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The death of mind is the end of death perpetual || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
52 min
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वेदान्तविज्ञानसुनिश्चितार्थाः संन्यासयोगाद्यतयः शुद्धसत्त्वाः । ते ब्रह्मलोकेषु परान्तकाले परामृताः परिमुच्यन्ति सर्वे ॥

vedāntavijñānasuniścitārthāḥ saṁnyāsayogādyatayaḥ śuddhasattvāḥ te brahmalokeṣu parāntakāle parāmṛtāḥ parimucyanti sarve

Doers of askesis who have made sure of the aim of the whole knowledge of Vedanta, the inner being purified by the Yoga of renunciation, all in the hour of their last end passing beyond death are released into the worlds of the Brahman.

~ Verse 3.2.6

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Acharya Prashant (AP): “Doers of askesis who have made sure of the aim of the whole knowledge of Vedanta, the inner being purified by the Yoga of renunciation, all in the hour of their last end passing beyond death are released into the worlds of the Brahman .”

The verse must be understood clearly and as per the fundamental principles of Vedanta; else there is scope for misinterpretation.

“Doers of askesis”—those who have gone through great penance, those who have known Vedanta completely—”those whose inner being”—meaning the mind—”has been purified by renunciation, they come to their end passing beyond death and are released into *Brahman*”—they come to their end and pass beyond death.

We are obviously not talking about one particular moment of physical death here. What happens to the body is not too much a concern with Vedanta. Vedanta is not the science of the body. Vedanta is not very concerned without anatomy. Vedanta is concerned with our suffering, and it is not the body that suffers. The body might get hurt, wounded, diseased or aged, but it never suffers.

The body can become an object in the field of suffering, but the body itself is never the experiencer of suffering. The mind can suffer when the body is in pain. The sufferer is always the mind. The mind is the subject, the sufferer, and it is possible that the subject, mind, is suffering because the object, body, is in pain. But that’s not a compulsion upon the mind. The mind has a choice: the mind always has a choice whether it wants to suffer or realize. Vedanta is concerned with suffering; therefore, Vedanta is concerned with the mind.

Let’s please remember, the body never suffers. A particular condition of the body can cause suffering in the mind, can potentially cause suffering in the mind, not necessarily. The body is in one configuration, the mind says, “The body is healthy, therefore I am satisfied.” The body shifts to another configuration, the mind says, “The body is not alright, the body is diseased, the body is paining, and because the body is paining, therefore I am suffering.” That’s a decision made by the mind. And as it is with every decision, here, again, the discretion or indiscretion of the decision-maker is involved.

So, the aim of Vedanta is to bring discretion to the mind so that the mind does not suffer. Having known that the subject matter of Vedanta is the mind and its suffering and Vedanta wants to put an end to the suffering of the mind, we read the verse in the right light.

“When the mind comes to an end it goes beyond death”—in the sense that as long as the mind is alive, it is alive in the realm of beginning and ending. The life of mind is the tick-tock of time. Time denotes an initiation and a closure, a rise and a fall; therefore, the mind lives in perpetual death.

Equally, you could say that the mind lives in perpetual beginnings. But then, you see, beginnings are not so much of a nightmare; beginnings are associated with hope. Therefore, though beginnings are synonymous with endings, it is not the beginnings that haunt the mind so much; the mind is buffeted by endings, death. Death matters a lot to the mind, and the mind continues to live in a domain where the specter of death keeps looming large.

Therefore, the life of mind is always in the shadow of death; therefore, when the mind comes to an end, death comes to an end.

As long as the mind is alive, it is alive in the cycle of birth and death, rise and fall, entries and exits, beginnings and ends. That’s the life of mind. In this life of mind, there is suffering. Therefore, this life of mind must come to an end. And when this life comes to an end, death comes to an end.

The death of mind is actually the death of death of mind. Because the mind lives in death, hence when the mind meets death, it is death to death. Is it getting too complex?

The matter is simple: it is not your nature to suffer. Nobody likes to suffer. It’s an obvious thing. We are not dealing with the stars here; we are dealing with ourselves here, and there is nobody who finds joy in sorrow. Human beings across times, cultures, continents, ethnicities, ideologies, genders—they all crave joy. When they can’t have joy, they settle for its cheap substitute called happiness.

That’s what we all want—without exception. Not merely human beings, even animals and other conscious beings do not like to suffer. If you observe the behavior of any conscious being, you will find that it acts in a way that would avoid suffering; wherever it finds suffering, it turns away from there.

These are fundamentals, you must keep these in mind. Vedanta does not operate in a vacuum; Vedanta does not vaguely utter something for the sake of it. The purpose is very clear: the purpose is to rid man of his needless suffering. That’s the purpose of Vedanta, very clearly.

To that end Vedanta explores what is it that suffers, who is it that suffers. That’s the reason why the question of identity is so central to Vedanta. That’s why Vedanta keeps asking, “Who are you? Who is the doer? Who is the sufferer? Who is the speaker? Who is the experiencer?" This question is intimately linked to the situation of suffering. Because if you want to remove your suffering, you have to first of all know who the suffering entity is. If you do not know who is suffering, how will you get rid of the suffering? Common sense, no?

And having known who is suffering—the mind—you want to see what is it in the mind that suffers, what is the process of suffering. And when you investigate the mind, you find that the mind does not have to do anything special to suffer. The way the mind is—a product of imperfect consciousness, a product of conditioned consciousness—its very existence is suffering.

Not that the mind has to get into something outrageously bad or be subject to vices or evil to suffer; the way the mind is, it is designed to suffer. It does not have to do anything extraordinary to suffer; it does not have to go out of its way to suffer. The very default situation of the mind is suffering.

So, if you are suffering, there is nothing extraordinary about it. It is a most common thing to suffer.

Having seen that the mind and suffering are just one thing—they cannot be separated, the mind and suffering are just one thing. It is not even proper to say that the mind suffers; it is more accurate to say the mind is suffering. Because when you say the mind suffers, you entertain yourself with the hope that it is possible that the mind may not suffer, and that’s not possible.

If the mind is, it will suffer. If the mind exists, it will suffer.

So, the mind is suffering. Therefore, if you want to bring an end to the suffering, you have to bring the mind to an end, and that’s what this verse is referring to.

The mind, the common mind, mind as we know it, mind as we experience and live it, has to be brought to an end. Life as we know it has to be brought to an end. Our existence as we have experienced it, the familiar kind of existence, the routine pattern-based life, it has to end if suffering is to end, and that ending of suffering you can call as the mind’s liberation into Brahman . The verse closes with these words: He puts an end to death and gets released into Brahman .

So, there is nothing called Brahman -attainment. It’s not that you will stay put, stay alive, and be able to grab Brahman with your hands; no, not happening. When you are no more, Brahman is. Brahman denotes the absence of the one who was suffering due to his own presence.

Now, how does that ending happen? Three things here in this verse. One, austerity, deep penance; second, Vedanta; third, Yoga of renunciation. These three are mentioned here. You want to bring the mind to its end, to its closure, which can also be called as its summit or sublimation or peak or fulfillment. Then these three: Be ready for tapasya , penance or askesis; know Vedanta deeply; and be a ruthless renouncer, do not hesitate for a moment in giving up. Let go like a king. The king knows he has so much, therefore he can drop at will.

Drop without a second thought. Give away as if you have an infinite treasure within you. Renunciation is not a thing of sorrow; renunciation is not something to be done with determination or sadness. Renunciation does not require determination, it requires celebration. You are throwing a party—isn’t that a kind of a renunciation? Think of it. “I have so much that I am asking the world to feast on it. Take it away! I have so much.”

Whereas, renunciation, as we know it, requires so much willpower because we do not know renunciation. Therefore, we have to motivate ourselves a lot and think over it a thousand times, and then we say, “Fine, with a heavy heart I am parting ways with this precious diamond of mine.” That’s not the way of celebration, is it?

So, renunciation has to be a celebration. “Come! Come, take it away! I am throwing a party.” Motivation not needed, willpower not needed, determination not needed. Festivity and celebration is needed, and then you renounce with ease.

And that renunciation can come only with the knowledge of Vedanta because Vedanta reveals to you your true identity. Your true identity is that of the infinite true Self. Because it is infinite, therefore nothing gets reduced from it even when you give up a lot; you may keep giving up and yet you lose nothing.

Without Vedanta no renunciation is possible. And that’s the reason you find people are so miserly: because they are not students of Vedanta, unfortunately. Nobody brought Vedanta to them; therefore, they go about life like beggars—holding, clutching, gripping, snatching. “I am little; how can I afford to give away? I am so small; how do I afford to part ways with whatever little I have?”

Unless your magnificence is revealed to you, you live in an imagined scarcity. You might be having much, but you do not know that you have much. So, you have imagined a scarcity for yourself. And it does not matter how much you really have; what matters is how much you know you have.

Therefore, knowledge of Vedanta is important, because what matters is how much you know you have. Therefore, knowledge is important; therefore, Vedanta is indispensable. You must know that you have; otherwise, even the true Self, the Ātman , is of no use to you. The Ātman is complete, magnificent, unending, measureless—but useless. Limitless and useless because you do not know of it.

Once you know of your infinite nature, then a certain royalty becomes available to you. Now you will live life in a regal way: narrowness is no more, no more vulnerability to the little things in life, no more identification with the small, the atomic, the trivial; a great propensity to forget the routine, the usual, resulting in an unburdened mind, a mind not carrying the accumulated burden of millions of tidbits of past; therefore a lightness, therefore a skyness.

So, renunciation becomes available to you through the knowledge of Vedanta, and the knowledge of Vedanta requires great penance. You have to put in effort, you have to go against yourself, because this knowledge is scary and this knowledge takes time; the fruits are not immediately visible.

So, there will be a great temptation and a great inner argument to quit. You will forcefully ask, “Why am I sacrificing so much when nothing is coming of it? Why should I put in so much and deprive myself of all the little pleasures that the world is coolly enjoying?” These are the moments when you have to fight against yourself, and these moments will be a plenty.

Study of Vedanta requires you to be close to the scripture and sometimes close to a teacher. Neither is easy. But all becomes very easy once you are firmly grounded in Vedanta; it’s just that you have to stay put till that moment.

When it comes to knowledge, what is it that separates the good student from the bad student? Just one thing: Did you quit or not? The only bad student is the one who quits. Might sound strange, but this is the only thing that matters in the final tally. You will arrive, just don’t quit.

Obviously, you can make the process of arrival easier, smoother by doing a few more things nicely, decently. But the one fatal mistake is to quit. Nothing else is fatal. All other mistakes that you commit are irritants. They are like speed breakers: you will be punished in the sense that you will take more time to realize things, but ultimately realize you would. But giving up? No.

That brings us to the definition of askesis or tapasya . The very definition is: not giving up. That is tapasya . Tapasya is to not give up even when your mind, your false self is giving you a thousand concrete arguments in favor of giving up.

Don’t give up. Keep dragging yourselves forward. If you can’t run, if you can’t walk, drag yourselves ahead. Dragging yourself, if you fall unconscious, so be it. But don’t turn around to run away. Swoon, faint, fall—but don’t retreat.

The reward will be deliverance from death.

The reward will be freedom from a mediocre run-of-the-mill life.

The reward will be freedom from unending and unmitigated punishment called life.

Questioner (Q): Does knowledge of Vedanta come solely from listening to a living master, or can it be grasped without the presence of a living master also? Can just books and videos suffice?

AP: Theoretically, yes, it is possible to have that knowledge from books. Theoretically it is possible.

You see, today I was in the Gita Press shop here in Rishikesh; several hundred titles they had. And in that shop it somehow was so that most people seemed to know me. So, there was this young man, and he came to me and said that he has been reading spiritual texts since long, but he does not seem to comprehend them. And so, I took him to a certain part of the shop and gave him two books that I knew would help him.

That’s the situation, you see. Firstly, there are so many books, and often what the books are saying is not much in agreement with what the other books are saying. The books contradict each other. You do not get to begin with the right book because there are different sects, communities, streams, and they seem to give importance to different kinds, different categories of books. All books appear important, and if you randomly start with something, it is not necessary that it will be the best text for you.

So, firstly, there is so much of literature; what is it that you must begin with? Secondly, if you lay your hands on the right book, it is not simple to comprehend what the book is saying.

You were today with me and you were flipping through the pages of the Bhagavad Gita , and you asked me what is this about adhibhūta , adhideva , and adhiyajña . And even as I did explain that to you, I realized that moment that it would be very difficult for you to get it on your own or to get it purely through a translation, because the translation was available to you, the translation was very much there; the translation didn’t help.

So, that’s the situation, you see. Theoretically, yes, it is possible that merely books may suffice. In my own life, I must clearly tell that I have relied a lot on books. So, I would be the last person to say that books on their own cannot help; they have helped me and I admit that.

But do books help everybody? Again, an ideal answer would be yes; a practical answer is no. Even in a normal educational school you require a teacher on top of the books, no? The students have their books and the students have a teacher; it’s the combination that clicks.

Next you said, “Can videos suffice?” Well, videos are probably a little more useful than books, in the sense that in videos you have not only words but also visuals. So, they are a little more useful. And then a little more useful than even the videos are interactive sessions, like the one we are having right now; you are watching me through a video medium but are interacting with me real time. And even better than this online interaction is face-to-face interaction.

So, these are levels of communication with the Truth. The first level is the text, then there is the video, then there is an online kind of virtual interaction, and then there is the face-to-face thing.

And I repeat, I am in no way saying that books alone can’t suffice. You see, books are the bedrock. Even if there is a face-to-face interaction, it has to be assisted, aided by a book, like it happens in a classroom. The teacher is there and the student is there, and in between the teacher and the student is the textbook.

So, the textbook is of course always important. Any form of teaching that does not include a textbook is extremely prone to duplicity and also mischief; you do not know what is going on. The book lends a certain authenticity, authority, credibility, because the words are not flimsy things; they are not like our thoughts or ideas or opinions. They don’t change overnight, right?

Two people are talking to each other trying to convince each other of something, very forcefully, let’s say. Next day you might find that these two people have themselves changed their positions, their ideas. That cannot happen with a book. A book comes into existence after a lot of thought; it is something set in concrete. It is not ephemeral, perishable, momentary; it is frozen in time, a bit like the Truth—not changing with time. But if a person is teaching the other, then his thoughts or ideas can change tomorrow. Therefore, the quality of the content that a book communicates to you is bound to be higher.

We talked of these four levels of learning, let’s say, Vedanta. In each of these levels, the book plays a very important role. So, it is not whether the book is important or not; the book is absolutely important. The question is, is the book sufficient by itself? It is always important, but not always sufficient. Sometimes you require something plus the book.

The book you would always require; the text is an imperative, unconditionally. But with the text, you sometimes also require a perceiving consciousness who can know the fact of the students life, who can look into your eyes and read your mind. That is something the book cannot do but the living teacher can do.

However, as I say this I must warn you, a living teacher who does not bond with books is a much more dangerous proposition than learning from books alone. We have sometimes said books are important but not sufficient. So, we have a problem, right? The books do not always suffice on their own. But this problem is a small problem; the big problem is a teacher who has nothing to do with books.

Books without a teacher is a small problem; teacher without books is a huge problem. Books without a teacher is a problem in the sense that you will have difficulty in comprehension, and you may take a long time coming to realization. So, that’s the problem. But then, it’s a small problem because all that is happening is that your task is becoming difficult. What could happen in two years will probably take ten years.

But a far, far bigger problem is to be with a teacher who contradicts books or is not with books or condemns books. Here, it’s not a question of two years or just ten years—you are never going to arrive. In fact, your task is being made more difficult. It’s not that you are progressing slowly; now you are not progressing at all, you are regressing. You are not advancing, you are retreating.

So, the best thing is books plus teacher. In a nutshell, the best thing is books plus teacher. But if you can’t have books plus teacher, have books. Best is books plus teacher, but if you can’t have books plus teacher, have books. The worst thing is to have a teacher sans books; that’s worst. Unfortunately, this worst option is exercised by most people.

Q: Why is going against oneself always so tough? I find that I get overpowered by pleasures whenever I try to take steps towards the right direction, and then I find myself quitting very often.

AP: You need love. Only love can trump pleasure. The joy of love overpowers all kinds of material, mental pleasures.

And only love can do that, because it is indisputable that when you want to go against yourself and face physical and mental hardships, it appears so normal, so logical to stop punishing yourself. You say, “What am I doing all this for? Why can’t I live a normal life? Why do I need to deliberately punish myself so much?” If you don’t have love, you won’t have an answer.

Only love can make you commit to the kind of madness that is needed for realization.

Spirituality, seen from the view of the ego, is insanity. From the point of view of the ego, spirituality is insanity. You require that insanity, and only love can make you go insane. Otherwise, pleasures are just so overpowering, they captivate you. Pleasures are an intoxicant.

To beat pleasures, you require an intoxicant even bigger. Pleasures make you go mad. To beat that madness you require a madness even bigger, and that can come only from love. Otherwise, there can be no logical reason why one must make himself suffer. The question will be: “In pursuit of what?” And you will have no answer.

Because liberation is no thing, you cannot tell yourself, “Well, I am putting myself in distress to obtain that particular goal, to get that particular thing.” Liberation is no thing, so the logical question will be: “What for? Why so much discipline? Why are you being so tough with yourself? Don’t you have some self-love? Please be kind to yourself!” And you will have no answer to such inner voices.

Only love can make you obstinate to the extent that you stick to your guns even without having an answer. You have no answer, you have no defense, yet you continue doing what you do. That happens only in love.

The interrogator is shrieking at the top of his voice, “Kindly explain!” and you will have no explanation to offer. And he says, “If you have no explanation to offer, then mend your ways!”

You say, “No, I would neither explain nor change. I will not explain because I genuinely do not have an explanation, and I won’t change because I am helpless, I genuinely cannot change. If I will remain unreasonably mad, I will be mad without knowing why I must be mad.”

You cannot convince yourself to fall in love; you cannot convince yourself to go for freedom. If you do not have love for freedom, no logic for freedom can convince you.

There are some places where logic cannot supplant love. How do you convince somebody that freedom is important? Either it is self-evident or it is impossible to explain. How is it self-evident? It is something a priori: you know it without somebody having to tell it to you. You just know it. “I love freedom—why? But I just love freedom; that’s my nature. There is no reason to it, there is nothing behind it. It is an uncaused love. It is not a product of something, it has no cause; it just is.”

So, either it just is, or it never is. It cannot be made to appear.

No, I am not trying to discourage or disappoint. It is not possible to coerce someone to fall in love, but you can create conditions in which the barriers against love get weakened. What are the barriers against love? The biggest barrier against love is the routine life.

The routine life has been set purposefully in the kind of routine that forbids love. You have to break away from your routine life if you want to give love a chance. Because the routine life is not incidentally routine, that routine comes with a hidden, nefarious purpose: the purpose is that love should not blossom and the routine should continue. Love is the death of that routine. For that routine to exist, love must be nipped in the bud.

So, get away from your routine. Make yourself available to threatening experiences. Go beyond your cocoon of safety. Remember that the inner and the outer go together. If you want to change the inner, you cannot keep insistent on the outer.

Let your environment change; let your company change; let your experiences change. Ensuring that your experiences do not change is ensuring that the experiencer never changes, and the experiencer is suffering. If you don’t change your experiences, you continue suffering.

Q: Is penance a mandatory step in the spiritual process? If the mind is such that there is no attachment or suffering involved in relating with objects, should it still practice austerity or abstinence?

AP: Austerity is needed because you are suffering in the company of your objects. If you are not suffering at all, then let alone austerity, even spirituality is not needed. If you are not suffering at all, even Vedanta is not needed.

Vedanta begins with suffering. If there is no suffering, congratulations, you do not need Vedanta. And if you are indeed suffering, then austerity is needed because suffering is nothing but the company and attachment involving wrong objects.

Austerity always involves going against oneself. It is not pleasant, because objects are not merely present in your life, objects become a part of our being. So, when you want to drop the objects, it is like tearing away a part of your flesh, not just opening your fist. But ‘dropping’ appears such a convenient word, no? It’s not like dropping it; it’s about tearing it away.

An object is really not present in your life if it has not become a part of your personality. When an object is present in our life, kindly see that it gains a certain permanence. When an object enters our life, it’s almost like a seed dropping on earth: they have just established company, there is still no relationship there.

The seed is just sitting on the surface of earth; therefore, if the two are to be pulled apart, there would be no suffering because till this point there is no attachment. What happens after two months? The roots have gone deep into the soil. Now there is attachment; now the plant and the soil are one. Now the plant is a part of soil, now the soil is a part of plant. So, the separation would always involve pain.

This is austerity: to not be in company of things that would become a part of you. If you are to remain the pure Self, nothing should become a part of you, nothing at all. Anything becoming a part of you is something alien becoming a part of you.

It’s like the stone in your kidney becoming a part of you. Don’t you carry the stone in your kidney? You stand on the weighing scale and it says, let’s say, 68 kg. And you say, “My weight is 68 kg.” What does that 68 kg include? The weight of the stone. The stone has now become a part of you. It’s an alien part of you, something foreign; something that is non-Self has become Self. I am not saying that the body is Self; I am just using a metaphor. Just deal with the example, any example, in a way that makes it useful. No example can be perfect.

That’s the thing with attachments. They grow upon you, they become a part of you, but it’s a bad meeting, it’s a bad wedding, a bad union. Two things that can never be united enter a strange union, and that is suffering. Just as you suffer when you have a stone in your kidney. Remember, you never opted to have a stone as such; you just ate something delicious. You never ate a stone, did you? You ate something delicious.

So, austerity will always be needed. And if you find that no austerity is needed, then either you are liberated or not even close to being liberated.

Q: When you say renunciation is celebration, it is for the one who is already a king. But for us who are not really living in that reality, the whole renunciation act seems like a punishment. Our love for renunciation is a strange thing; sometimes it is brimming with pleasure and gratitude, and sometimes it is very weak. So, how can our renunciation still be a celebration?

AP: Knowledge is the key. It is not the object of renunciation or the object of attachment that matters to you; rather, what matters to you is the idea that you have of that object—because we anyway do not really know, neither ourselves nor the object.

Now, let’s say there is this object in my life (picks up a mug) and I am very attached to it. What am I attached to? The idea of this object. And the idea, obviously, I take as a Truth because we all need Truth. When we do not have Truth, we use ideas as the Truth.

So, first of all, the suffering does not lie in giving up the object; it lies in giving up the idea of the object. Let’s say, for example, you are very attached to something or somebody, and then somehow you lose your memory. Would you still be attached to that person? So, that attachment is not to that person, because that person still exists. What is it that you have lost? You have lost the idea of that person. That same person might still be sitting next to you, but you will no more be attached to that person. You have not lost that person but you have lost your idea of that person, and now there is no attachment.

So, firstly understand that it is ideas that we deal in. Vedanta is a destroyer of ideas. It tells you where your ideas come from and what the reality of those ideas is. When the idea is gone, the attachment is gone. The object may still remain, but the attachment won’t remain because the attachment was in any case never with the object— never with the object. You had a story with respect to the object and the attachment was a part of that story.

The memory loss example might appear an extreme one. Take another example: You are very attached to a person, and somehow you come to learn that the story that you have with respect to that person is flawed, or there are things with respect to that person, in the life of that person, that the person kept hidden; some kind of secret information gets revealed to you, you hired a private detective or something—you know, all kinds of things happen—and you come to know of something. And having known that particular something, what happens to your attachment? The attachment is gone.

Is the person gone? No, the person is not gone; the person is right in front of you. Is the memory gone? No, even the memory is not gone; we are not dealing with something as extreme as the memory loss example. Memory is there, the object is there, and the attachment is gone—why? Because the story is gone, the idea is gone.

In our usual lives, one idea is gone when it is supplanted by another idea, right? We drop a story or modify a story only when some other story makes its way, pushes itself in. Vedanta does something far more deeper: it goes to the root of storytelling itself. It does not destroy one particular story; it exposes the storyteller himself. The storyteller is called the mind.

The mind is a great storyteller, it just keeps telling us stories—why? Because it wants to avoid the Truth; therefore, it must have stories. So, it keeps weaving stories; the mind lives in narratives. Once the narratives are gone the attachment is gone, and then renunciation is a celebration because what you have dropped is not something precious, what you have dropped is your misery itself.

Nothing but right knowledge can save you. Nothing but knowledge of the knower can save you. Therefore, knowledge makes renunciation facile. Having known something truly, dropping the false becomes so easy.

Alright, let’s have an example. You are to go to Chandigarh from Delhi. You are to take a train, and you already have a confirmed ticket, first class. But you forgot—you forgot you have a first class confirmed ticket. So, you come to the station and rush to the ticket counter, and he gives you an unconfirmed ticket of the lowest class possible, and clutching that ticket in your fist you run towards the platforms.

And then, suddenly, somehow somebody reveals to you that you have a confirmed first class ticket. Now, what happens to this closed fist? It opens and the thing drops. This is renunciation. Having known that you already have something far more magnificent, far more lavish, far more luxurious, what will you do with this lowly ticket?

This is renunciation; therefore, I called it celebration. The fist has opened in celebration; you are celebrating, it’s a wow. So, the thing opens and the measly thing drops. This is celebration.

Remember, Vedanta is not about getting a fresh first-class ticket; Vedanta is about realizing that you already have it. You already have it, you just have forgotten. That forgetfulness is called Maya . To feel that you do not have it in spite of having it is called Maya . And, to feel that this petty thing is important in spite of it being really very unimportant is called Maya . Maya does these two things.

Q: If the objects that are a part of me are human beings who I cannot just tear apart from myself until a certain time, until they are capable of living by themselves, then what kind of austerity is recommended for me in this case?

AP: Remember, you are never attached to objects. You are not attached to human beings; you are attached to the stories that you have about those beings. Spirituality is about living in facts, not stories. Replace your stories with facts, and you will find that there is no attachment. What might remain is true care, true compassion, but no attachment.

Facts are real; therefore, they require real action, they require compassion. Stories are imaginary, so all that they ask for is mental action without anything substantial on the ground.

Attachment is one such thing. You are attached to the other person, you call it love, and this “love” hardly helps the other person because you do not even know the person you are attached to. How will you help him? And what kind of love is it that does not help? Attachment is the kind of love that does not help.

When you live in reality, then you know what that person is really all about and therefore what that person most requires, and then you can help, and that is love. And in this love, I repeat, there is care, there is compassion, there is nourishment, but no attachment. If I say no attachment, probably that sounds extreme to you, so just say very little attachment.

It is strange, but please do inquire into the truth of it. You might be deeply attached to a person, but do you really know that person? Parents are so attached to their kids, and then they are shocked when they discover that the kid is a big name in the drug circuit. Had you really known your kid, you would have known that your kid is really a heavyweight in the narcotics arena. How did you miss that? You are so attached, you are bound to miss that.

Attachment is stories; stories have nothing to do with reality. In fact, stories purposefully avoid reality. And when you avoid reality, you are so vulnerable to shocks, setbacks, unpleasant surprises.

Q: Sometimes I feel that everything is just an imagination of the mind—joys and sorrows, happiness and sadness, and even the path of spirituality. The mind tries to convince me that the unreal is real and the real is an imagination. This is confusing to me. How to keep moving forward and ensure that the path taken would lead only to the Truth and not to some imagination?

AP: Living in imagination comes with certain inevitable results: the one blanket name, the one umbrella term for such results is suffering, and suffering of a kind that breeds further suffering.

Understanding is joy. When you are getting liberated from imagination, a certain joyfulness starts descending on you.

Think of something happening. A little calf is sprinting from here to there, and the calf is agitated or excited, as kids are. A grown-up is looking at that calf, and the grown-up knows what all that activity is about—the calf is small, the calf is excited, and the calf is hurriedly running hither thither, making all kinds of movements. And there is a small child, three years old, and the child is looking at the calf, and the child cannot understand what is going on. But we do not live in not understanding; when we do not understand, we create a substitute called stories.

So, the child imagines something. The child sees that the calf is acting, behaving in a particular way, and from that the child builds a story—and the story is horrible. And the child starts weeping and shrieking. And some distance from there, the adult is smiling. They both are looking at the same phenomena: the agitated calf. The child is weeping, the adult is smiling. What’s going on?

Understanding is joy. Lack of understanding is suffering. When you understand, there is joy. Irrespective of what is happening in front of you, because you understand, there is joy. And when you understand, then you understand irrespective of what is happening in front of you. It’s not one thing that you understand; you just understand irrespective of the thing that is there to be understood, and then there is joy. And when you do not understand, then there is suffering.

Well, you could have said, “What if the child starts clapping? Now the child is not suffering.” Even in that clapping there is suffering in a seed way, in a potential way. The child is not clapping at the calf; the child is clapping at its stories. And stories being stories, they would be busted soon, and then there would be suffering.

Suffering is the very nature of imagination because suffering does not sit well with facts. Imaginations get wounded very quickly by facts.

So, whether your study of Vedanta, whether your movement in spirituality is authentic or not can be ascertained only by asking: Do I understand now? Is my insight deeper? Are there things that I can now smile at with relaxation, the same things that used to unnerve me till yesterday? Am I a little more relaxed about them? Am I a little more chilled out now? Is the nightmare subsiding, or do the demons still appear real? That’s what you have to ask.

Q: On your website there is this line: ‘Grace has brought you here’. Whose grace is this, Maya or the absolute Truth?

AP: Your own grace upon you. Grace simply means unearned love. Grace simply means a benediction, an opportunity available to the ego without the ego having done anything to earn that opportunity. Grace is a random offer to the ego—a random offer, the ego didn’t do anything to deserve that offer. That’s what is grace. Whose grace? Your own grace.

Remember, you are the ego and you are more than the ego. It’s just that you know yourself to be only the ego. But that reality of yours beyond the ego keeps offering the ego chance after chance to move beyond itself. Don’t you see that the ego is never satisfied with itself? Is that not the ego’s own experience? The ego wants to stubbornly continue as it is, but it is also never satisfied with itself as it is.

So, the ego wants something beyond itself, and the ego keeps on getting opportunities to see that there is Truth beyond itself. These opportunities that come your way are grace. Life itself is grace, life as you live it.

Now, whether you avail those opportunities is a choice. Grace cannot supersede choice. Grace is always subject to choice. When is grace available? I said chance after chance is there. Anything that you look at, there are two ways, two options: look at the shape, form, appearance, or try to penetrate into its reality. There is always an opportunity to go into the Truth, and that is grace.

So, every moment in life is grace. When you make use of that opportunity, you are blessing yourself. So, it’s your own grace. If you make the right decision, you are helping yourself; that is true self-love, that is grace. Grace is a big ‘I love you’ you send to yourself.

“I made the right choice. I could have very easily made the wrong choice. How did I make the right choice? That is grace, because the wrong choice was so easy to make. Still, I made the right choice. That is grace.”

Now, is somebody else helping you? The best that somebody else can do is: make the right choice available to you. But still, whether you would pick it is your own decision. Therefore, whose grace is it ultimately? Your own. Even your best helper can at most appeal to you. Whether you accept the appeal is your own sovereign decision.

Therefore, whether you are kind to yourself is entirely your discretion. Nobody is coming to bless you. Or, you could say that whatever blessing is possible is always there; the opportunity to really know is always there. Even as I am speaking to you, you could either imagine the meanings of my words, or you could come close to the words and know the reality. It’s all in your hands.

Be graceful. Else there is disgrace. Right choice is grace, and right choice can be made any moment, in any situation. Grace is always available. Whether you benefit from it is your own decision, because the right choice can be made any moment depending on your decision.

And all moments require a right choice. There is no moment in life that does not call for action. It could be right action that leads to peace, realization, or it could be wrong action that leads to further ignorance and illusion. The choice is yours. Make the right choice—that is grace.

Q: Earlier you said that one should not quit. What do you mean by quitting? Is it even possible to have some part of one’s life dedicated to the Truth at some point in time but later give up on it completely?

Also, you have said that regular seekers suffer more than those who do not seek because even though the seekers have a place for Truth in their life, it is still not placed as the number one. So, am I a quitter if I don’t give Truth its number one place?

AP: See, you will suffer, but with your suffering you will arrive. It’s just that it is possible to arrive with lesser suffering.

A lot of our suffering is needless. If you have to move towards the Truth, why two steps forward and one step backward? Why? What could have been three steps forward instead got reduced to one step, effectively. You will have to spend thrice the time now. Still, you would arrive, but at one third the pace, with many times the agony.

So, you are right. Once you have a taste of Truth, quitting is not possible; you will keep moving. But to such people I advise: now that you are moving, why not move in a dedicated way? Why move about randomly? Use the right GPS, go for the shortest route. Instead of shooting hither thither randomly, go for the bullseye.

Q: In a previous answer, you said that if a person does not love he cannot be convinced to love just by means of reasoning. Then you mentioned that there are three ways to diminish the forces against love, like giving up one’s routine, for example. Can you please name the other two ways as well?

AP: See, I am not sure whether I said three; it could be two or four. I will just go into some details.

So, one thing I already talked of: get out of your loveless routine. If there is no love in your routine and you persist with the routine, then all you will have is the routine.

Then there is the importance of loving company. You see, the Truth lies dormant, asleep within us, or you could say that the ego is asleep to the Truth, either way. How is it woken up? How is the ego woken up towards the Truth? By the company of those who are awake.

When you look at someone in deep love—not that you are in deep love, that person is in deep love—when you look at a deeply loving person, it rekindles something within you, you are reminded of something. An old memory gets awakened, as if you were forgetting something very important, and looking at something outside of you, in a flash you have come to remember how important is the thing you are continuously forgetting.

So, that really works, the right company, and it works without your permission. One right word at the right time from the right kind of person can just penetrate you to the core; all your armors can be defeated. And it’s possible that that one word might greatly suffice; it can set the ball rolling in a way that takes things very far; a kind of chain reaction is initiated with just one word, one glance. It is possible.

So, that’s the second way, and to bring the number to three, I will talk of the third one.

There is no person who is completely loveless, you see. In spite of the routine you are in, in spite of the company you have, in spite of the illusion you have chosen to shroud yourself in, there must be something that you are concerned about; there must be somebody you take care of; there must be some cause that matters to you outside of yourself, beyond your own personal limits.

So, that little bit is bound to be present, in some form or the other. Take that forward. Instead of searching for a new transcendental kind of love, begin from where you are. See what is it that already matters to you. See who is it you already care for. Bring depth to that love. Even if it’s just a pet cat—you have a cat, you care for the cat—can you care for the cat in a deeper way, more mature way? Can you relate to the cat in a more loving way? And that can create the ground on which a lot many other things can come up.

Your workplace, your job—how do you relate to them? There must be something in your life, right? You are doing something for your livelihood. What is your relationship with that? Can you be more caring, more careful, more meticulous? Can you put in more beauty into what you do?

Clothes—you wear clothes, right? We all do. Can there be love in the way you cover yourself up? Human beings are the only species who cover themselves up. Human beings are also the only species who know of something beneath all their covers. The covers play a very symbolic role. We cover, and we are the only ones who uncover.

Everything that is present in your life, your job, your cat, your clothes—and of course there are bound to be persons present in your life. Can you be more with the persons in your life?

So, start where you are, and then you do not know what that can lead to. What I will assure you of is that it definitely leads to something.

Q: You have said that the world exists only for me, that it is not there if I am not there. Since the time I have heard this, whenever I think of people, I am always in this dilemma: If that person is only to me, of whom am I thinking? If someone is not in my eyesight, have they really just vanished? This helps in reducing imagination. Am I understanding this correctly?

AP: No, no. Don’t try this. This is not what Vedanta is meant to be used for: to imagine that others do not exist. No, that’s not true. As long as you are you, all the others exist, they all definitely exist.

Vedanta is not telling you that the world does not exist. Vedanta is saying: because you have an illusory idea of yourself, therefore the world that you, the illusory one, perceives is just an imperfect idea.

When Vedanta negates, it negates both the object and the subject. Will you keep this in mind? When Vedanta negates, it does so with an even hand: the subject and the object both are not what they appear to be.

Whereas, what is it that we want to do? We want to keep the subject intact while discounting the objects. “So, I look at my relatives, or the bed, or the sofa set, or the laptop, or the ceiling fan, and what do I feel like saying? Oh, they don’t exist—but I do.” How is it possible that you exist and these things don’t exist?

So, no need to imagine that way; just be humble and say, “Things are not what they appear to me; I am not what I appear to myself. Therefore, I need to constantly seek; I need to constantly find out, I need to be alert”—and that’s fun, that’s exciting. You always have something meaningful to do, no? “The wall is there in front of me, but the wall is not my idea of the wall. So, what is the wall really about?” You will always be kept busy—and busy in a nice way, busy in a Truthful way. You are listening to my words, but I am not saying what you think I am saying.

So, you will be kept busy. Attention is the right kind of occupation. And what is constant attention? Constant business. “I am always busy—how? I am always attending, I am always available to know. Never will I say I know myself or I know my relatives or I know my dog or I know the dining table. I know nothing. But I am always prepared to know.”

Do not say they do not exist. Say, “I want to know who they are.” These are two very different standpoints.

Somebody comes to you, and you say, “You do not exist.” That’s not love; that’s bad. In fact, in your universe probably even I don’t exist! If the universe is just a myth, how can Prashant be real? I am not out of this universe, or am I? So, not nice, not a nice thing to say to me at least.

Don’t say, “You do not exist”; instead, say, “I am not capable of knowing who you are—but I can try.” That’s spirituality. “Right now as I see you I am mistaken, but I can try, I can be better. Please, may I know you better? Please, can I listen more carefully? Please, can I be more meditative in everything that I do?” That’s what Vedanta teaches you.

Vedanta is not asking you to just dismiss, cancel, negate everybody. You look at A and say, “Canceled, canceled”—everybody is canceled, discounted! Somebody comes to you and you say, “You are not!” How does that sound? That’s not the answer that Vedanta gives you.

To you as you are, the seeking ego, the ego but the seeking ego—it’s a nice place to be in. “I am a seeker.” Only the ego can seek. So, be a seeking ego.

“I am the seeking ego; I seek to know the Truth. And as I seek to know the Truth, I humbly accept that what I experience is false. I will go close to the object I experience, and I will ask: Who are you, sir, really? Please, tell me. I do not believe in my senses, I do not want to trust my mind; I want to know the truth. Who are you? I want to listen, I want to observe, and I want to look at everything without my biases and prejudices. I don’t want to operate from ideas; I don’t want to operate from stories I carry from my past. I want to know you as you really are. Would you kindly reveal your identity to me please?”

That’s the way you look at the world. And when you look at the world this way, something is possible.

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