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Compare yourself only with respect to the real goal || IIT Kharagpur (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
18 min
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Questioner (Q): How should I control my emotions so that they don’t become too extreme? For example, every time I achieve my goal I feel very happy, but when I fail I curse myself and start crying. So, how can I behave in a neutral way?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Remember the real goal. Whatsoever you have achieved is too little in front of the real goal, so there is no need to be too happy. And irrespective of how little you have achieved, there is all the potential to achieve the real goal, so there is no need to be too sad.

You forget the real thing, and you start taking small things as big. So, when you get those small things in your palm, you feel as if the entire world is there on your palm. It is nothing! It is a globe, not the world—worth very little. The celebrations are misplaced. Equally, irrespective of whether the little thing is a globe or a kid’s little plastic ball, the fact is that you are born to achieve the real goal. That is the purpose of your birth; otherwise you wouldn’t have been born. So, there is no need for any gloom or despondency.

Misplaced celebration is just as bad as depression. Misplaced celebration is foolish happiness. And depression—this might sound insensitive to some but I will proceed—is just foolish sadness.

You are never in too good a position as long as you are alive. Because you are alive, so the work is still incomplete. So, you can never be in so good a position that you start thinking that the work is complete, and you start partying and put a full stop to the journey. Equally, irrespective of how bad your condition is, you still have a chance—so you can party. So, what am I saying with respect to partying? I am saying, when there is a lot of temptation to party, remember it is not the time to party; and when you feel like sulking in your loneliness and weeping on the pillow, that exactly is the time to party.

So yes, we are all allowed to celebrate and party, but not in ignorance. All celebration must have wisdom at its core. Life is ruthless a lot of times, and when it hits you at just the wrong places and terribly hard, that is when you must party. And when it is very obvious that nice and pleasant things are happening, you should know that a trap is being laid out for you. Avoid the party then. Avoid the party.

Q: Why is it not the right thing to be on the extremities of emotions? If one is sad, one would be sad for a time, and then one would be happy at another time. One should really let the emotions loose sometimes. Why are you saying it is not good for us?

AP: It is not that it is not good; it is just that it is not your nature. Also, the kind of self-correcting mechanism you are talking of doesn’t exist in all people and at all times. You are saying, “If someone is feeling sad or down, then let that person plunge into the depths of sadness, and from there she will bounce back on her own.” That may happen, that may also not happen. Further, that may take a lot of time to happen.

Further, in your misplaced feeling of sadness, you might take certain decisions that are irreversible; at least you might take decisions that lead to loss of a lot of time, and that is irreversible. Equally, when you are unnecessarily jubilant, you may again make decisions that may cost you dearly, or at least you will waste time. So, that is why these extremities are to be avoided, as both are false. Anything false is avoidable, right?

Q: I feel that being at extremities allows a person to explore that side and gain more clarity regarding the situation.

AP: If that person had such a knack for exploration, why would he or she have landed at the extremity in the first place? What makes you land at that extreme? Your unconscious self, right? Because you don’t know yourself, therefore you find yourself in depths of despair or clouds of happiness. That is because you are unconscious towards yourself. That is because you have not explored yourself fully or deeply.

Now, you are saying, “Being in those depths, I will suddenly become conscious and start exploring.” That may happen, by virtue of grace; more likely, that may not happen.

Q: So, it is safer to be in-between and oscillate?

AP: No, not in-between. You have to seek safety at the only place where it exists: it exists only in your consciousness. The two extremes are extremes of unconscious darkness. They are not to be avoided because they are extremes; they are to be avoided because they exist only in your ignorance. Only in your ignorance can you become very happy or very sad. Ignorance is to be avoided.

Extremes, well, if you can be at your joyful best in your most conscious state, wonderful. Why not? That is the entire purpose of consciousness—to bring you to one particular extreme. That extremity is very auspicious. So, it is not as if extremes are to be avoided for the sake of being extreme. Extremes are to be avoided because those extremes are extremes of ignorance. Ignorance is avoidable.

Q: Being conscious about our happiness and being unconscious about the same—what is the difference? Am I consciously happy if I know why I am happy? Am I unconsciously happy if I am happy without knowing the reason for it?

AP: Mostly, when we are just happy, we don’t even know where the happiness is coming from. For example, you go to a monkey, you show it a banana; the monkey immediately moves towards the banana, stretches its hands, leans towards it, tries to jump, and so on. Does the monkey know why it is doing such a thing?

Q: It wants the banana?

AP: But does it know what the banana means to it? Does it even have time or the intention to reflect? This is called compulsive behavior. And the banana for sure induced a certain happiness in the monkey. That is the quality of most of our happiness: we see a banana, we get happy. We don’t know what the quality of this happiness is, where it is coming from, and what it will do to us. Is it taking us to the place where we need to be, or is it just an animalistic thing, the old, ancient, pleasure-seeking tendency that does us no good?

So, when these thoughts arise, when emotions arise, a human being, as opposed to an animal, has to know what is really going on. The animal just gives in, the animal neither reflects nor pauses; it doesn’t really have any need to reflect or pause because it has no urge towards liberation in the first place. But you being a human being, if you behave like animals, then you will suffer. The monkey doesn’t suffer for being a monkey, but a human being will suffer deeply for being a monkey.

So, we have to be knowledgeable. Self-knowledge is about knowing your inner processes. Where do your tendencies come from? How is one aspect of your behavior linked to the other thing? What is your relationship with the world? What is the content of your mind? Where do your insecurities come from? Where do your plans come from? Happiness, sadness, and so many other things—what is going on within? This is something exclusive to human beings. We must reflect.

Q: I have noticed that in the process of seeking self-knowledge and clarity, I sometimes start feeling very superior compared to the people around me. I feel that because I am seeking clarity and they are not, I am at a more advanced stage in my life. But that overconfidence makes me feel impure and takes me into a negative state of mind. I am not even sure why I get overconfident when I am seeking clarity, because I know that it is a long journey and there is a lot of work to be done. So, what is this tendency really about?

AP: See, let’s say it is a very long journey, a thousand kilometers. You have traveled three kilometers, somebody else has traveled just one kilometer. Does it make sense to feel superior to this person? Three-by-thousand is hardly a number you can feel proud of. If you have to compare, compare yourself against the target. Why compare yourself against the competitor? And the target is very far: the target is infinite. Anything in comparison of infinite is zero. Divide anything by infinity—what do you get? Zero. So, is three-by-infinity really bigger than one-by-infinity? So, how do you feel superior to the other person?

See, feeling superior is a mark of lack of clarity. Also, knowing that three is greater than one as a fact is one thing—you are entitled to know that fact—but thinking that three being greater than one makes you closer to the target is just another thing altogether, and it is false.

What do you have love for, comparisons or the target? If you are always looking at the other—or at least sometimes looking at the other—to feel good, then why do you need the target? Just be better than the others and feel good. The real targets are for those who feel good only with respect to the target. Nothing else helps them feel good. Comparison with a laggard is a cheap way of self-gratification. “I am better, at least, than the one behind me.”

You are entitled to feel good. That is called joy; that is called liberation. But that should be only in the context of the real thing. The fellow behind you is not the real thing. If anything, the fellow behind you deserves your compassion. Think of yourself. You are far from the target, and you are not good; you feel uneasy and restless. Think of the one who is worse off. How uneasy must he be feeling? And what is the point in claiming superiority over this poor fellow? He is so poor.

If you have to compare yourself, compare yourself to the target, and if not to the target, at least with those who are closer to the target. Compare yourself to a Krishna, to a Buddha, to a Mahavira, or to an Ashtavakra. Compare yourself to them. But they don’t even come to our mind. Why don’t they come to our mind? Because we have no love for them. We have love for the ego, so all the materials that can feed the ego come to our mind.

Fall in love, and fall in love with the right thing. If you compare yourself with all the pygmies, then in some sense you are in love with the pygmies because they are the ones giving you happiness. Do not let anything give you cheap kind of happiness. This is called fasting; this is the real meaning of fasting. What does fasting mean? Giving up on easy and cheap pleasures, like biting into a samosa—it is a cheap pleasure.

So, fast. Tell yourself, “There is the real thing, and only the real thing can give me real happiness. If I have to have a relationship with those who are somehow behind me, the relationship will be of compassion. I will help them if I can without a feeling of superiority, because superior I anyway am not. What superiority am I talking of? Three-by-infinity versus one-by-infinity—hardly any superiority.”

The ones who are really superior, their superiority consists of going beyond this duality of superiority and inferiority. That is what makes them really superior: they don’t think of superiority.

Q: I think that the sense of being clear on something automatically gets converted into a feeling of superiority, and then it becomes a cycle. I do not seek clarity to become superior, but I still feel so because the people around me do not have clarity. Maybe it is as the saying goes, that we are the average of the five people we are surrounded with.

AP: Think of this: If you get happiness by comparing yourself with the average of these five people, or whatever the concept says, why will you seek better people at all? Happiness lies in being with the inferior ones. So, don’t allow yourself to relish your happiness.

Q: When I meditate, I feel like my mind is being purified and I start to notice some freshness within me. But after sometime, again I feel impure because of the actions of people around me. How to focus on ourselves and not get affected by what others say or do?

AP: If meditation brings that purity in the mind, why don’t you continue your meditation all through the day?

Q: Because we have to work.

AP: Which means you love something more than purity. So, you get what you love. You don’t love purity, you don’t get it; you love something else, you get it.

Q: My point is that when we wake up, we are totally fresh, but as the day progresses that freshness is lost.

AP: So, why don’t you then spend your day, your entire day as if you are still fresh? You know what fresh means? Not tainted, not corrupted. Fresh means something that has just come up from the source. So, why don’t you live your entire life that way, in a certain freshness? No idea?

Q: No…

AP: One requires love for that. The meditation that most people practice is a very limited thing. Therefore, it can give you that purity that you talked of only for a limited period; its effect wanes off very rapidly. But it gives you some relief, so you come back to it every morning. The thing is to remain meditative your entire day. And if you have to be meditative your entire day, then the kind of meditation you do will not help. That kind of meditation can at best initiate you, but it cannot carry you the distance.

Q: It is still not very clear to me.

AP: I didn’t say it can become clear so quickly. I have no illusions of that nature. It took me several decades to utter these simple sentences; you will take at least a few years of listening.

Please understand this. You are asking this question because you are missing something, right? What do you miss? You miss that purity, that freshness—these are the words you used. When we miss something, we say we love it, right? When you love someone and that someone is not present, you say, “Oh, I missed you.” So, missing something is meaningful only in the context of love. Are you with me till here?

Q: Yes, sir.

AP: So, let that love deepen. That is why I said continue your meditation throughout, and then you cannot sit and meditate. Therefore, you have to talk and meditate, walk and meditate, eat and meditate, run and meditate, quarrel and meditate. That is meditation 24/7. And that can happen only if you have love for that purity. That can happen only when you are not thinking of methods of meditation.

Mostly, what we call as meditation is just a few methods. Methods are not meditation; meditation is something internal, and meditation is nothing that you can really practice. Meditation is something that you can only remember. Meditation is to remember that one thing continuously, that one thing that has no name, no form, no shape. It exists both as a hard core within us and also as a hollow void within us. That has to be continuously remembered. Only that can keep you fresh.

Otherwise, the world will be very quick to taint you. You wake up, and your mind will be full of thoughts. Thoughts taint us, thoughts of miscellaneous things, thought of this, thought of that. Meditation is to remember that there is something far more important, far more lovable than this and that. So, these thoughts, even if they are there, they don’t carry great importance. That is meditation.

Q: Personally, for me meditation is like being at a ground state where I am not feeling myself; I am not feeling happy, I am not feeling sad, I am just there; I am not thinking about a lot of things, or maybe I am not thinking about anything. But the moment I turn on the internet, there will be lots of messages on my phone. So, I avoid that first thing in the morning to keep myself fresh. But the moment I turn it on, I just feel that the world is putting a lot of weight over me.

AP: So, either throw away your phone or permanently disconnect your net.

Q: I do feel like doing that.

AP: You feel like doing that, but you will never do that. So, if you will never do that, then you better figure out a way to coexist in peace with some of that. I said some of that, because in peace a lot of that will become irrelevant and you will not need it. Only that part of the messages or the worldly contact is going to remain that is really useful and auspicious.

Not switching on the net is no solution at all, because we are born into the net; life itself is the net. You really have no option to never switch it on. Sooner than later, it will be switched on. Even if you keep it switched off in one way, it is already switched on in several other ways.

So, you have to remain meditative in the middle of the net, and that can happen only when the mind is in love, when the mind is in a very subtle love, remembrance of something that is far more valuable than any of these things outside of us. You look at anything, and it is not tempting enough, it is not promising enough. Obviously, things have their utility, their value, their practical functionalities, so we have things for that purpose. But things are things; things are not love.

Q: So, that love itself makes all the other things irrelevant?

AP: You are coming closer, yes.


Q: Now I am not even thinking about anything…

AP: That is how you get glimpses, and these glimpses are the opportunity to fall in love.

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