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Do you know who you worship? || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
14 min
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सत्त्वानुरूपा सर्वस्य श्रद्धा भवति भारत ।

श्रद्धामयोऽयं पुरुषो यो यच्छ्रद्धः स एव सः ॥ १७-३॥

sattvānurūpā sarvasya śhraddhā bhavati bhārata

śhraddhā-mayo ‘yaṁ puruṣho yo yach-chhraddhaḥ sa eva saḥ

“The Śraddhā of each is according to his natural disposition, O, descendant of Bharata. The man consists of his Śraddhā; he verily is what his Śraddhā is”

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 3

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यजन्ते सात्त्विका देवान्यक्षरक्षांसि राजसाः ।

प्रेतान्भूतगणांश्चान्ये यजन्ते तामसा जनाः ॥ १७-४॥

yajante sāttvikā devān yakṣha-rakṣhānsi rājasāḥ

pretān bhūta-gaṇānśh chānye yajante tāmasā janāḥ

“Sāttvika men worship the Devas; Rājasika, the Yakṣās and the Rākṣasās; the others—the Tāmasika men worship the Pretās and the hosts of Bhūtās”

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 4

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अशास्त्रविहितं घोरं तप्यन्ते ये तपो जनाः ।

दम्भाहङ्कारसंयुक्ताः कामरागबलान्विताः ॥ १७-५॥

aśhāstra-vihitaṁ ghoraṁ tapyante ye tapo janāḥ

dambhāhankāra-sanyuktāḥ kāma-rāga-balānvitāḥ

“Those men who practice severe austerities not enjoined by the Śāstrās, given to ostentation and egoism”

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 5

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कर्षयन्तः शरीरस्थं भूतग्राममचेतसः ।

मां चैवान्तःशरीरस्थं तान्विद्ध्यासुरनिश्चयान् ॥ १७-६॥

karṣhayantaḥ śharīra-sthaṁ bhūta-grāmam achetasaḥ

māṁ chaivāntaḥ śharīra-sthaṁ tān viddhy āsura-niśhchayān

“Endowed with the power of lust and attachment, torture, senseless as they are, all the organs in the body, and Me dwelling in the body within; know them to be of Asurika resolve.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 6

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Questioner (Q): How do I identify whom I am worshipping? Here Sri Krishna is saying, Śraddhā of each is according to his natural disposition. If that is so, how does one elevate the subject of Śraddhā from the one given by his natural dispositions? What are these austerities that Shri Krishna is referring to in the verses?

Acharya Prashant (AP): How to identify the object of your Śraddhā? How to know who is it that you are worshipping?

You’ll have to look at your life, actions, decisions. When we say ‘worship’, what do we mean? We mean holding something as higher than ourselves. When you hold something as higher than yourself and also you also want to achieve it, then the sense of worship comes in. The object of your worship has to be tremendously big, beautiful, worth attaining, worth being one with. Then the sense of worship comes.

How to know what it is that you are worshipping? Just see what it is that you are prepared to sacrifice the most for. What is it that you are prepared to sacrifice the most for? Look at your value system; look at the daily decisions that you make.

What would you give up your food for? What would you give up your money for?

Keep questioning.

Keep striking out all the stuff that can be given up for something else.

Keep listing the stuff that you find so valuable that you are prepared to give up a lot for its sake.

Once you have listed all that you hold to be valuable, then see what is it that you are prepared to give even these things up for. That will bring you to the object of your utmost value. That will bring you to the thing that you value the most. And typically, it is just one object that you value the most.

It is almost like a rule. So you could say, for example, that you value a person the most in your life. Let’s say you love someone, as love goes. You love someone. And you would say, “I am prepared to give everything up for this person. I have already done that. I left my society, my family, a lot of money, a lot of conveniences, all of that behind for this person.”

Now, what is it that you would probably leave this person for?

“No, I won’t leave this person for anything in the world!”

You might be right, you probably won’t leave this person for anything in the world. What if you have a terrible fight with this person?

“No, fights come and go. I won’t leave this person!”

What if you have a prolonged spell of strife and bad relations with this person? What if this person says or does something that hurts or offends you, and such a thing happens repeatedly?

“No, I probably still won’t give this person up.”

Are you serious? You would still not give this person up?

“I’m not sure... maybe?”

So, you see that a fissure is opening up. You see that the possibility is now showing up. Ultimately you are prepared to give up even the one most precious and dear to you for the sake of preservation of your ego—and that’s what we all usually worship the most. All other worships are secondary to it.

“Oh, my teacher is great! I left the world to come to my teacher. I left a lot of money behind. I left conveniences behind to come to the teacher.”


Now, “Oh, the teacher is quite a jerk it seems... He says nasty things, hurts me, offends me, threatens to beat me up!”

Ah, so he hurts and offends you.

Then, “I am probably on my way to leave the teacher.”

Alright. So what is it that is higher than the teacher? That which is offended. And that which is offended is called the ego. Ultimately, it’s the ego that we worship. For the sake of the ego, anything can be dropped, and for the sake of the ego, anything can be attempted to be obtained.

“No, I worship my God the most!”

What if your God keeps failing and disappointing you?

“No, I don’t really foresee how I can drop my God—he’s my favorite God!”

Your favorite God, right? And that which you decide of as favorite can one day be unfavorited as well. Correct? You are the one who tagged the word ‘favorite’ to that God. You were the one making the decision. And if you can make the decision in one direction, you retain the authority to reverse the direction of the decision, don’t you? If you are the decision maker, the decision can change. The decision is always subservient to the decision-maker. The decision-maker rules the decision.

So, that’s what we usually worship, the ego in its several forms, several manifestations. But then, nobody says that “I worship the ego”. People say, “I worship this, I worship that.”

If you conduct a general survey and ask people, “What is it that you worship? And can you list down five items, five things, objects, people, places; anything that you worship?” nobody would list the ego. Or would people do that? No, nobody. And nobody would say, “I don’t have five things to worship.”

And ‘worship’ here we are not talking necessarily in a religious sense. Worship is devotion. What is it that you are devoted to or committed to? What is it that you hold as high and worth attaining? So people would be able to put down the five things that they worship, but very rarely would you find the word ‘ego’ in this list of five things.

Why do we worship so many other things if centrally we all worship nothing but the ego?

All these things that we appear to be worshipping are the things that strengthen the ego. So maybe we do not worship the ego directly, but we worship it indirectly by worshipping the servants of the ego. And that’s an even deeper worship, is it not?

“I worship the ego so much that I am prepared to worship all those things that serve the ego.” In other words, “I worship the ego so much that I am prepared to worship the servants of the ego.”

For example, your ego is bolstered by money, so you may start worshipping money.

For example, your ego is bolstered by some kind of knowledge, or by being at a particular place, or by proving a point to the other, or by being in a particular way, cultivating a personality of a particular type. And you will start doing all those things just for the sake of the ego. All that is nothing but ego worship.

So, generally, whenever you would ask, “Sir, what is it that I worship?” I really don’t have to think about the answer.

To be born is to be born an ego worshipper. To be born is to be born with a tendency to preserve the little self. The little self is born, and it wants to remain alive knowing fully well that being born, it is going to die. All its life, all its time, all that it occupies itself with is self-preservation; self-preservation because it is always haunted by the spectacle of its imminent demise. It knows fully well that the end is approaching—and fast.

And the end is approaching not merely in the form of physical death. The end keeps approaching in a thousand ways. Your concepts, your beliefs, your thoughts, your plans, your projections, your memories and your relationships—all are proven false by the facts of life again and again, over and over again, on a daily basis. That’s death.

And when death surrounds us from outside and threatens us from inside, then obviously our central effort is towards self-preservation. That’s what we are doing all the while. Therefore, we worship nothing but the ego.

You have to figure out the ways in which you worship the ego. You have to figure out the appendages of the ego that you worship. You have to figure out the concrete ways that apply to your particular case. Those ways might differ.

One might worship the ego as his beloved wife.

One might worship ego as his bank account.

One might worship the ego as his political power.

One might worship the ego as his bohemian ways.

One may worship the ego as the idiosyncrasies of his personality.

All those things can change, the names and form, the particularities, but the central fact remains the same.

“How does one elevate the subject of Śraddhā from the one given by natural dispositions?” You say ‘natural dispositions’, that is Prakriti.

I have repeatedly said, the only method is suffering.

Look at the beauty of Shri Krishna’s words here. He says, “You are your Śraddhā. A person verily is what his Śraddhā is.”

You are the one you worship. The quality of your being, the quality of your life is decided by the quality of your devotion, the quality of your love.

You want to know who you are? Just look at the one you really worship. Just look at the one you are prepared to leave a lot for. Who is it that compels you to leave even very valuable things behind for its own sake? That is the one that you worship.

Now, don’t deny the fact and don’t be ashamed of the object of your worship. Admit that you are worshipping an unworthy object. All change starts from here.

It’s not that we do not ever have or come upon valuable things in life. There is none so unlucky or impoverished. We all do get chances. We are all beneficiaries of Grace. We all do get blessed with, gifted with valuable stuff once in a while. And then, what do we do? We sacrifice it at the altar of our primitive tendencies.

You had a beautiful thing—and what did you give it up for? Your lust or your fear. Shame. Now suffer. Suffering is the method. That is one reason why in one major world religion, Christianity, sin and repentance have a very central position.

You are a sinner, are you not? See what you have done. See what you have been continuously doing. Look at your decisions. See what you have been trading-in for what. See what you have sold off and at what price.

That is sin. To give away, sell away, or sacrifice the essential for the sake of the inessential, the frivolous, the fleeting, the temporal. That is sin.

Sin is a decision. Sin is an act of a clouded consciousness. Nevertheless, it is an act, and therefore the responsibility lies squarely on the actor. And since the responsibility belongs to the actor, therefore the actor must repent. That is the only method.

Acknowledge your sin and repent. That is the only way you advance in your consciousness. That is the only way the object of your devotion changes.

Don’t you daily trade away peace for prestige? Don’t you daily trade away love for comfort? That’s what sin is. A wrong deal, a raw deal, a bad decision.

Acknowledge that your decisions have been false, that it is very tempting to be taking wrong decisions continuously. That’s the method.

“What are the austerities that Shri Krishna is referring to?”

Austerity is tapas. You understand ‘tapas’? Tapas literally means passing through fire; passing through fire so that all that which can be burnt down does get burnt down. All that which is combustible actually simply burns away. That’s tapas.

Tapas is to allow the passing to pass away. Tapas is to allow the fleeting to flee. Tapas is to allow the false to fall.

It is a decision, you know. The false really doesn’t need to be forcibly knocked down. It is ready to fall down. You stubbornly, diligently uphold it. You support it no end.

Tapas is to gather the courage and the love to let the false fall. Why is it called ‘tapas’ then, why is it named as ‘passing through fire’? Because when the false falls, it falls with a large part of your being. It is not the false that appears like falling; you experience as if a great part of yourself has fallen. It’s almost like death. Therefore, it is being called as ‘tapas’. It requires a special kind of integrity and great love, which gives courage.

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