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We are all just atoms. Then why do we fight so much? || Acharya Prashant, at BITS Pilani, Goa (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
15 min
38 reads

Questioner (Q): Pranam, Sir. I’m a research scholar from the mathematics department. Sir, we all are here. We all are dealing on a physical matter here, but if we see the chemistry periodic table, all the elements in there, and if someone knows how to play with that element, they can all create the whole universe in that. Just a matter of some addition of electrons, and some less electrons in that present, everything is same.

If we go on below that, then it is like everything is proton, electron, and neutron. And again, we go down, it’s like quark. So, you are also like a quark. We are also like a quark. Everyone is a quark, some with positive charge or some charge is different. Then why, if everything is the same, then why do we have hatred, and jealousy, and ego among ourselves only, and the position of authority, they are biased towards some kinds of people. Why is it like that if everything is one.

Acharya Prashant (AP): Wonderful! See, there is somebody who is the quark. The quark itself is not the quark. Does a quark ever say, “I am a quark?” Does an electron or a proton ever declare its identity? Ever heard protons, neutrons, or electrons shouting, “I am E, N, or P.” Or an electron saying, “I want to progress in life by jumping to a higher orbital. This is not good enough so D, P, F.” Ever found an ambitious electron in life?

No. That’s where that particular one comes in who says, “I am the electron.” This “I-ness” is missing in the objective universe as you see it. (Points to table) This is a table. The table never says, “I am a table,” but then there is somebody, somebody like me or you who says, “I am the owner of the table.” Now the table has an active identity. Now there is somebody who is identified with the table.

So, while objectively as you see it, it might be true that each of us is just the elemental particles or waves, then where is consciousness in this statement. What is consciousness? That which declares “I-ness.”

So, you said if we all are the same in terms of our elemental fundamental constitution, then why do we fight with each other? Why is there strive for hatred or differences? Because the one who is the quark is not satisfied being the quark.

You are somebody. Are you okay with being where you are right now? No, you are not okay. (Points to audience) He is somebody. She is somebody. None of us are contended. We are identified with some material, like the quark, or the table, or the BMW car. They all belong to the same dimension in terms of their materiality.

We are identified with something. “I am a man.” “I am a woman.” “I am a student.” “I am a topper.” “I am a laggard.” “I am rich.” “I am poor.” “I am handsome.” “I am short.” “I’m knowledgeable.” “I am a seeker.” “I’m a good sports person.”

Irrespective of what you say about yourself, including “I am a quark,” you are not all right being what you are. You declare you are a billionaire. Does that satisfy you fully? That does not. Or you could turn very knowledgeable and declare “I am a quark.” Does even that satisfy you fully? It does not.

So, we are not happy being what we are. We want to be something else. We do not know what we should become, so that we can be happy and satisfied.

Each of us is trying to become something. Nobody is stable, contended, relaxed, retired, absolutely a peace being where he or she is. So, there is that constant inner dissatisfaction and lack of fulfillment.

We want to be somewhere. We try hard to be there, and we find that our efforts are going fruitless. So, there then is frustration within. Then, there is somebody else sitting next to me. This person too is an object that can be potentially used by me so that I become somebody else.

For example, you are a boy, and a girl is sitting next to you. How do you become a boyfriend from a boy? You are a mirror boy, and there’s a girl sitting next to you. How now do you become, the important word is “becoming.” How do you become a boyfriend from a mere boy? For this, you will have to use the object sitting next to you, the girl.

Once the girl agrees, you find you have graduated to being a boyfriend from just being a boy. So, come on now you have to use that object next to you. That object is a conscious being. That object has some will over her own, but for you to satisfy your urge to become somebody else, you’ll have to use her and objectify her, and she may not want that. And then there is conflict.

Let’s say, all of you are participating in some kind of quiz contest here, and there is a trophy to be taken. (Picks up mug) Let’s say this is the trophy. This says, “IIM Ahmedabad.” written on it, so not too bad as a trophy, and this is waiting here to be captured and taken home.

All of you think that if you become, note the word “become,” all of you think that if you become the holder of this trophy, that will give you satisfaction. That’s how it happens, no? But can all of you become the owner of this trophy? No. One of you will take it home, and the others will probably smolder inside. So, then there is conflict.

Becoming, therefore you see, begets conflicts in a lot of ways. Whatever you are currently, since that is not sufficient, do you want to become somebody else, and the entire process of becoming is a process of conflict.

Unfortunately, instead of understanding where we stand, our education system, our social system, the entire culture, gives a lot of importance to becoming, which is a game of ambition.

So, all of us want to reach somewhere. You have targets in life, and you are hustlers. You want to be quickly reached there. Is that not what we want? “There is a place, and if it is to be reached, I better reach there fast. Now, I do not know where I’m standing. How do I know where I need to reach?”

Is that logical enough? And if you do not know where to reach, how do you know the path to take? When you want to read somewhere and you set your GPS, it asks for two things. What are the two things it asks for? It asks for the place you want to go to, and also there is something called Your Location. In the Maps app, Your Location.

If you do not know your location, can any map in the world help you? When it comes to your physical location, the satellite suffices. The satellite will tell you what your location is even if you do not know.

But when it comes to your mental station, where you are as an individual, here, inside, no GPS, or app, or satellite can help you. That you have to know, and only when you know where you are, then you can know where you need to reach. Is this getting too heavy or too fast for you? Do you see how we are going? We all are carrying identities, and each of these identities come from identification with a certain object.

So, for example, you are a boy. What is the object you are identified with? The male body. Since you say, “I am the male body,” You entitle yourself to say, “I am a boy.”

When you say, “I am rich,” for example, there is some object you are identified with. What is that object? Money. Tell me of something else. Give me an identity statement.

Q: I’m a Hindu.

AP: I’m a Hindu. There is something objective you’re identified with. In religion, there are books, there are practices, there are beliefs. All these are objects. You understand an object? Anything worldly that you can talk of is called an object. That’s the definition.

So, any identity statement involves deep association with an object, and that’s the reason why the entire world is running after objects. That’s why there is so much crowd in shopping malls, because they carry a lot of lucrative objects.

And we are hungry inside. Not physically, but mentally. We need something to associate ourselves with. Something so loveable that it will give us a final satisfaction. Nothing gives that to us, so we continue to run without ever coming to a halt, and ultimately, we find that our days are over and we are dead.

The entire life spent in hustling without ever really reaching. Do you see this? This, that we are within, that is hungry for satisfaction, you could call as the ego or the mind or the consciousness. These two are not exact synonyms of each other, but for your purpose as beginners, it suffices to take them as one. The ego, the mind, or the consciousness. That’s the hungry thing inside.

So, whenever you say, “Oh, we are just a quark, or Panchbhoot, or I’m just the soil,” that’s not really right to say because if you were just material, then the material exists even after death.

Does the weight of a person change immediately upon dying? The material exists even then. Surely, there is something beyond the material that you are. Something beyond the material that looks through these material eyes. The eyes are material, but there is something beyond material within that is looking out through the eyes.

Can pure material ever love? Can material cry? Can material deeply long for something? So, all right. The body is material, but then there is something within that is not material. It is not material, but it is heavily discontented. It is unfulfilled, and it wants fulfillment, and it does not know how to get there.

So, in its lack of knowledge, what does it do? It tries all kinds of material possible, including narcotics, drugs. Because they too are just objects, substances. So, you try even that. “Maybe this Will satisfy me. Maybe that will satisfy me. Money might satisfy me, entertainment, excitement, drugs, knowledge, power, sex, sports.” Whatever. You name it. Man has tried everything. Tourism, wanderlust. It is extremely important to study that. That which you really are—thirsty consciousness.

While walking in, I was discussing the honorable dean here, that the entire education system is focusing exclusively on objects. We know so much about, for example, this mic. We know not a thing about the consciousness that speaks to this mic.

We know about the eyes. We have studied this piece of flesh brilliantly. We know all about its anatomy. We can cure most of its diseases, and we can also replace the retina, for example. We have goggles, we have specs, you name it. And we have extensions of eyes called massive telescopes that can look deep into the space as well. Well, those are just extensions of eyes.

So, objectively we know so much, but we do not know a thing about the one who looks out through the eyes. Tell me who is the one taking in information through the eyes. Do we know him? Not that he is male, this is just a way of saying. Please tell me, who is the one so eager to look out through the eyes that the eyes keep rolling continuously? Are the eyes ever stable? The eyes are looking this way, that way. What are the eyes really looking for?

Our education system puts no emphasis on that, so the result is that we know a lot about the objective world, but we know very little about ourselves. And what happens then? Then, what’s possible is, let’s say, these are top class gadgets. I know how to make them, but just because I have them, will I know what use to put them to? Please tell me.

Objective education can reveal to you the secrets of the atom and how to generate atomic energy, but can nuclear physics also teach you what use to put nuclear energy to? Will that teach you that? No. Now, connect that to your point on hatred and strife. If lack of understanding of the self continues, the result is inner dissatisfaction which manifests as frustration and hatred.

Add to that the tremendous objective knowledge you have. Now, tell me, what will you do with nuclear energy? You know so much about the atom. You very well know that even a fraction of the mass of the proton, if converted into energy, becomes huge. Not too many atoms are required to flatten an entire city. A few moles will suffice. Just a few moles, and an entire city is gone.

Will nuclear physics ever teach you not to destroy a city? Neither can ethics and morality, because ethics and morality are super impositions. They too are just objective knowledge. They come from outside.

What you need is education that takes you inwards and you come to know who you are. You come to see jealousy within, you come to see fear and dissatisfaction within. You come to see an incompleteness within, and when you observe it you learn about it. When you learn about it, then there’s a way to be free of it. Please keep interrupting because I might just keep getting carried away.

Q2: So, while you explore the subgenre of disassociating with oneself, there are some basic needs and necessities which you can’t disassociate because they are means of survival. Can you justify what we should do about that?

AP: No, those needs obviously have to be fulfilled. So, we need air, we need water, we need food, we need clothes, we need shelter. We also need basic physical security. I don’t think we can have this conversation if we know that lions and pythons and anacondas are crawling about in the vicinity.

So, all those things are there, and we better take care of them, but don’t you think that as mankind we have already attained that kind of basic physical security for ourselves? Don’t you think? How many of you are afraid of being eaten up by a lion, for example?

Around 1000 years back, that used to be a concern. Snakes used to be a big concern. Basic food security used to be a concern because you were dependent totally on monsoons, rains, and the other caprices of nature.

Today all those things are guaranteed. In developed countries, you even have social security. Even in India, gradually we are developing some kind of social security. So even if you are diseased, or old, or unemployed, you are taken care of to some extent at least. Even if the state isn’t coming forward, you obviously have your family and friends.

So, I think that kind of basic security we all already have. At least, you people have that in abundance. You don’t have to worry about basics. You don’t have to think about where the next meal would come from.

Now, fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, we are standing at a point where we have to fulfill our mental needs. And if those mental needs are not wisely fulfilled, then we will go bonkers as we already are, and there would be massive destruction that you are already witnessing in the form of climate change, biodiversity loss, mental disease epidemic, and many other things.

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