The essential teaching of Gautam the Buddha is not a teaching at all, but an awakening.
A way to become more aware. He does not give you a doctrine about existence, but he gives you a methodology to see that which is. He is not concerned with God; he is not concerned with the other world beyond. His whole concern is you – the awareness within.
Hence Buddha has been misunderstood by almost everybody. The religious people have not been able to understand him because he does not talk about God. They have not been able to appreciate him because he does not talk about the other world. And all the religions have depended on the other world. They are against this world and for some illusory world somewhere there in the future – beyond this life, beyond this body, beyond this moment. Their whole world is a fantasy world. They persuade people to sacrifice the real for the unreal, they persuade people to sacrifice that which is for that which is not yet and may not ever be. They persuade people to sacrifice the present for the future – how can they understand Buddha? Because he does not talk about the other world at all. He is not an other-worldly one.
But he has not satisfied the materialists either, the atheists either. Because they think this is all that there is – eat, drink, be merry. And Buddha says: This is not all that there is. You are living only on the surface of things. There is a depth to things – but that depth can be known, fathomed, only if depth to you go deeper into your own being, into your own consciousness.
The more conscious you are, the more intensely you live. The more conscious you are, the more reality becomes available to you. You earn reality only through being conscious. When one is absolutely conscious, one is absolutely real.
Naturally, the materialists, the this-worldly people, cannot agree with Buddha, because they say, “This is all. The surface is all, the outside is all, there is no inside to it.”
So nobody is agreeing with him. The religious don’t agree, the irreligious don’t agree. His approach is a very radical approach – it is against the worldly, it is against the other-worldly. He brings a new light; he brings a new understanding. That understanding he calls ‘mindfulness’.
You have to understand this word ‘mindfulness’. If you can understand this single word ‘mindfulness’ you will have understood Buddha’s whole being, his whole approach. And he is one of those who have known. If you want to ask anybody, ask a man like Buddha.
But his approach is a methodology, not a doctrine. It is a way of life. People live like robots, they live mechanically. Buddha says: Live non-mechanically. Each of your acts has to be luminous with awareness. And then each act starts revealing reality to you.
And he does not make any distinction between the profane and the sacred – there is none. The profane is the sacred, if you live it consciously.
Just going for a morning walk – if you can walk consciously, this is prayer. There is no need to go to any church. Prayer has no relationship with a church or a temple, prayer has something to do with your quality of awareness. You can do a thing prayerfully, and the thing may be anything, cleaning the floor, cooking the food, washing the clothes, taking a bath, going to sleep.
It reminds me of one of the most beautiful stories about Buddha’s closest disciple, Ananda. Ananda lived with Buddha for forty years – and he lived like a shadow. He never left Buddha for a single moment, not even in the night; he would sleep in the same room where Buddha was sleeping. He had taken a promise from Buddha…
When Buddha became enlightened, Ananda came to him to be initiated. He was a cousin brother of Buddha and older than Buddha. He asked Buddha, “I am your elder brother. Once I am initiated, I will be your disciple. Then whatsoever you say, I will have to do – then I cannot say no.
That is the meaning of disciplehood – a person decides, “Now I will say yes to my master, whatsoever he says. If he says ’Jump and kill yourself’ I will jump and kill myself.” Surrendering the no is the secret of disciplehood.
So Ananda said, “I am going to be your disciple. Before I become your disciple, as your elder brother I want one promise. Right now I am your elder brother and I can order you” – the old Indian tradition – “you are my younger brother and I can say this to you. You have to give me this promise, that you will never tell me to leave you. I will stay with you; wherever you go I will be with you. I will follow you like a shadow, I will serve you like a shadow. Even in the night I will be sleeping just by your side, continuously ready to serve you.”
Buddha promised. And Ananda lived with Buddha for forty years. No other disciple lived so close. But because he was so close, he started taking Buddha for granted – naturally. He was so close, he started forgetting Buddha. He was so close that he never tried what Buddha was saying. And the day came when Buddha dropped his body…
Many who had come after Ananda had become enlightened. Ananda was not yet enlightened. He wept bitterly. His misery was great; there was no consolation. Now suddenly he became aware that forty years had been a wastage. “I lived with this man – a rare opportunity, very rare. To find a Buddha is rare, and to live with a Buddha for forty years continuously – it has not happened before, it may not happen again. Forty years in a long time. And still I have missed.”
He stopped eating food, he stopped all kinds of other activities. He decided to become enlightened before it was too late – it was already late. Day and night, he was trying to be aware…
And a great council was going to be arranged soon – all the enlightened disciples were going to gather together to collect the sayings of Buddha. Ananda was not invited. And he was the most reliable source, obviously – nobody had lived with Buddha so long, nobody had as much information as he had. Nobody had listened to Buddha so much – morning and evening, day and night, he was always there, just watching. Whatsoever Buddha had said, he had heard it. And he had a miraculous memory, absolute memory – he had the power of absolute recall. But still he was not invited to the council.
It was not possible to invite him. He had known Buddha, his word was reliable, his memory was perfect – but he had no inner validity. He himself was not yet a Buddha. Yes, to collect facts he was the right person. But what about truth? And facts and truths are different dimensions. A fact may be a fact and yet may not be true. And a truth may be true, yet may not be a fact.
Truth is not the sum total of all the facts – truth is something more. Facts are mundane, superficial. Truths are not on the surface, they are inner. Ananda could say everything factual, but he had no inner validity. He himself was not a witness. So even those who had not lived with Buddha were called to the council, but not Ananda.
He worked hard, he staked all. Each moment he was trying to be aware, alert, mindful.
And the last night came – tomorrow morning the council was going to gather. Ananda was going mad: it had not happened yet. He was becoming more and more tense and he was putting in all that one could put, all that was humanly possible. He was ready to die for it.
The middle of the night had come and nothing had happened yet. And he was driving himself crazy. For days he had not eaten, he had not slept, he had not taken a bath – there was no time to waste. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, four o’clock in the morning… and he was just on the verge of either going mad or becoming enlightened. It looked more like madness: he was exploding, he was falling apart.
Then suddenly he remembered, Buddha had always said: Be aware, but in a relaxed way. Be aware, but without any tension. Attention without any tension. Calm and quiet. Alert, but with no strain.
That memory came in the right moment – he relaxed. He was so tired, dead tired, that he went to bed. When he was just going to put his head on the pillow – fully aware, relaxed – he became enlightened. The moment his head touched the pillow, he became enlightened.
He slept, for the first time in his whole life, a different kind of sleep. He was asleep as far as the body was concerned, but his inner light was aflame. Deep within his being, he was alert and aware.
Morning came, and he was still asleep. Other monks came to see whether he had been able to make it. They looked in the room, and it had the same fragrance as that of Buddha – the same luminosity, the same grace and grandeur. And Ananda was fast asleep but his face had the light, the light that comes from within. Even in his sleep he was mindful. There was grace, there was a silence surrounding the room, there was a new space.
He was invited immediately. He asked the other monks, “Why? What has happened now? Why were you not asking me to come to the council?” And they said, “Just one day ago, your memory was just the memory of the outside of things. Now you know from the inside – you yourself have become a Buddha.
Buddhahood means when you become so alert that even in your sleep the alertness continues as an undercurrent. Even when you die, you die fully alert – now there is no way to lose your alertness, your alertness has become your nature.
This is the essential message of Buddha. And unless you understand this, you will miss all the sutras of Ikkyu. Many have commented on the sutras, and particularly the Western commentators go on missing the point – because they think what the sutra is saying is a philosophy. The best commentator is R. H. Blyth – but even he misses, because he also seems to have no inner validity. He thinks these sutras are pessimistic. They are not. Pessimism has nothing to do with Buddha. They look pessimistic because they go against your so-called optimism.
Buddha does not give you any hope. But his message is not that of hopelessness. He takes away hope, and with hope he takes away hopelessness too. That is very difficult to understand, unless you have an inner validity. He destroys all optimism, but remember, he is not a pessimist. Once there is no optimism, how can there be pessimism? – they go together. His vision of life is not dismal, but it looks dismal to people.
Even R. H. Blyth, who is the most perceptive commentator from the West on Ikkyu’s sutras, goes on missing the point. He goes on showing where Buddha is wrong, he goes on saying where Ikkyu is morbid.
If you look at the sutras themselves, without making any effort to be mindful, you will miss the whole point. These sutras are just a device to make you mindful.
Buddha gave an example of just how mindful we should be. He told of a person who was ordered to walk through a very crowded marketplace with a water jug, full to the brim, balanced on his head. Behind him walked a soldier with a big sword. If a single drop of that water were to fall, the soldier would cut off his head. Assuredly, the person with the jug walked pretty mindfully. But it has to be mindful in an easy way. If there is too much forcing or strain, the least jostling will cause the water to spill. The person with the jug has to be loose and rhythmic, flowing with the changing scene, yet staying very attentive in each moment.
That is the kind of care we should take in developing awareness: a relaxed alertness.
These two words look diametrically opposite – they are. Because whenever you are relaxed you lose alertness, and whenever you are alert you lose relaxedness. And unless they both happen together you will go on missing Buddha’s message. It is a very strange message – it wants you to bring this polarity together. It is the highest synthesis of human consciousness: one polarity is relaxedness, another polarity is alertness, attentiveness.
If you are only attentive then sooner or later you will be tired of it. You cannot be attentive for twenty-four hours; you will need holidays. You will need alcohol, drugs, to drop out of that attentiveness.
That’s what is happening in the West. People have become more attentive; attentiveness has been cultivated. The whole educational mechanism forces you to become more attentive. Those who are more attentive succeed, those who are less attentive fail. It is a very competitive world – if you want to succeed you have to be very attentive. But then it tires you. Then the tension becomes heavy on the head, then it drives you neurotic. Then madness becomes a very, very natural by-product of it.
Many more people go neurotic in the West than in the East. The reason is clear: in the West, attentiveness has been practiced, down through the ages. It has paid much. The technology, the scientific progress, affluence – all that has come through being attentive. In the East, people have remained in a relaxed state. But if you are relaxed without being attentive, it becomes lethargy. It becomes passivity, it becomes a kind of dullness. Hence the East has remained poor, unscientific, non-technological, starving.
If Buddha’s message is rightly understood, there will be a meeting of East and West. In Buddha, both can meet. His message is of relaxed attentiveness. You have to be very very relaxed, and yet alert. And there is no problem; it is possible.
And I say it to you from an inner validity: It is possible. And only this possibility will make you a whole man, a holy man. Otherwise you will remain half – and a half man is always miserable, in one way or other. The West is miserable spiritually, the East is miserable materially. And man needs both – man needs a richness of the inner and the outer, both.
With Buddha, a new age can dawn. And the secret is simple: learn relaxed awareness. When you are trying to be attentive, simultaneously keep in mind that the body should not become tense. It should be relaxed, loose, in a kind of let-go.
I like this story of Ananda becoming enlightened when his head touched the pillow. You cannot find a better place to become enlightened. Remember it.
And Buddha has not given you any objects to meditate upon. He has not told you to meditate on God, he has not told you to meditate on a mantra, he has not told you to meditate on an image. He has told you to do the small things of life with a relaxed awareness. When you are eating, eat totally – chew totally, taste totally, smell totally. Touch your bread, feel the texture. Smell the bread, smell the flavour. Chew it, let it dissolve into your being, and remain conscious – and you are meditating. And then meditation is not separate from life.
And whenever meditation is separate from life, something is wrong. It becomes life-negative. Then one starts thinking of going to a monastery or to a Himalayan cave. Then one wants to escape from life, because life seems to be a distraction from meditation.
Life is not a distraction; life is an occasion for meditation.
Walking, just be watchful of the breath going in, the breath going out. You are putting one of your feet ahead: watch, feel it from within. You are touching the earth: feel the touch of the earth. And the birds are singing and the sun is rising… One has to be multi-dimensionally sensitive. This will help your intelligence to grow; this will make you more brilliant, sharp, alive. And religion should make you more alive, more sensitive. Because life is God, and there is no other God.
Buddha would have agreed with Toscanini…
On Toscanini’s eightieth birthday, someone asked his son what his father ranked as his most important achievement. The son replied, “For him, there can be no such thing. Whatever he happens to be doing at the moment is the biggest thing in his life – whether he is conducting a symphony or peeling an orange.”
Peel an orange as if you are conducting a symphony, and you will be coming closer and closer to Buddha. Peel an orange as if you are painting the greatest painting in the world – with that alertness, with that care, with that love, with that totality. Peel an orange and be multi-dimensionally aware of it – the smell that is coming from it, the feel, the touch, the taste. Then a small orange, an ordinary orange, is transformed – transformed by the quality of the consciousness that you bring to it.
And if life can be lived in this way then religion is not life-negative – it affirms. It does not take you away from life – it takes you into it, to the deepest core of it. It takes you into its mysteries.
That’s my approach too. And any religion that has to be maintained separate from life – a prayer that you have to do in the temple, and a meditation that you can do only in a Himalayan cave – is not worth much, because you cannot do it for twenty-four hours. Even the man who lives in a Himalayan cave will have to go to beg for his food, will have to collect wood for the winter that is coming, will have to protect himself because the rain is there, will have to think of something because in the night the wild animals are there. Even in that cave he will have to do a thousand and one things. You cannot simply meditate for twenty-four hours; it is not possible.
But Buddha makes it possible. He says: Don’t separate meditation from life – let them be together. Turn each opportunity of life into meditation. Do it fully aware, alert, watchful, witnessing.
A disciple had come to see Ikkyu, his master. The disciple had been practicing for some time. It was raining, and as he went in, he left his shoes and umbrella outside. After he paid his respects, the master asked him on which side of his shoes he had left his umbrella.
Now, what kind of question…? You don’t expect masters to ask such nonsense questions – you expect them to ask about God, about kundalini rising, chakras opening, lights happening in your head. You ask about such great things – occult, esoteric.
But Ikkyu asked a very ordinary question. No Christian saint would have asked it, no Jain monk would have asked it, no Hindu swami would have asked it. It can be done only by one who is really with the Buddha, in the Buddha – who is really a Buddha. The master asked him on which side of his shoes he had left his umbrella. Now, what do shoes and umbrellas have to do with spirituality?
If the same question was asked to you, you would have felt annoyed. You would have felt that this man is no master at all. What kind of question is this? What philosophy can there be in it?
But there is something immensely valuable in it. Had he asked about God, about your kundalini and chakras, that would have been nonsense, utterly meaningless. But this has meaning. The disciple could not remember – who bothers where you have put your shoes and on which side you have put your umbrella, to the right or to the left. Who bothers? Who pays so much attention to umbrellas? Who thinks of shoes? Who is so careful?
But that was enough – the disciple was refused. Ikkyu said, “Then go and meditate for seven years more.”
“Seven years?” the disciple said. “Just for this small fault?
Ikkyu said, “This is not a small fault. Faults are not small or big – you are just not yet living meditatively, that’s all. Go back, meditate for seven years more, and come again.”
This is the essential message of Buddhism: Be careful, careful of everything. And don’t make any distinction between things, that this is trivia and that is very very spiritual. It depends on you. Pay attention, be careful, and everything becomes spiritual. Don’t pay attention, don’t be careful, and everything becomes unspiritual.
Spirituality is imparted by you, it is your gift to the world. When a master like Ikkyu touches his umbrella, the umbrella is as divine as anything can be. And if you touch even God, God will become trivia. It depends on your touch.
Meditative energy is alchemical. It transforms the baser metal into gold; it goes on transforming the baser into the higher. The more meditative you become, the more you see God everywhere. At the ultimate peak, everything is divine. This very world is the paradise, and this very body the Buddha.
From Take It Easy, Discourse #26
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