Radha Burnier – India
[Recognizing regeneration as the kernel of all Theosophical work, the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden, the Netherlands, jointly with the Federation of Theosophical Societies in Europe, organized two seminars in July 1990, with a number of office bearers, workers and members of the Society from different countries as participants. Proceedings of the seminar were published as a book under the title Human Regeneration: Lectures and Discussion (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij der Theosofische Vereniging in Nederland, 1990). This chapter (discussions) is here slightly revised.]
A shining Radha Burnier (middle) at the opening of the centennial exhibition of the Dutch Section in Amsterdam, in 1997. On the left and rather young your editor, and on the right the former General Secretary of the Dutch section, Ali Ritsema
Discussion – continued
EA: I think regeneration is an ongoing thing. It is not only a new birth. Re-generation is constantly going on.
WV: Regeneration cannot be put into words although it is spoken of in all religions. Real regeneration, real transcendence, or birth to something perfectly new, may become clearer to the Christians among us if we follow the important events in the life of Christ. Then we see what a moment of supreme experience we have to go through before we can talk of regeneration
There is a satori-experience in Zen Buddhism related as follows: “Before I got satori, a tree was a tree, a river was a river and a house was a house. Now, a tree is a tree, a river is a river and a house is a house. And yet, everything is new.” Regeneration points to an experience with a real spiritual meaning, which is difficult to understand and explain in words. This experience has to be lived, which implies total change from the old level to a new level of being, of consciousness. In any case it implies much suffering.
RH: To me regeneration means coming to one's own real nature and essence again. Our body, emotions, and thoughts are not our real self. But when we no longer identify ourselves with that, when the little self, the personality is forgotten, then we can come to our true self, and this is the one universal life in all. When we are consciously one with this universal life, when we are this universal life, we have realized our true nature, which we knew before we began our pilgrimage. This spark of divine life at the core of our being, was one with the One Life before it began its pilgrimage into incarnation. Then it got a feeling of separateness, and its destiny is to come again to the feeling of oneness, but in a much deeper, richer and more intense way than at the beginning.
RB: Is Nature not a great teacher? Perhaps, natural processes can teach us what regeneration is. Before we die in the ordinary sense of the term, over years we acquire various ideas and prejudices. So when we look at something, we look with the memory of the past. We see the rose. How do we know it is a rose? Because the image of previous roses is in the mind. We are unable to see the rose without the past images. Naming implies the weight of all the past. Recognition is re-cognition, memory of the past experience, and also all the past prejudices, likes, dislikes, etc. After the body dies, there is a new birth in the ordinary sense of the term. The child is innocent; it looks at a butterfly with new eyes, full of wonder. Everything is new and fresh. So Nature teaches what a new birth can be. Regeneration is this awareness without the accumulated burdens of the mind. And we do not have to wait until the body dies. In fact that is not complete regeneration, because a child is born with latent tendencies and it gets conditioned very soon. Can there be a new awareness with no latent tendency, no burden of the past, seeing with eyes that are completely new? Then everything might convey the glory that life actually is. Blake wrote of the world in a grain of sand, and eternity in each hour. Our minds have become stale, with accumulations. If we become aware that we accumulate, and stop accumulating, the mind will be fresher. We must not think of regeneration as a faraway goal. Day by day, we can drop the useless stuff of our minds, and proceed like Jesus who could say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We are taught to remember. The person who remembers is appreciated. We remember our own words and our own past ideas and we give them great importance. It is much more important to give attention to the present. The Bhagavad Gita repeatedly speaks about acting without concern for the result of the action. Acting is speaking, feeling, thinking, even being. Normally we give very little attention to the moment in which action takes place, the moment when thought arises. We may analyze afterwards, but we are not aware of the present action. While acting, we do not know how we are acting, but we want our action to have results in the future. The mind moves away from the “now”, which is the only real moment, to a future which is only a projection of the mind. Both the past and the future are images in the mind. The past cannot exist because it is gone. It exists only in the mind as memory, images, impressions, tendencies. Similarly, the future. Can there be an action, a living, in the present, not through the veil of the past? Then a regenerative process begins, the mind becomes c1earer, fresher.
In winter, trees lose their leaves. Then one fine morning, spring arrives and the trees have delicate, new leaves. It is an extraordinary sight. It seems as if all of a sudden the change has taken place, but actually the tree has been gathering its resources. Changes were taking place in it unseen, and then spring arrives as a new burgeoning. So it is in our life. There is regeneration in the sense of a total change, a new mind. But for that new mind to come we should allow the energies within us to be gathered, and that cannot happen if we continue to accumulate all sorts of things from the past within the mind.
BO: ln Australia all the forests have to die or be burnt completely away for them to regenerate. In fact, an Australian forest regenerates when it is completely destroyed. It is a miraculous event.
Can one say that “viveka” is the conscious of “vichara?”
RB: Viveka means spiritual discernment, discrimination between good and bad, right and wrong, real and unreal. It implies real intelligence. Vichhara means reflection, going below the surface, understanding the real nature of everything, a problem, a relationship, etc.
CB: I think that deep reflection brings us nearer to true discernment. Reflection is for most people a movement of thought. But real discernment is beyond thought. Deep reflection is the preparation for the spiritual discernment that is beyond it.
RB: Viehara comes from the root vi-ehar, “to move around.” This means looking at a question from every side, thoroughly, wholly.
RH: True discrimination comes from c1ear sight, and pondering and reflecting is not enough. To see c1early, we need deep attention and awareness of wholeness, of the context of the thing we are examining in relation to the whole. If we look at things separately, rather than in relation to the totality, we may not see clearly the nature, the import, and the relation to the rest of the world.
EA: I wonder if anyone of us looks thoroughly at things, from all angles, in a quiet state of mind. I wonder li discernment is not a state of understanding. If you look thoroughly at some problem or fact, then you get understanding, which is not merely understanding of that fact, but which is a state of mind, of consciousness.
GS: By developing attention, you start to see things more clear1y as a whole. You have developed a deeper kind of perception.
RB: To me it seems as if the two are part of one life.
Is any preparation necessary for correct perception of truth?
MD: I think the preparation must essentially be purification and getting 'oneself' out of the way. Because “this one” [pointing to herself] and ”that one” [pointing to the ceiling] cannot mix.
RB: Can you say something more about the impossibility of mixing? How do you get “this” out of the way?
MD: I think only by finding useful practices and by what seems to work at the time. One useful practice I found is to try always to remember that “this one” is neither more nor less important than “that one” and that whenever there is any derogation of “this one” (e.g. “Oh, I am stupid!”), try to remember that “this one” is no more stupid than anybody else. Then gradually the differences can become less and the points of contact may increase. Anything at which one works steadily seems to become stale after a time. We have to keep giving ourselves little exercises to purify us from this greed that makes “this one” the most important thing in the world.
AB: Purification is essential, but we also need a balanced personality because without balance, nothing can be done. Balance means an equal development of thinking power, fee1ing and action. You cannot be one-sided and penetrate into truth. You should not neglect the personality. Nothing is lost, of all the things that you develop inside yourself – thinking, knowledge, refining of the feelings, purification of the character, unselfish action – all this is essential. With a more balanced and better developed personality you live more happily and are more useful to your fellow man. So there is much work to do in the different areas of your personality.
RB: There are many instructions about the preparation for correct perception of truth, not only at the outer level, but also of the essential nature within. If that essential nature is not seen, there is no perception of the truth, because then we do not see the whole of what is.
Muriel has answered very simply: “This” must give way to the other. But what are the aspects of “'this” and how does it display itself? One part of the preparation is obviously to watch for symptoms. If we do not help when help is needed, is it because we do not want to be inconvenienced? Then that is the self, unwilling to sacrifice its comfort. The positive side may be to train oneself to observe where help may be needed and be ready to offer it. Dr. Besant said that, between the person who sees what needs to be done and says ”let somebody else do it” and he who goes forth to do it, there are incarnations of difference
There are other aspects. We may see in a shop-window something which is not really necessary. But a quick thought arises, a desire to have it; it may be something new, it may look attractive, or our neighbor has it. This reaction is almost automatic. It is greed, and we should not say: “It is harm1ess; after all, nobody is hurt because I feel a little greedy at the moment”, because then we neglect ourselves. Our desire for comfort, little acts of greed – all these things cloud the mind, preventing perception.
Everything which creates greater harmony makes perception easier. Perhaps we should adopt a way of life in which there is more harmony. What we think is a fault in somebody else may not be a fault at all. Even so, why not think kindly of that person and say: “That is his temporal nature; the real person in him is pure, as it is in everybody else”? Do not give too much importance to the fault, be too critical and tell other people about it. Look at the person with understanding, as if you were in his place; help him inwardly if not outwardly. We are not our brother’s keepers, but we can be sympathetic, help with our responses, thoughts and kindliness.
There are small practices which can be helpful. Suppose there is a desire, a weakness, let us say, for sweets. Can we quietly, without struggling, abstain from that particular attachment? Do not eat sweets for a few months. A few days ago I suggested something else. People who have heard Krishnaji speak will know that he never referred to himself. We say: “I am hungry, I am tired, I want something”, etc. We say so many things about ourselves. We are not doing any harm, but can we try to abstain from this? We are not conscious of it. Can we be aware?
All sorts of trivialities come up, expressions of the self, which obscure perception. The mind runs away with us. It has been compared to a monkey, to a wild horse, etc. There is the habit of worry. The worry is mostly about utterly useless things. The train is late. You keep looking at your watch, you pace up and down. All this is not going to bring the train earlier. Do we fret because we do not pay attention? Thought has the habit of creating agitation about nothing.
One way is reflection on higher things, uplifting the mind to a noble level. Books can help. Do not become a bookworm, but read a little passage and allow yourself intervals to ponder, to see for yourself. So a study can help us to lift the mind from personal, trivial questions to universally important matters. Communion with Nature, in silence, can also help to purify he mind.
Instructions are not lacking: Light on the Path, At the Feet of the Master, the “Golden 5tairs” – these are well-known. But there are many variations of those instructions. They appear too familiar and so we do not see the necessity either to put them into practice or to go into their implications. Take for instance the “open mind.” It is a mind which is open not only to other ideas, but open in a more sensitive way. It is difficult even to be open to ideas, because usually we do not listen to what another person is really trying to say, either in spoken words or through a book. If ideas are somewhat different from ours, we react. We may say at once: “It is useless, it is rubbish.” Can we be really open, without preconclusions and prejudices? Bradlaugh taught Dr. Besant to read everything which was contrary to her own thoughts, to see whether there was some defect in her own ideas, something she had missed. We must not be afraid of anything which does not agree with what we think. Most of us are either afraid and we immediately reject ideas which deviate from our own. Even if an idea is not very valid, there may be some point in it which may help to widen our understanding.
Further, can we be open to what is said between the lines, to the underlying truth? The open mind is a receptive, sensitive mind. It is always learning. An open mind does not exist when there are ready-made ideas, prejudices and desires. It is ready to examine afresh.
So we must go into the implications of teachings, even a simple phrase like “the open mind” and put them into practice. This is part of the preparation. Preparation means a way of life which makes the consciousness clearer. We see according to the emotions and the prejudices within us. If I am proud and somebody does not give me importance or attention, I feel hurt. But, as the Bhagavad Gita says: “There is no honor or dishonor.” It is all inside ourselves. One can feel honored or dishonored, depending on one’s own image of oneself.
We see the world through what is in us. If we do not remove obscurities, there is no clarity. The consciousness must therefore become clearer, more alert, more sensitive – all this is involved in the perception of truth. It must become capable of seeing what is subtle, not only what is obvious. Can we catch the nuances of a teaching or instruction? If we understand that this is necessary, then we prepare the consciousness to reflect the truth. Calmness is also necessary; only in the calm mind there can be clarity. If there is distraction, agitation, strong reactions, there cannot be clarity. It is like the water of a lake: it must be pure and calm, then it reflects.
To be continued