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Should I take care of myself, or help others first? || (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
7 min
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Questioner: Pranaam Acharya Ji. First of all tonnes of gratitude, Acharya Ji. I never thought that there would be such deep knowledge in the Upanishads. Thank you so much! When you were saying that sages went out and stayed in the forest for self-realization—Is it not selfish?

I also remember a quote of Ramana Maharshi where he says, "Your own self-realization is the biggest service to the world." But I don't understand this statement. How does this really help the world?

Sometimes, I do feel that by putting my Sadhana first, I am being selfish. So, I am not getting the clarity on that part, Acharya Ji.

Acharya Prashant: See, at the root of your confusion, is the belief that by staying where you are and by doing what you do, you are of some use, some service to other people. That's your basic assumption. Do you get this?

What you are saying is, “Right now, the way I exist, where I exist, the people I live with, the way I live with those people, I am of some use, some good, some service to them.” This is your current position, this is your current thought.

Based on this thought you say, "Now currently I am of use to them therefore if I start doing something else or start living in some other way or at some other place, physical or psychological, the service I am currently providing to them will cease." So now you face a conflict and that's the conflict expressed in your question. Right?

“If I go away then what will happen to all the good things that I am doing currently to the people I am with?” Some people are already smiling. They are seeing where the catch lies. Where does it lie? Your assumption is flawed, sir.

You feel happy and proud thinking that right now you are of some use to the people around you. So you accordingly start feeling bad. "You know, right now I am some use to them. If I go away, what will happen to them?"

What if it turns out that right now your presence is the worst thing that is happening to them? Now tell me, what is the greatest service you can do to them? That's what Ramana Maharshi wanted to say and I very crudely said. He was a gentleman, I am not.

By being the way you are. By being with the people you are with, in the ways you currently follow, you are not doing any good to anybody; neither to them nor to yourself, obviously. So it is obviously better that you mend your ways.

But the Ego wants to say, "But, aren’t I already doing very well? Why must I change the status quo?"

Because the status quo stinks.

The Ego won't want to accept that. The Ego says, "But you know all my life, 30 years, 40 years. I have invested in coming to this great point. Do you want to tell me that I have been a failure all along?"

Yes, you have been, and you better accept that.

"Sir, you mean to say 40 years of my life wasted?"

Yes, 40 years and more are about to be, if you don't improve.

"What will happen to my kids?"

Your kids will grow up in a beautiful way. You just leave them. What do you think is happening to all the kids who are receiving great scholarly and spiritual care in their families? Where are all the delinquents coming from? Please tell me.

On one hand, we say, “Our institutions are great, our systems are great, we all are lovely people in love with each other.” And then in the same breath, we say, “The world stinks!”

Now, how is it possible that all the houses in the community, in this colony let's say, are heavens of amity and love and care and compassion? All the individual houses are just heavenly, great. But in total, the colony stinks. How is it possible?

You say, you know, this is an atrocious colony. The colony is atrocious, but all the individual houses are great. Is that possible? Then how is it possible that the world is in such a terrible mess and yet all the families are great places? Please tell me. How is it possible? Or is it so that all the people who are causing harm to the world were family-less orphans? Is that so? No.

All the people who have grown up to be evil personified are products of these very houses, and they received all great care from their parents and other people. And the parents were always saying, “You know. How do I go to the jungle? I have to take care of Chunnu.” And Chunnu has grown up to be a demon. Exactly because Papa and Mummy were all the time taking care of him and Papa and Mummy were the least qualified to take care of him.

The best that Papa and Mummy could have done was to go to the jungle and learn a thing or two about life. And what do I mean by the jungle? I don't mean the literal jungle; you know that very well. I don't mean that you have to go to the African forest or Amazon or somewhere.

What do we mean by the jungle? A place of psychological solitude. Are you getting it?

We hate to admit it, right? That our love and care and compassion and service is of very little use to them, who are getting it. In fact, it is counterproductive. It is quite humiliating to accept it. But, if you really have some love, then out of love you will accept it. No?

There was a time. There were people, they knew very well that the best place where a kid can come up is not the home. So, the day the kid would turn 5 or 6, he would be sent away.

Because they knew very well that the environment in the house is not at all conducive to the right growth of the child. So, he would be sent away and he would return only after 20 years when he is 25. And in between very little contact between the parents, the society and the child.

And if you don't have kids, I am assuming I mean, fine. If the care you are providing is to, let's say, your spouse. The same thing applies equally strongly.

Let's look at ourselves, honestly. Can we help improve the other or firstly do we first need to improve? Please.

Many a time, the best service you can give to someone you profess to love is distance. That would be the deepest act of love- distance.

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