“The final thing to be understood about the tirtha is the value of symbolic acts,” explains Osho. From ‘Hidden Mysteries’, Ch 2, Part 8 of 9.
For example, someone comes to Jesus and confesses his sins. Jesus puts his hand on that person’s head and says, “Go, all your sins are forgiven.” Now how can Jesus, just by putting his hand on someone’s head, forgive them? Who is Jesus to forgive anyone’s sins? If a person has committed a murder, how can he be forgiven like this? In India it is said that no matter what sins may have been committed, if you take a bath in the Ganges you will be free from your sins. Someone who has committed theft, who has defrauded people, who has killed someone – how can he become freed of his sins by bathing in the Ganges?
Here two things need to be understood. The sin is not the real event but the memory is real. It is not the sin, the act of sin, that clings to you, but just the memory of it. If you have killed someone, the memory of it will haunt you like a nightmare throughout your life. Those who know of inner things say that whether a murder is committed or not is just part of a drama and is not very important. Neither anybody dies nor can anyone be killed. But the memory of the sin weighs heavily on your chest like a stone. An act is committed and becomes lost in the infinite – the act is being taken care of by the infinite. The reality is that all acts are done by the infinite; you are unnecessarily becoming disturbed. If you committed a theft it was done through you by the infinite. If you killed someone it was done by the infinite through you. You are unnecessarily standing in between with your memory of the act, and that memory is a burden on you.
Jesus says, “Repent, and I will take away your sins.” – and someone who trusts in Jesus returns unburdened and purified. In reality, Jesus does not free you from your sins but from the memory of your sins. The memory is the real thing. Jesus only removes that.
Similarly, the Ganges does not free you from your sins, but can free you from the memory of them. If someone really trusts the Ganges and believes that if he bathes in it he will be free of all sins – if his collective unconscious built up over thousands of years reinforces this, and if the society in which he is living also confirms his strong belief – then he will be. Bathing cannot make a person free from the sin as such, because the sin has already been committed – nothing can be done to the theft that has been committed or the murder that has been committed; nothing can be done about that – but when a person with such a belief emerges from the Ganges, his trust in its purity and power frees him from the feeling of guilt even though the bathing is only a symbolic act.
by those who left
who are still
on the path.
How long can Jesus live on earth? How many sinners can he meet? How many of them can repent? Time is very short, and what will happen when Jesus is not there? Hindus have found a more permanent arrangement, connecting confession with a river, not a person. The river goes on receiving confessions and forgiving people. The river is infinite, its flow is steady and permanent – how long can Jesus live? He was barely able to work for three years, from the age of thirty to thirty-three. Within the span of three years, how many sinners can confess? How many sinners can reach him? On how many can he put his hand? So Hindu seers entrust this phenomenon to a river, not to a person.
If someone goes to a tirtha he will return free and unburdened; he will be free of the memory of his sin. It is the memory that is binding him and has become a bond. The shadow of the sin that follows you is the culprit. It is possible to be free from it, but there is one condition. The most important condition is that you have total faith – faith in the idea that this has been happening for thousands of years.
There are a few tirthas that are eternal – Kashi is one such. There has never been a time on earth when Kashi – Varanasi – was not a tirtha. It is man’s oldest place of pilgrimage, so it has a greater value. So many people have been liberated, experienced peace and sacredness there, the sins of so many have been washed away there – a long, long continuity, and so the suggestion that one can be freed of sin has gone deeper and deeper. That suggestion becomes faith to a simple mind, and if such trust is there, the holy place will become valuable; otherwise it is useless. Without your cooperation, a tirtha cannot help you. And you will be able to give your cooperation only if the holy place is very ancient and historical.
the same work
as is done
by radars today.
Hindus say that Kashi is not a part of this earth, but a place apart; the city of Shiva is separate and indestructible. Many towns will be built and will be destroyed, but Kashi will remain forever. Buddha went to Kashi, all the Jaina tirthankaras were born in Kashi, Shankaracharya also went to Kashi, Kabir went to Kashi; Kashi has seen tirthankaras, incarnations and saints, but all are no more. Not one of them remains, but Kashi does. The holiness of all these people, the benefit of their good work, all the achievements of their lives, their collective fragrance is absorbed by Kashi and it has acquired their life streams. This makes Kashi separate from the earth, at least metaphysically.
On this city’s roads Buddha has walked, and in its lanes Kabir has given religious discourses. Now it has all become a story, a dream, but Kashi has assimilated everything within itself. If someone with absolute trust and faith enters this city, he can again see Buddha walking on its roads, he can see Tulsidas and Kabir…. If you approach Kashi like this then it is not just an ordinary city like Bombay or London, it will take on a unique spiritual form. Its consciousness is ancient and eternal. History may be lost, civilizations may be born and destroyed, may come and go, but Kashi keeps its inner life-flow continuous.
Walking on its roads, bathing near the banks of its river, the Ganges, and sitting in meditation in Kashi, you also become a part of its inner flow. To think that “I alone can do everything,” is dangerous. The divine in many forms can help. In temples and holy places that help can be sought; their whole arrangement is to provide help.
I have told you some things to explain the tirtha to you – but that is not enough. There are many things connected with such places which can’t be understood – but they do happen. Such things cannot be intellectually clarified or made into mathematical formulas, but they do happen.
I will tell you of two or three things that happen…. If you sit somewhere alone in meditation, you are unlikely to feel aware of the presence of the few souls who may be around you. But in a tirtha, such an experience can be very powerful. It may become so deep sometimes that you feel your own presence less than that of the others.
some form of
For example, Kailash has been a holy place for Hindus as well as for Tibetan Buddhists. But Kailash is absolutely desolate, it has no houses and no human population – no worshipers, no priests…. But whoever sits in meditation in Kailash will find it fully inhabited. From the moment you reach Kailash, if you are capable of going into meditation you will say that it is inhabited by many souls, and wonderful ones too. But if you go there and cannot meditate, then Kailash is empty for you.
A minimum of five hundred enlightened buddhas must always stay there to make Kailash a tirtha.
Researchers believe that there are no inhabitants on the moon. But those who have some experience of Kailash will not agree that that is true about the moon. The astronauts will not find any signs of habitation there, but it does not necessarily follow that there is no one there just because the astronauts don’t find anyone.
In Jaina scriptures there are detailed descriptions of the gods residing on the moon; but since astronauts have reported that there is no life on the moon, the Jaina saints and sadhus are embarrassed. All they can say is that the astronauts have not reached the real moon; otherwise they will have to admit that their scriptures are wrong.
Recently, someone in Gujarat was telling me that a Jaina monk was collecting funds to prove that the astronauts have not reached the real moon. This can’t be proven; astronauts have reached the real moon, but the difficulty is that Jaina scriptures say that certain gods live there – it is written in their books. They themselves don’t know, so the ordinary intelligence of the Jaina sadhu will say that the astronauts have not reached the real moon because to him the scriptures cannot be wrong. Some other Jaina sadhu claimed that the astronauts have actually arrived on some huge satellites which are situated near the moon, not the moon itself. All this is ridiculous, madness; but there are reasons behind this madness. There has been a Jaina belief, over twenty thousand years old, that there is life on the moon, but they don’t know what kind of habitation. That life form is like that of Kailash or that of any other tirtha.
When you get down from a train at the Kashi station, you see the gross form of Kashi, made of mud and stone: any tourist can go there and return. But there is a spiritual form of Kashi which only those who are introspective will be able to reach – those who can go deep into meditation. For them Kashi will be different, very beautiful, beyond imagination, whereas the earthly Kashi is dirtier and more foul-smelling than any other city. That is only the visible Kashi. Some would say that the other Kashi, the beautiful one, exists only in the imagination of the poet – but that Kashi is also there. The real Kashi is a great contact field for meditators. One who reaches through meditation, reaches the spiritual Kashi: on its remote banks he might come across people he could never have imagined meeting.
Just now I said that on Kailash there is some form of unearthly habitation. It is more or less certain that about five hundred Buddhist siddhas regularly stay there; five hundred individuals who are enlightened buddhas will always remain on Kailash. If one of them wants to go on some other mission, he will not go until some other buddha arrives to take his place. But a minimum of five hundred enlightened buddhas must always stay there to make Kailash a tirtha. Only when one reaches such a tirtha does one meet disembodied souls, but it is not possible to meet them unless there is some fixed physical location; otherwise where would you meet disembodied souls, which cannot be seen? So Kashi is a place where you can sit in meditation and enter that inner world to establish communication with such souls. A tirtha cannot be understood intellectually, because it has nothing to do with the intellect. The real tirtha is hidden somewhere near the physical indication of it.
Another important thing is that when an enlightened person gives up the physical body, his compassion compels him to leave some physical signs behind to help those who had walked with him, who had practiced austerities and made a lot of effort to become enlightened but had not succeeded. For those some guiding indications and symbols should be left so if they need they can establish a connection with him. In this world, although physical bodies are lost, no soul ever is, so some process has to be established to make contact with unembodied souls.
Tirthas do the same work as is done by radars today: radars reach where the eyes cannot. Stars which cannot be seen with the eyes can be detected by radar. Now through the tirtha communication can be established between those who have left us, and with those from whom we have become separated. Tirthas were established by those who left for those who are still on the path – for those who have not yet reached, for those who can still go astray. Those left behind may occasionally need to ask something, to know something, which may be absolutely necessary for further progress, and without which they may go astray. They don’t know what their future is, they don’t know the road ahead; so for needy seekers such as them special arrangements were created – such as tirthas, temples, mantras, idols, and so on. They are all rituals, but still they are definite processes to be gone through.
Osho, Hidden Mysteries, Ch 2 (translated from Hindi), Part 8 of 9
1. There are hidden meanings not visible from the outside
2. The whole purpose of the places of pilgrimage
3. All religions have developed their own code languages
4. Every religion has its own keys
5. The whole of the River Ganges is an experiment of alchemists
6. All methods of helping a seeker were found in tirthas and temples
7. The tirtha is a mass experiment
List of all excerpts published: Hidden Mysteries