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It’s a Jewish story. It is tremendously significant — it is about a man:
He was always sleepy. And always ready to sleep. Everywhere. At the biggest mass meetings, at all the concerts, at every important convention, he could be seen sitting asleep.
You must have known that man because you are that. And you must have come across that man many, many times, because how can you avoid him? — it is you.
And he slept in every conceivable and inconceivable pose. He slept with his elbows in the air and his hands behind his head. He slept standing up, leaning against himself so that he should not fall down. He slept in the theater, in the streets, in the synagogue. Wherever he went, his eyes would drip with sleep.
Had he been a Hindu he could have even slept standing on his head in shirshasan. I have seen Hindus sleeping that way. Many yogis become efficient in sleeping standing on their head. It is difficult, arduous; it needs great practice — but it happens.
Neighbors used to say that he had already slept through seven big fires, and once, at a really big fire, he was carried out of his bed, still asleep, and put down on the sidewalk. In this way he slept for several hours until a patrol came along and took him away.
It was said that when he was standing under the wedding canopy and reciting the vows, “Thou art to me….” he fell asleep at the word ‘sanctified’ — try to remember him — and they had to beat him over the head with brass pestles for several hours to wake him up. And he slowly said the next word and again fell asleep.
Remember your own wedding ceremony. Remember your honeymoon. Remember your marriage. Have you ever been awake? Have you ever missed any opportunity where you could have fallen asleep? You have always fallen asleep.
We mention all this so that you may believe the following story about our hero.
Once, when he went to sleep, he slept and slept and slept; but in his sleep it seemed to him that he heard thunder in the streets and his bed was shaking somewhat; so he thought in his sleep that it was raining outside, and as a result his sleep became still more delicious. He wrapped himself up in his quilt and in its warmth.
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Do you remember how many times you have interpreted things through your sleep? Do you remember sometimes you have fixed the alarm clock, and when it goes off you start dreaming that you are in the church and the bells are ringing. A trick of the mind to avoid the alarm, to avoid the disturbance that the alarm is creating.
When he awoke he saw a strange void: his wife was no longer there, his bed was no longer there, his quilt was no longer there. He wanted to look through the window, but there was no window to look through. He wanted to run down the three flights and yell ‘Help!’ but there were no stairs to run on and no air to yell in. And when he wanted merely to go out of doors, he saw that there was no out of doors. Everything evaporated!
For a while he stood there in confusion unable to comprehend what had happened. But afterward he bethought himself: I will go to sleep. He saw, however, that there was no longer any earth to sleep on. Only then did he raise two fingers to his forehead and reflect: Apparently I have slept through the end of the world. Isn’t that a fine how-do-you-do?
He became depressed. No more world, he thought. What will I do without a world? Where will I go to work, how will I make a living, especially now that the cost of living is so high and a dozen eggs costs a dollar twenty and who knows if they are even fresh, and besides, what will happen to the five dollars the gas company owes me? And where has my wife gone off to? Is it possible that she too has disappeared with the world, and with the thirty dollars’ pay I had in my pockets? And she is not by nature the kind that disappears, he thought to himself.
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You will also think that way one day if you suddenly find the world has disappeared. You don’t know what else to think. You will think about the cost of eggs, the office, the wife, the money. You don’t know what else to think about. The whole world has disappeared! — but you have become mechanical in your thinking.
And what will I do if I want to sleep? What will I stretch out on if there isn’t any world? And maybe my back will ache? And who will finish the bundle of work in the shop? And suppose I want a glass of malted, where will I get it? Eh, he thought, have you ever seen anything like it? A man should fall asleep with the world under his head and wake up without it!
This is going to happen one day or other — that’s what happens to every man when he dies. Suddenly, the whole world disappears. Suddenly he is no longer part of this world; suddenly he is in another dimension. This happens to every man who dies, because whatsoever you have known is just the peripheral. When you die, suddenly your periphery disappears — you are thrown to your center. And you don’t know that language. And you don’t know anything about the center. It looks like void, empty. It feels like just a negation, an absence.
As our hero stood there in his underwear, wondering what to do, a thought occurred to him: To hell with it! So there isn’t any world! Who needs it anyway? Disappeared is disappeared — I might as well go to the movies and kill some time. But to his astonishment he saw that, together with the world, the movies had also disappeared.
A pretty mess I’ve made here, thought our hero, and began smoothing his moustache. A pretty mess I’ve made here, falling asleep! If I hadn’t slept so soundly, hc taunted himself, I would have disappeared along with everything else. This way I’m unfortunate, and where will I get a malted? I love a glass in the morning. And my wife? Who knows who she’s disappeared with? If it is with the presser from the top floor, I’ll murder her, so help me God.
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Who knows how late it is?
With these words our hero wanted to look at his watch but couldn’t find it. He searched with both hands in the left and right pockets of the infinite emptiness but could find nothing to touch.
I just paid two dollars for a watch and here it’s already disappeared, he thought to himself. All right. If the world went under, it went under. That I don’t care about. It isn’t my world. But the watch! Why should my watch go under? A new watch. Two dollars. It wasn’t even wound.
And where will I find a glass of malted? There’s nothing better in the morning than a glass of malted. And who knows if my wife..I’ve slept through such a terrible catastrophe, I deserve the worst. Help, help, he-e-e-lp! Where are my brains? Where were my brains before? Why didn’t I keep an eye on the world and my wife? Why did I let them disappear when they were still so young?
And our hero began to beat his head against the void, but since the void was a very soft one it didn’t hurt him and he remained alive to tell the story.
Moral: This is a story of human mind as such. You create a world around you of illusions. You go on getting attached to things which are not going to be with you when you die. You go on being identified with things which are going to be taken away from you.
The Great Sleep – Philosophical Stories
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