Once, when Obaku was sitting in Nansen’s reception room, Nansen asked him, “It is said that the Buddha Nature can be clearly seen by those who study both samadhi and prajna equally. What does this mean?”
Obaku answered, “It means that we should not depend on anything at any time.”
Nansen then asked, “I wonder whether the opinion you have just expressed is really your own. “
Of course not!” said Obaku.
Nansen then said, “Setting aside the question of payment for the drinking water for the moment, let me ask whom you intend to have the money for the straw sandals returned to?”
To this question, Obaku made no reply.
Maneesha, although this anecdote seems to be very simple, it is not so. In these few words a tremendously important question has been raised. And unfortunately nobody has discussed that question up to now. I would like to go in detail into what I mean. Once, when Obaku was sitting in Nansen’s reception room, Nansen asked him, “It is said that the Buddha Nature can be clearly seen by those who study both samadhi and prajna equally. What does this mean?”
Before we go into the answer of Obaku, you have to understand the meaning of samadhi and prajna.
It is a very intricate and complex question. Samadhi can be understood watching Ramakrishna. That will give you the basic symptoms which can be observed from the outside.
Ramakrishna used to go into samadhi for hours. Once for six days he was in samadhi. And samadhi to him and to his followers – and there is a great tradition from Patanjali, five thousand years old, which believes in samadhi – means to become perfectly unconscious. To every outsider he was almost in a coma; to the psychologist he had gone deeper into the unconscious layers of the mind.
And there was no way to bring him back.
Automatically, whenever his consciousness surfaced again, he would become aware. And whenever he came out of this samadhi, this deep coma-like unconsciousness, he would weep and cry, “Why have you taken away that great beauty, that great bliss, that great silence that I was experiencing. Time had stopped, the world was forgotten, I was alone and everything was at its perfection. So why have you taken it away?” He was asking the question to existence. “Why don’t you let me continue it?”
Now, Buddha himself would not consider it a samadhi. His samadhi means prajna, and prajna means awareness. You have to become more and more conscious, not unconscious; just two polarities, samadhi and prajna. Prajna is perfect awareness of your being. And samadhi in Ramakrishna’s case means absolute oblivion. Nobody has gone into the deeper search for what exactly is the difference deep inside.
Both talk about great blissfulness, both talk about eternity, truth, beauty, goodness as their ultimate experience. But one is completely unconscious – you can cut his hand and he will not know – that much unconsciousness; and Buddha is so conscious that before sitting on the floor, first he will look to see if there is any ant or anything that may be killed by his sitting there. In his every act he showed immense awareness.
I have told you the story that one day passing through a street in Vaishali, a fly came and sat on his head. He was talking to Ananda about something. So just automatically the way you do it, he simply waved his hand. Then he suddenly stopped talking to Ananda and again waved his hand. Now there was no fly.
Ananda said, “What are you doing? The fly has gone.”
He said, “The fly has gone, but I acted unconsciously. I waved my hand automatically like a robot. Now I am moving as I should have moved, with full consciousness, awareness.”
So these seem to be two polarities. Both have become a point of great debate as to who is right, because the experience they talk about is the same. My own experience is that mind can be crossed from both ends. One tenth of the mind is conscious, nine tenths of the mind is unconscious. Just think of mind: the upper layer is conscious and nine layers are unconscious. Now mind can be passed from both the ends. You cannot pass from the middle; you will have to travel to the end.
Ramakrishna passed the mind by going deeper and deeper into the unconscious layers. And when the final unconscious layer came, he jumped out of the mind. To the world outside he looked as if he was in a coma. But he reached to the same clear sky although he chose a path which is dark, dismal; he chose the night part of consciousness. But he reached to the same experience.
Buddha never became unconscious in this way. Even walking he was stepping every step fully conscious and gracefully, every gesture fully conscious, gracefully. He transformed his consciousness to such a point that unconscious layers started becoming conscious. The final enlightenment is when all unconscious layers of the mind have become conscious. He also jumps out of the mind.
Both samadhi and prajna are no-mind states, going outside the mind. So the experience is the same but the path is different, very different. One is the white path of light that Buddha followed; one is the path of darkness that Ramakrishna followed. And it is obvious that the people who cannot understand both, who have not followed both the paths and come to the same experience, are going to debate and discuss to no end.
One will say that Ramakrishna’s samadhi is a coma, that he has lost consciousness. Another will say that because Buddha never goes into Ramakrishna-like samadhi, he does not know anything about samadhi. But my experience is, both know the samadhi, both know the prajna.
Ramakrishna first knows samadhi and out of samadhi prajna is born. Buddha knows first prajna and then out of prajna samadhi is born. It is only a question of understanding that existence is always contradictory, made of opposites – night and day, life and death.
Ramakrishna’s path is of unconsciousness. Nobody has deliberately considered the point. And Buddha’s path is of pure light, of continuous awareness. Even in sleep Buddha sleeps consciously.
So Nansen has raised a very meaningful question.
“It is said that the Buddha Nature can be clearly seen by those who study both samadhi and prajna equally. What does this mean?”
Obaku answered, “It means that we should not depend on anything at any time.”
Obaku was not a master, Obaku was a scholar. And this question cannot be decided by any scholarship; no intelligence will do, only experience. So what he answers is absolutely irrelevant.
He says, “It means that we should not depend on anything at any time.” Can you see any relevance to the question? It has nothing to do with samadhi, nothing to do with prajna. He is not only a teacher, but a blind teacher. The question has gone above his head.
Nansen then asked – immediately, which shows what I am saying – “I wonder whether the opinion you have just expressed is really your own.” Anybody could have seen that this is so stupid, it has nothing to do with the question. He could have said, “I don’t know, I have not experienced either samadhi or prajna. I don’t know whether they end up into the same experience or they lead to different experiences. It is not my own experience, so I can’t say anything.”
That would have been more honest. But looking at his answer, Nansen immediately asked, “I wonder whether the opinion you have just expressed is really your own.”
Even this absurd opinion that you have expressed, I think even this one is not your own. “Of course not!” said Obaku.
Seeing the situation he must have felt it is better to say that this is not my opinion. Nansen then said, “Setting aside the question of payment for the drinking water for the moment... Nansen lived on top of a high mountain for thirty years. To bring water to that height, he had to go miles down to bring water up. To us it may look a little strange that he was asking a price for water. He says, “Setting aside the question of payment for the drinking water, for the moment, let me ask whom you intend to have the money for the straw sandals returned to?”
Zen monks use straw sandals, the same shape as my sandals, but they are made of straw, very beautiful, very aesthetic and very cheap. Nansen is saying, Who has paid for your straw sandals? They look so new. You don’t deserve these straw sandals; they are specially meant for Zen masters. And as for giving you water, I will not ask anything for it, but it has been wasted on a man who does not even know what samadhi is, what is prajna, and still has the guts and the nerve to give an absolutely irrelevant answer; an answer, too, that is not his own. Such a borrowed state is all of scholars, pundits, rabbis.
Nansen exposed Obaku completely to the very innermost core of his being just by asking a small question. But the question is not small, and it is a question which nobody has explained the way I am telling you, that the experiences are not two. Just, the paths leading to the experiences are very different, contrary paths.
One follows the darkness, goes deeper and deeper into the darkness of the mind and the unconscious, reaches to the very end of the mind and jumps out of it. And another tries every possible way to make the unconscious also conscious. And when everything becomes conscious in him, he also takes a jump.
Perhaps Buddha’s method is more scientific. There is no question of right and wrong. Both lead to the same space, but Buddha’s method of prajna is more scientific in the way that you cannot miss because you are aware. Ramakrishna’s path is groping in the dark. He may reach to the dawn, he may not reach. And once he has gone into unconsciousness, all is darkness, he cannot see where he is going. It is just by chance that he finds the door out of the mind, just by chance.
Science does not believe in chance, it has to be a certainty. That’s why you will not find more Ramakrishnas in the world, because it is just a coincidence that groping in the dark you find the door and get out of the mind. It happened to Ramakrishna but you will not find another parallel in the whole history of mankind.
Thousands of mystics have reached to the same point. But they have all followed the path of prajna, because when you have a light with you, you need not grope. When you have a light with you, a consciousness, like a torch showing the path, your reaching to the goal has more certainty.
And once you have known the path, then it is very easy. Only the first time are you going into the unknown. But the unknown is not dark; you keep a torch in your hand. Ramakrishna is going into the unknown without a torch. Ramakrishna’s samadhi in a way is special. He is alone of that kind. He is a rare specimen who went into his depths without taking a single candle. It is more than probable that you will not find the door.
When Buddha was asked about it, he said, “There was a palace with one thousand doors; only one door was real, the remaining were fake; they appeared like doors, but when you went close to them, they were just painted doors, there was a flat wall with no opening.
“A blind man got lost in the palace. He went around groping and groping. He touched many painted doors, but they were not really doors and the time he reached the real door, the only one, a fly came to sit on his head. So he became engaged in waving it away and passed the door.”
Nine hundred and ninety-nine doors, and a chance comes; that chance is very fragile, it can be missed by anything: your head starts itching or you become so tired of groping and touching that you say, “Take a chance, leave this one, go ahead.”
So Buddha said, “My path is not of such groping. In my palace all the doors are real. And there is no need to grope because I give you eyes of meditation and a light that burns like a fire within you, which is your very life. With that light and silence of meditation you can find the door. There are a thousand doors, every door is capable of taking you out.”
I am absolutely certain that Buddha is right; but that does not mean that Ramakrishna is wrong. But Ramakrishna cannot be the rule, he can only be the exception. Buddha is providing for everybody, not for exceptions. A rule has to be for everybody. You cannot make a rule on a single exception. Of the followers of Ramakrishna not even a single one has attained samadhi. But Buddha’s followers even today, continuing as a chain, master to disciple in different countries, are attaining prajna.
Whether you call it samadhi or you call it prajna, it is the same; the meaning of both is ultimate wisdom.
Buddhists don’t believe Ramakrishna to be enlightened. One very old Buddhist monk… he was an Englishman, and when he was just a child, his father was appointed to some post in Kalimpong where the child came in contact with Buddhist masters. He became a Buddhist at the age of eighteen. His whole family resisted; they were Christians and said, “What are you doing listening to the Buddhist masters?”
He could see that Christianity is very childish. It has nothing much to give to you. What can you do even if Jesus did walk on water? Even if you learn to walk on water, what spirituality can you attain through it? Even if you can turn water into alcohol, which is a crime, it does not help anyone to be spiritual. What are the teachings of Christians which can be compared to Gautam the Buddha? None comes close to him. He certainly is the Everest of the Himalayas.
So a Buddhist won’t accept Ramakrishna as enlightened. But talking to Buddhist monks and particularly this English monk, I asked him, “Have you ever tried forgetting Buddha’s method and giving some time to using Ramakrishna’s method?”
He said, “No, I have never tried it.”
I said, “Then saying that Ramakrishna never achieved samadhi is going beyond the limits of your experience.”
I have tried both ways, going on the path of light and going on the path of absolute darkness. Nobody does that because once you have reached the path, then why should you bother about other paths?
You have reached the station in a rickshaw, now are you going to come back and try a taxi? People will think you are mad. You have reached, now there is no need to try whether a taxi also reaches the station or not.
But I am a little crazy. Seeing the argument going on for centuries, I decided that the only way to come to a conclusion is, follow both the paths: one time the path of light and another time the path of darkness. When I was following the path of darkness, almost all my friends, my professors thought that I had gone mad. “What is the need if you have reached to the light in the day, what is the need to continue traveling in the night after reaching?”
I said, “There is a need because there is no other way to conclude whether Ramakrishna was also in the same state of consciousness as Buddha.”
But neither has any Buddhist tried nor have any of Ramakrishna’s disciples tried. And I am nobody’s disciple, I am just an outsider; I don’t belong to any religion or any organization. But to come to a conclusion, seeing that for centuries people have been discussing it, I could not conceive any way that it could be decided by argument; the only way to decide it was to follow both the paths.
And now the meditation that I have been teaching to you is a combination of both the paths. It is neither a meditation dependent only on prajna, just being aware; nor is it a meditation just to forget all and drown yourself in deep rest and darkness. I am using both. I am telling you to forget the world, I am telling you forget the body, forget the mind, you are not these things, but keep your light alive as a witness. So you are going on both the paths together.
There is no problem. In fact it is more significant, because you will be achieving the space that Ramakrishna achieved and that Buddha achieved. And you will have a good laugh that for centuries scholars have been unnecessarily wasting their time. It is always good to experiment because this is not a philosophical question. It is a question of inner experimentation; it is as scientific as any science.
But in a very nice way Nansen said, “Setting aside the question of payment for the drinking water, because I have to carry the drinking water for miles, Let me ask whom you intend to have the money for the straw sandals returned to? Who has paid the money for your straw sandals? Return the money. You are just a teacher; don’t pretend to be a master. To this question, Obaku made no reply.
From Nansen: The Point of Departure, Chapter Seven
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