I love the story that theoretical physicist Dr. Amit Goswami told during his conversation with Joe Rogan. Rogan was ranting about the poseurs who get into spiritual practices like yoga and meditation to impress others (the guys do it to get laid), saying these people give the practices a bad name. When Rogan had finished, Goswami calmly said, “I’ll tell you a story. It’s a Hindu teaching story.” [What follows is my paraphrase.]
A young thief visits a spiritual master. At the end of their visit, the master says, “You can stay with me, no problem.” During the first night, the thief is stealing the master’s stuff. The master opens his eyes and says, “Did you remember to take everything? Because I really don’t need that stuff over there either. You can take that too.”
Caught red-handed, the thief is surprised that the master’s not calling the authorities, that he’s not even angry. His curiosity aroused, the thief asks the master, “Why aren’t you angry that I’m stealing your stuff? “Well,” says the master, “Why should I be? I don’t really need this stuff, so if you want it you can have it.” The thief says, “Since you don’t mind my stealing it, and I can take it anytime I want, why don’t I stay with you a few days, watch your methods, see what you do, and then I can take the stuff away at the end of the week. The master says, “Oh, sure, fine. Stay with me.”
The thief stays the week. He observes the master and starts doing some of the practices. By going along with the master, imitating his practices and faking being serious, the thief expects to vastly increase his stealing capacity: because he’ll impress people by appearing to be a spiritual man, he will have access to more houses, and he’ll be able to steal more. This was his original intention, and why he wanted to watch and imitate the master.
But then as he did these practices—meditating, sitting, and talking to people—even after just a few days he started changing. And of course the master knew all the time that this would happen. So at the end of the week, the master says, “Okay, now you take this stuff and leave. Why are you prolonging your stay?” In response, the thief falls to his knees (which in the Hindu tradition is a gesture that symbolizes surrender) and says, “No, I want to learn what makes you you. I’m not interested in stealing the small stuff anymore; I want to steal the stuff that you are made of.”
Goswami then tells the moral of the story, saying that one may begin as a faker or poseur, and end up as something else altogether. We can make use of this fact to help us be patient with people who are faking. Because although the initial intention is superficial, consuming this very wonderful behavior will begin to give the idea that I too can be a producer. It’s not just that I fake, but that by imitating I can produce changes in myself that are profound. This is a good reason to be tolerant of oneself and others who seem to be faking it. Goswami adds that, likewise, he encourages people to use the quantum language, though they have no idea what they are talking about. By using it they may become more curious, learn more, and who knows what they’ll do with it one day? [This concludes my paraphrase.]
This story shows the wisdom of compassion towards the poseurs (who very often include ourselves), since who can predict where faking it might lead? It also shows that our intentions are not always as decisive as we imagine. Our behavior has unintended consequences, in part because practices have a life and power of their own. They can change our minds even if all we were seeking initially was to get laid or steal the master’s stuff. Some people may find this fact unsettling, but on the whole it seems to me we should be grateful. Gods, or quantum consciousness, willing, our destiny may be more profound and noble than we ever intended it to be! The guy who fakes an interest in practicing yoga so that he can get the girl may be led—despite himself!—to become a better, happier human being. Likewise, Dante’s initially earthly love for Beatrice ends up leading him—by one hell of a circuitous route!—all the way to the Paradise of divine love.
Hat tip: The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. (Goswami starts telling the story at 1:46.) You can watch a mind-blowing documentary about Dr. Goswami’s vision of the relation between quantum physics and consciousness.