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The great importance of gossiping || (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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Questioner: Namaste , I would like to raise the issue of gossiping from an evolutionary psychology perspective. It has basically only benefits, like maintaining community and building like bonding in large groups. Still being engaged in someone’s private and personal life seems somewhat questionable to me. I am raising the issue because I cannot see the benefit in today’s world, neither in the role of the gossiper nor in the role of the listener. So, I would like to request you that you elaborate on the topic like whether it has got any role in the spiritual process?

Acharya Prashant: No, it has no role. One has to understand what is it that evolves, over time. What is this entire game of evolution in Prakriti , in physical nature?

The urge to be peaceful stands where it is. Or has it evolved? All evolution has taken place in the material domain. The center of man’s consciousness has not evolved. It cannot evolve. Why? Because it is standing right next to the real thing. Any step of evolution would just dissolve it. It has everything except freedom, right? The only way it can evolve is by disappearing into freedom. So, it has not evolved at all.

Human beings have evolved in all other ways and continue to evolve, but their center has not evolved. The brain has evolved, the mind hasn’t evolved, it cannot. It just cannot.

So, there are so many things that are beneficial from an evolutionary perspective. You should ask, beneficial to whom - beneficial to the physical complex called 'the person', or beneficial to the center of the mind that seeks redemption, liberation? There is a clear distinction. That is the reason you often find that human beings in their search for liberation would often do things that their physical nature would never advise, never permit. They go there against their own instincts, against their own bodies. They in fact, sometimes, put themselves in very hazardous situations, even lose their life. Such a thing is not an outcome of any kind of evolution. Such a thing is never taught to a human being by his physical evolutionary tendencies. They don’t come to him from there. So, yes indeed, gossiping serves a purpose. Not only did it serve a purpose when man was in the jungle, hunting or gathering or foraging, it probably serves a purpose even today you know.

We very well know how much emphasis is placed on networking in corporate circles. It is not as if gossiping was important only in that primitive tribe. You have just described how gossiping served a function when man was in the jungle. There was information exchange, one came to know a lot of things when there was no other technology for communication available. When you know a lot of things, that increases your chances of survival, that probably also increases the chances of getting a suitable mate. You benefit in probably quite a lot of other ways as well. Those benefits exist even today. A lot of corporate networking is nothing but gossiping.

In fact, people feel comfortable with each other only when they can share trivia with each other, which is nothing but gossiping. You say, "Now I am intimate with that person." How? Why? "Because you see, now I can engage in loose talk with that person, and that is a sign of intimacy. Now I can talk crap, and he will take my crap. This shows that the two of us are now cozy, comfortable with each other, we are intimate." Don’t you see that gossiping is serving a function?

So many love affairs are actually based on not much more than gossip. What do the couples mostly do, day in and day out? Do they discuss wisdom? Do they discuss geopolitics? Do they discuss international history? Do they discuss the renaissance enlightenment? What is it that they are doing every day? They gossip and they gossip like hell. But that gossip is so fruitful; they get sex. That gossip serves the function of physical nature. Kids are born and mind you, rarely would you find a man and a woman who would be able to trust each other without gossiping, without engaging in small talk, loose talk. In fact, the moment you are intimate with someone, you usually become that person’s dustbin. As long as there was some distance, he would respect your space. He would not want to fill up your space with all kinds of nonsense and rubbish. But once you are close, and “close”, once you are close then the other person feels licensed, entitled to communicate any kind of worthless, trivial information to you.

Now, all that sounds so repugnant in a session devoted to wisdom. In a place like this, here, this sounds very, very repugnant. We wince, and we say, "Oh my God! Do people actually do that! It's so disgusting." But the fact is, that is very useful. Very, very useful. Very useful.

Good parties where members of the parliament meet and hob-nob, what do you think, they are discussing important national affairs? Once they are two drinks down, that is when real camaraderie begins to develop. Real networking starts happening only after you are two drinks down, two pegs down. And then what is the quality of conversation? Then the conversation has zero quality, but that conversation leads to real affinity. No quality, but a lot of affinity.

Unfortunately, that’s the way we are. What to do? But yes, from a spiritual perspective, you know what gossip is. You know that the mind must be treated as an extremely sacred space, that it is the vilest act of offense towards the other to disturb his peace or to blemish his inner purity. If there is something that troubles you, and if there is someone you really love, then you would rather want to keep the trouble to yourself unless it is extremely necessary to share the thing with the other, no? In gossiping, the tendency, the intention is totally different. "You are mine, so I’ll pour all my shit on your head, and if you resist then you are proving that you are not mine." This is evolutionary affiliation. Love is different.

Love is different, so mind you, everything that people generally, normally do is not without a reason, nor is it without a benefit. All kinds of behaviors and attitudes that are considered despicable in the spiritual domain are actually useful in the physical and social domains. They do have their utilities.

Now that’s a challenge. How committed are you to your spiritual development? Are you prepared to forsake the social and physical benefits? Only if you are prepared to see that gossiping or something else might bring a certain physical benefit, but the costs are tremendous when it comes to the liberation of the mind, then you will make the right decision. You have to ask yourself what your primary identity is. If your primary identity is that of the body, then do what the body commands you to do. Good. The body has an inbuilt software of its own, and it’s a self-improving software. Its capacity to keep improving is called evolution.

You could even say that the body has a certain intelligence of its own. Though I will use the word 'intelligence' with caution, but very loosely it can be said, so the body in fact knows a lot of things. You can let the body rule you, you can let the primitive tendencies of the brain rule you and you will indeed get certain benefits. You will have to decide whether you have the courage to forgo those benefits. That is what is called as sacrifice.

That is the real meaning of sacrifice, whether you are prepared to sacrifice all the benefits that come from following the traits of the body. If you can let go of those benefits, if you can really sacrifice, then there is another realm that opens up to you in which there are higher benefits. Now, this is not a temptation, this is probably the only way in which it can be explained why certain people decide not to listen to their instincts, their tendencies, traits, and all such things - why do certain people raise up and challenge their fears and limitations. So, that’s why I have to use the word ‘higher benefits’. The fact is, spirituality does not really bring you any higher benefit. Liberation cannot be called a benefit. In liberation, the beneficiary himself gets liberated of himself. How can you call it a benefit? Purely speaking, it is not, but we have to say something.

Similarly, stuff like meat-eating; from an evolutionary perspective probably it is good, probably! Probably research might establish that a certain amount of meat consumption is indeed good for the body, and it might be established beyond any doubt.

Similarly, milk consumption. It might be established beyond doubt that those who stop consuming milk and milk products altogether, do actually face some physical dangers, it might be established. Now that’s the call that you have to take. What is it that you want to take care of, your body or your bondages? What is it that you give more weightage to, your body or your bondages?

If you give more weightage to your body, then you must have meat and milk and such things. It’s no point trying to prove on scientific and medical grounds that meat-eating is disastrous and that milk is entirely harmful. It probably is not. Most probably, it is not. Most probably, those who do take meat will indeed perform better in tests of physical endurance and strength and athleticism and such things. If not better, then at least they will perform as well as, as good as, comparable to the ones who shun meat. So certain things cannot be done purely from the point of view of evolution or physical benefits or such things.

Meat may indeed help your body, but it hinders your liberation. That is the only final argument. It might help my body, I agree. You have to honestly admit that it might actually help your body, but you have to then decide what is it that you want - bodily help or spiritual hindrance? If you have no compassion for the animal, it will become very difficult for you to have deep compassion for yourself. And to help oneself to be liberated is an act of deepest compassion. It is only from that deep compassion that tremendous energy is released, and that kind of energy is indeed needed in the process of liberation. You cannot be liberated without that tremendous energy. And I assure you that tremendous energy can come from no other motivation. The only motivation has to be compassion; compassion towards oneself - "I do not like the way I am, I cannot suffer any bondages" - This is compassion. If you are so compassionate towards yourself, how will you kill the animal and stuff yourself with his flesh? Getting it? It’s very important because you see a lot of things that are advocated in the spiritual domain can actually be proven to not be useful to you when it comes to your physical or social progress.

Gossiping is great for social progress, believe me. It is. So much of your career progress actually depends on how skillful you are in gossiping. Those who cannot gossip at all, often find that they cannot progress in their careers. Their social advancement gets hindered. Similarly, many other things, they are indeed useful, but they hurt you somewhere else. Figure out whether you want to take that hurt. It's a choice.

It is not that the spiritual people have the best of both worlds. Let’s not live in that illusion. You have to make a sacrifice. You have to make a sacrifice and it is not that the people who are living in the most worldly and blind and materialistic ways on this planet are not getting anything from their ways. They are getting something and that is why most of this mankind continues to live in its blindly material ways. Because those ways are indeed beneficial, and their benefits have been established beyond doubt over the past millions of years. Over the entire course of evolution, it has been established that these things are indeed profitable. So, it is a proven track, people continue to use it. Before you leave that track you have to be fully informed of the costs and the hazy benefits. The costs are very, very real. Benefits, we do not know of them. Are you prepared to bear the costs without even being certain of the benefits? If you are, then you qualify to be a seeker, a spiritual seeker.

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