quest for the discovery of order in the inner world of our consciousness. There is really no division or antagonism between them. So is it everywhere else. Facts and reality do not divide, but illusions which our mind builds up around them divide. Division is created by our own mind because it does not see things factually, it has conjectures about it, it has opinions about it, it has a whole lot of prejudices, predilections associated with what it observes. What they do in society to overcome this is to create a new illusion in order to unite people. You find that if in India the internal situation is bad and people are fighting with each other and are divided, one way of uniting them is to talk about nationalism and to say that Pakistan is our greatest enemy and then out of that common hatred the people feel united; but among themselves they are divided on the basis of caste, on the basis of religion, on the basis of all kinds of superficial differences to which they have given tremendous importance. When you have all these divisions you need another illusion to bring you together and then we say that is unity, that is integration. It is only another illusion. Temporarily it may excite you into unity but that is not real unity.

If one were to look at life and have a deep understanding of life and of oneself, then there is no division because the facts don’t divide. The fact that I go to a temple and you go to a synagogue or a church doesn’t divide. It just says that this man goes to this building and the other goes elsewhere. This man kneels, that man stands. This man takes out his shoes, that man does it with shoes on. Does that divide ? It doesn’t. So facts don’t divide and if there is really no division, there is no need for integration. You want to integrate that which is divided. But we must first examine whether the division is a fact or that division itself is an illusion. If that division is out of illusion, when that illusion ends the division will end. Then there is no need for integration because there is no division. So it becomes a wrong question how to integrate the peoples of Russia. They are not divided. They think they are divided which is out of ignorance. That ignorance has to be dispelled so that we see the fact that we are not divided. It is a fallacy to think that we need to do propaganda to unite.

If you end all propaganda and all illusion, then there is no division. Therefore the most important thing, which the sages have pointed out but we need to realize it for ourselves, is to dispel ignorance and get out of a superficial view of each other and of life. At present, unfortunately, we are being educated into our prejudices. I am using the word “Education” not only in the sense of what we do in school, but also all the other influences in the bringing up of a child in society, which includes the influence of family, of television, etc. We get educated into our prejudices and these are perpetuated by the tremendous inertia in human society. Take the example of casteism in India. It started 5000 or more years back. The society was then divided into four different castes. We do not quite know why they did it, what was their intention at that time. What we know is what we see now. The government is trying to eliminate castes, it says all people have equal opportunity, it says professions are not to go along caste lines, that there will be no discrimination. That is the law, but still it goes on because in each family the child grows up seeing discrimination going on around him. The lower caste man is treated in a particular way, you don’t sit and eat food with him etc. and he sees this discrimination going on. He sees that people don’t marry outside their caste and that is what he picks up from the environment.

You may say anything in the classroom but what he is seeing in the society has a much greater influence on his mind, so he grows up with it and acquires that prejudice without being aware that it is a prejudice. To him that is a fact, that is a reality. I just took that as an example. You can see that it is the same in every society, in every place. That is why Americans continue to be Americans and Indians continue to be Indians and Christians continue to be Christians. We create the younger generation in our own image. There may be a little change in ideas here and there but by and large you will see that the younger generation is created in the image of the older generation which means we successfully transmit all our prejudices to our children ! We are not aware of it. We think we love them and we are doing good to them – but we need to examine that, we need to question that. That is what questioning means – not to accept anything that we have assumed till now unquestioningly. Our intention may be good but if education is based on ignorance it is false and we may really be damaging our children when we are educating them as we consider proper. In this world, if the Jews are going to leave behind children who are Jews, and the Arabs are going to produce children who are Arabs, and the Hindus leave behind Hindus, the old people all die but the young people grow up in the image of the old people, how will the world change ? The same divisions will continue because the prejudice continues from the older generation to the newer generation through a lack of awareness. One is not aware that it is prejudice.

So, if I see that, then I don’t want to pass on my prejudices to my children, I don’t want to create them in my own image. But this is difficult because we don’t know what else to create them into. What shall we teach them if we don’t teach them what we have learnt ? So that is a problem. Can we make them aware of this problem ? While we educate them, while we pass on to them our traditions, which we have learnt in our family and not discarded after our questioning, can we at the same time encourage them to question it ? Ask them not to conform but to inquire, to find out whether that is the right way, whether that is true, not accept it blindly. I don’t see any other way in which mankind can change in a fundamental sense. It may change politically or economically and it has, but that is all so trivial. Instead of three countries you may become ten countries, but it will not end the divisions because the division arises from the mind when the mind is filled with ignorance. Until that ignorance is dispelled it lives with illusions and the illusions will divide. So fundamentally that is the source of division. It may manifest itself in a more cruel way somewhere and in a less cruel way somewhere else, but the division between countries arises out of this, the division between a man and his wife in the family also arises out of this.

At present we are not only passing on our prejudices but we are creating groups around a common prejudice. As a Hindu I may have a certain notion of God which I acquired during my childhood but that notion about God may be an illusion. Around that illusion we collect a whole lot of people who all believe in the same illusion. Similarly there is another group around another illusion. Then this group feels separate from that group. The whole division is based on illusion. Then we talk about tolerance. You must respect the other fellow for his illusion, his illusions are not inferior to your illusions and so on ! Tolerance means I don’t love you, but I will put up with you, and we consider it a virtue because we are not willing to give up our illusions. We are not willing to live with facts and end division because we are attached to our illusions.

So can we refuse to belong to any group around any illusion ? You will ask me, whether as theosophists, we are not also a group ? What is the difference ? If we consider theosophy to be a number of answers, conclusions, to which we all agree to hold, then we do indeed create a new group, a new religion, and therefore a new division in mankind. But if we look upon Theosophy not as a body of answers or as instructions to be obeyed, but as an approach to life, an approach which says I want to find out was is true, I want to find out what is right, I want to look at things not fragmentarily, but holistically, then we are all students of life and that is not a group which divides. We do not have the answers, therefore there is nothing to propagate. One is only pointing out that that is the right way to approach life, to approach a problem or an issue like a student and such an approach is central to theosophy. Because how does one know the answers ? The Christians have their own answers, the Jews have their own answers, somebody else has his own answers and they all fight over the answers. Therefore let us not give importance to answers but to questions. It is not important to live with conclusions, it is important to live with inquiry, with a deep sense of mystery, with the humility which comes from knowing that we do not know. We must accept that we do not know and have the willingness to inquire.

Is it at all necessary to arrive at an answer ? Is it not enough to live with an inquiring mind right through life ? Does inquiry have to end in a conclusion or is it possible to love inquiry itself and therefore live with inquiry ? Why does one need a conclusion ? We must ask ourselves why we always want an answer. Is that also something that we have been conditioned into ? Then the enquiry becomes a process of fulfillment of the desire to get the answer. One may call it a noble desire but it is also a desire and it is seeking fulfillment in an answer. And how will you ever know that your have arrived ? When we feel that, it may just be that we are satisfied with a particular prejudice since we don’t know whether it is really true. So often things have appeared to be true when they are not true. I am sure all of us, if we look back, will find that our ideas have changed, our opinions have changed, so how can we be sure they will not change again ? So why should I be attached to my particular opinions now and of what value is that opinion ?

This does not mean that we must not have opinions, one is not saying that. But opinions are not important things, only facts are important. Therefore let us keep looking for facts and doubting all opinions, holding them tentatively, knowing that they may be born of ignorance, knowing also that if we get attached to our opinions, our particular answers or conclusions, our beliefs, we create a new division in the world. Universal brotherhood of man is not an ideal, a motto, but a fact. Not that as theosophists, we believe in universal brotherhood of man. The other man is your brother. Indeed Krishnamurti went a step further. He said the other man is yourself. Not your brother, but yourself. Because, what is the difference ? To the extent one wave of the ocean is different from another wave of the ocean, to that extent we are different from each other. The Buddha expressed it with another analogy. He said one human being differs from another only as much as one candle differs from another candle and that difference is not more than the difference between what that candle is now and what it was earlier. Because, with time and experience my ideas keep changing, my conditioning is changing and the difference between me and you is also just a difference in conditioning and your conditioning is also changing.

So, if as an individual, knowing that I am a part of this whole mysterious phenomenon of life, knowing that I have come into this world not by choice, been bestowed with these faculties which the human mind possesses, the question arises: what is the right use of these faculties ? Are we making the right use of these faculties ? If we use these faculties to understand our relationship to the whole world to our fellow man, to understand who we are, what our life is, then life is an exploration for which we use these faculties. Take one of the faculties – take thought. What is the right use of thought ? I can use thought as a help in exploration. The entire intellectual exploration is all based on thought. It is limited because it functions within the field of the known. Reason has its limitations, thought has its limitation; but it also has a field within which it can explore. Someone gave the analogy that thought is like the pole of the pole-vaulter. In the game of pole vaulting a man uses the pole to push himself up in order to climb and go over the bar. Reason and thought are like that, like the pole. At the right moment you must be willing to leave the pole if you want to cross over to the other side. It won’t take you all the way. But it is a faculty, a very important faculty, which will take you in your enquiry up to a point. You have to find out what that point is at which you must leave that pole. But we are not using thought in that way. We are not using it for exploration. We first choose from the answers that are offered, then align ourselves with one particular answer, group around it and then use thought like a lawyer, defending the particular view which we have chosen. Please see the truth of this. This is what is creating division in the world – the wrong use of thought.

We must ask ourselves whether that is the true function of thought. Is the purpose of the faculty to think, to reason, to imagine, to build walls around oneself ? Should I first say that I am a Hindu, I believe in these things, and then use thought to propagate what I believe in or should thought be used to inquire into what is true ? Which way are we going to use thought ? Are we going to posit what is true as the unknown and inquire into it or are we going to align ourselves with some view which, someone, great or small, says is true. If I join a particular group and do propaganda for what they maintain is the truth, then what I spread is illusion. What I spread is only the word because I have not got the truth, I have not inquired and found out if it is true. If you have simply assumed it then all your abilities and all your intelligence is being used like that of a lawyer. This is precisely what a lawyer does and he accepts money for it. The payment that we receive is the illusory security of that group — illusory because such group formation has created the greatest insecurity in the world. The lawyer says I will argue only for my client, my client is right because he paid me the money ! He is not using the intelligence to find out who committed the crime, who was wrong. He only use his intelligence to argue that his client was correct. We do a similar thing when we invest our happiness in a particular group, around one particular belief, and that creates division.

So, it is our illusions, our ignorance that divides us. In actual fact there is no division and if we dispel our ignorance there is no need to integrate or to propagate universal brotherhood.

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