Sannyas or Suicide
Birthday of Ernest Hemingway
On July 21, 1899, Ernest Miller Hemingway, influential American literary icon is born in Oak Park, Illinois who became known for his straightforward prose and use of understatement. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and was widely noted for his adventurous and widely publicized life.
Osho says an interviewer once asked Ernest Hemingway, “Isn’t there any one essential ingredient you can identify which makes a great writer?”
Hemingway replied, “Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in shockproof, crap detector.”
And that’s what my idea of true education is. The children should be trained, disciplined, so that they can detect crap. A really intelligent person is a crap detector. He immediately knows, the moment he says something, whether it is significant or just holy cow dung.
WHY DID VAN GOGH KILL HIMSELF? WHY DID HEMINGWAY PUT A SHOTGUN IN HIS MOUTH AND BLOW THE TOP OF HIS HEAD OFF? WHY DO THEY POISON THEIR RIVERS, THEIR AIR AND THEIR OWN FOOD? WHY DO THEY JUSTIFY IT ALL WITH THEIR REASONING, PSYCHOLOGY AND LAWS? WHY DO THEY COME HERE FOR A COUPLE OF MONTHS, AND WHY DO YOU HAVE SO MUCH COMPASSION FOR THEM? I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THEM!
The question is from Prageet.
First, there are suicides and suicides. Each suicide has something unique about it — as each life has something unique about it. Your life is yours and your death is also going to be yours. Sometimes it is possible that your life may not be yours, but it is not possible that your death may not be yours. Life can be anonymous. If you live with others, you can compromise too much, you can imitate — but death is always unique because death is alone. You die alone. There is no society. They don’t exist in your death. The crowd, the mass, is there when you are alive, but when you die you die absolutely alone, utterly alone. Death has a quality.
So sometimes it happens that a man may commit suicide because he has become tired of the anonymous existence. He has become tired of all the compromises that one has to make in order to live. That’s why van Gogh committed suicide — he was a rare man, one of the greatest painters ever. But he had to make compromises every moment of his life. He got tired of those compromises; he could no longer tolerate being part of the crowd mind. He killed himself in order to be himself. He was only thirty-three or something when he killed himself.
If he had been in the East there would have been another alternative: suicide or Sannyas. These are the two alternatives which every man who has some sense of life, of individuality, has to choose between. In the West nothing like Sannyas has been in existence. If you become a Christian monk that is again a compromise; you still remain part of the society. Even if you go out of the society you remain part of it. The society goes on controlling you — it has a remote control system. It does not allow you to really go out of it. You remain a Christian, you remain a Catholic, even when you have moved to a monastery. It does not make much difference.
In the East, Sannyas has a totally different flavour. The moment you become a Sannyasin you are no longer a Hindu, you are no longer a Mohammedan, you are no longer a Christian. The moment you become a Sannyasin, you drop out of all collectivities. You become yourself. You will be surprised to know that in the East people don’t commit suicide as much as in the West. And the difference is big — too big to be just accidental. In the East we have created a creative kind of suicide, that is Sannyas. You can still live, but you can live in your own way.
Then the need for suicide disappears, or becomes very much less.
In the West it always has happened that the unique individuals have to commit suicide. The mediocre go on living, the unique have to commit suicide. A van Gogh, a Hemingway, a Mayakovski, a Nijinsky — these are unique individuals. Either they have to commit suicide or they have to go mad — the society drives them mad. The society puts so much pressure on them that either they have to yield to the society and become just anonymous, or they have to go mad, or they have to commit suicide. And all are destructive alternatives. Nietzsche went mad; that was his way of committing suicide. Nijinsky committed suicide; that was his way of going mad. Nietzsche had the same quality as a Buddha. Had he been in the East he would have become a Buddha, but the West does not give that alternative at all. He had to go mad. Van Gogh had a unique quality of tremendous intelligence, creativity. He could have moved on the path of Sannyas and Samadhi, but there was no door open. He got tired; just going on living a compromise was hurting too much. It was not worth it. One day he completed his painting — the painting that he had always wanted to do — and that day he felt, ‘Now there is no need to make any compromise with anybody for any reason. I have done my paintings, I have done my best. It is time to disappear.’
He had always wanted to paint a sunrise. He had painted sunrises for years, but still something was missing and lacking and he would paint again and again. The day his painting was complete and he was fulfilled and satisfied and contented that it had happened — that very moment it was absolutely clear to him that now there was no need — ‘I was only waiting for this painting. I am fulfilled in it, I have bloomed. Now why make compromises? For what?’ He committed suicide…This suicide is not a crime, it is simply a shout against the mediocre society that we have created in the world. It is simply a protest that for those who have life, this society is not worth living in. This society is only for the mediocre. This society is only for those who really don’t want to love, who just want to drag. But each suicide will have a different quality to it. You ask why Hemingway committed suicide. Hemingway’s suicide has another flavour, different from van Gogh’s. Hemingway’s whole search was the search for freedom. Birth happened; it was not your choice. You were thrown into life — as the existentialists say. You were thrown into it, it was not your choice. Nobody ever asked you whether you wanted to be born or not. So birth is not freedom. It has already happened.
The next most important thing is love, but that is also not possible to do. When it happens, it happens; you cannot manage it, you cannot will it. If you want to love a person just through will, it is impossible. It happens when it happens — -suddenly you are in love, that’s why we use the phrase ‘falling in love’. You ‘fall’ into it. But you cannot will it; it comes from the unknown. It is just like birth. It is as if God manages that you fall in love with this person; it is as if the decision comes from the blue. You are not the decisive factor, you are more like a victim. You cannot do anything against it. If it happens you have to go into it; if it does not happen you can do whatsoever you want and it will not happen. Nobody can produce love on order. And the most important three things in life are birth, love, death. Death is the only thing that you can do something about — you can commit suicide.
Hemingway’s search was for freedom. He wanted to do something that HE had done. He had not managed birth, he had not managed love, now there was only death. There was only one thing which if you wanted to do, you could do. It would be your act, an individual act, done by you.
Death has a mysterious quality about it; it is a very strange paradox. If you are standing by the side of a small baby, just born, and if somebody asks you to say something absolutely certain about the baby — the baby is in his crib, asleep, relaxing — what can you say absolutely certainly? You can say only one thing: that he will die. This is a very strange thing to say. Anything else is uncertain. He may love, he may not love. He may succeed, he may fail. He may be a sinner, he may be a saint. All are ‘maybes’, there is nothing certain about anything. It is not possible to predict anything. There is only one thing you can say — and it looks very absurd at the side of a baby who has just been born — only one thing is absolutely certain: that he will die. This prediction can be made, and your prediction is never going to be wrong. So death has a certain quality of certainty about it — it is going to happen.
And at the same time it has something absolutely uncertain about it too. One never knows when it is going to happen. There is certainty that it is going to happen and uncertainty about when it is going to happen. Both this certainty and uncertainty about death make it a mystery, a paradox. If you go on living, it will happen — but then again it will come from out of the blue. You will not be the decisive factor. Birth happened, love happened — was death also to happen? That made Hemingway uneasy. He wanted to do at least one thing in life to which he could have his own signature, about which he could say ‘This I did’. That’s why he committed suicide. Suicide was an exercise in freedom.
You cannot know anything about death unless you go into it. Hemingway’s attitude was that if it is going to happen then why be dragged into it? Why not go into it on your own? It is going to happen. His whole life’s concern was death, that’s why he became so interested in bullfights. Death was very close by. He was constantly attracted by the theme of death — what it was. But you cannot know. Even if somebody is dying in front of you, you don’t know anything about death. You simply know that the breathing has disappeared, that this man’s eyes won’t open again, that this man will never speak again, that his heart is no longer beating — that’s all. But this is nothing. How can you know about death from these things? The mystery remains a mystery, you have not even touched it. You can know it only by going into it. But if you are dragged into it there are more possibilities of your becoming unconscious — because you are being dragged into it.
Almost always people die unconsciously. Before death happens they become so afraid, so very afraid, that a kind of coma surrounds them and protects them. It is a natural anaesthetic. When you go for an operation, you need an anaesthetic — and death is the greatest operation there is: the soul and body will be torn apart. So nature has some built-in mechanism — before you start dying you go into a coma; all consciousness disappears. In the first place your consciousness was not very much. Even while you were alive, it was just a tiny flicker. When the wind of death comes, that flicker is gone — there is complete darkness.
Hemingway wanted to go into death fully conscious. It was a conscious exercise in dying. But that is possible only through suicide or through Samadhi. These are the only two possibilities. You can die consciously in only two ways. You can commit suicide; you can manage your own death.
You can have your revolver ready, contemplate it, put it to your chest or your head, pull the trigger yourself consciously, see the explosion and see death. This is one possibility.
It is a very destructive possibility. Another possibility is to go more and more into meditation, to attain to a state of awareness that cannot be drowned by death. Then there is no need to commit suicide. Then whenever death comes, let it come. You will be dying fully alert, aware, watchful.
So it is suicide or Sannyas, suicide or Samadhi. And in the West, sannyas and samadhi have not been available.
That’s why these two very rare people committed suicide. And they have not been understood. People think that they were kind of ill, neurotic, mad, morbid, unhealthy. They were not.
I am not saying that all people who commit suicide are the same. There are neurotic people who will commit suicide. There are morbid people who are more concerned with death than they are concerned with life, who enjoy destructiveness. They are self-destructive mechanisms who go on poisoning themselves. I’m not talking about all suicides — but you have asked about these two. And there are as many as people commit suicide. But these two are very rare.
These two are very potential. If Vincent van Gogh or Hemingway had been in the East or had had the Eastern attitude, they would have flowered as great sannyasins.
This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune.
Discourse Series: Sufis: The People of the Path, Vol 2
Chapter title: Earth and Sky Apart
30 August 1977 am in Buddha Hall
Osho has spoken on distinguished 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, Rumi, Rudyard Kipling, Shakespeare, Shelley, William Blake, Wordsworth and many more in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:
- The Book of Wisdom
- The Sword and The Lotus
- Returning to the Source
- Light on the Path
- The Secret
- The Hidden Splendour
- The New Dawn
- Beyond Enlightenment
- From Bondage to Freedom
- The Golden Future
- Take It Easy, Vol 1
- The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, Vol 4, 5
- Theologia Mystica