The dangers of success, the agony of the ego, and the gate of heaven
IT IS BETTER TO LEAVE A VESSEL UNFILLED, THAN TO ATTEMPT TO CARRY IT WHEN IT IS FULL.
IF YOU KEEP FEELING A POINT THAT HAS BEEN SHARPENED, THE POINT CANNOT LONG PRESERVE ITS SHARPNESS.
WHEN GOLD AND JADE FILL THE HALL, THEIR POSSESSOR CANNOT KEEP THEM SAFE.
WHEN WEALTH AND HONOUR LEAD TO ARROGANCE, THIS BRINGS EVIL ON ITSELF.
WHEN THE WORK IS DONE, AND ONE'S NAME IS BECOMING DISTINGUISHED, TO WITHDRAW INTO OBSCURITY IS THE WAY TO HEAVEN.
Life is not plain mathematics. Rather, life is an enigma. It is also not a logical arrangement. Rather it is a mystery. The path of mathematics is straight and clear; riddles are never straight and clear.
The solution of logic lies hidden in its seed. Logic never leads to anything new. Mystery always goes beyond itself.
Lao Tzu is investigating this mystery in these sutras. We can understand it in two ways. If we were to imagine a person traversing a path which is absolutely straight, we can see that he will never return to the starting point of his journey. But if his path is circular, he is bound to return to the point from where he began. A circular path leads back to the beginning of the journey.
Logic believes life to be linear. Mystery contends that life is circular. The logic of the West which has influenced the consciousness of man so deeply, does not view existence as circular. In the East, where efforts have been made to understand the mystery of life, whether it was Lao Tzu or Buddha or Krishna, existence has always been viewed in the form of a circle. "Circle" means we return to the starting point.
Therefore, the mundane world has been described as a wheel. Samsara means wheel. It means a circle. Nothing in this world is straight, whether it be the seasons of the year or life itself. Life ends in death at the very point from where it started at birth. When a child is born, his very first step into life begins with his first breath. A child begins to breathe only after he is born and a man stops breathing only when he dies. Life ends with the out-going breath. The point from which life's journey begins is the very point where death takes its place. Life is a circle. If we understand this in the right perspective, we shall be able to follow Lao Tzu.
Lao Tzu says: "Do not take success to its ultimate end or else it will become failure." If you carry your success to its last point, you will have turned it into failure with your own hands. If you draw the circle of fame, it can only be completed in infamy. If life flows in a straight line then Lao Tzu is wrong, but if its course is circular, then he is right.
The East never wrote its own history whereas the West did, because the West believes that whatever event takes place is never repeated. Each happening is a unique occurrence and hence unrepeatable. Therefore Jesus can be born only once and never again. A new birth is impossible.
Hence, all history is dated from the time of Jesus. It is either before Jesus or after Jesus. We do not date our history before Rama or after Rama. The first thing is, we do not even know when exactly Rama was born. This does not mean that when his whole life was chronicled such an important event as his birth was left out. This is an interesting fact, worthy of our consideration. The East never believed in noting down events of history, because the East believed firmly that nothing was inimitable and all things were bound to be repeated. Rama is born in every age and he will be born again in every age. His name will change, the form will be different; but the original, the basic happening never changes. It will keep on being repeated.
There is a story that illustrates this point. It is said that the sage Valmiki wrote the RAMAYANA much before the birth of Rama. Nowhere in the world would this be believed that Rama could be born long after Valmiki wrote his epic. But the birth of Rama is a circular happening from the eastern point of view. Just like when a wheel rotates one part comes up and then the other and that part which was up goes down and that which was down goes up. The event and the narration follow each other along the circumference. The Jainas believe that their Tirthankaras, all twenty-four of them, will come in every age. The names, the forms will change but the circumstances will keep recurring.
Therefore the East did not think it necessary to write down historical events.
The East wrote the PURANAS. Puranas mean that which is the essence, that which always will happen again and again. History is a record which will never happen again. If life flows in a circle there is no need to chronicle the dates of the birth and death of Rama. As long as we keep in mind the meaning behind the life of Rama, his intrinsic character, it is enough. It becomes meaningless to record secondary matters like when he was born and when he died. We endeavour to conserve in writing only that which will not be repeated again. What happens again and again need not be recorded.
The concept of the East is to view life as a circular flow. This understanding is very significant. All movements ale circular, be it the movement of the stars or the moon or the movement of the earth, or the life of man. No movement is straight anywhere in the Universe. When all things move in their own orbit, life cannot be the only exception.
The circle has its own logic, its own mystery and that is: it ends where it begins. No matter how far we travel, we return to the same point from where we started. When we strive to go further and further, we are little aware of the fact that in this very act of going further we have already started the process of going back to the starting position.
In a way, youth is the very opposite of old age. Life cannot end otherwise. So as a person progresses in youth he is heading towards old age. This is exactly what Lao Tzu means when he says, "IT IS BETTER TO LEAVE A VESSEL HALF-FILLED THAN TRY AND DRAG IT ALONG WHEN IT IS FULL," - for when a thing is full, its end begins. This is true for anything, not just a vessel. The vessel is only an illustration. When anything is full it begins to end.
So Lao Tzu says, "If you wish to understand the truth of existence, remember, it is propitious to keep all vessels half-filled." But this is very difficult, because everything in life is designed to be filled. When you begin to fill your coffers, it is difficult to stop half-way. Leave aside wealth - when you begin to fill your stomach, it is difficult to stop half-way. When you love someone, then too it is difficult to stop half-way. When you strive to be successful, it is impossible to stop mid-way, because ambition cannot rest half fulfilled. The fact actually is that ambition becomes strong and alive only when it reaches mid-way, for then it is confident of reaching the goal. But the faster we try to fulfil the goal, the quicker it begins to be destroyed. So whenever an ambition is fulfilled we find it has become extinct.
Lao Tzu says, "Stop half-way." To stop half-way is forbearance. But moderation is very difficult, To stop mid-way in all avenues of life is sobriety. This is very very difficult and requires great sacrifice because when we reach the mid-point, we are assured and encouraged that now the goal is near; now there is no sense in giving up. When you have crossed all the hurdles and are about to ascend a throne, to stop is impossible. It is easy to stop in the initial stages for then we can say: perhaps it is not worth our while. Then the arduous journey can be spared. Distraction and apathy can help one to hold back. The possibility of struggle and the lack of courage could also have come in one's way.
Man can stop at the very first step, but when the goal is in sight - one more step and the throne is yours! - then Lao Tzu says, "Stop!" because the ascent to the throne only leads to descent. What will you do after you have seated yourself on the throne? When the fruit is fully ripe it must fall.
When success is complete, death is inevitable; when youth is at its zenith, old age sets in.
As soon as a thing reaches completion, it means the circle is complete; we come back once again to the starting point. An old man becomes as helpless as a newborn baby. A life full of fruitfulness leads back to the non-effectual state of the child. In a way, an old man becomes more helpless because the child has his parents to care for him, he is not even aware of his helplessness. The old man, however, has no one to fall back on, and the sense of helplessness is difficult to bear. This is the result of all the successes he has had in life! All his life man evolves ways and means to save himself. But his life's labour is lost when ultimately he finds himself more helpless than a child.
Verily, we move in a circle, but we are unaware of this.
"IF WE KEEP ON FEELING THE EDGE OF THE SWORD, IT LOSES ITS SHARPNESS." This is the second part of the same riddle. The first part is: "Do not take things to their logical end for then you destroy them. You become the destroyer of the very thing you set out to complete. Halt! Stop mid-way before the wheel takes its full turn." The second part of the riddle, Lao Tzu says is: "By feeling a thing again and again, you cause it to lose its sharpness. If you keep on feeling the edge of a sword, to be sure if it is sharp, the edge becomes blunt." But this is what we do in life! If I am in love with someone, I try to confirm my affection several times during the day. To this end I try all means, direct and indirect. But a thing that is experienced time and again loses its effect. It is the lovers themselves who kill love.
Not only is this true in the case of love but in all facets of life. If you are conscious of your wisdom at all times, you deaden the intellect. If you are aware of your greatness all the time, you are instrumental in wiping it out yourself.
How is it that the thing we keep feeling constantly is made extinct? There are reasons for this.
First and foremost, we only feel that thing repeatedly of which we are not sure. We know within our heart of hearts that the feeling of confidence is missing. In trying to assure ourselves, we constantly keep trying to have the same experience But each effort only causes the feeling to lose its edge.
The sharpness of the edge is acute only in its first impact. Each experience takes away a little of its sharpness.
People come to me and say, "We had a deep experience in our very first meditation, but now there is nothing!" They are eager to feel the same experience again and again. The sword loses its edge on constant feeling. So does meditation. In fact, the very effort to repeat an experience makes it stale; and because it is stale it loses its sensitivity. If you wear only one type of perfume every day, everyone but you will be aware of its scent. Daily repetition causes your nostrils to lose all sensitivity towards that particular scent. If you see some beautiful colours day in and day out, you will become unresponsive towards their beauty This happens not because of the colours, but because of the fact that your eyes are no longer sensitive to them. Life becomes stale when we demand and strive for repetition. Life becomes dull and dead.
Our lives have become stale and dead. No morning seems to rise in our stale existence, nor does the sun send out new rays. No new flowers bloom, no birds sing a new song - everything is stale and rancid. What is the reason behind this staleness, this rancidity?
In our attempt to renew an experience again and again, we tend to kill the sharpness of the experience. If I hold your hand lovingly today, tomorrow you again expect me to do the same. If I too find the experience pleasing, I shall attempt to hold your hand again. Thus we both will make this experience of joy ineffective. Our hands will meet but something will be missing; and the joy that was experienced in the first meeting will no longer be there. Then we tighten the hold of our hands and desperately try to regain the first feelings and find the joy getting less and less. Each attempt to conserve the experience becomes the cause of its extinction. This is how we destroy all our happiness. We strive like mad to relive each experience and kill it in the very process. Life is very strange. It is strange in the sense that contrary happenings take place. One who makes no effort to attain the same joy again finds himself experiencing it every day. And one who does not worry about the edge of his sword finds it sharp always.
It is said that one day there was great confusion in a famous dramatic company in Russia. The main actor, who was to act the role of a stammerer, fell ill. The show was about to begin and the management did not know what to do. But then someone suggested that the son of a rich man in the village had stammer that was incurable. The boy was brought and after a little briefing was prepared to go on the stage. But then a miracle took place. The boy could not stammer, try as he would! What happened? Psychologists say that if a person becomes fully conscious of a thing, that thing is lost.
I was in a town where a youth was brought to me. He was a teacher in the university. His trouble was that while walking he would suddenly begin to walk like a woman. He had gone through all kinds of treatment but the malady prevailed. It was very embarrassing for him, more so since he was a teacher. I could think of only one cure for him. I told him that whenever he found himself walking like a woman, he should consciously and knowingly walk like a woman and not restrain himself. Up 'til now he had consciously forced himself to walk like a man, but unconsciously he walked like a woman. Now he should do the opposite: whenever the feeling came, he was to give it full expression.
He broke out in loud protests: 'As it is, I am in trouble. And this is what you suggest? I shall be walking like a woman all the time!" I tried to console him and by way of encouragement asked him to try and walk like a woman right before my eyes. But try as he would he could not.
One rule of the mind is, when you try very hard to do something, that something loses its edge.
This is how we lose the edge of our happiness. What happens is instead that the edge of our unhappiness remains razor-sharp. We suffer so much misery in the world not because there is so much misery but because there is a fundamental error in our way of life. We do not want to touch unhappiness so its edge remains razor-sharp; and we are so eager to touch happiness that we blunt its edge in the process. In the final analysis we find nothing but misery all around and no sign of happiness anywhere. Then we say, "Happiness is difficult to come by. It is only a dream. Life is a long stream of misery."
This flow of misery and pain is entirely of our own making. One who keeps feeling the edge of misery and does not worry about happiness at all gradually finds that the edge of misery becomes dull and all of life becomes a fountain of joy. Whatever you touch is destroyed; whatever you desire is lost. You never attain what you run after. Life is not a mathematical equation but a riddle that defies solution. He who takes it to be a calculated science finds himself in difficulty. He who looks upon life as a riddle, a mystery masters all its secrets and attains the highest existence.
Lao Tzu says: "WHEN THE HOUSE IS FILLED WITH GOLD AND DIAMONDS THE OWNER CANNOT PROTECT IT."
This is contradictory. Actually, a man can protect his treasures only when he is poor, only when it is just enough to be guarded by a single person. When a man requires the help of others to guard his wealth, then only can he be called rich. And when this need arises, the fear of losing it also sets in because wealth in the hands of others is never safe. For this very reason, a unique happening is witnessed in the world: a poor man sleeps without a care, as if all the world belongs to him; whereas a rich man passes sleepless nights. The beggar lives with the majesty of an emperor while the emperor's life is worse than a beggar's. He has to entrust others with what is his and hence his worry.
Genghis Khan died. His death is significant. It is only natural for a man like him to be afraid of death.
He killed millions so that he could remain alive; but the more he killed, the more fearful he became.
He feared that someone was bound to kill him because he has made many enemies. His nights were sleepless because death was more possible in the darkness of the night. His fears lead him to doubt all his guards, so he kept guards to guard the guards and another set of guards to guard these. He kept seven lines of guards to guard his tent. He was sure that these guards who stood guard on each other could not possibly be friends.
Each time, he added one more line of guards for more security.
Genghis Khan slept in the afternoons and never at night, in spite of the elaborate precautions. But one night he was so tired that he fell to sleep. His sword was always by his side for an emergency. It happened that one of the horses tied outside his tent got loose. There was Pandemonium all around.
The guards began to shout and run. Genghis woke with a start. Sword in hand, he rushed out, sure that the enemy had taken advantage of the dark. His foot slipped and he fell, face downwards. The peg of the tent pierced his stomach. This peg, this tent, was part of the arrangement for his safety.
No one had come to kill him. His own fear killed him - he had run out to save himself.
Such happenings take place all throughout life. Man builds a house; then he keeps a sentry to guard the house. He amasses wealth; then he has to make arrangements to protect it. This web spreads further and further till he finally forgets that the person for whom he has toiled so much has turned into a mere watchman.
In the biography of Andrew Carnegie, the American millionaire, it is written that two days before his death, he asked his secretary if they both were reborn again, would he like to be his secretary or would he like to be Andrew Carnegie? (At the time of death, he was worth ten billion rupees.) His secretary replied, "Forgive me Sir for saying so, but I shall never make the mistake of asking God for such a wealth. Had I not been your secretary, I would perhaps have died with the desire of becoming Andrew Carnegie in my next life; but now no." Andrew asked him the reason why. He said, "I have been witnessing your everyday life and have come to the conclusion that no one can be more destitute than you. You cannot sleep well, you cannot talk or move freely, you have no time for your wife and children. You arrive first at the office. You are there by 8.30 a.m. Even your lowest worker does not come till 9 a.m. Your clerk arrives at 10:30, your manager at 12.00 and your director at 1:00. I see your director leave by 3 :00 in the afternoon, your manager by 4:00, your clerk leaves by 4:30 and your lowest worker by 5:00. But I have never seen you leave the office before 7:00 in the evening. All those who work for you are taking care of someone else's interests for the sake of earning their livelihood, whereas Andrew Carnegie has to guard his own interests."
Lao Tzu says, "When the coffers are filled with gold and precious stones, the owner is not capable of guarding them." And when the owner cannot protect his treasure, he is no longer the owner but the slave to his wealth.
We never know when we become slaves to our fortunes. Our efforts are always towards greater ownership. We forget that we have already become slaves to that which we sought to own and possess. The fact is that whoever tries to be the owner of anything in this world becomes its slave. It is said that life is a great mystery because only one, who does not insist on his ownership of anyone or anything, is an owner in the real sense of the word.
This is not the case with human beings only. If you try to possess even inanimate things, they will possess you! When you have to leave your house, it is not the house that cries at the separation but you. Objects also become the owners. The possessor becomes the possessed. The master becomes the slave of the very thing he possesses.
"WHEN ARROGANCE ARISES, DUE TO SUCCESS AND HONOUR, IT IS AN ILL-OMEN FOR THE PERSON CONCERNED. AND WHEN THE WORK IS DONE, AND ONE'S NAME BECOMES DISTINGUISHED, TO WITHDRAW INTO OBSCURITY IS THE WAY TO HEAVEN."
The doer must withdraw into obscurity as soon as his work is done so that arrogance has no chance to arise. Otherwise success leads to great failure. There is no hell greater than the hell of success.
Our own success becomes poisonous for us. We weave a web of our own entanglements in much the same way as a spider. Then we bewail our lot and struggle to find ways and means to get out of our self-inflicted imprisonment. This prison is of our own making, but it happens in such a way that we become aware of it only when it is already done. From this sutra, we have to recognise and understand how this unknown slavery creeps in and how we ourselves are responsible for it.
First and foremost, there is only one kind of ownership that is possible in this world (and such is the rule of nature): the ownership of one's own self. We cannot be the masters of anything except our own selves. As soon as a person strives to possess what is other than himself, he becomes a slave. When a Mahavira or a Buddha gives up his throne and kingdom, we marvel at their great renunciation but we are mistaken. Buddha and Mahavira renounced their own slavery in doing so, for it became clear to them that all possessorships are forms of slavery. The greater the ownership, greater is the subservience.
Therefore an interesting fact comes to our notice: there is not a single case in the annals of our history where a beggar gives up his begging in order to become a renunciate. Do you know of a single case when a beggar has given up his begging bowl and moved into a forest? What is the reason that a beggar cannot give up his begging bowl whereas kings have relinquished their thrones?
There have been many instances of kings giving up their kingdoms and becoming mendicants, but no beggar has had the courage to give up begging. What is the reason? Actually the beggar's servitude is so negligible that he is not aware of the fact that he is a slave. The king's subservience to his possessions reaches such a suicidal point that he cannot help but be conscious of it. The kingdom becomes like a big prison to him, whereas a beggar's bowl gives no indication of a prison.
The beggar can move with it freely wherever he likes. The prison as yet is so small that it can dangle from his hand. The king is not free to move about with his kingdom. He has to live within it. The illusion of ownership becomes clear to the king and hence he can renounce it. The beggar's sense of ownership being infinitesimal. the illusion persists.
Therefore as long as a person is aware of his ownership, know that he is yet a poor man. His possessions as yet are few. The day you realise your slavery to your possessions, know that you are rich in the right sense of the word. This is the only criterion to judge a rich man or a poor man.
Says Lao Tzu: "If you desire to be the owner, take care that your possessions need no protection, for then you are no more than a guardian."
Lao Tzu also says: "When your task is duly fulfilled make haste to withdraw into obscurity and thus give no chance for your arrogance to crystallize." Let no one know that you were the doer. When Lao Tzu's fame spread far and wide and people trekked hundreds of miles to come and meet him, Lao Tzu quietly slipped away one day and was no longer heard of. He withdrew into obscurity. He, disappeared from view completely. It was never known when Lao Tzu died or how he died! All that is known is that one fine day he disappeared. This same advice he gives to others: when your labour is crowned with success, step silently into oblivion.
But this is very difficult because this is the moment we toiled for. We step back into obscurity at times but that is in our moments of defeat and failure. Then we wish to hide, to run away. In our sorrow and despair, we even go to the extent of committing suicide. This goes to show how deeply we wish to withdraw into obscurity; to fade away, so that we leave no trace behind. When, however, a person withdraws into oblivion in the hour of his success, a great transformation takes place in his life.
To run away from life, to drown oneself in oblivion in one's hour of despair and failure, is a very natural reaction. The mind always prompts us to run away, to hide when beset with failure, so that others may not know. Failure torments the ego, whereas success nourishes it. When a man is successful, he walks with his chest out. He goes out of his way to meet even those whom he does not know because now he is very eager that all the world should know of his success. This was the very moment he longed for. But here is this man Lao Tzu who says, "Fade back into obscurity when your work is successful."
If the ego becomes established in the moment of success, it paves the way to hell. If you withdraw yourself from the public gaze in your moment of achievement, you find yourself on the doorstep of heaven. When the doer's fame spreads at the successful completion of his mission, his stepping into obscurity opens the gate of heaven.
Here, hell means the ego and heaven means the annihilation of the ego. There is no other heaven or hell. The stronger the 'I', the greater the hell; the rarer the 'I' the more I am in heaven. My being in heaven depends on how much of the 'I' is in me. The knowledge that "I am" is the cause of all my woes and the feeling that 'I am not', is my bliss, my joy.
Understand this a little. Whenever you experience pain or suffer anguish, have you tried to find out where and what this pain is? What is the fundamental cause of the pain? Is someone else responsible for it or is it your way of life, your constant endeavour to feed your ego that is the cause?
Or, when you have experienced joy, in that moment of bliss, look within and you will find the 'I' completely missing in you.
In the hour of pain, the ego crystallizes even more. The shadow of the ego is the pain itself. But we endeavour to save the ego and enter heaven too! The 'I' must be saved and heaven must also be attained. But if the 'I' is saved, you cannot achieve bliss because the 'I' is the pain, the misery itself.
Therefore it is necessary to break our present patterns of life at certain places and also to become alert and awakened in a different sense. Lao Tzu says: "Step back into oblivion in your hour of success."
We should also recognise the alternative implication of this statement: Do not hide in obscurity in the hour of defeat. Leave not the streets of your town in the hour of defeat, but step back into obscurity when rewarded with success so much so that no one sees you. He who steps back in the hour of his glory his ego disappears at once. And he who stands doggedly in the face of defeat? His ego also vanishes.
As opposed to this, there are two ways which help to strengthen the ego: To hide in the hour of defeat and to reveal yourself to all the world in the hour of your success. It is because of the ego that we hide ourselves in defeat and it is because of the ego that we wish to display ourselves in the hour of success.
When a person begins to understand fully the character of the ego and the means through which it develops, he can play with it. At present, the ego plays with us; but when a man is prepared to play with his ego he is filled with strength and is freed from the ego.
Gurdjieff was in New York where his theories were being widely acclaimed. One of his disciples has recorded, "We could never understand Gurdjieff. Whenever his mission almost reached completion he somehow turned it into a failure. He never missed a single opportunity to do so. And oh, the trouble he took, the way he toiled to fulfil his aims!"
Gurdjieff established many ashrams. There was one on the outskirts of Paris. For years he toiled to develop this ashram. He got hundreds of people to join it. Then one fine day when all was set, he closed up the place! Those who had worked zealously for him were shocked at this. They asked him why, when after so much trouble, the goal was almost reached and they were hopeful that now the ashram would get going, did he abandon the project. Gurdjieff replied, "I worked so hard only to abandon the project."
In New York also, he got going a very big institution but abandoned it as soon as it was established.
Many of his followers were convinced he was insane. When the goal was far away, he worked ceaselessly and with a vengeance; but in the hour of success, he turned his back on it. He was mad! His close associates left him one by one.
But Lao Tzu calls such a man a wise man. Lao Tzu says: "When success is attained, step quietly into obscurity." If this statement is understood from within, the inner transformation will come.
You can try this experiment for yourself in small things in life. If you pick up an umbrella dropped by a man on the street, you wait expectantly for his thanks. If he does not thank you, you are terribly disappointed. We cannot even let go of a small thank-you. But Lao Tzu says: "When your world reaches the point of fulfillment, when your life's purpose has been served and the goal appears before your eyes, turn your back and disappear." This necessitates a well-integrated atman (soul).
When a person turns his back on the goal, the goal begins to follow him. When a person steps back into oblivion in the hour of his success, no trace of failure remains in his life. Such a man can never be a failure. In fact, he has discovered the alchemy of success. He has learnt the art whereby he is no longer a human being but God himself. He has mastered man's weakness for the ego and this enables him to meet his failures face to face and treat his success as if it were nothing.
Lao Tzu disappeared. One of his disciples followed him a long way o ut of the village. Lao Tzu persuaded him to go back, because now he was going to enter into oblivion. He told him, "Go back and you shall attain great heights of success. Thousands will come to ask about me. "You have to answer them." This appealed to the reasoning of the disciple. How man indulges in rationalisation!
"It is only to do your work that I am going back," he told Lao Tzu. "People will come and you shall not be there to answer their questions. I cannot explain as you do, but I shall try my best."
His mind clung to the desire of fame and respect, It was now clear to him that there was no point in following Lao Tzu. No one knew him in the villages beyond and besides, he was about to die in the wilderness. But the sum total of his life's effort lay behind him. For his whole life he spread his fragrance and not when people were drawn by the fragrance, he was running away! Barely a night the disciple spent with him. The next morning he returned to the village.
The last person to see Lao Tzu was the guard at the check-post. Thereafter, no one knows what happened to him. Chinese tradition believes that he is still alive. For how can such a man die?
Death occurs only to the ego. How can such a man, who never accumulated any ego, die? When the king came to fall at his feet, he left his hut and ran away. Such a man can never die!
Two unusual stories exist about Lao Tzu: One is that he was sixty-two years old when he was born...
an old man! Those who loved him asserted that such people are always born old.
Most of us remain juvenile till the hour of death. We find eighty year old men playing with toys. The toys are different, but the play is the same.
We see a child sucking his bottle and we see an old man sucking his pipe. Psychologists say that both are doing the same, If an old man were to suck milk from a bottle he would look odd; so he finds other means of satisfying himself. He sucks at a pipe or a cigarette. When the warm smoke goes within, he gets the same satisfaction as when the mother's warm milk travelled down his throat.
This delights and satisfies him. There is no difference between a child and an old man. And if there is, it is only the difference in stupidity. The child at least, drinks milk to sustain himself. The old man achieves nothing but a false satisfaction. A general observation about old men is that their innate childishness is intact. Only forms and methods have changed. Childishness persists.
Little things cause us irritation. Little things strengthen the ego, increasing our greed, our fears and desires. Everything remains the same as we grow older; there is no difference. So according to the Lao-Tzu point of view, we all die as children.
And here is Lao Tzu who is supposed to have been born old. He was sixty-two when he was born - such is the legend. There are many such legends in the treasure-chest of the Orient which are very meaningful. The fact is, a Lao Tzu cannot be born unless he is mature.
Another story about him is that, no one knows when he died because he never died. Such a one never dies. The mortal thing that dies within us is the ego. We do not die; it is the ego created by us that dies. The pain of death is the pain of the dying ego. All that we have gathered together at the insistence of our ego, we see being snatched away from us at the time of death. All that we constructed breaks; all that we attained is lost.
One thing in all this is certain - we have not created ourselves. Another thing that is certain is that we are not snatched away even by death.
Do you know who you were before you were born? No, because nothing is remembered except the ego, and the ego takes three to five years to develop. Therefore, the psychologists say that we cannot remember our lives before the age of three to five years. Why is this so? After all, we were present from birth to the age of three. It is because it takes three years for the ego to develop.
This brings us to an interesting fact - children never hesitate to steal or tell lies. This does not mean they are thieves or liars. The actual fact is, the ego is still absent so the child cannot differentiate between 'mine' and 'thine'. What we look upon as theft is pure socialism to a child. The 'I' that creates differences between two people, is not developed as yet. What we look upon as theft is because of the ego. For a child, everything in this world is his; whatever he likes belongs to him. As yet, his likes and dislikes are all that matter to him. The all-deciding ego is yet unformed.
Similarly, a child sees no difference between truth and untruth, for he cannot differentiate between dream and reality. We often see a child waking up from sleep crying because of a doll that was broken in his dreams. The ego is essential to differentiate between the dreams of the night and the reality of the day.
When a person like Lao Tzu sheds his ego and views the world, he too finds no difference between dream and reality. This is the reason that Shankara can say, "The world is an illusion." It only means this; that in a manner of speaking, the world is also, a dream. Once the dream was as real as the world - before the advent of the ego. Then came the ego and separated dream from reality. This discrimination was created by the ego. Then for Lao Tzu this ego, this 'I' dissolved and the world again began to look like a dream.
At the moment of death, this self-created 'I' crumbles and breaks. In every aspect its hold gives way.
This is the agony, the pain, of death. Would that we remembered at that hour that when the ego is not, then too I am. Then we would enter death as joyfully as we entered birth. Then we would enter the realm of the great sleep of death as willingly and as happily as we enter the realm of sleep each night.
This happening however, cannot take place by chance at the time of death. He who has accumulated success all his life and shunned failures; who has never missed a single opportunity, even if it be false, to nurture his ego, has only crystallised his ego. That is why flattery sounds so sweet. The flatterer knows that what he says is not true and the one flattered also knows it is not true, yet when praise is showered, we do not have the strength to repudiate it. If someone says to you that you are the best looking person he has ever seen - and you know that such a thought has never crossed your mind when you stand before the mirror each day, you still feel like believing him when he praises you. You accept the praise offered you without a question.
And you never refuse the scandal about others no matter how improbable. One's own glorification, however absurd, is always acceptable; we never feel the flattery is going beyond limits. Everything appears within the bounds of reason both as far as praise of oneself is concerned or slander about another. One who takes pleasure in scandalising others, who has delighted in his own praise, who stands proudly facing the world in his hour of triumph and hides himself in times of failure, he who has always sought respect and honour and fled from ridicule and revilement - such a man cannot let go of his ego all of a sudden at the time of death.
But one who has done the opposite of this - who has doubted the scandal about others and refused to believe it, who has doubted the authenticity of the praise lavished on him and refused to believe it; who has stood his ground in the face of failure and drawn back in the hour of success; if such a characteristic persists throughout his life, freedom is possible at the hour of death. The doors of hell are perpetually closed for such a person because he has lost the very key that opens it. The gates of heaven are forever open to him. Heaven means that the doors of happiness remain wide open for him. Then wherever he is, however he is, he cannot be anything but happy. There is no way to take away his happiness. His eyes always catch the good and the beautiful in everything and he derives pleasure from it. He remains closed to the painful and ugly aspect of things. Such a person sees diamonds in Pebbles and flowers in thorns. He sees light in darkness. For him, death is the ultimate din of life.
Therefore, I say, life is not mathematics but all insoluble mystery. It is not arithmetic where two and two is always tour. A riddle never conforms to calculations. Many times the result turns out to be other than the calculated outcome; even contrary. All the same, riddles have their own rules that are very subtle - and it is about these riddles that Lao Tzu speak If we wish to understand the workings of a riddle, we will have to first understand its subtle mathematics. Understand it in this way. When a hunter shoots an arrow at a bird that is flying in the air, he has to make use of some subtle calculations. If he aims straight at the bird when it is at a certain place and shoots. he is bound to miss. He has to aim the arrow at where the bird will be when the arrow reaches the height at which the bird is flying. If he aims straight at the bird. the bird will have long passed the target when the arrow reaches. So he has to aim at the point where the bird is not, but where the bird will be in due time. The art of archery is to shoot the arrow where the bird is not, because you are aiming at life that is moving, flowing. This is the secret of life also. For a dead bird no calculations are required but for a living bird. you have to calculate.
Dead mathematics move on a straight line. The mathematics of life cannot move linearly. Lao Tzu says, "If you wish for success, avoid it. If you desire failure, cling to success." Lao Tzu says, "If you wish to become extinct, it you wish to die, cling to life with all your might. If you wish to live. Let go of life, let go of your hold on it."
If you wish to be happy, do not seek happiness. He who seeks happiness, loses it. He who seeks unhappiness, lose it. He who sets out to attain happiness gets unhappiness instead: and he who seeks unhappiness, never finds it. If we begin to see things in this perspective, our every movement, our mode of thinking, our vision, our philosophy will be entirely different.
When a person attains this perception, I call him a sannyasin. Ordinarily those whom we call sannyasins also think in terms of worldly mathematics. They too, set out to seek God. Remember, he who sets out to seek God finds him difficult to attain. Calculations hold good only in the quest for material gains, not in the quest for God. God is not such a thing that you can take a staff and set out to attain Him. You will find that ultimately you are left with the staff only. God is not an object to be sought; God is an experience. When you are not, when the seeker is lost, He appears.
He who sets out to seek finds himself in difficulty, because the seeker is always present in the search. Therefore the ego of a sannyasin becomes very dense, very dangerous. He is seeking God. If you question him, he will look down on you with scorn. What are you? A mere nothing! You run after mundane things that are not worth a penny. Here is he: in search of eternal wealth! You are a sinner in his eyes; he is the embodiment of virtue. It is only natural that he should be filled with pride. He finds it difficult to sit with you, he requires a throne. This is very natural: it is the working of ordinary mathematics. I was reading the life of a Japanese fakir, Tatasusu. Whenever a person came and praised him, he would listen very attentively. Then when he finished he would say, "You have come to a wrong person I am afraid, for I have none of the qualities you recounted. I am sorry; you have made a mistake. I am not the person you are talking about." He said this with such assurance that the stranger could believe him and ask his pardon.
If any one came to condemn, revile him, Tatasusu would give him just as patient a hearing and agree wholeheartedly with what he said. It was only after his death that it came to be known how many false criticisms he readily accepted. Not only did he agree with them whole-heartedly but he took care to see that the one who was complaining returned fully satisfied that he was right.
If a man came to him and said, "I have heard that you are an ill-tempered person," Tatasusu would pick up a stick and his eyes would turn red with anger. His disciples would be shocked to see their master, whom they knew so well, becoming angry but the newcomer would be satisfied that his doubts were confirmed. He seeks no further proof. Tatasusu would say, "You are right. My anger knows no bounds."
His disciples would ask, "We have never seen you so angry!" Tatasusu would reply, "You never gave me a chance to show you my anger. Had you done so I would have given you a taste of it. This poor man walked miles to tell me I was a wrathful man. Was it not right that I should at least show him my anger? Now he is satisfied. He will not have to trouble himself again."
Lao Tzu speaks of such a man. Only such people can be called sannyasins. A new dimension opens in the life of such men. We shall talk about this new dimension in the sutras that follow.