In the West we are constantly drilled with the aphorism: Don’t just stand there—do something! Yet, Buddha would say: Don’t just do something—stand there! The unconscious man reacts while the wise man watches. But what about spontaneity? Is spontaneity compatible with watching?
Buddha certainly says: Don’t just do something — stand there! But that is only the beginning of the pilgrimage, not the end. When you have learned how to stand, when you have learned how to be utterly silent, unmoving, undisturbed, when you know how to just sit…sitting silently, doing nothing, the spring comes and the grass grows by itself. But the grass grows, remember!
Action does not disappear: the grass grows by itself. The Buddha does not become inactive; great action happens through him, although there is no doer anymore. The doer disappears, the doing continues. And when there is no doer, the doing is spontaneous; it cannot be otherwise. It is the doer that does not allow spontaneity.
The doer means the ego, the ego means the past. When you act, you are always acting through the past, you are acting out of experience that you have accumulated, you are acting out of the conclusions that you have arrived at in the past. How can you be spontaneous? The past dominates, and because of the past you cannot even see the present. Your eyes are so full of the past, the smoke of the past is so much, that seeing is impossible. You cannot see! You are almost completely blind — blind because of the smoke, blind because of the past conclusions, blind because of knowledge.
The knowledgeable man is the most blind man in the world. Because he functions out of his knowledge, he does not see what the case is. He simply goes on functioning mechanically. He has learned something; it has become a ready-made mechanism in him…he acts out of it.
There is a famous story:
There were two temples in Japan, both enemies to each other, as temples have always been down the ages. The priests were so antagonistic that they had stopped even looking at each other. If they came across each other on the road, they would not look at each other. If they came across each other on the road they stopped talking; for centuries those two temples and their priests had not talked.
But both the priests had two small boys — to serve them, just for running errands. Both the priests were afraid that boys, after all, will be boys, and they might start becoming friends to each other.
The one priest said to his boy, “Remember, the other temple is our enemy. Never talk to the boy of the other temple! They are dangerous people — avoid them as one avoids a disease, as one avoids the plague. Avoid them!” The boy was always interested, because he used to get tired of listening to great sermons — he could not understand them. Strange scriptures were read, he could not understand the language. Great, ultimate problems were discussed. There was nobody to play with, nobody even to talk with. And when he was told, “Don’t talk to the boy of the other temple,” great temptation arose in him. That’s how temptation arises.
That day he could not avoid talking to the other boy. When he saw him on the road he asked him, “Where are you going?”
The other boy was a little philosophical; listening to great philosophy he had become philosophical. He said, “Going? There is nobody who comes and goes! It is happening — wherever the wind takes me….” He had heard the master say many times that that’s how a buddha lives, like a dead leaf: wherever the wind takes it, it goes. So the boy said, “I am not! There is no doer. So how can I go? What nonsense are you talking? I am a dead leaf. Wherever the wind takes me….”
The other boy was struck dumb. He could not even answer. He could not find anything to say. He was really embarrassed, ashamed, and felt also, “My master was right not to talk with these people — these are dangerous people! What kind of talk is this? I had asked a simple question: ‘Where are you going?’ In fact I already knew where he was going, because we were both going to purchase vegetables in the market. A simple answer would have done.”
He went back, told his master, “I am sorry, excuse me. You had prohibited me, I didn’t listen to you. In fact, because of your prohibition I was tempted. This is the first time I have talked to those dangerous people. I just asked a simple question. ‘Where are you going?’ and he started saying strange things: ‘There is no going, no coming. Who comes? Who goes? I am utter emptiness,’ he was saying, ‘just a dead leaf in the wind. And wherever the wind takes me….'”
The master said, “I told you before! Now, tomorrow stand in the same place and when he comes ask him again, ‘Where are you going?’ And when he says these things, you simply say, ‘That’s true. Yes, you are a dead leaf, so am I. But when the wind is not blowing, where are you going? Then where can you go?’ Just say that, and that will embarrass him — and he has to be embarrassed, he has to be defeated. We have been constantly quarreling, and those people have not been able to defeat us in any debate. So tomorrow it has to be done!”
Early the boy got up, prepared his answer, repeated it many times before he went. Then he stood in the place where the boy used to cross the road, repeated again and again, prepared himself, and then he saw the boy coming. He said, “Okay, now!”
The boy came. He asked, “Where are you going?” And he was hoping that now the opportunity would come….
But the boy said, “Wherever the legs will take me….” No mention of wind! No talk of nothingness! No question of the non-doer! Now what to do? His whole ready-made answer looked absurd. Now to talk about the wind would be irrelevant.
Again crestfallen, now really ashamed that he was simply stupid: “And this boy certainly knows some strange things — now he says, ‘Wherever the legs take me….'”
He went back to the master. The master said, “I have told you NOT to talk with those people — they are dangerous! This is our centuries-long experience. But now something has to be done. So tomorrow you ask again, ‘Where are you going?’ and when he says, ‘Wherever my legs take me,’ tell him, ‘If you had no legs, then…?’ He has to be silenced one way or other!”
So the next day he asked again, “Where are you going?” and waited.
And the boy said, “I am going to the market to fetch vegetables.”
Man ordinarily functions out of the past, and life goes on changing. Life has no obligation to fit with your conclusions. That’s why life is very confusing — confusing to the knowledgeable person. He has all ready-made answers: The Bhagavad-Gita, the holy Koran, the Bible, the Vedas. He has everything crammed, he knows all the answers. But life never raises the same question again; hence the knowledgeable person always falls short.
Buddha certainly says: Know how to sit silently. That does not mean that he says: Go on sitting silently forever. He is not saying you have to become inactive; on the contrary, it is only out of silence that action arises. If you are not silent, if you don’t know how to sit silently, or stand silently in deep meditation, whatsoever you go on doing is reaction, not action. You react.
Somebody insults you, pushes a button, and you react. You are angry, you jump on him — and you call it action? It is not action, mind you, it is reaction. He is the manipulator and you are the manipulated. He has pushed a button and you have functioned like a machine. Just like you push a button and the light goes on, and you push the button and the light goes off — that’s what people are doing to you: they put you on, they put you off.
Somebody comes and praises you and puffs up your ego, and you feel so great; and then somebody comes and punctures you, and you are simply flat on the ground. You are not your own master: anybody can insult you and make you sad, angry, irritated, annoyed, violent, mad. And anybody can praise you and make you feel at the heights, can make you feel that you are the greatest — that Alexander the Great was nothing compared to you.
And you act according to others’ manipulations. This is not real action.
Buddha was passing through a village and the people came and they insulted him. And they used all the insulting words that they could use — all the four-letter words that they knew. Buddha stood there, listened silently, very attentively, and then said, “Thank you for coming to me, but I am in a hurry. I have to reach the next village; people will be waiting for me there. I cannot devote more time to you today, but tomorrow coming back I will have more time. You can gather again, and tomorrow if something is left which you wanted to say and have not been able to say, you can say it to me. But today, excuse me.”
Those people could not believe their ears, their eyes: this man has remained utterly unaffected, undistracted. One of them asked, “Have you not heard us? We have been abusing you like anything, and you have not even answered!”
Buddha said, “If you wanted an answer then you have come too late. You should have come ten years ago, then I would have answered you. But for these ten years I have stopped being manipulated by others. I am no longer a slave, I am my own master. I act according to myself, not according to anybody else. I act according to my inner need. You cannot force me to do anything. It’s perfectly good: you wanted to abuse me, you abused me! Feel fulfilled. You have done your work perfectly well. But as far as I am concerned, I don’t take your insults, and unless I take them, they are meaningless.”
When somebody insults you, you have to become a receiver, you have to accept what he says; only then can you react. But if you don’t accept, if you simply remain detached, if you keep the distance, if you remain cool, what can he do?
Buddha said, “Somebody can throw a burning torch into the river. It will remain alight till it reaches the river. The moment it falls into the river, all fire is gone — the river cools it. I have become a river. You throw abuses at me. They are fire when you throw them, but the moment they reach me, in my coolness, their fire is lost. They no longer hurt. You throw thorns — falling in my silence they become flowers. I act out of my own intrinsic nature.”
This is spontaneity. The man of awareness, understanding, acts. The man who is unaware, unconscious, mechanical, robot-like, reacts.
Curtis, you ask me, “The unconscious man reacts while the wise man watches.” It is not that he simply watches — watching is one aspect of his being. He does not act without watching. But don’t misunderstand the Buddha. The buddhas have always been misunderstood; you are not the first to misunderstand. This whole country has been misunderstanding the Buddha; hence the whole country has become inactive. Thinking that all the great masters say: Sit silently, the country has become lazy, lousy; the country has lost energy, vitality, life. It has become utterly dull, unintelligent, because intelligence becomes sharpened only when you act.
And when you act moment to moment out of your awareness and watchfulness, great intelligence arises. You start shining, glowing, you become luminous. But it happens through two things: watching, and action out of that watching. If watching becomes inaction, you are committing suicide. Watching should lead you into action, a new kind of action; a new quality is brought to action.
You watch, you are utterly quiet and silent. You see what the situation is, and out of that seeing you respond. The man of awareness responds, he is responsible — literally! He is responsive, he does not react. His action is born out of his awareness, not out of your manipulation; that is the difference. Hence, there is no question of there being any incompatibility between watching and spontaneity. Watching is the beginning of spontaneity; spontaneity is the fulfillment of watching.
The real man of understanding acts — acts tremendously, acts totally, but he acts in the moment, out of his consciousness. He is like a mirror. The ordinary man, the unconscious man, is not like a mirror, he is like a photo plate. What is the difference between a mirror and a photo plate? A photo plate, once exposed, becomes useless. It receives the impression, becomes impressed by it — it carries the picture. But remember, the picture is not reality — the reality goes on growing. You can go into the garden and you can take a picture of a rosebush. Tomorrow the picture will be the same, the day after tomorrow the picture will also be the same. Go again and see the rosebush: it is no longer the same. The roses have gone, or new roses have arrived. A thousand and one things have happened.
It is said that once a realist philosopher went to see the famous painter, Picasso. The philosopher believed in realism and he had come to criticize Picasso because Picasso’s paintings are abstract, they are not realistic. They don’t depict reality as it is. On the contrary, they are symbolic, have a totally different dimension — they are symbolic.
The realist said, “I don’t like your paintings. A painting should be real! If you paint my wife, then your painting should look like my wife.” And he took out a picture of his wife and said, “Look at this picture! The painting should be like this.”
Picasso looked at the picture and said, “This is your wife?”
He said, “Yes, this is my wife!”
Picasso said, “I am surprised! She is very small and flat.”
The picture cannot be the wife!
Another story is told:
A beautiful woman came to Picasso and said, “Just the other day I saw your self-portrait in a friend’s home. It was so beautiful, I was so influenced, almost hypnotized, that I hugged the picture and kissed it.”
Picasso said, “Really! And then what did the picture do to you? Did the picture kiss you back?”
The woman said, “Are you mad?! The picture did not kiss me back.”
Picasso said, “Then it was not me.”
A picture is a dead thing. The camera, the photo plate, catches only a static phenomenon. And life is never static, it goes on changing. Your mind functions like a camera, it goes on collecting pictures — it is an album. And then out of those pictures you go on reacting. Hence, you are never true to life, because whatsoever you do is wrong; whatsoever you do, I say, is wrong. It never fits.
A woman was showing the family album to her child, and they came across a picture of a beautiful man: long hair, beard, very young, very alive.
The boy asked, “Mummy, who is this man?”
And the woman said, “Can’t you recognize him? He is your daddy!”
The boy looked puzzled and said, “If he is my daddy, then who is that bald man who lives with us?”
A picture is static. It remains as it is, it never changes. The unconscious mind functions like a camera, it functions like a photo plate. The watchful mind, the meditative mind, functions like a mirror. It catches no impression; it remains utterly empty, always empty. So whatsoever comes in front of the mirror, it is reflected. If you are standing before the mirror, it reflects you. If you are gone, don’t say that the mirror betrays you. The mirror is simply a mirror. When you are gone, it no longer reflects you; it has no obligation to reflect you anymore. Now somebody else is facing it — it reflects somebody else. If nobody is there, it reflects nothing. It is always true to life.
The photo plate is never true to life. Even if your photo is taken right now, by the time the photographer has taken it out of the camera, you are no longer the same! Much water has already gone down the Ganges. You have grown, changed, you have become older. Maybe only one minute has passed, but one minute can be a great thing — you may be dead! Just one minute before you were alive; after one minute, you may be dead. The picture will never die.
But in the mirror, if you are alive, you are alive; if you are dead, you are dead.
Buddha says: Learn sitting silently — become a mirror. Silence makes a mirror out of your consciousness, and then you function moment to moment. You reflect life. You don’t carry an album within your head. Then your eyes are clear and innocent, you have clarity, you have vision, and you are never untrue to life.
This is authentic living.
From The Dhammapada: the Way of the Buddha, Vol. 2, Chapter Ten
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