We were sitting in the shade of a large tree, overlooking a green valley. The woodpeckers were busy and there were ants in a long line scurrying back and forth between two trees. The wind was from the sea, bringing the smell of a distant fog. The mountains were blue and dreamy; often they had seemed so close, but now they were far away. A small bird was drinking from the little pool made by a leaky pipe. Two grey squirrels with large bushy tails were chasing each other up and down a tree; they would climb to the top and come spinning down with mad speed almost to the ground, and then go up again.
He was once a very rich man and had renounced his riches. He had had a great many possessions and had enjoyed the burden of their responsibility, for he was charitable and not too hard of heart. He gave without stint and forgot what he gave. He was good to his helpers and saw to their benefits, and made money easily in a world that was bent on moneymaking.
He was unlike those whose bank accounts and investments are bigger than themselves, who are lonely and afraid of people and their demands, who shut themselves off in the peculiar atmosphere of their wealth. He was not a threat to his family nor did he yield easily, and he had many friends, but not because he was rich. He was saying that he had given up his possessions because it had struck him one day, as he was reading something, how vastly stupid were his moneymaking and his wealth.
Now he had but few things and was trying to lead a simple life to find out what it was all about and whether there was something beyond the appetites of the physical centres. To be content with little is comparatively easy; to be free from the burden of many things is not difficult when one is on a journey looking for something else.
Freedom from things needs intelligence, not gestures and convictions; and intelligence is not personal. If one is aware of all the implications of many possessions, that very awareness liberates, and then there is no need for dramatic assertions and gestures. It is when this intelligent awareness is not functioning that we resort to disciplines and detachments. The emphasis is not on much or little, but on intelligence; and the intelligent man, being content with little, is free from many possessions. But contentment is one thing and simplicity is quite another. The desire for contentment or for simplicity is binding. Desire makes for complexity. Contentment comes with the awareness of ‘what is’, and simplicity with the freedom from ‘what is’. It is well to be outwardly simple, but it is far more important to be inwardly simple and clear. Clarity does not come through a determined and purposeful mind; the mind cannot create it. The action of will makes for confusion; because will, however sublimated, is still the instrument of desire.
Simplicity is not of the mind. A planned simplicity is only a cunning adjustment, a defence against pain and pleasure. It is conflict that brings darkness, within and out.
Conflict and clarity cannot exist together; and it is freedom from conflict that gives simplicity, not the overcoming of conflict. What is conquered has to be conquered again and again, and so conflict is made endless. The understanding of conflict is the understanding of desire. from desire, from conflict.
The question of how to experience this fact should never arise. It must happen; and it happens only when there is alertness and passive awareness. You cannot know the actual experience of meeting a poisonous snake by imagining or speculating about it while sitting comfortably in your room. To meet the snake you must venture out beyond the paved streets and artificial lights. Thought may record but it cannot experience the freedom from conflict; for simplicity or clarity is not of the mind.
Excerpt from Commentaries on Living I