But if the wrong step is taken then you may go on walking for life after life. However much you may walk, however fast you may run, however many efforts and means you use, nothing will happen. Perhaps even the opposite state will happen: the more you try the further you will move away; the more you run the greater will be the distance. No one can reach by running in the wrong direction. Rather, people have reached even by walking slowly but in the right direction. And those who know have said that if the direction is absolutely right then even a single step is not needed, then the goal is right where you are. I also say to you that there is no need even to move, because the goal is not far away. The goal is in your eyes, it is in your very way of seeing.
There is a way of looking with love – it works like magic, it is an alchemy. With this way of seeing something becomes visible which was not obvious before. There is also a way of looking without love, but looking without love is a blind way of seeing. Through this way of seeing one sees what is never seen through the eyes of love. The world and the divine can never be experienced simultaneously. This is why the seers – seers like Shankara – say, “The world is an illusion.”
But don’t think that just because he says the world is an illusion that Shankara will not go out to beg for his food. If the world were an illusion there would be nobody to beg from. Don’t think that the world is an illusion means that Shankara will not feel hunger, because how can there be hunger if everything is illusory? Don’t think that when Shankara is hungry and he eats food that his hunger is not satisfied. There is hunger and this hunger is also satisfied. He begs for his food and still he says, “The world is an illusion.”
There is a story:
A crazy emperor heard the teachings of Shankara and they didn’t appeal to him. They appeal to no one – they won’t appeal to you either. “The world is illusory!” – how can you believe this? Try to go out of a room by walking through a wall and your head will be cut and bloody. If this wall were illusory then you could walk through it – what would prevent you? Can illusory walls stop you? And you can walk through a doorway so there is certainly a basic, pragmatic difference between a doorway and a wall: your head hits against one but not against the other.
The emperor was crazy. He said, “Wait! I don’t believe in just discussing it. I am a practical person, not an idealist. So wait, this decision is not to be made through logic. You are skilled in logic. My decision will be made through the experience of what is real, so wait.”
He told the elephant keeper to bring a mad elephant. The emperor had a mad elephant which had its legs heavily chained to keep him under control. Once when he had escaped he killed some people. Many times he had managed to break the chains. That mad elephant was brought.
The emperor stood on the roof of his palace to watch and the people hid in their houses; the path that led to the palace became empty. Shankara was left on that pathway and the mad elephant was taken there and let loose. Shankara ran away shouting and screaming!
Perhaps you wonder that if the world is an illusion, then why is Shankara running from an illusory elephant? A seer shouldn’t behave like this – and this is also what the emperor thought.