“What cannot be seen with the eye, but that whereby the eye can see: know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit, and not what people here adore. What cannot be heard with the ear but that whereby the ear can hear: know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit, and not what people here adore …What cannot be thought with the mind, but that whereby the mind can think: know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit, and not what people here adore.”
The Upanishads (Hindu sacred treatises)
It was now late afternoon. Augustus was starting to get weary from his day’s walking. He was sure that he was no more than an hour or two from his destination. So he pushed on resolutely.
As the evening began to enfold him, Augustus heard a new sound. In his awareness, he was attuned to the birdsongs, the sound of his sandals on the path, the distant ringing of a bell that he assumed came from the village, and the rustling of the evening breeze in the leaves of the trees that lined the pathway. But the new sound was different; it was a symphony of many feet meeting the ground, of a murmuring of many voices in dialogue and the rumble and clatter of human accoutrements being jostled by their owners as they marched. The noise got louder and louder. Finally coming from a side track, Augustus could see a large entourage of many men bedecked resplendently, with mules, horses and camels laden with baggage and supplies, all being led by a splendid figure on a fine white horse.
The convoy joined the road that Augustus trod at an intersection slightly behind him. He strode on at an even tempo, but soon they had caught up to him and were passing him by. The leader of the group, who had already passed Augustus, suddenly reigned in his steed. Some of the others began to overtake him and move to the front of the procession. The man on the white horse looked back at Augustus. “Hail, friend,” he said, “are you a priest? You are dressed in a robe and you have a passive demeanour.” “No,” replied Augustus, “I am not a priest – at least not in the sense that you understand it.” “Then who are you. You look different from those of us who come from these parts.” “My name,” ventured the Buddhist, “is Augustus. I have come from afar to visit one in this community who heals the sick and helps the unfortunate.”
“Come,” said the leader of the entourage, “Come, I would talk to you.”
He motioned to one of his retainers bringing up the rear, “Hasten forth a horse for this fellow so that he might ride near me and talk with me.”
An attendant went back to the rear of the group and soon came back with a small black horse. “Will you ride with me awhile,” said the leader. Augustus laughed. “I will try,” he answered, “But I have never been on a horse.” The little black horse was led up to Augustus. Augustus patted its head and murmured a few quiet words to the animal and then mounted. He loved animals and seemed to bond easily with the horse that soon started off with a slow gait alongside the resplendent leader on his fabulous white steed..
“You have an impressive procession here,” said Augustus. “Who are you?” “You are obviously not from these parts,” replied the other, “or I am sure you would know of me.” “That is true,” replied Augustus, “And you must be a grand personage to have such an elaborate following; but the truth is, I am a man also, and you do not know of me either.” The leader laughed. “You do not seem to have any respect for my status.” “Well,” said Augustus, “It has always seemed to me wise not to appear too humble to the haughty or too haughty to the humble. But come tell me about yourself as it seems important to you.” “Well,” the other responded, “I am Claudius, Prince of Parmissium.” “How intriguing,” replied Augustus. “You have a Latin name just as I do. My name is Augustus and I am not prince of anything except perhaps, of my own interpretation of the world. What are you doing in these parts my good prince?” “I am come to bestow an honour on a lady who has served my people well. Her name is Maria and she is a healer and friend of my subjects.”
“Oh, that is interesting,” said Augustus. “It is she I am journeying to see also. You must be an exceedingly good and important person if you can bestow an honour on Maria. Her deeds are honourable enough in their goodness and devotion. You must have a position of even greater moral authority if you can add to her standing.” The Prince frowned. “But of course,” he said. “After all, I am a prince.” “And so you are, and so you are, my Prince,” said Augustus. “You must indeed be a wondrous person, if you are a prince. Tell me what did you have to do to become a Prince?”
“There is nothing to do to become a Prince. My father was a Prince and I inherited his title. We are a family of courage and integrity. We have fought with valour and we have ruled wisely. My title is my inheritance.”
“Oh then your Princehood is an accident of birth? You are fortunate indeed to have this title. It is a matter of good fortune. There is nothing you did to earn it?”
The Prince was getting angry. “My ancestors earned it and I am of their blood; therefore it is my right!”
“Be calm, my Prince. When title and privilege come to you from your ancestry, it is natural that you believe that you deserve these honours – that is the way of your tradition. But in the end you can not take on those characteristics that you do not possess in your own right. However you present yourself to the world, the world is not long disposed to take you for who you are not. Your subjects will yield to your authority as a Prince but they will not attribute to you any Princely characteristics that you do not demonstrate in your day to day relationships with them.”
Augustus’ companion thought a while and Augustus could see him out of the corner of his eye shaking his head. In the end he said, “You are rather impertinent, traveller, to talk to a prince in this way.”
The Buddhist smiled. “Remember, as I said earlier, it has always seemed to me good practice not to be too humble to the haughty nor too haughty to the humble.” The Prince’s companions riding close behind the two looked at each other in amusement, for indeed the Prince had a reputation for being both haughty and proud. They were enjoying the exchange, for Augustus was saying things to the Prince which they dared not. “It is my belief, that at the very essence of our being we are all as one. I am driven to treat you just as I would have you treat me. Therefore, let us be honest with each other and let not our customs, race, religion or status stand between us. I am pleased to be here in your company on the way to see someone I admire also – Maria.”
“This is a strange teaching that you propose – ‘that we are all as one’! I am a prince and you are a mendicant. How can it possibly be that we are as one?”
“Your vision is too constrained my Prince. You define yourself as a Prince. What if tomorrow your people rose up and overthrew you. Who would you be then?”
The Prince spluttered in disbelief. “But that could not happen.” “You may not think it likely to happen, but indulge me a little. If you were not a Prince who would you be then?” “Well, if you press me, I suppose I would be Claudius, son of Julian.” “So, you define yourself in terms of whose son you are? Does your father have others sons?” “Well, yes. I have two brothers and a sister – but I am the eldest son, and therefore entitled to be called “Prince” just as he was.” “Oh I see. Then you feel you would have been a different person if you had been perhaps the second son?” Claudius struggled with this for a while. “Well, no. I would still have been Claudius but I obviously would not have been the ‘Prince.’”
“So you believe that whoever you are is defined as Claudius. What if your parents had called you something different? Who would you have been then?”
“My little friend,” said Claudius, “You are indeed troublesome. Even if I had not been called Claudius then surely I would still be the man I am.”
“Well, we are starting to get somewhere here, my Prince. You have so far conceded that you are neither your title nor your name. Who do you think you really are?”
“I am a father, husband, brother, warrior and statesman. Need I go on?”
“Well, perhaps you must. What if you had never married, never had children, didn’t have siblings, and were perhaps a shepherd or a doctor, who would you have been then?”
“But this is pointless because it just happens that I am all those things. And there is no conjecture which will alter my history.”
“Ah. Then you are an accident of your history. Do you not think there is something essentially you that is beyond your history?”
The Prince paused a long time. Augustus was not inclined to hurry him and waited patiently for his response. The entourage progressed steadily up the road. The men behind them murmured in a subdued way, but those closest were listening very intently to this conversation. They were unused to seeing their leader challenged. Whilst the “clip clopping” of hooves on the path was a soporific underlay to his senses, Augustus was pleasantly relaxed, but his mind was still keen and alert.
After a time the Prince said. “Perhaps you are right. I suppose I am this mind and body that has been blessed by my history. I have never thought of it that way.”
“Well my Prince, you have come part way along this journey of investigation. Let us now examine further the concepts of ‘this mind and body.’ Let us begin with ‘this body’. Are you really ‘this body’? I am told that every cell in your body changes within a seven year period. You would certainly concede that your body is different now to what it was when you were a youth. Yet you always had an ongoing sense of ‘I’, despite the changes to your body. Do you really think that you can be your body?”
The Prince seemed to be getting a little annoyed again. He was unused to having people not agree with him, and even less so, question him. It was for this reason that those close by in his retainer were listening very closely and smiling.
After a time Augustus added, “Even our language gives this secret away. We say ‘my body’, implying that the body is possessed by something else. If ‘I’ were really my body, then the term ‘my body’ would be meaningless. Mind you the fact that we seem to be something located in a head atop a body, does in itself cause its own problems, For most of us our consciousness seems to abide exclusively in our heads, in our minds. As a result a boundary is erected between mind and body. This leads to various psychological and psychosomatic problems. But anyway for the purpose of this discussion let us be assured that you are definitely not your body”
“Well, then,” the prince responded curtly, “I must be my mind. My mind seems to be the focal point and the control mechanism regulating my existence.”
“So it may seem,” Augustus said, “But even that I would dispute.” He could have used the possessive pronoun argument again, but because the Prince seemed to be provoked by the debate he thought he would take another tack. “It seems to me,” he continued, “that your mind generates your thoughts. Is that not so?” “Of course,” nodded the Prince. “Well let us be clear, you are not your thoughts – your thoughts come and go and yet your essential ‘I-ness’ is constant. Your mind is the theatre of consciousness, continually generating thoughts, weighing up options and making decisions. But you are aware of these processes, just as you are aware of your body. Anything that you are aware of cannot be the essential you. This is true not only of your thoughts but your feelings, sense responses, emotions and aspirations. Anything you are aware of is an object.”
“Enough,” cried the Prince. “You are too clever at telling me who I am not. Do the courtesy of explaining to me who or what do you think I am?”
“Well,” replied Augustus, “We have determined that you are nothing that you are aware of, because you are that which is aware. You are nothing you can see because you are that which is doing the seeing. You are nothing you can feel because you are that which is feeling. You are not your thoughts because you are the audience of your thoughts.”
“This is not an entity that I can easily get a handle on. What is this thing like that you say that I am. It seems very ephemeral. I seem to me to have more substance than that.”
“The problem,” continued Augustus, “Is that you continue to identify with those things that you can observe or experience. When you look out at the world you see a body and the workings of a mind and it is natural for you to identify with them. But as we have seen that is not who you are. And there is nothing you can experience that will allow you to identify with your essential self. Who you are is the ‘experiencer’, not the experience. The great sage, Patanjali related that the experience of bondage is the identification of the Seer with what is seen. This is the classic human dilemma. We identify our conscious selves with what we are conscious of. But we are not what we are conscious of. We are that which is apprehending. We are the Seer, the Knower, the Witness. We all are one at the level of the Witness. At this level of our being there are no monarchs, no chieftains, no celebrities, in fact no men and no women, no old and no young. These are the peripheral manifestations of ourselves as objects, the accidental outcomes of our inconsequential histories.”
“I came here today believing that I was someone of standing, a Prince, someone of consequence. You are trying to convince me that I am nothing of significance at all. This is indeed difficult for me to digest.” The Prince spoke in a melancholy tone.
“But no,” responded Augustus, “You have not understood. At the level of the Witness, you are part of the Absolute, the Godhead, the progenitor of creation, the essence of the universe. What can be of more significance than that? I suspect what you find hard to accept is that at the level of the Witness I am part of that with you just as your humblest servant is. At this level all humans are eternal – not of time but beyond time. At this level we are all as one. If we can put aside the illusions wrought by our clinging association to our minds and our bodies our most natural response is one of love. Love is merely a reflection of our true knowledge of our oneness. When the scales fall from our eyes that our egos (which are largely our pathetic efforts to individuate and separate ourselves from each other) strived to maintain, our separateness disappears and we are one with the universe and each other.”
The prince rode on silently and Augustus could sense the internal struggle that he had unleashed. “Claudius,” he said in a more familiar way, “I am not trying to convert you or evangelise. I am compelled to tell you how I see the world. It is of no great moment to me whether you are persuaded to adopt my point of view or not. I have given you enough to chew on, I think. Perhaps I should leave you now to go on your way unencumbered.” And so saying, Augustus reined his horse to a halt and dismounted. The Prince had also drawn to a halt. “But you said you were also going to Maria. Why not come with us?” Augustus said, “I think I would be more comfortable in taking my time and visiting her when you are done. I thank you for your company and the transport. I wish you and your people well.” He turned on his heel and walked off down the track.
The Prince seemed so deep in contemplation that he hardly seemed to notice Augustus’s departure. Then all of a sudden he raised his head and called to him. “Augustus, Augustus.” The Buddhist turned back towards the Prince. “Thank you. Thank you.” The prince stammered. “I will deeply consider your words. Some of what you told me is hurtful to me and some seems to make sense – but I thank you for honesty.” Augustus smiled. “I do not mean to demean you because you are a Prince, but being a Prince is of little consequence compared with being a human being, and when you come to understand what it truly means to be human you will see that there is little else of consequence. Goodbye and good luck.” Augustus turned and walked off. The prince sat astride of his horse and watched him depart. He felt strangely uneasy but also buoyed by their conversation. “Good luck to you also my friend,” he murmured, “Although I doubt that luck will play any part in your sense of well-being.” The Prince turned and led the procession off again down the road. Presently he struck up a conversation with the attendant nearest him. He was surprised to see how much they had in common. Perhaps there was not much difference between a Prince and a commoner after all.