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The success stories of ambitious people: Be careful! || Acharya Prashant, at BITS Goa (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
13 min
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Questioner (Q): My question was regarding ambition. What is ambition and how do you be ambitious, how do you create the force within you that will help you tackle every failure in life? Because you hear about a lot of so-called success stories and you see that they had a lot of pitfalls in their life, they had a lot of hurdles that they faced, but it was one ambition that helped them reach where they are. So, how do you develop that force within?

Acharya Prashant (AP): It’s a very important question, it’s a life-changing question. You know you have your own life to live, first of all, and nobody can be fulfilled reaching a place somebody else has reached. You are born differently. What fulfils one cannot fulfil the other. What’s more is that you don’t even know whether the other is fulfilled.

You have somebody in front of you who is touting himself as a success story — “I am a success story. I had ambitions and fueled by ambitions I braved all the challenges in life and then I have reached a particular place so I am a superstar. Come on now, follow me.”

How do you know that, first of all, he has really reached any place of any worth? He is showing you what he needs to show you. The video that you are watching is a heavily curated and edited one. Don’t you know that? — All kinds of filters and edits. So much has been put into it. The video I am talking of is person life story. How do you know how he is internally? And if all your role models have reached worthy places, why do you hear of so many cases of suicides among those people? And when they die by suicide, it makes big news. It makes big news precisely because so many people considered them their role model.

If he was really worthy of being a role model, why suicide? Why so many other things? Why tax evasion? Why so many other kinds of crime? Here’s a role model charged of murder, black money, money laundering, hawala, drug abuse, rape, illicit dealings. I am not alleging that all those role models indulge in things. I am asking you, what do you know of his inner life. Can you? Being a celebrity, will he allow the inner details to ever emerge out? He is living off of his reputation. His reputation is his earning. Will he allow his reputation to be tainted? Then how can you be so ignorant, so gullible that you watch a video or read a story and think it to be true? Did you publish that video? Who published that video? He published that video, so he is showing you what he wants to show you. He is doing what he wants to do, why do you have to believe in what he is doing?

Get that thing off your mind. When something fancy come in front of you, on screen or somewhere, you just feel compelled and the visual and the audio and the narrative overpower you. Does it not? The eyes are gone, they are no more yours. The screen has captivated the eyes. The narrative has enchanted the mind, it’s all gone. You are enslaved. And can you question the screen? Can you pause the video and say, “Well, I have question to ask”? You can’t. Even if that fellow is speaking live, chances are he will not accept live questions. Even if does accept a live question, chances are he will not tolerate cross questioning. He will not allow the real thing to emerge. So, there is no need, as young people, for you all, to just fall for the stories. They are carefully written stories. Every single aspect of that story is minutely manufactured before the story is released.

Now, ambition. It’s basically desire. Right? Small desire, you don’t call as ambition. When the desire is big, you call it ambition. You want a glass of water, a little tumbler or you want a jug, you probably call it a desire. You want an entire tank, that’s an ambition.

What has changed? Is there a fundamental difference? You want a little plot of land for yourself, you call it a desire. You want to win over an entire country, which is a bigger plot of land, you call it ambition. And you know where all desire come from? Your animalistic, biological conditioning.

Have you seen dogs fight over their territories? Have you seen how one dog gets bitterly furious when another dog encroaches over its territory? Have you seen how they mark their territories? They just raise their one leg and the stuff they do is actually a territory marker. That is to indicate the other dogs that this is the border, the international line. Don’t breach into my sovereignty. And then a great king captures ten lakh square kilometer and you say, “Oh, the Great! Mahaan ! He is doing what dog have always done — capturing territory. That’s ambition.

Amplifying your animal nature, that’s what. What do ambitious people want? More, and more of the material. That’s what animal also want. What’s there in that?

You have a life to live. You are very young. Can you work for something rather worthy? Can your energy come from love rather than ambition? And when you are ambitious, that inspires energy within. Right? If you have desire for something, you feel energized. And when you are ambitious, you feel all the more energized. It’s just that all that energy is very cyclical.

One moment you feel motivated, the other moment you feel demotivated. And then you run toward some motivation pill. But, anyway, a lot of energy comes from ambition. If you are ambitious, you will find spurts in energy. Can you live in the energy that comes from love? That is the question. Ambition says, “I’ll be fulfilled when I achieve that.” Can you spend your life doing something that you do in fulfillment itself, rather than targeting an imaginary fulfillment twenty years later? “I am starting up. Here is my new venture. Two years, it will break even, if I am lucky. Six years later, IPO and two years after that I’ll exit. And when I’ll exit, ill have money, I’ll have lot of shares and then I’ll be fulfilled.”

Is it possible, instead, to choose something to do that keeps you fulfilled all the time? That’s what I am talking of the energy of love. Is it possible? You have to get into the question. There are no easy answers.

But that’s a question you must ask yourself. These are the golden years of life. Do you want to spend these years doing something you cannot even tolerate doing but still continue doing because you feel desirous of the future? Do you want to do that?

Think of your courses. How many courses do you have? Six? Nobody loves all the courses. At least, I never did. How do you live through the courses you don’t love? It was very difficult for me; I don’t know how you do. Don’t you have attendance requirement or something? Lucky. Seventy-five per cent attendance requirement. Living through the semester was not an easy job, because it’s just impossible to appreciate all the courses that came your way. But that was the requirement. Once you are out of the campus, there are no requirements, there is freedom.

Do you want to spend your life, let’s say, the next five or ten years as if you are enrolled in a course you are just waiting to come to an end? — “Let the semester come to an end, let me be relieved of this particular course even if with C or D grade.”

That’s how most people spend their life. They don’t have relationship with the work they are doing. All they have is ambition, desires, no love. Tell me, if you love your work, would you ever think of selling off your company. But your role models all are serial entrepreneurs, are they not? If you really love what you have created, what you have brought up, would you simply sell it off? Would you do that? Is there any love in what they are doing? I am asking you. There is just opportunism, and that opportunism just gets them money. But what does that money gets you?

That’s not the way to live. That just leaves you very poor within. And that’s what all matters. And you become a curse to not only yourself but a bane to entire humanity. Because you have earned a lot of money and that lot of money is now in hands of a foolish person. So, what will that foolish man do with that money? Not just consume, destroy. He will fund all wrong kind of things. He will buy living enterprise and turn it dead. Do you have a recent example?

That’s what happens when a foolish man gets to have a lot of money. The entire planet is destroyed. And because money can give you a lot of reach, all your nonsensical concepts will become household things.

You will start saying, “Well, climate change is not a problem at all. The world will need more kids. Come on, go, reproduce. What if the earth burned to ashes, we will go and colonize other planets!”

Ambition is a very stale thing. It’s a dead thing. Do not forget where it comes from. It comes from your past in the jungle. You are conditioned to be desirous and the social forces just encourage you to be even more desirous of the same things that you have been wanting since a million years. Let’s do something new as young people. Or do you want to live the same life that your ancestors in the jungle were living? The monkey wanted a fruit, you wanted an orchard. Is that a fundamentally different thing? They were running after female monkeys then, even today you are running after female monkey, may be even in a Ferrari. The female monkey was attracted towards the alpha monkey then, even today the female monkey is attracted towards alpha monkey. Who is the alpha monkey today? The one with the Ferrari and money.

It’s also monkeyish. Can we live fresh lives, new lives, or do you want to continue the same animalistic tradition?

Q: The new one.

AP: Then tell yourself that you are free to not believe, to not be influenced. Freedom must be your most important value. The world wants to steal away the most important thing you have, that is the freedom of the mind, liberty of the consciousness, do not allow the world to do that. And the world is just not outside of you, it is also inside you as your own thoughts and emotions. Be very cautious of them.

They are not yours. They belong to the world. They belong to this body and this body belongs to the world. This body is heavily conditioned body, this brain is a part of this body and is equally heavily conditioned. So, if an emotion arises in the brain or a thought wave is there, do not just quickly accept it or identify with it. Know that it is coming from the jungle or it is coming from the marketplace. It is not mine.

So, I’ll be cautious. It is not mine. These emotions are not mine. Even the dongs have these emotions. How can these emotions be mine? Look at dogs and cats, they will tell you who you are. All of us are dogs and cats. There is hardly anything in human life that does not belong to the life of dog or a cat. Then how can this life be ours? Which means that no life has been given to us by our physical or social tradition. They do not give us any life.

Life has to be created afresh. You have to write a new script of your own. The old script is not your own, it’s a borrowed thing and it’s a very bad and dangerous thing. Do not live by that script. Ask yourself these basic questions. Are you doing anything fundamentally different from what your grandparents were doing? Fundamentally different, not just superficially. You want money, your grandpa also wanted money, how are you different? What’s new? He also wanted more money compared to somebody else. What’s new?

We are not saying that newness is not possible, it is definitely possible. Definitely a new life can be lived. But not if you do not discard the old life. And you cannot discard it if you do not know that its old. We keep thinking of the old as brand new. “Oh, I have fallen in love, I am the first man to fall in love.” It’s happening all over the place, son. “I have fallen in love for the nth time in life, not the first time.” What’s new? Can we have something new?

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