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Know the fact but do not stop at the fact || On Advait Vedanta (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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Shuzan held out his short staff and said, “If you call this a short staff, you oppose reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now, what do you wish to call this?” ~ ‘The Short Staff’, a Zen Koan

Questioner: Acharya Ji, like this confusing Koan, a few things in your teachings are difficult to grasp for my petty, stability-seeking mind. In your song ‘Are you looking for me?’, you said it is stupid to wind your legs around your head, so I stopped the little yoga I did. My current yoga is just listening to your videos. I don’t know if peace will come just by that, but it surely has given me a better understanding on life and gives me relaxation, at least for a few minutes.

So, I queue your videos on YouTube and keep going. I see that this is conditional peace because as your video’s effect fades, my peace can fade too. I work from home now, so there is no external pollution; my mind is the culprit.

Where am I going? Am I your intellectually poor disciple who needs to stick to just one of your methods, like ‘What role am I playing now?’ or ‘Om Namah Shivaya’- japa , or observing that I am just hormones and chemicals? Please guide.

Acharya Prashant: Where is a clear description, an admission of your real and current bondages in all this? Why must you watch any videos of mine, or do any yoga, or follow the methods of japa (chanting) or observation, if there is nothing to be healed or corrected?

You are saying you get conditional peace by watching the videos. Where is the disquiet coming from? When would you mention that? No video, no method, no japa , no tapas (austerities), no dhyāna (meditation), no yoga can be successful unless first of all you see and admit where your problem lies.

You cannot just randomly keep popping pills. It cannot become a hobby with you to keep trying random, fancy, flashy medicines. Think of a guy who, as a matter of hobby, shows up at the medical store every weekend and says, “What’s new? Where are the fresh arrivals?” And the shopkeeper says, “Sir, the fresh stock is just being loaded up there, but you will certainly like this model. Try!” And he says, “Wow! Nice!” “And here, sir, here is an advanced type of plaster—why don’t you put it on? And surely, as you said, I have dentures and diapers for you!”

Why do you want to do this or that? You have mentioned to me ten percent of what you do, and you have mentioned it to me as if it is your life. Ninety percent of your time goes in your work, and you have done it away in one sentence: “I work from home”—and that’s ninety percent of your time, and this is how vividly you are describing it to me: “I work from home.” And what are you narrating to me so profusely? Stuff that you rarely, occasionally do—this method of observation, that video, this video. Are these videos your life? Do they consume your time?

Your real devotions can be known only by seeing where your time is really going. Time is the direct and honest criteria. Where is your time going?

You are asking me, “When will I get peace?” Is your time going towards attainment of peace? Ninety percent of your time is going towards the attainment of bread for your stomach, so you will have that. Had you been investing ninety percent of your time in peace, you would have had peace by now.

All your life is devoted to working for somebody so that you can earn some money, and that goes towards fulfilling your mortal and physical requirements and demands and desires. If for one month you do not watch my videos, that would probably be a peripheral loss to you. But if for one month you do not work for your bosses, you will remember that month; that will become a watershed in your career. For twenty years you will remember that as an important mention on your CV. “That one month I did not work, and that had such a disastrous effect on my career!”

You know, I feel bad. I want to give up sometimes. I ask myself: The fellow is doing well, he is already doing well, and he is more spiritually inclined than ninety-nine percent of the world’s population—why am I still pestering him? I want to let you go, because you are already doing better than ninety-nine percent of the world’s population, even in the spiritual dimension. Ninety-nine percent of people do not bother to watch any spiritual video in a queue or in a loop; ninety-nine percent of people do not bother to send over a question four times a month; ninety-nine percent of people don’t bother to do what you are already doing.

So, you are already so very better off in a relative sense. So, I do get a thought not to say much and just encourage you and say well done, and give you a 4.5 rating on a scale of 5, which you probably do deserve. I don’t want to take it away from you. I think that’s what I will give you tonight and stop at that. Because if I do not give you that, then I will have to be very, very harsh upon you and everybody else.

And it beats our comprehension, you know. We do so much, we do so much, we do so much, and when we look at the others, they aren’t doing anything, and they are still happy. Your neighbor isn’t listening to any Acharya Prashant, and chances are he would be happier than you, and chances are he wouldn’t be getting scolded four times a month as you do. So, you are doing so much and you still get scolded, and there are so many around you who are leading perfectly happy lives and are enjoying it in all ways. So, I don’t think tonight I have the hardness to take it any further.

Spirituality is not about asking, “I have already done this much and it is not sufficing. What more needs to be done?” Spirituality is brutal, it is ruthless. You don’t have to look at yourself in relation to the others; you have to look at yourself with respect to the Absolute.

And you are always found wanting, you are always found short—and you always get scolded. And you look at yourself and you say, “With relation to the others, I am already so very better off—why am I still getting scolded?” Because it’s not about the others, it’s about you and the Absolute. That’s why you get scolded.

But there is an innocence in your question. I don’t think I can be too harsh with you. I will take up the Koan you have sent over.

“If you call this short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now, what do you wish to call it?”

You have to call it both. You see, you are living as the bodied one; that identification does exist for you. Just as your material body is a fact, you cannot ignore the fact of the short staff—a short stake, a short cane or something, the short staff that a monk carries. So, you cannot say, “No, this is not a short staff.” It is. You have to respect the fact.

But you cannot stop at the fact. It is a short staff only with respect to your body. How do you know it is short? Would a little ant call it short? Would a little insect call it short? If you were not the body, would the staff even exist for you? It exists only in the same dimension as the brain; it is your brain that comprehends the material reality of the object. Would any software work without its compiler? Here (pointing at the head) is the compiler. The compiler and the software go together. The staff does not exist at all if the brain were not configured in the way it is.

So, even as you accept the fact that it is a staff, you also know that “It is a staff only with respect to me . If I keep saying it is a staff, it is a staff, it is a staff, what does that amount to? It amounts to constantly saying I am the body, I am the body, I am the body”—because it is a staff only with respect to your body.

Therefore, those who get stuck at the level of the fact are actually getting stuck at the level of the body. That’s the problem with science. It keeps saying this exists, this exists, this exists (pointing at different objects on the table) , and surely it does exist. But this exists only with respect to my hand, my body, my comprehension, my senses, my brain, right? So, if I keep saying this exists, this exists, this exists, I am continuously saying I am the body, I am the body, I am the body.

Therefore, whereas one has to respect the fact that this exists—be it a short staff or a white hanky, same thing—whereas one has to respect that they exist, one has to also remember that their existence is not final, not absolute; it is relative to you . If you insist too much upon its existence, you are insisting too much upon your bodily self, and then you will never get freedom.

So, this (pointing at the handkerchief) is like your current reality, just as the body is your current reality, right? We are currently body-identified. Just as we are currently body-identified, so currently, yes, this exists. But the story cannot stop at the fact; the story has to go beyond the fact. Beyond the fact is the Truth.

You have to know both, where you are currently standing and where you wish to be. Currently, I am standing at the level of this (pointing at his body) and at the level of this (pointing at the handkerchief) ; these two are one, this exists for the body. This is my current standing, but this is not my destination. A point must come where it exists only with respect to the body, not with respect to me. When nobody remains to definitely and conclusively say, “This is a white hanky”—let this be a white hanky for the body—you have gone, you are somewhere else.

That’s the way to live: knowing the fact, but also knowing that you do not belong to the fact. The fact cannot be ignored. If you ignore the fact, then you are entering the realm of superstition. You have to live scientifically, you have to be logical. So, you must respect the fact. The pillar does exist, the wall does exist, the body does exist. If you say the body does not exist, you are being a hypocrite, because that’s how you behave day in and day out—as a body, right? Behaving as a body and then not admitting the body is hypocrisy.

So, you do admit that this exists, the short staff exists, the body exists, but you do not stop at that. That’s how the spiritual one lives: knowing the world, seeing the world, acknowledging the world, but not belonging to the world, knowing fully well that his destination is somewhere else. And that does not mean that he is dismissive or disrespectful towards the world. I am repeatedly saying one has to respect the world, otherwise it would be hypocritical.

Being present here in time and space but continuously, parallelly present elsewhere also. Or, to put it differently, being present here in time and space but also parallelly absent to whatever is going on here in time and space, present to it and also absent to it. Superficially present to it, deeply absent to it; superficially here, deeply somewhere else. Where? Nowhere.

But on the surface you have to be here. If you are not here even at the surface, then that is not spirituality; then you are a lunatic. The spiritual man is present to the world. He knows the difference between red and blue; he knows how to drive a car; he knows which road to take. He is present to the world. But deeply he is absent; deep within him is a point that does not know the world at all. Deep within him is a point that has no value for the world, that does not transact with the world at all. Getting it?

Getting what? Even I do not know!

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