Patanjali: The Greatest Atheist

Osho on Patanjali

There is a parable in Friedrich Nietzche’s the gay science. A madman enters a marketplace with a lantern, crying. “I see God! I see God!” but the busy crowd is unconcerned at his outbursts and laughs at his comical antics. Turning suddenly on them he demands, “Whither is God? I shall tell you, we have killed him — you and I.” But as they ignore the enormity of his announcement, he finally flings his lantern to the ground and cries. “I come too early. My time has not come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way.”

This parable is tremendously significant. As man grows, his God changes. Has to be so because man creates his own God in his own image. It is not vice versa. It is not as it is said in the Bible that God creates man in his own image.

Man creates God in his own image. When man’s image changes, his God obviously changes. And there comes a point in man’s growth when God disappears completely. God as a personal God is out of the immature mind of humanity. Existence as divine is a totally different concept.

Then God is not a personal being somewhere high in the heaven ruling the world, manipulating, controlling, managing. No, all that nonsense disappears as man becomes mature. It is a childhood concept of God, a childish concept of God. If a small child is to understand God, he has to understand as a personal being. When humanity grows and becomes mature, that God is to die. Then a totally different existence arises. Now the whole existence is divine — not that there is God.

For Nietzsche himself, this realization that there is no personal God was too much. He could not bear it: he went insane. He was not ready himself to understand what insight had happened to him. He himself was childish; he needed a personal God. But he meditated upon it, and as he meditated, the more and more he became aware that that God is no longer there in the skies. It is dead. And he also became aware that he has been killed by us. Of course, if it was created by us, it has to be killed by us. The concept was created by man in his childhood. In his maturity the concept is dropped — as when you were children you played with toys, then you became mature, and you forgot all about those toys. Suddenly one day you come across in a corner of the house, in the rubbish, an old toy. Then you remember how much you had loved it, but now it is meaningless. It has to be thrown; you have changed. Man created the personal God, then man destroyed it. This realization was too much for Nietzsche himself; he became insane. His insanity is an indication that he was not prepared for the insight that happened to him.

But, in the East, Patanjali is absolutely godless. You cannot find a greater atheist than Patanjali, but it does not disturb him because really he is a grown-up man, really grown-up in consciousness, mature, integrated. For Buddha God doesn’t exist….If there is a personal God, he can forgive Friedrich Nietzsche because he will understand that this man still needed him. That man Nietzsche was still divided, confused — half of his being was saying yes and half was saying no. If there is a personal God, he can even forgive Gautam Buddha because at least he denied him. He said. “There is no God.” That too is paying attention. But he will not be able to forgive Patanjali. He used him. He not only not denied him that he is not, he used the very concept as a device. He said, “For the ultimate growth of man, even the concept of God can be used as a hypothesis.”

Patanjali is absolutely cold about God, colder than Gautam Buddha, because when you say no there is a certain passion, when you say yes there is a certain passion — in love, in hate, there is passion. Patanjali is absolutely indifferent. He says, “Yes, the concept of God can be used.” He is the greatest atheist the world has ever known.

But in the West the concept of atheist is totally different. It is not yet mature. It is on the same plane as the theist is. The theist goes on saying “there is a God” in childish terminology, as a father, and the atheist goes on denying, that there is no such God. They both exist on the same plane.

Patanjali is the real atheist, but it does not mean that he is irreligious. He is the really religious man. A really religious man cannot believe in God. It will look like a paradox.

A really religious man cannot believe in God because to believe in God he has to divide existence in two — God and no God, the creator and the creation, this world and that, matter and mind. He has to divide, and how can a religious man divide? He does not believe in God; he comes to understand the very divinity of existence. Then the whole existence is divine; then all that is there is divine. Then every place is a temple, and wherever you move and whatsoever you do, you are moving in God and you are doing to God. The total — you included — becomes divine.

This has to be understood.

Yoga is a perfect science. It does not teach to believe; it teaches to know. It does not say to you. “Become blind followers”; it says. “Open your eyes,” and it gives you the method how to open your eyes. It does not say anything about the truth. It simply says everything about your vision how to attain the vision, the capacity to see, the eyes, so that whatsoever there is is revealed to you. It is more than you can ever conceive of; it is more than all your gods put together. It is infinite divineness.

One thing more about this parable. The madman said. “I come too early. My time has not come yet.” Patanjali came really too early. His time has not come yet. He is still waiting for his time. It always happens people who realize truth are always ahead of their time — sometimes thousands of years ahead. Patanjali is still ahead of time. Five thousand years have passed; still his time has not come yet. The inner world of man has not yet become a science. He has given all the foundations; he has given the whole structure. The structure is waiting for humanity to come close and to understand it.

Our religions, so-called religions, are juvenile.

Patanjali is a giant, a pinnacle of a man. His height is so much that you cannot see the peak; it is hidden somewhere in the clouds. But everything about him is absolutely clear. If you are ready not to cling to your confusions, if you are ready to follow the path that he shows, everything is absolutely clear. About this man Patanjali there is nothing like mysticism. He is a mathematician of the mystery; he is a logician of the illogical; he is a scientist of the unknown. And it is tremendous even to conceive that one man has put the whole science together.

Nothing is lacking, but the science is waiting for humanity to come close so that the science can be understood. Man understands only that which he wants to understand. His understanding is dominated by his desires. That’s why Patanjali, Buddha. Zarathustra, Lao Tzu, they always feel they have come too early because man is still asking for toys to play with. He is not ready to grow. He does not want to grow. He clings to stupidities. He has invested too much in his ignorance and he goes on deceiving himself…

Mulla Nasrudin once staggered from a train, his complexion very white. I had gone to the station to receive him.

“Riding backwards for ten hours,” he explained, “I never could stand that.”

“Why,” I inquired, “didn’t you ask the person sitting opposite to change seats with you?”

“I could not do that.” said the Mulla. “There wasn’t anybody there.”

There is nobody in the sky to listen to your prayers. Whatsoever you want to do, do. There is nobody who is going to give you permission to do it. Whatsoever you want to be, be. There is nobody you have to look to for the permission. Existence is free and available. This is the understanding of yoga: that existence is available to everybody. Whatsoever you want to be, you can be. Everything is ready.

Don’t wait for anybody’s permission because there is nobody. The opposite seat is vacant — if you want to sit, you can sit on it. Mulla looks absurd, ridiculous, but that’s what the whole of humanity has been doing for centuries looking at the sky, asking permission, praying — to somebody who is not there. Prayer is not the right thing; the right thing is to meditate. And what is the difference? When you pray you have to believe in someone who is listening to your prayer. When you meditate you meditate alone. In prayer the other is required; in meditation you alone are enough. Yoga is meditative. It has no place for prayer, because it has no place for God. It has no place for any childish notions about God.

Let this become a constant remembrance in you if you really want to be religious, you will have to pass through the state of atheism. If you really want to be authentically religious, then don’t start by being a theist. Start by being an atheist. Start by being an Adam. Adam is the beginning of Christ. Adam starts the circle and Christ ends the circle. Start by saying no, so that your yes can mean something. Don’t be afraid and don’t believe out of fear. If you have to believe someday, only believe out of knowing and love — never out of fear. That’s why Christianity could not develop a yoga, Judaism could not develop a yoga, Mohammedanism could not develop a yoga. Yoga was developed by people who were courageous enough to say no to all beliefs, to all blind faiths, who were able to deny the convenience of belief to themselves and who, were ready to inquire and go into the wildness of their own being.

It is a tremendous responsibility.

To be an atheist is to be very deeply responsible because when there is no God you are left alone in a cold world. When there is no God you are left alone with nothing to hang on to, with nothing to cling to. Great courage is needed, and you have to create the warmth out of your own being. This is the whole meaning of yoga to create warmth out of your own being. The existence is cold. No hypothetical God can give you warmth. You are simply dreaming. It may be a wish fulfillment, but it is not true. And it is better to be cold but to remain with truth than to live surrounded by lies and feel warm. Yoga says realize the truth that you are alone. You are given an existence; now you have to create meaning out of it.

Meaning is not already given. Existentialists in the West say something with which Patanjali will agree totally. Existentialists say existence precedes essence. Let me explain it to you.

A rock is there. A rock’s essence is given; it is already given. Its existence is its essence also. The rock is not going to grow: it is already that which it can be. But man is different man is born — he brings his existence, but the essence is not given yet. He comes as an emptiness. Now he has to fill that emptiness by his own effort. He has to create meaning: he has to grope in the dark; he has to work it out, what life means. He has to discover; he has to be creative. Existence is given, essence has to be created — and every moment the way you live, you create your essence. If you don’t create it you will not have it. People come to me and they ask, “Please tell us what is the meaning of life.” As if meaning is given somewhere. Meaning is not given you have to create it.

And this is beautiful. If meaning was already given, man would have been a rock. Then there was no possibility to grow, no possibility to discover, no possibility to adventure — no possibility. In fact, everything closed — a rock is closed from every dimension. It is already that which it can be, but man is not already… only a possibility, a trembling possibility, with infinite future, with a thousand and one alternatives. It will depend on you who and what you become.

You are responsible. When there is no God the responsibility falls totally on you. That’s why weaklings go on believing in God. Only very strong men can stand alone. But this is a basic necessity — for yoga this is a basic requirement that you stand alone and that you come to realize that the meaning is not given; you have to search for it. You have to create it. You will come to a meaning — life can come to a meaning — but that meaning will have to be discovered by your own effort, whatsoever you do, will go on revealing you. Every act will make your life, your existence, more and more meaningful. Only if this is the truth, yoga is then possible.

Otherwise, go on praying: otherwise go on kneeling down on the earth, go on praying to your own ideas and go on interpreting your own prayer, and live in a hallucination, live in an illusion.

Sigmund Freud has written a book. The name of the book is very significant THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION. The book is about religion. It is a misfortune that he never became aware of Patanjali; otherwise he would not have written that book — because religion can exist without illusion. To Sigmund Freud religion means Christianity and Judaism. He was not aware of the depths of Eastern religions. Western religions are more or less political. Much of them is not religious at all; they are superficial. Eastern religions have gone to the very depth, and this is the depth where you deny God also and you say now there is no need to depend. Whenever you think you need somebody to depend on, you will create an illusion.

To realize that one is alone in a cold universe — and there is nobody to pray to, and there is nobody to complain to, and there is nobody who is going to help you — only you — it is a tremendous responsibility. One staggers, one feels afraid, one starts trembling. Anguish arises, a great anxiety is created by the very fact that you are left alone. “God is dead” Nietzsche said it only a hundred years before; Patanjali knew it five thousand years before. All those who have come nearer truth have known that God is man’s imagination. It is man’s interpretation, a lie, to give yourself a warmth. People go on interpreting in their own ways.

The whole concern of yoga is that you drop all interpretations, let your eyes be not clouded by any hypothesis and belief, look direct, look unclouded, look without smoke. Let your flame be without smoke and see whatsoever there is.

People go on interpreting. Always listen to their meaning, not to their words. Always listen to their innermost being, not the sounds that they make on the outside. What they say is not significant… what they are. Your God, your prayer, is not significant. Your churches, your temples, are not significant. Only you. When you pray, I don’t listen to your prayer. I listen to you. When you kneel down on the earth, I don’t see your gesture, I see you. It is out of fear — and a religion out of fear is impossible. Religion is possible only out of understanding. That’s the effort of Patanjali. But with Patanjali, also, people go on interpreting. They bring their minds and then Patanjali is there no more. They listen to their own heartbeats in him.

In a small school the teacher asked a tardy student, “Why are you late?”

“Well, a sign down the street said — .”

The teacher interrupting, “Now what can a sign possibly, have to do with it?”

“The sign said,” said the student, “‘School ahead. Go slow.”

It depends on you what you will understand when you read Patanjali. Unless you can leave yourself behind, you will misunderstand.

Understanding is possible only when you are absolutely absent — you don’t interfere, you don’t interrupt, you don’t give colors, shapes, and forms. You simply see, with no idea, no prejudice.


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

Discourse Series: Yoga: The Alpha and the Omega, Vol 7

Chapter #7

Chapter title: In a cold universe

7 January 1976 am in Buddha Hall


Osho has spoken on Krishna, Jesus, Buddha, Shiva, Patanjali, Gorakh, Lao Tzu, Saraha, Tilopa, Zarathustra and many other enlightened Mastersin many of His discourses. More on them can be referred to in the following books/discourse titles:

  1. Vigyan Bhairav Tantra
  2. The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha
  3. Tao: The Three Treasures
  4. Zarathustra: The Laughing Prophet
  5. The Mustard Seed: My Most Loved Gospel on Jesus
  6. The Path of Love
  7. Bodhidharma: The Greatest Zen Master
  8. When the Shoe Fits
  9. Hyakujo: The Everest of Zen, with Basho’s Haikus
  10. Sermons in Stones
  11. The Book of Wisdom
  12. The Tantra Vision
  13. Tantra: The Supreme Understanding
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