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Fearless authenticity || IIT Delhi (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
17 min
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Questioner (Q): I have been a part of college campuses for a long time, ten years in fact. For five years I was an undergraduate at IIT Bombay, and eventually I completed my Ph.D. at the University of California. One common theme that I have noticed among students in both of these colleges is that there is a lot of psychological fear—fear of failing, fear of not doing well enough, fear of not getting a job, etc. The conventional view is that psychological fear would decrease when material security increases, but in practice this rarely happens. Can you shed some light on the relationship between material security on one hand, and psychological fear on the other hand?

Acharya Prashant (AP): It does not quite matter if we just look at it in a common-sensical way. Whether the stuff held by you is of the lowest kind, an intermediate kind, or of the highest kind and quality, stuff is stuff. And all stuff comes from somewhere, comes to somebody, and is always vulnerable to loss. Therefore, it is not surprising at all that even if the stuff that one has is of the highest sophistication and quality, it would still remain vulnerable to disappearance, theft, redundancy and obsolescence. And when there is this kind of vulnerability, where is security? Therefore, be it an ordinary person holding his common goods close to his chest, or a highly learned or a qualified scholar from a premier institution, stuff is stuff. What you have is not entirely yours and you cannot quite fully depend on it; therefore there is fear.

When you said that you come from highly esteemed institutions like IIT Bombay and the other US university you did your Ph.D. from, and you still perceived fear in the air, your hypothesis probably was that if one is coming from high centers of learning, then fear is not to be expected in the minds of the people, students, scholars and academicians. That hypothesis needs to be investigated.

You might have the highest quality of knowledge, but knowledge is knowledge. In a very fundamental sense, knowledge that a person holds is not very different from this hand towel that I hold: it can be dropped anytime, it can betray you anytime, it is not something that has a timelessness. And where there is no timelessness, there is bound to be fear.

Q: The topic of today is ‘Fearless Authenticity’. Can you briefly describe to us what is meant by this?

AP: Actually, the topic of this discussion, ‘fearless authenticity’, carries redundancy. But you know, as it goes with public events and meetings, one inflates a bit; there is a little bit of hyping up involved. We could have simply said ‘fearlessness’ or we could have said ‘authenticity’, and that would have sufficed. ‘Fearless authenticity’ is like an extra emphasis, an added highlight. Only in authenticity is there fearlessness, and you cannot have fearlessness without authenticity. If you are not what you really are, there would be fear and the presence of fear is a clear indicator that one is carrying stuff, identity, ideology, concepts that are not quite real.

But of these two, fearlessness and authenticity, the one available to being tested or verified is merely fearlessness. Authenticity is something unknowable, unseen, not directly perceptible. Therefore, if you want to know whether you are living authentically, the only way to check is whether you have fear. Check whether there is fear, and if there is fear then authenticity is still waiting.

Q: Even if you are authentic, can’t you want things? Won’t you relate with people and want stuff for them? And if you will want things, then fear obviously will come along with the want. So how is it that the authentic person will have no fear?

AP: The authentic person will have no fear for himself. Our fears are all for ourselves: “Something wrong may happen to me .” Very self-centered fears we have.

So, what you are saying will actually take you to the words of the sages, and they have very clearly said that one fear you must never lose, and in their words, they say it is the fear of Rama. And if you have that fear, then that fear will liberate you of all the other worldly fears. So, that is the only fear that you must keep. But then, that is an impersonal fear; therefore it cannot even be called as fear in the general sense in which we use the word. That is a fear of a different dimension.

In general, we fear that we may lose something. In general, we fear that the way we are might cease to exist one day. That’s the fear. “What if I am no more?” That’s the general kind of fear; that’s a general description of the common fear. The fear that finally remains, that fear says, “What if I continue to be the way I am?” and that is an exceptional fear.

So, you are very right that even an authentic person may carry that last fear. But then, you cannot imagine what that fear would be like. You started off by saying that you can imagine an authentic person doing this, doing that. No, no, no, don’t trust your imagination so much. Certain things are beyond imagination. Imagination is a very little thing depending on the capacity of the mind, knowledge, experiences and such things. Imagination can capture very little. We cannot even imagine a fifth dimension. You cannot even imagine somebody talking in French if you do not know French, or can you? Imagination has its very small boundaries.

So, do not try to imagine what the Beyond is like. The Beyond is not available to imagination. But still, the question you raised was very valid.

Q: How can we cultivate authenticity in our day-to-day life?

AP: You cannot cultivate authenticity. Authenticity is your core. It is not something in the world that you can obtain and add to yourself. It is not something that you can grow, develop, process or cultivate.

Therefore, when you talk of being authentic, the process has to be very negative. It has to be a process in reduction, which means you have to drop all that which is inauthentic. And it’s seriously good fun—looking at yourself, figuring out that which is just fake, and seeing that associating with your own fakeness does not really help you too much. Once you come to this conclusion, the fakeness has to drop because fakeness does not stick to us on its own; we hold it, we clutch it. We clutch it in the false hope that fakeness is really giving us some value.

When you inquire, when you honestly want to question whether stuff that is fake and inauthentic is actually delivering you value, then there is only one conclusion: no! And after that big and resounding no, there is no incentive left for you to keep clutching the fakeness. It just opens, stuff drops; what you are left with is authenticity. Authenticity is the remnant, it is the residue. When all that can be dropped is gone, then that which is left is the genuine you, the authentic self.

The process involves challenging oneself. Keep challenging yourself. Keep asking yourself: “Is that me, or is it something that I have learned, acquired? Is that me, or is it just my hormones?” And if it is your hormones, then you very well know that hormones don’t last. “Is that me, or is that just the situations and some provocations?” If it is just the situations and provocations, then you know that these things will pass, and if they will pass, why are you allowing them to mean so much to you?

Q: What is the thing that scares us the most?

AP: You are scared of your own greatness, your own power.

Q: How can we come up with that?

AP: By seeing that your littlenesses are not doing you any good. We are merely habituated to our current patterns. We don’t love them. See where your love lies. There is a difference between being attached to something due to habit and being attracted to something due to love.

Most of that which is present in our life is due to habit, and that habit need not necessarily belong to the last twenty years of your life. We are carrying millions-of-years-old habits in this body. This body itself is a habit; it’s a bundle of habits. It compels us to live in certain ways. And because we live in certain ways, in those ways, we think that those ways are us. No, those ways are not us.

Probe the depths of your mind and you will find that you love something entirely different. And when your love will be bigger than the force of habit, the inertia of habit, then you will break free.

Q: You explained how fearlessness and authenticity are closely related with each other, and how they are actually fundamentally one. But there could be a situation where one is very authentic in a relationship—for instance, a mother with a child, or a wife with her husband—but still there is a fear of loss involved. Kindly clarify.

AP: You see, in authenticity you are just that one thing. Just that one thing. Authentically, you cannot have womanness or motherhood as your primary identity. I do not mean to say that a mother will be inauthentic, but if there is fear as a mother then it is important that we understand where the fear comes from. Authentically, we are only that which time cannot take away from us. The mother was not always a mother, motherhood came to her; it is a worldly and a material thing. You are not always even a woman. You are not always even a person.

Whatsoever is there in the stream of time is only a shadow of what you authentically are.

So, even if there is a relationship that is accorded the highest status in the society, a relationship that holds the highest moral place—like a mother-daughter, mother-child relationship—it would still remain susceptible to fear as long as the person involved in the relationship, the one at the center of the fear, does not see that the primary identity cannot be that of a person or a woman or a mother.

We hold certain things very close to ourselves. Because we hold them close to ourselves, it becomes extremely difficult to see and admit that even these things are timebound and ephemeral, they depend on the tick-tock of the clock. We may not want to admit that, we may not be able to see that, but facts are facts. We cannot fight facts. So, we may fail to see that we are very identified with something that is timebound, but still this identification would have its effects and the most perceptible effect is fear.

It is often a complicated situation because if we know that the stuff we are holding onto is something that is ethically questionable, then it is easy for us to drop it. For example, somebody is attached to his ill-gotten wealth and therefore lives in fear. If you tell this person that the cause of your fear is the wealth he is holding, then you can advise him very boldly and he too will find an inner compulsion to drop the wealth. The inner argument will be: “Firstly, the wealth is ill-gotten, and secondly, the wealth is causing me trouble. Therefore, I must drop it.” In that kind of a situation, it is easy to advice.

But it becomes difficult and complicated when the thing that is keeping you in stress, anxiety, or fear is something that is socially sanctioned, something that you have always felt proud of, and yet, in a very hidden way, it is a source of trouble and fear to you. Then even if you come to know that “This is where my problem is coming from” it becomes difficult to solve the problem.

Remember, the problem is not the thing that you are attached to. The problem is not the person that you have a relationship with. If you look at it closely, the problem lies not in the other thing or the person but in the relationship that we have with the thing or the person. That thing could be money, that thing could be knowledge, and that person could be a husband, wife, a son or a daughter, a friend, anybody. It is the nature of the relationship that is causing the problem. You could be fully authentic and still relate, and then all those relationships will obviously be authentic relationships.

So, it is not as if living authentically means that one is going to be a loner, that one is not going to relate with people, or one is not going to be sociable; not at all. One obviously lives in the world, so relationships are bound to be there. Man as we know him is a social creature, so the various kinds of ties with the society are also going to be there. It is just the quality of the ties that needs to be scrutinized. If I am authentic, my relationships will be authentic. If I am not authentic, my relationships will be messy; they will be a source of trouble for the other person and obviously for me as well.

What does it mean to have an inauthentic relationship? I think we need to have a little bit of elaboration on this because we have been just going on with the word ‘authentic’—what does that practically mean? To be authentic is to be complete and secure in yourself. What do you call any authentic thing as? Anything authentic is not in need of further improvement or refinement; it is already authentic. Anything authentic is complete in itself; you do not need to add something to it in order to give it value. That is the way the authentic mind functions: it does not relate to the other in order to gain completion through the other. The other, as we have said, could be a thing or a person.

If we are not authentic, then the other will be used by us, exploited by us in order to gain our own inner completion. We will say, “You complete me.” We will say, “This job will make my life worth living,” or vice-versa, “If I do not have this job, then I feel reduced in my own eyes. This kind of an accomplishment will make me have some esteem in my own eyes. And if I do not get that accomplishment, then I will feel little and inferior.” These are signs of inauthenticity.

When you are inauthentic, then you are constantly looking towards the world trying to relate with the world in a not very healthy way. I will look at this (points at an audio recorder on the table) and I will want to keep it in my pocket. Or, I will look at this and I will see the name of the manufacturer, and some desire will rise in the mind: “Looks very nice, wish I could work with the manufacturer!” If I am young, I will look at an attractive person and say, “If I could have that person in my life, then won’t my life be raised to the next level?” These are all telltale signs of inauthenticity—a feeling of incompleteness without something. That something could be even your favorite dress, favorite handkerchief, or anything.

It would have been easy to see by now that inauthenticity is synonymous with dependence. And where there is dependence, there is bound to be fear. Is that not obvious? Where there is dependence, you cannot have loving and healthy relationships, be it with your books, or with your employer, with the society in general, with the planet in general, with your spouse, with your kids, or with yourself.

“If I am alright with myself, if I feel complete with myself, then the nature of my relationship with my daughter would be entirely different. She is not here to give something to me; instead, I am so alright, so absolutely complete that I can take care of her.” The very direction of the traffic reverses. Otherwise, there is exploitation. And unfortunately, that exploitation often looks like love. “I am attached to you, I depend on you, and this is what I call as love. Or, the other depends on me so much, and this is what I call as my responsibility. I live to fulfill my responsibilities because the other fellow depends so much on me.”

That does not mean that one has to quit responsibilities; that merely means that one has to define her responsibilities a little more clearly. If the other fellow is responsible for you, then your responsibility is not to keep the dependency going. If the other fellow is dependent on you, then the first responsibility is to reduce his dependence. But if the other’s dependence on us reduces, often we become redundant.

Our own sense of purpose in life often comes from the meaning we hold towards others. “Why do I wake up each morning? Because I have to fulfill my responsibilities towards this, this, and this fellow! One fine day I will find that all of them are sovereign, independent, and alright within themselves—then what will I wake up for?”

So, we tend to play those kinds of games with ourselves. Those games are cute. But if they continue for too long, then the outcome is fear—and fear is not quite enjoyable, is it?

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