Chapter 7: The Pathless Path
Habits function without consciousness; they don’t need any awareness, they can move without you. If you have habits - and everybody has habits, you can see it. A man takes out his packet of cigarettes from a pocket, watch him, he may not be at all aware what he is doing. Just robot-like he reaches into the pocket. If there is some inner restlessness, immediately his hand goes into his pocket; he brings out the cigarette, starts smoking. He may throw away the remaining part, the last part of the cigarette; he may have moved through all the gestures without even being aware of what he was doing.
We teach a robot-like existence to the soldier. The soldier has to do and follow, he has not to be aware. When he is commanded to turn to the right, he has to turn; he has not to think about it, about whether to turn or not, because if he starts thinking then it is impossible, then wars cannot continue in the world. Thinking is not needed, nor is awareness needed. He should simply be this much aware, that he understands the order, that’s all. The minimum of awareness: here the order is given and there, immediately, like a mechanism, he starts following. It is not that he turns to the left when he is ordered to turn left; he listens and turns. He is not turning; he has cultivated the habit. It is just like putting the light off or on: the light is not going to think about it, whether to be on or off; you push the button and the light is on. You say, “Left turn,” and the button is pushed and the man moves left.
William James has reported that once he was sitting in a coffeehouse and an old soldier - retired, retired for almost for twenty years - was passing by with a bucket of eggs. Suddenly William James played a joke. He called loudly, “Attention!” and the poor old man stood to attention. The eggs fell from his hands; they were destroyed.
He was very angry; he came running and said, “What type of joke is this?”
But William James said, “You need not follow it. Everybody is free to call ‘Attention!’ You are not forced to follow it. Who told you to follow it? You should have gone on your way.”
The man said, “That is not possible; it is automatic. Of course twenty years have passed since I was in the military, but the habit is deep-rooted.”
Many years of training, and a conditioned reflex is created. This phrase conditioned reflex is good; Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, coined it. It says that you simply reflect: somebody throws something into your eye; you don’t think to blink or close it, your eye simply closes. A fly comes flying and you close your eye; you need not think, there is no need, it is a conditioned reflex - it simply happens. It is in your body-habit, it is in your blood, in your bones. It simply happens - nothing has to be done about it.
The soldier is trained to behave in a completely robot-like way. He has to exist in conditioned reflexes. The same is done by Yoga. You get angry, Yoga says, “Don’t get angry, rather cultivate the opposite: compassion.” By and by, your energy will start moving in the habit of compassion. If you persevere for a long time, anger will disappear completely, you will feel compassion. But you will be dead, not alive. You will be a robot, not a human being. You will have compassion not because you have compassion, but only because you have cultivated a habit.