A man spat on Buddha’s face

1001 Tales told by the Master

“Reaction is out of the past. If you react, out of old habits, out of mind, then you are not responding. To be responsive is to be totally alive in this moment, here-now.”

kneeling in front of Buddha

What is the difference between reaction and response?

There is much, a lot of difference, not only in quantity but quality. A reaction is out of the past, a response is out of the present. You react out of the past old patterns.

Somebody insults you: suddenly the old mechanism starts functioning. In the past people have insulted you and you have behaved in a certain way; you behave in the same way again. You are not responding to this insult and this man, you are simply repeating an old habit. You have not looked at this man and this new insult – it has a different flavour – you are just functioning like a robot. You have a certain mechanism inside you: you push the button, you say, This man has insulted me – and you react; the reaction is not to the real situation, it is something projected. You have seen the past in this man.

It happened, Buddha was sitting under a tree talking to his disciples. A man came and spat on his face. He wiped it off and he asked the man: “What next? What do you want to say next?”

The man was a little puzzled because he himself never expected that when you spit on somebody’s face he will ask, Now, what next? He had had no such experience in his past. He had insulted people, and they had become angry, and they had reacted; or if they were cowards and weaklings they had smiled, trying to bribe the man.

But Buddha was like neither; he was not angry, nor in any way offended, nor in any way cowardly, but just matter of fact; he said, “What next?” There was no reaction on his part.

His disciples became angry, they reacted. Buddha’s closest disciple, Anand, said, “This is too much, and we cannot tolerate it; you keep your teaching with you and we will just show this man that he cannot do what he has done. He has to be punished for it. Otherwise everybody will start doing things like this.”

Buddha said, “You keep silent. He has not offended me, but you are offending me. He is new, a stranger, and he may have heard something about me from somebody, has formed some idea, a notion of me. He has not spat on me, he has spat on his notion, his idea of me, because he does not know me at all so how can he spit on me? He must have heard from people something about me – that this man is an atheist, a dangerous man who is throwing people off their track, a revolutionary, a corrupter – he must have heard something about me, he has formed a notion, an idea; he has spat on his own idea.”

“If you think on it deeply,” Buddha said, “he has spat on his own mind. I am not part of it, and I can see that this poor man must have something else to say – because this is a way of saying something; spitting is a way of saying something. There are moments when you feel that language is impotent: in deep love, in intense anger, in hate, in prayer; there are intense moments when language is impotent. Then you have to do something – when you are in deep love you kiss the person or embrace the person. What are you doing? You are saying something. When you are angry, intensely angry, you hit the person, you spit on him – you are saying something. I can understand him. He must have something more to say, that’s why I’m asking, ‘What next?'”

The man was even more puzzled.

And Buddha said to his disciples, “I am more offended by you because you know me and you have lived for years with me and still you react.”

Puzzled, confused, the man returned home. He could not sleep the whole night. It is difficult, when you see a Buddha, it is difficult to sleep again the way you used to sleep before. Impossible. Again and again he was haunted by the experience, he could not explain it to himself, what had happened. He was trembling all over and perspiring, he had never come across such a man; he had shattered his whole mind and his whole pattern; his whole past.

Next morning he was back there. He threw himself at Buddha’s feet. Buddha asked him again, “What next?”

This too is a way of saying something that cannot be said in language. When you come and touch my feet you are saying something which cannot be said ordinarily, for which all words are a little narrow, it cannot be contained in them.

Buddha said, “Look, Anand. This man is again here, he is saying something. This man is a man of deep emotions.”

The man looked at Buddha and said, “Forgive me for what I have done yesterday.”

Buddha said, “Forgive? But I am not the same man to whom you did it. The Ganges goes on flowing. It is never the same Ganges again. Every man is a river. The man you spat upon is no more here. I look just like him but I am not the same; much has happened in these twenty-four hours! The river has flowed so much. Only in appearance I look the same. So I cannot forgive you because I have no grudge against you. And you also are new. I can see you are not the same man who came yesterday, because that man was angry. He was anger, he spat – and you are bowing at my feet, touching my feet, how can you be the same man? You are not the same man! So let us forget about it; those two – the man who spat and the man on whom he spat – both are no more. Come closer, let us talk of something else.”

This is response.

Reaction is out of the past. If you react, out of old habits, out of mind, then you are not responding. To be responsive is to be totally alive in this moment, here-now.

Response is a beautiful phenomenon, it is life; reaction is dead, ugly, rotten, it is a corpse. Ninety-nine per cent of the time you react, and you call it response. Rarely it happens in your life that you respond; but whenever it happens you have a glimpse; whenever it happens the door to the unknown opens.

Osho, Tao: The Three Treasures – Talks on fragments from Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, Volume 3, Ch 10, Q 2

Series compiled by Shanti
All excerpts of this series can be found in: 1001 Tales

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