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Does self-improvement lead to worldly success? || (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
7 min
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Questioner (Q): Does self-improvement lead to worldly success?

Acharya Prashant (AP): The same self that you are seeking to improve, thereby admitting that it’s in need of improvement and is therefore currently flawed, is the one that determines your ideal of success. From where does your thought or ideal of success come? The self, isn’t it? And at the same time, you are saying the self needs improvement. Which means the self is not fit enough to determine targets for you. It’s like going to the GPS repair shop because you know your GPS is faulty and using your faulty GPS, to know the route to the GPS shop.

Who is giving you your concept of success? The self that you are admitting is in need of improvement; which means even your concept of success is faulty. So, self-improvement will not give you success. If you see that the self is misplaced or flawed then self-improvement in itself is the success, because that’s the mother of all failures. Who determines your success or failure? The self, meaning the little Ego determines that. The little Ego is the one that sets your targets, it then certifies if you succeeded or failed. Who does all these things? The little self, so are your successes, really your successes?

Your GPS might be telling you that you have reached Taj Mahal. According to GPS, "Success! Taj Mahal arrived", and you look up and what do you find? Is this Taj Mahal? But, the GPS is yelling, "Success! Success!" Ego is saying, "Success! Success!" And life, facts are telling you it’s a disaster. Similarly, the GPS might tell you that the Taj Mahal is still 100 miles away and you look up and find you are right in front of the Taj Mahal.

So, the successes that the little self certifies are not success at all. The failures that the little self cries about are not failures at all. Therefore the only failure is to live by a faulty GPS, because if you live by a faulty GPS, not one but all your destinations will be wrong. So what is the only success then? Fixing the GPS is the real success. Self-improvement will not get success, self-improvement is success. If the self has corrected itself, then whatever it does now will be right and that is success.

Q: And here is where Spirituality enters life. Correction of this self is by this Grace, by this Scriptures and then the self gets corrected. Unless that happens, we can’t actually, with any other technique, or with any worldly...

AP: And it is a super-stupid thing to know that your GPS is faulty but to keep driving according to it. Once you know that your Ego, your tendencies, your thoughts are all haywire, and if you still support them and live by the same then it’s not 'merely' stupid.

This is Adhyatma Upanishad , verse 4, “The mind of the yogi perishes as he stays without intermission in the self alone, knowing through reasoning, listening, and experience that one is the self of all beings. Through all the faculties, and also through the self itself.” The verse says, the mind of the yogi perishes as using all his powers and faculties, he knows that he is the self of all things. The verse says, he lives in his great truth, in the self, without a break without an intermission.

The mind wanders only as long as it seeks different things, and differences are infinite. If you seek different things then you have an infinite number of things to seek, because differences define the Universe, our Universe is made up of differences (objects). The yogi is the one who has come to a union, the two have become one. The wandering mind is not interested in differences, it has now realized that even in the differences it was actually seeking the One.

Why then seek the One in many? Why not directly be with the One? That is Yoga, that is the situation of a yogi, he goes directly to what he wants, he does not seek jewels at the grocer’s shop, he is not looking for oranges in an apple orchard. He knows what he wants and he knows from where it cannot be obtained. So he is not stupidly wandering anymore. He has seen that behind all his desires lies just one fundamental desire. That is called salvation, fulfillment, union, dissolution into the beloved, or surrender.

Not only has he seen that there is only one ultimate desire behind all desires, he has also seen that if he keeps scattering to multiple desires, the one fundamental desire will remain unfulfilled. All desires are of the one alone, but if you keep going after miscellaneous desires, then that one desire will remain unmet. That’s what his honesty, efforts, dedication, listening, experience, and meditation have brought him to see. So he is smart now, very smart, he says, “Why should I be in the journey when I can directly be at the destination?” He stays at the destination without any intermission.

Q2: What’s the connection between spirituality and transcendentalism?

AP: All spirituality is to transcend. In fact, there is no word called transcendence sans spirituality. Without spirituality there is only the world, the thoughts, and feelings; objects, images, things, perception, men-women, animals, stones, sands, rivers, 3-dimensional movies, all that it can contain. If there is one gift that the East has given to the world, it is the very word 'Transcendence', even the idea of transcendence liberates to a great extent. Because if you don’t have the idea of Mukti ‒ transcendence is Mukti , then all other ideas remain very big on you.

Strictly speaking, transcendence would mean going beyond ‒ ullaṅghanā (jumping over), atikraman (overstepping), laangh jaana (to pass), or disappearance ‒ Samādhi (intense self-absorption). In the material world, there is nothing called the beyond. Here, beyond material, there is just more material. Beyond ideas there are more ideas, beyond experience, there is more experience, beyond imagination there is more imagination.

Transcendence is what brings another dimension to you, that other dimension is also called the God dimension. You cannot transcend the material to move into more material, you transcend the material, and that, which you then move into is called God, that is the spiritual way to talk God. Otherwise, you can keep talking of God even in material terms, God is this - that, having that property attached to that religion, all these are very material descriptions of Godliness.

It’s not like the West hasn’t talked of transcending, but it hasn’t talked of transcending fully. So even when there has been a talk of transcendence, it has been about transcending something, so transcend the city and enjoy the jungle. It is only the East that has talked about transcending fully ‒ transcending Saṃsāra (world) itself. So in immersion, for example, transcends but, what does one transcend? The civilization. What does he go to? The physical nature, he says, "I will live in the jungle". When the East transcends, it says “Not the city, neither the jungle, not even within myself.” Transcendence is liberation, total and absolute.

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