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How did some sages attain wisdom at a very young age? || IIT Kanpur (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
5 min
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Questioner: How did sages like Ashtavakra and Adi Shankara attain wisdom at such an early age of fourteen or eight? You have said in many of your videos that unbearable pain coming from falseness is the starting point of the journey towards the Truth. How can someone have this kind of unbearable pain at such a young age?

Acharya Prashant: Eight years and fourteen years is a very old age. The child finds living unbearable the moment it is conceived. You know, there are scriptures that talk in detail of the agony of the fetus in the womb and how the yet to be born child repents in the womb. None of that has to be taken as a fact, as an objective fact, but it is an important pointer towards something related to human consciousness.

Existence itself is suffering. The moment consciousness gains existence, it is sorrow and suffering that has taken life. To be embodied is itself a tension, a limitation, a bondage. Don’t you see? On one hand, you say that your nature is expansive, infinite; on the other hand, your bodily existence is limited to six feet of your height and one-and-a-half feet of your width—full stop. Isn’t that a great bondage? I mean, again, don’t take what I am saying as an objective fact, but see what I am trying to point at.

Being embodied is itself the beginning of your central problem. The central problem is existence itself. Because what we call as existence, what we call as our existence, is a very limited and false kind of existence that brings sorrow in its wake. Everything about you is limited, and therefore you are perpetually dissatisfied. Is that not so? You cannot look beyond a certain point; you cannot hear beyond a certain frequency; you cannot think beyond a certain point. Nothing that you are or have is infinite. Everything about you is quantifiable. And that which is quantifiable is always limited, it stops somewhere. And wherever it stops, there is sorrow.

Even if you are living a life full of so-called happiness and you are perfectly alright with your happiness, this life will stop somewhere. Even if you claim that your happiness is unbounded, infinite, the life enjoying that happiness is finite. Sorrow, sorrow! Even absolute happiness cannot give you absolute happiness because that absolute happiness will come to an end, and then there is sorrow.

So, it is not as if one has to be twenty-five years of age to realize sorrow. Now you will see why I said that eight and fourteen years are sufficiently advanced ages if one is sensitive enough, alert enough.

The scriptures talk of three kinds of sorrows. There is that which is purely material sorrow, ādhibhautika ; then there is sorrow that comes to you because the elements are unhappy with you, ādhidaivika ; and then there is sorrow that comes to you purely because you exist, and that is called ādhyātmika-tapa . The other sorrows have reasons: you got ill or it did not rain. You can find a reason. Somebody asks you, “Why are you upset?” and you will say, “Well, you see, I lost money.” So you can accord a reason to your sorrow.

But there is a higher sorrow that exists reasonlessly, that just exists: ādhyātmika-tapa . That sorrow does not wait for you to turn fifteen or twenty-five; it just exists. Or you could say it exists because you exist. It is just that most people have been so dumbed down by their daily cycles of trivial pleasures that they are no more alert to their own inner condition; therefore, they do not experience sorrow; sorrow remains hidden deep beneath. And they live superficial lives. On the surface, they do not perceive sorrow.

The one who has to see the real nature of the world and one’s worldly existence does not need a huge calamity to strike him. Even if he is sitting amid external pleasures, he will realize that something within him is still not contended. Even if he has all the luxuries possible, he will realize that something very important is still missing. You provide all the pleasures to him—he would still be looking for something beyond pleasures.

So, you have mentioned Ashtavakra and Adi Shankara. Siddhartha Gautama is a fine example too. Everything, it is said, that could be provided to a young person was provided to him. But he still remained brooding, pensive. And it didn’t take him long to realize with certainty that the world is suffering. What he saw was something most people see in their everyday experience, no? A diseased man, an old man, a dead man—these are not special appearances or experiences. Who has not seen a dead man? Who has not seen a diseased man?

But most people look at these things and walk on as if it is all usual. It requires someone with an inner sensitivity, an inner honesty to pause that moment and acknowledge the immensity of what he has just realized. If you will have that honesty, then you too will experience sorrow. And that is not such a bad thing, because an acknowledgement of sorrow is the beginning of freedom from sorrow.

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