Really, no matter what we call it, we will miss it. Any conceptualization is going to miss the real - any conceptualization - so whatever has been known as the self, the soul, the atman, is not the real thing. It cannot be. All those who have defined it, have defined it with a condition: that they are trying something that is absurd. That which cannot be said they are saying; that which cannot be defined they are defining; that which cannot be known they are making a theory about.
There have been three attitudes about it.
First, there have been the mystics, the knowers, who have remained totally silent about it. They will not give any definition; they say definition is futile. Then there has been another group of mystics - the largest group - that says, "Even an effort that is futile can be helpful. Sometimes even untrue theory leads to truth, sometimes even wrongs may become rights, sometimes even a false step may lead you to a right end. It may look false at the moment, or in the end it may even prove false, but still, false devices can help."
This second group feels that by remaining silent you are still saying something, that nothing can be said. And this second type of mystic has a point. Definitions belong to them. Then there is a third type who has been neither silent nor who has defined. They have just denied the whole thing in order that you will not be at all obsessed with it.
Buddha belongs to this third type. If you ask him whether there is a soul, whether there is God, whether there is an existence beyond life, he will just deny it. Even on the verge of death when someone asked him, "Will you be, beyond death?" he denied it.
He said, "No! I will not be. I will drop out of existence just like a flame that goes out." You can't ask where the flame is when it goes out; it just ceases. That is why Buddha says that nirvana means "cessation of the flame," not just moksha, not just liberation. Buddha says, "This is liberation: to cease completely. To be is to be somewhere, somehow, in slavery." This is the third type.
These three types all quarrel, because one who speaks is bound to feel that those who have remained silent are not compassionate enough, that they should have said something for those who cannot understand silence. And those who have defined, have defined in so many ways that there are quarrels about it: quarreling is bound to be there.
All definitions are devices. One can define in any way; Mahavira defines in one way and Shankara is going to define in another way, because all definitions are equally false or true. It makes no difference. How one defines depends on the type of person he is. There are so many definitions, and those definitions have become so many religions, so many philosophical systems. They have made man's mind so confused by now that really it sometimes appears that those who have remained silent were more compassionate. Definitions have become conflicts. One definition cannot allow the other, otherwise it contradicts itself.
Mahavira tried to say that every definition has some truth in it, but only some; then something remains false about every definition. But it was impossible for Mahavira to have a big following because if you do not define clearly, the confused mind becomes even more confused. If you say, "Every path is right," then you are saying, "There is no path," and one who has come to find the path is just bewildered. You cannot get any help from me if I say, "Every path is right: wherever you go, you go to the divine. Go anywhere, do anything, everything has some truth." It is true, but still it is not helpful.
If you define in a particular way and make the definition absolute, all other definitions become false.
Because Shankara has to define things exactly he may say, "Buddha is not right, he is wrong." But if Buddha is made to appear wrong, it just creates confusion. How can a Buddha be wrong? How can a Christ be wrong? Is only Shankara right? Then there are conflicts.
Even the third attitude, the Buddhist attitude of denying, has not helped. It has not helped because by denying the very search is lost, and without the search there is no need of denying. Very few people are capable of understanding what total cessation is. The lust for life is so deep-rooted that we are even reaching for a god who is a part of our lust for life: we are searching for more life, really.
Even if we are searching for moksha, we are not searching for total death. We want to be there somehow.
Buddha had been asked, and asked continuously for forty years, only one question: "If we are to cease completely, then why this whole effort? It seems meaningless! Just to cease? Just to not be? Why this whole effort?" And yet people around Buddha felt that he had not ceased; really, he had become more - that was the feeling. Buddha had become something more, but still he went on denying and denying.
How can you define something that cannot be defined? But you will either have to be silent or you will have to define it.
As for me, I do not fall into any of these three groups; that is why I cannot be consistent. Each of these three types can be consistent, but I am not concerned with the concept of soul at all. I am always concerned with the questioner, the one who has asked. How can he be helped? If I think that he can be helped through positive faith, then I proclaim it; if I feel that he can be helped by silence, then I remain silent; if I feel he can be helped by definition, then I give the definition. To me, everything is just a device. There is nothing serious about it: it is just a device.
A definition may not be true; in fact, if I have to make it meaningful to you, it cannot be true really.
You have not known what soul is; you have not known what this explosion is which we call Brahman, the divine. You do not know the meaning, you know only the words. Words that you have not experienced are just meaningless sounds. You can create the sound "god," but unless you have known God it is just a sound.
"Heart" is a meaningful word, "cow" is a meaningful word, because you have yourself experienced what they mean. But "god" is just a word for you, "soul" is just a word. If I have to help you, I can help you only with a false definition, because you have no experience of God, no experience of the soul. And unless I can define it by something you know, a definition will be useless.
For a person who has never known a flower but has known a diamond, I must define flowers through diamonds. There is no other way. A flower has nothing to do with diamonds, but still, something can be indicated through it. I can say, "Flowers are living diamonds: living diamonds!" The whole thing is false - diamonds are irrelevant - but if I say, "Flowers are living diamonds, growing diamonds,"
I create a desire in you to experience them. A definition is there only to help you to move to the experience. All definitions are like that.
If you have not known diamonds, if you have not known anything positive for me to define through, then I have to define through negatives. If you do not have any positive feeling for anything, I will define through negatives. I will say, "The misery that you have is not part of the soul. The dukkha, the anguish that you are, is not part of the soul." I have to define negatively in terms of something with which you are crippled, from which you are dying; in terms of something with which you are burdened, which has become just a hell to you. I have to define negatively by saying, "It will not be this, it will be just the opposite."
So with me it depends. It depends. I have no absolute answers, I have only devices - only psychological answers. And the answer does not depend on me, it depends on you: because of you I have to give a particular answer.
That is why I cannot be a guru - never! Buddha can become one but I never can. Because you are so inconsistent, every individual is so different, how can I become consistent? I cannot. And I cannot create a sect, because for this consistency is very much needed. If you want to create a sect you must be consistent, foolishly consistent; you must deny all inconsistencies. They are there but you must deny them, otherwise you cannot attract followers. So I am less a guru and more like a psychiatrist - plus something. To me, you are meaningful. If you can understand this, then something more can be said.
By "consciousness" I mean a movement toward total aliveness. You are never totally alive; sometimes you are more alive - that you know - and sometimes you are less alive. And when you
are more alive you feel happy. Happiness is nothing but an interpretation of your greater aliveness.
If you love someone, then you become more alive with him, and that greater aliveness gives you the feeling of happiness. Then you go on projecting the reasons for your happiness onto someone else.
When you encounter nature you are more alive, when you are on a mountain you become more alive, and when you are just living with machines you are less alive, because of the whole association.
With trees you become more alive because you have once been trees. Deep down we are just walking trees - with roots in the air, not in the earth. And when you face the ocean you feel more alive because the first life was born in the ocean. In fact, in our bodies we still have the same composition of water as the ocean, the same salt quantity as the ocean has.
When you are with a woman, if you are of the opposite sex, you begin to feel more alive than with a man. With a man you feel less alive because nothing is pulling you out. You are enclosed, the opposite energy pulls you out; the flame flickers, you can be more alive. And whenever you begin to feel more alive, you begin to feel happy.
When we use the word soul, we mean total aliveness; total aliveness not with someone else but with yourself; total aliveness with no outward causes. The ocean is not there and you become oceanic; the sky is not there and you become the whole space; the beloved is not there and you are just love, nothing else.
What I mean is that you begin to be alive independently. There is no dependence on anything or anyone: you are liberated. And with this liberation, this inner liberation, your happiness cannot be lost. It is total aliveness, it is total consciousness. It cannot be lost.
With this total aliveness many things happen that cannot really be understood unless they have happened. But tentatively I can give you this definition of the soul as being totally conscious, totally alive, totally blissful, without being bound by anything. If you begin to love, or if you can be happy without a reason, then you are soul, not a body. Why then?
By body I mean the part of your soul that always exists in relation to the outside existence. You begin to feel sad when some cause for sadness is there, or you begin to feel good when some cause for happiness is there, but you never feel yourself without something else being there. That feeling, that state when nothing is there, but you are in your total aliveness, in your total consciousness, is the soul.
But this is a tentative definition. It just indicates; it doesn't define, it just shows. Much is there, but it is just a finger pointing to the moon. Never mistake the finger for the moon. The finger is not the moon, it is just an indication. Forget the finger and look at the moon. But all definitions are like that.
You ask whether the soul is individual. It is a meaningless question, but it is pertinent because of you. It is like a question that a blind man would ask.
A blind man moves with his staff. He cannot move without it: he searches and gropes in the dark with it. If we talk to him about operating on his eyes to heal them so he can see, the blind man can ask, very pertinently, "When I have my eyes will I still be able to grope in the dark with my staff?"
If we say, "You will not need your staff," he cannot believe it. He will say, "Without my staff I cannot exist, I cannot live. What you are saying is not acceptable. I cannot conceive of it. Without my staff, I am not. So what will become of my staff? First you tell me!"
Really, this individuality is like the blind man's staff. You are groping in the dark with an ego because you have no soul; this ego, this "I," is just a groping because you do not have eyes. The moment you have become totally alive, the ego is just lost. It was part of your blindness, part of your nonaliveness or partial aliveness, part of your unconsciousness, part of your ignorance. It just drops.
It is not that you are individual or you are not individual; both things become irrelevant. Individuality is not relevant, but questions continue because the source of questioning remains the same.
When Maulingaputta came to Buddha for the first time he asked many questions. Buddha said, "Are you asking in order to solve the questions or are you only asking to get answers?"
Maulingaputta said, "I have come to ask you, and you have begun to ask me! Let me ponder over it, I must think about it." He thought about it and the second day he said, "Really, I have come to solve them."
Buddha said to him, "Have you asked these same questions to anyone else as well?"
Maulingaputta said, "I have asked everyone continuously for thirty years."
Buddha said, "By asking for thirty years you must have got many answers - many, many. But have any proved to be the answer?"
Maulingaputta said, "None!"
Then Buddha said, "I will not give you any answers. In thirty years of questioning many answers have been given; I can add some more but that is not going to help. So I will give you the solution, not the answer."
Maulingaputta said, "Okay, give it to me."
But Buddha said, "It cannot be given by me, it has to be grown in you. So remain for one year with me silently. Not a single question will be allowed. Be totally silent, be with me, and after one year you can ask; then I will give you the answer."
Sariputta, the chief disciple of Buddha, was sitting nearby under a tree. He began to laugh.
Maulingaputta asked, "Why is Sariputta laughing? What is there to laugh about?"
Sariputta said, "Ask right now if you have to ask; do not wait for one year. We have been fooled - this happened to me too - because after one year we never ask. If you have remained totally silent for a year, then the very source of questioning drops. And this man is deceptive! This man is very deceptive," Sariputta said. "After one year he will not give you any answers."
So Buddha said, "I will remain with my promise, Sariputta. I have remained with my promise with you, too. It is not my fault that you do not ask."
One year went by and Maulingaputta remained silent:
silently doing meditation and becoming more and more silent outwardly and inwardly. Then he became a silent pool, with no vibrations, no waves.
He forgot that the year had passed. The day that he was to ask had come but he himself forgot.
Buddha said, "There used to be a man called Maulingaputta here. Where is he? He has to ask some question. The year has passed, the day has come, so he must come to me." There were ten thousand monks there and everyone tried to find out who Maulingaputta was. And Maulingaputta also tried to find out where he was!
Buddha called to him and said, "Why are you looking around? You are the man. And I have to fulfill my promise, so you ask and I will give you the answer."
Maulingaputta said, "The one who was asking is dead; that is why I was looking around to see who this man Maulingaputta is. I too have heard his name, but he is long since gone."
The original source must be transformed, otherwise we go on asking; and there are persons who will be supplying you with answers. You feel good in asking, they feel good in answering, but what goes on is only a mutual deception.