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Freedom is success for the one in bondage || IIM Ahmedabad (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
10 min
75 reads

Questioner (Q): Recently you had a talk at IIT Delhi, and now you are here at IIM Ahmedabad, and both of these universities are your alma mater. Today, your batchmates would be at various corporate positions, but you have taken an unconventional path of becoming a spiritual teacher. So, how do you look at your batchmates, and whom would you see as the most successful? More importantly, how would you define and evaluate success?

Acharya Prashant (AP): You see, success, obviously, is subjective; it depends on who you are. Do we see that? When you say that one has to succeed, the underlying assumption is that one is currently not successful. When you say that you want to succeed, what you are saying is: you want to reach somewhere, and the point where you want to reach is not the point you are currently at.

And that is a fair assumption, because all of us are indeed restless; we are restless and that proves that we are not where we must be. We are all desirous; we want to become something else or the other. This desire to become is in itself a strong indicator that our current state, our current configuration is not ideal, not final; something needs to change, something needs to improve within.

So, we are all restless but we are all restless in our personal and unique ways. At a general level, we could sum up the situation of every sentient being in one word: consciousness is restlessness. If you are conscious, you are restless. And if you are not restless, then you don’t need to succeed; you are already successful. Your restlessness is your demand for success.

But our restlessness comes to us in very, very personal and very unique ways. Therefore, success has to be different for each one of us. It is like saying that each one of us is in bondage, but you might be held by the right arm, and he might be held by the left arm; he might be pinned to a wall, and he might be held to the floor in some other way.

So, we all are enslaved. That freedom will come to us in very different ways; ‘success’ is the name of that freedom. And therefore, the efforts and endeavors of each one of us have to be particular to that entity. You have to define your own success. Your success cannot be a general thing; your success cannot be a social norm.

What might constitute genuine success for one individual may actually have no bearing on the wellness, welfare of somebody else. Superficially, if you look at both of them, you will find that both of them have had the same accomplishment, both of them have cleared the same hurdle, but it would be fallacious to say that both have succeeded equally. The same event might be an indicator of deep success for one, but may not really be that significant to the other. But if the other one, the second person goes by the prevailing norms, he or she will try to console himself/herself that he is equally successful when he is not.

Therefore, to know whether or not you are successful, or whether or not you are moving in the direction of your success, you have to first know where you are standing. We just said success is freedom, so let’s call success as one common point of liberation from your bondages. That destination might be common to all, but the route taken and the exact milestones covered have to be different for each person; therefore, we cannot compare our success with the next person.

If you want to know whether we are successful or not, then we have to ask ourselves: Am I really getting better off compared to my previous stage, not compared to somebody else? Am I now better off compared to what I used to be? After all, my restlessness is the reason I strive so much—am I less restless now? Or is it so that the events that I quote as my accomplishments have actually made me more restless, more frenzied, more feverish, more insecure?

If you find that your achievements are in fact making you more insecure, then they are not an indicator of your success; you are not quite mapping your route rightly, and that has to be very clearly known. It would be quite ironical the day people come and congratulate you for a certain accomplishment, and you feel no joy within. It is such an absurd situation then. The world kind of wants you to feel good about yourself, but deep within you know that years of effort has not made any positive change to your internal condition.

And mind you, it is not people that we live with; we live with our insides. Even when we are surrounded by a lot of people, we actually have to live with ourselves. And if you are not feeling good with yourself, it is no fun living.

Q: I have always found the profession of an acharya or a wisdom teacher to be quite amusing, because even Shakespeare said that a fool does think himself to be wise, but the wise does think himself to be a fool. Being an acharya or a wisdom teacher requires you to be the smartest person in the room, or else the people who come to listen to you or follow your advice would not appreciate what you are saying. But if you are wise enough, you would appreciate that you might not be the smartest person in the room, or you might not have answers to all the questions that are posed to you. So, how do you look at this profession in that manner, considering that you are a wisdom teacher?

AP: You answer to the best of your capacity. It is not about proving to the other that you are the smartest person in the room. This language itself is quite juvenile. Spirituality is for adults. Who is smart, who is not smart, who is carrying away all the girls, who gets all the attention—all that is for adolescents. Such language does not apply to the spiritual domain.

Someone comes to you, someone wants to invest his time with you; that is a responsibility upon you. How do you respond? You respond to the best of your ability. Obviously, you never say or claim, if you have any sincerity at all, that your answer is an absolute. Even if you do claim, as some people do, that their answers are Godsent or absolutes, the person in the audience too has his own intellect; he too knows a few things. He will assess, he will know.

Ultimately, the tyre has to meet the road. It is easy to sit on a high chair, it is easy to be placed on a podium and say all the great things. But to be of genuine use to somebody, what you are saying must pass the test of life, and that is the right thing. Figure out whether your advice is really useful to someone or not, and never attach any absoluteness to it.

Q: What is the importance of experience in becoming a wisdom teacher?

AP: Obviously experience helps, obviously reading helps, knowledge helps. All these things help. But unlike other walks of human life, here you cannot have very certain determinants; you cannot say that someone who has twenty years of experience will surely deliver the goods, or that someone who is only twenty-two will not realize what he is saying. Some of the greatest proponents of Vedanta, for example, Ashtavakra, Acharya Shankara, they were all quite young people. The famous debate that Ashtavakra had with King Janaka was when Ashtavakra was just fourteen years of age. Acharya Shankara died when he was hardly thirty, and before he died he had composed literature that is considered the gold standard even today.

Obviously, experience does matter, but we cannot be too insistent on imposing that constraint; it will become too tight a constraint. Ultimately, the only determinant is: does the advice make sense? Is the realization really adding value to the lives of others? We say the Truth is that which is useful; ultimately it has to perform. Otherwise, it is all just verbiage and sophistry.

Q: Take the case of these people in this room; they are intelligent, they have mental bandwidth to figure out what they need, but it is just because these people are well-resourced; they have the luxury to be acquainted with this kind of teaching. Contrast this to the case of some normal person who is just striving to survive in this world. To us what you are saying might be applicable, but how will all this make sense to someone whose sole occupation is to just survive in this world? Aren’t all these things applicable only to the ones with the sufficient resources for it?

AP: Even if you are leading your so-called normal, daily life in the usual middle-class way, still you have to make daily decisions; still every little thing calls for consideration, calls for the setting of criteria, and ultimately calls for a decision to be taken. Spirituality or the field of wisdom is about making those daily decisions in the best way possible; it is not something separated from life. And each of us is alive, so we all do have a life. Therefore, we all need spirituality.

We all are walking; consider life a journey. Spirituality is not about changing the path that you are walking; it is about throwing some light on the same path that you are walking. Spirituality is not another path; you don’t have to quit your daily life, you don’t have to change tracks. But won’t you want to move on an illuminated track? Spirituality is illumination, it is light. You are living—why not make your decisions in an illuminated way? Otherwise, there would be obstacles and one would be stumbling at every point as the normal man does.

When I said that most of us here are quite well-placed to enquire about the world and to go into inner enquiry, I said that not so much on the basis of our resourcefulness but on the basis of our logical acumen. Going beyond reason first of all requires you to have the capacity to exercise reason soundly. That is one thing that you people are quite good at—exercising logic. If you can exercise logic well, then you will find it relatively easier to come to the boundary of logic.

YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/tRa2cLBu2_8

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