छायया स्पृष्टमुष्णं वा शीतं वा सुष्ठु दुःष्ठु वा । न स्पृशत्येव यत्किंचित्पुरुषं तद्विलक्षणम् ॥
chāyayā spṛṣṭamuṣṇaṃ vā śītaṃ vā suṣṭhu duḥṣṭhu vā na spṛśatyeva yatkiṃcitpuruṣaṃ tadvilakṣaṇam
If the shadow of a man is touched by heat or cold, good or evil, it does not in the least affect the man, who is other than his shadow.
~ Verse 504
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Questioner: Verse 504 of Vivekachudamani says: “If the shadow of a man is touched by heat or cold, good or evil, it does not in the least affect the man, who is other than his shadow.” When I read this scripture and while listening to you, I understand very well that I am not the shadow, but I miss and forget this understanding in my daily living. What should I do?
Acharya Prashant: Why do you act contrary to your own understanding? You are saying that Adi Shankaracharya has told you that you are just the shadow, and now you are saying that you miss and forget the understanding. Does a shadow ever miss anything or forget anything? What is the job of the shadow? The job of the shadow is to shadow. The shadow is not supposed to do anything; the shadow is just supposed to shadow. And what does the word ‘shadow’ mean? ‘Shadow’ means follow. When you say you are shadowing somebody, that means you are following him. You are just supposed to follow.
And here you are, you are asking, “What should I do?” Has a shadow ever asked this question? How would you feel if one day your shadow springs up from the ground and asks you, “What should I do?” I feel the same way when you ask me this question. I am surprised! How is the shadow attributing doership to itself? Why is the shadow determined to take on the role of an active agency? Shadows don’t talk. Shadows don’t do. And remember, shadows don’t even understand.
It is not your job to understand. Then how can it be your job to remember the understanding? And here you are saying, “I miss and forget this understanding in my daily living.” If you feel that you are the one who misses, if you are feeling that you are the one who understands, then you are not taking yourself as a shadow, then you are taking yourself as the active doer, and the active doer is just One. You are trying to act like that One. That is not good, not good at all.
The job of man is just to shadow. It is not given to man to do, decide, or understand. Real doing happens in your absence. Real understanding happens in your absence. You are not supposed to remember anything. I repeat, you are not even supposed to understand anything. Relieve yourself of all burdens. You are not obliged to act, or even know. Such is your freedom. Such is the freedom of the shadow. The shadow is free of all responsibilities, all burdens. The shadow has to follow just one dharma , and the dharma of the shadow is to shadow. That is also what is called as discipleship. Just follow the discipline of being a student; just stay behind, just follow.
Do you see that following and shadowing are just the same thing? What does the shadow do? It always follows you. And the shadow has no will of its own, no direction of its own, no decision of its own. If you turn left, will the shadow say, “No, I want to turn right”? You turn left, the shadow turns left. That is also called as surrender. You turn right, the shadow turns right. You are now letting things happen. You are not causing them to happen; you are letting them happen.
So, when the active internal agency called the ego is prepared to take itself as just the shadow, then the one that you are is not the shadow. Please understand this. There is the Ātman , and then there is you. Ātman has no name; ego has a name, and we will call the ego as Jyoti (the questioner). So, there is Ātman , and there is Jyoti. Jyoti tries hard to act like Ātman , Jyoti tries hard to take the place of Ātman , and this she doesn’t want to do by merging into the Ātman ; Jyoti wants to remain Jyoti and yet be one with the Ātman , even supplant the Ātman .
Adi Shankaracharya is telling Jyoti, let Jyoti be the shadow. When Jyoti is the shadow, and when Jyoti realizes that she is only and she must only remain as the shadow, then Jyoti does not try to act as the doer; then the real one, who is so purely Jyoti that he can’t even be called as Jyoti, acts, and nobody else acts. Ordinarily, in the usual run of the day, Jyoti acts, Jyoti decides, Jyoti understands, Jyoti remembers, and all of that is no good. Adi Shankaracharya is requesting Jyoti, reminding Jyoti, to give up that which she is not entitled to have or handle.
You will not understand by trying to understand, and you will never be able to remember any understanding. I suppose I have been repeating that since a very long time, and still you say that you do not want to forget the understanding. You still feel that you are the one who understands. The one who understands is the real One. The shadow neither understands nor is supposed to understand. So, if you do not understand, that is fine. Not only do you not understand, you also cannot understand.
There is a great, great pleasure in lying flat on the ground like the shadow. That pleasure is called joy. Joy is the pleasure of lying flat on the ground, not having your head up. Have you seen a shadow on the ground? When a man ordinarily stands, then his head is higher than his feet. But look at the shadow: the head and the feet are both at the same level. That’s joy, and that can come only in total surrender. No burden now; the head and the feet are one. And I don’t mind where the master goes; I just shadow. And where are the shadow and the master connected? At the feet, not at the head. That’s the task of Jyoti—to be connected to Ātman , the master, at the master’s feet. No other relationship is possible.
Have you ever found a shadow hugging its master? No, that can’t happen. Have you ever found a shadow disobeying its master? Does that happen? Have you ever found a shadow having an individual or personal will of its own? Does that happen? Have you ever found a shadow threatening to leave the master? That too doesn’t happen. The shadow never goes away, never—that is, as long as there is light, sunlight. But in total darkness, yes, the shadow can go away, disappear.
As long as there is light, as long as there is the light of Truth, the shadow refuses to leave the master. The Truthful ego refuses to leave the Ātman . Nor would it leave, nor would it try to climb up the master. It stays connected, it stays there, and it stays at the feet. “I will not go away, nor would I forget my real position and try to act too high.” That’s the dharma of the shadow. Man must remember that his job is to just shadow, and then he would be joyfully guided by the real One.
You must be wondering, because Adi Shankaracharya seems to be telling you that you are not the shadow. He is telling you that all those things that are happening to you are happening actually only to your shadow, so don’t mind them; you are untouched by all happenings. That’s what Adi Shankaracharya seems to be telling you, right? And here am I telling you that you are purely the shadow. Don’t take these two approaches as contradictory. Adi Shankara is telling you that you are the pure Ātman ; I am telling you that you are just the ego. And if you can say that you are just the ego, then in the intensity and depth and truth of that declaration lies the Ātman .
You can never directly say or claim that you are the Ātman . Ātman is light. You can perceive it only in a reflected way. So, when you truthfully declare that you are just the shadow, the ego, in that declaration lies the Truth. On the contrary, if you try to declare that you are the Ātman , then in that declaration lies the ego. It’s strange. When you say that you are the ego, then in your saying lies the Truth. But when you swell up and say that you are the Ātman , the Truth, then it is nothing but the ego talking.
Unfortunately, spirituality for long has been a victim of ego masquerading as Ātman . Therefore, I greatly desist from telling you that you are Brahm or Ātman or Truth; I rather want you to acknowledge that you are continuously functioning as the ego. And I see nothing wrong with the ego; it’s just that the ego should be a servant ego, the ego should be a shadow ego, the ego should be a well-directed ego, because the ego alone is the doer. The material doer is the ego, the servant doer is the ego; the Ātman is the master. The master orders the servant to do stuff.
In this world, anything and everything that is done is done only by the ego. The greatest of works have been done by the ego, and the most debauched of crimes have been committed by the ego. High or low, good or bad, left or right—it is the ego in action everywhere. Without ego, there is no action. It’s just that the ego should not feel like an actor. The ego, as I said, must be a servant ego. The ego must say, “Though I seem to be doing, the real doer is my master.” That should be the ego’s humility. Remember: “Though I seem to be doing, the real doer is my master,” and that would not be wrong. If a shadow seems to be running, who is actually running? The master is running. Or is the shadow running? If a shadow appears to be climbing steps or stairs, who is actually climbing? The master is climbing.
So, you are the ego. And please remain as the ego, but remain as a servant ego, as a surrendered ego. As long as there is the body, there would remain ego, because till there is the body, you will differentiate between your hand and the table. The moment there is this differentiation, there is the ego. The moment there is a differentiation between oneself and the world, there is ego. Ego means ‘I’, and ‘I’ exists only in the context of the world. The moment you say, “This is me and this is the cup,” it’s the ego talking.
So, you can never say, “I am the pure Ātman .” You will have to honestly accept that you are the ego. Man does not have a choice in choosing between ego and Ātman . Man is the ego. If he says, “I am the *Ātman*” then he is lying. But man does have a choice in choosing between a stubborn ego and a servant ego. That’s where your real choice lies. The true man is not the one who keep saying “I am * Ātman*”; the true man is the one who keeps saying, “I am the servant ego.” If someone says, “I am the *Ātman ” then he is more false than false. Please be very cautious of people who keep uttering that they are * Brahm or Ātman or Truth or whatever.
You are born as ego. You may even say you are condemned to live as ego. What then is the best that you can be? A servant ego. Don’t try to act as the Truth. That is beyond you. Just be contented to act as the servant ego, the shadow ego. And when you are acting as the shadow ego, then you are in the loving and benevolent and compassionate custody of the master, the Ātman . The moment you have accepted that you are a servant, you have allowed the master to lord over you. The moment you have accepted that you are just a servant, you have gained the company of the master. That’s how one reaches the Ātman .
If you are searching for the Truth, then rather search for the false. If you can successfully see the false, then in the seeing lies the Truth.
But in the name of spirituality, man since ages has been searching for the Truth, and man cannot find the Truth. It is beyond man’s capacity to find the Truth. What should man rather hunt for? The false. Now, it is a strange thing. The lives of people are full of falsehood, and they cannot see even that which is immediate and false. But what do they claim? “We are searching for the Truth and we are going to India, to the hills, to the Himalayas, to Rishikesh, to the great places, north, south, everywhere, looking for the Truth!” You can’t even see the false. How will you find the Truth?
First of all, please see the false as false. I am repeating this: the day you say, “I am false,” that declaration is powered by the Truth, and now the Truth is yours, rather now you belong to the Truth, now you have surrendered yourself to the Truth.
Please, please just remain as the shadow. And remember that the shadow has total freedom because it is always prostrating at the feet of the master. That’s what we need—an ego prostrating always at the feet of Ātman , the Truth.