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The one thing that we all want || Acharya Prashant, conversation at IIM Bangalore (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
53 min
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The one thing that we all want || Acharya Prashant, conversation at IIM Bangalore (2022)

Speaker1 (S1): I will first start with the title of today's program which was quite interesting for me. It said ‘ Vidyā — knowledge that sets us free’. You know in Viṣhṇupurāṇa , there is a very nice shloka which says - “Ya Vidyā Sa Vimuktaye.” That is exactly the title of today's program.

All human beings—I would even say living beings, not just human beings—have a very fundamental intrinsic goal, I don't even call this extrinsic goal because sometimes it's not very explicit to us: and that goal is to be happy. In fact, I don't think anybody is going to come and tell us, “I want to be unhappy.” I think that's not going to happen at all. Even those jantus (creatures) which cannot speak, if there was a way we could understand their language, we would understand that everybody wants to be happy. Happiness is why we are all here; I mean, even we have gathered here only for that, in some ways. In fact, this journey of happiness is what makes the whole thing very interesting, very complex, very varied, and very diversified.

While all of us have the same goal, all of us seem to have our own path, our own discovery of what this happiness is. So, some of us come to IIM-Bangalore, some of us go to IITs, some of us do management, some of us run business, some of us do philanthropy—all kinds of things we do. I think, behind all this is this goal of happiness.

You all will agree with me that if we evaluate our own scorecard of happiness—if I were to use a word like that—there are a few attributes which we all will agree upon. First thing is that happiness is fleeting—I am happy today morning, I don't know what will happen at eight o'clock in the evening or tomorrow morning. We are happy at some time, but happiness doesn't seem to stay with us. Happiness is fleeting, happiness is therefore not permanent, and happiness is not continuous. This is our scorecard of happiness. That doesn't mean we are going to give up on this whole idea of happiness.

So, the question is – Is there a way to attain happiness? Is there a way for us to have lasting happiness? Is there a problem with our goal, or is there a problem with our know-how, or is there a problem with our path? It can be anything.

The second thing which I thought would be very useful for us to understand is that the world that we are living in, this vyavahaarik world where we need to engage in work, we have our own family, we have institution’s responsibilities, a whole lot of things; this vyavaharik world works only because you see differences. It's all about differences. The science, the technology, the management, and all that we are talking about, are all based on this basic idea of segregating, differentiating, etc.

While that be the case, if you look at our scriptures, our large repository of scriptures, there is a resounding and overwhelming message of oneness. Throughout, wherever, whichever scripture you read, you find an overwhelming message of oneness. Whereas we can engage in the world only when we see differences.

Should we reconcile or should we switch gears and go from one side to the other side? What has been our experience? Is there something which we need to learn from? Is there something which informs us that we can sort of reconcile apparently these two pāramārthika and vyavaharika realities that we may be part of?

If knowledge sets us free, is there a knowledge which will not set us free and therefore is there a knowledge which sets us free?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Whenever I speak, my primary interest is not knowledge, not scholarship, not creation of literature; but, the ones who are sitting in front of me in flesh and blood. So, it’s only with your warm, and kind, and enthusiastic participation in whatever we say, that what needs to come out, will come out; otherwise, it will remain dormant. I just want to invite you to a kind of a responsibility, to elicit the depths from the speakers. You will have to summon it out, it will come out only when somebody asks for it.

So, ‘knowledge that sets us free’, ‘the primary goal of life being happiness’—I'm so delighted that Sir has set a very nice foundation for the ensuing discussion.

Whatever we do—let's say we want knowledge, let's say we want happiness—why at all must we want something? Let's start right from the fundamentals. What's the need to want something? “I want this little tumbler and the water in it,”—why will I want it? And it's quite possible that for an entire hour I might not want it. And then comes a point when I do want. Why do I want something? Why do you want something?

Because we feel a certain restlessness, a void, a vacancy. So that's the default state of every sentient being. Be it human or otherwise. Are we together on this? Step by step we are moving. So even the urge to have happiness is actually a derivative of a certain more fundamental underlying state, a more fundamental underlying demand. I first said ‘state’. We need to understand what is our default state, and that default state leads us to want a lot of things.

We have talked of just two here: we talked of happiness, we talked of knowledge, we talked of freedom. We may also talk of love, and companionship, and development, and prosperity, and so much more—stuff that we want. But why do we want anything? We want to go into the fundamental human condition. Why do we want anything? Why do I want to sip water?

Because there is a need, and that's the need we are all born with. The little kid is not born complete. The kid is born crying, yelling, demanding; that's our core condition, and that core condition remains throughout our life. It just attains more sophisticated colors. It becomes more nuanced and more developed. But at its core it remains the same—“I am not okay, I must be okay.”

To be okay, someone says, “I just need happiness”; someone says, “I need entrainment”; someone says, “I need knowledge”; someone says, “I need knowledge so that I can have money”—I'm talking to IIM students. So, there is a void always, and that void has no eyes. It can experience its suffering, but does not know how really to get rid of its suffering. So, it says, “I want happiness.” That's not really true. We do not want happiness, Sir; we want freedom from sadness, and these are not two same things.

If we say that every single human being wants happiness, we are approximately right; but, we are still missing the point. Happiness is not the fundamental urge. The fundamental urge is freedom from sorrow. But we think that freedom from sorrow can come through happiness, so we want happiness; hence happiness is not fundamental. The idea that we all must have happiness or pleasure is not a fundamental idea, it’s a derivative of a more fundamental idea. And that fundamental idea is not an idea really, it's a state.

So, happiness is an idea; sorrow is the state. Happiness is an imagination; sorrow is our fact. Are we together in this? Sorrow is the fact we experience every day, and happiness is our imagination to take care of the fact of sorrow. We imagine happiness, we want to reach happiness, and occasionally we do have episodes of happiness, or relatively less sorrow that we label as happiness.

And we think that this is what the purpose of human life must be—to attain happiness. No! It is not happiness that we want; we want freedom from sorrow. And now, you must know why vidyā is called as ‘knowledge that sets you free’. Are all these things coming together?

The kid that is born, is hungry for knowledge. Is he not? Have you seen how curious little ones are? “What is that Mama? I want to touch this mummy.” And it becomes a task just to ensure their curiosity does not become too much for them. They can get hurt. Someone is putting his finger into an electric socket. When the house, the family is to have a baby, they start taking care of all these things. You should not have objects at certain heights; you should not have sharp objects that the kid can potentially touch and try to use. Why?

This is the urge to know. And where does that urge to know come from? Let's get into the mind. That urge to know comes from that same underlying feeling of incompleteness. “I am incomplete, knowledge will give me completeness." So, you have the core concept of incompleteness that you are holding to, and you want to put knowledge on top of it; thinking that addition of knowledge to whatever you already are internally, will give you relief from your fundamental sorrow. And that's the reason even animals want to have knowledge in some rudimentary way.

Have you seen how curious, for example, rabbits are? What do they do all the time? Sniffing. They too want to have a sense of their environment. When it comes to rabbits, we know fully well that this is out of a certain bodily condition. The rabbit must have its antennas functional and alert, and it must keep itself very sensitive to the presence of predators. Right?

The fact is, most of the knowledge that we usually seek is also a result of our biological urges. Just as rabbit being biologically a rabbit, is bound to know what is happening so that it can take advantage of what is happening, and also save itself from potential threats. Similarly, usually the knowledge that we gather is nothing but the biological urge to take care of the body and to gain stuff that will make you feel internally complete. But this internal incompletion itself we have said, is by birth and therefore biological.

The feeling that I am not ok, that I am here in this world to gain something or to prevent something important from being taken away exists since the moment of birth; therefore, it is biological. And the same biological drive pushes us towards accumulation of knowledge. “I want knowledge! I want knowledge!”—what for? For the same reason the rabbit wants to have knowledge or information, whatever you want to put it as. The rabbit wants food, we too want food, bigger quantities of food. Food not only for the intestines, food also for the eyes, for the nose, for the ears, and for the mind. The rabbit wants to have the best female to mate with, we too want knowledge for much the same reason. The rabbit wants to lord over its little group, the litter that is there. We too want knowledge for much the same reason.

And therefore, usually the knowledge that we have, irrespective of the quantum of knowledge that we have; instead of setting us free, is just a representation of our bondage. It is not just a representation, it is actually an extension of our biological bondages. We are born in a certain way, and the way we are born compels us to gain more and more knowledge. That knowledge does not set us free; that knowledge, in fact, pushes us deeper into our bondages.

Therefore Vidyā , Vedanta says, is a very special kind of knowledge. Knowledge that tells you of the uselessness of the usual kind of knowledge, that is Vidyā . Now this knowledge is not usable, you cannot use it to earn something in the world. You cannot use it to inflate your ego. It is the kind of knowledge that tells you that all the knowledge that you have been accumulating so far, is just junk. And then you also know the right use for the junk that you have accumulated. Because, on one hand Vidyā is the knowledge that sets you free, equally the Upanishads say that both Vidyā and Avidyā are needed for total freedom. So, while it is true— *“Ya Vidyā Sa Vimuktaye.*” Right? Vidyā sets you free, but Upanishad also say that Vidyā alone cannot set you free. Vidyā obviously is paramount, the first; but, Vidyā needs to be coupled with Avidyā for total freedom.

But who will tell you that—that Avidyā will not suffice, even Vidyā will not suffice? Vidyā will tell you that. So, out of these two— Vidyā and Avidyā Vidyā comes first; and when you have Vidyā , you also know the proper place and use of avidyā. What is Avidyā ? All this general knowledge. That which we call as knowledge is called Avidyā , not Vidyā in the parlance of the knowers. Those who have known life, and the world, and the mind; they have said that all this that you do in your educational institutions, it is not Vidyā, it is avidyā. So, that which we call as Vidyālaya, they will say, “No, they are Avidyālaya .”

Vidyā is just education of the Self. Vidyā is when you want to get into yourself and know who you are, that alone is Vidyā . All this engineering, medicine, geography, history, arts, management, mathematics, this is not Vidyā ; this is Avidyā . So, Avidyā is not totally unnecessary, Avidyā is a great tool. Upanishads honor Avidyā to the extent that they say, “That if you have only Avidyā you fall in a deep well, in a deep dark well. But if you have only Vidyā , then you fall in a place even deeper and darker.” So, while having just Avidyā is a problem, having only Aidyā is a problem even bigger.

You must have both, but to have both you must first have Vidyā. Out of these two, Vidyā comes first. If you have only Avidyā , you will have knowledge; but that knowledge you will put to the service of a very bad master. That bad master is called Ahaṁ or Ahanta . You will know a lot, but all that which you will know, you will use to your own destruction. Just as you have the myth of Ravana. He was such a knowledgeable person; when he was breathing his last, Ram actually sent Lakshman to learn from Ravana. Surely there was something Ravana knew that even Ram did not. Otherwise there was no need to dispatch Lakshman to Ravana. Ram could have said “I will teach you all the stuff. Why do you need to go there? He is the enemy.”

So, Ravana knew everything and yet he was the worst kind of threat to peace, stability, dharma . Such a knowledgeable man and yet the worst threat. That is because the knowledge that we get, in general, in a default way, becomes a servant to our fundamental biological instinct; and that fundamental biological instinct itself is the biggest problem—the Ahaṁ Vritti . Ahaṁ vritti is at its place and you are gaining more knowledge or more happiness or more whatever. And whatever you are accumulating, is now being used by Ahaṁ Vritti . So, how have you done yourself any good?

We all were born with a disease. Even to say we are born with a disease is an understatement. The knowers have said only the disease is born, the disease itself is born. Now the disease is there, and through all the accumulations, we are just feeding the disease. So, are our accumulations of any worth? No! Vedanta says, “You have no option but to do something in the world; you have no option but to know. Know in a way that the knowledge does not become a servant to the inner tyrant; know in a way that the knowledge rather dissolves the inner tyrant.”

You can have knowledge that reinforces what you already are since birth, and you can have knowledge that dissolves. To begin with—questions, interrogates, investigates puts light on what you internally are. That's the kind of knowledge every child must first have, that's the first thing. Before you begin walking, you must first have light. No? Please tell me what comes first, the light or the walk? And if you begin walking in absence of light, think of how the journey will be and think of where you would reach. So, Vidyā comes first, but Vidyā does not suffice. As mortal beings, we have to live in this world, therefore knowledge of the world is necessary.

Vidyā tells you what to do with that knowledge. Otherwise—I am repeating for the sake of emphasis—otherwise, everything that you have or know or have experienced will be used directly or indirectly in a way that harms the user and the knower.

S1: So, let me just take from the issues that you have raised. We have Vidyā and Avidyā . And what you are saying is that everyone must have both. It's inevitable to say, “We'll have only one and not the other.” Are we then saying—if I can bring this famous mathematical expression to it—one is a necessary condition, the other is a sufficient condition? Is it something like that between the two? What is the relationship between these two?

AP: The relation is—the default urge is to have Avidyā . That's the default urge. Let's say, even if I am born in a jungle, yet I will, of my own accord, definitely gather a lot of Avidyā . I will go, I will touch the tree, I will notice what the life cycle of this fruit is; because my stomach is interested in the food, and I take myself to be the body. Because I take myself to the body, so the ego tendency will definitely try to gain knowledge about the fruit, and the seasons, and the jungles, and all the threats in the jungle.

All that kind of knowledge I will anyway accumulate even if no one comes and teaches me. All that is Avidyā —the fundamental biological urge to have control over your environment. We do not just want knowledge, we want knowledge so that we may use it, right? And that's the reason all the knowledge that we have often becomes destructive technologies of various kinds. No? Even animals in the jungle—please think of it—do have knowledge of their environment. Have they not? And they are continuously trying to make sense of what is going on, they know all these things. So that's the default thing. Avidyā , general knowledge, worldly knowledge, material knowledge—that's the default state, you will gather it.

But being a human being, and being a creature that suffers right since birth; you must also have a very special kind of higher knowledge. So, that's the reason this Vidyā is also called as Parāvidyā , and this Avidyā is also called as Aparāvidyā . Parā means transcendental, beyond. Beyond what? Beyond the usual biological drives.

I'm tasting this, I'm not liking this. Why? Because this does not have adequate sugar for my taste. So, it will be a fundamental biological drive to now go for knowledge—“Sir, where can I find some sugar?” What am I trying for? I want to have knowledge. Why do I want to have knowledge? Because that kind of knowledge will suit my taste buds. Upanishads say, this kind of knowledge is alright, you said Vyavaharik . In a practical sense, it may have some worth, but it will not solve your fundamental problems. Though the world might start calling you very knowledgeable at some point of time.

Not only that, because I love the taste of sugar, so I might become a sugar farmer at some point. Lots of sugarcane. Taking it to an extreme, I might become a sugar baron and control the entire sugar industry of the world. So, I've become a very big man. And in the center of that weakness, what is it that sits? My tongue. When I was a kid, I loved the taste of sugar, so today I am the sugar mafioso. I control all the sugar production in the world. In fact, if there is a government that wants to tax sugar, I have ways to topple the government. So strong have I become.

What lies at the center of accumulation of all this power, knowledge and pelf? What? Nothing, a fundamental biological drive. Now think of it—is it not our biology, the fundamental feeling that I am incomplete, is it not at the urge of even the so-called great deeds that most men have done? The seers, the knowers, the sages have laughed at these great deeds. They have said, “What? You are just a kid. A kid wants to gather toys and you want to gather buildings and other stuff.” There is no great difference. The fundamental instinct is just the same.

So, Avidyā , you will anyway gather. Of course, if there are organized institutions, it helps. But even if they are not, you will still try on your own. Vidyā is difficult to take even if somebody comes to you and wants to drive it in your system. For Avidyā you will pay millions. Vidyā you will refuse to take even if somebody runs after you and gives it to you for free. Why? Why why why?

Audience: Because it's of no use in the world.

AP: It is of no use to whom? That's the question Vedanta asks. Who is the subject? To whom is it of no use? To the deluded ego, the feeling is that Vidyā is of no use. Not only is it of no use, it is actually dangerous. So, for Avidyā we will go to any lengths to pay the price or whatever. Vidyā , Vidyā will be welcomed with empty chairs. (Acharya Prashant chuckles)

S1: Okay, so Avidyā or Aparāvidyā , whichever way Acharya Ji is alluding to, the way I understand is—by and large Avidyā is all about the transactional element of an existence. It's all about something outside of an individual. We need all these xxxx , we look around, take some lessons even from IIM, and then make your chances of interacting with the world even better. Looks like that's what Avidyā is. How do you now characterize, what are the facets of Vidyā ? I am able to understand Avidyā. Avidyā is all about transactional things. Anything to do with the outside world is Avidyā . And the better I learn it, the better I do it. Fine. Now, how do you characterize Vidyā ?

AP: Vidyā is to know what is happening within when you are gathering Avidyā . There is no Vidyā in the absence of Avidyā . Because Avidyā is default. It is continuously happening because we have this body. Because we have this body, so the eyes are always looking that way (gesturing outwards), the ears are always receiving information from that side, the mind is always thinking of all this, this and that. So, Avidyā is the default process of this conscious system. The trick is to know what is happening to the receiver of Avidyā when the process of Avidyā is underway.

Avidyā is happening. All the time it is happening. I have to look at something, and the ones I am looking at are figments in dualistic apparition. Are you not? Even as I say that I am talking to you, neither you nor me are the fundamental absolute Truth. Well, as long as I and you exist, duality exists; and there is then falseness definitely. Right? But this is something indispensable, we cannot get rid of it. Because this body is there, so it will breathe; and this will breathe in the world outside, taking in the air from outside. So, duality is a necessary companion of this body.

So, Avidyā is happening all the time. Now, when Avidyā is happening, what is happening to the receiver of Avidyā ? If you can be alert to that, that is vidyā. Vidyā is to know what is happening when you are in the world. Even in this moment, when I say this, there is a certain reaction that springs up from the mind. That reaction is not necessarily a conscious reaction, but things happen. Now, when you're looking at me, in that same moment can you also look at yourself and see where that reaction is coming from? That is Vidyā. Let the eyes look at the world; let there be a third eye that is concurrently looking at yourself. That is Vidyā.

Vidyā and Avidyā therefore are not two separate compartments. Avidyā is contínuous, Vidyā has to be made continuous. Avidyā is contínuous. You may or may not want it, it is happening. Vidyā has to be made contínuos. Therefore, Vidyā requires deliberation and effort and discipline; Avidyā happens. Not that Avidyā does not require discipline; but even without discipline, a lower form of it would happen. As we said, in the jungle, it would still happen; some lower form of it.

Vidyā requires discipline right from the outset, right from the word ‘go’. Otherwise the process of Vidyā cannot happen. People live their entire life—80 years, 100 years—and they may die without having ever received even the beginnings of Vidyā. And they might have lived a normal life, they might even be respectable people in the society. Might have gathered money and whatsoever is considered important, and still that fellow might have been totally untouched by Vidyā; it is possible. Vidyā requires conscious effort.

S1: I will go back to an earlier point, since we were also looking at Avidyā which engulfs human beings, animals, everybody. There is a difference I see between, let's say, the animal kingdom and the human beings as a very special entity. Just to give you an example—when a lion is not hungry, if it sees a deer, it's not going to say, "Let me hunt it and put it on the fridge, I may need it tomorrow morning.” That kind of a thinking would never happen in the case of the lower jantus .

Whereas our Avidyā is a little more special, in the sense, we calculate and say, “Oh, this is required tomorrow, let me do it now.” So humans have something special or a little more than what the lower jantus have. Would that in any way be the source for us to locate our vidyā and go after it?

AP: Wonderful, very nice! You see, we are creatures of deep restlessness—our species, homo sapiens. Fundamentally, we are not different; there is no dimensional difference between a man and a lion or a deer. No, not really. It's just that, that which is only in a primitive form in an animal, is in a more developed form in our species. So, we suffer a lot. The feeling of incompleteness is much more pronounced in this species. Other species too experience that, but in a very undeveloped way, in a very primitive way.

Our experience of that incompleteness, that loneliness is very overwhelming. That experience sits at the very center of our existence. Therefore, we are driven by the need to somehow take care of the hollow within. That's why we think so much, that's why we plan so much; that's why human beings will kill a deer and put it in the fridge. Because the restlessness is much more within a human being, and the human being thinks that by taking care of tomorrow's security, maybe the restlessness can be addressed.

It's another matter that whatever you do for the future or all these, the fundamental restlessness won't go. And that's also the reason why human beings alone can love with such intensity as we do. Animals get attached, animals can get possessive, animals can feel attracted; but, animals cannot love in the same way as we do. Right? Even if they love, it's only a very basic kind of love. The intensity of love, the torment of love, and the pain of love that we experience, animals cannot do that. Because we are a very special species, a very cursed species.

We experience our bondages, animals don't experience their bondages. Animals are almost alright with their bondages. We call them pashu. Who is a pashu ? The one who is all right in the paash, the one who is feeling okay even in the paash. What is paash ?—Bondage. If you are all right even in your bondages, then you are pashu, that's the definition. You know Sanskrit is therefore such an exemplary language, even simple words point at existential mysteries. Pashu —if you will understand what pashu means, probably that alone is needed for even your own liberation. The one who is well adjusted to his slavery, to his chains is called a pashu, an animal. That’s what a pashu is.

Man can never be well adjusted. Even if you force yourself to compromise, it will be a shallow compromise, it will be an uneasy compromise. You will remain cringing within, some part of you will keep asking for freedom. And that freedom therefore has to be the fundamental goal of human birth. Not because an ideology dictates it, not because it is written in the great books, not because some wise man said so; but because it is your own lived reality. You cannot bear to breathe in slavery, that's your fact. If that's your fact, you better address that fact.

And, instead of hunting deers and packing them off in the fridge, do something that is more sane and more useful. What has the poor deer done? The deer will lose its life and your restlessness will remain as it is. What is the point? Here, deer I am using as a metaphor for all the ones that have fallen prey to our nonsense. Not only animals, people of our own species, including the predator.

When you do not know who you are, that state is called Hinsa . Hinsa is nothing but the absence of self-knowledge. In ignorance of your own reality, it is not only a million species of deer and other animals that you wipe out, you cause suffering to fellow human beings as well; and you waste your own life. I do not know whether this addressed what you wanted to say; but when we start talking of the deer, I cannot help address the violence.

Questioner 1: Sir, we are talking about " Vidyā that sets us free”. You also used the word liberation. My question is, what is Mokṣā ? Is it just the freedom from the cycle of rebirth and death? If it is so, should it be the purpose of everyone's life? And how does one attain that, and what happens after attaining that?

AP: Mokṣā has nothing to do with physical birth or death or something. Mokṣā is best understood as jīvanmukti. And the indic streams of wisdom have been really beautiful in this regard. They have not said that liberation is something that you attain after death; that's not been the highest thought in India. Though there are streams in India that talk of that swarg (heaven), nark (hell) etc. But still, that's what exists at the general and popular level.

If you go to the knowers, they will talk of jīvanmukti. And jīvanmukti means liberation in the lifetime. Liberation in the lifetime. My favorite teacher, Saint Kabir; somebody came and asked him, “How do I achieve emancipation after death, freedom after death?” His reply, in his own inimitable way was – “Jeeyat na taray, maray ka tarihun.” When you had the opportunity, you could not attain liberation; now after you are gone, who is left to be liberated? “Jeeyat na taray, maray ka tarihun.” Your life is the opportunity, once the life is gone, will your ghost achieve salvation? Who will be left to achieve salvation? There is nobody.

So, jīvanmukti means—this lifetime is an opportunity, and that is Mokṣā . Mokṣā simply means—right now, here, as soon as possible. Realize your bondages, strive against them, rise, leave all your weaknesses behind; be as free as possible. And since freedom is potentially infinite, so there is no limit to mukti . Which essentially means that mukti is not a point to be achieved. It is not one particular fixed destination or station to come to; it is the endeavor of an entire lifetime. You just keep moving towards it. And a jīvan dedicated to achieving mukti is itself, therefore, fit to be called as jīvanmukti .

What is liberation? Notice very carefully. What is liberation? A life devoted to liberation is called liberation. Liberation is nothing but an entire lifetime devoted to liberation. And that brings Jñāna and bhakti together; that brings wisdom and devotion together. What is liberation? What is mukti ?— an entire life devoted to liberation is liberation. Liberation is not something that you will achieve in your 47th or 67th year. If you have been a worshiper of liberation all your life, then you are liberated, full stop; and then alone are you liberated. Instead if you brag that, you know, on my 44th birthday I was doing this and that and I got liberated.

Questioner 2 (Q2): Sir, to set the essence of the question that I have about the dilemma between vidyā and avidyā . If I know something is right for me, it gives me the right feeling, but if I try to analyze it, then it doesn't make sense to commit to it. Then what do I do? I think it as a dilemma between avidyā which is coming from the outside world…

AP: How do you know? How do you know that you know? You say, "I know something is right for me.” Stop right there. How do you know that thing is right for you?

Q2: Because I don't question it then, then is it wrong?

AP: Then you do not know. Full stop. Without questioning how do you know? You are just dabbling in impressions, and in faint images of past experiences. No? That which you call as your intuition or something, not trustworthy. Not at all. Questioning, investigation, testing the thought, idea, instinct from all sides, right till its core, its origin; that’s the only way. Otherwise the insides are very very deceptive. You will get very strong urges, you will get apparently very reliable feelings. You will say, “There is something that is obviously right. I should go for it." No. Please stay cautious of words like ‘obviously’ and ‘common sense’. Be very cautious. That which appears obvious, is rarely obvious.

Q2: Then, sir, what is the path of that realization towards…

AP: Test. Test. What appears right in one mood, does it appear equally right in another mood? Then, was your conclusion a function of the object or the subject's condition? Here is the object that appears beautiful; this object appears beautiful when kept under these glittering lights, and I say, “Oh! this is beautiful, this is beautiful.” I take it out to a more normal environment, and it loses its sheen. Now tell me, was my conclusion a function of the object or the subject?

Q2: Subject Sir.

AP: That's what. So, pause, consider. These senses, they are not designed to see. They are designed to be fooled. Don't trust yourself too easily. In fact, your default idea has to be, if it appears right to me, I better be cautious. If something appears attractive, I must be doubly attentive. Learn to go against yourself to begin with; later on, maybe, there will be no need to go against yourself. But for a very long period of time, you must cultivate this discipline—learn to go against yourself.

Questioner 3: So, if I'm not wrong, our human tendency is to be free from sorrow. And we believe that obtaining happiness would free us from sorrow. Is that understanding correct, sir? So, there’s a school of thought that says sorrow comes when reality falls short of expectations. Some people say that when you don't have any expectations from something, then there won’t be any disappointment; and by extension there won't be any sorrow as well. They kind of advise you to lead life with a certain amount of detachment. I just wanted to know your thoughts on that.

AP: No, this will go some way towards addressing the problem; but it doesn't go right till the roots. What they are saying is—expectations lead to sorrow. That's not really the way it is. Sorrow leads to expectations, and then expectations aggravate the sorrow. Why do you need to expect something from somebody in the first place? I am sitting here, I look at you, and I start expecting that you must be carrying some nice food or fruits or something. If I am expecting that from you, what does that tell of my condition? I am hungry. So, what came first—the expectations or the hunger? So, sorrow leads to expectations. The hunger is the sorrow, and that's the reason I was forced to expect something from you.

The man contended within himself will find no need to expect stuff from the world. It's another matter that when you expect, your expectations are generally belied. The world has no obligation to live up to our expectations. In fact, the world, even if it wants to, cannot satisfy our expectations. Therefore, expectations further deteriorate the inner situation. But that does not mean that if you stop expecting from people, your inner condition will be thoroughly taken care of. It helps, but it cannot help fully.

The way is the way of war, not the way of renunciation. Arjun wanted to say a little bit of the same thing—“Why should I want something. Let me go away. I don't want to fight. I just have no lust for kingdom or property or prestige. And these are all my relatives and my teachers and people. Why do I need to fight?” And Krishna says, “Even if you run away, you will still remain in sorrow.”

It's not that if you stop expecting or that if you stop wanting, you will become free of the world; that is not possible. So, you have to want the right thing. To renounce does not mean renounce desire itself. Renunciation is renunciation of that which reinforces your bondages. The world cannot be totally renounced. There is stuff that needs to be picked up. There is a war that needs to be fought. And there are wars you need to ignore. So, renunciation is extremely important; but, renunciation alone is not the way.

When you renounce a hundred things, you should also know the one thing that you must hold close to your heart; only then renunciation makes sense. Otherwise renunciation is indiscretion. No? I say “I'm renouncing everything”, that is simply indiscretion. There is no Vivek in that then. What is Vivek ? To know the difference between saar and asaar —that which is unfit to be touched, and that which needs to be worshiped; that is discretion. If you renounce everything, are you being discreet? So, renounce ninety-nine out of hundred things, that's wonderful. But you must also know the one thing within this world that deserves all your devotion, that deserves to be loved really; and pick that.

Similarly desire. Expectations, that is desire. Right? Keep aside all your desires, wonderful. But then there are a few desires that you must give everything to. Know what those real desires are. If you do not have desire, you are as good as dead. What is life without desire? In fact, consciousness is your only friend, and consciousness is the only way you can attain the summit of consciousness. Only by using your consciousness can you reach the climax of consciousness. Right? And consciousness is desire, consciousness is another name for desire. It’s just that you have to choose the type of desire, a very special category of desire that takes you upwards. Normal desires pull you downwards. And that is discretion—to expect the right thing, to have the right desire, to want the one right thing and love it with all your heart, all your energy, your total intensity. And keep everything else aside. Renounce everything else and fall in love with one thing; that alone is wisdom.

And then at the end of it all, yes, a point comes when you can give up even that one desire you took to your heart. The only thing is, that point comes when there is nobody left to give up anything; so who will give up and what? I don't want to talk much about that, there was a time I talked a lot about that; that does not help. If I say you must be absolutely desireless, it does not help you. If I say the final point is when neither the desire nor the desirous one exists, this is just rhetoric. This sounds good, but does not help. So, I have to talk of something that is practically useful to you as you are, and the thing of use is desire itself. Learn to want, learn to desire, learn to love.

Questioner 4: Sir, you mentioned that too much of self-knowledge can lead to self-hate. And it is often the case that too much self-consciousness can lead to sorrow and despondency. So how do you deal with that? Because it torments you if you are too much self-conscious about everything, about the world, and about yourself. How do you deal with that?

AP: ‘Too’. ‘Too’ in the English language has a negative connotation. When you say something is ‘too much’, what does that mean? That it has come to an unhealthy point. No, there’s nothing called being too self-conscious. Though you are right, that as you start knowing your reality, it becomes difficult to maintain your assessment and esteem as it used to be. Therefore, it is not only necessary to know your fact, but also it's equally important to know your potential. And thanks for bringing this out so that I could talk about the potential.

You cannot just know your reality and live with it. It will become very difficult. So, equally, at the same time you have to remember what your potential is, what you are ultimately capable of. And that's when you feel invigorated. I might be down in the dumps, but I am built to reach the sky. And the moment you realize that, there is a lot of energy. And then you know why you exist. You exist to rise from the dumps and soar up there. It's another matter that your potential becomes clear—it will not be obvious but please pay attention—as you keep knowing your current dilapidated state; simultaneously, your highest potential keeps becoming clear to you.

The ones who do not know the depths of their deprivation, also do not know the heights of their possibility. Right? So, for example, they think that they belong to this level—let’s take the y-axis, they think they belong to this level (Acharya Ji lifting his hand in air). And they will think, equally, that let's say, this is their utmost potential (lifting his hand higher). Eight units is where they currently stand at, and ten or twelve units is what they can particularly achieve in life. If you talk to them of anything beyond twelve, higher than twelve, they will dismiss you as insane, or too ambitious. They will say, “Twelve is too big, and beyond twelve you must not think. If you think of something beyond twelve, probably you will not achieve even twelve.” Have you not encountered that? They'll start talking of you as a mad dreamer or something. They will say, “This fellow just keeps dreaming of the skies."

So, being at eight you think of twelve as your highest possibility. But when you know that you not really are at eight, your real standing is minus eight, worse than zero; then, along with this also comes the realization that potentially you are infinite. How does that happen? That just happens. That just happens. At eight you will think maybe you can reach twelve in the lifetime. At minus eight, you will know you can reach till infinity. Probably it's a bit like the action of the spring. What you thought of as eight, if you push it down and compress it and compress it and bring it down to minus eight, what happens when you gain a release from there? Whoosh! With escape velocity you are released. No gravitation can then hold you back.

But that great process you will totally miss out on, if you just keep yourself tied and secured to a false self-image. The world exists at an average of 6.8 and my level is 8.2, so I am above average, doing well. And I think, I can be reasonably proud of it. That's how many people are. Are they not? Or the world exists at 6.8 and right now I have managed to reach 6.6, within the next five years I will touch 7; I think I am doing well. Neither does the world exist at 6.8, nor are you standing at 7. We all are wallowing below zero, and it's too hurtful to admit; so, we live in dreams, we live in ambitions and we console ourselves with a lot of entertainment. Know your reality, that will open the gates to greatness. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid.

It's not as if when you know your reality, you sink into depression. No. Reality can be hurtful, but it does not lead to mental problems. Reality, in fact, is the cure that will take care of a lot of your inner diseases. And have the heart to endure a bit of pain. No? If you start complaining—as Rumi said—every time you are brushed a little, how will you be ever polished? And then how will you ever shine? If you can't even ignore or tolerate the friction of the brush, where is then the possibility to shine? So be a man. If reality is painful, take the pain. Don't avoid it.

Questioner 4: Acharya Ji, you talked about the process of liberation is by self-knowing yourself. That process itself involves thoughts about yourself as well, right? So, I just wonder whether sometimes it could be just the thought’s own playfulness, and you think that you have self-realized something. When would we get to know? Do we build some intuition? Do we separate from our thoughts, and we can see—no, this is not my thought, it is a permanent thing?

AP: Thoughts are not the instrument to know reality. To know reality, you have to watch thoughts. Thought will not do the watching thing for you. Thoughts are not the means that will bring reality to you; thoughts are mostly the barriers against reality. So, what to do with thoughts? Do you use thoughts to know the reality of the world? No. Pay attention please. Do you use thoughts to know the reality of the world? No. Use thoughts to know your own reality.

What are you thinking now? And see how your thoughts have been affected by my words. See how your thoughts are when your environment changes. Are thoughts then the gateway to reality? Or are thoughts themselves the block and the impediment? You have to watch your thoughts and it's good fun. The moment I said, am I not affecting your thoughts? Did you watch your thoughts change? Did you want them to change? But they changed. You didn't want them to change, but they changed. So, you don't control them. Somebody else does. Who is that? That's the purpose of entire brahmavidyā —to know the one who controls your insights— Māya.

You are not one, you are two. Had you been one, your thoughts would have obeyed you. Do your thoughts and feelings obey you? So, there has to be a second master; the second master that commands your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, your everything. Do your dreams obey you? Who is commanding your dreams? Dreams, both with eyes closed and eyes open. Do your dreams obey you? Please tell me how many of us plan out our dreams? You know—I thought about it, and then I said, “Let me dream of this.” Does it happen that way? No, the dreams come first and the plans come later. Correct? Once the dream has come to you, you say, “Now I must have a plan to realize my dream.” Where did the dream itself come from? The dream is not obeying you, you are obeying your dream. You are obeying the dream. And the dream is obeying her ( Māya ). You are not even a direct servant to Māya. You are a servant to the servant of Māya. Oh! Too bad.

So, thoughts are to be watched. They are not your thoughts. See, who is the real master. See who is the real master, it’s good fun. A lot of betrayers are sitting within. One Vibhishan was sufficient to bring down Lanka—the entire golden kingdom. And you have only Vibhishans within, who do not listen to you. They sit within you, but follow somebody else.

Questioner 5 (Q5): Sir, we talked about sorrow, that in life we want to go out of sorrow. There are two types of sorrows: one is mental and the other is physical. Sometimes the sorrow becomes so deep that we actually kill some life out of us by using painkillers and drugs and all sorts of things, which decrease our consciousness to avoid sorrows. But at some point of time, the sorrows will become so much that maybe our consciousness will be unable to handle that. So, is the will to avoid the sorrow the ultimate thing or is the will to survive the ultimate thing? Because maybe we want to avoid the sorrow because we want to survive.

AP: When you say survival what do you mean, survival in the inner sense or survival of the body?

Q5: Of the physical body. So, I am coming to the point of euthanasia. There is a huge debate that at an age when we get old and we are cursed with physical diseases and maybe even the burden of the mental things which we have gone through in our lives, what should be the right thing. Maybe it will depend on individual to individual, but what will make that person live who is very sorrowful due to his pains? Is avoiding sorrow important or just cutting those sorrows by avoiding life all together is good?

AP: The body is the vehicle through which you move towards your liberation. The body is not an end in itself. Physical survival in itself has no value. Body is valuable because it is the seat of consciousness. And when the body is such that it does not host the consciousness anymore, what value do you give to the body? What do you do with the corpse? The body is still there, right? The consciousness is not. Within a day you burn it down. You don't want to keep it even for one day. That's the worth of the body.

Body without consciousness is the last thing you want to see. Right? Body without consciousness is the last thing that you want to see. Your loved ones, the ones whose very face delights you; you will be the one who will burn that face down, the day that face has no consciousness. Right? Which also tells you that when you love, it is not really the body that you love. Else you would have continued loving the body even after it was dead. Actually, the body never falls dead; it’s just that the body falls permanently unconscious. Once the body is gone unconscious, you kick it away. So why do you want to still keep the body, if now there is no reasonable chance of being conscious?

Q5: Sir actually I want to ask what is the View on euthanasia. like if the sorrow is very…

AP: Last statement, why do you still want to keep the body if there is no reasonable chance of it being conscious?

Q5: The body is conscious but the pain is too much.

AP: Does that pain prevent you on your journey towards liberation? Is the pain so much that you cannot perform even the basic functions that are needed to be free? If the pain has come to an extent that you are becoming more and more dependent on others and the world and medical systems, then are you becoming liberated or dependent because of the body? The body is there so that you can be liberated. Instead, if the body starts making you more dependent on the world, what is the worth of the body then? Just continuing to breathe, I repeat, is no good on its own. Worth does not belong to this system that eats or breathes or moves. Worth belongs to the consciousness it carries.

If the vehicle exists only for the sake of repairs, the only place you can take the vehicle is to the service center, the garage. The vehicle cannot go anywhere else now. Either it is at the garage or it is going to the garage. Should we still keep this vehicle? The vehicle is the body, the garage is the hospital. You have a car that is now so bad that it is either in the garage or it's going to the garage or is being towed to the garage or is at the fuel station, so that you can feed fuel to it. It only takes everything, but is no good for anything. What is the point in keeping such a vehicle now?

But that's a delicate issue, you see. You have to be very sure that the vehicle is beyond repair now. The vehicle being factually beyond repair is one thing, and you getting fed up with the vehicle is another thing. Sometimes it is quite possible that it is within the vehicle to still serve a useful purpose, but you do not know how to use the vehicle for that purpose; and so you send the vehicle to the scrap yard. That is injustice, that is not euthanasia. Before you take a conscious decision to send the vehicle to the scrapyard, you have to ask yourself hundred times, “Can the vehicle not be used for any constructive purpose now?” And if the answer continuously is no, no, no, no, no, no use, no use.

You have had our first aircraft carrier Vikrant, right? It took ten or twenty years of deliberation to decide that it cannot serve any purpose now. Only then it was sent to be scrapped. They thought of turning it into some kind of training facility; then they said, “Okay let's turn it into a museum.” There was a desperate attempt to somehow save it. But then rationality prevailed and it became obvious that it will only consume resources and nothing good will come out of it. So, then the decision was taken to scrap it.

And you know what happened from there? So many tons of steel was liberated, and one auto manufacturer bought all that steel, and from that they made bikes. I think that was not too bad. The ones who bought those bikes were clearly told that this bike carries the steel of India's pioneering aircraft carrier. I think that was good. What's the point in letting that huge vehicle, that huge thing, rust somewhere? That would have been more indignified. The dignity of life lies in its constant march towards liberation. Life that just eats, sits, breathes, and takes medicines has no dignity.

If you ever come to such a state, you have my blessings. And for myself, I am very convinced, there is no point to wait for natural death. And the Jains set a beautiful and very courageous example in this regard. When the Jain monk realizes that the body is just a drag now, he does not continue dragging it. He simply stops eating. He says what’s the point? What's the point? This is becoming humiliating. Somebody has to come and clear my excreta, somebody has to force feed. Two people are required to lift me up and take me somewhere. Not only am I no good to myself, I am actually becoming a burden on others also; so, they stop eating. No more. I’m convinced I am done. I am thankful for this life and now curtains—with dignity with poise, with honor.

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