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The animal inside us - what to do with it? || with IIT Delhi (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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Questioner: Earlier you were talking of our current systems being a whitewashed extension of what already exists in the jungle. My question is, if the animal nature is so innate, natural and core to the human experience, then does one need to embrace it and perhaps enhance it in one’s everyday life? Or should one tame it, harness it, and mold it in a way that makes us a human and different from animals?

Acharya Prashant: Lovely question. You see, this is really the only spiritual question possible: what to do with Prakṛti (physical nature)? That which you are calling as one’s innate nature, classically we just call it Prakṛti . Prakṛti exists both outside us in the form of the jungle we referred to, and it exists in our person as well. This body and all its systems, they too are prakṛtik , right?

Now, that’s the question—what to do with it? You can’t live without it, and you can’t live with it as it is. So, who are you? That’s classically called as the Puruṣa . Puruṣa refers to consciousness. And what is everything that you can experience, perceive, think of, talk of, mandate? That is called as Prakṛti . Whatever you can lay your hands on, whatever your eyes can look at, that is called as Prakṛti . Whatever you can even imagine or think of, that is Prakṛti . So, you are the subject, Puruṣa , and all your objects are called as Prakṛti .

And indeed, the aim of all philosophical systems and all spiritual enquiry is to determine the right relationship between Puruṣa and Prakṛti . That’s what you have asked. Do we tame it? Do we transcend it? What do we do? It’s a very delicate thing, this relationship. You have to come very close to it, you have to understand it, but you have to avoid getting engaged. That is, again, classically called as witnessing.

You cannot run away from it, just as you cannot run away from your own body. That’s a privilege not given to us. Can one run away from the body? No. Is there consciousness without the body? No. Absolute consciousness, it is said that it is metaphysical, not corporal. But we are not creatures of absolute consciousness; we are creatures of dualistic consciousness, and our personal consciousness depends totally on the body. If you sleep, the state of your consciousness changes. If you get drunk, your consciousness, again, changes. So, can there be our personal consciousness without the body? Well, no.

Then what can Puruṣa do? It cannot run away from Prakṛti . Just as our consciousness is always wedded to Prakṛti , which is the body, so you cannot run away from it. Can you fight it? Well, that method has been tried; a lot of people have tried that too. They say, “We will do exactly the opposite of what Prakṛti says.” Then Prakṛti laughs at them. That is the reason why Prakṛti has also been called as Māyā (illusion). Prakṛti laughs at them. Can you stop breathing? Now, breathing, too, is an animalistic thing; it was happening in the jungle, it is happening in the cities as well. Can you stop breathing? You cannot stop breathing. Can you stop looking, perceiving? Can you stop getting attracted? Can you stop the force of enquiry and curiosity arising in a child’s mind? You cannot stop all these things.

“You cannot fight me. You cannot run away from me. So, what is the relationship you need to have with me?” India came up with a beautiful answer. India said, worship her—worship her but do not try to own her, worship her from a reverent distance. So, India, then, started calling the jungle as (mother). This entire system of mother worship, the Śakti stream, where you have devi pūjā (deity worship), is nothing but an answer to the question of right relationship. Durga, Ambika, or Kali—they represent Prakṛti . What to do with them? Worship them, worship them as mother. Be close to them without the intention to possess them or exploit them.

So, go close to the jungle. Observe it, know it, have reverence towards it, but do not aim to own it, possess it, exploit it, or consume it. That’s the right relationship. And when that right relationship is there, then somehow, magically, Prakṛti herself comes to redeem you, to liberate you. So, India said, liberation will not happen if you run away from her; it’s not possible, because wherever you go, you will still be within her domain. There is no point in space away from her. All space is her own extension. All time is her own continuation. So, thinking of escaping or eloping or whatever is just impossible. You are her own product in the corporeal sense. How will you run away?

So, come close. Come close, but do not come close as the ordinary consumer does. When we ordinarily come close to something, we want to lay our dirty hands on that thing, no? And we want to pick that thing up and consume it and ingratiate ourselves and feel pleasure, right? India said no, that’s not the way. Go close; go close with the spirit to really know; go close without the intention to exploit, and that is called love. Love involves intimacy without the intention to exploit.

Know her. Know every aspect of life. Do not shy away. Do not run away. Be fully immersed. But being fully immersed is just not the same as being exploitative; being fully immersed is not the same as being inebriated. Know it without falling prey to it. Neither should you fall prey to it, nor should you allow that thing to own you and possess you.

And that’s the reason why there is so much emphasis on renunciation. Renunciation, therefore, is not about giving up; renunciation is about not acquiring what is anyway not yours. And if somehow mistakenly you have picked it up, then respectfully just keep it back. It is not yours. Why do you want to act like a thief?

Do you see how all these things are interlinked? That is the most fundamental question. The kid is born; the kid is born as the body. But, remaining as the body, the kid never feels satisfied. And that’s why the human being is the most restless among all species. We are endowed with a special kind of consciousness that is not content with its prakṛtik , animalistic existence. No animal ever feels the kind of existential restlessness that we do.

So, what to do then? How to live? That’s the question all spirituality wants to address. Who are you? Why are you born? What to do with this life? What kind of relationship to have with this world? The right relationship is a thing of deep sādhanā ; you have to master it. Because if you go close to her, there is the risk of getting sucked in. You have to go close to observe, to know. And that is what is called worship.

Worship is not just about bowing your head in the physical sense. Worship is about going close. Just as there is a deity in a temple, you go close to the deity and you put your head down—what does that mean? It means, “I am coming close to you without letting my head dominate what I will do in the moment of closeness. So, I will come close to you. But just because I am coming close to you, I will not start, for example, if the deity is decked with a lot of gold”—in India that is often the case, no? There is a lot of gold on the deity. Now, you can go to the deity and look at the gold and say, “I will take all this away.” No, that is not what you do. You go to the deity and you bow your head down.

That’s what you are to do with this life, with everything that is there in physical existence. Be it the jungle, be it the animals, be it the natural resources, be it the opposite gender, or be it your own body, live a life of deep immersion without… Oh, now I am going into the preachy aspects of it! I hope I have answered.

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