Chapter 19: Rituals, Fire and Knowledge
For example, Krishna talks about the path of knowledge. For most people knowledge is scholarship, information, concepts, ideas, doctrines. If someone mistakes knowledgeability for knowledge he is on a wrong path, he is going astray. Now he cannot attain to truth, to knowledge, even if he crams his head full of all the scriptures there are in the world. And remember, ignorance is not as harmful as false knowledge. False knowledge is harmful, pernicious. It is lifeless, it lacks fire altogether. Pseudo knowledge is like ashes left after the fire has been extinguished. You can collect ashes in tons, but they are not going to change you. So if someone mistakes scholarship for knowledge he is already off the track.
It is the same with japa or chanting. If someone thinks he will reach through chanting he is mistaken. No one has ever found God or truth by chanting the name of Rama or Ave Maria. Chanting is like a thorn - one uses it to take out another thorn sticking in his flesh and then throws away the two together. Both thorns are equally useless. If he leaves the second thorn in the place of the first, thinking it is something valuable, then he will continue to suffer. And he is for sure a stupid person. But there is no dearth of such stupid people in the world.
Buddha had a beautiful story he loved to tell again and again. A group of eight persons - perhaps they were all pundits and priests - crossed a big river in a country boat. Reaching the other bank they conferred among themselves as to what they should do with the boat which had helped them to cross the river. One - perhaps the most knowledgeable among them - suggested that they were indebted to the boat for having done such a great job for them, and so they should carry it on their heads to repay the debt. Everyone agreed with him and they lifted the boat to their heads and carried it to the next village they were scheduled to visit.
The people of the village were amazed to find their guests carrying a big boat on their heads. They said, “What are you doing? A boat is meant to carry us; we are not meant to carry the boat on our heads. Why did you not leave it in the river?”
The visitors said, “It seems you are all very ungrateful people. We know what gratefulness is. This boat helped us cross the river, now we are repaying our debt to it. It is going to stay on our heads forever.”
Buddha says many people turn means into ends and cling to them for the rest of their lives. A boat is useful for crossing a river; we are not supposed to carry it on our heads after it has served our purpose.
Japa can be used with the awareness that it is a means which helps one to be free of his thoughts. But if someone takes japa to be an end in itself, of course he will be free of other thoughts but he will be a prisoner of this japa which is as good as a thought. His mind will remain as burdened and tense as ever. There is no difference between a mind teeming with thoughts and another filled with the chanting of Rama or Ave Maria. They are equally tense and restless. It is possible a thought-filled mind can achieve something worthwhile in the workaday world; a few of his thoughts may be found useful. But as far as the chanting-filled mind is concerned, it is completely a waste. But this man will say what helped to free him from wasteful thoughts is something valuable, and he is not going to part with it. This man is carrying a boat on his head.