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We exist, and we do not || NIT Trichy (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
23 min
67 reads

Questioner (Q): Sir, it is pretty evident that I exist and you exist, but you have also stated that the ego does not exist. So, when someone calls you Acharya Prashant and you reply, isn’t that an identification which reflects an ego?

Acharya Prashant (AP): It is a thing that is useful to the other.

Q: Yeah, it has a utility for the other. Would you, in a spiritual context, make an absolute statement that, “I am not Acharya Prashant, I am something else”?

AP: Not to you. To you, I will say something that is useful to you. The absolute can be uttered only to the Absolute. The Absolute and the false cannot engage in a conversation.

So, that is why even when the Truth has to engage with the ego, it uses words. Remember that every single word represents a concept and is, therefore, in a sense, flawed and false. But to engage with the ego one has to have an identity, one has to use words, one has to act in a bodily way; otherwise, even the body is false.

Q: But who is that one? Isn’t that one again the ego?

AP: Which one?

Q: When you said one has to engage in an inward conversation with the ego, who is that one who has to engage in a conversation with ego? Isn’t that one again nothing but the ego?

AP: That one is the one the ego has been craving for. The ego is the questioner, right? Because the ego does not have the solutions and answers. So, there is something that the ego desperately wants; there does exist something beyond the ego. That is the one.

Q: So, if the questioner is ego, then the answerer, too, is ego?

AP: The answerer is the ego, yes.

Q: Is there an observer who is behind the questions and the answers?

AP: No. You should be asking, if the questioner is the ego and the answerer is the ego, then is there a way the ego itself can help the ego? That should be the question, and the answer there is yes.

The Truth is absolute but not useful because the ego cannot touch the Truth, the ego cannot communicate with the Truth. Therefore, it is ego at a higher level that is useful to ego at a relatively lower level. That is why we have stages of consciousness or hierarchies.

Q: I have many questions regarding these fundamental words. What do you mean by consciousness?

AP: So, on my screen there are the two of us, you and me. That is consciousness. To say “I am” and to perceive a world around you that you call as the other, that is consciousness.

Q: But the other is just an appearance, right?

AP: The other is the appearance in your mind. So, there is the experiencer and there is the experienced object; these two are consciousness.

Q: Both together complete consciousness?

AP: You cannot have just one of them.

Q: Yes, one does not exist without the other. For example, there is no doer without the doing, and there is no speaker without the sound. It is true, independent of what it is conscious of.

AP: No. You cannot have consciousness independent of its object. There is the subject, the experiencer, and, unfortunately, what we call as the common consciousness always requires an object, and that is at the root of all our suffering.

Q: Are you saying that in an uncommon consciousness both the experiencer and the experience disappear?

AP: We need not talk of that because we are trying to understand that uncommon thing from a very common point, and that is not useful.

Q: Sir, I am here for absolute understanding, whether it is useful or not.

AP: No. Spirituality is about first of all starting from what is provable. Right now the Absolute is just fiction to you. Spirituality is not about gossiping about fiction.

Q: I don’t know if the Absolute is fiction, but the word ‘Absolute’ is definitely fiction to me.

AP: And let it remain fiction. What we must care about is our immediate life because that is the reason the speaker and the listener are corresponding. If everything is alright in our immediate life, then there is no need for this discussion. This discussion happens because we perceive something amiss, because there is an inner hollow. So, that is what we must talk about.

Spirituality proceeds on very real grounds. It does not dabble in imagination; it does not talk about this or that god or heavens or imagined universes. It talks about how you are living right now. Therefore, its aim is amelioration of immediate suffering, not discussion of imagined entities or fiction or whatever.

Q: The scriptures state that the Self is in inaction. So, how would you convince this to a commoner, that despite him listening to you, his True Self is not the listener?

AP: It is very easy. You see, right now, let’s say, ten of you are listening to me. What I am saying is probably one thing, I am not uttering ten different statements. But the ten who are listening to me, if they are asked to write down what I have just said and then exchange notes with each other, you will find a great deal of variance in the notes. In fact, you might find that some points in the notes contradict each other.

Now, obviously, had the listener been one, there could have been no variance. Therefore, the listener cannot be called to be the Truth. The listener has a great deal of subjectivity, and that subjectivity is what brings about haziness and falseness. The one who is listening is usually not listening for the Truth; the one who is listening is usually listening from his own center to defend his own interests, and that is what brings about the variance in the notes. So, it is an easy thing to just see and prove to yourself.

Q: Not to myself, to a commoner. For example, the Club of Omega has conducted this meet. So, from the absolute point of view it is like stating that you are not the one who is conducting the meet.

AP: That is very true.

Q: It might sound crazy for someone who is not…

AP: Yes, and you must be prepared to face that craziness. Because, you see, not only have you not conducted this meet, you are also not the one uttering these statements right now; you are also not the one who probably chose to take admission in a particular college; you are also not the one who falls in love with a particular person; you are also not the one who goes towards a particular food choice or sartorial choice.

We are driven by the configuration of our body and the conditioning of our mind. Therefore, we are really not the doers or the actors, and that is very easy to see. When you see people moving about in herds, when you see people making choices as a crowd, then it is obvious that those people do not exist as choosers because there has been no choice really. It is either your body that decides for you, or people outside of you and conditions outside of you that make the choices.

So, therefore, the chooser does not really exist, and there is no complication in communicating this to the other, provided one has clarity. Do not think that this is something so crazy that you just cannot communicate it to the other. It is possible and it is also facile.

Q: It sounds crazy for someone who hasn’t actually gone through it. For example, you go for a ten kilometer jog, come back, and then you have to accept the fact that you are not the one who jogged ten kilometers.

AP: Yes. You can have, for example, a Google car, and it has done ten kilometers. Has it done anything on its own? A Google car—or even your car—its dashboard is telling you that it has done two lakh kilometers. Has it done anything on its own? And it is possible that the driver of the car is just another car!

Q: Yes, that is a very good analogy. So, are the concepts of effort and choice just illusions?

AP: If you can see that, it will take you very, very far—or, in other words, very, very close to yourself.

Q: Yes, true. What we call as effort is basically just the sensations and the highly identified thought.

AP: You don’t even need to say that much. Just say, what we call as effort is just like the heating up of the car engine: much fuel has been burnt, a lot of energy has been dissipated, a lot of distance has been covered, but nothing really has been done because there is no chooser there.

Q: I think that is something that people should understand, because they live with the notion that they can actually do something, when the fact is that their very form or the appearance of doing something comes out of nowhere.

AP: But, at the same time, kindly don’t rush to conclude that choice is not possible at all, or that free will cannot exist at all. Potentially, it can; actually, it does not. And that is the travesty of human life—our potentiality remains uncovered. A car has no choice. The car is never really going to make a choice; even potentially it has no choice. But as human beings, it is possible for us to go beyond our configuration and conditioning and make great choices, make free choices. Unfortunately, we do not do that.

Q: But again, choices, effort, etc. only reinforce the notion of individuality, right?

AP: Most of what we call as free choices are just conditioning in another garb.

Q: I have one more question. So, the philosophy which you support, Advaita Vedanta, treats the self as an entity, right?

AP: Which self, the false or the real one?

Q: The real.

AP: No, it does not.

Q: Okay, maybe I am not very well informed.

AP: Yeah, you are not.

Q: If it is an entity, then an entity should be made of a smaller entity…

AP: No, no. The True Self or the Absolute is not even something you can think of. That is why I said that the Absolute, to the ego, is just fiction. It is not an entity. It is not material. It is beyond mind, beyond intellect, beyond comprehension; the eyes do not reach it, the mind cannot think of it, the tongue cannot talk of it. So, it is not an entity at all.

Q: So, that means it is formless?

AP: I am saying it does not exist at all in the way we use the word ‘existence’. We say this exists (picks up a teacup) ; it has a form, it has a smell, it is something that can be ideated, it is available to mentation and conceptualization. Even when it did not exist, it firstly existed as an idea. The Truth, the Self cannot exist even as an idea, let alone a material form.

Q: Yes, but all I am trying to say is that the Truth is formless.

AP: No, what I am saying is that the Truth is nothing that you can think of. If you say Truth is formless, again you have violated the Truth.

Q: Okay, so the very word ‘formless’, that again is a form. I get what you are saying. I should rather say what it is not than focus on what it is.

AP: Yes. That is the way of Advaita Vedanta, the way of negativa, the way of negation, Neti-Neti (not this, not this). Just say what it is not, so that you stay clear of falseness.

Q: I had a lot of trouble as I was getting caught up with words. The moment I tried to define it, the very definition became an object of interest.

AP: Stay with the negation.

Q: It is stated that the Self or the fundamental nature in every life is the same and non-dual. Can you logically prove it to me?

AP: Go back to the previous discussion, the one that we were having just a minute back. All that can be proven is: that which all sentient beings think of their nature is false. You cannot prove that their real nature is one, but you can prove that whatever they call as their nature is not their nature, it is false. So, they are united by way of this negation. Negate everything that they think of or believe in or identify with, and you are left with this nothingness. And all zeros are equal to each other, right?

And that is the way the height of consciousness, or the base of consciousness, or the non-dual nature of all beings is one: because all zeros are equal to each other. That is just a way of putting it. You get this?

Q: But is it even right to conclude that consciousness is one or non-dual?

AP: No, it is not even one. The scriptures put it very clearly: it is not two—they actually begin with two million, and they say all diversity is false. So, not two million, then not two, and then not even one. Not even one.

Q: Okay. So, you are saying it only is?

AP: Don’t say that.

Q: Okay, I will say what it is not. So, it is not two, it is not one, and I will leave it like that.

AP: Yeah, stop there. And when you stop there, the ego stops, and that is the goal of all spirituality.

Q: It sometimes feels like you get on the right track with negation, but it is easily forgotten and one starts searching for affirmations again.

AP: That is the trap. Never think of anything as affirmative. Nothing concludes anything, nothing proves anything. A word for the Truth is aprameya , and aprameya means that which cannot be proven. It is beyond all proof. It is beyond the might of the one trying to prove. The Truth is beyond pramāṇa or proof; it is aprameya .

Q: I often observe that the word ‘awareness’ is being used in the places where the word knowledge should be used. For example, people talk about raising awareness for environmental issues etc. Is awareness the right word to be used, or is it knowledge?

AP: You see, does that surprise you that we conflate the highest with the middle? That’s the way we all live; that’s the way the world is. ‘Awareness’ is the highest word that there can be, but just as in our lives we have no respect for the highest, even our language has no respect for the highest.

Q: Could you differentiate between these three key terms, namely, ‘awareness’, ‘attention’, and ‘concentration’? Since you said awareness is the highest, probably it cannot be defined. But at least differentiate between concentration and attention.

AP: In both concentration and attention there is an object. In concentration, the concentrator, the subject, is looking at that object with an intention towards self-preservation. For example, if a cobra appears in front of you, you will concentrate on it. The intention is not to understand the cobra but to save your own life, self-preservation. When the exam dates approach, you concentrate on your textbooks. The intention is not to really understand what is going on but to somehow survive the examination. That is concentration in which the intention of the subject is self-preservation. You are looking at something and you want to remain who you are. In fact, you are looking at that thing in a very focused way just to secure your own existence. That is concentration.

Q: It is again of the ego.

AP: Obviously. Where there are two, there is the ego. So, that goes without saying.

Now, come to attention. In attention, again, there are two, but the intention changes. Now the attentive one is saying, “My existence or continuity or preservation do not matter. I am looking at that object to understand that object. I am attending to that object; I am a servant to that object. The object comes first, I come later.” Here again, obviously, the whole process, the phenomenon is dualistic because there are two, but the intention has changed. You know the word ‘attend’? Attend means to serve. “I am a servant of the object I am looking at,” and that is attention.

And if the process of attention goes deep enough, then obviously you keep the object so much ahead of yourself, you keep it so much more important than yourself that your own size diminishes greatly. It diminishes so much that figuratively it is said that you disappear, and that disappearance is awareness.

In attention, you attend to the object you are looking at. You are experiencing, perceiving, focusing on the object in your sensory field or mental field, and that object you have evaluated to be so very important that you forget all about your own security and you let that object reign supreme. When that object becomes so important to you, so big to you, then your own size diminishes, and your own size can diminish so much that it can be metaphorically said to have reduced to near zero. And that disappearance of the self, the perceiver, or the subject, is called awareness.

Q: Can we understand this awareness with the help of any example?

AP: No example is possible. You can have examples of things and objects; you cannot have an example of disappearance. You are asking me, “Can there be an example of nothing?” Awareness means you are gone.

Q: So, a player totally involved in playing, can it be said that he is in that state of awareness?

AP: He can be very attentive, but he cannot move into awareness. The reason is simple: In attention, the one you are attending has to be so extremely dominating, so very beautiful, so worthy of adulation that you give your consent to your reduction or disappearance or annihilation. You do not want to die for trivia, do you? You would want to lay down your life for only something colossal. Now, a player is not involved in anything colossal; therefore, he can have attention but not awareness.

Q: People around me always say that I should go for money and security before undertaking anything that involves risks. In your videos, you often talk about the importance of having clarity in life. So, can I get clarity when living among people who just blindly follow what the rest are doing?

AP: See, clarity in the inner sense is attained by observing fog and haze. All that obfuscates your clarity is to be known; that is the process of attaining clarity.

So, if these people are around you, first of all see that they are around you because they are within you. Otherwise, they couldn’t have been around you, right? People who discourage you or people who want you to be risk-averse, people who want you to avoid obstacles and go for a pleasure-filled and easy, comfortable life, if they surround you from outside, it is because they occupy you from within.

They have to be observed because observing them is, in some way, self-observation. When you observe these people outside of you, you are observing your face in their faces. Listen to their arguments. Their arguments are your own arguments against yourself. Their arguments couldn’t have affected you had they not resonated with something inside of you, right?

So, listen to what they are saying, see where they are coming from, see how their lives are, and then ask yourself, “Is that where I want to spend my life? Is that how I want to live?” because their arguments aren’t in a vacuum; everything is connected to everything else. For example, the way their personal life is, it is very much related to how their professional choices are. The way their eyes look, the way their faces look, the kind of political opinions that they hold—they are all integrated and they are coming from the same center.

Do you want to live that way? It is a choice you have to make. And remember, it is a very important choice because something within you definitely wants to live that way. Something within you definitely wants to emulate them. You must know what you are going to get into if you emulate. They are all following a pattern. They are all part of a certain crowd. You must know where that pattern is coming from. You must know whose desires they are fulfilling. You must ask what is the purpose of such a life, and you must ask whether life must have a purpose at all, and you must ask what does it feel like to live without a purpose.

Q: How to counter their arguments?

AP: Their arguments are not their arguments. Had their arguments just been their own, you wouldn’t have needed to counter them. What is the need to counter their arguments? Please, tell me. It seems you want to borrow a phrase or argument from me so that you can use it as ammunition against them. But, first of all, why is there a need to counter them at all? Let them say what they want to say.

Q: Because I feel that if I am surrounded by such people, then somewhere my mind is getting contaminated by their thoughts.

AP: But why are you surrounded by such people?

Q: Because everyone is like that only.

AP: No! Not everyone is like that. Everyone around you is probably like that. Now, that is the question you need to answer: Why have you in particular surrounded yourself with such people? That is what I am saying.

Something within you is very comfortable with what they are saying. Something within you resonates and rhymes with their opinions. They are representing your own face to you; that is why they have such power over you. Else you would have just dismissed them with indifference. Right now, you find it difficult to be indifferent to their opinions because they are reaching out to their ally within you. Something within you is aligned with them very intimately, and that is a bigger problem.

People outside of you can change; maybe you go some other place and you will find a different set of people, at least physically. But how will you get rid of that same person within you? And if that same person within you remains the way it is, it will again find and attract its own buddies, its own type. And you will say, “Oh, but, you know, such people are everywhere.” They are not everywhere. They come to places where they have a conducive environment. They speak to people who lend their ears to them. Why are you so open to them? Are flies found at all places? Tell me.

Q: No, sir.

AP: Where are they found?

Q: Where there is dirt.

AP: Exactly. Name the dirt.

Q: Like dung or like garbage or a gutter.

AP: Right. Clean that up.

Q: How to counter those inner parts of my consciousness that resonate with such people and elevate my consciousness so that those people stay away?

AP: Those who wanted to help you made themselves available in various ways so that you may have their company, so that you are not forced to dwell in bad company, so that freedom means more to you than security. Why not be with them? They left their books behind. Why else did they write books? They were not suckers for popularity or respect; they had gone far beyond that. They left their words behind so that you may find good company in them. And this is the age of technology: not only books, you also have various other forms and media—you have audios, you have videos, you have many other things.

So, be with them. As you find your internal world changing, you will find that your need to associate with the cowardly kind of people is reducing; equally, your reverence for the right kind of people will increase. These two go in tandem.

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