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Chapter 7: On the Utility of Not-Being

The father said, “Now you cut it. What do you see inside it?”

The child said, “Millions of small seeds.”

The father said, “Now you choose one seed and cut that seed. Now what do you see in it?”

The child said, “Nothingness.”

The father said, “Out of that nothingness arises this big tree. In the seed just at the center exists nothingness. You cut it - there is nothing, and out of that nothingness arises the being of this big tree. And the same is true with you, Svetketu.” And one of the greatest sayings ever uttered by any human being was born: Tat twam asi, Svetketu - “That art thou, thou art that, Svetketu.”

You are also that nothingness which exists just at the heart of the seed. Unless you find this non-being within you, you will not attain to authentic truth. Then you can move in theories, then you can philosophize, but you will not realize.

The boy meditated on his nothingness and he became very silent. He contemplated, he enjoyed this nothingness, he felt it very deeply. But then again a question arose. After a few days he came to the father again, and he said, “I can feel, but things are still not very clear, they are vague, as if a mist surrounds everything. I can see that out of nothingness everything is born, but how does nothingness mix with thingness? How does isness mix with nothingness? How does being mix with non-being? They are paradoxical.”

The father was again in difficulty - whenever children raise questions it is very difficult to answer them. Almost ninety-nine percent of the answers that grownups give to children are false - just face-saving devices. You deceive. But Uddalaka didn’t want to deceive this child. And his curiosity was not only a curiosity, it was deep inquiry. He was really concerned. His body may have been that of a child, but his soul was ancient. He must have struggled in the past, tried hard to penetrate into the mystery. He was not just curious - he was authentically concerned. It was not just a vagrant question in the mind, it was very deep-rooted.

The father said, “You go and bring a cup of water.”

The boy fetched a cup of water.

Then the father said, “Now you go and bring a little sugar.”

He brought the sugar, and the father said, “Mix them both.”

The sugar dissolved into the water, and the father said, “Now, can you separate the sugar from the water?”

The boy said, “Now it is impossible. I cannot even see where the sugar has gone.”

The father said, “You try.”

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