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Choicelessness is only for those who choose rightly || Acharya Prashant, on Ashtavakra Gita (2018)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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समदुःखसुखः पूर्ण आशानैराश्ययोः समः । समजीवितमृत्युः सन्नेवमेव लयं व्रज ॥ ५-४॥

samaduḥkhasukhaḥ pūrṇa āśānairāśyayoḥ samaḥ । samajīvitamṛtyuḥ sannevameva layaṃ vraja ॥ 5-4॥

Know yourself equal in pain and in pleasure, equal in hope and in disappointment, equal in life and in death, and complete as you are, you can go to your rest.

~ Ashtavakra Gita (Chapter 5, Verse 4)

Questioner (Q): Pranaam Acharya Ji. How can we, in daily-life, practice this and go closer to the Truth? Is that through sitting, walking, working meditation? Is that through living mindfulness in the present moment?

Acharya Prashant (AP): You gave me a bad taste at the end of your question. All else was proceeding almost rightly. ‘Living mindfulness in the present moment’ – bad words! Avoid them.

You’re asking for a method. You’re asking, “How can we in daily-life practice this and go closer to the Truth? Is that through sitting, walking, working meditation?” The method is already there in the verse, in the quote. Please read carefully.

“Equal in pain and in pleasure, equal in hope and in disappointment, equal in life and in death, and complete as you are, you can go to your rest.”

What is the method? This equality is the method. But you’ll have to understand.

Equality does not mean deadness here. To a cave, to the insides of a cave, day and night are equal. We are not talking of that dark, damp, dead situation. Not that kind of equality. To the dead man, beauty and ugliness are equal. We’re not talking of that kind of equality. We are talking of remaining untouched. We are talking of remaining equally untouched by this and that. We are talking of remaining equally aloof. We are talking of remaining equally secure in ‘this’ and ‘that’.

What is ‘this’ and what is ‘that’? Pain is ‘this’, and pleasure is ‘that’. What is ‘this’ and ‘that’? Hope is ‘this’, and disappointment is ‘that’. What is ‘this’ and ‘that’? Life is ‘this’, and death is ‘that’.

You have quoted Ashtavakra saying, “Remain equal in this and that.” Life is there, death is happening. Life is apparent, death is not so apparent. But they both are happening simultaneously. If pleasure is there, pain too is happening – one is apparent, the other is hidden. In a while, the other will become apparent, and this one will become hidden. So, ‘this’ and ‘that’ are there; always there. You remain well-seated in your restful place.

Ashtavakra says, “You can go to your rest complete as you are.” You remain restful. Restfulness should not turn into restiveness. And ‘this’ and ‘that’, they will keep existing for you, because you are someone.

You are spatially and temporally localized. You exist as a tiny bit in a huge fragment of your own creation. You are a tiny grain of sand in a huge universe, that you yourself have painted, created, manufactured, imagined, whatever.

In this universe of your own making, ‘this’ and ‘that’ are integral. This universe is synonymous with ‘this’ and ‘that’. You cannot have the universe without this and that.

Don’t ask for the impossible.

If the body is there, pleasure and pain will be there. Put even the so-called realized Saints in an oven, and they will experience pain. And bring them out of the oven into an air-conditioned room, and even they will experience pleasure. It is inevitable. In fact, the whole purpose of sweating is to give you relief from pain, and then evaporation will give you some pleasure.

When it’s hot and humid, you sweat. And the same sweat that was a product of displeasure, gives you pleasure as soon as the wind blows. Have you not experienced it? You know that, right? If you have been sweating, after a while you’ll start feeling a little cool. Evaporation helps the body cool down. Pain itself has given birth to pleasure.

Pain is sweat, and sweat is pleasure. What is what? I don’t know. ‘This’ is ‘that’. How do you differentiate? They will be there. And if you don’t want them to be there, then give up the body. But even that seems unlikely to solve the problem.

If you give up the body, you will latch on to something else. Anyway, so many people are prepared to give up their bodies for the sake of pleasing some other body. Don’t we see suicide bombers prepared to give up the material body, in order to please their psychological body?

So it’s not as if you are irretrievably, or inexorably attached to the physical body. For the sake of the mental body, sometimes you say, “I’ll face bullets and let this body die, but let the psychic-self prevail. I would be called ‘a martyr’. Or, I would’ve proven a point.”

It won’t work.

‘This’ and ‘that’ would remain, don’t give them too much importance. Why am I suggesting this to you? Because it is practical. Why is it practical? Because you do have a choice.

The importance that you gave to ‘this’ and ‘that’ didn’t just happen on its own. The process had your consent. Sometimes you actively chose to give importance, sometimes the choice was passive. But nevertheless, the choice was always involved.

That is bad news, because the choice is often bad. But that is also the best news, because you do have a choice. And if we can make a bad choice, we can make a good one as well.

Bad news is good news! ‘This’ is ‘that’.

Choice is bad news, because so far you have been making bad choices. But even bad choices prove that good choices can be made. So even here – ‘this’ is ‘that’. Pain is pleasure.

Make the right choice, and maybe then you would find that you are beyond ‘this’ and ‘that’. Some people call that ‘choicelessness’.

It’s strange, but choicelessness comes to you via the right choice. Before choicelessness can come to you, make the right choice.

The Scriptures put it this way: “Before you can move into the guna-ateet (beyond gunas , beyond properties), move into sattva-guna (the property of goodness, virtuousness). Before you can move into that which is beyond properties, the nirguna , you must first move into sattva-guna .”

Do the right thing, before you can be a non-doer. Why is it said that you must do the right thing, before you can be a non-doer? Because you are anyway used to doing, and you have been doing all the wrong things. Now that you have been doing the wrong things, wake up to your power to choose, your right to choose, and do a few things right. And then you will slowly discover that you don’t even need to do. That is called ‘non-doership’. Similarly, for choicelessness to descend upon you, at least first make good choices.

If you can make a choice to become engaged, and involved, and emotional, can’t you make a choice to not to become engaged, and involved, and emotional? Or do you have control only one way? What kind of a driver are you?

You say that you are able to drive well only when you are driving on the wrong side. And when you are in the right lane, you cannot drive well. You are cheating yourself. If you ever happen to be such a driver, what would you do?

You’re riding Ola or Uber, and the driver is constantly driving on the wrong side. And he says, “I can drive well only when I make the wrong choice, wrong side.” I then tell you, “Save your life, press the emergency button. This driver is a cheat.” This driver is you.

You’re very good when it comes to making all the noise, and all the mischief.; then you are very alert and energetic. But when it comes to doing the right thing, you say, “You see I am dull, and foolish, and I don’t understand anything.”

When it comes to creating chaos, then he knows everything. But you send him to fetch a few vegetables from the market, he will say, “I don’t know where pumpkins are, and potatoes are.” But he very well knows from where to get all the chemicals to assemble a bomb. Then he is very smart.

This kind of dishonesty won’t do.

When it comes to all the nonsense, see how you succeed. Don’t you? You want to go and create chaos, you want to go and satisfy your lust. And see how you find out ways. Don’t you? Like a rat you find your way into the house. Then you know where the hole is. And if the hole is not there, you even dig a hole. But when it comes to doing something a little religious, a little less impure, then you say, “I am such a fool! I am a duffer! I am irresponsible! I do not know which way to go! I have no intelligence, no smartness!”

All the smartness reserved only for your demonic acts! Right?

Don’t you see? Are you really so dull? You are not. In hot pursuit of your hot targets, you’re able to bring the heavens down to Earth. All the energy-lessness, all the forgetfulness is reserved only for the right things. The right things you forget. Don’t say that you’re forgetting; it is a choice to forget. I will call your bluff. I will expose your hypocrisy.

You are not as big an idiot as you show yourself to be. In fact, you are no idiot at all. You are extremely smart. Just that your smartness is self-destructive.

See the things that you covet, and chase. And see how you devise clever mechanisms to get what you want to. But as I said, the one thing that you cannot fetch is, potatoes from the market. Then you become a dodo. You say, “What is a potato? Do they grow on trees? Do they fall from skies? Do we manufacture them in factories? I am a dodo!”

Choice! Choice! You are not helpless. Wake up to your power. You cannot just be carried away. Nothing can happen to you without your consent.

I am talking not in the material-sense. In the material-sense, yes, a stone can hit you without your consent. But you cannot suffer without your consent.

Restfulness is your nature. You cannot become restless without your consent. Discover your choice. Better still, admit your choice. Admitting choice entails responsibility, and that’s why you want to evade it.

That I say is the very definition of the human being – the one with a choice.

The human being is the one who always sees two paths ahead of him. One that will fetch him what he really wants, the other that would only deceive him. Keep making the right choice. If you are a human being, you have no option but to live rightly. Otherwise, there is suffering.

What is the wrong choice? Anything that involves helplessness is the wrong choice. That’s the definition.

Whenever you say, “But I could not have not done it. But I could not have helped it,” then you are deceiving yourself. And it’s bound to be the wrong choice. Whenever you say, “It just happens,” whenever you say, “I got angry,” whenever you say, “I am depressed,” it’s a wrong choice, because you’re not admitting that you have chosen to be depressed.

Dishonesty and wrong choices go together.

You are not admitting that – it is not happening to you, you are choosing it, admitting it. Worse still, inviting it. Worse still, manufacturing it. Worse still, nothing is happening, you are just narrating a cock and bull story.

When rest is your nature and the only Truth, from where has restlessness come? Obviously it has to be a silly fabrication. It cannot exist; it’s a myth. But see how you declare, “Oh! I am so depressed!”

First of all, it is a choice whether or not to be depressed. Secondly, when Joy is your nature, how can depression even exist? But we not only do claim that we are depressed, we also expect some sympathy. You see, a little bit at least.

You never forget, you decide to forget. And if you can decide to forget, you can equally well decide to not to forget. No, you cannot decide to remember. Remembrance is nature. You can only decide to not to forget.

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