There is a great deal of impurity within us – so much that no trace of gold is to be seen, though it may be lying concealed somewhere within us. Sometimes some sage talks of gold, but we know only the dust and rubbish within which it lies. Some realized soul, some wise man, tells us there is gold, pure gold, within us, but when we go looking for it we find nothing but stones. So we have to throw even gold into the fire. The meaning of penance is to throw gold into fire. The word tapa, penance, is derived from tapa – fire. Tapa does not just mean that a person stands in the heat of the sun practicing penance. Penance means that one should pass through so much fire within that all that is impure may be burned, destroyed – and all that is pure may be left.
It is necessary to bear in mind one or two other points about fire so that it will be easy to remember its divine form, its divinity. It will be useful to understand the prayer of the sage, “O fire, lead me to the right path,” and to realize why such a prayer was offered to fire. You have seen fire, you have seen water also. However low it may sink, water remains. Flowing down from a mountain it enters a valley, but it is not lost, it does not vanish. Fire rises towards the sky, but vanishes after rising only a little distance.
Truly speaking, one who makes an upward journey will vanish. As he goes up and up he is vanishing every moment; soon he will lose his ego and cease to be. He will be one with the sky. Fire remains visible for a short distance and then disappears – lost in the void, in nothingness. Water remains, however far down it may flow. The ego will surely persist on its downward journey, and if it goes very deep down it will be transformed. When ego sinks very low it becomes hard, like a stone. Bear this in mind; the ego becomes strong, frozen, hard and crystallized as you descend lower and lower, and becomes thin, weak and invisible as you rise higher and higher. Watch a flame and you will see – in a short while it has gone away. Where has it gone?
When Buddha was about to enter his final liberation, he said, “Within a few seconds I shall cease to be.”
Then someone asked, “Where will you be then, when you are not?”
Buddha replied, “Watch the lamp, and ask it where its flame, disappearing into the air, has gone. I shall also disappear in that way in a short time. That moment has arrived when my flame will be absorbed in the vast sky.”
There is one more secret, one more mystery, about fire: it burns everything and finally destroys itself too. After consuming the fuel, fire does not save itself. As soon as the fuel is extinguished the fire is also extinguished. Everything is extinguished, and finally no fire is left behind; it also vanishes. It would be violence if it saved itself after burning everything else, but it is love when one disappears after making others disappear. So fire is not the enemy of fuel; it is its friend, its lover. If it were not so, it would certainly save itself after consuming the fuel. It does not consume others to preserve itself; this is not the nature of fire. After burning the fuel, it burns itself and becomes quiet.