For years I have contemplated what seems to me to be the basic message for well-being: love yourself. When I was a therapist, all day hearing, “I hate myself; I feel sorry for myself; I am proud of myself; I want to destroy myself,” I started wondering—who is this self?
I love when you say there is no self. That seems so freeing. Could you please say more?
The whole therapeutic movement has gone wrong on that point: Love thyself.
Socrates used to say, “Know thyself.” And there have been masters, particularly Sufis, who say, “Be thyself.” But there is only one person in the whole history of man, Gautam Buddha, who said, “There is no self. You are an emptiness, utter silence, a non-being.”
His message was much opposed by all the traditions, because they all depended in some way or other on the idea of the self. There may have been differences on other points, but on one point they were all totally in agreement — and that was the existence of the self. Even people like George Gurdjieff, who used to talk about a very novel idea — that you are not born with a self, you have to earn it: “Deserve thyself” — finally, he also ends up with the self.
Gautam Buddha does not make any distinction between the self and the ego — and there is none. It is just sophistry, linguistic gymnastics, to make such distinctions; then you can discard the ego and save the self. But the self is simply another name of the ego. You are only changing names, and no transformation of being is happening.
Buddha’s message is tremendously significant: you are an emptiness; there is no point in you which can say “I.”
Looked at from my vision, when I say to you, “Melt, dissolve into existence,” I am simply saying the same thing in more positive terms.
Buddha’s way of saying it was so negative that many people were stopped, because the question arose, naturally, that if there is no self, why bother? what is there to achieve? Just to know that you are not?
A whole life of discipline, great effort for meditation, and the result is to know that you are not? The result does not seem to be worth it! At least without the meditation, without the discipline you have some sense of being. It may be wrong, but at least you are not feeling hollow and empty. Knowing that you are not, how will you live? Out of nothingness there is no possibility of any love, of any compassion – no possibility of anything. Out of nothing comes only nothing.
So the opponents of Buddha described his method as a subtle way of spiritual suicide — far more dangerous than ordinary suicide, because with ordinary suicide you will survive, you will take a new form, a new birth. But with Buddha you will be committing total suicide, annihilation. There will be no longer anything left of you, and you will be never heard from again, never found again. You never were in the first place.
Buddhism died in India, and one of the basic reasons was Buddha’s way of putting his philosophy. I can understand why he was so insistent on negatives, because all other philosophies were so positivistic, and all their positivism was turning into stronger and stronger egos. He moved to the other extreme, seeing that positivism is going to give you egoistic ideas — and that is a hindrance between you and existence. To stop this idea he became totally negative.
You cannot complain about it, because the positivistic ideologies were in a strange situation: you have to drop the ego to find yourself, you have to drop the ego to find God, you have to drop the ego to become God, you have to drop the ego to find ultimate liberation — liberation of whom? Liberation of your self.
So there was achievement, and achievement is always of the ego. There is a goal, and the goal is always of the ego.
Seeing all this, Buddha said, “There is no self. There is nothing to be achieved, and there is no goal to be found. You have never existed, you do not exist, you will not exist. You can only imagine, you can only dream that you are.”
Chuang Tzu’s story is famous. I never get tired of Chuang Tzu because his small absurd stories have so many aspects to explore, each time I can bring it in with a new light, with a new meaning, with a new perspective.
One morning he wakes up, calls all his disciples and says, “I am in great trouble, and you have to help me.”
The disciples said, “We have come to be helped by you, and you want our help?” Chuang Tzu said, “It was okay, but this night everything got disturbed: I dreamt that I had become a butterfly.”
They all laughed. They said, “All nonsense! Dreaming does not create any mess.”
Chuang Tzu said, “It has created, because now I am thinking that perhaps I am a butterfly, thinking, dreaming that I am Chuang Tzu. Now, who am I? And I have to be certain, in order to live, whether I am Chuang Tzu or I am a butterfly.”
He looks absurd, but he is really bringing the absurdity of logic of being the surface. If a butterfly cannot dream of being a Chuang Tzu, then how can Chuang Tzu dream of being a butterfly? And if Chuang Tzu can dream of being a butterfly, then there is no logical objection to a butterfly falling asleep under the morning sun on a beautiful flower, and dreaming of herself being Chuang Tzu.
None of his disciples could help him. For centuries Taoists have been using that as a koan, because it is insoluble — but to Buddha it is not so.
Chuang Tzu and Gautam Buddha were contemporaries, but far away; one was in China, one in India. They were divided by the great Himalayas, so no communication; otherwise Buddha would have solved Chuang Tzu’s problem, because he says, “Both are dreams. It does not matter whether Chuang Tzu dreams of being a butterfly, or the butterfly dreams of being a Chuang Tzu — both are dreams. You simply don’t exist.”
Many came to Buddha and turned away, because nobody can make nothingness be his life’s achievement — for what? So much discipline and so much great trouble in getting into meditation just to find out that you are not… strange kind of man this Gautam Buddha. We are good as we are, what is the need of digging so deep that you find there is nothing? Even if we are dreaming, at least there is something.
My own approach is just the same, but from a very different angle. I say to you that you don’t have a self, because you are part of the universe; you are not nothing. Only the universe can have a self, only the universe can have a center, only the whole can have a soul. My hand cannot have a soul, my fingers cannot have a soul; only the organic unity can have a soul. And we are only parts. We are, but we are only parts; hence we cannot claim that we have a self.
So Buddha is right — there is no self — but he is not helping people, poor people, because they cannot figure out all the implications of the statement.
I say to you: You don’t have a self because you are part of a great self, the whole. You cannot have any separate, private, self of your own. This takes away the negativity, and this does not give you the positive desire for becoming more and more egoistic. It avoids both the extremes and finds a new approach: The universe is, I am not. And whatever happens and appears to be in me, as me, is simply universal.
To call it “I” is to make it too small. That is what makes it untrue; it does not correspond to reality. To call it “self” makes it unreal, because the self is possible only if you are totally independent — and you are not. Even for a single breath you are not independent. Even for a single moment you are not independent of the sun, of the moon, of the stars. The whole is contributing all the time. That’s why you are.
To recognize it is not a loss, it is a gain; and yet it is not an egoistic gain. If you can see the subtlety of it… it is a tremendous achievement to understand that you are part of the whole, that the whole belongs to you, that you belong to the whole. And yet with such a great achievement, there is no shadow of the self.
It is one of the most beautiful understandings, that we are not separate — not separate from the mountains, not separate from the trees, not separate from the ocean, not separate from anybody. We are all connected, interwoven into oneness. The gain is immense, but there is no sense of I, of me, of my, of mine. As far as these things are concerned, there is utter silence and emptiness. But this emptiness is not just empty.
We can empty this room — we can take all the furniture, everything in the room out — and anybody coming in will say, “The room is empty.” That is one way of looking at it — but not the right way.
The right way is that now the room is full of emptiness. Before, the emptiness was hindered, cut into parts, because so much furniture and so many things were not allowing it to be one: now it is one.
Emptiness too is. It is existential; it does not mean that it is not. Somebody empty of jealousy will become full of love, somebody empty of stupidness will become full of intelligence. Each emptiness has its own fullness. And if you miss seeing the fullness that comes with emptiness, absolutely and certainly, then you are blind.
There is no self. And that’s a great relief.
You don’t have to love it, you don’t have to hate it, you don’t have to accept it, you don’t have to reject it; you don’t have to do anything: it simply is not there. You can relax, and in this relaxation is the melting into the universe. Then nothingness becomes wholeness.
Buddha was very miserly; he would never say that nothingness is wholeness. He knew it; it is impossible that a man who knows nothingness to such depths will not know the other side of the coin — wholeness. But he was very miserly — and for a reason, because the moment you utter “wholeness,” immediately the ego feels at ease.
The ego says, “So there is no fear. You have to attain to wholeness. Nothing was a danger; wholeness gives hope.” That’s why he was so persistently denying something which is ultimately real. He was leading people towards it, but denying it because the moment you assert it those people start going astray. But I would like tell you the whole thing.
One day Buddha is passing through a forest. It is fall, and the whole forest is full of dry and dead leaves, and the wind is taking those dry and dead leaves from here and there and making beautiful music; and just to walk on those leaves is a joy.
Ananda asked Buddha, “Can I ask you… there is nobody around, and I rarely get a chance to be alone with you. Although I am twenty-four hours a day with you, somebody is always there, and of course he has preference to ask, to talk, because it is an opportunity for him; I am always with you. But today there is nobody. Can I ask you one thing: Have you said everything that you know? Or have you been keeping a few things back and not revealing them to people?”
Buddha stooped down and filled one of his fists with dead leaves. Ananda said, “What are you doing?”
He said, “I am trying to answer your question. What do you see in my hand?”
And Anand said, “I see a few leaves.”
Buddha said, “What do you see all over the forest?”
He said, “Millions and millions of dead leaves.”
Buddha said, “What I have said is just this much, and what I have not said is equal to the leaves that are in the whole forest. But my whole desire is to take you to the forest, to leave you to listen to the music of the whole, to walk and run on dry leaves, just like children. I don’t want to give you a few leaves in my fist. No, I want to give you the whole.”
And this is my understanding: you may trust me or not, but I trust you. You may change, you may even become an enemy to me, but my trust will remain the same in you. Because my trust is not something conditional upon you, it does not depend on you. My trust is my joy, and I want to give the whole.
Nothingness is half of the truth — immensely relieving, but yet it leaves something like a wound, something unfulfilled. You will be relieved, relaxed, but you will be still looking for something, because emptiness cannot become the end.
The other side, wholeness, has to be made available to you. Then your emptiness is full — full of wholeness.
Then your nothingness is all. It is not just nothing, but all. These are the moments when contradictory terms are transcended, and whenever you transcend contradictory terms you become enlightened. Whatever the contradiction may be, all contradictions transcended bring enlightenment to you. And this is one of the fundamental contradictions: emptiness and wholeness.
The transcendence needs nothing but just a silent understanding.
From Beyond Psychology, Chapter Sixteen
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