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To know your real responsibility, know who you really are || IIT Kharagpur (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
17 min
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Questioner (Q): We encounter these nodes in the path of our lives where we have to make decisions. The majority of us have a lot of duties associated with our life, and these duties also come with some demands associated with how we must act. For example, right now I am a student and I am a son. There are times when the duties associated with these identities conflict with each other. For example, should I act as a student here, or should I act as a son here? And this is something I feel is very important for us to learn: how to prioritize these duties. In essence, it is called as dharma sankata , where you have multiple conflicting dharmas or duties, and you have to choose one of them. So, how exactly do we prioritize this?

Acharya Prashant (AP): May I know your name please?

Q: Devang.

AP: Devang, duty is something you do. Responsibility is something you take seriously, you carry. So, your duties are related to who you are. Responsibility is something you bear: these are the things that you do. You say, “I am bearing my responsibilities, I am right now in the line of my duty.” So, this is something that you do.

Now, the basics, the absolute basics: Why must one do anything? Why are you right now talking to me? Why am I right now responding to you? Why do we study? Why do we eat? Why do we play? Why do we sleep? Why do we do anything? Why do we travel? Why do we shop? Why do we marry? Why do we earn? Why do we do anything? Because duties and responsibilities, they do come within the domain of doing, within the domain of actions; they are related to us. We are the actors and they are the actions.

Now, why do we act at all? Why do we do anything?

Q: Would you want me to respond to that?

AP: Yes, of course.

Q: Early on in my life, I have been inspired by the Bhagavad Gita a lot. Majority of times, when I am acting, when I am doing something, it is based on the idea of niṣkāma-karma . I am not someone who is driven by the outcome of what I do. I am someone who usually figures out what his duties are and how to do justice to that duty. So, you asked, “Why do I shop?” I would say I am a student, so I have to fulfill the duties of being a student. I need a few things as a student, so I shop because…

AP: No, this is becoming tautological; it is going around in circles. I want to understand, first of all, how do you determine what your duty is? What you are saying is, “I act as per my duty.” I want to go deeper than that. I am asking, how do you know what your duty is? Why do you do anything at all? For example, there was a day in your life where you approached the Bhagavad Gita , right? So, before that point you didn’t know anything from the Gita, right? Niṣkāma-karma was a word you hadn’t heard of.

Q: Yes.

AP: So, keep the Gita aside then. Go to that point: How did you come to know that you must go to the Gita? Why do you do anything? Why do you go to the Gita?

Q: So, at that point of time, maybe I was seeking some sort of immediate fulfillment. I had some needs, and I wanted fulfillment.

AP: Exactly. Now, what are those needs? And what is this fulfillment that we seek when we do anything?

Q: This would probably boil down to us discussing about how we figure out our needs properly. So, you are asking what these needs are, and how these are developed…

AP: No, not about how they develop and all. I am not going into the academics of them. I want to keep it extremely grounded. Why do you do anything? Why does anybody do anything? You said there are certain needs that ask for fulfillment, right? What is that need within or needs?

Q: We are not satisfied with where we are.

AP: Right. What is it within that is not satisfied?

Q: They may be related to physicality, they may be emotional, but there is dissatisfaction related to wherever we are. Suppose I am unhappy at the moment, so that is the state in which I am, and I have an inherent urge to go towards happiness and I act on that calling.

AP: And that urge to be satisfied or happy makes us move throughout our life, right? That is what runs the world. That is what makes everything move, no?

Q: Yes.

AP: So, that urge is everything. That urge is absolutely everything. Without that urge there is no existence at all, right? Without that urge there is no laptop, there is no you, and there is no me. Think of this. The three entities that I just talked of, they all came into existence because somebody was dissatisfied and sought fulfillment or happiness, and that seeking gave birth to the objects we just referred to. Similarly, everything in the world comes from that urge. Now, whose urge is that?

Q: I am unable to answer this question because the information or the answer that is coming to my mind is derived from the Bhagavad Gita , and you said keep the Gita aside. But I personally feel that this urge is not related to physicality or mentality. This urge, or any longing that we have, is derived from Ātman (the Self).

AP: No. Before you knew the Ātman , did you not have that urge?

Q: I did.

AP: So, where does that urge come from? Keep your knowledge a little separate from you. Obviously, knowledge is great to have—and we respect knowledge, we will come to that—but right now, can we come from our life?

Q: Usually it is either due to the past experiences or the observations that we are making.

AP: No, we said, who is having that urge? The past experiences are there—to whom?

Q: Right here, in this context, Devang is having that urge.

AP: Who is Devang?

Q: Okay. Uh…

AP: Okay, let me put it this way. Is Devang this face that is speaking to me? I want you to answer that. And to make things a bit quicker for you, when you sleep, and when you are deeply asleep, does your face really change?

Q: It does age, it does show some sort of emotions.

AP: It does show some sort of emotions, but more or less it remains the same. The weight of the body remains the same, and in fact the face remains so much the same in the sleeping state that a person in the waking state can pretend to be asleep. The face does not need to be radically altered to display that one is asleep.

So, the body remains the same even when you are asleep, and then there is no question of happiness or fulfillment. I am talking of good sound sleep where you are not even dreaming of fulfillment. So, the body remains the same, yet the desires and the urges are more or less gone. As soon as you wake up, again those desires pop up, and they start pushing you around and making you run around to get this, get that, achieve this, or leave this, reach somewhere, be somebody—those things start happening. So, whose desires are those?

Q: These desires are somehow related to this identity that I have created.

AP: And when you are asleep, then you are no more Devang, right?

Q: In a manner, yes.

AP: When you are asleep, then there is no Devang at all. The moment you wake up, there is Devang and there are desires.

Q: I feel that there is this form of energy that I have in my brain…

AP: No, no. We do not know if there is energy in the brain. We will only talk of what we really know of. We will not depend on knowledge coming from others.

Q: I feel that when I am asleep, I am trying to manifest my desires in my dreams.

AP: I am talking of sound sleep when even dreams are not there.

Q: Yes, we can say that in sound sleep there is no Devang.

AP: There is no Devang and there are no desires. But something changes between the sleeping state and the waking state, and Devang, with all his urges and desires, comes into existence. What changes between the sleeping state and the waking state?

Q: I am trying to figure out the answer, but I am not able to figure out the cause.

AP: The cause is not needed to be known. The answer is so obvious: it is just what you call as the quality of your consciousness.

You are not conscious when you are asleep. When you are awake, then you have a certain state of consciousness. And this consciousness is always desirous. This consciousness is Devang, and this consciousness is a continuous urge to seek, to change, and to be better. And this consciousness is Devang. So, that appears like who we are, right?

Q: Agreed.

AP: If that is who I am and I keep on doing things continuously, then obviously those actions must be of some value to me if I am to do those things, right? Because who am I? I am somebody unfulfilled. So, obviously I need some betterment, I need some respite. I am continuously suffering within because I am unfulfilled, so I want betterment. It is with the purpose of betterment that I do what I do. So, we keep doing things continuously and those things that we do are for the sake of betterment of consciousness.

Q: Agreed.

AP: Now, those things include duties and responsibilities. So, that tells you how one should assess his real duties. Your real duty is that which elevates, cleans, purifies your consciousness; all else is trivia. All else can be kept aside, even if it has taken the name of responsibility or kartavya , or even if it appears like a dharma sankata to you.

That elevation of consciousness, because you have been continuously referring to the Gita, is also what is reflected when Krishna says, “Keep aside all your dharmas and come only to Me: Mām ekaṁ śharaṇaṁ vraja. Nothing else matters.” You are a suffering, crying mass of consciousness, and all it wants is fulfillment. That fulfillment is known in Gita by the name of Krishna.

Krishna is not a person. Krishna is not a concept. Krishna is your own destination. You are an unfulfilled consciousness seeking fulfillment. That point of fulfillment is Krishna.

So, that is the litmus test, that is the sole criteria; doesn’t matter if you are a student or a son or this or that. And all the identities that you wear will impose certain responsibilities on you. Even if you wear the thinnest identity, let’s say you are in an elevator, you still carry certain responsibility even for those two minutes, no? You are in a shop—who are you? “I am just a shopper. I have come to buy something or just window shop.” And still it imposes upon you a certain responsibility to act in a certain way, to behave in a certain way.

Wherever you are, you will find that responsibilities will come to you aplenty. How to know, then, what to do? Which responsibility to take up? And also, these responsibilities that come to us are always in conflict with each other. Wherever you are, the world imposes multiple identities upon you, and these identities are not in sync with each other, right? Your identity as a student is not necessarily congruent to your identity as a son. Your identity as a shopper is not necessarily in sync with your identity as a wisdom seeker, as a reader of the Gita. And here I am showing conflict only between two parties or two identities. What really happens is that we are a bundle of innumerable identities; therefore, the conflict is multipartite, like something being pulled in forty-eight different directions by forty-eight different forces. That is how we live—because we do not know what to do.

We do not know what to do because we do not consider who we are. We do not want to remember that the consciousness, the mind, is seeking relief from its feverish state. And your only duty is to give it that relief, and give it that relief in a way that the relief remains permanently, the relief has a certain depth, a certain constancy. If you can remember that, if you can remember who you are, you will have no difficulty at all knowing what you should do at any given moment. Your responsibilities will become extremely clear to you.

In fact, Shri Krishna says in the Gita that kartavya or duty is only for those who really do not know themselves. Once you know yourself, then you need not be bound by duties because the instantaneous duty becomes clear to you by itself; then you do not need commandments of dos and don’ts. Dos and don’ts and rules and regulations are needed only because we do not have self-knowledge. The deeper is your self-knowledge, the lesser would you require any code of conduct or any manual of life to live by. In fact, even if you are given a manual to live by, you will not find it helpful; in fact, you will find it difficult to accept that manual.

So, remember who Devang is. Devang is not a student, Devang is not even a son. All those things are quite peripheral. Devang’s central identity is his consciousness. In fact, even to say ‘Devang’s consciousness’ is to stray from the truth. It is not ‘Devang’s consciousness’; it is Devang the consciousness. Devang is a name for that consciousness. You are that consciousness, and that consciousness is impure, trapped, and frustrated. That consciousness demands relief, and that is the sole purpose of life. If that is the sole purpose of life, then that is your sole and sacred duty.

Never think that your central identity is that of husband, wife, son, mother, father, daughter, employee, leader, voter, your caste, your religion, your gender, or your economic status. All of these compete to become your central identity. None of these can be your central identity. Obviously, for practical purposes you do say that “I am a student”; you carry that card or you display your age proof, you have your Aadhar card, and you have so many things. In some sense, they represent your demographic identity. But you must remember that all those things are just vyāvahārika , for the sake of ease in worldly conduct; they are not existential, they are not real.

You must remember who you really are. And then the difficulty in knowing what to do, the state of dilemma, the state of inner strife, will be very easily resolved.

Q: So, a micro summary of what you said is that we have to elevate our level of consciousness to actually figure out what our true desires are and fulfill them.

AP: No, I didn’t say that. (Smiles)

Q: I am sorry, what I meant to say was that right now, the majority of us are not aware or in a state where our consciousness is not that elevated, and that is why we are in this dilemma of not knowing what to do. So, we might have to make efforts so that it eventually becomes clear to us and comes naturally. So, what do we do now?

AP: And you have to make choices, right?

Q: Yes.

AP: Should I take this up? Should I take that up? And you have already answered how to make that choice. Ask yourself: These are the three options I have: A, B, C. Out of these three, which one really elevates my consciousness? Because that is what I want, that is who I am, that is what I exist for, and that is my central purpose in life.

I could go to the gym, I could go to the bar, I could read something, I could be with somebody, I could go on a date, or I could simply lie on the bed and snore, or I could spend my time just gossiping and waste the next two hours. Whenever these competing choices present themselves, ask: Which of these choices would cleanse my mind, make me sharper, elevate my consciousness, bring me closer to where I must be? This question must always be present to you.

In fact, this is what is called constant remembrance. Nothing else is to be remembered, only this. At all points in time we have decisions to make, no? Even at this point you have to decide whether you want to pass the baton or ask one more question. So, honestly ask yourself, always, “What would serve my real interests better?” And if you can stay true to that question, your answers would be authentic and helpful.

You see, answers are probably not that difficult to get. You would have realized by now that the problem lies in the questions. We do not know the right questions to ask, and hence, obviously, we cannot get the right answers. The right question is this: Who am I? What do I need, and what takes me there? And that tells you what choice you must make, the duty you must pick, the responsibility you must shoulder. All else is rubbish.

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