Questioner: I am very inspired by Swami Vivekananda. How can I challenge my conditioning, reject distractions, and maintain continuity with the scriptures?
Acharya Prashant: You have a giant no less than Swami Vivekananda to get your answers from. See what he did: he lived by his conviction. Merely being impressed by somebody or impressed with something is not sufficient. It might be alright just as a beginning, but only as a beginning. It does not take one far on its own.
If something impresses you as being true and valuable, then the onus is upon you to now bring that thing into your life. Otherwise, it is a strange situation. How can you call something as true and still live in a way quite opposite to it? If Swami Vivekananda felt that the great teachings of Vedanta need to reach the masses, then he very vigorously went about propagating the message of Vedanta, so much so that his zeal carried him beyond the borders of not merely this country but actually this continent. It was not very easy to sail to America those days, and if you read the description of how he managed it and what all he had to go through before that famous and historical address in Chicago, you will learn something.
In fact, there is no bigger betrayal to oneself than to not live by one’s deepest convictions. You see, there are people who don’t have any convictions at all; they are rolling stones. There is not even ideology in their life, let alone Truth. Thought they use just to get their desired object; they never think about the subject at all. Most people belong to this category.
Then there are a few who are indeed certain of a few things. These people are rare. But even among these people who are convinced of something, rare is the one who displays the honesty and the courage to actualize his conviction into action. Otherwise, you would meet a lot of people who, at concept level, mentally, would be absolutely convinced of this or that, but their lives would bear no trace of that conviction. That is what you have to guard against. That is the only way to challenge your conditioning, as you have asked, and that is the only way to maintain continuity with the scriptures. How will you maintain continuity with your scriptures if you are continuously deceiving the scriptures?
So, there are 108 prominent Upanishads; you already read twenty-two of them, and nothing from those twenty-two has penetrated you deeply enough to show up in your life, and you are planning to approach the twenty-third now. Is this not an obvious fraud of some kind? And when you will perpetrate this fraud, sooner or later your so-called conscience will revolt or you will get bored. Others you might be able to deceive, but you will know for sure for yourself that the stuff you are reading has not been useful to you, and it has not been useful to you because you have not put it into action.
But whatever be the reason, it is certain that the twenty-two Upanishads didn’t benefit you, and if they didn’t benefit you, for how long will you continue with the twenty-third? Will you really be enthusiastic about the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth, knowing fully well that these are things that remain merely book stuff to you? Words and no more. So, you will discontinue reading the scriptures.
And let every person who has picked up the scriptures and kept them down understand this: Your interest in the scriptures faded away because of your dishonesty. How do you move to the next chapter and the next book if you have not been fair to the chapter already read? It starts pricking from within, and it becomes an exercise in humiliation to keep reading when you know fully well that you have not been executing what you have been reading; you have not been living by your convictions. So, then you drop the scripture, you simply drop it; you drop the scriptures and you bury your convictions because those convictions are harmful to your comfort and convenience.
The Upanishads were not composed to give you the normal kind of comfort and happiness. The Upanishads are there to give you an exalted happiness, a transcendental happiness, an eternal happiness; a happiness so rare and exquisite that it is not called as harṣa or moda or prasannatā , a special word is needed to denote that happiness: ānanda . It is a difficult happiness, it is a challenging happiness. It is a happiness that you must pay for. It is not one of those cheap happinesses that come to you because somebody has tickled your tummy, or because your eyes have just landed upon some object you can lust at. Not that kind of your everyday happiness.
You asked, “How do I challenge my conditioning? How do I continue with the scriptures and spirituality?” These two are related.
The only way to continue with the scripture that you are reading or the spiritual practice you are into is to keep demolishing your conditioning. If you are not constantly progressing against your conditioning, you will soon lose interest in the scriptures. The very sight of the scripture or the teacher will become a humiliating experience for you; you will want to avoid the scriptures, the spiritual practice, and the teacher at all cost. The scriptures will remind you of your impotence and self-deception. Why will you want to look at the scriptures? The scriptures will remind you of a promise unkept, of a payment pending. Who wants to keep looking at an unsettled bill? Painful, isn’t it?
Scriptures are not just ordinary books; they are difficult love.