Chapter 2: The Inquiry
we are slaves. How then can one recognize what slavery is? If a man is born and he suffers from a headache for the whole of his life, he will be unable to distinguish between the head and the ache, because he has always known his head with an ache.
Simone Weil, a great woman thinker of the West, has written that for thirty years she did not know what a headache was. Not because she never had a headache, but because she had always had a headache.
She never knew that the head could exist without a headache; she could not distinguish between the head and the headache. At the age of thirty, when her headache was cured for the first time, then she came to know that it was a headache and not the head itself.
You cannot separate yourself from that which you grow up with. That is why you are unable to know your body as separate from yourself - because you grow up with it. Hence the identity, the oneness with the body. That is why you do not know your mind as separate from yourself: because one grows up with it, identification happens.
Here the sage and the disciple raise the first question in this Upanishad: What is bondage?
Understand it like this: the disciple is asking the sage, “What is this bondage?” This Upanishad is a deep dialogue, a conversation. If he who is always in bondage can recognize his bondage, he can then have an idea, a dream, a concept, or a sense of freedom.
A perpetually diseased person can conceive only of a negative definition of health. He will understand health only as the absence of his disease. The person who has always lived in prison, in his chains, cannot understand a positive definition of freedom. He can understand freedom only as an absence of chains - when the walls of his prison will cease to exist, when there will be no guard with a gun to prevent him from doing whatever he wishes, to prevent him from going wherever he wishes to go. He can understand only by such negative definitions. But before he can understand this, it is also necessary to recognize that there are walls to his prison, to see the prison itself,
to see the guards at the gate, the chains around his hands.
A great mystic from the Caucasus, Gurdjieff, used to say: I have heard about a magician who had tamed many sheep. Every day he would have one sheep killed in order to prepare his food. Hundreds of sheep stood and watched this, but even then it never occurred to them that if not today then tomorrow they would also be killed.
A guest who was staying with that magician said, “These sheep are strange. You kill a sheep in front of all the other sheep every day, and even then they are not worried. Can’t they conceive of their own death the next day, that any day the dagger will be plunged into their necks?”