The last lines of yesterday's sutra were left half-explained. We shall begin with them today. With regard to a saint's characteristics, Lao Tzu has said in the end that they are empty like a valley and humble like muddy waters. The way we live, our manner of living, is not of being empty but, rather, of being full. Whether we fill ourselves with wealth or honour or position or knowledge, or whether we fill ourselves with renunciation, we are all eager to fill ourselves. It seems that deep within there is so much emptiness that it is eating into our vital parts. We strive to fill ourselves so as to be rid of this emptiness.
One thing is that we try to fill ourselves all our lives and another thing is that, finally, we find ourselves as empty as before. No one has been able to fill himself. Whatever the object, whatever the direction, be it of this world or the next, we remain empty, vacant. Sikandar died empty-handed, so did Einstein; so did all the great men of the world; they all left empty-handed. From childhood, we start this race to fill ourselves. All our life is spent in this pursuit and yet we die as empty as we were born. Those who are failures in life die empty-handed, but those who count themselves successful, they too die empty-handed.
Those who were failures at least had some hope of being filled if they were successful. One who has failed consoles himself that luck was against him or situations were not conducive to him and hence he failed. But those who succeed have no excuses left. They cannot say they had no opportunity.
Sikandar could not give any excuse for his emptiness. Throughout his life he tirelessly filled himself, and yet he remained empty within. The nature of that which we strive to fill is to be empty, and hence it cannot be filled. The last and basic definition Lao Tzu gives of a saint is that he is empty like a valley. He who accepts his emptiness and makes no bid to fill himself - not out of despair or dejection, or a sense of defeat - is a saint.
The well known Hindi poet Dinkar has written a book entitled FOR THE DEFEATED, THE NAME OF THE LORD. Those who lose have nothing but the Lord's name, the Lord's name is left with them.
He who loses is unable to take the name of God. But since he is helpless, he has nothing else to go by, he is forced to do so.
It is easy for us to understand that a loser's hand is an empty hand, but a gainer's hand also proves to be empty. This is because our inner nature, is to be empty. We cannot fill the emptiness within us just as it is impossible to darken the sun because it is its nature to be filled with light.
Nothing can be done against our nature. All efforts to do so become unsuccessful in the end. Those who attempt to go against nature are defeated ultimately. They are filled with sorrow and pain; their ego is wounded, their life becomes one long tale of distress and disappointment.
According to Lao Tzu, a saint is not one who has resorted to the name of God because he is defeated in life and hence, has resigned himself to accept his lot as it is. Lao Tzu says, "A saint knows that it is our very nature to be empty. It is a factual experience that he accepts." He also knows that it is a vain attempt to go against nature. It is foolishness to do so. This is not defeatism; it is knowledge. The saint discovers through his wisdom, through his developed maturity. He understands - because he has experienced life - that it is the nature of the atman, the existence within a person, to be empty.
Emptiness is its quality.
Remember, emptiness alone can be infinite. Nothing that is full can be infinite. Whenever a thing begins to fill, the boundary to form. Also, emptiness alone can be established within its own self.
Fullness is always attained through something else. Take an empty pot. An empty pot means it is only a pot. Once it is full, it is because of something that is added to it, be it water or pebbles or soil or gold. It can only be filled with things that are alien to it. If we want to be only ourselves, we shall have to be empty. If we fill ourselves, it will always be filled with that which is foreign to us.
The purest form of self is always empty; because except for the self, there is nothing there.
Whenever we fill ourselves, the other becomes present. This is our trouble. We fill ourselves with others: friends, lovers, dear ones, wife or husband, wealth, status etcetera. But the other can never penetrate into the self; it always remains without. All of life passes by in this mad race to fill the within; all our energy is spent in this pursuit. Ultimately we find that the inside is as empty as ever.
Lao Tzu says, "The saint lives in his emptiness." He does not fill himself with the other, no matter what the other is. Lao Tzu says: "The saint does not fill himself with Ishwara (God) either. Nor does he fill himself with religion or good deeds." It is the saint's religion to be empty, his very God is emptiness; because to be empty is to be Tao, the universal law.
This emptiness frightens us. We are frightened even to be alone by ourselves. If there is no one with us, we feel bored; we feel life to be useless. The other is very necessary. It is an interesting fact that none of us are prepared to live by ourselves, alone. We can live with others, not with our own selves. Also, we, who cannot bear to be by ourselves, alone, feel that others will be happy in our company. The other also is of the same opinion. He too cannot bear to be alone with himself. And we hope to be happy in his company! We are thus dependent on each other. This dependence is so foolish that the one whom we depend on is equally as dependent on us. We live by his strength; he lives by ours.
We are all weak and, because we are all weak, we cannot notice the delusion of inter-dependence.
Sainthood is an attempt to see the reality. It is an effort to see reality as it is. He who is ready to see reality soon begins to experience the joy of it. Those who have realised that to fill oneself is to be in hell have stopped filling themselves and chosen to be empty. They are aware of the fact that "I am empty".
It is interesting to note that within the last two hundred years, the western world has created the maximum amount of things that a man could wish to possess. Houses are filled with every thing for comfort; technology has filled the earth. A common man possesses things that even an emperor of old could not dream of. The West is filled with all that man needs - and much more. And yet, one feeling that has become most prominent among the people of the West during the course of these two hundred years, is the feeling of emptiness.
The most important word in the West today is emptiness. Camus, Sartre, Heidegger, all talk of emptiness. They say, "Life is absolutely empty." They are restless that this emptiness cannot be filled. No poor society can ever feel the emptiness of the West because when the stomach is empty the emptiness of the soul cannot be felt. Then all the time is utilised in filling the empty stomach.
Today, the West has succeeded in filling the stomach, filling the body. And yet they experience that all is empty; there is nothing within.
Says Lao Tzu: "A man knows only two ways to deal with this emptiness: he either tries to fill it, or to forget it." First he tries to fill it, as Sikandar did. When he finds this to be impossible, he tries to forget it by taking drugs, by indulging in wine, woman and song. But, says Lao Tzu, it cannot get filled and it cannot be forgotten.
Life's rules are very strange. The more you try to forget a thing, the more you remember it. You cannot forget a thing by wishing to forget it, for in your effort to forget you have to remember that which you wish to forget. When a man takes alcohol to drown the memory of this emptiness, he is actually remembering it in a very deep manner. When he comes to his senses, the remembrance will be equally profound - and more so, at the realisation that it could not be shaken off and he has harmed his body in the bargain. The feeling of emptiness remains as it was. It is now felt more deeply; it becomes more evident. This emptiness can never be filled or forgotten.
Lao Tzu says saints are those who neither fill nor forget. They accept the emptiness within them.
And then, a wonderful happening, a miracle, takes place. He who accepts his emptiness finds that he is empty no more.
This will seem rather difficult to understand. Actually, the emptiness within is accentuated by our eagerness to fill it. The more eager we are, the more we feel the emptiness within. Once we have accepted the fact that we are empty and given up all hankering to fill ourselves - when we make no effort to forget the emptiness and we accept it fully - not that there is emptiness within me but rather, that 'I am emptiness' - then only does the emptiness disappear.
For the emptiness to be vivid, it requires a background of expectation of fulfilment, just as white chalk is necessary in order to write on a blackboard. The white of the chalk stands out against the blackness of the blackboard. The black sets off the white. To experience anything, the opposite is required. Emptiness hence becomes vivid because of our eagerness to be full. When this eagerness to be full no longer is there, the feeling of emptiness is also lost.
We experience pain because we have expectations of joy. When there is no desire for happiness, there is no experience of unhappiness. Death frightens us because we hold on to life. If we do not hold on to life, death will have no meaning. Insult pricks us like a thorn because we are eager for the flowers of honour and acclaim. If we do not hanker for the flowers, the thorns will disappear on their own. The opposite is always necessary in order to experience.
Your emptiness is a proof of your ambition to be full; your sorrow is evidence of your yearning for joy. If insult pains you, it is a proof of your madness for honour. If you understand this well, you will understand Lao Tzu when he says it is the saint's intrinsic quality to be empty.
Lao Tzu then goes on to say that the saint is humble, like muddy waters. Humility, humbleness, is of two kinds There is one humility which is only an ornament of the ego. If we wish to symbolise it we may say, "As pure as the waters of the Ganges." Purity has a sense of arrogance, and so has humility.
Such a humble man declares his humility everywhere. He goes on falling at the feet of others and declares himself to be less than the dust under their feet. But look into his eyes, observe his demeanour, and you will find him the opposite of his claim to being nothing. If you tell him a more humble person than him, he shall feel more hurt than an arrogant man at the thought of being second place. Can humility be graded thus? If humility can be graded higher or lower, then where is humility?
The ego seeks the peaks. Therefore he who is conscious of his ego, is not humble; he is an egoist.
Humility cannot be felt without the feeling of arrogance within. Hence, he who proclaims his humility is an egotist. Otherwise he would never get the feeling of humility. There is no way to feel humility.
But ego can put on the disguise of humility. It does. We initiate our children into it.
I visited a university once. The vice-chancellor's room bore a small plaque on which was written:
"Humility alone is worthy of honour." This must have been for the benefit of the students. But the first half of this sentence is in complete contradiction to the latter half. Those who are humble are revered, so he who desires to be respected must strive to be humble. In our ego-ridden society, he who wishes for honour must practice humility otherwise he will not be respected. We respect only those who seem full of humility. It never occurs to us that this humility is put on in order to gain recognition and honour.
Can such acts of humility - folding one's hands, or bowing low - ever make one humble? If so, we have politicians who always fold their hands and bow low, but their humility is nothing but a race to gratify their profound egos. There is this one type of humility that is very conscious of the purity and excellence of humbleness.
Lao Tzu talks of the other kind of humility. This humility is such that it is not even aware of its goodness, its purity, its excellence. That is why Lao Tzu has likened it to muddy waters. Muddy water flows anywhere, wherever the earth makes way for it. It is so full of mud that it is not conscious of its purity, its excellence as being the water of the Ganges.
If a saint is conscious of the fact that he is a saint, he is no saint. You go to a saint, touch his feet and say, "You are a great saint." He will reply, "No, no! I am like dust under your feet!" Both know the rules of the game. If he were to say that he was a saint, you would be disappointed. What kind of a saint blows his own trumpet? The saint knows that if he were to accept your flattery, you would not come to him again. So he says, "There is no greater sinner than myself. This I know, when I look within myself." So you touch his feet and return fully satisfied that you have met a real saint. This is no more than a two-sided play.
The saint that Lao Tzu speaks of will never say he is a very good person, nor will he say he is a very bad person because these are both proclamations of the ego. The Lao-Tzu saint doesn't proclaim anything. He says nothing about himself. You may return from him disappointed, for he does not give you a chance to make any decision regarding him, and this leaves you unsatisfied. Had he confirmed his sainthood, you could have determined who he was; had he denied his sainthood, it would have given you a chance to decide about him. Lao Tzu's saint says nothing about himself for, Lao Tzu says, "any kind of knowledge of one's self is brought about by the opposite. Therefore, the saint has no knowledge of himself."
One man came and said to Lao Tzu, "We have heard that you are the wisest man in the world; there is no one to equal you in knowledge." Lao Tzu listened in silence to all that he had to say. "Won't you say something?" the man asked. Lao Tzu was still silent.
Then another man came who said, "We are very much disturbed by the wrong knowledge you are spreading. Your talk will disturb the minds of the people and lead them astray." Lao Tzu gave him a patient hearing also, and held his peace. "Will you say nothing to defend yourself?" the man asked.
Then Lao Tzu said, "Both of you decide among yourselves. One of you thinks I am the wisest man and one of you thinks I am steeped in ignorance. For myself, I know nothing of what I am. You are learned people. Decide among yourselves. But, pray, keep me out of it."
This unproclaimed, undetermined personality is sainthood.
Now we shall try to understand the new sutras.
"WHO CAN FIND REPOSE IN A MUDDY WORLD? BY LYING STILL IT BECOMES CLEAR."
There is a story of Buddha, in this context, which is very dear to me. This sutra could well be the title of this story. Buddha was passing by a mountain. The heat of the day was intense for it was summer. He felt thirsty. He told Ananda, "Go get some water from the stream we crossed just now."
Ananda took the begging bowl and began to walk back to the stream that was about two furlongs away. When they had crossed it, the sun's rays shone like diamonds in the clear water. It was a shallow brook that gurgled its way over stones and rocks and the water it carried was pure and clear for it came from the mountains. But when Ananda reached the brook, he saw two carts crossing the stream and the water became dirty. The mud beneath was churned up by the cart's wheels; the dry leaves around, that lay buried on the ground, became loose and spread over the water's surface.
The water was no longer fit to drink. Ananda went back. He wondered how such an enlightened person as Buddha could not foresee that by the time he reached the brook the carts would be crossing it and the water would be dirty!
When he returned he told Buddha about the dirty water and offered to walk three miles to a river and bring fresh water for him. Buddha said, "No. I wish to drink the water from the brook. Go again."
Ananda could not understand. The first time, perhaps, Buddha did not know the water had become dirty; but now, knowingly, he wanted to send him back! When he saw Ananda hesitating, Buddha ordered him to go. Ananda went. The water was still muddy and undrinkable. He did not know what to do. How could he take the dirty water for Buddha? He came back again and said, "Forgive me, but the water is not fit to drink."
Buddha said, "Listen to me, and go once again." Ananda was exasperated, he wanted to refuse, but Buddha's voice was so insistent that he went back. Buddha called out as he left, "Be sure not to return without the water."
Ananda went. He sat on the bank of the stream and kept watching the muddy water. After some time he saw that the dry leaves had been carried away by the running brook and the mud was slowly settling down. The water was now clear and sparkling, with sunbeams dancing on it. Ananda was filled with joy. He filled the bowl and walked back as fast as he could. Falling at Buddha's feet he exclaimed, "Your compassion is infinite Lord! What a lesson you taught me through the small stream. And here was I, an ignorant fool. What all I thought about you! Sitting by the brook and watching the water clear, it came to me that our mind is similarly filled with dirt and filth. Is it not then possible to sit on its banks and allow the filth to flow away?"
Buddha said, "That is why I had to send you back three times."
Lao Tzu's sutra is an apt title to this story: "WHO CAN FIND REPOSE IN THE MUDDY WORLD? BY LYING STILL IT BECOMES CLEAR." There is no need to do anything. It is enough to sit in silence and tranquillity and with patient awaiting. Everything then becomes clear and pure of its own.
Buddha later asked Ananda, "Ananda, did you not feel like jumping into the stream and trying to clean it?"
Ananda said, "Not only did I feel like it. I actually jumped in the stream! But the water became more dirty!"
This is exactly what we do with the mind. We jump into it with the hope of cleaning it. Our violent and aggressive efforts are like stepping into the stream and making it more turbid and dirty. If it were possible to look within a so-called religious person who sits to worship and to meditate in a temple, you would find that he is sitting in a temple all right, but his mind has nothing to do with the temple.
Instead, it is filled with the most rotten filth, such as is not there when he sits in his shop. The shop at least gives him something to concentrate on: wealth. In the temple there is nothing to hold his attention so there is no concentration.
Why is this so? All those who try to quiet the mind find that the more you try to silence the mind, the more restless it becomes; for who is trying to quiet the mind? You are restless many times more restless. If a person is adamant about disciplining his mind, he may even go mad.
Then what is the way? The path shown by Lao Tzu is worth emulating. It is the supreme path. Lao Tzu says: "Sit silently by the stream of thoughts; lie still. Let the stream of thoughts flow; let it be dirty, let it be turbid. Be silent, be patient. Wait, do nothing. Just wait. Make no effort to direct the mind." Who can attain tranquillity in this world? Only one who makes no effort to still the mind.
This seems strange. All restlessness is the outcome of our attempts and efforts. If we make an attempt to relax; be tranquil, we create a greater restlessness within ourselves.
Bokoju went to his guru and told him, "My mind is very restless. Show me the way to quiet it. Should I meditate, should I fast, should I do penance?"
The guru said, "Have you still not tired of doing all these things? All your life you have done these.
That is the cause of your restlessness. If you are still eager to indulge in these things, please do not come to my door. This is a place for those who are non-doing. If you are prepared to do nothing, you are welcome; otherwise you may wander as much as you please."
Bokoju did not understand. He said again, "My restlessness is killing me. You shall have to do something about it. You have no idea how much I suffer, what agony I am passing through!"
The guru replied, "Your very desire to still the mind creates double the amount of restlessness within you. Do nothing. Stay here. Just sit by my side."
Bokoju stayed with the guru for one year - just sitting beside him. Every few days he would ask, "Now please tell me to do something. Give me some work, I do not mind how lowly or foolish. It can be to count beads or some such thing. Just so that I can be occupied." The guru said that he had occupied himself enough. Now, for some time, he was to do nothing. Again, after a month or so, Bokoju became very restless. "Am I not worthy of your teachings?" he asked. "What is wrong with me that you tell me nothing?"
The guru still insisted: "Just keep sitting." In Japan, this just sitting is called zazen. Whenever Bokoju asked, in the course of one year, the guru's reply was the same: zazen. Bokoju finally tired of asking.
What to ask of a man who always replied, "Zazen?" So he stopped asking.
Now, a strange thing happened to him. The nearness of the guru created such a cohesion that it was now not possible to leave him. Something within him united, which now made his leaving the place impossible. When the guru noticed this cohesion within him he said to him, "If you ever ask me to show you something, I shall definitely turn you out." The guru knew that he had now reached a stage from where he could not run away.
But Bokoju could not sit quiet. The mind within clamoured for occupation, some involvement, something to do. There is a saying, "An empty mind is the devil's workshop." This is not true. An empty mind does not become a devil's workshop; it is already a factory of the devil. This workshop has been working full time for so long that you have become used to the noise it creates. Only when it stops do you become aware of it.
Bokoju was in real difficulty now. He could not leave the guru; he could not do anything. He just sat and sat and sat. Then, exactly what happened to Ananda by the side of the brook happened to Bokoju. For a full year he sat doing nothing, thinking the same thoughts over and over again. How long could he think the same thoughts again and again? They too turned stale and he was bored of them. The thoughts began to flow away like the dry leaves in the stream. The mud settled down - and the mind became still.
Then one day his guru offered to give him some work if he wished. Bokoju caught the guru's feet and said, "With great difficulty have I managed to rid myself of doing. Please, I beg of you, do not ever tell me to do anything."
"So you do not wish to be tranquil?" the guru asked.
"I pray to you," said Bokoju, "Now I have understood. Do not tease me any more."
The very act, the very attempt to do something is restlessness itself. To do something is to be restless. Therefore, you can never attempt to be tranquil. To be tranquil, to be serene, to be relaxed means only one thing: that all attempts to gain tranquillity have been abandoned. Then what remains is peace, tranquillity. Says Lao Tzu: "Who can find repose in this world of impurities and unrest?
Only he who is fixed within himself, who halts within himself and allows the impurities to flow away, can become tranquil."
Do not fight with the impurities within. All religions, as we understand them, seem to exhort us to fight the impurities within. But I say to you, those who have known religion have never said this. No one can relax by fighting; and without being peaceful and serene, no one can become religious.
That is why we find certain statements of religious people so revolutionary that they are difficult to digest. Jesus had said, "Resist not evil." Christianity has not yet digested this tenet of Jesus, even though two thousand years have passed. No Christian thinker has been able to explain what Jesus meant. What does Jesus say. Do not fight anger? Do not fight sex? Do not fight greed? These are our enemies!
People come to me and say, "Show us how to fight these four enemies within us: anger, sex, greed and attachment. How should we overcome them?" And Jesus says, "Fight not evil."
Lao Tzu says: Lie low and let the evil flow by. Fight and you shall lose. If you wish to win, give up all resistance, give up all fight. But the superficial and so-called religious thinker tells us, "Do not fight others. But fight yourself you must."
Leo Tolstoy has written in his diary: "Lord, give me the strength to forgive others and never to forgive myself." This is the understanding of an ordinary religious man: not to fight others but to fight with himself. But he who fights, invariably jumps into the flow of the stream and makes it doubly filthy and turbid. This is why we find filthy minds within so-called religious people; so filthy that the minds of criminals seem clean in comparison. These people who fight see nothing but filth on all sides.
Wherever they look, their eyes discover some filth or the other. So much filth has gathered within that it has begun to be projected outside also.
A French painter came to visit Kajuraho. In those days, a friend I knew was a minister in Vindhya Pradesh. He was assigned the task of taking the visitor to see Kajuraho. He was very upset because he was a religious man. Every morning he performed his daily worship; he wore the sacred thread; he read the GITA and the RAMAYANA; he applied sandalwood to his forehead and went daily to the temple. He was totally religious. Now, how was he to manage the naked images depicting love and sex on the walls of this temple? And what opinion would this foreigner have of India when he saw this shameful art? Are such sculptures fit to be created first of all, and then, too, on the walls of a temple? He was in a terrible dilemma. The visitor was an important person and protocol demanded that he be taken around by no less a person than a minister.
Somehow he set out, with the name of Rama constantly on his lips. He told me, "I kept praying all the while, 'Oh God, please do not let him ask me why these sculptures were made!'"
He tried to hurry him up but the foreigner stood for hours in front of each image. All the time he gazed at the images, my friend kept his eyes fixed to the ground. At last the visit came to an end.
The foreigner didn't ask a single question. But my friend could hold his silence no more. As they came down the steps he said, "Please do not take this art to be typical of Indian art. Do not let it bias your opinion about Indian tradition and culture. This is the work of a perverse and debauched king, and our culture has nothing to do with it. These pictures are indecent, we know. If we had our way, we would plaster them with mud."
The artist turned around and said, "I shall have to go and see them once more! I did not notice indecency anywhere! I must see them once again, because I saw nothing unseemly anywhere. I have never witnessed such beautiful, artistic, natural and innocent art anywhere!"
Which of these two men was religious? Here is one friend who prays every day, and here is a foreigner who perhaps has never prayed; but I would call him religious, for his mind is not filled with debris. He can see things straight and direct without imposing his beliefs. When you find an image indecent, look within yourself. You will find sexual desire knocking within you. This is what makes the image look indecent.
If a man is standing naked and you find him indecent, look within yourself. You will find that, the very desire to see a person naked is the cause of this attitude. Otherwise there is no reason for it. If a man is engaged in fighting the evil within him, he is bound to fall into all kinds of perversions.
There are three states of the mind. One is the state in which we undergo, enjoy and experience.
This is the natural state. One who represses himself, arms himself against this natural state, falls far below the one who goes through it. This is the state of disease. And one who allows the experience to flow by, rises above the experience. This is the state of yoga. Bhoga, roga and yoga: these are the three states. Bhoga (experience) is a natural happening. He who mutilates the experience enters the realm of roga (disease). He who allows the experience to flow through him naturally and accepts it without any struggle, he who allows the mud and dry leaves of desire to settle down, leaving the pool of the mind crystal clear, reaches the state of profound meditation (yoga).
Lao Tzu hints at this yoga. "WHO CAN MAINTAIN HIS CALM FOR LONG? BY ACTIVITY, REST COMES BACK TO LIFE." This statement has to be understood properly.
WHO CAN MAINTAIN HIS CALM FOR LONG? He who has come to realise the secret of the rest that follows each activity. "BY ACTIVITY, REST COMES BACK TO LIFE." There are periods of tranquillity, periods of calmness, in everybody's life. But who can maintain this calm and peace constantly? There are two ways: one is that a man should become so dead to everything that he has no strength to even be restless. There are people who try this method. If they feel the sex urge within, they eat so little that no desire can form within them. When there is no strength in the body, no desires are created. But the absence of strength does not mean the end of desires. Desires lie in wait. No sooner is the body strong then they reveal themselves. If they are not allowed to manifest, they remain within, in seed form.
An experiment was conducted at a university in America. Thirty students were kept without food for a month. After a week or so their sexual desires began to wane. There were pictures of beautiful nudes, pictures of erotic art, but these were no longer interesting. After fifteen days, no amount of sex-talk had any effect on them. After a month it seemed that sexual desire had completely left them, for intense energy is required for sexual desire. After thirty days, they were given food. On the very first day it was found that their interest in sex returned. In three day's time the erotic pictures became as appealing as ever. Once again the jokes, the discussions about sex became the order of the day.
If energy is not allowed to go beyond a certain level, the illusion is created that sex is dead within.
This is what many sadhus do. The desire is never extinct, it is the lack of the appropriate amount of energy that keeps it hidden. Lao Tzu contends that this kind of calmness is not calmness; it is death. It is not peace; it is the silence of the grave.
Tranquillity is an alive happening. Such desolate silence is a dead thing. If the stillness and silence of the grave is the goal, we shall have to destroy ourselves. But this does not bring joy to anyone.
Rather, the person is immersed in such deep dejection and melancholy, that life folds up its wings and ceases its Journey.
We see many such sadhus, who are dried up, dead, with no essence of life flowing within them.
There is only enough life within them to enable them to move about. And we are awed. We feel they have reached a very high state of consciousness. This is an illusion. A very high state of consciousness is possible; but it is a living state not a dead state. What is its secret?
Lao Tzu explains the secret. He says that activity is inevitable in life; it is necessary in life. The meaning of life is activity. But the man who knows that activity is the door to repose - rather, that activity is the mother of repose; that it is not opposed to rest, it is the path to relaxation - attains calmness forever.
Let us understand it in this way. I find that when I sit in my shop I get angry; I cannot help being greedy. Then there are two ways open to me. One is that I should give up the shop. There will be no shop and there will be no anger, no greed. I &ave a wife. If I live with her there are quarrels; there are jealousies. If I leave her, I bid good-bye to quarrels and jealousies. In this manner, I withdraw myself from all the situations that cause confusion within me. But then, I am the same - whether I give up my shop and go to the mountains, or whether I leave my wife and stay in an ashram.
The man who tries to change his surroundings and situations is not changing himself. He has preserved his self as he was. It is quite possible that if the difficult situation had remained, he would one day have changed himself. Now, it is no longer necessary for him to change. If he was harassed by anger time and again, maybe he would have finally realised that anger is folly. But now, what he has done is to remove himself completely from the field of anger. If he had allowed himself to remain within the vortex of day-to-day bickerings, he would have become so fed up that one day he would have realised himself to be above it. But now he has removed himself from the midst of quarrels and strifes.
A man can withdraw himself from all sides, but this brings no transformation because the man remains the same. He has merely changed his surroundings. He will have no deep experiences.
Lao Tzu says if you are plying a trade, do not give it up. Whether shop or market or house, do not run away from your surroundings. Do not stand aside from activity. Do not give up activity. Remember, activity is not opposed to repose. He who fully engages himself in activity finds that he can also rest as well. This is one of the basic sutras of Lao Tzu. Let us understand it further.
If I do not sleep well at night, I naturally think that I should rest in the day. This seems logical; that the more I rest in the day, the better will I sleep at night. I will have more practice. Hut a person who rests all day finds it impossible to sleep at night. Logic is one thing and life another. Life respects no logic; it has an arrangement of its own. The order of life is dialectical. A man who work6 hard the whole day, toils all day long, breaks stones, sleeps very soundly at night. His physical system makes provisions within for relaxation, according to the amount of his exertion. His activity generates inactivity. He who touches one end of a dichotomy invariably reaches the other, like the pendulum of a clock. When it swings to the left, it is gathering momentum to swing back to the right. So he who labours all day sleeps soundly all night, and gets up in the morning refreshed and filled with fresh energy for the new day.
Let us take a few more examples. A man wants to become silent. He thinks he should stop speaking.
This man does not know the rule of opposites. If he stops speaking altogether, he will keep on talking within, all twenty-four hours of the day. He will never be able to observe silence. He alone can attain silence who, when he speaks, speaks with such authenticity that his whole being pervades his speech - so much so that his within becomes a void and it is his very soul that shapes the words.
When such a man stops speaking, he enters perfect silence.
Life works on the rule of opposites. If you speak with all your being, with perfect authenticity, you will enter silence as soon as you stop speaking.
But we think otherwise. We say that in order to be silent one should not speak. If we had no sleep at night we feel we should stop all activity in the day. If we desire peace, we shun all places that cause restlessness. Actually, if we desire tranquillity, we should be fully present in places of restlessness.
There is no need to run away. The more we are present in the fullness of our being, the quicker will be the journey towards repose. Therefore, Lao Tzu says, understand the secret.
A certain professor was studying this book, Lao Tzu's TAO-TEH-KING, with me. One day he came to me and said, "It seems there is a misprint. Instead of saying 'by inactivity,' it is printed 'by activity'.
It should be, "By inactivity, rest comes back to life." It was only natural that he should reason in this way because if we go by words, the answer to the question, "WHO CAN MAINTAIN HIS CALM FOR LONG?" Would be that by his inactivity, a man can maintain his calm. Lao Tzu, however, says, "No.
By his activity a man can maintain his calm for long."
But activity alone is not enough. We are all active. So there is one more condition: to know that all activities ultimately bring us back to rest. All activities become non-activities in the end. He who remains active, and is fully aware of this truth, attains perfect and eternal calm. If we want to stop completely, one should know the full art of running. If we want to enter supreme emptiness, to be established in it, we should have the complete experience of filling ourselves. He who exhausts himself completely will stop completely one day.
The trouble with us is that our whole life is lukewarm. We are not total either one way or the other. If we run after things, we do it lifelessly. Therefore, when we stop, we find our feet still running. When we are awake, we are half asleep. Therefore, when we sleep, we are awake in our dreams. When we eat, we eat disinterestedly; therefore even after meals, the thought of food lingers in the mind.
Whatever we do, we do so half-heartedly that what is left undone lingers on.
Lao Tzu says: "Whatever you do, do it so intensely that the opposite begins to happen." When a person understands this secret, he stops running. Then he is not afraid of activity and the world of activity.
Sannyas means the same to Lao Tzu as it did to Krishna. He does not advocate renunciation of the world of activity. Like Krishna, Lao Tzu says: "One who attains non-action through action is a sannyasin." As he performs his actions, with all sincerity and singleness of purpose, he is also aware of the fact that on the completion of his act he shall enter into a state of complete non-action.
Such a man maintains his calm always, throughout life. Nobody can break his calm. There is no way of doing it, for he does not run away from confusion and chaos. He lives right in the centre of it. It is very easy to enrage a man who has run away to the Himalayas. It is possible that he has had no occasion to use his anger for thirty years. He may feel no vestige of anger within him, but it is child's play to stir up his wrath. A man who has attained calm in the midst of the marketplace however, even for thirty days - it is not possible to make him angry; for all the conditions to incite his anger are present, yet he lives in their midst. One who becomes calm by renouncing the conditions that give rise to anger - his serenity is a deception. This is so ninety-nine times out of one hundred.
Otherwise there is no reason to fear these conditions and run away from them.
"HE WHO EMBRACES THIS TAO GUARDS AGAINST BEING OVERFULL." This is yet another basic rule of Tao. "BECAUSE HE GUARDS AGAINST BEING OVERFULL, HE IS BEYOND WEARING OUT AND RENEWAL." These two sutras contradict each other, but they are not contradictory. In the first sutra Lao Tzu says one should involve oneself totally in whatever work he is engaged in.
Remember, we have to enter into the fullness of the activity we are involved in. Then the opposite of that activity automatically happens. He who is constantly aware of this, attains calm and collectedness in his life.
In the next sutra Lao Tzu says: "HE WHO ATTAINS TAO (OR RELIGION, OR NATURE, OR GOD) ALWAYS GUARDS HIMSELF FROM BEING OVERFULL." The action should be total, but the self should never be overfull. The second sutra is in regard to the self, while the first is in regard to the activities of the world.
Lao Tzu says: "The world is a play of opposites. Complete one part fully and you find yourself in the opposite." This happens with such ease that there is no difficulty. When the extremes are experienced, and the art of living fully in them is mastered, the balance is attained which leads to calmness.
In the second sutra, however, he says: "Do not indulge in the folly of being perfect yourself." If you strive to be overfull, to be perfect you will find yourself again chained to the cycle of life and death, of wearing out and renewal. This sounds strange because, generally, each one of us wishes to be a perfectionist. Everyone of us is constantly striving to be so. Lao Tzu says, "We do not have to be perfect. We have to be whole."
There are two words in the English language, that we must note: one is "perfect" and the other is "whole". To be perfect means to reach the peak in a certain direction. To be whole means to touch all the sides in a balanced manner.
Let us try to understand it in this way. If a man wants to be a perfectly honest man, his life will be far from peaceful. It will be filled with tensions, for he will have to fight with dishonesty for twenty-four hours of the day. He shall have to maintain his precarious position by pulling and tugging at the conditions around him. This can be very hard and very difficult. But this is the ego: the ego of his honesty. Lao Tzu says whether you try to be perfect in honesty or dishonesty, you will find yourself in difficulty; for honesty and dishonesty are two sides of the same coin. You are trying to preserve one side of the coin and throw away the other side. Lao Tzu says do not aim at perfection at either extremity. Rather, be fixed in the centre of both. You are neither to be honest nor dishonest.
This seems difficult. It is easy to be honest and it is easy to be dishonest; but to be in between is very difficult. Why? Because we understand honesty; we understand dishonesty. These two are separate and opposite, and, hence, clear in our perception. But Lao Tzu tells us not to choose perfection in the opposites but to be fixed at the golden mean. Be in the centre between honesty and dishonesty, good and bad, light and darkness, saintliness and sin. He who maintains the golden mean is rid of all tensions. All tensions arise from the opposite. Be fully involved in your actions, and be fixed within your centre always.
Here we find a lot of similarity between Lao Tzu and Buddha. The reason why Buddha's teachings influenced the Chinese may have been because of this sutra of Lao Tzu's. Buddha has called this the middle way. He was the greatest advocate of the middle path. He always said: "Be at the centre; never go to the extreme."
Let me tell you an anecdote from Buddha's life and you will understand. A prince was initiated by Buddha. His name was Shrone. He had enjoyed all carnal pleasures to the extreme. Now, his renunciation was also extreme. He was habituated to extremes. This way or that, it made no difference. It is said that his feet had never touched the bare ground. Soft carpets of velvet were spread out for him everywhere. Now he became an ordinary bhikshu. Now, when other bhikshus walked on the foot-path, Shrone walked on the bare ground that was filled with thorns and stones.
The others avoided thorns, he purposely walked on them. His feet were sorely wounded. The others sat under the shade of trees, but he made it a point to always sit in the sun. His comrades ate once a day, but he ate once in two days.
This is an interesting example of how the mind can renounce one extremity and switch to the other.
From a life of complete comfort and ease, Shrone had no difficulty in adopting a life of complete discomfort. But his mind could not leave the extremities. The mind lives in extremities; the mind needs extremities. In six month's time, his beautiful body lost all its colour and was filled with boils and sores. The other bhikshus would go and tell Buddha what a great ascetic Shrone was and that they were nothing before him. Buddha would laugh and say, "You do not know. He who has experienced pleasure to the utmost finds it easy to renounce to the utmost."
For six months Buddha said nothing to him. He went on tormenting his body till he became a mere skeleton. Then one day Buddha went to him and said, "Shrone, I have come to ask you about something which you know and I don't." Shrone was surprised. How could it be? Buddha said, "When you were a prince, I hear you were an expert at playing the veena. I want to know: if the strings of the veena are too taut, do they produce any music?"
Shrone said, "If they are too taut, they will break. Then there can be no music."
"And if the strings are too loose, would they bring out any melody?" Buddha asked.
"No sir", replied Shrone. "How can the right pressure be applied if the strings are loose? There can be no music even then."
"Then when is music formed?" Buddha persisted.
Shrone replied, "There is a particular condition when we can say that the strings are neither tight nor loose. When the strings attain this balance, music is born."
"I too have come to tell you only this," said Buddha. "The same rule that applies to the veena applies to life also. If the strings of life are allowed to fall loose in worldly pleasures, they create no music. If they are strung too tight in the performance of penance, they create no melody either. In the strings of life, also, there is a state when they are not too tight nor too loose, when a man is neither at one extreme nor the other. Then only is the music of life born within him. That supreme melody is samadhi. Apply what you have learnt from the veena to life also. First you let your life strings be so loose that no music could be born. Now, like a mad person, you have pulled them so tight that there again can be no music."
Lao Tzu says: "He who attains the Tao always guards himself from too much perfection." He forever chooses the middle path: neither this way nor that, always in the middle.
In the case of the veena, music is created when the strings are exactly in the in between state. In fact, when they are in this state, the strings no longer exist as strings. The strings actually are a hindrance to music as long as they are mere strings. It is generally believed that the strings produce music. This is not so. It is the balanced state of the strings that gives birth to music. It is easy to play the veena but very difficult to tune it and bring it into a condition of perfect balance. To play an instrument is an easy job. It is the tuning that is an art which only an expert knows. When the strings are perfectly balanced, they no longer are. Then only there is music alone When the strings are unequal, when they are dissonant, there is no music.
When the mind is at the extremity it exists. When the extremities are lost, there is no mind. Then the consciousness, the spirit, the soul, is what remains. Such a person, says Lao Tzu, is free from the cycle of birth and death. He who establishes himself in this golden mean establishes himself in heaven.
Both extremes lead to extinction. But there is no death at the centre. Both extremes are tensions and therefore tend to wear out. When the strings are taut, they can break. When they are loose and someone tries to pluck at them to create music, then too they can break. But if the strings are well-balanced, there is no possibility of their breaking. It is tension that breaks them. Where there is no tension, there is no way for the strings to break. So, says Lao Tzu, the wearing out and renewal ends. And where the wearing out ceases, death is impossible. Death is an accumulation of all the wearing out Every day the process of wear and tear takes place and, ultimately, death is the sum total. He who experiences this balance within himself does not succumb to either disintegration or death.
The body is bound to die because the body lives in extremities. Birth is one extremity; death is the other. The mind also will go, for the mind also lives in extremities: pleasure and renunciation, friendship and enmity, love and hate; the world and nirvana. But there is another condition within:
the state of balance. Only when this state is achieved can we know about that for which there is no death.
And where there is no death, there is no rebirth. Without talking about life after death, Lao Tzu says in this sutra that this is the only way to get out from the cycle of birth and death.
Two things Lao Tzu has told us. One, complete involvement in our activities is necessary if we are to enter the opposite state; and two balance within the self is necessary so that no tensions are formed. Then, disintegration and death are impossible.