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Four paths to Liberation || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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ध्यानेनात्मनि पश्यन्ति केचिदात्मानमात्मना ।

अन्ये साङ् ख्येन योगेन कर्मयोगेन चापरे ।। 13.25 ।।

dhyānenātmani paśhyanti kechid ātmānam ātmanā

anye sānkhyena yogena karma-yogena chāpare

Some by meditation behold the Self in their own intelligence by the purified heart, others by the path of knowledge, others again by Karma Yoga.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 13, Verse 25

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अन्ये त्वेवमजानन्त: श्रुत्वान्येभ्य उपासते ।

तेऽपि चातितरन्त्येव मृत्युं श्रुतिपरायणा: ।। 13.26 ।।

anye tv evam ajānantaḥ śhrutvānyebhya upāsate

te ’pi chātitaranty eva mṛityuṁ śhruti-parāyaṇāḥ

Others again, not knowing thus, worship as they have heard from others. Even they go beyond death, regarding what they have heard as the Supreme Refuge.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 13, Verse 26

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Questioner (Q): Does Shri Krishna mean that those who are unaware of Dhyāna (meditation), Sāṃkhya, Karma too go across the Bhavasāgara (ocean of worldly life)? If so, why would one try to go to the level of Dhyāna, Sāṃkhya, Karma? What is the fate of the ones who are unaware of them?

Acharya Prashant (AP): It’s just that you will take a lot more time and a lot more effort and face a lot more difficulty, and that is why there is a particular order in which these four paths have been narrated.

Shri Krishna is saying here, “The best would be an inner, innate meditativeness; a meditativeness that actually requires very little knowledge or practice or instruction.”

That’s the best. That’s the best, if you have it. Then it just comes to you from nowhere. Whatever you call it, Truth-realization, Self-realization, it just occurs to you very magically. You won’t be able to explain how you know certain things, but you just come to know of them. Shri Krishna is saying, “That is the best, if you can afford that.” You know, it’s not a thing of chance. I used the word ‘afford’. You have to pay for it. You have to consciously, deliberately pay for it. It doesn’t come to you perchance.

What is the price that you pay? You have to put your ego at stake. You see, the ego finds security in method and preparation. The ego wants to say, “I need to be assured that things are alright.” The path of meditative realization gives you no certainty. The ego wants to say, “I’m going to the market. And if I’m going to the market, then I need to have money in my pocket in advance.” And that’s so common sensical, is it not? If you’re going to the market, you want to ensure that your pockets have certain stuff. That’s the path of preparedness; “I’m prepared in advance.”

The path of meditative realization is the highest because it is the path of deepest insecurity. What does it say? “You go to the market. You don’t have money, but you have the pocket. Go to the market. And if your intention is pure, and if in the market you are trying to pick the right stuff for yourself, then as soon as you will put your hand in the pocket, you’ll find just enough change, exactly enough change to pay for the right good that you have chosen.”

But it’s so unnerving. There is no guarantee. You are being told to be dead to certainty. You are being told, “Put everything at stake.” And just when trouble would be about to strike you, some invisible hand would come and save you. It’s like a trust fall. It works wonders, but not everybody is cut out for it.

So, you have gone to the market. And with great devotion, in all wisdom you have picked up what you want, and you are now standing at the payment counter. And the fellow says, “This much is the amount.” And you have not cared to put anything in your pocket; you’re relying totally on faith. He says, “This much you have to pay,” and you put your hand in the pocket and you find that much, and only that much, and you pay.

Knowledge is certainty. Meditative knowledge is never a certainty. But in meditative realization, there is a beauty that defies all certainty.

You see, when I speak, then I often request, “Kindly give me fresh questions. Do not give me a stale question. Do not make me speak on something on which I have already spoken.” And in general, I love spontaneous questions; questions that are arising afresh from the audience, the questioner. That’s the reason.

I fully well know that my responses cannot have beauty if they are prepared in advance. And it’s a thing of great risk, you know. But I want to run that risk. Right now, because of the lockdown and other things, only a few of you are sitting here to do the technical work. But when I first started speaking more than a decade back, then sometimes there would be big audiences, hundreds of people in front of me. And the questions would be all afresh.

And I was not a well-known name in any way at that time, and the audiences were young. And young audiences are not very caring or respectful. They can slaughter you if you talk nonsense to them.

Yet, it was very important for me that I took fresh and spontaneous questions. It was very important that I answered on the spot in the best way, or whatever way that occurred to me naturally and meditatively at that time.

That is the only way I can honestly relate to people: by not knowing at all in advance what I’m going to say to them. If I know in advance what I’m going to say to them, I start feeling uneasy. I’m at my best when something totally afresh comes to me, and I have to go within deep, deep, deeper, and then an answer arises from there—a totally unprecedented answer; a response that I have never known before, heard before, experienced before, and I hear the answer for the first time just as the audience does.

That’s the beauty in it, and that’s the risk that you run. What’s the risk? You do not know what you would come up with, because you have no control over it. And you do not know what the response of the audience might be. It’s not a tried and tested answer. It’s freshly baked; totally untried. It has just come up, and without evaluating it, without judging it, you have just allowed it to go to everybody.

And I’m grateful that way has continued. I’m grateful that all these eight-thousand, ten-thousand videos that are now there in the public domain, they all consist of absolutely fresh responses. It becomes very difficult if a topic is given in advance and one is asked to speak. It has happened at a few places, a few institutions, a few centers. They would say, “But what would Acharya Ji speak on?” and then I have great difficulty communicating to them that I do not speak on anything; I just respond. I have nothing of myself to say at all. If you ask me something, a response would come to you.

So, I exist not as a speaker, but as a responsiveness. But that’s something that not many people often appreciate. They feel that I have certain knowledge that I’m going to disseminate. I have no knowledge. I do not come from knowledge. Because this verse is in front of me, that’s the reason I am relating this. I come from the point that Shri Krishna is talking of here. He says, “Of the four tiers of God-realization, the highest is Dhyāna or meditativeness.” That’s from where I speak.

It's risky, mind you. You have done something without knowing what you are doing. And you cannot just do it on the spot without your entire life, without the rest of your life being totally aligned to this moment. You cannot be suddenly meditative on the podium, if you have not been meditative throughout the day. You cannot suddenly be so faithful and risk-taking here in front of the audience, if your entire day has not been aligned to this moment.

In some sense, you could say that my entire day is a subtle preparation towards this moment. In other words, you could say that I do not prepare at all. There is no preparation going on. The entire day is in a hidden way exactly what this moment is in an explicit way. Right now, I’m just explicitly doing what I continue to do implicitly the rest of my day.

So that’s the price that you have to pay. The price is that you have to be your entire life, what you are here right now. And if you cannot be exactly what you are here right now throughout your day, then you will start bumbling, and fumbling, and stammering, and when it comes to this podium, you will no longer have the certainty, the sureness, and the faith to proceed with your spontaneity. You’ll start having self-doubt. You’ll start asking yourself, “Am I making sense, or am I just blabbering?”

For you to remain in your sureness, for you to assuredly proceed through your spontaneous response, you need to have practiced it throughout the day. So that’s the reason it’s the highest thing: because it demands the highest sacrifice; it demands your entire day. The highest sacrifice is what? Your entire life. To be spontaneous on this podium, you need to be spontaneous and faithful your entire life. A big price to pay, but the returns are bounteous.

Then there is Sāṃkhya. Sāṃkhya means the path of Gyana (knowledge). So you could take that path, and it’s a beautiful path. In fact, even those who belong to the topmost path must have knowledge as well. Knowledge helps you stay on the path of Dhyāna. Knowledge is like an ancillary. It cannot be the central thing, obviously. But there are times when you’re required to have knowledge. So, obviously meditation is the central thing. Not meditation of the kind that you call as meditation, mind you. When I say ‘meditation’, I mean a totally different thing. For me, meditation is life. For me, meditation is not one of those methods that you keep practicing. So, often you require knowledge to stay settled in your meditativeness.

Then, Shri Krishna says, “Well, if neither Dhyāna nor Gyana is your cup of tea, then Karma.”

What does Karma mean? “Well, you know, act as My agent. Act as My devotee. Act for My sake.” That’s Karma. And he says, “If you cannot do even that, then just worship Me just as all others do. At least you will not be spending your time doing nonsense. Even if you are involved in a superficial kind of worship, at least your time and your resources are not going in directions that could have been even worse. So, fine.”

But this fourth way, obviously, is the fourth way. It is the least preferable way. That’s why it has been put at number four. Else it would have been talked of at the outset itself; there was no reason the other three ways needed to be mentioned. So do not be too tempted; do not feel that meditativeness and Gyana are needless because Shri Krishna is saying that even the fourth category people will ultimately go across the Bhavasāgara. They will go across the Bhavasāgara, because that’s the destiny of all consciousness, but they will go across Bhavasāgara in the most terrible of ways—drowning, fainting, screaming, yelling. Is that how you want your river ride to be? Or do you want to take the royal speedboat and speed across to your glorious destination?

You would have surely gone through the formal education system. How would you like to make it through? Going from class six to class seven in three attempts? Having been kicked out of four schools, and then machinating some kind of a fraudulent certificate from one of those shady institutions that say that, “Even if you are class seven fail, we’ll still give you a high school certificate”? You can do all those things as well, as the fourth category of students often do, or you could keep flying through the grades with distinction.

Ultimately, twenty years later you will say, “You see, that fellow earned a bachelor’s degree and I too did, so what’s the difference?” But probe your heart, and you’ll find that there is a lot of difference. He’s a royal bachelor, and you somehow just struggled your way through education.

Choose the royal way.

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