Ananda, who was Buddha’s chief disciple, was present on all three occasions. He was continuously behind Buddha like a shadow – serving him, taking care of his body, looking after his needs. He was very much puzzled: “In a single day Buddha has said there is no God, Buddha has said there is a God, and Buddha has kept silent too, he has not answered this way or that. These are the only three possibilities – all the possibilities exhausted, in a single day? All the answers given.”
He could not sleep; he tossed and turned, and Buddha asked, “What is the matter with you tonight? Are you not tired or something?”
He said, “I don’t want to disturb you, but unless you answer me this question I don’t think I will be able to sleep. In the morning you said no, in the afternoon you said yes, and by the evening you remained silent, you didn’t answer – and the question was exactly the same.”
Buddha smiled said, “The person who had come early in the morning and had asked ‘Is there a God?’ was a theist, was a believer. He wanted me to say yes so that his belief could become more strengthened – and I don’t strengthen people’s beliefs, because a believing mind is never a seeing mind. To believe is to remain in darkness. I wanted to shatter his belief. My answer had nothing to do with God; my answer had something to do with that man. He was there just to accumulate a little more evidence for his belief, so he could say to people that ‘Not only do I believe that there is a God, but even Buddha says there is a God.’
“He had not come to understand. He simply wanted me to be a witness to his belief And his belief is just out of fear, a conditioning taught by others. His belief is nothing but a cover-up for his ignorance. I cannot be in any way a help to it. I had to shatter it. I had to shout no, emphatically. And it helped. ‘Buddha says no?’ Inquiry started in his being. Now he cannot be at rest with his belief. He will have to come – you will see.”
And one day he came again, and he said to Buddha, “You did it: since that time my worship has become empty. Since that time I go to the temple, but the temple no longer has any deity in it. Since that time I know it is only a belief. If you say God is not, then who am I to say God is? You are so godly, you must be true. I have come to inquire. Now I come to you without any belief. Now I come to you open – to seek, to search. Now my question is not rooted in my knowledge.” And Buddha said to Ananda, “The second person was an atheist – he believed that there is no God. He had come in the same way as the first one: to have my support.” His belief was as stupid as the first one’s, because to believe without knowing is to be stupid. Believe only when you have known, but then it is not a belief at all; it is a totally different experience. It is trust. It is not based on somebody else’s experience; it is your own experience. You are reborn in it. It is not Hindu, Christian, Mohammedan – it is simply your experience. And even if the whole world says it is not so, you cannot deny it. Your trust cannot be shaken.
The other person,” Buddha said, “was an atheist, hence I had to say yes, and emphatically I had to say yes.”
Ananda said, “And what about the third?”
Buddha said, “He was neither a theist, nor an atheist, so neither was yes needed nor was no needed. He was really an innocent soul, a very pure heart. His question was not out of his a priori knowledge; his question was really innocent. His question was a quest, an inquiry. I had to remain silent – because that was my answer to him. And he understood it.
“Did you not watch: when I remained silent and closed my eyes, he also closed his eyes, and a great silence descended on him. And did you not observe? – when he went his eyes were shining, his eyes were like lit candles. And did you not observe? – when he left, he touched my feet, bowed down, thanked me, saying ‘You answered rightly,’ although I had not answered him at all. That man tasted something of my silence, imbibed something of my being. That man was the true seeker.”
The Book: The fish in the sea is not thirsty
chapter 6: Just shadows lingering