Tuesday, June 16, 2015


There once was a famous Persian Sufi mystic of the 9th century named Bayazid Bastami (pictured left). It is said that before he passed away he was asked about his age. ‘I am 4 years old,’ Bastami purportedly said. ‘For 70 years I was veiled. I got rid of my veils only 4 fours years ago.’ So, there is hope for you and me.

Bastami would often talk about the importance of awareness. On one particular occasion, after he had been asked the question, ‘Well, what exactly is awareness?’, it is said that Bastami led the questioner and those with him to a river. Now, on the near side of the river was a small hill, and on the other side there was also a small hill. Bastami said, ‘We are going to put up a long wooden bridge---just one foot (0.305 m) wide---from this end to the other, and you will have to walk on it. And then you will know what awareness is.’

The person who asked the question of Bastami as to what was awareness was not exactly happy with Bastami’s response. He said, ‘But we have been walking our whole life, and we have never come to know.’

Bastami said, ‘Wait,’ and he did the experiment. Many of them started feeling very afraid, and they said, ‘We cannot walk. Just one foot wide?’

‘But how much do you need to walk on?’, asked Bastami. ‘When you are walking on the earth, you can walk on a one-foot wide strip easily. Why, then, can’t you walk on a one-foot wide strip hanging between two hills? What is holding you back?’

A few people tried the experiment. Well, they ventured along the bridge a couple of feet, but no more than that. They quickly returned to the near side of the river. ‘It is too dangerous,’ they said to Bastami.

A man walks over a plank bridge between the towers of the
cathedral in Bremen, Germany. Photograph: Joerg Sarbach/AP.

Then Bastami walked and a few followed him. When they reached the other side of the river, they said to Bastami, ‘Master, now we know what awareness is. The danger was such that we could not afford to walk in unawareness. We had to be alert. At any moment we could have been gone forever, so we had to keep alert.’

Fortunately, we are not called upon to undergo ‘experiments’ of that kind all that often, but the degree of awareness required for such an experiment is nevertheless the intensity of awareness that we ought to possess and use in our ordinary, daily lives. I kid you not. The awareness of which I speak is not concentration as that word is ordinarily used. No, true awareness is conscious wakefulness that is ‘choiceless’ and unadorned. That means a pure, unadulterated awareness and observation where the cognitive mind is totally at rest, that is, not thinking, analysing, judging, interpreting or comparing. It is pure consciousness without any thought. As Krishnamurti used to say, you and the object of awareness become one.

Now, why not try this experiment. No, I am not talking about you walking a tightrope or anything as dangerous as that. You can do this experiment anywhere. So, when to walk along the sidewalk, or down the hall of your home, walk as if each moment there is danger. Don’t try to visualize any particular danger ahead or around you---that is thinking---just focus your undivided, unadorned attention and awareness on what you are doing and the path you are walking step by step.



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