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Want to beat the competition? || Acharya Prashant, at DTU (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
13 min
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Questioner (Q): Good evening, sir. My name is Anvesha. Sir, I would like to ask… in this era of race of building up our careers and earning money, is it all worth it, wasting all of our lives after running behind all of this?

Acharya Prashant (AP): This is not something specific to this era; it was always there, always. It's just that every generation feels something extraordinary is happening to it. Something that has never happened before in other times to other generations. Every generation feels that way. We too used to feel, when we were there, on that seat that the competition, “Oh my God! Dog eat dog. It’s never been like this.” Not only that, if I meet people of my batch from IIM or IIT, you know, they would rather say that the competition has rather diminished now. The environment is not as competitive as it used to be. So, that’s the thing about human perception. Every human being wants to feel special and therefore, we want to believe that our own conditions are extraordinary.

Competitiveness is there in our genes. We bring competitiveness to the corporate world, to the world of trade, business, governance, education, etc., from the jungle. If you go to the jungle—the place we all come from—what do you find there? Continuous competition. And if you listen to Darwin, he says, “Evolution itself is a result of competition.”

Do you understand the word ‘Dialectics’? At the core of dialectics is competition. You could also call it confrontation or resistance or opposition. Two things meet, they oppose each other and out of this opposition, something apparently new emerges. This idea is at the core of Darwinian evolution. So it is not as if the corporates have made us competitive. We have been competitive since we were an amoeba. It is because of competition against its surroundings and situations that the amoeba has finally become homo sapiens sapiens.

So, what is this competitiveness all about? Mostly the competitiveness is about filling in an inner vacuum. I do not know how to rise in life because I do feel that I am internally quite lowly, so I do see that I have to get better. But I do not know because I have not been educated well, so I do not know what it means really to get better. So, what do I do? I decide to get better than my neighbor. Internally, the urge is to get better because we feel, we experience that we are not okay, we are just not okay. But we do not know what is not okay with us. We do not know our disease, how will we get better? We do not know what the internal condition is like and why do we not know that? Because our physical apparatus is not designed to look at itself.

If you look at the physical apparatus, can the eyes look at what is going on inside the mind? Can you think about the origin of thought? When you feel something, do you realize where the feeling is coming from or the feeling just comes like a bolt and strikes you? Think of anger. Somebody comes and yells a cuss word at you. How long does it take you to get angry? And your face all just flushes up, you are all red. It’s a very bad word. You abhor it. Do you even get time to see where that feeling, that excitement, that agitation is coming from? We are not designed that way. Prakriti has not designed us to be capable to look at ourselves. So, we keep looking outwards.

We do not know what really the problem is inside, but there is a problem inside and the problem troubles us and when it troubles us, we see we need to get better. So, we decide to get better than our neighbor. This stupid response to internal disease is called competitiveness and ambition.

Unfortunately, this stupid world worships ambition. Because you do not know what you want, so you start gathering needless things, and you become a veritable God for those who are just like you and do not know what they want. And you showcase all the needless things that you have gathered for yourself and all the others get impressed. And nobody bothers to ask you, “What did you get out of all this?”

You started out as an idiot, now you are a rich idiot. But your central problem was idiocy and the idiocy still remains. And it’s not always about money, sometimes it’s also about knowledge. I don’t know what to accumulate, so I accumulate a lot of knowledge. I read a lot of books. So, I begin as a fool and after twenty years, I am a knowledgeable fool, but foolish I still am. But I have been very competitive. I have written five papers more than the nearest competitor. I have been very ambitious, I intend to write twenty papers more. I want to do this, I want to do that. I have never been able to question why the hell do I want to do anything that I do. That is called self-knowledge: knowing your own intentions, knowing your own deepest pain.

Competitiveness is our compulsion. We will have to be competitive. You see, please understand, you are in a burning house, can you visualize that? Please do. You are in a burning house, there is so much smoke all around, and the heat… oh my God! Intolerable! And the flames are leaping at you from all sides; you can see nothing. What will you do? Will you just keep standing where you are? Even if you cannot see anything, still you will run in some random direction. That’s what we do throughout our life.

We are so troubled by the burning house and the burning house when it comes to the human being is not outside of him but within. The burning house is within and the smoke has simply reduced your sight to zero, you can see nothing. We are not trained to see anything within. But you cannot keep standing where you are, it’s hurting you so much. You are panicking. So, what do you do? You start running around and if you find five people rushing in one particular direction, you obviously follow them. Though you do not know whether anything would come out of following them, right? But that’s what you would do. Those five are going in that direction, I too will rush in that direction. I have no option, that’s competitiveness. Just run, just rush, without knowing what we are going to get out of it because the house within is burning. That's competitiveness.

You come to your university—first semester—you do not know what you're supposed to do as a 17-year-old. You do not know what life means and what education means. So, what do you do? Some of you decide to compete with others in loafing; “I will be the number one loafer.” We are competing all the time. Some of you decide to compete with others in snoring; “I will sleep for an average of 8.8 hours a day.” Some compete with others in bunking classes, some compete for CGPA, and some compete for placement packages. Do you see, everybody is competing in some way or the other? Somebody gets into sports, somebody gets into some cultural stuff. Don’t you see, we all are competing in our own ways?

So, there is something common within each of us, all of us, and that commonness is called our fundamental discontentment, which is continuously begging to be taken care of. It is saying: “Please! Please! Please! I am you, take care of me.” But we don't listen to it because we cannot look at it because it is within and your eyes cannot look within. So, we start running hither-dither, in some random direction. Let’s compete, let me be the best in something, let me be the best in that. “Okay, I am the best when it comes to girlfriends. I have five of them.” Somebody else who has not been lucky in any measure comes up and says, “I am the best in not having girlfriends. I have absolutely zero. I too am a Topper. The dimension is different.”

We want to be the best in something. The thing is, the thing within says, you have to be the best. We do not know what it means to be the absolutely best. So, we decide to be the best in something, anything! That best, I will have to return to the world is called the Self. Self, the one who we really are. That’s what the inner dissatisfaction is crying out for. And because you do not address it, it manifests in all kinds of stupidities including ambition and competitiveness and whatnot. Man was always competitive; Do not think, it is a disease specific to your age, no!

What was Napoleon doing? What were all the kings doing? What were all the world wars about? What do you think, why was Hitler bombing London? Why? They were competing over Africa and India. They were competing who would have more colonies and bigger and juicier colonies to exploit. Everything is just competition. What was the Mahabharata war all about? What do the chimpanzees in the wild do all the time? Please tell me. They compete.

Competition is everywhere because ignorance is everywhere. What happens when the ignorance is gone? Are you no more competitive, which means you are no more in the race? What happens? So, you are a loser? No. Now you know the right race to run. Once I said addressing—more than a decade back—addressing a group of bright students like you: The race was won by the one who did not run, who did not run the wrong race. Victory lies not in winning, but in—first of all—not running the wrong race.

What’s the point in winning the wrong race? What’s the point? You need medicine and you have been racing all the way to the swimming pool and you win the race. What do you get there? What do you get there? Just a whole lot of water. But what you needed was medicine and you won the race to the swimming pool. That’s what we all are doing. That’s what is called competitiveness. Running to the beach when you actually need to run to the hospital. Are you getting it?

Please! Please, do compete but before that realize who the competitor is. Competitor, not the external one but the internal one. Who is the one who is going to compete, for what purpose, for what end? If I say that I want to be better than you, in what respect? In what respect?

The man of wisdom, the intelligent person decides not to participate in most of the available and trending races. He opts out. He chooses something very specific for himself and in that something specific, he is unbeatable; unbeatable in his own game, unbeatable in the thing that he really wants and really loves and that’s a word that should be very significant to you as young guys: Love . Should it not be? Do you want to live loveless lives? Running behind something you never loved at all. Even if you succeed there, what do you get? Huh? You are wooing a girl or a boy, you have no passion for, and you succeed, what do you get? A life of boredom, what else? The thing is now yours and that's your punishment. Handle it, handle it. Are you getting it?

Spend a lot of time just deciding the right thing to do and if you want to decide on what to do, you have to first of all know who you are. If you do not know your own interiors, you will never know what your life must be about. Then you will be just obliged in a compulsive way to run behind crowds.

I have seen that happening so much, so obviously, so inevitably, there are hardly any exceptions. I do not want that to happen to you as well. Very bright people, gifted by Prakriti , with great intellect but no self-knowledge. What’s the point in having a great car, if you do not know where you are and where you must go? All this braininess that you have, the IQs that you might be proud of, are just a car or a vehicle that has been given to you. But of no use is the vehicle if you do not know where you are and where your love lies. The vehicle is there so that you can drive your way to your goal. That goal is called Love. If there is no love, what kind of goal is there and what’s the point in living your life for any goal?

Therefore the knowers have said that Love itself is the goal. Let your Love decide your goal and obviously, the meaning of Love here is very different. It’s a technical term. We are not talking of the love of the man and woman, that kind necessarily. We are talking of something that would bring your inner discontentment to an end. That’s called Love.

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