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The conqueror of desire is the master of the worlds || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
19 min
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यं यं लोकं मनसा संविभाति विशुद्धसत्त्वः कामयते यांश्च कामान् । तं तं लोकं जयते तांश्च कामांस्तस्मादात्मज्ञं ह्यर्चयेत्भूतिकामः ॥

yaṃ yaṃ lokaṃ manasā saṃvibhāti viśuddhasattvaḥ kāmayate yāṃśca kāmān taṃ taṃ lokaṃ jayate tāṃśca kāmāṃstasmādātmajñaṃ hyarcayetbhūtikāmaḥ

Whatever world the man whose inner being is purified sheds the light of his mind upon, and whatsoever desires he cherishes, that world he takes by conquest, and those desires. Then, let whosoever seeks for success and well-being approach with homage a self-knower.

~ Verse 3.1.10

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Acharya Prashant (AP): Verse ten.

“Whatever world the man whose inner being is purified sheds the light of his mind upon, and whatsoever desires he cherishes, that world he takes by conquest, and those desires. Then, let whosoever seeks for success and well-being approach with homage a self-knower.”

Pretty intriguing and very interesting. What does the common man do when he desires something? He wants to win the object of his desire. “I desire that camera. Being a commoner, I would want to win that camera for myself. Now I have pocketed that camera, and I hope that my desire is fulfilled”—which of course it is not, but that’s for another day. The thing right now is that for the commoner, desire implies a conquest of the object of desire.

But for the self-knower, the verse asserts here, conquest implies conquest of the desire itself. The object of desire may or may not be won, but what is certain is that the desire is won over.

The self-knower is not a slave to his desire; his desire is to conquer his desires.

Now, to the verse again:

“Whatever world the man whose inner being is purified sheds the light of his mind upon.”

So, the self-knower is looking at a particular world. What does the world consist of? Objects, thoughts—it’s a wave of consciousness, it’s a mental space illuminated by the light of your consciousness. That is called a particular world.

That’s why Vedanta talks of so many worlds: because there are so many divisions within the mind, there are so many spaces the mind can venture into, and all those places are called as worlds, all separate worlds, loka . They are not physical worlds. All those loka , they don’t really exist somewhere in the physical universe as we know it; they exist in the mind.

So, “Whatever world the man whose inner being is purified sheds the light of his mind upon”—which means, he is shedding the light of his mind upon a world. And these are two different things—letting the mind wander to a world versus shedding light upon the world your mind wants to wander to.

See, it is like this: There is someone in front, quite enchanting, alluring you with a very melodious voice. The place is all dark. One thing is to get enchanted and be drifted towards that person, be carried away by that voice. That is one thing. Another thing, a totally different thing, is to shed light on the person who is alluring you.

That’s what the self-knower does: he sheds light on the world that tempts him so much or means so much to him. “I want to know what it is that has started meaning so much to me. Should I not know? Should I just blindly drift? Should I allow myself to be carried away by unknown forces? I won’t. I want to know, I will shed light.”

So, he sheds light. And when he sheds light, what does he do? “That world he takes by conquest.”

The world has come to conquer you, but by shedding light on what has come to conquer you, you conquer your aspiring conqueror. He came to conquer you—what did you do? You just shed light on the one who wanted to come to you. Like policemen on duty who always carry those large torches, they keep shedding light on stuff; else, they will not know from which direction the bullet comes from and takes away their head. They keep shedding light because they don’t want to get killed.

If you too do not want to get killed, you must remember that by default the mind-space is very, very dark. And when space is dark, then bad, obnoxious, evil things can hide there, no? That’s the reason why man fears darkness—you don’t know what hides there.

Shed light—torch of consciousness. Ask. Seek. Know. Don’t just be hypnotized.

“That world he takes by conquest, and those desires.” The desires came to conquer him, he conquered the desire. That’s his style, his way of being, you know—conquer the conqueror. “You have conquered everybody. Now, let me introduce myself: Jaa thag ne thagini thagi (the one who robs the robber).”

Maya to thagini bhayi, thagat phirat sab des . Maya is a great fraudster; she dupes all the worlds, all the spaces, everybody. But then, it is possible to be more cunning than the most cunning one, to be one up on Maya .

Jaa thag ne thagini thagi . She is a thug, a cheat, a charlatan. But I won’t fall prey to her. I know her ways. I will take her by surprise.” It is possible, and that’s also the import of this verse.

So, the message is: “Let whosoever seeks for success and well-being approach the self-knower with homage.”

So, if you want real success and real well-being, then seek the company of a self-knower. That’s the only way to have goodness in life: remain close to a self-knower. The power of company I have talked so much of.

Questioner (Q): Does knowledge mean shedding light?

AP: No, knowledge means you already know. Shedding light means: now you want to know. If you already know, why would you shed light? That’s knowledge: “I already know, therefore I don’t need to know; therefore, there is no need to shed any light.” Shedding light is humility; shedding light is reality and honesty. “I want to know instantaneously, right now, this moment.”

So, knowledge is of course a problem, because it will not allow you to know. Even if you have knowledge, you must know how to manage knowledge. You must not allow knowledge to interfere in your free faculty of realization; you must always be available to the bliss of instantaneous realization. Knowledge impedes that.

Q: Does this verse also imply that spiritual success translates to worldly success also?

AP: Yes, obviously. Well said. You see, that which we usually call as worldly success is nothing but the success of the world upon us. It is not worldly success; it is the world’s success in winning us, defeating us, trampling us. The world is all over us—and that we call as our worldly success.

So, what is real worldly success? Real worldly success is to never allow the world to become too much for you.

Never allow the world to mean too much to you. Never allow the world to hurt you. Never allow the world to allure you. That’s worldly success.

Worldly success is to not do in the world that which the world commands you to do, but to do stuff in the world that will liberate everyone of the world.

It’s not that the self-knower undertakes no worldly or physical activity; of course he does. The mission of a Buddha, or a Nanak, a Kabir, is magnificent, and it is a very worldly mission, is it not? Mahatma Buddha is traveling through the length and breadth of North India; Kabir Sahib is singing, composing, and he too traveled a lot, faced difficulties, even atrocities, but he kept talking, singing, illuminating people. And the journeys of Guru Nanak are very well known and documented. He reached right till Assam, deep into South India, then Iran, Iraq, Arabia.

So, what were they doing? They too were deeply absorbed, subsumed in some worldly mission. But their immersion was very different from that of a man who wants to extract something from the world. They were working in the world to liberate people from the world.

Now, of course, they were illuminated beings, so their work was to liberate others. How does a commoner choose his work? Choose the work that would first of all liberate you from the world. That’s the test. “The work that I have chosen, does it enslave me to the world or does it liberate me from the world?” That’s the question to ask.

Q: When you say knowledge should not impede knowing, it reminds me of what Jiddu Krishnamurti said: that intelligence is beyond thought. But I am finding it difficult to distinguish between these. I am not sure if I have ever known through anything but acquired knowledge. What is the litmus test to know whether knowledge is helping me or blocking me from understanding?

AP: First of all, you have to stop underestimating yourself. Now that I am speaking to you, are you listening to me? And listening means listening for the first time, obviously.

If you say that it becomes difficult for you to really know apart from your knowledge, then that implies it would be equally difficult for you to listen to me right now because you have already heard me speak maybe a hundred times. But as you listen to me right now, are you in the memory of those hundred past occasions when you listened to an audio or watched a video?

So, is it not not only possible but actually easy to listen, to know? And when you are really listening, then the immensity of the moment is so great that there is no space left for any thought or memory from the past. You might have heard me speak a hundred times before, but this occasion, this moment right now, today, is the first time you are in this moment. You might have seen this face a hundred times, but right now you are looking at this face for the first time in this moment. How many times have you seen me before in this moment? In this moment you have never seen me before.

So, you have to see me for the first time if you are to see me at all. If you cannot see me for the first time, then you are not seeing me at all because here I am only for the first time; there is no second. All I am is what I am right now.

If you cannot be with the one who I am right now, then you are not at all with me. Do you get this? I really hope that you are with me. And if you are with me, then it is not true that knowledge must interfere in knowing. If you are with me right now, then you have forgotten all about the Prashant you knew in the past. Otherwise, you just cannot be with me.

Q: When one hears the teachings, things appear to be clear. But is it really possible to imbibe them without going through a total revolution of the mind? The mind will resist that change, so how can one really imbibe anything?

AP: Pay the price. It is not as if I am offering you a pill and you just take it with water and it would work. No, no, no…

I have shown you something precious, but you must pay the price with your life if you want to make it your own. Do you get this? I have shown you something immensely precious, but you must pay for it with your whole life if you want to own that thing. And when you pay the price with your life, then you are owned by that thing. That is called surrender.

When you pay only a partial price for something, then you own it. And when you pay the complete price for the complete thing, then the thing owns you. That complete price, mind you, can only be paid for something that is absolutely complete. That absolute completeness is called Truth, and therefore only the Truth is worth surrendering to.

Q: So many great people have made great inventions and innovations that are being used by the whole of humanity even today. I have started feeling anxious about not doing something like this with my life, about not contributing to the general welfare of humanity with something concrete. I do think that knowing myself is more important, so I am trying to reject these things, but this anxiety is increasing day by day. What should I do?

AP: All that is happening in the field of science and technology and knowledge is great prakritik movement. It is all in the realm of thought, and thought is an entity in Prakriti ; it is a wave in the ocean of Prakriti .

On one hand, I have great respect for science and technology; on the other hand, I fully well know that the dimension of self-knowledge is entirely different. There is no comparison between the two, let alone contradiction. Science will keep marching away, technology will keep progressing, but without self-knowledge man will remain miserable. In fact, technology will only augment his misery.

So, there is no need to put these two on the same plane. Self-knowledge always comes first.

Q: I am often struck with a fear that says that your teachings and sayings are not really coming from my own understanding, and hence they should not be trusted. It is a difficult trap to get out from. What should I do?

AP: See, what the fear is saying is not totally unfounded. If your fear argues that these teachings are still not entirely yours and hence not original to you, there might be truth in what your fear is saying. In fact, you should lend an attentive ear to this voice of fear. The allegation holds weight; the matter needs to be scrutinized.

No truth is Truth unless it is original to you. If it is not original, mollic to you, then it is a truthful concept, not Truth. Now, concepts are not altogether useless; great concepts help destroy rotten concepts and therefore assist in liberation. Nevertheless, even the greatest of concepts is not a patch on the Truth. You have to exceed even the greatest of concepts to immerse into the Truth.

So, take my words, think over them, contemplate, meditate, and engage with them so wholeheartedly that you come to a position that is entirely of your own. I want to assist you in reaching the destination; I cannot be your destination. So, use me, take my assistance; I am offering my services. But the destination has to be your own, original, individual. And only then your purpose and my purpose is served.

You see the catch here? To be free of me you don’t have to disengage with me; to be free of me you have to engage with me even more deeply. That’s the only way to gain freedom from the teacher: engage with the teacher so wholeheartedly that you gain freedom from that part of yourself that was dependent on the teacher.

There is a part of you that wants to remain dependent on the teacher, and dependency is separation. So, it wants to remain separated from the teacher so that it can remain dependent. How to beat that part? Reduce the separation. Come so close that there is no separation, and hence no possibility of dependency, and hence total independence.

Usually, people think that the way to remain independent is to remain aloof; that’s the common way of thinking of independence. You stay away from someone and then you are independent—no, that’s not the spiritual way, the real way. The real way is: engage very, very intimately. That intimacy will kill dependence.

When dependence is gone, then you are free. Now there is no need for the teacher. Now you have something original with you.

Q: You just said that when you are talking, we should listen to you moment to moment. Listening to you here is easy because we can trust you, but how to listen to all the regular events of the day in the same way?

AP: Why do the regular events of life succeed in deceiving you? Because you are not available to them; because you are not looking at them as they are; because you are not listening to what they are really saying right now. Instead, you are carrying images and echos: images of scenes from the past, echos of sounds from the past. So, what is really happening currently is obfuscated into the background.

Really see what is going on. It is not difficult. In fact, it is so easy that we have been unbelieving it. Nothing is easier, really easier, than just direct observation, observation without bias, without clutter, without fear—just seeing directly.

Q: By listening to you continuously, I have started speaking your language, though I am not living the kind of life you are living. It seems I have stopped questioning everything that you state. Is that the right condition to be in?

AP: It is a very wrong condition because you are defending yourself. If you want to protect yourself against me, you will copy my language. If you really have affection towards me, some love, some consideration, then you would engage with me, not emulate me.

Engagement and emulation are very different things. Engagement is not merely about embracing someone; engagement more often will be about wrestling with someone. Two wrestlers, don’t they engage with each other?

So, that’s the more honest kind of engagement between the student and the teacher. Forget about embracing the teacher; all that is just romantic fluff. First of all, you must wrestle with the teacher with a deep and desperate desire to overpower the teacher. You must apply all the force that you have with the intention of overcoming the teacher. Present your sharpest arguments, raise your strongest defenses, and watch the teacher shatter them in no time. That’s what will convince you of the righteousness and power of the path of the teacher.

If you do not wrestle with the teacher, you will never be really convinced of the might of the Truth.

And the ego is a sucker for power; the ego loves to get impressed by those who have power. In fact, the ego will fall only for those who are powerful. Let the ego see how powerful the teacher is; otherwise, how will the ego fall in love with the teacher, and how will the ego ever know how powerful the teacher is? She will have to wrestle, she will have to do everything that she can to dominate the teacher, and obviously, she will have to fail. That the teacher has to ensure, if the teacher is indeed genuine, sincere, authentic.

Else, the ego will actually succeed in overpowering the teacher. Too bad for the teacher and good for the ego! The ego has been spared of falling for the wrong kind of person. A teacher who can be defeated by the student’s ego is hardly a teacher. So, good if such a teacher has been defeated and the student has been spared. And good if the ego is defeated, because now the ego will have reason to kneel down and listen.

Don’t just agree. Question. And don’t just needlessly disagree, come on. Questioning is not disagreement; questioning is an effort towards understanding.

(Silence)

Alright, so the audience is exhausted. Only the Truth is never exhausted, and that’s how the Truth wins—by exhausting everything in front of it. (Chuckles)

Congratulations that you are exhausted; to be exhausted is to be empty. I hope you will let this pure emptiness remain, and whenever something again fills it up, you are most welcome to come to me and drain it out. Use me as your exhaust pump, would you?

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