The Lamp Post
One dark night two men met on a lonely road.
‘I am looking for a shop near here, which is called The Lamp Shop,’ said the first man.
‘I happen to live near here, and I can direct you to it, ‘ said the second man.
‘I should be able to find it by myself. I have been given the directions, and I have written them down,’ said the first man.
‘Then why are you talking to me about it?’
‘So, you want company, not directions?’
‘Yes, I suppose that that is what it is.’
‘But it would be easier for you to take further directions from a local resident, having got so far; especially because from here onwards it is difficult.’
‘I trust what I have already been told, which has brought me thus far. I cannot be sure that I can trust anything or anyone else.’
‘So, although you once trusted the original informant, you have not been taught a means of knowing whom you can trust?’
‘That is so.’
‘Have you any other aim?’
‘No, just to find the Lamp shop.’
‘May I ask why you seek a lamp shop?’
‘Because I have been told on the highest authority that that is where they supply certain devices which enable a person to read in the dark.’
‘You are correct, but there is a prerequisite, and also a piece of information. I wonder whether you have given them any thought.’
‘What are they?’
‘The prerequisite to reading by means of a lamp is that you can already read.’
‘You cannot prove that!’
‘Certainly not on a dark night like this.’
‘What is the “piece of information”?’
‘The piece of information is that the Lamp Shop is still where it always was, but that the lamps themselves have been moved somewhere else.’
‘I do not know what a “lamp” is, but it seems obvious to me that the Lamp Shop is the place to locate such a device. That is, after all, why it is called a Lamp Shop.’
‘But a “Lamp Shop” may mean “A place where lamps may be obtained”, or it could mean “A place where lamps were once obtained but which now has none”.’
‘You probably have an ulterior motive, sending me off to some other shop. Or perhaps you do not want me to have a lamp at all.’
‘I am worse than you think. I want to find out if you could read at all. I want to see whether a lamp shop exists where you are going. I want to see whether you can have your lamp in another way suited to you.’
The two men looked at each other, sadly, for a moment. Then each went his way.
Idries Shah, Tales of the Dervishes
Acharya Prashant: To make things simpler at the outset itself, let it be clear that the one coming to seek the lamp shop, is a seeker full of knowledge. A seeker from a distant land, who does not belong really to the land of meditativeness. Knowledge has brought him to the boundary of the land of meditativeness, but cannot take him any further ahead. On the boundary, he meets this second person who is a teacher, who is the resident of this second land, who belongs there.
So, one of the first things that this teacher asks this knowledgeable seeker is, that, ‘you have come so far, having read some book that told you that you must search for lamps in a lamp shop that is thus located. But has the book also told you, how to find the one who will take you to the lamps? And if your book does not tell you ‘that,’ then your book is useless. He says, ‘‘has your book taught you, whom to trust? Has your book given you the eyes to figure out the real teacher?’’
He says, ‘‘No. But I do not need that, I will do it on my own.’’ He says, ‘‘So, why do you want a lamp shop?’’ He says, ‘‘So that I can have lamps.’’
And what would you use them for?
But to read in the light of a lamp, you must first know how to read. Otherwise, what would a lamp do?
What is a lamp shop? What is a lamp?
The lamp shop is a situation in which the Truth once descended. It could be a place, it could be a tribe, it could be a particular situation or time. It could be Mathura, it could be Jerusalem, it could be the Mecca or the Madina. Getting it?
Lamp shop is the situation, lamp shop is the place; and lamp is the light.
He says it is not possible that the lamp shop is still where it used to be. And obviously, the lamp shop will continue to be, where it was. Places do not change. Mathura is still there. Ayodhya is still there. But, is the light still there? Is there Krishna anywhere in Mathura? So, the lamp shop is still there, but the lamps are now found somewhere else. And you would be a total idiot if you would be still looking for the Truth in Mathura. It’s like looking for lamps in a lamp shop that no more stocks lamps. So, it is written very pithily there that the lamp shop is still there but the lamps have moved someplace else.
How do you know a lamp?
You know a lamp, not by the lamp shop, but by the light.
Where the light is, there the lamp is.
It is not necessary that where the lamp shop is, there the lamp is. But because we do not really have the eyes to see light, we live by heuristics. We live by the past and symbols. We say because the lamp was once found in this shop, hence it is quite likely it would again be found here. Because, the Himalayas used to be the place, where once Saints and Rishis entered their meditativeness. So, even today, if you are seeking meditation, you straight away go to the Himalayas. You don’t even consider the possibility that the lamps are now no more in the Himalayas, they are somewhere else. You will not consider that!
Are you getting it? So you see, how the whole story has been constructed?
Sufis were Masters, not only at healing people but also at building stories. They were excellent story-makers and story-tellers. The teacher, says to this newcomer, ‘‘won’t you want the help of an insider? All your life, you have been wanting to come to the lamp, and I belong to the country of the lamps. I belong to this place, where lamps are found. Won’t you want to take my help?’’
He says, ‘‘No. I will manage on the basis of my knowledge. I am so knowledgeable, I do not need a teacher.’’ He says, ‘‘your book has brought you till this point, but it can’t take you any further!’’
I am sure there are other telling sentences as well, in the story. If you can figure out some, then we will speak on them.
L: Is it also possible that these two men are one only?
AP: Yes, you could say it’s the ‘Ego’ and the ‘Self.’
L: Yes! That duality is depicting.
AP: It is not duality.
The Self and the Ego are not the two ends of duality.
It’s non-duality talking to duality.
L: Acharya Ji, this one is also good. So, he thinks, “You probably have an ulterior motive. Perhaps you want to send me to some other shop! Or perhaps you do not want me to have a lamp at all.”
That is what happens when a teacher exposes the falseness of one’s existing religion. When the teacher exposes the falseness of one’s existing motivations!
The teacher says you know, the route that you are taking will lead you deeper into darkness.
And what is the immediate conclusion that the mind draws? The mind says, he does not want me to go there, it means that he wants me to come to him. He is telling me that all those shops are false. And that surely proves that he wants me to come to his own shop. That is a quick suspicion, rather conclusion, that the mind jumps into.
L: Then this last one is also very nice.
“I am worse than you think. I want to find out whether you can read at all. I want to see whether a lamp shop exists where you are going. I want to see whether you can have your lamp in another way, suited to you.”
You will not have your lamp, where your forefathers found their lamp. You will have to find your lamp using your own eyes.
And the only mark of lamp is, Light. Don’t disregard the Light. The Light is the only proof of the lamp.
L: When he is asking that whether you can read at all?
Does it mean that one is worthy enough or not?
AP: Yes, that’s what.
All said and done, Lamp is external, even the light of the lamp is external. Reading is Light internalize no even internalize, reading is the Light within. You can take reading as the Light within. Which helps you see. Seeing has been depicted as reading here. Both are done with the eyes, right? So, seeing has been depicted as reading here. Even if you get a lamp, and you are blind, how does the lamp help you. Same is the intention when it is said, that even if you get a lamp and you can’t read; how will the lamp help you read?
L: And then the last sentence, “then each went his way.”
AP: That is the classical story of mankind.
L: Is there ego in playing here, “I know, I have the knowledge..”
AP: There is only ego at play. What else is the story all about? How the ego encounters the Truth and still ignores it. How the prospective disciple encounters the teacher and still ignores him.
This is nothing but a story about the Ego, of the Ego. And please see that even the ego is searching for light but at the wrong places! And that’s the very definition of ego.
Searching for Truth, but in the wrong way, and at the wrong places, and from the wrong center. That is what the ego does.
It wants light. The ego too wants light. But it won’t get it.
L: Maybe ego wants to fulfill its own ego by seeing that I am searching for the light?
AP: The ego wants the light in its own preferred way. I know where the light would be. Where would I find the light? At that particular lamp shop that “I” have been instructed by “my” preferred book, to go.
So, everything has to be as per?
L: My wish
AP: I will not surrender to the Truth. I will not surrender to the Light. I will not say, that the lamp is, where the Light is. I will say that the lamp must be where my knowledge is. If my knowledge says that the lamp will be found in that shop, the lamp must be found there. I will not be open. I will not be receptive. I will not really see. I will depend more on what I have heard and have been handed over.
L: Is it not possible that both of the sources, the first one that has given him the direction towards the light and then second one who is cross-checking whether you are going to the same lamp shop or not, are the same?
AP: They are the same.
The scripture’s final aim is to bring you to the living scripture.
He has read from a book. And if the book is really a worthy book, the book will bring him to the living book who can take him ahead.
That is why he taunts him. That your book has taught you so much but has it not taught you whom to Trust? If your book, is really a worthy book, it will also tell you, how to find a living teacher.
L: Acharya Ji, when we see, that even ego is powered by Truth, then there is no need to Trust anything else.
AP: At least is something is bigger than the ego? This much you see? Now, the ego is alright.
-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity
Watch the session: Acharya Prashant on a Sufi Story: The Lamp shop
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