Two sides of the same coin: honour and dishonour, greed and fear
"FAVOUR AND DISGRACE CAUSE ONE DISMAY, WHAT WE VALUE AND WHAT WE FEAR ARE AS IF WITHIN THE SELF."
WHAT IS MEANT BY SPEAKING THUS OF FAVOUR AND DISGRACE?
DISGRACE IS BEING IN A LOW POSITION (AFTER THE ENJOYMENT OF FAVOUR).
THE GETTING (OF A FAVOUR) LEADS TO THE APPREHENSION OF LOSING IT, AND THE LOSING OF IT LEADS TO THE FEAR OF STILL GREATER CALAMITY.
THIS IS WHAT IS MEANT BY SAYING THAT FAVOUR AND DISGRACE CAUSE ONE DISMAY.
"Praise and scorn, honour and dishonour both bring disappointment and despair. That which we consider precious and that which we are afraid of are within our very selves."
What is the reason behind the statement above? To be degraded after one has been applauded is an insult. Besides, there is always the fear of losing praise and honour, which, when once lost, gives rise to the fear of endless perils.
Before trying to understand this sutra, it is necessary to understand the facts hidden in the echoes around this sutra. The very first thing to understand is that neither honour is a factual truth, nor dishonour; nor favour, nor disgrace. We feel honoured when our ego is seduced and flattered.
Dishonour is what we feel when our ego is belittled or hurt. Favour and disgrace are both experiences of the ego, and ego is an untruth, a non-reality.
Ego is the biggest lie in our lives. We are not aware of what we actually are. That which we are, but of which we are not aware, is the atman. And that which we are not but we believe ourselves to be, that is the ego. Ego is an imaginary unit. We cannot live without it for the simple reason that we are unaware of our authenticity. Since we are unaware of our authentic master, we have created a false master.
We are totally ignorant of our authentic centre; and because it is impossible to live without a centre, we have created a false one for ourselves. We revolve around this false centre and keep ourselves alive. This false centre is the ego. All things that please this centre we count as praise, and all things that give it pain we look upon as disfavour. Since the ego is a false entity in itself, all experiences that take place through it are also false.
Lao Tzu says, "When someone praises us, we feel a sense of happiness; when someone criticizes us, we feel pain." It feels as if it is the other who gives happiness or inflicts pain, but the root cause of all pleasure and pain is within us - and that is our ego. He who has no ego within him feels no pleasure or pain from others. And he who feels no pleasure or pain becomes established in ANANDA (bliss).
Anybody can give us joy or sorrow. We are captives in the hands of others. We have completely handed over the reins of our feelings to others. A slight gesture on the part of someone and we are filled with delight or sorrow. A slight something and our eyes brim with tears; a slight change and our eyes beam with happiness. Our smiles and our tears are controlled by outside agencies.
But Lao Tzu says that the cause of this outward control is also deep within us: it is our ego. Because of the ego, we are influenced by others. Whether friend or foe, whether praise or blame, it is the other who influences because we have no genuine centre (atman) of our own. We have a false centre, a pseudo-centre, and the very form of this centre is such that it is controlled by others.
Try to follow this. The ego is not within our control. You will be surprised to know this! We all think, "It is my ego and therefore I am its master." It would be well to dispel this illusion. The ego is not within your control. The ego is controlled by others. That is why each word of the other is so precious to us. Many people greet you as you pass on the road and you are filled with pride. If some insult you, your shoulders droop. When you are praised, your inside seems to fill with flowers; when you are blamed, all joy dies within you, all flowers wither and fade. You have no hold on your ego, even though it is within you.
The ego always depends on the other. That is why it seeks others. The ego can never live by itself.
If the solitude of a forest makes you restless, it is not your restlessness but your ego's. If the silence in your room becomes unbearable for you, and you begin to look for someone to talk to you, then again it is the ego that is anxious for company. It is difficult tor the ego to exist in seclusion; it needs support every minute. Also it is very interesting that the ego is ready to bear up with disgrace or disfavour, but it can never bear to be alone. Never mind if there is no praise, an abuse will do, but seclusion is a downright danger for the ego. When the other criticises me, he at least accepts me for myself; and if he abuses me, it is because he accepts that I am something. My ego can thrive even if my name appears as a criminal in the newspapers. If I am made to walk in chains on the road, that too is enough for my ego to subsist. But my ego cannot exist in solitary confinement.
The basic reason why people like Mohammed, Jesus, or Mahavira sought solitude was to test whether there was any vestige of the ego left within them. If they could live alone and no thought of anyone troubled them, it meant the ego was completely annihilated.
Mahavira stayed in solitude for twelve years. Generally, people believe that he left the world. This is a very superficial way of looking at it. Mahavira had nothing to do with the mundane world. For twelve years, Mahavira searched within himself to see if there was any ego left within him that demanded the company of others. When he was thoroughly convinced that there was no craving whatsoever within him for the company of others, he returned from the jungles. Now he had his own atman within him. Now, whether people garlanded him or threw stones, it was all the same. He was now his own master. It was then that Mahavira declared, "Now I have become JINN." The word "JINN"
means: he who has conquered himself. Before this, he was a slave to 'the other'. Now, he had conquered himself. Let the other do whatever he pleased, he was beyond his reach.
Let us understand it in this way. The ego within you is the creation of all the people around you. It is their hands that have encompassed you. The society in which you live takes care to build and nourish your ego. It is an ironical fact that all cultures teach men to be humble. What is ever more interesting is the fact; that humility is also .a device created by the society for the ego. The father tells the son, "If you seek honour and praise in the world, cultivate humility." The guru tells the disciples, "The more humble you are, the more simple. the more worthy you shall be for praise." Now this is interesting for it is the ego alone that is the recipient of praise. So we create a facade of humility for the ego. We respect the man who is humble and, because we respect him, it becomes easier for him to be humble. Thus, our ego wears the decoration of humility!
Society cannot exist without nourishing the ego because it wants to keep its hold over you. If this is not so, then you are free and not bound by the norms of society. This is why each one of us - from a child to an old man - is encouraged and trained to develop his ego in many ways. There is the ego of the good man, the ego of the bad man, the ego of the sadhu, the ego of the sinner. We form a centre within ourselves that is governed and controlled by the outside world.
Lao Tzu says: "Praise and blame appear to be coming from without; but the basic reason is within our own selves." When a person hurls an abuse at me, it is not the foul words that hurt; the fact that these words are hurled at me is what hurts. Similarly, when I am Praised, the praise in itself is not what matters; but the fact that I am praised. Praise is food for our ego. So also is abuse, in a negative way. The words of Bernard Shaw, though spoken in a light mood, convey the feeling that is within each of us. He said, "I shall refuse to enter heaven if I am given a second place there. I would prefer even hell, if I am given first place there." Let us ask ourselves the same question: second place in heaven, or first place in hell? And invariably the choice within will be for the first place, even though it be in hell.
This is not a hypothetical question. This is what we do in actual life. In our frenzy to be at the top, we create a veritable hell around us. And we happily put up with all the misery in the process. A man who earns much wealth - how much hell he gathers around himself. A man who is ambitious in politics - how much hell he gathers around him! But we are not conscious of this, for this hell is not apparent. Only one desire, one obsession, takes hold of man: how to be at the very top.
Lao Tzu says however, "Even if you gain the highest position, attain all the fame, you will not yet be rid of misery and pain." Why? Because the more praise a person receives, the more his ego demands. What is received initially is taken for granted, because you feel that it was your right: I am a person worthy of praise. And no matter how far and wide your fame spreads, it is never enough for the ego. Never has there been a man in this world who has felt that the fame he has achieved is enough for him. Rather, he feels it is nothing compared to his prowess, to his extraordinary ability.
He feels the world does not know him well enough, and until such a day it will be unfair to judge him.
My own image is always much greater in my eyes than in the eyes of others. And the more it is praised and extolled, the greater it becomes, because praise is like water and food to it. My image is capable of absorbing all praise and yet asking for more. It is strange, yet true, that all the praise lavished on me gives me no pleasure for I have taken it in my stride. But if I do not get the same attention again (if not more), I shall feel very unhappy. You wished me well today; that is but natural.
I am such a wonderful person that you have to greet me. But if, tomorrow, you do not show me the same respect, I will certainly be hurt.
Ego is never satisfied with what it gets, but it is always dissatisfied with what it does not get. That which is attained is inevitably my right; but that which is not attained becomes a source of pain.
Then, there is a great attraction to conserve what is attained. I should at least keep on getting as much praise, if not more, as I have attained. All my efforts are now aimed in this direction. Then comes fear - fear of this praise being snatched away from me; fear of my losing it. So what is attained is to be conserved at all costs. This gives rise to fear and pain if it is lost.
Lao Tzu says: "Man does not gain tranquillity even after gaining praise. He becomes more restless, more miserable. And blame fills him with agony and pain." It should also be understood that blame causes pain in the same proportion as the expectation of praise.
Fourteen hundred years ago, Bodhidharma entered China. He was an Indian rishi. Lakhs of people gathered at the Chinese border to receive him. King Wu of China also prostrated at his feet. When the king looked up at the rishi, he was astounded - and so were the millions who were gathered there. Bodhidharma was wearing one shoe on his foot and had placed the other on his head. The king said to him, "I am at a loss to understand why you have placed your shoe on your head!"
Bodhidharma replied, "Such is the vision of saints. I come to know that the king will place his head at my feet, so I had to strike a balance. Lest the balance be disturbed, I placed my shoe on my head. I have balanced your reverence by degrading myself with my own hands. I have voluntarily rubbed off your reverence. This transaction of giving and taking is now over. I have not accepted your praise. Know well, O King, if you throw a slipper at me tomorrow it shall not affect me at all for I enter your kingdom with a slipper on my head."
My expectation is the measure of my blame. I suffer blame to the same extent as I expect praise. If I have no expectations, there can be no pain in censure. The pain of censure lies in the anticipation of merit. When you villify me, it is not the villification that hurts but the fact that I expected you to respect me and you turned around and abused me. Praise gives rise to pain and fear. The anticipation of praise lends weight to censure and makes it heavy.
Says Lao Tzu, "Praise and blame both lead us to despondency." Censure begets pain, that is but natural for it uproots the ego. But praise also begets despondency for it is the root cause of censure.
Lao Tzu says, "If you do not want others to blame you, do not ask them for acclamation."
This is a difficult task for the mind. We all wish that no one will censure us, but the mind is not prepared for the other part of the condition. It is on this other part of the condition that everything depends. An inch-long expectation of honour becomes a hundred-foot device for dishonour. Lao Tzu says: "Do not ever sit on throne, for you are bound to be overthrown." He also says that one should be prepared for failure for then no one can come in the way of your success. Consider your defeat as your victory. Then no one in this world has the power to defeat you.
This condition is hard to fulfil, and yet it is the fundamental condition for it is concerned with our very roots. If you do not wish for dishonour, seek no honour. We try not to win dishonour but how do we go about it? Our efforts are suicidal. We try all means to attain honour in order to avoid dishonour.
We try to save ourselves from disgrace and dishonour by fulfilling all the requirements necessary for honour. We try to be the kind of person that people honour, we conduct ourselves according to custom. We indulge in all the mockery and deceptions that our society approves of so that we may be looked upon with respect and reverence.
But, Lao Tzu says, if you follow this practice, you will make things difficult for yourself. No man can build his own personality as required by others. All such build-up is false impersonation, hypocrisy.
Time and again, the real man within manifests himself, in spite of all the precautions that one might take. When such a person succeeds in winning the world's acceptance, he does nothing more than gratify his ego. And the ego is never satisfied. The ego is like the bowl of a beggar. No matter how much it is filled, it is always empty. The thirst of the ego is unquenchable.
"That which we hold as precious, and that which we are afraid of are both present within us." What is it that we value, and what is it that frightens us?
Greed and fear are two sides of the same coin, though we cannot perceive them directly as such. It is a fact that he who is greedy, avaricious, is also a man who is filled with fear. It is impossible for a covetous man to be fearless, and one who is fearful is fearful because of his avarice. It is impossible for a fearful man not to be covetous within. It does not matter what he is afraid of. If a man is fearful of God, then also the reason is greed.
Some religions have used this method of frightening people towards God. We call religious people God-fearing, but this is a wrong nomenclature. If there is fear of God within a person, it is bound to be due to his avarice. The greed of attaining something, the anxiety of losing something, brings about the fear. The idea of being thrown into hell, of bearing misery in lives to come - this is the fear. God should not be displeased with us. That is a fear. All these are just different forms of avarice. One who is motivated by the fear of God is, in fact, motivated by fear. An avaricious man can have no connection with God, nor can a coward. Only one who has no greed or fear within him can establish a relationship with god. As I said before, the ego is the support of avarice and fear, He who is bereft of greed and fear stands face to face with God. The door opens the moment the ego falls.
We cannot visualize greed and fear as the same thing, not even as two sides of the same thing.
Greed is the positive side and fear is the negative. When we talk of honouring a person, that is greed; when we talk of punishing someone, that is fear But wherever there is reward, there is disgrace and punishment, and wherever there is punishment, there is reward. Heaven is reward; hell is punishment. Honour is reward; disgrace is punishment.
Society controls and commands your actions by the reins of fear and greed. Society honours those who follow its rules and it will punish one who disobeys its rules. If you walk within the shadow of your community, it will applaud you; but if you try to be different or rise above it, it will censure you.
That is why the world penalizes people like Socrates, Jesus, Mahavira and Mohammed. This is only natural, because these are people who strove to rise above the society. And to rise above society is to rise above greed and fear.
The whole pattern of society is fabricated on greed and fear. Whoever tries to rise above it poses a threat to society. Mahavira says, "I have dropped all greed." He says, "I have discarded all fear."
When is this possible? When can a person free himself from the throes of greed and fear? It is only possible when a person expects nothing from others. When I become self-satisfied, when I become so fulfilled within myself that I need nothing outside me and I can still live, when my wholeness, my fullness, is perfect within me, my greed and fear dissolve on their own.
But we find ourselves dependent on others for the slightest thing. If someone looks tenderly towards me, a light shines within me. If someone looks at me with disfavour, the light seems to fade within me. I do not have a light of my own within me. Whatever I have, I have received from others; it is borrowed. I am a debtor who has received charity from others. Therefore I am always in fear, lest I fall from grace in the eyes of my benefactors. I am always fearful of losing what they have given me, and I am always coveting that which I have still to receive from them.
Try to think of yourself in this vein: that you are a house built out of charity from others. In ancient Jewish settlements, it was a custom that when a new member came to settle down there, each person in the village made a gift of one rupee to him. If it was a settlement of 10,000 people, he got Rs. 10,000. Out of this, he could build a house and start a trade. Thus, a newcomer could begin his life without trouble. When a fresh member came to settle in the village, this man would also contribute towards setting him up in life. This was a very good arrangement. No man was allowed to be destitute.
But I have narrated this example for a different reason. We, too, come into this world and receive bits and pieces from everything around us. It is on the basis of these little gifts that we erect a house for our ego. Some things are given to us by our father, some by our mother and some we receive from our sisters and brothers. Other things we receive from our friends, our neighbours. All this we gather together and fashion our ego on it. Then we are always afraid, lest one brick or the other is pulled out of our house.
We are in constant tear of the people who have given us something, for they can take back what they have given at any time. Besides, we always keep our eyes glued to that which we still hope to receive. This greed and fear are within us. All the relationships we establish on this basis bring sorrow and pain to us. There is no way of deriving happiness from them because dependence is the profoundest pain and misery.
As things are, your very being is formed from bits and pieces borrowed from others. Picasso once made a picture of a politician. It was an excellent picture. He made no use of paints. He cut bits from newspapers and stuck them in the right shape. Picasso's message was very profound: a politician has nothing to him but an accumulation of newspaper cuttings. They are his very soul. You must have noticed that when a politician falls from power, he is no longer in the news. We never hear of his whereabouts. The only time he is mentioned in paper again is when he dies. Such is a politician - a collection of newspaper cuttings. But it is not that only a politician is such. We are all such collections. If I tell you that you no longer look beautiful, why does it pain you so much? If someone calls you ugly, why does it affect you so much? You have no knowledge of your beauty. What anyone tells you - that is your conception of your beauty. Now I pull one brick away from your concept: I say I do not find you beautiful. The wall of your ego develops a crack and you begin to be afraid.
If another person tells you the same thing, another brick will be pulled away from your house of illusion. Then what will happen to your beauty?
If I consider you intelligent, you become intelligent. If I call you an idiot, you believe you are an idiot.
Why are you distressed or elevated by my opinion? Because you judge yourself by the opinions of others. If Buddha was told he was not intelligent, he would laugh and go on his way because he knows he is not wise On account of others' opinions. He is what he is because of his own self. Why are we pained by criticism? Because we are nothing within ourselves. We are what others have made of us. So our very being depends on what others think of us. Our ego is fashioned according to the wish of others. We are always afraid of what others will say, for we are nothing in ourselves.
People came to me for meditation and they say, "What will people say if I do this?" Who are these people you are afraid of? They are the very people who have constructed your ego. You are afraid lest they change their opinion of you. You are frightened to spoil your image in their eyes. They might say: "You have gone mad look what you are doing?" So our souls are pawned in the hands of others. We are only too eager to become what others want us to become. Have we no individuality of our own? Have we no authentic existence of our own? Are we mere paper cuttings: a collection of other people's opinions?
As we are at present, unfortunately, our condition is just this. Therefore criticism hurts Censure pricks us: it causes our mansion to fall. Praise gladdens us, for it strengthens the mansion of our ego.
It is said that Benito Mussolini was passing by a cinema house one evening. Since the film has just started Mussolini went in unobserved. When, as usual, at the end of the picture, the audience stood up to hail Mussolini, whose picture appeared on the screen, Mussolini, naturally, was filled with pride. He asked the man beside him, "Does it fill you with joy to hail your President?"
The man replied, "For your own good I advise you to stand up and hail the Dictator or you will find it very costly. It seems you are a stranger in Italy. You should know that it is impossible to live in this land without cheering Mussolini."
Another incident I remember is about Churchill. He was on his way to address the Parliament when his car failed. He hailed a cab, but the driver said he could not take him because he wished to hear Churchill (who was going to address the Parliament over the radio). Churchill writes that he was filled with pride when he heard this. He was so surprised that a cabbie should refuse a fare just to hear him! He took out a high denomination note and giving it to him said, "I am impressed by what you have said, but my trip is very necessary."
The cabbie opened the door of the car and said, "To hell with Churchill! Jump right in, sir!" A minute before he had caused Churchill to bloat up like a balloon, and a minute later he let out all the air from within it! But even Churchill was unaware of the fact that a mere cabbie could cause his being to be elated, or downcast.
All our keys have changed. He whom we look upon as the master has handed over his keys to his slaves. This sutra is meant entirely for this state of affairs. "WHAT WE VALUE AND WHAT WE FEAR ARE BOTH WITHIN US."
In this context, what is said about honour and disgrace means that once a person is honoured. it is an insult for him to accept anything less than that. What is the meaning of insult? It is relative meaning. A man, once honoured, considers it an insult to be placed on a lower step. Whenever a person seeks a place of honour, he seeks a place for disgrace simultaneously. Whenever we climb up, we invariably make provisions to fall down also. Whenever we make arrangements to inflate our ego, be it from any side or in any way, we also make preparations for the contrary. We cannot see the road we pave to the opposite.
When I sit on the chair of honour, I am not aware of the fact that I have prepared a way for my downfall. When I fall, I hold others responsible for my fall; when I rise to the top, I claim all credit for myself. Every height has its lower depth. Each mountain has its valleys. No peak can exist without an abyss. As a mountain rises higher, its valleys go deeper. When a person scales the peaks of success, he creates deeper valleys of failure below. This process goes on every minute and there is no way of escaping it.
We accept birth and we deny death. But death appears together with birth. All life long we strive to keep death away. Our plans invariably fail, for death has happened together with birth. It is not a future happening; it is a part of the past already. Death has happened right with birth; because nothing can have only one pole. The other pole is bound to be there. With birth, there will be death; with honour, there is bound to be disgrace; with success, there is bound to be failure.
It is because of this that a very interesting situation arises. The more a man becomes famous and respected, the more rumours to the contrary are spread about him. There is no way out of this.
Balance is the rule. It is impossible to find no censure. Kings, politicians and millionaires are always maligned but even people like Mahavira, Buddha and Christ were not spared. Even though they may never have aspired for recognition and reverence, even though slander and scandal made no difference to them, even then if there were people who revered them, there were others who insulted them. And the number of people on both sides was the same.
If there were people who looked upon Krishna as God, there were other people who were ready to cast him in the lowest of hells. If there were people who called Buddha the excellence of wisdom, there were others who considered him an absolutely ignorant man. And where there were people who looked upon Jesus as the son of God, there were others eager to put him on the cross.
When Jesus was crucified, two others were sentenced with him. They were ordinary thieves. Jesus was placed between these two thieves so there was no illusion that he was crucified because he was considered to be a messiah. He was crucified as a depraved reprobate, a mischief-maker who was condemned by society. If Lao Tzu was asked why it should have been so, he would have said that it was bound to be.
Jesus had nothing to do with this happening. He was neither happy nor sad about it. But it pained his disciples a great deal. Jesus was the son of God. How could he be crucified like an ordinary mortal? But the fact remains that when Jesus declared himself the son of God, the other side of the coin came immediately into play to strike a balance.
The world is a profound balance. Each thing is balanced constantly; there can be no imbalance.
Then what is the remedy? There is only one remedy according to Lao Tzu, and that is to see the opposite in the object of our search. When you seek honour and acclaim, remember that you are seeking dishonour and disgrace also. When you are avaricious, remember that you are giving rise to fear also. When you go to seek love, remember that you have sown the seeds of hatred also. When you cling to life with both hands, know that you are clinging to death also. To see the opposite is the fundamental sutra of Lao Tzu. He says, "Be conscious of the opposite every moment." Both sides must be seen and not only one. Life is made up of pairs of opposites. See the opposite properly.
How can one escape the opposite? He who chooses one chooses the other. He who wants to escape both must not choose either.
The king of the land wanted Lao Tzu to be his Prime-minister Lao Tzu fled from one village to another to elude the king's men, who were in search of him. When they reached one village, they got the news that he had already left for some other village. The king was puzzled. Here he was eager to bestow on Lao Tzu the highest honour of the land, and this man was running away from him! He sent a special messenger to Lao Tzu to tell him not to run away from him and that he should tell the reason why he refused the great honour he was giving to him. Lao Tzu sent a reply with the messenger saying, "I am not running away from the honour you want to bestow on me, but from the dishonour that lurks behind it."
But we cannot see the opposite. To see the opposite is wisdom There is not only one direction to one place; there are many. The opposite is always present. If a man regulates his life so that he sees the opposite behind everything, his desires will fade, disappear. The so-called teachers always exhort us to shun desires, to give up the craving for desires. Lao Tzu's sutra is very very deep. He does not tell us to give up desires. He says, "See well the opposite that is behind the desire. Then the desire will fall of its own accord."
If I really begin to conceive that to make a friend is to make a foe - when this understanding dawns clearly within me and is not just a superficial concept of the mind, when this knowledge goes down deep within my being, I will make no friends One interesting fact should be taken into consideration at this point. To make a friend is in my hands, but not to make an enemy is not in my hands. If I take the first step, the second is not within my control.
We all take the first step, but hope the second does not come into action. But this is not in our hands.
I wish for success. I need not have wished. That much was in my hands. But failure is not within my hands. I desire reverence. That is in my hands. But its opposite is not within my control.
Buddha has made an interesting statement. He said, "Do not worry about death. Instead, try to escape birth. Once you have taken birth, death is not in your hands."
A Brahmin approached Buddha and said, "How can I escape the cycle of birth and death?"
Buddha replied, "Leave death unto death. You free yourself from life only."
Generally, we ask this question. "Death is not in our hands," you cannot escape it. But birth is in your hands; you can escape birth. And if there is no birth, there is no way to die. Birth must lead to death. So Buddha told the man to seek an end to birth. Find out why birth takes place!
The man did not understand. When he asked to be relieved from the cycle of birth, and death he did not have birth in mind. It was death he wanted to escape. He was afraid of death. This was natural since he was an old man. He wanted a birth where there would be no death. He wanted freedom from death.
We all think in this manner. People come and ask me "How can we be freed from pain and misery?"
We cannot be, until we also wish to be free from happiness. Happiness is our choice and sorrow is the result.
Happiness is in my hands. Not so sorrow. It is as if I were to say that I will run but my shadow should not run behind me. Then, I turn around and ask for a remedy to be rid of my shadow. To run or not to run is in my hands, but the running or not running of the shadow is not in my hands. If I do not run, the shadow will not run: if I run, the shadow also will run. Sorrow is a shadow; happiness is my choice. Respect is my choice; insult is the result, the shadow. We all wish to escape from the result. We sow the seed, feed manure, water it and strive to see that the plant does not grow. We nurture the plant, but deep within us we do not want it to sprout. We sow happiness, but sorrow is the offspring of happiness. These, unfortunately, we cannot see together. He who does see them together, is a religious man.
A religious man, according to me, is one who sees both sides of a pair of opposites. Then happiness and unhappiness become two poles of the same thing; insult and praise become two poles of the same thing. Remember, as soon as I begin to see in this manner, I at once know what I should do and what I should not do; how far I should go in a particular case and how far I should not go. I stand with a bow and arrow in my hands. As long as the arrow does not leave the bow, it is within my control. Once it leaves the bow, it no longer is in my hands.
A word forms and intensifies within me. As long as I do not say it, I am its master. Once it leaves my lips, I am no longer its master. The first step of happiness, recognition or power is a step of choice.
The other step follows invariably; it cannot be avoided.
Lao Tzu says, "What happens if both sides become visible? What will be the result?" When both sides become visible at the same time, when they appear as only one, all desires disappear from our lives. There is no man who would wilfully opt for sorrow.
But man is a strange creature. He does not stop to ponder that everyone wishes for happiness, but all are unhappy. No man can place his hand on his heart and say that he is happy. If this is so, there is bound to be a fundamental mistake somewhere. And this mistake is not the work of one man but of every man. That is why it cannot be seen. The mistake is only this: no one wants unhappiness, everyone wants happiness. They choose to be happy and are rewarded with sorrow. They run to gain happiness and all they get is unhappiness. He who wants to evade sorrow will have to keep away from joy also. This alone is sadhana.
It is difficult to learn to keep away from happiness, but it is not as difficult as going through unhappiness. When someone greets me on the street, I should become alert. I should be prepared for insult or abuse also. If I can hear the echo of the opposite in this man's greetings, then I will be safe. It is not necessary that abuse will follow on the heels of the greeting, but even if it does, it will have no meaning for me. It will make no difference within me. Then both these acts will appear as mere acts. They will belong to the other. I shall not be connected with them. And if I do not establish any connection with them, I am free (mukta).
Lao Tzu, here, is discussing with great profundity the ties that blind man. If I see happiness and sorrow, insult and favour, praise and blame, as part of one process, if I get a glimpse of the oneness of birth and death, then those desires that run towards the mundane world will lose their power to motivate me.
Alice entered the Wonderland. The queen stood next to Alice, who was sitting under a tree. It would be wrong to say she was standing, because she and Alice were both running. For hours they ran.
Then Alice looked up. She saw the tree as it was. The queen and she were also where they were.
They had not moved an inch, and yet they were tired and perspiring. Alice said to the queen, "Your land is queer! We have been running all day and we have reached nowhere. The tree is where it was; you and I are in the same place!"
The queen replied, "It is because we ran that we are still nowhere. Imagine what would have been if we had not run?"
We too, in like manner, run all our lives and find ourselves back where we were. The same question comes to our mind. In spite of all our running, we are where we were. What a disgrace it would have been if we had not run at all. We try so hard for fame and reverence, and all we obtain is insult and abuse. If we had not tried for recognition, what would have been our plight? We tried so hard to gain wealth, and yet remained paupers. Had we not strived at all, we would have certainly been in hell. If, however, Alice had asked Lao Tzu, he would have said, "Do not run. Stop and see! If you find yourself where you were after so much running, you should stop and see."
There are only two types of logic in this world. One is the type the queen gave Alice. This is the logic of ordinary intelligence, which always says that so much labour has been done and all that was attained was a few pebbles. "If I had made no effort, my plight would have been even more pitiful."
The other logic is that of Buddha, Mahavira and Lao Tzu. They say, "Stop and see. Do not run."
Alice asked the queen again, "Then what is to be done to move away from this tree?"
The queen's answer was interesting. "If you run with all your strength, you will be able to stand where you are," she said, "but if you want to go further than the tree, you will have to run with double that strength." But where is this double strength to come from? It is an absurdity; it has no meaning at all. Double the strength is not needed at all. If all your strength does not take you an inch away from where you are, of what avail will double the strength be? But this reasoning appealed to Alice.
She decided to run twice as fast.
We also tend to think this way. When we seek honour in life and do not get it, we double our efforts. When we desire fame in life and it does not come our way, we feel that perhaps we have not exerted enough. But remember, the more effort you put in to win fame, the more ignominy will be the reward. The more we strive for power, the greater is the dishonour and insult, because life is a balance between opposites.
Then what are we to do? Should we stand where we are? Should we stop running? Lao Tzu does not tell us to stop. This is a rather subtle statement. According to him, if we stop running it will still mean that we have stopped with some end in view. If we halt, it may be to save ourselves from insult, from slander, from defeat. The greed for honour, fame, success, wealth and immortality will remain as it was. Lao Tzu says, "I do not advise you to halt. I only ask you to realize the futility of running." Then, when you see the worthlessness of your efforts, you will halt by yourself. No effort is required.
When Buddha was asked, "Shall we attain peace if we shun desires?" He would reply, "This also is a desire. It is a new desire. I do not ask you to renounce desire. I ask you to understand your desires because if you understand them, you will not desire them. Then you will not ask this question. This peace that you desire becomes a subject for your desire. That which remains when all desires die is peace, tranquillity. When all quest for happiness ends, what remains is bliss."
This sutra of Lao Tzu's is invaluable. To practise this sutra, no special sadhana is required, nor any rites or rituals. You can practise this sutra while going through your day-to-day activities. Only remember; if you do not take the first step, you cannot take the second. Be alert when you take your first step and you need not worry about the second. Search yourself within; see where you are going before you take the first step. A child was born in Chuang-Tse's house. Chuang-Tse was a disciple of Lao Tzu. When people came to congratulate him on the birth of his son, they found him sitting on the doorstep, beating his chest and wailing loudly. When they asked him the reason he said, "My guru has taught me to be cautious at the first step. I have seen death in birth. Therefore, I cry."
Then, when his wife died some years later, the king came to pay condolences to him. He found him sitting under a tree, singing a song. The king was shocked. "What is this you are doing, Chuang- Tse? It is all right if you do not feel sorrow, but this is no occasion to sing and make merry!"
Chuang-Tse replied, "At one time I saw death in birth. This time, I have witnessed birth in death."
If we begin to see this sutra in the multitudinous facets of life, we will gradually come to find that much has dropped away from us, without any effort on our part. We have done nothing to rid ourselves of the non-essentials, and yet they have fallen off. And one day, suddenly, the person realises that he is no longer in the race. He discovers, as if by chance, that the ego within him that existed on the support of others has fallen and disintegrated. No sooner is the ego annihilated than he begins to experience that which is authentic existence, one's very Self (atman).