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Games we play
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
20 min
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Acharya Prashant (AP): Whenever something is addressed to the ego, whenever a word is delivered to the ego, it is delivered with the intention to take the ego to the Truth. Remember, it is the intention to take the ego to the Truth. Whatsoever is being told to the ego, is being told so that the ego moves towards the Truth, which means, and you have to get the distinction right, that what is being told to the ego is not really the Truth.

First of all, the Truth cannot be told. Secondly, the ego is in no position to receive the Truth. Right? So, the entire effort is to bring the ego to a point where it can disappear into the Truth. This has to be very clearly understood. So, these words are addressed to the disciple’s ego. These words are in the form of a medicine. They are a tool. They are a method. And a method has to be seen just as a method, no more, no less.

Now, look at the state of the disciple’s ego. Surely, the disciple has tried out on his own, followed many paths before he came to the Upanishadic sage. And as is common, it is a belief with most seekers that if they have a lot of knowledge, or if they have been performing austerities, or if they have been making presents to the various gods and goddesses, it would help them advance in their spiritual journey.

So, here is the disciple sitting in front of the sage, and the disciple is full of his concepts. We are re-creating the scene. The disciple is full of his concepts, and that is why he is a disciple. Had he not been full of this and that, why would he need to be a disciple in the first place? And what is the disciple full of? Knowledge and the desire to have more knowledge.

You cannot blame him for this, because this is all that he knows. He thinks that the knowledge that he has so far is insufficient, and so he has come to the sage to acquire even more knowledge. Right? And obviously, the Guru, the sage, can read the mind of the disciple. It’s not difficult. Why is it not difficult? Because the disciple’s mind works on set patterns, and those are very well-known ancient patterns of Prakriti (nature.)

Once you go some distance into your own mind, you discover your patterns and you find that somewhere your patterns represent the patterns of entire mankind, the patterns of Prakriti, existence itself. So, the Guru can see. The Guru can see where the disciple is coming from and what all he is carrying. So what is the effort of the Guru now? He wants to unburden the disciple. He wants to unburden the disciple.

What is the disciple sitting with? A lot of knowledge and the intention to acquire even more knowledge. Now, you will know why this verse has been constructed this way. Says the Guru, “Bondage is the plan to acquire knowledge.” He has shot the disciple right in his core intention. And the disciple must be wondering, “But that’s exactly why I came to you, sir. I came to you to acquire more knowledge.”

The Guru has read what the disciple has come for, and he’s shooting him down. He’s shooting him down before he can even take off in his useless efforts. It’s like bombing an airplane when it has not even taken to the skies. It is resting at the airport, the fighter plane, and you go and bomb the airport itself. That’s what the Guru is doing.

What wisdom is there in allowing the plane to take off, do some damage, cause some mischief, and then engage in a dogfight, and then shoot it down? The Guru launches a preemptive strike. He says, “Even before you can’t take off, I’ll bomb you. If you have any intention to acquire knowledge, that itself is bondage.” And the disciple is taken aback, [saying], “Is that so?”

So, it is no eut a statement expressing the absolute. It is a statement in relation to the disciple’s current condition. This has to be very clearly understood. This does not mean that knowledge itself is bondage. Knowledge can be bondage or knowledge can be the utmost freedom. It depends on your approach towards knowledge.

Look at the contradiction involved here. On one hand, the Guru is saying, “Knowledge and the intention to acquire knowledge is bondage”, whereas the entire Upanishad is delivering knowledge to the seeker. Had knowledge persey been bondage, why would the Guru speak at all? Because when he speaks, it rains knowledge.

So knowledge persey, is not bondage. But when you think that knowledge that you gather from your own center will deliver you liberation, then knowledge is bondage. In fact, then knowledge becomes a servant to your very Center which is in bondage. What do most people use knowledge for? They use knowledge to defend their servile center: “I’m already in bondage, and I use knowledge, the existing knowledge that I have, Plus any more knowledge that I would gather, to defend my pre-existing center.” Then knowledge is obviously bondage. Anything that you used to defend your current condition is bondage, because it is just enabling your bondages. It is just fattening your bondages. In that sense, knowledge is bondage.

So, when the Guru is speaking to the disciple, it is not so much about knowledge. It is about the nature of the entity that receives knowledge. The Guru intends to cause an inward shift in the disciple. The idea is not really to give him this kind of knowledge, or that kind of knowledge. The idea is to change the very center that would receive knowledge. This is delicate. Get this straight: the idea is to change the very center, shift the very center, that would receive knowledge. That’s the entire intention.

Similarly, there is the belief in the seeker’s mind, that if he will use the method, the methods rather, prevalent in the times, he would be able to get liberation from his suffering and bondages. The Guru enumerates all the prevalent methods, and he does not say that those methods will be ineffective towards liberation. Instead he says, “These methods are, themselves, bondages.” He does not even say that the methods you use are useless. He says, “These methods are bondages.”

Now are these methods really bondages? Not really, because bondage does not ever lie outside of you. Bondage is always the one who is looking at the world.

Nothing in the world really is a bondage. In bondage is the one who looks at the world.

And, if the one in bondage is adamant that he will continue to be who he is, what he is, and still looks at the world with the hope that he can gain liberation using some trick, technique, method, knowledge, or person from the world, then he is actually conspiring against himself.

Alright, let me explain with an example. A fellow feels that he is caged inside a room or at least, so he says. He says, “I am caged inside a room.” This you can take as a situation of bondage. And then there are windows that open into the world. From the windows, this man keeps shouting to the world, “Give me liberation! Give me liberation!” but he makes sure that the door is bolted and firmly locked from the inside.

That is the situation of the common seeker. The common seeker keeps looking at the world to get some support, or method, or hope, or knowledge for liberation. He keeps shouting out from the windows, “I need liberation! Can I get some help? Can somebody tell me some trick? Is there a way?” But he ensures, conspiring against himself, that no help is really able to pull him out of the captivity he is in.

With one eye, he keeps looking at the door to ensure that the door is firmly bolted, locked from inside, not from the outside. Had the door been locked from the outside, some outsider could’ve come and opened the door. But no outsider can really help you, because you do not really intend to be liberated. You just want to make a grand show of your discipleship. You just want to demonstrate to all and probably even to yourself, that you are a genuine seeker, but inwardly, do you have ensured that the lock is stout and heavy.

What’s more, if someone delivers to you a method or a machine, a long rod or a spear, a hammer, a screwdriver, anything that can be used to open the door, you gladly take that thing in from the window; you gladly take that thing in. And what do you use it for? You use it to defend the door. So, even if you do have a well-wisher outside, and that well-wisher is fervently delivering to you one thing after the other, “Here, you have a spade. Here, this is a thick, and long, and pointed rod. Here, a heavy hammer.”

And those things, those methods, those tools are being given to you and you are receiving them. But what, what are you using those tools for? And nobody, besides yourself, can decide what you will use those things for. The Scriptures can deliver you knowledge, but the Scriptures will not decide what you will use that knowledge for. Lots of methods can be told to you: “We’ll donate money. Perform austerities. Live in this way. Behave in that way.” But the problem is that you can use each of these methods not to reduce yourself, but to fatten yourself, and that is what has historically, traditionally happened.

So, the Guru is demolishing the student’s mind here. The Guru is telling the student all these things that you have used so far for your liberation, these things have actually been used to defend and further your bondages, because you are just too concerned about the method. You are not at all looking at the one who is using that method or will use that method.

So irrespective of having the best methods or knowledge, you’ll still fail, as most people do, because the right intention is not there, because the intention and the honesty to look clearly at and acknowledge one's core desire is not there. Outwardly, we are very active. Inwardly, we do not even want to ask, “What are we active for? What do I really want?” Or maybe we do know. It is because we know, that we do not want to look at what we know. It’s not pretty to look at. We want to avoid looking at what we already know, that’s why we do not chance upon our intentions even incidentally.

You see, if there is a corner of your house that you never, never visit. You have not visited it even once in the last three years. It’s a corner of your own house, and something is kept in that corner. Right? And you say, “I do not know what is kept there, because I have never visited that corner.” The opposite, the exact opposite might actually be true. You very well know what is kept in that corner, and that is the exact reason why you have particularly avoided that corner over the last three years.

Otherwise, even randomly, just by probability, you would’ve chanced upon that place sometime or the other. How is it possible that you never, ever look at that corner of your house? This cannot be a random happening. This cannot be a game of mere probabilities; this is deliberate. It is not that you do not know what is kept there because you never went there, it is just that you know that you have a skeleton buried right in that corner, and that’s why you deliberately avoid visiting that corner.

Happens with murderers, especially those who murder the self. You don’t want to look at the crime scene again and again. It’s not exactly a picnic spot. Is it? You don’t want to revisit it. You very well know what you did there. That’s the reason why we avoid looking at our insides. We know what we have done there. We know we are buried there. We know whose face the skeleton is carrying. Who wants to look at his own rotting corpse?

Unfortunately, there is no provision in any law book for punishing someone who has murdered himself long back and still continues to roam about. It is not even acknowledged as something culpable.

It’s a game in psychology. You have to really understand where the disciple stands, and therefore why exactly certain things are being told to the disciple. Why must you understand a disciple? Because you are the disciple. The patterns of the disciple, are your patterns. The intentions of the disciple, are your intentions. The various dishonesties of the disciple, are your dishonesties. Therefore, if you can understand the disciple, you’ll find that you are looking into the mirror.

Listener (L): You mentioned that a seeker who is not/does not have the intention to be liberated will use the knowledge of the Upanishads to also safeguard his ego. That is one thing, but on the other hand, we know that liberation is the ultimate goal of human life. So in some way or the other everyone does/is looking for liberation.

AP: No, it’s not true. You may know where the medicine is. That is one thing, but to walk up to that place, pick up the pill—and it’s a bitter pill, and swallow it—that’s a totally different thing. Knowledge and intention or not to be equated. You may know that liberation is supreme, but are you walking up to liberation? That’s a totally different thing.

L: So, for that person who is not sincere, let’s say, still if he goes to the Scriptures, he is going to the Scriptures, and it is ending up being harmful for him in a way. Is it?

AP: That’s what he will try, but the Scriptures too are quite smart. The Scriptures too try their best to not let that person succeed. So when you’re reading the Scriptures, obviously you have your own agenda. You want to co-op the scripture. You want to feed it to the ego. You want to provide it nutrition to the ego. But the scripture is in some sense, a living thing. It is constructed in a way that it does not easily become ego fodder.

Obviously, the Scriptures have limitations, because it is now words on paper. Therefore, the ego does have an upper hand. When it comes to the tussle between the ego and the Scripture, the odds are loaded in favor of the ego, but still the Scripture does try its best. Don’t you see that happening here? Don’t you see that the Guru is putting a great and living potency in these words? It will not be easy for the ego to assimilate these words.

But still, I mean, the Guru it’s not available in the physical form, so the chances are that the ego will succeed. Had the Guru really been present in the physical form, then the disciple’s ego was much less likely to succeed. But now the Guru is not there. Instead, just his words are there. He has still tried his best to carefully craft his words so that they do not become easily manipulated by the ego, but words have their limitations.

L: So, eventually we see that a person who is insincere, even the words cannot help.

AP: Yes, he’ll make things very difficult for himself.

L: So, what would be the best course of action?

AP: His insincerity is best for him; may he be more insincere. May he come to the breaking point more swiftly. The problem is not the grossly, overtly, and completely insincere people. They come to an end, which means, they come to a point where they do see the fallacy of their ways.

The problem is the ones in the middle, the ones who are not too good and not too bad. The ones who will not oppose liberation, but will at the same time do nothing to attain it; The ones who will not throw the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita out of their house, but will ensure that they never read them. Those are the real tough nuts to crack.

If there is someone who simply throws the Bhagavad Gita out of his house, this fellow is genuine. This fellow will soon come to a breaking point. The problem is the people who maintain a copy of the Bhagavad Gita inside of their house, only to never read it. Those are the problem chaps.

L: Maybe that’s why we see a lot of prevalent spirituality trying to keep people in the middle?

AP: In the middle, a lot of prevalent spirituality is just about keeping you safely in the middle. If you really go the entire distance and declare that you do not want liberation, your bondages will fully consume you. And if your bondages will fully consume you, you are liberated. Right? Or rather extreme, if you declare that you want nothing but liberation, then obviously you are keeping aside your bondages, because you do not want the bondages, you want only liberation. The middle roaders are the shrewd ones.

L: But Is that really true though? Because even after all this, we see the percentage of people who leave and go towards spirituality, versus the percentage of people who are just living a materialistic life. It’s probably even higher, isn’t it? The percentage of people who don’t even go to, whether it is fake spirituality, real spirituality. Percentage of people who are completely ignorant about spirituality. Isn’t that percentage still higher? So in that sense, those people should have been consumed by their…

AP: No, no. There is just nobody who does not, as a safety evolve, as some kind of a buffer or an armor, maintain some degree of spirituality in his life. That spirituality might be there in your life even as the crudest form of religion or religious rights, but most people do not really go far enough to discard spirituality completely from their life. There are very few people who, for example, banish religion completely.

How many court marriages do you have as a percentage, involving no religious rights at all? You might call yourself whatever, an atheist or this or that, but still you want to do your rounds around the fire, the holy fire. And all the verses are being addressed to the gods, and you are a self-proclaimed atheist. On these moments, one really does not have the guts to stand by his professed notions.

Or you look at, you know, what do I say? You have these little things…When you open somebody’s WhatsApp profile, there is their display picture, and then they have some kind of description about themselves. It’s a status… Status line. Is the status line often not some kind of a crude spiritual axiom? The fellow’s juvenile attempt at philosophy? So, everyone is indeed spiritual to an extent, sometimes even without his consent or knowledge.

L: No one likes to be completely earthly.

AP: No one can survive being completely material. You might say that, for example, you do not believe in any kind of metaphysical entity or existence, but when you are dating someone, you find it quite handy to send one line from Rumi, another line from Hafiz to that person and all those lines are addressed to somebody metaphysical. And then you find that the feeling that you have is best expressed in those lines from Rumi, and to that extent, you become spiritual, but only to that extent.

Some commercial movie would have two lines picked from some great poet or a spiritual song; the author might not even be acknowledged, and the audience remembers those two lines: “Away from the field of right and wrong, there is a holy space. I will meet you there.” Remember these lines, and the movie? And the audience goes gaga, wow!

So, there is that spiritual vacancy inside all of us. And we do keep filling it with tidbits of spiritual inputs, but only tidbits, nothing more than that.

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