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Beware the cult of 'The present moment' and 'mindfulness'
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
14 min
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Questioner (Q): How can we, in daily life, go closer to the Truth? Is that through sitting, walking, working, meditation, by living mindfully in the present moment? Isn’t mindfulness taught by the Buddha himself?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Which Buddha are you referring to (asking the questioner)? The Buddha of the West's construction, the Buddha of the neo-spiritualists and neo-advaitins, the newness movement, the mindfulness movement? Which Buddha are you referring to? Show me where is Buddha talking of mindfulness? Show me. It is a cult, it is an extremely foolish, but dangerous cult, ‘the cult of mindfulness’. Please be very very cautious of it. In the name of mindfulness, at worst, you can get caught in a universe projected by your own mind, and at best, you will start concentrating on the things that your mind likes or dislikes.

No scripture ever talks of the present moment. Never, never. It is a fake spiritual philosophy emanating from industrial roots. It is driven by nothing but escapism and consumerism. It is both ineffective and impractical. And it is dishonest to boot.

If you are the one, who has been living a debauched life, how will the burden of your past not haunt you?

Because you are still that same person. But in the name of ‘present moment’, and ‘living in the now’, you are taught to disown the past. In the name of disowning the past, you try to disown all the bills that you owe, all the bills that you need to settle, all the dirt that needs to be cleaned. You can try to disown, but that won’t happen. That’s why I am saying it is ineffective and impractical and because you don’t want to settle your bills, so I am calling it dishonest.

The only way to disown your past is to not remain the same person anymore that you were in the past. But that’s not what mindfulness or present-momentists talk of. They will never talk of surrender or devotion. They will not say ‘give yourself up’. They will just say ‘live in the present moment.’

How can you live in the present moment? This very body is a carryover from the past.

All that you are carrying in your pocket is coming from the past. Give it up. Why don’t you? If you want to live, just live in ‘the now'. Please empty the pocket. But even the founding patriarch of the ‘nowness movement’ would not empty his pockets. In fact, his pockets are bursting from the seams. So much of royalty he has earned from ‘now-ness’.

You can not give up the past. There are only two ways – either settle all the bills that you owe or die completely. No third way is possible. The third way is of dishonesty, the third way is of living in the now. When you say “I want to live in the present moment”, why do you want to discard the past? Were the past great for you, would you want to discard it? Why do people want to live in the now? Because the past haunts. And if the past haunts, surely there are bills to be settled. That’s why it haunts.

The only honest way is - settle the bills or die. Because if you are dead, then nobody would come to you with the bills. But neither do you want an honest settlement of the bills nor are you prepared for a spiritual-psychological death. That spiritual-psychological death is called freedom from the ego. You won’t be prepared for that. Instead, you just want to deny yourself the memories. It’s selective amnesia. Selective and obviously, fraudulent amnesia, like someone who forgets only the dislikable things, the creditors – “Oh! I am so forgetful. But I don’t forget the ones I have to extract money from. I only forget the ones I have to pay money to." That kind of forgetfulness is the ‘now-ness movement’.

And there are so many roaming around – “Just live in the now man, and chill. Why do you have to worry about the future?” You must worry about the future. Why must you not? Given what you are, you must worry about the future. The Saints have kept singing of death and how 'the buffalo man’ (in Hindu mythology, the God of Death is represented riding on a buffalo) will take you away. Are they not referring to the future? Tell me. You must know what the future of your bodily organism is. And why must you worry about the future? – Because you do worry about the future. Since you do keep thinking of the future, so the Saints tell you “In the future lies death”. But here are the ‘now-ness people’. It’s the credit card industry, "Forget the future, just swipe it, man! And forget that you have to settle the bill". Only the credit card companies will benefit. As I said, it is driven by industrial and financial concerns. They want you to consume and a lot of consumption is happening in the name of ‘now-ness’. "Enjoy the moment! Go with the flow!" What is that flow? Where is it coming from? Why should I go with it? Why don’t you just pause and ask which flow are we talking of? Go with the flow! The tsunamis are coming to take you away. And the great master is teaching you “go with the flow!” And so much of it is happening in the name of ‘Buddhism’. A lot of these southeast Asian Buddhist monks and so many of them are teaching only this thing – mindfulness, moving with the flow, present moment. Hah! Shaven heads! Kabir Sahib had some generous advice for these shaven heads. What was it? He said that “If by shaving your hair you could attain liberation, then the sheep would have been liberated long back. Why don’t you rather shave off all the nonsense that is there in the mind, not over the head?”.

“Kesho Kahan bigadiye jo munde sau baar, man ko kahe na mundte ja me bhare bikar.”

Be very cautious of these fads. Sometimes they present you naked falsenesses and sometimes they present you half-truths. And the half-truth is worse than falseness. The monk who sold his Ferrari! (And bought a private jet. That’s what they will not tell). Beware of the private jet monks.

I have recounted that horrible incident no less than five to seven times, and it still haunts me. You know I am not free of the past. I was in Pondicherry. It’s morning time. And there was this westerner lady, and she was walking on the grass, the lawn and she was taking one step at a time. So she will take one step and pause and then very slowly she will raise her leg and keep it on the grass, and then she will again raise her leg and keep it on the grass. And like this, she was trying to walk. I watched it for 5-10 minutes. Then with very ignorant curiosity, I approached and said, "Ma'am, what are you trying to do?" She said, “I am practicing mindfulness. I want to keep each step mindfully”. I said, "This will make you go mad. What all will you do mindfully?" She said, “No, all these things happen in a flow. We must break the flow. Mindfulness means you must be aware of every bit of the action. So you break it. All those things that happen in a flow, must be stopped and broken down into their tiny bits.” I felt like asking, "How about urination? Will it now happen drop by drop?" But that would have been against spiritual decency. What is this “Be mindful”? There are those who say, “When you are eating, take it slowly and then focus on each and every movement of the jaw.” To hell with you! Here is my golgappa and there it goes. They have never come to India. In Indore, they never went to ‘Sarafa bazaar’ . They do not know the sheer pleasure of just devouring it in. Can you take in a golgappa like that, mindfully?

All that they are teaching is ‘concentration’. They are not saying, “Please see who is walking. Please see why she is walking at all.” That they will not teach. They will say, "When you are walking, focus on each step, even if you are walking towards the graveyard, even if you are walking towards your own end, keep each step mindfully." The one basic spiritual question that there is, that they will never ask. Who? What? Why? That they will not ask. And it gratified the ego greatly. You know, I am sipping this (a glass of water), mindfully. I experience the water go down my throat then reach the stomach. Why not after that? Why are you stopping?

Q: They are taking pleasure.

AP: It’s all experiential. You want to prolong and deepen the experience.

Q: Mindfulness and consciousness both are the same thing?

AP: The same thing. And quite closely related to this, is the practice of ‘tantric methods’. A lot of that is also about ‘mindful sex'. Be very mindful. They will not say, "Why the hell does this thing exists?" They will not say, "Who is the one eager to copulate?" They will not say, "What does it do to the one who is eager?" Those things are not to be asked. They will just say, “You know, when you are doing it, be mindful.” And what does being mindful mean? - Being more conscious.

Spirituality is the transcendence of consciousness. Spirituality is to see that all elements of consciousness are in the same dimension and are not to be taken seriously. Mindfulness makes you take everything seriously. Even a simple act like walking is now being taken very seriously. Spirituality gives you the freedom to fly in abandon, fly without any mindfulness, zero mindfulness. What is happening, is just happening. I don’t need to be mindful. Mindfulness is such a curse, such a burden. Am I mindful as I speak? – Not at all! In fact, my being is the biggest proof against mindfulness. I speak, Shirin (Questioner), as I do right now to you, with zero mindfulness. I do not know what I am speaking or whether I am barking. I have no mindfulness. My hands do not move on my command. What is this thing about doing it rightly? I am not the doer. What is this thing about walking carefully? I have no cares, I only have abandon. I am not mindful about anything. And this is mysticism.

And the West is mighty scared of mysticism. Their spirituality is just timid psychology; psychology, that is so very afraid, it cannot step out of its sanitized enclosures. I come from India and my spirituality is that of the Himalayan jungles. No enclosures there, no safety there, no promises there, no sanctuary there, no mindfulness there. Pure fearless wandering, without bothering to inquire what is going on.

"*Mala phirun na jap karun mukh se kahun na ram, sumiran mera hari kare mein paaun vishram.*” ~Saint Kabir

Where is mindfulness in this? Where is mindfulness? Neither do I practice with the rosary, the beads, nor do I practice remembrance (jap), I do not even utter the name of Ram from my mouth. I don’t bother to remember anything. What mindfulness? I am not mindful of anything. The Lord takes care of me. I do not remember the Lord, the Lord remembers me. I just relax. This is spirituality. Spirituality is relaxation. Mindfulness is taxation. It burdens you. Are you getting it?

Q: Breathing mindfully!

AP: Breathing mindfully. What else? Why limit yourself to only one bodily process ‘breathing mindfully'? I dare urinating mindfully; especially when the bladder is about to burst. Try holding it. Hold it, then drop it. Hold it, then drop it. And then you will realize what a pain this mindfulness thing is. It should happen drop by drop, try. Or ejaculating mindfully! Half a drop by half a drop, try. I suspect the hidden motive is to pain the practitioner so much that he just drops out of himself. Then, this mindfulness is a great practice. If you just want to trouble the practitioner, then this is great. You know, bathing mindfully, drop by drop. One drop at a time, then another drop. All the women should practice this, especially the ones with long hair. One drop at a time and be mindful, now one drop, one more drop, then another drop; that will be the last bath you will take. Now, you are liberated from all kinds of purification.

I repeat, in the greatest traditions of spirituality, the saints have always asked you to remember your past and also never forget the future. Kabir Sahab goes to the extent of reminding you how you were when in the mother’s womb. He said, "You remember? In the mother’s womb, your head was pointing downwards." In the sense that you were a little humble. "Your feet were up and the head was down. And now that you are born, your head is so stiff." What is he asking to remember, if not the past?

In fact, you talked of Buddha (addressing the questioner). What are the ‘Jataka tales’ ? What are the ‘Jatak Katha , tell me? What are they? They are the stories of the hundreds of past lives of the Buddha. He remembered not only his past years of this life but also all the previous lives. Surely, he was not mindful. Surely, the now-ness movement would not have agreed with the Buddha. He not only remembered all the past lives but also narrated them, got them chronicled. And now they are of tremendous use to everybody.

I am not advising that you must stick to the past. But I am telling you that you cannot escape away dishonestly from the past. There are, I would repeat now, only two ways to unburden yourself of the past – settle your bills, close the loop, which are the same thing, or die. Die, not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense. Die to the past. But if you want to remain alive to the past and still act as if the past doesn’t exist, then you are just being crudely dishonest. It won’t work.

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