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So much price, so little value || Acharya Prashant, with SPA Delhi (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
10 min
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Question (Q): Namaskar, Acharya Ji. My question is on materialism. Sir, we see an ever-increasing market for luxury goods like automobiles, or fashion, or jewellery. But according to one study on luxury fashion goods, around ninety two percent of the price we pay for those goods is used for their branding, their advertisement, their rentals, and all these things. And only around eight percent of the money we pay for them is used for the quality they are producing.

So, despite this fact we are enticed by this luxury. I want to know why is it so? Why is our mind so enticed by the luxury?

Acharya Prashant(AP): Because you want something and you happen to have money. So, you think that the thing that is priced the highest will probably bring the highest to you. In absence of any other proper metric, you start taking price as a proxy for value. Sometimes price is indeed a proxy for value, but many a times it is not.

But if you do not know what really is valuable, then you are left with no choice. Then you start thinking that price indicates value. Either have an independent sense of your own to assess value—do you have that? You don't have that, right? If I ask you to assess the value of something, anything, you will find yourself at a loss. You will say, "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know." Ultimately, you will have to resort to the price. You will say, "What is the price of these things?" And once you know the price of those things, you will say, "The one priced the highest is indeed the highest." That is what is happening. The problem is of valuation.

We do not know the value of stuff in life, because we do not know life itself. So, we start thinking that the priciest one, the one that costs us the most is indeed the best one.

There is a particular class of goods that do not sell if their prices are reduced, Giffen goods. Now, think of the absurdity, the sheer foolishness. The thing won't sell if its price is reduced. It is bought only because it is very pricey—Giffen goods. So, you have to be alert. Sometimes, price can indicate quality or value; many a times, it does not.

Many a times, what happens in fact is that great things come for no price at all. But the ego loves pricey stuff; so, for the ego to accept stuff that is not pricey is a great price to pay. Please understand. I am in love with money, which basically means I am in love with pricey goods. Otherwise, why would I love money? But it is demonstrated to me that the thing with really the highest value comes for a very low price. Now, that is a very pricey deal for me to accept. If I accept that the greatest thing is coming for a low price, then what will I do with all the money that I have accumulated, and all the life that I have wasted in accumulating that money?

Somehow I have to justify myself, right? I spent fifty years of my life stashing my bank account. What do I do with that money? At age fifty, somebody is coming and telling me, "You know, there is great stuff available for no price or a small price." I feel like a fool. Have I been an idiot to waste my life on accumulation of money? So, I say, "No, no, no. If something is available for a low price, it has to be of a low value, low quality, low use." Are you getting it?

See, I am not denouncing money. I am just saying, "Can you as an aspiring professional, learn to place your money where the value is?" These are two very different things—placing money where the price is, versus placing money where the value is. Do you have the assessing mechanism within to extract value as something different from price?

Price is something that the world throws at you—this is the price. You never determine the price of something. The price of something is something the shopkeeper tells you, right? So, the world throws price at you. Value is something that you have to determine. And if you have no internal mechanism to assess value, all you will have is the price that the world is suggesting you. And then you will say, "Oh, where the price is, there the value is."

A small catch. To know the value of something, you must know to whom is the value. This discussion is very important to us. It is not at all important to, let’s say a mosquito that is roaming around my ear. Or is it important? The mosquito is intent on delivering its own lecture to me. So, the value of this discussion is to you, because you have the intent and the ability to attend, pay attention.

The mosquito has neither the ability nor the intention to pay attention. All it wants is a little bit of my blood. So, there is no value in what is happening here to the mosquito. So, to know what is valuable, I must know who I am. Am I the mosquito, which is the body? Or I am homo sapiens, which is a conscious self, a conscious being? Who am I?

Q: A conscious self.

AP: Because we do not know that, therefore, we do not know the value of stuff. If I know who I am, then I also know what I need. That which fulfils my need is valuable to me. And the more something fulfils my need, the more is the value of that thing to me, irrespective of what the market says. To hell with the price tags that the market puts on something.

This (lifting a mug as an example) fulfils a very important need, and I know who I am; therefore, I know my needs. Let the market say this is priced only at rupees two hundred and fifty. I will not part with it even for twenty five thousand. I know who I am, therefore I know what my need is, what my aspiration is; in other words, what my love is. If I know my love, then I know what to value. And then I cannot fall for fancy price tags, and brands, and ads, and promotions and all.

That's the whole problem with not knowing yourself, but having a lot of money. You will not know who has the money. Somebody has the money. Who is he? And what relationship does the moneyed one have with me, I don't know. It's a bad situation to be in, no? To not know who you are and yet have so many crores in your accounts, or in your lockers, whatever.

I am not somebody born to earn. Can you remember this? That's not the fundamental purpose of life. Now, that's not something we are criticizing, or negating, or advising against. No! Be very careful. We are saying, "Earning is not the central purpose of life." Full stop. Repeat—I am not born to earn.

Q: I am not born to earn.

AP: So, what is it I am born for? That's something we need to figure out. And then, we can earn the right amount from the right place, and spend it on the right purpose. Once I know who I am, then I will know the role of earning in life. Is that not common-sensical? If I don't know who I am, and I am out in the world's marketplaces to earn, who am I earning it for? And where would I spend all that? Simple, basic, childlike questions.

Yes, great, you have earned so much, wonderful. You too, come from an important institution; you too, will earn pretty well. What would you do with that money? Your physical needs are limited, your physicality is limited. You cannot spend beyond a point on the body. Today you spend five thousand, ten thousand rupees a month on your body as a student, probably. Tomorrow you can, at max, spend fifty thousand or something on the body.

Otherwise, the body itself will start rebelling? “What are you doing? I cannot change clothes every two hours. I have natural hair, why are you putting a wig on it?” And you will say, "It's an expensive wig from Dubai. And the body will say, "I don't need that wig." “Eyesight is good, why are you putting specs over it?” And you will say, "The specs are expensive." The body will say, "I don't need those specs."

Forty chairs you have bought, you cannot sit on all forty. Twenty cars you have bought, they will rot. You will forget their names, their registration numbers. And the traffic police will stop you one day, and often, they ask you, "Okay, what is the registration number?" And you know what happens when they stop you and you cannot tell the registration number? They think that you have stolen the car.

So, self-knowledge—Who am I? What am I here for? Why do I exist at all? If you are interested in Western thought, study existentialism. If you want to go the oriental way, obviously Vedānta. And Vedānta is the mother of all existentialism. Because there, the very question is existential—Who am I?

Listen son, this thing (pointing at his blazer) is a branded one, right? But I think it has value for me. So, it's okay. Not that we are swearing to reject all brands. This too (the microphone), is something branded. The screen in front of me is probably, what some brand is this? Yes, HP. Not that I have some vendetta to pursue against brands. But there must be value.

I am not saying something very deep, I am not saying something abstract, mystical; I am saying something very common-sensical. But to really execute what I am saying, you will need self-knowledge of the Vedāntic kind. It's very easy to say what is the value of the thing. To know the value of that thing, you must know that thing; to know that thing, you must know yourself. And you must devote a lot of time to this question—where does my sense of self come from? What is life? What is important in it? What is my relationship with life?

These are very important questions to pursue, especially in your age. You will be making major career and life decisions in the coming years, and this question is indispensable. Without this question, how do people manage to make decisions and pursue life and vocation? I just don't know.

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