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No ritual is spiritual || Acharya Prashant (2014)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
11 min
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Questioner (Q): Sir, could the people of India be enslaved for long because they were spiritual people?

Acharya Prashant (AP): If India was enslaved for so long, if the people here could be conquered and banished, and be made to live against their will, it was not because they were spiritual people, it was because they were not at all spiritual. I ask you a simple question. What is the most fundamental tenet of spirituality? It is to know what is this game called ‘the world’ and ‘Who am I?’ Right? That is the foundation. ‘What is all this going on?’ and it’s a most obvious question that any intelligent man must ask. Right? Only if you are very stupid, then you will be not spiritual otherwise you have to be spiritual.

What else can you be?

Spirituality is common sense. Don’t you want to know what all this is? That is spirituality. Now, if that is spirituality and the first question you are asking is, ‘Who am I?’ and if you have attained any depth, then first of all, your body association weakens. Your body association weakens. You do not remain a slave of the material. What is the body? Material. You stop giving importance to material, and then you also stop giving importance to the body. The man or woman who gives so much importance to the body is bound to give a lot of importance to house, car, make-up, money, and glitter. These go together because all are material. Right?

If body is important as material, then everything else is important as material. If I am a spiritual man, the first thing that I learn is that material is deceptive, that whatever is material is not really important, that the really important lies somewhere else. Such a man usually will not want to fight, because most of the fighting that happens, it happens for the sake of material. This man usually would refuse to fight. He would say, "Fine. Why should I waste my time with idiots? What is the point? You have brought all these guns and tanks. What for? Idiots! Go. Take it."

Have you heard the tale of a Sufi? One night a Sufi is lying in his small hut, and the roof of the hut had holes. He is lying in his hut, looking at the moon. A thief comes and starts taking all the things away. The Sufi is busy looking at the moon. The thief thinks that he must be sleeping. So whatever is there in the hut, some clothes, a few utensils, a little bit of money, he takes away everything. The Sufi is awake. After the thief is gone, he says, "Wish I could give him the moon as well." So, take it away. It’s not important. That is the attitude of a spiritual man. By the same attitude when he fights, you cannot defeat him. How do you defeat a man? You defeat him through the fear of death. And what is death? Annihilation of the body. What will your atom bomb do? Kill the body. Right? Body is not important. How can you defeat him? That man has no fear of the body. How can you defeat him?

When a spiritual man fights, and he won’t fight often, but when he fights, there is no way you can defeat him. You can kill him, but not defeat him. And Indians who were repeatedly defeated, how can they be spiritual? Can a spiritual army ever be defeated? It will fight to the last man. Last man!

Q: To the last puff of life.

AP: And to the last breath. But it cannot be defeated. And what about the Indian armies who would be in the ratio of ten is to one, against the invaders? Ten Indians against one invader and still defeated. Now, these are surely not spiritual people. So, let no one say that spirituality led to the enslavement of India. Lack of spirituality led to the enslavement of India.

Here is another beautiful story about an invader and a spiritual man. One never knows you know, these are just stories, but these are very poignant stories. So, Alexander had come to India, he fought and invaded. He won but could not proceed beyond a point. When he was returning with his loot, he was not satisfied with his victory. He said to one of his generals, "You know, beyond all these jewels and money that I have looted, I want more. What else can I take from here?" The general said, "Sir, whatever could be won under the Sun, you already have it. What else can you take from here?" He said, "But there must be something special about India that I can take." The general replied, "There is one thing found here, that is not found anywhere else, something called ‘sanyasi’, that we don’t find in other parts of the world. So, let us take one sanyasi." Alexander said, "Yes. Good. Whatever that thing is, go and bring it. Bring a few sanyasis. We will take them to our motherland. Let’s take them to Unaan." So, his soldiers go and they check about in a few villages. They asked the villagers, "Where can we find sanyasis?" And people laughed at them. They said, "Sanyasis are not found anywhere. They don’t have any address." The soldiers insisted, "Still, we want a sanyasi. The king is asking for it. He will kill us otherwise." The villagers said, "Fine, there is a river there. And by the side of the river, one particular sanyasi sometimes comes. But what time of the day he comes, nobody knows. He is unpredictable. Sometimes he comes and then for months he doesn’t come. So, you can go and check there." So, the soldiers went to that place, and good luck for them that they find the sanyasi there. They tried to catch him. First of all he would run so hard that nobody can catch him, and he made them run, run and run. Sometimes he would swim from one end of the river, to the other, and then come back. It’s his river. He knew it so well. Nobody could catch him. When he found that everybody has got tired, he went to them and said, "Fine. Take me."

(Everyone laughs)

So, they took him. They took him to Alexander. The sanyasi was wearing no clothes, he was totally naked. Alexander got angry at him and said, "You know, he has not etiquette, this man. How can he come in front of me without an underwear?" But the sanyasi kept standing there.

(Everyone laughs)

Alexander said to him, "Prostrate. Don’t you know I am a king? Don’t you know how to display the right manners in front of a king?" Sanyasi said, "Chill man! I have stopped doing that long back. Forget about me prostrating to the world. I don’t prostrate even to myself. Forget about me following the will of the world, I don’t follow even my own wishes. What do you mean by prostrating in front of you?" And Alexander doesn’t understand this. There was no HIDP then.

(Everyone laughs)

Alexander said to his generals, "What does he mean by not following ‘my own’ wish?" The sanyasi kept standing there, looking here and there. It’s cool! Alexander said to him, "I will chop-off your head." The sanyasi said, "Cool. Nice. That is one thing I have never seen, my own head being chopped-off. So you chop off my head." Alexander said, "Do you know what that means? Your head will be chopped-off, and it will roll in the dust." Sanyasi said, "Wonderful! It will roll in the dust." Alexander said, "And I will look at it and clap!" Sanyasi said, "Fine. Just as you would look at it, I too would look at it." Now, Alexander released him. He said, "Go. I want to reach home safely."

(Everyone laughs)

The funny part is that the sanyasi went away, but Alexander never reached his home. He died in the journey.


That is the attitude of the spiritual man. "Fine, chop-off my head. Who is afraid of death? Just as you will watch me die, I will also watch myself die. This is the body." Can you defeat an army of sanyasis? Can you? But Indian armies were repeatedly defeated. In the Battle of Plassey, Indians to British were a dozen is to one. It’s a seminal battle, a dozen to one, and yet Indians got defeated. That doesn’t mean that the spiritual man will have great love for the motherland and will keep fighting. He won’t unnecessarily pick up a fight. He is not quarrelsome. He let things go. But if it comes to fighting, like in the Battle of Kurukshetra, if it is time to pick the weapons, he will not stop himself. That’s what Krishna said to Arjun, "It’s time to pick up the weapon. Fight! And now there can be no going back." Getting it? Usually what passes off in the name of spirituality is just rotten, organized, religious practice. This is a blot on the name of spirituality. This is not at all spirituality. Let no one call following any kind of ritual, as spiritual. No ritual is spiritual.

But what do we see? Somebody reads a few books, we start calling him ‘spiritual’. Somebody keeps fasts, we start calling him ‘spiritual’. What does all this have to do with spirituality?

We were talking of Ashtavakra that day. And he has said in Ashtavakra Gita that what rubbish is this- Kaama (Desire), Arth (Money), Dharma (Religion), Moksha (Liberation). He has said, "Drop the religion. Drop dharma. If dharma is just a way to attain Arth and Kama then drop dharma." People like Ashtavakra have no interest in religion, and that is why Moksha (Liberation) is available to them. In many ways, spirituality and religion are opposites of each other. It is very difficult for a religious man to be spiritual. And when I say ‘religion’ here, I mean organized religion, not ‘ Swadharma ’.

That is another thing. If you are a Hindu or a Muslim it is impossible for you to be spiritual. The Hindu will be religious, but not spiritual. Till the time you identify with a particular sect or a creed, how can you be spiritual? Spirituality is getting rid of all identifications. Till the time you are attached to even Ashtavakra, how can you be spiritual? There is no way you can be spiritual. Getting it?

Let’s not take these two words in the same breath. Never. They are not close. Religion has often been hostile, antagonistic to spirituality. Truly spiritual people have been killed by religious people. What you call as ‘International terrorism’ today is very much a religion-driven phenomenon. Where is spirituality in all this? What you see in your religious gatherings, fairs, all that is religion, organized religion. Religion can be wonderful if it is an individual thing, if it is the quest of the individual mind to return to its source. That is what Krishna refers to as ‘ Swadharma ’. That Dharma is beautiful. But that Dharma cannot be a set of practices to be followed and a set of books to be read.

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