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To keep the highest seat vacant is to invite the Absolute || On Mundaka Upanishad (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
50 min
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स वेदैतत्परमं ब्रह्म धाम यत्र विश्वं निहितं भाति शुभ्रम् । उपासते पुरुषं ये ह्यकामास्ते शुक्रमेतदतिवर्तन्ति धीराः ॥

sa vedaitatparamaṃ brahma dhāma yatra viśvaṃ nihitaṃ bhāti śubhram upāsate puruṣaṃ ye hyakāmāste śukrametadativartanti dhīrāḥ

He knows this supreme Brahman as the highest abiding place in which this radiant universe is placed and appears. The wise who are without desire and worship the pure mind pass beyond this seed.

~ Verse 3.2.1

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Acharya Prashant (AP): “He knows this supreme Brahman as the highest abiding place in which this radiant universe is placed and appears. The wise who are without desire and worship the pure mind pass beyond this seed.”

We do not know the universe, nor do we ever think of the universe as a composite entity. The word ‘*viśva*’, ‘*jagat*’, ‘ saṃsāra * ’, is very common in Vedantic literature. Sometimes it is read as the world, sometimes as the universe; in fact, synonymous is even the use of * Prakriti (physical nature). How are these to be read?

Viśva , saṃsāra , jagat , Prakriti , world, universe—these are to be read as the objects that exist in our mindspace. Remember that all the verses are to deal with the subjective entity that the little self is, that I am and you are, we all are.

So, when it is talking of the universe, it is talking of our subjective universe. The objective universe, as we said, we anyway do not know of. Even the best cosmologist on our planet today knows very little about the entire universe objectively, and that’s going to be the situation even a thousand years from now. It’s a vast space, and to make things even more unfathomable for us, it is probably an expanding universe. How will you ever come to know of the entire thing?

So, when Vedanta talks of the universe, it is not referring to the objective entity that we, in the realm of theoretical physics, refer to as space with all its constituents. Will you remember this? When the universe is being talked of, it is your universe that is being talked of; the thing is very subjective. And why is it subjective? Because you are the subject whose suffering is to be ameliorated.

Spirituality is not science. Science deals objectively with things that are in the domain of experience without really any concern for what these things mean to you, what use they are going to assume in your life. Spirituality looks subjectively at your inner existence—how do you feel, how do you live, what do you think, what do you know of yourself, what are you attached to, what your desires are, what are you afraid of. In all these questions, did you just see that you are at the center? Similarly, when Vedanta says universe, it is talking of the particular subjective universe that has you at its center.

So, does the expression ‘universe’ mean different things to different people? Obviously. Your universe is very different from mine, just as your ‘I’-tendency, depending on your prakritik constitution, attaches itself to different objects compared to mine. So, what is the verse saying?

“He knows the supreme Brahman as the highest abiding place in which this radiant universe is placed and appears.”

Now, this universe that we all carry within, this universe that means the life to us, this universe that is everything that we know of and care for, is also the source of all our miseries, sufferings, anxieties. The sage is suggesting a solution—what is the solution? The solution lies in terms of addressing our value system.

The sage is saying, “Alright, you have a universe; you are attached to it, you are used to it, all your desires are within it, all your relationships are within it, your past is within it, your imagined future is within it. But do not give anything in this subjective universe too much importance. Things within your universe might have relatively higher values with respect to each other, but let not any object in your universe have an absolutely high value.”

Do you get this? If you get this, you will be liberated of much of your angst.

There are a thousand things in your universe; of course there has to be a value system, a hierarchy of importance. Let A have a higher value than B, let B have a higher value than C, at some given point in time, in some particular context. But let no ABC, XYZ, have an absolutely high value. The highest value must always be accorded to that which the sage loves to call as Brahman .

Only Brahman deserves the highest value; all other things are just relative to each other. And none of the things, obviously, are related to Brahman . That’s another plane altogether.

So, in the plane of your universe, I repeat, there are things. What do we mean by things? ‘Things’ does not merely refer to buckets and spoons and clothes and walls and objects and such things. ‘Object’, in spirituality, refers to anything that the subject perceives or experiences. So, if you think of yourself, then you are your own object. Similarly, if you look at a person, that person is now an object in your domain of perception.

You have a field of experience. At the center of that field of experience exists your ‘I’-self, and in that domain there are so many entities here and there. I know you might not want to call them things or objects; you might say that the moment you call a person an object, you are objectifying that person. So, let’s just call all the appearances in the domain of perception as entities.

So, they all are objects. You have A, B, C, and what all can A be? A could be a thought, a feeling, a memory, a material object, and obviously, a person. It could be a person other than yourself, it could be your own mirror image, it could be your own imagined self, it could be your own alter-ego; it could be anything that you take cognizance of. If you can think of something, if you can say anything about something, if you can even just faintly feel or experience something, it is an object in your mental field. Simple.

So, all these objects, the sage is advising, will obviously have different values. Now, what does value mean? For that we have to understand who the valuer is. You know, something is of value to you only when you lack in something, right? If you are complete, whole, total, perfect, nothing will hold any value to you.

So, when we say things have value for us, what do we mean, really? We mean: I know I am incomplete in this particular sense, and it is both surprising and unfortunate because I also have this faint realization that Truth is my completeness, and my completeness is Truth. But in spite of that faint realization, I also clearly see very inexorably—it saddens me but I can’t deny it—that I live my life as an incomplete person. I know both the things: a faint glimmer I have that incompleteness can’t be my reality, my Truth, my nature; and there is irrevocable proof when I look at how I live my life, how I have my relationships, how I deal with the world day to day, that I live as an incomplete person.

I live as an incomplete person even though completeness might be my Truth or my nature. Now, tell me, what is to be valued?

In my mental domain, we said, there are so many different entities, also to be called as objects. The object that must be valuable to me should be the one that brings me to my completeness. That’s how anything, everything, is to be assigned its value; there should be no other yardstick. Not how attractive something appears, not how promising something appears, not how sensuous something appears—none of that. If you are a wise person, your evaluation will come from the potential and the intent of the object to bestow you with completeness. That’s how you will look at that object.

So, all these objects in your sensual field will have their relative values according to their capability in granting you freedom from your incompleteness, and all objects to some extent carry that power. From the humble pen to the mighty jewel, all objects carry that potential; they can help you in their own particular way depending on your relationship with them.

The sage is saying fine, all those objects are fine. Of course they have some importance. If you have a burning hunger within, then food obviously holds importance because that burning hunger accentuates your feeling of incompleteness. In that sense, even food has some spiritual value.

The Upanishads say: Annam Brahman . The sage must have seen a hungry person and realized that even a very carnal desire like that of food is spiritual in its own way. Of course, it won’t take you directly to liberation, but without that food there is no possibility of liberation; the person is hungry. So, in that context the sage uttered: Annam Brahman * —even food is * Brahman .

So, give all these things in your life their due importance, but never give them undue importance. And what is undue importance? Never place them at the level of the Absolute; never give them the highest importance. The highest slot, that holy spot, must remain vacant.

Why do I say vacant? Why don’t I say, make Brahman sit on that spot? Why don’t I say, occupy that slot with Brahman ? Because the moment you set out to fill a place with Brahman , you will fill that up with your image of Brahman . So, just let it remain vacant. It would be a very, very holy vacancy.

Nothing must matter to you beyond a point—that’s what the sage is saying. That’s the entire import of the first half of the verse.

Nothing must matter to you beyond a point. Let all things have their due importance. Let nothing become the center of your life. No thing, no object, no person, no thought, no book, no feeling carries that merit; nobody has that worth, that qualification to become your very center or, in layman terms, your God.

That does not mean that Brahman is God; Brahman and God are entirely different. But this is a useful way to remember what the sage is advising.

Let nobody become your God. Let nobody become your universe. At the same time, you cannot do without assigning things and people and places their respective values. It’s a thing of attention, it’s a tightrope walk; you have to be alert. You cannot say everything is useless; you cannot say everything is useful.

There would be careful hierarchies, there would be wisely, meticulously sorted lists in the wise mind. The top slot should remain vacant; all lists should begin from number two. There are very easy ways of practicing it. So many of us love to have a to-do list right in the morning. So, when you draw that list, leave the top slot vacant; begin from number two. It will be such a useful reminder, no?

You are throwing a party, you are calling guests, and you make a list of all the invitees—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. You would have guessed it by now, right? Keep number one vacant. The chief guest should always be anonymous, sacred, nameless, hidden, faceless, so deeply invited that he remains uninvited, uninvited yet definitely present, because his presence does not really require any invitation.

That kind of life you must lead. The first, the primary, the topmost, the Ultimate, the Absolute, must always be given its due place—unconditionally. All other things after that.

Now, that’s the feeling behind the old tradition of beginning any important work with an invocation of the Lord or a chanting of religious hymns. It doesn’t matter what you are going to do. You are going to begin a journey? First of all, you go with folded hands to the deity and you utter a few words. Those words really do not mean much; what is meaningful is that you remembered the deity before you began the journey. The journey comes later; the deity comes first.

Now, the deity really holds no objective importance, it is just stone; what is of importance is your remembrance. It is such an important journey; you could have remained lost with your itinerary, with your tickets, with your booking arrangements, with the people you are going to meet—there is so much to take care of before your journey, right? But in spite of all your occupations, pre-occupations, you still remembered that there is something of prior importance before the journey. Now everything will be auspicious, because if you can remember that, then you will not make a bad journey in the wrong direction.

How do, first of all, bad journeys come about? You forget that there is something more important than the journey and the destination because the journey is yours and the destination has been determined by you. Instead, when you remember that the real destination is beyond all these journeys that you make on the face of this earth physically, then that right destination in the inner world—or beyond the inner world rather—helps you move towards the right place in the physical world.

So, people, even before they start eating, even before they take the first morsel, what would they do? They would think of the Lord. In fact, in a very sweet way, they would offer something to the Lord, you know. “The first morsel is not for this body, it is for You.” Now, there is nobody to take that—obviously there is nobody to take that. And it does not matter whether somebody came to accept your food offering; what matters is that you remembered that there is something more important than your hunger and food and such things. That remembrance sets everything right, and that forgetfulness is your very bane.

Whenever you are doing something, remember, remember—remember what? No, I won’t answer that. If I say remember the Truth, you will come up with some axiom in the name of Truth. No, just remember. Before you eat, remember; before you sleep, remember; before you do anything, remember. If you are to remember before you do anything, what does that mean? You have to constantly remember. That constant remembrance is at the core of right living.

And if you happen to unfortunately watch a debauched life, you must know that forgetfulness is another name for debauchery. There is no other reason why one’s life is ever ruined: that person just forgot. In fact, there is no bigger evil than forgetting because all evil stems from forgetting.

So, when I ask you, “You were supposed to do this; why wasn’t it done?” and you say, “Acharya Ji, I forgot. It slipped my mind, I slept. I didn’t remember,” for you probably it is an acceptable excuse—for me it is scary. Because if you are forgetting, then you are siding with evil. What else is evil? Forgetfulness.

And that’s what Prakriti wants: she wants you to forget. Forgetfulness is another name for unconsciousness. In Prakriti , there is really not much value for consciousness. You live an ordinary prakritik life, and she will bless you: you will have good health, many babies, social acceptability, good food, good sleep, health and long life. There is nothing called consciousness in the value hierarchy of Prakriti .

In fact, if you are very conscious, then it becomes sometimes a problem for your prakritik self. You start giving more importance to abstract things rather than your gross physical body. You might start saying that, “Commitment is more important than food. If I have committed to something, it must be done. Food can wait.” Prakriti does not like that one bit. And so, you may even start suffering in the physical way or in the social way as you become more evolved on the scale of consciousness.

So, forgetfulness is alright when it comes to your physical nature; you don’t need to remember. All that you need to remember is anyway embedded in your bodily cells—what else do you need to remember? Do you need to remember to breathe?

So, mother Prakriti comes to you and says, “But son, what is it that you are constantly trying to remember? All that you need to remember I have already put in your body.” Your body remembers to wake up. Do you wake up with your active consent? No. You sleep, and after some six hours, eight hours, ten hours, you will wake up. See? Body remembers.

The body remembers to ask for food when it is hungry. The body remembers how to digest your food. The body remembers that your hair must retain that particular color—for example, black—when you are young, and when you cross thirty-five, forty-five or fifty, the body remembers that now your hair must start turning gray and white. Do you tell all these things to your body? No, you don’t. The body remembers.

So, mother Prakriti comes and says, “What forgetfulness? You already remember! See, so much intelligence I have given you”—and one cannot deny that because the body carries its own intelligence. But that intelligence is directed only towards physical survival. That intelligence will not teach you compassion. That intelligence will not be in the direction of realization or love. It might be in the direction of lust maybe, but not in the direction of love.

So, you have been given a load of things to remember, and those things you automatically, unconsciously remember, don’t you? The bodily cells, for example, remember their lifespan and their lifecycle; after certain days they know that they have to expire, and then they are gone, aren’t they? So many chemicals are being prepared by your body—do you even know their names?

So, you don’t consciously remember, but the body remembers. And the body doesn’t usually make a mistake, except when, let’s say, you are sick or very old. The body remembers.

If you are told to consciously digest your food, you will have a problem because you really do not know—even medical science does not fully know till date—how the food exactly gets digested. We know the outlines, we know some details; we do not know every detail, and that’s why we do not know how to cure every single disease. There are so many diseases of the gut we still have no treatment for, let alone a cure.

So, the body has been filled with knowledge, knowledge of the kind that keeps you physically alive, knowledge of the kind that will easily take you through the sixty, eighty years of your life without you having to strive for liberation or realization. If you are just ordinary folk, an average fellow, it’s not that you will have a problem living; you may even live up to hundred. Is that not so? Or is it so that people with lower levels of consciousness die early? In fact, if we were to really sample data, we might find otherwise; we might find that people who are more conscious live a few years less than ordinary folk.

Now you know what constant remembrance means: keeping the prakritik knowledge aside. You forget the real thing because Prakriti makes you remember so many other things. She wants your welfare, no doubt, but in her own way. Her definition of your well-being is her own definition.

When you move up the ladder, become wiser, more mature, you find that you are coming upon a new definition, a new definition that says that welfare is not about having a healthy body; welfare is about having a body that is healthy enough to meet a goal beyond the body.

For Prakriti , health of the body is an end, a goal in itself. For consciousness, health of the body is a means towards attaining some higher objective.

So, it’s not that consciousness asks you to ignore the health of the body or purposefully keep it diseased. Instead, it says that you don’t want to have a car to just keep shining and polishing and servicing it while making no good use of it. So, your car should be good enough, well serviced, and capable of carrying you to a destination that is not the service center. Of what good is a car that can carry you only to the mechanic, to the service center, to the garage, and nowhere else?

Prakriti says, “The car is great, and keep it in great shape”—without ever suggesting to you that the car is to be made good use of. It is foolish to invest in the car and maintain the car without ever knowing where to go in the car.

So, consciousness says, “Well, yes, the body is to be maintained. Remain physically healthy”—not that physical health is an end in itself, but so that using the physical body, that healthy body, you can attain some worthy goal in life. This is constant remembrance.

Prakriti wants to keep you body-centric; the body is everything. And when I say body-centric, I do not merely mean food or sex; those are just gross demands of the body. Then there are the subtle demands that arise from the subtler functions of the body. Anger is body—don’t you see that? If you are to be given one shot of one particular chemical, you will become angry. So, anger is bodily, is it not?

The thing that we call as mind is nothing but subtle body. Is there mind without the body? You say you feel emotions in the mind. Is it not true that all emotions are just chemical and hormonal outputs? If a particular hormone is taken out from your body—you are left with nothing of it—then so many of the bodily things that usually happen will happen no more.

So, even thoughts and feelings are body. Constant remembrance is about remembering to not give too much weightage to your food, hunger, lust, thoughts, emotions. That does not mean that those things are to be altogether avoided, they will have their value—we talked of that value, we said it’s a relative value—but you must always remember that the value of all those things must remain subservient to the one with the topmost value. It’s a beautiful word, ‘subservience’.

“I want to go to a place that is very important, and that is what makes the car important. The car has no independent value of its own. However, today I will fight to keep my car in good shape. The car has become as precious as my life—why? Because the car is to take me to that beautiful destination.” That’s what is to be remembered.

Thoughts and feelings, relationships and dealings, are all important to the extent they take you to your destination. If those things do not take you to your destination, drop them. Just drop them.

You are to go to Jaipur from Delhi and you have an automatic, self-driven car—in the sense that it does not require a driver, it moves by itself. You are to go to Jaipur, and your car starts taking you automatically to Chandigarh, 180 degrees in the opposite direction. What is the point of having such a car?

And is that not the case with most of mankind? Well, that’s not the case—why? Because most of mankind does not even know where they want to go to. They don’t have anything called Jaipur in their life, so they just leave it to their cars. What are you doing? “I am doing what I am feeling like.” In the car analogy, how do you translate this statement? “I am going where my car feels like taking me.” How wise does that sound now when you translate it?

You ask someone, “Where are you going?” and the fellow says, “Where my car takes me!” Won’t you call that person a total idiot? But in common language, we call them liberals. They say, “Well, I am doing what I want to do. It’s a free country, and I am exercising my free choice.” It’s not your free choice; it’s what your body and your mind are heavily conditioned to do. You are calling heavy conditioning as free choice. Don’t you see it is idiotic?

Brahman is not to be made into an idea. Don’t start worshiping Brahman . This country entered into many foolishnesses but has spared itself of one: we don’t worship Brahman yet. Disastrous would be the day when we start worshiping Brahman as well. Brahman -deities and festivals of Brahman and stories related to Brahman . You know, once Brahman was walking a top the Himalayas and he met a beautiful damsel called Brahmani, and they fell in wild love for each other. So, Brahman did some extraordinary penance for the next two thousand years to win Brahmani—that’s how our stories are, you know.

Remember that all that you remember is not worthy of remembering; you will be at peace. Know that all that you know is really not worthy of being known; you will remain lighter. Remember that all that you have is not necessary to be had; you will remain humble. Remember that all that you do not have is anyway very dispensable; you will remain upright.

This is constant remembrance. In spite of remaining immersed in whatever you are doing, you remember that the world itself is immersed in Brahman . Remember the bigger picture. And that’s what the sage says here:

“He knows this supreme Brahman as the highest abiding place in which this radiant universe is placed and appears.”

All your concerns are placed in this world, and the world is placed in Brahman . Don’t be myopic. Don’t have a pinhole vision. Broaden the scope of your canvas, the inner one.

“The wise who are without desire and worship the pure mind pass beyond this seed.”

The ones without desire, the ones who worship the pure mind—which is the Self, Brahman , *Ātman*—pass beyond this seed. Which seed is being talked of? The ‘I’-seed, the mother seed, the mother tendency, the ‘I’-tendency.

The ‘I’-tendency is not what gives you an identity; the ‘I’-tendency is what hides your real identity from you. The ‘I’-tendency is not what gives you your face; it only gives you a mask, it hides your real face from you. It gives you a false face and a desire to maintain and secure that false face by desiring everything that helps secure the falseness.

The mother tendency is the ‘I’-tendency; the mother face is the ‘I’-face; the mother desire is the ‘I’-desire, and then there are a thousand miscellaneous desires each with a view to, each with the task of maintaining the mother desire, the mother falseness. The incompleteness in the false self is supplemented by desirousness, and these two together become some kind of a substitute for totality, completeness.

So, the ‘I’-tendency is incomplete. Now, how does it make up for its incompleteness? By being desirous. So, there is incompleteness, and then you add desire to it, and it becomes some kind of a substitute for wholeness, the real thing: “Alright, I am incomplete. But I am not just incomplete—I have desires.”

So, desires fill up your inner hollow, in a very false way, obviously. Desires are what do not allow you to give up the incomplete for the complete. Otherwise, the incomplete is so obviously inferior to the complete, you would have dropped it long back. Why didn’t you drop it? Because it’s incompleteness plus desirousness.

Now, these two things combine and put up a shady front in front of completeness. Remove desire, and incompleteness shows up as obviously inferior. Therefore, wherever you would have incompleteness, to cover it up, to boost it up, you will also have desirousness.

Like a salesman selling you an inferior product with discount coupons for the future; now many people will fall for this deal. Otherwise, who would go for an inferior product when the real one is available? And the inferior one is openly inferior; you know it is inferior.

“But then, you know, it might be inferior, but I am giving you hope for the future: please take these coupons! You may use these coupons in the future and you will get a 20% discount.”

Now you are bemused: “Hmm… It does not seem like a bad deal. This incomplete product, I may take it, because with this product I am getting a heavy 20% discount on anything that I might purchase!”

Now, ‘anything’ involves imagination—and it’s a big store.

“What he is saying is: ‘You can have anything in the future.’ I have been given a hope, a promise: ‘Whatever you will buy in the future, you will get 20% off.’ So, I say alright, take this, and now I am getting these coupons, these cards, and I will buy a space rocket costing billions and I will get 20% off, and that will mean so much.”

You got nothing—you really got nothing—and don’t even know where you will place that space rocket if ever you happen to get it. You will have to face bankruptcy just parking that rocket! You can’t even service your little bike properly; you take it to a shady center, not the authorized service station, because you want to save 200 rupees. How will you service that space rocket? But those things you don’t think of because greed obfuscates intelligence. Do you see how it happens?

That’s how the ‘I’-tendency keeps desire alive to somehow sustain itself. Drop desire, and what have you actually dropped? The ‘I’-tendency. Therefore, the verse says:

“Those who are without desire pass beyond this seed.”

Dropping desire means dropping the seed itself. Drop the discount, and you have dropped the false product itself. Drop the hope of future discounts, and you have dropped the shady deal itself.

Now you would have understood why spirituality talks so much about freedom from desire: because freedom from desire is analogous to freedom from the false self.

The false self cannot sustain itself without desire. Make this very clear to yourself.

The false self is false, you know it is false, but it carries the backing of hope: “I am false but I will bring you all these things.” It never gets you anything—never. And even if it does get you something, that too is patently false and inferior. It’s not as if you are ever delivered something genuine by the false self, but its announcements and allurements are just too loud for you to resist. “I will get you this, I will give you this.”

Now you know why the mind is always thinking: because the mind is incomplete.

Wherever there is incompleteness, there is a constant attempt to cover up the incompleteness through thought, hope, desire, effort, this, that—cover up, I am saying; not get rid of. Getting rid of incompleteness is a totally different effort compared to the attempt to just cover it up.

Do you realize that you stay the way you are—and the way you are is obviously not very good—because you unwisely see some benefits in staying the way you are? Those benefits are all just posited benefits, assumed benefits. They never really come to you, but they help to—not help to; ‘help’ is a good word, why should I abuse it? They assist the ego in continuing to make your life hell. Do you see this?

Live the right life. Be free of all the mental nonsense. The Truth says nothing, but let me dare to say this is one promise the Truth does make: Live the right life, live peacefully, work peacefully, sleep peacefully. I don’t know how much value you give to this peace, but that’s the only promise the Truth can make, if any.

“The wise who are without desire and worship the pure Self”—would have been very clear to you, if you were paying some attention, that by worship you mean great evaluation; that by valuing the pure Self you are automatically devaluing the little self and its accompanying desires. So, you cannot value the two at the same time. Do you get this?

Value the Truth, and you will find desires dropping. Most people do not take that as a good sign; even as they hear it, they won’t find it a welcome statement. They say, “If desires drop, what is left in life?” You see, it is such a condemnation of oneself. You say, “If desires drop, what is left in life?” You know what that tells me? There is nothing in your life except desires—and desires are fluff.

You say, “If desires are gone, what is left in life?” You do not know what you have just said. You do not know that what you have said implies that there is nothing in your life except desires. And if there is nothing in your life except desires, where is substance? Desires are just hot air, fluff. All your life is just fluff!

The more inauthentic your life is, the more difficult would it be for you to even contemplate freedom from desires.

And when we talk of freedom from desires, you have to understand what we are saying. There is the desire that exists to support incompleteness—that’s the kind of desire we are talking of right now. Desire that supports and nourishes and maintains incompleteness—that’s the desire we are talking of right now.

And there is that one desire that we all must have, which is to reach desirelessness. The desire to be free, the desire to know, to realize—that desire is of an entirely different quality. That is not to be compared to the run-of-the-mill desires.


Questioner (Q): There are certain specific objects that occupy my mind every day. However much I try to get rid of them, they still linger. How should I get rid of them?

AP: They are just occupying a void. That void should be the rightful preserve of something higher. That higher thing does not exist, so the little objects are all profiting from that absence. Bring something higher into your life, fill that void up, and all the petty objects will find no place to occupy. That’s the only method possible, let me tell you.

The mind’s logic is: having a bad object is better than having no object. So, if you do not give it the right object, it will select a bad object. You just cannot say, “I will go neither for this nor for that; I don’t want to opt for a bad life, but I also won’t opt for a spiritual life.” If you don’t opt for a spiritual life, you have automatically enrolled for a bad life.

If you want to get rid of bad life, then you will have to go for a spiritual life. There is no middle way or third way.

Q: I usually get mentally and physically exhausted from my work, and then I run towards entertainment. The work I have chosen is correct, but I still have the constant need for entertainment. Kindly help.

AP: No, the work might be correct, but you are taking it as just some kind of an enforced duty. Otherwise, either the mind will not need entertainment, or the mind will find work itself quite entertaining. So, my advice is: make your work your entertainment.

And I am not talking of activities of the kind that keep the body agile and fit here. You might have chosen great work, but that might involve long hours at the desk; you would obviously then need to maybe spend an hour at the gym, or thirty minutes running, or some other sport. That’s not what I am talking of. Giving the body some exercise is a physical, material imperative. No amount of conscious work can take the place of physical, chemical activity.

But otherwise, if you find that entertainment remains too alluring for you even in the middle of work, it is a sign that you do not understand your work, or you have not chosen the right work; or even if you have chosen the right work, you are still not fully committed to it. Otherwise, one is subsumed—one is more than subsumed, one is dissolved.

See, I am not trying to turn it into some kind of a manual for austerity, some kind of celibacy in the domain of entertainment. What I am saying is that great work brings with itself this benefit that you do not need to go to other places to enjoy, to regale, to freshen up; that need is no more there.

In fact, that’s one of the ways you can identify right work. It might tire you down—because the body is a machine, and the mind too is a machine. If you work for long hours, you might feel you have a heavy head, you might feel that the back is aching, all those things are possible. But in the internal sense you will not be bored or fatigued; you would still be fresh internally. It’s just that your body is now refusing to work, and that is understandable, alright, quite acceptable.

The driver still wants to cover the distance, but the body needs refueling, or the engine has become overheated so it requires rest for a while; that is alright. But if your destination is so beautiful that you can have love for it, the driver, in his heart, would never really be tired; his legs might be tired.

Q: Is Brahman the same as Brahmā (a name of a deity)?

AP: Obviously not. I hope you have not been with the Upanishad Samagam for long; else I will have to doubt my teachings! I really hope this is your first or second month.

Brahmā is mythological; Brahman is the name for the mind beyond all myths. The two are in no way related to each other. It’s just that, you know, the English language is a funny one. Brahman , Brahmā, *Brahmāṇḍa*—they are all spelled in similar ways, so that amplifies the confusion even more. People anyway find spirituality quite incomprehensible, and then there is this Brahm-Brahman-Brahmin game. If you go to Sanskrit or Hindi or other native Indian languages, the confusion is reduced to an extent.

Q: If we live our lives without any desires, the only work we would do would be to just fill our stomach. Will that not be the end of all inventions, discoveries, and so-called development?

AP: How do you know, sir? How do you know?

See, this is where we face a big problem. We imagine so much. In fact, I have answered this question in advance just a few minutes back: “If there is no desire, what would life be like?” And people are scared; they say, “If there is no desire, we will just eat and live!” How do you know? All that you know of is this life that you are living. Have you ever lived life from an alternate center?

But we are haughty enough to assume that we know the alternate center. How? How do you know? Can you just force yourself to be a little humble for a while and tell yourself that you do not know? Maybe there is a higher way of living, maybe there is a different center to desire from—and we talked of that center, and we talked of right desire. But wrong desire wants to defend itself through all kinds of spurious arguments, this being one of them.

I have been facing this argument since some fifteen years now. This is the same question that a first semester B.Tech student would pose to me when I would visit their college in one of the Samvaad sessions. “Sir, if we do not live the way we are living, life would be all bland, colorless.” This question must be a favorite of Maya and must be working for her very well. Else, why would it be repeated so often? I am sure her success record with this question is quite great.

Let me tell you what your assumption is. Your assumption is: there is the animal life and there is the stupid life, and beyond these two there is no life. I am asking you to quit the stupid life, and you are saying, “If I quit the stupid life, all that I am left with is the animal life. So, sir, your advice is not proper!”

How do you know that these are the only two options you have, the animal life and the stupid life? How do you know? And you are saying, “If I quit the stupid life, where will all the inventions and innovations come from?” Seriously? Have inventions and innovations come from the quality of life most people lead in the average sense? Do they come from there?

These Upanishads, do you think they come from the common folks? They don’t come from the common folks, to that you would readily agree. But you say that if you are not common, then you are animal; these are the only two ways, right? That’s what you have just said. So, according to you, the Rishis were animals because they are not common, and the uncommon, according to you, is beastly. What logic is this?

Obviously there is a third way. We exist at this level, which is the level of our common stupid existence; below this is the level of animal existence; and there is a level, I assure you, higher than this as well. Spirituality encourages you to graduate to that higher level. And it’s not that that higher level is dangerous for you; it’s not as if it will sap the life out of your work, relationships, this, that. Our work, dealings, and relationships are—if you will afford to be honest for a while—already lifeless. They have no sap.

The third plane is possible. The Upanishads are a proof of that third plane. Every single individual who is worth remembering down the centuries of history is a proof of that third plane. The great men and the great women in all fields of human endeavor, they were neither animalistic nor stupid; they were operating from a higher plane. You too can operate from there. It is your right, it is your responsibility. Try.

Q: Earlier you said that we should not give undue importance to things. I think that we usually begin with good intentions, but then we start giving more importance to the means rather than the end, and then we start coming up with excuses to preserve the means themselves. But when we realize that, it is already too late. How to stop this bad chain of events from happening?

AP: By having the right end. If you choose bad means, it is because the end itself is improper. The right end obviously cannot afford the wrong means, but wrong means work for you and you persist with them for long durations. What does that mean? That means that the destination itself is wrong. Therefore, even the wrong kind of vehicle appears right to take you to that destination.

If your destination is the moon, would you be found going around pedaling a bicycle? If you have been with bicycles for long, what does that clearly tell me about your destination? Surely you don’t want the moon and the stars; else, why would you stick to a bicycle?

So, you said that often the intentions are right but we lose sight of the end and get attached to the means—no, that’s not the case. The intentions themselves are not right. Why? Because our intentions, as we discussed in detail, come from the body-mind conditioning. We do not realize that they are coming from an automated system; we start calling those intentions as our own. Instead of questioning our intentions, enquiring deeply into where our thoughts and feelings come from, we start siding with them, we start energizing them—we become one with them.

When you just want to go to the grocery shop down two streets, the bicycle suffices. Now you can be with the bicycle for two decades and have no problem at all, because in the name of destination all that you have is the grocery shop, and the bicycle will happily take you there. You will feel no insufficiency; the means are a perfect match to the ends.

But the day you fall in love with the moon, you will throw away the bicycle. Or, you will at most use the bicycle to take you to the place where you can get a ride to the space station, the launch pad. Even if you now retain the bicycle, it will be for a very specific purpose; we will now know that the bicycle is of limited use, if any.

The bicycle takes you to the bus station, from the bus station you catch a bus and reach the space center, and from the space center you take the spacecraft to the moon. Now the bicycle will have some importance, some relative importance, some little importance, but the stickiness would be gone; you will not be carrying the bicycle on your head anymore. The bicycle will no more be the center of your universe. It will have some importance, fine.

Fall in love with the moon, not with the grocer’s daughter.

Q: Is there a difference between a deity and Brahman ? If so, how can I be aware of Brahman as I take the name of a deity before every action?

AP: No, no. Brahman cannot be deityfied. Brahman is the name of the final truth beyond the external world and the mental world; truth that can have no image, no conception; truth beyond principles.

Now, why is Brahman needed? Because the external world fails. Why is Brahman needed? Because even the internal world fails.

Objects, material objects do not bring you contentment. Man first tries in the external world. Even in the Vedic literature, in the Samhita part, the Rishis are first found worshiping external nature; there are gods that are related to external things—to rain, to fire, to fertility.

So, the beginning is from there. “Maybe this will give me contentment.” That’s where the Vedas start from: worshiping the external thing. And then they graduate to thoughts and feelings; they move into the world of imagination. “Oh, maybe such a god resides there, and I am going to appease that god, and I will receive well-being in return”—such things. Even those things fail.

Then, finally the Vedas come to Vedanta, where they say beautifully: “My voice did not reach there. I thought my God was sitting atop that mountain, and I tried and my voice did not reach there.” Remember Kena Upanishad ? “I called out to my God, the voice did not reach there.” What does that mean? Contentment is not to be found in the world the voice pervades, and your voice can reach everywhere, right? If we are talking of this three-dimensional physical world, your voice actually can reach everywhere.

“The tongue, the voice do not reach there, the eyes do not reach there. So, the external world fails in giving me contentment.” Then the same verse says, “The mind fails in thinking of Him.”

“So, next I tried with the mind. Firstly I tried with the eyes, the ears, the tongue, the legs—firstly I tried with these. I failed. Then I tried with the mind, and then the mind also failed.”

So, then the Rishi says, “That which is not to be found outside of me nor inside of me, that is Brahman . And that is to be talked of because I need contentment. Contentment is neither there nor here, not without nor within; therefore, Brahman .”

Now, talking of Brahman as a deity—that would be such a sad mistake, no? Do you get this? If Brahman were to be turned into a deity, then you already have deities a plenty—why do you need one more? If Brahman were to turn into some kind of story or thought or principle, then you already have so many mental stories, thoughts, images, principles—why have one more?

So, Brahman is neither a thing outside nor an idea inside. Why do we need to complicate things so much? Because neither the outside nor the inside give you contentment. You have to be really ambitious in seeking for peace; only then will you come to Brahman .

Otherwise, you will satisfy yourself with some crumbs there or here. You know, a little bit of momentary fleeting peace you can get in some worldly object, and you will say it is sufficient. Or you may console yourself with imaginations and thoughts, and a little bit of peace you will again get; you will say it is sufficient.

Only the one who wants lasting, uninterrupted, and very secure peace, contentment, will be daring enough to go to Brahman . And when he goes to Brahman , he knows that Brahman is not to be disrespected by objectification.

Q: In the beginning of the session you talked about constant remembrance. A pigeon died because I forgot something, and I feel bad about it. I don’t have a question, but could you please say something on this?

AP: You see, all right things come in a bundle, and so do all wrong things. You will have to live very, very rightly if you want to avoid everything that is wrong. When I say live very rightly, I mean: make continuous and uninterrupted right choices. If your mental space is even intermittently pervaded by thoughts of greed or lust or fear or jealousy or insecurity, whatsoever, then you will find that a lot of the right stuff is being supplanted, substituted by rubbish.

That rubbish has taken up the space of the right thing. The rubbish got unduly remembered, so the right thing had no place to occupy, to come to you. You will have to endorse rightness as such, not just right things; you will have to endorse the entire bundle. When you endorse the entire bundle, then you will have to reject the entire bundle on the wrong side, not just a few wrong things.

What happens is that we want to make exceptions. We say, “I will reject all the wrong things except these two-three because I am attached to them; I won’t discard the entire bundle.” What you don’t realize is that those two-three things will sooner or later bring the entire bundle in their wake.

You would want to play good and say, “No, but I am giving higher priority to all the right things.” Alright, you are giving higher priority to all the right things. Let’s say your priority list has ten slots. You gave slot one to seven to the right things, and even among the right things there is a pecking order—the poor pigeon was lowered down that order.

So, one to seven were right things, they were already occupied; eight, nine, and ten you had given to something else. Now, where will the poor pigeon live? It didn’t, it died. The pigeon could have occupied slot number eight; one to seven it anyway cannot occupy, but slot number eight could have been its own. It lost that slot to something else.

So, don’t go for a mix-and-match kind of approach. Opt for the entire bundle—one till ten. When you should have been thinking of the pigeon, it’s not that you were thoughtless in that duration; you were thinking but of something else. That something else is obviously not the right thing to think of.

We console ourselves; we say, “You know, my life is seventy percent, eighty percent dedicated to the right thing. Only ten percent, twenty percent, or thirty percent do I keep reserved for something miscellaneous.” That is too much and too harmful. The pigeon is only a small thing to die. You might find it’s leading to bigger deaths. That ten, twenty, thirty percent that appears small is not small.

And you will then have too much on your chest to bear. Because eighty percent you would have lived right, that much of effort you would have made, and yet the remaining twenty percent—just twenty percent—would prove so disastrous that it can take lives. How will you forgive yourself?

So, when you go for the Truth, go for it totally, because totality is another name for Truth. You cannot have partial Truth.

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