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Chaos inside is the catastrophe outside || Acharya Prashant, International Psychology Summit (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
14 min
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Questioner (Q): Good evening, sir. Sir, because this conference is on Psychology and Technology, I would like to talk about something that’s very, very close to this. So, there’s a very famous quote by Carl Young, and I’ll use my phone so that I don’t get it wrong. It says, “The gigantic catastrophes that threaten us today are not elemental happenings of a physical or biological order but psychic events. Instead of being at the mercy of wild beasts, earthquakes, landslides, and inundations, modern man is battered by the elemental forces of his own psyche.”

We see this on display around us, everywhere. The manifestations of the psyche in terms of man-made disasters, anthropogenic events, climate change, pollution, Chernobyl, oil spills on the ocean to name just few. So, they’re high-tech events, and they are events of manifestations of psyche—man’s psyche. So, can we fix this? What is the way out?

Acharya Prashant (AP): The way out is the way in. You have named the physical consequences of the psychic events that the Young’s quote is referring to. Those are the physical consequences, but even if those physical consequences, like wars, nuclear disasters, the climate catastrophe, even if they are not visible, the fact is that the inner disaster as a standalone happening in itself is quite catastrophic.

See, we are all messed up within—badly messed up within. The result of this inner chaos is sometimes visible externally as well, but that does not mean that the inner chaos is limited to the external consequence. Even if consequences are not visible, they still are there in a subtle form within. Because physical events, material events, gross events, first of all, they may involve a time lag. Secondly, you might not always be able to detect what is going on till something catastrophic just suddenly erupts.

For example: we do not know for sure how an earthquake builds up. 20, 30, 40 years, two huge tectonic plates keep pushing against each other, and the tension keeps building up, and nothing is visible on the surface—nothing at all, and then one fine day, there is a massive eruption. So, the basic principle of Vedant is that the world is a projection of man’s mind. By man, obviously, we mean mankind, humankind.

So, the world is a projection of the mind, and if the mind is not being taken care of, then the world will obviously be a messy place. Our education, our culture, the way kids are brought up, we are just not looking within. First of all, as we are born, the senses are all designed to look outwards. That’s how our physical configuration is. It’s a very obvious thing, but the obviousness very cutely conceals the deviousness.

You look at the eyes, they are looking only at the world as if the world is an objective reality. The ears can hear only the sounds that are coming to us from the outside. The skin—it touches surfaces; it touches nothing within. And these are the only means through which we gather knowledge, through which we make sense of the world and ourselves. Basically, it means that we cannot make much sense of what is within and who we are, because that’s not how we are designed.

The entire apparatus, you could say, is one-sided; you could even say it’s faulty. So, that’s how we are born to begin with, and then there is the entire education, and upbringing, and conditioning that is founded on the philosophy that the purpose of life is to be happy, and happiness is obtained by external acquisitions. If you are not happy, go somewhere, do something, buy something, eat something, wear something, find somebody to talk to. So, that’s the philosophy that raises us from the kid to the adult. Double whammy! Born defective, and then raised in a very insensible way.

The result is that most of us remain totally oblivious of the environment within, though that’s where we live. Even as we are sitting here, please see, there is this that you are sitting within (referring to the auditorium), but where you are actually living, where each of us lives all his/her life is in the mind; that’s where we live. All experiences are here (referring to mind). This is what matters. If one is given a choice to be in a fabulous external environment but with sickness within, one would not sensibly want to choose that.

On the contrary, if the environment—external environment—is not great, and yet you are joyful within, you’d hardly have any problems with such a situation. So, we have to live within; that’s where our life is; that’s where our location, our situation is, and yet we spend all our time and energy looking at the external world. The problem, as I tried to put it, is at the level of biology and philosophy. Biology produces the kid in a particular way, and our philosophy of parenting, philosophy of education, philosophy of life itself, is so flawed that we totally forget that the child has to live within.

In the psychic sense, the child is not born on this planet, the child takes birth within her own mind, because that’s where we all exist, right? We exist within our minds. Once you have fallen asleep, when you are in deep sleep, do you exist? Somebody else would confirm that you do exist—you’re lying on your bed, but for yourself, your existence has ceased, and that’s all that matters, right? Because we have to live our lives. We don’t have to live our lives as per the experience of somebody else.

So, we are lying on the bed—deeply asleep. Somebody else might be asserting that the fellow exists, but for yourself, do you exist at that moment? You don’t exist. So where is your existence? Your existence is within your own mind. The child is born within her mind. The mind is where our location is. The mind is where our entire life and all our experiences are, and our education does not take us there.

Our education does not address the most important thing that must be addressed. So, more than a decade back, when I used to more frequently address college audiences, I used to say, all your education put together on one side is less valuable than one single course on education of the self—Life Education.

But we are taught of everything. Sciences, Humanities, Languages, Polity — all of that we are well versed in, but in no book, generally, do we find the word ‘self’. The question of identity remains neglected. Yes, I understand, in Neuroscience we take it up, in Psychology we take it up.

First of all, a very small fraction of students opts for these things. Secondly, even if they do opt for these disciplines, that happens only after class twelfth. And thirdly, the question of liberation from suffering, that is not taken up even in these disciplines. Because it’s not sufficient to talk of the psyche, one also has to talk of liberation because that’s what we want. The fundamental human condition is of suffering.

That deserves attention: “How to tackle that problem? What is suffering? Where does it come from, and how to be liberated from it? Is my existence not congruous with, synonymous with suffering? Can I continue to be and yet not suffer?” We don’t take up these questions.

The result is the kind of catastrophe you just talked of, and the irony is it’s still not very visible at the material level. Had it been very visible, then we would have been shaken up and something would have been done. Our indifference, our complacency itself testifies that the full effects of the inner catastrophe are still not externally manifest, so we can afford to remain oblivious, right? But that won’t continue for long, I shudder to think of a situation in which it, in fact, does continue for long. That would mean a world in which everything is more or less all right on the surface, but within, everybody is insane.

Externally, everything is orderly, and within, everything is chaotic. And when insanity becomes universal, then we will call it the norm, and once you call it the norm, then nothing comes as a shock. You don’t even want to discuss chaos or insanity or disorder, because that’s the norm. Something is taken up for discussion, consideration only if it appears unusual, right?

If everybody goes mad, who would talk of madness? In a mad house, nobody is mad, everybody is okay. And we are, I fear, very speedily hurtling towards that kind of situation. And in that situation, you know who’s declared mad? Those who dare to talk of madness, they are the ones labeled mad and lynched.

It’s a very unfortunate capacity that we as human beings have: the capacity to adapt and survive. We can adapt. We can acclimatize, and we can survive even with horrible internal madness. We probably already are doing that. And being insane within, we’ll behave and display as if everything is all right, now where is the question of corrective action? To treat a disease, first of all, one has to acknowledge a disease as disease. How can there be treatment sans diagnosis?

But if disease, I repeat, becomes commonplace, then it is no more called a disease; it’s called being human. It’s a part of our human nature, no? It’s normal. It’s natural, as we say these days. So, you tell someone, “Please, you are being violent. See what you’re doing to the animal.” They’ll say, “No, this is not violence. I’m just being natural. “Oh see, there is a lot of exploitation and lust and greed and possessiveness and, obviously, violence in your relationships.” Pat (21:44 incomprehensible) comes the reply: “But isn’t all that natural?”

So, that’s we are very quickly coming to. All our diseases will be called our nature. Think of the very dimension of the calamity. Your very nature is being displaced. Vedant tells you truth is your nature, joy is your nature, right? “Satcitananda Swabhav”. So realization is your nature, understanding is your nature. Your nature is a state of joyful understanding, and our very nature is being displaced. We are being told that: “Being animalistic is our nature, and if you’ll call that out, we’ll feel offended. You’re shaming us. You’re judging us.” “No, but it’s a diagnosis, sir. You’re sick. Here is your report.” “No, no, no! How dare you judge me?”

Probably the day is not far when that’s how we’ll respond to our physicians as well or doctors. The doctor tells you, you are all hollow within. The liver, kidney, lungs are all gone, and you’ll say, “But you are judging me. How dare you call me sick? And I’ll lodge an FIR. You just called me sick.” Doctors are lucky. They have material proof, so they can get away with whatever they say. As a doctor of the insides, I don’t find myself that lucky.

When existence and disease becomes so intimately related that the sick one himself becomes the sickness, then how do you treat the sickness? When the sufferer is the suffering, when the diseased one is the disease, then removing the disease appears so offensive, right? If you remove the disease, then the diseased one is removed, annihilated, gone; it feels like death to him: “You have not healed me. You have killed me, because my disease was my life. And now that the disease is gone, I am gone.

That’s what we have come to, and all due to a very hollow philosophy of life and absence of education of the self. And in diagnosing our current situation this way, I suppose, we have already come to the solution. If you can understand what brings us to this point, it becomes very clear how to go beyond this point.

Q: Good evening, sir. So, my question is related to the topic of this conference itself: Technology and Psychology. So, the question that haunts me from day one is that technology creates such a havoc in our lives, yet for our psychological well-being, we do need an escapism from this chaos around, which is again provided by technology, be it through gaming or reels or any other addiction that we have. So, I’m trying to understand, how do we attempt to, you know, escape from this vicious cycle or understand this vicious cycle of poor psychological well-being, and the trap that we are in of the technology?

AP: See, what is technology? What do we call as technology? Science put to use is technology, right? Science used to fulfill your desire is technology, correct? So, it’s not technology that unleashes a havoc, it’s your desire. Science is knowledge of the material, now what do you want to do with knowledge depends on your own inner orientation, no? You split open the atom, and you can use that energy to power a city, or you could use the energy to destroy a city—the same city.

So, technology is a direct function of your inner mental condition. Great discoveries of science will be badly misused if the user is violent, possessive, fearful, ignorant. And it’s a part of the entire game of not looking inwards that we prefer to rather blame technology and sometimes even science. Technology is a toy that we have made and science is pure knowledge. How can knowledge be blamed for our wretched condition? And how can a man-made toy be responsible for man’s suffering?

You have the mobile phone in your hand, you decide what to do with it, and great things can be done with that mobile phone. Equally, the lowest kind of actions can be assisted by the phone. It depends on you, what do you want to do with that; the internet, any machine, figure out what you want to do with it?

So, we have to remember that knowledge is a resource, technology is a resource, and who is the user of that resource? The user of that resource is the self. You could call that as the mind loosely, or you could call that as the ‘I’ — the ego. That’s the entity that uses all the resources that are possible to be used. So, if you are in a healthy condition, then whatsoever you can use will be used for a healthy purpose, otherwise it will be obviously misused. It’s a thing as simple as this.

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