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Learn to dismiss the mind || Acharya Prashant, on Vedanta (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
31 min
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अन्तरिक्षोदरः कोशो भूमिबुध्नो न जीर्यति दिशो ह्यस्य स्रक्तयो ।। द्यौरस्योत्तरं बिलं स एष कोशो वसुधानस्तस्मिन्विश्वमिदं श्रितम् ।। ३.१५.१ ।।

Antarikṣodaraḥ kośo bhūmibudhno na jīryati diśo hyasya sraktayo ।। Dyaurasyottaraṃ bilaṃ sa eṣa kośo vasudhānastasminviśvamidaṃ śritam ।।3.15.1।।

~ Chhandogya Upanishad, Chapter 3, Part 15, Verse 1

Translation: The chest, which has the sky for its circumference and the earth for its bottom, does not decay, for the quarters are its sides, and heaven its lid above. This chest is the container of treasures, for in it rests the whole Universe.

Acharya Prashant (AP): Chandogya Upanishad - 3.15.1

There is a kosh - a chest (a kosh), which has the sky as its circumference, and the Earth as its bottom. This kosh, this chest, this wide space, it does not decay. The quarters are its sides and the heaven is its lid above. This chest is a container of treasures and in it rests the entire Universe.

A very poetic expression of the Truth. There is a vast chest containing treasures. First of all, it contains treasures; secondly, it is infinite. The Earth is the bottom, the quarters are the sides, the skies are the circumference and the heaven is the lid.

Do you see the picturization? It's the work of a poet trying to conceive a particular vastness containing the richness of everything. They are using all symbols of infinitude to communicate what they want to say. They are saying something so vast that only the vastness of the Earth can serve as its bottom, something so vast that only the skies can serve as the circumference, something so vast and so sublime that the heavens are at the absolute top serving as the lid.

They are referring to the infinitude of the Truth and they are using material symbols because all symbols have to be material. It's just that what they symbolize is beyond the material, what they point at is not material.

The Truth contains everything. The Truth contains everything - the highest that you can think of, the lowest you can think of, all the beauties, all the ugliness - within it.

The mind of a sage is continuously sensing a reality beyond appearances, a reality beyond limits. There is a constant realization that all the diversities share commonalities and there is something beyond the diversities that contains all the diversities. This feeling is being given a poetic manifestation in this particular verse.

What matters here is the sense that there is something definitely beyond; that which is perceivable, all that which can be experienced between the Earth and the sky is of little importance compared to that.

You see, size is the metric here. Size refers to importance as well. So there's a wide chest of great size implying great importance. There's a wide chest of great size, containing all the treasures and nothing is beyond it, in the sense, there is nothing more important than it.

The poetic Sages here do not want to leave you with words. They want to leave you with realization. There's not much point memorizing their words. Their words have been crafted to leave a certain impact. You must be available to that impact. The impact is of beyondness, of greatness.The sages want to stun you by revealing something to you that is beyond description, comprehension and experience. All experience is of the little and that's exactly what they want to stun you for - to take you beyond the little.

The mind operates in its regular patterns and all patterns relate to something small. The attempt here is to give the mind something so immense, so beautiful, that it is shocked and comes to a pause. In that pause is realization.

Otherwise, the inner machine continues in its usual ways thinking that it is all that there is to life. The inner movement has to pause for a while. If the inner movement has to pause, then something extraordinary must come to the mind. Here an extraordinary image is being presented.

Mind can never come to terms with this image because nothing like what has been so vividly depicted here, really, tangibly exists. So, the mind can never reconcile itself with what this verse says. The mind and this verse cannot co-exist. And if there is Faith, then the mind won't dismiss this verse. What's the only option that remains then? The mind has to then dismiss itself.

You have given the mind something it cannot coexist with and the thing you have given to the mind, the mind cannot dismiss it either if there is Faith... so, then there is just one option, the mind has to dismiss itself and that exactly is the intent. Dismiss yourself!

You exist by remaining fully absorbed in things. When a thing beyond things comes to you, then you cannot exist anymore. Dismiss yourself! Else, you will miss out on the thing beyond things, and that would be such a shame because the little things anyway do not suffice. For their sake, why miss out on the immense? Yes, your observations please.

Questioner (Q1): Acharya ji, Pranaam. You mentioned that the mind must dismiss itself, that exactly is the intent. When you are provided with beautiful examples and the immensity of something beyond, then the intent is that the mind must dismiss itself.

When I am in the session and when I am listening to this, then I immediately realize that the mind is coming to rest. But when we engage in our everyday activities, this thing that the mind must dismiss itself, this becomes a little difficult.

Here, when we are with the Upanishads, when we are with your words, then, this thing becomes easier. I want to ask how should this process be carried out, that mind keeping on dismissing itself whenever it arises?

AP: For the mind to dismiss itself continuously, the Beyond must remain important continuously. If there are gaps, the mind will resurface and revitalize. Don't give yourself gaps.

Q1: When we are engaged in our day-to-day work, it happens that, when we are not with verses, when we are not with the scriptures and it is difficult to remember that there is something Beyond.

AP: The real You must always be in the session. There is a part of you in the foreground, it remains engaged in day-to-day activities and there is a part of you behind the foreground, it must always be in the session.

If a part of you is not always busy with the real thing and that part of you, I'm calling the real You. If the real You is not always busy with the real thing, then there is no chance.

You have to learn to manage these two together. And when these two are together for a while, then the more important one of them naturally begins to command and nurture and guide the other. Which two? Your day-to-day work and your real work, these two must always coexist, always! You cannot just say I'm doing one thing. You must always be doing two things.

And if you can learn to do these two things, then the real thing will take over the other thing, and these two will themselves become One. But to begin with, learn to have this tightrope walk - two things together.

You are fooling around in the public - that's the thing in the foreground. In the background, you are in the session. You are doing something related to technology - that's in the foreground. In the background, you are in the session. That constant remembrance must never be lost.

And if you can let that remain then that will become your guiding light. That will start telling you what is right to do even in the foreground. Then you will not go wrong in life because then all your actions and decisions will come from the right place, from the real You.

Q1: Acharya ji, this thing has helped that whenever I am in the session and after the session, I try to remember that time when I was in the session. And so that's what you were saying that a part of you must be in the session. So, you must do two things. That other thing for me is to remember the session, the teachings, the notes and to be with it.

AP: You have to learn to give importance to the thing in the background. And knowing yourself do all that you can do to remind yourself of the importance. If something is important, assuming something is important, whenever something is important, how do you behave with it? Similarly, learn to behave with the real thing.

It is not just that behavior follows importance. If you want to remember importance, then behave accordingly first. When you already remember, then your behavior will come from the importance that you remember. But if you are someone who frequently forgets, then keep behaving rightly and the remembrance of importance will come from the right behavior.

Develop that into a habit. Behave with the right thing according to its importance, it will become a habit and every instance of the right behavior will remind you of the importance. Every instance of misplaced behavior, tells you of lowered importance. And if the importance is low, why is it worthy of remembering? To remember it, you have to display the right behavior towards it.

When something is important, you behave in a certain way towards it. And if you can learn and make it a habit to behave in a certain way, then that helps in remembering its importance. By no way am I suggesting that behavior alone is enough. I’m just saying that just as everything can be used as a tool towards the right purpose, your habits and your behavioral patterns too must be used as tools.

For example, if you are going to walk into this hall irrespective of whether or not the session is in progress, can you make it a habit to walk in a particular way? That helps you constantly remember the importance of something, that’s the reason rituals exist. That is the right and fundamental reason. It’s just that over centuries people forget the reason and rituals become hollow and corrupted.

In the session, you display a certain behavior. So, the session has become linked with the behavior. Can you display the same behavior even when the session is not on and if you can display the same behavior then the session is on for you. So, behavior then becomes the key.

Again, I am not suggesting that mere behavior will suffice. That’s a dangerous suggestion. I am saying right behavior can assist. And you do require all kinds of assistance, don’t you?

The attitude that you will have towards this hall when the session is not in progress will determine the depth of your learning in this hall when the session is in progress. Just as you are mindful when the session is on, probably you need to be double mindful when the session is not on.

Live as if you are always in attendance and behave accordingly. Now you know why they told people that God is always watching you. Live every moment at every place as if you are being watched.

Tell yourself, “He is watching. What will he say?” It is important to ask this question because often our own inner judge is not fully developed.

If your inner judge is well developed then you do not need to ask “What will He say?” Your own judge is sufficient. But your own judge is still immature and vulnerable to corruption. You bribe your own inner judge, don’t you? You feed him a burger and he can be fogged off.

Don’t just rely on yourself, believe that God is always watching you. Now obviously Vedant does not support the notion of God. I am not talking of God so much, I'm talking of watchfulness really. Behave in watchfulness.

Q1: If I may ask this Acharya ji, so, for me this is the case that in my mind, there are two images of Acharya ji. One, who is in the session, and second is, since I live in the Bodhsthal, so, I come in contact with you again and again. So when I'm in the session, it is easy for me to behave in a certain way. But when I am out of the session, I try to remember that again and again, that image of Acharya ji from the session and try to behave well. But something when I slip then what I have introspected is I forget the image of the Guru.

AP: This second image will kill you. This second image is the most unfortunate thing. In fact, to a great extent, it is the responsibility of the teacher to not to even let the second image develop. Teachers have traditionally done that by maintaining a certain distance from the students. So that the second image, the personal image does not develop and the student sees the teacher only in the session because the second image will kill you, it will not allow you to learn anything from the first. If that means that a distance is necessary, maintain that distance.

Q2: The ‘dismiss the mind’ thing looks obvious when the mind has got suffering because of itself. But when it is getting success or when it is in a very better or good situation, it doesn't even occur. And also, if it occurs, then it occurs in the reference of the past suffering that it has gone through. How this ‘dismiss the mind’ thing can be remembered even while it is in the forgetful state?

AP: Obviously, it is not easy. We all agree. You need an environment that reminds you continuously. And you need an inner watchfulness that tells you constantly of the risk if you forget. If you can see what even an hour of forgetfulness can do to you, that will keep you on your toes. Equally you need situations and people outside of you who value watchfulness. Even if these two assisting factors are present, it is still not going to be easy. We never said it is easy.

Q3: In the verse, you had mentioned, here we have given the mind something it can't coexist with. It can't come to terms with it, but it can't dismiss it either. So the mind has to dismiss itself. I'm not clear on the part where it says, it can't come to terms with it, but it can't dismiss it either. Why can't this explanation or description be dismissed?

AP: I said that very clearly, I said that it requires Faith. Therefore, these verses are only for those who have Faith. Otherwise, the mind will eagerly, immediately, dismiss the verses. A very important discipline is to take away a few rights from yourself. The right, for example, to dismiss the verse, the book or the teacher has to be voluntarily dropped.

You have to voluntarily say I deprive myself of the right to dismiss the scriptures. Come what may, this is something I just cannot do.

Even at the cost of my life, I will continue to respect the verses; and this has to be unconditional. If that kind of Faith is not there, that is the reason why Śhraddhā is an important part of ‘Sādhan Chatushtaya’. Unless you have Śhraddhā, the scriptures are not for you. The mind will remain very keen to quickly and summarily dismiss the verses. That option has to be closed.

Q3: What can be an external force that ensures that we don't dismiss it? AP: You don't need an external force so much, you need a lot of exposure to the verses. You have to repeatedly see that whether you understand or not, the verses point to the Truth. That way you’ll be internally convinced that you cannot dismiss them.

We are not talking of blind belief here, we are saying you should have been with the verses for so long, inquired with them and into them with such rigor that it becomes impossible for you to say at any point, “Well, the verses don't contain the Truth”.

Your inner honesty and integrity should make it impossible for you to reject the verses because you have known for yourself on your own that the verses do point to the Truth. And because you have known, so you just cannot dismiss them.

Q3: So, Faith will also come as you become more familiar with the verses. So initially, it will be, probably by chance.

AP: Initially it is just Grace! Or you could say that there is nothing called initially. You all are on a journey and everybody is at some point in the journey. Nobody is at any initial point, because there is no initial point.

Q3: When you say there is no initial point, it means everyone comes to the scriptures because of some reason, is that it?

AP: A certain preparedness is there in everybody. Nobody initiates himself from zero. We all are standing at a certain place and any place can suffice to enter into an inquiry with the verses. It depends on your choice. How soon do you want to begin it?

Q3: In general, when I see such a description of the Absolute or Brahman which is essentially contradictory and it plays with the mind. I try to think what is so special about this particular description?

AP: Had there been anything special about this description, the description would have stopped at this one. You see, hundreds of descriptions come after the other because no description suffices. The sages are just hoping that one or more of these descriptions, their attempts will hit the jackpot. The Chhandogya Upanishad in particular is full of such poetic imageries.

Q3: Is it just that, it is a challenge to mind?

AP: That’s what the idea is, to challenge the mind.

Q3: But then, there are a lot of worldly things also that challenge the mind.

AP: Worldly things that challenge the mind, all have solutions within the worldly domain. A good math question can challenge the mind, but its answer is very much within the mind. The mind doesn't have to violate its boundaries to solve a problem in mathematics.

See, there is knowledge, there is ignorance. What you call as a problem in science or worldly affairs is the problem of worldly ignorance.

So there is the field where you say, you know, you know worldly things, there is the field of worldly things that you do not know of, but these two fields are much the same. They are both available to the mind. It's a matter of time.

Something is already within your knowledge. Something will sooner than later come within your knowledge. Also, irrespective of whether it will come within your knowledge, It will not change your center. You will remain who you are, fundamentally. So, acquiring more worldly knowledge to solve a problem in Maths does not fundamentally change you. The mind remains rooted in itself.

Then there is a third possibility of the Unknowable. You could say the first thing where you have knowledge is the domain of the known. The second domain where there is ignorance, worldly ignorance, is the domain of the Unknown. This verse is pointing at something beyond both of these. It is pointing at the Unknowable. Unknowable to whom? To the mind.

Now, this is where the mind starts shivering because it has been declared that there is something that not only you do not know of, you cannot even potentially know of it. Remaining who you are, the Unknowable is totally beyond you. Now, the mind is troubled, and that is the intention - to trouble the mind, to jerk it away from its unfortunate place.

Q4: This verse which I was reading, I can clearly see the same ideas here. Here it says everything lies in that immensity. I could see the same notion even in ‘Ishavasya Upanishad’ where it says:

Yas tu sarvāṇi bhūtani ātmany evānupaśyati ।। sarvabhūteṣu catmānaṁ tato na vijugupsate ।।6।।

Translation: He who sees all beings in the very Self, and the Self in all beings, feels no hatred by that (realization).

And in Ashtavakra Gita also it says:

Sarvabhūteṣu cātmānaṃ sarvabhūtāni cātmani ।। vijñāya nirahaṃkāro nirmamastvaṃ sukhī bhava ।।6।।

Translation: Recognising oneself in all beings, and all beings in oneself, be happy, free from the sense of responsibility and free from preoccupation with “me”.

Even the words are also seen across multiple scriptures. So I wanted to know, is this immensity that you're talking about, the verse is talking about, is that Sākṣhi ?

AP: They're all just the same, whether you call it Ātma, Brahm, Satya, Sākṣi, Turīya…they are all just one.

Q4: And this chest which Chhandogya Upanishad is talking about, is this the same thing?

AP: It refers to the Immeasurable. See the Upanishads do not have two subjects to deal with.

There is just one theme, the ‘Pratipādya Vishaya’ is one. So there is no need to wonder whether a particular verse is referring to the same thing as the other one.

There is just one Truth and therefore, all verses point towards the One. However, you cannot take that as an assumption. That has to be discovered by going into the verse.

Q4: And you have mentioned about the foreground and background, one has to remember that the background is indeed important while operating in the foreground. So there I see the importance of Satsang and I personally read one or two verses of scriptures every two-three hours to remind myself, keep image symbols of Shiva and other deities on my table just to remember in the foreground that you need to remember that immense.

AP: Obviously, we said behaviors and rituals can have a certain importance if there is understanding involved. However, be cautious of hollow ritualism.

Just as everything can be and must be used as a tool towards the right purpose, rituals and patterns, and practiced behavior too, can be used as a tool and must be used as a tool.

Q5: In the verse you mentioned the beyondness must be given the highest importance and then the forefront the actions that we are doing. But in the forefront there is the third one also, like the ‘Me’ and the actions. So it's beyondness, the Me and the actions together. So, how do I consider the importance part?

AP: Please repeat, I didn’t get it. There is you, the importance, the beyondness…repeat.

Q: There is the beyondness that should be given the highest importance and the action that we’ll be doing in the forefront. But in the actions part, there is the Me and the actions like the subjective Me and actions together. So when I am actually acting, so giving importance to the beyond. So, should I ignore the Me part in it and just do my actions?

AP: You know, your actions, a lot of them come from your usual compulsions, right? That is what is typically happening in the foreground. The process is, let the background become a constant thing, an unconditional thing. Then we said that the power and the beauty of the background is such that it will dominate the foreground as well.

The background is the real You, the foreground is the totality of your worldly actions, including your social obligations, your familial obligations, and all the other things that you do, all that keeps going on. And you want to at least keep the real thing in the background.

Even if you cannot let it dominate the totality of your mind, keep it at least in the background. And in the foreground other things are happening and if you can stay true to this practice, then even the foreground would become an expression of the background. Then everything that you do in the world would have the guidance and the light of the background.

Q: In this action here, by doing that actions like my mind, my thoughts and the actions outside happening, like two things are happening here, like not one in the foreground. So should I just surrender my opinions to the Beyond and then do the actions?

AP: If you could surrender yourself to the Beyond then the foreground won’t have existed separately from the background no. We are talking of the common worldly position. Surrender, etc. are not easy things to do. Easier said than done. You cannot just go and surrender.

We are talking therefore of something more practical. We are saying if you cannot fully surrender, at least give the Truth, the reality a decent space in the background. Let it operate from there without disturbance, without hindrance, unconditionally let it be present there. And then from there it will cleanse your foreground as well.

Q: Like not to separate like so many divisions in the foreground, so just leave all the foreground.

AP: In the foreground there are only divisions. The foreground is nothing but a lot of divisions. Only in the background is there integrity or Oneness. But it's the power of the background that can bring cohesion to the foreground as well.

We may think that in our usual day-to-day life, there are not many divisions, but there always are. Because we are not deeply self-aware, so, we do not perceive those divisions, right? The background alone can remove those divisions and bring a cohesion.

Q: Thank you Acharya ji.

AP: Wonderful!

Q6: Acharya ji, in this verse you had said that this image that is being given as a method, is a poetic expression and it is there to help you surrender or negate the mind.

So, there are two things that I find here. One, if I take this upon myself as you said it is very difficult to just say that I surrender or negate my mind just by saying so. The natural way of my process is to find something subtle in this verse or in this image, in the poetic expression and use the imagination, and then use thought, and that way…

But that's another expansion of the mind, not surrender. So, that Faith that you talk about, it is very easily negated by just saying that it is just a method or it is just a verse or it is just a poetic expression?

AP: Poetic expression of what?

Q: Poetic expression of ‘That’.

AP: Of ‘That’, what is ‘That’?

Q: That is why not ‘That’ is being talked of here. It is not being said that ‘That’ is immeasurable. That would have been easy for you. Here something more direct is being said. Like asking you to clap with one hand. Now tell me what your mind makes of it? Clap with one hand. This verse is a de facto kōan. Clap with one hand.

Now the mind is stunned, ‘what do I do?’ Zen teachers would ask their disciples, tell me the sound of one hand clapping. How does it sound to you? And they would send them off, you go and you return only after you have heard the sound of one hand clapping. As long as the mind is active, with all its dualities you cannot hear that sound.

Now, the mind will constantly say ‘One hand clapping, you require two, and then there is sound. What is this One hand clapping?’ A point comes when the mind simply yields to it and then it's not as if you start hearing sounds, the purpose has been served. It requires a lot of day-to-day practice. Here, something is being said that is of great infinitude. If your day-to-day practice does not involve handling things that are even slightly bigger than yourself, how are you going to handle an infinity here?

From seven in the morning till ten in the night, you refuse to handle things that are even an inch taller than how you are. Here, it's the stratosphere, this will at most befuddle you. Coming to the verse is not just an isolated event, it is an entire process. So much of preparation is therefore needed.

The teachers won't even introduce the verses to the students for the first two or four years of their education. For the first four years, just go to the jungle and gather wood. Just gather wood. And first of all show that you can do your day-to-day tasks with some devotion. If you are totally devoid of honesty and devotion in what you do from morning till night, what will this verse bring to you? Remember, four years the fellow is just gathering wood. Have you heard of Tilopa, that famous story? The fellow came to the teacher, the teacher said you go and deal with ‘til’ . I don't know what you call ‘till’ in English. It's an oil seed…

(Audience member says Sesame)

AP: ‘Sesame’.

So the fellow was supposed to go and work on the seeds and maybe extract oil…such things. The Guru said that and forgot. The Guru totally forgot what he had told the student. Must have been old, forgetful.

For eleven years, this fellow, he was a very learned man, extremely learned man even when he came to the teacher, and what is the task that the teacher has given him? “You go and you work on the oil seeds”, for the entire group, the Sang or the Ashram whatever there is. Eleven years he kept doing the same thing.

Now, the Guru was about to die. So he said, I must appoint a successor. So, he asked a question. The question was related to the mind. He probably asked ‘What is the mind?’. And there were students, great Scholars venerated for their erudition, and they all wide (Inaudible 53:19) with each other in giving the answer. Somebody said the mind is this, the mind is that, the mind…

Then when everybody was finished, then Tilopa came. Tilopa became his name, because he was all the time dealing with ‘til’ (sesame). Everybody forgot his real name.

And eleven years he read no books, he just did what he had been told to do. Just do with all your dedication and excellence what you have been told to do, that was his discipline. And then finally he came and nobody thought he could be of any use and he was to answer what is the mind, and he said ‘Nothing’. He said ‘Nothing’ and the Guru said, “He's the one.”

He could say ‘Nothing’ because he had reduced himself to nothing. And that was something he was doing for twenty-four hours of the day, reducing himself to nothing, doing with excellence only what you're supposed to do. That's when knowledge decends on you, otherwise you will keep asking stupid questions.

You cannot just go to this verse randomly, suddenly, and hope to get some benefit from it. There has to be an entire process, an ecosystem. Are you nurturing your ecosystem? Only when you reduce yourself to nothing, do you get the rights to say that the mind is nothing. Otherwise, it is just dishonesty talking of this and that.

Is your life testifying of any knowledge? Life is full of minute-to-minute corruption and dishonesty and then we want to talk of Upanishads. You have to prepare for this session ten days in advance. If you know that the session is approaching, start cleansing yourself ten days in advance. Ten days later the session is there, I better behave myself, otherwise I'll get no benefit. You cannot just randomly walk in and learn something here. Have you cleansed yourself?

Now you know what the ritual of taking a bath before you go to a temple means. Cleanse yourself, otherwise, the temple cannot benefit you. You are not even allowed to enter the temple with footwear and the footwear is not in the feet, the footwear is in the mind, you are wearing it like a cap. Have you taken regular baths? Have you been cleansing yourself constantly? Are you even making yourself eligible to be here?

There are so many festivals that are preceded by long days of austerity and fasting, now you know why? You are not eligible to celebrate that festival if you have not fasted first of all, or if you have not observed the austerities. Have you fasted? How will you celebrate? Every session is a festival, it's a celebration, you have to prepare for it well in advance.

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