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Made mistakes? It's ok! || Acharya Prashant, with IIT-Hyderabad (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
14 min
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Questioner (Q): Sir, my question is about handling pressure—the pressure of expectations. Sir, when God in Bhagavad Gita says that a human being is bound to make mistakes, why society is not ready to accept mistakes? Everybody is judged in the end by only results. How would you work if you make a simple mistake and your graph nosedives always?

It is not only with education or career, I am seeing this in every field. We expect the same from our children. Our families expect the same from us. My question is, has Bhagavad Gita lost relevance in the present times, or we human beings are not worth the Bhagavad Gita?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Thank you. The answer is so simple, we all miss it. You see, we are two. This unit called the human being is not one but two things within, so it’s not elemental, right? There’s the two of us—that which is true, perfect, blemish-less, that which Vedant calls as the True Self or Atma , and there is the body-mind complex that we share with animals, and that which can be called as Prakriti .

So, the human being is Prakriti and Atma . Prakriti is our reality. Atma is our potentiality. And because we remain at a large distance from that potential, therefore we can rightly call ourselves almost purely Prakritik . We are the body and we are the consciousness arising from that body.

In that sense, we are much the same as animals. Animals, too, have their body, and the body has the genetic code, and the consciousness arises from that code, and all animals act and behave as per their bodily constitution, and so do all human beings. The only difference is that human beings, potentially, have something else possible to them, just potentially. But that potential is extremely lucrative. We want to be there.

When I say we want to be there, ‘who’ wants to be there?—The body-mind complex, the impure consciousness, the Prakritik consciousness that is there. It considers itself as a free agency. That free agency is classically or technically called as the ego— Aham .

The Aham is really nothing very different from the agency driving all sentient creatures, all animals. So, the ego is there, and the ego is a bundle of imperfections, but the ego loves to call itself perfect. Are we together till this point? We are the ego, and we are the ego just as all animals are the ego, and that ego is nothing but a product of the body, and therefore, like everything else associated with the body, the ego is highly imperfect.

But the ego takes great pride in calling itself perfect, and the ego is deeply insecure about its imperfections and falsenesses being exposed. That’s who we are—the ego. The ego that wants to say, “I am good. I am alright. Verily, I am the Atma . I am the pure Self. I need no corrections. I need not rise. I need no ascension. I need no discipline.” Why is ego always that way? Why is the ego so insistent on calling itself ‘the pure Self’?

The reason is quite practical. Because if the ego does not call itself as the pure Self, it will have to work hard towards becoming the pure Self; becoming is not quite the right word, but let’s take it for practical reasons. If I do not accept that I am the Atma , then I’ll have to work very hard to reach the Atma . If I do not accept that I am already at the destination or if I concede that I am very far from the destination, then the onus will be on me to travel fast and travel rightly towards the destination, to reach the destination, and all that is hard work.

The ego, being governed by Prakriti , has a lot of Tamsa , and what is Tamsa ? Tamsa is a tendency to not work hard enough. Tamsa is laziness. Now, if I do not want to work hard enough, a cheap solution is to say, “I am already good enough. I do not need to work hard. I do not need to work hard because I am already at the destination, you see.” Right?

So, each of us wants to somewhere assert that, “I am already good enough. I’m already good enough. I’m already good enough by dint of my birth. I was kind of born perfect. And if I say that about myself, I’ll have to say that equally about others as well, so I say I am perfect, and then I start expecting perfection from others as well. Because you see, I was born the True Self, the pure Atma . And if I was born that way, then, you know, my younger brother too has to be born that way, my wife too has to be born that way, my neighbour too has to be born that way.

So, who are all of us? We all are pure Atma , therefore we can make no mistake. Therefore, if we make mistakes, that is something of a shame, that is something to be censored, that is something to be shown down because Atma is not supposed to make mistakes.”

But the fact is we keep making mistakes. Why do we keep making mistakes? Because we are not at all the Atma . We are the animalistic ego, and therefore, we keep making mistakes. The moment we honestly admit that we are animals, and therefore, we behave like animals, the path to correction will open up. But for us to be corrected, first of all, we’ll have to admit that we are human beings only in name.

We are de facto animals, and animals, mind you, do not make mistakes. They just do what their body orders them to do; they don’t make mistakes. Similarly, the fact is even human beings don’t make mistakes. They just do what their body orders them to do. And when I say ‘body’, I mean the body-mind complex; I mean thoughts as well. I don’t just mean hormonal tendencies. The one who goes by his thoughts is every bit as much of an animal as someone who operates purely by his instincts.

So, we keep peddling a lie to ourselves, and that lie is that we are not animals. You just accept that you are an animal, and you will find that you are making no mistakes. You are just being animalistic. Someone steals something, and you say, “He has made a mistake. Oh, he’s made a mistake,” but he has not made a mistake. He has just done what animals do all the time. Animals keep stealing from here and there, and it is not a mistake by any standard.

No animal has ever felt morally ashamed of being a thief. Have you ever seen an animal, let’s say, a monkey, feeling ashamed because he took away your fruit, or your popcorn, or whatever? It happily takes away the stuff, eats it, enjoys it, without displaying a trace of shame or anything. We are that same monkey, except that we have convinced ourselves that we are better than monkeys.

So, we behave like monkeys, and additionally, we feel ashamed that we are behaving like monkeys. We are monkeys who behave like monkeys, but have convinced ourselves that we are not monkeys, therefore we feel ashamed when our monkey-ness comes to the fore.

There is a reason. The reason is that we are monkeys but are not supposed to be monkeys. Our true nature is something else, and therefore we feel ashamed, and therefore, shame can be a very constructive force. I do not necessarily dislike it when people feel ashamed. In fact, sometimes, it is very important that someone develops a sense of shame, after all. But that shame has to be real, and that shame has to arise from understanding, that shame cannot just be a social or moral construct. Are you getting it?

Q: Yes, sir.

AP: Instead of feeling ashamed of our fallacies, we should use them to see who we really are. When you behave like a monkey, you are a monkey, now why are you feeling ashamed? Take that as a fact. “Oh, so, at this moment I’m a monkey. I’m a monkey. I’m not the True Self. I’m not the Atma . I’m the monkey. I’m behaving like an animal on heat—so lustful the entire day.”

There is nothing to be felt ashamed of. Instead, this should tell us who we are, and that’s the important question in Vedant : “Who am I?” How to answer that question? By looking at your current condition. Look at your condition, and that will tell you who you are. There is no other way. You are territorial and possessive, and violent, and you are prepared to kill for the sake of your stomach.

There is nothing here that animals don’t do. What are you ashamed of? You are only behaving in the way of your cousins in the jungle. And when you behave like your cousins from the jungle, you should know that you are a creature of the jungle. There is no need to hide that jungle-ness beneath a veneer of moral shame.

“I am an animal. I am an animal.” And when you say, “I am an animal,” that must be accompanied by, “I need not be. I am an animal. I am needlessly an animal. I can be far better. Being better is my nature. I cannot come to rest without being better. But unfortunately, I am behaving like an animal. All right, I’m not going to despise the fact. I’m not going to hide the fact. I’m not going to label the fact as a mere mistake. It is not a mistake. It is a fact. It is my reality.

Now, what do I do with it? I see where I stand, and when I know where I stand, I know the direction to take.” And that’s why this society comes down so heavily on mistakes because you are not supposed to make mistakes because you are an Atma . How dare you make a mistake?

A more awakened society would say, “He is not making a mistake. He is just displaying his animal nature. He’s just displaying his animal nature.” And there is hardly anything in the social milieu to raise people from their animal planes to their conscious planes. We don’t want to accept that. We do not want to accept that all of us are being forced to live like animals.

That’s what our education is doing, that media is doing, literature is doing, or parenting is doing. We are promoting animal values in beings that are not supposed to continuously live like animals. Yes, the baby is born an animal but is not supposed to die an animal. We make the animal even more of an animal by the way we bring up the animal.

And when that animal makes mistakes, we submerge him in shame, without admitting that he has been brought up wrongly. He has been given no exposure to true spirituality. Words like Vedant and Upanishads have been alien to him, and therefore he will behave the way he currently does. What’s the surprise?

So, do not call anything a mistake. We are two of us, and therefore, we operate in two ways. We operate in the conscious way, and we operate in the animal way. It’s the conscious way and the animal way. There is no mistake. There is nothing called a mistake. ‘Mistake’ seems to imply that I am the True Self, but I have accidentally made a mistake.

Now, the True Self cannot accidentally make a mistake—‘miss take,’ you see, ‘miss take’. There is nothing called a mistake. You are just being true to who you are. If you are an animal, you are behaving like an animal, why are you calling it a mistake? So, when you see someone behaving in an abominable way, do not call it a mistake, call it an expression of his beastliness. And then, you have to ask yourself: “How to remind this animal that he need not remain an animal?”

There’s a fundamental difference here, please understand. If you say, “He has just made a mistake,” then what you are saying is, “An accident has happened.” It is not an accident. It’s a structural thing. It is not a one-off thing. It is systematic. It has not randomly happened. It has been made to happen, so it is not a mistake.

The system is making us remain like animals. So, see how his environment can be changed. See how he can be brought to the right company. And then, the fellow will shift to the other centre, hopefully. See, it’s like this: a group of all unwashed men decide to pretend that they are well washed, and all cleaned up. They use all kinds of deodorants and other pleasant odours on themselves, and it’s a mutual conspiracy. All of them have convinced themselves and each other that they are all pretty clean—as they say—spick and span.

Now, one of them somehow finds himself unable to hide his bitter odour, and it becomes obvious that the fellow is smelling like something extremely rotten. And then you all start saying, “Oh, see this one is so filthy, so unwashed.” The fact is not that he is just filthy or unwashed. Everybody is filthy and unwashed.

It’s just that this fellow was unable to pretend as smartly as the other ones probably. The other ones were veteran mischief makers. They knew how to put on a facade of pleasant odour. This one was probably a novice. You could even say this one probably had some honesty left, so his reality got exposed. That does not mean that he is the one who has made a mistake. The entire environment is promoting falseness. That has to be changed. It’s just that when one person is seen as failing in faking, then we start calling that one person as a failure. But he is failing just in faking. He is not the bottom-most one. He is not really the laggard when it comes to a true hierarchy.

Q: Thank you, Acharya Ji, for your most satisfying answer to this. Thank you.

AP: Thank you.

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