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Know your passion and direct it rightly || On Advaita Vedanta (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
13 min
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द्रव्यार्थमन्नवस्त्रार्थं यः प्रतिष्ठार्थमेव वा । संन्यसेदुभयभ्रष्टः स मुक्तिं नाप्तिमर्हति ॥

dravyārthamannavastrārthaṃ yaḥ pratiṣṭhārthameva vā saṃnyasedubhayabhraṣṭaḥ sa muktiṃ nāptimarhati

A wise man should embrace renunciation only when there has risen in his mind dispassion for all the worldly things; otherwise he is fallen.

~ Maitreya Upanishad, Chapter 2, Verse 20

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Questioner: Acharya Ji, I am afraid that I do not know this total dispassion. My dispassion is partial and situation-dependent. This stubborn attraction towards the world makes me feel I am not worthy of being your student. At the same time, the meaninglessness of everything makes me run back to you. It is as you have said: can’t go away, can’t directly come close. What exactly does it mean to be fallen if one embraces renunciation without dispassion for all worldly things?

Acharya Prashant: It is simple. Dispassion and renunciation are not really two separate happenings; they are quite one. When the self is no more keen to cling to the various objects of its world, those objects then fall off, or you could say that then the self falls off from those objects.

The quality of no more being attracted, attached and clingy is called dispassion. Dispassion expresses that quality in a negative sense. Dispassion says not attached, not finding valuable. And renunciation states the same thing in an affirmative sense: renunciation says dropped, given up.

When you use the word ‘renunciation’, it feels as if you have done something to those objects or with those objects. You say, “I have renounced such and such thing,” as if an action has been done with respect to that thing. But the fact is that renunciation is actually a non-action. Renunciation is actually an exercise in negation, not doing.

The essence of renunciation is dispassion. Dropping is not needed, just being non-attached is sufficient. Non-attachment is dispassion. Dispassion by itself leads to the dropping off.

In fact, the object not clinging to the self is anyway the natural and default state. The nature of objects and the nature of the self are vastly different. They don’t exist on the same plane, so they cannot naturally go together; they cannot naturally hold hands or gel with each other.

It is a very unnatural happening when the self gets smitten with objects. It is a very unnatural love affair. It is like two immiscible liquids trying to become one: they can’t go together, there is no fundamental commonness.

So, not much is needed to separate them. Their separation is obvious and fundamental and conclusive. You don’t need to do anything to forcibly pull them apart; they are apart. In fact, a lot is done just to keep them together.

So, what is needed, then, to let them come apart? Don’t just forcibly keep them together. The force that keeps them together is called passion. Dispassion is to stop exerting that force. Dispassion is to stop spending your energies in keeping these two strange bedfellows on the same bed.

That is why actually ‘dispassion’ is actually a much more useful word than ‘renunciation’. In general, renunciation has been both scary and misleading, and also a forerunner to a lot of unintended hypocrisy. Because ‘renunciation’, the word, is stated in affirmative, so one feels as if one is required to do something to renounce, as if one is required to be an active renouncer. And when one feels that way, one goes ahead and renounces, renounces actively. All activity is on the outside, right?

So, on the periphery, you act and you declare that you are renouncing something, whereas internally there is still a lot of passion and clinginess. The result, as I said, a lot of hypocrisies, mostly unintended. One does not even know that renunciation has not really happened, because renunciation is a thing of the inside. One feels he’s on the right track. And then, when one encounters a situation in which in spite of all the external efforts to renounce there is still a lot of internal stickiness, then one feels disappointed, as probably you are feeling.

One says, “I gave this up, I gave that up; I am not eating this food; I am not visiting that place; I am not indulging in this kind of work, in that kind of relationship; not wearing those kinds of clothes.” That’s what it means to renounce, right? “I have given up my money, transferred my bank account. All that could be given up has been given up. I am strictly abiding by all the commandments of renunciation—and yet inside there is passion flourishing.” It is because the action is being done without much insight.

Forget renunciation; look towards dispassion. Forget dispassion; look towards your passion. That is sufficient. Dispassion you anyway do not you have—how will you look at it? How can you look at something that is not at all there in your hands? What are your hands full of? Passion. Ha! Gory passion, all-consuming passion, inflamed passion! Look at that. That you have in abundance anyway. Easy! Just look at what you have, that’s all.

What you have is so rotten that if you can just look at it honestly, you will feel like vomiting, and that is dispassion. What we have is cringeworthy. We manage to have it and hold it and keep it close to our heart only because we do not turn to look at it. Look at it, and it would become impossible for you to bear it.

What’s more, what you have is with you not without a reason. What you have is with you because it is being invited by something like itself. Rubbish attracts rubbish. If you can look at the rubbish that you are holding, it would not take you long to also see the rubbish of the one who loves to hold rubbish. After all, rubbish didn’t jump up on its own to occupy your hands; you picked it up. You handpicked it, selected it.

Now, what do you call as rubbish bigger—that which you have picked up or the one who has picked it up? If there is someone who is hellbent on picking up just rubbish, is the fellow not worse than rubbish? Is the fellow not worse than what he picks up?

So, when you look at passion, it frees you not only from what you are holding in your hands, but also from the one who is holding. When you’ll squirm at the content of the mind, how will you tolerate remaining identified with the fundamental tendency of the mind? Because it is the fundamental tendency of the mind that attracts all garbage towards it. If you dislike garbage, how will you remain identified with the fundamental tendency?

If a room is full of filth and you dislike filth, can you still like the occupant of that room? For who is it who has collected filth in that room? The occupant of the room. To dislike filth, dislike the occupant as well. Filth is the content of the mind. The occupant of the mind is the ‘I’-tendency, oneself.

And that is renunciation: not merely to drop this and that but to become skeptical of oneself. What is the point in giving up one thing or two when the intention to stick to things blazes on, as always? What is the point in denying yourself this thing or that thing when the intention to mate with things remains as aflame as ever?

See, my message to you is: forget renunciation, forget even dispassion. Just be concerned with your passions. Don’t renounce, don’t denounce; just watch. One is intelligent, right? One can watch. One can see the whole game and chemistry of these emotions. One can see through his intentions, can’t he? One can decode the games one is playing with himself. At least one can see where one is coming from and what his ways lead to; that will suffice.

After all, we live in the world, we are managing to survive here, so we have a certain knowledge and comprehension of the ways of the world. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have survived. We know how this machinery functions. Let no one say that he does not know anything about the world. If you do not know anything about the world, you will not manage to function in the world, but you are functioning. You deal with other people, you read their minds, you anticipate, you plan. How does all that happen? All that happens because you know how the mind works.

Use your knowledge, use your comprehension. Look at yourself. All of us are very clever when we are trying not to be fooled by others. Let us be half as clever and not be fooled by ourselves. The same sharpness that one applies in looking at and decoding and parsing the motives and actions of others, can’t that sharpness be applied to oneself? Do that.

And you have nothing to lose. If you come to see that what you have and what you are living by is awesome and valuable, then you have riches in your hands. And if you see that what you have and what you are living by is foolish and worthless, then you will at least have a free hand.

Dropping is either silent, unplanned, unmotivated, or it is a sham. Dropping or renouncing cannot be an elaborate ceremony; it just happens, as they say, like a pale leaf falling from a tree, without noise, without any pomp or show or declaration.

In fact, often it happens that the one who has gone beyond something and renounced does not even know that renunciation has taken place. Others would come and say that “these days you seem to have given up on this and that” and he would be a little taken aback, a bit startled, and he would say, “Oh! Is that so? Have I dropped it?” And they will say, “Yes, seems like you no longer indulge in those things.” And then he will come to consciously know that probably something is off his life now, that probably he has gone beyond something now.

And when you go beyond something so smoothly, so naturally, so organically, it is then that the renunciation holds value. Normally, what we call as passion and what we call as dispassion are in the same dimension. When you are passionate about something, the thing is on your mind, and when you are trying to practice dispassion, probably the thing is even more on your mind. What kind of dispassion is this?

In fact, even a consuming mind, a passionate mind thinks little of worldly objects compared to the mind determined to renounce. Once you have taken a vow to renounce, then that which you want to renounce occupies your mind with a great grip. It’s almost like forcibly, deliberately trying to forget something or somebody. The thing or person will now occupy your mind like… Whatever, you can come up with a suitable analogy!

That’s why ‘dispassion’, the word, contains a hint: it just says dis-passion. You do not require a new or separate word to indicate the new happening; it just says the old happening has to cease, dis-passion. The old happening is called passion. The new happening is not called anything new because the new happening is in fact not new at all, it is just a cessation of the old happening. So, dis-passion. The old happening has its force, momentum, passion. Let that momentum drain out. And it won’t drain out on its own, because the happening has no momentum on its own. You are the one pushing the happening with greed, with intention.

Intention is a wonderful thing. Man must have intention. Man is born in bondage and the intention to be free must be there. Man must never be intentionless or purposeless. But the intention that makes you cling to objects with passion, is that intention leading to freedom? Is that intention serving your deepest goal? If it is not, then stop providing energies to your passions. Energy is precious. You are required to use that energy elsewhere. You require a lot of fire. You require all the force of your desire in another direction, for another purpose. Don’t squander it here.

You are fond of chasing? You actually are required to do a lot of chasing, but first be clear about what it is that needs to be chased. You are fond of clinging? You actually are required to cling a lot, but do figure out who is the one and what is it that you need to cling to. Once you know who and what is worth clinging to, then it will no more remain possible for you to cling to rubbish.

Intention, goal, purpose, desire, clinging, attachment, attraction—none of these are bad, provided they are towards the right object, right end. Please be attached, please be greatly attached. Please be desirous. Please feel the attraction, the pull towards liberation, towards Truth. It is not for nothing that your mind is vested with all these qualities; these are precious qualities.

If you do not feel attracted, how will you ever love? If you do not chase, how will you ever reach? But chasing is a great evil when you chase the wrong things, the wrong people. And attraction and attachment become the bane of life when you are attracted and attached to the wrong entities. Be attracted towards Truth. Be attached to those and that which embodies the Truth. Nothing wrong with attachment at all.

So, investigate your passions, see where they are taking you.

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