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Of God and Ghosts || Acharya Prashant, at Goa University (2022)

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

13 min
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Questioner (Q): Namaste Acharya Ji, my problem is that my logic doesn't let me believe in God, but then at night if somebody starts talking about Ghosts, I want something God-like near me, like a picture or something. I don't understand and I don't like it. So, I want to know, can spirituality help me fight my phobias?

Acharya Prashant (AP): But there is no God in spirituality.

Q: That’s what I am saying, that's why I went towards spirituality. Because it was my logic telling me to move towards spirituality.

AP: Did you say ghosts, in between?

Q: Yes.

AP: What was that?

Q: Like, when fear, the ghost is just an example of fear, extreme fear, illogical happening, I immediately want something, which I don't believe in, to help me.

AP: Okay, see this is one way of dealing with your fears. You believe in ghosts, so to counter that, you start believing in gods and then you make it ghosts versus gods in your inner battlefield and because you are the referee, you make the gods win, right?

So, that's the one way and that's a tried and tested way and that way has actually helped a lot of people. It's not without reason, that those fancy stories continue to hold sway. They help a lot of people.

So, you could use that, or else you could ask yourself, do I need to counter imagination with imagination? There is somebody sitting inside me, who has no taste for truth, but has a very fertile imagination and that one comes up with all kinds of fancy ideas.

Not only does she come up with fancy ideas, she is also so forgetful, she doesn't remember the idea is her own, the idea does not absolutely or objectively exist. The idea is a purely subjective fancy, it came from me and you forget that. You imagine something and then you let your own imagination terrify you and when you feel terrified, you say, ‘My god! There is a real danger in front of me’ and how do you counter that real danger? Which obviously is an imaginary thing. Because in your mind, reality and imagination have really never been totally seen apart. So, you counter this imaginary reality with another kind of imaginary reality.

Spirituality isn't about God; spirituality isn't about believing in anything. Neither ghosts nor gods. In fact, what you have said, I have come across earlier as well. Whenever I have spoken against the superstitions related to ghosts and spirits and souls and whatnot, people have said that every single argument that you are giving against the existence of ghosts and spirits, also denies the existence of God. We could pick the same arguments and the way they cut down the existence of ghosts, they can equally will be used to deny the existence of God.

So, are you denying the existence of the god as well? And that surprised me, I said ‘Yes,’ I mean God, as it exists in the popular imagination, is nothing but the dualistic counterpart of ghosts. So, if I am saying ghosts cannot exist for such reasons, those reasons work both ways, they take down God as well.

God and Truth are not the same things. Spirituality is about seeking the Truth. God and gods and goddesses and all the stories we have read about this and that, obviously, they come from our own minds. No story can come from anywhere else.

To seek Truth is to go to the origin of all stories and fall silent there. That’s what spirituality does. Spirituality does not say, ‘Well we can start talking only if you, first of all, agree to believe in such and such story and if you do not agree to believe in stories of my choice, then you are my enemy.’ Is that not how religions of the world operate?

One religion has one fancy story that it takes to be the truth, the other religion has another story with another names, other characters and the other religion takes that story to be the truth. And the first thing, in being indoctrinated is that you have to give your consent to those stories. ‘I agree that this story is my truth.’

Obviously, all that is just belief. Spirituality first of all says, ‘Drop all beliefs.’ You cannot investigate into the Truth if you are burdened with beliefs. Beliefs will simply block your vision. Beliefs will totally impede your capacity to no reality at all.

So, it's not as if spirituality says, ‘Do not believe in God’. It simply says, ‘Do not believe’ . Not only does it say, ‘Do not believe in ghosts, do not believe in God,’ you know, but it’s also so brutally honest that it says, ‘Do not believe even in yourself.’

The first superstition is the existence of one's own self, no? Even today, on the foundation Hindi channel, a video has been published this very morning, that says, ‘There is nobody sitting upstairs running your businesses on this earth,’ and the one argument I am constantly encountering is: ‘But if there is this world, somebody has to be the creator. And if the planets are going around and there are galaxies and stars and suns and moons and entire infinite universe, there has to be somebody who is running the show.’ So, if things are there, somebody has to be the creator and if stuff is moving, somebody has to be the mover, that's the argument.

Spirituality laughs at this. Spirituality says, ‘Who says there is something in the first place.’ Your argument is: ‘Because this table exists, so somebody has to be the creator.’ Spirituality says, ‘How do you know that the table exists?’ Now, that is a question that religion never asks, only spirituality does.

Religion says, obviously the table exists. What does religion say? Obviously. Spirituality says, ‘No, nothing is obvious. I want to investigate.’ Religion does not investigate or even if it does, its investigation does not go beyond this point. Beyond this point, there is no investigation, just assumptions and then stories.

Spirituality says, ‘No, I am not sure this table exists. What is the proof that the table does exist?’ Then you say, ‘Well, the proof is that I can see the table, I can touch the table and if I hit it, I can hear the table.’

Spirituality says, ‘You are the only proof, right? You are the only proof that the world exists, then you are the creator of the world. Why you are bringing God in between? But if I take your word as final, then according to you there are so many things that exist that actually do not. Are you reliable in the first place? How do you know?’

Just the other day, you were saying, that the girl next door certainly loves you, that her love exists. Did it really exist? It did not. So, how do you know the table exists? If you could be mistaken in that case, why is it not possible that you are mistaken in this case as well? ‘No, but that was an intangible and this is tangible.’

Just the other night, I asked you, ‘How many fingers’ and these are all tangible fingers, right? Tangible fingers. I asked you: ‘How many fingers’ and it was a Saturday night and you are returning from your favourite party and you said ‘Eight’. Are you always accurate when it comes to tangibles? How do you know you are not drunk right now? ‘Well, I know I am not drunk,’ you said the same thing that night as well. When you told me ‘Eight’, I said that you are drunk and you said, ‘You would be drunk, I am perfectly sober.’

Do you really know yourself? If you do not know yourself, how do you know the table exists? To many of us it would appear like an annoying question, ‘But is it not obvious that the table exists?’ No, sir, we want to take the existence of this table as granted, as absolute, just because we want to take the existence of our senses and the testimony of our mind as absolute.

Our problem is, the reason we feel threatened is, if we agree that it is not certain that the table exists, then we will also have to agree that it is not certain that the body exists, because the table and the body are one. I couldn't be reclining this way over the table and say, ‘The table does not exist, but my elbow does.’ If the table might not exist, but possible that even this elbow does not exist because the two are one. Don't you see the two are one?

If one does not exist, probably the other one also does not exist. So, that's the epistemological question, spirituality grapples with.—What is the right source of knowledge? How do I know anything? How do I be perfectly sure of anything?

So, then the real, genuine seeker of truth says, ‘I will keep all assumptions and observations aside and will begin only with that which is beyond doubt.’ Now, what is that beyond doubt? The fact that I am in doubt. The fact that there exists a questioner, because the question is there. The question is, ‘Does the world exist?’ No, I do not know whether the world exists or not, but for sure, the question exists. If the question exists, somebody is the questioner.

So, that is the only thing I can start out with. So, I start from there. There is something, that is dissatisfied in need of answers and is curious to know the answers. There is a questioning entity definitely exists. That’s where the spirituality starts from. All the other things, it sees as projections of its own ignorance.

‘This world is a projection of my ignorance. My stories, obviously are all imaginary.’ Once you come to that, once you start seeing that, this world around you, whatever you can talk of, whatever you can experience, whatever you can hear of, is just a projection of your own mind. Then you also know, that you are the painter of all these terrible paintings that terrify you. If you can paint them, then you can also un-paint them. If you can write, you can also erase, therefore, spirituality is inherently empowering. It does not leave you at the whims and caprices of some uncontrollable forces in the universe, some god sitting somewhere up in the heaven, no.

‘I am not at the mercy of unknowable and uncontrollable forces. I have choice, I have power and I suffer only if I do not exercise my choice rightly. I will not suffer, because some curse will descend from the heavens, I will suffer if I am not attentive enough and awakened enough to exercise right choices.’ That is the only source of suffering—lack of awakening, lack of attention, lack of discretion, lack of right knowledge.

‘If that is why I suffer, then I need not run to someone for shelter to keep my suffering away. If I suffer due to lack of attention, if I suffer due to lack of realization, then how do I get rid of my suffering?’ By being more attentive, by trying to realize, what the Truth is and that's what will keep the ghosts really away. Are you getting it?

So, spirituality is something for everybody, irrespective of your religious identity, your ideological persuasion. You exist, right? And if you exist then, spirituality is simple investigation into your existence. ‘Who am I? Why do I suffer?’ Nice, is it not? Or do you want to believe that we are all just pawns in the hands of fate and destiny and such things?

In spirituality, you do pray, you do bow down. What do you pray to? You pray to your highest potential. Now, if you want to call that as God, perfectly alright. But if you are calling your own highest potential as God, then God is not somewhere out there. Then God is sitting right in the middle of your existence and then your duty in life is to realize your own godly potential. ‘I am born to be godly and how do I be godly? By clearing away all the nonsense sitting inside me—genetic nonsense, social nonsense, all the layers of conditioning I have accumulated. I keep clearing that away, I keep peeling the layers off and what remains is godliness.’

So, it's not as if spirituality is allergic to the word ‘god’, but spirituality has a very clean and clear definition of God sans stories; God sans communalism; God sans sectarianism. God as your highest potential. in spirituality, God is called as the Self, pure Self. Vedant refers to that as Atma , that is God. But Vedant won't call it God really, however we are used to calling the highest as God, therefore I am referring to the pure self as God.

Is this somewhere near to clarifying something? I am sure I have not been to answer fully, but and you may continue to question if it's not clear.

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