A Perfectly Imperfect Life

Osho on British Author Edward Gibbon

Born on 8 May 1737, Edward Gibbon was a British historian, author, and member of parliament for almost a decade. He was educated at the University of Oxford, where he also started his religious journey by converting to Roman Catholicism in 1753. He developed an interest in writing full histories and after several attempts with several cities, he completed and published his most prominent piece – “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” in six volumes between 1776 and 1788.

Gibbon’s familial relationships were tense and strained, prompting him to spend most of his life away from home in locations like Switzerland, Paris, Rome, etc. His works were somewhat inspired by the same and while his views were subjected to criticism, his literary skills and style were appreciated considerably as being full of wit, irony, and perspective. Some of Gibbon’s works include Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon, Essai sur l’Étude de la Littérature, and Gibbon’s Journey from Geneva to Rome.

Osho narrates a story about Gibbon, “It is said about Gibbon, that when he finished his history of the world…. It had been thirty years’ work; day/night, year in, year out, he was working and working and working; he had only four hours of sleep and twenty hours of work each day. When it was finished, he wept. His wife could not believe it, his disciples could not believe it.

They said, ‘Why are you weeping?’ Everybody was happy that the work was complete, the greatest record of history was complete. But he was crying, ‘Now what will I do? I am finished!’ And he died within three years; there was nothing else to do. He had always been a young man; the day his work finished he became old. It happens to every creator: a painter is so passionately in his painting that when it is finished he suddenly feels, ‘Now what? why did I do it?’

Great awareness is needed to see that the joy of painting is in painting itself. There is no result — the end and the means are not separate. If you are enjoying a certain thing, that is the point of it; don’t ask for any other thing. What more do you need? While you were doing something — carving something, painting something, sculpting something — you were lost in it. That was your joy, your meditation. You were in god! You were out of the mind; that was your satori.”

Osho Says…..



Prem Murti,

while painting, each moment can be totally satisfying. But once the painting is complete it can never be totally satisfying, because if it is totally satisfying the painter will have to commit suicide. There will be no need to live any more. That’s why I say life is longing, pure longing — longing to attain higher and higher peaks, longing to go deeper and deeper into existence. But each moment can be utterly satisfying; that difference has to be remembered. When you are painting, each brush, each color that you throw on the canvas, each moment of it, is totally satisfying. There is nothing more to it. You are utterly lost, possessed, if you are a creator.

If you are only a technician then it is not so. The technician is not lost while he is painting, he is separate from his painting. He is just using his knowledge. He knows how to paint, that’s all. There is nothing in his heart to paint — no vision, no poetry, no song. He has nothing to create, but just the technology. He is a technician, not an artist. He can paint — but while painting it is not meditation for him, it is not a love affair for him. He is doing it; he is a doer, separate. But the creator is not separate while he is creating, he is one with it. He is utterly lost, he has forgotten himself. That’s why when painters are painting they forget about food, forget about thirst, forget about sleep. They forget about the body so much that they can go on painting for eighteen hours without feeling at all tired. Each moment is absolutely satisfying.

But once the painting is complete, a great sadness descends on the real painter. These differences have to be remembered. When the painting is complete, the technician feels very happy: a good job done, finished. He is feeling tired; it was a long tiring process, no contentment on the way. He was just waiting for the result, he was result-oriented. He wanted to finish it somehow, and now it is finished. He takes a deep sigh of relief. He is happy, not while he is painting but only when the painting is complete. Just the opposite happens to the creator. He is happy while he is painting; once the painting is complete, a great sadness descends on him. “So it is over? That peak, that climax, that orgasmic experience is over? That thrill, that adventure, that going into the unknown is over?” … just as lovers feel sad after a deep orgasm: a subtle sadness, beautiful in itself, of tremendous value — far more valuable than the happiness of the technician, because out of this sadness another painting will arise, out of this sadness another longing to soar high, another aspiration to reach beyond, another search, another inquiry, another pregnancy. The painter will be pregnant soon, will feel full, so full that he will have to share it again.

It is said that when Gibbon, the great historian, finished his great work about world history…. Thirty-three years it took to finish it, and he was so tremendously happy for those thirty-three years that it is said that he didn’t age. He remained exactly the same, as if time never passed, as if time has stopped. But the day it was finished he started crying. His wife could not believe it. She said, “You are crying? You should be happy, you should dance! The work is complete.”

Gibbon said, “The work is complete. Now what is left for me? My life is complete.” And within five years he aged so much, and by the seventh year he was gone. It is said that Vincent van Gogh, the great Dutch painter, committed suicide when he felt that he had done the perfect painting. It is possible. If the painter feels the perfect has happened, then there is no point in living. The creator lives to create. The singer lives to sing, the dancer lives to dance, the lover lives to love, the tree lives to bloom — if it has bloomed and the perfect flowers have come, then what is the point of prolonging a futile, meaningless existence?

Prem Murti, your question is significant. You ask: “Is it possible to paint a totally satisfying painting?” Yes and no. Yes, while you are painting it will be totally satisfying. And no, once it is over you will feel great sadness. But that sadness is also creative, because it is only out of that sadness you will again start moving towards the sunlit peaks. And

in this life nothing really is ever perfect or can ever be perfect. You will be surprised that I believe in an imperfect God. You will be shocked, because at least all the religions are agreed on one thing, that God is perfect. I don’t agree, because if God is perfect then Friedrich Nietzsche is right that God is dead. God is perfectly imperfect — that much I can say. Hence there is growth, evolution; hence there is movement. It is always, always coming closer and closer to perfection, but it is never perfect and it will never be perfect.

Nothing ever is perfect. In fact imperfection has a beauty of its own, because imperfection has a life. Whenever something is perfect — just think, contemplate — whenever something is really perfect, life will disappear from it. Life can exist only if something is still imperfect and has to be perfected. Life is the effort to perfect the imperfect. Life is the ambition to make the ugly beautiful. Something of imperfection is a must for life to exist, for life to go on growing and flowing. Nothing ever is perfect. Or if something any time happens to be perfect, in the East we have a right vision of it. We say whenever a person becomes perfect, that is his last life. The scriptures give different reasons for it; my reason is totally different. I say yes, when Buddha is perfect he will not come back, because perfection means life is no more possible. He will disappear into the cosmos.

Rabindranath, a great Indian poet and mystic, prayed his last prayer to God: “Send me back. Remember, I am not perfect. Send me back. Your world was too beautiful and you gave me such a precious life. And I don’t want to disappear yet: I have yet to sing many songs, I have yet to paint many paintings, there is yet much in my heart which needs to bloom. Send me back, I am not perfect! Send me back.” That was his last prayer; he died praying this way. It is one of the most beautiful prayers and one of the most beautiful ways to die. How can one thank God more than this? “Your world was beautiful, I loved your world; I was not worthy of it but you made me. I am not worthy to be sent back, but still, your compassion is great. At least one time more, send me back.”

Life remains growing. Nothing ever is perfect — or whenever something is perfect it disappears, it goes into annihilation. The Buddhist word is nirvana. Nirvana means annihilation, nirvana means cessation. Literally, nirvana means “blowing out the candle.” Just as you blow out a candle and suddenly the light is gone, gone forever, has disappeared into nothingness — that is nirvana. All the Buddhas say whosoever becomes perfect moves into nirvana, goes into annihilation.

Don’t hanker for a perfect painting, Murti, otherwise the painter will die. And you have yet to sing many songs. And the painting cannot be perfect, the song and the dance cannot be perfect, for a few more reasons. One: when you visualize it in the deepest core of your heart, it is a totally different thing. When you start painting it, you are translating it from the subtle to the gross. In that very transforming, in that very translation, much is lost. Hence no painter ever feels satisfied when he finishes his painting. It is not the same as that which he wanted to paint — similar, but not the same. He has some vision to compare, it has fallen very short. Hence he starts another painting. Rabindranath again has to be remembered. He wrote six thousand songs — seems to be the greatest poet the world has ever known — and each song is a beauty. But when he was dying he was crying, he was saying to God, “The song that I wanted to sing, I have not sung yet.”

An old friend was by the side of the bed, and the old friend said, “What are you saying? Have you gone mad? You have sung six thousand songs. In Europe, Shelley is thought to be one of the greatest poets. He has sung only two thousand songs. You have defeated him three times. You should be happy and contented!”

Rabindranath opened his tear-filled eyes and he said, “I am not. Yes, six thousand songs I have sung, but you don’t know the inner story. The inner story is, I wanted to sing only one song! But because it never was possible…. I tried once, failed; I tried again, I failed. Six thousand times I have failed. Those are all efforts, and I am not satisfied with any of them. That which I wanted to sing is still unsung.” In fact nobody can sing it.

Buddha used to declare in every town, wherever he would go, “Please don’t ask these eleven questions.” In those eleven questions, all important questions were included: God, soul, death, life, truth, everything important was included. Why? “Because,” he would say, “they cannot be answered. Not that I don’t know, but to bring them to words is impossible.”

There was an ancient mysterious wall which stood at the edge of a village and whenever anyone climbed the wall to look onto the other side, instead of coming back he smiled and jumped to the other side, never to return. The inhabitants of the village became curious as to what could draw these beings to the other side of the wall. After all, their village had all the necessities of living a comfortable life. They made an arrangement where they tied a person’s feet, so when he looked over and wished to jump, they could pull him back. The next time someone tried to climb the wall to see what was on the other side, they chained his feet so he could not go over. He looked on the other side and was delighted at what he saw, and smiled. Those standing below grew curious to question him and pulled him back. To their great disappointment he had lost the power of speech.

Those who have seen cannot say. That which has been seen cannot be painted, cannot be reduced to words. But still each one has to give a try. The world goes on becoming more and more beautiful because of these efforts. The world is beautiful because of the six thousand songs that Rabindranath tried, although he failed to sing the song that he wanted. Those six thousand failures have made the world far more beautiful than it ever was. It will not be the same world again, those six thousand songs will go on resonating. So go on painting, go on creating. Yet I tell you again and again, you will never be satisfied. I bless you that you should never be satisfied, but let each moment of your creativity be a great contentment. But when something is finished, move ahead. You have infinite capacities to create; you are unlimited, you don’t have any limits to your potential.

You are not aware what you can do, and you will never be aware unless you do it! Hence the greatest creators are aware how poor has been their creation, because they become aware, more and more aware, how much more is possible. The ordinary person who has never created anything is not aware what he can do. There is no other way to know what you can do unless you do it. And while doing it you can see that what you wanted to do, what was very clear in your inner world, has become very dim and ordinary when it has been brought to the outer. You will try again. Each effort will become better and better and better, more and more perfect, but never perfect.


This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune. 

Discourse Series: The Book of Wisdom

Chapter #20

Chapter title: Diogenes and the Dog

2 March 1979 am in Buddha Hall


Osho has spoken on eminent poets and writers like Byron, Coleridge, D.H. Lawrence, Ghalib, Heinrich Heine, John Ruskin, Kahlil Gibran, Kalidas, Keats, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Milton, Oscar Wilde, Rabindranath Tagore, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Rudyard Kipling, Shakespeare, Shelley, William Blake, Kazantzakis, Wordsworth and many more in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. The Book of Wisdom
  2. The Sword and The Lotus
  3. Returning to the Source
  4. Light on the Path
  5. The Secret
  6. The Hidden Splendour
  7. The New Dawn
  8. Beyond Enlightenment
  9. Come Follow To You, Vol 1
  10. Beyond Enlightenment
  11. The Rebel
  12. Communism and Zen Fire, Zen Wind
  13. The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha
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