How do you measure the length of a man’s life?

Discourses The Ten Grounds of the Way

The Ten Grounds of the Way: “The Way is beyond time and beyond experience.” (part 1)


The Buddha asked a monk: How do you measure the length of a man’s life?
The monk answered, “By days.”
The Buddha said: You do not understand the way.

The Buddha asked another monk: How do you measure the length of a man’s life?
The monk answered, “By the time that passes during a meal.”
The Buddha said: You do not understand the way.

The Buddha asked a third monk: How do you measure the length of a man’s life?
The monk answered, “By the breath.”
The Buddha said: Very well, you know the way.


The Buddha asked a monk: How do you measure the length of a man’s life?
The monk answered, “By days.”

Very simple question, and a very simple answer. But much is implied in the question. And the answer also shows much about the monk – his understanding, his state of mind.

When Buddha asks, “How do you measure the length of a man’s life?” he is raising a question that can only be answered by depth. Man’s life can be measured only by depth. It looks paradoxical: length can be measured only by depth.

In fact, the deeper you live, the longer you live. The length of your life depends on your depth. The quantity of your life depends on your quality. The monk could not understand it. He simply said, “By days.” His simple answer also showed much about himself. ‘By days’ means by time; ‘by days’ means by the fleeting; ‘by days’ means by the flux, the changing. He measures life by the momentary, not by the eternal, not by the timeless.

Life exists in time, but life does not belong to time. It penetrates time, and one day it disappears from time. It is just like when a ray of sun penetrates water, and when it penetrates the water its angle changes. That’s why if you put a straight stick into water it will look curved. It will not look straight because the angle of light changes. And when the ray of light enters into the medium of water, it does not belong there, it has come from beyond. It will go back, it will be reflected back – because everything returns to its source, has to return to its source. Only then is the circle complete, and there is contentment.

When Buddha asked: “How do you measure the length of a man’s life?” and the monk replied, “By days,” he showed his understanding. He does not know anything beyond time; he thinks life is just that which consists of time: being born, getting married, living, then old age, then death. Days go on flicking by, just like numbers on a gasoline pump.

But this is not life; this is just the very periphery. Have you observed that if you look inside, time exists not? If you look outside there is time, but if you look inside there is no time. Have you not felt it sometimes, sitting silently with closed eyes – that inside you have not aged at all? Inside you remain the same as when you were a child, or as when you were young. Inside nothing has changed: the face is wrinkled by age, the hairs have gone gray, death is approaching – this is all from the outside. If you look in the mirror then of course there are signs that much time has passed, that very little is left, that sooner or later you will be gone. But look within: there has never been any time there. You are exactly the same as you ever were when you were running in a garden or on the sea-beach and collecting colored stones and seashells. Just remember.…

Inside you are exactly the same this moment too. Time is a fallacy as far as the inner world is concerned, because in the inner world nothing ever changes. It remains the same, its taste remains the same.

In the inner world time is simply irrelevant. And life is in the inner. It expresses itself in the outside, but it does not belong to the outside. It wells up from your within. It moves outwards like ripples, it pulsates outwards, but it arises from your innermost core.

When Buddha was asking: How do you measure the life of a man? in a very simple question he was asking a very complicated philosophical question too. And the monk was deceived. The monk said, “By days.” But there is no day, no night. Time is a utilitarian concept, it is needed outside. When you are alone time is not needed. It is a relationship between you and others; it is a relative concept. Try to find out, and you will be surprised that believing in time you have been believing in an illusion – because that which does not correspond to your inner reality cannot be real.

It is just like money: if you go to the market, it has value. If you simply sit alone with your money, it has no value. The value comes only when you relate with others, because the value is just an agreement between you and the others. That’s why money has a beautiful name: it is called currency. ‘Currency’ means: when money moves it has value; when it does not move it has no value. If you go on keeping it in your pocket always and always, it is meaningless. You can keep anything else instead of it; it will be the same.

Money has value when it changes hands. From one hand to another – then there is value. Value is in its being a currency, a moving force. When it moves from you to somebody else it has value. Again, if it is stuck there it loses value. That’s why miserly people are the poorest in the world: they have money but they don’t know that money has value only when it is a currency. You can hide it in your treasure chest; you will remain poor.

Time is also a currency between two people, between relationships, between societies. But in the inner world, when you are alone, it is simply meaningless.

All the concepts of time, if looked at deeply, look very stupid. But people don’t look deeply into things because to look deeply creates anxiety. Then you become very anxious. Then settled things are unsettled, and whenever something is unsettled one feels anxious. One wants to be settled again.

People say time passes. But where does it pass to? From where does it come? You say it comes from the future and goes into the past? That means the future exists before it has become present? Otherwise, from where is it coming – from nowhere? From nothingness? And then you say it goes into the past? That means it goes on collecting in the past, it is still there? It still exists? Then what is the difference between present, past, and future, if they all exist? Then they are all present. Then there is no past and no future.

You say a moment that has passed is past, and a moment that has yet to come is future. You stand on a road, you have walked two miles; that has passed. But those two miles exist; you can look back, those two miles are still there. And if you want to go back you can go back. But can you go back in time?

Look back – nothing exists. Except for this present moment, on both sides there is simply smoke, and nothing. The past simply disappears, and the future appears out of nothing. And then a problem arises: if in the beginning there is nothing, and in the end again there is nothing, how can there be something between two nothings? It is impossible.

Time is not a valid concept at all. It is just utilitarian. It is accepted, it has utility. Every morning you come at eight o’clock; if there were no time it would be difficult. When would you come? How would you manage? And how would there be a possibility of me meeting you? It would become difficult. But remember it is just an agreement, it is not truth.

Truth is timeless. Time is a human invention, truth is eternal. In fact, time does not pass, we pass. We come and go; time remains. Then time is not time; then it is eternity.

Buddha was asking all these things in a simple question. The monk said, “By days.” Buddha said: You do not understand the Way.

The man’s understanding was very superficial. We can call it the understanding on the level of the body. Of course, the body has a clock in it. Now the scientists call it the ‘biological clock’. That’s why if you eat every day at one o’clock, your lunch time, then every day at one o’clock the body will say you are hungry. The body has a clock. You need not actually look at the clock. If you listen to your body, the body will tell you, “Now it is time to sleep because every day you go to sleep at this time.”

And you can even put an alarm in your body-clock. When you are going to sleep you can repeat your own name loudly, three times. If your name is Ram, you can say, “Ram, listen. I have to get up at five o’clock. Help me.” Talk to your body and go to sleep, and exactly at five o’clock your body will wake you. The body has a clock. That’s why every month, after exactly four weeks, twenty-eight days, the monthly period comes to a woman. The body manages very exactly unless something has gone wrong with the body – the woman may have disturbances. Otherwise, it is exactly twenty-eight days. If the clock is functioning well there will never be any problem: twenty-eight days means twenty-eight days. After nine months the body is ready to give birth to a child, exactly after nine months. If the woman is healthy and there is no complication in her body, it will happen exactly at the moment nine months are complete. The body carries a clock and functions perfectly well.

The body, of course, is measured by days. And the body shows every sign of passing time. Young, old: you can see it on the body. The body carries the whole biography.

This man’s understanding was very physical, very superficial.

The Buddha asked another monk. How do you measure the length of a man’s life?
The monk answered, “By the time that passes during a meal.”

His understanding goes a little deeper. He is less physical and more psychological. To enjoy a meal you need a mind, to indulge you need a mind, to be sensual you need a mind. This man’s understanding was a little deeper. What was he saying? He was saying that a man’s life is measured by the pleasures, indulgences, sensuality, experiences that he has gathered in his life. The man is saying, “How long you live is not the point, but how much you enjoy the pleasures of life.”

There is a story about Nero, the Roman emperor. He must have been of the exact same type as this second monk. He always had two physicians with him. He would eat, and the physicians would help him to vomit. Then he would eat again. You cannot go on eating; there is a limit. So when he would feel that now the stomach was full, he would order the physician to help him vomit; then he could eat again. He would eat ten, twelve times a day.

And don’t think that this is very far-fetched: I have come across a few people who do it.

There was one sannyasin: she told me this after she had been here for at least two years. She said, “I am ashamed, but I have to tell you that every day, when I eat, I vomit immediately.” I said, “Why?” She said, “So that I can eat more. But then I vomit again.”

Now vomiting has become a habit. Now she cannot resist; when she eats she has to vomit. It has become a mechanical habit. It took almost six months to break her habit.

Nero must have done it. Ordinarily, you may not be vomiting but you can go on eating too much. There are people who live to eat. It is good to eat, it is good to eat to live, but once you start living for eating then you are in a very confused state. Eating is a means, not the end.

This monk says, “By the time that passes during a meal.”

He must have been a glutton. He must have understood only one language, and that is of taste. He must have been a food addict. He says that if we count real life, then real life means those moments in which we are enjoying, indulging. It may be food, it may be sex, or other gratifications. Many people are of that type. Their philosophy seems to be: Eat, drink, be merry – and there is nothing else in life.

There has been a great philosopher in India, Charvak. This was his message to his disciples: “Eat, drink, and be merry. And don’t bother about the other life, and the soul, and God. This is all nonsense. These are just theories invented by the priests to exploit you.” He was the first Marxist. Marx came three thousand years later; he was the first Marxist, communist.

But if life is just eating, drinking, indulging, then it cannot have any meaning. That’s why in the west a new problem has become very, very important, and the problem is: what is the meaning of life? All intelligent people are asking that in the west. Why? Nobody asks it in the east; but in the west the problem has become almost epidemic. It is no longer academic; everybody is asking what the meaning of life is. And they are asking at the wrong time – when they have enough to eat, enough to drink, and enough to be merry. Why are they asking this question?

In fact, when you have all that this world can give to you, then arises the question, “What is the meaning of it?” Yesterday you ate, today you are eating, tomorrow also you will eat – so what is the point? Eating and defecating: on the one hand you go on stuffing yourself, on the other hand you go on emptying yourself. Is this your whole life? And in between there is a little taste on the tongue….

It seems absurd. The effort seems to be too much, and the result seems to be nothing, almost nothing.

Man needs to have a meaning, but the meaning can come only from the higher. The meaning always comes from the beyond. Unless you feel related to something higher, you feel meaningless. Because Nietzsche said, “God is dead,” he opened the door for many ugly phenomena. For example, nazism, fascism, communism, became possible. Because once there is no God, that door is closed from where man has always felt meaning in his life.

Meaning arises when you feel that you are part of a divine plan and you feel that you are part of a divine flow. When you feel that you are part of a great whole, then you have meaning. A brick in itself has no meaning, but when it becomes part of a great palace, part of the Taj Mahal, it has meaning. It has contributed something to the beauty of the Taj Mahal; it is not futile, it is significant.

When God is not there man starts finding new meaning to his life: become part of a party – the great Communist Party, or the great Fascist Party. Become part… then Stalin and Adolf Hitler become gods. Then you join hands with them so that you can feel a little meaning – that you are not alone, that you are not just accidental, that you have some mission to fulfill. Maybe you are here to bring communism to the world, a classless society to the world; or you are here to bring the kingdom of the Aryans.

Then one becomes part of a Hindu religion, Christian, Mohammedan. One finds some way, somewhere, to become part of something. And people go to foolish lengths: people become Rotarians and Lions just to have a feeling that they are part of an international organization. You are somehow chosen, you are a Rotarian; everybody cannot be a Rotarian. Only very few people can be Rotarians, but you are a Rotarian. So you have a meaning, but what a foolish meaning! What does it matter whether you are a Rotarian or not? It really does not bring meaning to your life, it simply deceives you.

You can eat well, you can live well, you can have all the pleasures of life – still you will remain empty. This man, the second monk, said that life is to be measured by pleasure, by indulgence, by sensuality. But Buddha said: You do not understand the Way – because the Way cannot be understood by the body-oriented mind, and the Way cannot be understood by the mind-oriented mind. Neither can it be understood through time, nor can it be understood through experience.

The Way is beyond time and beyond experience.

Osho, The Discipline of Transcendence, Vol 4, Ch 7 (excerpt part 1)

To read the other parts of the discourse go to: The Ten Grounds of the Way

Comments are closed.