Do wisdom and understanding increase gradually or do they come as explosions?
Understanding never comes, neither as a sudden phenomenon nor as a gradual one, because it is always there. You have it right now. It is not going to happen somewhere in the future. You are carrying it within you, just as a seed carries the tree, a woman carries a child. You are carrying it right now. Now it depends on you: if your intensity is total you will achieve it suddenly, if your intensity is not total you will achieve it by and by, in steps. But understanding never comes to you – you are understanding. Enlightenment is not something that happens to you – you are enlightenment.
Remember this; then it is a choice, your choice. If you desire it totally, in that fire of total desire all that covers that understanding burns; suddenly the light is there. But it is up to you. It is not part of the nature of enlightenment to happen gradually or to happen suddenly.
Don’t throw off the responsibility, that’s how people create philosophies and schools. In Japan two schools of Zen exist: one believes in sudden enlightenment, another believes in gradual enlightenment – as if these are the qualities of enlightenment, as if they belong to enlightenment. They don’t belong to enlightenment. Enlightenment is always there; it is for you to choose. If your desire is total not even a single moment is lost. But if your desire is not total it means that you yourself are not willing it to happen right now. You want to postpone it, you want it tomorrow, some other day. Then you go on playing tricks.
If you are really sincere there is no time gap, it can happen this very moment. Not even a single moment is to be lost, because it is already the case. One has just to look within. But if you don’t want it right now then you can wait for millennia.
I would like to tell you an old story. It happened in Ceylon.
There was a great Buddhist Master who taught his disciples for almost eighty years. When he was a hundred and twenty he said one day, “Now, I am going to die after seven days.” So thousands of his disciples gathered for his last darshan, to see him for the last time.
The old man, before closing his eyes and dissolving within wards, asked them, “Does somebody want to accompany me? If somebody wants nirvana, enlightenment, right now, then he should simply raise his hand and that will do.”
People knew that he was a man of his word, and he was not joking. He had never joked in his whole life, he was a serious man. He meant what he said. They started looking at each other – thousands of people and not a single hand was raised.
One man stood up and he said, “Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to accompany you right now because there are many things to be done. I have many things to fulfill, many things to pass through, many karmas to be accounted for. As yet I am not ready for it, but someday I would like to be enlightened. Can you give some key hints? – because you will be no longer here.”
And the Master had been giving key hints his whole life, for eighty years. Still they wanted something to be said about it so that they could postpone and plan and think about the future. And the old Master was ready. If somebody had been ready he was ready to take him with himself. But nobody was ready.
People are cunning, because the mind is cunning. And the greatest cunningness of the mind is that it always throws responsibility onto something else. If enlightenment is gradual then what can you do? Nothing can be done; it is gradual, it will take a long time. If enlightenment is sudden then why has it not happened to you? You will ask, “Then why has it not happened to me if it is sudden? No, it cannot be sudden. But if it is sudden and there is no need to do something for it to happen, then what can be done? I will wait – whenever it happens it happens.”
You simply want to escape from the responsibility of your own choice. Sartre has said one thing that is really beautiful. He said, “Man is free to choose but man is not free not to choose.” You can choose either way but don’t be befooled – you have no freedom not to choose, because even when you think you are not choosing you are choosing the opposite.
A man came to me and he said, “I am not yet ready for sannyas. I am ready seventy per cent, eighty per cent, but twenty per cent I am not ready, so how can I take sannyas? I’m not total.”
So I said, “Okay. But still you are choosing, and now you are choosing a minor part of your mind – the twenty per cent which says, ‘Don’t take.’ Now you are choosing the twenty per cent against the eighty per cent.”
So don’t think that you are not choosing. That’s not possible. You have to choose whatsoever you do; even if you don’t choose you will be choosing. Choice is there. One is free to choose but one is not free not to choose. If the mind says it is gradual, it is a choice; if the mind says it is sudden, that too is a choice. When you say it is sudden it means that you would like to drop every effort, so you choose sudden enlightenment. Then there is no need to do anything – when it happens it happens, nothing can be done because it is a sudden thing. Just like lightning in the sky, whenever it happens it happens – you cannot make preparations for it. It is not like electricity in the house that you put on and off, it does not depend on you. It is a sudden phenomenon, when it happens it happens. You have to wait for it. If you are thinking about reading a telegram when the electricity happens in the sky, then you have to wait. When it happens you can read it. What can you do?
People who want to escape from effort will choose sudden enlightenment. People who want to escape from the great, total responsibility of it, that it can happen right now, will choose the philosophy of gradualness.
I don’t say anything about enlightenment – I’m saying something about you. It is for you to feel your desire: total desire – enlightenment is sudden, partial desire – enlightenment is gradual. It has nothing to do with the nature of enlightenment.
From Tao: The Three Treasures, V.1, Discourse #10
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