of a Golden Childhood
in Lao Tzu House, Rajneeshpuram, USA
The story of Mahatma Gandhi's death, and Jawaharlal's bursting into tears on the radio, stunned the whole world. It was not a prepared speech. He was just speaking out of his own heart, and if tears came, what could he do? And if there was a pause, it was not his fault but his greatness. No stupid politician could have done it even if he had wanted to, because their secretaries would even have to write in the prepared speech: "Now please start weeping, cry and leave a pause so that everybody believes that it is for real."
Jawaharlal was not reading; in fact, his secretaries were very worried. One of his secretaries, later on, after many years, became a sannyasin. He confessed that, "We had prepared a speech but in fact he threw it exactly in our faces and said, `You fools! Do you think I am going to read your speech?'"
This man, Jawaharlal, I immediately recognized as one of those very few people in the world at any moment who are so sensitive and yet in a position to be useful, not just to exploit and oppress but to serve.
I told Masto, "I'm not a politician and will never be one, but I respect Jawaharlal, not because he is the prime minister but because he can still recognize me although I am just a potentiality. Perhaps it june happen, or it june not happen at all, who knows? But his emphasis to you, to protect me from the politicians, shows that he knows more than is apparent."
This incident of Masto's disappearance, with this as his last statement, has opened many doors. I will enter at random, that is my way.
The first was Mahatma Gandhi. He was just mentioned by Jawaharlal, who wanted to compare me-and naturally -- to the man he respected most. But he hesitated, because he knew a little bit of me too, just a little bit, but enough to make me a presence while he was making the statement. Hence he hesitated. He felt as if something was not as it should be, but could not immediately find any other name. So he finally blurted out, "One day he can be another Mahatma Gandhi."
Masto protested on my behalf. He knew me far better than Jawaharlal. Hundreds of times we had discussed Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy, and I was always against. Even Masto was a little bit puzzled why I was so insistent against a man I had only seen twice, when I was just a child. I will tell you the story of that second meeting. It was suddenly interrupted, and then one never knows what comes. I never knew that this was going to come in.
I can see the train. Gandhi was traveling, and of course he traveled third class. But his "third class" was far better than any first class possible. In a sixty-man compartment there was just him and his secretary and his wife. I think these three were the only people. The whole compartment was reserved. And it was not even an ordinary first-class compartment, because I have never seen such a compartment again. It must have been a first-class compartment, and not only first class, but a special first class. Just the name plate had been changed and it became "third class" so Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy was saved.
I was just ten. My mother -- again I mean my grandmother -- had given me three rupees. She said, "The station is too far and you june not be back in time for lunch, and one never knows with these trains: it june come ten hours, twelve hours late, so please keep these three rupees." In India in those days, three rupees was almost a treasure. One could live comfortably for three months on them.
She had made a really beautiful robe for me. She knew I did not like long pants; at the most I wore pyjama pants and a kurta. A kurta is a long robe which I have always loved, and slowly slowly, the pyjama has disappeared, only the robe remains. Otherwise one has not only divided the upper body and the lower body, but even made different clothes for each. Of course the higher body should have something better, and the lower body is just to be covered, that's all.
She had made a beautiful kurta for me. It was summer and in those parts of central India summer is really difficult because the hot air going into the nostrils feels as if it's on fire. In fact, only in the middle of the night can people find a little rest. It is so hot in central India that you are continuously asking for some cold water, and if some ice is available then it is just paradise. Ice is the costliest thing in those parts. Naturally, because by the time it comes from the factory, a hundred miles away, it is almost gone. It has to be rushed as quickly as possible.
My Nani said I should go to see Mahatma Gandhi if I wanted to and she prepared a very thin muslin robe. Muslin is the most artistic and the most ancient fabric too, as far as clothes are concerned. She found the best muslin. It was so thin that it was almost transparent. At that time gold rupees had disappeared and silver rupees had taken their place. Those silver rupees were too heavy for the poor muslin pocket. Why am I saying it? -- because something I'm going to say would not be possible to understand without it.
The train came as usual, thirteen hours late. Almost everybody was gone except me. You know me, I'm stubborn. Even the station master said, "Boy, you are something. Everybody has gone but you seem ready to stay the whole night. There is no sign of the train and you have been waiting since early this morning."
To come to the station at four o'clock that morning I had to leave my house in the middle of the night. But I had not yet used those three rupees because everybody had brought so many things with them, and they were all so generous to a little boy who had come so far. They were offering me fruits, sweets, cakes and everything. So there was no question of feeling hungry. When the train finally arrived, I was the only person there, and what a person! Just a ten-year-old boy, standing by the side of the station master.
He introduced me to Mahatma Gandhi and said, "Don't think of him as just a boy. The whole day I have watched him, and I have discussed many things with him, because there was no other work. And he is the only one who has remained. Many had come but they left long ago. I respect him because I know he would have stayed here till the last day of existence. He would not leave until the train arrived. And if the train had not arrived, I don't think he would ever have left. He would have lived here."
Mahatma Gandhi was an old man; he called me close and looked at me. But rather than looking at me, he looked at my pocket -- and that put me off him forever. And he said, "What is that?"
I said, "Three rupees."
He said, "Donate them." He used to have a box with a hole in it, by his side. When you donated, you put the rupees in the hole and they disappeared. Of course he had the key, so they would appear again, but for you they had disappeared.
I said, "If you have the courage, you can take them. The pocket is there, the rupees are there, but june I ask you for what purpose you are collecting these rupees?"
He said, "For poor people."
I said, "Then it is perfectly okay." And I myself dropped those three rupees into his box. But he was the one to be surprised, for when I started leaving, I took the whole box with me.
He said, "For God's sake, what are you doing? That is for the poor!"
I said, "I have heard you already, you need not bother repeating it again. I am taking this box for the poor. There are many in my village. Please give me the key, otherwise I will have to find a thief so that he can open the lock. He is the only expert in that art."
He said, "This is strange...." He looked at his secretary. The secretary was dumb, as secretaries always are, otherwise why should they be secretaries? He looked at Kasturba, his wife, who said, "You have met your equal. You cheat everybody, now he is taking your whole box. Good! It is good, because I am tired of seeing that box always there, just like a wife."
I felt sorry for that man and left the box, saying, "No, you are the poorest man, it seems. Your secretary does not have any intelligence, nor does your wife seem to have any love for you. I cannot take this box away -- you keep it. But remember, I had come to see a mahatma, but I saw only a businessman."
That was his caste. In India, baniya, "businessman," is exactly what you mean by a Jew. India has its own Jews. They are not Jews, they are baniyas. To me, at that age, Mahatma Gandhi appeared to be only a businessman. I have spoken against him thousands of times because I don't agree with anything in his philosophy of life. But the day he was shot dead -- I was seventeen -- my father caught me weeping.
He said, "You, and weeping for Mahatma Gandhi? You have always been arguing against him." My whole family was Gandhian, they had all gone to jail for following his politics. I was the only black sheep, and they were, of course, all pure white. Naturally he asked, "Why are you weeping?"
I said, "I am not only weeping but I want to participate in the funeral. Don't waste my time because I have to catch the train and this is the last one that will get there on time."
He was even more astonished; he said, "I can't believe it, have you gone mad?"
I said, "We will discuss that later on. Don't be worried, I will be coming back."
And do you know that when I reached Delhi, Masto was on the platform waiting for me. He said, "I thought that however much you are against Gandhi, you still have a certain regard for the man. That is only my feeling." He then said, "It june or june not be so, but I depended on it. And this is the only train that passes through your village. If you were to come, I knew you would have to be on this train, otherwise you would not be coming. So I came to receive you, and my feeling was right."
I said to him, "If you had spoken before about my feeling for Gandhi, I would not have argued with you, but you were always trying to convince me, and then it is not a question of feeling, it is pure argument. Either you win, or the other fellow wins. If you had mentioned only once that it is a question of feeling, I would not have even touched that subject at all, because then there would have been no argument."
Particularly -- just so that it is on the record -- I want to say to you that there were many things about Mahatma Gandhi that I loved and liked, but his whole philosophy of life was absolutely disagreeable to me. So many things about him that I would have appreciated remained neglected. Let us put the record right.
I loved his truthfulness. He never lied; even though in the very midst of all kinds of lies, he remained rooted in his truth. I june not agree with his truth, but I cannot say that he was not truthful. Whatsoever was truth to him, he was full of it.
It is a totally different matter that I don't think his truth to be of any worth, but that is my problem, not his. He never lied. I respect his truthfulness, although he knows nothing of the truth -- which I am continuously forcing you to take a jump into.
He was not a man who could agree with me: "Jump before you think." No, he was a businessman. He would think a hundred times before taking a single step out of his door, what to say of a jump. He couldn't understand meditation, but that was not his fault. He never came across a single Master who could have told him something about no-mind, and there were such people alive at the time.
Even Meher Baba once wrote a letter to Gandhi not exactly that he himself wrote; somebody must have written it for him, because he never spoke, never wrote, just made signs with his hands. Only a few people were able to understand what Meher Baba meant. His letter was laughed at by Mahatma Gandhi and his followers, because Meher Baba had said, "Don't waste your time in chanting `Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.' That is not going to help at all. If you really want to know, then inform me and I will call you."
They all laughed; they thought it was arrogance. That's how ordinary people think, and naturally it looks like arrogance. But it is not, it is just compassion -- in fact, too much compassion. Because it is too much, it looks like arrogance. But Gandhi refused by telegram saying, "Thank you for your offer, but I will follow my own way"... as if he had a way. He had none.
But there are a few things about him that I respect and love -- his cleanliness. Now, you will say, "Respect for such small things...?" No, they are not small, particularly in India, where saints, so-called saints, are expected to live in all kinds of filth. Gandhi tried to be clean.
He was the cleanest ignorant man in the world. I love his cleanliness. I also love that he respected all religions. Of course, my reasons and his are different, but at least he respected all religions. Of course for the wrong reasons, because he did not know what truth is, so how could he judge what was right? -- whether any religions were right; whether all were right, or whether any ever could be right. There was no way.
Again, he was a businessman, so why irritate anybody? Why annoy them? They are all saying the same thing, the KORAN, the TALMUD, the BIBLE, the GITA, and he was intelligent enough -- remember the "enough," don't forget it -- to find similarities in them, which is not a difficult thing for any intelligent, clever person. That's why I say "intelligent enough," but not truly intelligent. True intelligence is always rebellious, and he could not rebel against the conventional, the traditional, the Hindu or the Christian or the Buddhist.
You will be surprised to know that there was a time when Gandhi contemplated becoming a Christian because they serve the poor more than any other religion. But he soon became aware that their service is just a facade for the real business to hide behind. The real business is converting people. Why? -- because they bring power. The more people you have, the more power you have.
If you can convert the whole world to be either Christian or Jew or Hindu, then of course, those people will have more power than anybody ever had before. Alexanders will fade out in comparison. It is a power struggle.
The moment Gandhi saw it -- and I say again, he was intelligent enough to see it -- he changed his idea of becoming a Christian. In fact, being a Hindu was far more profitable in India than being a Christian. In India, Christians are only one percent, so what political power could he have?
It was good that he remained a Hindu, I mean for his mahatmahood; but he was clever enough to manage and even influence Christians like C.F. Andrews, and Jainas, Buddhists, and Mohammedans like the man who became known as "the frontier Gandhi."
This man, who is still alive, belongs to a special tribe, Pakhtoons, who live in the frontier province of India. Pakhtoons are really beautiful people, dangerous too. They are Mohammedans, and when their leader became a follower of Gandhi, naturally they followed. Mohammedans of India never forgave "frontier Gandhi" because they thought he had betrayed their religion.
I'm not concerned whether he fulfilled or betrayed, what I am saying is that Gandhi himself had first thought of becoming a Jaina. His first guru was a Jaina, Shrimad Rajchandra; Hindus still feel hurt that he touched the feet of a Jaina.
Gandhi's second master -- and Hindus will be even more offended -- was Ruskin. It was Ruskin's great book, UNTO THIS LAST, that changed Gandhi's life. Books can do miracles. You june not have heard of the book, UNTO THIS LAST. It is a small pamphlet, and Gandhi was going on a journey when a friend gave it to him to read on the way because he had liked it very much. Gandhi kept it, not really thinking to read it, but when there was time enough he thought, "Why not at least look into the book?" And that book transformed him.
That book gave him his whole philosophy. I am against his philosophy, but the book is great. Its philosophy is not of any worth, but Gandhi was a junk-collector. He would find junk even in beautiful places. There is a type of person, you know, who even if you take them to a beautiful garden they suddenly come upon a place and show you something that should not be. Their approach is negative. And then there is a type of person who will collect only thorns -- junk-collectors; they call themselves collectors of art.
If I had read that book as Gandhi did, I would not have come to the same conclusion. It is not the book that matters, it is the man who reads, chooses and collects. His collection would be totally different although we june have visited the same place. To me, his collection would be just worthless. I don't know, and nobody knows, what he would think about my collection. As far as I know, he was a very sincere man. That's why I cannot say whether he would say, the way I am saying, "All his collection is junk." Perhaps he june, or perhaps he june not have said it -- that's what I love in the man. He could appreciate even that which was alien to him and tried his best to remain open, to absorb.
He was not a man like Morarji Desai, who is completely closed. I sometimes wonder how he breathes, because at least your nose has to be open. But Mahatma Gandhi was not the same type of man as Morarji Desai. I disagree with him, and yet I know he has a few small qualities worth millions.
His simplicity... nobody could write so simply and nobody could make so much effort just to be simple in his writing. He would try for hours to make a sentence more simple, more telegraphic. He would reduce it as much as possible, and whatsoever he thought true, he tried to live it sincerely.
That it was not true is another matter, but about that what could he do? He thought it was true. I pay him respect for his sincerity, and that he lived it whatsoever the consequences. He lost his life just because of that sincerity.
With Mahatma Gandhi, India lost its whole past, because never before was anybody in India shot dead or crucified. That had not been the way of this country. Not that they are very tolerant people, but just so snobbish, they don't think anybody is worth crucifying... they are far higher.
With Mahatma Gandhi India ended a chapter, and also began a chapter. I wept, not because he had been killed -- because everybody has to die, there is not much in it. And it is better to die the way he died, rather than dying on a hospital bed -- particularly in India. It was a clean and beautiful death in that way. And I am not protecting the murderer, Nathuram Godse. He is a murderer, and about him I cannot say, "Forgive him because he did not know what he was doing." He knew exactly what he was doing. He cannot be forgiven. Not that I am hard on him, just factual.
I had to explain all this to my father later on, after I came back. And it took me many days because it is really a complicated relationship between me and Mahatma Gandhi. Ordinarily, either you appreciate somebody or you don't; it is not so with me -- and not only with Mahatma Gandhi.
I'm really a stranger. I feel it every moment. I can like a certain thing about a person, but at the same time, there june be something standing by the side of it which I hate, and I have to decide, because I cannot cut the person in two.
I decided to be against Mahatma Gandhi, not because there was nothing in him that I could have loved -- there was much, but much more was there which had far-reaching implications for the whole world. I had to decide to be against a man I june have loved if -- and that "if" is almost unbridgeable -- if he had not been against progress, against prosperity, against science, against technology. In fact, he was against almost everything for which I stand: more technology and more science, and more richness and affluence.
I am not for poverty, he was. I am not for primitiveness, he was. But still, whenever I see even a small ingredient of beauty, I appreciate it; and there were a few things in that man which are worth understanding.
He had an immense capacity to feel the pulse of millions of people together. No doctor can do it; even to feel the pulse of one person is very difficult, particularly a person like me. You can try feeling my pulse, you will even lose your pulse, or if not the pulse, then at least the purse, which is even better.
Gandhi had the capacity to know the pulse of the people. Of course, I am not interested in those people, but that is another thing. I'm not interested in thousands of things; that does not mean that those who are genuinely working, intelligently reaching to some depth, are not to be appreciated. Gandhi had that capacity, and I appreciate it. I would have loved to meet him now, because when I was only a ten-year-old lad, all that he could get from me were those three rupees. Now I could have given him the whole paradise, but that was not to happen, at least in this life.
I can begin with the second day in my primary school. How long can it wait? It has already waited too long. The second day was my real entry into the school, because Kantar Master had been thrown out and everybody was joyous. Almost all the children were dancing. I could not believe it, but they told me, "You did not know Kantar Master. If he dies we will distribute sweets for the whole town, and burn thousands of candles in our houses."
I was received as if I had done a great deed. In fact I felt a little sorry for Kantar Master. He june have been very violent, but after all he was human too, and with all the weaknesses a human being is prone to. It was not at all his fault that he had only one eye and an ugly face. And I would even like to say something which I have never said before because I never thought anybody would believe it... but I am not seeking believers, believe it or not.
Even his cruelty was not his fault. I emphasize his fault: it was natural to him. Just as he had only one eye, he had anger, and very violent anger. He could not tolerate anything that went against him in any way. Even the silence of the children was enough to provoke him.
He would look around and say, "Why so much silence? What is going on? There must be a reason for you to be so silent. I will teach you all a lesson, so that you will never do this thing again to me."
The children were all amazed. They had just been keeping quiet so as not to disturb him. But what could he do? Even that disturbed him. He needed medical treatment, not only physical, but psychological too. He was, in every way, sick. I felt sorry for him because I was, apparently at least, the cause of his removal.
But everybody was enjoying the occasion, even the teachers. I could not believe it when the headmaster also said to me, "Thank you, my boy. You have started your school life by doing something beautiful. That man was a pain in the neck."
I looked at him and said, "Perhaps I should remove the neck too."
Immediately he became serious, and said, "Go and do your work."
I said, "Look, you are happy, rejoicing, because one of your colleagues has been thrown out; and you call yourself a colleague? What kind of friendship is this? You never told him to his face how you felt. You could not have done it, he would have crushed you."
The headmaster was a small man, not more than five feet tall, or perhaps even less. And that sevenfoot giant, weighing four hundred pounds, could easily have crushed him, without any weapon, just with his fingers. "In front of him why did you always behave like a husband before his wife?" Yes, these were the exact words.
I remember saying, "You behaved like a henpecked husband; and remember, I june by chance have been the cause of his removal, but I was not planning anything against him. I had only just entered school, there was no time for setting up a planning commission. And you have been planning against him your whole life. He should at least have been sent to another school" -- there were four schools in that town.
But Kantar Master was a strong man, and the president particularly was under his thumb. The president of that town was ready to be under anybody's thumb; perhaps he liked thumbs, I don't know, but soon the whole town realized that this holy cow-dung was not going to help.
In a town of twenty thousand, there was no road worth calling a road, no electricity, no park, nothing. Soon the people realized that it was because of this cow-dung. He had to resign, so that at least for the remaining two and a half years his vice-president took his place.
Shambhu Babu transformed almost the whole face of that town. One thing I must say to you: that through me he came to know that even a small child could not only remove a teacher, but could create a situation in which the president of the town had to resign.
He used to say laughingly, "You have made me president." But there were times afterwards when we disagreed. He remained president for many years. Once the town saw his work during those two and a half years he was elected unanimously again and again. He did almost miracles in changing that town.
He made the first cement roads in the whole province, and brought electricity to our twenty thousand people. That was very rare. No other town of that size had electricity. He planted trees at the side of the roads, to give a little beauty to an ugly town. He did much. What I am preparing you for is that there were times when I did not agree with his policies. Then I was his opponent.
You cannot believe how a young child of perhaps twelve could be an opponent. I had my strategies. I could persuade people very easily -- just because I was a child, and what interest could I have in politics? And certainly I had no interest at all.
For example, Shambhu Babu imposed the octroi tax. I can understand that; without money how could he manage all his beautifying projects, and roads, and electricity? Naturally he needed money. Some form of taxation was necessary.
I was not against taxation, I was against the octroi tax, because it goes on the head of the poorest. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. I am not against the rich becoming richer, but I am certainly against the poor becoming poorer. You will not believe it, and even he was surprised when I said, "I will go from house to house telling people not to vote for Shambhu Babu again. If the octroi remains then Shambhu Babu has to go. Or if Shambhu Babu wants to remain, then the octroi has to go. We will not allow both together." I not only went from house to house, I even spoke at my first public meeting.
People enjoyed seeing just a small boy speaking so logically. Even Shambhu Babu was sitting nearby, in a shop. I can still see him sitting there. That was his place. He used to sit there every day. It was a strange place for him to sit, but the shop was in a very prominent place, at the very center of the town. That's why all the meetings used to be held there, and he could pretend that he was just sitting at his friend's shop and had nothing to do with the meeting.
When he heard me -- and you know me, I was always the same. I pointed to Shambhu Babu sitting in that small shop, and said, "Look! He is sitting there. He has come to listen to what I am going to say. But, Shambhu Babu, remember: friendship is one thing, but I am not going to support your octroi tax. I will oppose it even if I have to lose your friendship. I will know that it was not worth much. If we can still remain friends although we june not agree on some points, or june even come to public conflict, only then will our friendship have any significance."
He was really a good man. He came out of the shop, patted me on the back and said, "Your arguments are worth considering. And as far as our friendship is concerned, this conflict has nothing to do with it." He never mentioned it again. I had thought that someday he would bring it up and say to me, "You were hitting me very hard and it was wrong." But he never even mentioned it. The most wonderful thing was that he withdrew the tax.
I asked him, "Why? I june oppose it, but I'm not even a voter yet. It was the public who voted you in."
He said, "That is not the point. If even you can oppose it, then there must be something wrong with what I am doing. I am withdrawing it. I have no fear of the public, but when a person like you disagrees, although you are very young, I respect you. And your argument is right that whatsoever taxation one applies, it has finally to be paid by the poor, because the rich are clever enough to shift it."
The octroi tax is taxation on any goods that enter the town. Now, when those goods are sold they will be sold at a higher price. You cannot prevent the taxation that the shopkeeper has paid being taken out of the pocket of a poor farmer. Of course, the shopkeeper will not call it taxation, it will just become part of the price.
Shambhu Babu said, "I understand the point and I have withdrawn the tax." As long as he was president the taxation was never again brought up, or even discussed. But he never felt offended, rather he became more respectful towards me. I felt awkward that I had to oppose somebody who I can say was the only person in that town I loved.
Even my father was surprised, and said, "You do some strange things. I heard you speaking in public. I knew you would do something like that, but not so soon. You were speaking so convincingly and against your own friend. Everybody was shocked that you were speaking against Shambhu Babu."
The whole town knew that I had no friend other than this old man, Shambhu Babu -- he must have been around fifty. This would have been the time for us to have been friends, but the gap was not in our hands, so we did not take any notice of it. And he too had no other friends. He could not afford to lose me, nor could I afford to lose him. My father said, "I could not believe that you would speak against him."
I said, "I never said a single word against him. I was speaking against the taxation that he is trying to bring about. My friendship certainly does not include that; octroi is excluded. And I had told Shambhu Babu beforehand, by way of making him aware, that if anything is disagreeable to me, I will fight it, even against him. That's why he was present in that shop, just to listen to what I was saying against his tax. But I did not say a single word against Shambhu Babu."
The second day at school was as if I had done something great. I could not believe that people had been so oppressed by Kantar Master. It was not that they were rejoicing for me; even then I could see the distinction clearly. Today too, I can remember perfectly that they were rejoicing because Kantar Master was no longer on their backs.
They had nothing to do with me, although they were acting as if they were rejoicing for me. But I had come to school the day before and nobody had even said, "Hello." Yet now the whole school had gathered at the Elephant Gate to receive me. I had become almost a hero on just my second day.
But I told them then and there, "Please disperse. If you want to rejoice go to Kantar Master. Dance in front of his house. Rejoice there. Or go to Shambhu Babu, who is the real cause of his removal. I am nobody. I did not go with any expectation, but things happen in life that you had never expected, nor deserved. This is one of those things, so please forget about it."
But it was never forgotten in my whole school life. I was never accepted as just another child. Of course, I was not very concerned with school at all. Ninety percent of the time I was absent. I would appear only once in a while for my own reason, but not to attend school.
I was learning many things, but not in school. I was learning strange things. My interests were a little uncommon, to say the least. For example I was learning how to catch snakes. In those days so many people used to come to the village with beautiful snakes, and the snakes would dance to their flute. It really impressed me.
All those people have almost disappeared, for the simple reason that they were all Mohammedan. They have either gone to Pakistan or been killed by the Hindus, or perhaps changed their profession because it was too much of a public declaration that they were Mohammedan. No Hindu practiced that art.
I would follow any snake charmer all day asking him, "Just tell me the secret of how you catch snakes." And slowly, slowly, they understood that I was not one who could be prevented from doing anything. They said among themselves, "If we don't tell him he is going to try on his own."
When I said to one snake charmer, "Either you tell me or else I am going to try on my own; if I die you will be responsible" -- he knew me because for days I had been bothering him, and bugging him -- he said, "Wait, I will teach you."
He took me outside the town and started to teach me how to catch snakes; how to teach them to dance when you play the flute. It was he who told me for the first time that snakes don't have ears. They cannot hear, and almost everybody believes that they are influenced by the snake charmer's flute.
He told me, "The truth is they can't hear at all."
I then asked him, "But how do they start swaying then when you play your flute?"
He said, "It is nothing but training. When I play my flute, have you ever noticed that I sway my head? That is the trick. I sway my head and the snake starts swaying, and unless he sways he remains hungry. So the sooner he starts swaying, the better. Hunger is the secret, not the music."
I learned from these snake charmers how to catch snakes. In the first place, ninety-seven percent of snakes are harmless, non-poisonous. You can catch them without any problem. Of course they will bite, but because they don't have any poison it will just be a bite, you will not die. Ninety-seven percent don't have poison glands, and the three percent who do have a strange habit: they bite just enough to make a place available for their poison, then they turn over. The poison gland is upside down in their throat, so first they make the wound, then they turn over and pour in the poison. You can catch them either before they make the wound... and the best way is to grasp their mouth really tight.
I had not known that you need to grasp the mouth, but that has to be the first thing. If you miss, and they make a wound in you, don't be worried: keep tight hold and just don't let them turn over. The wound will heal and you won't die.
I was learning, and this is just an example. Unfortunately all those snake charmers had to leave India. There were magicians doing all kinds of unbelievable things, and I was certainly more interested in the magicians than in my poor teacher and his geography or history. I followed these magicians like a servant. I would not leave them unless they taught me a little trick.
I was continuously amazed that what appeared so unbelievable was nothing but a small trick. But unless you knew the trick you had to accept the greatness of the phenomenon. Once you knew the trick -- it is like a balloon losing its air -- it becomes smaller and smaller, just a punctured balloon. Soon you have just a little piece of rubber in your hand and nothing else. That great balloon was simply hot air.
I was learning in my own ways things which were really going to help me. That's why I can say that Satya Sai Baba and people like him are just street magicians -- and not even very good ones, just ordinary. But these magicians have disappeared from the streets of India because they also were Mohammedans.
In India you have to understand one thing, that people for thousands of years have followed a certain structure. One's profession is almost always given by your parents; it is a heritage, you cannot change it. It will be difficult for a westerner to understand, hence so many problems arise in understanding, in communicating with the easterner.
I was learning, but not in school, and I never repented for it. I learned from all kinds of strange people. You cannot find them working in schools as teachers, that is not possible. I was with Jaina monks, Hindu sadhus, Buddhist bhikkus, and all kinds of people one is not expected to associate with.
The moment I became aware that I was not supposed to associate with somebody that was enough for me to associate with that person, because he must be an outsider. Because he was an outsider, hence the prohibition -- and I am a lover of outsiders.
I hate the insiders. They have done so much harm that it is time to call the game off. The outsiders I have always found a little crazy, but beautiful -- crazy yet intelligent. Not the intelligence of Mahatma Gandhi, he was a perfect insider; nor is it the intelligence of the so-called intellectuals -- Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Karl Marx, Hugh Bach -- the list is endless.
The first intellectual was the serpent who started this whole thing. Otherwise there would have been no trouble. He was the first intellectual. I don't call him a devil. I call you the devils: this company. You june not follow the meaning I give to the word. To me "the devil" always means "divine." It comes from the Sanskrit root deva, meaning "divine." So I have named your company "the devils."
But the serpent was an intellectual, and he played the trick that all intellectuals do. He persuaded the woman to purchase something while her husband was at the office, or junebe somewhere else, because offices came later -- must have been fishing, hunting, or you can imagine what the husband was doing. At least he was not fooling around, that much was certain, because there was nobody to fool around with. It all had to come, but later on.
The serpent argued that, "God has told you not to eat the fruit of the tree of life..." and it was nothing more than an apple tree. Sometimes I think nobody could have sinned more than me because I must be eating more apples than anybody in the world. And apples are so innocent that I wonder why the apple had to be chosen -- what wrong had the apple done to God? I cannot figure it out.
But one thing I can say: the man called serpent must have been a great intellectual, so great that he proved eating apples to be a sin. But intelligence to me is never of the mind.
I was talking about my primary school. I rarely went, and it was such a relief to everybody that I wanted to give it to them as much as possible. Why could I not give them one hundred percent relief? For the simple reason that I loved them too -- I mean the people: the teachers, the servants, the gardeners. Once in a while I wanted to visit them, particularly when I wanted to show them something. A little boy, anxious to show everything he has to those he loves... but those things were sometimes dangerous. Even now I cannot resist laughing.
I remember one day very vividly. It has always been waiting there for its moment. Perhaps the moment has come, and it has to be told and shared. It is a series of events....
I had just learned how to catch snakes. Snakes are poor people, innocent too, and beautiful; very alive. You cannot believe what I am saying unless you have seen two snakes in love. You june wonder how snakes make love. They don't make it -- it is only man who makes everything -- they do it. And when they are in love they are just flames. And the reason I am saying that it is surprising is because they have no bones, yet they still stand up to kiss each other! Stand on what? They have no legs either, they just stand on their tails. If you see two snakes standing on their tails kissing each other, you will never bother to see any Hollywood film again.
I had just learned how to catch a snake and how to make the distinction between the poisonous snake and the non-poisonous. A few are absolutely so poisonless that you can perhaps call them another kind of fish, because many of them live in water. The water snakes are the most innocent, even more than fish. Fish are cunning, but water snakes are not. I had tried my hand at all kinds of snakes, so when I say it, I am not just telling somebody else's story, it is my story.
I had just caught a snake. Now this was the day to go to the school. You will say, "Strange...?" Otherwise I was so busy, there was no time to waste with stupid questions, answers, foolish maps. Even then I could see that maps are all nonsense, because on the earth I don't see lines anywhere, either for the district or the municipality. So all the nations are just cow-dung, and not holy either -- unholy cow-dung. If anything like that exists, it is politics -- unholy and cow-dung, both together. It is politics that has created the maps.
I was not the one to waste my time there. I was exploring real geography; going to the mountains, disappearing for days. Only my Nani knew when I would come. And for days I would not be heard or seen, because I was not there. And everybody, I think, except my Nani, was happy. You will come to know why... and they were right, about that I have no doubt.
I had caught a snake, my first success. Naturally, I wanted to go to school immediately. And I didn't bother to wear the uniform, and nobody can expect me to. I never did, even in primary school. I said, "I have come to learn, not to be destroyed. If I can learn anything, good, but I won't allow you to destroy me, and the uniform -- chosen by you who don't know a thing about beauty and form -- I cannot accept. I will create great trouble if you try to impose it on me."
They said, "Keep it ready just in case the inspector comes, otherwise we will be in trouble. We don't want to trouble you because we don't want trouble ourselves. It is a costly affair," my teacher said, "to create trouble for you. We know what happened to Kantar Master; it can happen to anybody. But please keep the uniform just for our sakes."
And you will be surprised that my uniform was supplied by our school. I don't know who contributed its cost, nor do I care. I kept it, knowing perfectly well that it was almost a mathematical impossibility that my visit to the school, and the inspector's visit to the school, could fall on the same date. It was not possible, that's what I thought, but I kept the uniform. It was beautiful: they had done their best and they were not insisting that I should come wearing it.
I was always a foreigner. Even now among my own people, I am not wearing the uniform. I just cannot. Even a uniform that I have chosen for you, I cannot be in it. Why? That day there was the same question. Today again, it is the same question. I just cannot conform. You can think of it as a whim; it is not whimsical at all, it is very existential. But we will not go into that, otherwise what I was saying to you will be missed. I will never come to it again.
I had caught my first snake. It was such a joy, and the snake was so beautiful. Just to touch it was to touch something really alive. It was not like touching your wife, your husband, your son, or even your son-in-law, where you touch and bless them, and you don't have any feeling -- you just want to go and watch T.V., particularly if you are in America, or if you are in England, go to the cricket match or the football match. People are crazy in different ways, but crazy all the same.
That snake was a real snake, not a plastic snake that you could purchase in any store. Of course, the plastic snake june be made perfectly but it does not breathe; that's the only trouble with it, otherwise it is perfect. God could not have improved upon it. Just one thing is missing -- the breathing -- and for just one thing why complain? But that one thing is all. I had just caught a real snake, so beautiful and so clever that I had to put my whole intelligence into catching him, because I was not in any way interested in killing him.
The man who was teaching me was an ordinary street magician. In India we call them Madari. They do all kinds of tricks without any charge. But they do so well that in the end they simply spread their handkerchief on the ground and say, "Now something for my stomach." And people june be poor, but when they see something so beautifully done they always give.
So this man was an ordinary Madari, a street magician. That is the closest translation I can manage, because I don't think that anything like the Madaris exist in the West. In the first place, they won't allow a crowd to gather on the street. The police car will immediately arrive saying that you are blocking the traffic.
In India, there is no question of blocking the traffic; there are no traffic laws! You can walk in the middle of the road; you can follow the golden mean -- literally. You can follow the American way, you can go to the extreme right, or to the very extreme left. The extreme right is the American way, the extreme left is the Russian way; you can choose -- or you can choose any position anywhere in between. The whole road is yours; you can make your house there. You will be surprised to know that in India you can do anything imaginable, or unimaginable, on the street. I include even the unimaginable because one never knows.
The Madaris were certainly causing a traffic jam, but who was to object? Even the policeman was one of the admirers, clapping at the tricks the Madari was playing. I have seen all kinds of people gathered there blocking the whole road. No, Madaris could not exist in the West, in the same sense -- and they're really beautiful people; simple, ordinary, but they "know something," as they say.
The man who was teaching me told me, "Remember, this is a dangerous snake. These snakes should not be caught."
I said, "You are freed. These are the only snakes I am going to catch." I had never seen such a beautiful snake, so colorful, so alive in every fiber of his being. Naturally I could not resist -- I was just a little boy -- I rushed to the school. I wanted to avoid relating what happened there, but I will just because I can see it again.
The whole school, as many as were possible, gathered in my classroom, and the others were standing on the verandah outside, looking through the windows and the doors. Others were standing even farther away just in case the snake escaped or something went wrong -- and this boy, from the very first day had been a trouble-maker. But my class, just thirty or forty little boys, were all afraid, standing and shouting, and I really enjoyed it.
The thing that you will also enjoy and I could not believe, was that the teacher stood on his chair! Even today I can see him standing on his chair and saying, "Get out! Get out! Leave us alone! Get out!"
I said, "First you get down."
He became quiet, because the question of getting down was dangerous with such a big snake. The snake must have been six or seven feet long, and I was dragging it in a bag, so that I could suddenly expose it to everybody. And when I exposed it there was chaos! I can still see the teacher jumping on his chair. I could not believe my eyes. I said, "This is just wonderful."
He said, "What is wonderful?"
I said, "You jumping up and standing on the chair. You will break it!"
First the children were not afraid, but when they saw him so afraid -- just see how children are being impressed by stupid and wrong people. When they had seen me coming in with the snake, they were just joy, "Allelujah!" But when they saw the teacher standing on his chair... for a moment there was complete silence, only the teacher was jumping and shouting, "Help!"
I said, "I don't see the point. The snake is in my hands. I am in danger, you are not. You are standing on your chair. You are too far away for the poor snake to reach. I would like him to reach, and have a little talk with you."
I can still see that man and his face. He met me only once after that experience. By that time I had renounced my professorship and become a beggar... although I never begged. But the truth is I am a beggar; but a special type of beggar who does not beg.
You will have to find a word for it. I don't think a word exists in any language that can explain my situation, simply because I have not been here before -- in this way, this style. Neither has anybody else been this way, with this style: having nothing and living as if you own the whole universe.
I remember him saying, "I cannot forget when you brought that snake into my class. It still comes into my dreams, and I cannot believe that that kind of boy has become a Buddha, impossible!"
I said, "You are right. `That kind of boy' has died, and what is after the death of that boy, you june call Buddha, or you june choose something else, or you june choose not to call it anything. I simply don't exist the way you knew me. I would have loved to, but what can I do? I died."
He said, "See? I'm talking seriously and you are making a joke out of it."
"I am doing my best, but," I told him, "it is not only you who remembers. Whenever I have a bad day or the weather is not good, or something -- the tea was not hot enough, the food was as if prepared for food poisoning -- then I remember you jumping on your chair and calling for help. And that cheers me up again -- although I am dead, it still helps. I am tremendously grateful to you."
I used to go to school only for such moments. There were certainly only a few..."occasions" I should call them. It was necessary for everybody's happiness that I should not be present there regularly every day. You will be surprised that the peon, the man whose duty was.... What do you call him? Peon? -- or don't you have any word for it: p-e-o-n, peon? But we in India call him peon. Whatsoever the word is, it is the lowest servant in every office.
Devaraj, what is it?
No, that is a different thing, but comes close to it. I thought "peon" must be an English word; it is not of Hindi origin. I june not be pronouncing it rightly. We will find out, but it is spelled "peon."
The peon was the only person who was unhappy when I was not there... because everybody else was happy about it. He loved me. I have never seen an older man than him. He was ninety or perhaps more. Perhaps he had made the century; in fact, he june have been even more because he tried to reduce his age as much as possible so that he could continue in service a little longer... and he continued.
In India you don't know your birth date, and particularly if you were born one hundred years before, I don't think there would be any certificate or record; impossible. But I have never seen a man older than him and yet full of juice, really juicy.
He was the only man in that whole school for whom I had some respect -- but he was the lowest, nobody even looked at him. Once in a while, just for his sake, I used to visit the school, but I only went to his place.
His place was just by the corner of the Elephant Gate. His work was to open and close the gate, and he had a bell hanging in front of his cabin, to hit every forty minutes, leaving just ten minutes twice each day for tea breaks, and one hour for lunch. That was his only work, otherwise he was a completely free man.
I would go into his cabin, and he would close the door so that nobody disturbed us, and so that I could not escape easily. Then he would say, "Now tell me everything since we met last time." And he was such a lovely old man. His face had so many lines that I had even tried to count them, of course not telling him. I was pretending to listen to him while I was counting how many lines his forehead had -- and it was all forehead because all his hair had gone -- and how many lines were on his cheeks. In fact his whole face, howsoever you divided it, was nothing but lines. But behind those lines was a man of infinite love and understanding.
If I did not visit the school for many days, then it was certain that the day was coming closer when if I didn't go, then he would come to find me. That meant my father would know everything: that I never went to school, that attendance was given to me just to keep me out. That was the agreement. I had said, "Okay, I will keep myself out, but what about my attendance, because who is going to answer my father?"
They said, "Don't be worried about your attendance. We will give you one hundred percent attendance, even on holidays, so don't be worried at all."
So I was always aware that before he came to visit my house, it was better to go to his cabin, and somehow -- again I have to use the word "synchronicity" -- he knew when I was coming. I knew that if I didn't go that day he would be coming to inquire what had happened to me. And it became almost mathematically accurate.
I would start from the very morning with the feeling, "Listen" -- I am not saying it to you, I am just telling you how I used to get up -- "Listen, if you don't go today, Mannulal" -- that was his name -- "is going to visit by the evening. Before that happens, somehow at least make an appearance before him."
And except once I always followed my inner voice; I mean in concern to Mannulal. Only once... and I was getting a little tired of the whole thing, it was a kind of torture -- I had to go. I went out of fear, otherwise he would tell my father and mother, and would create havoc. I said, "No. Today I'm not going. Whatsoever happens I'm not going."
And who did I see? Nobody but Mannulal, the old man, coming. Perhaps he was more than a hundred and just pretending he was not. To me he always looked, and I still insist that he was, more than a hundred -- perhaps a hundred and ten, or even a hundred and twenty. He was so ancient-looking you would not believe it. I have never seen anything so ancient. I have visited museums, all kinds of collections of old objects, but I have never come across anything more prehistoric than Mannulal.
He was coming! I ran out just in time to prevent him from entering the house. He said to me, "I had to come to find you, because you were trying not to come to see me. And you know that I am an old man. I june die tomorrow, who knows? I just wanted to see you. I am happy that you are healthy and as alive as ever." Saying that, he blessed me, turned, and went away. I can see his back, with the strange uniform that the peon had to wear.
Now this will be really difficult for me to describe. First the color: it was khaki -- I think you call it khaki, am I right? Second: up to his knees there was a strap running around his leg, also khaki, but a separate thing. It was just to make the man look more alive, alert, or better to say "on alert." In fact it was so tight, what else could you do other than be alert?
It is strange but your dress can even change your behavior. For example, wearing a very tight robe, or tight dress I mean, not robe, or tight pants like the teenagers are using -- so tight that one wonders how they got into them... I could not get into them, that much is certain. And even if they were born into them from the very beginning then how will they get out of them? But these are philosophical questions. They are not worried. They just sing pop songs and eat popcorn. What else to do in the world? But dress can certainly change your behavior.
Soldiers cannot have loose uniforms, otherwise they cannot be fighters. When you wear something tight, so tight that you want to get out of it, then naturally you want to fight with everybody. You are simply angry. It is not objective -- directed to anybody in particular -- it is simply a subjective feeling. You simply want to get out of it. What to do? -- have a good fight. It certainly makes people feel a little relaxed. Then, naturally, the tight clothes get a little looser.
That's why every lover, before making love, first has to go through the ritual pillow fight, argument, and say nasty things to the other. Then of course it is a comedy; everything in it ends well. Alas, can't people start loving from the very beginning? But no, their very tightness prevents it. They cannot loosen up.
Just three minutes for me.... There was much to say, but I have something else to do. You can see the tear... please remove it. But it was beautiful, thank you.
This is great...(CHUCKLE) you go on. Ashu, you are doing well. You go on your way, he goes on his way; ways differ and I don't think they will meet anywhere.
It is finished? Good! (CHUCKLING.)
I was talking about my visits to school. Yes, I call them visits because they were certainly not attendance. I was only there to create some mischief. In a strange way I have always loved to be involved in some mischievous act. Perhaps it was the beginning of how I was to be for my whole life.
I have never taken anything seriously. I cannot, even now. Even at my own death I will, if allowed, still have a good laugh. But in India for the last twenty-five years I have had to play the role of a serious man. It has been my most difficult role, and the longest drawn. But I did it in such a way that although I have remained serious, I have never allowed anybody around me to be serious. That has kept me above water, otherwise those serious people are far more poisonous than snakes.
You can catch snakes, but serious people catch you. You have to run away from them as fast as possible. But I am fortunate that no serious person will even try to approach me. I quickly made myself notorious enough, and it all began when I was not even thinking where it was going to land me.
Whenever they saw me coming, everybody was alerted, as if I was going to create some danger. At least to them it must have looked dangerous. For me it was just fun -- and that word summarizes my whole life.
For example, another incident from my primary school. I must have been in the last class, the fourth. They never failed me, for the simple reason that no teacher wanted me in his class again. Naturally, the only way to get rid of me was to pass me on to somebody else. At least for one whole year let him have the trouble too. That's how they called me, "the trouble." On my part I could not see what trouble I created for anybody.
I was going to give you an example. The station was two miles from my town and divides it from another small village called Cheechli, six miles away.
By the way, Cheechli was the birthplace of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He never mentions it. There are reasons why he does not mention where he was born, because he belongs to the sudra class in India. Just to mention that you come from a certain village, certain caste, or profession -- and Indians are very uncultured about that. They june just stop you on the road and ask you, "What is your caste?" Nobody thinks that this is an interference.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born on the other side of the station, but because he is a sudra, he can neither mention the village -- because it is a village of only sudras, the lowest caste in the Indian hierarchy -- nor can he use his surname. That too will immediately reveal who he is.
His full name is Mahesh Kumar Shrivastava, but "Shrivastava" would put a stop to all his pretensions, at least in India, and that would affect others too. He is not an initiated sannyasin in any of the old orders, because again, there are only ten sannyasin orders in India. I have been trying to destroy them, that is why they are all angry with me.
These orders are again castes, but of sannyasins. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi cannot be a sannyasin because no sudra can become an initiate. That's why he does not write "Swami" before his name. He cannot, nobody has given him that name. He does not write behind his name, as Hindu sannyasins do, Bharti, Saraswati, Giri et cetera; they have their ten names.
He has created his own name -- "Yogi." It does not mean anything. Anybody trying to stand on his head, and of course falling again and again, can call himself a yogi, there is no restriction on it.
A sudra can be a yogi, and the name Maharishi is something to replace "Swami," because in India things are such that if the name "Swami" is missing, then people would suspect something is wrong. You have to put something else there just to cover up the gap.
He invented "Maharishi." He is not even a rishi; rishi means "seer," and maharishi means "great seer." He can't even see beyond his nose. All he can do when you ask him relevant questions is giggle. In fact, I will call him "Swami Gigglananda," that will fit him perfectly. That giggling is not something respectable, it is really a strategy to avoid questions. He cannot answer any question.
I have met him, just by chance, and in a strange place -- Pahalgam. He was leading a meditation camp there, and so was I. Naturally my people and his were meeting each other. They first tried to bring him to my camp, but he made so many excuses: that he had not time, he wanted to but it would not be possible.
But he said, "One thing can be done: you can bring Bhagwan here so that my time and my scheduled work is not disturbed. He can speak with me from my stage." And they agreed.
When they told me I said, "This is stupid of you; now I will be in unnecessary trouble. I will be in front of his crowd. I don't have to worry about the questions; the only problem is that it will not be right for the guest to hit his host, especially before his own crowd. And once I see him I cannot refrain from hitting him; any decision I make not to hit him will be gone."
But they said, "We have promised."
I said, "Okay. I'm not bothered, and I am ready to come." It was not very far, just a two-minutes' walk away. You just had to get in the car, and then get out again, that was the distance. So I said, "Okay, I will come."
I went there, and as I had expected he was not there. But I don't care about anything; I started the camp -- and it was his camp! He was not there, he was just trying to avoid me as much as he could. Somebody must have told him because he was staying in the hotel just nearby. He must have heard what I was saying from his room. I started hitting him hard, because when I saw that he was not there, I could hit him as much as I wanted to, and enjoy doing it. Perhaps I hit him too hard and he could not stay away. He came out giggling.
I said, "Stop giggling! That is okay on American television, it won't do here with me!" And his smile disappeared. I have never seen such anger. It was as if that giggling was a curtain, hiding behind it all that was not supposed to be there.
Naturally it was too much for him, and he said, "I have other things to do, please excuse me."
I said, "There is no need. As far as I am concerned you never came here. You came for the wrong reasons, and I don't come into it at all. But remember, I have got plenty of time."
Then I really hit him because I knew he had gone back into his hotel room. I could even see his face watching from the window. I even told his people: "Look! This man says he has much work to do. Is this his work? Watching somebody else work from his window. He should at least hide himself, just as he hides behind his giggle."
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is the most cunning of all the so-called spiritual gurus. But cunningness succeeds; nothing succeeds like cunningness. If you fail, it simply means you have come across somebody who is more cunning than you -- but cunningness still succeeds. He never mentions his village, but I remembered because I was going to tell you about an incident. This incident had some concern with his village, and my story is always going in all directions.
Cheechli was a small state. It was not part of the British Raj. It was a very small state, but the king, after all, was a king even though he could only afford.