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The world as name and form || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
48 min
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यथा नद्यः स्यन्दमानाः समुद्रेऽस्तं गच्छन्ति नामरूपे विहाय । तथा विद्वान्नामरूपाद्विमुक्तः परात्परं पुरुषमुपैति दिव्यम् ॥

yathā nadyaḥ syandamānāḥ samudre'staṃ gacchanti nāmarūpe vihāya tathā vidvānnāmarūpādvimuktaḥ parātparaṃ puruṣamupaiti divyam

As rivers in their flowing reach their home in the ocean and cast off their names and forms, even so one who knows is delivered from name and form and reaches the Supreme beyond the Most High, even the Divine Person.

~ Verse 3.2.8

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Acharya Prashant (AP): “As rivers in their flowing reach their home in the ocean and cast off their names and forms, even so one who knows is delivered from name and form and reaches the Supreme beyond the Most High, even the Divine Person.”

Name and form are the center of this verse. The one who knows is delivered from name and form, just as rivers cast off their names and forms upon meeting the ocean.

What is name? What is form? Form is all that we can perceive right now. Name is a pointer towards all that we have ever perceived, heard of, and stored in the memory. Form is that which is being perceived by you right now. And whatsoever you have experienced in the stream of time, you will not only store it, you also want to recall it. Name is a mechanism to recall your entire universe.

So, the world makes itself felt to us through forms; there is nothing that you can know, perceive, or feel without the thing having a form. The world makes itself known to us via form, and the world sticks to us via names. It comes to you as form and stays with you as name. Names and forms are both the world.

That’s why there is so much talk of nāma and rūpa in Vedanta: because nāma and rūpa both pertain to the world, and our relationship with the world is what lies at the core of our suffering. Hence, to address the suffering, it is important to address the world, and to address the world, you will have to address nāmarūpa , name and form.

Clinging to name and form is clinging to the world. This clinging is wrong relationship. Therefore, the verse is saying that this clinging to name and form has to be kept aside, just as rivers lose their personal name and form upon meeting the ocean.

Do you see what is being negated here? What is being negated here is our relationship with the world, which is one of affixation, attachment, clinging, and at the root of that false relationship with the world lies a false conception of oneself. Because we perceive ourselves as limited, therefore we must cling to the world. Because we must cling to the world, therefore names and forms must be very significant to us.

So, because the question ‘Who am I?’, Koham , has been answered wrongly by us, that’s why we need a wrong relationship with the world. This misplaced relationship keeps providing more false answers, and the more false answers we get, a very tragic thing happens: our ability to have right answers at all diminishes with every false answer that we patronize.

The reverse could have happened. It’s possible that with every false answer you could have grown weary of falseness and cast it aside, but that does not happen. Most people are not liberated by suffering; instead, they are pushed into deeper suffering by suffering. One wrong relationship does not kindle wisdom in a person to stay cautious of any more wrong relationships; instead, what we see happening is that one wrong relationship breeds a hundred more wrong relationships.

So, that’s how the cycle of suffering continues its downward spiral. We suffer, and because we suffer, our ability to ward off suffering diminishes even more.

It’s like a sick person with compromised immunity. Because his immunity is compromised, he falls sick; because he falls sick, his immunity gets further compromised; because his immunity gets further compromised, he gets into deeper sickness. That’s how most of us are. Our life is nothing but a succession of sufferings one deeper than the previous one, each one worse off than the previous one.

So, life was meant to be a journey, a process in which you learned continuously and grew and gained maturity, and ultimately gained liberation. Instead, life becomes a process in which we are born in bondages, keep going from bondage to bondage, and keep gathering even heavier chains with every passing year and month. The Upanishads are a compassionate attempt against the normal human condition and the normal human journey into deeper suffering, the normal human progression of inner disease.

Name and form, the seers are cautioning, be very cautious of stuff that appears; be very cautious of names that reverberate in your mind; be very cautious of things that attract and of things that repel. All of that is happening not because of the things in themselves, but because there is something within you that wants to have a sick relationship with things.

There is nothing in the world so important that you fall in love with it. There is nothing in the world so abhorrent that you start hating it. In either end of the spectrum lies a strong desire to associate yourself with the world, whether by affection or by disaffection.

The word used here is beautiful: ‘*parātpara*’, beyond the beyond. You have to go beyond the beyond—how can you get attached? You cannot be at peace unless you go even beyond the beyond. What is meant by going beyond the beyond?

There is a beyondness that is a concept of the mind, and there is a beyondness beyond all concepts of the mind. So, it does not suffice, at least to the seers, to just say beyond, because they know that whatever they say would be misinterpreted and co-opted. So, they want to be doubly sure by saying parātpara , beyond the beyond.

It’s a beautiful verse, and we should proceed by discussion.

Questioner (Q): So, there is a perpetual cycle of suffering which comes as a result of progressive wrong choices. And it is not an uncommon thing, we see it happening daily with ourselves. One has the choice to work hard or to just rest and relax, and we usually go for the latter.

So, there has to be a strong force—earlier you said there has to be love—that opposes the strong force of inner tendencies. But because this love doesn’t have any name or form, and we are used to and attracted to names and forms, we end up losing that battle. So, can there be a name and a form that can inspire the mind to fight against itself?

AP: You have answered yourself. Why do you say that the thing worth loving will compulsorily not have a name and form? If name and form is what sinks you, you will have to find a way to use name and form in a way that lifts you, because entering the domain of the nameless and the formless straightaway is not going to happen.

I had said love; I would say will. The natural prakritik orientation obviously is to not only sink but keep sinking. There has to be love. There has to be will. You will have to worship the power of the human will, that is if you want to express it in the language of power. If you want to be more subtle, more aesthetic, then you will have to say that you will have to surrender to the charm of love. But something has to be there to lift you up, whether right love or right will.

Allow yourself to embrace the dangers of loving rightly. Allow yourself to embrace the danger of willing rightly. These two are so very similar, they are just one. They both burn you up and exhaust you. They lead you to a deep rest by not allowing you to rest at false places. They cool you down, they calm you down by first burning you down.

So, either a strong will arising from discretion, “I know, therefore I will; I understand, therefore I will”; or an unreasonable love. You will have to have some force on your side; otherwise, the force of inner tendencies is just too overwhelming. You will fall.

See, it’s not possible that you have nothing in your life worth admiring, respecting, if not worshiping. Why not commit yourself? That’s the thing. People keep searching for great love eternally, and they keep talking of their incessant failure. We want that high, perfect, divine kind of love and we are not getting it. The question is, have you first of all done justice to whatever is even a little lovable in your life?

You want the thing that is perfectly lovable; alright, we all want that. We want something in our life that is absolutely lovely, perfectly lovable. Fine. But first of all, please burnish your credentials. There must be lesser things in your life that are not worth worshiping but are worth at least admiring, respecting. Have you done justice to those things? To what extent have you committed yourself to those things?

You want perfect beauty. It’s not as if everything in your life is currently absolutely ugly. There must be stuff in your life that is at least relatively beautiful. Have you done justice to that which is relatively beautiful? When you are not afraid of beauty, that’s when you progress towards the absolutely beautiful.

To what extent do you respect even a little beauty in your life? What is the quality of your respect towards things, ideas, people, books that are respectable? If you come across something that deserves your love or respect, to what extent do you commit to it? And if you don’t, then how do you expect to find the absolutely respectable or lovable? You won’t get there.

It’s a thing with life; you have to use relative stairs even to reach the absolute sky. You cannot just launch yourself into the Absolute without using any dualistic mechanism. Remember that you, as a son of Prakriti , are just an element in duality. Non-duality, absolute Truth, is a great goal, but not your reality currently as you are.

I might tell you that your nature, your true Self, is nondual. That’s something that can come to you just as knowledge from somebody else. Even as I say that, the process of reception of these words is dualistic: these words arise from one human body and enter another human body. Clear duality.

So, you will have to respect your dualistic existence, and therefore respect the dualistic way towards non-duality. What is the dualistic way towards non-duality? It is the way of the relative. Be relatively better with every step. Be relatively better. Even as you search for the Absolute, find someone who is relatively—just relatively, not absolutely—just relatively better than you, and commit to the maximum extent you can.

Just as you cannot just jump to the tenth step of the staircase straightaway, you go step by step, similarly you take a step and that opens to you the possibility of the next and the higher step. And when you move to the higher step, you become eligible to the next higher one.

So, you will have to ask this: Are you progressing step by step? What kind of justice do you do to the next available step? You talk of the open terrace, but did you take the step that is right now available to you? Which means, are you doing currently the utmost that is possible to you? And obviously, except for that there is no way, no opportunity; that’s the only option available to you.

The Absolute won’t come to you and offer darśana or something. All that you have available, possible is what is there in front of you in your dualistic world. You are a creature of blood and bones, and there are other creatures of blood and bones. You have eyes, there are books; you have ears, there are words. Are you listening to the right words? What do I mean by the right words? I do not mean the absolutely right words; I mean the best words that are possible to you , given what you are and where you are.

How do I know what is the absolutely best thing to hear? I do not know; I am a limited being. But still, there is something I can do—what is it that I can do? If I know that in my limited experience, in my limited world, in my limited capacity I have these five limited options, I at least can choose the best among those given my limited discretion.

Because I am a small being, so all that I have is these five options. And among these five options, this is the one that appears best to me. Something else might actually be better, I do not know; but given the way I am, out of these five options this is the one that appears the best to me.

So, right, I have this one option. Now I will have to be fully committed to it. If I can’t commit to it fully, I have no right to talk of the Absolute. This option that I have in front of me is nothing in comparison to the Absolute—nothing, nothing at all—but right now it is everything for me, given the way I am. So, I will have to worship this very option. There is nothing else.

This is something that we don’t easily understand: that the way to eternity, the way to immortality passes through this very moment. You cannot reach anywhere if you do not start from where you are. Maybe you don’t have to reach anywhere far away; maybe what you actually want is depth at the very point where you are.

So, you cannot evade your current, your present and ask of things distant. Whenever you come to me, I will quickly turn your question around and point at your life as it is right now, and ask you: Given the way you live, what do you hope for? Given the way you operate, act, and decide, what do you think you can get?

Q: You mentioned in your answer that we have to be ready to face the dangers. What kind of dangers are you talking of?

AP: That’s the thing. You want to know of the dangers in advance so that you can mitigate the dangers. That’s the thing with those dangers: they are dangerous exactly because they are unpredictable. If you want to know of them in advance, then the danger is lost, and if the danger is lost, then the opportunity is lost.

What is a danger? What is it that you lose when you move to a higher step? Your lowly position, your comparatively lower position—that’s what you have lost. That’s the danger. When you ascend you lose something—what do you lose? Your lower position.

But your lower position is lower only when you know that you have moved to a higher position. Or, your lower position is lower when you genuinely acknowledge that you are suffering at your position; then you say, “Oh, this does not appear to be a good or high place to be at. I want to ascend, move on, graduate.”

We have a very unfortunate ability to make peace with our circumstances, to settle down wherever luck situates us. You do not find many people fundamentally dissatisfied with life. Superficially, everybody is dissatisfied, but that’s not really the case. People lead very satisfied lives at very wrong places. There are very few who have genuine discontentment.

We settle down, we accept, we surrender, we compromise, and then there is no urge to move up and move on; there is no urge to be free and fly. Do you see this? And that’s when all healthy and beautiful change, all progressive change becomes a danger. We just don’t like it. The very direct and compelling argument is: “Am I not already alright? It’s already okay. What is the need to experience drastic change and, therefore, drastic discomfort?”

One fellow told me, these are his exact words, “What is the need to invite so much trouble? Isn’t it already alright? If it’s not alright, it’s at least passable. If it’s passable, then why go through needless pain?” That kind of an argument.

One has to develop a kind of habit, you know. Just as it is a habit to settle down, it is a habit to never settle down; it is a habit to keep disturbing the status quo, even if needlessly; to keep changing things, sometimes for no reason at all. Why are you disturbing things when nothing appears amiss? Because things have been this way since too long now, and that is dangerous.

Disturb things. If things get settled in your life, that’s your patterns settling down in your mind. It’s not good for you. Keep changing things even if you do not find a reason to change those things. The reason might be hidden.

Don’t be loyal to anything except the Absolute. You are not supposed to be loyal to the brand you wear, or to your boyfriend or girlfriend, or to your landlord, or to the particular gas pump you patronize, or the cafe you frequent. You are not supposed to be loyal to these. Loyalty must be the preserve of the Absolute.

Except the Absolute, keep changing everything. Just keep changing everything. And if you cannot change these small things in your life, then you will find that you cannot stick to the Absolute—because that which cannot be changed is the Absolute. If you cannot change the brand of your undergarments, then your underwear has become your Absolute.

Only the Absolute is unchangeable; everything else changes and is supposed to change, must be changed. Why are you trying to immortalize it? Let it flow, don’t freeze it.

Too many days in one city? Move—move for no reason at all. If you can’t pack your bags and shift for good, at least take a break, two weeks, a month, something. Too accustomed to one kind of clothing? Try something else, even if it makes you feel awkward. You didn’t feel awkward while taking birth, while passing from formlessness to this awkward form. Now, how do you feel awkward just changing your apparels? What do you think, this human form is beautiful or something? Four random limbs, so much of hair over the body…

And our Truth is formlessness. Look at the fall from grace; look at the absolute dishonor and disgrace. You took form; you became this contemptible, little, stinking mass of flesh, and then you didn’t say, “Oh, but why am I changing my nature?” Did you protest then? No, there was no protest; you meekly took form. If you didn’t protest the change then, why do you resist change now?

Keep changing everything—because you are nothing. If you cannot change something, you are getting identified with it. Only the One must remain unchangeable—That, That, and That. And because you cannot change little things, therefore you end up compromising on the One. Because you start showing loyalty to all and sundry, therefore you become guilty of disloyalty towards the One.

Be openly disloyal. Live the glorious life of the infidel. “Who am I? A perpetual renegade. Who am I? Whose passion is to break promises”—because he has a promise to keep. “There is one promise that I must keep, and therefore I must keep breaking all other promises. There is the one thing that must be honored, therefore everything else must be taken very lightly.”

You don’t have to purposefully dishonor something. But the moment something stands in the way of the Truth, of your liberation, treat it as you treat a fly with the flyswatter. Have you seen a flyswatter? How do you treat flies with it? That’s how you are to treat anything that tries to dress up as the Truth or supplant the Truth by becoming permanent.

Only the Truth is permanent. In fact, the Truth is beyond permanence: Truth is timeless. Anything that tries to become a fixture in your life is to be seen with cynicism.

Why don’t you have a T-shirt in the coming Mahotsav—’gloriously disloyal’? Or, ‘I will break all promises because I have a promise to keep’. Or, ‘I keep breaking all promises because I have a promise to keep’.

Q: When I look at something or when something comes within my sensory purview, I give it a name and a form, I associate with it. It happens instantly. If that leads to suffering, then how to break this instantaneous response in everyday dealings?

AP: Names and forms will keep coming to you because that’s how your physical constitution is—you have eyes, you have ears, and you have memory. So, you cannot escape these.

The question here is the relationship that you have with names and forms. What do you use them for? What does the world mean to you? What does your body mean to you? What do memories mean to you? Is there stuff in the world that has become so meaningful to you that you can’t live without it—it is your life now, it is the thing now, it is the central thing now, it is so important now, it is absolutely important? That’s what.

If you can wear the world lightly, if you can just have a working relationship with the world, it’s alright. Even Vedanta acknowledges that: it says to us realities are of two kinds, pāramārthika (transcendental) and vyāvahārika (worldly, physical). Given the way we are, the vyāvahārika reality does exist, the world does exist. You cannot just wish it away; you cannot theorize it away. You cannot conceptualize the world away. You cannot say, “Oh, the world is Maya ,” and find the world evaporating. Won’t happen.

So, the world exists. Have a nice, neighborly relationship with the world. Your neighbor is not your father-in-law necessarily, or is he? Must your neighbor be your father-in-law? Just have a working relationship. “Hello sir, how are you?” Don’t give him the right to intrude into your bedroom. In your bedroom is the beloved. The world must remain the neighbor, and the neighbor has no right to peep into your bedroom.

I am there. What do I do? The day I took birth I was saddled with this unlovable neighbor. It’s not as if I hate my neighbor, but there is nothing in the neighbor to fall in love with. I neither hate the neighbor nor love it. The neighbor exists; that’s all. The world exists; that’s all. You don’t have to love it, you don’t have to hate it. You have something tremendous in your life to already fall in love with. What do you need to look at the neighbor for?

The neighbor is. Alright, you need to sometimes go to the neighbor, you know, “Can I have the bottle opened up?” You are in the mood, it’s three in the morning, everything is ready except the bottle opener; the neighbor comes handy.

So, don’t spoil your relationship with the world. Otherwise, who will give you the bottle opener? Where will you get your ice cubes and soda from? The world is alright, the world is useful. But you cannot fall in love with the world.

Q: So, we must see how committed we are to even the relatively better in our lives, how much love we are offering to it. I don’t know whether the mind wants to avoid facing the fact that it is not committed or loving enough, but it seems that it uses what we talked of earlier as an excuse to not stay committed to anything relative, because, as you said, nothing should be allowed to remain too constant in our lives. This raises a lot of doubts.

AP: See, there are so many things that can be said in words. Ultimately, what will help you is commitment. You will have to just say, “I commit. Irrespective of the doubts in my mind, I commit. I have done the maximum to answer the doubts, and doubts cannot be further resolved without experimentation and action. Therefore, now I commit myself to action. I will have to do.” ‘I do’—these are words of commitment, no? “I do. Now I will have to do. No more progress is possible just by verbalizing and conceptualizing.”

Obviously I am not asking you to not try to resolve your doubts. To the extent it is possible through debate and discussion, you must address your doubts. But you cannot fundamentally clear your doubts without getting into the thick of things, without committing yourself to the right life and right action.

So, get into that. Do it. And the thing with doing is that so many doubts simply evaporate. It’s a crude analogy, but it’s a bit like playing tennis. The coach can keep theorizing to you—this is the way the swing of the racket should be, this is how you should hold it, this is how you should time it, this is how your stance should be, this is how you serve. He can keep telling you all these things, and the words of the coach do have value. But doubts will remain. Ultimately, doubts get cleared only when you practice.

Practice—do it, practice it, get into it. And it’s not going to be easy. In fact, you know, when you get into doing it, you find that newer doubts arise, or even the doubts you thought resolved but not actually resolved, they return to bug you.

The only resolution is action. What do I mean by action? Living it. When you start living it rightly, that’s when you know what is happening. If it’s not there in your life, you can never be totally sure of it. Even if you say stuff, it won’t be authentic. It has to be there in your life.

So, bring it in your life, test it. See how it works for you. Don’t play too safe. Enter the arena. Maybe the danger is just there in waiting for the shore; maybe the danger is a thing in the mind; maybe the actual danger is far lesser, because the endangered one is neurotic. The endangered one does not deserve to be saved.

When you say there is danger, you must also ask: to whom? Maybe the thing that is danger to the endangered one is actually relief to you . And that’s when you discover that your real identity is different from the one who was feeling threatened, that the endangered one is just an imposter, not the real you.

Q: There is this rampant custom of naming ceremonies going on which consolidates our names and forms. Beyond the beyond is so rare to observe and perceive even during an entire human lifetime. How do we proceed on this path, then? Do we move ahead just by chance?

AP: You see, the world has a certain existence of itself. Now, to what extent its names and forms become appealing to you depends on the size of the void in your life.

The world could be compared to a marketplace: it houses stuff, all kinds of stuff, and you are passing through that marketplace every day. The road is there and the shops are lined up on each side. You have no option but to pass through the road every day, every evening. Wherever you go, there are these shops lined up.

Now, to what extent these shops become meaningful to you? Everything in the shop has name and form, right? In fact, because they are shops, they demonstrate and advertise those names and forms quite loudly. That’s what they are supposed to do. But do you always succumb to the advertisements? When do those things assume importance to you? When you have a bigger void within you.

So, that’s what I advise—don’t allow that void to exist. It does exist, do not allow it to grow too big. Instead, live life in a way that diminishes the void. If you have a need within, the world will happily come promising to fulfill the need. Do you want to blame the world? What came first, the demand or the supply? The demand comes first; that’s what Vedanta is all about. Why blame the supply? You demanded, the world supplied.

And the world is an infinite supplier. The bigger is your demand, the thicker is the supply. Don’t allow your demand to grow big. How to not let it grow big? How to not allow those names, forms, things, people, shops, to become too significant? By filling up that void in a suitable way, in the right way. Because the void does exist; we are born with it. Either you plug it rightly, or you allow it to become your nemesis.

Either have the right thing in your life, or become a prey to all the wrong ones. You cannot say you will have nothing in your life; that’s not possible. You lost that right the day you were born. The day you were born you condemned yourself to companionship, identification, a purpose.

Either have the right company, or you will have wrong company.

Either have the right identity, or you will fall prey to wrong identity.

Either have a right purpose, or you will be invaded by a plethora of wrong purposes.

Don’t come up and say that you are not identified with anything; that’s a privilege not accorded to you. If you wanted that privilege, you shouldn’t have taken birth. The day you took birth, you were destined, condemned, sentenced to be identified. The best that you can have is a high identity, a sublime identity.

Don’t say you will have no identity. If you say you have no identity, then you are just being fooled in a spiritual way. By saying you have no identity you are maybe just trying to protect all the false identities you nurture.

Have right identity, have the right company, and have right purpose. Do not start parroting that life must be purposeless. Purposelessness is the ultimate pinnacle. Don’t talk of it. It will come when it has to. It has nothing to do with your blabber. As far as you are concerned, you must have life of great and intense purpose. And if you don’t have the right purpose, don’t complain if life is full of wrong purposes and desires.

Have the right desire if you want to avoid foolish desires. Have the right mission if you want to avoid petty errands. There is no substitute to hard work. If you want to avoid laboring like a donkey, labor like a royal elephant. Labor you cannot avoid; being a donkey you can avoid. Those who want to avoid laboring at all become donkeys of donkeys, mules of mules.

The world makes you labor so much; the world makes you sweat so much; you squirm, you cringe. It’s not that you are being toasted to a feast by the world, are you? If labor you must, why not labor for the right thing? If suffer you must, why not suffer for the right cause? Those who don’t subscribe to right causes, are they all enjoying? No, they are suffering.

There is no promise that you won’t suffer if you live rightly, but at least it would be right suffering. And one hallmark of right suffering is that it reduces the sufferer. Right suffering reduces the sufferer, and when the sufferer reduces, how can suffering survive?

Q: How would we know that the sufferer has reduced or is reducing?

AP: How would you know whether the sufferer has reduced? You won’t know. You know only when you suffer.

When you don’t have a headache, do you know that you don’t have a headache? Right now, do you know that you don’t have a headache? You don’t know. When you have a headache, then you know you have a headache. When you don’t have a headache, you don’t know you have no headache.

Life becomes light. You don’t have to keep knowing; you are free of thought. So many things that concern so many other people are not material to you at all. Your neighbor is thinking of how to pay his son’s fees, you don’t bother—you don’t have a son! The sufferer has reduced. The suffering is not making itself felt. You have been relieved of so many concerns that plague so many people.

You do not want to defeat suffering; you do not want to defeat the world. You want to make all these things irrelevant. They will exist, but they will be irrelevant. They will exist, but they will not exist to you .

So, as you pass through the street, the shops exist but are irrelevant—that’s what you want. That’s an indicator of freedom from suffering: it exists, but is irrelevant.

Are there adverse situations? Yes, they exist, but they are irrelevant. At least they are not as relevant to me as they are to other people, as they are not as relevant to me today as they were two years back. I can sleep. I am not continuously thinking. I am not bugged. I am not under the yoke. I don’t have to till the field of suffering carrying the yoke. The thing is, but not for me.

And then, with a mischievous smile, the Rishi asks: Does it really even exist? If it exists but not to you, does it really even exist?

And then you realize how the seers could say the world does not exist. At a physical level, at the vyāvahārika level, the world always exists. But when it becomes irrelevant to you, then you can say, “ Jagat mithya . To me it does not.”

Q: So, the choice is between choosing a higher suffering versus choosing multiple small sufferings. How can we be sure that this higher suffering is really worth taking and the smaller sufferings are not?

AP: Dignity. What do you want to die fighting, a million mosquitoes or a mighty tiger? How do you want to be remembered or known, even to yourself? What do you want to be written on your samadhi (shrine)? “Fell prey to a million mosquitoes”?

Your nature is large, infinite, bṛhad (vast), brahm (ever-expanding), immeasurable. You won’t like to be known or seen encumbered with mosquitoes. You are a soldier, a born soldier; you would want to die on the battlefield. You would want to have a death that behooves a martyr. You won’t want to be run over by a truck because you were lying on the road in your drunken state. What an inglorious death.

See, there are certain things without reason; it’s just that you cannot like these things. Given your human form, you just cannot like pettiness. Otherwise, why are some deaths considered higher than others? Why are some dead people called martyrs and the others are just dead people? Why? Because your consciousness aims for that which is high, beautiful, pure. And the proof of that is: you ask questions.

If you do not want purity, which is clarity, why would you ask even this question? Tell me, please. Why did you ask this question? The fact you asked this question is proof that you have a consciousness that wants elevation, clarity, purity. Therefore, you cannot enjoy pettiness.

If you have to argue, would you want to argue with a fellow whose brains have been eaten out by mosquitoes? Would you enjoy arguing with such a person who cannot even comprehend your arguments? Everyone wants victory in arguments, no? But would you even want victory over such a person? No, you would rather prefer to be defeated by a scholar, by somebody who really knows, rather than prevailing over a dimwit.

That’s the nature of our consciousness, and there is no reason to that; that’s the way it just is. We are not petty, and we cannot be satisfied with pettiness. If you ask me why, I will say because that’s the way we are. There is no reason there; that’s just the reality, without reason. Or, if you will insist, I will say Truth is the reason. You come from Truth; therefore, nothing short of Truth suffices to satisfy you.

Q: When one thinks of all this in the context of the world and the common culture of today, we see that pettiness and the forces that propagate pettiness are becoming the norm. That’s where my question comes: What is wrong with being petty?

AP: If it doesn’t make you puke, it cannot be explained to you what is wrong with it. Dirt, filth, meanness, pettiness are just not things your consciousness can agree to. And if you force yourself by training yourself wrongly, you subject yourself to deeper misery. It’s just that when things get deep, they also get hidden.

The deeper your misery is, the danger is, the more hidden it would be.

That’s why you require an Upanishad. Otherwise, misery would have been its own antidote. Like Newton’s third law: more the action, more the reaction; more the misery, deeper the resistance to misery. But that does not happen. The deeper the misery, the lesser is the resistance to misery because the misery itself takes away your ability to resist it.

That’s the danger with learning to tolerate the wrong kind of suffering for too long. If you have been tolerating nonsensical suffering for ten years, twenty years, the danger is you will become acclimatized and you will lose your resistance to suffering. Then you require good company; then you require Upanishads. Then you require somebody to shake you up and slap you hard and remind you that you are not born to suffer, that you must at least not make peace with the one who makes you suffer.

At least resist. At least don’t worship the ones who make you suffer.

Q: Is there any place for consciously practicing indifference towards the world even when it still has meaning to you? Or would that just be dishonesty?

AP: No, this is something quite advisable. Practice is very, very important. And all practice involves discomfort; all practice involves pushing your boundaries. All practice involves testing your limits and negating them.

So, yes, the world will continue to exercise its charm over you, and you will have to consciously negate it, deny it. And that’s not always a pretty thing to behold; it is obvious that you are in a struggle. But then, there is no other way. Conscious practice of anything is good, rather the only possible way.

From the worldly point, the life of the spiritual man is not a pretty sight to behold because there is a constant strife there. The world is pulling you, pushing you, attacking you, charming you, threatening you, and you are doing all you can to resist the charm and negate the threat. A battlefield is not a place for tourists, is it? You don’t go there and take selfies, right? You don’t go there to look pretty.

So, the life of the real man, the authentic person, it’s quite possible, does not look pretty. But if you can truly look, there would be great beauty in it, the beauty that is there in the Bhagavad Gita . The armies are arranged on the two sides, and right in the middle are Krishna and Arjuna, and there are weapons and chariots and horses and elephants and the blowing of the conch shells; and so much blood is to flow, so many relationships are to be snapped, so much pain is to be endured. And from all that arises the Bhagavad Gita .

Was it a meticulously manicured orchard setting? The peaceful monk discoursing to a very receptive listener? Is that the scene of the Gita? Not pretty, no? So, there is tussle, there is anger, there is hurt, there is bloodshed, if not outwardly, at least inwardly, within you. And therein comes the role of conscious practice. In fact, that’s what conscious practice entails: a lot of inner bloodshed.

Do not look for prettiness. Look for piousness.

Unfortunately, a lot of spirituality today is teddy bear spirituality—cozy, comfortable, soft, something you can go to bed with, something you can tuck up under your quilt, something that sits nicely with all the other toys in your life. Bhagavad Gita cannot sit well with the nonsense that pervades the ordinary life. Bhagavad Gita disrupts, it’s a dynamite that annihilates.

That’s the role of consciousness. Sri Krishna is imparting consciousness; Arjuna is being encouraged to practice it. And when consciousness is practiced, heads roll, the first being your own head. That’s the very purpose of deliberate practice of consciousness: to cut off your own head. And with your own head gone, you are headless enough and heedless enough to not care for others’ heads.

“Being headless, I do not heed your head.”

How did you get rid of your own head?

“Through conscious practice.”

It’s incremental, remember. Practice means incremental improvement, daily improvement, moment to moment improvement. That’s what we started the session with, no? Step by step you have to move even towards the Absolute. No one step can take you to the Absolute, not even a million steps can take you to the Absolute, but still, there is no way except the million steps.

Q: I feel a lot of resistance, frustration, and unwillingness to work on something new in some unknown area. I also don’t like traveling to new places and meeting new people; I like working from home. Is this inclination based on a fear of death? Can studying the Upanishads help in this case?

AP: Why are you studying Upanishads if you do not know whether they would help? You know they help, right?

See, if you are avoiding new places or other people because you are immersed in something magnificently important, that is one thing. But if you are avoiding other people because you have great vulnerabilities, because you are shielding something intrinsically indefensible, then obviously you are trying to achieve the impossible.

You know you are vulnerable, therefore you avoid unpredictable situations; you avoid unpredictable situations to avoid hurt. But in the very fact of avoidance lies hurt already present. It’s not as if you are trying to avoid hurt that may potentially come in the future; you are already hurt. That’s why you want to avoid this and that. Life comes knocking, and you cannot answer. Somebody rang the doorbell eight times, you couldn’t open the door. Aren’t you already hurt?

And I will qualify my advice by saying, if you are with a worthy beloved, there is no need to answer the doorbell. But are you? Only you can testify to that. I am nobody. There are so many moments I do not want anybody to intrude in my internal space; I just want to be with myself or the one worthy of being with. That’s not the same thing as being a world-avoider in general.

So, there is no one answer. You have to figure out what is it that occupies your life. If that which occupies your life is worthy enough, do not care for the world. But if that which occupies you is exactly what makes you weak and vulnerable, then even avoiding the world won’t help you. You will keep getting hurt again and again.

Q: I tend to talk about the Upanishads to my colleagues and friends these days, but they see them as some sort of exotic, different type of literature, as opposed to realizing that they contain the very essence and the authority on life. In my social circle, academics are the authority. I am not able to communicate to them that the Upanishads are not a side study, but actually something very profound.

AP: You will have to continue going deeper into the Upanishads. Two things will then concurrently happen: one, you will gain the conviction and the argument to be more convincing to others; secondly, you will lose the need to be more convincing to others. You will gain the power, the argument, the clarity to be more convincing to others; equally, you will lose the need to be more convincing to the others.

In your questions I sense a lot of need. Where is that need coming from? That comes from the desperation to keep the company of the Upanishads and still not lose your old company. If you are with the Upanishads and with people who do not acknowledge the Upanishads, what are you doing with those people?

Right now, it is not as if you want to do others a favor by explaining the Upanishads to them; right now, you are in a need to explain to the others because probably you cannot afford to be without the others. That is because your study of the Upanishads is still not deep enough.

What is liberation if not liberation from bad company? Of what use have the Upanishads been if they could not give you the strength, the conviction to reject bad company? And bad company is not merely that which would abuse the Upanishads. If you think of the Upanishads as some exotic toys—what else is bad company?

So, it’s a funny combination. You become more capable of explaining to others, and you become less needful of explaining to others. Now you do not explain to others because it’s an obligation upon you; now you do not explain to others because you cannot survive without the others. Now you explain to the others from a position of strength, not a position of desperation.

And that’s when—the funniness in the story continues—others realize that Upanishads indeed do have power. When they will see that you are not even interested in explaining to unworthy people, they will realize you have understood something important. And then they will come abegging; they will say, “Please tell us what you have known.” And now you are not desperate to explain to them. Now you will choose the worthy listeners.

And when the worthy ones will be there, you will find you are very capable of explaining to them. Initially, the condition is the opposite: you are desperate to explain to others and not capable of explaining at all. So, you can imagine what happens. You run around gathering people, trying to convince them that the Upanishads you have recently gained familiarity with are nice things to read, but you yourself don’t have much depth. So, the crowd that you gather does not get impressed by you. Your arguments have hardly any depth.

So, there is this huge crowd you have gathered out of your need, out of your own desperation to maintain relationship and company. The crowd just feels bemused and amused: “What is this new thing he has gotten into?”

And all in all, one gives the Upanishads a bad name. Some smart chap comes up with a smart question, and that fellow has had nothing to do with spirituality at all. And he comes up with a funny question—people are smart—and you have no proper response. What have you done to the Upanishads? You have given them a bad name.

First thing in liberation is: feel empowered to dismiss unworthy people. Why do you have to be in their company? If a worthy one is spotted, do everything you can to relay this special knowledge to him or her. But unworthy ones, unwilling ones? Two hoots to them.

People come and take the Upanishads from here, and then feel depressed: their parents or spouses are not heeding to the Upanishads. So, I ask them: Why must your spouse or your parents be the first ones to gain this knowledge from you? If they are not listening to you, go and teach this to your neighbor or to some random person on the street. There are so many eligible and willing people; they will be very happy to receive this knowledge from you.

But to them you will not go because you do not have a blood relationship with them, because you do not have selfish interests tied to them. So, you won’t go to them; instead, you go to your spouse. It’s alright, I do not say do not teach the Upanishads to your spouse. But having tried with your spouse, if you meet resistance and unwillingness and also ineligibility, why do you still keep wasting your time with that ineligible person? Aren’t there other more deserving candidates to invest your time upon? Go to them, teach them.

But no, we are held captive by bonds of blood, by bonds of pecuniary or social interest. “I have just learned the Upanishad, and if I can impress my boss with it, I will gain a quick promotion. So, I will go to the boss and gift a copy of the Upanishads, and the boss doesn’t care, and then I am hurt! And then what do I do? I ask Acharya Ji: ‘Acharya Ji, how to impress one’s boss with the Upanishads?’”

Offer your resignation. He will be impressed. Your resignation will be your first baby step towards the Upanishad. Why work under a boss who is stupid enough to not respect the Upanishads? Aren’t you ashamed?

But the boss is boss. Even if the boss throws the Bhagavad Gita to the dustbin in front of you, you will not resign because we are servants to money.

Q: You have said that if you have a family and your aim is to move on the path of liberation, your only option is to take them along with you. Does this mean that you should still try with your near and dear ones first before going somewhere else with the teaching?

AP: Exactly. Try on your family. Hope that they listen to you. Try again, try again. Having tried multiple times, now what do you do? You cannot force the Upanishads down somebody’s throat; there has to be a willingness. Maybe the time has not yet come.

So, find more willing students or listeners; approach them. Do not just sit and cry, “Oh, nobody listens to me, nobody wants the Upanishads.” There are others who will read the Upanishads; go and sit with them. Maybe in sitting with them you will give a more important and more powerful signal to your family. “The Upanishads are so important to me that if you do not listen to me, I will go out somewhere and sit with someone who does listen.”

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