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If you remain the same, what will change for you? || Acharya Prashant, on Vedanta (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
14 min
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Acharya Prashant (AP): Do you see why the motivation industry is so evergreen, always? Because we don't want to give up hope; because we want to keep believing, we have a stubborn stake there that we have not failed. “A particular type of attempt has failed. If I try again in another way, with better skills, with more energy, with more knowledge, then I am going to succeed.” And we said that's a recipe for endless continuation of failures because you will never have enough.

Irrespective of how many times you have been punched in the face by life, there would always be that one more possibility left somewhere in the corner: “Well, I have tried almost everything—almost. I've tried almost everything, but there still remains that faint glimmer of hope. Now, I’ll try that particular way. You know, in all my past attempts I did not know of these things. I did not have the luxury of this particular instrument, or I was not experienced enough. I did not have the right help. Now, things are different. You just wait and watch. I'm going to turn the tables this time around.” Sounds familiar? Why have you not been able to complete your task since the last six months? “Sir, it will be done tomorrow.” Tomorrow? How exactly? “No, I’ll pull some rabbit out of my hat. I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve. Some trick I’ll employ, and the goal will be achieved.”

Four months later. Son, the task is pending, rather hanging fire since ten months now. “Tomorrow it will be done, sir. Acharya Ji, you just see. Tomorrow...” The speaker is evil and does not want to realize that. Mind you, I didn't say, “Does not realize that.” I said, “Does not want to realize that.” He couldn't have said it will be done tomorrow. What are you going to change overnight? You are the same person, how will it be better tomorrow?

Your performance in some particular thing was pathetic today, doctor.

“So, tomorrow is a different day.” You are the same man. The day might be different. The man is the same.

But such things are uttered precisely to defend the person that you are. Sometimes you say, “You know, I'll watch more keenly now.” Watch, not in the sense of attention, but in the sense of optical faculties. “I'll use these instruments with greater application now. I'll give more time. I'll do this. I'll do that.” So, the sages decide to put an end to this stupid saga. They say, “It does not matter what you do; no doing is going to succeed. If that hurts, so be it. You will fail because you are another name for failure. None of your actions matters. No improvement in your actions is going to matter.”

And a fellow can indeed improve himself greatly; don't deny that. It's not going to be enough—never. You can put in great sacrifice and discipline in improving yourself. I concede it is not an easy thing: self-improvement—takes a lot. And when you put in a lot of effort in self-improvement, it gives you that additional layer of ego: “I have worked so hard to attain my goals. Nobody gave it to me on a platter. I earned it.” You know, all that hard work, what it really is for?

Ostensibly, superficially, you're putting in that hard work to attain your goal. But actually, you are putting in that hard work just to remain who you are. Therefore, not all hard work is praiseworthy. You find a fellow sweating himself out, thinning himself down, shedding not only sweat but actually blood in pursuit of some goal; don't be too quick in endorsing that person. I understand that hard work, exertion, diligence have beauty. They appear all respectable but just wait a moment.

Ask yourself: “What is all this work for? What is all this for? Where is it coming from? What does it want to achieve? Most importantly, what is it trying to defend and secure?”

Before you ask, “What is this man trying to change?” You must ask, “What is this man hell-bent to not allow to change?” What you want to achieve is more visible, is it not? “I want to change the face of the planet. I want to raise new buildings. I'll bring a new government. I'll do this. I'll do that. I'll append the entire system.” And this fellow appears like a change agent. He is here to bring about tectonic changes. Before you go gaga and rush at his feet, ask yourself: “What is it that he is working so hard to defend from changing, to prevent from changing? What is it that he wants to keep very, very secure?” And often the thing that we want to keep very secure, by its very nature, is indefensible, very brittle, very unstable. Therefore, it takes a lot of hard work to keep it secure. That, if you understand, will explain to you why so many people work so very hard. Because they are trying to achieve the impossible, not externally but internally. There is something inside that by its nature, I said, is indefensible, insecure, unstable, ready to expire any moment; insecure as a spy in a hostile country whose cover is about to be blown up any moment. So, it requires a lot of energy and constant exertion to save this thing from collapsing.

You're walking with a living man, how much support do you have to provide to that person? No support. You're walking with a corpse, how will it be to walk even two hundred meters? It will require a lot of hard work. Most of that which we call as hard work is this exactly: you're walking with a corpse not only next to you, but actually within you. It takes a lot to prevent it from collapsing, so you're working hard, hard, hard, and patting yourself on the back: “You see, I have done the impossible.” And surely you were doing something that is tremendously difficult, but why? We don't deny that what you are doing is not easy to do. Why must one do that?

And the more impossible the task is, the more ingenious you have to be. Is that not obvious? So, very clever systems you will come up with. You'll need innovations, you will need bleeding-edge technology. You see how the dots are now connecting? If you're walking with a living person, what kind of technology do you need to keep walking with him? Nothing. But if you are stubbornly committed to walking with a corpse, and that too for long distances, then you will need a lot of R&D (Research & Development).

Unfortunately, a lot of R&D is about walking with corpses. It's about doing stuff that should anyway not be done at all, and that's why it is so difficult. So, what is it that needs to be done then? If no doing is going to succeed, what to do? If nothing that you do is going to suffice, you are still left with the question: what to do? Even if you can see the illogic in the face: “Well, nothing that I'm going to do is going to suffice,” still you are constrained by your constitution and your language to still ask the question: so what to do?

The sage acknowledges your predicament and comes up with this response: “Only when the inner being is purified by a glad serenity of knowledge, then indeed, meditating, one beholds the spirit indivisible.”

It does not matter what you do. What matters is the extent to which the doer has been purified. Purify the doer, and you won't have to worry about the deeds anymore. At the same time, I keep saying, “Watch your deeds! Watch your deeds! Watch your deeds!” Not because deeds are of primary importance, but because deeds are a method to reach the doer. Otherwise, how will you know the state of the doer? The doer is a subtle entity. Deeds are visible or gross; you can sense them, map them, record them, talk of them. So, you want to reach the doer through the deeds. Watching the deeds is, therefore, important. But once the doer is purified, you need not watch the deeds at all. There is no need. Anything that you do now will just be the right thing because you are alright now. In fact, what is alright can now be ascertained by looking at your deeds. You are now the Sun. You will not move according to the clocks. The clocks will be set according to you. When you are overhead, that's noon.

Let no clock have the audacity to challenge your position. You are now sovereign, ultimate, independent. The clocks will follow you. Similarly, when the inner self is purified, then you don't need to work according to laws. The laws will follow you. What you do becomes the law. But that is only when the inner being is fully purified. Before that, you need to follow the laws. As long as you are not the Sun, you need to move by the clock. When you are the Sun, then the clocks will move by you.

In fact, that's your punishment: as long as you are not aligned with the Ultimate, the ultimate that is the ultimate law into itself, you will remain condemned to follow the various small laws. Shri Krishna, at a point in the Bhagavad Gita, puts it beautifully. He says, “Duties, responsibilities, are all actually for the ignorant.” And that's the price you pay for your ignorance. That's the punishment for ignorance: you'll have to follow laws. The day your ignorance is gone, you become a law unto yourself.

How is the inner being purified? Not through any actions, mind you. The inner being is purified only through knowledge, only through knowledge. Not by doing this or that, not by going here there, not by rituals, not by sacrifices, not by austerities, not by following any particular methods of worship, or chanting, or meditation—none of that. The Upanishads are very clear: “Knowledge alone liberates.” Not that knowledge liberates. Knowledge alone liberates.

Q: So, Acharya Ji, when you were explaining about inner being, and that inner being can be purified by knowledge, this may give an image that you have left doing anything, and you are probably reading, or doing something. So, I thought that it can be more elaborated that probably knowledge is not only when you are just reading or it probably would be more...

AP: You see, this is not knowledge that comes to you gift-wrapped as a bundle. This is not static knowledge. This is a constant, dynamic flux of knowledge. Because it is constant, and it's dynamic, you could call it as knowing. It's happening. When is it happening? It is happening when you are going through your various activities in life. You get the difference?

The traditional kind of knowledge, the false knowledge is an activity in itself. You say, “You know, I was swimming, then I was eating, then I was sleeping, and now I am reading. So, in the first three cases, I was not gaining knowledge of the traditional kind. Now that I am with this book, I am gaining knowledge.” This is the usual kind of knowledge. It exists in a slot, in a module, in a packet. It's an event; it's static.

Real knowledge that the seers are talking of is very different, so it's this way: “I am eating, I'm watchful. I'm running, I'm watchful. I'm swimming, I'm watchful. I'm reading, I'm watchful. So, never am I allotting a specific slot to real knowledge.” Real knowledge is not a specific activity. It is something that is happening in the background of all my other activities. “I am running, I am knowing. I'm talking, I'm knowing. I'm watching, I'm knowing. I'm listening, I'm knowing. I'm shopping, I'm knowing.” Do you get this?

So, if somebody will look at your twenty-four-hour schedule, they will say, “But you have not allotted any slot or time to real knowledge because you would have written eating, sleeping, running, working, shopping, whatever, and that would fill up your twenty-four hours.” Nowhere, at no time, in no slot would you write ‘knowing’, and the questioner would be puzzled. He'll say, “But where is ‘knowing’ in all this?” And you will smile. What would be your response? “Knowing is continuous. Irrespective of what I am doing in the foreground, knowing is happening in the background.” That is real knowledge.

However, that is not a license to keep doing anything in the foreground. The ego is a very devious thing. The moment you say, “Irrespective of what is happening in the foreground, knowing is happening in the background,” so you say, “Right, now, what is happening in the foreground—that everybody can watch. What is happening in the background, only I can watch, so I can claim anything. So I'll say, “I'm doing any kind of debauchery in the foreground, but really, in the background, I'm knowing.” And nobody can counter that; nobody can verify that. Only you know, or only you do not know. So, avoid all that. There is no need to fool yourself.

Q: In the beginning you said that Prakriti (physical nature) is which continues, and that thing about action and self-improvement, and everything that continues, but this contradicts this thing that continues: this knowing that is continuous. So, that gives me an impression that it will be a sort of, as you said, bombardment, or explosion, or something that gives an impression that it hits you.

AP: No, the river is flowing continuously, and you're watching the continuous flow, and the flow has several distinct kinds of ripples and waves, and there are stones, and pebbles, and fish, and people in the river, and reflections, and streaks. So much is there. River is an entire ecosystem, and you are watching all of it. The river will keep flowing. You can know what the river is all about, and knowing the river, you come to who you really are.

One thing is certain: you are not what you take yourself to be. And there is no other method because there is no other thing available. All that you have is the river. All that you can see is the river. So, the river is the trap, and the river is the way to freedom. You have a choice here: you can choose the river as bondage, or you can choose the river as your way to liberation.

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