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If guilt troubles you || Acharya Prashant (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
16 min
90 reads

Questioner (Q): I wanted to understand what exactly is guilt.

Acharya Prashant (AP): Guilt can be both a hugely liberating factor, liberates you from the little self, and guilt can equally be a great defense of the ego. What does guilt say? Let’s first of all look at it. Guilt says, “I am better than how and what I did”, right? Guilt says, “I am better than my actions”, or “I am better than my thoughts. I am better than the account I gave of myself on a particular occasion or on multiple occasions”, that’s what guilt says.

So, guilt says, “I am a resident of the 10th floor, but unfortunately and accidentally, I dropped down to the 2nd floor.” That you are operating from the 2nd floor is a fact, there need not be any imagination in this, but that you belong to the 10th floor is a presumption, is a declaration that only you have certified to yourself.

What is the fact of one’s life? – That one is operating from the 1st floor or 2nd floor; but what does one think about himself? “I belong to the 10th floor”, and this is guilt. “I am actually better, but I am not living as per my sublime self”, this is guilt. Now, this can work both ways, it can encourage you to really move upstairs or it can console you and comfort you into remaining where you are. You could say, “What a shame that a resident of the 10th floor is found rolling on the 2nd floor”, or you could say, “Oh, when I actually do already belong to the 10th floor, it’s alright if accidentally I happen to be spotted on the 2nd floor. These are minor accidents, they don’t count. My real place is anyway on the 10th floor, that’s my home.”

Guilt can be a great alibi against improvement. “I don’t need to improve because the faults, the foibles, the shortcomings, the lapses that I am displaying are just accidental; they are not me. They are happening despite me, they are not me. I’m far better than my performance. This performance is temporary. Very soon I’ll return to my standard elevation”, guilt could say that. Or, if one is honest, one would ask himself, “If I am so consistently being seen at and operating from the 2nd floor, do I really belong to the 10th? Or is the 10th merely an escape, a thought, an idea to help me stay comfortably on the second, and yet feel as if I am on the tenth?”

Guilt can act both ways, it depends on your love for height. If you really love heights, then guilt would assist you; but if you are comfortable with being thrown down from the heights, then guilt would provide you a lot of consolation and secure your place on the second floor. For most people, it is very important to accept that they are not accidentally making mistakes, that what they call as mistakes are not mistakes at all; they are their standard state of being. A mistake is a deviation; a mistake is a rarity, is it not? A mistake is something that should not have happened and yet has happened. A mistake cannot be a regularity; a mistake cannot be the default mode of function.

One has to ask, “If I am so frequently mistaken, are these mistakes? Or are these what I really am?” If a vehicle is always found with two tires - and always is always - would you call it a car or a scooter? Or would you say that it is a car that is mistakenly missing two of its tires? That’s how most of us want to believe.

All our life, we are found with two tires, but we do not say, “We have two tires”, we say, “We have two tires missing, we are actually a car.” Are we a car at all? And when somebody points it out to the scooter, the scooter feels guilty. The scooter says, “You know, had I been carrying those two missing ones, this fellow wouldn’t have dared to open his mouth. Just because today I am not carrying those two tires, so he addressed me as scooty.” When was the last time you moved on all four? When was the last time you were not mistaken?

If 90% of the time you are mistaken, then what is a mistake – 90% of the occurrences or the 10% of the remaining ones?

So then you should say, “By mistake, sometimes I perform better. Usually, I am on the 2nd floor, by mistake, accidentally, sometimes I am found on the 10th.” But, that we don’t say because that hurts. We remember the one odd occasion when we were located on the 10th floor. We photograph ourselves on the 10th floor so that the fact becomes indisputable and a huge picture is then mounted on the wall to prove that we really belong to the 10th floor.

Had you really belonged to the 10th floor, would you have needed to commemorate the odd occasion when you were on the 10th? Then you would have said, “Oh, it’s a regular thing, it’s a daily thing. I belong to the 10th, why do I need to click a pic?” But, do you see when we encounter joy, we want to click a pic? What does that mean? And what does it mean that most people are seen smiling in their pics? You want to capture that moment when you were somehow, rarely, even artificially found smiling. When we get ourselves photographed, do we display in the photograph that we have five fingers? “You see, today I have five” – do we do that? Because that’s not a rarity, that’s a given; but if there is someone who has five fingers only once a fortnight for two hours, then the moment he finds that today he has all five, he would quickly get a video made.

Far better than guilt is the realization of one’s actual state; and once you realize where you actually stand, where your choices and decisions have brought you to, then there is a certain sublimation. When you honestly appraise yourself, then it arises from within that you are not what you have made yourself to be. Is that guilt? – Probably yes, probably no; but whatever that is, that is quite beneficial. That honest realization does not shout too loudly but nevertheless has great power. For that power to arise, you have to, first of all, acknowledge where you really are.

Self-improvement cannot happen along with self-deception.

If you don’t even admit to yourself that you are in the dumps, how would any improvement happen? You don’t really need to announce it to the world, to yourself you must know where you really stand, no? And that silent realization, I assure you, is highly transforming. You don’t even have to then try for transformation.

And remember that the transformation is not due to comparison. You do not say, “I am on the 2nd, I should have been on the 10th, and this comparison is painful, so I want to climb to the 10th.” No, it doesn’t operate that way. Remember that the 10th is more or less a piece of your fiction, real transformation does not really have a result in sight.

When you climb upwards from the 2nd floor only to go to the 10th floor, then it’s a very limited movement, limited and predetermined. On the 2nd floor itself, you know that all you have to go to or go till is the 10th floor; but in real transformation, you do not know what the end really would be like, all you know is that the 2nd floor is not where you belong. 3rd? 4th? 5th? You do not know. Do you necessarily have to be in this 40 storey building? Even that you do not know. All you know is – the 2nd is not where you belong. You do not know where you really belong; hence you do not know the destination or the result. All you need is and all you know is, very powerfully know is – you cannot continue to be someone you are not.

Q: Sir, I’m squirming to get out of this guilt because it’s a consequence of some unintentional bad deeds. So I really…

AP: See, there are hardly any unintentional bad deeds; and if they are purely unintentional, then why do you need to take doership or ownership for them? Had they been purely unintentional, then they would have been hardly attributable to you; you would have been innocent of those deeds. So if you are really sure that the deeds were unintentional, then you can absolve yourself of all guilt. Give yourself the green chit and move out proudly from the courtroom. You have been exonerated respectfully. But, chances are that what we call as unintentional is merely unconscious, and there is a difference between these two.

If something is purely unintentional, then you’re not responsible for it; but if something is done by you unconsciously, then you are responsible. Why? – Because consciousness is your responsibility. The fundamental responsibility towards yourself is consciousness. If you allowed your consciousness to wane, who is responsible?

Q: Me.

AP: You, and if in that period of a waned consciousness, if certain deeds happen through you, who is responsible?

Q: Me.

AP: The fellow got drunk and unintentionally ran over a boy. The fellow got drunk and then unintentionally ran his car over a boy, how would even the courts look at it? Would they say that, "You didn’t willingly do it, and hence you are innocent"? Would they? Maybe you didn’t intentionally run the car over the boy, but you did intentionally pick the drink, didn’t you? Was picking the drink an intentional choice or not? So, you do remain responsible.

Do not forget that it is a choice to seek God or to seek unconsciousness, and both are pleasurable. The ‘I’ has both the choices available and all choices between both these choices available. Between these two ends, there are an infinite number of choices. At the highest end is the peak of consciousness that you call as God, at the lowest end is zero consciousness that you call as deadness; and both are pleasurable. Sleep is pleasurable so is Samādhi . Isn’t there pleasure in sleep? Isn’t there a great attraction in Samādhi ? You have to decide what is it that you want. You would be pulled in both directions.

There is pleasure in great wakefulness, and equally, there is pleasure in getting drunk.

Which pleasure do you want – the pleasure of wakefulness or the pleasure of drunkenness? Both appeal and attract, don’t they? And that’s the choice to be made, that’s the choice that determines your life.

If you see that certain things happen through you in your so-called unintentional state, then affirm to yourself, be resolute that you will never allow things to happen unintentionally through you. This resolution is the best repentance. If you want to repent, tears are not the way, consciousness is the way. You can keep crying over spilled milk, does that help? Instead, tell yourself that “The state of mind that brought me to a fallen action would never be repeated again. If I am doing something, the action must proceed from realization.”

Watch out against all the mechanical stuff that happens through you, that is your repentance. And in that repentance is a great transformation. Now you are not merely atoning for the mistake, now you are no more remaining the mistaken one. To fight against the mistake is a small battle, totally transform the mistaken one, let him not be, let him not exist at all. He was a dweller of the dark lands of sleep, you tell yourself, “I will remain awake.”

Brightness and light are repentance when guilt arises from succumbing to darkness.

I plead everybody to be careful about this – Guilt that does not bring about a total transformation is merely a defense of the mistaken one. The mistaken one will remain mistaken one by using guilt; this is sham guilt, this is false guilt. If you are really guilty, then send the guilty ones to the gallows. Once somebody is found guilty, is he allowed to continue the way he is? So, if you really think you are guilty, then bring about a change, just don’t keep simmering within. But, that’s what we usually find, no?

Somebody feels he is guilty and he carries the weight and burden of that guilt, and becomes ineffective, moribund, melancholy, loses his vitality. Why is Uncle Joe found drinking so much? – Because he is guilty that he ran over his own dog in his drunkenness. Guilty of drinking, he drinks even more to drown his guilt in the drink. That’s what guilt does; it perpetuates the mistake instead of correcting it. It appears as if guilt is ashamed of the mistake; but if you’ll look carefully, you will find that guilt often defends and perpetuates the mistake. So, it’s alright to feel guilty, but do check whether your guilt is a truly transformative force. If it is not transforming you, then it’s self-deception.

Q: As you said about the transformation, I think I have the confidence to transform myself. But when this thing is continuously reminded, that confidence shakes.

AP: You don’t need confidence, you need realization. When you really see what you have turned yourself into, then transformation spontaneously happens. You don’t need to feel confident or sure or secure or capable. Neither is your capability needed, nor is your confidence needed, nor is your sureness needed; what is needed is the honest, direct, brutal realization of what you have become. And then there is no space left for idle rumination, then there is instant action.

It’s almost like discovering that a snake has fallen on your shoulder or on your neck. Do you sit cursing your bad luck and cry and weep and sing a melancholy song? Is that what you do? The moment you discover that this is what has happened to you, there is a spontaneous action. Mostly, the spontaneous action is a blind reaction, but it can be a wise action as well.

What is certain is that with the snake on your shoulder, singing sad songs about mass misfortune will not help. Even the snake won’t be amused, it may, however, get irritated. Do you see the urgency of the situation? “This is what I have become, this is what things are like; now how do I dare not change? I will have to change, I have no option.” And then all your energy flows into the transformation. You do not reserve your energy to spend in self-pity. Have you observed how much energy it requires to wallow in self-pity? 24 hours you can keep crying over your own fallen state, keep cursing your luck, keep pitying your stars. Self-pity requires a tremendous amount of energy.

Once you see that transformation is needed, then you don’t reserve any energy for self-pity. Then you say, “Whatever I have must go towards self-transformation”, and that’s one sure sign. If you are really committed to self-transformation, you will find that you are not reserving your energy, your resources, for anything else. You will say, “Whatever I have must be put to the service of the real.” You will not come empty-handed to the real thing. You will not say, “You know, all that I had has already been spent; now I have come to pay lip service to spiritual transformation.”

And remember that the snake is not really interested in messing with you; snakes bite us usually when we act foolishly with them. That’s true for both physical snakes and mental snakes. All your troubles, they do not want to remain around your neck or on your shoulder or in your mind; if they harm you, it is because you do not know how to handle them. If they harm you, it is because you overhandle them. The snake would have probably fallen on your shoulder and then slithered away, but you kept entertaining it with your heartfelt songs, so it gave you the audience and then the bite. Now don’t blame the snake, blame your own lyrics and tunes and credentials as a singer.

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