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Truth will not answer the false, but the Guru will || On Advaita Vedanta (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
11 min
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Questioner: Wherever I find myself entering into conversations with people, I am often asked questions such as ‘How are you?’, ‘How was your day?’, ‘Where are you from?’, ‘What are your hobbies and interests?’. Any answer that I give I know to be ultimately false. Answers such as ‘I am not good, not bad’ etc. emerge, and I find myself uninterested in asking the same questions back because I don’t want to encourage the other to weave stories about themselves either.

At the same time, I understand that people just want to come close and relate, and they may not know any other way to do that than to ask questions that invite me into a dance of mutual story-telling as a means of gaining intimacy. However, none of the answers I give them will tell them anything about me nor give them that which they truly want. How to navigate through this situation?

Acharya Prashant: Come on. You are saying people come over to you, they ask you how are you, how was your day, how is life, and you are saying, “Well, any answer that I give to them would ultimately not be truthful, so I don’t want to engage them, I don’t want to give them any response.” At the same time you very well know, as you say, that probably the one who is asking you these questions knows no other way to relate to you. So, you do have to engage him, you do have to respond, and you are asking how to navigate this.

How do I navigate your questions? You are befuddled when you see the basic questions like ‘Hey, all good?’, ‘Having a nice day?’, ‘How do you do?’, ‘How is life?’; you see the falseness in these questions, right? And then you are perplexed. You are saying, “Acharya Ji, these questions are false! And if I respond to them, am I not participating in the false?” What about the questions that you keep asking me? How true are they?

Just as from your vantage position you see the falseness of questions like ‘Who are you?’, ‘Where are you going?’, ‘How do you do?’, I too see the falseness of the questions that I answer every day. Now, what to do? Should I declare all these questions false? That is such a tempting thought… You shouldn’t have brought me to this! It will be difficult for me to proceed through the rest of the session. I actually have to pull myself every single day to answer these questions!

So, how to navigate this? No question ever asked was a truthful question. Correspondingly, no answer ever given contained the Truth. So, you are reading the Katha Upanishad , you queried from there. Nachiketa is asking certain questions, Yama is replying. What do you think, Yama is providing Nachiketa with the Truth? Not at all. It’s not there, not even in the Upanishads.

The students raise so many queries to the Rishis, and the Rishis do engage those queries; they come up with some kind of a response, and we have been celebrating those responses. But are those responses the Truth? No, they are not. And that is why those responses are wonderful: because the nearer a response is to the Truth, the more incomprehensible it becomes—incomprehensible, unpalatable.

The yardstick that you should use to measure the worth of a response is not the truthfulness yardstick; you should not say, “I will look at the answer assessing how truthful is the answer.” No answer can be truthful. In the absolute sense, no answer can be truthful because answer is ultimately in response to a false question, as you say. All questions are false. How can Truth come as a response to the false? It cannot.

Therefore, answers do not contain the Truth; they point to the Truth. It’s a great difference. You come to me asking for water and I point towards a water container. So, what will you do? You will move towards the water container. Or would you start biting my finger? That might give you some blood, but still not water.

So, the answers of the teacher point you towards the Truth, and therefore they are customized, bespoke answers. The teacher looks at your condition, looks at your desire, your capacity, your intensity, and then crafts a handmade pointer for you—not factory-produced, it’s handcrafted. You get the difference?

So, engage the others. Don’t even try to give them the Truth, but try to give them something that would be useful. And what do I mean by useful? In the real sense, the only use, the only usefulness is liberation. Give them an answer that would help them be liberated. Give them an answer that would engage them and, at the same time, disengage them from themselves. It’s an art, it’s a knack to deliver wisdom in day-to-day situations, to take the other to another dimension even when the other is not only not asking for it but is actually indifferent, even resistant.

It’s not a challenge; it happens spontaneously. You cannot go around in a party all buckled up, waiting for the next casual question to come to you, preparing in advance the punchline, the mahāvākya that you would throw at the other in response to his casual question. And you can do that. It’s a good way of catching attention, getting some publicity, and also convincing oneself that one is on the spiritual path and helping others. You can do that. You can have ready-made responses to casual questions.

Someone comes to you and asks, “How are you?” and you could immediately respond, “I am not!” That would be such a cool thing to say, right? Cool and useless, because that would put the other totally off. He would give you either a puzzled or a dirty look, and move towards the bar more determined to have another round of drinks.

Wisdom and compassion go together, which means a wise answer would naturally end up helping the other person. If your answer appears wise but does not help the other person, then it is not a wise answer. That means you don’t have to practice compassion; wisdom is enough. If you really know, then you would inadvertently always end up helping others.

You’re asking this question as yourself, and I am answering this question as someone who carries a mouth and a tongue. We belong to the world, don’t we? Otherwise there would be no question-answer session. In the world there is nothing called the Truth. However, if you have a longing for Truth, then the entire world is a huge pointer towards nothing but the Truth.

So, don’t search for Truth here. You won’t get it here. But you get messages, you get hints, and they are beautiful. This is the world. You won’t get God here, but you can get Jesus. Is that not enough? And if you’re too ambitious, then you go and get God. For me, Jesus is sufficient.

There is no Brahman here; there are only avatars. There is no Govinda here; there is only Guru. If you can see God through Jesus, that is sufficient. If you can see Govinda through Guru, that is sufficient. If the avatar can remind you of Paramātman , that is sufficient.

In a relative and incomplete world which is a mere projection of your mind, how do you hope to find the Truth, the absolute Truth? You want the Absolute to be contained in the relative? Is that ever going to materialize? Obviously not. There is no recipe absolutely designed to disappoint you. Then the one that encourages you to expect the Truth either here or there—hope, expect, and be disappointed.

Here you will only find imperfections. The art of living is to come to a beautiful imperfection. Can your life be an example of a beautiful imperfection? Or would you just keep chasing utopian perfections and end up frustrated? Or end up a big hypocrite who says “I found the perfection”? There are many. The list of enlightened ones is growing by the week. They are the ones who found the Absolute! None of that is a good option.

In fact, disappointment is better than enlightenment. Disappointment at least carries a certain honesty. You tried for absolute liberation and you failed—that’s disappointment and that’s honest. “I tried for absolute liberation and I succeeded”—that’s enlightenment and it’s blatantly dishonest. Better disappointed than enlightened. But why settle for disappointment? Why not go for what I just called as a beautiful imperfection?

So, give them imperfect answers and give them beautiful answers. What is beauty? That which gives you a glimpse of the Truth—just a glimpse, not the entire thing. Can you give them a glimpse with your being, with your words, with the way you walk, with the way you dance, with the way you are present in the middle of the society, and with the way you sometimes choose to be absent in social gatherings? Can your entire being be beautiful? Can your entire being be a proof of the Beyond? That is the only way.

You cannot convince anybody of Godliness except through your own face. If your face is not the proof of God, then your words can’t be. If your silence is not the proof of God, then your words can’t be. If your failure is not the proof of God, then your success can’t be. Fail beautifully. Leap towards perfection and fall to your death. That’s the only way to prove that there is perfection. If it does not bring you to an end, how can it be perfect? So, leap towards it, get shattered, and die. And that will tell everybody around you of something that mere words, pedantry, sophistry could never have told.

I spoke so much to you—obviously that was not the Truth. Now you decide what you want to do with it. I can at most try to keep it beautiful, not Truthful; that’s beyond me. But remember, beauty shorn of Truth is not merely ugliness, it is deceptive ugliness. So, when I say beautiful and not Truthful, kindly do not think that there can be beauty without Truth. So, what I am saying is a bit subtle. Don’t be misled. It’s beautiful but not Truthful, but at the same time, there can be no beauty without Truth.

Don’t run away from people; engage them. That’s your test. Can you remain centered even when you are dealing with so much peripheral sound and movement, and can your presence help others be centered? These are the tests. Why else does one live and exist? For one’s own liberation, and for the sake of loving others and helping others. Except for these two, which are essentially one, what else is the purpose of life? Your own liberation and help to others, and these two are not two. If you take these two as two then you are believing in otherness.

You cannot help yourself without helping others.

So, don’t escape away from people. Don’t dismiss their casual questions as unworthy. Let not your knowledge fill you with contempt towards the common state of consciousness. Come up with beautiful replies, not a condescending silence.

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