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From the gross to the subtle || On Advaita Vedanta (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
11 min
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क्रियानाशाद्भवेच्छिन्तानाशोऽस्माद्वासनाक्षयः । वासनाप्रक्षयो मोक्षः सा जीवन्मुक्तिरिष्यते ॥

kriyānāśādbhavecchintānāśo'smādvāsanākṣayaḥ vāsanāprakṣayo mokṣaḥ sā jīvanmuktiriṣyate

The destruction of action leads to that of thought; thence results the dwindling of innate impulse (to act). The obliteration of innate impulse is liberation; it is held to be freedom in life.

~ Adhyatma Upanishad, Verse 12

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Questioner (Q): I am aware that I have innate impulses like anger, greed, fright, fear, and attachments. Kindly help me understand what is this process of dwindling of innate impulses, as mentioned in this verse.

Acharya Prashant (AP): It is the path, the method that proceeds from the gross and goes towards the subtle. This method is for those who cannot begin from the subtle-most.

There is the path of realization. The path of realization says, begin from your center, begin from your heart, Ātman ; let that guide and dictate your mind; let that which comes from your Heart shape your thoughts, and then let your mind dictate your actions; let your thoughts seamlessly transform into your actions. The flow is from the center, radially outwards. You start from the Heart, you go to the mind, and then you go to the gross actions. The movement is from the most subtle to the gross.

And then contrasted to that is the path, the way, the method that is mentioned in this verse. Why is a contrasting method needed? Because most people cannot start from the Heart. Most people are so out of touch with their Heart that they cannot listen to the Heart; they are no more in sync. You tell them, “Please start from your Heart, do what God says”; they will be perplexed because they have lost the faculty to listen to their Heart.

So, if you just leave them with the instructions or the advice that they must do what their center says, they will not be able to do anything at all, or they will mistakenly construe some random voice of the mind as the voice of the Heart and proceed as per that random voice and harm themselves. So, the way of the Heart is not for everyone. It is only for those who are in touch with their Heart. It is only for those who are in touch with the subtle-most.

And then there is the opposite way that this verse is talking of. It is the way of the gross. So, you start from your actions, you look at your actions—you proceed backwards—you see where your actions are coming from, you come to your thoughts, and your thoughts then lead you to look at your deep tendencies; you negate the tendencies then. And when all these are gone, then you are left with nothing but pure Truth.

So, the verse says, “The destruction of action leads to that of thought.” You look at your actions to begin with. You look at that which is the most gross—and what is that? Actions. You look at your actions, and you find them horrible. You negate your actions. The verse says destruction of actions; you destroy your actions. You say, “No, the moment I pay attention to my actions, I see that I cannot continue with them.” And if you can freeze your actions, then the thought that leads to those actions will start shrinking.

Please understand the theory here. Thought feeds upon its manifestation into action. If you have a thought and you do not favor it, support it, energize it, do not turn it into action, then that thought gets weakened. It loses its power because it is not gaining any sympathy from you.

So, the thought is arising and the thought is prompting you to act in a certain way, and you refuse to go by the demand of that thought, you refuse to act, you freeze the action; as the verse says, you destroy the action. You do not let the thought turn into action. The thought itself will die down because thought requires your support.

How do you express your support to the thought? By turning it into action. When you do not turn the thought into action, what have you told the thought? “I do not respect you. You have come to me and you are saying ‘act this way’, and I have not gone by your advice. I do not respect you, I will not fuel you. I am not your ally.” And the thought, humiliated and de-energized, falls down.

Similar is the relationship between the latent tendency that gives rise to thoughts and thoughts. Thought demands action, tendency demands thought. So, the tendency comes to you demanding that you think in a particular way. But if you do not support the tendency, if you do not let the tendency turn into active thoughts, then the tendency too will gradually shrivel. You are not energizing the tendency—from where will it continue?

So, action is destroyed and that destroys thoughts. Thought is destroyed and that destroys the tendency. And when false action, false thought, false tendencies are all gone, then you are left with nothing but the Truth. This is the way in which you proceed from the gross to the subtle.

“I am aware that I have innate impulses like anger, greed, fright, fear, and attachments. What is the process of dwindling of innate impulses as mentioned?”

The process of dwindling of innate impulses is the process of not letting the impulses turn into thought or action. How do you dwindle the innate impulses? By not letting them turn into thoughts and then actions. That’s the highlighted portion.

How do you enfeeble a thought? By not acting on it. Let the thought keep coming; you keep disregarding it. When the thought will not find any traction with you, it will feel insulted and will retreat. Let your impulses keep raging; do not let them occupy your mind. Do not start actively thinking on their lines, and the impulses will gradually fall silent.

You have the choice. Nothing happens to you without your consent. Impulses appeal to you. Thoughts appeal to you. You are the judge. You decide whether to accept their appeals. Do not say, “Oh, what do I do? I am a slave to my thoughts!” You are not a slave to your thoughts. You are the one who decides that you will go by your thoughts. And if you have decided, you can also reverse the decision. That power is there. Exercise that power judiciously.

Do you ever have bad thoughts? If you know that a thought is bad, it will not remain anymore. According to the thinker, all thoughts are good. We said thought requires your support to survive. So, if there is any thought that is surviving in you, according to you it is a good thought; otherwise, how could it have survived? Survival of thought requires that you consider it beneficial for yourself. If you know that a thought is not beneficial for you, then you will not support it, and then it cannot survive.

If a bad thought is persevering in your mind, continuing in your mind, then it means that you are just calling it a bad thought; deeply you are supporting it, deeply you think that it is a good thought. Maybe for reasons of moral necessity you are superficially calling it bad, but deeply you are quite pleased with it. Had you really, honestly thought that the thought is bad, then the thought would have gone.

But our minds are all full of so-called bad thoughts. What does that mean? We call them bad. We actually do not consider them bad. And your minds are not at all full of good thoughts. What does that mean? You call them good, but you consider them very, very bad. So, even when those thoughts come to you, you do not support them. What do you support? All the so-called bad thoughts, because they all are quite nice, lovely, attractive. Then let’s have a little honesty—why call them bad at all?

There was this Bengali story, you know. So, Bengali gentleman Bhadralok, he was very fond of visiting brothels. And he was a Brahmin, and Brahmin too of the highest gotra (lineage). So, he will go to the prostitute, coil the sacred thread around his ear, do want he wanted to do, and leave.

One day when he was leaving, the women saw that he was exhausted, all in sweat and huffing and panting—you know, must have been quite intensely in the act. So, the woman brought a glass of water for him. He must have been a regular patron. So, just for client relationship management, she probably brought some water. “Please take some water. You are sweating a lot sir, and you are losing your breath.” And the bugger says, “I am a high caste Brahmin! Will I drink water from your hands?” The woman was a bad thought for him.

Such are our bad thoughts. We enjoy them, and then we say, “Will I touch you? You low cost, low caste prostitute! Will I ever touch you? Will I accept water from your hands?” That’s our relationship with our bad thoughts.

Q: Thoughts are subtle, and we can catch them and stop them from turning into actions. But how to see and catch tendencies?

AP: No, tendencies are subtle; thoughts are not. Thoughts are not as imperceivable as tendencies, so they are not very subtle.

Don’t keep thinking. You know how to stop thoughts, right? You very well know how to fuel thought. You also know how to de-energize thought. Go occupy yourself in something constructive. Don’t give yourself the time and the space to think so much. That’s how you block the flow of thought; that’s how you interrupt the momentum of thought, don’t you? The moment you interrupt thought, you have weakened the tendency behind the thought. Tendency you cannot see, but thought you can.

So, work on the thought. By working on the thought, you are indirectly working on the tendency. And if you can work on your thought long enough and consistently enough, you will find that your tendency has weakened down a lot.

Q: While sitting here, we have to take a certain posture, and that is, in some sense, stopping certain actions. But during the last discussion, all kinds of scenes started appearing in my mind. How to avoid this?

AP: Listen to the next answer; the movie will stop. That’s all. How do you stop a particular action? Man is forever acting; then how do you stop a particular action? Do something else. Not doing anything is anyway not possible. What does it mean, then, to destroy action, as the Upanishad says? It means, do something else. Go, get busy with something more fruitful, more sane.

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