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How does the wise one perceive the world? || Acharya Prashant, on Ashthavakra Gita (2018)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
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निराधारा ग्रहव्यग्रा मूढाः संसारपोषकाः एतस्यानर्थमूलस्य मूलच्छेदः कृतो बुधैः १८ ३८॥

nirādhārā grahavyagrā mūḍhāḥ saṃsārapoṣakāḥ etasyānarthamūlasya mūlacchedaḥ kṛto budhaiḥ 18-38


Without any support and eager for the attainment of freedom, the fools only keep up the world!

The wise cut at the very root of this world, which is the source of all misery. ~ Ashtavkra Gita (Chapter 18, Verse 38)

Question: Acharya Ji, Pranaam !

Can you please explain the meaning of this line, “The wise cut at the very root of this world”?

Acharya Prashant(AP): Ashtavakra says, “The fools are without any support, and yet eager to attain freedom. And in this pursuit, they only keep up the world. The wise, on the other hand, cut at the very root of this world.”

What is this world? The world that you perceive around yourself, is very little of a fact. You perceive it. And that’s what mostly it is – a perception, a perception raised by the perceiver.

It would be a fallacy to think that if you are looking at the green here, or the blue up there, the tree, the building, the motorcar, then you are just seeing ‘the green’ or ‘the blue’ or ‘the tree’, or ‘the motorcar’.

We do not see things, we see meanings. We see meanings. And why do we see meanings? Because we sense a certain meaninglessness about ourselves. We want to fill it up. We do not like the meaninglessness, so we want to fill up the meaninglessness with meanings coming from the entire world.

Now, the world as such has no meaning whatsoever. The grass is just ‘grass’, the sky is just ‘the sky’, but we imbue it, load it, superimpose on it a meaning. That meaning is not an inherent property of the object itself. That meaning, as we said, is superimposed on the object by us, the perceiver. But if we admit that, then the object will cease to have any attraction for us, any sense for us, any importance for us.

Because to admit that the object has no meaning, is to admit that the object is useless for us – useless not in the physical sense, but in the psychological sense. If object has no meaning, then how will it fill up our meaninglessness? So it becomes useless.

So it becomes critical for us to keep assuming that a meaning vests in the object itself.

It is a self-hatched conspiracy against the self.

Are you getting it?

Now the world, as such being meaningless, can be a cause of neither pleasure nor pain. But a lot of suffering is created by us when we load objects with meanings. The world is not the cause of misery, our perception of the world is. What we think of the world is the cause of our misery, how we interpret the world is a cause of our misery. Does that mean that one interpretation is better than the other? No, that’s not what Ashtavakra is saying.

Ashtavakra is simply saying, “Any interpretation will be self-serving because you would have burdened the object, the world, with that interpretation.” You would have wanted to supply that meaning, that interpretation to that particular object. So the very fact that you are interpreting something in a particular way, immediately means that your interpretation will be harmful to you.

This has to be understood.

We sometimes do admit that our interpretations are off the mark, but that only impels us to look for a better interpretation of events, happenings, world, objects. We never really lose hope in interpretations. If one doesn’t suffice, then we look for the other.

Your interpretation arises from your need to seek fulfillment through an object. Why does one interpret at all? Why is one not content just looking around things, as if they can supply no psychological fulfillment? Because we need psychological fulfillment. And why do we need psychological fulfillment? Because at the root of the person lies an assumption, rather a delusion. And what does that assumption or delusion say? “I am incomplete.” This statement lies at the root of our person-hood. This statement lies at the root of our jeev nature – “I am incomplete. Something is missing.”

So one looks at something, rather anything, always in a motivated way, always with an intention. And the intention is to seek fulfillment. When your defining statement is, “I am unfulfilled,” then what would you use the world for? Fulfillment. So you look at anything, and your purpose is just one – “How do I get fulfillment using that thing?” So you supply that thing with a particular meaning.

I re-emphasize, that the meaning has very little to do with the object itself, the meaning has much more to do with our inherent emptiness – emptiness not in the Buddhist sense, but in the sense of misery; an inner vacancy, an inner loneliness.

So all interpretations arise from there.

Now how does it matter which particular interpretation you come up with? After all it’s your own personal interpretation. Is it not? Or at least it’s an interpretation that you like. And if you like it, it would surely be serving just one purpose. What is the purpose? “Please fill up my inner vacuum.” That’s what the ego is crying out.

You get this?

Now, Ashtavakra is saying, “The wise cut at the very root of this world.” Mark the word ‘this’. Ashtavakra is not saying that for the wise the world does not exist at all. The world does exist even for the wise, but not ‘this’ world.

What is ‘this’ world? This is a world of meanings, promises, superimpositions, projections, assumptions, imaginations, hopes, and therefore despair. ‘This’ world doesn’t exist for the wise. For them, only the world exists – naked, simple, and innocent.

Our world is a heavily decorated world. And all decoration, as we know, covers up the Essence. In fact, that’s the very purpose of decoration – you want to hide something. Don’t you?

We often claim that we decorate to embellish, to express, to bring out. We don’t decorate really to bring something out. We rather decorate to conceal. Don’t we?

Do you need to decorate a flower? No. You use the flower to decorate something else. Do you ever decorate a flower? No. But you use the flower to decorate your hair. That only shows how poor your hair are in front of the rose. Do you ever use your hair to decorate the rose? That’s not needed. That would be stupid.

That which is real and genuine needs no decoration. That around which a lot of inferiority exists, that it is perceived as lacking something, needs to be ornamented, embellished.

Getting it?

For the wise, the world does exist. The grass is ‘grass’, the sky is ‘sky’. Birth is ‘birth’, death is ‘death’. They have meanings in a physical sense, but they have no meaning in a psychological sense. Yes, certain gain may happen, you may gain a million dollars. And loss may happen, you may lose a million dollars. All that has only a physical context, a material context – “A thousand dollars came to me. A thousand dollars went away from me.”

But for the wise, this event would have no impact on his psychological being, on his core. He would not say that the arrival of the million dollars made him bigger. And he would not say that the loss of a million dollars turned him smaller. He remains who he is.

“Yes, something materially came, then something materially went away, but I neither gained nor lost.”

For the wise, there is no inner vacuum to be filled. The wise has no existential agenda, all others do have.

The wise doesn’t want to use this world to become somebody else, the wise is already alright. So what is his relationship with the world then? Playfulness. That is there, that is there. Nice. They don’t have any meaning, they are just play things.

For the wise, nothing has any meaning. All things are just play things. And for the fool, even play things become very serious.

Have you not seen kids, adolescents getting into a brawl over a game of soccer?

That’s how the worldly mind is. For him, everything is important, everything has a meaning, everything is to be taken seriously, because something big is always at stake for the fool – pride, prestige, advancement, achievement, security. Something is always at stake. He is always in the danger of getting belittled.

Do not ask, “How must one look at the world?” Ask, “How does one look at himself?” Does one look at himself as an impoverished being always in need, or does one look at himself as healthy, alright, inwardly full and secure?

That must be asked.

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