The eternal, unchanging tao
THE ABSOLUTE TAO
THE TAO THAT CAN BE TRODDEN IS NOT THE ENDURING AND UNCHANGING TAO. THE NAME THAT CAN BE NAMED IS NOT THE ENDURING AND UNCHANGING NAME.
Those who have known, not by words, not by scriptures but by actually living life, from amongst those very few, Lao Tzu is one. And from amongst those yet fewer persons, who having known, have ceaselessly endeavoured to reveal what they have known, Lao Tzu is one. But the very first experience of those enlightened ones, who have tried to express what they have known is, that:
whatever is expressible is not Truth. That which can assume form, invariably loses its spiritual power (of the Formless).
Now if someone wishes to make a picture of the sky, this can never be. Whatever picture is made, it will not be of the sky, for space is that which embodies everything. A picture cannot contain anything; it, in itself is surrounded by space. So Truth expressed in words, will be like the skies depicted in a picture. No bird can fly in the sky of a picture, no sun comes out in the morning or stars at night.
It is dead for all purposes and the sky only in name. The sky cannot be in a picture. The greatest difficulty that a person encounters when he sets forth to express Truth is, that no sooner Truth is converted into words, it becomes Un-Truth. It becomes just what it is not. Then what was to be conveyed, remains unsaid; and what was not to be conveyed, is given voice. Lao Tzu starts his very first line with this statement.
Tao is a peerless word. Try to understand its full meaning so we can proceed with ease. There are many meanings of Tao. The deeper a thing becomes, the more meanings it develops; and when a thing becomes multi-dimensional, it is but natural that it becomes more intricate. One interpretation of Tao is: "The Way." But, all paths are bound and fixed! What sort of a path is Tao? It is like the path that a bird makes; in the skies as it flies - the path is formed but it is not fixed. All other paths leave their marks behind, which makes it easy for others to follow. Tao is a path like the bird makes in the skies - there are no footprints left behind for the convenience of others to follow. If we visualize a path that is unconstructed, a path where there are no footprints, a path that no other person can create for you - you travel and as you travel the path is formed - then we can interpret Tao as: 'The Way'. But such a path we see nowhere! Therefore, is it proper to call Tao - 'The Way'?
This however, is one dimension of Tao. Now let us take another meaning of the Path. A path is that which takes us to a destination. A path is that which joins us to the destination. But Tao is not such a path. When we walk along a road and reach the destination, both the road and the destination are connected to each other. In fact the destination is the last end of the road and the road is the beginning of the destination. Therefore, the path and the goal are not two different things - they are joined allied to one another. The road cannot be without a destination, nor can the destination be without a road. But Tao is a path that is tied to no destination. When a destination is connected with a path, the length of the journey is known. So the traveller knows the distance to the destination. But Tao is such a path where the traveller attains his destination at the very place he stands! Therefore, Tao cannot be likened to the general concept of a path. It is a path where we attain the destination from the very place we stand upon. It can also be that we travel for millions of births and not attain it. Invariably then, Tao is a different kind of a path. So one meaning of Tao is 'The Path' but in a very intrinsic sense - and with very many conditions.
Another interpretation of Tao is 'Religion'. But Religion not in the sense that we generally understand. Religion here is what the ancient Rishis meant. Religion means the Regulation that holds all within itself. The Ultimate Law that holds all Existence, is the Tao Religion. And this Religion is not akin to the Hindu, Islam or the Buddhist and Jain religions. Religion is the Absolute Law of Existence. Religion means the Eternal Law of Life. But all laws are limited. Tao is a Law that has no boundaries.
In fact, all boundaries pertain to death; there are no limitations to Life. Dead things alone are limited.
Live things are not limited they are boundless. The very meaning of life is one continuous ability of expansion. If a seed is alive it can turn into a seedling. If a seedling is alive, it can turn into a tree.
If a tree is alive. more seeds and seedlings can come out of it. Where the ability to expand stops.
Life stops with it. This is why a child is more alive than an old man, for its ability to expand is very great. So Tao is not the Law in any limited sense. It is not a law like any man-made laws, that can be defined, that can be enclosed within a boundary. Tao is a Law that is Infinite Expanse, capable of touching the Infinite, the Boundless. Therefore to call it merely Religion, will not do.
There is one other word that the Rishis have used and which is perhaps, the nearest to Tao. That word is 'RIT' from which the word 'RITU' (season) was evolved. The Ritu they talk about is the discussion of Tao. If we try to understand the word 'Rit', by seasons it will be easier.
Summer comes and then the rains and then Winter follows. Then again it is Summer. It is a recurring circle, that keeps revolving. First there is childhood, then comes youth, then old age and thereafter death. It is a circle that keeps revolving. First there is morning, then evening and then night, then again it is morning. The Sun rises, then it sets, then it rises again - it is a circle. Life moves in a circular manner. The Controlling Factor of this movement is what is known as 'Rit'. Remember, there is no concept of any God in this word 'Rit'. It means the 'Controlling Principle' and not a Controlling Person. It is not a person who controls, rather, it is a principle that goes on controlling. And this too, is not correct for it gives the impression of a being that controls. It would be more proper to say, 'That from which the Principle occurs, that from which the Principle evolves.' It is not that someone creates the laws and forms regulations - no; the laws are continuously formed through it. As the sprout springs from the bud, so the seasons come out from 'Rit'. This also is one of the intrinsic meanings of Tao.
Yet, none of these words convey the vital meaning of the word Tao, for whatever meaning is given to it, Tao is yet infinitely greater; for something or the other is always left out. This is the greatest difficulty with words that all words are formed out of duality. If we say night, the day is left out; if we say light, darkness is left out; if we say life, death is left out. Whatever we say, something is always left out; and Life, Existence, is one whole amalgam. There night and day are no two separate things, birth and death are not two different events; neither is a child and an old man two different entities, nor are hot and cold two different states. There, when the Sun rises in the morning, it also sets in the night.
Life is such - united, whole but whenever we try to express in words, something is left out. If we say 'day', the night is left out but night too, is within the Existence. Whenever we make a pronouncement - this is Tao, this is the Path, this is the Religion, or the 'Rit', - with the very pronouncement, something is left unpronounced. Now for instance, suppose we say the word 'Regulation', with the very mention of this word, we leave out chaos whereas in life, chaos also is. With the very word 'Regulation', that which is anarchic, the chaotic factor, is left behind. Nietzsche has written somewhere, "How will new stars come into being if disorder is no more? How will new creation come into being if there is anarchy no more?"
Creation is born out of disorder, anarchy. Out of chaos comes creation. In the absence of chaos, there can be no creation. And if creation alone is, it will never end, for it will have to plunge into chaos to end itself. When we say, 'The Principle,' we leave out chaos; but this too, is a part of Existence.
There is no way of leaving it out of existence; we can only brush it aside with words. So when we say 'Rit', then also something is left out and that is - chaos; which happens and yet happens outside of the Principle. Everything in Existence does not occur with Principle, or else life would become worthless. There is something in this Existence that happens outside this Law. Whatever is non- significant obeys the Principle but the most profound experiences of life follow no regulations. They come suddenly, uncalled, without any cause, and knock at your door. The day, the advent of God takes place in a person's life, he cannot say that because he did such and such a thing therefore he attained Him. Then, he is only able to say: "What compassion, What mercy, my Lord! I have done nothing to deserve this honour. Whatever I did, had no connection with this, Your coming! How did You come? I never desired You, I never wished for You, nor did I ever seek You. And if I ever desired you, I desired you in a wrong way and if I ever sought You it was in places where You were not and if I ever wished for You I never believed You will ever come my way! Then this - Your Coming! Oh Lord Oh Lord!" When God enters into someone's life, His advent has not the remotest connection with any action on the part of the individual. He comes suddenly, uncalled!
If everything in Existence was based on Principle, then we could say that Tao means 'Rit'. But that which is outside of this Regulation in Life and which is present every moment and appears suddenly, without a cause, we cannot leave outside of Life and Existence. So then, what shall we call Tao?
In his very first Sutra, Lao Tzu says! "The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao." Now a path means that which can be trodden upon. But Lao Tzu says, "Not the path that can be trodden upon; not the path on which you can walk!" Now if we cannot tread this path, what is the point in calling it a path? If only we can walk on it, could it be a path. But Lao Tzu says otherwise - "That which can be trodden is not the enduring, unchanging Tao!"
There are many things to this small sutra. First and foremost, the path that can be trodden, on which the incidence of walking takes place, the event of reaching does not take place there. Where we have to reach is nowhere away from us. It is here and now. If I have to come to you; I shall have to come along a path but if I have to go to myself, what path shall I follow? And the more I set out on a journey to reach myself the more I shall wander. I shall go further and further away! from myself.
He who sets out on a path to find himself, will never reach himself. How will he? He will lose himself with his own hands by this search. He who wants to seek his own Self, has to leave all paths, for no path leads to the Self. In fact, no path is required to reach the self, for paths are required to reach 'the other'. He reaches his own self who leaves all paths and steps aside. He who does not walk, reaches! It is therefore that Lao Tzu says: "The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao."
Lao Tzu says two things: One is, that it is not eternal and enduring. In fact, whatever path we can tread upon, will be formed by ourselves and since it is formed by ourselves, it cannot be enduring. It will be created by man and therefore not created by God. And how can a path that is carved out by us, lead to Truth? If we had the knowledge of the temple of Truth, then we could carve a road that leads up to it. Remember a path can only be made if the destination is known. If I know your house, I'll find a way to reach it. But this is very difficult that I should reach your house without following a specific way. Or else, how will I know where your house is?
An ancient Egyptian Scripture says: "When you meet God and you recognise Him, then you will surely say, 'Forsooth, I have always known You!'" If you cannot say this, then how will you recognise God? Then recognition is impossible. The meaning of recognition is to identify that which is known before. If God stands before me and I get up and ask Him; "What is Your good name?" I shall then never recognise God. And if at the very first glance I recognise Him - that it is He! - it means that at some moment, in some corner of my consciousness, through some opening, I have known Him - to-day, I have recognised Him. We can only recognise what we have known. If you know already where Truth is, where is the need for a path for you? You have reached Truth, you have known it.
So the one who knows, makes no paths; one who does not know, makes paths. And how can the paths made by those who do not know ever take you towards Truth?
That cannot be the enduring path.
Which is the enduring path? The Path that was never made by Man; it was when Man was not; and it will be when Man is not. It is that Path which is not created by the Rishis of the Vedas; that is not created by any Buddha, Mahavira, Mohammed, Christ or Krishna. At the most, they can only give news of this Path. So, which is the Enduring Path? In this context the Rishis never say that what they say is their own. They always say, "So it has been said by others before us: so has It always been known to Man. The tidings we bring is of that Path which is eternal. It was, when we were not and it was even when there was no one. When the Earth disintegrates and Life begins to depart, it still will be. Like the vast expanse of the Skies, it was always present. It is a different matter that our wings were not strong enough till yesterday to fly; today we can. It is yet a different matter that even today we cannot gather courage enough and sit at the edge of our nest, sizing up our wings, turning within our minds whether to fly or not to fly. But the skies are not formed by your flying. When you did not have your wings; when you were imprisoned within the ego: it still was. And even if today, in spite of your wings, you remain sitting and refuse to fly, the skies will not disintegrate on your account. Space is - even without you. So the Enduring Path is that which is devoid of travellers. If a path depends on the traveller, it cannot be enduring.
And the path that is walked upon is ridden with deformities for the traveller walks with his maladies.
This needs a little explanation.
He who steps out of all maladies does not walk any more - there is no need to. He has reached. He who is filled with disease, keeps walking. He walks in order to escape his maladies; but whichever path he treads becomes infected with his disease. Wherever he halts, the place becomes unholy.
Wherever he seeks, he only succeeds to create more smoke. It is just as when a man steps into a pool of stagnant waters and disturbs the slush below. All his efforts to put down the slush, will only help to raise the remaining slush from below. The more desperately he tries, the more turbid the water becomes, for more slush rises to the surface, making the water more dirty. If Lao Tzu happens to pass by, he would tell him, "Friend, come out! That which you try to purify, becomes impure, for you yourself are impure. Please come out. Leave the water alone. Sit on the shore, the water will purify itself. You leave all efforts for they are dangerous - one and all!"
The Path on which sick people walk, cannot be the enduring path.
Also remember, it is only the sick who walk. Those who reach, those who are purified, who have known, they stop. For then there is no question of walking. In truth, we roam only because some desire goads us on. All desires are unholy. Even the desire of attaining God is unholy. The desire to attain liberation also is not without its stink. Actually wherever there are desires, the mind becomes ugly. A mind full of desire, is a mind filled with tension. Where there is the urge to reach; where there is the eagerness, the expectancy, there is born the madness of wandering. And then all sicknesses gather together.
Lao Tzu says: "THE PATH THAT CAN BE TRODDEN IS NOT THE ENDURING NOR THE UNCHANGING PATH." Is there then, such a path which cannot be trodden? Is there a path on which one does not walk and on which one can only stand? Can there be a path for standing alone?
This appears contradictory. Roads are meant for walking and not merely to stand! But Tao is the name of that Path which does not reach you by walking on it; rather it reaches you by halting on it. Because by halting on it people have reached their destination, it is called a Path. Man keeps roaming and running on the roads of the corporeal world and they reach him nowhere. Therefore, these roads, in fact, are roads only in name. They are not the Path.
The second part of the statement is: The name that can be memorised cannot be the enduring and the unchanging Tao. The name which can be named, that can be recollected, that can be expressed in words, cannot be the authentic name. It cannot be the enduring, everlasting name which cannot be conquered by Time. Understand this further:
We give a name to every thing. It is convenient for human transactions, it is easier to establish relationships and describe things. If we do not use names, things become complicated and difficult.
All movements are impossible without attributing names in this world. But remember, as soon as we give a name, we reduce the limitlessness of that particular thing and make it a limited entrance.
Understand this a little: When we name an object we limit it within a certain boundary. A person is sitting next to you. You have no idea who he is. He is sitting close to you, his arm touching yours but you know nothing about him. As yet, his existence is enormous. Then you ask him and he replies, he is a Musalman. At once his existence will contract. All that is non-Hindu falls away - that much part of Existence falls apart and he is now a limited boundary. Now he is a Musalman. Then you ask: "Are you a Shia or a Sunni?" He says, "I am a Sunni." Yet a part of the Musalman, falls apart.
You continue asking till he reaches the ultimate place where he will now be reverted to a single point.
The Vast Existence contracts so that ultimately what remains is the puny, little Ego - imprisoned on all sides. But then you will find it convenient. Then you can draw yourself up and sit away from him or you can take him to your heart. Then you can talk to him as well as anticipate his answers. Now this man is predictable. Now you can foretell whether it would be proper to be with this man or not.
Now it has become easy and simple to deal with him. There is no longer any mystery about the existence of this man. Now he has become an object. We name a thing in order to put it to use - so that we can deal with things and make use of them. Thus all our names are purely utilitarian there is no Truth behind them.
Can we also name God, the Ultimate Power? And will the name we give be meaningful?
When we name the most negligible of things, we cause its existence to be deformed. We give a name, the boundary is formed and the existence changes for the lesser. The actual fact is, that we shall never be able to name the Ultimate Power (God). The reason is simply this, that: nowhere do our eyes perceive Him; nowhere do our hands touch Him; nor do the ears ever hear Him - nowhere is a meeting possible with Him. And yet those who have known say, "Our eyes see Him alone, everywhere. Our ears hear His voice alone; whatever we touch, it is He we touch and whomever we meet, it is Him!" But these are people who know. Those who do not, see Him nowhere. Then how will they name Him? And how can those also, who know, who see and hear Him everywhere name Him? For only that can be named which is at one place. One person we call a Musalman for he is found in the Masjid and not in the Mandir (temple). But if this man is encountered again in a temple, then again in a Gurdwara and again in a church; if he is found with a sandal-wood mark on his forehead performing Kirtan one day and found offering prayers in the Masjid the next day, it will be difficult to call him a Musalman. Then it becomes very difficult for you for wherever you go, you find the same man. It is now impossible to name him a Musalman. Those who know not, cannot name Him for they know not whom to name. And those who know, also cannot name Him, for they know all names are His. Everywhere, it is He and He and He!
Therefore Lao Tzu says: "Tao cannot be named." No name can be given that can be memorised. But names are given for remembrance. Names are given so that we can call, we can remember! If there is such a name, that cannot be remembered, it would be wrong to call it a name. What is a name for after all? A father names his son so that he can call out to him, refer to him. The usefulness of a name is in calling out that particular object. But Lao Tzu says: "The name that can be named, is not the Name." But it is for this very remembrance that names are given! Some call Him Ram, some Krishna, some Allah - so that we may remember Him, call out to Him, whom we do not know. But how can we name Him, of whom we know nothing at all?
Whatever name we give Him, will speak for us but will give no news of Him whatsoever. When you say, "We have named him Ram," it shows that you are born in a Hindu family - that is all. You say, "We call him Allah." It only shows you have been brought up in a house where He is referred to as Allah. This gives news of you but no news of Him. And this is why the one who calls Him 'Ram', fights with one who calls Him 'Allah'.
If he who called Him 'Allah', knew whom he was calling and if he who called Him 'Ram', new whom he was calling, there would be no quarrels. But we know nothing. We have only the 'name' and the One, whom we have named, we know nothing about Him at all! The condition laid down by Lao Tzu is a very strange condition: "The name that can be named is not His name." All names can be named (remembered). But is there a name that cannot be named? And if you cannot name, how will you know of it?
Bodhidharma stood before Emperor Wen. The King asked, "Bodhidharma, tell me something about that sacred Supreme Truth." Bodhidharma replied, "What is sacred? There is nothing sacred.
Nothing is holy. Which Supreme Truth? There is nothing but Emptiness. There is nothing besides the Void." The King was startled. "Then may I ask," he said, "Who is this who stands before me and speaks?"... And you know what Bodhidharma replied? He said, "I do not know, who stands before you and speaks!" The king thought, he was out of his mind. "You do not know even this much?" He asked. "As long as I knew," replied Bodhidharma, "I knew nothing. Ever since I have known, I cannot even say that I know." For that which is known, that which is recognised and named - is that any name?
Lao Tzu says, "That which can be remembered, is not the name." That which can be named, does not take you beyond Time. Only that can take you beyond Time, which is for ever beyond Time.
Only that is beyond Time, which is beyond Time. That which is born within Time, perishes also within Time. If you say that I remembered God at 5 past 5, such a remembrance, will not take you beyond Time. That which is voiced within Time, reverberates and fades also within Time. God is outside of Time. Why?... Because within Time, there is nothing but variation and God is not variation. The exact meaning of Time, is variation. Have you ever realised how you become aware of Time? The fact is, you are only acquainted with variation, you have no knowledge of Time. Take it this way: We are so many people seated in this room. Now if for a full year we keep sitting here and none of us undergoes the slightest change, will we ever feel that a year has passed by? Actually we shall not be conscious even of the passing of a moment, if things remain just as they were. The knowledge of the passing of Time is experienced in the change in things around us. In fact, the sense of alteration is Time. Therefore, the greater the speed with which things change, the more we become conscious of time. You are more conscious of the passing of the day than the passing of night.
If a man lives for sixty years, he sleeps twenty years; but is there an account of these twenty years?
None - they pass in sleep. Things are more static in sleep, there are no drastic variations: the traffic on the road does not move so fast - all things are at a standstill and you are alone. If a man is made to remain unconscious for a hundred years, he will have no knowledge of this period of time on awakening. He will be startled to see the change around him! And if he finds things and people just as they were before he became unconscious - the same people around him; the clock ticking away on the wall, the wife cooking in the kitchen, the child away at school - he will never know a hundred years have passed away! The knowledge of time is the knowledge of change, for all objects are moving, changing and that makes us conscious of Time. The greater the speed of variation, the greater the feeling of time-consciousness.
In the days of old, time-consciousness was not all that apparent. Things were more or less static - almost where they were. The son found things exactly where his father left them. The son then left the things exactly where his father had left them. So things were almost static. It is not so now. Things are not today where they were yesterday and tomorrow, they will not be where they are today! Everything changes fast and hence the intense Time-Consciousness of this Age. Each moment that passes is very priceless. Whatever is formed within the boundary of Time, will change.
No happening of the Eternal can take place within the precincts of Time. No ray of Immortality penetrates Time. It is just as: whoever enters the river, is bound to get wet. He who does not want to get wet, will have to stand at the shore. Whoever is within the flow of Time, will have to change.
The unchanging, perpetual world starts only when you stand outside of Time.
Lao Tzu says, "The name that can be named, is not the Name." Remembrance is always within Time; it takes time to pronounce words. We cannot pronounce even a single word within the period of one moment. We pronounce the first part, then the second, then the third. Time flows even as I say the word 'Time'. I pronounce 'T' and one part of Time flows by, then 'i' and another part of Time flows by; and so a considerable amount of Time flows by, by the time I finish the word.
Heraklitus has said: "One cannot step twice into the same river." When you step a second time, the same water would have flowed further away. Heraklitus has been very sparing in his statement. The fact is, one cannot step even once in the same river! For when my toes touch the river, the waters are running away. When my toes enter the river, yet more water flows by; when my feet are well within the river, the waters that touch them, are entirely different from the waters that touched my toes! And then as I reach the bottom of the river, the waters are yet different. Not once am I able to touch the same waters. And it would have been alright even then, had the waters of the river alone been changing. The foot that touches the waters, also changes at the same speed! No, it is not possible to step twice into the same river. No, it is not possible to step even once into the same waters; and not only because the waters of the river are changing but because the one who enters the river, also changes. When I had touched the surface of the river, my mind was different; when my foot was half within the waters, my mind became something else; and as I reached the bottom of the river, my mind was again something quite different! Not only was the body changing, the mind was changing too!
Many a time Buddha would tell the person who approached him: "Remember, you are not the same person returning." Now the person may have come just an hour before. He is bound to be startled by Buddha's remark. He would question him: "What is this you say?" And Buddha would reply, "Definitely, I spoke, you heard - and within this period, everything has changed."
The Zen Fakir, Bokozu, was crossing a bridge in one of his travels. His companion remarked; "Do you notice how swiftly the river is running?" And Bokozu replies: "Everybody can see the river flowing. Observe minutely - how fast the bridge is flowing also!" The man is shocked. Do bridges ever flow? It is always the river that flows. He looks inquiringly at Bokozu, who continues his statement, "And this is not all. See yet more carefully - how fast the people standing on the bridge are flowing away!"
All that occurs within Time, changes. Whatever is said here, fades away; whatever is within, is erased. All writings are the writings on sand - not even sand but water! So the name of God that is taken by the lips by the tongue, by words, in place and time, is not the Eternal Name. It is not the Name that is beyond Time. And this Name, cannot be named. You can know it, you cannot express it. You can live it, you cannot express it. You can live it, you cannot pronounce it. You can be in the Name but you cannot place it on your tongue.
Lao Tzu says at the same time: "It is neither the enduring nor the unchanging Tao." And if God also changes, can we call Him God? And if the Path also changes, can it be called a Path? And if Truth changes, can it be called Truth? What is expected of Truth is, that no matter how much we go astray, how farther away we wander, when we reach, it will still be the same - The Same. Whatever we are, however we are; after wandering for countless births, when we reach the Door, it will still be The Same, that it ever was.
There are two or three points with regard to this sameness that should be taken into account: That alone can be 'the Same,' that is Perfect. That which is not perfect, cannot remain the same; for within this imperfection lies the deep-seated desire to be perfect. And this is what brings about the changes. How can the river stand still at one place? She has to meet the Ocean! She has to run fast, go a long way - there is a lot to be done! How can man remain at one place? God knows how many desires he has to fulfil - how many Oceans to reach? How can the mind remain the same?
It has to hurry along; it has a lot to achieve. He alone can be the same, who has nothing left to be achieved; nowhere to go. He who reaches, loses him-self - there beyond which there is nothing to Be. It is the same through Eternity. Remember sameness means perfection. There is no other quality in the consummate Perfection.
There is a very popular joke about Nasruddin. He got hold of a one-stringed instrument. He would keep his finger at one point on the string and play it day in and day out. The wife was disturbed to hear the same note throughout the day. One day passed, then another, then another. It was full eight days that fakir Nasruddin was at the instrument, playing one monotonous note! At last she could hold out no longer, "What is this music you are creating?" She asked him on the eighth day. "Every person in our lane is tormented by this one note you play day and night!" The incessant sound of the single note drove his neighbours mad and they all gathered together and approached him. "Stop for heaven's sake!" They told him. "Many a musician we have seen but never a one like you! You seem to be an amateur. You should move your fingers along the string and create different notes.
What is this continuous tun-tun-tun? Our heads will burst! We have decided that either you leave the street or we will.... But tell us why a wise person like you, is indulging in such nerve-wracking madness?" Nasruddin replied, "The other musicians move their hand up and down in search of the proper place. I have found it already! I shall play only this." This is a joke of Nasruddin but this man has played many a profound and priceless joke! If ever God plays an instrument, He too must be playing just one single note. His Hand cannot be moving either this way or that - there can be no flow, no change there.
Lao Tzu says: "It is not the same - that which we can pronounce. That which man can pronounce, is not His Name."
Finally, there is one more thing to be understood in this Sutra.
Words and names, are all the creation of the mind. All creation is of the mind. It is the mind that conceives and forms and Mind is ignorance. The mind knows nothing. But it creates even that which it does not know. Then we get a feeling of satisfaction that now we know. If I were to tell you that you know nothing about God, you will be terribly disturbed. But if I were to say, "Why, you know everything about God? The mantra 'Ram-Ram' you repeat, that alone is His Name." Then you will feel relieved. If I were to say, "He has no name and remember, the name you have been repeating, has nothing to do with him," then the mind falls into a turmoil, in a vacuum, in an emptiness! It finds no support to stand, to hold on. And the mind will quickly try and find a support. Once this is found, there is no need to seek further. The mind provides substitutes for Truth and makes full arrangements. It says, "This is Truth. It will serve your purpose." Those who stop at the mind, stop on the paths that are made by man. They stagnate at the Shastras that are man-made. They stagnate at those names that have no connection with God whatsoever.
At the very outset of his original utterance Lao Tzu destroys all possibilities. He snatches away all props and supports. He destroys the complete foundation of all that the mind can do. We may well ponder - if this is so, what is now left for Lao Tzu to write? What will he say? How will he say That, which cannot be expressed? How will he indicate the path that cannot be trodden? How will he bind the Changeless and Timeless ONE, he tries to suggest with words?
Lao Tzu's complete method is that of negation.
Therefore, it is necessary to understand a few things in connection with negation so that it is easier to understand Lao Tzu further. There are two ways of suggestion in this world. One is the way of positive suggestion. You ask me, "What is this?" and I reply: "This is a wall, or this is a door"..I take a name. The positive finger points directly - 'this is it!' You ask, "Where is the wall?" I reply, "This is it." But that which can be pointed out directly can be nothing but base or paltry. The Vast Expanse cannot be pointed out with a finger.
The trivial can be pointed at with a finger but if someone asks, "Where is God?" we cannot say, "This is He." We cannot point a finger to God. Rather, all fingers are to be withdrawn into the fist in order to indicate God. When a person closes his fist and says "Here He is," it means the suggestion points nowhere. You cannot point in any direction for He is everywhere.
But the questioner will not be satisfied with this answer. If I close my fist, and say, "Here He is," he might take my fist to indicate Him. Then I shall have to say, "No, no, not my fist." And so negation will start. The man may further try to elucidate his question. He might say, "Perhaps, I have not made my point clear. Is God in the East?" I will have to say, "No", for if I say He is in the East, what happens, to the West? And when we affirm that He is in the East, knowingly or unknowingly we deny His presence in the West.
Directions are the intimations of the limited. What is left behind, is denied. So the second way is that of Negative - Suggestion. When a person tries to explain with this way, he does not say - "It is this, it is that"; rather, he says "It is not this, it is not this - 'Neti-neti'". All his answers are to this effect. A lot of patience is required on the path of Negation, for whatever you ask, he will say, "Not this". Then a time will come when there is nothing more to ask. Then he will say, "This is He!"
It is just as you would begin to question me about things in this room. You catch hold of the table, the chair, the wall and I keep denying. Then when everything in the room is spent, you catch hold of yourself, you catch me and begin to ask: "Is this He?" And I still keep on denying. Then when there is nothing more to ask and when there is nothing left to deny, then Lao Tzu will say, "This is it!"
But then you will be in difficulty. You will say, "You have denied all! Now?" In fact, that which cannot be denied even by denial - that is he. We deny something and it is negated - what authority does it have? What is the value of that which exists with man's acceptance and is extinct by his denial?
The Theist says, "He is." He thinks God exists as if his affirmation, strengthens His existence. The Atheist says, "God does not exist." He thinks he has weakened him by his denial, and this is not the view of the Atheist alone. Even the Theist believes that God is weakened and harmed by denial.
The Atheist also is ever ready to refute the slightest suggestion of His existence, or else his theory stands in danger - as if this question can be decided by man's acceptance or denial!
There is an ancient story from Tibet: There was a small mosquito. Since the story was written by man, he calls the mosquito small. Actually, it was the biggest among mosquitoes. Nay, he was the king of mosquitoes! Now some mosquitoes lived on the dung-hill, others in trees, yet others in various other places but it became a problem as to where they should house their king. Then the ear of an elephant was agreed upon as a befitting place for his residence. Now all the mosquitoes went up to their king and requested him to go and stay in the elephant's ear as that was, according to them, the worthiest place for their monarch. The king went up to the elephant's ear and proclaimed:
"Listen O beast! I, the king of the mosquitoes, have decided to honour you by condescending to make your ear my abode!" Thrice he made this proclamation for it was not considered proper to occupy a place within someone and not even inform him.
The elephant stood silent. The mosquito thought, "Silence is acceptance, and hence the elephant is silent." He stayed many years thus. He would fly in and out; he bred his young ones and his family increased considerably. In spite of this, there was ample place even to entertain guests! Then the mosquitoes decided to find another place for their king. Before leaving, the mosquito stood once again before the elephant's ear and said, "Listen O beast! I, the king of the mosquitoes, had graciously adorned your ear by making it my royal residence. Now I go!" But there was not a sound from the elephant. Should he take this silence as a sign of acceptance, even now? This was rather difficult and degrading. But perhaps the elephant has not heard, for he neither says yes nor does he say no! The mosquito called out louder and louder. At last a faint voice reached the elephant's ears - "I, the king of mosquitoes. stayed within your ear out of great compassion. Can you hear me or not?"
The elephant replied: "Respected Sir, I do not know when you came How long you stayed, I do not know. You come and stay, do whatever you like, I have no knowledge of it!"
The Tibetan Fakir tells this story with a purpose.
Man comes into the world. He creates philosophies. Religious Paths, Truth, Principles and words.
He shouts from all the four corners of the vast existence: "Listen ye all - Ram is His name!" or, "Listen ye all - Krishna is His name!" The skies are silent That Infinite Expanse has no knowledge of this. The elephant did finally hear the mosquito, for in spite of the great difference in size there is no qualitative difference between the two - the elephant is a giant mosquito and the mosquito is a diminutive elephant. There is no qualitative difference to make communication impossible. It is possible, though with some difficulty. The mosquito will have to speak very loudly and the elephant will have to hear more intently. But this is not impossible.
But between Existence and the mind of man there is not even this little bit of connection - or is there? It is not aware of the fact that we are born, though we proclaim it with feast and music to all the world; nor is it conscious of our death! We come and we go; we are like the line drawn over water - no sooner are we formed than we are destroyed. But in this very short period between the line's formation and extinction, God knows how many words we create, how many Shastras and Organisations we create! We spread a whole web of our mind within such a short period.
Lao Tzu cuts this web. 'Not this, not this', is his way of telling. In fact, he who wants to talk in connection with the Absolute will have to say, that nothing can be said in connection with it. And then efforts will have to be made to express; and that effort can only be in the form of negation - 'not this, not this'. The path that can be trodden? No, not that Path. The word that can be named?
No, not that word. And don't you fall into the errors of language! According to language - that alone is a name which can be named. We can speak no other name. And the path that can be trodden, that alone is Path - we know of no other. Now if this is placed correctly, you will be surprised at the result! For in straight and simple language, it will convey that: No path is a path; no name is a name.
So what you will understand directly, is only this: that which is a way, is not the way at all; that which is a name, is not a name at all!
This is what Lao Tzu is trying to convey. He says, "If you wish to reach, beware of all paths, or you will go astray. If you wish to know him, call out to Him - take no name or you will go amiss." And the slightest error is an infinite blunder in context with this.
A youth came and sat before Marpa. He is with Marpa for the last three years. He tells Marpa:
"Show me the way! Give me some idea of His whereabouts - some name, some sign, some symbol!" And every time he asked him about His whereabouts, Marpa would become silent even amidst conversation! Then the youth would plead again, "Why do you always become silent when I ask you? You were speaking right now!" Marpa would then shut his eyes and become all the more silent. If the youth accosts him with the same question while he is walking, he would stop suddenly where he was and become absolutely still.
The disciple reached the end of his patience within three years. "This is the limit!" He would exclaim.
"Normally you walk but as soon as I question, you stop there and then! Normally you talk but as soon as I question, you shut your eyes and seal your lips! I have come for this question only to you and not to hear your other sermons or take part in your various travels. I have nothing to do with these!" But again Marpa strikes his typical pose when this question is raised! Then one day the youth asked his permission to leave. "May I go?" He asked, "When did you ever come?" Marpa replied "Since three years, you are wandering outside the gate. When do you ever come in? Whom are you asking for permission to leave? Not for a moment have I felt that you have come within! So many times I stood with the gates wide open. So many times I stopped thinking perhaps you do not come because I am walking. Whenever you asked, I answered." The disciple said: "This is now really the limit! This is my complaint that whenever I asked, you became quiet. Even in the midst of conversation you became silent and now you blame me for this too? This is precisely why I want to leave you, - that you become silent whenever I ask."
Marpa replied: "That was the answer. Would that you too had become silent! Would that you too had stopped when I stopped walking! Then we could have met! One has to be silent if one wants to convey something about him. If you want another to tread his Path, you have to halt." These statements seem contradictory.
Lao Tzu too is like this. At every step he discards each and everything He takes you to that point where there is nothing left to discard - not even you! Only all emptiness remains. And this Emptiness is the Unaltered, the Immutable. Remember, wherever anything comes, alteration comes along with it. There is no holiness besides Emptiness. There is no state more innocent besides Emptiness. A slight trembling of a single thought and the gates of Hell fall wide open. A slight line of thought in the mind and that begins the mundane world. A slight corner of a desire, starts the infinite circles of life and death. Emptiness - complete Emptiness - there is not a single form within or a word or a name; there is no path, no destination; there is nowhere to go, nowhere to reach; nothing to attain!
When such a state forms within, then Tao manifests. Then the Way manifests itself; then that Name is heard! Then the enduring and unchanging Law, comes within our understanding. That Law which is not opposed to chaos; which absorbs and holds chaos also within its bosom.
If anyone wishes to ask some question, he may do so - any other question, for all questions are alike.
One friend asks that behind the passing thoughts, it sometimes feels as if there is a short interval of No-Thought. All around thoughts revolve but somewhere at the centre there is this feeling of No-Thought. What is the difference between this condition and the absolute No-Thought condition?
As long as thoughts race within, the thought of No-Thought is also a thought. It is merely a thought that: I am 'Thought-less'. On the one hand there is the movement of thoughts within and on the other, I think I am 'thought-less'. But you can only visualise this state when there are no thoughts within. What is most interesting is the fact that when your mind is in a No-Thought condition, you will not even be aware that there are no thoughts within! To be thought-less is also a thought.
It is just like a perfectly healthy man - he is never conscious of the fact that he is healthy. The consciousness of health is an indication of sickness. Therefore we find, that a sick person always talks of health. Such a man is not healthy, he is sick. If sickness persists in some corner, the idea of health lingers within. Many a time this consciousness of health proves to be a new type of illness.
If a person becomes too conscious of health, he becomes ill. This is a disease. So it happens that by incessant thinking. by hearing continuously, by regular pondering over it, you develop this expectation of becoming 'Thought-less'. For we have heard that that alone is holy, that alone is the ultimate Bliss, that in itself is the joy of Samadhi, that everything else pales in significance before this supreme bliss. Then this becomes a desire - the desire to become 'Thought-less'. Remember the 'No-Thought' condition cannot be turned into a desire - but it invariably becomes so.
In fact, it is the mind's policy to turn whatever you say into a desire. It says, "Beatitude? There is joy in beatitude. strive for it, seek and you shall attain!" So the search for liberation begins but the liberation the mind seeks, is not the actual liberation. Actually, beatitude is there where the mind is not. That is why, the beatitude sought by the mind is not the authentic beatitude. Now hearing of the No-Thought state continuously, the idea gets fixed in the mind that one should become 'Thought- less'. Remember - "that I should become 'thought-less'" is also a thought. This thought may be the result of hearing Lao Tzu or hearing me or by reading books but what have you of this no-mind state save a thought? There is no thought to take you into No-Thought. There is no need to commit this error. To be 'thought-less' is also a mode of thought.
No - this is one kind of thought and if you persist in pursuing this thought, the mind will deceive you in another way. It will say, "See, at the centre of all these revolving thoughts, there is the No-mind state; and you are outside these thoughts. But what is this 'I' that stands outside and watches? Is it more than a thought? This standing apart and watching is also a thought which gives a little feeling of peace and joy. But this serenity is not the immortal tranquillity. The serenity that can be named, is no serenity. Unfortunately there is some joy, some peace in this thought which invariably results when any desire of the mind is gratified. This was a desire of the mind - to become 'thought-less'. It gives great satisfaction to the mind to feel that it has performed the feat of becoming 'Thought-less' also. The mind is very clever.
The mind will create a small thought of 'Thoughtless-ness' in one corner and thoughts revolve all around. And it would not be proper to say, there are thoughts all around for there where I say 'I am thoughtless', there too a thought stands. At the most you can say, there is one fixed thought there, whereas the others are flowing - the thoughts of every day activities. If we observe this thought at the centre more deeply, we will find, it too is not completely static, for no thought is completely static. It flickers too, like the flame of a lamp. One moment you will feel you are thought-less, the next moment you will feel, you are not! One moment you will feel a thought creeping within, the next moment again, you will feel you are thoughtless - you are lost!
This will keep on happening for no thought can be outside of alternation, not even the thought that, 'I am thoughtless.' This thought also will keep fluctuating - up and down, now here, now there. For a moment you feel you are thoughtless and soon again you feel, you are 'thoughtless' no more. No, Tao, is not the name of such a state. Rit, (That, which is as It is) is a different thing altogether. There are no thoughts around, not even the thought of No-Thought. No one remains who can assert that he is in the No-Mind state. There is no one within - there is complete silence. There is not even the knower who can say, "See, I am completely quiet." If this much still remains, then know that the mind is yet trying out its last deception; and this deception will throw you back once again into the whirlpool of thoughts. A single moment of this thought of being thoughtless and you are back again into the deepest of hells. This one thought can be likened to the game of snakes and ladders the children play. They keep moving forward, till they enter the snake's mouth and go hurtling down to its tail! A single thought of being thoughtless and you fall in the snake's mouth, you go down, down - all the steps you had so laboriously climbed - all your labour turns to naught!
Therefore, Bodhidharma had once said to the King: "I do not know. I do not know myself, who is standing before you." Someone told him later, that the king was terribly pained by his answer. He felt insulted. He should not have treated a king thus. Bodhidharma said, "Because he was a king, and because he had taken a long journey just to see me, I gave even that much of an answer; or else, even this much of an answer was wrong. That too is not present within me, which can say! I do not know who I am." I had to say this much, or else the king would have been troubled more by my silence. Please do not misunderstand me. It was out of consideration for the trouble he took to come so far and for the fact that he was awaiting my coming since years, I had to give him some answer. It was just as we would give a toy to an eager child, that I gave this answer to him."
As long as thoughts keep whirling within, know that you too, are a thought. Once nothing is left within, not even the knower, then there is no difficulty. This seems very difficult to us; and this was the greatest difficulty in understanding Buddha in this country. The reason why Buddha was understood in China was because of Lao Tzu. Because of Lao Tzu, Buddha was understood in China. Lao Tzu had said all that Buddha said later. Therefore when Buddha's tidings reached China and the people heard his words that the soul does not exist - people understood.
Lao Tzu's teachings were based on the statement: "There is nothing." This was difficult to be digested by Indians. We are ready to concede that thoughts should be extinct - but 'I' should exist! Liberation is very good - but 'I' must be! 'I' must remain. Buddha pronounced in this country:
"Even the Soul is not. This also is a thought." Understand this a little.
That, 'I am the soul,' is also a thought. Verily, there is a place where even this thought is not - and That is the Soul! This seems very contrary, that where even the thought that, 'I am the Atman', is absent, that is the very Atman! But this will manifest by itself. You begin to negate things one by one till ultimately you negate yourself. It is like this: A lamp burns, there is a flame. The flame first burns up the oil. The oil finishes then the flame burns up the wick. Then you know what happens? The flame is no more. The flame first burns up the oil, then the wick and then its own self.
Leave the thoughts first; then leave your own self too. When we let-go of our own self, nothing is left behind except a formless condition - a formless Existence. A silent, tranquil power, that is Existence, remains: where no eddy of the ego is formed. The peculiarity of an eddy is, that whatever you throw into it, it quickly grabs and throws into its vortex. The 'I' is a whirlpool. Throw what you will in it and it will start whirling immediately. No eddy remains in the No-Thought, No-Ego state. Then there is the experience of Tao, the experience of Dharma or the experience of that which Buddha refers to as 'Dhamma'. There is the experience of 'the Law'; there is experience of That which the Rishis refer to as 'Rit' (That Which Is) or what Mahavira refers to as 'Kaivalya'. Kaivalya means - Nothing is saved. Only 'the being' remains - where there are no denominations no attributes. Only Existence remains.
Just being - just as we would peep into a deep hole or look at the open skies where there are no stars, no clouds - only the sky. When such a state happens within, where the viewer too, is no more and only the Emptiness remains, then we become aware of the Path which cannot be trodden and which is enduring. Then is known the Truth, that cannot be named, which is immortal. which is forever the same, which alone is Itself.
When Tertullian, the devotee of Jesus, was urged to speak on Jesus, to describe him, to give examples to explain what Jesus was like, he used to reply, "Do not force me to err. Jesus was just as He was. He was just like himself." He could not be compared to another. What will happen in the state of Tao; what will happen by merging in the 'Rit'; what will we be like; what will be our shape and our form; what will be our name and will someone remain or not remain to know? Nothing can be said - there is nothing that can be likened to this state. All words are negative. Only this much can be said: that you will be no more - you will not be there at all! What remains is that, which you have never known before. This much can be said that there will be no thought there, not even the thought that 'I am thoughtless'. And yet, a consciousness remains - such Consciousness, as you have never known before.
The mind is capable of all trickeries and deceptions before this. Therefore it is most necessary to be alert. The mind is so clever and subtly cunning that it can work up all kinds of guiles and deceits.
It gives a sex-ridden mind, the illusion of Brahmacharya. It creates the deception of Self-knowledge into one who is completely ignorant of the Self. He who knows nothing. feels himself all-knowing by the trickery of the mind which gives the illusion of having attained that which has not been attained.
It is therefore necessary to understand the various forms of deceptivity of the mind.
A youth came to the Zen Fakir Huang Po and said: "I have attained serenity." "Why have you come here then?" Huang asked. "Go, away, for here I treat only those who are untranquil." The youth found it impossible to leave for he felt Huang Po to be serene in quite a different way. He said, "No. I not go. Allow me to stay here a few days.
Huang Po said, "There is no permission for tranquil people to stay here. Go, ponder - are you really tranquil? I do not feel you could have undertaken this long journey of 200 miles, just to tell me that you have become tranquil; and if you have, the matter is finished. The Lord be praised and may you really become tranquil! But I suggest you go outside and ponder over the question." The youth began to step out of the room but Huang stops him: "Stop! There is no need to go out. Come back.
If you have to ponder whether you are serene or not, then you better come in. Your hesitation has given you away. The fact that you ae going to ponder whether you are restless or not, is restlessness enough. Wherever there is choice, there is restlessness. You are definitely restless and I can be of use to you. But only when you understand your mind's clever deception, can I be of any help to you."
You are restless and your mind has tricked you into believing that you are tranquil. You know nothing and you say you know of the Atman within. You know nothing and yet you say, God created the world and that the Soul is immortal. He who falls prey to the deceptions of the mind, will never know that which is worth knowing. That he should not know, is exactly why the mind creates so many deceptions. As long as you are aware of the movement of thoughts within, you should know that the mind has made two divisions within itself: one part motivates the thoughts and the second part creates the thought that - 'I am thoughtless'. This is the duality of the mind alone.
The truth is, there is no duality outside of the mind. Outside of mind, is the undivided whole. There is no experience of the Absolute - not even so much that you can say: "It is like this". At the most what you can say is: "It is not like this; it is not like that".
Enough for to-day, we shall talk again to-morrow.