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Chapter 23: Conscience: A Coffin for Consciousness

I would like you to remember one great, perhaps the greatest, Dutch painter: Vincent van Gogh. His father wanted him to become a religious minister, to live a life of respect - comfortable, convenient - and not only in this world, in the other world after death too. But Vincent van Gogh wanted to become a painter. His father said, “You are mad!”

He said, “That may be. To me, you are mad. I don’t see any significance in becoming a minister because all I would be saying would be nothing but lies. I don’t know God. I don’t know whether there is any heaven or hell. I don’t know whether man survives after death or not. I will be continually telling lies. Of course it is respectable, but that kind of respect is not for me; I will not be rejoicing in it. It will be a torture to my soul.” The father threw him out.

He started painting - he is the first modern painter. You can draw a line at Vincent van Gogh: before him painting was ordinary. Even the greatest painters, like Michelangelo, are very small compared to Vincent van Gogh, because what they were painting was ordinary. Their painting was for the marketplace.

Michelangelo was painting for the churches his whole life; painting on church walls and church ceilings. He broke his backbone painting church ceilings, because to paint a ceiling you have to lie down on a high stool while you paint. It is a very uncomfortable position, and for days together, months together. But he was earning money, and he was earning respect. He was painting angels, Christ, God creating the world. His most famous painting is of God creating the world.

Vincent van Gogh starts a totally new dimension. He could not sell a single painting in his whole life. Now, who will say that his painting has any point? Not a single person could see that there was anything in his paintings. His younger brother used to send him money; enough so that he did not die of starvation, just enough for seven days’ food every week - because if he gave him enough for a whole month he would finish it within two or three days, and the remaining days he would be starving. Every week he would send money to him.

And what Vincent van Gogh was doing was for four days he would eat, and for the three days in between those four days he was saving money for paints, canvasses. This is something totally different from Michelangelo, who earned enough money, who became a rich person. He sold all his paintings. They were made to be sold, it was business. Of course he was a great painter, so even paintings that were going to be sold came out beautifully. But if he had had the guts of a Vincent van Gogh, he would have enriched the whole world.

Three days starving, and van Gogh would purchase paints and canvasses. His younger brother, hearing that not a single painting had sold, gave some money to a man - a friend of his not known to Vincent van Gogh - and told him to go and purchase at least one painting: “That will give him some satisfaction. The poor man is dying; the whole day he is painting, starving for painting but nobody is ready to purchase his painting - nobody sees anything in it.” Because to see something in Vincent van Gogh’s painting you need the eye of a painter of the caliber of van Gogh; less than that will not do. His paintings will seem strange to you.

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