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From chaos to zeroness - the ascending levels of consciousness ||Acharya Prashant, on Lao Tzu (2015)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
19 min
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The highest virtue is not virtuous Therefore it has virtue The lowest virtue holds onto its virtue Therefore it has no virtue The highest benevolence acts without purpose The highest righteousness acts with purpose The highest ritual acts, but since no one cares, it raises its arms and use force

Therefore when The Way is lost there is virtue When virtue is lost there is benevolenceWhen benevolence is lost there is righteousnessWhen righteousness is lost there are ritualsRituals are end of fidelity and honesty and beginning of conclusion.

Lao Tzu, Tao-Te-Ching (Chapter – 38)

Speaker: There is ‘the way’, then ‘virtues’, then ‘benevolence’, then ‘righteousness’, then ‘rituals’, and then ‘confusion’. What are these? These are nothing but ‘levels of consciousness’, states of mind.

The mind that lives in absolute duality, sees only a multitude of objects, all around. For such a mind, for such a consciousness, there is the subject, and there is an abundance – a sea, a plethora of objects all around. He looks around, and sees objects and objects. Who is he, is defined, by the object he is looking at, at that particular moment and place.

I am looking at a nice shirt. ‘Who am I?’ The one who covets that shirt. I am thinking of entertainment. ‘Who am I?’ The one who wants entertainment. There is something in the world, an object, that scares. ‘Who am I?’ The scared one. And I am nothing except the scared one. Tempted, I am nobody except the tempted one. So the object defines me, and objects are just too many; there is an entire ocean of objects.

Take these two together. We are talking about the lowermost stage of mind, we are talking about ‘the chaotic state of mind’, as Lao Tzu says. At the bottom there is just confusion, we are talking about that state.

So there are too many objects around, and with too many objects around, ‘who am I’? The subject defined by that object. So with an object, I feel only that object is supreme, nothing else is important, why? Because looking at that object, that object becomes my world.

With my wife, I am nobody but the husband. Driving a car, I am nobody but the owner of the car. Standing in front of the boss, I am nobody but the employee. I do not have any thing immutable inside me; there is nothing that is solid or crystallized. Whatever comes in front of me, gains complete control over me. And there are how many things to come in front of me? Thousands and thousands. And whatever comes in front of me, I become its ‘subject’, with the result that I live completely influenced.

In front of the wife, I am the husband. In front of the mother, I am the son. In front of the boss, I am the employee. In front of the deity, I am the devotee. So in the movement of the day, I pass through an infinite number of identities; every new object gives me a new identity. This is called ‘chaos’, this is called ‘being totally influenced’.

There is nothing within me. I am like a leaf, separated from the tree, floating in the air; there is nothing here. There is no anchor; there is no center, with the result that there are a thousand false centers. There are a thousand identities that keep coming and going. And these identities, because they belong to the dualistic world, they fight with each other. This fighting, this friction, this chaos takes place in the battlefield which is ‘my mind’. My mind is always witnessing this tension, this friction.

Sitting in front of the teacher, ‘who am I?’ A student. Out of the classroom, ‘who am I?’ A customer, or a mother, or a wife. These identities fight, because the switching actually cannot be so smooth. And every identity that you take on, comes with its own set of obligations. The obligations do not end even after the object changes.

So you are attracted to the pizza. You gobbled up the pizza, the pizza is gone, the object is no more. But the obligation to pay, is still there. You were attracted to a woman, you had a relationship. Now the woman does not attract you anymore, but the scars of the relationship will still be there. There would be a pending amount, left to be paid. That is what is called as ‘*Karmfal*’.

So you have moved into another identity, because the object has changed. Now some other object is dominating your mind, but the residue left over by the previous object is still there, waiting for its compensation, waiting for its settlement enclosure. This is the friction.

You think, “Well, I am there in front of the teacher,” but the memories of the work done throughout the day would not leave you so easily. And memories will be there, because when you were elsewhere during the day, you were not completely there. That is the reason why memories are there, because the closure didn’t happen. So, a thousand forces upon the mind, a thousand fragments of the mind, and all of these fragments are at war with each other. And you are always experiencing the violence and the tension of the war. This is the chaotic stage of the mind.

Says Lao Tzu that, “Better than this, or higher than this, is the stage of rituals.” How is the stage of rituals higher than the stage of chaos? To follow rituals, you need some kind of constancy in time. You have to follow the ritual, today, and tomorrow, and the day after, and a week later, and a month later. Right? There has to be somebody who remembers, who is the same, who doesn’t change, who wants to keep the promise. Observing a ritual demands a certain solidification within. If you are completely fluid, completely at that mercy of circumstances, then you cannot keep a ritual. A ritual is like a promise. Do you get it?

“I will do this every day, or every month, or twice a day.” It’s like a promise. There has to be somebody to keep the promise, somebody constant, somebody unchangeable. In chaos, there is nobody of this kind. So from chaos, movement to rituals, is actually a progress, because now somebody is arising who does not change with time. Do you see what is happening? Now time is changing, but you are not changing.

The proof is – that day after day you have a certain discipline, that day after day you are able to do the same thing. So the days change, time changes, but you do not change, because you can do the same thing. This is an improvement, this is a betterment. So rituals are good, but only for the chaotic mind.

Rituals are not meant to be imposed on the refined mind, on the mind that already has an inner discipline. Rituals are only for the mind that lacks all kind of inner discipline; a mind that is so heavily influenced, that it has no rootedness of its own. For such a mind, rituals are important, and necessary, and must be given. Rituals are an external discipline. They do not arise from your own center; they cannot arise from the center. Why? Because you don’t have a center. You don’t have ‘a center’, you have thousand centers. So it’s an external discipline which helps build up an internal center, to some extent. Beyond that, it has no utility.

And then, as Lao Tzu says, “There is righteousness, there is benevolence, and higher than benevolence, there are virtues, and higher than virtues is ‘the way’ itself.” What is ‘righteousness’ and ‘benevolence’? ‘Righteousness’ is morality. “I will do the right thing; I will not do the wrong thing.” So the external discipline that was meant to be imposed upon you, in the ritual stage, now becomes internalized. Now you do not require somebody else to tell you, “Do this daily.”

In rituals, somebody else comes and tells you that this is meant to done, a life must be lived in this particular order. That is the ritual stage, right? The scripture tells you that, this and that, and you know. Somebody asks, “From where did you get this ritual?” you will be able to say. You would say that this fellow told me, or I read it from this scripture, or it is followed in my community, my teacher told me. Something of that kind. An answer, you will be able to provide.

In morality, rituals become internalized. Now if somebody asks you, “Why do you think that doing this is good, or acting in this way is bad?” you will not say, “Because it is written in that particular book.” You will say, “Because I know that it is bad.” You don’t really know, you have just absorbed it. But now, the absorption is deep, and you have identified with it. So much so, that you have forgotten that you have imported it from somebody, or somewhere. You actually do think that it is your own.

So the only difference between ‘rituals’ and ‘morality’ is, that – the external order is known to be ‘external’ in the ritual stage, and the external order is thought of, as ‘internal’, in the morality stage. But kindly do not think that in morality some kind of an inner compass has arisen. No, it has not arisen, not yet. A ritualistic man is not different than a moral man.

Then Lao Tzu talks about ‘benevolence’. What is ‘benevolence’? ‘Benevolence’ is when something of your own, is arising for the first time; something that the world has not given you, something that predates the world, something that comes from the same cause that gives rise to the world.

You know, in chaos, you are totally influenced. In rituals, and morality, you think of those influences as worth-imbibing. So there is an ‘influence’ stage, there is an ‘imbibing’ stage, and now you have come to a stage, where influences need not be imbibed. You have a center now. This center may not be the ultimate center, but still, it is way deeper than all the centers that you were carrying so far.

One key characteristic of this center is – it is one, and only one, which means that the multiplicity in the world cannot affect it. Had it belonged to the world, it would have been many. There would have been many forces, able to have an impact on it. But now, this center is just one, and it is within you.

Because it is just one, and it is within you, so it is appropriate to call it ‘the stage of individuality’ . But in this stage of individuality, your one center is always with respect to the world. Yes, you exist, and you are determined not to be influenced, but the world always is, that is why the determination always is. There still is duality. Though you think that you are well-composed, though you think that now there is no division, yes there is probably no division within you, but another division always exist – the division between you and the world.

Within you are undivided. Outside, there is a clear division between you and the world. So while all inner turmoil ceases, we said that in the stage of chaos your mind is a battlefield. Why? Because a thousand influences were riding upon it, and those influences were mutually irreconcilable. Now there is nothing to be reconciled, because there are no influences. There is just ‘one’.

So inside, violence has ceased, inside you are peaceful, inside you know who you are, and what you want to do, and such things, but outside there is still going to be a tension. So Lao Tzu calls it, ‘the stage of benevolence’. But this ‘benevolence’ is a limited benevolence; limited to myself. “I am confused”, that is inner violence, confusion, right? “I don’t know what to do, and I am fighting against myself.” This is called ‘inner violence’.

“Now, there is no inner violence, because I am not confused. I know my way, I know my way and which direction to go. No inner violence. So internally, yes, benevolence is there. I am not cruel to myself; I am not hating myself, not fighting against myself. But still, with existence, I am at odds. I still think of myself as separate from everything else.”

“Higher than that,” Lao Tzu says, “is the stage of ‘virtue’.” What is ‘virtue’? “I was not fighting with myself, but I did perceive a threat outside. I might have felt confident; that threat cannot harm me, yet the threat was a ‘threat’. I might not be harmed, but there are forces outside, with malicious intentions. I am sure of myself, but the world still is a battlefield.” In oneness, even this distinction dissolves. That is the stage of ‘virtue’.

“I don’t really feel like an enemy of the world. The world does not rise as a hostile force.” One of the two descriptions can be given. You could say, “I start feeling so very sure of myself, the certitude becomes so deep, that I know that no harm is possible.” Or you could say, “A new quality of love comes to me, and even if I am harmed it is alright.” You could put it either way, depending on the configuration of your own mind.

You could either say, “I have become so deeply certain of my own timeless being, of my own inextinguishable nature, that the threats do not remain ‘threats’ anymore.” Or you could say, “I have fallen in love, with one and all, with life in general.” This is the stage of ‘virtue’. Remember, this is not virtue in the sense that we commonly use the word ‘virtue’.

The sense in which we use the word ‘virtue’ is actually a very a low sense. When we say ‘virtue’, we mean virtuous acts, something like ‘ punya’ . In Lao Tzu’s words, when he says, “When the way is gone, then virtue appears,” then virtue is something very-very close to ‘the way’. It is as close to ‘the way’ as an evolute is to the evolvent. It is not at the level of morality, it is not about doing nice things.

And then there is ‘the way’; without distinctions, without names, without a feeling that – “I am doing something good,” without the guilt that something bad can happen. ‘The way’, that the dust, the trees and the rivers know of, ‘the way’ that the animals are never far from, ‘the way’ that is as broad as the sky, as free and as directionless, as open and as purposeless. ‘The way’ that gives you nothing by way of reward or satisfaction, ‘the way’ in which you have nothing to feel happy about, ‘the way’ which offers no excitement, ‘the way’ in which there are no corrections to be made, because there are no corrections possible, because nothing ever goes wrong, because nothing can ever go right. A very-very useless way, a very-very animal-like way.

‘A way’, that is really spiritual because it is absolutely material. ‘A way’ that one can never really comprehend, but understand if one doesn’t try . ‘A way’ that will sound very lacklustre, to those who demand excitement. ‘A way’ that will put those to sleep, who want an attractive object. ‘A way’ that is so ordinary that saying something about it, spoils it, by making it extraordinary. It is so ordinary that it cannot be chosen as an object of discourse. ‘A way’ that is not at all conscious of itself. It is more unconscious of itself, than a dead man is about his own body.

‘The way’ does not know itself. The one on ‘the way’, will never know ‘the way’. To know ‘the way’ is to miss ‘the way’. Hence ‘the way’, is not for those, who want to move in knowledge and certainty. ‘The way’ is absolutely not for those who want to have a picture of ‘the way’.

‘The way’ is like existence, in which a thousand things happen, yet existence remains just simple, ordinary existence. Lifes and deaths, entries and exits, and existence does not change, because all change is within existence. And existence does not dissolve, because all dissolution is within existence.

Or you could say that – it is like the sea, waving and waving endlessly, and yet remaining the sea; unchangeable, unmovable. Or you could say that – it is like the sky, sometimes a thousand birds find their flight through it, and sometimes it is absolutely spotless. Full of smoke and dust sometimes, the sky still remains the sky. Smoke does not make it bad, dust does not pollute it, and rain does not cleanse it. The sky remains the sky. Such is ‘the way’.

‘The way’ obviously is not for those who think about it. ‘The way’ is obviously not for those who want to walk ‘the way’. ‘The way’ is not for those who approach it through their intellect and knowledge. ‘The way’ is a resistance-less movement, and hence it is no movement at all.

It is not for those whose mind resist. It is not for those who have any block at all. It is not for those who do not surrender to it. It is not for those who want to look at it with open eyes, because they want to size it up. It is not for those who close their eyes, because the way does not demand that. It is not for the idiots, because they are idiots. It is not for the intelligent ones, because they are intelligent.

How to come to ‘the way’? To come to ‘the way’, you will move opposite to some direction. The moment there is this opposition, you lose the way. How to know ‘the way’? To know ‘the way’ you will differentiate it from a thousand other things. The moment there is this differentiation, ‘the way’ is lost.

What to do, to at least get a glimpse of it? To do anything in particular, you will resist the flow that is already available. The moment you resist, ‘the way’ is lost in resistance.

After learning this much about ‘the way’, for sure you are farther from it, than you were, before you heard. ‘The way’ is not for those who prefer hearing over walking. Had you really loved ‘the way’, you would have been walking ‘the way’, instead of talking about it. Attachment, inclination towards discussion about ‘the way’ is a good indicator that, ‘the way’ is yet far away.

And that is what the moral mind says about it, “Talk about it, don’t bring me to it. Tell me of its taste, don’t bring it to my lips. Describe it, but don’t plunge me into it. Speak to me, but don’t embrace me. Speaking is good, plunging is bad. Watching and smelling are ‘righteousness’, tasting it is ‘immoral’.

‘The way’ is not for those who do not observe. And ‘the way’ is not for those who love to witness. ‘The way’ is not for those who are sucked-in by objects and the world, and ‘the way’ is not for those who despise the world. If you say that ‘the way’ is for you, then you will be there, and ‘the way’ will be not. And if you say that ‘the way’ is not there for you, then you are surely correct.

One thing is certain – ‘the way’ is not for those who remember the way. Is ‘the way’ for those then who forget it? Well if you are so full of remembering, then you will surely forget to forget . You will keep remembering, that you must forget. And ‘the open way’ suddenly appears ‘closed’, because you must remember to forget . So there are those who remember, and those who remember to forget. And then those, who forget to forget.

Let’s not answer: for whom is the way?

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