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Do Indians respect excellence? An inside story || Acharya Prashant, with IIT-Ropar (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
13 min
113 reads

Questioner (Q): Good evening, sir. My name is Vishal Tiwari. I'm a PhD student here in IIT Ropar. Sir, generally I see that in Western countries, people chase excellence, whether it is in sports or science, or in technology or social reforms, or for inculcating democratic values. On the contrary to this, it is a general mindset that I see in our country, like masses of the youth running after securing a job. And after that, by marrying a boy or a girl to further settle. Sir, why do we Indians fear chasing excellence? Why don't we have an appetite to create or discover something new in the field of science and technology?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, all search for excellence involves the use of thought: science, technology, this-that… whatever it is, it involves thought. India was extremely fortunate. It discovered something beyond thought. And because it was beyond thought, it could not be verified or examined. It could only be surrendered to. So India got something that put thought in its place. That demonstrated that thought is not the highest thing, that there is Truth beyond human action. That there is something higher beyond human action, human achievement, human thought, human imagination, human creation, and this thing was discovered by a select few.

India was greatly fortunate. And those who discovered it, they in their compassion, in their empathy, displayed it, handed it over, relayed it to the masses. And the masses said, now we have something that is beyond our action, our aspiration; we have it. And since you have it, there is no need to aspire anymore. Ambition starts looking childish. Attempts to rise higher start looking futile.

So, the West had questions that it wanted to settle through thought. The West went into questions of identities and existence and wanted to know what is going on and could never come to a final answer. So it kept on moving. If you look at Western science, it emerges from philosophy. Not too many centuries ago, philosophy and science were inseparable. It’s only recently that science has emerged as a separate discipline, and philosophers are fond of saying that the settled and demonstrated, and verified part of material philosophy is called science.

So, while philosophy is at the front of the battle against ignorance, science is the harvest that philosophy has already cultivated or the bounties that philosophy has already won in the battle. A battle is going on and in that battle, there is stuff that you have already won, that is already yours. That becomes science. And the questions that are still unexplored, the battles that still continue to be raging, to be live, those constitute philosophy.

So the West had philosophy and the West used thought to settle philosophical questions and that gave them science, that gave them progress. India, rather unfortunately got the final solution way too early. The final solution was that the world does not exist at all. What is the point in thinking, even the thinker does not exist at all. And where there is no thought, there is no progress.

Indians do not rely on thought. We have been cultured to rather rely on belief. That has become rather stupid today. But it originated from a higher place. India actually had people who had discovered that which is beyond thought. And because they had discovered that, the discovery showed in their life, in their eyes, in their face, in their actions, and people grew fond of them.

India has loved its sages. And they could see that the sage does not think too much now, the sage is no more ambitious, and the sage is not asking questions anymore. And when you respect and love someone so much when you admire him so much, without even knowing you begin to emulate him. So even the commoners began to emulate the sages.

And India has been such a spiritual place. There have been roaming mendicants in almost every street…monks and sadhus. You’ll find every village has a few of them. And the commoners would look at them and say, “This man has certainly achieved something extraordinary. His being is the proof of that achievement. His love is the proof of that achievement. His selflessness, his fearlessness, is the proof of that achievement.” So India began emulating those people and that happens. That happens in admiration.

But emulation can never give you the real thing. So those who had not even started thinking, they abjured thinking. India bypassed thought. India said what is the point in living by the mind; the mind cannot give you much. And monks will come and declare the mind is your enemy. Thoughts are its weapons. Do not go by the mind. The mind has to be silenced. The mind has to be in fact killed. You’d have read all these things in typical spiritual literature, right? So India just dropped the mind and by dropping the mind Indians became not sages but savages. Because it is savages that don’t use the mind.

These are three levels of consciousness: the savage (the beast), then the simpleton (the commoner), and then the sage (the liberated one). There is something common between the final level and the initial level. In both the levels, there is no mind. The savage does not use his mind and the sage has gone beyond the mind.

In your attempt to become the sage, it is very easy to become the savage and that’s what happens to Indians. We drop the mind even without using the mind to its full potential, even without reaching the limits of the mind. We didn’t follow the process of the sages, we just emulated their results. What is the process of the sages? They use their mind to the fullest extent and then they reach the boundary of the mind. They went through the entire journey. It was an arduous and painstaking journey. They paid every bit of the price. The commoners thought they can have it easily and cheaply. So they said, “Fine! If the final thing is that the mind is to be dropped, we’ll drop the mind. We will stop using the mind.”

So India stopped thinking. India stopped thinking. India started scoffing at logic. India made the intellect a dirty word. What is better? Emotions are better, blind belief is better, superstitions are better; thought is not good, logic is not good, rationality is not good. Because these are things of the mind. Rather I’ll go by my gut feeling. Now the one who goes by his gut feeling is a savage.

Now you see where all these centuries of slavery came from? When you don’t have technology, when you don’t have knowledge, obviously you will fall prey to the marauders. How will you manage the aggressor? He has the power of thought and weapons and technology. He has been thinking. And you have been just breeding and believing. And you are smug in your belief that you are meditative and liberated people because you don’t think. Even today, Indians, relatively, do not think. We do not use our minds to the fullest extent. We rely on trust. We rely on copying and emulation. We are afraid to dare and venture out.

Our movies copy from Hollywood. Even our YouTubers copy from American YouTubers. Our social influencers copy from them. Our podcasters copy from Joe Rogan. Our constitution has picked up bits and pieces from several constitutions of the world.

At IIM Ahmedabad, we had Harward Steps. There’s a particular flight of steps called the Harvard Steps. I found it very interesting. So there was the time when the movie ‘Lagaan’ was released, and it started having some connection with the Oscars, and everybody got very excited. So one of our professors, he said, “What’s the great deal? Why are you always looking for Western appreciation?” 2002, that’s when ‘Lagaan’ was released (The Hindi movie, Lagaan). And it was probably nominated for the Oscars or something happened in relation to the Oscars. And people were talking, the whole thing was a buzz. And the professor came and scolded, “You, slaves of the West! Always looking for Western appreciation.” So I said, “Sir, one little thing… more than half the cases you teach here are from Harvard and Stanford. And what is that thing called the Harvard Stairs? And then you say that we should not be looking at the West.”

India just stopped thinking. India just stopped being original. We bypass the mind. The thing is, please appreciate the cardinal mistake. Even to go beyond the mind, you have to first of all use the mind to the fullest. There is no other way! You cannot just arbitrarily drop the mind. To go beyond life, first of all, you have to go fully through life. As they say, “The way through is the way out.”

We don’t think. We believe. We are one of the most superstitious people. Look at the number of gurus and babas proliferating and prospering. Think of India’s share in intellectual property generation. How much original work is happening here? But we love to copy. When it comes to plagiarism, we are second to none.

Think of your car models. Visit Europe or US and you’ll be surprised that this one look so much like the one I see on Indian roads. But the logo is different. How did that happen? Even think of the weapons that the Indian army is using. How many of them are… even to manufacture weapons you require thought. Where is thought? Where is logic? Where is rationality? Where is reason? Where is critical thinking?

Think of how we worship our leaders—political leaders—and if you want to critically analyze a particular leader, especially if he happens to be a darling of the masses, they won’t listen. Because they don’t want to think. They just believe. Our education must prepare the kid to question everything. To dare, to inquire into everything. There should be no holy cows. There should be nothing so sacred that it cannot be questioned.

People who hide their ignorance behind shallow questions, irritate me. But there is another category of people who irritate me even more – those who ask no questions at all. Those who just take life… It is hot? “Yes”. It is cold? “Maybe”. Who are you? Do you exist? Are you alive? Are you an alien? A zombie? Who are you? There is no individuality. You don’t have a mind? You can’t think? You can’t question? You can’t analyze? You can’t reason? You can’t compare? “No no no…(Lukewarm).” Dead! (referring to the people who don’t ask questions at all)

So two bits of literature from the Hindi world are occurring to me at this moment. One is – “Chaube ji chale the chhabbe banne aur Dubey ban ke rah gaye.” Explanation: So the fellow wanted to be bigger. You see, this is the progression of three levels: two, four, and six. Two is Dubey, four is Choubey and six is Chhabbe. So we were at the middle level, the level of the simpleton, the level of the commoner. We wanted to be the sage (Chhabbe ji), and what did we instead become the savage, (Dubey ji). Now I’m not offending all the Dubeys. Apologies in advance. It’s just a metaphor.

And the other one is a popular song from one of the movies – “zindagi ki talash mein hum, maut ke kitne paas aa gaye.” (In the search for life, we came too close to death).

India’s greatest fortune became its misfortune. Our philosophers, our sages, our gems, and jewels, we turned them into our misfortune. That’s what ails India.

Similarly, the body is not real, now go and win medals in the Olympics! The body is to be dropped, I am not the body. Nice! So you are a good eight inches shorter than the average Swede. Am I right? In the Scandinavian countries, the average height there I suppose is in excess of six feet. And here, five feet six inches or five feet and five inches… that’s how tall the average Indian is. How tall or how short? Half a foot! Because I’m not the body.

You see we are spiritual people. We are not supposed to be the body. So we topped the charts when it comes to malnutrition because we are not the body! Heart attacks-India! (I’m not the body). Diabetes-India! (I’m not the body). Denmark, it’s five feet eleven inches. In India, it's five feet five inches.

The Chinese used to be shorter than us at the time of independence, even they have grown longer. But we are not the body. So why take care of the body? All the women are suffering from Anaemia. But they are not the body. Indian women are especially not the body. It’s just that they keep on producing more and more bodies. Hundred and forty-two crore bodies! But we are not the body.

These are the two things that we have been taught to stay clear of right? Tann and mann . I’m not the mind, and I’m not the body. I’m Atma. I’m the supreme Self. And instead of becoming the supreme Self, you became the beast. That’s what we did to our sages. And they are looking at us and beating their heads.

Host: Thank you so much, Acharyaji for this thought-provoking session. Thank you for answering so many questions from the participants. It was very insightful and we are all very grateful for the session. We all hope to have the chance to have another session with you in the near future. Thank you so much, sir.

AP: Thank you.

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