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Chapter 29: Rebel or Robot?

I have heard of a philosopher in the second world war - everybody had to be a participant in the war. This poor philosopher was also asked to go to war. He said, “I am absolutely useless because I cannot do anything before I think about it deeply, profoundly.”

They said, “You can think, there is no need to worry, but you have to go to war.”

He went. The first day, the drill started. “Left turn!” Everybody turned left, but the philosopher remained standing as he was. He was asked, “Why are you not turning left?” He said, “Why should I turn? I don’t see any reason. I am really puzzled why so many people have turned, just because you say, ‘Turn left!’ First tell me, What is the reason why we should turn left? Why not right?”

The brigadier said, “Are you are a fool or something? I am saying, ‘Turn left!”‘

The philosopher said, “You can say anything, that does not mean that I have to do it.”

The brigadier left him standing, and ordered people to turn right, to turn this way and that. And finally they were all facing the same way again. Then the philosopher said, “I don’t see the point. I have been standing in this position the whole time! These poor chaps have been turning around and around, and finally they have come to the same state where I have always been.”

The brigadier inquired at the office, “What to do with this man? What reason can I give him why he has to turn left? This is a training, but that man seems to be strange; he says, ‘But why should I be trained to turn left? What is special in the left? And in the first place I don’t see the point of any training: I am a trained man. I am a professor, I am a philosopher - the whole world knows my name. I am a trained man - what training are you giving me?”‘

The brigadier asked headquarters. They said, “We were aware that there may be some trouble. You send that fellow - he is a philosopher - you send him to the mess. Let him do something else, vegetable chopping or something else. You cannot argue with him, you cannot convince him - there is not time enough. He may take years or lives to be convinced. And he will need a greater professor, greater philosopher than he is. It is beyond you; you just train your idiots, those who never ask why.”

The philosopher was sent to the mess. The chief in the mess said, “What kind of work can you do here?”

He said, “I can do thinking. I don’t do any other kind of work.”

The officer said, “Thinking? What are we going to do with thinking in the mess? But if you are sent, then something has to be done. You do one thing. These peas are here; you make two piles - bigger peas on one side, smaller peas on the other side.”

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