Questioner (Q): One of the most important lessons I have learned from spirituality is Vasudhaiva Kuṭumbakam , that the whole world is one family. But the current trend is that all the countries are involved in unilateralism and self-absorption, and phenomena like power absorption, racism, terrorism, and intolerance. These things are perpetuated by technology. This is forcing a big challenge in attaining this ‘world is one family’ concept. So, my question is, what do you think is the way forward in attaining spirituality for the global consciousness?
Acharya Prashant (AP): No, no, Vasudhaiva Kuṭumbakam is not the basic premise of spirituality. It’s just that it’s a popular kind of catchphrase; it is not the fundamental thing. Again, global consciousness is another phrase in circulation these days, but that, again, is not something deeply spiritual. The first thing that spirituality brings to you is not that the entire world is a family, but that the entire world is false. Not that the entire world is family, but that the world, the entire world is false—not family, but false. There is a big difference there.
Now, when you say the world, it is actually your world you are talking of. The sages take great pains to help us understand this. There is nothing called the objective world. We all live in our personal universes, and it is these personal universes that are false. And because we live in our personal worlds, therefore no two worlds are properly in sync with each other, and hence there is a lot of strife. I live in my mental globe, you live in yours, and my globe is never going to concur with yours. Why? Because I have a personal center and you too have a personal center, and the personal center is false and it only cares about its own false and imaginary welfare.
So, it’s not like the whole world is a family. That’s a very pedestrian kind of concept and phrase we have picked up, because it suits us. If you go to Vedanta, if you go to Upanishads, the kind of declarations you find there are far deeper, far richer, far more striking. But we don’t pick them up; we don’t pick them up because they don’t suit us. First of all, we don’t understand them, and if ever accidentally we do get to understand, we find them scary; we find them scary because they reveal to us the falseness of our concepts, our very life itself. So, we don’t touch them; we pick up something very, very easy and comfortable, like Vasudhaiva Kuṭumbakam .
The oneness of the globe will remain a pipedream as long as the more fundamental spiritual question is not answered. The fundamental question is, “Who am I?” And as you go into it, you discover that most of that which you consider as yourself is a mere phantom. Our past speaks from within us, borrowed concepts our mouth spouts, environmental influences get absorbed within, and then start speaking as ‘I’. And when you see that, then you say, “How can I insist on my desires, on my concepts, on my beliefs, my opinions, my thoughts? How can I insist on any of these?”
And that is when the Vedantic process of neti-neti (not this, not this) begins. You start dropping; you say, “It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it carrying the false into the future. What’s the point of energetically plunging into something when I do not know who I am and what that thing is?” So, there comes a pause, and with that pause there is clarity. And then, in that clarity, there is a renewed, fresh, and lifegiving action.
You see, are we happy even with the little personal families that we have? What happens in our families, what happens in our houses? Let’s get real. If we are not happily happy in a family of five, why do we want to extend the same unhappiness to the entire globe by talking of stuff like Vasudhaiva Kuṭumbakam ? The man and the woman are all the time at each other’s throat, breaking each other’s head. You cannot have peace even in your kuṭumb (family) of two. Why do you want to have a global kuṭumb ?
But it sounds so nice, and then from high platforms and very respectable fora, such things are uttered. And they are totally meaningless, they mean nothing at all. Why? Because we have never had the time to really go into spirituality. And, as was said by our respectable friend at the beginning of the opening address, Advaita Vedanta is at the core of all religious streams. We have never had the time to study Vedanta, so the little exposure to spirituality we have had is by way of popular culture. Somebody taught us some verse from Saint Kabir; somebody came to us and, you know, we accidentally heard something from the Ramcharitmanas ; Upanishads, obviously, they are in Sanskrit, so we did not even accidentally get to hear them.
And that’s where we stand, you see. In the name of spirituality, all we do is that we pay lip service. You go to university functions, and before they start doing what they want to, they have something called the Saraswati Vandana and lamp lighting and such stuff. And whenever I am on such a stage, let me put it clearly, I cringe!
Do we even know what we are doing? But we use Sanskrit and cultural motifs to just lend respectability to whatever we are doing, without understanding even one percent of what Vedanta is about. I request that, please, let us initiate a course on Vedanta, let’s have a compilation of the richest, the juiciest verses, and at least some students will benefit, at least the faculty members will benefit. I have much to say, but I am blocked by the context and the paucity of time.
Q: Yes, but without feeling oneness, how are we going to face the global challenges that we are facing?
AP: But you do not know the one that you are! How will you feel oneness with the one that the other is?
Q: So, what is the scope of spirituality in this case then?
AP: First of all, know the one you are. Oneness with the other is a farfetched thing. I do not know who I am—how do I find my brother? Tell me, please. You want to have universal brotherhood, and you do not know your own name—how will you identify your brother?
Q: So, each individual has to search for himself, and only then we can know anything else.
AP: Obviously, obviously. The moment you search for yourself, you find all that which keeps you divided and distinct from the other. You not only find that, but you also find that it is false. And with that discovery, oneness is established on its own. You don’t have to search or strive for it.
Oneness is not an accomplishment in the outer direction. Oneness is a discovery within. You have to look into yourself. Remaining deluded and torn within, you cannot go out and hug your neighbor and say, “Now the two of us are one.” That will be meaningless, no?
Q: The pandemic has forced many of us to face an economic crisis. In India, for example, we can see that poverty has forced many to focus just on the basic needs, the daily needs. So, where is the scope for them to go and search for themselves inside when they are so pulled by the economic pressures outside all the time?
AP: No, no, no, that’s again not true. Please understand. Some of the greatest saints we have had came from very impoverished backgrounds. So, it’s not as if that if a person is poor, he cannot have an internal dimension. In fact, I find it daily these days that it is probably equally difficult to turn inwards when you are affluent. Why? Because now there is so much at stake. When you go inwards, you discover that all this that you have collected is not of much use, rather it has been quite a lot of your life, time, and effort gone waste, and accepting that is a big blow to the ego. So, you don’t want to accept that because you have raised your stakes.
When you don’t have much, then it’s easy to discard what you have. Don’t you see that? If you do not have much, isn’t it rather easy for you to discard that which you have? What if you have spent seventy years accumulating all the trivia from the world and considering yourself very rich, and then at the age of seventy, you suddenly come to know that life has just been wasted in this kind of accumulation? You won’t want to accept that.
That’s the reason that, whether you are talking of Saint Dadu Dayal, Saint Garibdas, obviously the greatly venerated Saint Kabir, or Saint Raidas—do you think they came from rich backgrounds? In fact the truth is the opposite: those who came from rich backgrounds actually gave up what they had to go to the jungle. We are talking of Siddhartha Gautama and Vardhamana Mahavira here.
So, it’s not that first of all you need to be full and then pursue spirituality; it’s not going to work. Please remember, man is never going to be full. And if you keep waiting for that day, you will keep waiting. So, start from where you are. If you keep saying, “When the conditions are right, then I will venture inwards,” rest assured, the conditions will never be ripe. And the last day will come.