Can a person become enlightened by accident?
This is something very significant to understand. Enlightenment is always accidental. That does not mean that you have not to try for it, but your trying is not going to bring it. Your effort is not going to achieve it. But making the effort, searching in all directions in every possible way, some day it happens – not because of your efforts but because of your intense urge, a tremendous intensity like a flame within you. But it is always accidental; you cannot say, “It happened because I did that.” Otherwise, things would have been very simple.
For example, Buddha was sitting under a bodhi tree, and enlightenment happened. Now, thousands of Buddhist monks…. In every Buddhist monastery there are bo trees, and they are sitting, waiting for enlightenment to happen – as if the bo tree has something to do with it.
Buddha had eaten that evening a sweet made of milk and rice. Buddhist monks think that has something to do with it, so for them it has become very spiritual food. Before sitting for meditation, they will eat kir – that is the name of the sweet. But enlightenment has nothing to do with kir.
Buddha was sitting in a certain posture, the lotus posture. So every Buddhist monk sits in the same posture – perhaps the posture has something to do with it. The posture has nothing to do with it, but millions, throughout history, have been sitting in that posture, torturing their legs. And now Westerners have started learning yoga postures, in which the lotus posture is the most important because Buddha became enlightened in that posture. For a Westerner, who has been sitting in a chair his whole life – in a cold country you don’t sit on the ground – his legs are in tremendous torture, but he tries hard. It takes almost three months for him to attain to the lotus posture, but only to the lotus posture; and then he waits his whole life for enlightenment. It doesn’t happen.
So it is not a certain sequence of causes that brings enlightenment. Your search, your intense longing, your readiness to do anything – altogether perhaps they create a certain aroma around you in which that great accident becomes possible.
But you cannot manage it. Every seeker has to begin from the beginning; you cannot learn by watching somebody. That’s what all the religions have been doing: a certain prayer, a certain posture, a certain ritual, a certain way of breathing. Nothing helps.
I have always loved a small story…. The archbishop of Russia became very much annoyed because on a small island three men had become known to the population as saints. Now, this is against Christianity. Christianity is the most foolish religion of all the religions. A saint has to be certified by the church – as if to be a saint is a degree, a title. The English word saint comes from sanction. When the church gives the sanction, one becomes a saint.
The archbishop was very angry that without his sanction, these three people had become known as saints. And thousands of people were going to touch their feet, to get their blessings. Naturally, this was making him very angry.
One day he finally decided to go and see what kind of saints these were. He went in a motorboat, reached the island – it was a very small island, only those three people lived there. It was early morning, and those three were sitting under a tree. They looked simple, uneducated, illiterate people.
The archbishop on the way was very nervous about facing three saints who have influenced thousands of people. But now he saw there was no problem – these were idiots! He went there and they all touched his feet. He was well satisfied. He said, “Do you think you are saints?”
They said, “We are uneducated, illiterate, poor people. How can we think such high things? They are not for us. But what can we do? People go on coming. We try to prevent them, we tell them they should go to you, but they don’t listen.”
The archbishop said with an authoritative tone, “What is your prayer?”
The three looked at each other, they nudged each other. One said, “You say it.” The others said, “You say it.”
The archbishop said, “Anybody can say it, there is no harm. But start!”
They said, “We feel very embarrassed, because it is not really a prayer; we have made it up.”
The archbishop was really angry: “You have invented the prayer? What is the prayer?”
One of them said, “You insist, so we have to say; but we are feeling very embarrassed, because the prayer is not very great, it is very simple. Our prayer is: ‘You are three, we are three; have mercy on us.’”
Even the archbishop in his anger had to laugh. He said, “Great! This is your prayer?”
Those poor people said, “We are ready to learn. If you teach us the right prayer, the proper prayer, we will try it. But it should not be long, because we may forget it, or we may make mistakes, get confused. Our prayer is so simple we cannot forget it, we cannot make any mistake.”
The archbishop read the whole prayer of the orthodox church of Russia. It was too long. Those three poor people said, “This is too long. Please read it again.” The third time, they said, “Just one time more, so we can remember.”
The archbishop was happy that these idiots… “Now there is no problem: I can convince people that they know nothing – not even the prayer of the church!”
They touched the archbishop’s feet, thanked him and told him that there was no need for him to come, he should have just sent a message and they would have come to him. Why should he take such trouble? Anytime he wanted, he should just send a message and they would come to the church itself.
Very happy and contented, the archbishop left. When he was just in the middle of the lake, he saw those three running on the water, coming towards him, saying, “Stop! We have forgotten the prayer! Just once more!”
The archbishop looked at them – they were standing on the water, running on the water. He must have been a man of some intelligence. He said, “Forgive me. Your prayer is right; you continue your prayer. Your prayer has reached; my prayer has not reached. You are really saints; it does not matter whether the church has sanctioned you or not. Sanctions are needed by those who are not really saints; your very existence proves it. Just forgive me that I interfered in your life.”
This is a story by Leo Tolstoy. It is possible. With purity of heart, with serenity of the mind, with calmness, even this becomes a prayer: “You are three, we are three; have mercy on us.” And the great accident happens.
But you cannot copy it – that is the problem. You can go to an island and sit under a tree, and say, “You are three, we are three; have mercy on us,” and nothing will be happening. Within an hour or two you will get bored, and you will say that this does not work. It is not a question of methodology.
Existence has allowed enlightenment in so many different ways to people, all that we can say is that certain qualities – not very particular methods, but certain qualities – when they come to meet within you, function not as a cause, but something happens because of their presence. This is what in science is called a catalytic agent. They function as a catalytic agent.
For example, you know that water is made with hydrogen and oxygen. But you can go on mixing oxygen and hydrogen and water will not be made. If you divide water, you will find only hydrogen and oxygen. Then what is missing? Why, even when mixing them in the proper proportion, H2O, is the water still not happening? For that, the presence of electricity is needed. It does not cause it – it is a totally different phenomenon than causality – but its presence is a catalytic agent. Without its presence, oxygen and hydrogen can remain together for eternity, but water will not happen.
So when you see silver lines in black clouds, it is not just for painters and people who understand beauty and are sensitive to esthetic values. That silver line is nothing but the presence of electricity that transforms hydrogen and oxygen into water. But scientists were surprised in the beginning, because it does not take any part – just its presence is needed. But without its presence nothing happens.
So I can say to you that enlightenment is always an accident, not an effect produced by a certain cause; otherwise, things would have been very easy. Everybody could have produced the cause, all the necessary ingredients, and would have become enlightened.
If the lotus posture is needed, he will do it. If standing on the head is needed, he will do it. If sitting under a bo tree is needed, he will do it – anything. If other men have been able to do it, you can. But the problem is that it is not a cause-and-effect phenomenon. So I can describe only a certain presence which functions as a catalytic agent.
Meditation creates the catalytic agent: a totally silent mind with no thoughts, a totally relaxed body with no tensions, a totally empty heart with no moods, no feelings, no sentiments, no emotions. And then, simply wait.
In this silence, serenity, just wait….
And out of nowhere something explodes in you.
Yes, it is an explosion – of light, of love, of tremendous bliss, which remains with you forever. You cannot lose it even if you want to. Nobody can become unenlightened again, that is not possible.
In an ancient sutra it is said, “You can make curd out of milk, but you cannot make milk out of curd.” The process is not reversible. You can make butter out of curd – in India people make purified butter they call ghee, but you cannot make ghee again butter or curd or milk. You have come to the end of the process. You cannot go back and there is no possibility of going beyond.
In India, ghee became a very spiritual, symbolic thing, for a simple reason; otherwise, there is nothing spiritual in it. The symbolic reason was that it gives you the whole process of enlightenment. You can attain it, but you cannot step down the stairs. Those stairs are gone; any step that you have passed no longer exists.
Nobody has said what I am saying to you: that enlightenment is accidental. There are only two possibilities – either a thing can be causal or a thing can be accidental. The causal thing cannot bring you to eternal freedom because it is based on a chain of cause and effect. Only the accidental can bring you to freedom, to total newness, freshness, a new birth. Because of this phenomenon all religions have failed, because they were trying just to imitate somebody’s enlightenment.
The Taoists are still trying to imitate Lao Tzu – after twenty-five centuries doing the same things, eating the same things, living the same way, thinking that they will become Lao Tzu. But in twenty-five centuries not a single man has been able to attain the goal.
Jainas are doing it, Buddhists are doing it, all religions are doing a single thing: they have seen somebody whose eyes had a different light, whose gestures had a different grace, whose words had a different authority. He spoke from his very innermost core, he was not a scholar. He was not saying anything within quotes; he was simply expressing his own vision. He was singing his own song, dancing his own dance. He was utterly individual and immensely blissful. People seeing him started imitating – what he was doing, they should do. And they have been doing, for thousands of years, all kinds of imitations.
Thomas a Kempis has even written a book which is thought by Christians to be next only to The Holy Bible in importance. The name of the book is The Imitation of Christ. You can understand from the very name what the book contains. But even Thomas a Kempis could not become what he thinks by imitating Jesus Christ one can become. His book is read by monks, and they try to imitate. They become carbon copies.
And one thing is certain: this existence is absolutely against carbon copies. This existence knows only original faces. It will recognize you only when you come with your original face – not Christian, not Buddhist, not Hindu, but just you in your utter nudity.
So I can suggest only that you can create the catalytic situation, and then wait. And have patience; you cannot force enlightenment to happen. You can manage the catalytic atmosphere, that’s all that is within your hands – then wait. Be patient.
Existence is impartial. Whenever the time is ripe, you will suddenly be aflame. All the old will be burned and something new, absolutely new, that you could not have even thought about, dreamed about, will have happened.
It is possible, but nobody can guarantee it.
It is going to happen if you can manage the catalytic atmosphere and wait. One never knows: it may happen today, it may take the whole life – but it will happen. Just wait. Wait with deep trust in existence.
But whenever it happens, it will come as a great surprise to you, because it is accidental.
From From Bondage to Freedom, Discourse #32
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