WHERE DO WE COME FROM AT BIRTH? It has not to be asked verbally; verbally it is meaningless, but if you feel existentially ... We are here; certainly we must have come from somewhere, and certainly we are going somewhere. It is absolutely certain, the coming and going. If it becomes something like a thirst in the very fibers of your being, if every cell within you becomes a question mark, then this meditation works.
WHERE DO WE COME FROM AT BIRTH? WHERE DO WE GO AT DEATH? IF YOU KNOW WHERE WE COME FROM AND WHERE WE GO, THEN YOU CAN BE CALLED A DISCIPLE OF THE BUDDHA.
I will not use the word student; it is too ordinary and has implications of only an intellectual approach. A disciple uses his whole being to approach the ultimate questions of life. A disciple is interested only in realization, not in just knowing about it. The student is interested in knowing about it. And these are very diverse interests. Knowing about it is one thing, but knowing it, not about it ... the word 'about' means around and around but never coming to the point.
I used to know an old man, Mahatma Bhagwandin. Only two persons were recognized in India as mahatmas, great souls: Mahatma Gandhi and Mahatma Bhagwandin. Mahatma Bhagwandin met me just by coincidence, and he started feeling something for me, so whenever he was moving from my city to somewhere else he would make it a point to stay with me for at least one day, two days, three days, as much as he could afford.
He was an old man, a very beautiful man, and I have never come across a man who was more knowledgeable. It seemed he was almost a walking ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA. You ask anything and he knows. I have never heard him saying, "I don't know." And I have found that what he says is always right -- and about strange things with which he has no concern. I used to go with him every day for a walk in the morning and he would tell me about the Latin names of the trees. He knew so much about everything ... as if his whole life had been nothing but collecting information.
One day I told Mahatma Bhagwandin, "You know all the Latin names of all the trees that we pass but I don't think you know yourself." He was shocked but he was a very patient man and he tried to understand why I said that.
I said, "You are like a walking ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, but nobody has ever heard that an ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA has become enlightened. There is no possibility. You know everything, but I suspect that this is a way to avoid knowing yourself."
He remained silent. He didn't say anything. We reached home, he took his bath, and after his bath he said, "You are right. But now tell me how to forget all this knowledge."
I said, "There is no need to forget it. Just don't go on bragging about it, bringing it up again and again, telling it to people. Don't be an exhibitionist. And the whole energy that you have been pouring into collecting information is enough to bring a transformation to your life.
"Only two questions are important: 'From where do you come, and where are you going?'
Why are these two questions important? -- because they will make you aware of your inner being which travels from birth to birth in new lives. And once you have become alert about that greatest phenomenon in life, your own being, then whether or not you know anything else does not matter."
Then for many years I had no chance to see him. I was lecturing at the University of Nagpur, and somebody who knew me and knew Mahatma Bhagwandin told me, "He is here and he is very sick. There is every possibility he will not survive." So after the lecture I rushed to his place. I could not believe my eyes! He had been a very healthy man, and it had been only four or five years that I had not seen him. And now he was just a skeleton, continuously coughing. Even to talk was difficult for him. That coughing was so continuous ... the moment he said something, in the middle of the sentence he would start coughing.
I said, "You need not say anything."
But he insisted, "No, I have to talk because I am not going to survive and I am immensely sad that I could not do what you had told me. And now I realize all my knowledge has been futile; it doesn't help. I am dying as ignorant as I was born."
I said, "This too is a great achievement: that you are dying innocent and fully aware that knowledge is useless. And still there is time ... because you are still alive. It may take a few days or maybe a few months ... nobody knows. Why don't you begin to meditate on the same point which is coming closer every moment: Where are you going? From where have you come? And who are you?"
He said with tears in his eyes, "I will do it."
I had to leave, so I left him. Just after three days he died. But his friend, Poonam Chandrika, with whom he was staying informed me, "You will be immensely happy that he managed. He died not coughing, but laughing." And this was his last message to me: that he knows from where he is coming and to where he is going and who this fellow is who is traveling. He has recognized him. He is dying with great joy. At his death he was suffering very much, but he died laughing, smiling. The body suffered, and the mind knew that the body was suffering, but because he had understood the innermost core of his being, it did not matter at all. He knew now that his life source is eternal.
This meditation which Ta Hui is mentioning is one of the oldest. He is just using a wrong word: 'student'. He should use the word 'disciple'. The student simply remains concerned with words, theories, philosophies. The disciple is more involved; he wants to know with his own eyes, he wants to experience with his own heart.
AND WHO IS IT WHO KNOWS OF BIRTH AND DEATH?
That is the central point in the meditation. Birth and death are simply devices, because neither birth is true nor death is true. We have been before birth, so how can birth be true?
And we will be after death, so how can death be true? Only one thing is true: the consciousness that comes with you through birth and goes with you through death -- perhaps birth is a door, and death too! Perhaps they are the same door, just your direction is different.
When you enter this door into life your direction is towards life, and when you leave life you go through the same door, only your direction is outward. There is no need for two doors; one door will do perfectly well. When you enter this door you read the word PUSH, and when you go out the same door, from the other side, only the word changes: PULL.
But the real thing is: Who is to push and who is to pull?
WHO IS IT WHO KNOWS OF BIRTH AND DEATH AND WHO IS IT WHO EXPERIENCES BIRTH AND DEATH? AGAIN: WHO IS IT WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHERE WE COME FROM AND WHERE WE GO?
It is the same being. Awakened it knows, asleep it does not know.
WHO IS IT WHO SUDDENLY REALIZES WHERE HE COMES FROM AND WHERE HE GOES TO?
Here he comes very close to the reality of enlightenment, because enlightenment is always sudden. You may have been preparing for it for years, but in those years you were not enlightened; it was not that slowly, slowly you were becoming enlightened. The preparation may be long, of many lives, but when you become enlightened it is just in a single moment. It is always sudden. One moment you were ignorant; the next moment you are laughing hilariously ... seeing that, "I am the same person who had been going through all kinds of sufferings, nightmares, worries, humiliations, failures, and now suddenly I am out of it all, as if by magic all the clouds have disappeared and the sun is shining bright."
There are two schools in Zen. One is called the gradual school and the other the sudden school. The gradual school has a little misunderstanding of the point; otherwise nothing is wrong. They include in enlightenment the period of preparation, the period of wanderings -- as if all those wanderings have helped, as if they were the cause of enlightenment. They recognize that enlightenment happens suddenly, but that this suddenness has been earned through lives of discipline, meditation, and virtue, so they include the preparation period.
Hence they insist it is gradual.
But the word 'gradual' is not right for it, because gradual enlightenment immediately gives the sense that you get it in installments: one part and then after a few years another part ... and slowly gathering all these parts, one day you have the whole enlightenment.
I don't agree with the gradual idea.
Enlightenment is sudden.
Preparation for it may take lives or may not take lives -- it depends on you. If you are authentically interested in being enlightened it can happen without any preparation, because your inner being is already enlightened -- it is just a point of turning in.
I had one colleague in the university who was very much curious about enlightenment.
Even while I was teaching in the university I was moving around the country, finding people who can belong with me one day ... but his interest in enlightenment was only that of a student. One day he came to me and I said, "This day is very special."
He asked, "What do you mean?"
I said, "Today, if you want to be enlightened, I can manage it."
He looked worried. He said, "But I have a wife and children ..."
I said, "Enlightenment does not prohibit you from having a wife or children."
He said, "If this is a day of such a strange quality I should come on some other day."
But I asked, "What about enlightenment?"
He said, "Forgive me, I am only curious. I love you and I feel to be close to you, but enlightenment right now ...? There are so many things to be done, and moreover do you think as a buddha I will look adequate?"
I said, "You don't be worried about it. Enlightenment has nothing to do with whether you look like a buddha or not. Certainly you will be a special buddha." He had very strange eyes -- one looking this way, one looking that way. I said, "Don't be worried because I don't think that is a hindrance for enlightenment. It will be really very hilarious for people to see a buddha ..."
If he was talking to you he was looking another way. I said, "It will be a little strange when you are delivering sermons, but your eyes can be fixed. You don't be worried; that is my responsibility. First you become enlightened."
He said, "It is not only eyes. There are many things ... I have false teeth. Do you think it will look right for a buddha to have false teeth? And if somebody comes to know ...?"
I said, "You don't be worried about these trivia."
But he stood up. He said, "I am going home. First I have to ask my wife. I never do such strange things without asking her; she is a very pragmatic woman."
I said, "It is up to you, but it has never happened in the whole history that somebody who becomes enlightened first asks the permission of his wife. You become enlightened; then you simply go and declare your enlightenment."
He said, "At least give me some time to think."
Then I said, "But such a day may not come again so soon. Today everything is ready."
He said, "I can wait. It will do even if it comes two or three years later."
And from that day he started avoiding me. If I was sitting in the common room he would not enter. He made sure that I was not in the university; then he would move everywhere freely. He would make sure that I was not in the library; then he would go to the library.
One day I arrived at his home. I said, "The day has come again."
He said, "My God, I have been avoiding you all this time, and just within three months the day has come again? My wife is absolutely against it!"
And then his wife came out and she said, "You should not make him enlightened. He is already a trouble, a nuisance. If he becomes enlightened our whole family's life will be disturbed. Even in his ignorance he is not what a husband should be and if he becomes enlightened I can visualize troubles and more troubles. You just leave him alone! He has been avoiding you for three months because of my advice. Now this is too much that you have started coming to our house."
And you will not believe that the next day he went to the capital and got himself transferred from that university to another university. After two or three days -- I had been looking for him -- I went again to his home and the neighbor said, "They are gone!"
I asked, "What was the problem?"
He said, "You were the problem."
I said, "I was simply trying to make him enlightened."
Enlightenment is such a simple thing that nobody needs to be worried about it. But it has become such ... Down the ages religions have been insisting that it is a very great phenomenon; it is not for ordinary mortals, it is only for those who have some special dispensation from God. Ordinary mortals should not try for it because that is trying for the impossible. It is good for a Gautam Buddha because he is an incarnation of God. It is good for Krishna because he is an incarnation of God, but ordinary people are not incarnations of God.
And I have been arguing my whole life with people that Gautam Buddha was not an incarnation of God before he became enlightened. Enlightenment came to him first; then you recognized him as an incarnation of God. Neither was Krishna accepted as an incarnation of God until he became enlightened. So your whole logic is false. You try to be enlightened and then people will accept you as a reincarnation of God.
If you remain with the idea that it is impossible for you, certainly it is impossible; otherwise it is your intrinsic nature. And because it is your intrinsic nature, its experience can be sudden, without any preparation. Preparation is needed for something which is not your nature. Preparation means nurture, education.
Enlightenment is your nature.
You are already enlightened; you just don't know. All that is needed is a simple insight inwards.
Ta Hui is right when he says, WHO IS IT WHO SUDDENLY REALIZES WHERE HE COMES FROM AND WHERE HE GOES TO? AND WHO IS IT WHO, CONTEMPLATING THESE WORDS, BLINKS HIS EYES UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND, HIS BELLY CHURNING UP AND DOWN, AS IF A MASS OF FIRE WERE PLACED IN HIS HEART? IF YOU WANT TO KNOW, JUST APPREHEND HIM AT THE POINT WHERE HE CAN'T UNDERSTAND.
This is so pregnant a sentence, you should not forget it. Ta Hui has not been able to make many pregnant statements; he only quotes. But in this sutra he is not quoting at all. It seems something has transpired; it seems he has had a glimpse, because what he is saying can be said only by a man who has at least had a glimpse. He may not be enlightened yet, but certainly he has seen something beyond the mind.
I repeat the sentence because it is very important: IF YOU WANT TO KNOW, JUST APPREHEND HIM AT THE POINT WHERE HE CAN'T UNDERSTAND.
Mind stops when it can't understand something. That is the whole art of the koan -- given an absurd puzzle, you turn and toss and you find this answer and that answer, and everything is wrong from the very beginning because the puzzle is not intrinsically solvable.
I have heard about a man who was purchasing toys for his children. He was a great mathematician and he became interested in a jigsaw puzzle. It was meant for small children, but he tried to fix it this way and that way and he failed. He could not believe ... if a mathematician of his caliber cannot fix the puzzle, how are small children going to do it? He asked the shopkeeper, who was watching and laughing, "Why are you laughing? And what kind of toy have you produced? I am a professor of mathematics and I cannot solve it. How will my small children solve it?"
And the shopkeeper said, "That's why I am laughing -- because this puzzle is not meant to be solved. It is a training for children for their coming life -- that life is a puzzle with no solution. So it is just preparing them: 'Don't get frustrated if you cannot solve it. You will be facing your life in a thousand ways and you will be amidst many problems which you cannot solve.'" Have you ever looked? Have you solved your problem of love? Have you solved your problem of silence, peace? Have you solved your problem of putting the mind aside, just to have a weekend without the mind? Have you solved in any way how to be non-tense -- at least for a few minutes every day, how to be without thoughts for a few minutes every day?
What have you solved? You are simply living with all your unsolved problems, which go on becoming more and more of a burden to you. By the time of your death you will be burdened with mountains of unsolved problems.
The man who created that jigsaw puzzle had some insight.
Ta Hui is saying, "The moment the mind cannot understand something, naturally it goes beyond it. It stops, not knowing what to do! This is a great point, because you can apprehend something that is beyond the mind. Because the mind has stopped all its noise for a moment -- its continuous turmoil is no longer there -- you may have a little glimpse into your authentic being.
I say this is a very pregnant statement by a man who has been up to now simply intellectualizing, philosophizing. For the first time he has come close to meditation, although it is only a very small glimpse -- but meditation as a glimpse is a great beginning. You have got the seed, now it can grow. Just give it the right soil and as soon as the spring comes you will have flowers dancing in the air, you will have flowers dancing within your being.
IF YOU CAN RECOGNIZE HIM THEN, YOU WILL KNOW THAT BIRTH AND DEATH SURELY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM.
If you can have just a glimpse of yourself you will know you have never been born and you have never died. Yes, birth and death have been happening around you but not to you.
The body was dying, the mind was dying; the body was being born, the mind was being born again, but you have remained eternally the same.
WHENEVER YOU ARE READING THE SCRIPTURES OR THE STORIES OF THE ANCIENT WORTHIES ENTERING THE PATH, WHEN YOUR MIND DOES NOT UNDERSTAND CLEARLY, AND IT SEEMS BEWILDERING AND STIFLING AND FLAVORLESS -- AS IF YOU ARE GNAWING ON AN IRON SPIKE -- THIS IS JUST THE TIME TO APPLY EFFORT.
This is the time to make the effort to wake up, a great opportunity ...
ABOVE ALL YOU MUST NOT GIVE UP. This is the moment ... make the effort to wake up. Above all don't give up because such moments rarely come. They come only when you encounter something which is too big for your mind. The mind remains in a kind of awe. This gives you a small window, a small opening, to see beyond the mind. Make every effort and don't give up!
THIS IS THE PLACE WHERE CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE DOES NOT OPERATE, WHERE THOUGHT DOES NOT REACH ... This is the first time he is talking about thoughtlessness, transcendence of conceptual knowledge ...
... WHERE DISCRIMINATION IS CUT OFF, AND THE PATH OF REASON IS ANNIHILATED. It is for the first time in all these sutras that he is taking a quantum jump from reason to a world of mystery.
WHERE YOU CAN ALWAYS EXPLAIN REASONS AND APPLY DISCRIMINATION. THIS ALL PERTAINS TO EMOTIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS. TIME AND AGAIN PEOPLE TAKE THIS THIEF AS THEIR SON. DON'T BE UNAWARE OF THIS!
Whenever you can explain things, whenever you can give reasons, whenever you feel at ease ... this is a dangerous time. Whenever just the opposite happens -- mind feels absolutely uncomfortable; something which it cannot comprehend is standing in front of it -- it naturally stops. There is no reason for thinking, for rationalization, for explanations; the thing is too big and the mind realizes for the first time its smallness.
Hence Ta Hui's suggestion: WHERE YOU CAN ALWAYS EXPLAIN REASONS AND APPLY DISCRIMINATION. THIS ALL PERTAINS TO EMOTIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS. TIME AND AGAIN PEOPLE TAKE THIS THIEF AS THEIR SON.
DON'T BE UNAWARE OF THIS! Up to now he himself has been doing the same -- accepting this thief as his son.
But some change has happened. One never knows when it will happen. It suddenly comes like a breeze and you feel cool, you feel fresh, you feel younger. All staleness disappears. So even the people who are only intellectually interested in Zen are always in danger: the danger is that their intellectual interest may turn at any moment into an existential longing to experience.
Gautam Buddha has a statement: "Don't prevent people from reading scriptures; don't prevent people from listening to teachers who don't know anything, because sometimes it has happened that the teacher was only a teacher but the disciple turned out to be a master."
There is a beautiful story about one Tibetan monk, Marpa. Tibet has known only two great monks -- Marpa and Milarepa. Milarepa is already here; Marpa will be coming sooner or later! There was a great teacher with profound knowledge but no experience. He had thousands of students around him. He was influential.
Marpa was in search of a master. Seeing that so many people were around this man -- he was the most celebrated teacher of those days ... Marpa was a very simple man. He went and surrendered himself at the master's feet and said, "I have come here. Now it is up to you; whatever you want to make of me you can make. I will not have my own will other than you, and I will not have any thought other than you. I will not have my life in any way separate from you; I want to be just a shadow to you." Amongst thousands of disciples, the teacher became even more egoistic. When Marpa said this he initiated him into sannyas.
Marpa was immensely innocent and trusting. Just within a few days there was great trouble. Sannyasins saw him jumping from high mountains into the valley. They had to go down and it took hours to reach him. He would simply take a jump. It was almost impossible to survive that jump. But they always found -- after three hours going round and round down the mountain -- that when they reached the valley he was sitting under a tree, unscratched.
They could not believe it: "What kind of man is this?" And they became jealous also. They started reporting to the teacher: "This Marpa is not good to keep around. He is trying to influence your students; many have become his disciples. Soon everybody will desert you if you don't throw him out."
The teacher said, "But what is the quality in him that people are so much interested in him?"
And they said, "Quality? He is a miracle. He goes through fire and he is not burned. He sits naked when the snow is falling and it seems he does not feel the cold. He jumps from mountains thousands of feet high into the valley. Just to go into the city for begging we have to take a three hour route; coming and going it means six hours just for one meal. The whole day is lost. And that fellow does it within minutes! And yesterday it was too much: he was walking on water!"
The master ... the teacher said, "Call him!" And he asked Marpa, "What is your secret?"
Marpa said, "My secret? I am just your shadow. Your name is my secret. Whenever I want to do something I simply take your name and pray to you: 'Protect me' -- and then I simply do it. Just by taking your name I can walk on the rivers, I can jump from the highest mountains, I can pass through fire -- nothing is impossible. You are so great; just your name is enough!"
The teacher thought to himself: "If my name can do such miracles I must be a fool that I have never tried doing miracles myself. I could have been the greatest master in the whole of Tibet." So he said, "That's very good. You have got the right secret." And he told all the disciples, "This is what trust is."
And he tried to walk on water himself. When his name is enough ... of course, for him, walking on water would not be a problem. But just as he took a step he started drowning.
Marpa had to jump in and pull him out.
And the teacher said, "This is strange -- that my name is working and I myself am drowning."
Marpa said, "You have destroyed everything. Now your name will not work. It was not your name -- it was my trust. And now seeing you drowning, how can I trust in your name?
You have destroyed my innocence. I had come here to learn to be more trusting, to be more innocent. Rather than being a help, you have almost destroyed all my hope."
But Marpa became a great master. His teacher's name is not known. Marpa managed to transform the whole of Tibet to the path of the Buddha.
So sometimes it has happened that the teacher may not know, but if the disciple trusts, his trust can create miracles. Buddha has said, "Let people read the scriptures, let them listen to teachers ... the teachers may not know that the scriptures are dead words; but who knows, if these people have trust, their trust can resurrect the dead words. Their trust can get inspiration from people who don't have anything that can inspire.
Finally it is trust in yourself, but it takes a little time to find the trust in yourself. It is easy to trust in somebody else. But once you have understood that it is trust -- then why trust in individuals? Why not trust in the whole existence? Then your whole life becomes a mystery, and things start happening around you which you are not doing.
Something has happened, because Ta Hui has changed his tone. He has stopped quoting others. For the first time he is saying things on his own authority, and things of tremendous importance: be aware of yourself, who you are. And the right moment to be aware is when your mind for some reason gets baffled, cannot function, and a window opens and you can see yourself.
Once you have seen yourself you can never be caught in the snares of the mind. Once you have seen yourself -- even just a glimpse -- the true pilgrimage has begun.