These games sprang from their deep need to close their eyes and flee from unsolved problems and anxious forebodings of doom into an imaginary world as innocuous as possible. They assiduously learned to drive automobiles, to play difficult card games and lose themselves in crossword puzzles – for they faced death, fear, pain, and hunger almost without defenses, could no longer accept the consolations of the churches, and could obtain no useful advice from Reason. These people who read so many articles and listened to so many lectures did not take the time and trouble to strengthen themselves against fear, to combat the dread of death within themselves; they moved spasmodically on through life and had no belief in a tomorrow.
"Laugh at me if you like, but in spite of everything there's something impressive to me about those apostates, just as there is a grandeur about the fallen angel Lucifer. Perhaps they did the wrong thing, or rather, undoubtedly they did the wrong thing, but all the same they did something, accomplished something; they ventured a leap, and that took courage. We others have been hardworking and patient and reasonable, but we haven't done anything, we haven't taken any leaps."
Each of us is merely one human being, merely an experiment, a way station. But each of us should be on the way toward perfection, should be striving to reach the center, not the periphery.
Where passion dominates, that does not signify the presence of greater desire and ambition, but rather the misdirection of these qualities toward an isolated and false goal, with a consequent tension and sultriness in the atmosphere. Those who direct the maximum force of their desires toward the center, toward true being, toward perfection, seem quieter than the passionate souls because the flame of their fervor cannot always be seen.
"But the fact is, Joseph, that the more we demand of ourselves, or the more our task at any given time demands of us, the more dependant we are on meditation as a wellspring of energy, as the ever-renewing concord of mind and soul. And – I could if I wished give you quite a few more examples of this – the more intensively a task requires our energies, arousing and exalting us at one time, tiring and depressing us at another, the more easily we may come to neglect this wellspring, just as when we are carried away by some intellectual work we easily forget to attend to the body. The really great men in the history of the world have all either known how to meditate or have unconsciously found their way to the place to which meditation leads us."
Before his evening meditation he and his aides, the coach and the meditation master, were supposed to review each official day, noting what had been well done or ill done, feeling his own pulse, as meditation teachers call this practice, that is, recognizing and measuring one's own momentary situation, state of health, the distribution of one's energies, one's hopes and cares – in a word, seeing oneself and one's daily work objectively and carrying nothing unresolved on into the night and the next day.
"Awakening," it seemed, was not so much concerned with truth and cognition, but with experiencing and proving oneself in the real world. When you had such an awakening, you did not penetrate any closer to the core of things, to truth; you grasped, accomplished, or endured only the attitude of your own ego to the momentary situation. You did not find laws, but came to decisions; you did not thrust your way into the center of the world, but into the center of your own individuality.
The Head of the Order closed his eyes and seemed to be no longer listening. Knecht saw that he was performing that emergency exercise used by members of the Order in moments of sudden danger to regain self-control and inner calm; it consisted in twice emptying the lungs and holding the breath for long moments.
"What I am seeking is not so much fulfillment of idle curiosity or of a hankering for worldly life, but experience without reservations. I do not want to go out into the world with insurance in my pocket, in case I am disappointed. I don't want to be a prudent traveler taking a bit of a look at the world. On the contrary, I crave risk, difficulty, and danger; I am hungry for reality, for tasks and deeds, and also for deprivations and suffering."
My life, I resolved, ought to be a perpetual transcending, a progression from stage to stage; I wanted it to pass through one area after the next, leaving each behind, as music moves on from theme to theme, from tempo to tempo, playing each out to the end, completing each and leaving it behind, never tiring, never sleeping, forever wakeful, forever in the present. In connection with the experiences of awakening, I had noticed that such stages and such areas exist, and that each successive period in one's life bears within itself, as it is approaching its end, a note of fading and eagerness for death. That in turn leads to a shifting to a new area, to awakening and new beginnings.
"I have been observing you and find that you're not in the best of form. The moment an athlete receives an unexpected blow or pressure, his muscles react of their own accord by making the necessary movements, stretching or contracting automatically and so helping him master the situation. You too, my pupil Plinio, the moment you received the blow – or what you exaggeratedly thought a blow – should have applied the first defensive measure against psychic assaults and resorted to slow, carefully controlled breathing. Instead you breathed like an actor when he seeks to represent extreme emotion. You are not sufficiently armored; you people in the world seem to be singularly exposed to suffering and cares."
"I imagine, I might very well experience the joys of authorship, of the sort I foresee: an easygoing, but careful examination of things not just for my solitary pleasure, but always with a few good friends and readers in mind. The tone would be what mattered to me, a proper mean between the solemn and the intimate, earnestness and jest, a tone not of instruction, but of friendly communication and discourse on various things I think I have learned."
It was all a game and a sham, all foam and dream. It was Maya, the whole lovely and frightful, delicious and desperate kaleidoscope of life with its searing delights, its searing griefs.