So my spirituality has a different meaning from your idea of spirituality. My childhood stories, if you can understand them, will point to all these qualities in some way or other. Nobody can call them spiritual. I call them spiritual because to me, they have given all that man can aspire to.
While listening to my childhood stories you should try to look for some quality--not just the story but some intrinsic quality that runs like a thin thread through all of my memoirs. And that thin thread is spiritual.
Spiritual, to me, simply means finding oneself. I never allowed anybody to do this work on my behalf--because nobody can do this work on your behalf; you have to do it yourself.
1931-1939: KUCHWADA, MADHYA PRADESH, INDIA
I am reminded of the small village where I was born. Why existence should have chosen that small village in the first place is unexplainable. It is as it should be. The village was beautiful. I have traveled far and wide, but I have never come across that same beauty. One never comes again to the same. Things come and go, but it is never the same.
I can see that still, small village. Just a few huts near a pond, and a few tall trees where I used to play. There was no school in the village. That is of great importance, because I remained uneducated for almost nine years, and those are the most formative years. After that, even if you try, you cannot be educated. So in a way I am still uneducated, although I hold many degrees--and not just any degree, but a first-class master's degree. Any fool can do that; so many fools do it every year that it has no significance. What is significant is that for my first years I remained without education. There was no school, no road, no railway, no post office. What a blessing! That small village was a world unto itself. Even in my times away from that village I remained in that world, uneducated.
And I have come across millions of people, but the people of that village were more innocent than any, because they were very primitive. They knew nothing of the world. Not even a single newspaper had ever entered that village--you can now understand why there was no school. Not even a primary school--what a blessing! No modern child can afford it.
IN THE PAST THERE WERE CHILDREN MARRIED BEFORE THEY WERE TEN. Sometimes children were even married when they were still in their mother's womb. Just two friends would decide: "Our wives are pregnant, so if one gives birth to a boy and the other gives birth to a girl, then the marriage is settled, promised." The question of asking the boy and the girl does not arise at all; they are not even born yet! But if one is a boy and another is a girl, the marriage is settled. And people kept their word.
My own mother was married when she was seven years old. My father was not more than ten years old, and he had no understanding of what washappening. I used to ask him, "What was the most significant thing that you enjoyed in your wedding?"
He said, "Riding on the horse." Naturally! For the first time he was dressed like a king, with a knife hanging by his side, and he was sitting on the horse and everybody was walking around him. He enjoyed it tremendously. That was the thing he enjoyed most about his wedding. A honeymoon was out of the question. Where will you send a ten-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl for a honeymoon? So in India the honeymoon never used to exist, and in the past, nowhere else in the world either.
When my father was ten years old and my mother was seven years old, my father's mother died. After the marriage, perhaps one or two years afterward, the whole responsibility fell on my mother, who was only nine years old. My father's mother had left two small daughters and two small boys. So there were four children, and the responsibility to care for them fell on a nine-year-old girl and a twelve-year-old son. My father's father never liked to live in the city where he had his shop. He loved the countryside, and when his wife died he was absolutely free. The government used to give land to people for free, because there was so much land and there were not so many people to cultivate it. So my grandfather got fifty acres of land from the government, and he left the whole shop in the hands of his children--my father and mother--who were only twelve and nine years old. He enjoyed creating a garden, creating a farm, and he loved to live there in the open air. He hated the city.
So my father never had any experience of the freedom of young people today. He never became a youth in that way. Before he could have become a youth he was already old, taking care of his younger brothers and sisters and the shop. And by the time he was twenty he had to arrange marriages for his sisters, marriages and education for his brothers.
I have never called my mother "Mother," because before I was born she was taking care of four children who used to call her bhabhi. Bhabhi means "brother's wife." And because four children were already calling my mother bhabhi, I also started calling her bhabhi. I learned it from the very beginning, when four other children were calling her that.
I WAS BROUGHT UP By My MATERNAL GRANDFATHER AND GRAND mother. Those two old people were alone and they wanted a child who wouldbe the joy of their last days. So my father and mother agreed: I was their eldest child, the firstborn; they sent me.
I don't remember any relationship with my father's family in the early years of my childhood. I spent my earliest years with two old men--my grandfather and his old servant, who was really a beautiful man--and my old grandmother. These three people ... and the gap was so big, I was absolutely alone. These old people were not company, could not be company for me. And I had nobody else, because in that small village my family was the richest; and it was such a small village--not more than two hundred people in all--and so poor that my grandparents would not allow me to mix with the village children. They were dirty, and of course they were almost beggars. So there was no way to have friends. That caused a great impact. In my whole life I have never known anybody to be a friend. Yes, acquaintances I had.
In those first, early years I was so lonely that I started enjoying it--and it is really a joy. So it was not a curse to me, it proved a blessing. I started enjoying it, and I started feeling self-sufficient; I was not dependent on anybody.
I have never been interested in games for the simple reason that from my very childhood there was no way to play; there was nobody to play with. I can still see myself in those earliest years, just sitting. We had a beautiful spot where our house was, just in front of a lake. Far away for miles, the lake ... and it was so beautiful and so silent. Only once in a while would you see a line of white cranes flying, or making love calls, and the peace would be disturbed; otherwise, it was almost the perfect place for meditation. And when a love call from a bird would disturb the peace ... after his call the peace would deepen.
The lake was full of lotus flowers, and I would sit for hours so self-content, as if the world did not matter: the lotuses, the white cranes, and the silence ...
And my grandparents became very aware of one thing--that I enjoyed my aloneness. They had seen that I had no desire to go to the village to meet anybody, or to talk with anybody. Even if they wanted to talk, my answers were yes or no; I was not interested in talking either. They became aware of one thing--that I enjoyed my aloneness and it was their sacred duty not to disturb me.
So for seven years continuously nobody tried to corrupt my innocence; there was nobody. Those three old people who lived in the house, the servant and my grandparents, were all protective in every possible way that nobody should disturb me. In fact I started feeling, as I grew up, a little embarrassed that because of me they could not talk, they could not be normal as everybody is.It happens with children that you tell them, "Be silent because your father is thinking, your grandfather is resting. Be quiet, sit silently." In my childhood it happened the opposite way. Now I cannot answer why and how; it simply happened. The credit does not go to me.
All those three old people were continually making signs to each other: "Don't disturb him--he is enjoying so much." And they started loving my silence.
Silence has its vibe; it is infectious, particularly a child's silence, which is not forced, which is not because you are saying, "I will beat you if you create any nuisance or noise." No, that is not silence. That will not create the joyous vibration that I am talking about, when a child is silent on his own, enjoying for no reason; his happiness is uncaused. That creates great ripples all around.
So it was just a coincidence that for seven years I remained undisturbed--no one to nag me, to prepare me for the world of business, politics, diplomacy. My grandparents were more interested in leaving me as natural as possible--particularly my grandmother. She is one of the causes--these small things affect all your life patterns--she is one of the causes of my respect for the whole of womanhood. She was a simple woman, uneducated, but immensely sensitive. She made it clear to my grandfather and the servant: "We all have lived a certain kind of life which has not led us anywhere. We are as empty as ever, and now death is coming close." She insisted, "Let this child be uninfluenced by us. What influence can we have? We can only make him like us, and we are nothing. Give him an opportunity to be himself."
My grandfather--I heard them discussing in the night, thinking that I was asleep--used to say to her, "You are telling me to do this and I am doing it; but he is somebody else's son, and sooner or later he will have to go to his parents. What will they say? 'You have not taught him any manners, any etiquette, he is absolutely wild.'"
She said, "Don't be worried about that. In this whole world everybody is civilized, has manners, etiquette, but what is the gain? You are very civilized--what have you got out of it? At the most his parents will be angry with us. So what? Let them be angry. They can't harm us, and by that time the child will be strong enough that they cannot change his life course."
I am tremendously grateful to that old woman. My grandfather was again and again worried that sooner or later he was going to be responsible:"They will say, 'We left our child with you and you have not taught him anything.'"
My grandmother did not even allow a tutor. There was one man in the village who could at least teach me the beginnings of language, mathematics, a little geography. He was educated only to the fourth grade--the lowest four, that is what was called primary education in India--but he was the most educated man in the town. My grandfather tried hard: "He can come and he can teach him. At least he will know the alphabet, some mathematics, so when he goes to his parents they will not say that we just wasted seven years completely."
But my grandmother said, "Let them do whatsoever they want to do after seven years. For seven years he has to be just his natural self, and we are not going to interfere." And her argument was always, "You know the alphabet, so what? You know mathematics, so what? You have earned a little money; do you want him also to earn a little money and live just like you?"
That was enough to keep that old man silent. What to do? He was in a difficulty because he could not argue--and he knew that he would be held responsible, not she, because my father would ask him, "What have you done?" And actually that would have been the case, but fortunately he died before my father could ask.
Later on my father was always saying, "That old man is responsible, he has spoiled the child." But now I was strong enough, and I made it clear to him: "In front of me, never say a single word against my maternal grandfather. He has saved me from being spoiled by you--that is your real anger. But you have other children--spoil them. And in the end you will see who is spoiled."
He had other children, and more and more children kept on coming. I used to tease him, "Please bring one child more, make it a dozen. Eleven children? People ask, 'How many children?' Eleven does not look right; one dozen is more impressive." And in later years I used to tell him, "You go on spoiling all your children; I am wild, and I will remain wild." Somehow I remained out of the grip of civilization.
MY GRANDFATHER-MY MOTHER'S FATHER-WAS A GENEROUS MAN. He was poor, but rich in his generosity. He gave to each and everyone whatsoever he had. I learned the art of giving from him; I never saw him say no to any beggar or anybody.
I called my mother's father "Nana"; that's the way the mother's father is called in India. The mother's mother is called "Nani." I used to ask my grandfather, "Nana, where did you get such a beautiful wife?" Her features were not Indian, she looked Greek, and she was a strong woman, very strong. My nana died when he was not more than fifty. My grandmother lived till eighty and she was fully healthy. Even then nobody thought she was going to die. I promised her one thing, that when she died I would come. And that was my last visit to the family--she died in 1970. I had to fulfill my promise.
For my first years I knew my nani as my mother; those are the years when one grows. My own mother came after that; I was already grown up, already made in a certain style. And my grandmother helped me immensely. My grandfather loved me, but could not help me much. He was so loving, but to be of help more is needed--a certain kind of strength. He was always afraid of my grandmother. He was, in a sense, a henpecked husband. But he loved me, he helped me ... what can I do if he was a henpecked husband? Ninety-nine point nine percent of husbands are, so it is okay.
I CAN UNDERSTAND THE OLD MAN, My GRANDFATHER, AND THE trouble my mischief caused him. The whole day he would sit on his gaddi, as the seat of a rich man is called in India, listening less to his customers and more to the complainers! But he used to say to them, "I am ready to pay for any damage he has done, but remember, I am not going to punish him."
Perhaps his very patience with me, a mischievous child ... even I could not tolerate it. If a child like that were given to me for years ... my god! Even for minutes, and I would throw the child out of the door forever. Perhaps those years worked a miracle for my grandfather; that immense patience paid. He became more and more silent. I saw it growing every day. Once in a while I would say, "Nana, you can punish me. You need not be so tolerant." And, can you believe it, he would cry! Tears would come to his eyes, and he would say, "Punish you? I cannot do that. I can punish myself but not you."
Never for a single moment have I ever seen the shadow of anger toward me in his eyes--and believe me, I did everything that one thousand children could do. In the morning, even before breakfast, I was into my mischief until late at night. Sometimes I would come home so late--three o'clock in the morning--but what a man he was! He never said, "You are too late. This is notthe time for a child to come home." No, not even once. In fact, in front of me he would avoid looking at the clock on the wall.
He never took me to the temple where he used to go. I also used to go to that temple, but only when it was closed, just to steal prisms, because in that temple there were many chandeliers with beautiful prisms. I think, by and by, I stole almost all of them. When my grandfather was told about it, he said, "So what! I donated the chandeliers, so I can donate others. He is not stealing; it is his nana's property. I made that temple." The priest stopped complaining. What was the point? He was just a servant to Nana.
Nana used to go to the temple every morning, yet he never said, "Come with me." He never indoctrinated me. That is what is great ... not to indoctrinate. It is so human to force a helpless child to follow your beliefs, but he remained untempted. Yes, I call it the greatest temptation. The moment you see someone dependent on you in any way, you start indoctrinating. He never even said to me, "You are a Jaina."
I remember perfectly--it was the time that the census was being taken. The officer had come to our house. He made many inquiries about many things. They asked about my grandfather's religion; he said, "Jainism." They then asked about my grandmother's religion. My nana said, "You can ask her yourself. Religion is a private affair. I myself have never asked her." What a man!
My grandmother answered, "I do not believe in any religion whatsoever. All religions look childish to me." The officer was shocked. Even I was taken aback. She does not believe in any religion at all! In India to find a woman who does not believe in any religion at all is impossible. But she was born in Khajuraho, perhaps into a family of Tantrikas who have never believed in any religion. They have practiced meditation, but they have never believed in any religion.
It sounds very illogical to a Western mind: meditation without religion? Yes ... in fact, if you believe in any religion you cannot meditate. Religion is an interference in your meditation. Meditation needs no God, no heaven, no hell, no fear of punishment, and no allurement of pleasure. Meditation has nothing to do with mind; meditation is beyond it, whereas religion is only mind, it is within mind.
I know Nani never went to the temple, but she taught me one mantra that I will reveal for the first time. It is a Jain mantra, but it has nothing to do with Jainas as such. It is purely accidental that it is related to Jainism ... .
The mantra is so beautiful; it is going to be difficult to translate it, but I will do my best ... or my worst. First listen to the mantra in its original beauty:
Namo arihantanam namo namo / Namo siddhanam namo namo / Namo uvajjhayanam namo namo / Namo loye savva sahunam namo namo / Aeso panch nammukaro / Savva pavappanano / Mangalam cha savvesam padhamam havai mangalam / Arihante saranam pavajjhami / Siddhe saranam pavajjhami / Sahu saranam pavajjhami / Namo arihantanam namo namo / Namo siddhanam namo namo / Namo uvajjhayanam namo namo / Om, shantih, shantih, shantih ... .
Now my effort at translation: "I go to the feet of, I bow down to, the arihantas ... ." Arihanta is the name in Jainism, as arhat is in Buddhism, for one who has achieved the ultimate but cares nothing about anybody else. He has come home and turned his back on the world. He does not create a religion, he does not even preach, he does not even declare. Of course he has to be remembered first. The first remembrance is for all those who have known and remained silent. The first respect is not for words, but for silence. Not for serving others, but for the sheer achievement of one's self. It does not matter whether one serves others or not; that is secondary, not primary. The primary is that one has achieved one's self, and it is so difficult in this world to know one's self ... .
The Jains call the person arihanta who has attained to himself and is so drowned, so drunk in the beatitude of his realization that he has forgotten the whole world. The word arihanta literally means "one who has killed the enemy"--and the enemy is the ego. The first part of the mantra means, "I touch the feet of the one who has attained himself."
The second part is: Namo siddhanam namo namo. This mantra is in Prakrit, not Sanskrit. Prakrit is the language of the Jains; it is more ancient than Sanskrit. The very word sanskrit means refined. You can understand by the word refined that there must have been something before it, otherwise what are you going to refine? Prakrit means unrefined, natural, raw, and the Jains are correct when they say their language is the most ancient in the world. Their religion, too, is the most ancient. The mantra is in Prakrit, raw and unrefined. The second line is: Namo siddhanam namo namo--"I touch the feet of the one who has become his being." So, what is the difference between the first and the second? The arihanta never looks back, never bothers about any kind of service, Christian or otherwise. The siddha once in a while holds out his hand to drowning humanity--but only once in awhile,not always. It is not a necessity, it is not compulsory; it is his choice. He may or he may not.
Hence the third: Namo uvajjhayanam namo namo--"I touch the feet of the masters, the uvajjhaya." They have achieved the same, but they face the world, they serve the world. They are in the world and not of it ... but still in it.
The fourth: Namo loye savva sahunam namo namo--"I touch the feet of the teachers." You know the subtle difference between a master and a teacher. The master has known, and imparts what he has known. The teacher has received from one who has known, and delivers it intact to the world, but he himself has not known. The composers of this mantra are really beautiful; they even touch the feet of those who have not known themselves, but at least are carrying the message of the masters to the masses.
Number five is one of the most significant sentences I have ever come across in my whole life. It is strange that it was given to me by my grandmother when I was a small child. When I explain it to you, you too will see the beauty of it. Only she was capable of giving it to me. I don't know anybody else who had the guts to really proclaim it, although all Jainas repeat it in their temples. But to repeat is one thing; to impart it to one you love is totally another.
"I touch the feet of all those who have known themselves" ... without any distinction, whether they are Hindus, Jainas, Buddhists, Christians, Mohammedans. The mantra says, "I touch the feet of all those who have known themselves." This is the only mantra, as far as I know, that is absolutely nonsectarian.
The other four parts are not different from the fifth; they are all contained in it, but it has a vastness that those others do not have. The fifth line ought to be written on all the temples, all the churches, irrespective of to whom they belong, because it says, "I touch the feet of all those who have known it." It does not say "who have known God." Even the "it" can be dropped: I am only putting "it" in the translation. The original simply means, "touching the feet of those who have known"--no "it." I am putting "it" in just to fulfill the demands of your language; otherwise someone is bound to ask, "Known? Known what? What is the object of knowledge?" There is no object of knowledge; there is nothing to know, only the knower.
This mantra was the only religious thing, if you can call it religious, given to me by my grandmother--not by my grandfather but by my grandmother.One night she said, "You look awake. Can't you sleep? Are you planning tomorrow's mischief?"
I said, "No, but somehow a question is arising in me. Everybody has a religion, and when people ask me, 'To what religion do you belong?' I shrug my shoulders. Now, certainly shrugging your shoulders is not a religion, so I want to ask you, what should I say?"
She said, "I myself don't belong to any religion, but I love this mantra, and this is all I can give you--not because it is traditionally Jaina, but only because I have known its beauty. I have repeated it millions of times and always I have found tremendous peace ... just the feeling of touching the feet of all those who have known. I can give you this mantra; more than that is not possible for me."
Now I can say that woman was really great, because as far as religion is concerned, everybody is lying. Christians, Jews, Jainas, Mohammedans--everybody is lying. They all talk of God, heaven and hell, angels and all kinds of nonsense, without knowing anything at all. She was great, not because she knew but because she was unable to lie to a child.
Nobody should lie--to a child, at least, it is unforgivable. Children have been exploited for centuries just because they are willing to trust. You can lie to them very easily and they will trust you. If you are a father, a mother, they will think you are bound to be true. That's how the whole of humanity lives in corruption, in a very slippery, thick mud of lies told to children for centuries. If we can do just one thing, a simple thing--not lie to children and to confess to them our ignorance--then we will be religious and we will put them on the path of religion. Children are only innocence; leave them not your so-called knowledge. But you yourself must first be innocent, unlying, true.
JAINISM IS THE MOST ASCETIC RELIGION IN THE WORLD, OR IN OTHER words the most masochistic and sadistic. Jaina monks torture themselves so much that one wonders if they are insane. They are not. They are businessmen, and the followers of the Jaina monks are all businessmen. It is strange, the whole Jaina community consists only of businessmen--but not really strange because the religion itself is basically motivated for profit in the other world. The Jaina tortures himself in order to gain something in the other world that he knows he cannot attain in this.
I must have been about four or five years old when I saw the first naked Jaina monk being invited into my grandmother's house. I could not resist laughing. My grandfather told me, "Keep quiet! I know you are a nuisance. I can forgive you when you are a pain in the neck to the neighbors, but I cannot forgive you if you try to be mischievous with my guru. He is my master; he initiated me into the inner secrets of religion."
I said, "I am not concerned about the inner secrets, I am concerned about the outer secrets that he is showing so clearly. Why is he naked? Can't he at least wear short pants?"
Even my grandfather laughed. He said, "You don't understand."
I said, "Okay I will ask him myself."
All the villagers had assembled for the darshan of the Jaina monk. In the middle of the so-called sermon I stood up. That was forty or so years ago, and since then I have been fighting these idiots continuously. That day a war began that is only going to end when I am no more. Perhaps it may not end even then; my people may continue it.
I asked simple questions that he could not answer. I was puzzled. My grandfather was ashamed. My grandmother patted me on the back and said, "Great! You did it! I knew you were able to."
What had I asked? Just simple questions. I had asked, "Why don't you want to be born again?" That's a very simple question in Jainism, because Jainism is nothing but an effort not to be born again. It is the whole science of preventing rebirth. So I asked him the basic question, "Don't you ever want to be born again?"
He said, "No, never."
Then I asked, "Why don't you commit suicide? Why are you still breathing? Why eat? Why drink water? Just disappear, commit suicide. Why make so much fuss over a simple thing?" He was not more than forty years of age ... . I said to him, "If you continue in this way, you may have to continue for another forty years or even more." It is a scientific fact that people who eat less live longer ... .
So I said to the monk--I did not know these facts then--"If you don't want to be born again, why are you living? Just to die? Then why not commit suicide?" I don't think anybody had ever asked him such a question. In polite society nobody ever asks a real question, and the question of suicide is the most real of all.
Marcel says: Suicide is the only real philosophical question. I had no idea of Marcel then. Perhaps at that time there was no Marcel, and his book had not been written yet. But this is what I said to the Jaina monk: "If you don't want to be born again, which you say is your desire, then why do you live? For what? Commit suicide! I can show you a way. Although I don't know much about the ways of the world, as far as suicide is concerned I can give you some advice. You can jump off the hill at the side of the village, or you can jump into the river."
I told the Jaina monk, "In the rainy season you can jump into the river with me. We can keep company for a little while, then you can die, and I will reach the other shore. I can swim well enough."
He looked at me so fiercely, so full of anger, that I had to tell him, "Remember, you will have to be born again because you are still full of anger. This is not the way to get rid of the world of worries. Why are you looking at me so angrily? Answer my question in a peaceful and silent way. Answer joyously! If you cannot answer, simply say, 'I don't know.' But don't be angry."
The man said, "Suicide is a sin. I cannot commit suicide. But I want never to be born again. I will achieve that state by slowly renouncing everything that I possess."
I said, "Please show me something that you possess--because, as far as I can see, you are naked and you don't possess anything. What possessions do you have?"
My grandfather tried to stop me. I pointed toward my grandmother and then said to him, "Remember, I asked permission of Nani, and now nobody can prevent me, not even you. I spoke to her about you because I was worried that if I interrupted your guru and his rubbishy, so-called sermon, you would be angry with me. She said, 'Just point toward me, that's all. Don't be worried: just a look from me and he will become silent.'" And strange ... it was true! He became silent, even without a look from my nani.
Later on my nani and I both laughed. I said to her, "He did not even look at you."
She said, "He could not, because he must have been afraid that I would say, 'Shut up! Don't interfere with the child.' So he avoided me. The only way to avoid me was to not interfere with you."
In fact he closed his eyes as if he was meditating. I said to him, "Nana, great! You are angry boiling, there is fire within you, yet you sit with closed eyes as if you are meditating. Your guru is angry because my questions areannoying him. You are angry because your guru is not capable of answering. But I say, this man who is sermonizing here is just an imbecile." And I was not more than four or five years old.
From that time on that has remained my language. I immediately recognize the idiot wherever he is, whoever he is. Nobody can escape my X-ray eyes.
I DON'T REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE JAINA MONK, PERHAPS HIS name was Shanti Sagar, meaning "ocean of bliss." He certainly was not that. That is why I have forgotten even his name. He was just a dirty puddle, not an ocean of bliss or peace. And he was certainly not a man of silence, because he became very angry.
Shanti can mean many things. It may mean peace, it may mean silence; those are the two basic meanings. Both were missing in him. He was neither peaceful nor silent, not at all. Nor could you say that he was without any turmoil in him because he became so angry that he shouted at me to sit down.
I said, "Nobody can tell me to sit down in my own house. I can tell you to get out, but you cannot tell me to sit down. But I will not tell you to get out because I have a few more questions. Please don't be angry. Remember your name, Shanti Sagar--ocean of peace and silence. You could at least be a little pool. And don't be disturbed by a little child."
Without bothering whether he was silent or not, I asked my grandmother, who was by now all laughter, "What do you say, Nani? Should I ask him more questions, or tell him to get out of our house?"
I did not ask my grandfather, of course, because this man was his guru. My nani said, "You can ask whatsoever you want to, and if he cannot answer, the door is open, he can get out."
That was the woman I loved. That was the woman who made me a rebel. Even my grandfather was shocked that she supported me in such a way. That so-called Shanti Sagar immediately became silent the moment he saw that my grandmother supported me. Not only her, the villagers were immediately on my side. The poor Jaina monk was left absolutely alone.
I asked him a few more questions. I asked, "You have said, 'Don't believe anything unless you have experienced it yourself.' I see the truth in that, hence this question ... ."
Jainas believe there are seven hells. Up to the sixth there is a possibility ofcoming back, but the seventh is eternal. Perhaps the seventh is the Christian hell, because there too, once you are in it you are in it forever. I continued, "You referred to seven hells, so the question arises, have you visited the seventh? If you have, then you could not be here. If you have not, on what authority do you say that it exists? You should say that there are only six hells, not seven. Now please be correct: Say that there are only six hells, or if you want to insist on seven, then prove to me that at least one man, Shanti Sagar, has come back from the seventh hell."
He was dumbfounded. He could not believe that a child could ask such a question. Today, I too cannot believe it! How could I ask such a question? The only answer I can give is that I was uneducated, and utterly without any knowledge. Knowledge makes you very cunning. I was not cunning. I simply asked the question that any child could have asked if he were not educated. Education is the greatest crime man has committed against poor children. Perhaps the last liberation in the world will be the liberation of children.
I was innocent, utterly unknowledgeable. I could not read or write, not even count beyond my fingers. Even today, when I have to count anything I start with my fingers, and if I miss a finger I get mixed up. He could not answer. My grandmother stood up and said, "You have to answer the question. Don't think that only a child is asking; I am also asking and I am your hostess."
Now again I have to introduce you to a Jaina convention. When a Jaina monk comes to a family to receive his food, after taking his meal, as a blessing to the family, he gives a sermon. The sermon is addressed to the hostess. My grandmother said, "I am your hostess today, and I also am asking the same question. Have you visited the seventh hell? If not, say truthfully that you have not, but then you cannot say there are seven hells."
The monk became so puzzled and confused--more so by being confronted by a beautiful woman--that he started to leave. My nani shouted, "Stop! Don't leave! Who is going to answer my child's question? And he still has a few more to ask. What kind of man are you, escaping from a child's questions!"
The man stopped. I said to him, "I drop the second question, because the monk cannot answer it. He has not answered the first question either, so I will ask him the third; perhaps he may be able to answer that."
He looked at me. I said, "If you want to look at me, look into my eyes." There was great silence, nobody said a word. The monk lowered his eyes, and Ithen said, "Then I don't want to ask. My first two questions are unanswered, and the third is not asked because I don't want a guest of the house to be ashamed. I withdraw." And I really withdrew from the gathering, and I was so happy when my grandmother followed me.
The monk was given his farewell by my grandfather, but as soon as he had left, my grandfather rushed back into the house and asked my grandmother, "Are you mad? First you supported this boy who is a born troublemaker, then you went with him without even saying good-bye to my master."
My grandmother said, "He is not my master, so I don't care a bit. Moreover, what you think to be a born troublemaker is the seed. Nobody knows what will come out of it."
I know now what has come out of it. Unless one is a born troublemaker one cannot become a buddha. And I am not just a buddha as Gautam the Buddha is; that is too traditional. I am Zorba the Buddha. I am a meeting of the East and the West. In fact, I do not divide East and West, higher and lower, man and woman, good and bad, God and the devil. No, a thousand times no--I don't divide. I join together all that has been divided up to now. That is my work.
That day is immensely significant in order to understand what happened during my whole life, because unless you understand the seed, you will miss the tree and the flowering, and perhaps the moon through the branches.
From that very day I have always been against everything masochistic. Of course I came to know the word much later, but the word does not matter. I have been against all that is ascetic; even that word was not known to me in those days, but I could smell something foul. You know I am allergic to all kinds of self-torture. I want every human being to live to the fullest; minimum is not my way. Live to the maximum, or if you can go beyond the maximum, then fantastic. Go! Don't wait! And don't waste time waiting for Godot ... .
... I am not against the idea of ending life. If one decides to end it, then of course it is his right. But I am certainly against making it a long torture. When this Shanti Sagar died, he took one hundred and ten days of not eating. A man is capable, if he is ordinarily healthy, of easily lasting ninety days without food. If he is extraordinarily healthy then he can survive longer.
So remember, I was not rude to the man. In that context my question was absolutely correct, perhaps more so because he could not answer it. And, strange to tell you today, that was the beginning not only of my questioning,but also the beginning of people not answering. I have met many so-called spiritual people, but nobody has ever answered any of my questions. In a way that day determined my whole flavor, my whole life.
Shanti Sagar left very annoyed, but I was immensely happy, and I did not hide it from my grandfather. I told him, "Nana, he may have left annoyed, but I am feeling absolutely correct. Your guru was just mediocre. You should choose someone of a little more worth."
Even he laughed and said, "Perhaps you are right, but now at my age to change my guru will not be very practical." He asked my nani, "What do you think?"
My nani, as ever true to her spirit, said, "It is never too late to change. If you see what you have chosen is not right, change it. In fact, be quick, because you are getting old. Don't say, 'I am old, so I cannot change.' A young man can afford not to change but not an old man--and you are old enough."
And only a few years later he died, but he could not gather the courage to change his guru. He continued in the same old pattern. My grandmother used to poke him, saying, "When are you going to change your guru and your methods?"
He would say, "Yes, I will, I will."
One day my grandmother said, "Stop all this nonsense! Nobody ever changes unless one changes right now. Don't say 'I will, I will.' Either change or don't change, but be clear."
That woman could have become a tremendously powerful force. She was not meant to be just a housewife. She was not meant to live in that small village. The whole world should have known about her. Perhaps I am her vehicle; perhaps she has poured herself into me. She loved me so deeply that I have never considered my real mother to be my real mother. I always consider my nani to be my real mother.
Whenever I had to confess anything, any wrong that I had done to somebody, I could confess it only to her, nobody else. She was my trust. I could confide anything to her because I had come to realize one thing, and that was that she was capable of understanding.
... That moment in my life, asking the Jaina monk strange, irritating, annoying questions, I don't consider that I did anything wrong. Perhaps I helped him. Perhaps one day he will understand. If he had had courage he would have understood even that day, but he was a coward--he escaped. And since then, this has been my experience: The so-called mahatmas and saints are all cowards. I havenever come across a single mahatma--Hindu, Mohammedan, Christian, Buddhist--who can be said to be really a rebellious spirit. Unless one is rebellious, one is not religious. Rebellion is the very foundation of religion.
NANA WAS NOT JUST A MATERNAL GRANDFATHER. IT IS VERY DIFFICULT for me to define what he was to me. He used to call me Rajah--rajah means "the king"--and for those seven years he managed to have me live like a king. On my birthday he used to bring an elephant from a nearby town ... . Elephants in India, in those days, were kept either by kings--because it is very costly, the maintenance, the food, and the service that the elephant requires--or by saints. Two types of people used to have them. The saints could have elephants because they had so many followers. Just as the followers looked after the saint, they looked after the elephant. Nearby there was a saint who had an elephant, so for my birthday my maternal grandfather used to put me on the elephant with two bags, one on either side, full of silver coins.
In my childhood, notes had not appeared in India; silver was still used for the rupee. My grandfather would fill two big bags, hanging on either side, with silver coins, and I would go around the village throwing the silver coins. That's how he used to celebrate my birthday. Once I started, he would come in his bullock cart behind me with more rupees, and he would go on telling me, "Don't be miserly--I am keeping enough. You cannot throw more than I have. Go on throwing!"
He managed in every possible way to give me the idea that I belonged to some royal family.
SEPARATION HAS ITS OWN POETRY, ONE JUST HAS TO LEARN ITS language, and one has to live it in its depth. Then out of sadness itself comes a new kind of joy ... which looks almost impossible, but it happens. I have known it because of the death of my nana. It was a total separation. We will not meet again, yet there was a beauty in it. He was old, and dying, perhaps from a severe heart attack. We were not aware of it because the village had no doctor, not even a pharmacist, no medicine, so we didn't know the cause of his death, but I think it was a severe heart attack.
I asked him in his ear, "Nana, have you something to say to me before you depart? Any last words? Or do you want to give me something to remember you by forever?" He took off his ring and put it in my hand. That ring is with some sannyasin1 now; I gave it to someone. But that ring was always a mystery. His whole life he would not allow anybody to see what was in it, yet again and again he used to look into it. That ring had a glass window on both sides that you could look through. On top was a diamond; on each of its sides there was a glass window.
He had not allowed anybody to see what it was that he used to look at through the window. Inside there was a statue of Mahavira, the Jaina tirthankara; a really beautiful image, and very small. It was a small picture of Mahavira inside, and those two windows were magnifying glasses. They magnified it and it looked really huge.
With tears in his eyes my grandfather said, "I don't have anything else to give you because all that I have will be taken away from you too, just as it has been taken away from me. I can only give you my love for the one who has known himself."
Although I did not keep his ring, I have fulfilled his desire. I have known the one, and I have known it in myself. In a ring what does it matter? But the poor old man, he loved his master, Mahavira, and he gave his love to me. I respect his love for his master, and for me. The last words on his lips were, "Don't be worried, because I am not dying."
We all waited to see if he was going to say something else, but that was all. His eyes closed and he was no more.
I still remember that silence. The bullock cart was passing through a riverbed. I exactly remember each detail. I didn't say anything because I didn't want to disturb my grandmother. She did not say a thing. A few moments passed, then I became a little worried about her and said, "Say something; don't be so quiet, it is unbearable."
Can you believe it, she sang a song! That's how I learned that death has to be celebrated. She sang the same song she had sung when she was in love with my grandfather for the first time.
This too is worth noting: that ninety years ago, in India, she had hadcourage to fall in love. She remained unmarried up till the age of twenty-four. That was very rare. I asked her once why she had remained unmarried for so long. She was such a beautiful woman ... . I just jokingly told her that even the king of Chhattarpur, the state where Khajuraho is, might have fallen in love with her.
She said, "It is strange that you should mention it, because he did. I refused him, and not only him but many others too." In those days in India, girls were married when they were seven, or at the most nine years of age. Just the fear of love ... if they are older they may fall in love. But my grandmother's father was a poet; his songs are still sung in Khajuraho and nearby villages. He insisted that unless she agreed, he was not going to marry his daughter to anybody. As chance would have it, she fell in love with my grandfather.
I asked her, "That is even stranger; you refused the king of Chhattarpur, and yet you fell in love with this poor man. For what? He was certainly not a very handsome man, nor extraordinary in any other way. Why did you fall in love with him?"
She said, "You are asking the wrong question. Falling has no 'why' to it. I just saw him, and that was it. I saw his eyes, and a trust arose in me that has never wavered."
I had also asked my grandfather, "Nani says she fell in love with you. That's okay on her part, but why did you allow the marriage to happen?"
He said, "I am not a poet or a thinker, but I can recognize beauty when I see it."
I never saw a more beautiful woman than my nani. I myself was in love with her, and loved her throughout her whole life. When she died at the age of eighty, I rushed home and found her lying there, dead. They were all just waiting for me because she had told them that they should not put her body on the funeral pyre until I arrived. She had insisted that I set light to her funeral pyre, so they were waiting for me. I went in, uncovered her face ... and she was still beautiful! In fact, more beautiful than ever because all was quiet; even the turmoil of her breathing, the turmoil of living was not there. She was just a presence.
To put the fire to her body was the most difficult task I have ever done in my life. It was as if I was putting fire to one of the most beautiful paintings of Leonardo, or Vincent van Gogh. Of course to me she was more valuable than the Mona Lisa, more beautiful to me than Cleopatra. It is not an exaggeration. All that is beautiful in my vision somehow comes through her. She helped me inevery way to be the way I am. Without her I may have been a shopkeeper or perhaps a doctor or an engineer, because when I passed my matriculation my father was so poor, it was difficult for him to send me to university. But he was even ready to borrow money in order to do it. He was utterly insistent that I go to university. I was willing, but not to go to medical college, and I was not willing to go to engineering college either. I flatly refused to be a doctor or an engineer. I told him, "If you want to know the truth, I want to be a sannyasin, a hobo."
He said, "What!? A hobo!"
I said, "Yes. I want to go to university to study philosophy so that I can be a philosophical hobo."
He refused, saying, "In that case I am not going to borrow money and take all that trouble."
My grandmother said, "Don't you worry, son; you go and do whatsoever you want to do. I am alive, and I will sell everything I have just to help you to be yourself. I will not ask where you want to go and what you want to study."
She never asked, and she sent me money continually, even when I became a professor. I had to tell her that I was now earning for myself, and I should rather send her money.
She said, "Don't worry, I have no use for this money, and you must be using it well."
People used to wonder where I got all the money to purchase my books, because I had thousands of books. Even when I was just a student in high school I had thousands of books in my house. My whole house was full of books, and everybody wondered where I got all the money from. My grandmother had told me, "Never tell anyone that you get money from me, because if your father and mother come to know they will start asking me for money, and it will be difficult for me to refuse."
She went on giving money to me. You will be surprised to know that even the month she died she had sent the usual money to me. On the morning of the day she died she had signed the check. You will also be amazed to know that was the last money she had in the bank. Perhaps somehow she knew that there was not going to be any tomorrow.
I am fortunate in many ways, but I was most fortunate in having my maternal grandparents ... and those early golden years.