A thoughtful person always asks: "What is the aim of life? Why should we live and what for?" Not only in this age but for ages past, this question has been posed by intelligent people. All religions and philosophies have been born in and around this question. What is the aim? What is the purpose? What is the goal and what does it all end as? Those who do not ask these questions are considered to be ignorant and non-intelligent by the wise. To them, they seem to be leading an aimless, purposeless life. Viewed in this context, Lao Tzu's statement is shocking. Lao Tzu says, "He who lives with a purpose not only does not achieve his ends but also loses his life. He never achieves his goal and destroys his life in the bargain. He alone lives who knows the art of leading an ambitionless life. He alone can live life in its fullness whose aim does not go beyond the present moment."
We shall have to try and understand this step by step because it is very difficult for the mind to grasp.
The mind cannot exist for a moment without an aim. We can exist without any vision of the future but for the mind it is impossible. If there is no goal in view, the mind crumbles and breaks. Therefore, the mind will have great difficulty in understanding this sutra. Actually, the mind is opposed to life. This has to be understood from many angles. Firstly, all attempts to comprehend life are meaningless.
When a question still remains as it was, no matter what solution we find for it, then all our effort is in vain. For instance; people ask: "Who created the earth?" This is a meaningless question in the sense that even if we reply that 'A' made the earth, the question still remains as it was, because then the question arises, "Who created 'A'?" No matter how many answers we find to this, the question remains the same in the end. This happens because we have taken it for granted that nothing can exist that is not created. This is an error, and this error remains with us forever. If someone answers, "God made the earth," then the question arises, "Who made God?" You cannot say that no one created God, because then your initial question would be wrong. In that case, the world can also exist, uncreated. So this question leads to infinite regression.
This same error is committed with regard to the purpose of life. When we ask, "What is the purpose of life?" then we start with the assumption that nothing can be without a purpose. This is an implication we have accepted within ourselves. But we are in the wrong because whatever aim we imply again poses the same question. For example, a religious man will say, "The purpose of life is to attain God." But then it can be asked, "What is the aim in attaining God? What will we achieve? And having achieved that what next?" The question stands unanswered. Another man may say that the purpose of life is to attain beatitude but then, what is the aim of beatitude? So the question is meaningless. It is meaningless because no answer destroys the question. Please note:
You might think: there must be some answer to these questions. But no matter what answer you bring for them it will be useless. The same question can again be asked in spite of the x, y, z, you have brought forward as the solution. It is not necessary for me to know what the answer to this question is because whatever the answer, the question in itself is meaningless. No purposeful answer can be found.
The question remains despite any effort to explain. Those who are deemed wise and thoughtful in this world, however, go about exhorting people not to lead a useless life. There should be a purpose to life: live to serve, live for the sake of truth, live for God. They warn us not to make the mistake of living for the sake of living only. Such a man is not prepared to believe that life is its own goal, that life is sufficient unto itself and there is no need to seek goals outside of it. To him the path of life must reach a destination. His intellect cannot grasp the fact that the journey itself can be the destination, so he creates destinations for himself. But no destination can be a destination for we can again ask:
"What is the purpose of this destination? What happens next?"
Life with a purpose pleases both the mind and the ego. The ego cannot fill itself without a goal.
Therefore, the bigger the purpose, the greater the ego. If you live for your family alone, your ego is not as great as it would be if you lived for your country. This too is not as great as it would be if you lived for the whole of humanity. You can inflate your ego even further if you set out to live for the whole universe. The higher the goal, the greater the ego; the lesser the goal, the smaller the ego.
By a higher goal I mean the bigger the circumference a man creates around people. A higher goal also means a non-competitive goal. If you are seeking wealth, there will be a lot of competition for many others seek gold. If you seek service, there will be very little competition for very few seek to serve. If you seek respect for yourself, you will face stiff competition because each man seeks respect and honour for himself. But if you seek honour for your country, your religion, your caste, the competition will be less. You may face competition from other countries, but never within your own.
You create your ego very easily. So the greater the goal, the easier it is for the ego to establish itself.
The ego always speaks the language of aim and purpose. This is why we teach every child the language of the ego. Children are motiveless; there is no purpose to their action. If a child is playing and we ask him why he plays, our question will appear strange to him. He will not understand the whys and wherefores of the adults. For him the play is enough. When we play, part of our attention is always towards the reason behind the play. To a child his play is sufficient unto itself, so much so, that he aims at nothing outside the play. The joy in play is in the playing itself. The child does not expect to get something out of his sport. The very act of playing is all the pleasure he derives. The means and the methods are not apart; they are one and the same.
But such a child is not fit to encounter the struggles of life. So we remove him from his world of play and introduce him to ambition and achievement. We shall have to educate him so that he can secure a job in the future, he can amass wealth. We shall have to direct his life on these lines: where the goal is always in the future and there is work, work and work only.
The goal is always in the future and the effort always in the present. The child will learn mathematics, but he will not say that he is learning it for the joy of it. He knows he is undergoing the stress and boredom of learning so that he may derive benefit from it later on. He passes examinations and then he is ready to face life's struggles. Each child has to be drawn out of his aimless life and made to enter a life of aims and ambitions. All our methods of education tend towards this. This is necessary, it must be acknowledged; it is a necessity of life. If the child is not drawn into this, he cannot become a part of the society he lives in. Perhaps it will be difficult for him to survive the various things he has to face in life. He will fail in the struggle for survival of the fittest, which is an inevitable law of life.
Jesus has said to his disciples, "Why do you worry about your daily bread? Look at the flowers, look at the birds. They do not have the means nor do they worry; and yet, they are fed. Look at the lilies in the field! Even King Solomon in his majestic robes cannot come anywhere near them for beauty and majesty. They neither weave threads for clothes, nor grow cotton; and though they are naked, they are unmatched in their beauty." Jesus says exactly what Lao Tzu said before him; and he is right.
But, alas, we are helpless! Man cannot be left alone like the lilies in the field. Neither can he gather grain like the birds. Man has severed his relationship with the animal world. He has taken over his own responsibility and therefore he has to enter the world of struggle. Although it is true that life has no goal, we have to teach each person the aims of life. This is an untruth which is necessary in order to live - a necessary evil.
But it is possible to get out of this necessary evil. When a person transcends this evil, he finds his life enriched in a very profound way. To become a child once again is to enrich life and fill it with exuberance. Then the whole rat-race of life becomes a mere drama.
Deep within us, we know that life has no aim; each moment of life is an end to itself. Where we are, what we are, - that is the very fulfillment and perfection of life. We should not live for the morrow, for then we miss living today; and the moment that is lost never returns. Besides, he who gets into the habit of missing the present, misses his future also; because when the tomorrow becomes today, it loses its charm. Remember, whenever the morrow comes, it comes only in the form of today. If we have become habituated to sacrificing our today for tomorrow, our whole life will become sacrificed in this manner. Ultimately we will find that nothing except death comes to hand.
We all lose our lives in this manner. What we call today was tomorrow yesterday, but yesterday we missed for the sake of tomorrow. Then today we miss for the sake of tomorrow and so we go on, wasting all our moments. Then one day we find there is nothing in our hands except the ashes of our hopes. Ambition takes us nowhere and we lose life in the bargain. Not more than a single moment is ever given to us. Nobody is given two moments at a time. This moment is an infinitesimal part of time, which is never static but is a constantly running process that fades in the void. It hardly comes to hand and it is lost. "If we dedicate this passing moment to any purpose," says Lao Tzu, "we deprive ourselves of life." That purpose may be anything. Whether it is the lowly pursuit of wealth or the high aims of religion, it makes no difference. Whether you aspire to reach a high status here or sit on the throne of moksha there, it is all the same. The desire of tomorrow is a poison in itself, because it destroys the life of the body.
Can't this moment be lived for itself? Why can we not take it to be complete in itself? This does not mean that if you are to catch a train tomorrow you should catch it today! It also does not mean that you cannot look up the railway timetable today if you are leaving tomorrow. It also does not mean that if your factory project is to be completed in a year's time you should not make arrangements for it today. Questions such as these arise in the mind of people: "I have to decide today that I must get up early tomorrow to catch the train!"
Let us try to understand this a little then it will become clear. When you are making a decision, that process belongs to the present moment because it is in this moment that you are making the decision. So take as much pleasure and interest in it as is possible. To make a decision is a pleasure in itself. So you enjoy the pleasure of your decision that tomorrow morning you will get up at 5.00 a.m. This is your decision for the moment, so let it be complete, here and now. Then, tomorrow morning at 5.00, enjoy the pleasure of getting up. Don't let the present moment be spent in worrying about the fact that tomorrow you have to be up at 5.00. And then tomorrow, when you get up at 5.00 you will be worried about whether you will reach the train in time. Then when you catch the train you will be worried about further anxieties. Thus, every moment slips by and we are engrossed in future anxieties. Then we can never be one with existence.
To live in the present does not mean you cannot plan for the future. Rather, it means that life is not just planning for the future. To live is life. And it is only possible to live here and now in this moment, and not in any other moment.
On one side we see the aimless life of a simpleton, who is thrown here and there by the vicissitudes of life. Steeped in lethargy and dulled by apathy, he goes wherever life pushes him. He has not taken life in his own hands; and he is like a dead leaf. This kind of life is also an aimless life. On the other side, we see the man who is always on the run to attain a goal. Such people we look upon as wise and intellectual. His is a life of ambition, in which each moment is sacrificed for the moment to come. This man is forever investing today's moments for tomorrow, and tomorrow's for the day after. He spends a life-time in vain pursuits till death claims him ultimately. Perhaps the simple idiot is better off than him, because it is possible that his vacant mind may have caught a glimpse or two of life.
Lao Tzu talks of a third type of man. He talks of a life devoid of ambition and competition. This is a different type of man altogether. He is neither lazy nor obsessed. He neither runs away from life nor is he a lifeless corpse, unmoved by the current of life. Neither is he like the second type who is madly rushing around. He is a different type altogether, a third type. When this man runs, it is not to achieve something. Each step he takes is a source of joy for him.
This third type of man never suffers defeat or failures, and hence is never vulnerable to sorrow.
He never suffers from frustration because he has never built his hopes on anything. He lives each moment in its fullness, in its very essence. He never regrets that his life was spent in vain and he did not reach his goal, because he never set a goal for himself in life. This man will declare that he has lived each moment of his life, that he has extracted the essence of life fully. Such a man embraces death also, very very gladly, because whatever came before him he accepted and lived in it; whatever he obtained he enjoyed to the full, not leaving an iota of experience behind that would need to be fulfilled later.
Such a man may even run faster than those who are ambitious. You must be aware of the fact that when aman is encumbered with the burden of his destination, his feet drag in the same manner as if he had load on his head. Then walking is a tiring job. Has it ever occurred to you? - The road you cross in the early morning when you go out for your walk is the same that you walk on your way to your work. The skies above are the same, and your own two feet carry you in both cases. But in the morning you find your step is light and springy; your breath too is different. With the same feet you walk the same way to your office but everything undergoes a change for the worse. In the morning when you walked, you had nowhere to reach. The act of walking was enough in itself. The joy of walking that you experienced in the morning is completely missing in the afternoon as you walk to the office. It is possible that you may come across another man who has come out for a walk in the afternoon. His state would be exactly what yours was in the morning. But a man can convert his leisure walk also into a religious duty. He must get up at five in the morning and go for a walk. Then he will miss the joy, the bliss of walking; because then he will walk as if he is going to his office or his shop. He will return from his walk with the feeling of a task completed.
Where there is a goal in view, each act becomes a burden. Where there is no ambition, a state of lightness and freedom arises. The lesser the burden, the greater the possibility of bliss. The more burdened a person, the heavier life seems to be. It is something to be lived through somehow.
We change everything into a task and not a play. If you understand Lao Tzu well, you will find he looks upon life as nothing but a play. We, on the other hand, turn even our play into a task. The concentration on our face and the look in our eyes when we play betrays the fact 'that it is a task' for us and not a play.
Those who play cards do not enjoy the game unless there is some money at stake. When money is involved, the play becomes a task, it has a goal. Even a rich person enjoys cards only if there is money involved, be it a single rupee. This one rupee makes no difference to him, but it sets up a goal. Now the game becomes interesting and exciting. The game in itself is not enough. One rupee brings about such a change! Money has penetrated so deep within us that it needs be included in our sports also. Everything must become a business in order for man to enjoy.
To work for an aim means that each work carried out is for something other than work itself. The pleasure is in attaining the end, the work is a necessity. If we can attain the end without effort, we will promptly stop working. Since nothing is achieved without working for it, we have to work. So we turn our sports into a vocation.
Love also is turned into an assignment. If a woman looks after her child, she considers it a service she is doing for him. A husband working for his wife considers it an obligation to her. People come to me. They say: "We have to fulfil our duties as householders." If you are doing your duty, then it is not a household you are looking after but a shop! A house should mean a haven of bliss for you. If the husband earns money because he has to support a wife, or if a mother brings up her child for the simple reason that he has been born to her and so she has to rear him, then these are just irksome duties that are forced to perform. When we attribute a purpose to all that we do, all acts become a burden. Nothing is a play for us. We are never so enamoured of anything that, for a moment, we forget the anxiety of what is beyond. Not for a moment are we there where we actually are. Forever the mind rambles elsewhere.
Lao Tzu says: "IN LOVING PEOPLE AND RULING THE STATE, CANNOT HE PROCEED WITHOUT ANY PURPOSE OF ACTION"?
According to Lao Tzu, even a king can turn the gigantic task of ruling a kingdom into a play. But we find that even a beggar who is penniless is incapable of looking upon life as a play. We are afraid that if we do not have vision and ambition we shall lag behind and become useless, because then, what is left to be done? We have always worked for a purpose so it seems strange and impossible to work without an aim. If, however. we have ever done anything without an eye on the result, we keep remembering it again and again.
You see a man drowning in a river and you at once jump into the river and bring him ashore. Not a thought passes your mind whether you should save him because it is your duty. Whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim, whether he is known to you or unknown - no such thought crosses your mind.
You see a man drowning and you jump in the river to save him. Then it is possible that you will get a glimpse of the bliss of the act itself.
But whenever such an opportunity comes our way, we destroy it immediately. As soon as the man is saved the mind starts working. "Will this man be grateful? Will the news come in the papers? Have people witnessed my performance?" If only we could drown ourselves even for a moment into an act for the sake of the act without any reward I Then the act becomes meditation.
But, we even meditate for a purpose. People come to me and ask, "Will meditation help us to become successful in life? Meditation, and success in the mundane world? They say, "Our financial condition is bad. By meditating shall we attain the 'grace of God?'" Meditation also becomes an investment, a part of their business. It is impossible for us to conceive that meditation has no connection whatsoever with anything purposive. It is wrong even to say that meditation leads to bliss, because one who meditates to achieve bliss cannot meditate at all.
However, one who meditates for the sake of meditation invariably attains bliss.
One who plunges into the act for the sake of the act and completes each act fully at that very moment when it is required, one who engrosses himself so completely that the sense of being. the doer is lost such a man's entire life is meditation. Lao Tzu says that even a king, if he so wishes, can organise the working. of his kingdom and demonstrate his love towards his subjects and yet act as if in a play - without a purpose.
The statement of Lao Tzu, here, is in the form of a question: "IN LOVING PEOPLE AND RULING THE STATE, CANNOT HE PROCEED WITHOUT ANY (PURPOSE OF) ACTION? IN THE OPENING AND SHUTTING HIS GATES OF HEAVEN, CAN'T HE DO SO AS A FEMALE BIRD?
WHILE HIS INTELLIGENCE REACHES IN EVERY DIRECTION, CANNOT HE (APPEAR TO) BE WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE?"
Why does Lao Tzu raise those questions? What he means to convey he wants to put forth clearly, but in the form of questions. Knowing human beings as they are, he is very doubtful whether we can ever act without an aim. But we can. What results are there if we act so? What happens? We have to understand three things in this context.
Firstly, life is an accomplishment in itself. There is no achievement outside of life. No matter how difficult we find it to accept this fact, never give into the thought - "Why should I live"? Always ask yourself instead, "How shall I live?" No sooner is the aim removed than the question changes. As long as there is ambition we ask, "Why should we live?" but as soon as we understand that our very life is the goal, we shall begin to ask, "How should we live?" The whys and wherefores lead to science, to metaphysics. The 'how' leads to yoga. There are many people who are ready to answer our whys and wherefores. They may tell you of a beatitude that is beyond life. But then, everything worth attaining is beyond life. There is nothing. worthy of any effort in this life; everything is obtained after one dies. He for whom what is after death is more meaningful, more important, turns his life into a living grave, because then, there is nothing worth achieving in this life.
Because of this theory, spread by the so-called religions, a dark negation of life has spread all over the earth. These religions proclaim: "Life is useless! Far away, beyond death is the goal which has to be attained." Those habitual questioners, may abide in heaven for a day or two but they will soon begin to question; "What shall we gain by staying in heaven? Peace and tranquillity are all right but what next?" This questioning is a chronic disease, and it is so deep-rooted as to be almost permanent with man. Wherever he is, man will ask this question.
It is said that whenever Mark Twain was asked a question he always replied with another question.
If a person asked, "What is your name?" he would reply "What is the reason you are asking my name?" Once he went to meet the American President who said to him: "I have heard haven't I that you raise a question to any question that is asked of you?" Mark Twain replied, "Is it so? Do I still do this?" It was a chronic state. Poor man, he did not know what he was doing. Perhaps he came to know later that it was again a question he asked.
This tendency to ask questions, is a state of illness. The fact is, it is evidence of our diseased mind.
When life is filled with happiness, we never question why? Have you ever noticed what raises a question within us? People come and ask me, "My child was born blind, why?" They never question why so many other children are not born blind. In the same way, a man asks why he should fall ill. No one asks why he is in good health. We never ask why there is happiness in the world, but when someone is in pain he invariably asks why there is pain and suffering in the world. For the last 5000 years, ever since man's history has been recorded among infinite questions asked, not a single question has been asked why there should be happiness in the world.
Even Buddha questioned, "Why is there unhappiness in the world?" Every man asks the same question. Whenever a man asks what the goal of life is, what is the purpose of life, he is actually asking why life is. This means he has filled his whole life with unhappiness or else he would never have asked the question. Living, alone, would then have been enough. But we have filled our lives with sorrow so the question arises. Lao Tzu asks: "Cannot even a king live without ambition?"
because the king possesses everything that a man desires. Lao Tzu talks about kings because if a beggar is asked to live without a purpose he will say, "I do not even have a roof over my head! How can I live without an aim?" But even a king cannot be without ambition. Why? The reason is that the possession of things have no connection with ambition. To live ambitiously is a disease of the mind.
Even if everything is attained, the mind still questions: "Why, wherefore?" It keeps on questioning.
Therefore, a very interesting thing happens: a poor man is not half as unhappy as a rich person.
If you find a rich man who is not unhappy know that ho is still poor. The very sign of a rich man is that he is so unhappy that he finds no way to get out of his unhappiness. A rich man attains everything that he thought would give him pleasure, and when once attained finds that happiness is still far away. He finds himself surrounded by his acquisitions - there is nothing more left to be attained - and get, what he was to derive from them is totally absent. This gives rise to pain and sorrow. A poor man lives in hardships but never in sorrow. To live in difficulty means to live with few possessions. Absence causes hardships. There is no Ford, the stomach is empty - this causes hardship, suffering. When the stomach is full but there is no feeling of fullness, it causes unhappiness. When a man lays himself on the softest of beds and yet there is no sign of sleep, he feels unhappy. Hardship is caused by the absence and unhappiness by the presence of the same thing Hardship is a part of poverty; unhappiness, a part of riches, So when there is unhappiness, know that that man is rich.
What is unhappiness? As long as we are running, struggling with a goal in view, life seems to be filled with interest. There is a certain flavour in the poor man's life: the goal is far away and has yet to be attained. It might come to hand tomorrow or in the future or in the next life. Psychologists say that the concept of the next world is the comfort of the poor. It is true to some extent. How will he work? On what will he pin his hopes? If not the next world, then socialism or communism - he needs some utopia in the future. A poor man rushes to attain his goal but when all achievements are fulfilled and all aims attained, he realises for the first time that all his efforts were in vain. He finds he has accomplished all that he desired and yet his hands are empty.
So today, if we find the philosophers of the rich countries talking about meaninglessness, it is meaningful, Whether it is Sartre or Camus or Heidegger or anyone else - they all say the same thing, namely: life is meaningless. This meaninglessness has been created by man himself in his effort to lead an ambitious life. Now all his achievements are reaching completion and he finds he has not understood the significance of life. This troubles and perplexes him. Whenever a person says he is filled with despair, know that it is because of his hopes. He who does not build any hope for the future is never frustrated.
You can never disappoint me because I do not pin my hopes on you. However you deal with me, I shall not be disappointed; for I have not committed the initial error of handing over that power to you. The slightest expectation from you and you can disappoint me. If I meet you on the road and I expect you to at least greet me - you can dash my hopes and I shall be filled with despair! Then you become the master. Your indifference will make a wound in my heart for I had great expectations of you and you do not even care to greet me?
All our hopes turn into despair. If life is made meaningful for a purpose we will fall into the pit of meaninglessness one day. Lao Tzu says: "Make no aims. Live life without aims". No poisonous fruit will then mar your life. Then you shall be filled with a fresh and new happiness every moment. Lao Tzu is very much against ambition. Leave all ambition; ask nothing of life. Then, whatever the future brings consider it a boon. Ask not, because no sooner do you ask than the trouble starts.
We always make demands and turn our whole life into a turmoil. We make demands from all our relationships Even in love we demand. If someone loves me today, I look eagerly the next day for the same affection. Then my life becomes a source of pain and anguish. If I receive honour, I expect it every day; if I am shown mercy, I want it every day. Then my demand pulls me down into gloom and melancholy. But even this does not stop my demands.
This is interesting. If I expect you to greet me and you do not, I never think that I should not expect your attention. On the contrary, I begin looking for others who will greet me. Then it seems that you were not the right sort of person; another person might turn out to be better - so my old habit continues. If I fail in love in one place, I seek my ego in another place. If my ambition fails in one direction, I seek another direction. I never pause to think whether it is possible to live without ambition. Lao Tzu asks, "Is it possible to live without ambition? It is possible but it is difficult, because our whole education prepares us for a life of ambition. Also the society we live in, our very culture prepares us for the same thing. Whatever ambition the father has failed to fulfil, he plants on his son. The mother similarly sows the seeds of those desires of hers which were left unfulfilled, into her daughter's mind. Psychologists say that every son elaborates once more upon the hopes and despairs of his father. Till his dying day, the father wishes to see his son complete that which he could not.
Our hopes never end. We wish them to be eternal. Therefore, the old shastras say that he who does not have a son has lived in vain. This is absurd. Our life is our own but it becomes useless if we do not have a son! Why? Because if you have no son, what will happen to your unfulfilled desires?
On whose shoulders will you set out on your journey to eternity? So a son is very necessary. If you do not have a son of your own, you can adopt one. There must be someone to carry on the load of your unsatiated desires even when you are not there. Is this not intriguing? Even when you no longer exist you want your desires to exist.
Lao Tzu says "Live but do not let your desires live." But we are such that we would rather not be than have our desires cease to be. We tell our sons, as we lie on our death-beds, "Son, uphold the traditions of our family and complete the tasks that I could not." Wonder of wonders! Not only do you leave the world empty but you also make your sons useless. Every father passes on his diseases to his son. Each generation has made meticulous arrangements to deposit their illnesses with the next generation. So we find each new generation, more ill more diseased than the previous generation.
"What brought the Kaliyuga about?" people ask. It is this very tradition carried on from father to son that has brought the kaliyuga. It is a collection of all the maladies of the satyuga. Dasharatha must have planted the responsibility on Rama to carry out his unfulfilled desires Rama, in turn, must have passed on the burden to Luv and Kusha and so it went on. With each generation, the load increased, and man finds himself crushed underneath it. But the unsatisfied desires still scintillate giving the father the hope that perhaps it may be fulfilled some day. Some part of my blood may feel the satisfaction of enjoying it.
Lao Tzu says: "Is it not possible that you can live without ambition? You just live." The so-called mahatmas would say: "Animals live in that way!" In a sense they are right, because the animals live in the present. They know of no future, they have no time-consciousness therefore they don't store for the morrow or remember the past, or have much sense for the future. Their time-circle is very small, and they live within it. So in a way, the mahatmas are right: that an ambitionless man would live like an animal. But then, unlike animals, this man is not oblivious of the future. In fact he has greater knowledge of the future and hence he lives in the present moment. He knows that tomorrow can bring nothing but sorrow and so it cannot fool him. So in a way, he becomes artless and innocent like the animals. You will see the mellowness of a cow's eyes in his. And also, in a way, he becomes like God.
But this is difficult to bring about. I was recently reading a booklet by one Muni Vidyananda. He speaks from an average mind. He says, "Time is precious. Do not lose a single moment. Earn something, acquire something!" If a shopkeeper talks in this manner, it is understandable. All business firms declare, Time is money." But here comes a Muni who speaks the same language! He says, "Time is money.
Do not lose it. Utilise it to attain moksha; utilise it to seek the atman. Time never returns, so do something, acquire something. If you do not, you will have lost it."
What Lao Tzu says is a profound religious truth. His is not the shopkeepers' language. In fact, when sadhus impress the businessman, the reason is only this; that they both speak the same language. I he trader fully agrees with the Muni: time is wealth. Now the only thing that remains is how to define wealth - whether it is taken to be the worldly wealth or the wealth of virtue. But the fact remains that time is wealth and it should be directed towards earning it should be dedicated to some purpose.
Then only can you be wealthy. Whether you are worldly rich or the spiritually wealthy, you can only be rich if you turn your time into wealth.
Lao Tzu says, however, "Do not change time into wealth. Time is life. Live it. Be immersed in it, and do not think of attaining something through it." Be so rapt, so engrossed with the present moment, that you are completely one with it, that there is no distance between you and the moment. Time is not wealth. Time is life. Nothing can ever be earned from time, because time is its own goal. He who tries to make capital out of time, dies a beggar. He who lives each moment of his life becomes a king; because to him the treasures are open. The very essence of life becomes so clear as to be almost transparent. Each moment that passes sharpens the sword of his life, more and more. The wine of his life becomes more potent and profound, and his dance of life will become more lithe and graceful. But this happens only in the here and now.
So this is the first thing. Now in the second part of the sutra, Lao Tzu says: "IN THE OPENING AND SHUTTING OF HIS GATES OF HEAVEN, CANNOT HE DO SO LIKE A FEMALE BIRD?" This we shall have to understand a little. There is a male mind that works in a particular manner and there is a female mind that works in an entirely different manner. Lao Tzu is in favour of the female mind.
The male mind works in an aggressive manner. When I say 'the male mind', I am not referring to men alone. It is only a symbol of aggression. One method of going about things is to be aggressive.
If you desire something, go all out for it. This, according to Lao Tzu, is the characteristic of a male mind. There is another type of mind also, which believes not in aggression but in patient awaiting, together with invitation. A woman can never be aggressive by herself. If she wishes to be, she has to take the help of a male. She can bring about aggression, but cannot be aggressive herself. A man is capable of aggression by himself. He needs nobody's help.
There are some men who do not enjoy making love if they are not aggressive, because they derive full pleasure of aggression, in rape and violence. Therefore a man is never satisfied with a woman who is easily available. The more unattainable a woman, the greater is the excitement to win her, the more attractive and desirable she seems. The very preparations to attain her give endless pleasure to his aggressive mind.
A woman's mind is non-aggressive. She is receptive. She accepts. Her acceptance is her disposition, her natural attitude towards the world, towards life.
According to Lao Tzu, we can have two types of relationships with existence: one is of aggression (enmity) and the other of acceptance, of friendliness. So he says, "Become like a female-bird, like the female mind." Do not push open the door of heaven.
Swami Ram Tirth used to say that doors are of two types: On one is written 'Push', and on another is written 'Pull'. The door of the female mind bears the inscription - 'Pull'. The female mind draws.
It never reaches out, it only calls, invites.
Will you carry your habit of pushing even up to the doors of heaven? Will you enter the gates of heaven like a Hitler or a Napoleon? Will you try to invade and conquer God? When a man sets out to seek God, his attitude is aggressive. "Where is He? I shall not rest till I find Him." He does not set out dancing and singing like Meera.
When I say a man, I mean a male mind. Not all men have a male mind. A man can also dance and sing his way to God like a Chaitanya or a Kabir. A woman can have a male mind also. The male and female minds are just symbols.
A female mind, even when it sets out to seek, is receptive. If such a mind does not attain, it never complains. It never rebukes: "Where are you? Where do you hide?" A female mind always says: "There is definitely something wrong somewhere within me. Perhaps my invitation is lacking, perhaps there is a fault in my awaiting and so I have missed you! You are here around somewhere, I know. It is my door that is jammed and will not open unto you." Understand this clearly: The method of seeking God of the sage (the intellectual) is the method of the male mind. The method of seeking God of the saint (the devotee) is the method of the female mind. This is why, when the devotee says; "There is no man in the world accept Krishna," it means, that all other men are mere seekers and hence they should have the female mind. This does not mean that the rest of the world is feminine. Some ignorant and stupid people do take it to mean this however. There is an organisation in Bengal: the Order of the Sakis. The members of this order believe themselves to be the sweethearts of Krishna. Even a male member of this order holds an idol of Krishna to his heart when he sleeps at night. Now no matter how much this man believes himself to be Krishna's sweetheart, his method of approach is that of a typical male mind in fact, a male mind always wants to do something. He cannot let go of himself because he feels restless if he does not do something.
Lao Tzu says: "Let go!" He exhorts us to relax and let things happen as they may. Do not be eager to have things happen. Do not be hasty, do not be insistent on a particular type of result. Cultivate the ability to accept whatever happens. Keep your doors wide open and be happy with whatever you are. Do not incur enmity with existence. Have an attitude of friendship. Whatever happens is the right thing to happen. Have this type of an inner feeling of amiability, of friendliness, an attitude of being close to existence, and accept whatever it does as being the best that could happen.
To live in such an attitude with such a frame of mind, is to live according to the female mind.
The third sutra is: "WHEN HIS INTELLIGENCE REACHES IN EVERY DIRECTION, CANNOT HE (APPEAR TO) BE WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE?"
When wisdom is complete, is it necessary to keep the arrogance of wisdom? When the name of wisdom shines with full lustre, do you have to proclaim that you are a sage? Actually, as long as a person asserts his wisdom, know that his knowledge is not complete. How can wisdom claim to be wise? The truth is, as soon as a person's knowledge is complete, he also comes to know that it is impossible to know. He becomes aware of the fact that however much one knows, there is still much more to be known. He becomes aware of the fact that his knowledge is a mere handful of water from the infinite ocean of knowledge, which he can never grasp within his hand. Actually, he alone knows whose fist is unclenched and who has lost all sense of grasping. He dissolves in the ocean of knowledge, just like salt would dissolve in water. There is no knower left behind. So, he who sets out on the path of knowledge should be prepared for complete annihilation. Where there is a goal in view, this cannot be; because there the ego is strong. But where the goal is absent, there is no reason for the ego to remain. If I have no anxiety for the 'morrow, the 'I' in me invariably dies. If I make no demands on the coming moment, if I have no plans for the future, then only can I be happy.
As soon as I give up all insistence, my ego has no place to stand. The 'I' is the link between my persistent aims and plans. The greater our demand of the future, the greater is the ego.
Lao Tzu asks: "Can we not, after attaining full knowledge, live as if we know nothing?" It often happened that when Lao Tzu was questioned, he would become silent sometimes for hours. So much so that the questioner forgot the question. Then after a long time, Lao Tzu would ask, "What was your question?"
The man would reply, "Now I too forgot what I asked. Why did you not answer me then?"
Lao Tzu would say, "I did not know the answer. Had I had some answer ready, I would have given it to you. I waited silently for the answer to come. I thought perhaps it would come. Therefore I ask again what was your question?"
Throughout this long life, Lao Tzu wrote nothing. This small book is his first and last. His disciples pleaded with him time and again but Lao Tzu would say, "What do I know that I should write? And it I leave my ignorance behind me, it will be dangerous." But the more he refused, the more people pressed him to write. Then one night he ran away from his hut, but was caught as he tried to cross the border check-post. The officer in charge refused to grant him permission to leave without paying his taxes, which he demanded in the form of his writings. He ordered him to stay there for three days and write down all that he knew. Lao Tzu was in a dilemma. He who had remained silent all his life, who had never declared his knowledge, was now constrained to write! He needed to cross the border and leave forever to be one with the solitude of the mountains. But this man would not let him go.
So for three nights Lao Tzu sat up and wrote this book - if you can call it a book. The very first thing he said was: "That which can be known cannot be expressed and that which is written is not the truth."
So Lao Tzu asks: "Can it not be that one who knows may be established in the feeling of not knowing?" It is not a question of 'can it not be?' IT IS SO! But so that this may not become a dogmatic assertion, Lao Tzu puts it in the form of a hesitant question. He says that when a person's understanding is open in all directions, when he is in a position to know all there is to know, when all doors of knowledge and life's mystery, are open unto him, when the light of knowledge falls on him from all directions, can he not seem to be like a person without knowledge?
Lao Tzu puts this in interrogative form to convey his hesitancy. This hesitancy is the characteristic of an illumined person. The ignorant man speaks with confidence. Whenever Mahavira was questioned, he never answered without 'perhaps'. He would say, "Perhaps it is so." Or he would say, "Perhaps it is not so," or "Perhaps both. "Perhaps both are so." Or he would say an illumined sage's answer is never mathematical. He never insists that two and two make four, because the mystery of life is so vast, life is an unsolvable riddle. He who gives clearcut answers should know well that there is much left to be known yet. To give a clearcut answer leaves much to be developed.
This undeveloped part is also alive and if neglected, will not fail to take revenge.
Therefore Lao Tzu does not assert anything authoritatively. He could have easily said that the wise should behave like the ignorant. That, too, could have conveyed his meaning; but then, his statement would not have borne the mark of his wisdom. It would then have been like the statement of an ordinary ignorant person.
It is said that once a famous Sophist debater came to visit Socrates. Socrates is the only Western philosopher who was almost of the calibre of Lao Tzu. He always asked questions but gave no answer himself. One reason why he was poisoned was this habit of not answering. It caused such frustration among his enemies. Socrates always said that he did not know. He claimed to be ignorant and, hence, he said he had the right to question and since he had no wisdom, how could he answer? We find ourselves in difficulty with such a person, because questions can be asked endlessly. And if the other offers no reply, on what will you base your other questions? The whole town was troubled by the behaviour of Socrates. They were afraid to encounter him on the streets for fear he might put some question to them. Then crowds would gather and there would be lots of difficulties, because each person knows he knows nothing about all the things he pretends to know. Because no one questions, you go about happily with your illusion of knowledge. If, however, someone does question, you find yourself in trouble.
But the fact is, no one questions because each of us has to save our so-called knowledge for ourselves. We are perpetually engaged in a mutual conspiracy, For instance, if someone asks you, "Does God exist?" You find yourself in a difficult situation. But you can also turn around and ask, "What is your opinion?" Now this other man also has some belief of his own which he wants to conserve, then, the difficulty starts. So we do not prod at each other's ignorance. We are wise in our ignorance, and the other is proficient in his. Thus, we protect each other's ignorances and consider it bad manners to raise such questions.
Socrates was not a civil person. Before administering poison to him the city magistrate told Socrates, that if he stopped his activity of telling the truth he would set him free. Socrates replied that that was his business, he could not do otherwise. How could he stop telling the truth, because whatever he said was invariably the truth. There was no point in living if he could not speak the truth. Such a life would be a bondage.
This Sophist I mentioned came to Socrates and pronounced one of his logical concepts. He told Socrates, "There is nothing absolute in this world; nothing is independent. Nothing is perfect in this world neither man nor his doctrines nor his truths." Socrates asked him, "Is your statement completely and fully true?" The Sophist, who by now had jumped into the heat of argument, not realising that he would be caught in his own words, said, "This is wholly true."
Socrates said, "Then I have nothing more to say. The matter is at an end, I leave you to think about it for yourself."
Whenever we assert the completeness of anything, we forget the fact that life is very mysterious. It is not that two and two make four and that is the end of it. Something always remains behind, and that something becomes the end for us. Had this man told Socrates that some truths in this world are perfect and some are not instead of saying that no truth is perfect in this world Socrates would not have dismissed him so quickly. In one and the same breath he declared that no truth is perfect and that what he says is wholly true, he defeated his own statement. Whenever we make such traditional assertions, we completely forget their opposite. This opposite then takes its revenge.
Therefore Lao Tzu does not say that one who claims to be wise, is an ignorant person. Such a statement would be akin to an assertion of wisdom. Therefore Lao Tzu says: "It is not possible that he to whom knowledge has opened all its doors, should behave like an ignorant person? This hesitant question Lao Tzu asks. The mild and flexible wisdom, the liquid consciousness are the characteristic indications of Lao Tzu's own perfection. These are the three sutras; a life free from ambition, an attitude of complete acceptance and invitation, and a preparation to become completely knowledgeless.
He who has the courage for this, attains the ultimate aim of life and reaches the highest perfection here and now. Such a one does not wait for the 'morrow. Such a one attains beatitude - not after life, but here and now. Paramatman does not send him to some higher world as we believe. Rather he is surrounded and permeated by God on all sides. Such a one has nothing more to attain because the treasures of life are forever open unto him.