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Living in the present can be a big problem || Acharya Prashant (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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Questioner (Q): Most often we are asked to live in the present and be here and now and mindful. Can you talk to us about that?

Acharya Prashant (AP): The same thing, I mean, when we were talking about what to do with knowledge, I said it depends on the intention. It depends on the center that is going to now use knowledge. We are two, there are two centers, right? We are repeating that thing again and again.

So, you could choose to live in the present because it is more pleasurable to forget the consequences of your vile actions, right? If you think of most of the heinous crimes that are ever committed, the criminals were absolutely in the present, were they not? Were they thinking of the consequences? No.

I liked it, I did it. I felt like… there are well thought out, organized and planned crimes, right? But a majority of the crimes are kind of spontaneous. There is sudden inflammation and explosion. That fellow was surely in the present, was he not?

With no concern for anything in the past or in the future, anything beyond this place, this occasion, this event, nothing. I got angry, I shot him. So, this that we call as living in the moment can very well be utilized by the ego for its own nefarious ends.

Equally living in the present could mean selfless action, Niṣkāma Karm. I'm doing what is right and I do not bother about the results. Mostly what we do is from the wrong center. So, when it comes to living in the present, that too is mostly from the wrong center.

Whenever you have heard such words or phrases, “Come on, Let's do it right now”, do they point at something auspicious? Do they? In fact, we are so reluctant to do the auspicious thing right now that the Saints have had to teach us that the right thing must be done instantaneously.

काल करे सो आज कर, आज करे सो अब । पल में परलय होएगी, बहुरि करेगा कब ॥ ~ कबीर साहब

What is it that we rather do instantaneously? All the wrong things. So, you’ll have a TV ad telling you, “Come on, do it right now, abhi (now)”. Are they telling you to gain instant Nirvāṇa? No. They are telling you to go and right now buy the most worthless product possible. That's the more general and widespread application of living in the present. Just do whatever nonsense comes to your mind, “Oh yes, abhi (now)”, “Come on, let's do it”!

Living in the present must mean only Niṣkāma Karm. Living in the present must come from the right center. I am living in the present not for my gratification, but for my liberation. Living in the present can very well mean instant gratification, can it not? Live in the present, two minutes noodles! Make it quick!

Living in the present must mean I'm doing the right thing and the results are unpredictable, I don't want to think about the results. I have no space to think of the results. I'm fully immersed in Dharmā.

I am fully immersed in the right action. I'm so occupied, I have no inclination, no time, no space to think what will happen tomorrow. That is the real meaning of living in the present.

Q: So, I'm just curious, in this terrain that you're traversing, which is quite vast, where do we locate specific ideas or concepts like beauty or vocational meaning. Those sorts of things that I think provide a lot of nourishment to people. So, how does that fit in?

AP: All these words that you just mentioned have very clear spiritual meanings and connotations. So, which one was the first, you said beauty, right? So, beauty then is an absence of ugliness. How do you define ugliness? Ugliness is that which makes you cringe. You look at something ugly and what's your experience? Your reaction? What is it? Ughhh! So, this is ugly, right? So what is ugly? Those who have known, have said the world is an ugly place.

What is beauty then? Freedom from the world. That alone is Saundarya (beauty). So, Satyam Śivam Sundaram , The Truth is beautiful! The Truth alone is beautiful, nothing else is to be called as beautiful. So, then what do we call beautiful in this world? Or is everything completely ugly here? No, no, no. In the world itself, if you have the right intention, you will find means that take you to the Truth. They too, can be called as beautiful. They too can be called as beautiful. Anything that takes you to the Truth is beautiful, and Truth is the supreme beauty.

What is Truth? A total dissolution of the little ego, the little self, that is Truth. So, when do you call a face beautiful? When you call somebody's eyes beautiful? Tell me now. It depends on what you love the most.

If you love the Truth, as you must, then which kind of face you would exclusively call as beautiful? Face that radiates Truth, face that takes you to the Truth, that is to be called as beautiful. Instead, if you have a face that is so attractive that it pulls you away from the Truth, that is to be labeled as the ugliest. So, commonly faces that we call as beautiful are to be called as the ugliest in spiritual parlance because those faces are deliberately designed and cultivated to disturb you, to possess you, to own you, to pull you away from anything meaningful in life.

The same words in the spiritual dimension not only change their meaning, they invert their meaning. Saints had beautiful faces. And you would often have demons masquerading as very beautiful persons so as to interrupt the rishis who were meditating. Now what kind of beauty is it that can disrupt and disturb? You would call that as beauty or rather call it ugliness? So that is beauty, right? That which takes you to the Truth can be called as beautiful. Similarly, the next one that you said was?

Q: Vocation, sense of meaning or purpose.

AP: Right, so we are born in shackles, no? You are born... your hands are fettered, your legs are shackled and you are in bondage in several ways. So, you have to get out of this condition. You are in a prison. We all are born in prisons.

The body itself is a prison. So, what to do then? The body will last some eighty years, what to do then? What's the purpose of life? I'm born in a prison, what then is the right purpose of life? Melt your chains, break them, break out of the jail. That requires effort. That alone is called as work in spiritual parlance.

Work is that which will liberate you. That which provides you livelihood is not to be called as work. Even while remaining in the jail, as an obedient inmate, as an obedient prisoner, you'd still be given some livelihood by the jail authorities, do I call that as work? No, that is just labor, no? You have been forced to do something and when you do something you are given some food to eat. That's the nature of work of most people on this planet.

We exist to eat, to feed ourselves, to the body. We live to eat. Ask people, “Why do you work?” You work from nine to six, what's the net output? The net output is food, food to the body and food to the mind. So that they can just continue living. We do not work to be liberated, we work to continue our stage of bondage. We work like prisoners in the jail and prisoners in the jail work really hard, don't they? So we work really hard.

Look at the face of the common man, how hard he works? But he works hard so that he can somehow survive within the jail. He does not work to break out of jail. Spirituality defines work as that which you do to break out. If you are not exerting yourself to break out, you're not working. You're then just laboring like an animal, like a domesticated animal. We often make them labor, no? Mules! They labor so much, but they get nothing out of that labor.

Similarly, most of us work so much and all that we get is bread. This too can be counted as bread, no? (pointing to the clothes we wear). This, this... all this can be counted as bread, something for the body (pointing to the things we use around us). Not something that would liberate you.

So, work or vocation then is that which you purposefully do with the intention of liberation. Most of us do not work even for a single hour our entire life. We just labor endlessly. Work liberates, labor just tires.

Q: What do you deem as work?

AP: I think I'm working this moment. I might be wrong, you know, Māyā… who knows?

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