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Bondage, freedom and fear of death || Acharya Prashant, on Yogavasishtha (2016)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
15 min
51 reads

आज्ञाभयसंशयात्मगुणसङ्कल्पो बन्धः ।

ājñābhayasaṁśayātmaguṇasaṅkalpō bandhaḥ

Bondage is to imagine that Ātman has qualities like doubts, fear, etc.

~ Niralamba Upanishad, Verse 25

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Acharya Prashant (AP): “Bondage is to imagine that Ātman has qualities like doubts or fear etc. Bondage is to imagine that Ātman has doubt or fear.”

We live in doubt, we live in fear, right? And when we live in doubt and when we live in fear, we say, “ I am in doubt,” or, “ I am fearful.” We feel certain that the state of doubt or fear is really our own internal state. We do not think of doubt, fear, and all mental states as external superpositions; we proudly, and with great certainty, internalize them. We do not even say, “Doubt is coming to me”; we do not even say, “I am experiencing fear.” We simply say, “I am afraid.”

The sage is saying:

When you are experiencing any of these mental states, you must know that the experiencer is not you because the Ātman cannot experience them.

That’s what the verse is saying. “Bondage is to associate Ātman with fear, doubt, etc.”

But you do have fear, doubt, which means: When you have fear and doubt, then the experiencer is not the Ātman . You have to read it from the other side. The Rishi is saying, “ Ātman cannot have fear and doubt that we live in; therefore, we do not live in Ātman .”

We live in fear and doubt, hence we do not live in the Ātman . You have to start from your own immediate reality. Your own immediate reality is not Ātman ; your immediate reality is the ego-driven mind. And the ego-driven mind keeps experiencing these things: comparisons, fear, jealousy, insecurity, happiness, sadness, regrets, hope, fear, certainty, doubt. When you are experiencing these things, then there is no need to attest these things as internal or Ātmic .

So, these are just experiences. You need not even say so much; all you need to do is not label these states as yours. You may say these are the states of the mind. You need not actively disown these states; it is enough to not own them up. It is not really needed that you say, “Oh, the one who is afraid is not me.” That is not really needed; it’s an overdoing. What you need to refrain from is: “The afraid one is me.” Don’t say this.

You need not say, “The afraid one is not me.” You just need to refrain from saying, “I am afraid,” or, “The afraid one is me.”

So, it’s a very useful thing the student has been delivered. You will always be in some mental state or the other. Whatever be your mental state, let it remain just mental, not internal; just mental. Indirectly, what you are saying is that the mind itself is not my inner self; therefore, all states mental are not internal.

Why do we lose touch with Ātman ? We lose touch with Ātman because we manufacture a false Ātman for ourselves. What is the false Ātman ? It is the ego-self. So, that we start calling as ‘me’. And if that is me, why do you need another me, the real me? If you already have a proxy Ātman , why do you need the real Ātman ?

Things happen to you in the mental domain and you are quick to assert that those things are happening in your innermost domain. Things of the mind you very strongly assert as things of the Heart, don’t you? If things of the mind can be easily called things of the Heart, why do you need the Heart at all? The mind suffices.

The sage is cautioning: Let the mind remain the mind, else the mind is very eager to substitute for the Ātman . In fact, that is the ego’s top fantasy: “I am not the ego!” If you ask the ego, “What is it that you really fancy?” the ego says, “I want to come to a point where I can say, ‘I am not the ego’!” Then who are you? “I am the Truth!” That’s what the ego really craves for; all it wants is a change of name. “Can you avoid calling me the ego, please?” And go to the ego and say, “Hello ego!” and it just turns back with the sharp rebuke: “Ego kisko bola re (whom did you call the ego)?”

That’s what the ego finds so humiliating: being called by its real name! (Chuckles)

Why live that kind of a life where if your real name, real identity is exposed, it is a humiliation? Why live that kind of life in the first place? But strange are our ways. Firstly, we chose to live a life of humiliation; firstly, we chose to live a life that we are ourselves quite ashamed of, and then we want not to be called out.

We want to live as ego, and we want to be called as Truth. That's our desire. The Rishi is puncturing such plans. He is saying, “See, son, whenever you find these mental states, know that it is not the Ātman , it is the ego.”

And the ego squirms. The ego just didn’t like these words. “No, but even the Ātman can feel angry, can’t it? When it’s so human! Come on, you’re turning him into a machine or what? You are taking away his humanness! Let the little boy live! You’re telling him that he can’t be angry, he can’t be attached. But if he can’t be angry, can’t be attached, then isn’t he as good as dead? I mean, isn’t it a most humanly thing to be possessive?”

When your teacher is such a rascal, he is telling you that if you are attached or attracted to the other gender then it is not Ātman , then it is not coming from the Heart, it is coming from the glands—but no! “National Ego Rights Commision, we will complain against this sage! He gives no respect to attachment, possessiveness, weakness, and such things. I mean, I might be weak, but am I not allowed to be the way I want to be? I might be disgusting, but don’t I have the freedom to choose? Who are you to impose terms upon me, Mr. Sage? My life, my rules!”

Now you know why it’s so difficult to come up with the Upanishads today. Now you know why there was a certain era, a certain ecosystem, in which the Upanishads were composed.

Enough for today? No questions from anywhere? Have I turned so boring? (Chuckles)

Is the last one absolutely clear?

Fear or doubt or greed, they persist, they prevail because you honor them with internalization, because you attest them as real.

The trick that the sage is suggesting is: the moment you see these things, call them out as fake. You tell them that “You’re not real, you’re fake, and if you’re fake, why should I respect you?” And all mental states are not Ātman , none of them are. Therefore, all of them are fake. The moment you call them as fake, you are free.

And obviously it doesn’t mean that you have to call others’ anger or others’ fears and doubts as fake. Before that, you have to call your own doubts and fears and such things as fake: “It really doesn’t exist at all,” or, “It exists only to the mind. It does not exist to me.” Even the last sentence is redundant. You need not say, “It does not exist to me.” It is enough to realize and declare, “All these things exist only to the mind.” Full stop. “All these things exist only to the mind. Only to the mind.”

In using the word ‘only’, you have highlighted the limits of all these thoughts and emotions. They exist only to the mind, so they are limited in the domain of the mind. And in using the word ‘only’, you have also indirectly emphasized that you are beyond the mind. “I cannot honor you, you are fake. I cannot let in you. You are an alien. How do I let an alien in?” Whereas, if you say, “Oh! All these things are happening to me,” then you let the guards down and become very vulnerable to them. When you refuse to grant them entry, you actually refuse to grant them energy.

These thoughts and emotions and instincts, they carry very little energy of their own. It is association with the ‘I’ that delivers tremendous energy to them. Don’t associate them with ‘I’, and you starve these things of energy. Then they will come, hang around for a while, and fall off. So, “Fear came and loitered for a while, but I didn’t say, ‘I am afraid,’ and slowly the fear simply disappeared because it couldn’t manage to draw energy from me.”

And energy, you must remember, comes from identification. If there is just fear, fear will not carry energy. But if you say, “I am afraid,” then fear gains all your energy, like a parasite that lives within you thriving upon your blood, your energy. It doesn’t have much of its own.

So, very handy words to always remember:

No mental state can be associated with Ātman.

Questioner (Q): So, we understand that the scriptures will help us move away from all the mud and everything that is from the gutter. At the same time, we say that as the ego, the intention would always be the continuation of matters and the gratification of our desires. Considering these two things, whenever somebody would come to a scripture they would come seeking gratification, yet the idea is that the scripture would show you the futility of your search, but that doesn’t happen. So, what...

AP: No, no. Not all want liberation in the first place. Mostly, the scriptures are just misused. If you find the scriptures failing on someone, know that the scriptures have just been misused. The scriptures cannot fail. They can be made to fail, however, because the very intention was to not let them succeed.

The ego is a pleasure hunter; it is looking for entertainment all the time. When many other forms of entertainment fail, then the ego says, “Fine, let me try this kind of so-called pious entertainment, spiritual entertainment.” So, it comes to the scriptures—and it’s a nice thing, I mean, you gain some respectability also, you gain some knowledge also. But gaining respectability or knowledge or a fit body is very different from gaining liberation. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that the set of people who ever benefited from a teacher or a book in the real sense has been very small, irrespective of the age, the place, the country: because very few people in the first place want the Truth.

And now you’ll understand why the scriptures themselves impose tough conditions. They say, “Unless you meet these criteria, do not come to us. Otherwise, you will come in the way of harm.” Meeting those criteria is very important. That burning desire to have nothing but realization and freedom is absolutely necessary; otherwise, you’ll just misuse and defame the scriptures.

Even borderline cases might be given the benefit of doubt. What do I mean by borderline case? It is not exactly clear whether this fellow wants liberation or not; his resolve vacillates. But if you have an outrightly hopeless case—the fellow has no feeling at all for a free life and yet this fellow is entering the practice of yoga—then you must know that this thing is not going to work. This fellow would meet disappointment, and the practice of yoga or the practice of scriptures would meet infamy.

Great teachers in the past never had 50,000 students. It used to be a select group: 10, 20, maybe 100, maybe a 1000 over their entire lifetime, and then from these 1000 would emerge many more capable teachers. So, if you find a lot of people these days saying that it doesn’t work for them, it is because a lot of people are coming to the scriptures or spirituality without firstly having done their homework, without firstly meeting the eligibility criteria.

And just to clarify, the eligibility criteria is not genetic or birth-based. We are not talking of foolish things like people of only one caste being eligible to read the scriptures. It is obvious that we are not endorsing such stupidities here. We are talking of being internally eligible.

Have you had the inner discipline? Have you worked out internally? Have you paid the price? It is with that kind of a preparation that you must reach the scriptures and then the scriptures speak to you. Otherwise, it is mere words you would find, no resonance. At most, you will find a translation: the word is there, and your mind translates it into a more favorable or comfortable language. But there is no resonance; the thing doesn’t immediately strike a cord; you don’t immediately reach the very point from where those words are coming. At most, you receive the words; you don’t receive the sender of the words. And if you can’t receive the one these words are coming from, then there is no point just dabbling in words.

Words are not the end. They are the means to carry you somewhere else. And you won’t be prepared to go to that place if you don’t have a particular yearning. You do not want to cross the river, and the best of the boatmen are coming to you with great offers, one after the other. Will you cross the river? You don’t want to cross the river! At most, you are a tourist.

You have gone to Varanasi. You just want to see how the flow of the river looks; you have no intention of crossing over. And the boatmen are great, and the boats are reliable and time-tested. You just don’t want to cross over. In fact, you are feeling irritated: “Why are these fellows bugging me one after the other?” That's the reason. I asked, “ Chaiye kya ?” and you say, as you say to those boatmen, “ Nahi chaiye baba !”

Most people go to spirituality as they go to Varanasi, you know, just to have a good time and click some good pics, and the ārti (religious ritual) etc. are great visual treats. You feel entertained.

Rare is the one who wants to cross over. No boatmen will physically pick you and haul you up to the boat and forcefully dump you the other side. Even if there happens to be such a compassionate or obstinate or unreasonable boatman, you won’t stay on the other side. The same boat that can take you to that side can also bring you back to this side. You will somehow find a way to return. Believe me, I have done that dozens of times! I have forcefully hauled people to the other side, and when for a minute I sit down to catch some breath and get rid of the sweat, I just raise my head to see that the fellow is already on the return flight!

(Laughter)

And with great labor you had carried him, and with great patience, because as you are carrying him to that side he was all the time abusing and cursing you and threatening to launch an FIR. So, running all these risks you carry him, only to find that in no time there is a recoil. So, it doesn’t help.

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