There is an ancient anecdote: A sannyasin was sent by his guru to the palace of a king with the instructions, “The king may perhaps be able to make you understand what I could not.” The disciple doubted this, but he had to obey the guru’s order. When he reached the palace he found it flooded with light, wine was flowing and dancing-girls moved to sensuous music. He was terribly pained, thinking surely he had been sent to the wrong place; so he asked the king to allow him to go back, explaining that his search was something different. How could the king who was himself lost be of any help to him?
The king said, “I am not lost but you will understand that only after you remain here awhile. Just to see from the outside is fruitless. If you take the trouble to look deep inside perhaps you may grasp the key. Your guru sent you here only after great deliberation.” The key is already hidden within, and not in the sense organs themselves.
The king persuaded him to stay overnight. He was put in a wonderful room that was the last word in comfort, but there was only one snag: from the ceiling just over the bed hung a naked sword on a slender cotton thread. The sannyasin could not sleep a wink because the thread was weak and the sword could drop any moment. He was dismayed by this cruel joke.
In the morning the king inquired whether he slept well. “Everything was fine,” said the sannyasin with some sarcasm. “It couldn’t have been better, but what was the big joke of dangling that sword over my head? I couldn’t sleep a wink with my attention glued to the sword all the time.”
The king said, “In exactly the same manner the sword of death hangs over my head constantly calling my attention. The girls dance but my mind is not in them; the wine flows but it gives me little pleasure; the tables overflow with all kinds of delicacies, but I can’t enjoy the food with the sword of death always hanging over me.”
The five senses are the five openings through which you contact the outside world. Without them you cannot relate to life, but the more you enter into them, the farther away from yourself you go. Dhyana, concentration, is hidden within each of the senses. When a particular sense points outward your attention moves outward through it. Therefore, when your attention goes out through one sense organ you become oblivious of the other senses. This happens because you know only through your attention, and not through your senses. Knowledge itself is attention. For example, you are sitting at a feast but a thorn has got into your foot and the pain is unbearable. You can never enjoy the taste of the food for the terrible pain engages your full attention, which flows only in that direction.
Another example: You have just been told that your house is on fire and your whole mind is on how to get home as fast as you can. Though you are walking on a road with many people you are aware of nothing around you. You don’t notice the people rushing by, pushing one another, pushing you, or even that you are pushing others. You have no interest in what is being sold in the shops or what people are talking about. While your ears hear all, you hear nothing; while your arms touch the others you feel nothing. Your mind is entirely on the fire at your house.