Questioner: The entire universe, the gross and subtle objects, people, gods and goddesses, feelings, thoughts, they are all nothing but mind stuff. As I live in this world, being an entity, I am unable to see this world as non-existent; I still see differences. I am unable to wake up. I see many things and beings, not one. Everybody appears to truly exist. How can I love someone if I see him merely as an object? How do I pray with the mindset that these gods are only my mental projections? How can I be devoted to you, the Guru, if I consider you to be false and just a dream object? How to see the falseness and yet be sincere, truly loving, without conflict in this world?
Acharya Prashant: There are two levels of falsenesses. The most fundamental level is your physical existence itself. Because you exist, so you see the world, and as you exist, so you see the world. You exist as a three-dimensional body, so you see the world as a three-dimensional body. You exist as someone having shape, color, form, so you see the world as having shape, color and form. You exist for a limited time period, so you see only those things that are timebound.
At this fundamental level, everything is false. The curtains, the walls, all the bodies, sun, moon, planets—all are false. But at this most fundamental level, there is no ‘you’ to question either. The questioner is false and the question is also false. The mouth that is uttering the question, the mind that is thinking the question, the paper on which the question is written, the instruments through which the answer is reaching you, are all false. Which means, there is no point answering this question if falseness at that fundamental level is to be admitted.
Absolutely, truly speaking, no ‘you’ exists. Absolutely, truly, there is no question and no answer, no disciple and no teacher. But if we are to be at that fundamental level, then that is not useful for you. Why is that not useful? Because you are not yet there. So, if I talk of that, that would be merely a talk. Right now, there is you who is asking me a question. I cannot tell her that you are false and no question has ever been asked. So, falseness at the very physical level must be ignored for the while. The material world has to be taken as real just for the while.
Please understand. If you do not take the material world as real, then you will not be there to ask this question. And you cannot say that you exist but all other material is an illusion. If the table is an illusion, if the mic is an illusion, if this chair is an illusion, then this body sitting on this chair is also an illusion. So, the session ends here then. The session would end here, but not your suffering. So, I will not take that approach. Your approach of calling all physical bodies as false would merely turn the Guru false and the seeker false without eliminating the suffering of the seeker. It is a very superficial and theoretical way of dealing with suffering.
Then there is another level at which falseness exists: that is the level of meanings. At that level, you do not call the curtain as false; you say the curtain, as a physical body, is real. Why is the curtain as a physical body real? Because this physical body is assumed to be real. So, let me for the while say that the curtain is real. What is false, then? The meanings that you attach to the curtain are false. All the attachment, the jealousy, the pride, the inferiority, the comparison, the hurt, the memories related to that curtain are false. The curtain is true as an objective entity, but all that which you attach to the curtain is false. This approach is useful. This approach would help.
So, the body can be taken as real. Do not call the body as false. The body is real, but the meanings that you attach to the body are not real; the hopes that you have from the body, the happiness that you get through the body, the emotions that you experience with respect to the body are not real. The world is real, but not the meanings attached to the world. Look at the world as something totally objective; snap the cord between the subject and the object. So, people exist, but not in a way that means something to you.
And this needs to be clarified. What do I mean when I say that people should not mean much to you? When does something mean something to us? Only when we are in a transactional relationship with it. If I am thirsty, then this tumbler and this water suddenly becomes very meaningful. The meanings that I attribute to this are actually not in this (pointing at the tumbler) , but in this (pointing at himself) . The meanings do not lie in the object, they lie in the state of the subject. And if the subject can be full and complete, then he has no need to invest objects with meanings. If I am alright in myself, then I have no need to look at this tumbler as if it is very significant or meaningful.
Mind you, it would still exist—it would exist because this body exists. As long as this body exists, by virtue of sensual perception, this tumbler is also going to exist. It exists, but without significance. Insignificant to whom? To me. Why is it insignificant to me? And you must understand the context in which I am using the word ‘insignificant’. By saying that this is insignificant, I don’t want to demean it, belittle it, or lower its position in some way. All I want to say is that it does not hold a promise of fulfillment to me. It exists as something complete in itself, I exist as something complete in myself. I am not going to seek my completion through this. It just exists. It is not a promise; it is a thing. I do not need to get attached to it in order to fulfill a need, my need. Now it is just a tumbler.
Does that mean I am being violent towards it? No, violence occurs only when something is meaningful to you. Have you ever hurt someone who did not mean anything to you? You don’t hurt, hit or abuse strangers, right? Look at all the people you have been violently engaged with; they are all the ones you have had expectations from. You may spare your enemies, but do you spare your lovers? They are the ones who are sure to get hit. Why? Because they are meaningful to you; they hold meanings.
Please understand. We have a flawed concept of love. We have a flawed concept of compassion. We think that if we have good feelings, nice thoughts towards this, then we are in a loving relationship. The fact is that this tumbler does not really need anything from me; it is alright by itself. In the world everything is alright by itself. If it were not alright, it would not exist at all. In the name of love, we invest meanings in this, right? So, this is very important for me: I love this, I care for this, I am worried for this, I want closeness to this. The moment you invest meaning in something, violence begins.
So, you see that to have a really loving relationship with anything or anybody, you must first of all have a meaningless relationship. You would find that strange, it is counterintuitive, because to us love is something special. If I am looking at it as something distinct from the other objects on this table, and if I keep looking at it and if I keep thinking of it and if I smile at it, then this thinks that I love him; whereas, I am not loving him, I am just investing meaning in him. And meaning means I would use it for the sake of my fulfillment.
Go through it step by step. Look at all the things that are meaningful to you—things, thoughts, persons, places, whatever. Don’t you use them for your fulfillment? Turn the question a little. Won’t you be unfulfilled if those things are no more in your life? You find somebody significant, that somebody disappears—how do you feel? Unfulfilled, which clearly means that you were using that person for your fulfillment, maybe not actively, but passively still.
So, the objects by themselves would necessarily exist. For how long would they exist? For as long as the body exists. If this body exists, this tumbler is going to exist. Don’t ask for the disappearance of the tumbler itself; just get rid of all the notions that you attach to the tumbler.
Now, in that, again, a careful distinction has to be made. It is half full of water. This sentence does not mean I am investing significance in it; it is factually half full of water. That’s okay. You are not passing a judgment, you are just stating the fact. It is transparent. Again, you are not investing meaning in it; it is okay to say that it is transparent. It weighs around sixty grams. Again, you are not investing a meaning; it is okay to say that it weighs around sixty grams. Its temperature is around thirty degrees. Again, you are not investing a meaning, you are just stating the obvious properties of matter; it has still not become meaningful for you.
When does this become meaningful and, therefore, dangerous? When you seek your fulfillment in it; when you say that “If I drink this water, I would become a better man.” You may not say that with respect to just pure, ordinary water, but what if there is some alcohol in it? Then you often do say that “By drinking this, I will get something in the mental sense.” And that’s what is meant by investing meaning in something: when you want to derive mental satisfaction from something.
Water just fulfills the physical needs, and as long as the body exists, the bodily needs exist. The body and its needs are one. There is no body that does not want water. So, if I look at this tumbler and say that this will give me water, this will give me physical satisfaction, it is okay, because it is the fact. But if I look at this tumbler and this water and say that this will give me mental satisfaction, then I am investing meaning in it. And the moment I start using it for my mental satisfaction, I am being violent towards it, because now I cannot let it be free.
And because mental satisfaction knows no end, and because the mind is not really asking for water but for something else—the body is asking for water, but when you are saying that you are unfulfilled in a mental way, then does any physical water exist to quench your thirst? When the body is hungry, there is food; when the body is thirsty, there is water; when the body faces heat or cold, there are suitable clothes. But what happens when the mind is hungry or thirsty, or the mind is facing heat and cold? Then there is no material remedy available, because material is something very honest. In the material, two plus two is always four. In the mental domain, two plus two can be five hundred.
So, mental needs are never fulfilled because mental needs are always false. Now, that is very interesting. We invest meaning in it to seek mental satisfaction, but ‘satisfaction’ is a word relevant only in the presence of a genuine need. If there is no genuine need, where is the question of satisfaction? Physical needs are genuine, water is needed, but no mental need is genuine.
And therefore, physical needs can be fulfilled very easily. Physical needs arise, they exist for a while—they are not eternal, they are not infinite. Even if they come again and again, they are just periodic, periodic but not infinite. Physical needs are episodic, periodic, but they can be negotiated, there is an end to them. Mental needs have no end, and no mental need can ever be quenched. Why cannot it be fulfilled? Because it does not exist in the first place. Physical need exists and honestly exists, so therefore this bit of simple, ordinary and honest matter (points at the glass of water) can take care of that simple, ordinary physical need. But mental needs are very dishonest: they don’t really exist but pretend to exist, so they can never be fulfilled.
When I say that you should not invest meaning in someone, then that is what I mean. You should not invest someone with the responsibility to fulfill your mental needs. Nobody will ever be able to plug the hole in your mind—no thought, no money, no ideology, no person, no experience, nothing. Spirituality is about seeing the world as meaningless in a mental sense. And you can see the world as meaningless only if you live in your fulfillment. If you live in your fulfillment, you have no need to seek mental satisfaction from somewhere or somebody.
It’s a step-by-step thing. Never try to say that the world is an illusion. If the world is an illusion, then the very mouth that is uttering these words is also an illusion. So, why are you uttering an illusion? If jagat is mithyā , then the mouth that is saying that jagat is mithyā is also mithyā , and the declaration that the jagat is mithyā is also mithyā . Why are you dealing in mithyā , and who are you to deal in mithyā ? You too are mithyā , mithyā calling everything as mithyā , except itself. Mithyā is saying that jagat is mithyā , everything that has ever been said is mithyā , except for this statement. If all statements are mithyā , then they cannot be believed; then even the statement that the jagat is mithyā cannot be taken as real. So, even mithyā is mithyā . So, that is not something to go ahead with.
Take the physical world as real, but don’t try to seek satisfaction from it. It exists as an absolutely complete entity in itself, and I exist as an absolutely complete entity in myself, but not in a physical way; in a physical way you are not absolutely complete. Why? Because you are dependent on the world for food, water, sustenance, air, so much. In a physical sense, you can never be absolutely complete, but in the mental sense you must always exist as someone who is absolutely complete, not dependent on the world at all. The body depends on the world, I don’t. Yes, this body needs air, the body is dependent on the world, and to that extent I am related to the world, I am grateful to the world, and I will follow the ways of the world because the body depends on the world for its survival.
So, the world is real, or I will have to say that the body too is unreal. But I will never, never ask the world to satisfy me, fulfill me. My contentment is not subject to the wishes of the world; my contentment is just absolute. Even when the throat is thirsty, I am not. So, the throat looks at the tumbler and the water for satisfaction; it’s not me who is looking at this for satisfaction. In the mental sense, I am always absolute and complete. I am not seeking, as a part, the company of another part. I am alright, healthy and complete.
When you are alright, healthy and complete, then your relationship with this (raises the glass) is of love. Please understand this. This is the spiritual definition of worldly love. There is the love that you have towards Truth, and then there is your relationship with material people, material objects, the world, the universe. Love towards God is pure and pristine, no debate is possible on that.
What is meant by love towards a human being? Love towards a human being really means setting the human being free of yourself. If you have any meanings attached to a person, then you are just inflicting suffering and violence upon that person. Because if the person—all this is repetition, but I am knowingly repeating—because if that person is meaningful to you, you will keep using that person without the use ever coming to an end because the mental need is never going to be fulfilled. If I just want water, I will take it, sip it, and keep it aside. Now this is free of me.
But if I want to use it to fulfill a mental need, then what will I do? (Clutches the glass tightly and brings it close to himself) Why will I need to do this all my life? Tell me. Because this poor boy, or whatever, girl, man, woman, cannot fulfill that mental need. Why can’t it fulfill that mental need? Because the mental need does not exist at all. When that mental need does not exist at all, how will this poor being fulfill that need? But to fulfill your mental need, this becomes a slave, and this becomes an endless slave because the need is not getting fulfilled, so you are not letting it go. And this is violence of the deepest kind.
So, the relationships that we call as deep and long-lasting might actually be relationships involving long-lasting violence. Long-lasting: “I am not leaving it. Why am I clutching it? So that it can give me some satisfaction. And the proof is that the moment it goes away, I feel very dissatisfied. So, obviously I am holding on it to get some satisfaction.”
This is what the scriptures teach; this is what spirituality is all about. Look at the world as if it does not exist. This is what Ribhu says; this is what Ashtavakra says. Now you know what that means. The world will exist in the physical sense, but let it not have significance for you in the mental sense, and that is love. That is not indifference; that is love. If you can let the bird be, that is an act of great love. But when you are someone who is driven by his own insecurities, fears and desires, can you let the bird be? Will you let it just fly and soar in the sky? What will you do? You will want to have a relationship with the bird. Go step by step. And what kind of relationship would that be? You would cage that bird. Don’t look at the bird as meaningful to you. The bird is complete in itself and has no meaning for you, no meaning in the sense of providing satisfaction to you. That‘s how the wise man, the spiritual man looks at the world. He says, “The world cannot provide me with satisfaction because I am already satisfied.”
Now you know the meaning of the oft-quoted adage, ‘the world is illusory’. Never be misled again. When it is said that the world is illusory, that does not mean that the table does not exist; it only means that the table is just a table, I cannot use it to gain nirvāṇa . The woman is just a woman, the woman does not mean mokṣa (liberation); the son is just a son, the property is just a property. None of them can give me something central, something important. Why can’t they give me? Not because they are poor, but because I do not need it.
Don’t scoff at the world; don’t insult or humiliate the world. The world is as total and as absolutely complete as you are. Will the absolute spurn the absolute? Will the absolute humiliate the absolute? Will the absolute say that the absolute does not exist? So, do not say that the world is illusory and does not exist. You are alright and the world is alright, and that is a relationship of perfect love, respect, and understanding.
Now we come to a slightly different question. What if I see in my alrightness that the other is not alright? We said that when we look at the bird, there is no need to use the bird, let the bird fly free. That’s what we said, right? But what if we look at a caged bird? First thing is, when you look at a bird, do not try to cage it. But what if the bird is already caged when you look at it? That is when compassion arises. Now you see that absoluteness is the nature of the mind, but Māyā does exists. In spite of the mind being absolute and complete and free, yet there can be situations in which cages can circumscribe the mind, imprison the mind. Now you cannot say that “The bird is complete in itself and I will just leave it and not have any relationship”; now it is the responsibility upon you, due to your absolute nature, to restore the bird’s absolute nature to the bird.
That’s the only responsibility of the absolute, of the contended one. He says, “I am contented, and that’s the right order of things, contentment and freedom. And the nature of the entire world is also contentment and freedom. So, if I see a being that is unnecessarily being enslaved or imprisoned—and all imprisonment is unnecessary. So, if I see a being that is unnecessarily being enslaved or imprisoned, then it is my responsibility, you call it compassion, to set it free.”
So, these are the only two actions possible in love. “If I am healthy and he is healthy, then both of us exist blissfully in our common health. I do not use him, I do not interfere, I do not need to be a presence in his life. Do I need to be?” That is the reason why saints would often meet and say nothing to each other. There are stories that the Buddha and Mahavira met once or twice, can’t be verified really, but stories abound because they were contemporaries. So, they met and said nothing to each other.
Similarly, stories exist about Kabir and Farid—the fact is Sant Kabir and Sheikh Farid lived centuries apart. Yet stories, parables do exist, and they say that when Kabir and Farid met, their respective students were expecting great festivities. They thought it would be a humongous occasion. Two towering saints are meeting each other! There would be fireworks, there would be hugs and kisses and tears and great display of emotionality. Nothing happened. They came face to face, smiled, didn’t even say a thing, and kept walking.
“I am absolute and you are absolute, and that is enough, that is brilliant, that is so beautiful. I have no need to poke my nose in your life and you have no need to poke your nose in my life.” And it is not about personal space or privacy; it is about absoluteness. It is not about having a personal boundary, it is about being boundaryless. Please do not take it as privacy or secrecy; it is not about honoring somebody’s individuality. It is something deeper and far, far bigger than that. “I am okay, you are okay, and that is our relationship.” Why can’t that be a relationship? Please. Why must sickness relate to sickness and only that be called a relationship?
And is that not the usual form of relationship—sickness relating to sickness? “You scratch my back, I scratch your back, and so we are related.” Why can’t you be related like Kabir and Farid, like Buddha and Mahavira? We meet, we smile, and that’s all. Can you come to terms with the utter beauty of this, the brilliance and the grandeur in this? We don’t know this. All we know is excitement. “When you were away I was suffering, so when you come I just latch on to you.” That’s what we know.
But when Farid is away, Kabir is not suffering; and when Kabir is away, Farid is not suffering, because essentially both of them are never away from their essence. And that essence is common; that essence is what unites Kabir and Farid at all times. A Kabir might die, a Farid might die, but still they would remain united, and that is love. We do not know that love; we only know the sticky kind of love, the clingy kind of love, love that uses, love that exploits, love that sees the other as meaningful. Don’t look at the other as meaningful.
Now we come to the second expression of pure love. This was the first expression—Kabir meeting Farid. Kabir meets Farid, and all is well. Then there is a situation when Kabir meets, let’s say, a little boy who is being misled, or an oppressed woman. Then Kabir would not just look and walk away; he would not just glance and carry on. Now he knows that affirmative action needs to be taken. Compassion. Now he knows that the bird is not flying free.
If the bird were flying free, Kabir would not even touch the bird or try to lure the bird. “The bird is already alright, I don’t need to touch it.” But now is a situation when Kabir sees that the bird is caged; now he cannot say that “You are alright and I am alright, and I don’t see any meaning in you, so I am going my way.” No, now he says something needs to be done, and he does what needs to be done.
Love, true love, real love, can have only these two forms: either let the other be free, or set the other free; either let the other be free, because he is already free, or set the other free. Freedom is essential.
But when you look at the world as significant and meaningful, then you will not allow freedom to the other; then you will just want to cling and stick and exploit. That should be enough, right? If the bird is already free, let it fly free, and if the bird is encaged, set it free. All else is rubbish. Only this much is love: let free or set free.