A Bird on the Wing

It happened once that a great philosopher came to a Zen master. He had read all the scriptures, memorised them, and had become very efficient at using words and logic.

He was a little nervous about meeting a man who embodied the dharma he had been studying.

So he asked the Zen master, “Have you read the Lotus Sutra?”

The Zen master said, “Lotus Sutra? Never heard of it.”

The philosopher said, “Never heard of it? And people think you are enlightened!”

The Zen master said, “People must be wrong. I am an ignorant man, how can I be enlightened?”

The scholar, feeling more confident, said, “Well then, I will recite the Lotus Sutra for you.”

From  “A Bird on the Wing” by Osho


In Pune, India, in the 1980s, the Shree Rajneesh Ashram contained what was reputed to be the finest library of quality spiritual literature anywhere in the world. Osho had collected books all his life and looked after them with great care. India also happened to be a great place for books at that time, with texts in many languages available at affordable prices.

It takes more than money to make a great collection, it takes taste. You have to know what is worth acquiring and what isn’t, and that library was the result of a lifetime of immersion in the spiritual world by someone with supreme understanding from the age of 21 years.

In those days you needed a library nearby as a resource to be able to look things up and study whatever interested you. Nowadays you just need a small computer and an internet connection to have the same facility.

The computer has become like a second brain, or an extra hard drive, holding reams of information it would be very tedious to try and remember.

The scholar in this story, however, eschews the use of a library to store knowledge. He has memorised all the relevant religious texts. The mind can be trained to remember a lot of information, through repetitive practise. Such a mind, full of knowledge and highly trained, is inflexible and unintelligent. The huge investment in memory becomes a limitation, it is hard to let go of that burden and be aware in the moment.

The Zen master, however, does not bother with memorising anything. He is not accustomed to the flowery language of the early Buddhists, or the fancy logic of modern philosophy. He epitomises the central teaching of Zen; emptiness.

Of course he has heard of the Lotus Sutra; he is playing with the rationalist. He might have read some of it; it is a little tedious to read in translation, but he remembers none of it. He doesn’t need to.

His response is playful and humorous. He is not a scholar but a real person with a real heart, but he is also a poor man, a villager, with little to show, outwardly, for his achievement.

Real spirituality does not need scriptures or a learned approach, it is experiential and existential.

What it does need, above all else, is meditation, which is itself a direct experience of emptiness.

After all, meditation is what the word ‘Zen’ means. It doesn’t mean knowledge, learning, memory or achievement. It is experiential, existential. What it is about, above all else, is the experience of meditation.



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