You tell us to be aware of everything—which means to be a witness to everything, every act. When I decide to be aware in work, I forget about awareness, and when I become aware that I was not aware. I feel guilty; I feel that I have made a mistake. Could you please explain?
Manish Bharti, it is one of the basic problems for anybody who is trying to be aware while at work—because work demands that you should forget yourself completely. You should be involved in it so deeply… as if you are absent. Unless such total involvement is there, the work remains superficial.
All that is great, created by man — in painting, in poetry, in architecture, in sculpture – in any dimension of life — needs you to be totally involved. And if you are trying to be aware at the same time, your work will never be first rate, because you will not be in it.
So awareness while you are working needs a tremendous training and discipline, and one has to start from very simple actions. For example, walking: you can walk, and you can be aware that you are walking — each step can be full of awareness. Eating… just the way in Zen monasteries they drink tea; they call it the “tea ceremony” because sipping the tea, one has to remain alert and aware.
These are small actions, but to begin with they are perfectly good. One should not start with something like painting, dancing — those are very deep and complex phenomena. Start with small actions of daily routine life. As you become more and more accustomed to awareness, as awareness becomes just like breathing — you don’t have to make any effort for it, it has become spontaneous — then in any act, any work, you can be aware.
But remember the condition: it has to be effortless; it has to come out of spontaneity. Then painting or composing music, or dancing, or even fighting an enemy with a sword, you can remain absolutely aware. But that awareness is not the awareness you are trying for. It is not the beginning; it is the culmination of a long discipline. Sometimes it can happen without discipline too. At least one story I remember…
A great swordsman, a great warrior, came back home and found that his servant was making love to his wife. According to custom, he challenged the servant — gave him a sword and told him to come out of the house and let it be decided; whoever remains alive will be the husband of the woman.
The servant did not even know how to hold a sword — he was a poor servant, he had never been trained in swordsmanship. He said, “Master, although you are following a convention, and respecting even a servant and giving him an opportunity, this is for you just a game. I don’t know anything about swordsmanship. At least give me a few minutes so that I can go to the greatest master — who lives nearby in a monastery, a Zen monk — to have some clue.”
The man agreed. He said, “You can go. And if it is needed, a few hours, or even a few days, or even a few months — you can get disciplined. I will wait for you.”
He went to the great warrior, the Zen master. The Zen master said, “Even years of training will not help you. Your boss is just second to me in the whole country — you cannot hope to compete with him. My suggestion is: this is the right moment to fight.”
The servant could not understand. He said, “What kind of puzzle are you giving to me: this moment is the right moment?”
And he said, “Yes, because you have one thing certain — your death. Now more than that you cannot lose. Your master has many things to lose: his wife, his prestige, his respectability as a warrior; he is a great landlord… all his money — his mind cannot be total while he is fighting. But you can be total. You have to be total — just a moment of unawareness and you are gone; you have to be totally alert. This is the right moment; don’t bother about any discipline — you simply take the sword and go.”
The servant came back within minutes. His boss said, “Have you learned anything?”
He said, “There is no need of learning anything. Come out of the house!”
And the way he shouted, “Come out of the house” … The boss could not believe what magical change had happened to his servant. As he came out, the servant, according to convention, bowed down to the boss; the boss bowed down to the servant. That is, in Japan, part of their culture; even with the enemy, you have to respect his dignity, his humanity, his divinity.
And then the servant started hitting the warrior — knowing nothing about swordsmanship.
The warrior was at a loss, because where any expert would have hit, the servant would not hit because he had no idea; he would hit somewhere where no expert would have ever hit. And he was fighting with such totality that the warrior started moving backwards, and as the warrior started moving backwards, the servant gathered more courage. He was moving his sword without knowing why — to what purpose, or where he was hitting. And since it has been decided that his death is certain, now there is nothing to worry about — all worries belong to life.
Soon he cornered the master. Behind, there was the wall surrounding the master’s garden.
He could not move backwards anymore. He was so afraid of death, for the first time in his life, and he said, “Wait! You can have my wife, you can have my properties; I am renouncing the world, I am becoming a monk.”
He was trembling with fear. Even he could not understand what happened. From where did this courage come? From where this totality? From where this awareness? But it can be only in such special situations that without any discipline, just the situation can create so much awakening in you.
Whenever I have read this story, I have always remembered Adolf Hitler. For five years continuously he was winning the war on all fronts, alone — fighting the whole world. And the reason he was winning the war was that he was not listening to the generals at all.
Fighting is an art; in the military you go through a long training. Hitler’s advisors were not generals and experts in military science; his advisors were astrologers. They would tell him where to attack and where not to attack, and that was the reason that for five years he went on winning — because the other side was following military science. And if he had also listened to his generals, then there would have been no possibility for five years’ of continual victory.
You will be surprised to know that finally Churchill had to call astrologers from India to find out where he was going to attack — because it is normal and common sense that wherever the enemy is weak, you attack at that point, and wherever the enemy is strong, you avoid that point until the very last. But the astrologers have nothing to do with the army or fighting; they consult the stars.
The enemy would be following military science and would be preparing at the weakest point, knowing that this would be the point where Adolf Hitler’s generals would decide to attack. And Adolf Hitler would attack the strongest point of the enemy, where they were fast asleep… not even bothering — because no military scientist would ever suggest to attack at the strongest point. They were not prepared there; they were preparing at the weakest link.
In a haphazard way… the enemies were simply puzzled: What to make of it? He knows nothing of the army; he knows nothing of military science. But his not knowing was immensely helpful for five years until Churchill decided, in spite of himself — knowing that this is stupidity — that astrologers from India would come to London. And from that very day, Germany started falling apart — because now astrologers were against astrologers; it was no more a war between two armies. As stupid as Adolf Hitler was, Winston Churchill had found even greater idiots from India. Things changed — just within two months, Adolf Hitler was retreating.
Whenever I have come across the story of the Zen master and his servant, I have always remembered Adolf Hitler: he had absolute certainty about astrology, he was total in his action.
Not even a single doubt crossed his mind, ever.
The same must have happened to the servant. When death is certain, fear disappears. Fear is only there because of death. But when death is certain and there is no way to avoid it, what is the point of being afraid? He became almost a man of total integrity — knowing nothing, but defeating the master who had been a victorious man in many combats.
But this can happen only rarely, in extreme conditions. In everyday life you should follow the simple course. First become aware about actions which do not need your involvement. You can walk and you can go on thinking; you can eat and you can go on thinking. Replace thinking by awareness. Go on eating, and remain alert that you are eating. Walk; replace thinking by awareness. Go on walking; perhaps your walking will be a little slower and more graceful. But awareness is possible with these small acts. And as you become more and more articulate, use more complicated activities.
A day comes when there is no activity in the world in which you cannot remain alert and at the same time, act with totality.
You are saying, “When I decide to be aware in work, I forget about awareness.” It has not to be your decision; it has to be your long discipline. And awareness has to come spontaneously; you are not to call it, you are not to force it.
“And when I become aware that I was not aware, I feel guilty.” That is absolute stupidity.
When you become aware that you were not aware, feel happy that at least now you are aware.
For the concept of guilt, there is no place in my teachings. Guilt is one of the cancers of the soul.
And all the religions have used guilt to destroy your dignity, your pride, and to make you just slaves. There is no need to feel guilty, it is natural. Awareness is such a great thing that even if you can be aware for few seconds, rejoice. Don’t pay attention to those moments when you forgot. Pay attention to that state when you suddenly remember, “I was not aware.” Feel fortunate that at least after few hours, awareness has returned.
Don’t make it repentance, a guilt, a sadness — because by being guilty and sad, you are not going to be helped. You will feel, deep down, a failure. And once a feeling of failure settles in you, awareness will become even more difficult.
Change your whole focus. It is great that you became aware that you had forgotten to be aware. Now don’t forget, for as long as possible. Again you will forget; again you will remember — but each time, the gap of forgetfulness will become smaller and smaller. If you can avoid guilt, which is basically Christian, your gaps of unawareness will become shorter, and one day they will simply disappear. Awareness will become just like breathing or heartbeat, or the blood circulating in you — day in, day out.
So be watchful that you don’t feel guilty. There is nothing to feel guilty about. It is immensely significant that the trees don’t listen to your Catholic priests. Otherwise, they will make the roses feel guilty: “Why do you have thorns?” And the rose, dancing in the wind, in the rain, in the sun, will suddenly become sad. The dance will disappear, the joy will disappear, the fragrance will disappear. Now the thorn will become his only reality, a wound — “Why do you have thorns?”
But because there are no rose bushes so foolish as to listen to any priest of any religion, roses go on dancing, and with the roses, thorns also go on dancing. The whole existence is guiltless. And a man, the moment he becomes guiltless, becomes part of the universal flow of life. That is enlightenment: a guiltless consciousness, rejoicing in everything that life makes available — the light is beautiful; so is darkness.
When you cannot find anything to be guilty about, to me you have become a religious man. To the so-called religions, unless you are guilty you are not religious; the more guilty you are, the more religious you are.
People are torturing themselves as punishment, as penance. People are fasting; people are beating their chests with their fists till blood oozes from their chests. These people, to me, are psychopaths; they are not religious. Their so-called religions have taught them that if you commit anything wrong, it is better to punish yourself than be punished by God on Judgment Day — because that punishment is to be thrown into the abysmal darkness of hell for eternity.
There is no escape, no exit. Once you enter hell, you have entered.
The whole humanity has been made guilty in some measure or other. It has taken away the shine from your eyes, it has taken away the beauty from your face, it has taken away the grace of your being. It has reduced you to a criminal — unnecessarily.
Remember: man is frail and weak, and to err is human. And the people who invented the proverb, “To err is human,” have also invented the proverb, “To forgive is divine.” I don’t agree with the second part.
I say, “To err is human and to forgive is also human.” And to forgive oneself is one of the greatest virtues, because if you cannot forgive yourself, you cannot forgive anybody else in the world — it is impossible. You are so full of wounds, of guilt — how can you forgive anybody?
Your so-called saints go on saying that you will be thrown into hell. The reality is, they are living in hell! They cannot allow even God to forgive you.
One great Sufi poet, Omar Khayyam, has written in his Rubaiyat, his world-famous collection of poetry: “I am going to drink, to dance, to love. I am going to commit every kind of sin because I trust God is compassionate — he will forgive. My sins are very small; his forgiveness is immense.”
When the priests came to know about his book — because in those days books were written by hand, there were no printing presses… When the priests discovered that he was writing such sacrilegious things, that he was saying, “Don’t be worried, go on doing anything you want because God is nothing but pure compassion and love. How much sin can you commit in seventy years of life? — in comparison to his forgiveness, it is nothing.”
He was a famous mathematician too, renowned in his country. The priests approached him and said, “What kind of things are you writing? You will destroy people’s religiousness! Create fear in people, tell people that God is very just: — if you have committed a sin, you will be punished. There will be no compassion.”
Omar Khayyam’s book was burned in his day. Whenever a copy was found, it was burned by the priests, because this man was teaching such a dangerous idea. If it spreads among human beings and everybody starts rejoicing in life, what will happen to the priests? What happen to the saints? What will happen to their mythologies of hell and heaven and god? All will disappear in thin air.
At least with me, Omar Khayyam is one of the enlightened Sufi mystics, and what he is saying has immense truth in it. He does not mean that you should commit sin. What he means simply is that you should not feel guilty. Whatever you do — if it is not right, don’t do it again. If you feel it hurts somebody, don’t do it again. But there is no need to feel guilty, there is no need to be repentant, there is no need to do penance and torture yourself.
I want to change your focus completely. Rather than counting how many times you forgot to remember to be aware, count those few beautiful moments when you were crystal clear and aware. Those few moments are enough to save you, are enough to cure you, to heal you. And if you pay attention to them, they will go on growing and spreading in your consciousness. Slowly, slowly the whole darkness of unawareness will disappear.
A young man is about to be married so before his wife-to-be moves into their apartment he has a man-to-man chat with his pet parrot.
“Now listen, buddy, there is this beautiful young woman whom I am about to marry and we are going to live together in this flat. She comes from a very good family and I want you to forget all about those dirty, four-letter words that you have picked up from living with me these past few years. If I hear you utter one dirty remark in front of her, I am going to sell you to the zoo. Got it?”
“Okay,” says the parrot. “Got it!”
After the wedding, the couple is packing their bags for their honeymoon. There are suitcases all over the apartment, and after hours of struggle everything is packed — even the parrot’s cage has a cover on it. But suddenly they discover that one shoe has been left out. The girl tries to push it into a large suitcase but it just won’t go in.
So the husband says, “You will have to sit on top and I will push it in.”
They try and try but it does not work. “Let’s try it another way,” says the wife. “Let’s both be on top and push it in together.”
At this point, the parrot pushes his covering aside and says, “The zoo be damned. This one I’ve got to see!”
He kept in control of himself so much, but there comes a point that even he has to go to the zoo. He says, “Let the zoo be damned, but this thing I have got to see.” The curiosity… he could not believe that this kind of thing is possible.
In the beginning you will also find many times that perhaps it is not possible to be working and to be aware together. But I say unto you that it is not only possible, it is very easily possible. Just begin in the right way. Just don’t start from XYZ; start from ABC.
In life, we go on missing many things because of wrong starts. Everything should be started from the very beginning. Our minds are impatient; we want to do everything quickly.
We want to reach the highest point without passing through every rung of the ladder.
But that means an absolute failure. And once you fail in something like awareness — it is not a small failure — perhaps you will not try it again, ever. The failure hurts.
So anything that is as valuable as awareness — because it can open all the doors of the mysteries of existence, it can bring you to the very temple of God — you should start very carefully and from the very beginning. And move very slowly.
Just a little patience and the goal is not far away.
From The Hidden Splendor, Chapter Eleven
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