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The perils of being goal-oriented || (2016)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
11 min
68 reads

Questioner (Q): Acharya Ji, you once said that motivation and ambitions are symptoms of suffering but I think if one lives with ambition, the journey will teach him a lot. Life will become disarrayed. Please explain.

Acharya Prashant (AP): Don’t you see an obvious contradiction in what you are saying? With a goal, there is no journey possible. When you have a goal in mind, journeying is not possible. Take an extreme example, how did you arrive at this centre today? Which vehicle?

Let’s say, you used your personal car, let’s say you parked your car a little distance away; let’s say 300 meters. Now as this session is on, someone comes a little hurriedly and whispers into your ears, “Your car has caught fire.” You rush, you rush towards the car. As you rush towards the car, there are all these books kept by the wayside and the walls have been decorated with posters.

How many of these posters would you read? How many of those books would you admire? There is that little squirrel chattering on the branches, how many minutes would you take to be with her? There are kids playing outside, how many games would you play with them? I am asking you, please.

Q: None.

AP: Don’t you see that journeying is not possible when you have a goal? Don’t you see that when you have a goal, the journey is just an impediment? What else has been man trying? If you have to cover a thousand kilometers and you have a bullock cart then you take weeks and months, don’t you? Had journeying been so beautiful, man would have stayed with the bullock cart or would have walked his way through the thousand kilometers because that would have given him a longer time to journey.

But man says, “No, I want the horseback.” What does the horseback do? It reduces the journey, or does it not? Why do you want the horse then, why don’t you travel on foot? And then the engine and now the airplane. Why do you travel through the airplane if the journey is so beautiful? Because the airplane totally kills the journey. In one hour, you can reach Mumbai, where is the journey left? And tomorrow technology would progress to a point where journeys would be reduced to almost zero.

You just wish that you want to reach Chicago and there you are, maybe in 3 minutes. Where is the journey? With a goal, a journey is just an impediment. You want to reduce the journey, you want to totally kill the journey. Journeying is possible only when there is no goal. And if journeying is so beautiful, I am asking you, why do you use the GPS? The GPS gives you a route that would shorten your journey. Why don’t you just keep wandering? That would give you a lot of journey. Why don’t you keep wandering?

You don’t keep wandering, because it is the goal that matters. The journey is just a means to reach the goal. So, you want more efficient means, so you want shorter means. Never live in this kind of ignorance. Those who want a journey, they just journey, they don’t bother about reaching.

It was Lao Tzu, probably, who said that the good traveler is not intent upon reaching. It is these things that I am continuously pointing at, how can you use the GPS and yet not see that, this that we call technology or civilization is goal obsessed? How is it possible? It beats me. How is it possible to be continuously using the GPS and yet say, "I love journeys"? How is it possible? Please.

"You know what, I love the new, I love the unknown, and I use GPS." How is it possible? Come on! You know what I am saying, right? You know what the GPS is a symbol of, you know what journeying is the symbol of. It is these things in our daily lives that should expose to us how we are living. That is why I continuously say that life is the only teacher. And if you are honest enough to look at life, you will realize everything.

Q2: But today, I do not have a proper ambition or aim and it is a continuous, scary feeling that keeps coming to my mind.

AP: You do have an ambition. Your ambition is to have an ambition. Don’t you see that?

Q2: It is very scary, where are you going to end up?

AP: That’s what, when you are unable to reach your goal, you feel scared. Your ambition is to have an ambition and right now, you feel you don’t have an ambition and so you feel scared. So, you have an ambition and ambition gives you scare. To have an ambition is to be continuously scared that your ambition may not materialize. Ambition is fear. Is it not obvious?

Q3: Without ambition we might have fear of getting lost...

AP: So, there your ambition is to not to get lost. Don’t you see that? What’s so terribly wrong with getting lost? I am asking you, please.

Q3: We don’t like it. I mean, there is nothing nice about it.

AP: What is not nice about it? You see, I am asking you, step-by-step. If you are really getting lost, then you do not know where you have reached and what is next? Getting lost means entry into the unknown, correct? The unknown by definition is that you have no idea of. How can you be scared of that which you have no idea of?

Look at all your fears, are you not always afraid of something? Are you ever afraid of nothing? Which means you cannot be afraid of the unknown. Fear always has a particular object. Unknown by definition means – I do not know, so no object is possible.

But, you know what, you are afraid of this coming to an end; this that you know. That is what you are afraid of. You are not afraid of getting lost. You are afraid of this coming to an end, this sense of an artificial security. This sense of provided assistance. You are afraid of this coming to an end.

And if you are afraid of this coming to an end, what does that tell you about the nature of this security? That tells you that this security is not reliable. If it is not reliable then why do you subject yourself to constant fear by latching onto this security? Give it up. It is anyway not reliable.

Q4: Is it that we want certainty and uncertainty, both?

AP: Obviously, and it is so foolish. You are afraid of giving up something which is anyway not reliable, not giving you any kind of support or consolation. Had it really been reliable, you would have said, “Let me be lost, I have some reliable partner with me, I have something that is backing me up, something that would never desert me. So let me be lost, how does it matter?”

But you very well know that if you are lost, then all this that surrounds you and secures you would desert you. You very well know that if you are lost, then not only are you going to lose your material comforts but may even lose emotional support like relationships and family. So, you don’t want to go beyond your circle. It is not that which is outside the circle, that which is unknown that scares you.

You know what scares you? Your life scares you. And that is why when people talk of being scared of death they are lying, how can you be scared of death? Death is an unknown. You are scared of this life that you are living, it is such an undependable life. Death exposes the fickle nature of life. Death does not allow you to live in fakeness and that is why you despise death.

Death tells you that, this that you call as life, is not a loyal partner. You have been thinking of it as a loyal partner, you have been wishing it to be a loyal partner, but the occurrence of death or even the imagination of death exposes that you are living with a disloyal partner. That disloyal partner is life.

When you come across death, then it is laid bare open that you unnecessarily invested yourself in life. That all that which you accumulated in the name of life would not pass through death. But you have been giving yourself totally to this thing called living, and this thing that we call as living, is barely living, but that is another matter.

You see what I am doing? It’s like a bank that I am compulsively investing in. That bank is my life, my relationships, my job, my money, my so-called loved ones. I am continuously investing my stuff in that bank and I feel I have no other option but to keep putting in my reserves, my life, my energy, everything in that bank. And then, there appears a small news item in a newspaper which says, that this bank may go down, that this bank is not reliable.

What would I do with that news item? I would not want to look at it. I would say, “I am afraid of the unknown.” No, you are not afraid of the unknown. That news item is telling you that you are living a wrong life. That news item is telling you that you are putting your energies in the wrong direction, that your time is going waste.

So, you would ignore that news item, you may even stop reading that newspaper. You may even call that newspaper names. And if they keep persisting with those kinds of reports, you may even sue them. You may say they are spreading canards. They are unnecessarily making people uncomfortable with their lies.

I am again asking you, had you really been prepared by life, had there been any truth in the way we are living, why would we ever be afraid of the unknown? We would have said, “We have the strength, we have the wherewithal, we can daringly walk into the unknown and no harm would come upon us." But we are scared, we very well know that, that which we have is no good, it won’t last.

There is that famous story in which Guru Nanak Dev asked a wealthy merchant to carry a small pin to the other world across death, and that was a moment of reckoning, an eye-opener. All that you have will not pass through even one moment of the unknown. Forget about all that, even one small pin cannot be carried across, and you know that. Forget about death, if you go to jail would your wife go to jail with you? And you have been accumulating all those five-hundred-and-thousand rupee notes because she wants to shop in Dubai. But you go to jail alone, don’t you?

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