But religion is not a ritual. And religion is not a ceremonial thing, it is not a social formality. It is gambling. It needs guts. It needs you to put your whole being at stake – and to stake that which you know for that which you don’t know needs real courage because you cannot in any way predict the outcome. It is going into the dark, it is leaving that which you know for that which you don’t know. And you never know whether you are going to be a loser or a winner. All is vague. Great courage is needed.
Nidagha had the potential; the master was aware of the potential. But Nidagha himself was not aware of the potential – he escaped from the master into ceremonial religion. He said, “I will read the scriptures, I will do the rituals, I will do whatsoever is asked by the priest.”
And remember, the priest asks only the superficial – it only scratches your skin; it never goes into your heart, it never transforms you. Avoid the priest.
But the sage loved his disciple as deeply as the latter venerated his master. In spite of his age, Ribhu would himself go to his disciple in the town, just to see how far the latter had outgrown his ritualism. At times the sage went in disguise, so that he might observe how Nidagha would act when he did not know that he was being observed by his master.
Yes, that’s what a master has to do – to go on observing you, to go on observing you in those moments when you are completely forgetful of the master, to see what is really happening in your life – because what you pretend is not the real thing. You can go to the temple and you don’t mean it. You can pray and those words are only lip-service; they don’t come from your innermost core. You can read the scripture without reading it at all. You can go on moving through empty gestures, mechanical gestures – you can deceive the ordinary person. But you cannot deceive the master, he will look through your empty gestures. So Ribhu was after his disciple, and sometimes he would go in disguise.
On one such occasion, Ribhu, who had put on the disguise of a village rustic, found Nidagha intently watching a royal procession. Unrecognized by the town-dweller Nidagha, the village rustic inquired what the bustle was all about, and was told that the king was going in procession.
“Oh! It’s the king. He goes in procession! But where is he?” asked the rustic.
“There, on the elephant,” said Nidagha.
“You say the king is on the elephant. Yes, I see the two,” said the rustic. “But which is the king and which is the elephant?”
“What!” exclaimed Nidagha. “You see the two, but do not know that the man above is the king and the animal below is the elephant? Where is the use of talking to a man like you?”
“Pray, be not impatient with an ignorant like me,” begged the rustic. “But you said ‘above’ and ‘below.’ What do they mean?”
Nidagha could stand it no more. “You see the king and the elephant, the one above and the other below. Yet you want to know what is meant by ‘above’ and ‘below’?” burst out Nidagha. “If things seen and words spoken can convey so little to you, action alone can teach you. Bend forward, and you will know it all too well.”