23 Apr Nothing and the Centaur
The centaur had been my childhood companion. He was present throughout those years. He was huge, gigantic actually, perhaps more than thirty feet high. His skin was a shimmering, ethereal blue. He used to watch over me every night, while I slept in my bed by the window. I just had to open my eyes and there he would be, suspended high up in the sky. From that vantage point, he was the king of all that he surveyed. Every night, before going to sleep, I would look up at him, fascinated by this majestic creature who appeared to be striding across the starry night sky. I rested in the comfort of knowing that he was always there while I slept.
The centaur was no fantasy; he was my reality.
My centaur was unique; although his stance was one of full gallop, he stayed fixed in this one spot. Even though he roamed the galaxies, he never left his place in the sky, outside my window. He just stood poised – slowly rotating 360 degrees in one place. I would watch him turn round and round, in slow motion. He was like the earth rotating on its axis – we know that it spins at a tremendous speed but no one can sense its movement.
The centaur was a paradox. On one hand, he looked calm, composed, elegant, and above all the travails of what transpired below. He was a picture of stillness. On the other hand, his pose suggested break-neck speed as he hurtled ahead in full gallop, with his bow drawn tight and ready to shoot the arrow. ‘What was he aiming at?’ I used to wonder. Whether he was facing north, south, east or west, it seemed he was perpetually aiming at nothing and that too, with such fixed attention.
One day, quite suddenly, he was taken down. His reign was over. It took an army of men to bring him down. They hacked away at his body, piece by piece, until nothing remained of him. All there remains now is the vacant pedestal, on which he used to stand guard.
Nothing remained of the majestic centaur. Now, on that pedestal, Nothing remains.
So these nights, I look up at the sky and see Nothing. While my centaur came and went, I know Nothing will never leave me, for Nothing was… is… and will always be there. Everything comes and goes in the space of Nothing. Forms appear, forms disappear. No thing lasts forever, but Nothing is eternal. Nothing really matters. I don’t mean that nothing really matters but, rather, what really matters is Nothing. We are all forms wrapped in the embrace of Nothing. Not only that, a large part of us is Nothing. As a child, I remember playing this little game with myself. I would close my eyes and then ask myself, What do I see outside? Nothing! What do I see inside of me? Same… Nothing. Can I distinguish between the Nothing outside and the Nothing inside? No, I can’t. I can’t for the life of me figure out where the Nothing that is inside my skin ends, and where the Nothing that is outside my skin begins. Unless, of course, I touch my skin with my hand. I recently read that if an atom were taken from a human hand and magnified so much that the nucleus was the size of an apple, the next atom would be 1000 or 2000 miles away. Our bodies would thus be starry skies with the atom being represented by a star, with so much space between the atoms.
We can see how compassionate Nothing is. We take its existence for granted and don’t even acknowledge it, but it is always there for us. It is the space that enables the form of words on this page to be. Yet, we only read the words; we don’t read the space between the words.
Could the centaur… could I too… exist apart from Nothing? Impossible. We had to appear in Nothing. Something can only appear in Nothing, something cannot appear in something. All things come and go but the ever-present Nothing remains. Just as my hero, the centaur, disappeared into Nothing, one realises that the form of this body will also disappear into Nothing one day.
I can rest in the knowing that the formless Nothing is always there. I am inseparable from Nothing. Nothing is my content, which enables me to be. At the same time, it remains unaffected by me and all my acrobatics while I exist as an object in time and space. I get close to Nothing in deep sleep, when there is no ‘me and my story’. The minute dreaming begins or I wake up, ‘me and my story’ starts galloping outwards like the centaur, running wild all over the place. The peace of deep sleep is history. How often have I heard people remark when they see the dead body of someone they loved, “Oh, he looks so peaceful!” He would, for ‘he and his story’ are dead. All his hopes, fears, stresses, unfulfilled desires, unexpressed thoughts, attachments, regrets of the past, and expectations of the future, all his highs and lows, vanish into Nothing. What remains is peace, just like the peace of deep sleep.
On the subject of attachment, isn’t it heartbreaking to keep getting attached to objects that appear in our space, only to have them leave? It could be someone you love, or a possession you cherish, or an image you have of yourself or someone else, that, sooner or later, changes. Have you noticed the Nothing that remains after a particular issue that was occupying your mind and thoughts has been resolved? Or, have you noticed the vacuum of Nothing that remains after you ‘lose’ something? You lose an object of your affection (a person or thing) and you sense a vacuum deep within, caused by the loss of that object. This is because objects strengthen the identity of the ‘me’. We derive our identity from the objects we cherish. No objects to identify with and the strength of the identity weakens. Identification with name and form as a separate entity weakens. Subsequently, the peace of Nothingness shines through. At first, it might be a disconcerting feeling as the ‘me’ feels it is lacking in something – there is this vast emptiness with which it is unfamiliar. Thereafter, it gets used to this new way of feeling or seeing, or rather, being – not being this or that, but simply being.
Could one actually be the space of Nothing in which everything comes and goes? One needn’t even try, for one is already That – the stillness of the Conscious Presence, the eternal witness to ‘everything that goes on’. You are already That, or rather, That is already you. Even when you are whirling like a top in your daily living, you are, at the same time, the calm that is the eye of the storm that is the rough and tumble of your daily living. The calm of deep sleep also prevails in the waking state – the only difference being that the ‘me and my story’ has come in and pitched its tent atop this peace.
All that needs to happen is that the ‘me’ has to vacate its position for peace to shine through because it is always present and not something to be ‘achieved’. The eye of the storm is not separate from the storm. You are that eye, around which is cloaked your personal storm. You have mistakenly identified with the storm alone, taking that to be who you are. But it doesn’t matter, for the storm cannot exist separate from its eye. Nothing needs to be done to Nothing. Could Nothing be any more compassionate than that?
I attended the Kumbh Mela* in March 2010. We had chosen an auspicious bathing date so we would get an opportunity to see the naga babas*, in all their fervour and frenzy rush to the sacred Ganges river at the appointed hour. On auspicious bathing dates the Shahi Snaan or Royal Bath takes place. The leaders and gurus of various sects form a parade, the purpose of which is to take a dip in the Ganges. Crowds throng this parade to seek their blessings. Bands play music and there is euphoria all around. We watched as procession after procession of gurus seated atop huge, custom-made chariots, and accompanied by ash-smeared sadhus on foot and on horseback, filed past. Whenever they glanced at the crowd, the people would hysterically shout, “Jai Gurudev! Har Har Mahadev!”* It was an out-of-this-world sight. But what caught me totally by surprise was the next palanquin that came into view. On it was an empty throne and just one disciple standing guard with a royal umbrella. I don’t know if the guru had missed getting on due to the huge crowds that were milling around, or whether he had gone to relieve himself, considering that the procession was moving at a snail’s pace. It was an ironic sight – but a stark reminder that whether the form is present or absent, Nothing is present on the throne.
Coming back to the centaur, his nature is to go outward – just like that of any human being. The senses project one outward – through sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch. But Chiron, the wise centaur, knows this. He knows that although he is a centaur, and it is in the nature of centaurs to roam wild, at the same time, he is the calm that is the eye of the storm. He has mastered the wild instinct of the centaur on one hand, and the rationality of his human mind on the other. He thus has the capacity to be still. Rooted in the stillness of Nothing, he surveys the world, fixed in one spot. And lest he forget, he takes aim at Nothing too. He is ever vigilant, his bow drawn tight, for Nothing is always all around him. And it is in this stance that he is frozen for Eternity. Not an eternity that means time going on and on endlessly but, rather, the Eternity of the moment – here and now.
The wise centaur was consulted by the gods of Olympus and tutored famous demi-gods and Greek heroes. One of them was Achilles, who said, “Brought up in godly Chiron’s halls myself, I learned to keep a single heart.”
 * Auspicious Hindu festival that is celebrated every six years, with the main Kumbh Mela held every twelve years. It is one of the largest spiritual gatherings of humanity.
 * Sect of Shaivite sadhus who remain naked to symbolise their non-attachment to the material world. They rub their bodies with ashes from the holy fires as the symbol of death and rebirth.
 * Hail to the divine guru! Victory to the Supreme God Shiva!
What did Achilles mean by a ‘single heart’? Was he referring to ‘Consciousness’?
Consciousness is the One Heart. Achilles probably realised that Consciousness is all there is. And that Consciousness is the content of everything. He understood that he, like every other thing, is an object in the same Formless Consciousness. We think we are objects separated from one another. Indeed we are, as objects. But are we truly objects when most of our form is made up of nothing but the presence of Nothing? Isn’t it amazing that we human beings have so much of Nothing in common?
Both Nothing and ‘something that appears in Nothing’ are aspects of Consciousness, but going deeper still, the wise centaur is, in reality, That which enables Nothing as well as something to be.
He rests in the knowing that no thing lasts forever, but Nothing lasts forever.
When Air India was founded in 1948, the management wanted a symbol that denoted speed to a universal audience. The centaur (symbol of Sagittarius in the zodiac), was selected as Air India’s logo. A gigantic version of this logo was installed on top of the Air India building in South Mumbai. It used to be lit up in neon blue at night, and the centaur would rotate on its mount very slowly. When Air India underwent a brand makeover, the centaur as the logo was abandoned. Along with that, the neon sign atop Air India’s headquarters was brought down.
Watching the centaur from my bedroom window was one of the most cherished memories of my childhood.