Chapter 10: We Disown Our Past
Turgenev has a beautiful story, The Fool. A sage comes to a village, and a man comes to him with tears in his eyes and he says, “I don’t know how to get out of this suffering. My whole village thinks I am an idiot. If I say something, they immediately condemn me, criticize me. If I don’t say anything they laugh and they say, ‘What can he say? He is an idiot.’ I am in such a fix. Hearing that you are a sage I have come for some advice.”
The sage said, “Don’t be worried. A very simple technique will change the whole situation within a month. And after one month I am coming back again on the same route, so I will be able to see whether the change has happened or not.” And he gave a very simple technique to the man.
The technique was, “Don’t make any statement on your own. Just wait for somebody else to make the statement. Somebody says, ‘How beautiful is the sunset!’ That is the point - immediately jump and ask him, ‘What is beautiful in it? Define it! Explain! Do you know what beauty is? And if you don’t know what beauty is, how can you say that the sunset is beautiful? Before anything can be called beautiful, beauty has to be defined.’”
But even the greatest poets, philosophers - particularly those philosophers like Croce who have been dedicated to a single object, aesthetics - have not been able to define what is beauty. Although everybody knows.but to know is not enough.
Everybody knows what is good, but if the question is raised.define it! And one English philosopher, perhaps one of the most intelligent Englishmen of this century, G.E. Moore, has written a book, Principia Ethica. The whole book is devoted to a single question: what is good? And in two hundred and fifty pages of very arduous, very subtle, logical argumentation, the concluding remark is that good is indefinable.
Naturally, when after one month the sage came back, the idiot had already become the wisest man in the village, because he had stopped everybody. You say something and he would criticize it and ask for fundamental definitions. You could say a woman is beautiful and he would ask, “What is beautiful in that woman? Bones? A long nose? Stinking perspiration? What do you consider beauty?” There was no way to answer, and when people saw that they could not answer, they immediately started thinking that the man had been absolutely misunderstood. “He is not an idiot, he is a great thinker, a wise man, more intelligent than anybody else.”
The sage was very happy; he said, “Are you happy now?”
The man said, “I am absolutely happy.”
The sage said, “Remember always, never make a statement on your own. Just wait; somebody is going to say something - criticize. Somebody talks about God - criticize, ask for the evidence, ask for proofs. And there are no proofs and no evidence. Just remember one thing: never make a statement on your own; otherwise they will immediately jump on you and you will be an idiot again.”