Chapter 3: From Accidental to Essential
There was a man of Wei, Tung-Men Wu, who did not grieve when his son died.
His wife said to him:
“No one in the world loved his son as much as you did, why do you not grieve now he is dead?”
“I had no son, and when I had no son I did not grieve. Now that he is dead it is the same as it was before, when I had no son. Why should I grieve over him?”
The most fundamental religious truth is that man is asleep - not physically, but metaphysically; not apparently, but deep down. Man lives in a deep slumber. He works, he moves, he thinks, he imagines, he dreams, but the sleep continues as a basic substratum of his life. Rare are the moments when you feel really awake - very rare; they can be counted on the fingers. If in seventy years’ life you have only seven moments of awakening, that too will be too much.
Man lives like a robot: mechanically efficient, but with no awareness; hence the whole problem. There are so many problems man has to face, but they are all by-products of his sleep.
So the first thing to be understood is what this sleep consists in - because Zen is an effort to become alert and awake. All religion is nothing but that: an effort to become more conscious, an effort to become more aware, an effort to bring more alertness, attentiveness to your life.
All the religions of the world, in one way or another, emphasize that the sleep consists in deep identification or in attachment.
Man’s life has two layers to it: one is that of the essential, and another is that of the accidental. The essential is never born, never dies. The accidental is born, lives and dies. The essential is eternal, timeless; the accidental is just accidental. We become too much attached to the accidental and we tend to forget the essential.
A man becomes too much attached to money - money is accidental. It has nothing to do with essential life. A man becomes too much attached to his house or to his car, or to his wife, or to her husband, to children, to relationship. Relationship is accidental; it has nothing essential in it. It is not your real being. And in this century, the twentieth century, the problem has become too deep.
There are people who call the twentieth century “the accidental century” - they are right. People are living too much identified with the non-essential: money, power, prestige, respectability. You will have to leave all that behind when you go. Even an Alexander has to go empty-handed.
I have heard:
A great mystic died. When he reached paradise, he asked God why Jesus was not born in the twentieth century.
The Lord God started laughing and said, “Impossible! Impossible! Where would the twentieth century people ever find three wise men or a virgin?”