21th November is the birthday of the 18th century French writer and philosopher Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet). A luminary of the Enlightenment Era, Voltaire’s work has been phenomenally influential for over 300 years. He has influenced great thinkers like Rousseau, Byron, Shelly, Marx, Nietzsche, Napoleon, Goethe, Hugo and many others. Voltaire is known for his criticism of Christianity and for advocating civil liberties. Voltaire’s biting wit and polemics drew much adulation. He was famously incarcerated at The Bastille for a satirical verse about the Catholic French Monarchy following which he adopted his nom de plume Voltaire in 1718. As a historian, Voltaire advocated a rationalistic approach to recast history, substituting supernatural with science.
Voltaire was a supporter of animal rights and a vegetarian. On Hinduism, Voltaire wrote that the Vedas are the most precious gift for which the West is indebted to the East.
Some of Voltaire’s timeless quotes are –
Common sense is not so common.
Judge of a man by his questions,
rather than by his answers.
Every man is guilty,
of all the good he did not do.
A witty saying proves nothing.
Osho has spoken on Voltaire in His discourses. Osho says when Voltaire was at the peak of his fame, it was impossible for him to step out of his home without police protection as crowds followed him wherever he went. But gradually new thinkers appeared on the horizon; notably Rousseau; and Voltaire was forgotten. Rousseau opposed every idea of Voltaire; his fame destroyed Voltaire completely. Voltaire has written in his memoirs – ‘When I was famous, I longed to be a nobody, to live silently because life had become a nightmare. But when I became nobody, then I started feeling great despair that I had lost my respect, my name, my fame… I’m dying a defeated man’. When you are respected, you have to pay for respectability. The more people respect you, the more closely they watch you – whether you are fulfilling their expectations or not. All your freedom is gone. But this is how people are living. Nobody can ever be contented in the world – that’s impossible. You can become more and more discontented, that’s all, because contentment happens only when you go inwards. Contentment is your innermost nature. Contentment does not belong to things. You can be comfortable with things – a beautiful house, a beautiful garden, no worries about money — yes, you can be comfortable, but you remain the same: comfortably discontented.
Voltaire writes in his memoirs that once he was not famous – as everybody was one day not famous – and he desired and desired and he worked hard, and he became one of the most famous men in France. His fame increased so much that it became almost dangerous for him to go out of his room, because in those superstitious days people used to think that if you can get a piece of the clothes of a very great man, it becomes a protection; it has tremendous value, protective value. It protects you against ghosts, against bad accidents and things like that.
So if he had to go to the station to catch a train, he would go under police escort, otherwise people would tear his clothes. Not only that – his skin would be torn, and he would come home with blood flowing. He became so fed up with this fame – that he could not even get out of his house; people were always there like wolves to jump upon him – and he started praying to god, ‘Finished! I have known this. I don’t want it. I have become almost a dead person.’ And then it happened. The angel came, must have come, and he said, ‘Okay.’ By and by his fame disappeared.
People’s opinions change very easily; they don’t have any integrity. Just like fashion, things change. You can be famous one day, the next day you can become the most notorious man. One day you are at the top of your fame, the next day people completely forget about you. One day you are the president, the next day you are just citizen Richard Nixon. Nobody bothers.
It happened that people’s minds changed, the opinion, the climate changed, and people completely forgot about him. He would come to the station and he would long that at least someone, at least one person must be waiting there to receive him. And nobody would come to receive him – only his dog. When he died, there were only four persons giving him the last goodbye; three were men and the fourth was his dog. He must have died in misery, again hankering for fame. What to do? This is how things go on.
Mind will never allow you to be happy. Whatsoever the condition, the mind will always find something to be unhappy about. Let me say it in this way: mind is a mechanism to create unhappiness. Its whole function is to create unhappiness. If you drop the mind, suddenly you become happy… for no reason at all. Then happiness is just natural, as you breathe.
For breathing, you need not be even aware. You simply go on breathing. Conscious, unconscious, awake, asleep, you go on breathing. Happiness is exactly like that. That’s why in the East we say that happiness is your innermost nature. It needs no outside condition; it is simply there, it is you. Bliss is your natural state; it is not an achievement. If you simply get out of the mechanism of the mind, you start feeling blissful.
That’s why you will see that mad people are more happy than so-called sane people. What happens to mad people? They also get out of the mind – of course in a wrong way, but they get out of the mind. A madman is one who has fallen below the mind. He’s out of the mind. That’s why you can see that mad people are so happy. You can feel jealous. You can even daydream, ‘When will this blessing happen to us?’ He is condemned, but he is happy. What has happened to a madman? He is no more thinking of the past and no more thinking of the future. He has dropped out of time. He has started living in eternity.
It happens the same way to the mystic also, because he goes above mind. I am not telling you to become mad, but I am telling you that there is a similarity between the madman and the mystic. That’s why all great mystics look a little mad and all great mad people look a little like mystics.
Watch a madman’s eyes and you will find his eyes very mystic… a glow, some otherworldly glow, as if he has some inner door from where he reaches to the very core of life. He is relaxed. He may have nothing, but he is simply happy. He has no desires, no ambitions. He is not going anywhere. He is simply there… enjoying, delighting.
Yes, madmen and mystics have something similar. That similarity is because both are out of the mind. The madman has fallen below it, the mystic has gone beyond it. The mystic is also mad but with a method; his madness has a method in it. The madman has simply fallen below.
I am not saying become mad. I am saying become mystics. The mystic is as happy as the mad and as sane as the sane. The mystic is as reasonable, even more reasonable, than so-called rationalist people, and yet so happy, just like mad people. The mystic has the most beautiful synthesis. He is in a harmony. He has all that a reasonable man has. He has both. He is complete. He is whole.
This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Gautam Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune, India.
The Discipline of Transcendence, Vol 2
Chapter title: Happy for no reason
1 September 1976 am in Buddha Hall
Osho has spoken on notable philosophers Aristotle, Berkeley, Bukharin, Camus, Confucius, Descartes, Feuerbach, Hegel, Heidegger, Heraclitus, Huxley, Jaspers, Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, Moore, Nietzsche, Plato, Pythagoras, Russell, Sartre, Schiller, Socrates, Voltaire, Wittgenstein and many others in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses: