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Learning from life versus learning from a teacher || (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
14 min
87 reads

Questioner: If I’m the first man and the only one, can I disregard all your teachings and learn firsthand from life? Can I forget all the theories I have heard from you? Those theories might be holding me back against inquiring on my own, where I am, as I am.

Acharya Prashant: What is this mysterious thing called ‘life’ you are referring to? What is life? We talk of life as if life is some vague, nebulous thing happening in some other mysterious or mystical dimension. What is life? – This breathing, this eating, these day-to-day interactions, these relationships, right? The food that you eat, the work that you do, the people you come across, isn’t all this life? So, how am I outside the purview of your life?

You’re talking of life as if life is something totally separated from anybody who can help you out. And this in itself is quite interesting – all the trauma that you experience on a daily basis, that you happily call as life, all the nonsense you remain mired in, that you happily call as life, your interactions and your relationships with all the foolish and unworthy and mediocre people, that you will gladly accept as life.

You will say, “You know, life brought me in contact with this girl and I just fell for her and then this thing happened and that thing happened.” And you will willingly say, “That was life”, right? So, life can bring you in contact with a girl and that is life, but if life brings you in contact with a teacher, that is not life, that you take as something outside of life.

I just fail to understand this, people say, “I’ll not learn from the teacher, I’ll learn from life.” Is the teacher situated in some other dimension, some other universe, on some other planet? How is the teacher not a part of your life?

If you watch my videos, which you probably do, aren’t the videos a part of your daily 24-hour schedule? Or are you watching the videos in some specially, artificially, mystically created 25th hour? Let’s say, once a week you watch my videos, is the timespan not within the span of your life? Is the duration not within the domain of your week? Then how am I outside the life?

So, really, it cannot be about learning from life versus learning from a teacher; this is fishy, very fishy. All the nonsensical conditioning and influences, you are very prepared to absorb from your so-called ‘life’. In your 24-hour daily schedule, if the media, the TV, conditions you, or a book that you are reading conditions you, that you will call as ‘life’; but if in the same 24-hour schedule, I speak to you, then you call it as something outside of life.

That tells me about your definition of life. What you are saying is – “Only nonsense and trash of the highest order can be called as life.” Anything high that is available, that you will not call as life. I mean, did I meet you in your life or have I met you after your death? Are you not alive right now as you are listening to me? – Then what is this insistence on “I will not listen to you, I would rather learn from life”?

I mean, fine, who can have a problem with that? We all can learn only from one source and that one source is called life. The question is – What is it in your life that you are choosing to learn from? – Rephrase your question! You do not know what to ask. The question is not whether you will learn from life or you will learn from teacher, this ‘or’ is fictitious. The question is, we all learn from life, there is no other place to learn from. As long as you are alive, what else will you learn from? – Life. The question is – What is it within life that you are choosing to learn from?

An ass will deliver you a solid kick from its hind legs, that you can call as life — Gadhe ki dulatti (a donkey’s kick using both the hind legs) — and you say, “I’m very prepared to learn from that, that is called life”; but if a person meets you and tells you a few things that are sublime, then you say, “No, no, no, this is outside of my life.” Then what is within your life, only the ass, and its powerful kick? You surely are one person who doesn’t care for his teeth, more than a teacher you require a dentist then.

And this is a very commonly heard refrain – “No, you see, I learn from life.” I mean, what the hell. You met Champu, you met Manku, you met Tony, you met Sony; all those interactions and experiences and relationships you accepted as part of your life. “Oh, this is life, you know, one keeps meeting people.” Don’t you say that? “You know, I was there in the flight and I met this beautiful woman who later on turned up a real witch, but that’s life.” So, that is life, but if you come across a Krishnamurti or a Krishna or a Kabir, then you say, “You know, this is… this is not life. This is not supposed to be life. This is outside the syllabus. We will not attempt this.”

Then there are those who say, “We will listen only to ourselves. We learn by ourselves. Why should we listen to some other person?” Sir, when you say, you are listening to ‘yourself’, even then you are listening to some other person. The True-Self that you are really doesn’t speak. Anybody who speaks to you, whether from inside or outside, is somebody else.

Now, this is a bit complex, many of you will just not grasp this. So, take your time, but still listen – Whether somebody speaks to you from within, calling itself as ‘you’—you are Atish (Questioner), somebody talks to you from within, doesn’t he? And he says, “I am Atish”—or somebody could talk to you from outside, and he could have some name, both of these entities are outsiders.

The real 'you' just doesn’t talk, its nature is silence. It’s just that when somebody is talking to you from outside, you being body identified and sense identified are quick to get alerted and declare – “Oh, somebody is talking to me from outside and probably trying to influence me.” But, when a voice rises from inside, you call it as your own voice, you say, “This is me.” No, that’s not you and that’s the entire effort of the teaching. The teaching is needed because left to yourself there is almost zero probability that you will figure it out on your own that the one talking from inside is not you. It’s all the internalized influences and voices that are now speaking through your mouth, are you getting it?

So, you are anyway absorbing stuff, the question is from whom? The choice to ‘not to absorb stuff at all’ is not available, I’m sorry. There is nobody who is not conditioned. The question is – Given that we all are conditioned, given that we are born conditioned, given that we are born with a great tendency to soak in even more conditioning, right now, what am I doing? So, what is my current state? My current state is that I am a product of my past, that unfortunately is my state; and in my past, what have I done? Like a sponge I have just sucked in a lot of worldly influences, that’s my state.

Now, this being my state, what am I to do right now? ‘Not listening to anybody’ – not an option. So, even right now, I’ll have to listen to somebody. Now, am I listening to somebody who will help me get rid of my baggage of conditioning, or am I listening to somebody who will further my conditioning, make my baggage heavier? That’s the right question.

First of all, learn to ask the right questions. The question is not whether you are learning from life or learning from a teacher, the question is not whether you are listening to your own voice or to some other person, the question is – What is happening to you as you are listening to someone? That’s the choice to be made.

Listening to someone if it is enabling you freedom from your shackles, then that person is good for you, whereas if you are listening to someone who is himself conditioned, himself in dark ignorance, what would that person bring to you? – Ignorance and more ignorance. Are you getting it? So, you are free to learn from life but then learn from life wisely. In life, you will meet a great teacher or a few great teachers and you will meet a lot of stupid people. Be very judicious – ‘Who is it that you are listening to?’ This answer will decide your fate. Don’t remain open and available to everybody.

Now, if you say, “Sir, what if I refuse to learn from anybody who has come to me with the intention to teach? What will happen?”, and that seems to be your assertion here, that’s the hidden intention you are carrying. “Sir, what if I refuse to listen to anybody who is coming to me with the intention to teach?” – Then you can listen to all others. Even in that, there is some chance that you can learn something; but then the learning will come with a great deal of suffering.

The teacher can tell you “Don’t go near that ass.” It’s not a question of that particular ass that you love; asses, by their very composition, are known to kick strongly anybody who is approaching them from behind. That’s their primordial nature. That’s what they have been doing since the dawn of humanity, rather, if there is a word called ‘assanity’. So, that’s what the teacher can tell you, and you can say, “Why must I listen to the teacher?” You can go to the ass as most people do. Take the ass route and get kicked.

So, life, as you define it, will certainly teach you, but at the cost of great suffering; and there is no guarantee that you will be able to learn in a lifetime because when your so-called ‘life’ teaches you - life sans the teacher, life minus the teacher - when life teaches you, then life has no conscious agenda to teach you. Life just operates on the principle of ‘result of action’ – You do something foolish, you get hit in the teeth. That’s how life teaches you.

When there is a teacher, the teacher has a conscious agenda to uplift you. Life has no conscious agenda to uplift you. Life’s principle is – Be wise, get rewarded; be stupid, get kicked. That’s how life operates. So, life just doesn't want you to learn; life does not want anything from you. Life is just like an input-output box – Garbage in, garbage out. Unfortunately, we are born with garbage and as garbage; therefore, life will keep heaping more and more garbage over you.

He says, “Sir, your theories might be preventing me from inquiring on my own, where I am, as I am.” I mean, it’s quite strange because the entire teaching is – ‘Kindly keep inquiring’. And why does the teaching say, ‘Son inquire’? – Because people do not inquire on their own. Why don’t people inquire on their own? – Because our conditioning does not allow us to inquire.

Now, look at the weirdness of the situation and the question. The fellow does not inquire because he is deeply conditioned to not inquire, like any other person. When you look around, what do you find? – People very inquisitive towards the Truth, people very eager for self-inquiry? Is that what you find? No, you find people who know zilch about themselves and aren’t eager either. That’s what you find, right?

Now, these people, has their inquisitiveness been killed by the Upanishads, by Krishna? Why doesn’t the common man really inquire into life? Has some great teacher and the great teacher’s teachings prevented the common man from inquiring? Because the common man is too afraid and too ignorant to inquire into life, that is the reason the teachers have to continuously encourage you and prod you to keep inquiring.

So, this is the situation – The fellow is not inquiring because he is deeply conditioned, a teacher comes in and keeps saying, “Son, look into life, see what is happening, watch your actions, watch your intentions, watch your thoughts, see what you just did, look at your relationships, watch your questions.” The teacher encourages in all possible ways, but the fellow still does not inquire; and after a while, what does he say? “Sir, it is because of your teachings that I am not able to inquire into my life, where I am, as I am.” – I’m quoting you, Atish.

Now, when this humble teacher was not there in your life, were you very zealous towards self-inquiry? Have I come in and blocked your natural tendency to self-inquire? Is that so? Maybe you are listening to me since three years, what was it before these three years? You were a great observer of life, really? You were not inquiring then, you are not inquiring now. If it proves something, it is just that you have successfully resisted all my attempts to uplift you. And now that you have successfully resisted my attempts to move you towards self-inquiry, you come to me with the allegation that it is because of me that you are unable to inquire. Now, this is tremendous. But, that’s how ‘ māyā ’ operates, you see.

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