The technique of self-remembering seems easier for me than witnessing. Do they both lead to the same goal?
They both lead to the same goal, but the technique of self-remembering is harder, longer and dangerous. Only very few people in the whole history of mankind have attained to enlightenment through the technique of self-remembering.
Many have tried, but utterly failed – it looks easy. The reason is that your self-remembering is not going to be your self-remembering, it will be your ego remembering; that’s why it looks easy.
You don’t know the distinction between the self and the false self. The false self is our ego, and the ego is very subtle, very cunning, and tries in every way to pretend to be the real self. That’s why in the beginning it will look easier than witnessing, because in witnessing there is no place for the ego. From the very beginning the ego is avoided.
In witnessing, the ego cannot enter. But in self-remembering, there is every possibility of the ego pretending to be your Self. Then the more you will practice, the more your ego will become stronger.
If somebody wants to travel on the path of self-remembering, he absolutely needs a master. He cannot move alone, because he cannot make a clear-cut distinction of what is false and what is true.
He knows only the false; he is not acquainted with his true being. Unless he is under a very rigorous master it will be very difficult to create a separation between the ego and the self.
I will explain it to you by an ancient Chinese story….
A great master had a big monastery – five hundred monks – and they were all practicing the path of self-remembering. Self-remembering is one of the paths Buddha has recommended.
One man entered into the monastery – he wanted to become a disciple. The master accepted him, but he was a very simple man from a village, almost uneducated. The master told him, “Your job is cleaning the rice in the kitchen.”
It was a big kitchen – five hundred monks. The poor man was cleaning the rice before sunrise and late into the night. He had no time to go to the sermons, to go to the prayers; he had no time to read the scriptures or listen to the wise talks. Those five hundred monks were great scholars, and the monastery was known all over the country.
Twenty years passed and the man continued just cleaning the rice and doing nothing. He forgot even to count the years – what was the point? He forgot the days, the dates, and finally he became suspicious about his own name. For twenty years nobody had used it, nobody had called him by his name – perhaps it was his name, perhaps it was not. For twenty years continuously he was doing one small thing: cleaning the rice, from the moment he woke up until he went back to bed again.
The master declared that his time to depart from the body had come. He wanted to choose his successor, and the way he did it was this: “Anybody who thinks he has succeeded in self-remembering should write on the wall of my hut some insight which shows that he has seen the truth.”
One person, who was thought to be the greatest scholar in the commune, tried. But he was so afraid to write that sentence there, because it was not his insight. He knew – how could he not know it – he knew it was not his insight, it was just borrowed from scriptures. It was not his experience – and it was difficult to deceive the old man.
In the morning the old man came out, asked the servant to erase what had been written, and said, “Find out who this idiot is who has spoiled my wall.”
It is said that the great scholar had not even signed, out of fear that he would be caught. If the master appreciated that this was really a great insight, then he would come out and say, “I have written it.” Otherwise he would remain silent… who knows? Out of five hundred people anybody could have done it!
Almost one dozen great scholars tried, but none of them had the courage to sign his name. And the master behaved in the same way; he erased the line and said, “None of you has come to the point of self-remembering. You have all been feeding the ego in the name of self. I reminded you again and again, but having a big ego is such a joy. And a spiritual ego, the otherworldly ego, the divine ego, becomes even more delicious. Now I will have to find the person myself.”
In the middle of the night the master went to the man who had come twenty years ago. For twenty years the master had not seen him, he had simply been cleaning rice. He woke the man up. The man asked the master, “Who are you?” Because twenty years… he had just seen him once for a few seconds when he was initiated – “And what is the idea of disturbing my sleep?”
The master said, “I am your master. You have forgotten…? Do you remember your name?”
The man said, “That is the difficulty. The work you have given me is such that it needs no name, no fame, no scholarship, no austerities. It is so simple that I have forgotten everything. I cannot be certain that this is my name. A few names come to my mind and I cannot decide which one is mine, but I am grateful to you.” He touched the feet of the master. “Please don’t change my job. I have forgotten everything, but I have also achieved everything. I know a peace that I had never dreamed of, a silence that no word can express. I have known such moments of ecstasy that even if I had died there would not have been any complaint that life has not been fair to me. It has given me more than I was worthy of. Just don’t change my job. I am doing it perfectly well. Has somebody complained about my work?”
The master said, “No, nobody has complained, but your job has to be changed because I am choosing you as my successor.”
The man said, “I am only a rice cleaner. I don’t know anything about being a master or a disciple. I know nothing. Please forgive me, I don’t want to be your successor because I cannot handle such a big job, I can only handle this rice cleaning.”
The master still insisted, “You have achieved that which others have been trying to achieve but have failed. You have achieved it because you were not trying. You were simply doing your small work. Slowly, slowly there was no need for thinking, no need for emotions, no need for anger, no fight, no comparison, no ambition – your ego died. And with the ego died your name. You are not born with a name. It is the ego that is given a name – that is the beginning of the ego. With the death of the ego, you even forgot your own master, because it was the ego that brought you to me.
“Up to that moment you were on a spiritually ambitious trip. You are absolutely the right person, so take my robe, my hat, my sword, which have always been given by the master to the successor. But remember one thing: take them and escape from this monastery as far away as you can, because your life will be in danger. All these five hundred egoists will kill you. You are so simple and you have become so innocent that if they ask you for the robe, the sword, the cap, you will give them. You simply take them and go as far away as you can into the mountains.
“Soon people will start arriving to you just as bees start finding their way towards the flowers when the flowers blossom. You have blossomed. You need not bother about the disciples, you simply remain silently in a faraway place. People will come to you; you simply teach them whatever you have been doing.”
“But,” he said, “I have received no teaching and I don’t know what to teach them.”
The master said, “Just teach them to do small things, silently, peacefully, without any ambition, without any motivation to gain something in this world or in the other world, so that you can become innocent like a child. That innocence is real religiousness. Not being Hindu, not being Mohammedan, but being utterly innocent – just a tabula rasa, a clean sheet on which nothing is written. No Bhagavad Gita, no Koran, no Bible…”
It is possible… a few people have attained through self-remembering. One of the great masters of this age, George Gurdjieff, used the method self-remembering, but you have to be aware that not a single person of his disciples became enlightened – and he was one of the most perfect masters.
But the problem is that the ego and the self are so close and so similar that whatever you think is your self is most probably, in ninety-nine percent of cases, just your ego. The master’s function is absolutely necessary for this method, because he has to destroy your ego. And he has to be hard, harsh. Unless he destroys your ego, self-remembering is going to lead you, not to enlightenment, but to darker spaces of being.
It will strengthen your ego more – you will become a very strong ego, very assertive. In any ordinary field of life you will be very successful. You can become an Adolf Hitler; you can become a Joseph Stalin… Stalin was not his real name, it was given to him because he was such a strong man. ‘Stalin’ means man of steel.
But these people are not a benediction to humanity, they are a curse. If they had not been there man would have been in a far better space, in a far better consciousness.
So if you feel that it is easier for you, then be very careful. I will still suggest that though witnessing may be difficult in the beginning, it is the most safe method without any dangers. It cannot lead you anywhere other than towards enlightenment. So it can even be practiced without a master.
I would like to give you something in which you are not to be dependent on somebody else.
How long have you lived, how many lives? In all these lives you may have come across many saints, many masters, but where have you reached? Your darkness is the same, your unconsciousness is the same. Perhaps they all gave you methods, but the methods were such that they needed constant supervision. Those methods are called school methods. You have to enter into a monastery, live in a monastery, function under a strict discipline – then perhaps you may be able to achieve something from a school method. And there are such monasteries.
In Europe, there is a monastery in Mount Athos; it is one thousand years old. There are almost three thousand monks inside the monastery, and anybody who wants to become a monk in that monastery can decide to enter, but only his dead body will go out.
If there is such a commitment, only then is a person accepted. Once a person enters Mount Athos, you will never see him till he is dead. This is a school for absolute self-remembering, but you cannot put the whole world in monasteries. Who will take care of these monasteries? Hence my preference is to use a method which keeps you free from any commitment, from any dependence – which keeps you in the world and yet not of the world.
Witnessing is the most simple and the most infallible method; it is the essence of all meditations. Even self-remembering, finally, is witnessing – but at a later stage, when you have dropped the ego. And if you start looking inside yourself, you can understand what I am saying. Can you see your ego and self separately? You simply know one thing: that is I. You don’t know two things: that I is the ego, and that the ego is capable of nursing itself through anything.
I have heard…
A small child was passing by the side of a palace. He had failed his examination and was feeling very angry with the teachers. He was ready to do something, and suddenly, he found a pile of stones by the side of the road. He took one big stone from the pile and threw it at the palace. Now the palace had nothing to do with his failing, nor had the stone anything to do with it, but he was in such anger he wanted to do something; the energy was there, and it needed to be released. The boy went on his way, but what happened to the stone?
As the stone started rising up he looked down – his brothers and sisters and cousins were all there. And the stone said to them, “I am going on a pilgrimage. I have been thinking about it for a long time. God willing, I will succeed in my adventures and come back to you to relate all that I experience on the way.”
All the other stones looked at this stone with their mouths open: “What is happening? He has no wings.” He was just a stone like themselves. They also wanted to fly, but they knew that they could not. “But he is flying, you cannot deny it…” So they all said, “Okay, just remember us; don’t forget us. You are a hero. In the centuries of time sometimes one stone gets wings the way you have, and we are proud that you belong to us, to our family.”
They were even feeling great pride because one of the stones was flying towards the palace. The stone hit against a glass window, and naturally, when a stone hits glass it is the glass that is broken, not the stone – it is just the nature of things. But the stone said to the pieces of glass, “You idiots. I have always said, ‘Never come in my way. Whoever comes in my way will be shattered to death.’ Now look what happened to you. Let this be a lesson to everyone who is listening.”
At that very moment the guard on the gate heard the noise of the stone falling on the floor, the glass being broken… he rushed in. He took the stone in his hands, and the stone said – although the guard could not understand his language, because he talked in Nepalese…! He said, “Thank you my lord, you are the owner of this palace – I can see from your beautiful dress. I will never forget this honor that you have given to me – taken me in your own hands.”
The situation was totally different, but the ego goes on turning every situation in its favor.
The guard was afraid that if the king came to know then he would be caught: “What are you doing? Who has thrown the stone?” He threw the stone back out of the window.
And these are the ways of the ego: the stone said, “Thank you! You are not only a great host; you understand the hurts of other people too. You know I am longing to meet my friends. I want to tell them the whole story of my visiting the palace of the king – the meeting with the king, the conversation with the king, the destruction of the enemies who came in my way.” And as he was falling back into the pile of the stones, he said to them, “Brothers and sisters, I am back. You should all be proud. My name should go down in history, and with me, my family’s name. This pile of stones is no ordinary pile, it is something historical.”
The ego has its ways of fulfilling itself even in situations where it should be shattered. So beware of it.
Self-remembering can be done only in a school where you are devoting yourself to the discipline twenty-four hours a day, because it is the moment you remember yourself… While walking you remember, “I am walking” – then walking is no longer natural. It becomes divided: you are separate, and the walking is separate.
Walking is a simple process, but in life you are doing a thousand and one things which are very complex. If you are going to remember yourself while using a machine, while driving a car… it could be very dangerous because your whole focus is in remembering yourself. You could cause an accident which could be dangerous to you, which could be dangerous to others.
Life has its own wisdom. The body has its own wisdom. For example, try one thing and you will understand what I mean: you have been eating every day your whole life but you have never thought about what happens to the food when it goes down your throat – you forget about it. Don’t forget about it. Just for three days try to remember that the food has gone in. Remember that the food is being digested, that juices, chemicals and other things are coming in from different directions, that the food is being mixed with them and the food is being transformed into different things. It is becoming blood, it is becoming your flesh, it is becoming your bones.
In three days’ time you will have such a disturbed stomach, you cannot imagine. It will take at least three months to get it back to its normal state. You are not needed to remember it. It knows its function, and it does its function perfectly well without your remembering.
That’s why when you are sick it is better to rest, because the body needs you to sleep so it can work better without any disturbance from you.
You must have heard the famous story about a centipede….
A centipede has one hundred legs – that’s why it is called centipede. And for centuries, centipedes have been in the world, walking perfectly well – no problem. But one day a rabbit became curious. He saw the centipede, he tried to count his legs and said, ”My God! One hundred legs! How does he manage to remember which one to put first, which one to put second?
“If I had one hundred legs,” the rabbit thought, “I would get entangled and I would fall immediately; I could not walk at all. This centipede is performing a miracle.”
He said, “Uncle, uncle, wait, wait! I have a question if you don’t mind…”
The centipede said, “There is no hurry. I was just going for a morning walk. You can ask your question.”
He said, “My question is simple: you have one hundred legs…?”
The centipede said, “One hundred? In fact, I have never counted. It would be too difficult for me to count them, but if you say so then perhaps I must have.”
The rabbit said, “My curiosity is: how do you manage to walk with such a trail of one hundred legs? How do you manage which one comes first, then second, then third, then fourth…?”
The centipede said, “I have never thought about it. I will try. Just now – I will try here.”
And then and there he fell on the ground. He called the rabbit and said, “You idiot! Never ask another centipede such a question, otherwise centipedes will die. We cannot live with this curiosity. I have been doing perfectly well up to now, and just as I started becoming alert about what leg is going when… as I started remembering one hundred legs, my mind got very much puzzled.”
Self-remembering is a school method. And school method means you are in a safe monastery, not doing work that could be dangerous. Otherwise your remembering… working in a factory, working in a carpentry shop and trying to remember, you are bound to get into the same position as the centipede.
I don’t want anybody to get into any trouble in the name of spirituality, hence my suggestion again is just pure witnessing – no question of I. And that too, very playfully, not seriously, with a sense of humor.
If you forget, there is no harm. Whenever you remember, again you start. You will forget many times, you will remember many times. There is no question of guilt; it is human.
Very slowly, bigger and bigger gaps of witnessing will arise in you, and as the gaps of witnessing become bigger, your thoughts will become smaller, less. The moment your witnessing comes to a peak – at certain times with a crystal clarity – the thoughts will simply disappear. You will be in an absolute silence. Whatever you are doing will not be disturbed by your silence, but on the contrary, your workmanship, your creative effort will be enhanced.
If you are making statues, or painting, or playing music… with such a mad mind, with all kinds of thoughts running around, and you can still manage to create beautiful music – just think of a silent mind, how much deeper and higher music you could create.
The same applies to every area of life. I make it a point to be remembered that if your meditation is right, everything in your life will start falling into better shape. That is the only criterion. No need to ask anybody else; you can see yourself.
Everything in your life will become better with your meditation. When your meditation is at its highest peak, all your efforts will have a beauty and a grace and a creativeness that you cannot imagine. That’s why I say; don’t divide spiritual life from the ordinary life. Don’t create any division at all. Let this life remain one single whole.
So if your consciousness changes, then everything that surrounds you also changes.
I cannot imagine a man of meditation renouncing his wife. No, a man of meditativeness will love his wife more. Perhaps his love will become more and more purified, less and less sexual, more and more prayerful. But he cannot renounce her, that is ugly.
Leaving a poor woman and escaping – that is not the work of a brave man. It fits to a coward, but not to a man who is meditating.
In my village I loved to sit in an old man’s small shop. He used to sell sweets. I was attracted, not by his sweets, but by the sweetness of the man. He would say, “The cost price of this many sweets is one rupee, and if you are willing, just for my labors and for my family, you can give me one anna more – that is my profit.”
First he would tell the cost price, and then he would tell his profit. And that too he would leave up to you: “If you don’t want to give it to me, you can take it at the cost price – of course, I am a poor man, I cannot give it to you below the cost price. I can give you my labor, I can give you my profit, but I cannot go below the cost price.”
And I inquired – because it was a sweet market and there were many shops, I inquired in other shops about what he was saying cost one rupee. And others were selling for two rupees, two and a half rupees – the same quantity, but not the same quality, not the same love.
While he was preparing his sweets, I used to sit. He even asked me, “You are the only one. Why do you come and sit here?”
I said, “I simply like it – to see you work. You work so lovingly, as if you were preparing these sweets for your beloved who is coming after many years – and you don’t know who the customer will be.”
And he laughed. He said, “As far as I know it is the same customer who always comes – different faces, but the customer is the same. That’s why I cannot deceive. I cannot cheat, I cannot exploit because it is the same customer with different faces. I have recognized him.”
His whole life I would describe as the life of a great saint, although nobody in the world would recognize him as a saint because we have this idea so deeply rooted in our minds that a saint should renounce life, get away from life. That anti-life attitude has proved so poisonous that it has destroyed the whole beauty of human existence. It has taken away the whole dignity of man.
Hence I still insist – even if you feel self-remembering is easier – that you try witnessing. Even though it is difficult in the beginning, it becomes very easy as you go ahead.
Gautam Buddha has said, “My teaching is bitter in the beginning but sweet in the end.”
From The Sword and the Lotus, Discourse Ten
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