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Liberation that we want is an extension of bondage || Acharya Prashant, on Niralamba Upanishad(2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
10 min
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केवलमोक्षा-पेक्षासङ्कल्पो बन्धः ।

kēvalamōkṣā-pēkṣāsaṅkalpō bandhaḥ

Bondage is to plan to devote oneself exclusively to liberation.

~ Niralamba Upanishad, Verse 27

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सङ्कल्पमात्रसंभवो बन्धः ।

saṅkalpamātrasaṁbhavō bandhaḥ

Bondage is what springs exclusively from imagination.

~ Niralamba Upanishad, Verse 28

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Acharya Prashant (AP): 'Bondage is to plan to devote oneself to mokṣa (liberation). Bondage is the exclusive pursuit of mokṣa .'

The student does not know what to say, where to stand, whether to exist at all. The teacher is telling him the very pursuit of mokṣa is bondage. And he says, 'What have I come to you for, then? I have come to you to gain mokṣa , and you are saying the very pursuit of mokṣa is bondage?' Yes, it is.

The mokṣa that the ego desires is nothing but an extension of the ego. The liberation that bondage craves for is nothing but another dimension of bondage itself. Bondage has no business, no right asking for liberation. The only honest act permissible to bondage is self-observation. Bondage is bondage because it does not know itself. Bondage is bondage because ignorance is bondage.

Bondage does not know itself. And someone who does not know himself has no business asking for this or that or others. If you do not know yourself, how do you know liberation? You are not smart enough even to know yourself, but you know the name of the utmost thing possible?

What’s your name, sir?

'Uh, I do not know. But I know the name of the greatest one that ever lived!'

Eh? Are you a fool or do I look like a fool? You do not know your own name, but you are telling me that you are sensible enough to first of all determine who is the greatest one that ever can be, and secondly, you are knowledgeable enough to know his name? Had you really been so smart, would you not have known, firstly, your own name?

That’s the problem with ego. It does know itself but it thinks it knows liberation. Not only does it think that it knows liberation, it can talk about liberation in great detail. That gives the ego so much pleasure. It sings of liberation; it can write entire novels on liberation, many volumes; it can create wonderful, colorful documentaries on liberation. About liberation, it pretends to be a specialist. About liberation, the ego thinks it is a specialist. About itself, it is completely naive, knows nothing.

And that is the reason why the ego’s concept of liberation must be brought down. Liberation is one thing; ego’s concept of liberation is a totally different thing. And the difference between these two is the difference between bondage and liberation.

We know ourselves not, but we think we know very well what will be best for us. Like someone going to a doctor, and the doctor says, 'Right, so what is your name?' That’s usually the first thing that the doctors write on the prescription.

The fellow says, 'My name I know not.'

'Alright. What’s your age?' That’s the second thing the doctors usually ask for.

The fellow says, 'My age I know not.'

'What’s your weight?'

'That I know not.'

Then the doctor, puzzled, looks at the patient’s face, and the patient says, 'Why are you ogling at me? Simply prescribe Ibuprofen! I know the medicine that would work on me.'

That’s the situation of the common student. What’s your name? What’s your weight? What’s your age? 'I know not, but I know what is best for me.' The patient is telling the doctor, 'Here is the medicine that would be best for me. Why don’t you simply jot it down?' That’s how the ego behaves.

And that’s why the role of the right teacher is to not entertain the ego with fancy stories about liberation but to bring the ego down to earth. No fancy stories; see who you are. What’s your name? What are you made of? Where do you come from? Where do you go? That’s the role of the teacher.

And if the teacher is very eager to entertain the ego with all kinds of spiritual gimmicks, then the teacher is an entertainer at best, and a fraudster at worst. Sometimes such teachers can be forgiven; they offer good entertainment. But usually such entertainment is very expensive. Along with entertainment, you get an extra layer of bondages.

'Bondage is whatever springs from imagination.'

If you can imagine it, it is bondage.

Needless to reiterate, the Truth is not an object to be imagined. If you can imagine it, you can talk of it. If you can imagine it, the imagination itself is an experience, so you can experience what you are imagining. Imagination can give you some pretty strong experiences, right? We know that.

So, basically the teacher is saying, whatsoever you can experience is really bondage.

Truth is freedom from experience. More accurately, Truth is freedom from the urge of the experiencer to gather more and more and more novel experiences. The more fascinated you are by a particular quality of new or exclusive experiences that you have had, the more ignorant you are about the nature of your bondage. The more you say that 'I felt liberated in the company of such and such person,' the more servile you are to that feeling.

It is not about feeling in a particular way; it is about your association with the very concept of feeling. If you feel great and you call it liberation, or if you feel liberated and you call it liberation, then you know neither liberation nor the nature of feeling itself. It is not about how you feel; it is about the distance you have from how you feel. Feelings could run this way, that way; they could really run amok.

Does it mean that there is no difference between the feelings of the spiritually evolved one and the spiritually immature one? No, there is definitely a difference. But that does not mean that the spiritually evolved one allows his evolved feelings to matter to him. The thoughts and feelings of the spiritually evolved one are definitely different from the thoughts and feelings of the spiritually immature person; there is a difference, certainly. But it is not the difference that characterizes a spiritually evolved person, not this difference; it is the distance that the evolved person has even from his evolved feelings that characterizes his spiritual evolution.

So, the spiritually unevolved person, first of all, has very raw and juvenile thoughts and feelings; secondly, he is not able to maintain any separation between himself and his thoughts and feelings. On the contrary, the spiritually evolved person has evolved thoughts and feelings, but still he does not identify with them knowing fully well that, evolved or unevolved, thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings. It does not matter what their quality is. 'Irrespective of their quality, I cease to associate with them.'

Now, it’s strange. The other fellow had really poor quality of thought, had really excitable and puerile feelings, and still he was sticking to them. And here is the evolved fellow whose thoughts are wonderful to behold, whose feelings carry a certain beauty, and still he does not want to identify with his thoughts and feelings. Wonderful are his thoughts and feelings, and still he maintains a separation. Do you get this?

Questioner: Is this distance to thoughts and feelings deliberately created or practiced, or does this happen on its own?

AP: Feelings are evolved only when you have a distance from them. Otherwise, feelings won’t evolve; feelings would remain raw, immatureish.

So, it’s not as if there are great feelings that you want to really hug, but you want to practice, at the same time, the discipline of distancing yourself from feelings. How else would your feelings reach maturity? Feelings reach maturity when you dissociate, detach yourself from them. Thoughts not burdened by the ‘I’ are the best thoughts; those thoughts can even aid in liberation. But when at the center of all thoughts lies ‘I’ or the urge to self-defense, then thought is nothing but a burden. What do you think, the liberated one cannot think?

So, you for sure can have thoughts that really do not come from your little, petty personal center. It is possible to think without the personal center. Similarly, it is possible to feel without the personal center. If you read the life stories of the saints, you might get an impression that many of them are quite emotional. So, they indeed were people of great feeling; they used to feel much more than the usual person.

Now, you should wonder that if all feeling is conditioned, why are the saints so emotional? The answer is, it is possible to think and feel and emote from an impersonal center. You can have tears, you can cry buckets without crying for yourself. So, there is emotion without the need for self-preservation. You can think a lot without the intention to protect yourself or enrich yourself or further yourself. Now, this really is called free thinking.

A free thinker is not someone who keeps thinking in all directions—that’s our usual definition of a free thinker. No. A free thinker is one whose thought is free of himself. That’s the right definition of a free thinker. All the people in universities and all the intellectuals, they are not necessarily free thinkers. Even if they think copiously—and they do; they’re just thinking, thinking, thinking. It’s not about how much you think; it’s not even about how freely you think. It’s really about whether your thought is free of yourself. That’s free thinking. Same with feeling.

And that, by the way, is also the criteria to assess the quality of thought or feeling. What is meant by high-quality thought? Thought that is free of yourself. What is meant by low-quality thought? Thought that has your interests at its center. And same with feeling.

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