Upanishadic Wisdom

(4 August 1982)

There are many Upanishads. I thought to try and make two or three points and to illustrate them in modern terms. Although, this illustration is used in the old classics, the illustration of music. We’re now much more familiar with music than in any previous generation in the world because we have the radio and records. So music is quite a good illustration.  But the purpose of these illustrations is to make us find the Vedanta, the Upanishads, in our daily life. Not in something remote. Not in something at special times or in special places. It has to be something that is at the centre of our daily life.

One of the Upanishads, the oldest one is called the Great Forest, Brihadaranyaka – Sylvester, we would say. There’s an enormous amount in that. I just thought I’d make two points. This is probably about 800 BC in the form that we now have it. What goes before or how long it goes back before, of course, there are ancient traditions but anyway, our sceptical scholars, who are not necessarily any friend of the spiritual truth, dated 600 to 800 BC.

An interesting point is that in two of the important sections of the Upanishad, a woman plays the leading role.  There is no indication in the Upanishad that there was anything extraordinary about this. In one of them, she comes to a debate among the great yogi philosophers at the time.  Certainly, if it had been extraordinary or unusual, there would have been some comment on it as there is on other unusual events. Anyway, this is worth knowing that among the Upanishadic teachers, there were some who were women. There are other small indications of which we needn’t go into now but anyway, this is one point.

The second point is that there was a doctrine of the inner ruler of things. We have the view today in practice, that the world follows a series of regularities. If I hold a thing and I let it go, it will drop. This is a regularity. I know it will happen and we feel this doesn’t need any intelligence to make this happen. What makes it happen, we don’t know, we call it gravity or possibly a curvature of space. We don’t feel that intelligence is necessary to make it happen every time.  This is quite different from the view of the Upanishad – and this point affects our whole lives. In the view of the Upanishads, regularity is something that’s only achieved by intelligence and effort.

To give you an example in modern terms, in London we have this Circle Line and the stations are South Kensington, Sloane Square, and then Victoria. In one of Chesterton’s novels, one of the characters says, “It’s so boring, always South Kensington, Sloane Square, and then you know it’s going to be Victoria. It’s got to be Victoria. If only it could be something different.” The answer is very interesting one: he says, “Then you have no imagination at all. You don’t realize the enormous difficulties of getting that train regularly to Victoria. It’s a triumph of engineering. It’s a triumph of human will and human precision, human intelligence, human control, and when the train gets from Sloane Square to Victoria it’s quite right that the porter cries, Victoria.” This is the view of the Upanishads, that the regularities depend on intelligence.

To give the first of the modern examples – the case of music. If I have the score of God Save the King and I hear it being played, when I look at the score, I know what notes are going to come next. I know that. I can predict it. No one will take bets against it and yet, if we think, it requires great musical skill and intelligence to get those notes correct – as we see when we see a beginner playing, he gets most of them wrong. The fact that there’s perfect regularity and accuracy is a great triumph.

They said that the universe is controlled in the minutest detail by intelligence and that intelligence in the meditation we must feel in our own body and mind, not as an idea. We must actually become aware of it – not that we can feel, “Oh well. Yes, I feel sort of–” Something has got to come from it. Not just an idea which may elevate us for half an hour and then it all vanishes. We can say, “Well, if there’s this regularity in my body and mind, what scope is there for human endeavour?”  What scope is there for the musicians? The notes are fixed, they’ve got to play them. We know it’s very difficult to play them.

There’s one more point. We listen to a tape recording, we can hear and follow in the score, all the musicians with their instruments.  But there is one we shall never find however much we listened to the tape – the conductor. He doesn’t play an instrument. How do we know he’s there? They’re just playing the score.  They don’t need a conductor.

Today, we can easily meet people who are musicians.  Many more people have the opportunity to study and practise music.  So either play in a group oneself, or ask a musician, “What does the conductor do?” They will tell you, “I’m sitting here, I have my score – quite true. It says, 33 bars rest. I start counting, one, two, three, four; then something happens, my hands become sweaty, I wipe it, I’ve lost count. Is it five or six? I don’t know. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know what they’re supposed to be playing when I come in. I’ve lost count.  Then I’m sitting there in a panic and the conductor’s conducting away.  Suddenly he looks at me and then he indicates. If you watch the conductor doing this, you will see how the orchestra depends entirely on him and how without him, it would relapse into chaos.

We think, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen.” Yes, it does happen. It happened spectacularly when Debussy came to London in ’99 to conduct three of his new compositions, Nocturnes.  The orchestra had been rehearsed by Henry Wood, very well-rehearsed, but Debussy was to conduct it. They thought to have the composer, such a great composer, conduct his own work.  But he was a very poor conductor and in the second one of the Nocturnes called Fate, he lost control of the orchestra. He gave the wrong cue, and it ended up with some of the orchestra a couple of bars ahead of the rest of them and absolute chaos. This is a famous event, it’s in the memoirs of the time.

Henry Wood, he was a young man then, a man of great spirit. He jumped his feet and he began clapping, “Encore, encore.” The audience sat bewildered, but the orchestra took it up, “Encore, encore.” Then Debussy understood and he signalled and they played it again, and they played it perfectly, and they had tremendous applause. This is what can happen when there’s no conductor. One feels, “Oh no, it would go on mechanically,” but it wouldn’t.

The Upanishad says this again and again, without the inner controller, there is something which controls – something. Shankara says, “The goddess of the earth pulls the things.” This is 700 AD, nearly 1,000 years before Newton. In those days, all over the world, they thought things fell because they were heavy. Not the earth pulling them with invisible fingers, ridiculous. Things fall because they’re heavy. This was Shankara’s awareness. He said, “Not merely the earth is pulling, but it is intelligence.”

In the meditations given in the Upanishad, we have to find and experience that life and intelligence in ourselves. We say, “Well, what difference will it make, because things will go on as they are.” It will make all the difference between a musician playing his part, his role, beautifully, and simply playing it roughly, or playing it with mistakes. The doctrine of the Upanishads is that, by meditation, we can come into touch with the score and with the conductor. Then there’ll be a new life and a new inspiration.

The Upanishads says, “People feel that God should show himself by changing the order of things.”  But he says, “No. He shows himself by the control, because without the Lord, it would relapse into chaos.” Even in the fixed terms of music, there can be changes and originalities, although keeping to the main current, the main structure. There is a piano there. You know Beethoven’s arrangement of God Save the King, no doubt. It’s very orthodox, and it’s the one that’s played.

When Henry Wood opened the new series of Prom concerts in 1930, I think, he rearranged God Save the King. The notes were still there. The melody was unchanged, but the arrangement was different, and it created quite a sensation at the time because nobody had ever thought of doing that. [TPL demonstrates the alteration on the piano]  It’s the same, but he had put something new into it. The doctrine of the Upanishad is that there is an inspiration, which can come in even in the most ordinary things and must come in the most ordinary things of life.  We should not think of inspiration as something that comes to great scientists and great artists and great writers and great generals, but something that must come into the most ordinary things of daily life. This is the first doctrine of the Upanishads.

The world is controlled by intelligence, by a Lord who is determined to evolve perfection in man. By meditation, by living a life of detachment and self-control and worship, finally, he can experience that Lord in himself as inspiration. This is the doctrine of one of the very old Upanishads.

When one lives in a civilization, it’s a bit like when we were small children in our parents’ home. Everything they’ve got and do is ordinary and right, and things that other people do are odd or strange or not right. One of the advantages of practising yoga is that it teaches us to throw away some of our preconceptions which we have. This civilization in which we live now takes many things for granted. Some of its very strong points, it takes for granted. By and large, the people here are kindly. They have a sort of goodwill, but they have a terrible inertia. One of the best descriptions of us given that I remember was, “They are lazy angels.” Well, it has had some truth in it.

The comments sometimes of a foreigner can be very illuminating because it strikes at our preconceptions. I remember an account reported by a Yugoslav journalist.  He made some comments about the British at a conference. Somebody said to him, “How did you know they were British – you don’t speak English?” He made a very good comment for us to think about, he said, “I knew they were British because they somehow wangle themselves into the best seats in the place, and they seem to be very dissatisfied with them.”  Sometimes these remarks can be a help to us.

We, no longer, in this civilization, have the capacity for memory. We can’t remember. We used to have.  But the Indians can remember. The people now can’t remember. We have no inner resources, because we can’t remember. This comes out in imprisonment. The people who have inner resources, who could remember, they survived, and they retained their balance in solitary confinement. The people who can’t remember, who can’t recite poetry to themselves, they tend to become very disintegrated. This is a point to remember, and in the Upanishads great stress is laid on smriti – memory – to remember, to be able to remember.

A second point is that this civilization is not poetical. The people are not poets. We think of a poet as somebody who, well, is ‘Up there. Just a few of them’. If we had a national poetry competition, how many entries would we get? We might get a thousand. In Japan, they have a poetry competition every year. They get 30,000 entries. Often, the winner is a miner or farmer’s wife. It’s a nation of poets. It goes right down. We tend to think, “Oh, you’ve got the ability. You’re born with flair for poetry.” No. In that far eastern civilization, it has gone right down through the civilization; not poetry in the top 10%. They had a confidence in the capacities and the divinity and the inspiration of the ordinary people.

In one of the famous stories, a 13th-century story, a Japanese General, out hunting, caught in the rain, sends one of his assistants to the hut of a peasant. He says, “Get a straw coat. It keeps off the rain a bit.” He makes the request, and a girl comes out from the hut after half a minute with a tray of flowers. The general just bashes the tray aside. He said, “The peasants are half-witted. I asked for a straw coat.” “You asked for it?” He said, “Yes. I asked for a straw coat and she brings out flowers.”

They went back through the rain to the castle. He was telling his colleagues about the ignorant and stupid peasantry.  One of the ministers of the court said, “Oh, Your Excellency. Oh, no. Oh, no, Your Excellency. That flower, that was a Yamabuki flower. Very beautiful, but it has no fruit. There is a famous poem. ‘The Yamabuki flower is so beautiful, but alas, it has no fruit.’ That sentence, ‘Alas, it has no fruit – mi no nai, mi no nai’ means ‘no straw coat’ also. She thought when she offered the flowers, she didn’t want to refuse you, as that would have been discourteous. She offered the flowers, because she thought you would know the poem. She thought you would see in the flower, mi no nai – we have no straw coat.”  The general was so ashamed that he began to study poetry, and it’s nice to say that he himself became a famous poet.

This shows, at that time, in the 12th century, already a high degree of culture had gone right down through the whole civilization. In China, it was just the top 5% or 10%, but in Japan, it went right down. This was a great belief that the Buddhist monks brought, of the innate inspiration in everybody, not to feel that poetry is just a matter for a few cultivated people who have money.

We don’t care for austerity – we feel kindness is the virtue, but not austerity. That means we lack courage. In one of the classics of the Far East, it says there are many who are brave, very brave when facing an armed enemy even, but they’re very weak and cowardly before their own greed, their own anger, their own passions, very weak and cowardly. They say, “Oh, it’s natural.” and they give way, and so they have no energy. This is a point strongly made in the Upanishads.

Without a very disciplined life, there will be no virium – no energy, no courage. People say, “Oh, I’ve got a block against this. I can’t cook, I can’t do foreign languages, I can’t do mathematics, I can’t do gardening, I’ve no green fingers. I can’t do this. I can’t do that.” There’s a story of a man sitting in a beautiful garden, a wide garden. He’s sitting on a tiny little bit of turf. He looks very miserable, and somebody passing says, “Why don’t you get up and enjoy the garden. You look thirsty, there’s a fountain there you can drink from. If you can’t move, look at all these notices.”  All around him, there are notices and litter, “No way, no way, no way”. The man said, “Who put those notices there?” He said, “Well, I did, I suppose.”

We lack virium, the Upanishads says. There must be this courage. These are two or three of the main doctrines in that oldest of the Upanishads. There must be, first of all, an intellectual, and feeling, conviction that there is an intelligence which controls the movements of the world and the movements of one’s own body and mind also; and then to try to come into touch with that through discipline, memory, courage, meditation – those four.

The second upanishad I wanted to mention is the Katha Upanishad. It’s an account of a man who goes voluntarily to death, to the god of death. There he receives instruction in yoga. This refers to a realization in life that everything is dying. Our thoughts are dying. Every day, we are dying. Everything is dying. At first, people get the feeling that they themselves won’t die and that can last through one’s whole life.  When General Franco in extreme old age, was very, very ill, some of the crowds of his followers came to the great square and they cried, “Goodbye, Franco. Goodbye.” Franco whispered to his doctor, “Where are all these people going?”

It’s very difficult to realize, in our present life, that everything is dying, everything is passing. The Upanishads says it’s very difficult to know the secret of death. The teacher, the god of death, offers the pupil many things: “Anything you desire – happiness, long life, people to serve you, fame, all sorts of delights that you human beings can hardly imagine, but don’t ask me the secret of death. This is something difficult and subtle.” The pupil says, “No, this is the one thing. Keep the others.” He says in the Upanishad, “Having seen you, how could we enjoy the things of the world?”

This is generally interpreted to mean having seen the face of death clearly, how could we enjoy the things as the world knowing what’s going to happen? There is another interpretation. Having seen an immortal, like the God, how could one return to those things which die and pass? Having had a glimpse of immortality. The Upanishad goes on, “Finally, if the God of death says, ‘Yes’, you are one appointed, you are a real enquirer, may we have another one like you.”  He says the house is open for the Lord.

He gives him the instruction which is in the form of meditation on ‘Om’. This is the highest name of God, and it contains in itself a map, so to speak, of the human individual. I’ll draw the picture. We meditate on Om, by bringing the attention to the sound, and then the meaning.  The commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali says, “Repeat Om and meditate on the sound, then after that, meditate on the meaning. After meditating on the meaning, again, repeat the sound.” With repetition for a long time, and sound meditation on the meaning, then something has to stir.

When it’s very, very hot in India, it’s pouring. Then the lucky ones get a holiday in the hills. As you’re going up, (well now they go up on coaches, but in any case, it’s the same thing) you see you’re slowly rising out of the steaming planes, and you keep feeling, “Yes, I’m beginning to feel cool. Yes. No, I’m not. Yes, I am. Yes, there’s a definite coolness. Yes, I’m sure. I’m sure I’m cool.”  But you know you’re not.  Then, suddenly, you get the first breath from the snows. That can never be a mistake. It soon passes, and you’re hot again.  But you know, this has been the first experience. The yoga doctrine is this, well, I don’t want to put it vulgarly, to try (in Zen, they say) ‘like mad’ until you get the first experience. After that, go steadily forward like an Ox; but before that, like a lion – try very hard.

It’s like being told there’s treasure in your garden. You’ve got a big garden and you start digging it up but you don’t find anything. Some days you think, “Well, they could be right.” and some days, you think, “How do we know? It may be just a story.” Now you think. “It must be right”, then you dig again. Sometimes up, sometimes down, sometimes a little bit. You think, “I’ll do a bit regularly” or “No, I want results. I’ll work night and day, three days and nights. Something like that.” Then for the first time, it turns up something and it’s a little gold coin.  Now they say the whole attitude has changed. He knows from that first experience. Now, he can set himself program quite easily without any effort. He doesn’t have to make himself do it. On the other hand, he knows there’s a big area to cover. He doesn’t kill himself doing it. He knows the treasure is there. He knows if he goes on digging, he’ll find it. The Upanishad gives this example.

The God of Death tells him, “By Om repetition, by meditation on Om; by leading a life of Brahmacharya (restraint of the passions, that can be interpreted either as the life of the householder or the life of a celibate, depending on the man’s circumstances and what the promises he’s made).  But there has to be, in any case, restraint – not of one instinct alone, but of all. Food, for instance, must be restrained. Well, how are you going to keep alive?  The Chinese saying is that one bowl of rice and a vegetable a day is necessary; two is better; three is luxury; four makes him ill and five kills him. It applies not only to the food. He has to live that life. He has to practise the Om worship and the Om meditation. Then he can hope to find…

I’ll just make one or two of the first comments about inspiration. Inspiration has to be something that’s behind all the actions – not the grand occasions.  The grand occasions are the ones which are proved, so to speak. One example, for instance, is this. When they were first experimenting with the vacuum tube, they were passing an electric current through it and at the end of the tube, the glass glowed. Through an amazing chance, Roentgen discovered that, what he called, ‘X-rays’ were being given off. He thought, and everybody thought, that it came from this glow at the end of the tube; that the glass glowed where the stream of electrons struck it. We now know that was wrong, but he knew anyway, that X-rays were being given off by the apparatus.

Becquerel in 1896, shortly afterward, a great French chemist, he had the idea that perhaps some things which glow in the sunlight might also emit X-rays. One of them is uranium. If you’ve seen uranium under this strong light, you’ll see it’s got a very, very faint glow. He prepared a photographic plate, then a key, and then the uranium. He packed it up with the threads around it. Then the idea was to put it in the sunlight, which would make the uranium glow. He thought from that glow, if X-rays are given off, the outline of the key will be shown up on the plate. That’s a very good idea.

He was going to try this on a date in October 1896. Unfortunately, the sky was completely overcast around Marseille where he was. This has been checked with the weather records. The sky was completely overcast. He thought, “Well, uranium is not going to glow as there’s no sunlight.” He thought, “No, it’s not going to.” He put it in a drawer thinking, “Well, the next sunny day we have, I’ll bring it out and I’ll try it.”  But he suddenly got an impulse to develop that photographic plate. There couldn’t be anything on it. The uranium hadn’t glowed. This impulse came to him. There was no possible logic behind it, but he developed the plate. He found that in the dark drawer, the outline of the key had been imprinted on the plate. This was the discovery of radioactivity, one of the most fruitful scientific discoveries of the century.

This is an example of inspiration. It isn’t something a little bit cleverer than someone else. It’s something completely new. It’s as though something told him, “Develop that plate.” The whole conscious mind would say, “Well, there’s nothing on it. It’s been in a dark drawer.” This was an inspiration. What the yoga is telling us is that these inspirations can happen in everyday life. We think,[“It could be anything.] It might be some clever remark. Would you call that inspiration?”

I have to do my accounts every year and when the accountant came, he had one of those little Japanese printout machines. He was going through the accounts, he said, “Can we work in the same room?” I said, “Yes”, because he said, “I want to ask you questions sometimes.” He worked in the room. I thought it’d be alright. I was translating some quite difficult text. Then this machine buzzed. Well, it can get quite disturbing. You’re translating, [buzzes]. You think well, that’s the last. [buzzes] Finally, I thought, “Well, I have to move.” Then he said, “Every time this buzzes, you’ll be paying less income tax.”  After that, when it was buzzing, I said, “Yes.”

This is a tiny example. We are told that in polishing with a cloth, in typing, etc., we must find this inspiration. Well, how’re we going to? Those who practise meditation, they’ve got to have a technical skill, the fingers must know where the keys are. Sometimes when doing a long and boring copying job, to practise typing. “I intend to type, I’m going to do this. Only half an hour more, thank goodness!  I’ll get it done.  I don’t know why I have to do this time.”  All those thoughts, dreaming, going on in my mind. As I’m typing doing the job, I’m dreaming. Sometimes resentful, sometimes thinking what I’m going to do next, what I’ve been doing, why I have to do these rotten jobs and other people don’t seem to get them. Why there’s never any appreciation. Dreaming all the time. But if I give up the dreaming, and give up the will, feeling I’m typing. Well, what will happen? It will come to a complete stop, or will it? These are the times to practise meditation.

The meditation period is fixed, but it’s very easy to enter meditation. Perhaps, to give up dreaming, to give up the body consciousness, to give up dreaming and to begin to rise to something different. Then afterwards, it all vanishes like a pricked bubble. It’s these long, boring, monotonous jobs, which don’t require thought, very little thinking about; these are the times to extend meditation realization into daily life. These are the openings.

It’s very difficult for a man to come from meditation and then have to answer a lot of telephones and give quotations and answer difficult points. If he undertakes to sandpaper a lot of rusty metal, these are the times when the hands are moving. Use both hands. The inspiration will come to him to use both hands. Here we do it like this, but it gets distorted to use both hands. Not so easy to drop the dreaming. Well, he says we must find something in these things which are dying, these actions which are dying, these circumstances which are dying.  There’s something which doesn’t die.

We say, “What if it is the same, I should still be in the same situation?” Yes, it’s the same, but it’s not the same.  If a plank is laid along here, any of us can walk along it easily without falling over. Just walking on it is very easy. If that plank was 30 ft up in the air, no wind, but 30 ft up in the air, it’s the same job, but the knowledge that we can’t step off means that the whole body’s tense. It would be quite difficult to walk along a plank so high. It will be the same, but not the same. The Upanishad said, “When he has seen that Immortal, then his life changes.” Well, this is one of the examples that’s given. The Katha Upanishad is concerned with finding the undying in the dying. “Everything’s dying”, we say. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. Don’t go.” Which is unchanged; which is shining. The Katha Upanishad said that there’s something which shines, whose splendour is always undiminished by the movements of the world. Independence.

The third one is from the Mundaka Upanishad, and it’s about a bow and the arrows. A bow is the first machine known to man by which energy could be stored. If you’ve ever drawn a strong bow, slowly, you pile up the energy into the bow. Then the bow is quivering with energy. It has to be held very, very steadily and the release must take place by simply relaxing [the fingers]. The Upanishad says, “Take up the great bow, which is the syllable ‘Om’. The mind is the arrow, when it’s released to shoot to the target.” Yoga can be a question of ideas. Sitting comfortably and thinking, “It’s really interesting and elevating.” In the doctrine of the Upanishad, finally, the mind has to be shot. We may not like that. We may not care for it nearly as much as we perhaps think; but at the time of meditation, all the dreams have to be given up. The mind has to be shot beyond the dreams of name, of form, of relations, and especially of memory.

While the memories are very intense and strong, while the memories [play] every day, the mind can’t be shot away. Those two things – the detachment; the discipline; the reduction of the compulsive memories, which can be done by the yoga practice, a sort of independence, and then the Om meditation. The bow will store up energy, so the repetition of Om will store up energy. One day there’ll be a quiver and the mind will be shot towards God.

Inspiration is something which will come to us as it came to Becquerel. If you examine his life and read his life, you find he was a man of great self-discipline, a very disinterested lover of truth, and a very virtuous and upright man. He was wholly concentrated on his scientific research. His was a family of chemists, a very good basis for inspiration.  He was concentrated on this problem. Although the basis of his concentration was false, he hoped to discover X-rays from something shining. He discovered radioactivity by this flash of inspiration that made him develop the plate. It can come like this, and it can be of any form – but the whole of life becomes luminous, says the Upanishad. It’s something luminous which makes the simplest action shine.

Shariputra was the greatest of the Buddhist disciples. In fact, in some of the ancient documents of the time, the Jain documents, Shariputra is called the Buddha. He was the most active in preaching and the most impressive personality. If we compare him with one of the first disciples of the Buddha who got enlightenment, Agida, we never heard anything of Agida. Not of his preaching, of his teaching, anything at all. If we study how Shariputra came to be a disciple of the Buddha, he gives the account himself. He was searching and he saw a man walking. Simply by the way that man was walking, he felt “He has got what I’m looking for”. He went up to him. He said, “What is it you’ve found? Tell me.” Agida said, and these are the only words of his that were recorded, “My teacher is on the Vulture Peak, I’ll take you to him.” That man’s walk. He never preached, he walked. He was seen, and then that great preacher became a disciple of the Buddha and spread Buddhism all over Eastern India.

They’re two cases of inspiration. In one man, it is something about his walk; in the other, it’s this mass of words which came out and which are embodied in so many of the scriptures.

We will be wrong to think that there’s inspiration in beauty in great things only and not in the small things. Again, I thought to give an instance from music from a very well-known piece of music. It’s the slow movement from the Rachmaninov Second Concerto. There’s a part where the piano plays what most people think is an introduction, which is the accompanying figure to the most beautiful melody which follows. When we’re listening to this piano, these few bars of piano introduction, we’re just listening in anticipation of this wonderful melody that’s going to come. The reproduction isn’t very good, but it will be good enough.


People think that piano introduction is just a prelude to that melody, but they’re wrong. It’s just as Bach’s first prelude contains in itself the melody, which Gounod later took out to make this tremendously eloquent Ave Maria. Most good musicians prefer the first prelude of Bach in which the melody is there, but it’s in a hidden and subtle form. That great melody which comes on the woodwind is contained in the piano introduction, which is just as eloquent and more beautiful to the people who listen with an ear and not just thinking, “Now we’re going to hear [that melody].”

I’ve heard that introduction played by Rachmaninov and by Pouishnoff. They didn’t play it like Ashkenaz is playing it here. It can be most expressive and beautiful, but it’s extremely simple. Music can give us a hint for this. In ordinary life we’re thinking always, “What have we just been doing? What are we going to do next?” What we’re doing now is lost. We don’t see it, but there’s the full beauty and illumination in the things we’re doing now.  When we wash up the dishes, the true nature of the dish coming out as it’s wiped, as it’s cleaned – a man who washes his dishes in a state of meditation will have a realization. Some of the temples, little temples in India, are red sandstone. They can be polished, as the Moriyas in 300 BC polished some stones, and the polish still remains marvellously today.

In modern times, an old man used to clean a little temple. It was in a small grove. He was keen on this and made a good job of it, but it was never quite appreciated.  You know how it is: “Yes, the temple’s clean, but why shouldn’t it be.” He began to feel a bit [aggrieved]. Well, he came to notice that when people came to the little entrance, to the grove of trees, there were some birds nesting there and the birds used to just fly out momentarily as people passed. He realised that this would let him know when people were going to come to the temple. He thought, “I’ll arrange to be working when people come so that they’ll see just how much I do.” He tried this, but people didn’t notice.

One day he saw the birds fly up, and he realized it was going to be quite a crowd coming. He set about polishing like mad. He was working in absolute fury. The people came up and did stop to look at him.  Then they went into the temple, they came out again, and they went out of the grove.  They didn’t say anything. He dashed along by another little path, which was parallel to the path they were taking and he thought, “I’ll listen.” When they got out of the grove, one said, “Do you see that old boy?  He was really washing like mad, wasn’t he? He’s a really devoted servant.” One of the others said, “Old fraud, how could he possibly keep that up? It must have been a show just for our benefit. He could never work at that speed all the time.”

Then he got [depressed] but things began to change. Finally, one or two young people, came and offered to help him clean. They helped him and after some time, one of them said to him, “Sir, there’s something about the way you clean the temple. Can you tell me what it is?” He looked at this very sincere man who’d helped him and he said, “Well, to tell you the truth, when I used to be cleaning the temple, I used to wonder whether people would see it. I used to think, ‘Well, I’ll just manage up to that end today and then I’ll do the next one. I’ll do this one tomorrow and so on. Then I’ll have a break, and then I’ll do this.’ I wondered whether they’d notice it, but now I don’t.  I just look at the piece I’m doing.”

The young man said, “Is there anything else?” He said, “Yes. Sometimes when the stone becomes clear, when it’s polished, I see a reflection in it.” The man said, “You see your own reflection.” The old man wouldn’t say anymore. Then the young man tried. It’s said that after years of the service, he began to feel that it was the Lord polishing the temple. When he looked at the reflection he could faintly see in the polished stone the reflection of the Lord in it. This is one of the stories they tell.

Another one is of an Indian magistrate who was a humanist. He was very against the traditional Indian religions because he said, “It keeps the people in slavery. They’re enslaved by prohibitions and commands and injunctions. Some of them are quite good, no doubt, but people should stand on their own conscience, and not have to be ordered about by ancient texts which are now properly mostly completely outdated anyway.”

A Yogi came to this area with a few disciples to set up an ashram there. The magistrate was very hostile to this and put many obstacles in the way.  But he found that after time, the village where the teacher lived was noticeably cleaner and he noticed that the parents and the children were taking more interest in education. He found that the influence of this ashram was in his terms, favourable. This went on. The magistrate finally sent a message to the teacher saying, “I should like to make a statement, a public statement, on your next little ceremony that you have.”   He finally said, “Now, I’m not a religious man, but I do wish to say that I’ve been very impressed by this teacher and what he’s doing, and I’m now changing my attitude. While I cannot become a formal disciple, I wish to be known as a supporter of this group.” This made a big change in the whole district, and the teacher’s influence was extended and it was a good one.

Then the magistrate fell ill after some years and was known to be dying.  The teacher was himself ill, so he couldn’t go to see him, but he sent a disciple to see the magistrate.  The magistrate refused and told the servants, “Don’t let him in.” The disciple sat down outside and waited all night. The servants brought him a rag and they brought him a meal. They couldn’t understand why the master wouldn’t see him when he was dying. The next morning, the master was still alive. He said, “Is the disciple still there?” They said, “Yes, he’s waited all night.” He said, “Has he said anything?” “No, he just waited.”  He said, “Well, let him come in.”

He came in and the magistrate said, “I think probably you’ve got the right to know. I’m still bitterly, completely atheistic. I’m bitterly against your religion, but I’ve got to admit that your social influence has been a good one. I realized that you’ve done more than I’ve been able to do with all my hard work. Therefore, I came out in public, and I gave you support because I wanted to see the social standards of the people here raised.

But you’ve got the right to know that I’ve never been a supporter or follower of your doctrines, and I didn’t want to see it.” Then he said, “I don’t suppose your texts have ever met anyone like me.” The disciple said, “Well, they do refer to this.” He said, “What text have you got?” The disciple said, “We have a text that the Lord is at the heart of all living beings.” “Oh,” the magistrate was rather surprised.  He was getting weaker. It’s said that as he was getting weaker, he said to the disciple, “Is there anything else?” The disciple knelt by the bed and said, “My Lord, you cannot deceive me any longer. I recognize you.” It’s said that the magistrate looked surprised and then he died smiling.

Well, this is the second story, the third one is a long story about a king who did a great discipline, which involves terrible austerities, in order to get proclaimed wisdom. This was the reward in the Holy text and the king succeeded in completing this with great difficulty.  The heavenly messenger comes through the sky with the little vase containing the nectar, the dew of a particular sacred mountain, which will give him proclaimed wisdom.  The King says, “Right, now I should prophesy every day in court.” The Holy messengers said, “Proclaimed wisdom is nothing like that,” The king was furious and he said, “I understood it to mean that I would be able to tell the future,” and the heavenly messenger said, “I don’t know.”

The king said, “What am I going to do? I told everybody I will be telling the future. You are a heavenly being, tell me something that’s going to happen.”  The heavenly messenger said, “Well, it’s unheard of for any of this sort of thing to be refused and undoubtedly, there’ll be a greater earthquake tonight and the heavenly powers will be shaking. I would announce this to the populous but, if you like, you can announce it.” The King sent the heavenly messenger away and then he stood up in the throne room and he announced,  “I’m making my first proclamation of proclaimed wisdom.  There’s going to be a terrible earthquake tonight, all of you come out from your homes and spend the night in the open air and bring any treasures out from your houses.”  He himself came out from the palace and sure enough, that night there was a terrible earthquake and all of the buildings come down and a few people who didn’t believe in the king’s prophesy stayed in their houses and were killed.

Well, the news of this gets around and the next day, the king is asked to proclaim wisdom.  So he says, “Well, has anybody got any question?” A minister gets up and says, “Well, I’m this neighbouring state and the general is leading a rebellion against the king. Now, is he going to succeed or not?” Well, our King didn’t much like the neighbouring king and he said, “Well, the general will succeed.” Now the neighbouring states had, of course, heard about this famous prophecy of the earthquake, and the King realized that he was going to lose to the general.  In order to avoid bloodshed, he simply made his submission and the general became the new king.

Then the next day, again, the king was asked a question, “Such and such poet is very ill, is he going to live or die?” The king liked the poet and said, “He’ll live,” and the poet felt so encouraged by this, that he did live.  The prophecies became self-fulfilling because the people were so sure that they’d be fulfilled, that they fulfilled them.  Then he has his first failure when he prophesies that he’s going to live to be 100 years and quite soon after that, he has his first failure.

In the meantime, the heavenly messenger has this vase of the nectar of proclaimed wisdom, and he doesn’t know what to do with it.  He meets another heavenly messenger who says, “Well, there’s a great saint who lives in obscurity in a small village.  You could give it to him but the trouble is the people in the neighbourhood are such terrible gossips and slanderers that he’s taken a vow of complete silence.”  The heavenly messenger said, “Well I can’t go back with this.”  So they go down and they slip it into his evening herbal drink that the disciples make for him.  Now he has proclaimed wisdom, but he’s vowed to silence. Well, a man who lives in the neighbourhood has an absolute torrent of troubles coming on him – it’s one continuous anxiety after another, small things but they harass him.  He feels that he’s going to break down completely under the anxieties and the stress of this constant anxiety and troubles and difficulties.

Then one day he’s walking thinking about his troubles and the monsoon shower begins. Well, when that happens, it comes, and the water comes down like a wall and everybody huddles at this neighbouring fence.  It doesn’t get the water out at all, but you feel a little bit protected even though everything gets soaked.  He saw the saint who was going to visit someone walking down the middle of the street in the pouring rain, quite calm, unmoved, enjoying the warm water.

That picture made a vivid image in his mind, and he began to feel that the anxieties and the worries and the responsibilities were raining on him. He began to feel this same in himself, walking, unmoved, enjoying them. Then later on in the summer, the village is near a desert. Well, if you’ve lived near a desert, when the wind blows from a certain quarter, the sand [sweeps] through the air and it settles on absolutely everything.  The leaves of the bushes are covered with sand and every little piece of wood has a pile of sand behind it.  It takes ages to sweep it all away.

So there was a man who had an enormous task which he had to do. Those who have experience with these enormous tasks know that, however much you do it, it doesn’t seem to change.  There’s still an enormous amount left.  It doesn’t seem to have any effect.  Sometimes you stop doing it and then you start again and then you make a furious crash and then you really do it for a week and it’s still almost endless ahead of you.  He was beginning to feel this terrible depression coming over him. After a sandstorm, he passed by the saint’s garden and he saw him with a little brush.  He was sweeping the sand into a little tray and he was sweeping it off some of the leaves of the bushes. He looked at him and he thought, “It’s going to take him weeks at that rate.”

He looked at him again and noticed in the next garden there was a little boy who was playing with the sand.  He was piling it up as they do into a castle and then when it was too big, the whole castle collapsed.  The little boy was laughing at the patterns the sand made as it ran down and he was playing with it.  He looked back to the saint and he saw that the saint was enjoying the patterns made by the sand as he brushed it. He was not sweeping the garden, he was appreciating the beauty of the sand.  Then the man suddenly realized in his own task not to think, “When will I finish that?”, but to enjoy the beauty of each little piece as he did it.

This is cited as the proclaimed wisdom without a word – no words spoken, but something is proclaimed. These vivid pictures enter into the soul of the people. Now in the Upanishads, I haven’t quoted these places, but there are a number of these cases where a man is practising meditation and practising yoga and for some reason, either he hasn’t got a teacher or the teacher’s not there.  When he reaches a particular state, the fire begins to speak to him and, as he’s looking after the herd of cows, the bull speaks to him.  The truth comes to him from the bull and the bird speaks to him.  These tiny events, these tiny things begin to speak. This is the upanishadic doctrine and they say yoga is the means to approach this.

Well, thank you for your attention.



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