The agony of self-consciousness

Try to make something perfect and it will remain imperfect. Do it naturally and it is always perfect, says Osho


Consciousness is health, self-consciousness is disease—something has gone wrong. Some tie has arisen, some complex. The river of consciousness is not flowing naturally—something foreign has entered into the river of consciousness, something alien; something that cannot be absorbed by the river; something that cannot become part of the river; something that resists becoming part of the river.

Self-consciousness stinks

Self-consciousness is morbidity. Self-consciousness is a frozen state, blocked. It is like a dirty pool—going nowhere; just drying, evaporating and dying. Of course, it stinks. So the first thing to be understood is the difference between self-consciousness and consciousness.

Consciousness has no idea of ‘I’, of ego. It has no idea of one’s separation from existence. It does not know any barrier, it knows no boundaries. It is one with existence; it is in a deep atonement. There is no conflict between the individual and the Whole. One is simply flowing into the Whole, and the Whole is flowing into one. It is like breathing: you breathe in, you breathe out—when you breathe in the Whole enters you, when you breathe out you enter the Whole. It is a constant flow, a constant sharing. The Whole goes on giving to you, and you go on giving to the Whole. The balance is never lost. But in a self-conscious man something has gone wrong. He takes in but he never gives out. He goes on accumulating and he has become incapable of sharing. He goes on making boundaries around himself so nobody can trespass. He goes on putting boards around his being: No Trespassing Allowed. By and by, he becomes a grave, a dead being—because life is in sharing.

Painting spontaneously

There is a famous Zen story: A Zen master was making a painting, and he had his chief disciple sit by his side to tell him when the painting was perfect. The disciple was worried and the master was also worried, because the disciple had never seen the master do anything imperfect. But that day things started going wrong. The master tried, and the more he tried, the more it was a mess.

In Japan or in China, the whole art of calligraphy is done on rice-paper, it is a very sensitive and fragile paper. If you hesitate a little, for centuries it can be known where the calligrapher hesitated—because more ink spreads into the rice-paper and makes it a mess. It is very difficult to deceive on rice-paper. You have to go on flowing; you are not to hesitate. Even for a single moment… a split moment, if you hesitate— it is already missed. And one who has a keen eye will immediately say, “It is not a Zen painting at all”—because a Zen painting has to be a spontaneous painting, flowing.

The master tried and tried and the more he tried—he started perspiring. And the disciple was sitting there and shaking his head again and again negatively: “No, this is not perfect.” And more and more mistakes were being made by the master. Then the ink was running out so the master said, “You go out and prepare more ink.”

While the disciple was outside preparing the ink, the master did his masterpiece. When he came in he said, “Master, but this is perfect! What happened?”

The master laughed; he said, “I became aware of one thing: your presence. The very idea that somebody is there to appreciate or to condemn, to say no or yes, disturbed my inner tranquility. Now I will never be disturbed. I have come to know that I was trying to make it perfect and that was the only reason for its not being perfect.”

Perfection happens

Try to make something perfect and it will remain imperfect. Do it naturally and it is always perfect. Nature is perfect; effort is imperfect. So whenever you are doing something too much, you are destroying.

That’s why it happens: everybody talks so beautifully; everybody is a talker; people talk their whole life—but just put them on a platform and tell them to talk to a crowd, and suddenly they become dumb; suddenly they forget everything, suddenly they cannot utter a single word. Or, even if they do utter, it is not graceful, it is not natural, it is not flowing. What has happened? And you have known this man talking so beautifully to his friends, to his wife, to his children. These are also people, the same people—why are you afraid? You have become self-conscious. Now the ego is at stake: you are trying to perform something.

Listen carefully: whenever you try to perform something, you are searching food for the ego. Whenever you are natural and let things happen, they are perfect, and then there is no problem. When you are natural and let things happen, God is at the back with you. When you are afraid, trembling, trying to prove something, you have lost God. In your fear, you have forgotten Him. You are looking more at the people and you have forgotten your source. Self-consciousness becomes a weakness. A person who is unself-conscious is strong, but his strength has nothing to do with himself—it comes from the beyond.

Time to look within

When you are self-conscious, you are in trouble. Whenever you are self-conscious you are simply showing that you are not conscious of the Self at all. You don’t know who you are. If you had known, then there would have been no problem—then you are not seeking opinions; then you are not worried what others say about you. It is irrelevant! In fact, nobody ever says anything about you—whenever people say something about you, they are saying it about themselves.

Nobody can say anything about you. Whatsoever people say is about themselves. But you become very shaky, because you are still clinging to a false centre. That false centre depends on others, so you are always looking to what people are saying about you. And you are always following other people, you are always trying to satisfy them. You are always trying to be respectable. You are always trying to decorate your ego. This is suicidal.

Rather than being disturbed by what others say, you should start looking inside yourself.

Excerpted from A Sudden Clash of Thunder: Talks on Zen Stories. Courtesy: Osho International Foundation |

This was first published in the October 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Osho was never born never died. He only visited this planet earth between 11 December 1931 and 19 January 1990. He was a charismatic and gifted speaker who became the leader of a worldwide new spiritual movement.


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