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Even the wise ones behave according to their Prakrati || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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सदृशं चेष्टते स्वस्याः प्रकृतेर्ज्ञानवानपि।

प्रकृतिं यान्ति भूतानि निग्रहः किं करिष्यति।। 3.33 ।।

sadṛiśhaṁ cheṣhṭate svasyāḥ prakṛiter jñānavān api

prakṛitiṁ yānti bhūtāni nigrahaḥ kiṁ kariṣhyati

Even a man of wisdom behaves according to his own nature. Being follows by their nature. What can restraint do?

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3, Verse 33

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एवं बुद्धेः परं बुद्ध्वा संस्तभ्यात्मानमात्मना।

जहि शत्रुं महाबाहो कामरूपं दुरासदम्।। 3.43 ।।

evaṁ buddheḥ paraṁ buddhvā sanstabhyātmānam ātmanā

jahi śhatruṁ mahā-bāho kāma-rūpaṁ durāsadam

Thus knowing Him, Who is superior to the intellect and restraining the self by the Self, slay thou, O mighty-armed Arjuna, the enemy in the form of desire, hard to conquer.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3, Verse 43

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Question: In verse 33, it is said, “What can restraint do?” and in verse 43, it is said, “Restraint lower self by the higher Self.” They seem to contradict each other. Please help me understand the right place of restraint in one’s life, and what comes under its purview.

Acharya Prashant (AP): No, the word is not really ‘restraint’ in verse 33. What is implied is: all mortal beings are following the dictates of Prakriti, and the dictates of Prakriti cannot be disobeyed as far as the physical body is concerned. Be it an ignorant man or a realised man, Prakriti will operate the way Prakriti does; Prakriti cannot be disobeyed.

So, what is being said is here is, “Nigrahaḥ kiṁ kariṣhyati.” You cannot stop it. Stopping it is one thing and distancing yourself from it is totally another thing. ‘Nigrahaḥ’ cannot be done. This is said in the context of the inviolable control of Prakriti on the body and the brain. “So, Arjuna, you will have to act.” Every being acts because Prakriti is all about action. In Prakriti there is nothing called stillness. Prakriti is change, movement, action.

Then, verse 43 says, “Thus knowing Him Who is superior to the intellect and restraining the self by the Self,” the ‘self by the Self’ has the first self which is the small self (Aham), and the second self is the capital Self which is the Truth, “Slay thou, O mighty-armed Arjuna, the enemy in the form of desire, hard to conquer.”

Here, what is being said is that the entire mechanism, the whole apparatus of Prakriti can be distanced from one’s identity. Right? This distancing itself is the only way available to you to win Prakriti. It is beautifully captured when Shri Krishna says in another verse that Arjuna has to be ‘Nirāśā’ and ‘Nirmama’. He says, “You just have to fight; give up hope from the world, give up attachment to the world, and just fight”.

Prakriti allures us through hope; Prakriti allures us through the promise of completion. It says, “Get attached, and you'll get something special!”

Krishna says, “All that is sheer excitement—won’t help you!” He says, “Yudhyasva vigata-jvaraḥ (Chapter 3, Verse 30). Just fight and be beyond such temperamental excitation.”

Seen essentially, the battle of Kurukshetra is the battle of Arjuna against his own prakriti. This stranglehold of Prakriti upon Arjuna can be clearly seen in the opening chapter. The opening chapter is what is being fought against in the remaining 17 chapters. ‘Vigatajwar’ means, ‘one whose excitation has subdued’.

In the first chapter, all you see is excitation, fever. ‘Jwar’ is fever. In fact, Arjuna would say quite literally. He says, “I am feverish. And my hairs are standing on their ends, my legs are shivering. I am feverish!” This is Prakriti. It will do what it will do. You must do what you have to do, and it took 17 chapters and more to fight that which Arjuna demonstrated in the first chapter.

Again, in the same chapter comes the beautiful message: “Swa-dharme nidhanaṁ śhreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ.” (Chapter 3, Verse 35)

It took Krishna a lot to explain to Arjuna that Prakriti itself is paradharma. Dharma is that which tells you how to live, what to do, how to make your decisions. When your decisions happen under the influence of Prakriti, then this is not dharma, but paradharma. Shri Krishna says, “Fight here against Prakriti and die in the process. Fight against Prakriti and die in the process, but don’t succumb to what your physical and mental tendencies are imploring you to do.”

The message is subtle. It has to be understood.

“You cannot fight against your situation in which action is unavoidable. You cannot fight, Arjuna. You cannot fight against your situation in which action is unavoidable.” Arjuna is insisting that it is possible to somehow avoid action. Arjuna is trying to fight against action itself. Arjuna is saying, “I will not act,” so Arjuna's fight is against action itself. Shri Krishna says, “That is not possible. You cannot fight the fight; the fight is not avoidable.” Therefore, what to do?

The answer to this question opens up something glorious for the entire mankind. The answer is:

Fight you must. And if fighting is mandatory, if fighting is an inalienable part of living, then instead of trying to fight the fight, fight the right fight.

Arjuna is saying, “I’ll fight the fight,” and Krishna is saying, “Fight the right fight, because you cannot fight the fight. If you think that you can somehow avoid getting in the fight, if you think that you can somehow avoid taking sides on the battlefield, it is not possible.” Many people try that. Many people say, “No, it is not really important and, you know, we can take some kind of neutral position; we need not fight!” Krishna mocks at them; he says, “They are all hypocrites.”

You cannot take a neutral position because even if you are taking a neutral position, you are still positioning yourself somewhere in the fight. Where have you now positioned yourself? At some so-called middle or neutral point. Maybe you are not fighting from either side, but you are fighting the fight, so you are still fighting. Rest assured, there is nobody born who can avoid fighting.

To be born is to be born into a fight.

“You will have to fight Arjuna. Fight the right fight. That is Dharma.”

Let us not entertain any delusion that we can comfortably stay unaligned or safe in our happy and secure houses. Those who decide not to fight, are actually fighting the wrong fight. They meet a fate worse than the fighters on the other side.

In a battlefield one side emerges as the winner and other side as the loser, and then there is a third side as well. Which is this third side? The one who fought the fight, and therefore didn’t enter the battlefield at all. These are the mega-losers. These are bigger losers than the one who got physically eliminated in the battlefield.

That’s what makes the Bhagavad Gita such a commanding scripture. It addresses a situation on a battlefield. It addresses the very complex question of right action.

Questioner(Q 1): What are the characteristics of this Prakriti?

AP: Prakriti has no svabhāva; Prakriti only has traits (guṇa). For the sake of convenience, they have been classified into just three: sattva, rajas and tamas. These three traits essentially just tell about three fundamental tendencies of the mind.

There is the tendency that we all sometimes display to remain ground in dark unconsciousness, and we desire pleasure out of it, don't we? That is called 'tamas'. We say we will drown ourselves in liquor. Don’t people do that? Why at this place there is so much hash and weed? I am talking of the city. Why do people do that? There is certain pleasure in losing consciousness. So, that was observed by the seers and they said, that is the one very prominent trait of Prakriti. We love losing consciousness. It's a strange thing, but we love losing consciousness. We love to be drunk and drowned.

And. then there is the trait that we all display of energetic and frenzied action: running around here and there, sometimes motivated, sometimes frantic. “I’ll get this”, or “I'll avoid that”; “that is to be achieved”; “I am a superstar”; “I am happy!” That kind of thing has been called as 'rajas'. That’s just the tendency of the mind; that’s the way we behave, operate.

And, then there is another tendency we all display. That tendency is to know. “I want to know; I want to know what is going on; I want light.” Nobody likes lies, for example. Do we? In general, we do not. We ask for the truth. Even if that which we mean by the truth is not really Truth, but we at least want facts, don’t we? That is 'sattva'. “Tell me what is really going on.” That is 'sattva'. That again is the tendency of the mind.

So, that's Prakriti. It does not really have a center. And if you insist on determining a center of Prakriti, the center is merely of continuity. All that Prakriti wants is continuity in time; it wants to remain as it is. It wants to remain as it is in the middle of all the changes, that are called ‘Prakriti’.

So, a lot of things change; everything changes in Prakriti. Species come, species go, species evolve. So much keeps happening. Universe rises, the universe falls—but Prakriti in itself reaches nowhere; the center does not change. Time continues. Within time this event keeps happening.

Q 1: So, Prakriti also means a series of changes?

AP: Prakriti is an unchanging series of changes.

Q 1: And is temporary in nature?

AP: Prakriti is a permanent temporariness. Prakriti is a temporality that is very permanent. Everything is temporary, and this temporariness is permanent. That is Prakriti. What is beyond this temporariness and permanence?

Those who investigated Prakriti, they said, “Fine. There is sattva, rajas and tamas. But there has to be real life beyond the three.” So, they said, the purpose of all spiritual enquiry or advancement is to go beyond the three traits or guṇas. They said, “You have to go ‘guṇateet’ or ‘triguṇateet’, beyond Prakriti.”

Q 1: You are saying that there is enquiry in Prakriti, but that enquiry is different from this spiritual enquiry. That spiritual enquiry is not born from the enquiry that is in Prakriti…

AP: No, no. When you enquire, Prakriti is all that you have to enquire into. Except for Prakriti, what else is available to be enquired? Enquiry surely requires an object to be enquired, and all objects are in Prakriti. So Prakriti alone can be enquired into.

Q 1: You said that there are three things in Prakriti. The third thing is: it wants to know.

AP: Yes.

Q 1: So, that is not enquiry?

AP: That is enquiry. So all enquiry is sattva-guṇa. But then, the enquiry does not alone suffice.

Liberation means enquiry and a strong urge to be free of that which has been now known. Therefore, knowledge by itself is often very insufficient. That is the reason you often find very knowledgeable people neck deep in slavery or bondages—because knowledge is again sattva-guṇa, and all the three guṇas are bondages.

Sattva-guṇa is the highest because it offers you half a way to move out of your slavery. But only half a way; the remaining half comes from a strong urge to be liberated of that which has been known. Otherwise, you will face a peculiar situation: you will come to know that you are in a bad position, but you will not act to redeem yourself of your bad position.

So, you must now ask Acharya Ji: "Enquiry comes from sattva-guṇa, that is all right. So, even an enquiry into Prakriti comes from the sattva-guṇa of Prakriti, but liberation requires both enquiry and urge towards liberation. Where that urge comes from?"

It’s called Grace. It comes from prayer; it comes from your tears; it comes when you are really desperate.

Q 2: Can you talk something about evolution also? Like, it is in Prakriti, it is in individual species, it depends...

AP: Everything is evolving.

Q 2: But it depends, it is individualistic.

AP: You look at one individual thing and you say it is evolving. The fact is, in Prakriti everything is evolving. Change is evolution. When the change appears kind of favorable to you, then you start calling it by the positive name of ‘evolution’.

Actually, evolution is just change.

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