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The scriptures are all outdated. Shouldn't we revise and edit them? || (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
25 min
28 reads

Questioner (Q): As our views change with time, shouldn’t the holy texts be open to revision instead of just a new interpretation?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Wonderful. And I’m glad when a young person with all his enthusiastic irreverence, comes up with this kind of a question. The young friend has asked, “Given that views change with time, given that everything changes with time, shouldn’t the holy religious text be open to revision instead of just a new interpretation?”

The spiritual texts exist to tell you exactly this. That whatsoever is in the stream of time will change, and is hence not dependable or reliable. And this fact does not change.

When you see that everything changes, then you are standing a little apart from all that which changes. Now your position is unchangeable because you are outside from everything that can potentially change. There is no religious book that does not contain two types of material. The first type is that which is time-dependent. It is specific only to a certain period. Particularly, the period in which the book was written or the verses were composed.

And then there is content that is timeless. Time independent. The part of the Scripture that pertains only to the particular period the book was composed in, obviously has very little relevance today. So you’re right when you are talking of revision. You can even go beyond revision. You may venture to even say that those parts, having no relevance today, are even fit to be dropped. Why even revise them? Why bother so much?

And there is no problem with that. There is no blasphemy in that. You are not being disrespectful. You are not being contemptuous towards the ones who brought those books to you. No. In fact, the one who brought those books to you would be proud of you, if you were able to discreetly see what remains relevant today, and what has been made obsolete by the passage of time.

But be careful not to throw the baby away with the bathwater. There are precious bits there that time will never be able to touch. There is so much there that the passage of time cannot render old. And if you discard even that, then you are doing yourself a great disservice. In our eagerness to reject everything that is old, we often tend to overlook that which can never get old because it is not time-dependent at all. Isn’t it a thing of common sense?

For a thing to turn old from being new today, first of all, the thing must be time-dependent.

If Y = F⋅t, only then ‘Y’ will change with ’t’.

Have to talk in your language sometimes. Here, ‘t’ is time, and 'Y’ is relevance in today’s age, contemporary relevance.

But if, Y ≠ F⋅t, i.e. ’Y’ is not at all a function of ‘t’, then how do you declare that since the variable ‘t’ has taken a large value, therefore ‘Y’ has to be rejected?

Now, ‘t’ can continue taking as large a value as possible or as small a value as possible. We are talking about time. How will that affect the value of ‘Y’ at all?

So Y is that in the Scriptures which is independent of time. It cannot be revised. It need not be revised, because revision means change. And all change happens in time. Can you have changed without time? Think of it. Can anything change without the aid of time?

So when time is not involved at all, how do you change something? And by that, I in no way mean to assert that there is nothing changeable there. In fact, I began by saying that there is much there that not only deserves to be changed, it actually is fit to be dropped.

Drop. Just drop it. There is no need to read all those things. Many of the important books were written at a time when man was dealing with the bullock carts. Or when there was not even an iota of scientific knowledge available. When the society was not structured the way it is today. When economics was in an altogether different shape. So if there are verses that relate to science or technology, obviously they have no relevance today.

There’s no need to continuously keep glorifying the past and saying that modern scientific progress pales, in comparison to what the great Sages knew.

The great Sages knew something of tremendous value, something of timeless importance! But that does not include modern science and technology.

If you will say that the greats of your’s knew about nuclear fusion or string theory, then you’re fooling yourself. But there is something incomparably more important than nuclear science, that the Sages of the Upanishads indeed did know of. That’s where they need to be respected. That’s where we need to beg for their company. So, avoid both these mistakes.

The first mistake is, as you pick up a Scripture and you start taking every word as sacrosanct; that’s the first kind of mistake. For example, if the Scripture was written in the land, where they used to be an abundance of camels and dates. You still continue to have respect for camels and dates. Now, this is foolish. Camels and dates do not constitute the timeless core of that Scripture, or do they? Then why are you still latching onto camels and dates and sand?

Similarly, a Scripture might be written in an age when society had a particular kind of structure. That structure might have become outdated today. Being spiritual does not mean therefore that you have to talk of the Varṇāśrama Dharma . Being spiritual therefore it does not mean that you have to worship all the deities that are mentioned in the Vedas . Being spiritual doesn't mean that you have to start living in the same way those stages were living four-thousand years back.

Some people think that is what the meaning of spirituality is. They say if you were spiritual, then you must look the same way the Sages used to look. So how do you look the same way? You, first of all, have to keep a long, white, flowing beard. You have to live in some kind of a hut. No, there is nothing sacrosanct about the hut per se. “You have to use the same vessels that those people are using.” Sir, today do you have better metallurgy and you have better alloys available. You don’t have to go to the river to fetch water. You don’t have to dig a well to take a bath.

But unfortunately for many people, the distinction between time-dependent and timeless is not at all clear. For them, spirituality is antiquity. For them, spirituality is something ancient. No, it is not something ancient. Spirituality is not even new. Spirituality is simply timeless. What does timeless mean? Timeless means as relevant today as it was then. And as relevant 5000 years from today, as is now. If you call it new, then you’ll have to say it was not relevant 2000 years back. If you will call it old, you will say it is not relevant today.

Spirituality is neither new nor old. It is simply timeless.

Certain things just do not change with time. Are you an experiencer of fear today? Yes, you are. There is nobody in the audience who would say he or she does not experience fear. Were our forefathers experiencing fear 2000 years, 10,000 years back? 50,000 years back? Yes, they were. So the fundamental structure of a man’s mind and our basic tendencies have just not changed.

You fell in love today, you were falling in love 10,000 years back as well. You still haven’t gotten up. You keep falling, stumbling, whatever. And you’ll keep falling in love even tomorrow. Now those are the things that the Scriptures truly talk about.

Scriptures are not about what you should wear, what you should not wear. What you should eat, how you should wake up, how you should sleep.

If somebody is talking all this in the name of spirituality, he is either a fool or is fooling you. Spirituality is about addressing the fundamental concerns of human existence. What are our fundamental concerns? Concerns that apply to you, to me, to the young, to the old, to the African, to the American, to the Indian, to the Chinese, to the man, to the woman, to the rich, to the poor. What are those concerns? We all want security. We all want companionship. We all are afraid of becoming lonely. Right? We want dominance, we want power. We get jealous.

These are the things that are important today. These are the things that were important then. These are the things that will remain important. Spirituality addresses these things. There’s nobody who was not talking in the terms of “I” then. There’s nobody who does not utter “I” today. It doesn’t matter what comes after the “I.” “I” can be followed by anything. “I am an atheist.” You might be an atheist but you still say “I am an atheist.” So the “I” does exist for you. Spirituality goes into this “I.”

Do you see that the “I” exists as long as man exists? Then how can you call an exploration of this “I” as outdated? Has the “I” become outdated?

And if the “I” has not become outdated, how is the exploration of “I” outdated? Tell me. You might be at the cutting edge of modernity. Young people often are. You might love to call yourself ultra-modern. Very cosmopolitan. But don’t you utter “I”? Has your extreme modernity given you freedom from “I”? Which means, it doesn't matter which way and for how long time has been flowing, one thing remains constant; “I.”

You may even say that you hate the Upanishads. How will you say you hate the Upanishads? “I hate the Upanishads.” The Upanishads won.

Even to say you hate the Upanishads, you have to utter “I.” The Upanishads go into that. How will you revise the Upanishads? And I’m talking only of those portions of Upanishads that deal with “I.”

Now if there is a particular verse in the Upanishads that just talks of worshiping a particular deity, there is no need to consider it relevant today. I fully agree. There is no need to even revise the verse. And that has been often done. You see, take the example of the great Scripture called Yoga-vāsiṣṭha . It’s a tremendous Scripture. Very voluminous. Consisting of many, many thousand verses. Now, the original scripture was revised by the Sages themselves. They trimmed it down. They trimmed it down to a few thousand verses. From many thousand verses to a few thousand verses.

And if today you will go to a book shop, a good book shop that is, and ask for Yoga vāsiṣṭha , what you will get in your hands is Yoga-vāsiṣṭha saar . You may order it online. This Yoga-vāsiṣṭha saar does not even have a thousand verses. The verses that are immortal, the verses that are time-independent were picked up, and compiled into one. The other verses were respectfully left alone. You don’t need to revise them. Just leave them alone.

The same is the case with all the Scriptures. And, by the way, that is not something that you are imposing upon the Scriptures externally. The Scriptures themselves say “Take that which is important. Take that which is relevant. Don’t burden yourself with the rest. Just move on. In fact, even the part that is relevant to you, you need not carry it your entire life.” And that’s what the Scriptures themselves are saying. I am talking of the Upanishads, particularly.

The Upanishads say “Use us like one uses the boat." How do you use the boat? You use the boat to ferry yourself to the other shore. And once you are there, the boat just gets dropped on its own.

You don’t keep sitting in the boat forever, or do you?” So not only are the Scriptures saying to discard those parts that are not relevant in your time, but they’re also saying that “Even the parts that are relevant to you should be dropped at a ripe and opportune time.”

Because ultimately, it’s about liberation. You have to be liberated of the contents of your mind. That’s the definition of liberation. Because that which keeps circulating in your mind is your burden in bondage. You have to be shown its falseness, its uselessness. And then you are free. And don’t all young people want to be free?

Anybody in the audience who doesn’t love freedom?

The Upanishads are the paramount declarations of human freedom.

They are the ultimate declaration of human dignity and liberation. There is nobody who has ever uttered the word 'freedom' with as much respect and vigor and intensity as the Sages of the Upanishads. So the Upanishads are, in fact, very, very young documents. And they are so precise. Some of the Upanishads might have just a dozen verses. You don’t have to be afraid of their mask. They are not three-hour like. They are tik-tok-like. Extremely succinct. Very pithy.

You love short videos, don’t you? The Sages knew that. The Sages said “Long Vedic stuff won’t work with people. And the Vedas, they are very thick volumes.” If you go to the Rigveda alone, there are tens of thousands of verses. Most of them are irrelevant today. In fact, the Sages themselves divided the Vedas into four parts.

The first part is the most voluminous. It deals with deity worships. It consists of all the hymns and the stuff that you want to offer to please the Gods. That part, frankly speaking, has lost its relevance today. Except maybe on some traditionally religious occasions, you might want to recite those verses. But that is more cultural than spiritual.

Upanishads are the fourth, the last, the highest part of the Vedas. The fourth, the last, the highest, and the most concise part of the Vedas.

That’s why they come under Vedant . Vedant means the summit of the Vedas, Samaṃbonam . The Ultimate, the Unsurpassable. And it’s deliberately been kept very precise. Very precise. You’ll be astonished at how short they are. Short, straightforward, pithy.

So those misconceptions regarding religious books need to be cleared. Religion, I well know, has become very toxic today; much of it, let’s say 99% of it. And obviously, we have to reject toxicity. My only request is, as you reject this 99%, kindly do not throw away that one percent which is the core of all life. Which is the nectar of all knowledge.

I have nothing at all for this 99% that utterly just needs to be dispatched to the museums. That’s where its rightful place is. Send it to history. It belongs to history, not to contemporary life. But as we said, don’t throw the baby away with the hot water. Respect that which is extremely important, and the Upanishads do contain a lot of that.

Q: How should I look up to my future 10 years from now?

AP: You do not, therefore, have to talk of any time, 10 years, hence. You very well know you are going to die. You might as well die tomorrow. We do not know when death might strike us. Therefore, the future cannot be a concern at all. Isn’t that obvious? If you’re making the future your concern, then time might just prove you very foolish. You were planning for 2040, and when 2040 came, you’re not even alive.

Or when 2040 came, you found that you’re a totally changed person. You no longer have those concerns in 2040, that you had about 2040 when you were in 2020. So you spent your entire 2020 worrying about 2040. But when 2040 came, you were no more that person who was so concerned with worrying. Now you have been made a fool of. Therefore, the future definitely cannot be a concern.

What should then be the purpose of life? The purpose of life has definitely something to do with this moment. What is it that bugs you this moment? What is it that pins you down? What is it that does not allow you to breathe freely? What is it that does not allow you to fly away? Figure that out. Figure that out and work for your freedom, because your bondages are today.

If you have a headache right now, would you want a pill 10 years from today?

Tell me, please. If you are enslaved and enchained right now, when do you want to be liberated? How soon? Is it good news if I tell you, "You have to stay this way for 10 years and only after 10 years is there some possibility of redemption"? Would you like to hear that?

Therefore, real spirituality is very real. Very, very real. It does not deal with imaginations. It does not deal with projections. It does not deal with ideas about the future. It does not deal with concerns of the past. It does not deal with traditions. It does not deal with how our forefathers were. It deals with how we currently are because we are alive and we are at the center of all of our concerns.

Tell me, would you have any concerns if you are not alive at all? Tell me of one dead man who is still found worrying. You are worried because you are alive. So life, your life, your life is at the center of all spirituality. Spirituality does not seek to impose upon you, the lives of ancient men. No. The ancient men are all gone. You are the one who is in the middle of it, in the thick of it, facing the challenge that’s called Life.

So, therefore, what’s going on in your life, tell me—that’s the question the Sage would ask you. If the Sage is real. The Sage would not ask you “Are you sticking to that particular ancient code of conduct? Are you reciting all the old mantras?” No. If somebody is dealing with all this, stay away.

What would the Sage ask you? The Sage would say “How are you living? Son, how do you wake up? How do you go to sleep? Where does your money come from? Whose company do you keep? Why are you so worried about your boyfriend or girlfriend? Is your husband exploiting you? Do you love your wife? What’s your relationship with your kids? Are you a good parent?"

8-10 hours you spend working in your office, or some other workplaces, wherever; how do you feel at work? Do you come alive at work? Or do you intermittently keep thinking of somehow escaping away?

That’s what the Seer, the Sage, the Rishi would ask you. “How is it going on for you? How is it, how is it, how is it?” And then he would say “All this is in the mind, therefore son, let’s talk of the mind. Isn’t it the mind that's worried? Isn’t it the mind that’s insecure? Even if you get hurt in the toe, isn’t it the mind that experiences the pain and then calls it as suffering?”

So the Sage will talk about the condition of your mind today. And at the center of the mind, sits the “I,” the Ego. At the center of the mind, sits the “I.” Where does your sense of “I” come from? Where did you gather yourself from?

Q: So, if I acknowledge that, then how would I be able to know which part is authentic and which part is outdated?

AP: That part that does not relate to your concerns of today is outdated. Simple! That part that does not relate to your contemporary concerns is outdated. There can be no other standard or yardstick. You feel jealous today, you are afraid today, you feel indecisive today. You feel angry today, you feel lustful today. So the parts in the Scriptures that deal with anger, or jealousy, or decision making, are obviously relevant to you even today.

And if there are parts that deal with miscellaneous things, this, that - there is so much that relates only to the environment of those days. Those ancient days - It’s obvious that’s not relevant today.

Q: I read this book “The power of your subconscious mind” which claims that by unlocking powers of the subconscious mind, one can read letters from within a sealed envelope, is it possible?

AP: See firstly, I have not read this book. So that’s the disclaimer. So, I do not exactly know whether such things are claimed in the book but if they are claimed in the book, then they are pretty worthless assertions. Though if a book contains such things it will become very tempting to read it. The question is, I mean, why the hell is somebody interested in knowing the contents of a letter without opening it?

Why don’t you just open it? The letter is there, you might as well just tear the envelope and read the letter. What’s the point in predicting what’s inside the letter?

I mean, I want to go into the questioner because the desire is a function of the desirous one. So from where is this desire coming? Why do you want to be the peeping Tom kind of fellow sneaking into unwanted places, peeping through keyholes, why?

The subconscious mind has tremendous suffering. It is the seat of all our evolutionary conditioning and thereby bondage. It has powers.

But those powers are there to keep you in bondage. Those powers are not there to help you. For example, the subconscious mind is where all your latent anger resides. The subconscious mind is where all your fear resides. The subconscious mind is what comes to the fore when you are asleep. There is no dream that can liberate you because all dreams contain only that which you are already composed of.

And your very existence, the way you take yourself, is a big bondage in itself.

Liberation cannot come from within the jail, or can it? To be liberated, you have to break out of the jail.

Therefore the words 'beyondness' and 'transcendence' hold value. The subconscious mind has nothing that does not come to the fore by way of consciousness.

That which you think you consciously do is actually anyway coming from the subconscious mind. So if you can read your actions, if you can read your life, you will anyway see what is contained in the subconscious mind. And most of the time our lives are not quite pretty, are they? So you know that the subconscious mind does not hold pretty stuff. In fact, all the civilization that we give ourselves externally and all the culture that we give ourselves internally is just to cover up for the ugliness of what is contained in the basement of the subconscious.

Our subconscious is so wild, so much in suffering, and so insane, that it needs to be cultured. Much of our education is just for that purpose. So, I again repeat the disclaimer, I do not know this book, so whatever I am saying with respect to this book, might be totally misplaced. But what I am saying with respect to the subconscious mind is probably not all that misplaced.

So, you don’t have to look for powers at the place of your disease. You don’t have to look at the subconscious mind. If you go to the Sages, they will tell you “You have to use the conscious mind to bring the darkness of the subconscious to light.”

In the end, power lies in neither the conscious mind nor the subconscious mind. Power lies in freedom from mind and that freedom of mind is sometimes called pure consciousness.

Sometimes it’s called super consciousness. You can just simply call it Freedom. But one thing is for certain, the freedom you will not find in the subconscious.

I agree, there is a lot of power in the subconscious. But that power is the power of the Ego. That power is not the power of a friend. That is the power of an enemy. Putting it very simplistically. For example, you may consciously resolve to hit the gym at five in the morning. But at 5 AM, still half asleep, you feel it’s not important to go to the gym. Now, this is your subconscious at work. Consciously, you set the alarm and subconsciously you turn off the alarm. And later on again when you are conscious, which is awake, you wonder why you failed your resolve.

It’s the subconscious mind. It’s not really your friend. So do not look for solutions there. But it is useful if you can look for your disease there. Do not look for the medicine there, but the subconscious is useful, you can look for the disease there. How do you look for the disease? How do you explore the subconscious mind? You just have to be more attentive, more sensitive towards what you are doing and how you think.

If you listen to Freud, he will say, "If you are attentive even towards your dream, you will learn a lot about the subconscious." But you need to not be attentive about dreams, to begin with. Firstly, pay attention to your life. See how you select your clothes, see how you select your food, see how you select your friends, see how you make decisions with respect to your education.

If you can go into your own mind, its functioning, its decision making, its choices, you will know what lies in your subconscious. That’s the way to know your subconscious and the more you know about your subconscious, the more you liberate your subconscious. That’s the way.

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