One morning, Buddha visited a village, and someone asked, “Is there God?” Buddha replied, “No, there is no God.” At midday another person came to him and said, “I think there is no God. What have you to say to it?” And Buddha answered, “God is.” In the evening a third person said to him, “I don’t know if God exists or not. What do you say?” To him Buddha replied, “Better to say nothing, neither yes nor no.”
Buddha’s disciple, who accompanied him on his tour, was flabbergasted when he heard his master’s three different answers to a simple question. So before going to bed he told Buddha, “I was so astounded by your answers that I feel I will go mad. In answer to the same question of whether God exists or not, you said ‘no’ in the morning, ‘yes’ at noon, and ‘neither yes nor no’ in the evening.”
Buddha replied, “None of the answers were given to you; they were addressed to the persons concerned, those who had put their questions. They had nothing to do with you. Why did you listen to them? How could I have answered you, when you had not asked the questions? The day you will bring your question you will have an answer, too.”
The disciple said, “But nonetheless I have heard the answers.” Buddha replied, “Those answers were meant for others, and they were according to their different needs. The person who saw me in the morning was a believer, a theist, and he wanted me to confirm his belief. He does not know whether there is a God or not. He just wanted to satisfy his ego that I also support his belief. He came to have my support, my confirmation. Therefore I said, ‘No, there is no God.’ Thus I shook him to his roots. He did not know God; if he had really known, he would not have come to me. He who knows does not seek confirmation of his knowledge. Even if the whole world denies God, he will say, ‘God is; the question of denial simply does not arise.’ But this person is still inquiring, searching; he does not know on his own. That is why I had to say ‘no’ to him. Actually he had stopped searching, and I had to give him a jolt so that he begins searching again.
“The man who came to me at noon was a non-believer, an atheist; he believed that there is no God. To him I said, ‘God is.’ He, too, had stopped searching; he also wanted me to confirm his atheistic belief.
“But the man who came in the evening was neither a theist nor an atheist. So it was not proper to bind him with any belief, because both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ bind. So I told him that if he wanted the true answer, it would be better to keep quiet and say neither yes nor no. And as far as you are concerned, the question does not arise, because you have yet to ask your question.”
Religion is a highly personal matter. It is like love. If, out of love, someone says something to his beloved, it need not be broadcast in the marketplace. It is an utterly intimate and personal matter, and it loses all its meaning once you make it public. In the same way religious truths are highly personal, they are transmitted to one individual by another; they are not something cast to the winds.
So ask the question, and ask you must, but only when you become a Vivekananda, when you have the same passion and intensity as he had.