WHAT IS THE SUBTLE DIFFERENCE, IF ANY, BETWEEN MAHAVIRA’S TRANSCENDENCE OF ATTACHMENT, CHRIST’S HOLY INDIFFERENCE, BUDDHA’S INDIFFERENCE AND KRISHNA’S NON-ATTACHMENT? AND IN WHAT WAY ARE THEY THE SAME?
There is a good deal of similarity between Christ’s concept of neutrality, Buddha’s idea of indifference, Mahavira’s transcendence of attachment, and Krishna’s non-attachment. These are the ways of looking at and meeting the world. But there are some basic differences too. While their end-points are similar, their approaches are very different. while their ultimate goal is the same, they differ much in the ways and means they use to achieve their ends. There is deep similarity between what Christ calls neutrality or non-alignment with the world at large, and what Buddha calls indifference to it. As the world is, with all its strange goings-on, its contradictions and conflicts, its struggles and trials, a seeker on the spiritual path will do well to keep a distance from it. But remember, neutrality can never be blissful; deep down it makes one sad and dull and drab. Therefore Jesus looks sad; even if he attains to some bliss he comes to it by way of his sadness. And his whole path is dull and dreary; he cannot walk it singing and dancing. Neutrality is bound to turn into sadness; Jesus cannot help it. If I don’t choose life, if I reject it completely, if I say I take neither this nor that, then I will soon stop flowing, I will stagnate. If a river refuses to move in any of the directions – east, west, north or south – it will cease to flow, it will stagnate. It will turn into a closed pool.
It is true that a stagnant pool of water too will reach the ocean, but not in the way the river reaches it. It will first have to turn into vapor and then into clouds and then descend on the ocean in the form of rains. It will not have the joys of a river, pushing its way to the ocean singing, dancing, celebrating. A pool of dead water, a pond, dries up under the scorching sun, becomes vapor, clouds, and then reaches the ocean through a detour. It is deprived of the delight, beauty and ecstasy a river has. Such a pool of water is nothing more than a pond of listlessness and boredom.
Jesus is like a wandering cloud – somber and sad – not like a river, rejoicing, exulting, singing. There is something common to the lifestyles of Jesus and Buddha, but the difference between them is as great. Buddha is very different from Jesus. While Jesus’ neutrality looks sad, Buddha’s indifference is silent, peaceful and quiet. Buddha is never sad, he is quiet, serene and silent. If he lacks the dance of Krishna, and the secret bliss of Mahavira, he is also free of the sadness of Jesus; he is utterly settled in his peace, his silence. Buddha is not neutral like Jesus; he has attained to indifference, which is much different from neutrality. He has come to know that everything in life, as we know it, is meaningless, so nothing now is going to disturb his peace. Every alternative, every choice in life is the same for him. So his stillness, his peace, his calm is total. Jesus is only neutral; every choice, every alternative is not the same for him. Jesus will say this is right and that is wrong; although he is non-aligned with the opposites, he is not that choiceless. Buddha has attained to absolute choicelessness. For him nothing is good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. For him summer and winter, day and night, pleasure and pain, laughter and tears are the same. For him, choosing is wrong and only choicelessness is right.
Jesus, in spite of his neutrality, his holy indifference,” takes a whip in his hand and drives away the money-changers from the temple of Jerusalem. He overturns their boards and whips them. In the great synagogue of the Jews, the priests indulge in usury when people come from all Over the country for the annual festival. Their rates of interest are exorbitant, and so it is a way of exploiting the poor and the helpless. It is a way of draining the wealth and labor of the people, while it makes the temple of Jerusalem the richest establishment in the country. So Jesus upturns their tables and beats them.
Jesus is indifferent, yet he chooses. He advocates neutrality in worldly matters, but if there is something wrong he immediately stands up against it. He is not choiceless.
We cannot imagine Buddha with a whip in his hands; he is utterly choiceless. And because of his choicelessness he has attained to a silence that is profound and immense. So silence has become central to Buddha’s life and teaching.
Look at a statue of Buddha, silence surrounds it, peace permeates it, serenity emanates from it. Silence has become embodied in Buddha; peace has come home with him. Nothing can disturb his peace, his silence. Even the pond is disturbed by the passing breeze, by the rays of the sun which turn it into vapor and carry it to the sea. Buddha is so still that he has no desire whatsoever to move to the ocean of eternity; he says the ocean will have to come to him if it wants. Even to think of the ocean is now a strain for him.
For this reason Buddha refuses to answer questions about the transcendental. Is there God? What is liberation? What happens after death? Questions like these Buddha never entertains; he gently laughs them aside saying, ”Don’t ask such questions that have to do with the distant future; they will distract you from the immediate present, which is of the highest. The thought of the distant future will give rise to the desire to travel to it, and to reach it. And this desire will create restlessness. I am utterly contented with what I am, where I am. I have nowhere to go; I have nothing to choose and find.”
So Buddha is not only indifferent to this world, he is also indifferent to the other world of God and nirvana. Jesus is indifferent to this world, but he is not indifferent to the other, to God. He has for sure chosen God against the world.
But Buddha says, ”Even to find God you will have to pass through the swamp of hopes and fears, attachments and jealousies. Why should a river yearn to reach the sea? What is she going to achieve if she finds the sea? There is not much difference between the two except that there is a lot more water in the sea than in the river.” Buddha then says, ”Whatever I am, I am; I am utterly contented, I am in perfect peace.” So his indifference has no objective, no goal whatsoever to achieve. Look at Buddha’s face, his eyes; there is not a trace of agitation in them. They are as silent as silence itself. It is like a still lake where not even a ripple rises.
Naturally Buddha’s peace is negative; it can have neither Krishna’s outspoken bliss nor Mahavira’s subtle joy. It is true that a man of such tremendous silence, who has no desires whatsoever – not even the desire to find the ultimate – will attain to bliss without asking. But this bliss will be his inner treasure, this lamp of bliss will shine in his interiority, while his whole external milieu will be one of utter peace and silence. His halo will reflect only harmony, stillness and order. Bliss will form his base and peace will make his summit.
One cannot think of Buddha and movement together; he is so relaxed and rested. Looking at his statue you cannot imagine that this man has ever risen from his seat and walked a few steps or said a word. Buddha is a statue of stillness. In him all movements, all activities, all commotions, all strivings have come to a standstill. He is peace itself.
Buddha represents cessation of all tensions, of all desires, including the desire for liberation. If someone says to him he wants to find freedom, Buddha will say, ”Are you crazy? Where is freedom?” If someone says he wants to discover his self, his soul, Buddha will say, ”There is nothing like a soul.” In fact, Buddha will say, ”So long as there is the desire to find something, you can never find. Desiring takes you nowhere except to sorrow and suffering. Cease seeking and you will find.”
But Buddha does not say in words that ”You will find”; he keeps silent on this point. He is aware that the moment he talks about finding freedom or something, you will begin to desire it and run after it. So he negates everything – God, soul, freedom, peace – everything. So long as there is something positive before you, you will want to find it and so long as you strive to find something you cannot find it. It is paradoxical, but it is true. It is only in utter stillness, in absolute silence, in total emptiness – where all movement ceases – that truth, nirvana, or whatever you call it, comes into being.
Desiring, which is tanaha in Buddha’s language, keeps you running and restless. So desiring is the problem of problems for Buddha. And indifference, upeksha is the solution, the key that releases you from the bondage of desiring. So Buddha says over and over, ”Don’t choose, don’t seek, don’t run, don’t make something into a goal, because there is nothing like a goal, a destination. Everything is now and here.”
Jesus has a goal, a destination. This is why, while he talks of holy indifference toward the world, he cannot be indifferent to God. Indifference to God cannot be holy in the eyes of Jesus, he will call it unholy indifference
Buddha is indifferent to everything; his indifference is complete. If you ask him how it is that there is nothing to find – neither the world, nor God, nor soul, he will say, ”What we see before our eyes is not real, it is only a collage, an assemblage, something put together. It is something like a chariot which is nothing but a collection of four wheels and back seats, rods and ropes, and a horse that carries it. If you remove all the parts one by one and put them aside, the chariot will simply disappear.
”Like the chariot you are a collage, the whole world is a collage, a collection, a composition of things, sights and sounds. And when the collage falls apart, then all that remains in its place is nothingness, emptiness. This nothingness, this emptiness is the reality, the truth which is worth attaining.” Buddha calls it nirvana – the ultimate state of extinction, nothingness, which cannot be put into words. So Buddha does not say it in words, he says it with his being, his interiority, his silence.
For this reason only men and women of deep intelligence and understanding can walk with Buddha. Those who are greedy and goal-oriented, who are out to achieve something – either gold or God – will simply run away from him. They will say, ”This man Buddha is no good, he has nothing to give but peace. And what use is peace? We want heaven, we seek God, we yearn for MOKSHA.” And Buddha will simply laugh at them, because he knows that what they call God or soul or moksha is attained only in the immensity of peace, of silence.
So one cannot make God into a goal. That is why Buddha consistently denies God, because if he accepts, you will immediately turn this into a goal, into an object of desire. And one who runs after a goal cannot be peaceful, he cannot be silent. So you can understand why Buddha insists on indifference, it is only indifference that can lead you into peace, into the silence where all journeying ends.
Mahavira’s transcendence of attachment accords with Buddha’s indifference to some extent, because he too stands for indifference toward the world. In the same way Mahavira agrees with Jesus to an extent because he, like Jesus, stands for liberation. Mahavira is not choiceless in regard to the goal of freedom. Mahavira will argue that without liberation, peace is irrelevant; without freedom there is no difference between peace and lack of peace. Then restlessness is as good as peace and silence.
Mahavira says that someone gives up a thing so he can gain something else in its place. If there is nothing to be gained the question of renunciation does not arise. So Mahavira is not indifferent to moksha, or freedom. His transcendence of attachment is a means to help you go beyond the contradictions and conflicts of the world; so it is only an instrument of achievement.
Buddha’s indifference is total. It has no goals to achieve, it is not goal oriented. Or you can say Buddha’s indifference is a means to non-achievement, where you lose and go on losing till there is nothing but utter emptiness before you. And this emptiness is what reality or truth is in the eyes of Buddha. So in a sense Buddha’s sannyas, his renunciation is complete, because it seeks nothing, not even God or nirvana.
Mahavira’s sannyas is not that complete, be cause it has freedom as its goal. Mahavira thinks sannyas is irrelevant without a goal – the goal of freedom. Mahavira’s reasoning is very scientific; he believes in causality, the law of cause and effect. According to him everything in this world is subject to the law of cause and effect. So he will not agree with Buddha that one should attain to peace for nothing, because there is a reason why one loses his peace and then seeks it once again.
Mahavira will not consent to Krishna’s choiceless acceptance of that which is. If one accepts everything as it is, he cannot attain to his self, his soul, his individuality. Then one will simply vegetate and disintegrate. According to Mahavira, discrimination is essential to the attainment of the self, of individuality.
To be oneself one must know how to discriminate between good and bad, right and wrong, virtue and vice. Discrimination is wisdom, which teaches you not only to know the black from the white, but also to choose one against the other. He says both attachment and aversion are wrong, and one who drops them attains to the state of veetrag, which is transcendence of attachment and aversion. And this transcendence is the door to moksha or liberation.
Therefore Mahavira is not only peaceful, but blissful too. The light of liberation not only illuminates his interiority, it also surrounds his exteriority. If you put Mahavira and Buddha together, you will notice that while Buddha’s silence seems to be passive, Mahavira’s silence is positive and dynamic. Together with peace a kind of blissfulness radiates around Mahavira.
But if you put Mahavira and Krishna together Mahavira’s bliss will look a shade paler than Krishna’s. While Mahavira’s bliss looks quiet and self-contained, Krishna’s is eloquent and aggressive. Krishna can dance; you cannot think of Mahavira dancing. To discover his dance one will have to look deep into his stillness, silence and bliss; it is engrained in every breath, every fiber of his being. But he cannot dance as Krishna dances; his dance is embedded in his being, it is hidden, indirect. So while Mahavira’s transcendence outwardly radiates his bliss, Buddha’s indifference reflects only silence and nothing else.
And this indifference is well reflected in their statues. Mahavira’s statue reflects extroversion; bliss emanates from it. Buddha’s statue reflects introversion; he seems to have completely withdrawn himself from the without. Nothing seems to be going out from him. Buddha’s being looks as if it is a non-being.
Mahavira on the other hand seems to have come to his fullness; his being is complete. That is why he denies the existence of God, but cannot deny the existence of the soul. He says there is no God; God cannot be, because he himself is God. There cannot be yet another God, two Gods. Therefore he declares the self. the soul is God; each one of us is God.
There is no God other than us. In utter ecstasy Mahavira declares that he is God, there is no one above him. He contends that if there be another God, a superlord over him, then he can never be free. Then there is no way for anyone to be free in this world; then freedom is a myth.
If there is God, a governing principle, running the whole show, then there is no meaning whatsoever in freedom; then freedom is dependent on God. And a dependent freedom is a contradiction in terms. If someday God decides to withdraw one’s freedom and send him back into the world, he can’t do a thing. Freedom, which is the highest value, can only exist if there is no God; freedom and God cannot go together. Therefore Mahavira emphatically denies God and declares the supremacy, the sovereignty of every soul. According to Mahavira, the soul itself is God. So his bliss is clear and expressive, which is a reflection of his transcendence.
Mahavira is in agreement with Buddha so far as choicelessness is concerned; there can be no choice between attachment and aversion. But he does not accept the other part of Buddha’s thesis – that there is no choice between even the world and moksha, freedom. Mahavira clearly chooses freedom against the world. And in this respect he is in accord with Jesus; he is closer to Jesus’ neutrality. But since his God lives in some heaven, Jesus can be happy only after his death, when he will meet him in heaven. Mahavira has no God outside himself; he has found the highest, the supreme being within himself, and he is blissful now and here. So it sounds reasonable that while Jesus is sad, Mahavira is not.
Krishna’s anasakti, non-attachment, in its turn has some similarity with Mahavira’s transcendence, Buddha’s indifference and Jesus’ neutrality, but it has some basic differences too. It would not be wrong to say that Krishna’s anasakti is transcendence, indifference and neutrality rolled into one, plus something more. Krishna’s non-attachment is different from Buddha’s upeksha, or indifference. Krishna says indifference is a kind of attachment, inverted attachment. If I meet you in passing and don’t look at you, it will be indifference on my part. But if looking at you is attachment then non-looking is equally attachment – attachment in reverse gear.
And furthermore, Krishna asks, ”How can anyone be indifferent? Indifferent to what? If the whole world is nothing but the manifestation of God, then one is indifferent to God himself.” And then Krishna raises another question: ”How can one who is indifferent be free of ego? To be attached or to be indifferent one needs ego. If I am attached to God and indifferent to the world, it is my ego which is operating in both cases.” So Krishna does not use a condemnatory term like indifference.
Similarly Krishna is against neutrality. How can we be neutral about anything when God is not neutral? He is utterly involved in everything that there is. Neutrality in life is unnatural and impossible, according to Krishna. We are in the midst of life, we are life. It is life and nothing but life all over. Then how can we afford to keep ourselves aloof from life and be neutral about it? The Sanskrit word for neutrality is tatasthata, which means to leave the mainstream and stand on the bank. But so far as life is concerned, it is mainstream all over without any banks; how can we stand on the non existent bank of life? Wherever we are, we are in the mainstream of life, we are in the thick of life. So to be on the bank, to be neutral is an impossibility. Krishna cannot be neutral and he cannot be indifferent.
Krishna does not accept Mahavira’s concept of transcendence of attachment or aversion. He says if attachment and aversion are wrong then there is no reason for them to exist, but they do exist.
Looking at it in another way, we can say there are two forces in the world: one is the force of good or God, and the other is the force of evil or the devil. This is how Zoroastrians and Christians and Mohammedans all believe in the existence of both God and the devil. They think that if there is evil in the world then it has to be segregated from God, who represents goodness and goodness alone. God can never be the source of evil; he represents light, he cannot be the source of darkness. Neither Zarathustra nor Jesus nor Mohammed could think of God being associated with evil in any way. So they had to find a separate place for the devil, and they assigned an independent role to him.
Krishna strongly contends this assumption. He asks: if there is evil and it is separate, is it so with the consent of God or without his consent? Does evil, in order to be, need the support of God, or not? If there is an independent authority of evil, called the devil, it means it is an authority parallel to the authority of God. Then there are two independent and sovereign authorities in the universe, and there is no question of good or ever winning over evil or evil being defeated by good. Why should an independent and all-powerful devil ever yield? In that case there are really two Gods, independent of each other.
The concept of there being two independent Gods or parallel authorities in the universe is not only ridiculous but impossible. Krishna rejects this concept outright. He says there is only one sovereign force, one primal energy in the universe, and everything that is arises from this single primeval source. It is the same energy that brings forth a healthy fruit and a diseased fruit on the branches of a tree. It is not necessary to have separate sources of energy or power for the two – the healthy fruit and the sick one.
It is the same mind that gives rise to both good and evil, virtue and vice; two separate minds are not required. Both good and evil are different transformations of one and the same energy. Day and night, light and darkness are emanations of the same force. Therefore Krishna is against denial, renunciation of any of the dualities. He is all for acceptance, total acceptance of both. Life, as it is, has to be accepted and lived choicelessly and totally. That is what Krishna’s anasakti or nonattachment
Krishna’s anasakti does not mean choice of one against the other. It does not mean that you choose to be attached to virtue against vice, or to be attached to vice against virtue. No, neither attachment nor aversion – no choice whatsoever. He stands for acceptance of life as it is, total acceptance. He stands for surrender to life as it is, and this surrender has to be total. Anasakti means that I am not at all separate, I am one with the whole existence. And if existence and I are one, who will choose whom? I am like a wave in the ocean and I just float with it.
However, Krishna’s anasakti has some similarity with Buddha’s indifference, Mahavira’s transcendence and Christ’s holy indifference. Krishna can have the peace of Buddha because he has nothing more to achieve, he has achieved everything there is. He can attain to Mahavira’s transcendence, because his bliss like Mahavira’s is illimitable. He can, like Christ, declare the immanence of God – not because there is someone sitting on a throne somewhere, but because whatever there is in the universe is God, godly; there is nothing other than God.
Krishna’s non-attachment is absolute surrender of the ego, total cessation of the ”I”.
It is just to know that I am not, only God is. And once I know that what is, is, there is no way but to accept it in its totality. Then there is nothing to be done or undone, altered or modified. Krishna sees himself as a wave in the ocean; he has no choice whatsoever. Then the question of attachment or aversion does not arise. If you understand it rightly, Krishna’s anasakti is not a state of mind, it is really cessation of all states of mind, of mind itself. It is to be one with existence, with the whole.
Through this royal road of unity with the whole, Krishna arrives exactly where Mahavira, Buddha and Jesus arrive through their narrow paths and bypaths. They have chosen narrow short-cuts or footpaths for themselves, while Krishna goes for the highway. Both the footpath and highway take you to your destination, and they have their own advantages and disadvantages. And it depends on what we choose.
There are people who love to walk on unkempt footpaths which are narrow and lonely, which very few people choose to traverse, which are rough and hard and which present challenges at every step, on every crossing. It is like going through a dense forest where paths are difficult to find and follow. There are others who don’t like narrow and deserted pathways, who don’t want to go as lonely travelers, who enjoy going pleasantly with large groups of fellow-travelers, who want to share their happiness with others. Such people will naturally choose highways, great thoroughfares which have been used by hundreds of thousands of people.
Wayfarers on narrow and unknown paths can very well walk sadly if they like, but travelers on highways cannot afford to be sad. If they are sad they will be pushed out of the highways, they will be cast away. One has to go singing and dancing through highways where thousands and thousands move together; one can’t go his own way there.
Travelers on footpaths can walk quietly, but one cannot escape the noise and tumult of the multitude if he chooses a highway for his journey. He will have to face the high winds of restlessness and uneasiness, which will in the long run usher him into peace and quietness. Those who choose to move off the beaten paths can have the joy of being alone and individual, but those on the highways have to share in the pleasures and pains of all others. There is this much difference between the two.
Krishna is a multidimensional, a multi-splendored person, and the highway is his choice.
The truth is, there is no one path, and no ready-made path to God. There are as many paths as there are people in the world. No two persons are alike, or in the same state of being. So each one of us will have to begin his journey just where he is and find his way to God all alone. Everyone will have to go his own way, in his individual way. Of course, all roads lead to the same destination, which is one and only one. Whether you follow the path of neutrality or indifference or transcendence
or bliss, the goal remains the same.
While paths and roads are many, the goal is the same. And everyone should choose the way that is in tune with his lifestyle or type. Instead of debating endlessly on what is a right path or a wrong path, which is a waste of time and energy, one should carefully choose the path that accords with his individuality, his self-nature. That is all.
Krishna the Man & his Philosophy # Chapter 20