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Enquiry before Devotion || Acharya Prashant, with IIM Nagpur (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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Questioner (Q): Acharya ji, few days back, there was an event at our house. It was a small temple of Hanuman Ji that was installed in the room of a factory. And it was an elaborate ritual process; there was a Havan , it was followed by recitation of Sundarakand , and there was a decent-sized gathering of family members, and other business people. At that time, I thought, do they really believe in all that?

Acharya Prashant (AP): We require both enquiry and faith. I will explain with an analogy. You want to gather diamonds, you want to gather as many diamonds as you can, till you reach the biggest diamond of them all. And you’ve an entire field, full of all kinds of stones, in front of you. What do you do then? First thing is, you enquire, because there are so many stones, right? So, enquire which one is a diamond, and which one is precious. You reject a lot of things and then you keep one thing. And this one thing that you get, you want to secure it, you want to preserve it. You don’t want to lose it. You want to be in constant touch with it; you want to have it unquestioningly.

Now, these are the two things that you need in the spiritual process as well. Firstly, enquiry—‘what is it that I’m believing in? That which I’m placing so highly in my mind, does it really have value?’ And then, faith—once you have discovered that something has value, then you remain devoted to it. You remain devoted to it, because there are so many distractions, you don’t want to fall for them. You want to keep the unnecessary stuff at bay. So, you remain devoted to the one thing that you get through enquiry. That’s the relation between faith and enquiry, or devotion and enquiry. I’ll repeat my statement: you remain devoted to the one thing that you get through enquiry. You just don’t remain devoted to any random thing; you don’t remain devoted to something you don’t know of. So, enquiry comes before devotion; I want to preserve the diamond very securely, but I want to preserve only the diamond very securely, not any random stone. So, on one hand, as you said, the intention to be faithful is there in people, but merely that intention won’t suffice. Equally, you need to have the discretion and the enquiry to figure out what is it that you’re devoted to.

Devotion is something great. Bhakti (devotion) is wonderful, but bhakti without Gyan (knowledge) is blind belief, a superstition. You don’t know a thing, and yet, you’re devoted to what? When you don’t know, then, you’re devoted just to your own blind belief; then, you’re devoted to just your own ego.

So, while it’s great that there exists so many symbols in religion—powerful symbols, potent symbols, symbols that if rightly decoded can help—it’s equally true that you can’t start worshipping those symbols without knowing what they stand for. Especially, the Hindu stream is lavish with symbols; there’s symbolism at every step, every level, every point. And most of these symbols point to something that is quite beneficial, quite sublime, and quite important. But to know what they’re pointing towards, one has to exercise his mind; one has to show some curiosity. A lot of people are just satisfied, easily satisfied, worshipping the symbol itself. There’s a lot of devotion but no realization, there’s a lot of faith, but no enquiry. And that doesn’t help.

So, if someone says, “My intentions are pure, you know. I worship such and such God and my intentions are pure”, that is no alibi. Just because you’re devoted to something, it does you no good necessarily. Mere devotion is no proof of sacredness, or piety, or any kind of spiritual excellence—no! If you look at people in the world, you’ll find a lot of them very committed people, and commitment is a devotion of a kind. And what are people committed to? Their own ideals, images, thoughts, and feelings. If mere devotion were a yardstick of spiritual advancement, then most of the people of the world would be spiritually very advanced, because most people are indeed committed to something or the other.

Just being devoted to something doesn’t mean that you’re spiritually advanced. You’ve to be devoted, and you’ve to be devoted to the right thing. You’ve to be devoted, and you must know where your devotion is coming from and what it’s going towards. If devotion is a product merely of tradition, and custom, and ritual, then such devotion holds no value. We need devotion with a deep intelligence. In fact, there can be no real devotion without real understanding. Equally, if understanding deepens, it turns into devotion.

So, these two go hand-in-hand. If there are places where you find a lot of devotion, but no understanding, you should know that it is just belief or superstition. And if there’re places where you find a lot of intellectual activity, but no faith, then you should know that the fellow has no real intention to elevate his consciousness. He is just flirting with whatever comes his way; he has no commitment as such.

Q: Sir, I didn’t get the second part. The last point that you said.

AP: If you say that you’re looking for diamonds, and you’ve no real love for diamonds, then, you’re just wasting your time looking for diamonds, isn’t it? If you say that you are a seeker on the path of knowledge and you’re seeking more and more knowledge, and that knowledge tells you of the real thing, but still, if you develop no passion for that real thing, then that knowledge is of no value. Because knowledge is not an end in itself, the end is Liberation, or you could say the end is attainment of the real diamond. That’s what all knowledge is for and knowledge is a medium. If knowledge remains, and still attainment doesn’t happen, then what does it clearly tell? That you’re more concerned with knowledge than attainment, that the very intention is flawed. You don’t want attainment or Liberation; you just want to be knowledgeable. You just want to gather knowledge and be head heavy.

Q: I do understand the importance of spiritual lectures, your books, and your courses. But I don’t think I place a very high priority on reading wisdom literature in comparison to the other normal tasks that I do. So, how do I tackle this issue?

AP: See, for you, practically, it would be very difficult to just give the highest priority to reading wisdom literature, that’s too much to ask for. Just commit some small window of time to this thing, and remain steadfast. Don’t commit too much; you’ll not be able to afford it or live up to it.

When you say you want to give the highest priority to reading wisdom literature, I don’t know what you mean. You mean to say that you want to do it the first thing in the day, or do you want to allot the lion’s share of your time to this thing? I don’t think either of this is feasible. But what can practically happen, or what is manageable, is that you can say that you want to block one hour, and if not one hour, let’s say, 40 minutes to wisdom literature, and then don’t budge. 40 minutes is 40 minutes; one hour is one hour. And if you can consistently, without gap, without apologies, give one hour a day to wisdom literature, it will be more than enough.

Q: Ok sir. One more small question: In one of your sessions, you had said, “You should attack your weakness and not your strength.” But wouldn’t it make us a jack of all trades and master of none. AP: Is the purpose of your life to be master of some particular trait? Is spirituality about dabbling in proverbs? After saying that you’ve been with me and Vedant for long, is this the best you can come up with? Jack of all trades, master of none. Which particular verse from Chandogya Upanishad contains such lines?

Q: No sir, what I meant was that we would not be able to achieve excellence in a particular field or in any particular activity…

AP: What does Vedant tell you is the purpose of your life? To become an excellent mountaineer, or to be the top investment banker? What do you mean by excellence?

Q: To be aware of our weaknesses, for liberation.

AP: So, if liberation is the goal, why do you want to be a master of a trait? Because it’ll fetch you the maximum market reward?

It’s not about sculpting your strengths or something else. You’ve to remember the goal. The problem is, you forget the goal, and you start moving towards random points. “I must have a specialization in this, that, and that”; but why? Ask this question: why must you be a specialist in a particular area? I’m not against specialization, I’m against ignorance. Why do you want to specialize? I know why people specialize, I know why certain streams in medical science, or in engineering are in high demand; not because they offer you heartful bliss, but because the market opportunities and placement opportunities are greener. What do you mean by ‘specialization’?

Q: Sir, what I meant by it was, in one of your videos it was said that Utkristatha hi Krishnatva hai . (Excellence is Truth)

AP: So what do I mean by Utkristatha ? First of all, choose the right thing and then be excellent at it. In fact, if you’ve chosen the right thing, and that right thing, again, is something that changes from situation to situation, then the love involved in the choice will itself force you to be excellent. Why must I strive for excellence? One reason is, if I’m excellent, then I’ll get more money as a reward for my excellence. The other thing is, the task is so very important that I’ve to be excellent; it’s a matter of life and death, it’s a matter of love. So, when I’m talking of excellence, I’m not talking of excellence in any random field. The first thing is the choice itself. Choose the right road, and then obviously you’ve to create and invent means to speedily travel down that road. But you cannot say that irrespective of the choice of road, you need to have the fastest and the most luxurious vehicle.

I’ve an excellent car, but for what? For what? And I’m not saying that on the right road, you must move on a bullock cart. What I’m saying is, the first thing is the choice of the right road, the right goal, the right intent. It’s wonderful, if you can be excellent doing the right thing. But even if you cannot be excellent doing the right thing, it’s still worth doing the right thing. And to complete the matter, in the beginning, even if you find that you’re a bit mediocre doing the right thing, then because the thing is right, the love for thing will compel you towards excellence. So, do the right thing, choose the right action, and be the right one.

And then, even if you’re faced with the task that you’ve no experience of, or no excellence, or no specialization in, or no talent for, still, accept that task. Don’t say that, “I am not talented in this field, I’ve no knowledge in this field”; accept it. And then develop the talent, and then gather the knowledge. It’s better to be an underperformer doing the right thing than a great achiever in the most nonsensical area. Before you say somebody is an achiever or a successful person or a winner, always ask, “In what?”; we fail to ask this simple question.

We say somebody is an achiever, what really has he achieved? What do you mean by achievement? Don’t accept lazy paradigms, “He’s an achiever because he has a huge mansion of his own and a private jet.” Hold on, let’s discuss this. Don’t take these things at face value, don’t let them pass without scrutiny. Don’t certify them as Truths without interrogation. And be very clear that the right thing needs to be done, even if I’ve no knowledge about it, even if I’ve no skill, no talent, or no experience, even if I’ve no interest in it, even if I’ve no passion for it, it still needs to be done. The moment you say, “It still needs to be done,” you’re already displaying passion. And along the way, you’ll find that you’re developing competence because you’ll be forced to be excellent.

Q: Okay. Thank you, sir!

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