The most fundamental religious truth is that man is asleep — not physically, but metaphysically; not apparently, but deep down. Man lives in a deep slumber. He works, he moves, he thinks, he imagines, he dreams, but the sleep continues as a basic substratum to his life. Rare are the moment when you feel really awake, very rare; they can be counted on the fingers. If in seventy years’ life you had only seven moments of awakening, that too will be too much.
Man lives like a robot: mechanically efficient, but with no awareness. Hence the whole problem! There are so many problems man has to face, but they are all by-products of his sleep.
So the first thing to be understood is what this sleep consists in — because Zen is an effort to become alert and awake. All religion is nothing but that: an effort to become more conscious, an effort to become more aware, an effort to bring more alertness, more attentiveness to your life.
All the religions of the world, in one way or other, emphasize that the sleep consists in deep identification or in attachment.
Man’s life has two layers to it: one is that of the essential, and another is that of the accidental. The essential is never born, never dies. The accidental is born, lives and dies. The essential is eternal, timeless; the accidental is just accidental. We become too much attached to the accidental and we tend to forget the essential.
A man becomes too much attached to money — money is accidental. It has nothing to do with essential life. A man becomes too much attached to his house or to his car, or to his wife, or to her husband, to children, to relationship. Relationship is accidental; it has nothing essential in it. It is not your real being. And in this century, the twentieth century, the problem has become too deep.
There are people who call the twentieth century ‘the accidental century’ — they are right
People are living too much identified with the non-essential: money, power, prestige, respectability. You will have to leave all that behind when you go. Even an Alexander has to go empty-handed.
I have heard:
A great mystic died. When he reached Paradise, he asked God, “Why was Jesus not born in the twentieth century?”
The Lord God started laughing and said, “Impossible! Impossible! Where would the twentieth century people ever find three wise men or a virgin?”
The twentieth century is the most accidental. By and by, man has become too much attached to ‘my’ and ‘mine’ — to possessions. And he has completely lost track of his being. He has completely lost track of ‘I’. ‘My’ has become more important. When ‘my’ becomes more important then you are getting attached to the accidental. When ‘I’ remains more important and ‘my’ remains just as a servant, then you are a master, then you are not a slave — then you live in a totally different way.
That’s what Zen people call the original face of man, where pure ‘I’ exists. This ‘I’ has nothing to do with the ego. Ego is nothing but the center of all the non-essential possessions that you have. Ego is nothing but the accumulated ‘my’ and ‘mine’ – my house, my car, my prestige, my religion, my scripture, my character, my morality, my family, my heritage, my tradition. All these ‘my’s’, all these ‘mines’, go on getting accumulated: they become crystallized as the ego.
When I am using the word ‘I’, I am using it in an absolutely non-egoistic sense. ‘I’ means your being.
Zen people say: Find out your face, the face you had before you were born; find out that face that you will again have when you are dead. Between birth and death, whatsoever you think is your face is accidental. You have seen it in a mirror; you have not felt it from the within — you have looked for it in the without. Do you know your original face? You know only the face your mirror shows to you. And all our relationships are just mirrors. The husband says to the wife, “You are beautiful!” and she starts thinking she is beautiful. Somebody comes, buttresses you, says, “You are very wise, intelligent, a genius!” and you start believing in it. Or somebody condemns you, hates you, is angry about you. You don’t accept what he says, but still, deep down in the unconscious it goes on accumulating. Hence the ambiguity of man.
Somebody says you are beautiful, somebody else says you are ugly — now what to do?
One mirror says you are wise, another man says you are an idiot — now what to do? And you depend only on mirrors, and both are mirrors. You may not like the mirror that says you are an idiot, but it has said so, it has done its work. You may repress it, you may never bring it to your consciousness, but deep down it will remain in you that one mirror has said you are an idiot.
You trust in mirrors — then you become split because there are so many mirrors. And each mirror has its own investment. Somebody calls you wise? not because you are wise — he has his own investment. Somebody calls you an idiot, not because you are an idiot-he has his own investment. They are simply showing their likes and dislikes; they are not asserting anything about you. They may be asserting something about themselves, maybe, but they are not saying anything about you — because no mirror can show you who you are.
Mirrors can only show you your surface, your skin. You are not on your skin: you are very deep. You are not your body. One day the body is young; another day it becomes old. One day it is beautiful, healthy; another day it becomes crippled and paralyzed. One day you were throbbing with life; another day life has oozed out of you. But you are not your periphery! You are your center.
The accidental man lives on the periphery. The essential man remains centered. This is the whole effort!
Let me tell you one anecdote. I have-heard a very beautiful Jewish story. It is tremendously significant — it is about a man:
He was always sleepy and always ready to sleep, everywhere. At the biggest mass meetings, at all the concerts, at every important convention, he could be seen sitting asleep.
You must have known that man because you are that. And you must have come across that man many, many times, because how can you avoid him? –It is you.
And he slept in every conceivable and inconceivable pose. He slept with his elbows in the air and his hands behind his head. He slept standing up, leaning against himself so that he should not fall down. He slept in the theater, in the streets, in the synagogue. Wherever he went, his eyes would drip with sleep.
Had he been a Hindu he could have even slept standing on his head in shirshasan. I have seen Hindus sleeping that way. Many yogis become efficient in sleeping standing on their head. It is difficult, arduous; it needs great practice — but it happens.
Neighbors used to say that he had already slept through seven big fires, and once, at a really big fire, he was carried out of his bed, still asleep, and put down on the sidewalk. In this way he slept for several hours until a patrol came along and took him away.
It was said that when he was standing under the wedding canopy and reciting the vows, “Thou art to me….” he fell asleep at the word ‘sanctified’ — try to remember him – and they had to beat him over the head with brass pestles for several hours to wake him up. And he slowly said the next word and again fell asleep.
Remember your own wedding ceremony. Remember your honeymoon. Remember your marriage. Have you ever been awake? Have you ever missed any opportunity where you could have fallen asleep? You have always fallen asleep.
We mention all this so that you may believe the following story about our hero.
Once, when he went to sleep, he slept and slept and slept; but in his sleep it seemed to him that he heard thunder in the streets and his bed was shaking somewhat; so he thought in his sleep that it was raining outside, and as a result his sleep became still more delicious. He wrapped himself up in his quilt and in its warmth.
Do you remember how many times you have interpreted things through your sleep? Do you remember sometimes you have fixed the alarm clock, and when it goes off you start dreaming that you are in the church and the bells are ringing, a trick of the mind to avoid the alarm, to avoid the disturbance that the alarm is creating.
When he awoke he saw a strange void: his wife was no longer there, his bed was no longer there, his quilt was no longer there. He wanted to look through the window, but there was no window to look through. He wanted to run down the three flights and yell ‘Help!’ but there were no stairs to run on and no air to yell in. And when he wanted merely to go out of doors, he saw that there was no out of doors. Everything evaporated! For a while he stood there in confusion unable to comprehend what had happened. But afterward he bethought himself: I will go to sleep. He saw, however, that there was no longer any earth to sleep on. Only then did he raise two fingers to his forehead and reflect: Apparently I have slept through the end of the world. Isn’t that a fine how-do-you-do?
He became depressed. No more world, he thought. What will I do without a world?
Where will I go to work, how will I make a living, especially now that the cost of living is so high and a dozen eggs costs a dollar twenty and who knows if they are even fresh, and besides, what will happen to the five dollars the gas company owes me? And where has my wife gone off to? Is it possible that she too has disappeared with the world, and with the thirty dollars’ pay I had in my pockets? And she is not by nature the kind that disappears, he thought to himself.
You will also think that way one day if you suddenly find the world has disappeared. You don’t know what else to think. You will think about the cost of eggs, the office, the wife, the money. You don’t know what else to think about. The whole world has disappeared! — but you have become mechanical in your thinking.
And what will I do if I want to sleep? What will I stretch out on if there isn’t any world?
And maybe my back will ache? And who will finish the bundle of work in the shop? And suppose I want a glass of malted, where will I get it?
Eh, he thought, have you ever seen anything like it? A man should fall asleep with the world under his head and wake up without it!
This is going to happen one day or other — that’s what happens to every man when he dies. Suddenly, the whole world disappears. Suddenly he is no longer part of this world; suddenly he is in another dimension. This happens to every man who dies, because whatsoever you have known is just the peripheral. When you die, suddenly your periphery disappears — you are thrown to your center. And you don’t know that language. And you don’t know anything about the center. It looks like void, empty. It feels like just a negation, an absence.
As our hero stood there in his underwear, wondering what to do, a thought occurred to him: To hell with it! So there isn’t any world! Who needs it anyway? Disappeared is disappeared — I might as well go to the movies and kill some time. But to his astonishment he saw that, together with the world, the movies had also disappeared.
A pretty mess I’ve made here, thought our hero, and began smoothing his moustache. A pretty mess I’ve made here, falling asleep! If I hadn’t slept so soundly, he taunted himself, I would have disappeared along with everything else. This way I’m unfortunate, and where will I get a malted? I love a glass in the morning. And my wife? Who knows who she’s disappeared with? If it is with the presser from the top floor, I’ll murder her, so help me God.
Who knows how late it is?
With these words our hero wanted to look at his watch but couldn’t find it. He searched with both hands in the left and right pockets of the infinite emptiness but could find nothing to touch.
I just paid two dollars for a watch and here it’s already disappeared, he thought to himself. All right. If the world went under, it went under. That I don’t care about. It isn’t my world. But the watch! Why should my watch go under? A new watch. Two dollars. It wasn’t even wound.
And where will I find a glass of malted? There’s nothing better in the morning than a glass of malted. And who knows if my wife…I’ve slept through such a terrible catastrophe,
I deserve the worst. Help, help, he-e-e-lp! Where are my brains? Where were my brains before? Why didn’t I keep an eye on the world and my wife? Why did I let them disappear when they were still so young?
And our hero began to beat his head against the void, but since the void was a very soft one it didn’t hurt him and he remained alive to tell the story.
This is a story of human mind as such. You create a world around you of illusions. You go on getting attached to things which are not going to be with you when you die. You go on being identified with things which are going to be taken away from you.
Hence, the Hindus call the world ‘illusion’; they don’t mean by the ‘world’ the world that is there — they simply mean the world that you have created out of your sleep. That world is maya — illusion. It is a dream world.
Who is your wife? The very idea is foolish. Who is your husband? Who is your child? You are not yours — how can anybody else be yours? Not even you are yours; not even you belong to yourself. Have you watched sometimes that not even you belong to yourself? You also belong to some unknown existence you have not penetrated. Deeper in yourself you will come to a point where even self disappears — only a state of no-self, or call it the Supreme Self. It is only a difference of language and terminology.
Have you not seen deep down in yourself things arising which don’t belong to you? Your desires don’t belong to you; your thoughts don’t belong to you. Even your consciousness, you have not created it — it has been given to you, it is a given fact. It is not you who have created it — how can you create it?
You are suddenly there… as if it happens by magic. You are always in the middle; you don’t know the beginning. The beginning does not belong to you, and neither does the end belong to you. Just in the middle you can create, you can go on creating dreams. That’s how a man becomes accidental.
Watch out! Become more and more essential and less and less accidental. Always remember: Only that which is eternal is true; only that which is going to be forever and ever is true. That which is momentary is untrue. The momentary has to be watched and not to be identified with.
I was reading a beautiful anecdote:
An elderly Irishman checked out of a hotel room and was half way to the bus depot when he realized he had left his umbrella behind. By the time he got back to the room, a newlywed couple had already checked in. Hating to interrupt anything, the Irishman got down on his knees and listened in at the keyhole.
“Whose lovely eyes are those, my darling?” he heard the man’s voice ask.
“Yours, my love,” the woman answered.
“And whose precious nose is this?” the man went on inside the room.
“Only yours,” the woman replied.
“And whose beautiful lips are these?” the man continued.
“Yours!” panted the woman.
“And whose…?” but the Irishman could not stand it anymore.
Putting his mouth to the keyhole, he shouted, “When you get to a yellow plaid umbrella, folks, it is mine!”
This game of ‘my’ and ‘mine’ is the most absurd game — but this is the whole game of life.
This earth was there before you ever came here, and this will be here when you are gone.
The diamonds that you possess were there before you ever came here, and when you are gone those diamonds will remain here — and they will not even remember you. They are completely oblivious that you possess them.
This game of possessiveness is the most foolish game there is — but this is the whole game.
Gurdjieff used to say that if you start getting disidentified from things, sooner or later you will fall upon your essential being. That is the basic meaning of renunciation. Renunciation does not mean, sannyas does not mean, renouncing the world and escaping to the Himalayas or to a monastery — because if you escape from the world and go to a monastery, nothing is going to change. You carry the same mind. Here in the world, the house was yours, and the wife was yours; there the monastery will be yours, the religion will be yours. It will not make much difference. The ‘mine’ will persist. It is a mind attitude — it has nothing to do with any outside space. It is an inner illusion, an inner dream, an inner sleep.
Renunciation means: wherever you are, there is no need to renounce the things because in the first place you never possessed them. It is foolish to talk about renunciation. It means as if you were the possessor and now you are renouncing. How can you renounce something which you never possessed? Renunciation means coming to know that you cannot possess anything. You can use, at the most, but you cannot possess. You are not going to be here forever — how can you possess? It is impossible to possess anything.
You can use and you can be grateful to things that they allow themselves to be used. You should be thankful to things that they allow themselves to be used. They become means, but you cannot possess them.
Dropping the idea of ownership is renunciation. Renunciation is not dropping the possessions but possessiveness. And this is what Gurdjieff calls getting unidentified. This is what Bauls call realizing ‘Ardhar Manush‘ — the essential man. This is what Zen people call the original face.
From A Sudden Clash of Thunder, Chapter Three
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