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Mind, the toughest prison; Mind, the fullest freedom || Acharya Prashant, with youth (2013)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
10 min
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Questioner (Q): We have been told that the mind is a prison of thoughts and beliefs. How to get rid of this prison?

Acharya Prashant (AP): ‘The mind is a prison’ is a correct but incomplete statement. Remember, the mind is limited by the brain but the mind is not merely the brain. What is it beyond the brain?

Q: Intelligence.

AP: And that is not a prison.

The mind is surely a prison when intelligence is not in operation. When one is not attentive, then the mind surely becomes a prison; a prison of the past, a prison in which others have enslaved you. But the mind is not a prison when we are acting intelligently.

Somebody has said, “The mind is both your best friend and your worst enemy.”

When is it your best friend? When the same mind is operating intelligently.

When is it your worst enemy? When intelligence is switched off.

When is intelligence switched off? Intelligence operates only in an environment of attention. Alternately, you could say intelligence only operates in love.

When there is no attention, when there is no care or love, then intelligence does not function, and then the mind is your worst enemy. It is a prison more difficult to break out of than Tihar Jail (a central jail in India). Once in, you are always in. No windows, no escape doors, no fresh air either. Everything is stale, everything is coming from the past.

And to make matters worse, the prisoners may not even know that it is a prison.

When the prisoner knows that he is imprisoned, then he makes some attempt to break out, to get free. But the mind is such a prison which is full of suffering but which does not let you know that you are imprisoned. You feel that “This is my palace. This is not a room in the jail, this is not a cell in the jail; this is my great palace. And these handcuffs, they are not handcuffs, they are my ornaments. I am the king over here!”

The mind is such a deceptive prison. You do not even know that you are imprisoned.

“See, I am the king. Look at my ornaments! All these walls, they are the walls of my mansion, my palace. All these policemen that you see, who are they? They are my personal bodyguards. All the policemen who are patrolling, you know what they are doing? They are securing me; they are my personal bodyguards. I am not a prisoner. I am the king out here!”

And many of us live in this prison and believe that those policemen who are keeping us in the prison are actually our bodyguards, are actually our well-wishers. In fact, for many of us, that is the very definition of a well-wisher: somebody who keeps you in a prison, you think, is your well-wisher.

The more somebody wants to imprison you, the more you think that he is your well-wisher. And what is your logic? You say, “He wants to keep me in prison so that I may be safe.”

The prisoner, remember, is extremely safe, is he not? The prisoner in the jail is very very safe; nothing can happen to him. The bird in the open sky is vulnerable, but the bird in the cage is very very safe.

And that is the logic of the prisoner. “I will keep you safe and I will keep you imprisoned.” And you start believing that what imprisons you is something that benefits you.

The worst slavery is when the very remembrance of freedom is lost. The worst slavery, worst imprisonment, is when you yourself start asking for slavery, you yourself become an advocate of imprisonment.

There is a small story. We talked of the bird in the cage, so I am reminded.

There was this bird in a cage—let’s just say it was a parrot—and the bird had been taught to constantly keep uttering, ”Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” So, what was the parrot doing all the time? Chirping. What? “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” And it is completely encaged, imprisoned.

So, a young man like you was passing by. He heard the bird and he said, “Oh my God! The bird is enslaved and she wants to fly free, and she is asking for freedom. I must help her!”

So, what does he do? He goes to the bird, he opens the door of the cage—it is easy. Opening the doors of cages is not very difficult when you want to, when you really want to.

He opens the door of the cage, and he waits for the bird to fly away. But now the door is open, the bird is not flying away. And what is the bird, the parrot doing? “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”

Now, because you are young, energetic, and freedom-loving, you say, “No! This bird must gain freedom.” So, what do you do? You put your hand inside the cage, and you try to bring the bird out.

And what does the bird do? It bites your hand like anything. “How dare you liberate me? I am so safe inside the cage. And my master, he feeds me twice a day; once in the morning he feeds me, once in the evening he feeds me. So, he gives me food, he gives me provisions, and he also gives me security. How dare you liberate me?”

The bird starts biting and the finger starts bleeding. But you are adamant; you too are young and freedom is very dear to you. You say, “No! Freedom is life. One must be free”

So, forcibly, you pull the bird out and you make it fly, and it goes away. And what is it still chirping? “Freedom! Freedom!” And you also walk away.

After a while you return, and what do you find? The bird is back in the cage. And what is the bird saying? “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”

Do you now see the prison of the mind? A mind that becomes habituated to slavery does not want to become free. It does not want to become free because freedom is a little bit of a risk.

In the open sky, the bird might be attacked. It will have to search for its own food. In the confinement of the prison, food is provided; the bird can just comfortably languish. “There is the master who gives me food, who also takes me to the doctor sometimes.”

And animals in prison, animals in cages, often look better than wild animals because their hair is combed, they are vaccinated, they are provided a good diet. So, if you just look at them, encaged animals might appear more attractive than wild and free animals. But who is really enjoying?

Q: The wild animal.

AP: In some animals, the lifespan is longer when they are kept in their small cages, when they are domesticated; then they actually live longer than the wild animals. In the wild there are many dangers. But who really enjoys life, the animal in the wild or the animal who has been domesticated?

Q: The animal in the wild.

AP: But often it happens that even if you let the encaged animal away, like that bird it will come back. It will come back to its slavery.

We all must find out whether, unfortunately, it might be true for us, whether there is something in the mind which imprisons us.

See, there are only two factors that dominate the mind. The jail that we are talking of actually has only two sentries, only two policemen who are guarding you in: one is called past, the second is called others. One is a slave either to the past or to the others.

One is a slave either to the past or to the others.

What is slavery of the past? Slavery of the past is: “I cannot go beyond my past. I cannot go beyond my background. In my family everybody does this, so I will also do this. Since childhood, I have been conditioned to do this, so I will keep doing this.” This is called slavery of the past.

And what is slavery of the others? Slavery of the others is: “I am not using intelligence. I am not using my free mind. I am allowing others to set terms for my life. Even though I am young and adult and capable, yet others are taking my life decisions. Others influence me very very easily. I feel confused; in all matters of life, I always have to seek consultation. I am better off when somebody else decides it for me. I follow the crowd.” This is slavery of others.

And these two, we said, are the two policemen guarding the jail, guarding the prison of the mind.

But the prison is blown away, dynamited by something that you already have. By what?

Q: Intelligence.

AP: Intelligence, yes. Intelligence is such a dynamite: it blows away that prison in no time. The moment there is application of intelligence, all these prisons, they are reduced to dust. You don’t even need effort; they are gone.

You all are intelligent. It is just that in some of us, at some moments, the intelligence is awakened; in others, it only remains a potentiality. In some of us, the intelligence is very much active; in others, it is sleeping. It is there, it is there with us, but it is just sleeping. It is sleeping because, we said, intelligence operates in the environment of attention or love.

So, if love is absent, if attention is absent, then intelligence will remain inactive and we will remain prisoners. Those who want to break out of the prison must learn to be attentive, must be careful to look at their own life, must see what is happening and see very clearly.

In the moment of seeing, you are no more a prisoner. The same mind that is a hell of a prison will become the heaven of joy, the heaven of freedom, freedom that we all deserve—we all deserve it, it is our birthright—joy that we all deserve, love that we all deserve.

But that cannot come to a prisoner. A prisoner knows no joy, no freedom, no love. All of these are possible only in attention, only when you are watchful, only when you are really awake, awake and seeing and listening. Then nobody can make a prisoner of you.

The fact is, even now nobody can make a prisoner of you, except…?

Q: You, yourself.

AP: Yourself.

Your own sleep keeps you imprisoned. The moment you wake up, you are free.

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