In 1910 the King of Kashi had to be operated on for appendicitis. Since the king had taken a vow not to partake of anything that induced unconsciousness, he refused any anesthesia. The doctors were in a dilemma, since the operation was absolutely imperative and so also the anesthesia. They tried to explain to him that it was a matter of opening his abdomen, but he persisted and asked only to be allowed to read the Gita while they operated, and that was enough. The doctors had to give in because delay in operating could be fatal. The king read the Gita throughout the operation, and when it was all over the incredulous doctors asked didn’t he feel any pain. He said, “I was so engrossed in my Gita, I was not aware of what was happening.”
You only know a thing when you apply your mind to it; you see only what you want to see. When your attention is diverted, everything changes. You are unaware of things that you really want to avoid. If you wander through the market, you will see only those things that interest you: a cobbler will concentrate on leather goods, a jeweler will have eyes only for diamonds. You only see those things that are illumined by your attention. All else remains in darkness.
The most profound art of living is to attain mastery over attention. If you are flowing towards God the world will be lost to you, and it is for this reason that sages call the world maya, an illusion. Maya does not mean that the world does not exist. It exists very much, but sages discovered that as their awareness flows God-ward, the world fades from perception. And where awareness is not, the existence or nonexistence of that place becomes irrelevant. Existence is born in the act of perception. It fades when the attention is withdrawn.
The sages say: “God is truth, the world is non-truth.” Does this mean that the world we see around us is not there in actuality? It is very much there, but the sage no longer perceives it. If you are greedy wealth is real to you; when greed is gone, riches become like clay. Wealth is not wealth because of itself – but because of your perceptions. Or, with sensuousness the body becomes very significant; without sensuousness it becomes secondary.
Existence shifts with attention; it manifests only in the path of attention. Once you understand this you become your own master. Having discovered the master within, you no longer obey your servants, the disciples, because what is the sense in asking those who do not know themselves? Now you follow and do the bidding of the master within.
Nanak says one alone, dhyana, is the guru of the five. On the superficial level dhyana means attention; on the deeper level dhyana refers to meditation. It is meditation that leads to discovery of the master within. There is nothing more profound – nothing deeper – than meditation, so ponder over it and make no casual passing remarks about something so significant. But people are such that they talk about attention and meditation without any direct knowledge. People who do not know in themselves enjoy talking just for the sake of talking and they cause a great deal of confusion in the world.