I have heard… Once a man went mad in a village. It was a hot afternoon and the man was walking all alone along a lonely road. He was walking rather fast, trying not to be scared. It is possible to be scared when someone is already there, but how can anyone be scared when there is no one around? But we do feel scared when there is no one around. In fact, we are afraid of ourselves, and when we are alone the fear is even greater. There is no one we fear more than ourselves. We are less afraid when accompanied by someone and more afraid when left all by ourselves.
This man was alone. He became scared and began running. Everything was still and quiet – it was afternoon; there was no one around. As he began to run faster, he sensed the sound of running feet coming from behind. He grew frightened – maybe someone was following him. Then, afraid, he glanced out of the corner of his eye and saw a long shadow chasing him. It was his own shadow – but seeing that some long shadow was pursuing him, he ran even faster. And that man could never stop, because the faster he ran, the faster the shadow ran after him. Finally the man went mad. But there are people who worship even madmen.
When people saw him running like that through their villages, they thought he was engaged in some great ascetic practice. Except in the darkness of night, when the shadow would disappear and he would think there was no one behind him, he never stopped. With daybreak he would start running again. Then he didn’t even stop at night. He figured that in spite of the distance he had covered during the day, while he was resting at night the shadow would catch up with him and would follow him again in the morning. So even at night he continued running.
Then he went completely mad; he neither ate nor drank. Thousands of people watched him run and showered flowers upon him, or someone might hand him a piece of bread or some water. People began worshipping him more and more; thousands paid their respects to him. But the man became more and more crazy, and finally one day, he fell down on the ground and died. The people of the village where he died made his grave under the shade of a tree, and they asked an old fakir of the village what they should inscribe on his gravestone. The fakir wrote one line on it.
In some village, someplace, that grave is still there. It is possible you may pass it by it. Do read the line. The fakir wrote on the gravestone: “Here rests a man who fled from his own shadow all his life, who wasted his whole life escaping from a shadow. And the man did not even know as much as his gravestone does – because the gravestone is in the shade and does not run, hence no shadow is created.”
We also run. We may wonder how a man can run from his shadow, but we too run from shadows. And that which we run away from starts pursuing us. The faster we run, the faster it follows because it is our own shadow.