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I don’t love it, but my parents want me to concentrate on it || Acharya Prashant, at IIT-D (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
10 min
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Questioner (Q): If my parents tell me to concentrate on my studies but I fail to do so, does it mean that I don’t find it worth concentrating on or interesting enough?

Acharya Prashant (AP): The question that I must first of all address is, why must a twenty-two or twenty-five-year-old quote his parents when it comes to asking a question? That’s the fundamental problem. Sir, love and parental instruction do not sit very well together. Don’t you see that? What you are saying is analogous to saying, “My parents want me to get married to someone. How do I concentrate on her?” These two things don’t go well.

Also, parents, if they have raised the kid well, should realize that beyond a point it is counterproductive to offer advice. The success of the parents lies in leaving the son or the daughter free after a point. If the kid has to be dependent on the parents mentally or financially even at twenty-two or twenty-five or twenty-eight, then the parents have failed, have they not?

So, you must know… You are a postgraduate student, are you?

Q: I am an undergraduate student.

AP: So, you must know. You are in college. What is it that is worth doing in life? You must know which course you must enroll in, and beyond the campus you must know what is it that really will make you come alive. Higher education, consultancy, a job in your core area—you must know all these things.

Instead of really knowing these things, we are dependent on the trends, or we are dependent on all kinds of advices. And that’s the prescription to a loveless life. “Everybody is getting into software, so will I. Something else is hot these days, I will get into that. Why? Because everybody else is.” Doesn’t help. That’s not the way the game is played.

Q: The current trend is that people are focusing on many objectives simultaneously. They might be doing two or three jobs at the same time, and even students are having trouble with remaining organized in the middle of their studies, with all the activities outside the campus and the internet and such things that weren’t there in the recent past. People have so many things on their mind at the same time, and I just wonder, can that really lead to success? Could you share your views on this and possibly connect the topic with what the scriptures say about concentration?

AP: The scriptures do not talk of focus or concentration; they talk of attention, and there is a fundamental difference there. It might be a little boring to hear, but please hear me out.

The one focusing is the ego. Who is the one who focuses on somebody or something? The ego is the focusing entity, right? When is it that you just focus or concentrate on something? Come from your experience; you know that, right? When that thing seems to fulfill your desire, correct? The more a thing seems or promises to fulfill your desire, the more quickly and smoothly you focus on that thing, concentrate on that thing, prioritize it. Kāmana , desire.

It is not focus or concentration that Vedanta talks of; it talks of attention. Attention is a totally different quality. It says, “Find out, figure out, enquire, know.” Concentration is with the purpose of consumption. Attention is with the purpose of dissolution, self-dissolution. “I want to keep my own opinions and desires aside. I want to know. What that thing really is, is much more important than my opinion of that thing.” That’s attention. There is a great difference between concentration and attention.

Also, when you go into the nature of desire, desire by definition always remains incomplete. No desire ever gets fully completed, and if concentration follows desire, concentration will have to be fickle. What do you mean by fickle? Temporal, not lasting, because you were concentrating on something only as long as it seemed to fulfill your desire, right?

If I tell you, “Concentrate on this and from here a million dollars will rain on you,” you will immediately concentrate on this, but sooner than later you will discover that no dollars are going to rain from there, and then what will happen to your concentration? Tell me, please. “Alright, please focus—a million dollars!” Then somebody else comes up and says, “Focus on this—a trillion dollars!” What happens to the concentration? Gone.

That’s the thing with concentration. It cannot remain stable, and that’s why there is a problem in concentrating. Have you experienced that problem? It’s not that you have lost concentration; it’s just that your concentration has shifted to another place that seems more promising. Man keeps meandering between all these various places. The thing is, dollars won’t rain, neither from here nor from there, and therefore we are never able to fully focus or concentrate on any one thing.

Attention, we said, is a different thing. In attention there is love, and then you are not approaching the thing with desire. Love and desire are different things, right? You are now not approaching that thing with desire; you want to know, you are genuinely interested, and therefore attention is stable.

But there is a big catch. You cannot just love anything in random; for that you must have something worth attending to, because attention basically means service. Who do you call an attendant? Who is an attendant? Someone who is there to serve you. So, attention means service.

So, if you want to attend to something, first of all that thing must be worth it. Or can you start serving just anybody? Can you just go and prostrate in front of anybody and say, “Sir, I am at your service”? Can you do that? That’s the problem. The subjects that we concentrate on are not worth it, and that’s why concentration is fickle.

If you want to get rid of that problem, first of all you will have to figure out a subject—which basically means an object; I am talking to students, therefore I said ‘subject’ in terms of academics; basically it’s ‘object’, technically speaking. You will have to figure out something you can fall in love with, and then there will be no problem of concentration. If you have been given something that is not worthy of your love, you will always have a problem of concentration. Is that not obvious? You are forcibly attending to something; now, that attention won’t last. There is nothing in that.

But we are telling our kids all the time, “You please concentrate on that.” The kid has no love for that. How can the concentration have any depth? The problem is not that the mind is unstable; the problem is that the mind is thirsty for something very special, and we are unable to provide that special thing to the mind. When you will be able to provide that thing to the mind, the mind will remain on that thing. Even if you tempt the mind or scare the mind, it will refuse to budge.

The problem of concentration is essentially the problem of an unworthy object. The problem of concentration or focus is essentially the problem of not having a worthy object in life. You must have something you can die for. You must have something that deserves your love, and then how will you forget that thing? How will you forget it? Not possible. And without that love, you will just remain a wanderer. Just a wanderer.

And also, it’s not that intimately related to the proliferation of objects, though that is definitely a factor. As you said that in the olden days here in IIT people didn’t have so many places to go to outside the campus, and so many internet-based options were not there and today they are there, and people are moonlighting and gaslighting and all those things are happening…

Remember, if you do not have options there, the nature of the mind is that it will create options. You know that very well. When you want to please your desire, even if you do not have options there, you start creating options. Don’t you do that? So, it is not as if you deprive yourself of all the options out there, and then you will become stable. No. If you take away all the options that are available out there, you will still not become stable because the mind will keep manufacturing options within itself, and you will keep rolling from one option to the other within the mind. That is the nature of the mind.

If you want to become stable, you don’t need to deprive the mind of options; you need to give the mind a beautiful option it can fall in love with. And then you will find you don’t have to concentrate; you are just concentrating, sahaja . That’s sahaja . “It is just happening. Not that I am effortfully concentrating; it is just happening. Just happening.” And if it is not just happening, you will find that a lot of your effort and energy is dissipating in trying to concentrate.

You walk into somebody’s room in the hostel. “What are you doing?” “I am trying to focus!” Since two hours the fellow is trying to focus, and life is spilling away. Those two hours are life, are they not? Gone! And you are? No, no, no…

That’s the thing with a loveless life—you have to try too hard. In love things are smooth, sahaja — just happening. Since six hours the fellow is busy in his lab. How? Is there a temptation? Is there a threat? What is it that keeps him there? Love. And if you don’t have love, then life will be unbearable after two hours in the lab. Two hours is too much probably—twenty minutes. You will not be able to be at one place mentally even for twenty minutes if love is missing.

And without love there can be no attention; without love there is only unfulfilled desire, and that can at most tally with concentration and focus. Desire, concentration, focus—they go together, and none of them are any good.

Q: Could you give some kind of guidelines or some kind of a roadmap for students like us, something that we can…

AP: I never like spoonfeeding. I have told you that you will be able to stick to something only when there is love, which basically means there is no need to be at places and with stuff that is not worthy of love. So, that’s the guideline.

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