from The Special Transmission

We enter today into the very special world of Zen. It is very special because it is the most ordinary state of consciousness – that’s its specialty. The ordinary mind always wants to be extraordinary; it is only the extraordinary mind who relaxes into ordinariness. It is only the exceptional who is ready to relax and rest into the ordinary. The ordinary always feels inferior; out of that inferiority complex he tries to be special. The special need not make any effort to be special – he is special. There is no inferiority complex in him. He is not suffering from any emptiness. He is so full, overflowing, that he can be just whatsoever he is.

The world of Zen can be called the most special and also the most ordinary. It is a paradox if you look from the outside; if you look from the inside there is no paradox at all. It is a very simple phenomenon. The rose flower, the marigold, the lotus, or just the very ordinary blade of grass, they are not trying to be special at all. From the blade of grass to the greatest star, they are all living in their suchness. There is no effort, no striving, no desire. There is no becoming. They are absolutely blissful in their being. Hence there is no comparison, no competitiveness. And there is no question of any hierarchy – who is lower and who is higher. Nobody is lower, nobody is higher. In fact, the person who is trying to prove himself higher is lower.

The person who accepts whatsoever he is with joy – not with resignation, mind you, not in despair but in deep understanding, and is grateful for it, grateful to the existence, grateful to the whole – he is the highest.

Jesus says it: Blessed are those who are the last in this world because they shall be the first in my kingdom of God. He was speaking a different language because he was speaking to a different kind of people, but the statement has the quality of Zen in it. Those who are the last… But if you are trying to be the last you are not the last, remember.

That’s what Christians have been doing for hundreds of years: trying to be the last in order to be the first in the kingdom of God. They have missed the whole point. To be the last – not by effort, not by striving, but just by simple understanding that ”Whatsoever I am, I am; there is no other way for me to be. I cannot be anybody else, I need not be anybody else. This is how the whole wants me to be and I relax in it. I surrender to the will of the whole…

A Zen Master will not say that ”You shall be the first.” That is because Jesus was talking to people who were not at all acquainted with Zen. Jesus had known what Zen is. He has been to India, to Ladakh, to Tibet, and there are stories that he had even been to Japan. There is a place in Japan where people think he came and visited. It is possible, because for eighteen years he was traveling, moving from one mystery school to another mystery school. But he had to speak in a Jewish way.

The Jews are very goal-oriented people, always trying to reach somewhere. Even Hindus are very goal-oriented people; that’s why they could not understand Gautam the Buddha, they misunderstood him. Buddha was better understood by the Chinese, and even fat more better by the Japanese, for the simple reason that the Chinese are not so spiritualistic – because whenever somebody is spiritualistic he has a goal, the other-worldly goal. He wants to be special somewhere, if not in this life then in the next, if not here then after death if not on the earth then in paradise.

The paradise is just the imagination of the people who live a goal-oriented life. They cannot be religious unless there is a goal beyond death. Once there is a goal they are ready to sacrifice everything for it. They cannot be simply religious – religion is not their understanding, religion is not their joy, religion is not their way of being; it is their desire, it is again deep down an ego trip. It is the ego that creates the paradise.

The first thing to be understood about it is: it is not goal-oriented. It is a way of life herenow; it has nothing to do with a future life, with any paradise. It is not in the ordinary sense another branch of spirituality. It is neither spiritual nor material; it is a transcendence of both. It is not other-worldly, it is not this-worldly either, but it is a great synthesis.

The Zen Master lives in the ordinary life, just as everybody else, but lives in an extraordinary way, with a totally new vision, with great exquisiteness, with tremendous sensitivity, with awareness, watchfulness, meditativeness, spontaneity. There is nothing as sacred in Zen, there is nothing as mundane. All is one, indivisibly one; you cannot divide it as mundane and sacred.

Zen is very pragmatic, practical. It says that is stupid; renouncing is simply unintelligent – transform! Be wherever you are, but be in a new way. And what is that new way? Be non-competitive. To be competitive is to be worldly. Remember the emphasis: it is not a question of living in the world or going to the mountains – to be competitive is to be worldly. You can go in the caves, but there are other saints living in other caves and there will be competition; then you have created another world. Then they will be talking who is achieving new siddhis, new powers, who can fast more, who can torture himself more, who can lie down on a bed of nails, who can live without clothes in the cold winter who can sit in the burning hot sun with fire all around him – who is the topmost saint. There will be a hierarchy.

Once I was invited by a shankaracharya – there must have been some mistake. He was not aware of my way of thinking. He invited me. I was overjoyed. I said, ”This is a good opportunity!” So I went there, and of course there was great trouble.

The first trouble started when we were introduced to each other. The shankaracharya was sitting on a golden throne and just by the side of him there was a smaller golden throne on which another Hindu monk was sitting, and there were other monks who were sitting on the floor.

The shankaracharya told me that, ”You must be wondering who is this man who is sitting by my side on the smaller throne. He has been chief justice of the high court, but he is such a great spiritual man – he renounced it. He renounced the world, his high salary his post, his power. He became my disciple. And he is so humble that he never sits on the equal platform with me.

I said, ”I can see that he is very humble – he is sitting on a smaller throne than you – but then others are sitting on the floor! If he is really humble he should dig a hole in the floor and he should sit there – if he is really humble! He is only humble towards you and about others he is very arrogant.

And I could see the anger… Both the persons became very angry. They were at a loss for a moment what to say, what not to say. I said, ”You see your humbleness – you both are angry! And this man is still sitting! If he is humble he should get down. Dig a hole immediately! Don’t cling to the throne. And, then, there will be a competition, of course. Others will dig bigger holes… Then there is a well outside in the garden – he should jump into the well to be the most humble person!
All these stupid ideas have been propounded for centuries, but new competitions arise.

And I told the shankaracharya that, ”He is simply waiting when you should die, and immediately he will jump on your chair, he will sit there. He is just waiting; he is already half way. He is praying in his heart that, ’You old fool – die soon!’ so that he can tell somebody else to sit on the smaller throne and he will introduce him as a very humble person. 

Neither you are humble nor he is humble. If he is humble by sitting on a smaller throne, then who are you? You are sitting on a higher throne than him. And if it is only a question of sitting higher and lower, then what about the spider on the ceiling? He is the highest! He is the greatest, because he is higher than you; you cannot go higher that him. 

And what about the birds who are flying in the sky? If this is the way then you have not renounced anything. You are carrying the same old stupidity in new names.

Only the names have changed, the old dreams continue. The old desires, the old egos are still being strengthened. You can go to any monastery and you can see – the same competition persists.

Zen has a different approach. It says: “Be in the life – life is not wrong. If something is wrong it is wrong in your vision. Your eyes are clouded, your mirror of consciousness is dusty. Clean it! Create more clarity.”

If competitiveness disappears, you are in the world and yet you are not in the world. If ambition disappears, then there is no world left. But how the ambition and the competition can disappear?

We go on creating new ways. Somebody is trying to have more money than you and somebody else is trying to be more virtuous than you. What is the difference? Somebody is trying to be more knowledgeable than you, somebody else is trying to have more character than you. It is the same desire, the same dreaming, the same sleepiness. And people go on and on in their dreaming. Their dreams change, but they never wake up.

Zen is a radical transformation of consciousness. It cleanses you totally and its method of cleansing is unique; it has never been tried before. It is the greatest contribution to human consciousness.

Chao Chou asked Nan Chuan, “What is the Tao?

Now this question is not answerable. There are questions which can be answered and there are questions which cannot be answered.

The questions which can be answered belong to science and the questions which cannot be answered belong to religion. The unanswerable questions are the real questions because they are rooted in the very mystery of existence – hence they are unanswerable.

This question looks very innocent.

Chao Chou asked Nan Chuan, “What is the Tao?

The question looks simple, but it is the most impossible question. To ask it shows that you don’t understand at all what you are asking.

Tao is another name of ”isness”. You cannot ask, ”What is isness?” You can only experience it.

How can you ask, ”What is isness?” It can be experienced – and right now it can be experienced, not tomorrow.

It surrounds you, you are breathing in it, you are part of it. It is the very heartbeat of your existence. It pulsates in your blood. It is your consciousness.

Listen to this silent moment… this is it! But there is no way to answer it.

Yes, it can be indicated. Hence Zen Masters say:

Buddhas only show the moon – don’t cling to their fingers. They are just fingers showing the moon – look at the moon. The fingers are not the moon. Fingers pointing to the moon are not the moon themselves.

Tao is only a word, very arbitrary, it means nothing. It is just a finger pointing to the isness of existence.

The birds chirping, the trees standing silently, and you all sitting in a deep communion here with tremendous love in your hearts… THIS is it! But this is not an answer.

Chao Chou asked, “What is the Tao?

Nan Chuan answered, “The Ordinary Mind is Tao.

One of the greatest answers ever given, and one of the answers that contains the ultimate truth – so simple yet so pregnant:

The Ordinary Mind is Tao.

What is the ordinary mind? When there is nothing in the mind when you are not desiring anything, when you are not asking for anything, when there are no questions in your mind, no queries, no curiosities, when there are no dreams stirring in your mind, no thoughts, no memories, no projections, no past, no future… then the mind is absolutely ordinary.

In that ordinary mind you will experience Tao because you will experience the isness. It is because of your desires, dreams and your drunkenness with your dreams that you go on missing that which is always available, that which is always confronting you, that which is without and within, that which you have never lost for a single moment even, that which even if you want to lose you cannot lose – it is your very intrinsic nature.

But so many thoughts in the mind create a cloud around you, and the traffic is always there.

Watch the traffic of the mind and you will be surprised: not for a single moment there is a gap. And whenever there is a gap there is a taste of Tao. A distant call of the cuckoo… and for a moment you forget all your thoughts. The call of the cuckoo is so beautiful, so penetrating; it goes like an arrow into your heart. For a moment everything stops… and suddenly you have a taste of Tao.  You call it beauty because you don’t know what it is. Yes, beauty is one of its aspects.

A sunset, and the clouds are all gold and the sun is just to drop into the ocean, and the whole ocean has become red, and even your breathing stops for a moment. The awe of it is such! You call it awe because you don’t know what it is; that is another aspect of Tao.

You see a beautiful woman or a beautiful man, and for a moment you forget everything else. Your eyes remain focused, unblinking; you forget even blinking. You may call it physical beauty, form, proportion – all are aspects of Tao.

This night full of stars, you lying down on the grass looking at the sky, struck by the splendor of it – you call it splendor – that is another aspect of Tao.

Listening to music, something stirs very deep in your being; a synchronicity happens. You have become attuned with the music, a subtle dance arises in you. You call it music? You call it poetry? It is Tao, another aspect of Tao.

Tao has multidimensional reality. Tao is the richest experience in the world. The person who knows Tao is the richest man in the world; he has the greatest inexhaustible treasure. Even Alexanders are beggars compared to him.

Knowing all the aspects of Tao, one becomes Tao himself, because when you become acquainted with these aspects of Tao, slowly slowly you become acquainted with yourself – because that too is the inner dimension of  Tao. The sunset is part of the outer dimension, the music is the part of outer dimension. And the witnessing, the watchfulness, the experience of awe, beauty, wonder, joy, love, they are aspects of the inner dimension. Then there is only isness.

Buddha used to call it suchnesstathata; tathata exactly means Tao. You can call it isness; isness will make it more clear to you because ”Tao” seems to be an alien word. But don’t translate it as God; it can be translated as God, but then immediately you become a victim of many many associations that have become part of the word ”God.” God also means Tao, but in the hands of the priests and the missionaries and the theologians the word has become corrupted; they have poisoned it.

Friedrich Nietzsche says, ”God is dead.” He is not dead, he has been murdered – murdered by the priests, by the theologians, by the politicians, murdered by the so-called saints, the so-called holy people.

The word ”God” is as beautiful as ”Tao” if it can be taken out of these ugly hands in which it has fallen.

Tao never became part of any priesthood. No temple was made for Tao, no statue was carved. The followers, the lovers of Tao remained very alert – no prayer, no worship, no ritual. That’s how they have saved its purity, its innocence, its beauty. It is still virgin.

Chao Chou asked, “What is the Tao?

Nan Chuan answered, “The Ordinary Mind is Tao.

Don’t try to be extraordinary in any way – and everybody does that. We are brought up in such a way, we have been told again and again by parents, teachers, everybody that, ”Be the first, be special, be outstanding!

I loved my father for many reasons. One of the reasons was this: that he never told me or my other brothers and sisters to be competitive. Never I can remember him saying to us that, ”You should come first, that you should make every effort to top the class.” In fact, he was never certain in what class I am reading in the school. Whenever somebody will ask, ”In what class your son is reading?” he will ask me, ”In what class you are reading?” He never asked after the examinations and the results, whether you have passed or you have failed, as if that was not his concern at all.

He had many beautiful qualities, but this quality I loved in him most. He was not poisoning our minds by becoming competitive. 

If my teachers will come to him and they will say, ”Your son is not attending the schools, is mischievous, creates trouble, is never attentive, always goes on looking outside the window, is continuously punished but never learns anything… Out of seven days at least five days he is standing outside the class because he is being punished to stand outside – he enjoys it there! 

If we give him any punishment, we say to him, ’Go and run around the school building for seven times,’ he goes around seventeen times. We look foolish, and if we say to him that, ’This is a punishment,’ he says, ’For you it may be, but today I have not done any exercise so it was good. Many many thanks!’ Not a single day goes when he is not being sent to the principal. The principal has become so tired of him that he never asks what he has done; he simply punishes him and sends him back; that has become a routine. And he is bound to fail.

And my father will say, ”So what? So let him fail! Few students are bound to fail; the whole system is such all cannot pass, so somebody is bound to fail. So what if he is one of those who fail? And I don’t know in what class he studies, so whether he fails or passes I will never know.” 

He never looked at my certificates. Whenever I will bring he will say, ”You just sign yourself, you can manage well!” So I will sign it for him.

When in the university I topped the list and when I got the gold medal, he looked a little angry. He said, ”This is not good, because to you it doesn’t matter – I know you – but to somebody else the gold medal would have been something very valuable!” 

I loved him for these qualities. These are the qualities which should be given to each child: non-competitiveness, non-ambitiousness. 

When I came from the university back home, he never asked me, ”What you want to do now?” The whole village was asking, ”Now what you are going to do? Are you going to become a collector? Are you going to become a professor, or this and that, because you have topped the list? You can get any service, whatsoever you want.” He never asked anything about it.

When I became the professor in a university he asked me, ”Why bother going to the university? Why can’t you be just a teacher in the primary school? It is just in front of us!

When I left the university, everybody, whosoever knew me, came to tell me, ”Don’t resign such a beautiful post. And you have great possibilities – sooner or later you will be the vice-chancellor of the university. You wait!” 

He was the only person who was happy, who said, ”Good! Don’t be worried. If you need some money or some trouble is there, you tell me. I am still alive, I can support you. If you don’t want to work, don’t work; or if you want to do some small thing you can do some small thing. If you want to become a potter, become a potter. Or if you want to become a weaver, become a weaver. If you want to spin, I have got a beautiful spinning wheel; I will give it to you. And if you don’t want to do anything, don’t be worried – I can manage, I am still working. While I am alive you need not worry.”

He was the only person… Even my enemies told me that, ”This is not right – you should take your resignation back.” Even the Education Minister called me personally and asked me to take the resignation back. “You may have given in some moment and you may repent later on.

One day he saw my certificates. He said, ”You have left the university, you have dropped the service – why not burn these certificates?” He was the one who suggested me the idea and I burned them immediately. I said, ”That’s perfectly good!...”

We bring our children from the very beginning with it – jealousy, envy. We make them fight, struggle. Our whole idea of life is based on survival of the fittest, and the fittest means the strongest, the most cunning. So whatsoever the means, nobody cares about the means. You have to achieve some end, you have to prove your mettle. You have to show to the world that you are not an ordinary person.

And the ordinary mind is Tao. That’s why the world is missing joy, bliss, benediction – because we are driving everybody crazy. Our whole educational system creates a kind of neurosis, and whosoever is ahead in that neurosis becomes very famous. Now people who become presidents and prime ministers, world-famous people, powerful people, if you look in their lives you will find nothing but neurosis. You will find nothing but anxiety, anguish, madness. They are boiling within, somehow managing a face – not even a face, it is just a mask

Only very intelligent people can understand this statement:

“The Ordinary Mind is Tao.

To be absolutely ordinary, to live an ordinary life, eating when feeling hungry, drinking when feeling thirsty, sleeping when feeling sleepy, young when you are young, old when you are old and dead when you are dead…!

Don’t try to force on walking even while you are dead. Don’t try to live a posthumous existence. Don’t try to be a ghost!

I have heard one ghost saying to another ghost that, ”Whatsoever you say, but I don’t believe in people!

Even ghosts don’t believe in you, but you believe in ghosts! Even ghosts are not so foolish to believe in you, but your stupidity knows no limits.

What I am doing here is very simple, very ordinary, nothing spiritual in it, nothing sacred. I am not trying to make you holy persons, I am simply trying to make you sane, intelligent, ordinary people who can live their lives joyously, dancingly, celebratingly. And that is Tao.

Chao Chou then asked, “How can I approach it?

That’s the logical mind always asks: ”How?” If you say, ”It is the ordinary mind,” still the logical person will ask, ”How one can approach it?” The logical mind goes on missing the point.

If it is the ordinary mind, then there is no question of approaching it; it is already there. You have it, it is already the case.

But your mind goes on and on, again and again, in roundabout ways, to the same point. You have always asked, ”How to achieve it?” If somebody was saying that you can achieve siddhis, powers, you immediately asked, ”How?

The ordinary mind which you already have… there is no questions of ”how” and there is no question of approaching it. You have never lost it, you have simply forgotten about it. It has become covered; you have only to uncover it.

Nan Chuan replied, “if you want to approach it, you will certainly miss it.

If you want to approach it, that is a sure sign that you are going to miss it, because we approach things which are far away, we approach things which are not available, we approach things which are objects in the outside world.

The ordinary mind is your subjectivity; you cannot approach it. Who is going to approach it? You are it! There is no separation between you and the ordinary mind. You are creating now a new illusion of separation, hence the question, ”How to approach it?” Now you have divided the subject – the one who will approach – and the object – the one which has to be approached.

Of course, then the question arises, ”What means have to be employed?

And the whole thing is meaningless. No means has to be employed, no methods are needed. A simple understanding that you are born with it is enough.

But the logical mind persists. The disciple goes on asking, ”If you do not approach it, how do you know it is the Tao? We have to approach it, study it, understand it, find it, then only we can know that this is Tao.” Nan Chuan says:

”The Tao is not a matter of knowing…”

It is the knower, hence it cannot be a matter of knowing. The knower cannot be known; you cannot reduce it into a known. It cannot be reduced into an object. It is always the knower, the witness; it never becomes the known.

”It is not a matter of knowing nor a matter of not knowing.”

But don’t misunderstand me,” Nan Chuan is trying to say, because the logical mind immediately jumps to the opposite: if it is not a matter of knowing, then it must be a matter of not knowing.

He makes you aware from the very beginning it is neither a matter of knowing nor a matter of not knowing, because that which is a matter of not knowing can be made a matter of knowing. That which is unknown today can be made known tomorrow. Many things were unknown before, now they are known. Many things are unknown today, will be known one day.

Science believes in only two categories: the known and the unknown. And the unknown is being transformed into the known every day. The ultimate idea of science is that one day will come when there will be no more unknown left; all unknown would have become known. That is the goal of science.

Religion begins with the third category: the unknowable. It is neither a matter of knowing nor a matter of not knowing. You are not ignorant of it and you are not knowledgeable about it. It transcends both, it stands behind both. It stands behind all divisions and dualities.

to know is a delusory way of thinking…

If somebody says, ”I have known Tao, I have known truth, I have known God, I have known Dhamma,” know perfectly well that he has been living in an illusion, because it is the knower and can never become the known.

to know is a delusory way of thinking and not to know is a matter of insensibility.

Those who think ”We don’t know,” are simply insensible, and those who think ”We know,” are only egoistic. You have to drop both – you have to drop your egoistic ideas of knowing and you have to drop your insensibilities. You have to become more sensitive and more egoless.

And then happens a transcendence. Then life becomes way simple uncomplicated, but tremendously mysterious.

If one can realize the Tao unmistakably…

Remember, Nan Chuan says, ”If one can realize…” It is not a question of knowing or not knowing but a question of realizing that ”I am it!” It is a recognition. If one can recognize…

If one can realize the Tao unmistakably...”

If you have any suspicion, if there is some wavering, if you are still doubtful whether this is so or not, that simply means you are still in the world of duality.

When one transcends the dual there is no doubt left. Doubt is the shadow of duality. So when one recognizes one’s nature it is indubitable, it is unmistakably so. There is no question that whether it is right or wrong: it is self-evident.

If one can realize the Tao unmistakably, his mind will be like the great space…

Like sky, unbounded, open on all the sides, infinite. It will be vast, immeasurable. It will be void – it will be absolutely empty of all content. It will be just a mirror reflecting nothing, just a silent lake, absolutely silent and absolutely clear. In that clarity is Buddhahood, in that clarity is awakening. That clarity is awakening.

How, then, can one regard this as right and that as wrong?

There is nothing left. There is no question of this and that, so one cannot have any doubt. It is unmistakably so. There is only void, vast clarity and infinite sky.

And all is silent: all duality gone, the knower gone, the known gone, the seer gone, the seen gone, the observer gone, the observed gone, the objective, the subjective… all are gone.

There is only a pure clarity, a silent witnessing. In this there is no content so you cannot mistake that this is right or that is right. There is nothing left, there is no content. Hence it is unmistakably so, it is indubitably so, it is self-evidently so.

Upon hearing this remark, Chao Chou was immediately awakened. 

If one knows how to hear… Chao Chou was living with Nan Chuan for many years, so don’t think that it was the first encounter with the Master: it was the last encounter, in fact.

After that there was nothing left. But he was living with the Master meditating, sitting silently, listening, just being with the Master, for years – as if the fruit was absolutely ripe and just a little breeze and the fruit falls to the earth. It would not have happened if the fruit was not ripe, remember.

upon hearing this remark …

The remark is tremendously significant, but it will penetrate to your heart only if you have been in deep communion with the Master. It was the last effort of the mind, the last effort of logic. He was just on the borderline when this remark was made, when Nan Chuan said: ”If one can realize the Tao unmistakably, his mind will be like the great space -vast, void and clear. How, then, can one regard this as right and that as wrong?

Upon hearing this remark, Chao Chou was immediately awakened.

This immediate awakening, this sudden awakening is one of the great problems for others, for those who don’t understand Zen and its approach. For them, realization means a gradual phenomenon, but for Zen it is always sudden, it is always immediate.

And it should be immediate for the simple reason because it is your nature that opens up.

Any remark that you can allow to penetrate inside you will be able to do the miracle. It is not the question of whether the remark is very significant or not; sometimes a very insignificant remark or sometimes just a slap from the Master or sometimes when the disciple asks the Master and the Master remains silent without answering him… the silence!

Or sometimes the disciple is sitting under the tree and a dry leaf falls from the tree… and the falling leaf. Now there is no remark, the tree is not aware of the disciple, the leaf is not falling for him, but just the falling leaf – and something transpires.

All that is required is a state of silence, of meditative awareness. Then anything can trigger the process, anything trivial can trigger the process.

Enlightenment is bound to be sudden; it cannot be gradual because it is not an achievement. It is simply a discovery of something forgotten. It is a remembrance, a recognition.

This is called the special transmission. Nothing is transmitted and yet something has transpired.

This is the miracle of the relationship between the Master and the disciple. This is the greatest miracle in existence; there is nothing compared to it, it is incomparable.

Try not to be special. Just be ordinary, and wait in silence for the special transmission. It happens. It has happened before, it can happen now. It is the easiest way to God, to Tao, to the ultimate truth.