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Only light can illuminate others || Acharya Prashant, on Lao Tzu (2015)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
6 min
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The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

– Lao Tzu

Speaker: Nothing can be looked at in isolation. (Pointing at the photo of a candle) You have a flame on the cover page of that calendar there.There is that flame. What else do you see there? There is a book, there is light falling on the book, and there is space around the flame. Right? And there must be other candles as well. Right?

It is only because of the misplaced personal kind of individuality, that we pay too much attention to the personal flame. We are concentrating on the personal flame and disregarding what is happening in total . Yes, the flame is burning twice as bright, so its own personal life-span might get reduced. But what is this flame doing to its environment? What is it doing to rest of the candles? Even after its own personal self is gone, would it still not be present?

Yes, a Buddha burning brightly may take a load upon his personal health. But how does it matter? If his personal self still matters, then is he a Buddha? Then what is the meaning of ‘*anatta ‘? The very meaning of ‘being a flame’ means- I am light; total, undivided. And it doesn’t matter that this single, particular flame will be gone . Flames don’t matter, ‘light’ does *. Even if this flame is gone, it would have brought to life a thousand other flames. ‘Light’ will be alive, the flame might be gone.

So Lao Tzu is very right when he says, “ The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long .” Yes, in terms of time, the duration will be reduced. But then the flame that is burning brightly is burning away its own self, and time is self. Will it care for time? Will it care for longevity of its body ? That is exactly what it is burning away! Had it been protective about time, had it been obsessed with its own security and continuation, it could not have been called a ‘flame’. It is a flame exactly because it is becoming more and more ‘light’. That’s how a candle works. Right?

A candle is a process. What is the process of a candle? Matter is continuously subliming into light. Matter is disappearing, it is turning into light. This is the entire process of self-awareness . This is the transformation that one calls as ‘nirvaana’ . The matter is going away, only light is being left. And obviously it will happen that the more incandescent the candle is, the faster the matter will be disappearing. Obviously. But does it matter to the candle? Now this candle is living for the sake of light. In fact the candle would celebrate. It would say, “Wonderful! More light! Who cares for the wax and the wick? What is more valuable to me(the candle)? Light or wax?”

Listeners: Light.

Speaker: Light! So great! Let’s rejoice that the wax is melting away. And all we have now is light. “I will celebrate”, and that is why Kabir says,

Jis marne se jag dare, mero man anand , kab maroon kab paaoon woh parmanand

(The whole world fears death, but death will be full of bliss for meI am waiting for death which will merge me, into absolute bliss)

That is what is happening. “Let me ‘burn’ twice as swiftly.” This ‘burning’ is not really death. This is my coming to life! And always remember, light is not the prerogative of one single, isolated individual flame. Flames come and go, like waves come and go. What matters is the light and the ocean. Long after the flame is gone; its presence would still be there, long after it is gone.

Yes, the personal self obviously cannot be seen. But only those who are still attached to the personal self bother about the personal self. Only those who do not have light bother about the wax. The day the candle becomes meaningful, it is ironical, the day a candle comes to the conclusion of its life, the climax of its life, it starts dying. Or have you seen a candle that is producing light and yet not dying? So the brightness of your light depends on how quickly you are dying.

When Lao Tzu says, “*The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long*”, he is not warning you, neither is he scaring you away. In fact, he is inviting you. He is saying, “Come! I am burning brightly. I am moving rapidly towards my dissolution. You also come. You also come.” If someone says that this sentence of Lao Tzu is meant to deter those who are burning brightly, then he does not know Lao Tzu.

The candle is both physical and metaphorical. We are not talking only about the physical death. The sublimation of the candle is the disappearance of mental patterns, conditioning . That is how light appears. So, kindly do not think that the more radiant you are, the more quickly you will die a physical death. Physical death may or may not get hastened. But what is certain is that mental death is quickly happening.

What is mental death? That you are no more what you used to be. You were just a frozen wax. And now you are ‘light’.

So those who are attached to frozen wax, they will say, “Oh my God, he’s gone!”

But those who can see, those who understand, they will say, “He has turned into light.”

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