There is a story famous in the Upanishads and sometimes mentioned by you, of two birds, who live together on the same tree. One eats the sweet fruits of this tree, while the other eats none of the fruits and remains there witnessing. The bird who revels in eating the fruits experiences much misery in his attachment to them, but when he finally looks up and sees the other bird sitting high in the tree – and sees his glory – he too goes beyond the misery. Will you please explain the significance of this story to us?
All the agony of life, all its anguish, and also the possibility of all the blessings of life that become available to the man who has attained samadhi are hidden in this story. In this anecdote are contained all the agony and the ecstasy possible to the man. Let us understand first the agony of life and then the ultimate bliss of life; then the meaning of this story will become clear on its own.
Asleep at night you dream that you have lost your way in a dark forest. You search and search, but you cannot find the path. You want to ask somebody the way, but there is nobody there. You are thirsty too, and hungry, but there is no trace of either any spring of water or any fruit as far as you can see. In deep agony you cry and weep so much so that you wake up. And in that waking, everything changes in an instant. Where there was sorrow, laughter prevails; and you start to smile, seeing that your agony was only a dream.
But how is it that the dream touched you so deeply? How is it that the dream felt to be so real?
Why did you get so lost in the dream? Why could you not remember in the dream that this was only a dream? Why did this awareness not arise in you that it was not real, that it was only your imagination? But no, your awareness did not arise, because even during your waking hours it is difficult to be a witness; how could you possibly be a witness in your sleep, in your dream? When even during our waking hours we become the doer, it is a matter of certainty that the same shall be the case in our dreams. And it is this becoming the doer that is our agony in life – that is the whole trouble.
To be the doer means that we assume ourselves to be doing things that are happening on their own. Whatever is happening to our sense organs we assume it is happening to “me”; whatever is happening on the outside, we assume it is happening to our interiority. To be the doer means that where you are only a witness, where your presence is only that of a watcher, you have fallen into the illusion that you are actually a character in the drama you are watching. The one who lost his way in the dream is certainly not you, because you were asleep in bed the whole time! The one wandering in the forest is only a creation of your mind.
I have heard: a man’s wife died. When she was alive she fettered him in every conceivable way, not allowing him the slightest possibility of movement. And the husband was very compliant. Rather than assert himself he would argue within, “Why make an issue of it?” and he just agreed with whatsoever his wife said. Before she died, his wife warned him never to so much as look at another woman; otherwise, she threatened him, she would return as a ghost to haunt him. The man was frightened – and a frightened man is quite capable of conjuring up ghosts. The fear itself becomes the ghost.
For a few days after she had died the man controlled himself – out of fear. And be aware: the control born of fear is no real control; most of your sadhus and holy men are maintaining control over themselves out of fear. They fear they may go to hell, that they may be caught by God in the act of doing something wrong and have to suffer the consequences, so they control themselves. Exactly like this was the control of this widower.
The control based on fear is not only unreal, it is also a great act of self-deception which keeps you from attaining to real control. But still, it can serve for a few days.
So this man managed – but for how long could he maintain it? The desires within him began to argue, “Are you crazy? When she was alive you were afraid, and now even after her death you go on fearing her. Do you really think she can become a ghost? Do you really think it is in her hands to make that decision?”
So he found himself a woman and began to play the lover. That night, when he returned home, he found his wife sitting on the bed waiting for him. He began to tremble so violently with fear that he collapsed. His wife said, “I know where you have just come from!” and then proceeded to tell him the name and address of the woman he had spent the evening with, and every detail of what had passed between them. Now the man was in no doubt. Not only was his wife here as a ghost, but she could repeat to perfection every word he had whispered to his new love, and describe her house, her furniture, and her appearance exactly as they were. And this was only the beginning. Every night his dead wife would appear to torment him. He became very unhappy.
Eventually, in desperation, he went to visit a Zen Master, Nan-in.
When Nan-in heard the man’s story he began to roar with laughter. “This wife who harasses you is not alive,” he said, “but she is no different from those living wives who nag their husbands. All wives are ghosts and all husbands too! Only the mind gives them the appearance of reality. In this world, whatever we give our minds to appears real, but the moment you withdraw your mind, that thing becomes unreal.”
The widower complained to Nan-in that he had not come to listen to clever arguments and knowing words. “You don’t know the trouble I am in,” he said. “The moment I arrive home she is there waiting for me at the door, and my whole body trembles with fear. I was never as terrified of her when she was alive as I am now that she is dead. And I know that she is here too, listening to us, and if you tell me some trick to get rid of her, she will say to me tonight, ’So you have been to see Nan-in, haven’t you, to try to get rid of me!’ What can I do? I want you to tell me how I can get rid of her, but whatever you tell me, she would have heard it too and I am sure it won’t work for me.”
“Don’t worry,” said Nan-in, “I will show you a trick that will work anyway.” There was a pile of seeds lying nearby that someone had presented to Nan-in. Nan-in took a handful, gave them to the widower, and said, “Take these home in your closed fist, and when your wife appears you let her say all she has to say. And then you ask her, ‘How many seeds are there in my fist?’ If she cannot tell you the right number, then you will know that your ghost is all nonsense.”
The man ran home, and when his wife appeared, as usual she recounted to him everything that had passed ”I know very well that you went to see Nan-in,” she said, ”and that he told you to ask me how many seeds are there in your fist. But your little trick won’t work!”
At these words the man became terrified, but still he plucked up the courage to make this last attempt to be rid of her, and asked, “How many seeds are there then?” And the ghost disappeared!
Astonished, the man returned to Nan-in and asked him what the secret was.
“The secret,” said Nan-in, “is that the ghost can only tell you that which is already known to your mind. If you do not know, the ghost cannot tell, because the ghost is only an extension of your mind. If you had counted the seeds in your fist, then your ghost would have been able to tell you the answer. That ghost was your own shadow, your own projection.”
But we do fear ghosts – are already afraid of them in fact. What Shankara means when he calls the world maya, illusion, is that this whole world is a ghost. The world is not, yet it seems to be. It is not, yet it seems to be. It is not and it is. But all its isness is poured into it by you. First you fill it with isness, and then you get caught up and bound by what you have created. You have the power to convert dreams into reality. You get lost in it, you simply forget that you are. Your body experiences hunger, and you think you are hungry. This is illusion. The body may be hungry, but you are never hungry. You cannot be hungry.
It is true you are very close to your body; there is virtually no gap between you and your body but still you are separate. The illusion of identification begins because you are standing too close to your body.
The old scriptures say that if you keep a piece of glass close to a sapphire, the glass also flashes blue. Of course it has not turned blue; it simply falls within the shadow of the sapphire’s blueness. So it is with you and your body. You stand very close to it, but you are not it. But being so close, whatever happens to your body, the shadow of that happening falls on you. You say that you are hungry, but this is an illusion, and in this illusion the world of maya begins. It is the body that hungers, and you say it is you. It is the body that suffers, and you say it is you. When the body grows old, again you say that you have grown old. And when this body is on the verge of death, you say that you are on the verge of death. The mistake has begun.
If only if you could see that the body is hungry and you are seeing this and knowing this; if only you could see that the body is sick, that it is old, that it is on the verge of death and all this you are seeing and knowing as a witness…. You are the witness to all these happenings. The whole drama is enacted in the body, as though the body were a vast stage, and all the characters projections of the mind within that body. And you – you view it all from a distance; you are the audience! There is in you a doer-ness, by which the world is created, and there is in you a witnessing too, through which Brahman is seen. Asleep you cannot remember this; even awake during the day you keep forgetting. The moment your body is hurt, you forget that it is the body, not you, who has been hurt, and that you have simply known the happening.
This is the essence of all sadhana that the moment the doer takes up the space, wake up! Don’t allow him to fill the space. Leave all the actions – the desires, the hungers and thirsts – to the body; let the body do the deeds, and you only keep the capacity to know with you, just the awareness, just the art of seeing.
This is why in India have called philosophy, darshan – seeing. You just protect your ability to see. The moment you are able to see, you will find that all your dreams have disappeared – the ghosts have vanished, the world is not, the dreams have dissolved. You have awakened!
This ultimate awakening we call Buddhahood – buddha means the awakened one – and in this ultimate awakening we attain to the supreme bliss. Sleeping we attain only to agony and anxiety. There is only one agony, and that is to forget the reality of the self, and there is only one bliss – to regain that reality. You can call it whatsoever sounds beautiful to you – self-realization, Brahman realization or samadhi or nirvana – the essence is one.
This is a short anecdote from a Upanishad: there is a tree on which two birds are living. The tree has been since ancient times a symbol of life. Just as the tree reaches out of its seed, spreading its branches out and up towards the open sky, full of the hope and promise that it will touch the sky, so does life grow out from a tiny seed, sprouting with great desires and unending ambitions, to fill the whole sky and span the furthest horizons. The tree is of life and on this life tree sit two birds. One tastes the fruit, indulging in its sweetness; the other only watches – he never tastes, he never enters the field of action, he never becomes a doer. The indulging bird sits on the lower branches of the tree; the witnessing bird sits on the higher branches.
The end result of indulgence is always agony. One finds pleasure in it, but it is always interwoven with misery, because every pleasure brings its own unique misery. And while the pleasures last only momentarily, they leave behind a long trail of miseries. In finding a single pleasure we have to go through many sufferings. And if the pleasures are analyzed in detail they prove to be only illusory.
Viewed closely, it is very doubtful whether what we have called our moments of pleasure were really so! Look back over your life, over forty, fifty, sixty years, and can you really find in all these sixty years a moment of true happiness?
Socrates used to say, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” But if you examine your life, you will be surprised to find that nothing in it can survive close scrutiny. Just turn back and look: where are the moments when you really found happiness? Yes, at first you may recall a few precious moments like when you fell in love for the first time. The memory is very blurred now, and you will have to wipe the dust off those recollections. But if you do this and recapture those moments, you will begin to tremble with the realization that those moments too only gave the illusion of happiness, not happiness itself. And the deeper into those memories you look, the more their so-called happiness will disappear.
Whoever truly reflects finds that life is empty. So the seeker always comes to the experience of his own emptiness. Only fools think that their lives are full. They go through life carrying bags full of stones, and believe them to be jewels. They have only to empty out their baggage and look at their contents to discover the utter barrenness of their lives. To the man who has not seen the emptiness, the door of religion is closed. A man only turns inwards when he finally sees that all his pleasure-seeking is in vain.
There is not a single moment of true happiness, and yet in attempting to find that moment we suffer so much unhappiness.
With great difficulty a man builds himself the house he really wants, and when he finally moves in, he asks where the happiness is – and sets about finding something else with which to continue his search. If he has ten rupees, he devotes his energy to turning it into ten thousand rupees, and when he comes to rest and relax, his task accomplished, he cannot find any happiness in the ten thousand rupees that are now his. But even in this situation we do not allow our mind to really see this fact. It feels so dangerous to do so that we immediately commit ourselves to turning the ten thousand into ten million. This is the way the mind works – and even if we make the ten million we will not be happy; instead we will be busy turning the ten million into ten billion! And the last thing we have any intention of doing is leaving ourselves any space to be able to look back and assess what we are doing, to reflect and meditate on whether we have actually experienced any happiness in pursuing or achieving our goals.
If you face your desires, and all the efforts you have exerted in attempting to achieve them, you will be in trouble. Much effort is there in, but the gain is nil. There is no lack of effort on your part – in fact there is so much of it that you have become completely lost in it! But you fear the examination – and your fear is that you will have to see that your work has been in vain, that you have gained nothing. The fear of failure is indeed great.
I have heard, two beggars were chatting by the roadside. One of them, weeping and bemoaning the hardships of his life – as beggars are apt to do whether they are poor beggars or rich ones – was complaining to the other that his profession was doomed. “I’m not getting any work done – no one wants to give, and half the time people treat me as though I’m invisible. I can’t get people to notice me, and if they do, instead of giving me a few paise they are very generous with advice. The whole world is going to the dogs. The public seems to have no wish to show kindness or be charitable, or demonstrate any love for humanity. People are just out to make money, and unwilling to give even a single paise. I’m fed up! Traveling from one place to another, with nothing to show for my effort – and even traveling is becoming an ordeal; shoved around by the crowds, thrown out of trains one station after another for having no ticket, and everywhere the police on my heels as though they have been appointed especially for this purpose. Life has become intolerable.”
Listening to all this, the other beggar looked at him and asked, “Well, why don’t you give it up then?”
“What!” replied the first one, with an air of indignation, “And accept that I am a failure?”
Where even the beggar is unwilling to accept his failure, how can you possibly do so? It is because the ego is unwilling to accept failure that it is not ready to look at life the way it really is, because to do so is to see the long trail of failures. Everything, without exception, has been a failure. There is no happiness at all but a big crowd of miseries.
This is the lifestyle of the first bird, the indulger. This is his way of life – underneath everything a great agony prevails in him, a profound sorrow. And then in some moment he raises his head and looks at the other bird.
These two birds are so alike – they are twins, born simultaneously, each in the form of the other. But the other – the witnessing bird – sits perfectly still in peace and bliss, with not a trace of unhappiness about him. He is the sun of bliss, perpetually rising, never setting.
What is the secret of his bliss? It is that he is not a doer; he is not after pleasure and enjoyment. He simply sits there on his high branch, watching the games of those below. And when you are not on the merry-go-round, when you are not seeking indulgence, then the happiness may not be yours, but neither is the unhappiness. It is in desiring to make happiness your own that you inevitably make unhappiness yours. It is in saying farewell to happiness by remaining a witness to it that you bid all your unhappiness goodbye. Of course, we all want to bid farewell to unhappiness, but only to our unhappiness! The happiness we want to keep, and go on enjoying. So it is in the unhappiness that people want to be a witness.
Many unhappy people come to me, and tell me that they are witnessing to the best of their ability, but with no result. I tell them to stop witnessing when they are unhappy, and to start witnessing when they are happy. Only if you can successfully witness when you are feeling happy will you be able to witness your unhappiness. It is everybody’s wish to be free from unhappiness – this is in no way a religious penance. But when there is some happiness in your life, then is the time to just witness it, to remain aloof from it. And when your life is peaceful, then too you should try to sit alone and be detached.
If you are practicing meditation and someday the divine peace starts showering on you, immediately disidentify yourself from it. It will not be easy. People generally think that it is bodily indulgences one has to keep a distance from. No, indulgence with meditation is indulgence as well. Someday, dissolved in prayer, a fragrance spreads around you, as though a lotus has blossomed out of nowhere, or a lamp has suddenly begun to glow in darkness, and you are blissed out detach yourself in the same moment. You have to detach yourself not only from all the pleasures you find in women or good food or fine clothes – even in good health – but also from the happiness you find in meditation. Wherever you find happiness, become the witness, not the indulger.
Yes, then you have laid the foundation for changing your life. Suddenly you will find that unhappiness no longer touches you. Unhappiness can only touch the one who seeks happiness. To identify with happiness is to invite unhappiness. And you are all so eager to catch hold of happiness, although it is always the unhappiness that comes into your grasp. You never think that whenever you embrace happiness it turns into unhappiness even as you hold it. You have never taken this into account. You are moving so fast in your search for new happiness, you are in such a hurry that to take stock of the past is to you only wasting time.
Whenever some moment of happiness starts descending upon you, the dance bells start echoing deep within you, gather your awareness at once. This is the real meditation.
To remain aware in the midst of happiness is the real meditation, but it is not easy. You have struggled so long to find this bliss, and now, when bliss descends on you, you are being asked to separate yourself from it. And it is so rare! Thus it is that whenever I ask my sannyasins not to identify with whatever meditation brings them, they look at me as if to say “What! Abandon this hard-earned ecstasy?” And when I look into their eyes I see that what they really want to say is: “Not so soon! Allow me to enjoy this blessing for a little while, allow us to drown in it for a while! This is exactly what we came here looking for, and to ask you how we could extend it beyond the moment – how we could make this happiness of a moment eternal. And you are asking us to let it go!”
But the fact is that I am asking you to separate yourselves from your bliss just because this is the very way to make it eternal! If you are unable to stand aloof from it, then what you have found will also disappear, and tomorrow will find you empty and unhappy once again. This is what happens to meditators. They find a little joy, and the next day they are miserable because they are unable to recapture it. Then they ask, “When is the happiness going to return? How can that door be opened again? Is there no trick that the door remains open and never closes again?” Now, this is the way into misery. Whoever seeks to capture happiness falls into unhappiness; whoever hankers for the repetition of the joys, whatever he had also disappears.
There is a saying of Jesus: ‘Those who have it, it will be taken away from them; those who don’t have it, it will be given to them’. Keep it in your mind in relation to happiness. Any type of happiness is bound to fade away. So don’t cling – let the joys go, throw your happiness away lightly, then nobody will be able to take it from you. And in doing this you will find bliss over and over again. If you go on throwing it away whenever it comes to you, it will be yours a thousand and one times over.
A moment comes when you understand that happiness is an art of throwing away, and unhappiness is the art of holding on. The more you hold onto the more unhappy you are. The unhappiness of those who live in hell is that they are holding onto too many happinesses. The happinesses of those who live in heaven is that they have dropped their hold on all kinds of happiness. If you understand this, you will see that happiness is freedom, while unhappiness is dependency. This is why the ultimate bliss is called moksha – liberation.
Moksha means absolute freedom, where everything has been dropped.
The bird sitting on the higher branch of the tree of life is sitting within you too. He is sitting on your tree. Sometimes, when you are a witness, when your consciousness moves away from the lower bird and becomes one with the higher one, you get a glimpse of him. You catch sight of the blue sky.
The clouds have all disappeared. You may recognize it, you may not; you may understand what you have seen and you may not, but it is rare to find anyone who has never actually known a moment of witnessing. Whenever you have known such a moment, bliss has showered upon you, a gust of cool breeze has come and everything all around you has become alive.
Our experience as a doer is a twenty-four hour thing. Round the clock we are identified with the lower bird, and in so doing, suffer our unhappiness. Now the time has come to raise your eyes and look up at the bird on the higher branch. Since eternity he has been sitting on your tree, waiting for you to cast off your sorrowful state. But you don’t look upwards, you just go on suffering. It seems that you really enjoy your unhappiness – it actually seems that there is a certain happiness for you in remaining unhappy. You have some kind of an investment in your unhappiness. So you go on saying how much you wish to cast off your misery, but the fact of the matter is that you cling on to it. Even if you come to the people in whose presence you can easily throw off your misery, you don’t come totally. Perhaps you leave your soul at home, and come only partially to meet them. You have some vested interest in your unhappiness.
I knew a woman who only complained about her husband whenever she came to see me. She complained about his gambling, his drinking, his laziness, his every action in fact – complaining, endlessly complaining was all she knew. In her husband were contained all the vices, while she worked hard to keep the house in order and to look after him. And certainly, she was very overworked, because there was also a crippled daughter who was bed-ridden and needed assistance even just to eat her meals. With so many burdens imposed upon herself, this woman was truly living the life of a martyr.
Whenever she came to see me she would come out with the same string of complaints against her husband, but when I looked deep into her eyes, it was obvious that she derived some joy from the whole situation. What was clear was that her husband’s drinking and gambling habits gave her ego immense satisfaction – because by comparison with her worthless husband, she had become a priceless diamond!
We live by comparisons. If the husband is the greatest, then his wife has to be ordinary. But in this case the woman was the shining star, and through her husband’s dissipated way of life she found admiration and sympathy for herself throughout the town. Of course, she maintained to one and all that she was deeply distressed and unhappy, but actually the last thing she would want would be to find herself free of the situation in which she lived; because getting rid of the situation would also mean getting rid of all the praise and glory in which she reveled. The crippled girl too was only an instrument with which she could enhance her air of martyrdom – ”Just see how I tend her, comforting her in her sickness and meeting her every need!”
People love suffering because it gives them the opportunity to become martyrs. This lady was not really complaining, she was advertising her virtues. Eventually, the poor crippled girl died. With her death half the woman’s sorrows should have disappeared. In fact she should have found much happiness in the girl’s freedom from a life of suffering, and her own freedom from the cares and anxieties of looking after her. And when her husband finally ran away, this should have brought an end to all her remaining unhappiness. She often used to say to me if he were to die, or leave forever, it would be a blessing. I don’t want to have to see him!
But when he did run off, never to return, her distress was even greater All the color drained from her face, and a deep melancholy settled over her life, as though her whole interest in life had disappeared – which it had: her drinking and gambling husband provided the essence of her life. In her condemnation of his habits lay all the meaning, the purpose, the promise in her life. Now, with him gone, all that sustained her was gone. She was reduced to the stature of an ordinary woman. Now nobody sings her praises, nobody proclaims her long-suffering virtues. When I saw her last it was apparent that she would soon die, because the mechanism that kept her going is no longer there.
Just consider a little how, whenever you talk about your unhappiness, you are playing the martyr behind your words. See how you find happiness in your so-called distress. Man is such a clever decorator! He decorates even his sorrows, converting them into ornaments with his cunning workmanship. And then arises a new difficulty for him; how to cast off the decoration and ornamentation he has created. Had you not decorated your misery, you would have been able to cast it away long ago – you would have walked out of your prison. But through your own devices you have mistaken your prison for your home. Only you are holding yourself in chains, but you have taken the chains for ornaments.
This is why the witnessing bird waits – and probably laughs – watching you suffering below and declaring to the world your great tragedies. And you know very well that that bird is laughing, sitting within you! Sometimes you catch a glimpse, inevitably, because he is your very nature. How can you be entirely oblivious to him? Sometime or other his image must arise in you. Some moment or other you must feel his peace and hear his harmony. In some unsuspecting moment of relaxation he will fill you. But you are avoiding him. You are so involved in being a doer that you are avoiding being a witness. Your enjoyment is in carrying the load of your misery – and in advertising that you are doing so. Your unhappiness has not yet reached boiling point. When it does so you will finally raise your head and look upwards. And once you do so, it will be with amazement that you discover that all the unhappiness you have been suffering, life after life through countless births and deaths, amounts to no more than a nightmare. Your true nature has always been separate from that misery.
This is why Hindus say that you are the eternal bliss, the Brahman, that you have never committed a single sin nor perpetrated any evil act against anyone and cannot do so, because it is not in your nature to create unhappiness.
When Westerners translated the Upanishads they found it difficult to accept this doctrine, and wondered how these could possibly be called religious scriptures. They knew only one religion – Christianity – and the whole of Christian teaching is founded on guilt and sinfulness. You are the sinner, and your struggle is to redeem yourself from your sins. You have strayed, come back to the path. You have been thrown out of the kingdom of heaven, and your task is to please God by confessing all your sins and repenting, so that you can return.
Repentance is the very basis of Christianity, but these Upanishads declare that you have committed no sins at all, and cannot do so even if you want to, because by the very nature of things you are not a doer. You can only dream that you have sinned, or are sinning, but you cannot commit the sin. And no matter how much you wish it, you cannot stray out of God’s kingdom, because there is nothing else but his kingdom. You can be thrown out of this garden where we sit, but you cannot be thrown out of God’s garden, because anywhere you might be thrown to will be his garden.
The Christian garden of Eden must have been very small; the Hindu garden of Eden is vast.
Hinduism knows no space that is not part of the garden – there is nowhere you could be sent to that is not his garden. Even if God wanted to cast you out, where could he send you? He alone is. So wherever you find yourself, you will still be in him! And he is as much in one place as he is in any other – he cannot be more here and less there.
Understand this a little. Of everything else, there may be more or less – the quantity may change – but not of existence. If something is, then it is no more nor less than anything else. This is a tree, is green; another tree is yellow – the colors differ. This bird here is small while another is large – they differ in size. One man has a small intellect, another has a great intellect, and in this they differ. But the tree is, the bird is, the man is, the stone is, and there is no quantative difference in their isness.
Existence knows no small or large, more or less. In terms of existence, all things are equal. The stone exists as much as you do; your forms of existing may differ, but you each exist as much as the other. That existing, that isness, we call Brahman.
When the Upanishads first went to the West, it was very difficult for Westerners to accept them as religious writings. What kind of religion is this? They thought. They regarded the Upanishads as dangerous. If people believe that they have never sinned, and are incapable of sinning, then how will they confess? How will they repent? And without repentance, how will they enter the divine kingdom? And if the sinner accepts himself as Brahman, then what use will he have for the priest? What will the priest be able to preach? Who will he be able to save? Who will he be able to look after? The church will disappear!
It may surprise you to learn that the Hindu religion is the only religion that has no ministry, no ecclesiastical organization, no priesthood. In the Hindu temple you will find no one like the priest, and no management. It is a religion that proceeds on the basis of individual and personal understandings, and without any organizational structure. There is no governing of affairs; the religion functions through personal, intrinsic experience. The Hindu religion is like a flowing river. Christianity is like the railway train, running on tracks, everything managed and organized. The Hindu religion is an anarchy – and religion can only be anarchic, because religion is not an empire; it is supreme freedom, and this is only possible in a situation of anarchy.
The statement that you have never done anything, and even if you want to you never will do anything, is very anarchic. It is saying that your existence is an ultimate purity. You don’t have to strive for purity, because you have never been impure; you simply have to recognize your essential purity. This is why in India we are not searching for Brahman, all we are doing is trying to regain our memory of Brahman. This is what the mystics mean by smriti – remembrance. This is all we need – a remembering. Kabir calls it surati, which is nothing but the rounded form of the word smriti. It is just like an emperor’s son who might be out begging, and suddenly he realizes what nonsense he is doing, and all begging will cease at once. With this single act of remembrance, the whole quality of his consciousness will change.
The day you have enough of your unhappiness and your interest in it drops, only then the change can happen in your life. And until you are interested in it, who am I to stop you from it? As long as you are interested in it, remain in your unhappiness. Nothing can happen out of hurrying; the fruit will only fall when it is ripe, and it is foolish to pick unripe fruit.
So if you are still interested in your unhappiness, immerse yourself in it, let it be your very destiny. Don’t be in a hurry, don’t drop your journey in the middle just because of hearing something from others; otherwise you will have to start again and complete the journey at some other time in the future. There is no way to bypass it. No growth can be a borrowed phenomenon in this world. So if you find that your interest is still in misery, then accept that this is so, and let your misery come to its climax so that you can be finished with it. If you have to drink poison, then drink it to the dregs and swallow it all so that when you drown in it you can surface again. Your difficulty is that neither do you move towards the nectar nor do you drink the poison fully; hence you are stuck in the middle. You want to drink the poison – this really interests you! – but you don’t want the suffering it is going to bring you, and thus you go on trying to achieve the impossible – to drink poison and feel as though you have drunk nectar! This is not going to come about, because this is not in the nature of things. If you drink nectar bliss is yours; if you take poison misery is yours. So if your taste is for poison, then drink it till you can drink no more, so that your misery becomes complete, so that your misery makes you mature. Your anguish ripens you, your misery prepares you for the ultimate leap. A day will come when you will look upwards and find the other bird sitting there.
And remember this too, that the stories you have heard from others about this bird will be of no use to you – you have to see it yourself. No matter how much the Upanishads tell you about it, still they are like looking at a painting of the Himalayas in which you can see the lofty snow-capped peaks glittering in the sun, but you cannot feel the cool serenity of them Those lines and colors on the canvas – how can they even compare with all that one has known and experienced in being in the Himalayas? You can sit holding the painting close and imagine that you have reached the Himalayas and have found their kingdom of peace and happiness, but in doing so your journey will have come to an end before it has even begun; you will not even stir from your seat.
I have heard: there was once an ass who unfortunately acquired an education. Asses generally have good memory, and this one was brought up in Kashi which is a center of learning full of pundits, and thus it came about that this ass, living in such an atmosphere of scholarliness, soon became himself a pundit. He could recite the scriptures by heart.
You may have noticed that memory is a substitute for intelligence. People with high intelligence tend to be very forgetful, while stupid people, unable to sustain any performance of true intelligence, resort to the use of memory to manage their lives.
This ass had an excellent memory – whatever he read he knew by heart, and he improved himself by listening to the conversations of the pundits and sitting at their feet. Eventually he came to know of marijuana – or bhang, which is so prevalent in Kashi, and he was very enticed by the blissful, cosmic effects it seemed to have on those who took it. Those mind-blowing discussions! Those visions of Brahman! It became obvious to him that bhang was the gateway to Brahman; the way these pundits were affected was just as the scriptures described the great glory of Brahman! He decided he must go in search of bhang.
A few days later, passing an old bookshop, he came across a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He flipped through its pages, and there was a picture of the very plant he was now seeking. He absorbed every detail of the picture, and armed now with the knowledge he needed, he was convinced that the whole glory of bhang was now his. After all, he had seen the behavior of the bhang addicts, and looked into their stoned eyes! He even knew what kind of conversation to hold.
In fact, as far as was possible with words, he was already familiar with bhang. And now he even knew what it looked like, and all that remained was to find the plant. He would start his search right away.
On the banks of the Ganges he found a plant that looked just like the picture in the Encyclopedia Britannica. But how to be sure that it really was the same plant? The ass decided to consult the plant itself – yes, this was the thing to do. As a matter of fact, the plant was not bhang at all; it was just a very common weed, quite useless – a plant that gardeners pull up and throw out whenever they come across it.
The ass approached the plant: “My dear plant,” he said, “are you the very plant, bhang, of which I am in deep search? The very same that is revered in the scriptures? I have seen your picture in the Britannica, and if my memory serves me right, you are the very same plant which I search!”
The plant was just an ordinary weed – nobody had ever before shown it such attention, nobody had regarded it ever with such reverence and given it such a high status. True, its devotee was only an ass, but even the praise of an ass is welcome to the ego! The ego never cares who it is who praises; otherwise praise would disappear from the world. For a moment the plant shrank, delaying the passing of its moment of glory and having to confess that it was not the celebrated bhang plant. But suddenly, impelled by the rare opportunity – a chance that would never come again – the plant said, “Yes, I am the very same. It is I whom you seek!”
Immediately the ass performed all the rituals he had learnt from the bhang experts, and swallowed the plant. Where was the trance? The ass waited, but felt not even the flicker of expanding consciousness. He decided that he must not have studied enough, but decided to try acting like the bhang experts. He made himself wobble about on his legs, and even began giggling and pouring out meaningless words. But inside himself he was dubious. “I’m doing alright,” he thought, “but this is all superficial. Maybe the Encyclopedia Britannica got its information wrong.” Then he thought again: “Maybe the bhang experts are acting just as superficially as I am.” And finally, after a long pause, he thought: “Maybe the plant fooled me.”
He made every effort to convince himself that everything was going alright, but from within he knew that it was all false and nothing was alright.
You can devour all the scriptures and fill yourself up with the knowledge of Brahman, you can listen to the Upanishads telling the story of the witnessing bird, you can learn all the parables by heart, you can even begin to behave as a sannyasin should, and learn to walk and talk as a sannyasin should, but deep within your own intuitive voice will go on insisting that something is wrong. Without your own experiencing of the self, without your own knowing of the self, everything is meaningless. Nothing will be understood by understanding the Upanishadic story. Only when your own inner story unfolds and you are able to see the other bird sitting on your tree of life, will you be able to understand the Upanishad, not before that.
Can you appreciate my difficulty? I explained this story to you knowing well you wouldn’t understand it; knowing well that if you take my words to be your understanding, then the harm is done. But yet I explained the story so that at least you might know that this too is a possibility. Right now it is better that you don’t accept that there is a witness sitting behind you. Who knows, the Upanishads may be wrong, Britannica may have published the wrong picture, the plant may be befooling you! Who knows?
So don’t be in a hurry to assume understanding, because the one who believes quickly is deprived of the knowing. My whole effort is to create the understanding that it is a possibility. That whatever you are is not your whole being, something more is possible; that wherever you are standing, further movement is possible; that your journey is not at an end. That what you have attained is not all there is to be attained, there is something more too. Even if you get only a faint idea of it, there is no harm; in fact, the idea has to be only faint. I am talking to you in order to create this very idea in you. Once the idea has taken root in you, two possibilities are open for you. One is that you can go on reciting and memorizing this idea itself; then even without testing the real thing you can make your legs wobble and manage a reasonable trance within just a few days of practice. Of course, your ecstasy will be unreal, your wobbliness will be fake and you have gone astray.
The other course is that it becomes clear to you that there is a possibility of something else that can open up; that this book is not yet completed, that there are still a few remaining chapters in it; that you have not yet explored your whole house, that there are still some basements unexplored which might contain the treasure – this idea. But don’t let this idea become your knowledge; let it become your life’s search. Don’t accept it and sit tight; don’t make an intellectual exercise of it, rather let it lead you towards meditation and samadhi.
There are a few points that will help you in looking at the bird sitting on the upper branch of the tree. The first is that you are the first bird sitting on the lower branch. Get yourself acquainted thoroughly with this bird. Suffer its miseries to the fullest; experience its jealousies and its traumas totally. Let the sting of its thorns coming from all directions go deep in you so that their total pain surrounds your heart. And don’t create false, intoxicating ways to forget it – you have so many tricks! You say that you are suffering because of your karmas of previous lives, not because of the karmas of this life.
And why do you say this? What consolation you get out of it? One consolation do you get is that nothing can now be done about the karmas from previous lives. Whatever has happened has happened, and one has to suffer. But if I say that your suffering is caused by your doings in this life, then the matter is close at hand and something can be done. And if I say that it is just because of you becoming the doer in this very moment, then the matter becomes very difficult for you.
The Karma theory is useful – it keeps the whole affair at a comfortable distance, it relegates everything to the past. No, you are not in misery because of karma; you are in misery because you are the doer. You were the doer in your previous lives, you are suffering for that; you are the doer in this life, you are suffering for that. But the reason for your suffering is not what you did, the reason is your identification with the doing. And this you can drop this very moment.
So, slowly, slowly learn to be less of the doer. Instead of searching for that second bird, bring some changes in yourself right where you stand. Start being less of a doer and bring more emphasis on being a witness. In every situation, these two ways are open to you – to become the doer or to become the witness. Try to become the witness.
Sitting here, I am speaking and you are listening. If you are only listening, then you have become the doer; the listening is your doing. If you become the witness, then as I speak you are listening, and you are aware of the act of listening as well. And if the witness in me is awake and the witness in you is awake, then there are four people here where there were only two – one speaker and a witness to his speaking, one listener and a witness to his listening. So you listen as well as witness your listening. You can become the witness this very moment, nothing has to be arranged for it. You hear me speaking – hearing is happening in your body and mind. Now watch this hearing happening! Stand behind the hearing and watch it happening. Even if you get a glimpse of it, you will find that your unhappiness disappears this very moment, that all disharmony evaporates, that all tension vanishes.
So whenever the chance arises to become the doer or the witness, choose the witness. The doer in you is part of a long, old chain of conditioning, and it takes only a small lapse on your part for the doer to overtake. But nothing to worry about because no matter how deep the conditionings of the doer are in you, they are all false, illusory, and the false has no weight, no value, no matter how great its magnitude.
Though you may have forgotten, witnessing is your essential nature. For this reason it is not so very difficult to attain to the witness – it can be reawakened. Whenever you are doing anything – eating a meal, walking along the road, taking a bath – let your emphasis be on watching not on the doing. Taking a shower, watch the body showering; eating, watch the body eating: and soon you will find that the witnessing bird in you has started fluttering its wings. Sensing the ruffling of its feathers, you will become more and more aware of its presence on the tree. And as the sense of its presence grows in you, the presence of the lower bird will gradually disappear.
And let me tell you what the story does not: that finally one day, when your experience of witnessing is total, the lower bird – the doer – will disappear completely, and you will find that there is only one bird on the tree. For the ignorant too there is only one bird – the doer; he cannot see the other one. For the awakened one too there is only one bird – the witness; he cannot see the other one. The Upanishad talks of two birds to encompass the understanding of both, the ignorant and the awake. But in reality there are not two birds; for the ignorant there is one – the doer, and for the knower there is one – the witness. The reason that two birds are talked of in the Upanishad is because there the knower is talking to the ignorant. The knower is presenting his experience and the experience of the ignorant as well. Unless the experience of the ignorant is also taken into account, he won’t begin the journey. A moment will come when you too will see that there is only one bird. And the day there remains only one bird, you have attained to the experience of advait – nonduality. The name of that one bird is advait.
From Nowhere to Go But In, Chapter Nine
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