• Perennial Wisdom

The Real Self

by Swami Hariharananda Bharati


Once, in China, a long time ago, there lived a great sage. He had many, many disciples.

One morning as he was performing the Eastern custom of cleaning his teeth with a twig from the neem tree, he called all his disciples to himself.


When they all gathered, he told them about his dream and then surprised his students by asking them to explain it to him.


“Oh Guru, you always give us explanations for our questions. How it is possible that you want us to offer an explanation to you?”


The teacher said, “This is a great matter and beyond my thinking. I feel somehow that you will help me, so let us all think on it.”


All his disciples said, “Yes, we will help. Now please tell us about your dream. What was it about?”


“Last night as I was sleeping,” the sage reported, “I dreamed that I became a butterfly. I was flying from one floor of the building to another floor while enjoying being a butterfly.”


One disciple spoke up, “Oh, Guruji, we also dream. It is not a strange thing, even for you. Sometimes we dream that we are a monkey, or a donkey, or many other things. That is normal.”


“No, no!” the teacher said, “this is a surprise. There is something more I want to tell you.” And the sage went back to his dream.


“When this person was dreaming, he dreamed that he became a butterfly. At the time, the self of the butterfly did not know that he was a person. Flying from one floor to another floor in the building, the dreamer completely forgot that it was a person.”


The students shouted, “Yes! The same thing happens with us. We become something in a dream and at the time we do not know that we are something.”


The sage jumped in again. “No, no. Wait! There is more. When the person was sleeping, he became a butterfly, enjoying his flight from one floor to another. But is it not possible that the butterfly is sleeping and dreaming that he is the person? Which is true?”


Do you understand? What is the truth of existence? What if the dream that we are dreaming is true? Or are we dreaming what we are now? Which is true?


That is the role of our entire life. Shankara tells us that all existence is maya, illusion. When we are sleeping, we do not know that what we are dreaming is a dream. We feel that it is exactly correct and that all is right.


Then when we awaken, at first we think this life is a dream. Is that dream correct, or is this life a dream? Which is true?


Our entire life is also just like a book. It may be a short book or a long book, but it has the front page and the last page missing! Where have we come from? Where will we go? Those pages are gone, missing, not readable to us.


Those who contemplate these things are true philosophers. This is a great question of philosophy because until one lives, one cannot have died. And those who have not risen from death, how can they understand it?


This is a big dream that I am telling you. Just think: I am seventy-five years old. It is clear that in my life I have slept for one third of it. That means I have slept at least twenty-five years. Twenty-five years! But if someone came and asked me, “Oh, Swami Hari, do you know how sleep comes?” how will I answer?


If I asked you this question, “From where does sleep come?” none of you will be able to explain. You have vast experience of your whole life, yet you cannot answer this question. It is very strange. And if you do not know how sleeps comes, then how will you know how death will come? What is the difference between sleep and death?


Sleep is a small death and death is a bigger sleep. Nothing else. You are in death, but you are really sleeping for hundreds of years. And in sleep, you are dead for certain hours. There is only a small difference between this and that.


Suppose a new child is born. If we were the seed of a tree, we would be the map of the entire tree because the tree is in the seed. It is the same thing when a child is born. His health, his sickness, his old age, and the whole of his life is hiding in that little child. The child does not know what he will do in the future, he will not know what he will become in the world, but his entire future is hiding within him.


In old people, who have experienced a long life, their true inside is in hiding; their “insideness” is hiding. We say that a child is small and then say that old age people are like a small child. I think they are the same thing. Often an old man is just like a child and he acts like a child. Sometimes he’ll become angry, sometimes he will feel sad, sometimes he’ll want love. It is the same the world over. When someone turns old, nobody cares for him.


When an old man is living in the corner of a house, he is generally forgotten. When guests come to visit the family, he is ignored. He wants to talk with the guests, but nobody wants to talk with that old man. To get the attention of all the people there, the old man will clear his throat as loud as he can so that they may notice that he is here, wanting to be included. He just wants to talk, he just wants some love, but because he is old, he is out of it. Nobody cares for him. This is very painful for those who are old, and they understand it, but they always want to clear their throat for attention.


The child is very, very happy. Why? The child has nothing of his own! He has no property and that’s why he is happy. The child then grows and grows, and the day comes when he starts saying, “This is mine. This is mine. This is mine!” That day the child’s happiness is gone.


As the child becomes older, he will be saying, “mine, mine, mine. My, my, my. I, I, I.” It will continue his whole life. There is one difference. A child is unripe fruit. The old man is ripe fruit.


Suppose we have trees bearing much fruit. If some of the fruit is not ripe, it means that it will be quite sour. It will not taste good. But what is happening? The child is also new fruit. He should be sour, but he is sweet. The old man is ripe fruit and he should be sweet. But he is not.

Often old people are very angry. They will know many things and tell you why this and why that, but they will be angry about it. That’s why people do not like them and don’t want to talk to them. It means that with these old people, they are not ripening properly.


If the old person has cultivated himself properly, his fruit will have ripened properly. That wholeness should be golden. Sweetness should be in the old man because he is mature now.

So what is wrong? His whole life the old man was in the habit of saving his ego, saying “I, I, I.” Now his ego is hampering him from being sweet. Now, when he’s feeling sad and angry that nobody is caring for him, his ego feels something. He feels useless, ignored, and angry to be old.


This pattern should be avoided. Because we do not know how sleep comes, we fear death. We can change that by doing our yoga practice. What is the relation of yoga and old age? Knowing who we are.


The first mantra for a new yogi is “Who am I?” Then the answers start coming from inside. We must remember what the sages tell us: The great personal library is within.




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