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Give up your values! || Acharya Prashant, with youth (2013)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
22 min
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Questioner (Q): When all of us have different value systems, how is it possible to judge rightly? How is it possible to declare that one system is superior to the other? Can there be a universal system, or is each one of us entitled to have our own particular, personal system of values?

Acharya Prashant (AP): What are values? What do we mean by ‘values’? Alright, without going too much into the word, what do you mean when you say that something is valuable to you?

Q: It has an importance.

AP: Importance. You give it importance, right? So, when you say, “Such and such are my values,” in fact you are saying that “I give importance to such and such things in my life,” right? “I give importance to this.”

Now, give me examples of a few values. Give me examples of a few things that you value.

Q: Parents.

AP: Parents, alright.

Q: Education.

AP: Education, and?

Q: Friends.

AP: When you say that “These are my values,” what do you usually mean? What are usually our values? Things like truth; truth is valuable. “It is part of my value system to speak the truth.” Or freedom, “I give a lot of value to freedom.” Then somebody may say that “Discipline is a part of my values” or “Respecting elders is a part of my values.”

The question is now two-fold. One: Where did these values come from? When I say these are my values, are they really my values? When I say, “You know, my personal values, I give great importance to this thing in my life,” do I really give importance? Where did I get those values from? That is the first question. Second question: Do I really understand what I mean when I say that for me parents are valuable or truth is valuable or freedom is valuable? Do I really understand what I mean by all that?

Who will help me answer the first part of the question? Where do we get these values from?

Q: From our surroundings.

AP: From our surroundings. So, as are your surroundings, so would be your values. Surroundings give thoughts to you and these values are basically thoughts. Are we really justified in saying that these are our values? Are we really justified in saying that these are our values if the values are coming from the surroundings? Tell me.

There is a recorder, and let’s say an audio recorder. And the recorder is recording all the voices that are coming from the surroundings. Does the recorder have any right to say that “These are my voices”? The recorder will keep playing, keep repeating those voices, won’t it? But does it really have a right to say that “These are my voices” if the voices are all coming from the surroundings?

If our values are all coming from the surroundings, is it really intelligent of us to say these are ‘my’ values?

Being born in a particular family, you would say that “I respect animal life a lot. I respect all animal life, so I am a pure vegetarian.” Being born in another family, you have been taking meat since childhood, so this part is not at all a part of your values.

Now, is the first fellow justified in saying that respect to all life, including animal life, is a part of his values? Is it really his value or something that came to him from the house that he was born in, from his parents, probably from his religion? Is it his value, really? But the fellow will be very very adamant. He will say, “No, these are my values.”

Now, if the same child were to be born in another family that was meat-eating, would the child still value a vegetarian diet? Would he? No, then he would say, “No, this is not a part of my values.”

Such are our values, and that is why these values differ from person to person, family to family, city to city, religion to religion, country to country: because as the surroundings change, the values also change. So much so that if you move out of this country and go to another country, soon you will find that your values are also changing.

In India, a general sense of social chaos, public indiscipline, is alright. The same Indians, when they move abroad, they start giving great value to orderly public life. They would dare not break the traffic rules; they would follow all the injunctions which are to be followed. They are giving importance to these things. So, the values have changed; they have imbibed new values.

Values definitely come from surroundings. They are not at all our values, and the intelligent man realizes that. The intelligent man does not quickly start singing, “My values, my values.” He does not quickly form opinions. He very well knows where all opinions come from. He is alert. He will say, “Boss, what right do I have to call something external as my own? If I do that, I am stupid.”

So, that is the first part, that what we call as our values are usually not at all our values. Somebody else just gives them to us right since childhood, and we are dependent, we have no option. We take that in, and mistakenly we start calling it our value. That is the first part.

Second part: Do we really understand what we call as values? Do we really understand? For all the difference that we find in values between persons, between communities, between countries, a few values seem to be quite common. For example, most communities, most cultures, most religions will say that “We value love.” More or less every community finds it valuable to give respect to elders. Truth is considered valuable by most people, doesn’t matter which country, which religion, which time.

So, these look like shared values; these look like pretty common values. But do we understand these? How many of us really know what truth is? When we say that we must be loving, how many of us really understand love? When we say give respect to elders, do we really understand what is meant by elders? Is it just about age? Do we really understand what respect is?

So, even those values that seem independent of time and surroundings, that seem universal, even there we do not know what is it that we are calling as valuable. We just call something valuable without knowing what it is.

“Love is great, love is good, love is God, love is very important.” But what is love? “That I do not know. But it must be something wonderful.”

“It is a part of my values, my responsibility, to be respectful towards elders.” Alright, son, please tell me what is meant by responsibility, what is meant by values, and what is meant by respect? “Sir, that I do not know. But it is a part of my values to give respect.” Give what? “Give respect.” What is respect? “That I don’t know.”

Quite wonderful, isn’t it? What are you doing? “I am being respectful.” What exactly are you being? “Respectful.” What is that? “That I do not know!”

Forget about being intelligent—is it even sane of us? You understand sanity? A normal, healthy functioning mind that is not mad. Is it even sane of us to profess values of this kind where we do not even understand what we are professing?

And there are religions and cultures, and we give importance to so many things. We give importance, for example, to donations, to forgiveness, and we keep valuing these things without understanding what forgiveness is. We do not know what dāna (charity) is, what zakat (Islamic term for donation) is, but we will say, “Give something to the poor, donate money or clothes or food,” without understanding what is really meant by helping. But we will say, “It is a part of my values.” Do you really understand what it means to help somebody?

And it’s easy, not that it requires some doctorate to understand these basic things—love, truth, simplicity, help, respect. They are basics, fundamentals; they are to be easily understood. We all have the capacity to understand. But do we really understand? We don’t understand. What do we do? We fight. We say, “My values versus your values” and “My values are better than your values.”

It’s like you are carrying a variable ‘A’ and somebody else is carrying variable ‘B’. You do not know what ‘A’ is, he does not know what ‘B’ is, but the two of you are fighting whether ‘A’ is greater than ‘B’.

This side is the ‘A’ side; this side is the ‘B’ side. They are shouting: “A is great, A is God, and A is wonderful. Glory be to A!” This side is shouting: “B zindabad ! B zindabad ! (Long live ‘B’)” You ask them: what is A? “That we do not know.” And what is B? “We never thought about that. But B is great!” What is B? “That we don’t know.” And what is A? “Why should we know? Is it not sufficient that A is good?” For you ‘A’ is just a word ‘A’, just a sound ‘A’. For this side, what is ‘B’? Just ‘B’. “B is great!” It is like worshiping the image of somebody without knowing that somebody. We do not know.

There is a third thing as well. We said there are two questions involved; there is a third question involved as well. Whenever you say that “I value something,” you also imply that you do not value its opposite. If you say that “I value renunciation,” then you mean that you do not value consumption. If you say that “I value non-violence, I value peace, there must always be peace,” then you also mean that you do not value war, conflict, strife.

Valuing one thing automatically means that you do not value the opposite. But remember that life is the sum total of all opposites. The moment you say, “I value something,” you have discarded half of life because life is A+A' (A complement), B+B’ (B complement). That is how you come to the universal set. You have said B; what would be B plus B complement? The universal set. That is life.

The moment you say, “I value something,” you have rejected half of life by saying that “I do not value it.” If you say—let’s take the example that we just took—peace, “I value peace and let there be no war,” then you will be leading a very lukewarm life because war is as important as peace. In life, peace has its place and war also has its rightful place. The one who says that “I value only peace” will miss half of life. The one who says that “I value only war” will also miss half of life. You have to value peace and you also must value war. You must value coming close and you must also value going away.

Whatever you value, its opposite is equally valuable, because life is a sum total of all opposites, good and bad, white and black. You value white; now what will happen to black? And would you like a world in which there is no black? But you will say, “No, I value only white.”

And there are some people who value only one color. Have you seen those monks who will keep walking wearing clothes of only one color? Somebody is wearing saffron, somebody is wearing white. Would you like to spend your life wearing clothes of just one color? Would it be good? Life is wonderful only when you are free to wear white one day and black the next day; saffron today, green tomorrow; something sweet today, something salty tomorrow.

Sum total of opposites is what makes life rich, interesting. By valuing something we reject half of life. Are you understanding this?

By valuing one thing you reject its opposite and thereby you reject half of life.

When you say, “I value my parents,” you are automatically saying that “I do not value others as much as I value my parents.” So, by valuing two people or three people within your family, in a way you have rejected the rest of the universe.

“I value my country.” Now it’s certain that you will not value all that which is not within your country. It may be beautiful, but you will not value it because it is not in your country. You have rejected beauty. You have rejected half of what was possible to you, and then you are torn.

You value your wife, mother is angry; you value your mother, wife is angry. Because such are our values. Valuing one thing automatically implies not valuing something else. And life is both wife and mother. Otherwise you are torn—you know that very well—pulled towards this side and pulled towards that side.

You are watching a cricket match, India versus Pakistan, and one Pakistani bowler is bowling beautifully, lovely in swingers at a very good pace, but you can’t even clap because you value only India. He is demonstrating excellent skills, beautiful bowling, but you will not even be able to clap.

The western world might be making beautiful movies, but you will not be able to appreciate them because you don’t even watch them. Why? Because you value only Hindi movies. You don’t even bother to look at what the rest of the world is making. That is what values do. They cut you away; they divide your world into half.

If I asked you today how many of you really know the great artistic pieces made by international artists, you will not know. But you will know even the filthiest piece of rubbish that is made by a Bollywood director. You would not have seen Spielberg’s works, but you would have seen that rubbish called Grand Masti. Because you value a particular language, a particular land—anything outside that and you do not bother!

You would not have heard of Lao Tzu; you would not know who Lieh Tzu or Chuang Tzu is. You would not have read the Bible. The Upanishads are beautiful but a Muslim would not read the Upanishads. Sufis write tremendous songs but Hindus would not know what Bulleh Shah or Farid is saying.

Because you value one thing, thereby rejecting its opposite, thereby rejecting the other—and therein lies pain, therein lies separation and conflict. So, why not just be free of values? Why not live a total life?

Let me give an example. From this moment itself, as I am speaking to you, if you are listening to me through your values, you will not be able to listen because then you would be agreeing only with that which matches with your values; you will not be able to listen to me in totality. The values would block your hearing, would block your listening. Suddenly you will become agitated because values will come in between. There is me, there is you, but there will be no contact, no totality.

When I say Upanishads are great, you will feel good and you will say, “Yes, yes, yes. This man is saying something good, let me listen to him.” And in between when I have said that “Do listen, do appreciate when a Pakistani bowler is bowling beautifully,” then you will say, “How dare he praise the Pakistanis!”

So, when I praise the Upanishads, you will feel very good because Upanishads belong to your land, they belong to your religion. And you will feel great, that “He is praising the Gita, he is praising the Upanishads. Wonderful!” But the moment I also have a good thing to say about a Pakistani bowler, you will feel agitated, you will not be able to listen; values are coming in between—values which are not yours, values which you don’t understand.

That’s what values do to you. They make you live a half-life, a divided life, a broken, a fractured life. Why have values at all? What is the need for values? Why can’t you just be?

You are intelligent beings. See what the situation is and do what is right. Why do you need values to decide what is right, what is wrong? Why do you need values to guide you? Your own intelligence is sufficient. An adult, a mature individual does not need values. The light of his own mind is sufficient. At least begin with questioning your values, seeing where they come from. Start from there.

All of us carry a tremendous load of values. There is nobody here who does not carry values. There is nobody here who does not have concepts about what is important in life. You will say, “Marriage is important in life, money is important in life; this is important, success is important.” All these are values. Success is a great value, family is a value.

We all have values and those values are dictating the course of our life. So, why not ask ourselves: What are these values? Where are they coming from, and what are they doing to my life? Before I run after money, before I run after success, before I run after marriage and family and all that the society says, must I first not ask myself? Or should I just start running after something without even understanding it?

I must first ask myself: What is money, and who told me that money is important? When I was born, at that time I was not crying, “Money, money!” Surely somebody told me that money is the most important thing. Surely somebody told me that religion is the most important thing. Surely somebody told me that I must always go after success. Can I find out? Can I look through my own eyes and see what is the matter, really?

But we will not do that. We must do that. We must investigate these values before defending them, before fighting for them, before getting agitated, before devoting our lives to these values. You must first find out what is the reality of these values.

Q: When we are babies, obviously we don’t have any knowledge. Whatever knowledge comes to us is bound to come from the outside; somebody else would give us that knowledge and we have no option but to accept it. When this is the case, how is it possible to not have values that are given by others? How can it be prevented from happening?

AP: You are very right as far as the baby goes. But how many of you are still babies? Are you still a baby? It is alright that the baby has to accept whatever others tell him or her. But you are not babies; you are grown-up, fully mature adults. Why must you keep accepting all the things that have been implanted in your mind? You have an intelligence; apply it. And that is what makes life valuable: the application of intelligence.

You had no option till the time you were a kid. Till you were ten years old or twelve years old, obviously you didn’t know the world. In fact, your brain was not mature enough; the cells, the basic physical apparatus here itself was not ripe. So, intelligence could not have functioned properly; that is obvious. But today it is ripe; today you are mature. Today you can use your own eyes to look at the world, to look at life, can’t you?

Information and intelligence are different things. What comes from outside is information. Intelligence does not come from outside. What is coming to you right now, has it also come in the past? Have you heard these words before? Am I replaying something that happened six month back? This is coming to you right now; this is life. How are you understanding what I am saying? How are you understanding it?

Q: Some things we understand on the basis of other knowledge and sometimes we need time to process that knowledge.

AP: I am saying something right now. Don’t talk of what happens at this time or that time. Come into this moment. Right now, as I am saying something, how are you understanding it? Are you understanding it using the past, or are you just understanding by listening to me?

Q: By listening to you.

AP: By listening to me. That is the way an intelligent man looks at the world; he listens, he sees. And how are you listening to me? By thinking of the past all the time, or just listening? Listening. So, this is the way you come into contact with reality: by not thinking of the past, by not being lost in thoughts—and values are thoughts.

So, right now, as you are listening to me attentively, similarly look at life attentively. See what people are doing.

You have a canteen adjoining this room. When you go out, stand there and watch. “What are they doing? What is happening?” And you will know the reality; you will know what to value.

When you get up in the morning, look at the sky. See how the sun is rising and see what the birds are saying. Listen to that and you will know what is valuable. And you will know that these are not man-made values, these are not divisive values.

When you read the newspapers, read them carefully. Look at all the sectarian conflicts, one country attacking the other country, one community attacking another community. And then you will realize what values are, what values do.

When you watch the television serials, watch them closely. See what they are portraying; see what they are trying to do with your mind; see what all the advertisers want from you. And do that without carrying a baggage of the past; do that very very lightly, in a very free way.

So, just as to understand me is not a great operation—you are just there, your ears are open, your mind is open and you are listening, and this will just simply help you understand—same is the case with life. Be open, be alert. Don’t be closed within your thoughts and then you will understand everything. It’s actually very simple. There is no complexity in this.

Truth is obvious, very very obvious, provided you have not decided to not look at the truth.

Most of us have been trained not to look at the truth. Values are a part of that training.

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