Sufi Story: In the city of Bastan where Bayazid made his home, there lived a very respected and venerable ascetic. He enjoyed Bayazid's circle, though he never became one of his disciples. One day he said to Bayazid, "O Master! For the last thirty years, I have been fasting from the world and keeping vigils at night, but I have to be honest with you: I do not find in myself that knowledge you have been talking about, though I acknowledge your wisdom and I would like to understand it."
Bayazid replied, "O Sheikh, even if you continue your ritual prayer and fasting for the next three hundred years, you would still not be able to understand the smallest portion of this wisdom." "Why?" asked the ascetic. "Because you are a prisoner of your own ego", responded Bayazid.
"Is there any remedy for my condition?" asked the ascetic. "There is, but you would not be able to do it", replied Bayazid.
"I promise I will accept whatever you suggest, for I have been seeking this knowledge for years", insisted the ascetic.
"Then," continued Bayazid, "You must first take off your ascetic clothes and wear rags instead; let down your hair and go sit with a bag full of walnuts in a neighborhood where people know you best. Then call all the children around you and tell them, I will give a walnut to whosoever smacks me on the face, two walnuts for two smacks, and so on. After you finish with that neighborhood, go to other neighborhoods until you have covered the whole town. This is your remedy."
Completely bewildered and shocked, the ascetic cried, "Glory to be God! There is no god but God", which was a way of expressing amazement in those days.
"If an unbeliever had uttered these words", Bayazid declared, "he would have become a Moslem, but by uttering such words you have become a polytheist!" “But why?” asked the ascetic.
“Because in saying those words, you worship yourself not God”, replied Bayazid.
"Please give me some other counsel, Bayazid", pleaded the ascetic.
"This is your only remedy, and as I said, you would not be able to do it", responded Bayazid.
Acharya Prashant (AP): "I say, 'Me and my father are one'" or let me say, "I say 'There is but one God.' I say, “La illah ila Allah.” I say, “Brahmev hi kevalam.” I will repeat this, I say, “There is but one God.” I say, “La illah ila Allah.” I say, “Brahmev hi kevalam.” What is the common between all these sentences?
Questioner (Q): I.
AP: So, God changes to Allah, changes to Brahm, but what remains stubbornly unaltered?
Q: I, the ego, the self.
AP: So, what is the most prominent in these utterances?
Q: I, myself.
AP: But apparently, these utterances talk about the oneness and lordship of God. Apparently, these sentences are saying that God alone is the ruler and God alone exists. Apparently, I am saying, “God alone is the one, the Lord, the Master.” But what is really happening? Who is the master in all these three sentences?
AP: So, on one hand, I'm talking about God; God, the one beyond me. On the other hand, I am quietly, secretly worshipping that small little god that I think myself to be. What does that make me? A polytheist. I profess one God, I worship another. Even when I am talking of Brahm, whom am I actually worshipping?
AP: And 'myself' does not mean 'me the equivalent of Brahm'. Here myself is not the Aham , that is the same as Brahm. Here myself is that little petty ego. All of us are guilty of polytheism in that sense. We all worship at least two gods of which in our eyes the superior one always is the ego.
Now, do you see what Bayazid is saying? That you might be paying lip service to the unity of godhood, you might be saying anything about surrender, about humility, about oneness but actually, your first master is your ego. And in front of that ego, you do not give consideration even to God. Because you use God to placate your ego and what does that show in terms of the relative importance that you give to ego and God? Who gets the higher consideration?
Q: I, ego.
AP: The proof of that is, that God is dispensable, ego is not. The proof of that is that you will not allow God to use your ego but you will let ego use God as per your little designs. Now there can be no doubt about who is superior in our eyes. Who's superior in our eyes?
AP: In fact, we need not even call ourselves polytheists. We all worship only one God. Even polytheism is too much of leniency given to us. The power of our veils is underestimated when we are called polytheists. We aren't polytheists. We know only one God and that God is? The ego.
The teacher deliberately gives a task to the ascetic that will shred down his ego. There is nothing particularly spiritual about the task he assigns this ascetic. What is the task he assigns? Shave your beard, head. What else? Going to market, wearing rags, proclaim yourself to be a fool, ask people to slap you, and give nuts to kids. Now, obviously, these have no absolute spiritual significance yet they are of great significance in the context of this particular disciple and that is the role of the teacher.
The Shiva Sutras assert that Guru is Upāya, that Guru is the one who understands and is hence able to devise spontaneous methods. Upāya means method, a way. With this ascetic who has been sitting with the master for long, and yet has not been able to unburden himself, this is probably the only way to expose his ego.
He comes to the master and says, “You know what, I want a piece of your divine knowledge. I have been sitting with you for so long and yet why am I not shining with the same light as you do?” The teacher says, "Because you have covered yourself with darkness, because you have wielded yourselves with the ego. So, how can you shine?"
"The light is there but the light is covered, covered with the darkness of your ego. So, even if you have spent thirty years with me, as is the case here. Even if you have spent thirty years with me, yet you would remain encased. You would still know no light because you are not prepared to shed yourselves."
The disciple would not agree. He says, “No Master, I have been with you for so long. Obviously, my ego has been sublimated. I am not that egoistic, you see. Why don't you test me?” The master says, “Alright.” And if the master is really a Master, he knows the pulse of the disciple. He says, “You go ahead, you take off your respectability.” Now, this cannot be done.
That is one of the things that you must always take off before you come to the Guru. Your sense of social respectability; "What will people say?" You see, had this ascetic been told to do all of these things in private, not in the market, he might have probably agreed. What bothers him is, "What would the public, the society think of me? Kids are going to slap me, has it come to this? Mere kids? I am an ascetic. I have passed through rigorous practice and this is the reward?"
What else is ego? The fear of losing consideration in the eyes of others.
The Master exposes it. The Master says, “You see, you love your respectability more than you love the Truth. You will get what you love. You will remain a socially respectable fellow and you will never have the Truth.”
So many people are so scared of being scolded in public, even if by their teacher. "If you want to instruct us or reprimand us, kindly do that in a closed room, between you and me. In front of a gathering, why do you scold me? It's not as if it is my ego, I am prepared to take any kind of beating from you but not in front of everybody. You see, it must be between you and me."
But the fact is, the Teacher has no interest in beating you in private. Is the Teacher violent towards you? Does he want to settle a score? Does he carry some grudge? So, why would he beat you up in a closed room? The entire point in scolding you is that you must be scolded in public. Because it's not about scolding, it's about the ego. And ego thrives in the eyes of others.
You do not know yourself, so you look at yourself through the eyes of others. That is exactly what the master wants to break. And he says, “Son, you are not made of that stuff. You'll not pass this test.” He says, “But I would.” Master says, “Alright, here it is, go ahead and test yourself.” And ascetic says, “Oh no, no, what a test! There is no God but God.” Master says, “You know what? You're abusing the Sutra, the aphorism as well.”
"At this juncture, at this very moment, you have not uttered these words out of respect for God. At this moment you have uttered these words out of self-defense, out of respect for your ego. So not only are you a liar or a coward, but you are also a polytheist. Not only are you an egoist, you are also a manipulator. You have been misrepresenting your faith. You kept on saying that you are a devout Muslim, you are not."
"See, you believe in at least two gods. How can a real Muslim believe in two gods?" We'll be a little more direct and harsh upon ourselves. We will say, “We don't even believe in two gods, we believe in only one and that one happens to be a false god. That false god is our ego.” Now, it's upon you, you want to continue believing in that false god or you want to surrender to the real one? Call is yours.
Q1: Sir, after the Master laid down the instructions, why does the disciple particularly say this line (There is no God but God)?
AP: These are lines in exclamation. You utter these lines when you come across something wondrous or when you come across something beautiful or when you come across something that really annoys you; it's like “*Hey Ram!*” When do you say, “ Hey Ram "? Something is beautiful, you say, “ Hey Ram .” Something is terrible, even then you say, “*Hey Ram*”, it's like that. There are only two kinds of people in the world; those who worship the real God and those who worship the false gods.
Q2: Then, do we do this because the ‘I’, the ego, looks more real to me than the God?
AP: Looks more real to whom?
Q2: To me, myself.
AP: Who is that?
Q2: I only know the “I”.
AP: No, you don't know the ‘I’. Even about the ‘I’ you have only images. Had you known the ego, you would have chucked it long back. Do you really know the ego? How does one know the ego? One knows the ego through a direct observation of minute-to-minute facts of one's life. The ego can be known only there. You see, when you say, “I know the ego” and if you have really said this, then you are surrendered to the real God because the real God has the name of knowing.
When you say, “I know ego”, then you have already said that you are a real devotee because only a real devotee can know. No knowing is possible unless you are in the Truth. So, even to know the false you first have to be in the Truth. It is too much of us to say that we know the ego. Had you really known the ego, you would already have been one with God.
To know the ego, you must be at a point that is distinct from ego and that point is God. Knowing the ego is not possible if you are totally identified with the ego. You will have images about the ego. You will have stories about the ego. You will never really know the ego. Knowing is an altogether different unit. To know is to understand. To really know is to go to the depth of what you are looking at. And when you go to the depth of ego there is no way you can still continue with ego.
Once you have seen the beginning and the end of ego, you are not going to continue with it. We have ideas about the ego, we do not know the ego. Do you really know in what ways the ego has raised hell, rather hells for us? Do you really know? Do you really know in what all ways the ego makes you do things that you think you know to be false? I will repeat what I am saying; the ego makes you do stuff that you even intellectually do not believe in, yet you enter it.
Somebody very nicely put it, "There is a banana peel, you intellectually very well know you step on it and you will slip but the ego makes you step on that banana peel again and again while you intellectually very well know that you're going to slip once again." In fact, you stand looking at it and you stand wondering, “You see, there is this banana peel and after two minutes I would have again slipped and cracked my hip.” And you know this very well and you're imagining; "You know what, I am slipping", and having known very well what is going to happen next, you raise your leg and you put your foot down on the banana peel to slip again and to suffer again. Do you really know the ego?
To know the ego is to be free of the ego. Please do know the ego, that is the only way of residing in godliness. You can never see God directly but when you see all the ungodly things then the seeing is godly. So, look at the ego, the looking is freedom from the ego. But you know what? We are very stout beings, resilient, robust, hard, what can a poor banana peel do to us? And technologies are so advanced, we keep getting our hips replaced every now and then. We are very staunchly rooted in ourselves. We keep getting hurt, we keep getting battered and bruised, still we do not budge.
We say, “I will remain what I am, let life keep kicking me around. I'll still not give an inch.” All of us deserve medallions for our resilience. To know the ego is to be able to count the number of scars on one’s psyche, ever counted them? To know the ego is to be able to count the number of disappointments that you meet every day, ever counted them? To know the ego is to be able to measure the depth of your hurt, ever measured it? To know the ego is to be able to value the worth of a life gone waste, ever valued the worth of a life gone waste? That is when you know what the ego does.
There is no God. Hence, God cannot appear real. God does not exist in the conventional sense of the word 'existence'. God does not exist at all. God lies in seeing all these things that take you away from God. God lies in being able to clearly see your suffering and the needlessness of it, that is godliness. Otherwise, you will never find a God directly.
So, you're quite right that God does not really appear real, ego appears real but that is because your definition of real is the ego. In that sense obviously, God does not exist at all. The sense in which the ego exists, God does not exist. Ego is very-very tangible, God is not. Ego raises its head and falls, keeps on changing forms, is very deceptive. God is none of these. So, if ego is real then God obviously is not real. If the world appears very-very real to you then all these objects appear real and all the objects are definite with definite properties with definite limits. God neither has properties nor has limits. So, in that sense, God will not appear to even exist.
That is the reason why most people stop believing in God. They say, “Where is God, show us?” Now, is God a banana, a monkey, a stone, or a shoelace? What is God? How do you propose to see God? How exactly? God is the seeing, God is the light behind the eyes. The Upanishads say, “*Shrotrasya Shrotram*”; the ear of the ears, the ear behind the ears. Now how will you listen to God? You cannot, but the listening is godly. Don't look for God, you will never find him.