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Is the world real, unreal, both, or neither? || Acharya Prashant, on Zen Koan (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
6 min
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Shuzan held out his short staff and said,

“If you call this short staff, you oppose its reality.”

“If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact.”

“Now what do you wish to call this?”

Questioner: Acharya Ji, Pranaam! Please help me understand this Zen Koan.

Acharya Prashant: (Referring to the Zen Koan) You have to call it both.

You see, you are living as the bodied one, that identification does exist for you. Just as your material body is a fact, you cannot ignore the fact of the short staff – a short staff that a monk carries. So you cannot say, “No, this is not a short staff.” It is.

You have to respect the fact. But you cannot stop at the fact. It is a short staff only with respect to your body. How do you know that it is short? Would a little ant call it ‘short’? Would a little insect call it ‘short’?

If you were not the body, would the staff even exist for you? It exists only in the same dimension as the brain. It is the brain that comprehends the material reality of the object.

Will any software work without its compiler? Here is the compiler. The compiler and the software go together. The staff does not exist at all if the brain were not configured in the way it is. So even as you accept the fact that it is a staff, you also know that it is a staff, only with respect to ‘me’.

If I keep saying, “It is a staff, it is a staff, it is a staff”, what does that amount to? It amounts to constantly saying, “I am the body, I am the body, I am the body”, because it is a staff only with respect to your body.

Therefore, those who get stuck at the level of the fact, are actually getting stuck at the level of the body.

That’s the problem with Science.

(Pointing at the handkerchief in his hand) It keeps saying, “This exists, this exists, this exists.” And surely it does exist. But this exists only with respect to my hand, my senses, my comprehension, my brain. Right? So if I keep saying, “This exists, this exists, this exists”, I am continuously saying, “I am the body, I am the body, I am the body.”

Therefore, whereas one has to respect the fact that this exists, be it a short staff, or a white handkerchief, one has to also remember that their existence is not absolute, not final. It is relative to ‘you’.

If you insist too much upon its existence, you are insisting too much upon your bodily self. And then you will never get Freedom.

So this is like your current reality, just as the body is your current reality, right? We are currently body-identified. Just as we are currently body-identified, so currently yes, this (the handkerchief) exists. But the story cannot stop at the fact, the story has to go beyond the fact. Beyond the fact is the Truth.

You have to know both – where you are currently standing, and where you wish to be.

Currently, I am standing at the level of the body, and at the level of this (the white handkerchief), these two are one. This exists for the body, this is my current standing, but this is not my destination.

A point must come where it exists only with respect to the body, not with respect to ‘me’; when nobody must remain to definitely and conclusively say, “This is a white handkerchief.” Let this be the white handkerchief for the body, ‘you’ have gone. ‘You’ are somewhere else.

That’s the way to live – knowing the fact, but also knowing that you do not belong to the fact. The fact cannot be ignored. If you ignore the fact, then you are entering the realm of superstition. You have to live scientifically, you have to be logical. So you must respect the fact.

The pillar does exist, the wall does exist, the body does exist. If you say, “The body does not exist”, you are being a hypocrite, because that’s how you behave day-in and day-out — as a body. Right?

Behaving as a body, and then not admitting the body, is hypocrisy.

So you do admit that the handkerchief exists, the short staff exists, the body exists, but you do not stop at that.

That’s how the spiritual one lives – knowing the world, seeing the world, acknowledging the world, but not belonging to the world – knowing fully well that his destination is somewhere else. And that does not mean that he is dismissive of, or disrespectful towards the world.

I am repeatedly saying, one has to respect the world otherwise it would be hypocritical.

Being present here, in time and space, but continuously, parallelly, present elsewhere also. Or to put it differently, being present here in time and space, but also parallelly absent to whatever is going on here in time and space.

Present to the world, and also absent to the world. Superficially present to it, deeply absent to it.

Superficially here, but deeply somewhere else.

Where? Nowhere.

But on the surface, you have to be here. If you are not here even at the surface, then that is not Spirituality, then you are a lunatic.

The spiritual man is present to the world.

He knows the difference between ‘red’ and ‘blue’, he knows how to drive a car, he knows which road to take.

He is present to the world, but deeply he is absent. Deep within him is a point that does not know the world at all. Deep within him is a point that has no value for the world, that does not transact with the world at all.

Getting it?

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