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Into that which is smaller than the atoms || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
41 min
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यदर्चिमद्यदणुभ्योणु च यस्मिन्ल्लोकाऽनिहिता लोकिनश्च ।

तदेतदक्षरं ब्रह्म स प्राणस्तदु वाङ्मनः तदेतत्सत्यं तदमृतं तद्वेद्धव्यं सोम्य विद्धि ॥

yadarcimadyadaṇubhyoṇu ca yasmiɱllokā'nihitā lokinaśca tadetadakṣaraṃ brahma sa prāṇastadu vāṅmanaḥ tadetatsatyaṃ tadamṛtaṃ tadveddhavyaṃ somya viddhi

That which is the Luminous, that which is smaller than the atoms, that in which are set the worlds and their peoples, That is This, Brahman immutable: life is That, it is speech and mind. That is This, the True and Real, it is That which is immortal: it is into That that thou must pierce, O son, into That penetrate.

~ Verse 2.2.2

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Acharya Prashant (AP): The Upanishads are very practical conversations. They do not merely present theories that the mind can accumulate and get fattened with. Instead, they guide the mind regarding the very meaning of life, the purpose of life, and the identity of the living one.

Visualize a bunch of young students sitting in front of the seer. In this one verse, the sage has given them a way to live. “It is into That that you must pierce, O son, into That penetrate. Only That will make life worth living. All else is not even worthy of mention.” What is it that the student, the mind, the ego must penetrate into, must approach, must know? “That which is the Luminous. Live in a way, O son, that you move from darkness to light. Tamaso mā jyotirgamaya . Keep everything else aside.”

Ask yourself this one question: The way I am living, is it reducing my inner darkness? This question, only this question, determines whether you are living rightly. It doesn’t matter how well fed you are, how well clothed you are, how well monied you are, how reputed, how respectable you are. Those things have nearly zero importance. What matters is whether moment by moment, day by day, decision by decision, you are leaving your darkness behind. What is meant by darkness?

The child is born into a state of not only not knowing but also a predisposition to false knowing. When the child is born, she does not merely not know; she is also configured biologically, genetically by Prakriti to selectively absorb false knowledge. It’s a double whammy. You do not know, and when you do not know, what is it that you do? You absorb false knowledge. That’s the human condition.

Most people die in ignorance deeper than what they had at the time of their birth, and the proof of that is that the period of maximum innocence in a common person’s life is the childhood. Had you been living rightly, your innocence would have deepened as you progressed through your years. But does that happen? Is the ten-year-old usually more innocent than the two-year-old? No. Whatever little innocence was to be had was at display only in the initial years, and then as you age and gain in experience, all the little innocence and its remnants fall off.

What does that mean? That means we live badly. We are born dirty, and we do not live in a way that cleanses our dirt.

Innocence is proportional to the inner cleanliness that you have.

So, the maximum cleanliness, I am repeating, that is usually available to a person is when he or she is one years, two years, five years old. This is a sad state of things. Had we lived rightly, we would have gained in innocence as we gained in our years. So, the ten-year-old would have been more innocent than the two-year-old, the twenty-year-old would have been more innocent than the ten-year-old, the forty-year-old would’ve been more innocent than the twenty-year-old, and so on. Life would have been a constant journey in inner purification. But that does not happen. We are born with a certain filth and worse still, as we said, the tendency to accumulate even more filth. And that is how most of us live.

Look at the faces of most elderly people. The faces have become distorted; the faces carry the agony and disappointment of an entire lifetime. I am not talking of wrinkles, I am talking of something else in the faces. You can be extremely beautiful even with wrinkles. You can be extremely beautiful even with sagging skin. And that's one mark of a life lived rightly: you will grow more and more beautiful as you age, you will never peak. The moment you close your eyes would be the moment when you would be at your best. But that does not happen.

Most aged people are not good to look at. Their eyes carry angst and frustration. What you call commonly as senility is not some biological phenomena; it is a mental thing. The fellow has seen the opportunity called life going waste and it is a tremendous loss, and you cannot recover the lost years. So, you lose your sense of humor; you become rigid, you become irritable; your consciousness starts dipping; you start losing inner strength. That's the story of most elderly people.

And remember, again, I am not talking of physical disintegration; that’s an inevitable biological thing. We are not talking of physical beauty; that's bound to deteriorate. We are talking of something more subtle. And there have been people in history who have been extremely beautiful in their old age. In fact, if you look at the paintings or pictures or photographs of their youth, you will not find much charm there. But if you look at their face when they were seventy or eighty, it is absolutely remarkable: you come to know a deeper definition of beauty just by looking at them.

So, that’s how you are to live, the sage is telling the student. You are not born to accumulate or run around, consume, have a good time, involve in this and that, gossip, and shallow merry-making. No. You ought to have a very clear vision of life. You must know who you are and, therefore, you must know why you exist.

It’s just so easy to squander away life. You will not even know where all your decades have gone, they just fly by. Unless you are very cautious by way of being conscious, it is almost certain that you will waste your life. In fact, that is the default script: you are born to waste the opportunity called life. Almost cast in stone. Sounds unfair, right? But that’s the deal.

And we can’t even say take it or leave it; you have already taken it. You didn’t want to take it—what are you doing here? You should not have existed as a body but you do exist. And that’s the deal. You are born to stay encaged, confused, belittled, bewildered, deluded, foolish. Like a runner who has been given a certain time to hit the finish line, and instead he is busy raising a house on the track. You find it funny when you visualize it, right?

The fellow is born, and when he is young, he does move towards the finish line just a bit, according to his or her feeble capacities. He wonders, he asks questions, he wants to understand. You have seen that curiosity in kids. They want to know, they want to feel, they want to experience. They demand answers and often they are not settled with childish answers. But as the kid starts growing up, he meets another kid on the running track—and the other kid too was supposed to sprint, run, focus on the real thing—and the two start totally forgetting what they are there at that place for.

And soon around them a crowd swells—a crowd of all unconscious, lost people. So thick is the crowd that you cannot even get a glimpse of your destination. And everybody is doing something. Somebody is selling something; somebody is offering you a job; somebody is offering you an ideology; somebody is eager to put politics in your mind; somebody is offering you entertainment, happiness, pleasures of all kind; and there are just too many of them. The finish line has totally receded. You do not even now remember anything called the destination, the purpose, journey. You are stuck with a thousand worthless occupations and goals. It’s a huge mass, an entire crowd.

The sage is telling the student, “Cut the clutter, none of that means anything. Irrespective of how charming, enamouring, important all that affair looks, dismiss it and remember something very, very ancient. Go into your mind; it knows of something far more important than these humdrum affairs.”

In your calculations, in your considerations, where is light? How much importance are you giving to it? Do you even remember it faintly? You go to sleep, you wake up, you have a list of tasks to do. Does any of that include an inner awakening or inner cleansing? You will regret, you will regret very badly. But at this moment you are totally bewitched. That which your eyes can see and that which has been fed into your mind has taken total possession of you. And you will cry and you will regret.

The seer does not want that. The seer wants the student to live a life of purpose and fulfillment. So, he says, “Into That you must pierce, O son, into That penetrate.” When he says, “Penetrate into the Truth, penetrate into the light,” read it as: forget everything else. Forget everything else and be very cautious of your inner darkness. Only in the backdrop of darkness does the mention of light and reverence to light make any sense, right? If you do not remember how dark you are within, what business do you have aiming for luminosity?

So, two things. One, remember how dark you are within. Secondly, drop all the miscellaneous occupations and preoccupations; they exist just to distract you. It is not your job, your ken to cater to them. Just dismiss them, don’t engage. You have something extremely important to look after.

And it will become an almost irreversible habit: the more you train yourself to deal in the trivial, the more the trivial will become meaningful and important to you. You will not even know the trivial as trivial anymore. Even if somebody comes to advice you, you will find all sane advice odd. You will say, “This fellow is berating my feelings and sentiments by calling my affairs as trivial.” The affairs you will stick to, the advice you will reject.

Nothing but constant inner questioning can save you. You have to ask yourself, “Am I not under a cloud? Am I not all hazy within? Am I not operating like an automaton? Do I really know what I am doing and why, or is it some invisible inner momentum that is pushing me to an unknown direction without my consent?” You have to keep asking this; again and again you must stop and take stock. If you must have a habit, this is the only one that you must have. Keep taking stock. “What’s going on? Which direction am I headed to and why? The one that I am, what do I get doing what I am doing?”

That’s the entire purpose of the Upanishads, you see: to help you lead a truly fulfilling life. Keep all the mumbo jumbo aside. Brahman , Truth, Self, Ātman , all are mere devices to help you have the greatest life possible. The human being, his concerns, his worries, his struggles, his sadnesses, are at the center of the Upanishads. They exist for you. They exist because you are not alright. They do not exist as bundles of knowledge, no. They exist as medicines. Think not of them as treatises in philosophy; think of them more as documents of medical diagnosis. They tell you how your insides are; they diagnose you thoroughly. Then there is the prescription, and if the prescription is followed, the prognosis is quite rewarding.

Then the sage says, “Enter that which is smaller than the atoms, that in which are set the worlds and their peoples.” What is meant by ‘that which is smaller than the atoms’? That which is invisible, inaccessible to the gross senses. Your eyes cannot even look at molecules really. The eyes have a particular range: things smaller than a particular size cannot be seen by the eyes, and also, remarkably, things larger than a particular size can also not be captured by the eyes.

So, when the sage says, “O son, target that which is smaller than the atoms,” what is he telling the student? He is saying, do not target that which is visible to the eyes. Remember that the entire approach of the Upanishads is that of negation and demolition. Therefore, when the sage says, “Do this,” it has to be read as, “Do not do that.” Often this that is recommended to be done is impossible to do for the doer that you are. But for the doer that you are, there are a lot of other things that are very lucrative to do. Therefore, what the sage is saying is:

Do not do all those things that you are anyway habituated to. Drop that. Things that are gross enough to be captured by the eyes, things that are just things, purely material, are not worthy of becoming the purpose of life.

So, “O son, target that which is smaller than the atoms.” That does not mean that the sage is advising the student to target subatomic particles. That does not mean that the sage is saying that you must target neutrons and protons, no. The sage comes from a certain level of consciousness. If you want to know what he is saying you have to sink with him—and sinking with the sage is not an easy task.

People often wonder; they say that for spiritual progress something must be done. How can a mere conversation with the teacher lead to spiritual edification and elevation? Those who say this have never really sat in front of a real teacher. Sitting in front of a real teacher is a very, very hard task; you will cave in. You think that work is only when you are facing material resistance, right? There is a stone, you want to lift it up, and as you lift it up, gravity is offering resistance, and that you call as work. That is work alright, but only in a gross sense.

Something heavier than all the stones and mountains exists within you, and it offers tremendous resistance when you sit in front of the teacher. Therefore, just sitting in front of the teacher requires a lot of work. Most people are unfit and incapable, they will succumb. The teacher’s words are not just words, they are a challenge, and something within you knows very well that those words are dangerous. It offers, as we said, mountains of resistance.

These are just words but see, look at their import, look at their implication. The sage is saying, “Target that which is smaller than the atoms,” and the sage is therefore saying, “Rid yourself of all that which is gross, material, sensory.” You thought it is something that you can just casually hear? No. Your entire body and your entire decision-making mechanism is wedded to the material. Even as the teacher is talking of discarding the material, your physical apparatus is still dreaming of the material. There will be tremendous resistance. You want to live and die in your petty unconscious state.

The words of the sage are deceptively simple. You look at them, all that he’s saying is, “O son, target that which is smaller than the atoms.” In these few words, he has challenged your entire physicality and your entire mental structure, without raising too much of a noise, without so much as warning you beforehand. Like a doctor jabbing you with a certain medicine very noiselessly. To an ignorant witness it might appear the doctor has done nothing much, but he has actually introduced in your system something tremendously important. The thing that he has introduced in your system has the potential to displace the very center of your system.

That’s how the sages of the Upanishads operate. They are not fond of fanfare; they do not trumpet around their intentions or accomplishments. They talk in a very understated way. And probably that’s a good device, because if they reveal what their intentions are, not even a single student might be found sitting in front of them. Anyway, as is known, not too many students would be there with the sage; not too many could withstand him. We cannot even withstand physical tests. When physicality is the outermost layer of our being, how will we withstand this kind of a laser-sharp attack on our inner thing?

I was watching a documentary that referred to the training process of the US Navy SEALs. They began with a batch of 150 and not more than two or three dozen graduated. The higher the place is, the lesser is the population, no?

“Pierce That, O son, penetrate That, that in which are set the worlds and their peoples.”

You exist to penetrate the very seed of existence. Why does the universe exist at all? Why does all this exist at all? Can you see the sweep of the sage’s arm? “Why does all this exist at all? Address that question, son; that’s what you are born for—to know who is the one being born, why does he see, and why does he see so many things. What is this universe and to whom does it exist? Live for this purpose. Keep everything aside.” Can you remember these four words? They are the essence of this verse.

Keep everything else aside; it does not matter. That’s the secret. Matter does not matter.

“Life is That, it is speech and mind.”

The entire process of life, if you can penetrate it, you will come to Brahman . Find out what your words are calling out to; find out what your mind is coming after. And that’s the last thing you would normally want to do. Therefore, the sage repeats it verse after verse, chapter after chapter. You will not normally want this to happen.

Keep aside the preposterous confidence that you will learn these things through your personal experience. It is not going to happen. These are not things that will just naturally, in the prakritik way, come to you. You are not designed to receive these signals. You are designed, however, to do everything not to receive these signals, including coming up with the assertion that you will receive these signals on your own. When you say that you will receive these on your own, that’s an inner ploy—another inner ploy—to not receive at all.

When you say, “I will try hard and do it on my own,” it is not as if you are expressing an intention to really know; it is not as if you are expressing your devotion towards inner exploration. On the contrary, when you say, “I will do it on my own,” you are just expressing your cunning inner resistance to real knowing.

“That is This, the True and Real.”

Live your life for the True and Real. Penetrate That, target That. In the subsequent verse, the Rishi uses the analogy of the bow and the arrow. He says, “That’s what is to be targeted. Target nothing else; target That. What? The True and the Real.” But the Truth cannot be thought of, so what is the Rishi really saying? He’s saying, “Son, you are mired in falseness. Go, take a bath!”

Always remember the one being spoken to. The one being spoken to is one in illusions. Therefore, when the one in illusions is told, “You must have clarity,” what is he really, practically being told? Shed your illusions. Because clarity is not a thing to be had, and clarity is anyway not going to be available to one in illusions.

Therefore, when the sages talk in an affirmative way, you must still decode it in the negativa. See what is false, relentlessly, ruthlessly, and drop it. Drop it right now. Don’t wait a second. How long do you want to keep poison on your tongue? Spit it out! Right now! Don’t think! The inner tendency to die unfulfilled is what is causing you to brood with poison on your tongue; it’s the death within at its conspiring worst. And you are saying, “No, wait. I am thinking…” No. Spit it out!

When you proceed to unburden yourself of the false, you find that the falseness shackling you is almost endless. And then, if you are sincere, you ask yourself, “There are these thousand false things encircling me, occupying me, attached to me. What do I fight? These things one by one, or should I rather look at my tendency to attract these things, my tendency to draw these things?”

So, the one who proceeds to get rid of falseness, if he is sincere, he will end up getting rid of himself—because it is to you that all falseness is. Falseness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If falseness has come to you, it is because you wanted it, you invited it, and you are keeping it, you are nourishing it. What’s the point in attacking that one particular piece of falseness, then? Figure out what is it within you that remains actively enamoured of the unreal. You will drop one thing, but if you will not drop your tendency, soon you will find yourself running after and sticking to another false thing, no?

You are worked with sugared syrup and your arms are coated with the syrup. You want to fight the flies one by one? What do you want to do? Go take a bath. That’s the entire spiritual process. It’s not as if the flies mean nothing, but they do not mean much by themselves. They are outside, but they exist to tell you something of your inside.

So, it’s not as if you should not pay attention to the world around you, your relationships, your things, your stuff, your life. But if you pay attention to all those things and continue to look outwards, then you have not understood. When you look at stuff about you that’s needless and rotten and harmful, then use the presence of that stuff to learn something about yourself. Don’t get into the victim mode. Don’t start saying, “You know, it’s the conditions around me, things around me, people around me, that are inducing falseness in my life, bringing falseness to my life.” If that kind of an environment is present around you, you have to honestly interrogate yourself.

“Before death, O son, penetrate into That which is immortal.”

Before physical death happens, reach the pinnacle of life. It’s an exciting exercise, no? The clock is ticking, and you have to reach the core of the clock and make the ticking stop. If you do not reach the core of time and stop the tick tick, then your time will run out.

Before your time runs out, you must run time out. It is literally a race against time, and only one of you two will survive. If time survives, you are dead, and if you are to live immortally, then time will have to be vanquished.

These should be very obvious questions: What is time? What is my relationship with time? What am I without time? But we are in such a hurry; we don’t pause to reflect. Forty times a day we look at the clock; not once do we look at time. A million times we would have asked, “What is the time?” Not once have we asked, “What is time?” If once, with all your sincerity, you can ask, “What is time?” the clock will start shivering.

Questioner (Q): We said that we have limited time, and during this limited time we have to target the ultimate goal of a fulfilled life. Can there be physical targets during this journey? If yes, how can we figure out the right kind of physical targets?

AP: Physical targets must be shadows of the real internal target. Would you remember this? Physical targets in themselves, by themselves, do not mean much if all that they beget you is some physicality.

Physical targets must be like going to a bookshop. Going to a bookshop is a very tangible thing, right? The road is material, the shop is material, the stuff made of paper is material. But what does that beget you? If the book is nice, if the book is worthy, it will offer you something beyond the material.

Our condition is such that physically we know nothing other than the material—and all action necessarily is in the domain of the material, right? Thoughts will move, hands will move, legs will move. So, even as this physical movement is happening, this movement must be subservient to, a harbinger of something beyond itself.

You go to a hospital. A hospital is a very tangible place. Do you go to a hospital to get something tangible from there? Do you do that? No. When you go there, if you are lucky, you get health, right? That building of brick and mortar gives you health. What if that building of brick and mortar were to give you just brick and mortar? Then it is not worth it, or is it?

That’s how tangible targets must be. You have to ask yourself: The thing that I am targeting, is thingness all to that thing, or is there something more to it? If there is nothing more to the things in your life, then those things mean nothing.

There is a person in your life. On the tangible plane the person is a body. What does that person mean to you? Body? Then not worth having in life. Or is the person offering you something beyond physicality? That’s what you have to ask.

So, it’s a tricky balance. On one hand, nothing except the material can be targeted—Truth cannot be targeted, right? We are clear about that. Truth cannot be targeted. Falsenesses can be targeted, fine. Truth cannot be. Falsenesses can be targeted in terms of shooting them down.

So, whenever you will set out to target something, that thing will necessarily be material. But even as you target the material, you have to ask yourself what does that material stand for, what is that material an ambassador of, what is that material a gateway to. And that’s the rule of thumb you can use to ascertain the worth of stuff and actions and people in your life. Ask yourself: Is this thing or this person taking me beyond himself?

So, there is a person in your life. How do you know whether that person is the right one? You ask: Is this person bringing me to himself, or is he taking me beyond himself? A good person is one who reminds you of something beyond himself. You just look at that person and your consciousness gets a shock—a soothing shock most of the times, but sometimes just a jolt—because even as what stands in front of you is a mere shape of flesh and bone, yet unmistakably there is something of the Beyond there; you cannot miss that. And if that is there, stay put. If that is not there, run, run! And that applies to just about everything in life. Everything.

Make every tangible thing a messenger of Truth. And if there is something in your life that cannot be a messenger or reminder of Truth, why keep it? Your food, your bedsheet, your clothes, obviously your friends—everything that’s around you must exist to take you far, far, and far beyond. Otherwise, throw it away. Why does it exist?

At least do not have stuff that arrests your journey to the Beyond; that’s the minimum you can do. If you find that having stuff that facilitates your movement to the Beyond is too much, then the minimum that you can do is: do not have stuff that is sticky, do not have stuff that enchants you, captivates you. Do not have fascinating things in life, full stop. Because if you are fascinated, you are trapped.

If you cannot have spiritual things, then at least have simple things. At least those simple things will not arrest you, trap you. Best is to have everything set in a way that takes you ahead. Practically that may not be possible, so at least discard all the stuff that captivates you. Lead a simple life.

Q: Earlier you spoke about taking a pause, taking time to reflect in one’s life. Earlier in this session, for example, I felt that pause coming up, but when we go back to our daily living, we usually have a lot of things to take care of, and then this pause doesn’t happen. At the same time, you have also told us that we should live a life where there is no time to entertain even a single thought for ourselves. So, how to let this pause…

AP: See, in the ordinary life, if you take a pause, that pause will ruin you. That is why so many people prefer very occupied and busy lives: because if they pause, if they have spare time, they will necessarily do something self-destructive. Don’t you see that? The moment a person has spare time, what does he do? He self-destructs.

So, reflection is not something that you do by taking out time exclusively devoted to reflection. If you have to take time out to reflect, it merely means that the life that you are leading has problems. And if your life has problems, then the time that you take out from life will not augur well; you will misutilize that time.

Therefore, reflection or stock-keeping has to be spontaneous; it has to be something concurrent. Your life has to be such that it forces you to be spontaneously reflective. Only when your life is bad you will not be spontaneously reflective; then you will want exclusive time for reflection, like people want spare weekends. But the moment you want exclusively devoted time for reflection, you have already proven to yourself that you are leading a bad life. If life is good, who will have the time to break away from it, even to reflect? Life is great—who wants to even reflect at it?

Lead a life, I repeat, that forces you to be spontaneously reflective. That must be the kind of work you pick up, the relationships that you make. They should not allow you to stay unconscious. If you stay unconscious, you should receive a jolt—and reflection has happened. Why must you reflect after 24 hours? If you are falling asleep, then the reality check, the reminder should come immediately. Or do you want to waste the entire day and then reflect in the night and conclude that the day was wasted?

So, when must you be reflective? Continuously. And that’s the mark of the right life, I repeat: it forces you to be continuously reflective, it demands attention from you. If you do not give attention, then that life will be spoilt. To maintain that life you will have to keep supplying attention. Opt for such a life.

On the other hand, you can conveniently go for a life where you can happily remain unconscious and still make a living and proceed with your daily, worldly matters. In that kind of a life there would be suffering, and when there would be suffering you would be forced to reflect—if you are lucky. But that reflection is just a kind of grief in retrospect. You are grieving over dead time, it’s gone. What’s the point in reflecting now?

Therefore, all reflection, all attention, must be in the moment. Do not say that “Seven to eight is my appointed time to look at my day.” Do not say that “When I close my day, I write my diary or journal.” Even if in that journal you discover that everything was wrong with your day, would you now recover your day?

Be so occupied with the right life that you do not even have the time to write a journal. And when I say ‘be so occupied’, I mean attentively occupied. I am not talking of unconscious occupation; I am not talking of mechanical movement. I am talking of a complete, continuous flow of conscious activity. That’s how you should be.

You must be in such deep love with perfection that anything short of that should just shake you up. “The word that I just uttered was suboptimal. The thing that I just did was avoidable. The task that I just completed was qualityless.” This should be clear to you even before that task is completed; that you are losing it should be clear to you in the very moment when you are losing it. In fact, it should be clear to you even before the moment you lose it. The warning should come in advance, a little bit in advance. When you are in love that happens: you become very sensitive to all that can go wrong. You have something very precious with you; you do not want to lose it. You are continuously alert.

And when you are not continuously alert, then at the end of the day you say, “You know, please give me half an hour to take stock of things. Please give me half an hour to make sense of what I have been doing since the last ten hours.” If you now require time to make sense of what you were doing since the last ten hours, what the hell were you doing since the last ten hours? Surely something very unworthy, no?

Brooding or contemplation is a good thing, but only for those who are not living rightly. They must contemplate. The best thing is to live so rightly and so fully that there is neither a need nor the space and opportunity to contemplate. There is neither the need to contemplate nor the opportunity to contemplate, you are so full. That’s the best thing. However, if you are living wrongly, then you must take time out, go somewhere, be on the hills for some twenty days and figure out that you have wasted your life. Does that sound great, going to the hills only to find that you have wasted your life?

So, there is nothing so very fascinating or romantic about being pensive; leave that to the thinkers. If somebody is thinking a lot, it merely means that he has a lot to atone for. The mark of the one living rightly is that he does not really have the need to think too much.

Thought in some way is a compensatory mechanism; what you could not do right you want to think right. But you cannot think right what you have done wrongly, or can you? In the answer sheet you spoiled a mathematics question, and now once you are out of the hall, you are mentally solving the problem and doing it right. That cannot undo what you have done wrongly. Write the paper in such a way that there is no need to think after the exam. Emerge from the hall, go play football, get kicked around, have a nice little brawl, and fall asleep. (Chuckles)

Thought is good when you are in a bad situation and you want some incremental improvement. But a thinker is not of much use in missions that require total dedication because a thinker will always remain uncertain. Not only is he uncertain, his consciousness is still plagued by doubt and illusions and the rest of it. He has not yet sorted it out, and if he has not yet sorted it out, how can you push such a person into the battle zone? He is inwardly already at war; how will he fight for any kind of mission? In our kind of work specifically, we require people who are internally very sorted, who are not found sitting in some forlorn corner and brooding and envying the rabbits. That kind of a person, who is found scratching his forehead or beard, is dangerous for the mission. He has a lot of uncertainties within; anyday he will fall off.

It’s fine if you have uncertainties for a while, but if you have been cultivating them since years and years, it merely means that you want to keep them. Why? Because certainty requires sacrifice, and in uncertainty there is security. In uncertainty you are keeping one, two, or four, many options open. “I am uncertain, so this many options are open.” That gives you security. Certainty means committing yourself. The ego doesn’t want to do that. The ego would rather say, “You know, I am still chewing it, still thinking over it. You know, I am still thinking over it!”

It’s not that I have problems with thought. What I am saying is that at a certain level of work, thinkers are problematic. At the same time, at lower levels of work and existence, thought is a great faculty. We require more people who think and think deeply.

That which you are calling as reflection, you know, spare time for reflection, would essentially be thought. And when you are thinking a lot, then you are missing out on the reality; you are confined to your inner arena, and there is some kind of a silly game going on there and you are charmed by it. You are not available anymore. You are not available to reality; you are not available to the fact; you are not available to action. You have been handicapped by your internal demons.

What we need is clarity. Clarity is contentment. Clarity is settlement. Clarity is spontaneous. I immediately see who has the need to think later, and if you have the need to think later, it is a proof that you are not seeing. Just see, and that is your stock-keeping. Just see.

Q: It came to my mind that probably the highest that our education has given us are the thinkers, like Camus, Sartre, etc. And we have seen their lives, we have seen their pictures, they are sitting, they are writing, and we idolize that. But do the thinkers have any real value?

AP: A thinker, obviously, is to be respected. A thinker is far superior to an unthinking person because an unthinking person is a silly automaton. What I am talking of is the spiritual zone. In that zone thinking is not to be taken as something very worthy or desirable. If you continue to think necessarily, compulsively, then when will you understand?

Thought at best can be a precursor to understanding. Thought at best can be a facilitator to understanding. And remember that all thought involves time. Therefore, if understanding comes piggy riding on thought, then there is a time gap: you thought and then you became clear. And that will not allow you to be spontaneous. When you ask me a question, how will I respond to you in real time if I have to first think about it for half an hour? How will I respond?

And that’s the nature of life. Does it wait for you to think and conclude? No. Life asks one question after the other, throws one opportunity after the other. If you keep thinking about everything then you are losing out on everything, because thought involves time. And also remember that the output of thought is far from perfect; there is no guarantee that your thinking will yield you a perfect or right conclusion.

Spontaneous understanding is a different thing altogether. There is no possibility of an error there; you just know. Without time, without method, you just know. That’s what is real mysticism—you just know. And if somebody asks you, “From where did your response come?” you will just shrug your shoulders and wriggle your hands say, “Well, if only I knew. Even I do not know how I know!”

To understand without thought, to know without knowledge, to know without time—that is mysticism. But that is not to be confused with the automatic operation of your conditioning. Because these two, in some way, are very similar to each other. A fellow who is deeply conditioned won’t think, he will just conclude. At the same time, the Rishi of the Upanishad won’t think, he would just know. So, these two look dangerously similar; you have to be careful.

Therefore, thought has value. Thought has value for the conditioned mind because it allows you space to, temporarily at least, break away from the conditioning and look at it. I have said both things, mind you, the importance of thought and the limitation of thought.

Q: I have noticed that one tends to think more about things, persons, scenarios, etc. that one is afraid of. There seems to be a close relationship between fear and thought. Please elaborate.

AP: You see, if there is something that you hold close to yourself, then you work for it, right? You work for it. And if you feel it’s secured, then all is alright, there is no need to think. And if it is still not secured, then you continue working for it. In either scenario, where do you get the time to think?

If I am fearful about something, if I think I might lose something, what do I do? If I am an honest person, if I have some sincerity, what will I do? I will work. I will do whatever it takes to be with that thing, not to lose it. I work and work; I don’t have time to think. If I really love that thing, I don’t have time to think. If I really love that thing, I will not operate from my conditioning in working for that thing; I will be very sincere because I love it. I want to keep it, I am afraid of losing it, so I will be sincere in my work. And if I am sincere in my work, how do I get the space to keep the work apart and think?

Now, that’s the difference between attention and thought. Attention makes your action even more powerful. Attention is like giving your action a right direction and a boost of energy. When you are attentive while acting, then your action gets a shot of energy and also the right direction. On the contrary, when you are thinking while acting, thought saps away energy from the action. Have you not seen that?

So, if you are sincere about the thing that you are afraid of losing, would you think? Because by thinking you are impeding your work towards securing that thing; by thinking you are only ensuring more and more that the thing will be lost. What kind of an inner slyness it is that professes to care for a thing and works to destroy the same thing? And how do you destroy that thing? By thinking instead of working. The time, the energy that should have gone into concrete work is instead squandered in open-ended and endless thought. And to keep yourself morally defended, you say, “You know, I am thinking because I love that thing, because I am afraid of losing that thing.” Had you really been afraid, you would have worked.

Your house is on fire, the kid is inside. You are so afraid you will lose the kid. Will you stand outside and brood? Tell me, what would you do? You would leap into action, you would jump into the fire. Instead of jumping into the fire, you would be found scratching your forehead and your beard and posing as a philosopher when the child is turning into ashes. Sheer cunningness!

Do you have any love? That’s the question. Do you have any love? Have you ever loved?

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