Osho comments on the first sentence of the Desiderata: Hear then the wisdom of the wise…
Hear then the wisdom of the wise: Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
We enter today into one of the most beautiful worlds, that of a small document called the Desiderata. It is strange because it has appeared many times and disappeared many times; hence nobody exactly knows who wrote it. Truth has the capacity to appear again and again; because of human stupidity it is lost again and again too.
The Desiderata seems to be one of the most ancient documents available today, but it is copyrighted by a poet, Max Ehrmann. In his book of poems it is also given as a poem authored by him, copyrighted in 1927 in America, although in the first edition he talks about the legend that this small document was discovered on a plaque installed in St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore when built in 1692, but it was lost. There is no proof anymore whether it was installed as a plaque in St. Paul’s Church or not. The legend is there; it has persisted. It seems Max Ehrmann again had the vision of it. It came to him as a vision. He is not really its author but only a receptacle, a medium.
This has happened to many other documents too. It happened in the case of Blavatsky’s The Voice of Silence: she is known as the authoress of the book, but the book is very ancient. She discovered it in her meditations; it appeared to her.
Many parts of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra are also very ancient, and the same is the case with Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. Mabel Collins’ Light on the Path is of the same category, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet also.
I have looked into all Max Ehrmann’s poems but no other poem has the same quality, not even a single poem. If the Desiderata was written by him then many more poems of the same quality would have flowed. It has not happened. In fact, the Desiderata seems to be so different from all his poems that it is impossible to believe that it has come from the same person.
The same is true about Mabel Collins’ Light on The Path. These are strange documents. The possibility is that they have always existed – again and again lost visibly, but truth manifests itself…. Whenever there is a vulnerable soul, a receptive person, truth again starts flowing through him. And of course the person will think, “I am writing it.”
It is because of this fact that the Upanishads have no names of authors; nobody knows who wrote them, because the people who received them were very alert and aware. They were mystics, not only poets.
This is the difference between the poet and the mystic: when something happens to the mystic he is perfectly aware that it is from the beyond, it is not from him. He is immensely glad; he rejoices that he has been chosen as a vehicle, as a medium, but his ego cannot claim it. In fact, you become a mystic only when you have dropped the ego. But the poet is full of the ego – not always but almost always. Once in a while, when he forgets his ego, he touches the same world that is the mystic’s world. But the mystic lives there; the poet once in a while gets a glimpse of it. And because his ego is not dead he immediately claims it as his creation. But all the ancient seers were aware of it.
The Vedas, the Bible, the Koran, the three greatest scriptures of the world, are known not to have been written by anyone. The Vedas are known as Apaurusheya – not written by any person. Certainly somebody wrote them, but they are from God, from the beyond, from some unknown source. The mystic becomes possessed by it, he dances to its tune. He is no more himself – he is it. The poet once in a while gets a glimpse of it, a faraway glimpse.
In Sanskrit we have two words for the poet; in no other language is it so, because no other part of the world became alert, very alert about this fact. In Sanskrit one word is kavi; kavi exactly means the poet. The other word is rishi; rishi means a mystic poet. The difference is great. The poet has a deep aesthetic sense, he is very sensitive; he can penetrate into the very core of things. He has a way of knowing which is not that of the scientist. He does not analyze, he loves; his love is great, but his ego is alive. So when he looks at a rose flower he comes closer than the scientist, because the scientist immediately starts dissecting the flower, and to dissect something is to kill it. The very effort of knowing is an effort to kill.
Hence whatsoever science knows is about dead things. Now even scientists are becoming aware of the fact. When blood is taken out of your body and is examined, analyzed, it is no more the same blood as it was when it was circulating in your body. Then it was alive; then it was an organic part of your life. Now it is not the same. It is like your hand, or your eye; when it is part of the organic unity of your body it can see, but take the eye out – it is dead, it cannot see. It is no more alive, it is something else: it is a corpse.
The greatest scientists are becoming aware of the fact that whatsoever we have known up to now is basically, fundamentally wrong. We know about dead things only; the alive things we miss. That’s why science cannot say there is something in you which is beyond the body, more than the body. Science cannot say that you are more than the sum total of your parts, and unless you are something more than the sum total of your parts you are not. Then you are only a machine – maybe very sophisticated but that does not matter. You are a computer, you don’t have a soul; you are just a by-product, an epiphenomenon. You don’t have any awareness; you are only behavior.
Science reduces man to a machine – not only to an animal, remember. Those days are gone when science used to think, like Charles Darwin and others, that man is nothing but another animal. Now Skinner, Delgado, Pavlov, don’t say that, that man is another animal – because there is no anima, no life, no consciousness – they say man is another machine.
Religion says man is more than the body, more than the mind, but science cannot believe it because of its very methodology. The way it tries to know things prohibits it from going deeper than the material, than the dead.
Hence the poet reached closer than the scientist. The poet does not dissect the flower, he fails in love. He is immensely glad, he rejoices in the flower, and out of that rejoicing a song is born. But he is still far away from the mystic, the rishi. The mystic becomes one with the flower. The observer becomes the observed; there is no distinction left.
It happened once:
Ramakrishna was crossing the Ganges in a small boat with a few of his disciples. Suddenly in the middle of the river he started shouting, “Why are you beating me?”
The disciples were puzzled. They said, “Paramahansa Deva, what are you saying? We, and beating you?!”
And Ramakrishna said, “Look!” He uncovered his back and there were marks on it as if somebody had beaten him badly with a stick. Blood was oozing out.
The disciples were puzzled what had happened? And then Ramakrishna pointed to the other shore: a few people were beating a person. When they reached the other shore they went to the person, they uncovered his back – and the marks were exactly the same as on Ramakrishna’s back! Without any difference, exactly the same! Ramakrishna became one with the person who was being beaten. He was not an observer, he was not separate; he became one with the observed.
This is the meaning of the English word ‘empathy’. Sympathy the poet knows, empathy the mystic knows. When the mystic sings it is a totally different flavor, a different beauty, because it is not a faraway glimpse of the truth – he is inside the truth, at the very core of it.
But there are many things to be understood. The mystic may not be able to sing at all, because he becomes so one with the truth that he may forget to sing the song. It has happened to many mystics – they have never said anything. It is like if you ask sugar: the sugar may not be able to know that it is sweet; a little difference is needed to know the sweetness of the sugar. The mystic becomes the sugar.
Once in a while the mystic is also a poet; that is a coincidence. Whenever it happens – as in the case of Lao Tzu, Zarathustra, Mohammed – then we have something of the beyond available to us. But a mystic is not necessarily a poet; to be a poet is a different talent. One can be a mystic without being a poet, one can be a poet without being a mystic.
When a mystic is a poet an Upanishad is born, a Srimad Bhagavad Gita is born, a Koran comes to the earth. But it is not always so. So many times it happens that the truth has to find the way through the poet because the mystic is not available.
That’s what happened with this small document, the Desiderata. No mystic seems to be available who can sing this song; hence Max Ehrmann is chosen to be a vehicle – but he is an unconscious person. He thinks he is writing a poem of his own; it is not his own, it has nobody’s signature on it. And as you enter into this small document you will understand: it cannot be from a poet. It has the same quality as the Koran, the same quality as the Upanishads.
It is also a strange document because in such a small space it says so much. It is really made of sutras – just a few hints. Nothing is said very solidly: just a few hints, fingers pointing to the moon. It is so small that after Adlai Stevenson’s death in 1965 it was discovered that he had intended to send out the Desiderata as a Christmas card to his friends. It can be printed on a small card, a postcard, but it contains infinity – a dewdrop that contains all the oceans.
It can be of immense help to you on the path; hence I call it Guida Spirituale. It begins:
Hear then the wisdom of the wise…
Jesus used to say to his disciples again and again: If you have ears, hear. If you have eyes, see. He says it so many times, as if he was not seeing people as having ears and eyes. And that’s my experience too: you all have eyes, but very few people are capable of seeing; you all have ears, but it is rare, very rare, to come across a person who is capable of hearing – because just to hear the words is not hearing and just to see figures is not seeing. Unless you see the meaning, the content, unless you hear the silence which is the soul of the words, you have not heard.
One has to listen in deep silence, in deep agnosia. Remember Dionysius’ word agnosia: a state of not-knowing. If you know, your very knowledge is a disturbance; you cannot hear. That’s why pundits, scholars, are incapable of hearing: they are too full of rubbish. Their minds are continuously chattering inside. Maybe they are reciting shastras, scriptures, but that makes no difference; what is going on inside is of no value.
Unless you are absolutely silent, not even a thought stirring inside, not even a small ripple in the lake of consciousness, you will not be able to hear. And if you cannot hear, then whatsoever you think you hear is going to be wrong.
That’s how Jesus was misunderstood, Socrates was misunderstood, Buddha was misunderstood. They were speaking very clearly. It is impossible to improve upon the statements on Socrates; his statements are very clear, almost perfect, as near perfect as language can be. Buddha’s statements are very simple; there is no complexity in them, but still misunderstanding arises.
From where does all this misunderstanding come? Why have all the great prophets, teerthankaras, all the great enlightened Masters been misunderstood down the ages? – for the simple reason that people cannot hear. They have ears, hence they believe they are capable of hearing. They are not deaf, they have the instrument to hear, but behind their ears there is so much noise and their minds are standing behind their ears to interpret what is being said, to compare, to analyze, to argue, to doubt – they get lost in all the processes.
Just a small word, and watch your mind, what happens – not even a word, just a sound. This airplane passing by… and watch your mind. You cannot hear it simply; you start thinking of many things. Maybe you are reminded of your own journeys, some friend who died in a plane crash; somebody you loved very much, and all the memories associated with the person… and you have gone far away into the memories. And one thing leads to another – you are no more herenow. You have not heard the plane passing by. This plane simply triggered a process in you – of thought, of memories, of desires. Maybe suddenly you thought, “It would be nice if I had a plane of my own!” Or maybe you simply thought, “What a distraction! This noise is a disturbance. I was listening so silently, and here comes this stupid airplane!”
It is not the airplane that is disturbing you; it is your own mind which is calling it stupid, a distraction, a disturbance. If you don’t call it anything, nothing is disturbed. If you simply hear the noise you will be surprised: it deepens your silence; it is not a distraction at all. When it passes by, you fall into a deeper valley of silence than you were in before.
Hence the first word of the Desiderata:
Hear then the wisdom of the wise…
A strange beginning, particularly from a Western poet, from an American poet. This is how all the Eastern sutras begin. Just a little difference is there, and that seems to be because of the Western medium. He has not been able to relate exactly what was happening in his innermost being.
All the great Eastern sutras begin with now, “Athato brahma jigyasa” – the Brahma Sutras begin this way: “Now the enquiry into the ultimate” – not then but now. The Bhakti Sutras of Narada begin: “Athato bhaktijigyasa” – “Now the enquiry into the universe of devotion.” It is never then, it is always now. In fact then does not exist, only now exists.
There does not exist, only here exists. You will never find there and then anywhere. Wherever you go you will always find now and here. If it had come through a mystic there would have been no then, there would have been now.
Hear now the wisdom of the wise….
And that makes more sense. But the logical mind functions in a different way, and when you use a logical mind as a vehicle it interpolates something of its own: then, therefore… now is never part of the logical mind, now is part of the meditative mind. And Ehrmann is not a meditator, is not a mystic, hence he has missed with that word. He says: Hear then the wisdom of the wise…
Just change then to now and see how the quality becomes totally different: Hear now the wisdom of the wise... because except now there is no time and except here there is no space. Then and there are part of our noisy mind. When the noise ceases and the mind is put aside, what is left? – just herenow.
Swami Ramateertha used to tell a beautiful story:
There was a very great atheist and he was continuously talking against God. He had written on the wall of his drawing room in big golden letters: “God is nowhere.” And then a child was born to him, and one day he was playing with the child and the child was learning language. He was not capable of reading such a big word – “nowhere” – so he divided it in two. The child read the sentence: “God is now-here.” “Nowhere” was too big a word; he divided it in two: “now-here.”
It must have been a rare moment for the atheist. In fact, when you are playing with a child you forget your seriousness, you forget your ideologies, you forget your religion, you forget your philosophy, you forget your theology. When you are playing with a child, something of meditativeness happens to you, hence playing with children is of great value. Playing with a child, for a moment you become a child. And remember Jesus’ saying again and again: Unless you are like small children you will not enter into my kingdom of God.
In that moment something happened. The child said, “God is now-here,” and the father was taken unawares. He heard it and he was in a playful mood with the child. And you cannot argue with a small child by saying, “There is no God.” And because he was playful, silent, enjoying, the statement from the child became something of tremendous importance, became very pregnant, as if God had spoken through him.
He looked at the wall for the first time. His whole life he had been looking at that sentence. It was never: “God is now-here.” It was always: “God is nowhere.” He had never conceived that “nowhere” could be divided into “now-here,” that “nowhere” consists of “now-here.” He was transformed. It became almost a satori. He was no more an atheist.
People were puzzled. They could not believe what had happened because he had been so argumentative and he had had so many proofs against God. “What has happened?” And when they asked him he would shrug his shoulders. He would say, “I can also understand why you look so puzzled. I myself am puzzled. Ask this child – he has done something. Hearing this sentence from him, something has changed in me. Looking into the eyes of the child, something has been transformed in me. And it is not only that logically I am a different person, I am existentially different too. Since then I have been seeing God now-here: in the wind passing through the trees, in the rain falling on the roof, I hear his footsteps, I hear his song. The birds sing, and I am reminded God is now-here. The sun rises, and I am reminded God is now-here. Now it is no more question of argumentation, it has become something of my experience.
Mind is always going somewhere else. It is never now-here; it is always then-there. Mind exists only in then and there. That’s why Max Ehrmann has missed. He says: Hear then… then looks more logical, but it is not existential. Now is existential, although very illogical – because you cannot catch hold of now with logic. The moment you think you have caught hold of it, it is already gone, it is already past. You can be in the now, but you cannot try to understand, to know now. By the time you try to understand, it is no longer there. It is like a river flowing continuously.
Heraclitus says: You cannot step in the same river twice. And I say to you: You cannot step in the same river even once because when your foot touches the surface of the river, the water underneath is rushing by. By the moment you touch a little deeper it is different water: the surface is rushing by. By the time you reach to the rock bottom of the river so much water has flowed by, you have not touched the same water even once!
And such is life: except change, nothing is permanent. Only change is eternal. It looks paradoxical, that’s why I say it is illogical.
Osho, Guida Spirituale, Ch 1 – Part 1 of 3
Featured image: Listening to the Moon (detail) by Deva Padma – www.embraceart.com