An audio recording and a transcript of a talk.
A Parable of Sea Gulls
ON a sea-coast – a fairly large tract of land opening out on the vast sea and the infinite sky – among rocks and cliffs there lived a flock of sea-gulls, rather flocks of sea-gulls, – for they were almost innumerable, in hundreds and perhaps in thousands – a whole colony of them. Have you seen a sea-gull, at least in a picture? This beautiful bird, spotlessly white end to end, and when in flight with outspread wings and its delicate supple body so pleasing, so wonderful to look at! Do you know their routine, their daily preoccupations? Of course, the first thing in the morning for them to do was to fly out and look for food. Their food is naturally fishes. So these birds used to fly a certain distance out to sea and from above look down and spot the swimming fishes below and dart down, catch them and fly up again; then they came back to their places and shared their catch among themselves. Naturally there was a good deal of scrambling and fighting but that was part of the life. And thereafter, most of the time, they passed in dozing or sleeping or at times flying out once again to sea for a forage. And of course, there was the item of mating and begetting children. That was their life and they continued it day after day, year after year. They were, I suppose, quite content with the life they were leading.
Now, it happened that one of these sea-gulls thought otherwise. Yes, a thought entered into him. Why should not a thought enter into the head of a bird? A new thought, a faith did enter into the heart of a human child as reported in the Upanishads, so this bird with his questioning thought found the ordinary bird-life quite uninteresting. He wondered: why lay so much stress upon food and sleep and quarelling and increasing the population? He found flying itself a beautiful adventure. Why fly just a few miles, only to come back, flop down and roost? Why not fly out, out into the vast sea abroad and the limitless sky overhead? Having wings, he thought they were strong enough to fly him far and high; he would try.
So, from that time he separated himself from his tribe and went out on his own for the joy of long journeys and long flights. It was pure delight for him and he increased the distance of his flight from day to day, from a hundred to a thousand miles or more. And he found himself gradually incredibly stronger in body, unbelievably happy within. Food or sleep or rest did not trouble him anymore. When he was thus practising this new adventure, two or three of his comrades noticed it and became interested. So, these approached him and asked what the matter was. He explained to them what he was about, he was not happy with the old common life, he wanted a new, broader, more vigorous life. The newcomers were allured by the project and they wanted to join the new adventure. They were gladly accepted.
So, these three or four friends joined together and resolved to start a new life. These new-comers were first taught the lessons of long flight – perhaps now they could fly some thousands of miles at a stretch without rest. One day the pioneer bird – let us give him a name “Shobhanaka”, à la manière de Panchatantra e.g. Damanaka, Karataka, Bhasunaka etc. for he was very fine to look at, so Shobhanaka told his comrades: Long flight is not sufficient, not only horizontal flight but a vertical flight should be also our asset. So, they attempted to fly up and up, up into the clouds and beyond as far as possible, to the extent that earth’s atmosphere and gravitation would allow. They achieved this feat also and in doing so they pondered upon another mystery. Shobhanaka said: long-distance flight whether horizontal or vertical is not sufficient, we must increase our speed, the speed of flight. And the way to increase the speed is to speed down from above – dart headlong towards earth. In this way in place of a bare fifty or sixty miles per hour they calculated they could attain the speed of sound. To break the sound-barrier is indeed an achievement for bodily speed. Now they wanted to go farther on. Added to the flight they now learnt all kinds of acrobatic movements of the body – exactly as expert pilots do with their aeroplane, that is to say, with their gathering speed they went through all movements of vaulting, somersaulting, twirling, twisting and so on. They made their bodies a wonderful mass of supple energy and even radiant energy.
At this point one day all on a sudden they saw at a distance a bird of their kind but somewhat different, more beautiful, more glorious. They approached him, or perhaps he approached them and said, “I was observing you and I found what you were doing is wonderful. Your achievement is really marvellous. But there is something more yet to do. I have come to teach you what you have still to do for your true fulfilment. Till now you were moving on the same plane, all your progress has been made in one dimension. I will explain: ” – You have learnt ‘moving’ flight. You have to learn now un-moving or still flight. This is a contradiction in terms? In the new dimension you have to reconcile or unify the contradictions. Listen carefully, I give you the mystery of still flying. It is getting as I said into another dimension of space, or another kind of space – it is better I give you a practical demonstration.” “Come,” he said addressing Shobhanaka, “Stand here on your legs straight, firm and unmoving – by my side. Normally when you fly, first you have the will to fly, then that will you put forth into your body, into your muscles and nerves spreading it out as it were into your wings, making your wings mobile. Now what you have to do is an opposite movement. Instead of sending your will and energy outward, as if throwing it out, you gather the will and energy within yourself, that is, concentrate within you your will and energy instead of spilling them out. The whole thing depends upon this concentration, this gathering up your energy and will on one point within you and then just look, that is to say, with your thought or consciousness, at the point where you want to go. It is like a strung-bow with its arrow pointing at the target. And then let yourself go as it were. Indeed, if your concentration is perfect you will leap straight into your target without, as it would seem, passing through the intermediary stages – telescoping, as it were, all the intervening steps into one single step – a long jump at a lightning speed. Now try to do what I told you. Feel what I am doing.”
Miraculous it was, Shobhanaka saw the Elder-one who had been by his side but now, there afar on another cliff. At the next moment the expert flyer was back at his place as before by the side of his pupil. The pupil exclaimed in admiration: “It is an impossibility, but since you have done it I will try to do it.” “Yes”, the Elder-one said, “I too did not succeed in one day or in one attempt. It takes some time, even a long time. But persistence, perseverance and faith undiscouraged will bring you the victory.”
“Here I give you the ultimate, the supreme secret,” the Elder continued, “the inner core of the teaching. This body, this substance made of solid matter that seems so rigid, compact, hard, is really not so; you must have realised it by this time. You cannot even say that this body-material is an encasement for the storage and play of energy which is the true reality behind: it is not so. The body, the physical structure is only an idea, it is a perception: you perceive that there is your body, it does not exist outside your perception, your perception is an immaterial thing. The whole body so neatly outlined, so concretely static is only a combination of ideas and precepts, a projection of your mind: from tip to tip your outspread wings consist only of your thoughts as if strung together. If that is so you can naturally manipulate thought by thought, in other words your body, that is, what appears as your body is at your mercy, which means, at the mercy of your thought. You can move the body as you like, for you can move naturally thought by thought. So, what is needed is a withdrawal of the mind into its thought-stuff and to control it, make use of it from that centre. I have shown you how one can be this inner motive-thought and not obsessed by its apparent so-called material formulation. It is difficult to understand but by practice as I have shown you, you will understand.”
A few days passed, thereupon Shobhanaka was practising the new technique and was on the way towards success. The Elder-one came another day and said to the group of the three or four aspirant-birds, “My mission is ended, I have taught you what was intended to be taught and you are a fair way towards success: A last word you must remember, your achievements are not for yourselves alone but you must go back and try to instill these new virtues into you comrades left behind, they too must share the joy and the glory of this new life. I have to go; for there are tasks still to be done by me and other and higher dimensions of real living. But help will always come to you; whether I come or another one comes, you will always be companioned by happy helpers.” So, saying this Elder-bird flew up and up and gradually turned into a blazing point and disappeared among the stars.
Now these transmuted sea-gulls met and consulted together. They were required to go back in the midst of their old comrades but, how could they? Naturally they could not go back to the old mode of life. Besides, they would not be accepted by their old community. They were ostracised and they were now an outcaste group. If they ventured into the society of their old comrades they would likely be violently dealt with or perhaps even killed. However, there was no option left, they were ordained and it was now their duty to go back and try to get in touch with their old friends and influence them, guide them in the new mode of life to whatever extent it was possible.
So, they flew back to their old domain and as soon as they were in sight of their former friends, all these almost in a body rushed out and raised a hue and cry, sounded an alarm as it were: “the enemies are come!” But these new beings, a new type of sea-gulls, were not daunted, they approached bravely and calmly without fear, without any intention of opposing or giving battle. They passed by over their ancient habitat sailing in a beautiful formation with their beautiful white, all-white bodies aglow with a new radiance, pulsating with a new charm. All who rushed out to engage in a fight and combat, full of anger and fury, halted, stood agape in confusion and wonder.
Thus, the battle was won, marvellously, peacefully. The older race, specially the younger generation, could remark and appreciate the gait and the manner of flight in these newcomers. They now found out that the old mode of life was not interesting enough, there was no special joy in flying to procure only food-stuff, in merely catching fishes and gobbling them up: doing that eternally, repeating over and over again the same dull routine. Instead, there was the joy in flying simply (or the sake of flying, in flying far, far into the distant horizon, far into the infinite spaces overhead into the unfamiliar and the unknown. Thus, slowly the old community began to change its mode of life adding a new meaning to their movements – a new limb and direction to their body and existence.
This healthy influence became more effective since they witnessed a strange and curious event happening in their presence.
A demonstration was being given by Shobhanaka of the art of flying, of all the difficult and artistic modes of flying. He was showing the speed with which one is capable of flying, literally lightning speed. A large crowd of spectators had gathered around an arena-like opening and was intently observing all the wonderful and almost impossible acrobatics and calisthenics. They suddenly saw the bird from one far corner of the sky speeding across to the other end and, as I said, beating lightning’s speed, but suddenly one stray bird happened to be there up directly in the way of the speeding bird. So in order to avoid dashing against the intruder, Shobhanaka swerved around but hurled itself straight upon… Oh! what horror! a cry of pity and pain rose up from the crowd – in swerving away from the bird on his path Shobhanaka in his incredible speed dashed and crashed against a cliff that was blocking the sides. Everyone thought, that was the end of the poor flying expert, he must have been reduced to mere pulp now. But no, what a miracle! Hale and hearty, he was there flying up slowly and at ease, then gracefully descending upon the earth as if nothing had happened. Well, his body did not seem to be made of flesh and bone but of some ethereal substance, so supple, so elastic, so resilient that nothing offered any resistance to it. It could pass through like a beam of the invisible light.
The upshot was that the old community gradually changed its habits slowly but inevitably, they took to adventure and far-flights, over the unknown waves into the infinite blue. Many became experts and given to this new life they formed gradually a community by themselves and found for themselves another habitat nearby. Those old experts, Shobhanaka’s group, the masters, were with them as teachers and guides. And thus new guides and new teachers arose and community after community leading this new life, a life in which the old and unclean habits were eliminated and there was a life of exquisite beauty and harmony among all.
Here ends my story. It is the story, rather a vision and aspiration in a beautiful symbol of a pilot, a real pilot who was flying real aeroplanes. When he flew with his hard mechanical rigid wings into other regions, he imagined or aspired to fly with other wings, golden wings, into other regions, golden regions of another kind of consciousness, supra-human consciousness.
The symbol used here is very appropriate and meaningful. The sea-gull has normally a very beautiful appearance: Its snow-white body, out-spread wings, all spotless white and its gracefulness in flight is indeed a delightful spectacle for the eyes to contemplate. Even so man also, even this earthly creature has within him a beautiful being, snow-white in its purity and exceedingly graceful in gait and movement; that being has to be brought out and displayed even as the sea-gull transformed itself – transformed its very nature and substance into a vibrating mass of light with its diamond sheen, its material body itself a packet of intense and yet controlled radiating energy.
[Nolini Kanta Gupta, Collected Works Vol. 5]
A re-creation of the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, published by Turnstone Press Ltd, London, 1972.