Chapter 2: Neti Neti
That’s why the mystics appear to be in such difficulty to express it. Many of them have remained silent out of the awareness that whatsoever you say goes wrong. The moment you say it, it goes wrong. Those who have spoken, they have spoken with the condition: “Don’t cling to our words.”
Lao Tzu says: “Tao, once described, is no more the real Tao.” The moment you say something about it, you have already falsified it, you have betrayed it. It is such an intimate knowing, incommunicable.
“Who am I?” functions like a sword to cut all the answers that the mind can manage. Zen people will say it is a koan, just like other koans. There are many koans, famous koans. One is: “Find out your original face.” And the disciple asks the master, “What is the original face?” And the master says, “The face that you had before your parents were born.”
And you start meditating on that: “What is your original face?” Naturally, you have to deny all your faces. Many faces will start surfacing: childhood faces, when you were young, when you became middle-aged, when you became old, when you were healthy, when you were ill.. All kinds of faces will stand in a queue. They will pass before your eyes claiming, “I am the original face.” And you have to go on rejecting.
When all the faces have been rejected and emptiness is left, you have found the original face. Emptiness is the original face. Zero is the ultimate experience. Nothingness - or more accurately no-thingness - is your original face.
Or another famous koan is: “The sound of one hand clapping.” The master says to the disciple, “Go and listen to the sound of one hand clapping.” Now this is patent absurdity: one hand cannot clap and without clapping there can be no sound. The master knows it, the disciple knows it. But when the master says, “Go and meditate on it,” the disciple has to follow.
He starts making efforts to listen to the sound of one hand clapping. Many sounds come to his mind: the birds singing, the sound of running water.. He rushes immediately to the master; he says, “I have heard it! The sound of running water - isn’t that the sound of one hand clapping?”
And the master hits him hard on the head and he says, “You fool! Go back, meditate more!”
And he goes on meditating, and the mind goes on providing new answers: “The sound of wind passing through the pine trees - certainly this is the answer.” He is in such a hurry! Everybody is in such a hurry. Impatiently he rushes to the door of the master, a little bit apprehensive, afraid too, but maybe this is the answer..
And even before he has said a single thing the master hits him! He is very much puzzled and he says, “This is too much! I have not even uttered a single word, so how can I be wrong? And why are you hitting me?”