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What is meant by living totally? || Acharya Prashant (2016)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
34 min
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Acharya Prashant: The question is that both of these statements appear to be imperative.

First, “Whatever you do, do it totally.”

Second, “Whatever you do, you remain unaffected by the doing.”

How are these two to be put together? Is there a contradiction? If yes, how is to be reconciled? What is meant by doing something totally?

We need to go into this to understand this.

Usually, when we say that something is to be done totally, we equate that with an expanse in time, an expanse in energy, instead of investing five units of resources in it, I invested fifty units of resources because I wanted to do it totally. Instead of going one mile, I went all the way for ten miles because I wanted to do it totally. So we equate this total-ness with a stretch, with an expanse. In other words, what we say is “doing something totally” means going as far as our desire, our motivation wants us to go, right?

I, yet not have enough of it, I want to have it totally. So let me have a little extra, a little more. This is what is commonly meant by doing something totally. Right? It is equated with a stretch in desire, fulfillment, in the expedition of energy, in the investment of time, in the application of concentration. Right? I want to submit that “that” is not meant by doing something totally.

What then is meant by doing something totally? Doing something totally means doing it from a point of totality. It does not mean how far you go in doing that thing. It means be sensitive of the point from where you are doing this thing and these are two very different things.

The conventional interpretation of doing something totally would mean what is important is “How far I go?”

“Do it totally, so go far.”

While the real meaning is-

It does not matter how far you go, what matter is from where you start, from where are you coming.

The conventional ones would say that if a full plate of meals was serve to you, and you did not finish off each of the delicacies, then you have not had the meal totally. They would say, “Something is still left, something is left undone, something yet needs to be covered because the plate is still not empty of content. You have not gone into it totally.” That’s what they would mean. No! That is not what is meant by going totally. Going totally means that even if you take just one bite, just one morsel, take it from the point of totality.

So, even if you have left the rest of the plate untouched, even if you have left the entire plate untouched, yet it is possible that you have totally eaten because you are eating from that point which is contented, which is total. “Total” means complete, “Total” means not divided, not fractured, not desirous.

Do you get this?

So, going in into something totally does not mean that you have to keep diving into it till your desire is quenched. That is a very misleading interpretation. But often that is found convenient to be circulated because that interpretation promotes consumption. You say, “I want to live totally.” And what does that mean? That means you must consume everything that is available for consumption. Living totally means you must travel to as many countries as possible, you must have as many items to eat, to display, to benefit from, to consume as possible. “That is what is meant by living totally.” No! That is not what is meant by living totally.

Living totally means even if you do not travel outside of your little village, yet you live totally in that village. Yet you live…?

Listener: Totally in that village.

AP: Totally in that village. which means it does not matter what you are doing. What matters is from where are you doing it? These are two very different things.

It is not the action that matters, it is the point of origin of the action that matters. Action would always be dictated by situations, but your center cannot be dictated by situations. So you cannot be particular about action. If you really have eyes, you will not want to look at the action and judge the actor based on the action. But that is what we commonly do, right? We judge the actor based on the action. We judge the doer based on the deed. Do we do that or not?

But deeds can vary. What is right in one situation will not be right in another situation. You may remain thoroughly and consistently compassionate, in situation A and situation B. But your action in situation A coming out of compassion can be diametrically opposite to your action in situation B coming again out of compassion. In both these places, you are the same. You are the same compassionate one yet your actions would be seemingly opposites. So if you are being judged only on your action, then the judgment would go haywire.

Living totally, I repeat, does not mean that you need to have a flamboyant lifestyle, that you need to be lavishly spending or lavishly consuming. Living totally means I operate from a point within me that is not hungry, that is not thirsty, that lives, abides in its own internal satisfaction. Which means even as I eat, the body is given food, but a point within me does not need any food. Even to say that it does not need any food is not exact. There exists a point that neither needs food nor is in denial of food. It is beyond hunger and satisfaction. Neither can we say that it is desirous of food, nor can we say that its desire for food has been satisfied because it is something that is dimension-ally different from all material, all food, all desire and all fulfillment of desire.

Usually, what happens is when a fellow comes to a teacher and the fellow appears to be living a lackluster life. The teacher says, “You know what! You are not living fully. You need to live fully. You must live totally.”

And what the teacher implies here is, or what the listener interpret is that I need to have a more king size life. I need to go out, spend, dance, party, display, be loud, have all the pleasure, the thrills, the adventures. Is that not what is implicitly implied in “living totally”? No! That is not at all what is meant by living totally. That is a very puerile definition of living totally, suitable for adolescence.

Living totally is something totally different, which means: You may go an eat in a restaurant or you may go and eat in your own small and humble kitchen, wherever you eat you are all right. You may go and eat in the most expensive five star property or you may eat in a roadside dhaba, there is something within you which is not a function of place where you are eating.

You might be talking to an old man or you may have an infant in your arms, there is something within you that does not change even as your behavior towards these two entities must be different. You could not be behaving the same way in front or in relation with an old man as you behave with an infant. So all that which is external keeps changing according to the situations but something within you remains still.

Living totally means that you remain the same in your deepest fulfillment and in the moment of your deepest frustration. You are very-very fulfilled – your mind, your body, all are feeling the vibration of that fulfillment. It is an ecstasy, arise, the whole organism is excited yet something within you feels no excitement. Not that it is feeling bored or dull. It is just that it is not feeling excited.

Even as the mind is excited, there is something that is not excited. And we are saying not excited only to emphasize that it does not have the same quality as the mind. Otherwise, to even say that it is not excited is to stretch language beyond its limit. And then there is the moment in which you are depressed, irritated, heavy, the mind is feeling the burden, the body is feeling the pain, the whole system appears to be overloaded with grief, with all kinds of neurotic energies. Yet there is something within you that is not at all frustrated, not at all feeling low. That does not mean that it is feeling high. I repeat that feeling low; the phrase “feeling low” is relevant only in context of the mind that is feeling low.

To emphasize that there is something within you that does not have the same quality as the mind, we are saying that “that” something is not feeling low. That not feeling low does not mean that “that” is feeling high. It is neither feeling high nor feeling low. It is simply remaining untouched. That is that point of totality.

You see, parts can mutate, change, increase, decrease, transform, change shape, size, color, properties, rise, fall, dissolve. The total has no way to change. The total is helpless in this regard. Were the total to change, it wouldn’t be the Total.

So, to act totally means to have that unchangeability or to let that unchangeability have you, which is both the same. But actually it is more correct to say that let that unchangeability have you, have total control and possession of you. Now do you see that there is no need to reconcile the two statements?

Being total is the same as being untouched. But you will find the contradiction if you take the conventional definition of “doing it totally.” The conventional definition is not at all a correct definition. Hence it is going to inevitably lead to that contradiction because according to that definition when you do something totally, you must be colored with more and more with that thing because that definition pertains to the fulfillment of desire. And if you are identifying so much with the fulfillment of desire, then you are getting dry as the desires increase and getting wet as the desires keep on getting fulfilled. So there is nothing unchangeable about you.

Dry and wet, dry and wet. Black and white, black and white. Getting it?

It doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter where you are. What matters really is that ‘what you do?’ and ‘where you are?’, do not become important enough to define you. Are you getting this?

Let your situations, your circumstances, your possessions, your particular destination in life not become important enough or significant enough to define you. Let your self-worth not be dictated by things that are external. But since everything is external, let your self-worth not be dictated by anything at all, which means you should not have any concept of self-worth at all. If you have a concept of self-worth, it would necessarily be a concept dependent on something because a concept by definition depends on another concept.

So, if you have any concept of self-definition and even if in your own assessment, you have chosen a concept that appears insulated from dependencies, yet in reality every concept would always be dependent on something. When that “something” will change, your concept of self-worth will change. So you will become a victim to the vicissitudes of life. Life will throw you up, you will feel up. Life will put you down, you will feel down. And that is no fun. That is no fun at all. Getting it?

Living fully in that sense means being insulated from life. That is why the one who lives fully has also being classically called as the one who does not live anymore. And these are one and the same thing. To live fully is to have gone beyond life. To live fully is much the same as death. In what sense it is the same as death? We have to understand this.

There is a dead man, a dead body lying on the floor. You slap it. The fellow does not react. This is the kind of death that we usually know of. This is a death in which helplessness takes over. You lose the power to react. You cannot even react. And then there is the death in which you have vaporized, you have sublimated, you have gone beyond. It is then as not if you cannot react. It is then that you cannot even be slapped. You are no more. Who will slap you now? Who is going to be slapped now?

Life cannot touch you now because you have dissolves in life. It is not as if you have cut yourself off from life which many spiritually minded people do. They escape life. This has to be understood. There is an apparent contradiction here. You have to put these together. If you just pick one part of it, you will be mislead.

You have to live so totally that life stops affecting you. Totality by definition is that which remains unaffected. Can you add something to totality? Can you subtract something from totality? Can you divide totality? That is what is meant by living totally.

“It is cloudy, it is shiny, it is day, it is night.”

“The shop is doing well, the market is down.”

“They welcomed me, they insulted me.”

“What fine weather, what sloppy weather!”

“I am feeling energetic, he whole body is in pain.”

It’s all right. There is someone who is weeping. You go to him and you say, “Don’t weep brother. It’s all right.” And then there is somebody who is jubilant, dancing, excited, euphoric. You go to him and you say, “It’s all right brother. It’s all right.”

You are up, it is all right. You are down, it is all right. You are celebrating, it is all right. You are mourning, it is all right. It is all right. In all cases, it is all right. That is living totally. Living totally means living from the center of totality. It is all right.


L: It lacks drama.

AP : All the drama is there and you are a participant. Knowing that you are a participant is called witnessing. Knowing that you are a participant in the drama is called witnessing. Witnessing does not mean that you have to stay away from the drama, witnessing does not mean that you will be hiding somewhere behind the curtains and watching the play from there. Usually that is the image that we have of the witness. Right?

The entire world is the stage on which a grand drama is being enacted and who am I? The watcher, the witness, who is watching from a far. No! That does not mean that. You will never be the watcher. You are very much a participant and remain a participant. If you say that you are the witness, then all that you have done is that you have brought another character to the stage and this character is called the witness and this is just self deception. Can you imagine this?

There are already ten characters on the stage. And then you say, “No, I am the witness.” All that you have done is that you have raised the characters to eleven. There is nothing called the witness. Witnessing just lies in knowing that you are a player, a participant. Know that you are a participating. Know that it is a drama in which you are participating. Know that the play requires you to cry out and then cry out. Let the stream flow. Know that the play requires you to laugh. Let there be an eruption of laughter.

Remaining untouched, or being a witness does not mean that you will be lukewarm in your tears and in your laughter. Do what is required of you in the play. Be a good actor. Do justice to your role. As you do justice to your role, you know that you are role playing. When you know you are role playing, you will be a good actor. A poor actor is the one who totally forgets that he is an actor. And an equally poor actor is the one who remembers that he is an actor. If you remember that you are an actor, then you also remember that you are something beyond the actor, something besides the actor. Then that which you remember will interfere with your acting.

“No! I am not merely an actor, I am also a witness.” Now this witness will interfere with the actor with the acting. Actually, this witness that you take yourself to be is just another role. You could not be playing two roles in the same moment. But that is what happens to the victims of conventional spirituality.

They start saying that you know what! I am not merely the actor. I am the witness. Now this witness will not allow you to act fully because this witness is not witness at all. Who is it? Another role. Now you are playing two roles in the same moment without even knowing that you are in a double role. It is a strange situation!

Neither must you say that it us just a role, nor must you say that there is something beyond the role. Remembering that you are just an actor would be to remember that you are a witness also. And anything you remember is just a function of memory. And forgetting that you are an actor would mean that the possibility of memory again taking over is very much alive. Don’t remember, don’t forget.

Whatever has been forgotten can again be brought back to the memory. What has been said? What has been said is this that do not trust your mind in matters of Truth. It is the mind that remembers, it is the mind that forgets. Neither must you remember the Truth, nor must you forget the Truth. The truth can neither be remembered, nor forgotten. There are those who say that they keep remembering the Truth; they are mislead. The Truth cannot be remembered. And then there are those who say that they have forgotten the truth and needs to be reminded. They too are lying. The Truth cannot be forgotten either.

The Truth can neither be remembered nor be forgotten. It is beyond the mind. So do not try to have anything to do with the Truth. Let Truth do whatever it wants to do with you. You do not lay your hands on the Truth, because you cannot.

Getting it?

You see words are dangerous. When I say operate from a point of totality, it is misconstruction. How? A fellow comes and the fellow keeps on feeling internally hollow. What is this hollowness? It is a feeling and all feeling is…

L: M ind.

AP: Mind.

Now he sits here and then there is this question on living totally. And he says, “You know what, earlier I was feeling hollow. Now I am feeling full.” There has been no real change. Please see. I am not advising you to ‘Feel Total’. I am not advising you to feel full. When you are feeling hollow, then you are placing your trust in the feeling. And when you say that you are feeling full or feeling total, then again you are placing your trust in your feeling.

Living total does not mean believing that you are total. Living total does not mean feeling full. It means having faith in something that feeling cannot touch. You will ask me, “Sir, if we feeling cannot touch it, thought cannot know it, how do we have faith in it?” After a few hours, we would be approaching dawn. It would still be dark. The starts would still be there. Not even the first ray of the sun would have arrived. Yet there is that little bird that starts singing. It has no visual, or sensual or mental proof of the approaching day.

Has her eyes seen something? No, because sun light is still not there.

Is she relying on memory? May be, but then we have to see that even little baby bird starts singing. So it couldn’t be memory acquired from this particular life’s experiences that she could be relying on. Faith is this to know that the sun is near even when there is no proof of the sun. You just know. There is no proof, yet I know. Not only do I know, I am so certain of it that I will go to the town singing about it. I am singing and my singing has such great certainty in it that by listening to my songs, people come to know that the sun is near. My song itself is the proof of the sun. There is such certainty in faith. If the bird is singing, it is certain that the sun is near. That is faith.

If i am saying that it is, it must be because I am saying. What bigger, what better proof can be there? All other proofs will be external; all other proofs will just be arguments, the only final proof is the certainty in my heart. No document can verify. No logic can validate. There is something in my heart that says, “Yes!” That is the final proof and that is faith.Are you getting this? That is living totally. From there I live.

Now it doesn’t matter whether my song is acclaimed as the best song. Now it doesn’t matter whether I sing the sweetest or the loudest. One day I may sing for five minutes, the other day I may sing for an hour. It doesn’t matter for how long I sing. But whether I sing for a minute or an hour, my song is total because it is coming from totality. Are you getting it?

That totality is not something that you can grasp. That totality is something that you can only surrender to. If you say you know it, you are bragging. If you say you do not know it, you are acting deliberately stupid. It is not possible to know it and it is also not possible to not know it.


Fullness is not the opposite of hollowness. Fullness is the freedom from the need to feel either hollow or full.

And this is something that is subtle. We keep on feeling small and hollow. And then we go to a teacher or a master and he convinces us to feel full. No. Such fullness is in the same dimension as hollowness. Fullness is not the opposite of hollowness. Real fullness is the freedom from the need to feel hollow or full.

“How am I feeling?”

“Neither hollow nor full. Both hollow and full.”

“Neither hollow nor full and hollow and full.”

That is also non-duality. That is also Advait. Do you see how all of this converges into one? Do you see how all divisions are unnecessary? Do you see that there is nothing called non-duality without faith? Do you see how Advait and Shraddha (devotion) are one? Do you see how all of these are just one but because of mind’s limited capabilities, different names, different viewpoints are ascribed to them? Do you see how all of this is so simple? So simple that you need not bother about it. So you can just have fun. Leave Truth for those who feel that they have been deserted by Truth.

Let those who feel that they have been rendered homeless, search for the home. You have fun. Let those who feel that they are Godless, search for God. You have fun.

L: Sir, in spite of knowing that this is a play, why do we get embroiled in the play?

AP: It is because of your concept that this is a play. When you know that something is just a play, and when you say that something is just a play, you mean it is something superficial and artificial, right? It’s a play. When you have already declared something to be superficial and artificial, will you allow yourself to go fully into it? So, whenever the moment of immersion comes, you are reminded by that inner voice, “Oh! It is just a play.” So you resist yourself. You forcibly prevent yourself from immersing into it.

You will not want to go deep into it. You will keep telling yourself that it is just a play. My teacher told me that it is just a play. All this spiritual literature is telling me that it is just a play. And if it is just a play, how do I participate fully in it?

If you hold a concept that it is just a play, you will not be able to live fully. If you hold a concept that it is not a play but it is real, again you will not be able to live fully. Why? Because then if you have to play the dying man on the stage, you will feel that you are dying, and then you will be overtaken by fear.

So, if you think it’s a play, you will not be able to live. And if you think it is not a play, you will not be able to die. Either way, you are caught and stuck. The best part is, do not think about what it is. Please spare yourself from thinking about the Truth. It is neither a play nor is it something different from the play. It is neither real, nor unreal. You will never be able to put it in words what it really is.

You meet people of both kinds. There are those who say, “Oh! It is just a play.” You will find them shallow. They will never be able to weep fully. If it is just a play, how can I let my mind be broken fully? How can I let myself suffer fully? It is just a play. For the sake of an artificial thing like a play, would I allow myself to suffer? Tell me. It is just a play, a play is a limited thing. It deserves limited investment. How can I weep so much that my heads start spinning and aching? For the sake of the play, I will not do so much; which means that there will be no depth in your living. Whatever you do would be just mediocre; half-hearted. Not having any warmth in it.

And if you say that what you are doing is real, finally real, then you will be buffeted by all the ups and downs of life. Like a plank upon mighty waves. Seen those, being thrown up and then being mercilessly brought down and you do not know what is happening? You are anchor-less, you are listless.

So, do not go by these things that life is a play. Watch the play and remain a witness. No. and by that I do not mean that life is not a play. I am saying stop thinking about life and start living. You don’t have to make sense of life because life has no sense at all. You do not have to derive any meaning or purpose out of life because it has no meaning and purpose at all. If you say that life is a play, you have claimed that you have been able to conclude something about your life. Such conclusions are always meaningless, flavorless, and painful. Be there and being there is sufficient.

L: So, if we are sad, we remain in that state?

AP: Yes, of course.

L: We should not think about it.

AP: No, not at all. All suffering arises from concepts. To use another concept to meliorate suffering is to use poison to kill poison. It may give you some temporary apparition of relief, but it would be destroying your entire system. Are you getting it?

Somebody is suffering,“Oh! I am so small, I am so small.” Guru Ji comes and tells him, “No child. You are not small. You are wide, you are infinite, you are Brahm.”

The child was weeping because he was feeling little. Now he is bloated because he is feeling Brahm. What do you think is going to happen next?

L: He is going to be beaten up.

AP: He is going to be beaten up.

So, don’t think about your size at all. You are neither big nor small. If you think you are small, you are in for suffering. If you think you are large, you are in for even bigger suffering. Those who think that they are not Brahm, definitely suffer. And those who think that they are Brahm, suffer even more. That’s what the Upanishads s very classically say.

They say, “Those who do not know, fall in a deep well. And those who know, fall in a well, yet deeper.”

Spirituality often proves to be that well that is even deeper than ignorance. Knowledge is a well more deeper and deceptive than ignorance. Be neither ignorant nor knowledgeable.

L: Sir, what’s stops us from emergence?

AP: Time. How do I belong fully if I know that time will take this away? I don’t want to get hurt. I am carrying the burden of all the hurt in the past already. Now, I cannot open up. Opening up would mean becoming vulnerable to another hurt. Now, I cannot be immersed. Immersion would mean that I have again brought my armors. Now, again someone can come and assault.


Something may happen next and in anticipation of that which may happen next you do not allow that which may happen right now .

L: But then how to convince yourself that being hurt next time is okay?

AP: Because you are already not hurt. It is not about it being okay when you are hurt the next time. The fact is all these times that when you convinced yourself that you are hurt, were you actually hurt? It is just that you had been taught that it is proper to act hurt in such situations. Look at the facts, look at the evidence.

In the Indian culture, in front of the man if the wife just hugs somebody, a stranger, another man. It is possible that the man may get hurt. In other cultures, it is possible that in front of man, the wife actually kisses someone else and the man feels no hurt. Is hurt something innate or is hurt something that you have absorbed? You have taught yourself to get hurt. You actually were never hurt. You are wearing hurt upon yourself.

Hurt is a cultivated quality. Your essence can never be hurt. How can you hurt the total? Only that in you gets hurt which is anyway unreal and it is quite eager to get hurt. Hurt gives it a chance to act as if it is real; as if it is real.

“You see! I am real. That is why I am paining.”

Does goes the logic. So to prove that I am real, I must…

L: T ake the pain.

AP: So, that is why pain is such a coveted thing. That is why pain is one of the sought after commodities. If there is one thing that is a hot seller in the market of human aspirations, it is pain. Look how painful we all are. “Painful.” I don’t know whether we live fully but there is one thing that we are always full of – pain. This is the one thing that is never in short supply. Go to anybody and ask him, what are your joys? And he may stare blankly at you. But if you ask him what are your pains? He will say, “Now you sit. It’s a long story. Let’s first have a cup of tea. Please ensure that you don’t run away. It’s an epic now. How can it finish so fast?”

We need pain. Don’t we? In order to justify being what we are; what we have taught ourselves to be.

L: Both pain and pleasures are unreal. But why is pain more sought after than pleasure?

AP: Because pain gives the hope of pleasure, because pleasure is always a hope. And that hope is called pain.

You see, can you feel pain except in comparison with an imagined pleasure? You say that you are deficient in something. How do you know that you are deficient? How do you know that you are deficient except with an imagined fullness?

You have two units of a resource. You say, you know what, it is so less. How do you know it is less? Only by comparison of time with an imagined state in which you have ten units. That ten units you defined as pleasure. These two units, you defined as pain. Both of these have been put as quantities by the mind. To go to ten units is to prepare to feel bad when you come down to two. To be at two is to keep crying till you have ten.

When you are at ten, you are shivering in apprehension that you may now fall to two. Look at the conditions of those who have the riches. They are so eager about protecting them. The fear that this may go away keeps assaulting them. So their hope lies in securing them what they already have.

And look at those who have two. Their desperation lies in having only two and then they live in ambition, the ambition of one day reaching up to ten. Ten does not give them security. Ten only gives them the additional responsibility of securing the ten that they have now got. They fully well know that time can take away this ten. This ten does not belong to them. This ten is just accidental. Something may snatch it away. So even if you have ten, you still cannot have pleasure. Whereas, when you were at two, you said that ten will give me pleasure. Having come to ten, you find that ten cannot give you pleasure because the ten is temporary. Now what do you want to do? You want to secure ten. And no security is ever be permanent. You know that.

You very well know that all your attempts to secure something will fail. You cannot secure even your own body. How will you secure your riches? You do not know even whether the next breath would be there, How do you know whether the next moment all your stuff in the bank would be there?

That is why you keep still shivering. Both pain and pleasure are pain. Both pain and pleasure are suffering. It is not as if spirituality is about moving away from pain. Spirituality is about moving away from both pain and pleasure. And having returned to your innate fullness is the point of joy. That point where pain and pleasures are just visitors – they come, they go, I live in my house. The house is named joy.

L: So, pleasure is actually a concept.

AP: Of course!

L: It is not a reality.

AP: No, not at all.

L: It is a forced concept.

AP: Of course! Pleasure is a forced concept.

You know what! One of the biggest instruments of pleasure — you will be surprised to know this — even sex is just a concept.

All those things that you associate with pleasure, with pain, with hurt are all concepts that we have been indoctrinated into. Remove those concepts and then show me where is pleasure and where is pain? Then there is just life. Just life! Simple, total and joyful.

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