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Chapter 10: Sublime Is the Spontaneous

I remember one story I would like to tell you. It happened once in Burma that a great temple was to be built, and the main door had to be something unique on the earth. So many painters, Zen masters, Taoist masters, were asked, and the one who was the greatest was invited to design the door. That great master had a habit that whenever he would paint something, design something, his chief disciple would sit by his side, and whenever he would complete the design he would ask the chief disciple whether it was okay. If the disciple said no he would throw the design and he would again work on it. Unless the disciple said, “Right, this is the thing,” he would go on.

Designing this main gate of the temple became a problem, because the chief disciple continued to say no. The master painted at least one hundred designs. Many months passed. He would work for weeks, and when the design was complete he would look at the disciple who was sitting beside him. The disciple would shake his head and he would say, “No,” and the master would put aside the design and start again. He was also worried, “What is going to happen? When will this design be complete?” - and he had been doing hard work such as he had never done in his life.

Then one day it happened. The ink with which he was painting was almost finished, so he told the disciple to go out of the house and prepare more ink. The disciple went out to prepare the ink, and when he came back he started dancing in ecstasy and he said, “Now this is the thing! But why couldn’t you paint it before?”

The master said, “Now I know. I was also worried, what was happening? Now I know, your presence was the disturbance. In your presence I remained the technician. I was aware that I was doing something, effort was there; I was conscious of the effort, and I was thinking, expecting, that this time you would say yes. That was the disturbance. I could not be spontaneous. When you went out I could forget you, and when I could forget you I could forget myself also.”.Because the self is the reaction to the other. If the other is in your consciousness you will remain the ego. They both drop simultaneously; when the other has disappeared, the ego has disappeared.

“And when I was not,” the master said, “the painting flowed by itself. This design I have not done. All those hundred designs you rejected were my doings. This design is through Tao, through nature; it has dropped from the cosmos itself. I was just a vehicle. I could forget and become a vehicle.”

When you can forget the method, the effort, the self, the other, when everything has been dropped and you have become simply a flow of energy, spontaneous, then really something is attained - not before. And look at the difference in the Eastern and Western attitudes about painting, and about everything else also. In the West you have to make conscious effort and bring the effort to a peak. You become a technician and the other part is missing. In the East you have to become a technician, and then drop that whole technicality and become again innocent, simple, as if you were never trained.

Once somebody asked Winston Churchill, one of the greatest orators the West has produced, “Don’t you get afraid of the audience? Thousands of people staring at you - don’t you get afraid, scared? Don’t you get a little fear inside?”

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